Stop spending so much time on your product when pitching to investors

Investors don't care about your product. Not really.

Investors think a great deal about a great number of things when considering an investment: How big is the market? How good is the founder-market fit? Is it venture-scale?

It’s natural for founders to live and breathe for their customers and product, but the dirty little secret of fundraising is that your investors are extraordinarily unlikely to care about your product. And they have a few legitimate reasons for being that way.

I often see product-focused founders spending a lot of time talking about the solution they are building. That makes sense. In the context of building a great product, founders are creating an investment pitch that reflects their day-to-day life. They will spend a lot of time on their product: They’ll talk to customers, work with engineering and are trying to slice the marketing pie in a way that makes sense.

So when a founder is talking to their investors, clearly the investors should care just as much as about the product, right?


Your VC is “selling” money and board-level advice to “buy” a percentage of your company. You’re not selling your product to your investors, so don’t waste your time there.

In a company’s earliest stages, its product is completely replaceable. The one thing of value is whether you understand your customers and the market. If that is true (and it should be!), you’ll be able to build effective solutions for your customers in various ways.

You could pivot the company from one approach to another. You could choose to solve a different problem in the same problem space. You could even scrap your product altogether and start over as your MVP experiments evolve and you discover that early assumptions about your market, problem or customers were wrong. Or, you’ll discover that there are much larger opportunities than you had expected at first and change your plans accordingly.

One great example of this is Stuart Butterfield. He tried to create a video game company twice. The first time, he needed a web photo-sharing solution that gamers could use to share screenshots and pictures with their friends. However, there was no good solution, so Butterfield’s team built one, and then discovered that the photo-sharing thing they built was a better opportunity than the game.

The second time he tried to build a games company, the team was working remotely, so they built an internal tool that would enable real-time communications via chat — like Internet Relay Chat from days gone by but with better search and persistent storage of the conversations. Again, the company discovered that this solution had wider applications, so they gave up on the game and focused on building the communications platform instead.

You may have heard of the two solutions: The photo-sharing platform is called Flickr and the chat company is called Slack. If Stuart were to approach me for some angel investment for a third games company, I’d write him as big a check as I could afford, and I wouldn’t even expect him to actually ship a game.

The VCs you are trying to raise money from have a business model. The limited partners (LPs, the people investing money into the venture fund) are on one side of the equation, and the startups are on the other. VCs are trying to solve a particular “problem”: Their LPs have invested money in the venture fund, and they would like an outsized return on that investment. The “solution” VCs provide is the investment thesis, which is the theory behind why they are investing in a certain stage and type of company.

I’ve written about this in my “How venture capital works” article, and it’s worth a read if you’re not 100% sure how it all works.

At the earliest stages, your investors are evaluating whether you have the ability to build a good product. But an investor’s idea of a “good product” may be different than what you think when you hear that phrase.

The world of startups (and the world of business in general) is full of products that weren’t great, but they won a customer base anyway. Having a product that is “good enough” to attract customers is better than a perfect product that somehow fails to get traction. From every angle that matters to a VC, the former is a better investment than the latter.

Let’s say an investor is choosing between two companies. One has founders who are incredible at building great products, and the other’s founders are merely pretty good at building products but are marketing geniuses that have found a dirt-cheap way to acquire customers. Guess which company is going to be the better investment.

When it comes down to it, investors only really care about three simple things:

  1. The quality of the team (are you the right people to solve this problem?) and the ability to attract great talent (can you attract more people to help you fulfill your mission?).
  2. The size of the market and whether it’s growing.
  3. The problem you are solving and whether it’s worth solving at venture scale.

All of this isn’t to say that investors don’t care at all about your product — of course they do — but when you are at the earliest stages of building a company and pitching, they only care about the answers to the questions above. The product you’ve built shows how you make decisions and whether you’ve been able to attract early customers.

It is worth pointing out that after the investment has been made, things will change — the solution and the product (alongside the nebulous work of “company building”) will come into sharper focus.

As a founder, you are obviously passionate about the solution you are building. But when pitching, it’s important to remember what the driving forces are for the people listening to you. Your goal is to raise money and the amount of time you have to pitch your company is extremely limited. So make it count and stay on target.

You’re more likely to woo a roomful of investors if you showcase great business sense, a solid go-to-market strategy and some sort of founder-market fit than if you show off just your product.