In a world where in-person meetings are replaced with virtual calls, entrepreneurs have had to rethink how they raise capital, interlocking technology with time-tested pitching strategies to ensure their company attracts the right investors. In December, Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS hosted Raising Funds in the Virtual World, a webinar exploring ins and outs of pitching in the virtual environment. To learn more, we asked two Johnson & Johnson Innovation - JLABS companies, Biomea Fusion and Siolta Therapeutics, for some brief insights as they recently raised capital: Siolta Therapeutics announced a $30M Series B in September and Biomea Fusion a $56 million Series A in January.
We spoke to Tom Butler and Nikole Kimes about their experiences with pitching virtually. Tom is founder and CEO of Biomea Fusion, a precision oncology company targeting aggressive forms of cancer and Nikole is founder and CEO of Siolta Therapeutics, which is developing microbiome-based medicines for chronic inflammatory diseases. Biomea joined JLABS @ South San Francisco in 2018 and Siolta is an awardee of Johnson & Johnson Innovation - JLABS’ 2017 Bugs, Drugs, and Beyond Quickfire Challenge.
Q: How do you think building relationships and pitching to investors has changed in the virtual world?
Nikole: From my perspective, things have not changed considerably. The implementation of more virtual access has provided an additional tool to incorporate but the basic underlying principals remain the same: use your network for introductions, do your homework, provide good storytelling that is tailored to your audience, follow-up, etc... Regardless of the medium, remember to build relationships with investors – something which can take more time than you think. I suggest starting early and finding ways to personalize your interactions.
Tom: From relationship-building and engagement perspectives, virtual and in-person meetings remain similar--it’s all about connecting with your audience. Show them who you are as an individual and what your company is trying to accomplish. It is important to connect on that level and establish a personable type of relationship.
Q: What key differences have you experienced between in-person and virtual meetings?
Nikole: During a virtual presentation, it is more difficult to read the room and gauge your audience’s reaction. I try to counter this by asking questions throughout the presentation to make sure people are following. Another approach is to have a colleague monitor feedback from your audience. I also find phone conversations to be more helpful than email to prepare or follow-up with a virtual meeting. That personal touch goes a long way in connecting with your audience and gathering information.
Tom: Because virtual meetings cut out travel time, you can take-on more meetings throughout the day. If you think you have a lot of meetings, the investor has the same amount, if not more. It’s important to go through the same process for a virtual meeting as you would an in-person meeting: preparation, dress, etc... You also need to create a professional environment so that the meeting is focused on the company and not your background or poor internet connection.
Q: How did you prepare differently for the virtual meeting versus the in-person meeting? What recommendations & insights would you share about researching and preparing for an investor meeting?
Nikole: The main difference in my preparation is from a technical perspective. I try to schedule as many meetings myself so that I have control over the platform we use. If investors preferred to use their own platform, I made sure I knew how to navigate it easily, and that it worked with my computer. I also always had a backup plan in case there was audio troubles or issues displaying visual materials. There’s nothing more frustrating than losing precious minutes to technical glitches.
Tom: The greatest difference I’ve seen is the bandwidth you have available to tell your story. Everyone has so many meetings now that if you don’t quickly garner your audience’s attention, you may lose their interest in your story . Virtual meetings are typically shorter than in-person meetings, so you have to get your message across faster. That’s why it’s so important to know your audience and their background before the meeting. You want to ensure you define what the company does in a way that’s framed for the investor’s background.
Q: How do you think differently about your content and how it’s organized for a virtual meeting?
Nikole: I always think you should personalize each pitch based on the investors, regardless of the meeting being in-person or virtual. For example, our pitch deck for venture capital has a cleaner, less cluttered look than our corporate venture pitch deck, which includes more written detail. Specific to virtual meetings, I find it helps to use transition slides to get your audience’s attention in places where you are pausing for feedback. During in-person meetings, people tend to look at you when you pause whereas in virtual meetings, people continue to look at your presentation.
Tom: For a virtual call, the presentation needs to be much more concise and straight-to-the-point. It’s all about capturing the audience’s attention and keeping them engaged with your story, while being efficient with time.
Q: How do you see virtual meetings playing a role in the future? Are they here to stay?
Nikole: Virtual meetings are here to stay however, in-person meetings will again play an important role in certain cases. We now have wide-spread acceptance of a great tool to reach more folks in less time with less cost. Ideally, this lets us screen more candidates so that we focus our in-person time on the most valuable connections.
Tom: They are here to stay. People are realizing they can be incredibly productive without having to travel. It’s great that I can now conquer 10-12 meetings a day, whereas I could only take 4-5 in-person meetings in the past. In an ideal world, I would maintain virtual meetings for introductions and follow-ups, saving in-person meetings for more advanced discussions.
Q: As leaders who were successful at raising money, can you provide one or two suggestions for others looking to do the same?
Nikole: Raising money can be difficult albeit necessary, so make sure you dedicate the focus and resources you need for success. Introductions can often be the first stumbling block, so build a network that can provide for an easier entry. It is also important to identify places where you can get support and feedback on your presentation, preferably from friendly advisors and investors that can provide good judgement.
Tom: The best way to tell your story is to be honest, open, and transparent in order to really connect with people. Too many times have I seen scientists and executives stay too secretive because they are worried about trade secrets or intellectual property. On top of transparency, you have to be engaging to not only make sure it is clear what you are doing, but also why are you doing it. The best way for an investor to get comfortable with your company and see its success, is to bring them in, so make sure your story makes them feel like they are a part of the team.
Q: What do you feel is most important in building solid long-term relationships with investors?
Nikole: This can be a tough needle to thread but generally there are three approaches that are most successful: following-up with specific questions regarding process or approach, providing updates to maintain contact and show your company’s advancements, and using your network to get additional input from outside sources.
Tom: The follow-up is just as critical as the meeting itself. Each investor has different questions or hurdles for them to want to be involved in your company’s story. It is your job to identify those hurdles and address them in the follow-up. Your follow-up should not be generalized, but should target specific conversations you had with your audience. You should also always follow-up within 24 hours. The key to building long-lasting relationships is trust, which begins with openness and transparency.
Q: What is your advice for other innovators on refining and telling their story to investors?
Nikole: We rehearse our stories so many times that we often repeat the same practiced pitch rather than adapting to our audience’s needs. I find it helpful to ask upfront if the investor has specific areas they want to focus on. Likewise, don’t be afraid to embrace questions in the moment, even if they are addressed elsewhere in your presentation. Being flexible demonstrates your command and comfort with the company and ensures you address the audience’s most pressing interests and concerns.
Tom: Investors have a specific investment philosophy and an ideal company profile that fits their portfolio strategy. Your job is to share your story, and accurately describe your company so that the investor can easily determine the fit.
Q: What’s the most surprisingly useful feedback you’ve been given?
Nikole: A reminder that pitching shouldn’t be a one-way street. Although you’re asking for money, you are also giving the investor a unique opportunity. You need to be thinking about what an investor can bring to the table, and how they can help your company overcome hurdles. Much like a job interview, you should be assessing them as much as they are you.
Tom: An overwhelming appreciation for our decision to tell the story of how the company came together. Because investors understand the mission of the founders, they are better able to understand the mission of the company.
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