You’ve gotta send the CEO
Recently, I was sitting on a panel that was tasked with deciding the recipient of 1 million euro grant to grow their businesses. I was one of five and we all came from investor business backgrounds. We were provided the respective business plans in advance and each came to the table with our respective questions and concerns. Each company was provided 10 minutes to present the projects followed by a 20 minute Q&A.
One of the companies was represented by the founder/CEO, while the other chose to send the lead project manager of the research team. Neither presentation did. Much to move the needle and offered little beyond the business plan already submitted. Both presentations focused heavily on their respective technologies and were light on the business details of execution.
It was up to us to glean these details through the Q&A.
The CEO was forthright and acknowledged the weaknesses of his financial projections (his plan offered a 10-year projection with a hockey stick recently revenue curve). When pressed, he was confident in the first 24 months but beyond that was anyone’s guess. One of the other evaluators commented, “at least he’s honest….” He did demonstrate a command of the economics of his go-to-market strategy and provided a convincing argument for his approach. Further, when asked about why he was doing this, he offered a passionate reply that made me want to write him a check myself (OK, I wasn’t really going to write a check for a million euros, but you get my point). Needless to say, he got my vote, as well as, the vote of my fellow evaluators.
The second presentation did not go so well. To be honest, when a company CEO fails to present, the evaluators are already put off. We were told he was very busy – yeah me too, but I made time to be here. At this point, even the best presentation would be facing an uphill battle to win us over.
As the discussion shifted from technology to execution, the presenter was challenged to justify the business strategy and the underlying financial assumptions. Clearly, this was beyond her scope as a researcher. She offered that the financial details were produced by another department. The takeaway for the evaluators was that the company had sent the wrong person.
I do not know if in reality that the CEO would have done a better job, maybe it was just a flawed plan. But I do know in the first case, we were able to discuss with the principal our concerns proving him an opportunity to address and assuage them. In the second scenario, the presenter simply raised more concerns than she resolved.
Ultimately, we want to get it directly from the horse’s – and that means the CEO needs to be there. I get that you’re busy and it may not always be feasible to be at every meeting. But I can tell then your absence is the elephant in the room and will be a challenge to overcome with a PowerPoint, regardless of how good it is.