Shows like The Apprentice place a huge focus on the personality of the contestants. Why? Partly because it’s entertaining and makes good TV, but because investors like Lord Sugar want to ensure that they’re compatible with any potential business partner. Week by week we see CVs scrutinised (mainly because of contestants’ outlandish claims) and the wheat separated from the chaff in the boardroom. When you look back at the last few seasons, it’s easy to see why the winners were chosen. In 2014, it was Mark Wright’s “great salesmanship, ruthless methodology, determination and experience” that impressed the multi-millionaire, and in 2015, Joseph Valente reminded Lord Sugar of himself back in his early days in business.
Interestingly, when Company Check carried out a survey with 3,000 business leaders to find out what they think an investor cares about most when deciding whether to back a company, the business plan was placed higher than the personality and experience of the entrepreneur (38 per cent compared to 15 per cent). Other answers included previous sales (27 per cent), the idea (9 per cent) and the economy (8 per cent). A group of successful angel investors said the opposite, their views more closely aligned with TV programmes such as The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den. One investor commented: “Having invested in about 15 early stage companies – and seen some failures – my ranking would be founder, idea, then business plan; especially the technology, is it scalable or will it require substantial re-investment?”
So what’s the best way to get a high-profile investor like Lord Sugar on board?
Now I appreciate this may sound a little strange/obvious, but if you’re unwilling to be adaptable during a pitch for investment then you’re going to come across as robotic. This puts a barrier between you and the investor, and as a result you’ll struggle to connect. This isn’t to say that you can’t follow a script, but what if they throw a question that you weren’t expecting, like “we’ve heard about your business, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?” You’re going to be stumped.
When I was pitching for angel investment for Carsnip.com I knew the investors would have an interest in who I was and what I had done, my background and my experience in business, and because of this, I didn’t wait for the question to be asked, I started my pitch with it.
Storytelling in business is not a new idea, in fact, it’s been talked about so much that it’s essentially a cliché at this point. But it works, and there’s scientific evidence to support the notion that pitches can be improved with storytelling. This aligns with the investors’ emphasis on the founder, because storytelling in a pitch should capture the human element of your story, and why you’re looking for a cash injection.
My best piece of advice, then, is that while it may be uncomfortable for some people to open up and talk about themselves, it’s necessary for engagement and rapport building. Perhaps even share an anecdote or two, if you feel the moment is right.
I believe that having this approach helped us secure more than $1 million of investment during our funding rounds for Carsnip.com. We now have investment from some hugely influential tech angels such as Adrian Aoun, head of special projects for Google and Hank Vigil, senior vice president of strategy and partnership for Microsoft. Between them, our angels have previously backed the likes of ClassPass, Pinterest, Square, Wish and Wavii, and bring a huge wealth of experience and expertise to our exciting new venture.
Alastair Campbell is the founder of business data provider Company Check, and car search engine Carsnip.com.