Alper and Matt interviewed Aydın Bırık, who in his job sees many, many startups pitch their companies to potential investors. Here he talks about what he does (and does not) like to see in the presentations, and what suggestions he would give to the entrepreneurs who give them…

The original interview contained some information Aydın asked us to keep private, so here is the sanitized version for public consumption:

Matt:
Okay. We’re recording now. Okay. You’re Aydın Bırık, and you listen to a lot of investor pitches. Think of a recent investor pitch that you listened to and tell us what were some of things that you liked about it and some of the things that you didn’t like about it.

Aydın:
Okay. Very good. Well, thank you folks. Public speaking is very important and there are a lot of cases where it really has an impact. Investor pitching is on my top priority list because the result could be an investment or not, so it is extremely important. We are not talking about a corporate presentation. It is sometimes, for a lot of entrepreneurs, it is a life changing experience; and unfortunately, all my career I could say I have seen almost a thousand start up pitches, especially in my expertise, for Turkish entrepreneurs, we still have a lot of space to improve.

Firstly, mostly engineers, are trying to do the pitches because they’re the ones who do the product and they think having the product is enough for an investor to be invested. Unfortunately, they don’t know once you cannot present the product, you will not get your message. People are not looking for, especially in the investors, people initially doesn’t look for the product or its company, people look for the entrepreneur itself. The entrepreneur itself makes the difference for an investor to invest in the company or not.

Matt:
You mean like the personality, the character…

Aydın:
Exactly. The personality, the character. To present that, having good presentation skills is very important. The preparation is extremely important. Most of them doesn’t come investor pitches without preparation. Yes, they have prepared a presentation, but they didn’t do rehearsals. I can easily see this.

Matt:
How do you see that when they’re not rehearsed? How do you know that they’re not rehearsed?

Aydın:
Well, the story is still very important. For startups, the idea is finding a solution to a problem, so without the story, people doesn’t conceive the problem or the solution. If they don’t come to presentations without thinking about the story or developing a story, they start from some point and they go to another point and then they come to other point, as well. On that thing, we understood he didn’t prepare enough.
I’m not going even mentioning about their typos or things they passed very fastly or things they spent too much time, so that are the things they didn’t get enough preparation. I’m not going to mentioning about their voice variety, how to use the stage, how to use two people because mostly teams made of a couple of people, they’re not only by themselves, even they have thousands ways to do a good presentation using their coworkers. They don’t do that. Sometimes only one person speaks. Sometimes one person speaks and the other person continues. For a listener, we lost track what’s going on over there.

For a good investor pitching, the first thing we look at is the people, the people itself, how passionate they are. How they have been working on this and what they have created. Were they aware of what they have created? Do they have a story behind it? Before looking at the product or the business model, we evaluate the people.

Matt:
What do you like to see in the people? When you say passion, what do you mean? Passion for the product? Passion for business as a process? What do you mean by passion? Passion for what?

Aydın:
Well, for the passion, how I conceive they have a passion or not is their control over their presentation, their preparation, including their voice tone, things they have touched, and things they haven’t touched because there is a standard for an investor pitching. It’s S-C-Q-A. You start with the situation, the problem, Then, you continue with the complexity, why that situation is complex. Then, you ask for a question, and then, you give the answer. S-C-Q-A is a standard kind of thing, but not so many people use this, or not so many people continue this flow. They didn’t do enough research. That gives me an idea of they haven’t read what’s going on on papers, and that gives me an idea they are not passionate enough, their product or their business. They just come there to present their idea and thinking they did the best thing, but they have to do their research.

Matt:
You mention S-C-Q-A. Remind me again. What does that stands for? S … Situation?

Aydın:
Situation.

Matt:
C.

Aydın:
Complexity. Q. Question and answer.

Matt:
That’s the standard sequence of an investor presentation.

Aydın:
There are also other slides they have to add, like the team, the competition, which milestones they have done so far. There are also some slides that must be on the page, but the flow should be on this, should be like this.

Matt:
But you don’t see a lot of people following this.

Aydın:
I don’t see it. Yeah. Yeah. Again, most important thing is the story. We are not talking about a yearly, annual financial revenue presentation over there. We are talking about a life changing product. They have to present us a life changing product at the investor pitching. You have to…

Matt:
Should the story have to do with how the product would change somebody’s life?

Aydın:
Could be that. Could be that. Or how he ended up coming up with an idea. A presentation like, “My mother and I, we were in Istanbul and for long of my life we weren’t able to get organic food because of this happened, this happened.” Even putting something from your own could be very valuable; but because of mostly engineers do this, they don’t spend time developing their story before the presentation.

Matt:
Okay. Alper, I saw you writing. Do you have some questions?

Alper:
Yeah, yeah, I have some questions. You said you sat through almost one thousand or maybe more investor pitches. Remember the successful ones. What happened at the end of it, when the presentation ended and you thought to yourself, “Okay. This was a good, successful presentation.” What happened afterwards?

Aydın:
The timing is extremely important, especially in investor pitchings. It has to be very short because, for example, for a day, for demo day, maximum fifteen sometimes thirty people are on the stage, and they have limited time, so they have to present whatever they have in that very, very limited, sometimes it’s even two and half minutes. We call it elevator pitches. In two and half minutes they have to present what they’re been working for their whole life, so that gives an idea they have to be very well prepared, including their stories.
What is a good present, and at the end what happens? For investors, we need to learn some things that we have to learn. One is about the team. Who is the team? What is the problem? What is the solution? How are you going to solve it? What others tell about this? and how much money you want?

If you’re able to tell them in a very flawless way, you tell who you are. You tell what was your story. How did you come up this? And then you tell, how you’re going to solve this, and what you want with who. Then at the end, very basically I described to you, but we got what we want and we say, “All right, we got what we want.” At the end, a lot of people say they understood if we understand if it is a good startup pitch or not. How I evaluate if it is a good presentation or not is, that if questions comes about the past and the recent, such as “How are going to this”, “have you talked with those”, then it is a bad presentation. If questions comes about the future, such as “what would you do more funding” “would you be able to do more of this” then it is a good presentation. Also, if too few questions are comes then it’s a bad presentation, because that means listeners didn’t get it. If there are a lot of questions coming after your presentation, that means you got some kind of attention. You can not tell everything in two and a half minutes. It is just impossible. The idea behind investor pitching is just to take attention and ask for a longer amount of time for details. On your presentation you have to impress people. You have to touch some specific points, but in a very connected way, with a story. You have to touch some specific points. You need to tell how much money you want at the end, because it’s investor pitching; I can tell almost fifty or seventy percent, they usually forget, or they didn’t do their research enough. They just present their product and we have to ask them, “All right, how much money you want?”

Matt:
How often does it happen, an entrepreneur gives a really shitty presentation and you say, “Yeah, the presentation was shitty, but the product was great, we should make an investment anyway.” How often does that happen?

Aydın:
Good question. Well, that happens. That happens too much, especially here in Turkey. That happens a lot. Turkish people doesn’t have good presentation skills because of many many different reasons, especially the presentations I listen are technical presentations. It is tech jobs and they involve people who have technical skills, mostly founders are technical people. Because of them, mostly, I would say, I cannot give a percent, but mostly it is bad presentations, and very rare good presentations.

Alper:
I just want to clarify, when you ask the question, did you say, how much of the bad presentations end up getting investments?

Matt:
Basically, does a presentation need to be good? Can a presentation suck and you still get an investment?

Alper:
And how much of it happens?

Aydın:
Presentations could be bad, and the products could be good. There are different types of investors. Some people might not be looking at the presentation, just the product, but that is very, very small percentage. They are just investors and they want to invest in something, so their barrier could be low; but with a bad presentation entrepreneurs are missing a huge potential, huge opportunity. That doesn’t happen too much. I know very good products because of bad presentations just couldn’t get understood.

Alper:
What would you suggest they do before the presentation?

Aydın:
For a good “presentation”, a perfect “preparation” is a must. Do rehearsals all the time. Some year ago for an international pitching contest, mentors forced entrepreneurs to memorize every word while they were helping them to get ready to pitch in front of American investors, can you believe they made entrepreneurs memorize every word they present on the stage, including some random sounded jokes.

I believe this how a good presentation happens, though. Jokes, questions to ask, some stoppings, good entrance, hook sentence, a good local voice, eye contact, good usage of stage without looking at your presentation. All those tips that we all know are definitely in my experience effective to have an ear on the presentation. Because think about this, we are not listening only one presentation on that day. We are listening almost thirty presentations for a day, and at the end we have to make a decision. Since there is also a little time to evaluate them, we evaluate them afterwards, which is almost two hours or three hours later. What do we remember? We remember who had “his show” on the stage.

Matt:
Who had the what?

Aydın:
The show. Show. Show on the stage.

Alper:
Who made the best impression.

Aydın:
Yeah, yeah. The best impression.

Matt:
Think of a recent day where you had to sit through these thirty presentations. What was one of the memorable shows? What did the guy or girl do that was memorable? What was memorable?

Aydın:
Well, all right. There are some things I can remember. There are some things I cannot remember, but I know there were some very good presentations, good command of English. In some cases they come to the stage, and they have their people on the audience, and once that team was coming we saw some shoutings and cheerings. A lot people were maybe too tired and looking at their phones, but once we saw all this noise, we just thought, “What’s going on?” And we thought, that there is going to be something over there. Then the guy was very self confident, and he was going to pitch hardware device.

Their presentation was good. The entrepreneur came and he started, since he was going to pitch something with a device and storing files, he started taking a selfie of all the audience and I and us. So, he initially do the demonstration, and he started with a very good problem. We all had these pictures, how I’m going to do this, stuff like that. So he did demo without using too much of his time, he did a good start. He was able to present whatever we like to hear. For investor pitches, we don’t have to hear everything. We don’t have to hear everything. This is the key. Just creating curiosity is important.

Matt:
So, he walks up there on stage and his employees are in the audience and they’re whooping it up so there’s some excitement, and then he gets up there and he takes a selfie of himself, and this is a photo storage device, so he’s working his product into the presentation. So, he’s not just standing up there saying, “Hi, my name is Ercan. We make a product that does photo storage.” He’s actually working the product into the presentation, and you like that.

Aydın:
Exactly. Exactly.

Alper:
What percentage, would you say, slides were used in these one thousand presentations? Like, how much of them use a presentation, like a PowerPoint behind them?

Aydın:
Well, they use them every time. They have to use every time because they have to show something and it’s not only like a free-form speech. If this for the investor presentations, they have to present something, so every time they have to use some sort of…

Alper:
And how would grade their usage of slides, figures and design

Aydın:
Oh man. Well, sometimes they’re very bad.

Alper:
Like confusing? [Crosstalk]

Aydın:
Definitely sometimes confusing. Sometimes small fonts. Mostly presenting about the financials, for example, it is small fonts. We don’t have to see your one-year thing. You can just put it on your backup slide, just present us some …

Alper:
The key elements.

Aydın:
Yeah. Small fonts, and, of course, well, for good presentations, for example, if it is a product announcement, you can use just pictures; but for startup presentation just using pictures without writings sometimes isn’t good because we sometimes we have to see something written. You’re not announcing a product, so there has to be some writings, some information as well. Who you are, what you have done, however you are creative creating your presentation, then of course it takes our attention. For example, on team slides some people put pictures and write under, “I have worked there.” Their titles with the companies, but some people just put their picture but they just add the logos of the companies they have worked or the universities. That is a creative way to say the same thing, but they have to have a presentation, and they have to have some information.

Alper:
Okay, but in most cases, unfortunately, the presentation becomes an obstacle between the presenter and you if done badly.

Aydın:
Exactly, including if they are not prepared enough and looking at the presentation all the time, that becomes definitely an obstacle. They have to go back and forward, that kind of thing. The flow of course because the presentation has to follow the story that you’re telling. The story is the key thing. “How did you end up being there?” That is the most important thing. You are presenting yourself. You are not presenting a product. You are presenting yourself, so if you prepare your slides aligned with your story, then it makes easier for us to catch up. It’s like watching a movie. You don’t have to ask anything. Some slides are going and he’s telling something regarded with that. This was thing. You know how, “I was like this, did this, and then, all of sudden, I figured out this. We had been working on this. This is my team. Blah, blah, blah blah.” Then, it gives a good impression.

Alper:
You would say the presentation, the pitch, the investor pitch is maybe the most important five minutes that person can have on their lifetime.

Aydın:
In their entrepreneurial experience. Exactly.

Alper:
Can we quote you on this?

Aydın:
Yes. Exactly. Exactly Please.

Alper:
The most five crucial minutes…

Aydın:
For an entrepreneur. I will try repeat the same thing. The most important time of their life would be their investor pitching presentation preparedness, whatever that experience is. The most important because they will need this, Alper, everywhere. They will need this everywhere, not only at the fifteen minutes of investor pitching, but a five minute pitching at bar because you are developing something that nobody has ever done before, so trying to express something that no one has ever done before is much more harder than trying to present something easy as saying “here it is.” And they require different skills. You can have very good presentation skills, but if you’re not able to tell what the investor is looking for, if you’re not able to, if you don’t have a hook sentence, for example, then it is not going to make sense. You can be a very good showman. You have to give what the investors are looking for, or potential partners, plus with a good story behind it. And they will need that all the time, everywhere.

Alper:
Do you think they can use the same pitch over and over and over again or should they…

Aydın:
No, It evolves all the time. They have to be good listeners. Another thing, they should not lose any chance to present their presentation. They should not be shy to present. They should apply everywhere and do their presentation all the time. This is one of my tips because every time they will get some questions and they will understand what is missing or not, and based on that feedback they have to change their presentation or pitch. Or should.

Alper:
I have one last question.

Alper:
If you were to sum up your thousand presentation experience and so many years as being in the audience, what would be the three key messages you would want to give to prospective pitchers

Aydın:
Preparation is the key. Preparation, including rehearsals.

Creating a story. Creating a startup story. Why you are there. Your story.

Then, of course, attractive visuals. Because you will have something to show us, having an attractive visual informational documentation, helps you while giving your massages

Matt:
All right. Well, thank you very much.

Alper:
Thank you very much.

Aydın:
You’re welcome, guys.

About Matt Krause

Matt began his professional life managing inventory levels for wholesale import companies and forecasting labor costs for national retail chains. Since 2006, he has been teaching professionals how to present themselves and their companies better. His clients work for companies like Citibank, Microsoft, 3M, P&G, and HP.