No Such Thing As A Perfect Pitch

By Zander Adell WG’12, founder of Doorman

Some people are born orators, or at least have enough practice at it that public speaking is an unremarkable part of their week. And some are born salesmen, daring the world to say No so they can get closer to that Yes.

Zander Adell - Doorman cropped
Zander Adell pitching at the Spring Startup Pitch event.

I am neither of these people. I like building things, designing experiences, watching complexity in motion and messing with it. So I started a company called Doorman, which takes an Uber-like approach to package delivery, perfecting the last mile of e-commerce by letting people schedule home package delivery until midnight – the team and I get to design apps, optimize delivery operations, delight customers, and even take in revenue.

So now that it’s time to raise seed funding, I’ve found myself unpleasantly weaned off of product design and operations, and thrust in front of a projector with a clicker in my hand to convince the investment community that Doorman really is as viable as our team and our customers think it is.

So when Wharton Entrepreneurship announced this year’s Spring Startup Pitch event, I felt a sense of obligation. This event would force me to work on my pitch, and then put me in front of real live investors. I knew I had to participate, because I needed the practice.

To that end, I initially approached this with a sense of obligation, but what I did not expect” was the unique insight I would gain into the venture community mindset, the great connections I’d make along the way, or the very real access I would be afforded to active investors.

The first step was to attend a mandatory “Perfect Pitch” workshop a week before the actual event, to ensure that none of us embarrassed ourselves (or Wharton). My team delivered our pitch before a panel consisting of an early stage angel investor and a later stage VC. We all benefited from thoughtful, valuable feedback, and all the teams did well.

What exceeded our expectations even further, however, was the value of the Q&A session, when the Wharton entrepreneurs felt safe to ask some basic yet fundamental questions. Some of the greatest insights came from the seemingly innocuous, for example, “should the team slide be at the back or the front of the deck?”  The answers that followed this and other questions forever corrected my perspective on fundraising and entrepreneurship. For example, with respect to the team question, the angel said, “The front. Early stage companies go through a lot of changes, so I’m investing in the people and their ability to navigate the hard times.”  The later stage VC investor said, “The back. This may be controversial, but I’ve seen mediocre teams run very successful companies.”

To wit: The founding team is everything in the beginning, and then gets to take a back seat as the company grows and gains traction.  More fundamentally, the pitch as a whole changes based on the audience, and on what stage the company is at.

The first insight was a valuable specific; the second changed the way I see pitching. There is no one Perfect Pitch. Instead, it’s about making a connection between my company, our strengths and our needs, and the right investor, who sees the potential we have and who wants to partner with us to get there.

Finally the day of the Spring Startup Pitch arrived, hosted at the Wharton | San Francisco campus. We pitched to two sets of investors: first a group of VCs, then a group of earlier stage seed investors, and what transpired made perfect sense in light of my recent revelations. The VCs were very focused on our traction, and advised that we needed to get those numbers up. And while that’s certainly true, there was a moment at the end of our second pitch (to the early stage investors) that I’ll never forget. By coincidence, one of the panel members was an investor with whom I’d been trying to get a meeting for weeks. At the end of our pitch she smiled, slid her card across the table and said, “I’m interested.”

We were very happy to be named by the judges as one of the Top 3 teams that day, and I have spent the past week in meetings with three of the investors from the event. I hope that one of them will turn out to be the partner we’re looking for. And if not—at least now I know how to give a good pitch.

Many thanks to Wharton Entrepreneurship and the Wharton | San Francisco team  –  Vice Dean Doug Collom; Irina Yuen, Wharton Entrepreneurship; Steve Hernandez, Director of Career Management Services; Allison Grant, Director of Events; Duncan Logan, CEO & Founder of RocketSpace, and his team – and everyone else who helped pull the event together.

z adell headshotBio: Zander Adell is Co-Founder & CEO of Doorman, backed by 500 Startups. He has an MBA from Wharton, has worked as a Product Manager at Idle Games, and as a Technical Director at Pixar Animation Studios. You can find him on Twitter @zanderadell.