By Bruce Johnstone, Leader-Post
September 14, 2012
In the business world, the word pitch conjures up images of slickly produced plugs for superfluous products by polished pitchmen, like Vince the Sham-Wow guy.
Linda Plano would like would-be entrepreneurs to think about pitch in the musical sense, as in confidently conveying a message about your product or service that is emotionally pleasing and intellectually satisfying to the listener.
"A lot of people think of a pitch as something slick and stylish and there's no real substance to it,'' Plano said in an interview with the Leader-Post. "That's not the point of a pitch, as far as I'm concerned," said the Boston-based business consultant and entrepreneurial coach.
"I don't want (a pitch to be) slick and cool because a few well-planned questions will rip it apart in no time and then you've lost your credibility,'' she said. "In fact, if I can convince somebody that they're not ready to go in front of an investor because they have not built enough of a foundation to build a really good pitch, I consider that a win.''
On Thursday, Plano presented "The Perfect Pitch," a full-day workshop at the Conexus Arts Centre as part of the Progress2Capital business planning competition. Through her company Plano & Simple, which she started in 2004, Plano has coached more than 500 entrepreneurs, who have gone on to raise $250 million in equity capital and grant funding.
The key to the "perfect pitch'' isn't production values; it's the value proposition of your business plan, said Plano.
"You can't make your dreams come true if there's no substance to them,'' said Plano. "I'll work really hard with someone, no matter how rudimentary their understanding of business is, as long as they show me ... they've got some substance.''
Of course, style does matter - to potential investors. "If you don't sound like you're passionate and enthusiastic about what you're doing .... why should I risk my capital in your business?''
Another rule of Plano's: Keep it simple. "I call my company Plano & Simple because I want you to communicate something complex simply." That doesn't mean "dumbing it down'' for potential investors either. "Instead think about simplifying and clarifying."
Plano, who has a BSc in physics from MIT and PhD in materials science and engineering from Stanford, says scientists and 'techies' often struggle to explain their invention in layman's terms, but that's exactly what they have to do if they want someone to invest their money in it.
"What I'm asking (them) to do is something that is simple, but not easy. It's really hard to tell something simply and clearly."
And that's just the beginning of the process of developing a pitch, which must answer 10 basic questions any investor would have. "The question - what do you do in language I understand? - is just one of 10 questions. The other nine are all associated with business issues. So it's not enough to have a great idea. You have to have the business (plan) around it."