First impressions count. And never more so than when you’re trying to impress what could turn out to be that all-important investor who could make your dreams become a reality. Caya makes the point that convincing investors to listen isn’t an easy thing to do. You may only get one chance to impress so preparation is key. The more succinctly you can explain what you do, the more likely you are to grab their interest. With his guidance, you don’t need to caught on the hop every again.
You’re waiting for an Uber outside a conference at SXSW to head back to your hotel. As a startup founder, you’re at the convention to build contacts, find funding and create buzz. A fellow conference attendee is standing near you, lamenting aloud that he left his iPhone back at his hotel room. You tell him because you both are going to the same place, he can jump in your Uber with you.
On the way, you realize he is a high-ranking, low-profile partner at one of the biggest venture capital firms in Silicon Valley. The conversation turns to why you’re attending the conference and what you do. Sometimes fate hands you opportunity on a golden platter shining in the sun. But the cab is getting close to the hotel, and you have only a few seconds to share your idea. Can you get him interested in your startup? You might if you have a world-class elevator pitch.
What’s an Elevator Pitch?
An elevator pitch is a short, concise, pre-planned presentation that tells your startup story. The term ‘Elevator Pitch’ suggests that you should be able to deliver your pitch in the time of an elevator ride (less 20 – 40 seconds) and the idea is that you can reel off your elevator pitch anywhere and at any time — business gatherings, parties, family outings, sales calls, socializing — even if you met a venture capitalist by chance in an elevator between floors. You capture the moment because you’re prepared.
What to Include in Your Elevator Pitch
The key to a successful elevator pitch is to pare it down to the essentials. Jerry Seinfeld, the comedian, says the perfect joke has just enough words to convey the humor properly: one word too many or too few, and the impact is lost. It’s the same thing with your elevator pitch.
We solve [problem] by providing [advantage], to help [target] accomplish [target’s goal].
Depending on your stage of growth, you might add this phrase as well:
We make money by charging [customers] to get [benefit].
For example, let’s say your startup uses drones to send emergency medicine to injured hikers trapped in adverse conditions in dangerous, inaccessible locations. You could say:
“We solve the problem of getting medical supplies to inhospitable areas by using drones to help stranded hikers stay alive and return home safely. We make money by charging local rescue operations who want to save lives and cut costs.”
That’s about 20 seconds or so, perfect for almost any social interaction.
Remember that one of the primary goals is to keep it short and snappy. Have you ever asked somebody what they do, only to instantly regret it as they droned on and on about their company’s problems, and inevitably, how they alone are taking the bold steps needed to single-handedly save their industry from oblivion? Don’t be that person.
Write It All Down
Co-founder of KISSmetrics, Neil Patel, says that to create your perfect elevator pitch template, you should write everything about your startup down. Engineers and company founders are not necessarily known for their tendency to sit down and write, but it’ll be some of the most valuable time you can spend on your company.
Patel suggests you can get it done easier if you:
- Block out a solid chunk of time, preferably 60 to 90 minutes. Choose a time of day when you’re at your most productive.
- Turn off all entertainment and mobile devices. No Facebook, no Twitter, no LinkedIn, no iPhone. In addition, tell everyone to leave you alone during this time.
- Brainstorm with freedom. Patel says to shut off your inner critic and let your ideas fly free. Kick back and let it flow.
- Tell me a story. Write like you’re talking to your best friend at a coffee shop. Keep it simple, personable and direct.
- Create a lot of content. You’ll do much better if you write a lot more than you’ll need – you can always edit it down to the golden nuggets.
Rolls Off the Tongue
Now that you have a basic elevator pitch down, you should practice it so it rolls off your tongue effortlessly.
Although technically you have it memorized, you don’t want to present it in a stilted, formal manner. It should feel organic and spontaneous. Don’t be afraid to modify it on the fly depending on your audience, the environment and the context of the conversation.
Venture capitalist Christine Tsai, a founding partner at 500 Startups, says that perfecting an elevator pitch is not easily done on your own. You want to get as much practice as you can with an audience. That’s why it benefits you to use it as much as you can. Run it by your confidants in the industry, test it with family members and even people you meet during the day. If you have a lot of difficulty communicating your ideas, you may want to take a public speaking class, or join an organization like Toastmasters, which is specifically designed to help people improve their presentation skills.
Turn Strangers into Clients
Here is an alternative template you can test to see if it works better for you. At your next networking or industry meeting, consider using the five steps advocated by Julie Bawden Davis to use your elevator pitch to turn strangers into clients:
- Introduce yourself. Start your pitch with a short, easy to understand statement. Say your name, the name of your startup and the service it entails.
- Explain the challenge your startup solves. Picture an index card pasted on the forehead of the person you’re talking to. On the card it says, “What’s in it for me?” Explain your value proposition.
- Explain the results you can deliver. Don’t just ramble on about your grandiose plans for your startup. Be exact in what results people can expect from your company. Don’t give them a hard sell, just share what your vision is and how it can help them.
- Share proof and your plan. No matter how friendly your prospect, they’ll naturally want proof you can deliver on your claims. Talk about solid successes you’ve achieved, or an engaging customer success story. Discuss goals reached and milestones achieved. Give hard numbers. Then outline how you plan to repeat that success for them.
- Stop and listen. On paper, these five steps are relatively detailed. However, in person you’ll want to keep them short and to the point. Stop and listen after your pitch to gauge their interest level. Read their body language and wrap it up quickly if they’re disengaging. Don’t hog the spotlight. Ask them questions about their company to build trust and increase the chances they’ll want to follow up with you.
Use these ideas to create your perfect elevator pitch template and you’ll be ready to wow any venture capitalist, angel investor, or lucrative prospect at any time.