Sam Earle is one of ICA’s trusted advisors, with deep knowledge and experience in capital and finance. Sam has the keen ability to bring both a strategic and tactical point of view to everything he does, as an entrepreneur and an investor.
I sat down with Sam over lunch before our Accelerator cohort’s Capital Strategy Roundtable, where he was featured as a panelist. The Roundtable provided our current cohort the chance to get a peak behind the curtain from an array of capital providers, discussing their honest opinions about why entrepreneurs will hear “no” in their pursuit of raising capital. Sam has also been an advisor for a company in the 4th cohort of the Accelerator. (The Accelerator is currently recruiting companies for its next cohort, set for a Q1 2020 start.)
Abandoning a degree in Art History from Columbia to concentrate on business, Sam began his career in tech during the Dot-com boom in the 90’s. A “lead developer”, dabbling in consulting which lead to the financial sector, algorithmic trading, hedge funds and technical projects in finance, Sam finally found his calling as an entrepreneur. Sam built a supply chain technology company and sold it in 2014, transitioning to managing not one company, but a portfolio of companies backed by an “unfunded fund” or a fund without limited partners, but capital partners who could be called upon, EAM, LLC. A lot of pitch decks come across Sam’s desk.
“A pitch is a conversation opener, not a conversation finisher.” Sam says. “The main goal of a pitch deck should not be to get investors to say yes, but to get them not to say no!” So the conversation can continue from there.
Sam has a very clear-cut point of view on pitching as a Venture Advisor. “The best pitch I ever saw,” Sam shares, “…was a guy with a ton of experience who got up and said: ‘here’s the problem, here’s how we are solving it, here is our team, competition, financials, and here's how much we are raising.’ He was done in 1 minute and 30 seconds. There was no story and no details, but everyone was dying to learn more.”
As any entrepreneur will tell you, everyone has an opinion about pitching. Some investors will want your pitch to have a narrative and to convey your story, while others favor a number-forward approach. Sam believes that while you must be able to tell a story, you should focus on telling a financial story – investors who invest in your business are essentially buying a financial product that will give them a yield. Sam advises entrepreneurs to think about their business as an asset class they are selling. Something that investors are buying into.
Most importantly, a pitch is a chance for the entrepreneur to communicate and sell their companies, not just their product or service. “After a while, products stop being unique,” Sam says matter-of-factly. “A product or service’s differentiator is their company, meaning the team who is executing on the vision, the financial strategy and the operations of your business. The value of your business is in the execution. Even if an investor loves your story, the numbers behind your business is what will get your idea bought.”
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Sam Earle is an ICA advisor and self-described Venture Executive, Operator, connector, and leader with an entrepreneurial philosophy, start-up expertise, and a venture mind. Hannah Shr is an Accelerator Manager at ICA.