10 Phrases Your Startup Should Never Use in a Pitch

As a startup, pitching your company in front of people can be outright intimidating. There are many situations -- such as a pitch competition, a meeting for potential partnerships with other companies, or getting into an accelerator -- that require you to clearly explain who your company is and what it does. What you say (and don’t) can massively impact the outcome. It’s essential to craft the perfect pitch that gives everyone the right impression of your startup. However, many startups make the mistake of using words and phrases that don’t add value to a pitch.

While you might know which topics you should address, it’s equally important to know what not to say. Here are ten phrases you should never say during a pitch.

1. “New trend”

Startups often describe their industry, product, or service as a “new trend,” or “trending.” In many cases, founders apply this to a concept that’s been around for at least a few years, making it not the case after all. Even if it is, you may not be the first to market. Plus, your startup will have a hard time competing in a hot new space. Therefore, it’s pointless to refer to anything as a new trend in an attempt to excite investors or potential partners.

2. “We don’t have any competitors.”

No competition is something people hear all the time. Not only is it amiss to say you don’t have any competitors, but you’ll sound incredibly naïve. Someone is likely to interpret this as lack of researching your competition. Instead of focusing on the number of competitors, it’s best to highlight your customer’s pain point, how the competition fails to address that pain point, and how your company does.

3. “Viral”

Founders often claim to have a “viral” product or that they will grow “virally,” when too few have. It’s a bold statement that few investors or potential partners will believe. Let your product stand on its own and avoid making this type of “hype” claim.

4. “We are the next X.”

Many startups will liken their company to an existing idea to simplify their concept. Most times, the comparison isn’t accurate. Comparing your business to Facebook, Uber, or another well-known startup may not be the best approach for all situations. Know when it's the right time to compare your startup to an existing idea (i.e., if you need to pitch your company in 30 seconds or less) and when you need to differentiate your product or service. Explain what your company does well in a concise way that anyone can understand.

5. “We only need X% of the market.”

It’s challenging to capture any percentage of a large market that already has plenty of competitors. Even if your startup can capture X percent of the market, it doesn’t mean you’ll be profitable. Instead of setting your sights on market percentage, share your strategy for capturing X sales or customers. Think about the number of customers you have now and how an investor or potential partner will contribute to that growth. What investors really want to know is your plan to double or triple their investment.

6. “Our projections are conservative.”

Startups will often try to appear restrained by presenting their financial projections as “conservative.” Hearing this can lead to distrust. How you communicate your projections is crucial to instilling confidence in your numbers. Be transparent. If your numbers are indeed a projection, call them that, but avoid describing projections as conservative.

7. “X, Y, and Z are interested in our company.”

Although it’s encouraging to have many influential people interested in your startup, the person you are talking to is less likely to care about them. What’s more important is that you are capable of convincing other investors and potential partners to help build your business. Spend more time focusing on your startup rather than those around you.

8. “My friend X…”

Name-dropping is a turn-off that won’t influence a VC’s investment strategy or a potential partnership with a business. Instead of using someone else’s name to bolster your startup, highlight your team’s strengths and explain why your startup is qualified to succeed. Discuss your most significant achievements and any relevant experience. Humble intelligence is far more impressive than ego.

9. “I’ll address that question after this slide.”

The most successful startup pitches sound more like a conversation than a formal presentation with slide decks. Although slide decks highlight relevant information and help guide your pitch, don’t depend on them entirely. Your tone shouldn’t sound scripted. Listen to any questions someone may ask and answer thoughtfully. Go into a pitch ready to improvise, and be open to feedback.

10. “I’ll need to ask the CFO.”

Not knowing the essential numbers to your business, such as revenue, cash burn, number of employees, etc. is one of the biggest mistakes you can make as a startup. If you’re unable to provide figures when someone asks for them, you’ll lose your credibility. Every startup should go into a pitch knowing their numbers exceptionally well.

Be sure to avoid these common mistakes when pitching in front VCs or potential partners. It’s essential that you can communicate your ideas clearly without setting off any alarms or cause for concern. Gain respect by showing why someone should bet on you while being transparent and humble.

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