Pitching by telephone – some tips on how to have a good call

July 31, 2011

Call me

Firstly, are you MAD? Pitching to an investor by telephone? Not a good idea! Your goal should always be to get a face-to-face meeting, but maybe the investor’s asked for the call as a way to screen you for that meeting.  But it may not be, in the fast moving world of AngelList a few emails and a phone call might be all you need to get a committed investor. That was my experience, so here are my top tips for how to go about telephone pitching and get the best results.

Calls are shorter than meetings

Face to face meetings are usually scheduled for an hour. With a delayed start and early finish you can bank on getting about 40-45 minutes quality time. Calls are usually scheduled for 30 minutes, but you may only get 20 or 25 minutes. But as long as the investor doesn’t have something scheduled immediately afterwards, the call will often run on; just don’t count on it. So with less time available it’s critical to use less slides and get to the point quicker.

Make the call yourself

I think it’s better if you call the other party rather than ask them to call you. I suspect it’s the right etiquette, but the reason I do it is I think the call is far more likely to take place if the other person knows you are calling them. If they are calling you, and you’ve never spoken before, there is much more chance of you getting an email 5 minutes before the call saying “sorry about this but I’m going to have reschedule this”. No matter how annoying this can be it will happen… so graciously reschedule!

Double check times/dates

Self explanatory really. And if calling across timezones, don’t use your brain to work out the offset, use your calendar to do so. Despite checking and double checking it’s remarkably easy to f*ck this up, and it makes you look like really dumb if you get it wrong, especially if you call a mobile and catch someone eating their Frosted Flakes rather than sitting at their desk in the office. (Oh yes, I’ve done that!)

Call during daylight

I’ve done lots of calls from the UK to Silicon Valley, and I always try to schedule them for early morning Pacific time, so they are late afternoon for the UK. I prefer to do this because I find I’m much more alert and enthusiastic when the sun is shining outside. I’m not saying I won’t do a call at 10pm (I have), but I prefer not to. YMMV.

Phone or Skype?

I always use Skype to make the call because it’s cheap and I know my set up works great, but I prefer to call their phone number rather than do Skype to Skype. Even if the other person is using Skype, you never know in advance the quality of their set up. Will you be able to hear them properly? Will they be able to hear you? I’d rather call the investor on their office phone, using their DDI if at all possible. Landline phones are not shiny new technology and because of that they work reliably all the time. Skype doesn’t.

Go somewhere quiet

You want to hear and be heard clearly, so do yourself and the other person a favour and find a quiet room to make the call from. That means no kids screaming, no dogs barking, no baristas prepping a tall skinny latte in the background. Silence is golden.

Use a headset

This is all about your voice being heard clearly, but also helps with eliminating echo, and if you are somewhere with some background noise you must must must use a headset.

Sharing your screen

Don’t use Skype’s built in screen sharing capability… the image quality is terrible. Instead use Join.me, a free tool from LogMeIn. Great quality and really easy to set up.

Conversational tips:

I learnt these first 3 points from one of silicon valley’s top pitch trainers, Bill Joos, of Go To Market Consulting. (Bill is awesome, if you can work with him you should jump at the chance).

These points work whether face to face, or on the phone:

1. Double check how much time you have

Even though you’ve scheduled in advance, plans change, shit happens, so always double check at the start of the call how long the person has available for you.

2. Find out why the person took your call

Really important question which is nearly always very illuminating. “What attracted you to my startup?” But do remember to listen to what is said and take notes!

3. Ask “the” question

“What are the top three things you’d like to find out about my startup during this meeting?”  Again, remember to listen and take notes so you can address these points.

4. Be expressive

A majority of communication is non-verbal, so by doing it over the phone you’re losing this. You have to make it up for it, so try and vary the tone of your voice, use expressive words and smile when you’re talking; it helps.

5. Leave gaps

Again, when not sitting opposite someone it’s harder to have a conversation that flows, but that’s your goal. So aim for a conversation rather than a presentation, and leave chances for them to interject. This can mean you might over-run, so in terms of content I’d suggest that you at cover the most important points early on, but it’s fine to leave them wanting more as that may get you the follow up meeting.

Finally, and just to reiterate, you want to avoid if at all possible having to pitch by phone, but it’s not all bad, it’s a lot more time efficient for you and your investor, and there’s certain things you can do when you are not face to face, like make use of notes and other materials so in some ways it’s less pressure. It’s also not a bad way of preparing and getting practise for a face-to-face pitch.

Good luck and let me know how you get on!


What can Rupert Murdoch learn from Warren Buffett on how to handle the News Corp scandal?

July 19, 2011

Rupert Murdoch - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2007

This also appeared on the Real Business website

The current scandal which has enveloped News Corporation and it’s founder, Chairman and CEO, Rupert Murdoch is an extraordinary spectacle; I can’t help wondering how the other famous 80 year billionaire, Warren Buffett, would deal with this issue if he were in Rupert’s shoes?

Interestingly the two share a common background in newspapers: Buffett started his entrepreneurial endeavours as a young boy operating paper delivery routes and in later life he’s also known for his ownership of the Buffalo News and as a board director of The Washington Post.

Rupert Murdoch, dubbed the “billionaire tyrant” in an episode of Fox screened cartoon, The Simpsons,  is of course infamous as a hands-on publisher who knows more about what’s going on than his editors; he is known to call his editors on a weekly basis and give them a grilling. That made it hard to believe what we saw at the committee inquiry today. On the one hand Rupert Murdoch, and even at times, his son James, appeared genuinely sorry, but also very genuinely unaware of the issues and the allegations facing News Corporation and its subsidiaries.

Even with the opportunity of the last couple of weeks to do their research and be well briefed, there were issues brought up of which the Murdochs seemed to have no knowledge of. They’re still paying some or all of the convicted criminal, Glenn Mulcaire’s legal bills, and Murdoch Snr had no knowledge at all of the “collective amnesia” of his News International staff, or of the actions of the News of the World’s chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck in receiving transcripts of intercepted phone calls.

The media, and the MPs in today’s parliamentary select committee found it hard to believe that the Murdochs could be quite so trusting of their employees. One BBC reporter quaintly referred to delegation of power and responsibility at the company which employs 53,000 people, as “devolution”. It seems that could in fact be an accurate description. Should Rupert Murdoch be congratulated for being the trusting patriarch at the head of News Corporation, leaving talented and trusted employees to run each subsidiary as they see fit, or the person to blame for a culture of criminality and deliberately following a policy of willful blindness?

Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett is the founder and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway is famous as a hands-off manager, even though he runs a diversified conglomerate with annual revenues of $136Bn, an amount over 4 times that of News Corporation. In contrast to News Corp, Berkshire has a head office staff of just 16 people. He famously only does business with those that he “likes, trusts and admires”, and once he’s bought a company he leaves the management team in place to do as they see fit. So why does Buffett get away with such a light touch, when it appears to backfire so spectacularly for Mr Murdoch?

Looking back at the Salomon Brothers scandal of the 1990s when Buffett – as a minority shareholder – stepped in as Chairman, he said this to a committee of the US House of Representatives in 1991:

In the end, the spirit about compliance is as important, or more so, than words about compliance.

I want the right words and I want the full range of internal controls. But I also have asked every Salomon employee to be his or her own compliance officer.

After they first obey all rules, I then want employees to ask themselves whether they are willing to have any contemplated act appear the next day on the front page of their local paper, to be read by their spouses, children and friends, with the reporting done by an informed and critical reporter.

If they follow this test, they need not fear my other message to them: Lose money for the firm and I will be understanding. Lose a shred of reputation for the firm and I will be ruthless.

Buffett lives and breathes his ethics in his actions, and expects others to do so. The best the Murdochs seemed to manage today is that they issue a pamphlet with details of the company’s code of conduct to all employees. I think this was one of the most telling details revealed today; if they really cared the pamphlet would be just be the written backup of a policy and attitude which pervades the culture of the company. Instead the culture seemend to be of ambition, greed, and success with exclusive stories and increasing circulation at all costs.

The reality is that words are cheap, and actions are everything; Murdoch should play a round of golf with Buffett and take some tips from someone who understands that.


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