On storytelling and fundraising: Donna Griffit shares how entrepreneurs can raise funds with their pitch | The UnNoticed Entrepreneur — step into the spotlight.

Jim James
11 min readMay 10, 2023

In the new episode of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur, Donna Griffit , who has , talked about storytelling and fundraising. She shared tips for entrepreneurs raising money and how they can keep the investors in the room while they’re pitching.

The Alchemy of Storytelling for Startups

Donna’s book is called “Sticking to My Story: The Alchemy of Storytelling for Startups.”

It’s such an apropos title because, many times, entrepreneurs do not stick to their core story and what is unique about them. They cover it up with layers of information, data, and numbers. Not that those are not important, but that’s not what’s going to get them funded.

After nearly 20 years of working on pitches that start off god-awful and have been transformed into something very powerful — prompting investors to tell, “This is the best pitch deck I’ve ever seen” — she figured it was time to write down her secret recipe for building the deck in terms of structure and content. She also included all the tips around it: Mistakes she’s seen made, how to avoid them, and how to really shine, especially in times like this.

She’s helped companies raise over a billion dollars worth of funding. And according to her, the essence of a great story for an entrepreneur is authenticity. She believes that the power of storytelling is creating that authenticity.

Entrepreneurs can take their story and, in a way, polish it. Mark Twain said, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” So it’s about finding those stories and moments, and not being afraid of things like “It’s not the exact detail” or “It’s not the exact timing.” It’s about bringing something forth that’s truly an entrepreneur’s signature and origin story, why they’re doing this, and why they’re helping clients.

There’s a structure to the entire overreaching story, but it’s weaving stories and metaphors into it that people resonate with.

Founders tend to operate out of fear. They’re afraid of forgetting what they want to say. They’re afraid of looking like they don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re afraid they’re not going to get it.

What do they do? They take everything and copy-paste them onto a slide that basically looks like they’re putting documents on it. No one wants to see that. Then they’re also reading the slide, looking like they don’t know what they’re talking about because it’s not flowing naturally

These fears actually create what they’re trying to avoid.

The story of entrepreneurs should be part of their DNA. If they’re telling it in a way that comes truly from their journey, belief, passion, blood, sweat, and tears, then they can’t go wrong.

Naturally, they should have things up there that remind them what to say. But if they build it in the right flow and structure, they will remember it — even when investors ask them not to open their computers and simply chat.

Where to Start?

Donna has worked with some very young entrepreneurs who are in touch with their own generation and their pain points. And this is where they or any of her clients should want to start: What is the need? What is the gaping hole?

Pain, problem, solution. This is the archetype of every single Marvel film out there because it’s ancient, and it’s the way the human brain processes. People want to understand that pain or that opportunity of something sweet and amazing happening. And this is where the story can come in.

The first step is to identify the pain or opportunity. The second step is to know how to tell it as a story — the entrepreneur’s own story; the story of a customer or a user and how abysmal their life was before they started using the entrepreneur’s product; and a story taken from the news showing that there’s a big problem and a gap and how nothing is filing that gap and how that’s where the entrepreneur comes in.

There are other solutions out there, and people can’t deny that. This is why founders have to know everything in their competitive landscape — so that when they get to their solution, it becomes so much more powerful because it will make their audience go, “Aha. Sing it, I hear you.”

On Convincing Investors

There are founders who, for example, have a product for Gen Z, and they’re pitching to funders who are not Gen Z. How can they get their story to resonate with an audience who is in a different generation and for which the product may not be intended? Or if a female founder is pitching to male investors — or if the pitch is pertinent to developers and the audience isn’t developers — how can they get them to understand?

Donna’s advice is that the story has to be “A day in the life.” Founders should take their audience on “a little day in the life” through their stories but in a sophisticated manner (not the usual “This is the target audience. They are this or that”).

They must talk about their true pain; the more authentic it is, the more it will resonate. Then, if they have a Gen Z product, they can say that over 80 bazillion Gen Zers are struggling with that. Then, they must back it up with some big things and cite Forbes or Gartner and the like.

They must show there’s money being thrown out there, and yet it’s still not solving their pain. They have to have validity in the eyes of investors to back them up with the money.

For Donna’s book, it was , Founder of Draper Fisher Jurvetson (one of the most famous Sandy Hill Road venture capitals), who wrote the foreword. In the foreword, he said that he’s had his ears bleed over how bad these pitches have been over the years. And he’s heard hundreds and hundreds. He also has Draper University, which is a condensed Masters of Business Administration (MBA) for entrepreneurs.

And he’s just relieved that someone is finally telling entrepreneurs how to do it by the book so that there will be no more excuses.

Top Tips on Creating an Effective Pitch

Founders must start with their origin story because it shows their passion and drive. They must be very clear on the solution and how it meets the need they identified in the problem statement and story.

Then, they must take their audience on a user journey — starting with the user’s pain and then going back to show how their product will improve their life.

They need to show off the features of their product through that user’s journey. There’s no need to tell every single feature because nobody needs to hear it. But the audience must see the product. The product has to take centre stage and let the investors say, “I could see myself using that” or “I know someone who could use that,” which could be a friend, a child, or a spouse. Founders should want them to be imagining themselves in the product.

Then, there must be data to back it up. Entrepreneurs must show their plan of action and their business plan. How are they going to make money with it? How are they going to be different? How are they going to market? What’s the market analysis? What are some trends that really back this up?

It’s about guiding the investors through this whole hero’s journey and showing how they are fighting the villain they brought up in the beginning, and giving proof points that it can work, that it’s different, and that it can make money.

After that, they must step it up and go for the big vision. And that’s where a lot of entrepreneurs miss out.

They think that they’re okay with what they’re doing now. They’re not going to the moon. However, they need to show, in a way, the bigger moonshot. They could be shooting for the moon and going to hit a lot of stars in the process.

It’s not necessarily about the minimum viable product (MVP) that they’re working on right now. They must show that they can go bigger and bolder and hit more horizontals, verticals, and bigger markets. Founders must get their audience excited about the potential of what they’re pitching.

William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, is one of the greatest storytellers of modern times. In the acts he wrote, he took the audience through that same journey: Something has happened. Something is rotten in the Kingdom of Denmark. Though the tragedies go a bit south, he presents at the same time this heroic image of someone who will save the day.

Who Should Deliver?

In theatre, there are many monologues, but there are also many other characters on stage. In a pitch, you have to know who Hamlet is, and it has to be the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). This is who the investors would want to hear from: the person currently in the leadership position.

However, if the CEO has their Chief Technology Officer (CTO) with them, they can speak about the technical pieces. If they talk about a marketing plan and their Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) is with them, it makes sense to let them talk. But the main storyteller is the CEO.

It’s fine for the CEO to talk all the way through; when the questions come up, they can defer to their partners. But they have to make sure that they set these dynamics beforehand. The last thing they’d want is dirty laundry aired in the place — and tension — because investors see and sense those.

Why Rehearse?

Actors, singers, dancers, and athletes. They all have practise periods and rehearsals. Nobody just gets on stage and is brilliant. And so pitchers must rehearse the role.

Often, founders will be working on their deck until 2 o’clock in the morning; then they’d have an 8 or 9 o’clock meeting after that. They wouldn’t have a chance to talk it through.

However, they mustn’t do that. They must give themselves some time not just to read their pitch but to practise it — but not in front of a mirror because it’s way too self-conscious. They should instead record themselves (not in selfie mode). They can also practise in front of their team, neighbours, family, Uber driver, or anyone who will listen to them.

The point is to get comfortable. Let the pitch be part of their DNA, and they’ll never forget it.

On Presenting before, Listening to, and Choosing Investors

In her book, Donna mentioned that if founders go straight through the pitch, it will take about 10 minutes. However, they would want to hope the investors stop them and ask questions because it’s a good thing if they’re asking questions (or writing down questions).

Founders shouldn’t get nervous because that means they’re interested. They’re not necessarily there to argue but to challenge, inspire, and see how the founders will respond.

Before founders respond, they must take a breath, listen to the question, reflect it back (“So what you’re saying is”), and then provide the answer.

They must show active listening and take notes as the investors speak and give feedback. This will show that the founders have the flexibility of thought, are coachable, and are someone that the investors will be working with for years to come. Investment periods last longer than marriages today. They want to know if it’s not someone they want to hang out with on holidays.

Using the analogy of marriage, there’s attraction and dating, but someone isn’t going to marry everybody. How then should entrepreneurs decide who to have as an investor?

In the book, Donna shared that entrepreneurs shouldn’t take money at any price. They shouldn’t let investors smell desperation and feel like they’re someone with two months’ worth of salary left in the bank. Nobody’s going to invest in people like that.

Additionally, they must also interview them, do due diligence, and see what they can bring to the table other than just money. Money is important, but it’s not everything. They must look at the terms and have a good lawyer review those.

Entrepreneurs all need experts. For example, she has a bookkeeper, an accountant, and an attorney if something needs to be reviewed because she’s not an expert in that. That is also why people come to her: They’re not an expert in storytelling.

Business owners must not waste time on certain aspects they’re not good at because it’s crucial — it’s their business.

On Getting Noticed

Donna has been running her business for 18 years and has been self-employed and married during that time. And the book she will launch is her first.

She believes that the book will play a role in getting herself noticed as an entrepreneur. But right now, it’s the community, the people she’s helped, and those whose lives she’s touched over the years that will help drive the book.

When someone brings value, they’re good at what they do, they’re good to people, and they’re there for those people (when those people ask for a conversation, they take the time for it and go the extra mile), that someone will win as an entrepreneur.

It’s All About Authenticity and Noticing Those Aha Moments

As the number one tip she’d give in terms of getting noticed, Donna goes back to storytelling. Entrepreneurs must be authentic with their storytelling and with what they’re sharing. They must be bold and not be afraid to go the path less travelled.

When she was starting out, nobody knew what storytelling was. People thought of librarians or someone who gathers a circle of kids around and tells them a story. People were questioning how she was working with startups because they would never pay her.

Founders must listen to and thank such voices, but don’t let those stop them. Very well-meaning people could often derail entrepreneurs, and that’s not what they should want. If they believe in something and are passionate about it, they can take in pieces of advice and then go with their gut and let that guide them.

They must listen for those Aha moments, those angels singing, and those lights flashing because they come.

Sometimes, entrepreneurs’ eyes are down; they’re not noticing those because they’re busy looking at their phones. But they shouldn’t miss those moments.

To find out more about her, visit www.donnagriffit.com . Her book, “Sticking to My Story: The Alchemy of Storytelling for Startups,” also has its page: www.donnagriffit.com/sticking-to-my-story .

The UnNoticed Entrepreneur podcast is sponsored by , the all-in-one software for leveraging PR activities. Boost the media relations game for your business — get more coverage while saving time and money on everyday tasks.

This article is based on a transcript from my podcast The UnNoticed Entrepreneur, you can listen here.

Originally published at https://theunnoticed.cc on May 10, 2023.