Ok, but what do you DO? – A Pitch Disaster

This week I attended a local venture capital association meeting where I watched a few companies pitch their investment opportunities. One of the presentations was a classic case of what I call a: “Ok, but what do you DO? Presentation.”

As I reflect on the over 1,000+ business plan presentations I’ve seen in my day, it is quite amusing to me that I have seen enough of these “Ok, but what do you DO? Presentations” to actually give them a name. Well, amusing or tragic really – depending on how you look at it.

This particular presentation I saw this week was from a biotech firm.

Slide One: The estimated time to trials and to market.
(Ok, but what do you do?)
Slide Two: The technology phases of development.
(Ok, but what do you do?)
Slide Three: The advisory board bios.
(Hmm…ok, well I guess now I know what THEY do.)
Slide Four: The 50,000-foot view of the economic costs for the disease: 42 Billion.
(Now 10 minutes into the presentation, checking my phone seems much more interesting – I know what THAT does.)
Slide Five: Estimated investment stages
(But what am I investing IN? And what are all those acronyms again? I feel like I’m looking at an eye chart.)
Slide Six: Some microscopic images of animal testing results.
(Oooh, pretty swirly pictures… sorry, what are we talking about?)

I won’t make you endure the confusion anymore. The rest of the presentation had 5 more slides covered in 10 more minutes and not once did we ever get a clear picture of what they were doing. The presentation was filled with acronyms, technical terminology, general statistics, financial estimates, testing results, and fancy names starting with “Dr.”

At the end the room was dead silent. Seriously – even the crickets were too confused to chirp.

Here’s why: Since its biotech, no one wants to ask a question because they are terrified of sounding stupid. It’s as though these biotech people belong to this exclusive club and no one is supposed to understand it except for doctors and board members.

Now, I am no biotech expert, but I can follow an explanation pretty well when it comes to technology. I can also testify that I have seen good biotech presentations that were quite complicated, but enabled everyone in the room to understand it.

So, I nudged my colleague who was more familiar with science to ask the question: “So, what do you DO?” He asked it in a much more expanded way – but you could see the audience sigh of relief when they realized they weren’t the only ones who didn’t get it. The presenter’s explanation of what they did was actually more compelling than the entire presentation. My colleague then mentioned to the presenter that it would have been helpful to know that at the beginning of the presentation and the presenter retorted: “Well, we just want to say enough to get folks asking questions.”

Dude – the question “Ok, but what do you DO?” is the LAST question you want to hear after a 20-minute presentation. Trust me.

I would argue that ESPECIALLY in biotech pitches, it is important to simplify the language as much as possible so that a 5-year old could understand it. And you have to say it FIRST. Even Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Here’s an example of “simple talk”:

“Every year, 1 in 30 new parents have to cope with the loss of their newborn baby due to this disease. We have created a treatment that shows promise for curing this disease. The treatment is simple and painless to deliver; in fact, the baby will not even feel it. Let me show you how we do this.”

Oh, THAT’S what you do – now I’m interested. Show me those slides.

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