Startup Pitch Phrases that Result in Lower Fundraising Success (and what to say instead!)

 By Martin Luenendonk| 2017-07-24T22:38:14+00:00 June 19th, 2017|

So, you are getting to the point where your startup pitch deck is prepared.

You’re now ready to convince the investors – be it venture capitalists or angel investors – that your startup is investment worthy.

There is one thing you need to remember, no matter how many pitching exercising you’ve done or presentation hacks you’ve mastered.

You need to not screw up by saying something stupid.

A single sentence can make or break your pitch.

Remember, on average you only need to pitch to less than 10 investors who are relevant and you might get an investment.

You simply can’t afford to screw it up.

So, in this section will examine the most stupid things you can say and the phrases that you should utter instead.

Pitch Phrase #1: “Sure, the answer to that is [come up with a lie]”

The first rule of pitching it to never lie – ever.

You can actually spot a liar and the investor might start suspecting your honesty.

If they do that, then they might start looking into it more, realise you lied and simply pull out of the investment.

Even if they don’t find out that you flat out lied; it can be enough for them just to feel like you’re not being honest and disengage from the investment opportunity.

Once you lose one investor – especially for dishonesty – the others might follow.

It should go without saying that you can’t ever start plucking numbers out of thin air or make claims that you can’t back up. If you don’t have data or other proof, don’t make the claim.

So, what to say instead?

“I can’t answer that question right now but I’ll get back to you on that.”

If you don’t know something, be honest about it.

However, don’t just say, “I don’t know” and move on. Always provide a path for finding the answer to the investor or to improve your pitch in general.

Pitch Deck Course

Pitch Phrase #2: “It goes without saying”

Nothing in your pitch should ‘go without saying ‘– you can’t have obvious things in your pitch.

You need to explain everything and back it up with data.

You can’t say you’ll grow 10x in two years without proving how you are going to do that.

It’s shouldn’t be ‘obvious’ that consumers have a pain point that you’re tapping into – show and explain how you know this!

You also can’t over- or underestimate what the investors know about the market.

Don’t pitch to them like they should know all of this by heart – you’re supposed to help them understand why your startup is worth of investment.

So, what to say instead?

“We are going to do this because we’ve studied our customers/our product development has shown it’s the best way/the metrics are on the side of action at this point/etc.”

Essentially, you always need to go to the why and how you are going to achieve something.

For example, don’t just state that you’ve ‘obviously’ chosen the subscription-based business model for your app. Instead, explain why it works for your startup.

Is it the best in generating income? Does it allow you to provide extra value for the user? Have you done market research to suggest the customers favour it?

Pitch Phrase #3: “We are like Google or Uber for X”

OK, you’re not Google or Uber.

Your startup has its own name, its own business model and it should have its own unique ways of doing things.

You aren’t another company and you shouldn’t even try to be.

Think of it like this:

Investors aren’t looking for another Google.

Google is already out there – investors are looking for something unique and different. Something to rival Google.

If you are a carbon copy of Google, why would anyone start using you?

See, your startup needs that unique value proposition – the thing that takes customers away from competition.

Investors want to hear that and not how you are exactly like another big company.

So, what to say instead?

“We are unique because we provide our product to the customer with 10x faster delivery time than our competitors”

You essentially need to show the value in your company – your unique value proposition and the thing that differentiates you from the rest.

Perhaps you offer unique value because of a specific function in the product or your business model that’s wholly unique to the market.

Value Proposition

Source: Fourquadrant blog

Pitch Phrase #4: “We don’t have competition”

Life is about competition.

You can’t get in front of investors and claim you don’t have any.

It simply isn’t true.

There are two types of competition: direct and indirect competition in the form of substitutes.

Direct competition would look like this:

Direct competition

Sure, you might not have direct competition. It could be that you’ve found a whole new angle to solving a customer pain point and you’re creating a business or service that doesn’t exist.

However, you will still have substitute competition – someone trying to solve the same problem but from a different angle.

If we take the above example; there might be no other car companies. However, you would be competing like this:

Substitute competition

If you claim to not have any competition, you have not done your homework at all.

And if you just claim it to sound cool, you are a bad entrepreneur and the investor won’t invest.

You always have competition and you will definitely start attracting more of it once your startup becomes a hit.

When Apple brought out iPhone, suddenly everyone was doing similar phones.

Success breeds more competition and it’s more important to acknowledge this than to pretend there is no one to take your place.

So, what to say instead?

“We are well protected in the market because of IP/patent/market position/ability to adapt.”

“Our main competitors are X and Y but here’s how we can beat them [your value proposition]”

For example, you might say you’ll be able to beat the competition because you’ve focused on the delivery times or you also allow customers to read reviews, which your research has shown to be a valuable benefit for customers.

Pitch Phrase #5: “We just need 1% of the market”

You might want to say that to showcase your potential.

But you can’t go claiming that if you just carve out a certain percentage of a specific market then you’ll be fine.

It doesn’t really reveal anything.

Consider you are creating a wine app.

Now the total US wine sales were $60 billion in 2016. But you’re not targeting the whole wine industry here – you should be aiming for a niche.

It might be that you’ve identified the online buyers as your market and there you are opting for the organic sector first.

You need to be much clearer in your target and see beyond just a figure you’ve plucked from an industry report.

So, what to say instead?

“This is our market share right now. And we think we can achieve x% of the market by 2020 because we’ve superior defendable value proposition which will make customers switch to our solution. And here’s exactly how we’ll do that. Step 1, step 2, and step 3, etc.”

Pitch Phrase #6: “The conservative predictions are”

This isn’t Sunday school.

You are pitching to top investors and they want to see what you want to achieve.

Conservative rings the wrong bells for two reasons in the ears of the investors.

First, it assumes that you’ve made all the calculations correctly and you know exactly what will happen.

But you don’t. Sure, you need to provide estimates and predictions that are as accurate as possible, but adding conservative to it just doesn’t make it any more credible for the investor.

The second problem is that it makes it all sound like you’re just aiming for the middle ground.

That you’re playing it safe.

You’re essentially pitching “let’s hope this happens” scenario rather than “here’s our vision and aim”.

So, what to say instead?

“Here are the likely predictions…”

It’s also worth noting that you could also prevent the worst and best case scenarios based on your projections.

The key is to explain what steps you’re taking in order to ensure the best-case scenario wins. Meaning that you need to show how you are managing risks – whether it’s by rolling out a minimum viable product or having strong IP rights for the products.

Pitch Phrase #7: “We are guaranteed to earn a million in year one”

Two red flags will immediately go up if you utter something like that.

First, nothing in life – and especially in business – is guaranteed.

Startups are essentially about risk no matter how much you like to sugar coat it.

The word guarantee just shouldn’t feature in a pitch. Ever.

The second problem is that you’re not going to make a million in the first year.

OK, so if you are shouting “but I will!” at the screen, I have two questions:

Do you really, really, really have the financial data to back up your claim?

And, what the hell are you doing seeking expensive venture capital when you can get cheaper debt financing if your projections are so accurate?

Seriously, don’t be crazy.

Back your claims and understand there is always risk involved in startup investors.

Investors know it and they are still willing to invest. But not if you are too stupid to understand they are ultimately always taking a risk.

So, what to say instead?

“Based on these metrics/traction, our one-year turnout looks this X, out of which our profit is like this Y.”

When you make predictions like this, you generally want to be highlighting your business model – it can show how you are planning to raise and make money.

Business Model

Pitch Phrase #8: “We need you to give us X, that’s it”

You don’t want to walk in that you require an X amount of money from the investor and that’s it.

The pitch is not a pegging opportunity. You are not there to argue how much you need the money. The investor knows you need money.

However, the investor wants to hear what they get out of it.

You’re essentially trying to pitch a win-win situation.

The investor gives you X, which allows you to do Y, and this will mean the startup scales and you provide the investor with a hefty return.

It isn’t just about you asking for money and investor getting a return.

Your startup is supposed to help others – employers and consumers.

Never make it like you just need to money and that’s all the investor needs to know.

So, what to say instead?

“We need $500k in order to launch the product on the new market and market it on social media which will help us obtain 120% increase in subscriptions.”

“Beyond capital, we are also looking for an investor to help with our marketing/product development/breaking to a new sector or market.”

Pitch Phrase #9: “We are cheaper thus we offer more value”

Selling cheaper does not mean your product or service is automatically better than the rest.

What you need to do is compare the value to the customer with the price to the customer.

How much value does the customer get for the money they are giving to your startup?

The above doesn’t just miss the point of a low price of somehow relating to the value but also the difference between low selling price and low production price.

Essentially, just because you sell your product cheap it doesn’t mean you’re a low-cost producer.

Startups can often operate lean at the start, which can mean the product or service can be provided cheaper than other companies.

But more often than not, the situation to be lean changes as your business grows.

You’ll start increasing cost because you might have to produce more, you need a bigger warehouse, you must spend more on marketing and so on.

To impress the investor, you need to understand how the profit margin will develop from what it is today and what it will be once the startup scales.

So, what to say instead?

“Our real value proposition comes from relevancy to the problem/quantified value/unique differentiation/etc.”

Pitch Phrase #10: “We’ve not hit home with the customers yet but…”

So, what is going to change?

Honestly, just stop pitching already.

If your customers haven’t loved your product, you need to take a step back on carefully consider whether you are investment ready.

Have you validated your key assumptions of the business model?

If not, you’re wasting your time and you are better of going back to the drawing board.

Besides, you can’t ever accuse your customers ‘not getting it’. If they don’t like the product, it isn’t their fault but there’s something wrong with what’s on offer or how it’s on offer.

You shouldn’t also really admit to saying you have no traction, especially if you’ve been in business for a few months.

Instead, explain why it might be the case – you haven’t had enough marketing done, the product is incomplete – and move on from there.

So, what to say instead?

“With the investment we can launch X which will help us reach Y and gain traction.”

Always show solution orientation rather just admit you have a problem. Sure, there’s a problem but show the investor how you’ll solve it.

Pitch Phrase #11: “All 5 of us are CEOs”

It’s cool that you have equal ownership and decision-making ability with the founders but the problem is that investors aren’t necessarily excited to find out there’s five of you.


Think about the saying too many cooks in the kitchen and what this essentially means.

If you have five founders with equal ownership and decision-making ability, you will make decision making harder.

Every time there needs to be a decision, you have to find a consensus – between FIVE people!

This is time-consuming and it will eventually lead to situations where you just don’t all agree. Then what?

In the investor’s point of view, this looks complicated and it can jeopardise the startup’s ability to grow and make a profit.

The longer it takes to make decisions, the more harm you might be doing for your business.

You’re essentially just limiting your growth prospects.

If you have more than two founders, you want to ensure that every founder is focusing on different things in an aligned manner.

This is more effective because more things are done and everyone is aware of their particular responsibilities. The startup has a higher chance of succeeding and growing as a result.

So, what to say instead?

“Our team looks like this and I’m the CEO.”

“John here is our CEO, I’m in charge of the product development, Tina has extensive experience in marketing so she has been leading our marketing efforts, and Sally with 10-years worth of experience in accounting will keep an eye on our accounts.”

Pitch Phrase #12: “We can’t see problems ahead of us”

If you can’t see problems ahead of your startup, then you aren’t looking hard enough.

It’s guaranteed your startup has problems.

Heck, over 90% of startups fail – a clear sign that something is problematic.

So, to go around saying there won’t be problems, the investors are just going to laugh – and probably not silently.

You shouldn’t ever assume there wouldn’t be problems but instead focus on showing how you can overcome these.

You want to focus how your team is able to handle the different aspects of launching a business, and that you’ve taken care of some of the most obvious startup downfalls.

Investors don’t like to take unnecessary risks.

Therefore, they appreciate you acknowledging problems but making sure you risk-proof your startup.

So, what to say instead?

“Here are the pain points for our business and this is how we can overcome them.”

The key to staying the right things: be honest and passionate

Investors ultimately invest in people.

Numbers and explanations of functions shouldn’t, therefore, ever bog down your pitch.

Instead, you want to appeal to the human side of the investors.

You want to tell stories and focus on engaging the investor emotionally, as I’ve explained in the previous posts on presenting and structuring your pitch.

The bottom line is that no matter what you end up saying, your guiding principle should be this:

Be yourself and be authentic.

Don’t lie, don’t make things up, and don’t pretend you or your startup is something it isn’t.

If you can tell the investor how passionate you are, then they will want to be part of this passion.

Wouldn’t you agree?

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