James Church is the CEO and co-founder of Robot Mascot, the UK’s top pitching agency. More recently he became a best-selling author. Davis Mukasa picked James’ brains on his personal entrepreneurial journey, the story behind that book, and the problems entrepreneurs face getting investors to back them.
A brief bit about James Church
“I’m James Church, CEO at Robot Mascot, also the co-founder. And I’m also the author of the book ‘Investable Entrepreneur’. What we’re about is helping entrepreneurs convince investors that their business is the one to back.
How Robot Mascot started
Robot Mascot started life as a branding agency when it was founded by my business partner Nicolas Ruston about six or seven years ago. I soon joined as co-founder and we really enjoyed creating awesome brand materials for startups. Eventually, we started being asked to create pitch materials because our clients were struggling to get investors to see the potential of their ideas, and they knew our game was turning complex ideas into brand assets that connected with people. Conversely, we also had some angel investors as advisors who had identified the same thing – but from the other side. The materials, decks and business plans they were receiving weren’t really hitting the right notes. One thing led to another and eventually we started looking into this as a potential area of expertise – one that could differentiate us from other brand communication agencies.
Over the last five years, we’ve really been focusing our efforts on how to use our brand communication skills to convince investors on behalf of clients. It was through that process of research with founders and investors that we created a number of methods and protocols that allowed our founders to speak to investors more fluidly and successfully. One thing led to another and more and more clients came. And soon we were recognised as the UK’s leading pitching agency.
The entrepreneurial journey
Robot Mascot was not my first business, I’ve been an entrepreneur since university. While studying Design, I created my first business. I sought out students studying business degrees and MBAs and offered to do their startup design, branding and marketing. I’d hang around the Business School and attend extra-curricular events so I could meet prospective clients.
After a few months of employment post-university, I started a business called Craft Associates with the same business partner I work with now, Nick. That was ultimately a failed venture. But I learned a lot about running a business. A few years after that, Nick and I joined forces once again to create Robot Mascot. And the rest is history.
The main issues entrepreneurs face today
From my perspective, it’s very much focused around raising investment. And the main issue entrepreneurs currently face is their ability to communicate properly with investors.
So only 1% of founders successfully raise investment from VCs and Angels combined. And that really is the biggest issue that we’re trying to solve at Robot Mascot: “how do entrepreneurs convince investors to back their business so they can get their ideas off the ground?”. 99% are clearly failing at it.
Founders are typically pretty good at talking about their idea to their peers and possibly talking about their idea to their customers. But it’s a completely different challenge when trying to explain a business case, not an idea, a business case, to investors. And it’s not just first-time founders, we work with experienced entrepreneurs perhaps working on their fourth business but they’ve never had to raise funds before. They appreciate it’s a whole new skill to learn.
Founders know it’s a whole different ballgame and – from my perspective – that’s the biggest issue that entrepreneurs face: a lack of understanding or misalignment with what investors are actually looking for. This is the main reason I wrote my book.
This idea that fundraising is relatively straightforward and there are people waiting to throw money at you with little thought is often propelled by the stories we hear about the likes of Airbnb and Uber – ‘they just sort of had a great idea and raised all this investment and now they’re worth billions’. These stories have been romanticised over time and they give a warped perception of the reality to founders.
The reality is, it’s not the idea investors are really investing in. They’re investing in a business case that is going to generate them a return…
Investors want to understand the assets that will deliver value, the implementation strategies that will deliver commercial success and they want to know the financial risks and potential rewards. They don’t care about the idea as much as founders would believe, or like them to, in this investment scenario. They care about your personal ability as a founder to commercialise that idea and deliver a return on their investment.
A bit about the book and how that came about
“I launched the book late last year in November 2020 and I’m honoured that it’s been such an incredible success already. The main focus of the book was to demystify what seems like quite a complex space: getting investment. Regardless of how experienced you are as an entrepreneur, raising investment is often quite a new and daunting task. For a lot of our clients, this is their second, third, fourth business, but it’s their first time actually raising investment. So it doesn’t matter if it’s your first business venture, or you’re an experienced entrepreneur if you’re trying to raise investment, it’s still a skill you have to learn.
For a novice entrepreneur, it’s a very complex and bewildering space; there’s not a lot of information out there and the information that is out there is quite confusing. The whole purpose of the book was to try and write about this from an entrepreneur’s perspective, not from an investor’s or VCs perspective… but to look at this and give advice to entrepreneurs based on what I’ve learned as someone coming from a branding and marketing background pivoting into this investment space. I’ve learned from a communication perspective, rather than from an investor’s perspective, so I can give a unique insight as to how this works and what delivers success. And I think I’ve been able to achieve that in the book.
A couple of insights from the book for a prospective entrepreneur seeking investment
There are two key methods, two key theories in the book. The first is the principle of becoming an ‘investable entrepreneur’, those that will successfully raise investment. There are things that will distinguish these people versus other founders pitching for the same investment.
The first is that these people highly effective and highly resourceful. They’re able to get people to buy into their vision. That’s the first thing that sets them apart. They’re great at pitching and getting people to buy into them but are also demonstrably resourceful people; people that can get things done. People that can push a fast-growing business forward, at pace. That’s the first thing an investor is looking for.
The second thing is that they’re very comfortable when it comes to projecting financial performance. They understand the financial risk they’re asking their investors to take but also what kind of reward they can expect from it – and can explain all the stepping stones in between. They understand and can communicate those risks confidently and take investors through a journey hitting those big important revenue milestones towards that profitable exit at the other end. They can say: “This is where I am now and this is the programme we’re going to follow… we’re going to implement this to get from where we are today, to a point where we can deliver a great return on your investment”.
When you can put those things together, you start to become the sort of entrepreneur investors can back; you become an investable entrepreneur, not just someone with a great idea.
Getting your foot in the door with an investor
The main chunk of the book is around the methodology, the principles of the perfect pitch – which we won’t go into detail on here now – but it’s essentially how you package all of that up into that initial pitch that’s going to get you through the door with an investor. It gives you the tools to create meaningful conversations and articulate your concepts. But there are a few basic phases you must go through before you engage with your potential investors.
The first is the preparation phase. It sounds simple but it’s important. That’s the creation of your business plan and your financial projections, creating a business case that sets up the fact that you have the implementation strategy and you understand the financial risks getting there.
Then you have a construction phase where it’s all about boiling it all down to 15 – 20 punchy slides with no more than 50 to 75 words per slides that really cut through to the investor.
And then finally, the creation phase: where you produce a high-calibre, professionally-finished presentation which again cuts through the noise and sets you apart. Here, you are almost painting the picture of the exit. You want the investor to look at your deck and go “Wow, I could see selling this thing for billions of pounds/ dollars” even though you haven’t even got a product on the market yet! You want them to look at it and go “I can really imagine this being something huge”.
Get these three things together properly and you’ve got yourself the bones of a really successful pitch, and you’re demonstrating that you’re a credible, investable entrepreneur. Then you’re suddenly in that top percentile that investors take very seriously.
You can find out more about James Church’s book Investible Entrepreneur below or visit Robot Mascot for more details.