5 Tips for Handling a Rejected Pitch

How to turn a setback into a win next time.

Just because an investor rejected your company’s pitch doesn’t mean you have to walk away empty-handed. It’s possible to turn that rejection into a valuable learning experience—one that leaves you with a stronger presentation for next time.

Thinking Bigger Business spoke with Jeff Shackelford, who leads Digital Sandbox KC. The program provides proof-of-concept advice and resources to early-stage companies here in Kansas City. Shackelford regularly helps local founders sharpen their pitches. Here’s some of his best advice for bouncing back.

Ask for feedback, and always say “thank you” // One, because the investor might not tell you unless you specifically ask for it.

And two, because it demonstrates that you’re coachable. Investors have many opportunities to put money into startups. They don’t want to partner with someone who won’t listen. They’ll run away from anyone who appears to be stubborn or difficult.

It’s best to ask for feedback after you’ve gotten a definite “no” answer, which could take a few days, Shackelford said.

Pay attention to the questions people ask // Anytime someone asks a question during your presentation, you or someone on your team should jot it down.

These comments shine a light on places where you can improve. Maybe your pitch is leaving out information that you didn’t think was important, but your audience really wants.

Practice, practice, practice // When a pitch falls flat, it’s usually due to the presenter or the presentation, not the business concept itself, Shackelford said. The person giving the pitch hasn’t spent enough time practicing.

“You cannot give your presentation enough,” he said. “You’ve got to give it enough to where you basically can give it in your sleep.”

He recommends taping your presentations. That way, you can uncover tics and other delivery problems that you would never have noticed otherwise.

Be careful about accepting too much advice // Sometimes investors, after hearing a pitch, will encourage startups to enter new markets or develop ancillary products. This is well-intentioned advice—and, in some cases, may be spot-on.

But there’s a danger in startups trying to be everything to everyone, Shackelford said. “All of a sudden, they don’t have any focus, and they’re all over the place.”

A better way to respond: “That’s interesting, and that’s certainly a market we’d explore at a later time, but right now, we’re focused on developing this particular product.”

It’s not you, it’s them // Don’t beat yourself up when investors say no. There might be other factors at play, things that have nothing to do with you. Maybe they recently put money into a similar venture. Maybe this isn’t a sector they specialize in.

“That doesn’t mean they don’t believe you can build a successful business,” Shackelford said. “It may just be timing.”

By soliciting feedback, you put your startup in a great light for whenever the investors are ready.

“It shows them that you’re coachable and that you want to get more information and you’re always trying to improve,” said Shackelford.