The 9 most unforgettable and effective startup pitches, according to investors at Goldman Sachs, Sapphire Ventures, and Kleiner Perkins

Tuesday, February 4th 2020. | Care

Avaamo founders Ram Menon and Sriram Chakravarthy

  • Explaining what a startup is all about in a face-to-face meeting with a venture capitalist is one of the toughest challenges for any startup founder or CEO.
  • Having an impressive pitch deck is great, but that won't be enough if you don't wow a venture-capital investor when you meet in person.
  • We asked top venture capitalists from Goldman Sachs, Kleiner Perkins, Sapphire Ventures, Intel Capital, and Dell Technologies Capital about the most memorable and impressive startup pitches they've ever heard.
  • They said the CEOs of these nine startups impressed in their presentations.
  • Click here for more BI Prime stories.

Convincing investors to finance your startup can be tough.

An impressive fancy-looking pitch deck packed with data on what you're building could help. But in many cases, you need to sell your idea and story in person.

It's that face-to-face meeting with the venture capitalists you hope will be wowed by your story that will likely determine if you get the funding you need. And that's not always easy.

Making a presentation to venture capitalists "is an art," Sapphire Ventures President Jai Das told Business Insider. "It's how well you narrate your story, how you create an option that a lot of people get interested in."

We asked executives from major venture-capital firms about the most impressive startup pitches they've watched in their careers.

Here are the founders and execs from nine startups who wowed top investors from Goldman Sachs, Sapphire Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, Intel Capital, and Dell Technologies Capital:

SEE ALSO: Meet IBM's new CEO, who spearheaded the $34 billion purchase of Red Hat as part of a master plan towards conquering a $1 trillion market

Avaamo: Not just another AI startup

Startups offering artificial-intelligence-powered tools are a dime a dozen nowadays. But Avaamo, which uses conversational AI technology to build business applications, stood out in the eyes of Intel Capital Managing Director Arun Chetty.

Founders Ram Menon and Sriram Chakravarthy, both veterans of the tech industry, clearly had the technical and business expertise to build a company, he said. They launched the startup, which is based in Los Altos, California, in 2014.

They also told a clear and compelling story.

"While their initial vertical focus was financial services, they were able to clearly demonstrate their road map to expand into healthcare, retail, and IT support and beyond," Chetty told Business Insider.

Other startups would do that too, of course. But while other startups would "simply list other industries in their road map," Chetty said, the Avaamo team wowed him with a detailed longer-term strategy.

"Avaamo already had models built out for these verticals," he said. "Avaamo's pitch was compelling not only because they showed how they make money out of the gate and could scale but also how their product demonstrates clear ROI for their customer. This is something I don't see a lot of in the AI space."

Plus they had an executive team with impressive credentials, he said: "While a lot of entrepreneurs in the AI space emphasize the technical chops on their executive team, Avaamo had a deep bench of senior team members with enterprise-software experience, in addition to the technical chops."

GitLab: Spotlight on market momentum

There's nothing like clear market momentum to impress a venture capitalist. That was certainly the case with GitLab, which makes software-development tools. The Silicon Valley startup, which was founded in 2014, has raised about $436 million from investors, including Goldman Sachs.

James Hayward, Goldman Sachs' managing director, said GitLab CEO Sid Sijbrandij gave "a very compelling pitch."

"We were impressed by the GitLab CEO's articulation and vision for the company," he told Business Insider.

GitLab, which is now valued at more than $1 billion, clearly laid out "why there was a significant addressable market" in software development and "how they are competitively positioned" to play a leading role in that space, Hayward added.

"We also were able to see firsthand the exceptional traction across both its developers' community and enterprise clients, underpinned by strong feedback from its client base, including the Goldman Sachs engineering teams who were active users of the platform and strong advocates," he said.

DataRobot: Impressing with the product demo

DataRobot helps businesses develop AI-powered tools. The Boston startup, which was founded in 2012, has also drawn some attention for a tool intended to analyze the trajectory of a couple's relationship.

That doesn't really have anything to do with using AI to run a business, but it highlights a point raised by Das on why he was impressed by the DataRobot team led by CEO Jeremy Achin. DataRobot has raised $430 million from investors such as Sapphire Ventures.

"With DataRobot, we had never seen the kind of reaction from our CXO network when they demoed their product, with most CXO's wanting more in-depth proof of concept follow ups," Das told Business Insider.

That's an important tip for startups gearing up for a face-to-face meeting with venture capitalists: Your pitch decks and speeches are important, but you better make sure your product demo is solid.

"The product demo is extremely important for us," Das said. "A company's go-to-market and sales strategy can be adjusted as needed. However, a poorly designed product, or a product which is not designed to fit the target market, can't be fixed — especially at the later stages where we invest."

Intercom: The power of first impressions

Intercom offers a messaging platform that helps businesses communicate more efficiently with customers. Founded in 2011, the San Francisco startup has raised $241 million from investors, including Kleiner Perkins.

The Intercom pitch to Kleiner Perkins is an example of the power of first impressions.

Kleiner Perkins partner Mamoon Hamid, an early investor in Slack, Box, and Yammer, said he was almost instantly impressed with Intercom CEO and cofounder Eoghan McCabe the first time they met.

"You saw the depth of thinking and the ability to build what they were talking about and so you see it in the presentation," he told Business Insider.

Clari: Grit and persistence

Clari uses AI to manage and improve revenue operations. The San Francisco startup has raised $121 million from investors such as Sapphire Ventures.

Das said he typically looks for startup CEOs and management teams that "have the grit and persistence to go all the way to build an iconic company."

That's what he saw in the Sunnyvale, California, startup whose technology became a "de facto standard for forecasting quarterly sales among most of our portfolio companies, to the point where most board members were asking for the Clari sales forecast rather than their own CRO's forecast," he said.

Sapphire Ventures initially passed on the startup, which Das said was a mistake.

That became clear when they saw Clari, which was founded in 2012, gaining market traction and winning over enterprise customers, such as Adobe and Lenovo, and more startups, including some that Sapphire had invested in.

Das told Business Insider last year that was "the aha moment" when he said, "Oh shoot, we should have done that in the last round."

Netskope: Funding at first sight

The cloud-security startup Netskope, which was founded in 2012 and is based in Santa Clara, California, has raised $400 million from venture-capital investors including Lightspeed Venture Partners and Social Capital.

Mamoon Kamid, who was a general partner at Social Capital when it invested in Netskope and is now a Kleiner Perkins partner, echoed what he said about Intercom's McCabe: First impressions are important.

Hamid was with said he knew immediately in their very first meeting that Netskope CEO Sanjay Beri was for real. Beri knew what he was doing and was going to build the startup that he was asking them to invest in.

"With Sanjay Beri of Netskope, on the spot you're like, 'You know, this guy's got it figured out,'" Hamid told Business Insider. "It was kind of the first impression: 'Oh, yeah. They've got it figured out.'"

Tetrate: Authenticity and vision

The Silicon Valley startup Tetrate, which was founded in 2018 and helps enterprises manage network traffic and security, has raised $12.5 million from investors, including Dell Technologies Capital.

Deepak Jeevankumar, the managing director at Dell Technologies Capital, cited the "authenticity of the founding team" as a key factor in the firm's decision to invest.

Tetrate founders Varun Talwar and Jeyappragash Jeyakeerthi are veterans of the tech industry. Talwar had worked as a product manager at Google, where he helped lead the creation of Istio, an open-source networking technology.

The Tetrate founders, Jeevankumar told Business Insider, had a "vision for the microservices revolution in the networking, identity, and security layers." Solid lead in a growing market

Founded in 2018, is a gaming startup that has raised $25 million from investors, including Intel Capital. The Silicon Valley company created Tourney, an AI-powered esports-tournament platform for mobile games.

It's a growing space where has clearly established a solid presence. That's what quickly caught the attention of Chetty, Intel Capital's managing director.

"One of the first things I look for is what the company's unfair advantage is," he told Business Insider. "Do they have a superior community of users? Do they have compelling IP? It has to be something unique that we haven't seen before."

And, led by CEO Rosen Sharma, immediately struck Chetty as unique.

"They had a superior community and the ability to scale quickly, which tells me they have a great opportunity to reach a large segment of the esports market," he said.

The team "also demonstrated a clear vision of audience and community," Chetty said. "Rosen Sharma knows exactly where he wants the company to be — the de facto esports platform for mobile and PC gaming."

Uniphore: Wowing a tech legend

Umesh Sachdev didn't just impress any venture capitalist. The founder and CEO of the AI startup Uniphore wowed the tech legend John Chambers, who has become his mentor.

This didn't happen in a venture-capital pitch, even though JC2 Ventures, the new fund launched by the former Cisco CEO, is now one of the investors in Uniphore. Uniphore, which makes AI-powered customer-relations tools, has raised $67 million.

In 2016, Sachdev was named to the MIT Tech Review's list of the most promising entrepreneurs under 35. Chambers was one of the mentors for the MIT Tech Review program.

Chambers was the guest of honor when Uniphore, which started India in 2008, opened its US headquarters last year.

"Watch this company — I think it has a chance to light the world on fire," Chambers said at the event. On Sachdev, he added, "He is clearly wicked smart and he's never arrogant."

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