Guidance from the Sophia Business Angels: The Best Feedback I’ve Ever Received

Has anyone ever given you constructive criticism that really made you feel grateful for the chance to improve?

This is what the Sophia Business Angels gave me in October of 2013. According to the Sophia Business Angels’ website, these angel investors can “provide you bespoke advice on how you can make your business more attractive to investors,” and they certainly did for me.

I had originally been invited to present for them in April of 2013, but had to cancel at the last minute due to a foot injury sustained while on a trip to Abu Dhabi just a week earlier. They graciously allowed me to reschedule.

My presentation was about my new business accelerator, AccMakk. Its goal was, and still is, to create a connection between the 40+ isolated, uncoordinated entrepreneurship programs in Saudi Arabia through an accelerator built by and for local entrepreneurs.

After getting feedback on my presentation, I was given the chance to quickly edit and present it to the Sophia Business Angels again at the same event. That second pitch earned me the Best Presentation Improvement Award, and more importantly, I was given feedback to help me pitch better in the future.

In this article, I will provide a basic explanation of the problems that the Sophia Business Angels found with my presentation, along with the tips they gave me to fix these mistakes. I will then explain the takeaway I think each point has for you, the entrepreneur reading this article. For fun, I’ve also included some of the tweets I sent while at the SBA event.

Please note that I wrote this article last year, but only found time in my schedule this week to post it.

Present Today

Problem 1. My presentation was too complicated.

The issue:
The first time I talked to the Sophia Business Angels, I tried to fit 12 PowerPoint slides into one short presentation. I had to speak quickly to cover all of the information that I wanted to explain, such as my goal of creating a new sub-economy, the five-phase adaption program I had in mind, and so on.

But when I finished, one angel investor told me to “Slow it down… and pick out the key points that you want.” Another said “Very interesting and powerful presentation, yet [I] fail to understand what the company is doing… What exactly is the investor investing in?”

In my effort to fully explain the new accelerator, I had not explained the basics enough to the investors, so they did not really understand what my accelerator was all about.

The fix:
The angel investors suggested that I reduce the amount of information in the presentation, speak slowly, and precisely define my business model. They wanted me to explain how capital would be employed in this accelerator instead of providing as much background information.

So, the second time I presented, I used 7 short slides that mostly focused on my main concept, revenue model, and the business opportunity as it specifically applied to investors. I used fewer numbers and spent more time on the basics.

The takeaway:
In a short presentation, there is not enough time to cover all of the details you would like to explain. The focus should instead be on making sure the investors understand the basics and can be left feeling curious to learn more rather than confused.


Problem 2. I did not explain the niche that that my business accelerator would fulfill in the current business environment.

The issue:
In my first presentation, I explained what I expected my new business accelerator to accomplish, but did not focus on how to position it within the current Saudi business ecosystem. This left the angel investors trying to figure out whether my program would actually fulfill the role of an accelerator rather than, for example, an incubator, facilitator, trading platform, or large investment pool opportunity.

“So, the main thing that you are addressing, and I think that’s something that you should see, [is] the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Saudi Arabia,” said one investor. “And then you should say where are you going to position yourself.”

“You can say that you are the missing link,” suggested another angel investor. “This is the way to make the people understand what is your added value.”

The angel investors made it clear that they needed me to better explain my business accelerator’s role within the Saudi business world.

The fix:
I created a slide that showed how my new accelerator would fit into the Saudi entrepreneurial ecosystem, complete with a diagram showing how it would connect funding, markets, start-ups, and existing business acceleration and incubation programs.

In some of text included in this slide, I described my new accelerator as “the connection between the 40+ isolated, uncoordinated programs” in Saudi Arabia and “the canal to channel the cash from government funds, SME banks, VCs, angels.” This made it clear that my accelerator did have a niche and competitive advantage already in place.

The takeaway:
Unless you have created a product or service completely different from anything else on the market, you need to explain the niche that your offering will fill in the existing business environment. It helps to use language and charts that clearly show the relationship between your offering and what is already available.

90 Minutes

Problem 3. I focused on the funding sought, but could not explain why I needed it within the time available for the presentation.

The issue:
When I first presented, I had a detailed slide covering the amount of investment I was looking for, the percentage of the company that investors would own, the amount of time it would take for them to be paid back, the IRR, the year that the investors would exit, and the profit that they were expected to earn. I thought that the investors would feel reassured by this focus on their expected returns. But my strategy backfired when one of the angel investors asked me this: “If there is so much money in Saudi Arabia, why are you looking for money in Europe?”

If you have seen my most recent infographic, Why Start-Ups Don’t Get Funding in Saudi Arabia, you know why the money available in this country does not get down to us, the entrepreneurs. But it can be difficult for people outside of Saudi Arabia to understand this situation.

So, the Sophia Business Angels helped me realize it would be difficult to explain to non-Saudis why foreign investment in an accelerator program would be needed within the short amount of time allowed for my presentation.

The fix:
The angel investors suggested that, instead of focusing on the amount of funding sought, I focus on the opportunity that my new business accelerator provides to angel investors, then make them want to learn more.

When I redid the presentation, I explained the basics of the business model, then ended my last slide with this powerful statement: “Today, oil is not the most valuable resource in Saudi Arabia. If you want to know what the most valuable resource is and you want to invest, let’s talk.”

The takeaway:
If there is some part of your pitch that would be too complicated to explain in the presentation itself, you can provide a teaser that invites investors to ask you about it afterward. This buys you more time to explain details, such as the financial side of the opportunity, to the investors who are actually interested.

Passed So Fast

Listening to this advice won me the Best Presentation Improvement Award.

The Sophia Business Angels advised me to keep my pitch centered on the basics, such as my accelerator’s business model and niche, and to leave more complicated details, such as why this accelerator needs funding despite having government support, for later discussion.

When the Sophia Business Angels gave each participant 90 minutes to improve his or her pitch, I used every minute to craft a shorter, clearer, more focused, and more thought-provoking pitch. I presented it to them a second time and won the Best Presentation Improvement Award.

Most of all, I was glad to receive the opportunity to improve my pitch. I hope you will keep some of the advice I was given by the Sophia Business Angels in mind when it is your turn to present your entrepreneurial idea.

So, would you like to pitch to an angel investor who knows what it feels like to pitch to angel investors?

Yes, I am also an angel investor myself, and am always interested in helping young Saudi entrepreneurs. If you would like the chance to meet with me about your business idea or plan, please contact me through one of the forms on today.

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