And yes, your elevator pitch needs an elevator pitch.
Communicating the most important aspects of your business and services within a short amount of time can make or break the success of your project.
Imagine you’re at a networking event, and suddenly you spot out of the corner of your eye someone you’ve needed to talk to for months about your awesome, one of a kind project: a potential investor. It’s up to you to seize this occasion and make an impression that will leave that VIP feeling confident that you are worth talking to again. You only have a moment or so before some other entrepreneur, also wanting this VIP involved with their project, jumps in, and steals your thunder.
Have you ever found one of those Kerr’s Halloween Molasses Kisses and even though your not sure which year it was accumulated much less which decade you decide to eat it. Almost instantly, as that rock-hard-candy lodges in your throat, you are scramble to YouTube searching for a handy title like How to Perform the Heimlich Maneuver on Yourself. The first result in the search is such a video by Wendy, a wonderful Midwest influencer with an impressive following. You click. You wait patiently for the Geico or WIX bumper ad to hit the five second mark so you can Skip Ad and finally learn how to properly self-administer abdominal thrusts to dislodge this deadly reminder of Halloween past. Wendy proceeds to intro her life saving instructional video, but first, she needs to tell you a little bit about herself, her family, and her passions (choke). And of course, no YouTube video would be complete without the standard “please like, share, subscribe, and don’t forget to ring the bell” (gasping for air). Around the two minute mark, she’s finally getting to the purpose of her video.
Don’t Be Long Winded Wendy
Back to the elevator pitch
The last thing you want is to go into a long rant about who you are or stumble over yourself and say something like, “uh… hi… umm… okay, so my company does… I mean, first, it’s called… Wait, let me start over… my name is…”
It doesn’t matter what business you’re in, delivering the perfect elevator pitch — and by that, I mean confidently convey yourself and your company with a quick point-by-point breakdown in under a minute — is an essential skill.
Before you pitch, here are a few things to consider to get started.
Constructing your pitch
1. State the problem
Every successful product or service solves a problem. Your project is no different. It doesn’t matter if the problem is small or big; you just need to be able to say it in one sentence. If you’re having trouble, think about other successful businesses and try to imagine yourself in the shoes of someone in need of what they’re selling.
Google: I can’t quickly and easily find what I want online.
McDonald’s: I have to wait a long time to get a burger and fries.
The Bicycle: I have to travel somewhere kinda far away, but I don’t have a horse.
State the problem at the heart of your business solution. Hopefully, you’re solving a real problem that already exists; otherwise, you’re a solution in search of a problem.
An Uber pitch might have gone something like:
Problem: Taxis are expensive and inefficient; you never know how long it will take to get one until it’s there.
Pitch: Calling a taxi can be confusing; you don’t know where it is or when it’s coming. Plus, you have no idea how much it’s going to cost when you get in or whether or not they are taking you on the shortest route.
2. Make the solution seem inevitable
After stating the problem, your business should be a natural way to solve the problem. What’s key here is to remember the benefit/feature distinction. You want to stick with describing benefits, not features.
Think back to the bicycle. Features include two wheels, pedals, and gears, etc. No one cares about those. What do they care about?
- It can take you great distances quickly.
- It’s light and cheap.
- You don’t have to feed it.
Now do the same thing for your business. What are the main benefits it provides? Make that part of your pitch and tie it elegantly back to the problem.
3. Know who you are targeting
The obvious next question is, “who is this for?”
- It’s good to memorize some figures here. First, you’ll want to know how big your market is, or in other words, how many people have this problem you’re trying to solve?
For instance, think about Google in the 90s. Web search was a problem but only for people with personal computers connected to the internet: a much smaller market than it is today. However, the potential market was enormous, as the adoption of the technology was growing to the point of practically everyone, as it is today.
It’s not exactly helpful in a pitch to say, “our market is everyone,” even though it may be the case that everyone could theoretically benefit from what you’re selling. Think of market segments, people you can potentially sell to within the greater market.
For example, McDonald’s may be a global chain now, but if you were pitching it back in the 1950s, the segments might be something like, “families who want an inexpensive meal quickly.” That’s still largely the case today! And a smaller segment might also have been “traveling Don Draper business types who need to grab a quick bite to eat on the road.”
In either case, you’ll want to know how big your market segments are and at what pace are they growing or expected to grow.
4. Who are you up against?
Competition is at the heart of capitalism, and chances are if there’s a problem, people are coping with it somehow already. That’s why the next part of your pitch should go through your major competitors in your category and underline what makes you better.
Even if what you’re doing is so out-of-the-box, you need to mention how people are solving the problem now. Think of the first dating app: back then, the competition was meeting people in the real world by chance, a professional matchmaker service, or aunts or friends with too much time on their hands.
Uber is directly competing with taxis. But, unlike taxis, Uber lets you know where the car is and enables the driver to see where you are! You know what route you’re taking, and it’s generally cheaper and sets the price before getting into the vehicle. Plus, it lets people earn money from their cars.
Any investor will want to know you’ve done your research.
5. Highlight your project’s secret weapon
If your business isn’t already wowing them with how it perfectly solves a real problem in people’s lives, then pointing to something that puts you over the edge is going to help big time here.
The idea here is to get them excited about something at the company or what the company is doing. If all else fails, say where you are in terms of progress. It’s essential to be real here, but give them the idea that you’re excited about that progress.
Typically, this is where you’d talk up your team or the brilliance of your tech. “We’ve just hired so-and-so from company x” “Our algorithm is x% faster than…”
“My mom is an early investor.”
Name dropping anyone they know or might know is great here, because that will lead to trust (unless they’re major enemies and probably not my mom).
“We just released our beta and really looking forward to feedback.”
“We’ve just secured seed funding and entering development”
“We’ve just hit 100,000 users!”
6. Have a brief financial summary ready
Have an idea of your finances in broad strokes. Do your homework because this is usually when those questions get asked. How will the bills be paid? Is it through the sale of bikes and additional parts and accessories? Through riders of the app (UBER)? Through subscriptions?
You are almost done. You’ve gone through the problem, you’ve offered a solution, you know who you’re selling to and who the competition is. You’ve hinted at your secret weapon that makes your company exciting. Now it’s time to close the conversation. There are two things you need to do here 1) Get them to agree to talk later. This is the whole purpose of the elevator pitch: set up a time to discuss things in earnest. And 2) Leave them with a memorable impression of your company.
See if they’re willing to exchange cards. Just ask plainly and politely. Ask what the best way to contact them is and prepare yourself for rejection; some people won’t want to be contacted. That’s just the way it is. But when you hand over your card, give them the one-sentence summary of your company — what your company does. Plan what you’re going to say in advance and be as concise as possible.
Your Elevator Pitch Needs an Elevator Pitch
Memory works by association. Think of this as the sweet final association of your name and company. For example, if it was 2002, and you were Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, you’d say something like, “Here’s my card. We’re Wikipedia, the free, open-source, web-based encyclopedia.”
By the end of the conversation, they should know who you are, who you represent, and be genuinely excited by the idea of business opportunity.
You can write your prepared remarks down if you find that helps you commit it to memory, but don’t just recite your words from rote. You’ll sound like you’re reading a PowerPoint presentation, and your VIP will fall asleep standing up. You won’t have slides to help you when you’re face-to-face, so don’t fuss over getting the words precisely correct. Don’t memorize.
And on that topic, be familiar enough with your pitch that you can tailor it to new people, change it on the fly, and respond to questions as they come up. Questions are good. It means they’re interested. Ideally, you want it to be less like a lecture and more like an engaging conversation.
Remember. Don’t be Wendy.