Should startup founders spend time creating a crisp elevator pitch? Yes! Let me explain what got me thinking about this…
I recently received an email from a student in Texas who is thinking of starting a business. He stated, “I’m 23, I have my eyes on an idea with IP that’s protected, I’m piecing together a business model, and I’m doing all in my power to make this happen. The problem is that I’m so young I don’t have many industry contacts and, even though I’ve yet to try, I think it would be difficult to get a VC to sit down in the room with me and listen to my proposal because I’m so young. I think because of my youth they may not take me seriously even though the idea is solid, potentially very profitable, and has IP security. ”
My advice to him was that if his idea was good, and if he could articulate it well, then he could make smart people interested in helping him. First he should get together a smart elevator pitch and then approach potential advisers who could help him evaluate his idea’s probability of success, firm up the business plan and then introduce him to capital sources and team members. I really think a crisp elevator pitch will be critical in getting experienced people to lend him a hand. (I guess I just articulated it better here that I did in my emails to him! Sorry Steve!)
What is an elevator pitch?
Venturehacks has a great post on how to prepare an elevator pitch for an investor and says, “the major components of the pitch are traction, product, and team.” If you are preparing to raise venture capital you must read their take on the elevator pitch.
But I think that an elevator pitch has an importance greater than just impressing investors. If you are a startup, no one has ever heard of you. No one knows what you are doing. No one knows how or why they should lend you a hand or buy your product or make an introduction to someone who could join your team. You need to be able to let people know what you are up to quickly, and interest them enough to get them thinking about how they can help you build your business.
An elevator pitch is a short description that will help the entrepreneur quickly explain the purpose of their startup to someone who has not heard of the company before. I think you should have a single elevator pitch (that you occasionally tailor to a specific audience, such a customer or investor or potential team member). You will need to have practiced this pitch to the point where you can recite it in your sleep, because you never know when you’ll be in front of the CTO of a potential customer or find the VP of Sales that you’ve been dreaming of for months. Make that first impression a solid one.
Here is my take on how to get a good elevator pitch put together:
- Problem definition
- Size/magnitude of problem
- Your solution, including why it is better
- Your company’s traction
- Who you are
I don’t think your elevator pitch should be more than 30 to 45 seconds long. (And you probably don’t want to talk at light speed, unless you are pitching a speed speaking product – lame joke.) If the listener is interested then they will ask you questions and you can elaborate on the points that interest them.
I’m not convinced that my formula for a good elevator pitch is perfect, nor is it the only way to create an effective pitch. I’d love to hear other people’s ideas on elevator pitches that have worked for them.
Having spent some time over at TechStars, it is pretty clear that the TechStars founders take the elevator pitch very seriously. The teams are forced to play with their elevator pitch over and over – practice, modify, get feedback on and practice. These pitches are not focused for particular audiences – rather they are generic pitches that would be interesting to customers, investors and people who might want to pitch in with their time or introductions. My experience at TechStars has really re-inforced the impression that an articulate elevator pitch is very important for pretty much any entrepreneur. After all, you never know when you’ll bump into the person who will somehow help your startup take over the world!