I was standing outside of the Theater Casino in Zug where people were discussing the speech Vitalik Buterin had just given.

Someone said:

I am a professional pitcher, and I don’t understand Vitalik’s phenomenon. Most ICOs that are raising now indeed have poorly structured, confusing and simply pathetic pitches. However, if that is a criterion for investors, Vitalik shouldn’t have gotten a single dollar.

I agree and disagree with this comment at the same time. Best if we look at facts behind each story.

Fact 1: Vitalik never pitched Ethereum to VCs or big institutional investors, or asked people to give him a few million dollars

And ICOs today do. They do require a minimum investment during their private pre-sale to be $250k or $500k. They do want VCs on board. They do want institutional money. Most projects today do want to never have to do a public sale, and close everything in a private round.

Vitalik was pitching to developers because they spoke the same language. He essentially created his project for developers.

Here is a quote from his pitch in 2014:

Ethereum is a platform that makes it possible for any developer to write and distribute next-generation decentralized applications.

If you look at the video where he is trying to explain what Ethereum is to the public, and then read the comments:

Yes, his communication skills are not the strongest and it’s not easy for him to explain how he sees things to someone who has no idea… has never written a line of code, has never done so much work on blockchain, or simply someone who’s not that good with numbers and formulas. Yet he got the funds.

There is no conflict here. He created a product for developers, pitched it to developers in their language, got the funds from a supportive community of developers who understand this language.

The conflict is, however, always there, when ICOs today claim they are changing the world by making blockchain mainstream…. And yet they can’t explain in the language of “mainstream people” what it is they are doing.

Pitching to fellow-developers and pitching to a VC are two different stories. And yes, powerful communication skills are essential when you pitch to a fund or pitch your project from stage – to people who have not acquainted themselves with your work yet.

In Vitalik’s case, people who bought Ether during a crowd sale had been following his work and his writing for quite a while before he announced a public sale.

I’m being spammed by at least 5 ICOs a day that think I should make an investment decision (to be more precise, I should allocate at least $250k in their project) based on 8-10 paragraphs of text they put together for me in the first message. Weird people, indeed…. They mass email people irrelevant information and call it pitching.

Also read: Fintech and blockchain pitches can be so ugly, but here’s some communication advice for fundraising startups to get the point across

Fact 2: Vitalik was and is still driven by purpose, not by profit

He talked a lot about creating the public good, though only a few people understood what he meant by this back in 2014. He’s not the most eloquent speaker but he never needed to be. He had been sharing his vision with people who were driven by a similar purpose or could relate to his purpose. It’s all about speaking to your audience in the same language. I am sure most CEOs and CMOs today will find it hard to explain the value of their solution to developers, for example. They simply speak different languages.

The universal language though that startups and investors understand is the language of purpose. Many startups talk a lot about the revenue flows and forget to say why they even care.

Who is the product for? Have you tried pitching it to your potential clients? Do you speak the language of your clients? What was their feedback?

This is what an investor would love to hear. Purpose. Reason. Feedback.

Instead, projects at every conference copy each other and repeat themselves. We hear a lot of long, confusing, sophisticated pitches that “mainstream” people can not relate to.

Fact 3: Fraudsters have the best presentation skills

They can give a beautiful, convincing, and motivational talk while, in fact, they have no idea how this thing works and they absolutely don’t care.

These people are driven by their commission, not the idea.

The ability to articulate well and the ability to connect are two different things. When teams invite paid speakers to pitch on their behalf, it’s usually a failure. It’s obvious to the audience when a person is just a hired “speaker” driven by their commission, and it’s a shame when a founder can’t explain their own project.

Here is the catch: Most great creators are really bad at explaining what they do

They live in their own world where things work in a very weird way, and only they get it at this point.

I always recommend teams to find a way to relate to their audience instead of training technical presentation skills: “how to have a powerful voice” or “how to move your hands” during a presentation matters a lot less than helping people see what you see.

Also read: Pro pitch deck tips for beginners

Help people understand why you care. Explain what exactly your solution will change, but in their language. It’s really hard to see for someone in the team, but very easy to see for someone from from outside the project. Get a mentor, learn to share your ideas, not just talk for 15 minutes on stage.

  • Communication directly affects how much money you’re going to raise.
  • Communication is not about developing a pitch that you’re going to repeat at every conference. It’s about building relationships with clients, investors, audiences, media… well, with people.
  • Relationships never have deadlines. Most ICOs do, and teams hurry a lot. Changing this one thing can create tons of opportunities for most startups.

Hope you are reading this in the same language I have written it;)


Natalia Tokar


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