In nine years as a VC, I have seen many founders misinterpret the standard advice to ask potential investors questions during pitch meetings.
Frequently, these questions can derail, distract, and make investors feel defensive. To avoid this, I train founders in a strategy inspired by my experience as a high school math teacher which focuses on building rapport, maintaining constant engagement and creating a shared reality. The key is the effective use of low cognitive load questioning.
In other words: only ask investors easy questions.
Let’s say your company is a paper mache startup. As a generalist investor, one of the worst ways you could start a meeting is by asking me to share my thesis on the paper mache industry. I don’t have one, so as soon as you ask that question, my cortisol levels will rise like a nervous student who didn’t do his homework and just got called on by the teacher.
Save the challenging questions for when you’re selecting from multiple investors who are ready to write checks after you’ve convinced them your company is fundable.
I will then proceed to save face by making up the smartest-sounding stuff I can on the fly. But I will know deep down that whatever I just said was a load of nonsense, and on a subconscious level, my brain work towards getting this meeting over with as soon as possible to avoid further callouts.
If you were hoping I would invest in your company, this is a bad place for us to be. Save the challenging questions for a time when you’re selecting from multiple investors who are ready to write checks after you’ve convinced them your company is fundable. In your initial discussions, ask easy questions. These can begin with simple yes/nos.
Asking students easy questions is one of the engagement tricks I learned as a math teacher: If I made them think too much at first, I would often get blank stares and no responses. But if I asked a relatively easy question, like “What is opposite of addition?” I’d get an answer immediately. Approach an investor pitch similarly.