Pitch Perfect: Fine-Tuning your Early Stage Impact Narrative for Different Investors
As an early stage climate founder, your narrative is a critical element of a successful fundraise, especially when you have limited performance and traction. But not all investors are the same, so you need to be prepared to adjust your narrative on the fly, speaking to a diverse range of priorities and incentives.
To help you find the right investors for your business and hone your narrative for a diverse investor landscape, we sat down with Jessica Eastling. Jessica is a Director of Investments for the Nature Conservancy, and has been investing and working in climate tech for the better part of a decade.
Find the right audience
Before you set out to pitch any individual investor, do your homework to understand their mission and how it does or does not align with yours. Some of this you can find on their website, blogs written by partners at the firm, or by looking at the deals they’ve done and on resources like Crunchbase and Pitchbook. If you’re able, talk to founders or other investors in your network to see who has had experience with them in the past.
At the end of the day, it may be hard to piece together a full picture of any investor’s incentives or priorities (i.e. how they weight financial return vs impact, what areas of impact they prioritize, etc). The key is to avoid wasting your time on the wrong audience, so don’t hesitate to ask these questions in your intro meeting to gauge alignment before you spend too much time building a relationship. The better a fit you are, the better a chance you will have of winning investment. Your pitch can only do so much; even if they love your story but your missions don’t align, you won’t get funded.
Make one deck to rule them all (but craft a narrative to serve each)
In a perfect world, you’d have a separate pitch deck for every investor, tailored to their every need and want, but you don’t have that much time. In the end, most entrepreneurs build one deck that hits key points across impact and financial performance. You can keep the core deck consistent, but consider building out a deep appendix of slides that you can pull forward depending on the audience.
The real opportunity to customize is in the intro meeting. As you pitch, you can tailor your narrative and the nuance in your story to each investor, highlighting the most important and compelling pieces according to the investor’s values and incentives.
Impact cannot come at the expense of financial return (no matter who you’re pitching)
Regardless of who you pitch, impact can’t come at the expense of financially sustainable business operations (unless you’re building a non-profit). Sustainable unit economics, large serviceable markets, and an attractive value proposition for customers are all critical for achieving impact at scale. While you might highlight different details about the impact based on the investor archetype you’re engaging, it can't come at the expense of not addressing the business side of things. Even conventional commercial investors will care a bit about climate impact (as it can accrue some benefit to their brand). For impact investors, it must be front and center. You will get questions about this no matter what so make sure you are prepared. Finally, you must do more than simply say your impact is tied to profit– you need to build defensible models that validate your potential carbon impact and its relationship to financial returns. Impact VCs will require evidence.
Get specific and deep quickly
When framing the problem you are trying to solve, dispense with the high-level context (though conventional VCs will need some climate framing to start). Jump quickly into the nitty gritty specifics of your problem. Make sure to speak to your specific market segment and the specific customer sets you are targeting. You can rely on any published deep dives or theses from each investor to tailor your narrative to their mission.
Investors will gauge your potential future success based on their understanding of how a customer feels the pain of your specific problem. This understanding will largely come from how you frame the issue. Focus a lot of your storytelling efforts here — connect the dots for them and make them care.
Lean into your personal story (if its relevant and compelling)
While this might feel private, this context matters to investors. They know that if you have a deep personal connection to the problem, this will get you up early each morning and drive you to be more successful than your competitors. As a founder, you play a pivotal role; your connection and commitment to the problem can make a big difference in your business’ success or failure. Connect your personal pain to that of your target customers. Show that you understand them. Impact investors' thesis is that impact companies will outperform non-impact driven businesses. Your personal story can validate that for them and make them believe in you over other suitors.
Jessica Eastling is a Director of Investments at The Nature Conservancy. She has many years of experience in climate tech and venture, including at On Deck and Better Ventures. Jessica is based in San Francisco, California. She received both her Bachelor and Master of Science in Earth Systems from Stanford University.