The Small “Tells” when Pitching


I’ve given a lot of advice to founders seeking mentoring or investment. These are generally big ticket items such as valuation or product development and have been covered in my open blog for a couple of years now.

So I thought it time to give some insight into the small “tells” that allow me to read your position and mind set and help me evaluate whether you are ready for investment, advice or growth.

So let’s kick off with:


Google calendar invites are a very popular method of organising meetings and involving all parties involved. They are often, also, the first tell.

I never send invites, but I often receive them. These frequently contain issues which are, at first glance, minor, but can contain a big tell, especially when I receive an invite with the subject. “Meeting with Mike”.

Apart from creating a diary entry indicating that I’m having a meeting with myself, it more importantly gives me two huge tells:

1. It shows the founder has given little thought to our meeting and therefore indicates how unimportant it is to them and therefore to me.
2. It shows the founder lacks empathy (vital for management and understanding your customers).

To fix this an invite could read something like “Meeting between founders name and Mike Hardcastle” or even better “Meeting with founders name”. This would show effort or empathy or both. It is then for me to work out which you possess.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t expect you to know anything about me, but just as you would research a company before being interviewed for a job, I would expect you to have done at least some basic background research.

If you haven’t researched anything, don’t pretend you did. This makes a bad situation worse. I’ve frequently had people make up facts about me when they realise their faux pas. This immediately disengenders me from you.

Or failing to find the meeting venue. With “Google Street View” and live traffic or public transport status, it is very difficult to be late or fail to find a location if you are prepared enough. Apart from extreme exceptions, tardiness is rarely acceptable and phoning me to ask directions close to the venue is an immediate red mark. If after researching the venue, you cannot identify the location, contact me ahead of the meeting for clarification.



Over confidence
I recently had a meeting with a founder who explained that they ship all their products individually world wide and that they appear on the first page of Google’s search results.

When I questioned them about these two claims, it did not peak their curiosity, they ebulliently continued to explain how they knew shipping individually was the best approach and that they had spent a lot of time ensuring their search position. They didn’t think to ask any questions or determine whether I might know anything. This combined with a lack of research about me, prevented them understanding that my background involved global logistics and facilities management (one of two possible options for the growth of their shipping business). They also knew nothing about my Internet background, if they had, they could have learned that there is no such thing as a front page search result or any generalised search position. For several years now, Google and others have provided highly personalised search results based more and more on our meta data, so when two people search for the same thing, the search results will often be completely different.

Deep Thinking
Frequently, if I ask you a question I am more interested in assessing your approach to the answer than the actual answer. Are you giving a stock answer, or have you and your co-founders spent time thinking about these questions and sought your own conclusions without influence from standard doctrine. That is after all, why you are in business; to challenge the norm and to disrupt an industry. I don’t necessarily know the answer, but I can judge whether you have thought about the subject to any depth.
To quote a well worn cliche; “The easiest questions can have the hardest answers”.

Emotional Intelligence
When you are discussing you and your company, which in our meeting will be the majority of the time. Are you keeping an eye on the other party. Are you aware of whether the things you are saying are relevant? Are you looking for my “tells” which will indicate if I am happy listening or perhaps I wish to speak or even end the meeting. There will naturally come a point at which the main contributor to the meeting changes from you to me, are you monitoring this ready to hand over the baton, or are you happy to continue to talk about yourself. EQ or emotional intelligence is a very important trait and most successful founders have it in spades. Unlike many other types of intelligence, this can, to some degree be learnt.


Lastly if you have a problem, admit it, if you are struggling, explain why. Nobody is perfect, by admitting your weaknesses openly, you allow others to help and engage with you.

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