An instantly compelling elevator pitch is the holy grail of startup companies although I’m not entirely convinced. I think it’s more important to have an original, compelling and monetisable idea first– then let the pitch sort itself out. The idea makes the pitch, not the other way around.
But at some point, you’ll need a fast and memorable answer to the “what do you do?” question, so it’s a good idea to prepare early.
You’re unlikely to actually use it in an elevator, but it’s surprising how interested people are in startups and how many times you’ll have the opportunity to pitch your thing. Every now and then, you find an investor or a customer.
How do you make it memorable? In my view it’s like songwriting – we all know what we like but very few people can create the magic and you’re going to need a lot of practice before you arrive at the perfect message.
The most memorable pop songs often say very little, but the hooks never leave you: 3 minutes of bad poetry you can’t forget, even if you want to.
I use the song writing analogy because the structure of a good pitch is the same. You need an opening verse, sometimes two, to set up the interest, then a chorus with a hook that you repeat.
You’ve also got to remember that people generally only remember three new things at a time, so don’t try and say too much, just the things that matter most:
- Explain the need
- Explain your solution
- Introduce the hook
- Who’s going to buy
And then repeat the hook.
To use a real world example, here’s our Maestrano pitch:
“Most small business software exists in silos of functionality, as it’s difficult sharing data with other applications.
Maestrano has unique technology to connect applications and share data; we break the silo model.
Companies buy our platform to generate new revenue and increase engagement with their small business customers, without locking them into silos.”
So the important elements come down to what, how and why and the hook.
After you’ve written and field-tested your pitch, you need to think about the follow up – what are you going to do if someone shows interest? It can range from “please give me your business card and I’ll send you a slide deck”, through to “let’s meet for coffee next week and I’ll expand on our story”. Generally speaking, if you’re working a room, you want to be moving on to new people, to maximise your chances of finding an investor or customer.
However, if you’ve won engagement with a really exciting prospect, you should stay with them and cement your business into their thinking. Remember to make it a conversation rather than a lecture. Ask questions, listen to the answers and shape your arguments for the best fit. There is an old saying in sales, “you have 2 ears and 1 mouth, so listen twice as much as you speak”. Find out what interests the other person or what problems they need to solve then explain as concisely as possible why your idea can help.
Finally, you might have a dynamite pitch and a hot startup, but always remember to stay humble –arrogance is the biggest mistake you can make.
Ian Buddery is the founder of multiple companies including eServGlobal in 1991 (ASX:ESV). During his career he has successfully obtained Venture Capital and Angel funding, performed two IPOs, six acquisitions and one major trade sale. Ian holds a number of positions, including Executive Chairman of Maestrano. He is also President of the Asthma Foundation of NSW.