Kelly Lyons of Lyonshare on Using Storytelling to Raise Capital
Lyonshare helps startups turn rough, early-stage ideas into executable strategies that will resonate with investors.
You have worked at Wall Street firms, Fortune 500 companies, investment funds, and startups. You’ve worked with prestigious companies such as Billboard, The Hollywood Reporter, Univision, and more. Tell us about these experiences and expand on how your time in these varying businesses led you to successfully raising $1 billion in capital and shaped how you run Lyonshare.
I worked in traditional finance for most of my career and learned so much, but hated most of it because it’s so challenging as a working environment and from a cultural perspective. I kept sitting in different seats across the finance world: I was an investment banker, I did in-house M&A as well as corporate development, and direct investing.
I also created and launched new businesses and was always jumping into something new and trying to learn everything I could because I knew that my time there would be limited. I wanted to get the skillset, and then do something else that I found more exciting. It’s a good background: a business-building strategy. I’ve been really lucky to apply that across startups and new ventures.
Lyonshare allows me to think about strategy and what builds a successful company from many different angles. I wanted to work with startups, so I thought to myself, “What’s something I can offer them?”. I recognized that my biggest strength was mixing creative storytelling with a financial angle. I decided to apply this skill to help founders build compelling investor narratives in the form of a well designed, structurally sound investor deck.
"I recognized that my biggest strength was mixing creative storytelling with a financial angle."
Lyonshare helps startups turn rough, early-stage ideas into executable strategies that will resonate with investors. What can be said about startups that do not focus on the overall style of their decks? Why is it important to show a very polished and refined deck to an investor?
I am always shocked at how many decks I see that look horrific but still raise some capital. For me, if I am an investor who has never met you, and you are asking for millions of dollars for something totally unfounded, I am evaluating you. If you don’t exhibit professionalism in everything you do, it would be difficult to give you money.
A beautiful visual presentation of the pitch not only shows that you are professional, but also spoon-feeds the information to the investors. They are not just reading through a book of information that they don’t understand, they can see it in a digestible way. A strategic, well-designed pitch deck makes it as easy as possible for the investor to understand what you are trying to say.
An investor’s time and attention are limited, so you need to make sure that you get and hook them in your first meeting. Clients laugh at me when I tell them that their decks are going to be 12 to 15 pages, but I am serious about it. I will go up a few pages if absolutely necessary, but otherwise, let’s move it to the appendix, or let’s make a follow-up meeting deck.
"A strategic, well-designed pitch deck makes it as easy as possible for the investor to understand what you are trying to say."
Storytelling is one of the most influential tools one can use to bring an idea to life. How does this process get started for you? How do you work with brands to make sure their stories are told while also capturing an investor’s attention?
When we are working on the storytelling aspect, the first draft shows what the story should be. I’ll put little notes on there to tell the visual designer what I am imagining it will look like. I am always thinking about how to convey a message visually, and within the deck, this further boosts the points you are making.
I have a client whose product is simple to use and secure —its simplicity is what makes it secure. I decided we need to visually demonstrate this using blending, or arrows, or colors to emphasize how one actually compounds the other. It’s a small element but when you are on that slide, it drives the point home.
Lyonshare marries great ideas with a great visual design that matches a brand’s overall identity. How do you work with a client in order to ensure their brand identity matches their deck? What if they don’t have a specified identity?
We work with a lot of seed clients who have yet to develop a full identity. For us, the goal is to keep a deck looking polished with the same theme throughout. If they don’t want to work on a full brand identity because they want to fundraise first, we can meet them in the middle to get to a consistent look and feel.
I'll ask questions like: Is there a color scheme you like? A brand that resonates with you? A painting you like? A vibe you want to come across? From here, we make design samples for them to choose from that are four or five pages each. We work closely with the client to decide what’s working, what’s not, or what needs tweaking.
For clients with existing brand identity, we go off of their brand book, which includes brand primary and secondary colors, fonts, and use of logos, photography, iconography, and other brand guidelines. The goal is that even if I were to remove the company logo in the bottom left, you could still tell whose deck it was.
Your Instagram (@kellylions) is full of beautiful images of places you have traveled across the globe. You stated in a post that you are making Lyonshare a priority instead of a side gig in 2020. Can you tell us about how you utilize your Instagram for both personal and professional use? Would you recommend mixing your personal and professional personas?
Until recently, I was using Instagram for personal use only – as an outlet to enjoy my life outside of work and never viewed it as a professional tool as it would never have made sense in finance. When I first left the industry, I was driven to travel and explore because I was never allowed to do that, so I documented my journey on Instagram.
Until recently, I had never told anyone in my personal networks about my work, but just a few months ago, I decided that I may as well talk about Lyonshare on my Instagram. I was blown away by the positive reception. People with whom I had already had meetings that hadn’t led to anything were suddenly wanting to sign contracts, give deposits, and work with me.
That was eye-opening. It shows the power of a network. I have lived in New York now for 10 years, and my friends are moving and shaking, always doing new things. It made me realize how I could leverage my personal Instagram to attract more startup clients. Today almost one-third of my business has come either directly through or as a referral from my Instagram.
Read more from Kelly Lyons, specifically about what founders can do today to raise venture capital, on Medium here.
"It shows the power of a network."
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