The Elevator Pitch: Your Ticket to the Top
May 16, 2012 by Akira Hirai
Every entrepreneur needs a convincing ‘elevator pitch,’ so named because it is the pitch you give if you happen to step into an elevator with the investor of your dreams. The elevator pitch is a well-rehearsed snapshot that conveys the essence of your business plan in 30-60 seconds. It’s the pitch you will give over and over, on flights, at conventions, out networking, in chance meetings with strangers, and at the beginning of every meeting you have – essentially, whenever you need to introduce yourself and your business.
What are you trying to accomplish?
In the case of people who can directly help you – say, potential investors, or strategic partners – you want them to give you their card and invite you to call or meet so they can learn more.
In the case of everybody else, you want to pique their curiosity and get them to remember enough about your venture so they share your story with their network – which hopefully includes somebody who can help you directly. You want your elevator pitch to go viral, person-to-person.
Just what goes into your elevator pitch?
- Problem-Solution Combo: Start by expressing the problem you solve, in a way your audience can relate. For a company like Dropbox, it might be: “Isn’t it a royal pain to keep the files on your home and work computers and mobile devices synchronized and backed up all the time? Our software works in the background and takes care of that for you in the cloud, like magic.” Make the listener want to hear more. Focus on benefits and don’t get technical.
- Business Model: Explain, in one or two sentences, who your customers are and how you plan to make money. For example, “We target iPhone users, mostly in the 15-25 demo. We offer a limited free version; the full, unlocked, advertising-free version is $4.99.” Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be.
- Competitive Advantage: What factors make your product better than alternatives and substitutes? For example, “Clinical trials show equal efficacy compared to the current market leading drug, but with significantly reduced toxicity and risk of stomach bleeding.”
- Market Potential: Explain the size of the addressable market, how it is growing or changing, and how much of the market you think you can capture. For example: “The U.S. market for municipal wastewater purification equipment is now $200 million, and growing at 15% as aging infrastructure needs to be replaced. Within 5 years, we believe our superior cost-benefit profile will make us the market leader, resulting in $125 million in revenue.”
- Traction: Describe recent accomplishments that illustrate the kind of momentum you’ve generated. For example, “In the past quarter, we’ve filled the remaining two roles in our co-founding team, and we’ve installed an alpha version of our software at 5 test customer sites including the marketing analytics division at Wells Fargo.”
- Call to Action: Finish your elevator pitch with a specific request, depending on your audience. Maybe you simply want feedback. Or maybe you want to schedule time to give a product demo, or a referral to an investor. Keep it simple: “If you’re interested in learning more, I’d love to stop by at your office in the next week or two to give you a live demo. Would that work for you?”
The elevator pitch is the central thesis of your business, and everything revolves around it. You won’t get it right overnight, and you’ll likely need to let it evolve over time.
Here are some tips for zeroing in on the right pitch:
- No more than 200 words: Your elevator pitch should be 30-60 seconds long.
- Avoid jargon: Use language your mother can understand and proudly repeat to her friends.
- Create variations: Try different versions on people and see what they think sounds best. You’ll also need to create variations based on your audience and your desired action.
- Act on feedback: If you get the same requests for clarification repeatedly, you obviously need to change your pitch.
- Don’t rush your delivery: If you try to speed-talk, your audience won’t understand a word you say. Speak slowly and deliberately, and use brief pauses to let key ideas sink in.
- Practice: You need to be able to deliver your pitch naturally, easily, with conviction and enthusiasm, without having it sound rehearsed. Practice in front of a mirror, with an audio recorder, with a web cam, or with the video recorder on your phone or digital camera.
- Be consistent: Once you settle on your message, your elevator pitch, the first few paragraphs of your business plan, your pitch deck, and the About Us page of your website all need to convey the same message, using similar language.
People DO, in fact, judge books by their covers. Your elevator pitch is the cover for your business, so make sure you make a great first impression.
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