Map Center Header

Tips for startup founders: Perfecting an elevator pitch

 

There’s a scene from Silicon Valley season 3 where Pied Piper’s CEO, Richard, tries to explain his company’s data storage platform to a room full of non-computer scientists. It takes several pizzas, hours and methods of explanation before the group finally grasps it.

As with many of the events from Silicon Valley, this is an unfortunate yet all too common reality for many entrepreneurs. The question becomes whether the idea is simply too advanced and ahead of its time, or if you’re just doing a really bad job of explaining it.

This is why it’s critical for every startup founder, no matter what stage their company is in, to perfect their elevator pitch. The logic is that you should be able to give your pitch within the time it would take to ride in the elevator with someone. After all, you never know who you might standing next to.

Your typical venture firm has at least 500 face-to-face meetings a year, and just 10 percent move on to the next stage from there. And that’s not even taking into account the phone and email pitches firms constantly receive. Altogether, it’s likely that VC firms are seeing thousands to tens of thousands of pitches every year.

If you’ve made it to funding, congratulations, but you still have to constantly pitch your company: to investors for follow-on rounds, to clients, to media and to consumers. A good elevator pitch isn’t just a good thing to have, it’s necessary for your company’s success.

Here are a few key ways to ensure your elevator pitch is where it needs to be:

Keep it to one minute

Start your stopwatch and see if you can describe your company, out loud, in a way that’s enticing, articulate and easy to understand, all in 60 seconds.

As one investor puts it, “The pitch needs to be quick and easy, something you could say in one or two breaths.”

Chances are, the first time you try it, you’ll be struggling to find the right words and awkwardly end with, “so … yeah.”

And that’s OK. This is the time to get all the weird stuff out. Practice it over and over, whether it’s with your family or your pets, until both you and them are sick of hearing it.

Ensure you’ve got your elevator pitch compact enough to get across what you need to within one minute — if you’ve done it right, you’ll have piqued the person’s interest and will have a chance to expand on what you’ve just said.

Be calm and confident

Conventional wisdom holds that passion and energy are what investors want to see, especially when you’re got just one minute to wow them. Turns out, research is showing something else.

According to recent studies, VCs tend to prefer calmer demeanors. People equate calmness with leadership strength, which will go a long way towards convincing investors that you worthy of their money.

Of course, when you have only a minute, it might be hard to temper those nerves. You need to know the data inside and out and anticipate potential follow-up questions. You can also try some quick yoga breathing techniques before you launch into your pitch — just be sure you have a private spot to plug your nostrils if you need to.

Make it easy to understand

Things like which code-base you use or specifics of algorithms should be left out of an elevator pitch. Anyone who hears it should be able to immediately grasp what you’re going for, whether they’re a software engineer, a barista or a family member.

Leaving technical specifics out helps, but you can also use the show-don’t-tell method to make crystalize your most important points. You may remember this rule from writing classes in college. Essentially, instead of making broad statements and expecting people to just believe you, use data that will allow others to naturally draw the right conclusion.

For example, don’t just say that there’s an opportunity in the market for your product, note that there’s a $500 billion industry with a glaring gap that your product fills.

Just remember to keep everything high level. These are your greatest hits, not deep cuts.

Write it down by hand

Don’t carry cards around with you and read from them anytime you think you see an investor, but do take some time to thoughtfully write out your elevator pitch — and do it with pen and paper, not on the computer.

Not only will this allow you to perfect which bullet points you want to include, studies show writing by hand improves your memory. You’ll be more likely to pull up that critical data when you need to, and will have extra confidence knowing you’ve got your pitch memorized to a T.

Practice makes perfect

Every tip you read on the Internet, ours included, is meaningless if you don’t practice constantly.

Practice on friends and family, practice with coworkers or ex-coworkers or future coworkers. Practice with people with different backgrounds and different sets of knowledge. Find where the gaps are. what they don’t understand and make it better.

Also take time to record yourself giving the pitch. Yes, your voice always sounds weird when you hear it, but if you’re not taking the time to listen and ensure your elevator pitch is top notch, why should anyone else?

The elevator pitch has become a hallmark of the investment world. Getting it right could mean the difference in your company getting the funding it needs or landing that big client. Leave as little as you can to chance.

And while it wasn’t a great look for Richard in Silicon Valley, throwing in some pizza never hurt.

 

CONTACT