How To: Presenting a Product Roadmap for Investors
All those episodes of Shark Tank never prepared you for this: real investors with real money, and a chance to wow them with where your product is headed.
As a key part of any investor pitch, you’ll need to show that you’ve got a vision for your product and that you’re confident about how to get there. That means being able to crystalize, in no uncertain terms, what the future looks like for your business. And, even more crucially, your would-be investors will see wondrous returns thanks to all these amazing new features you’ve got in the works.
“One of the ways you convey operational excellency is in the quality of the plan.”Marc Andreessen
So how can you ensure that things go off with a bang, rather than a fizzle? There’s an art to simmering away the excess fat and condensing the good stuff into a lovely roadmap ragu, which is exactly what we’re going to cover here.
In this article we’ll cover:
- The aims of a product roadmap for investors
- Designing a product roadmap for investors
- The art of presentation
- How to leave things off
The aims of a product roadmap for investors
Let’s think about what you’re trying to achieve here.
Everyone knows that if sharks stop swimming, they die. It’s a popular analogy for Gordon Gecko pinstripe business types because companies and products are exactly the same. Staying stable might be fine if you’re a privately-owned business, but the second you get investors involved, flat is dead and relentless growth is a healthy heartbeat.
So when you sit down with VCs and you get to the roadmap part of the picture, what you’re really trying to show is that you have an understanding of scale. That the future will look better than today, and that the vision is about more than just servicing those customers you’ve already won over.
There are lots of different types of investors out there, from individuals to megacorp venture capitalists, but they’re all looking for the same thing: as close to a guarantee as possible that their funds will come back in higher stacks than the ones they seed to you.
Ultimately, when you think about what it is you need to achieve, it’s a roadmap that screams evolution and potential – and in a way that’s hard to mistake. No pressure, then.
Where to get funding advice?
In this piece, we’re talking all about building a product roadmap that will wow investors of all shapes and sizes. It’s a hugely necessary thing to get right, but it’s a scenario that presumes you already have investors sniffing around – or that the tiger is already coming to tea.
If you need some more general advice on how to attract VC funding, though, there are tons of resources out there that are worth soaking up. Here are just a few of them:
- Crack the Funding Code, Judy Robinett
- Secrets of Sand Hill Road: Venture Capital and How to Get It, Scott Kupor
- The Private Equity Playbook, Adam Coffey
- Startup Funding Explained: Everything You Need to Know
- How to Get Meetings with Investors and Raise Money by Aaron Harris
- Pitch a VC: Pitching to investors’ playlist
Designing a product roadmap for investors
“The stock market is filled with individuals who know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.”Phillip Fisher
A key part of developing any product is establishing its value proposition. And that’s lucky because value is such an important word when it comes to seeking investment. Investors think in terms of price, but – behind that – they’re really only ever looking to be convinced of apparent and potential value. So being able to articulate your product’s strengths succinctly on every slide is the secret to success.
That applies to the product roadmap just as much as anywhere. We’ve already mentioned that, in this scenario, the roadmap is a giant metaphor for growth and vision, so let’s unpack that and discuss exactly what they want to see on your roadmap.
What are investors looking for?
Answers. Investors are always looking for answers.
As a product manager, your roadmap is a snapshot of what’s inside your mind, right? It’s a window into all the things you want to address, and the features you’d love to add.
With that will come questions, so it’s worth thinking about how your roadmap can present answers to a few of those inevitable queries for you:
1. Why have you prioritized certain areas over others?
Can your roadmap clearly visualize or succinctly explain why the features and updates you have slated for the immediate future are ahead of any others? If not, you’ll need to be able to explain your thinking.
2. Which objectives do you expect these initiatives to help meet?
It’s always worth categorizing roadmap items into objectives. This clearly shows how your future initiatives are split across things like security, market growth, customer requests, etc. At a glance, that helps show investors where the opportunity for expansion lies, alongside things you know need fine-tuning.
3. What problems need to be urgently solved?
If your roadmap doesn’t make it crystal clear within a couple of seconds which things are your next priority, you’ve got a problem. Any potential investor needs to be able to discern what’s coming down the line, and in what order, in an instant.
4. What will the return on investment look like?
This is a multi-faceted question that’ll require an answer from a few different people, but from a product roadmap point of view, you need to be able to show that features are there for a reason and that each new update has a business benefit. Every product decision has a monetary value tied to it, so you’ll need to show the long-term effects of each from an ROI point of view.
What are investors’ main priorities and concerns?
Did you know that Teslas have a function to play a selection of fart sounds at random? Oh, Elon.
Over here in the real world, VCs and other investors are unlikely to be wowed by anything on your roadmap that’s there because you think it’s cool or, you know, meme-worthy. In other words: think with a business hat on.
Investors want to see that any planned rollouts and patches will more than justify their cost in terms of design, development, testing, and marketing. That might mean that you need to adjust your product roadmap for investors by slightly frontloading things that speak for themselves from an ROI standpoint.
What investors don’t care about
If you’re in an investor pitch, there’s probably not going to be an incredibly tight focus on the specific nuts and bolts of your roadmap. That means you don’t need to go overboard with the methodology behind each planned change, who’s going to be working on it, or the process. Again, it’s more about the business case than the challenge involved.
At ProdPad we’re big advocates of the Now-Next-Later roadmap layout so, naturally, we’re inclined to say that investors and VCs aren’t going to care about exact timeframes. If you like, you could change those three headings to quarters in the financial year, but your roadmap in this kind of presentation is an indication of things to come and not an internal processes document.
Bear in mind also that roadmaps change. Things shuffle around. So stating exact timeframes can become a rod for your own back if plans change later down the line and you’ve made promises to investors. The most important thing is to show strategic thinking, not a mastery of team capacity.
Advice for nailing your product roadmap for investors’ presentation
Ok, so how do you actually tick all those boxes?
Simplicity and succinctness are vital, but there’s an art to presentation that many people find hard to master. So let’s go over a few key things to focus on, beginning with the big one: formatting a product roadmap for investors.
Present a product roadmap designed for investors
You’re reading this on ProdPad.com, so it should come as no surprise that our preferred way to format a roadmap is with, well, ProdPad. As mentioned, at the core of that is a Now-Next-Later roadmap layout, which we believe is especially great for investor presentations.
As I’ve said before, “you’re trying to show your strategy in a clear and concise way that shows what work is coming up in a way that isn’t too granular. Why is that simplicity necessary? Because you need to make sure that the conversation doesn’t get too focused… The detail will derail your ability to present your strategy.”
And in fact, one of the great things about ProdPad is that you can use it to create variations of your roadmap that fit any audience type, with varying degrees of business-sensitive transparency based on permissions. So why not make a version that’s investor-specific?
Returning to my post on a roadmap one-pager, “An audience of external investors will want the story and strategy of how you’re changing the product for customers and the likely impact on the market.”
But you don’t have to use ProdPad, of course; you may well want to translate your roadmap into a deck slide. If you’re doing that, our best advice is to keep things clean. Stay away from timelines and Gantt charts; they’re too nitty-gritty and can be confusing. Instead, stick to a single slide of aims and deliverables coming now-next-later – with a clear rationale for each of them.
If you have two minutes, we’ve actually got a great mini guide on how best to format this one-pager.
Or you can grab this product roadmap presentation template, which will do some of the heavy lifting for you. Oh, and you can take a look at our own product roadmap here.
Try and have all your ducks in a row before meeting with your investors. Know your numbers, know your value, and have a solid response ready for any possible questions. It’s best to do this as a team so that your narrative is aligned across the board. A big pitfall is people winging things a bit too much, going off-script, and digging a hole that everyone can peer into. If you say something that someone else on your team finds surprising, it’ll be apparent to everyone.
Don’t sugarcoat anything; people will see through lies and investors appreciate honesty. So be open about the ups and downs of your business where it’s relevant, and don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know something. If you’re the product manager, there might be a surprisingly technical wildcard question that catches you off guard. In that case, don’t babble. Just say you’re not sure, but that one of the team will be able to follow up immediately after the meeting with an answer.
Be a human being
As much as there definitely is a degree of cutthroat skullduggery in the finance world, VCs invest in people and teams, rather than ones and zeroes. So don’t be afraid to let your personality poke out from underneath the professional sheen. Show your passion, let investors see the real you, and talk about all the talented people you love working with. You’re the one who’ll be actioning the things on this roadmap, after all, so think of yourself as being as much a sellable product as the product itself.
Is your meeting happening over Zoom? Put some shoes on. Trust us: it’ll make you feel more in the zone and alert. Pants, on the other hand, are always optional.
(Don’t) leave them wanting more
Building a product roadmap for investors is obviously just one part of a larger presentation, and the aim of that deck should be to have answered every possible question and left everyone in the room clear on the future of your product.
In a practical sense, that means ending on a clear set of takeaways. Perhaps you have a few next steps for both your team and the investors? Perhaps it means some physical leave-behind collateral that reminds them of everything they’ve just seen. Or perhaps it’s the promise of a follow-up call.
Either way, do your best to ensure that your potential golden goose leaves armed with everything they need to make a decision.
And remember: you can’t spell confidence without ‘con’. Con yourself into feeling confident, and it’ll rub off on everyone in the room. Because, really, the world’s just people going around, walking into rooms, and saying things.