Diversity & Inclusion

VC Funding: Perfecting Your Pitch

People sometimes forget facts. They often forget figures. But they always remember stories.

Peter Njongwe Image

“One of the mentors completely ripped my pitch apart.”
– Peter Njongwe, founder of Lapis Health

Originally from Canada, San Francisco-based entrepreneur, Peter Njongwe, was pleasantly surprised to discover that storytelling is one of the central tenets of securing VC funding.

Prior to his participation in the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center Mentorship Circle program, the founder of Lapis Health had been ambivalent about sharing his company’s story due to its intensely personal origins.

“One of the things I struggled with was talking about how my brother’s death from heart disease was the reason I started Lapis,” says Peter.

“I wanted people to know that I had a serious business. I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me.”

What he didn’t know at the time was that, contrary to popular belief, the VC community isn’t focused solely on number crunching when evaluating investment propositions. They have a penchant for effective storytelling, too.

And given that many of the world’s most successful companies were birthed out of personal needs that were conveyed through carefully constructed brand narratives, a picture-perfect investment pitch almost invariably has a compelling story as its centerpiece, which neatly ties all the threads together – facts, figures and everything besides.

In the case of Lapis Health, Peter was inspired to start the company following his brother’s untimely death from heart disease in his sleep. He was 36 years old.

His company “helps heart disease survivors to live healthy lives by reversing the effects and progression of heart disease through tiny healthy habits.”

Due to his time on the program, Peter has learned to fully embrace his company’s story.

“Going through the eight-week program made me realize that I should own my story. It’s who I am. It’s why I started my company,” he says.

Perfecting the pitch

One of the most popular questions among entrepreneurs seeking VC funding is: what makes a perfect pitch?

“There are three key questions you need to ask yourself,” says Peter.

“One is why do I want VC funding?’Two is how much funding do I want? And three is what am I going to do with it?

“To answer these questions, you need to tell your story, know your numbers and present your shopping list to potential investors.”

…you need to tell your story, know your numbers and present your shopping list to potential investors.

But without confidence, even the best-scripted pitches can ring hollow and won’t necessarily guarantee success in the VC funding stakes.

Peter felt particularly challenged in the confidence department.

“I doubted myself,” he says. “But the mentors said, ‘You’re as good as anyone. You’re as confident as anyone. You can do this!’ That really helped me approach investors more confidently.”

Peter’s example underscores the vital role that confidence plays in both preparing and presenting a funding pitch. He quotes the late political activist, Marcus Garvey, who said:

“If you haven’t confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life. With confidence, you have won even before you have started.”

Revisiting Nasdaq mentorship

Initially, Peter was hesitant about joining the program because it wasn’t his first rodeo with Nasdaq. Earlier in the summer, he had been selected to take part in Milestone Makers – Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center’s flagship mentorship program dedicated to supporting early-stage founders working on COVID-19 solutions in healthcare, tech, education, food and other fields.

“I’d just finished the Milestone Makers program where I created our go-to- market strategy. So, I was on the fence about whether the Mentorship Circle program would involve me going over the same material and exercises again, which would have been a waste of time,” he says.

But any reservations Peter may have had about the uniqueness of the program were quickly dispelled. For him, it specifically caters for the needs of people with the lived experience of Black founders and entrepreneurs.

“People don’t understand that the experience of being in a room – albeit a virtual one – with entrepreneurs who look like me just doesn’t happen,” he says.

“On my founder journey, I haven’t seen many entrepreneurs who look like me. So, I’ve always had a form of imposter syndrome, wondering if I belong.

“But on the program, successful Black entrepreneurs came in and talked to us about the obstacles they faced and how they overcame them.

“It was refreshing to have a forum – a ‘safe space’ – where similar people who talk the same language could come together and share their experiences. I almost cried because I didn’t even think this was possible.

“The program affirmed that I deserve my seat at the table. Moreover, that Black people deserve their seats at the table.”

Paying it forward

According to Peter, if you’re willing to have your funding pitch dissected by seasoned experts, the end product will be worth its weight in gold.

“One of the mentors completely ripped my pitch apart,” he says. “At first, I thought what I knew was good enough, but now I’m much more confident about my pitch and I can tell my story a lot better.”

Peter’s time on the program involved “non-stop learning.” His advice to founders and entrepreneurs about to embark on a mentorship program is threefold:

“Firstly, come with an open mind. Secondly, stick with the program and, thirdly, know that not every day will necessarily be revelatory. There may be some days when you ask yourself, ‘Maybe I already know this?’ or ‘How will this add value to my business?’

“But remember that it’s an eight-week journey and you’ll exit the program a much better professional (and person) than when you entered it.”

When it comes to aspirations and achievement, Peter’s philosophy is a simple one: “if you can see it, you can be it.”

“A lot of people don’t see the success of Black founders,” he says. “The only way we can increase representation and ensure that Black voices are heard at the table is by other Black founders giving back.”

Peter intends to “pay it forward” by mentoring would-be Black entrepreneurs in the hope that they, too, will do the same for others.

“This ‘each one, teach one’ approach can stop the cycle of non-representation among Black founders,” he says.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Kieron Johnson

Kieron Johnson is a content/communications consultant to emerging and established brands.

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