Failplans Stop Here – Part 5: Elevator Pitch

This is Part 5 of the “Failplans Stop Here” series.

Introduction

In the last installment, we covered deal tags.  Now, moving up a level, we’re going to visit our old friend, the elevator pitch. Ah yes, the proverbial elevator pitch. Despite the name, elevator pitches are generally not delivered in an elevator. Frankly, let’s be honest here.  It would be pretty damned weird to be on an elevator with someone and have them just start randomly pitching you on their deal.

There are some that contend that the elevator pitch is dead because they are only used in pitch competitions these days rather than with “investors trapped in an elevator.”  I can assure you this isn’t true. When you are in a social setting, and someone asks you “what do you do?”, your answer is your elevator pitch, whether you want to call it that or not.

There is no single approach to creating a good elevator pitch – but there are ways that are better than others.  We’ll discuss the two main ones below, and then we’ll start working on the elevator pitch for Frobozz, Inc.

What: Elevator Pitch
Intended Audience: Anyone and Everyone You Meet
Delivery Time: < 60 seconds

Einstein said it best. There are plenty of smart entrepreneurs that suffer from Gimpy-Pitch-Itis.  And many of those may truly have a deep understanding of the product and market.  However, to understand something to the point where you can explain it succinctly, and in a way that a layperson can understand, is a skill.  And it can be learned, as long as you put in the time. Saying something is too complicated to be further simplified is bullshit.

I’m not a nuclear physicist, but I can certainly understand this lay explanation of a nuclear power reactor:

Nuclear fuel generates a lot of heat, and that heat is used to make steam.  The steam drives steam turbine generators which make electricity. This electricity is then fed into the power grid, which makes my light switch work.

Trust me, if an investor is interested in this type of deal, they’ll sic someone on you who knows their chops during the due diligence phase. But you’re a long way from that at this stage in the game.

Cut Edge bridal veil

How many of you feel like this right now? Or have ever felt like this trying to put together a business plan, or a pitch? This is where most entrepreneurs end up with their pitch.  They can’t see the forest for the trees, which is readily apparent to anyone listening to them pitch.

So, if you are knee-deep in a forest of misery, how do you gain clarity? Easy – you learn to fly.

This is the ideal vantage point for a pitch of any kind – elevator, fast pitch, formal pitch, etc.  You need to provide an “aerial view” of your deal.  If you look into this picture, you get the lay of the land.  You see a farm (the product), and some picturesque trees and fields (your market).  Even some hills in the distance (long term plan).  I don’t necessarily need to know the leaf count on every tree, or the exact dimensions of each field, or even all the inner workings of the farm implements.  I can get all I need to form an opinion from up above.

It’s a beautiful scene. It makes me want to visit and see more.  Your audience, ostensibly potential investors, need to see the beauty of the landscape first.  Where does the forest fit into the scheme of things? Why is it even there, or needed?

In the elevator pitch, I don’t need to know “how” you are turning peanut butter into jet fuel, just that you can.

Note: In case you didn’t pick up on this …. sigh.  I just pitched you with three slides.

Attributes of an Elevator Pitch

Regardless of approach or setting, all elevator pitches must:

Those last two bullet points are worth a little more discussion, I think.

Social conveyability is huge.  Most deals eventually happen, or don’t, because of this. If your pitch is effective, the listener will be able to carry your message forth to others.  And that, is what you’re after.

Finally, if your pitch doesn’t invoke these types of questions from the listener, your pitch is broken:

Don’t be a house of cards that falls apart on the first question.  Strategize and practice this!

Two Types of Elevator Pitches

Okay, enough background. There are fundamentally two types of elevator pitches: presentation style and conversational style.

The presentation style is the kind you only do when you are formally presenting, or asked to stand up in front of people and give your “elevator pitch.”  The conversational style pitch is delivered in an informal social setting, such as a cocktail party or networking event.  There are some similarities between the two, obviously, but also some differences.

Presentation Style

For starters, the presentational style pitch is best delivered with an opening “hook”, that gets the audience’s attention for the remainder of your pitch. Great opening hooks invoke emotion, provoke thought, or make a personal connection with the audience.

There are several ways of achieving this.  You can focus on pain and suffering (which can be a beautiful thing, believe it or not):

“1.6 billion people — a quarter of humanity — live without electricity.”

“1 in 6 Americans born in 2013 will suffer from diabetes later in life.”

“Right now approximately half of all American workers have less than $2000 saved for retirement.”

“In the past minute, 34 people were diagnosed with cancer.”

“Over 95% of job opportunities are not listed on job boards, and go unseen by over 10M unemployed Americans.”

You’ll notice that these all have numbers in them.  Statistics.  Data.  It’s real. Numbers are “sticky” and easily transferable to others by word-of-mouth. It is a great way to quantify the problem and/or your market.

If you open with a pain, you should very quickly follow it up with some “hope”, however.  And this hope should form a logical bridge from the pain to your solution.  Ask yourself – what source of hope does my solution tap into to solve this problem?

“1.6 billion people — a quarter of humanity — live without electricity.  The good news is that enough sunlight hits the Earth every minute to satisfy the energy needs of everyone on the planet for an entire year!  Hi, I’m Scott Burkett, founder and CEO of Acme, Inc., and we produce an advanced solar cell that delivers more power, at less cost, than any other solar cell on the market today.  With our product, a typical home can be retrofitted for solar power for less than the cost of a refrigerator, saving the homeowner an estimated 90% of their power bill each year. Thank you!”

Yes, I made that last part up, but the pain and hope were real.  You get the idea.

The opening line is not the “haymaker”, it is the “jab” that sets up the big blow – your hope and solution.

Pain, suffering, and hope are universal connectors for people. If you can find something that hits home and strikes a nerve, you can build your entire pitch around it.  It’s a bit of a holy grail.

Another approach at an opening hook can be found in the question.  Asking the audience a question is a great way to get them focused and thinking.

“Are your power bills enormously expensive during the summer months?”

“Have your kids chosen friends that you don’t particularly care for?”

“Have you saved enough for retirement?”

“You know how hard it is to find the energy to mow your lawn every two weeks?”

“Do you know someone who was or has been diagnosed with cancer?”

Following the question up with a statistic or hope is the next step:

“Are your power bills enormously expensive during the summer months? I know mine is – Georgia can be hot in the summer! The good news is that enough sunlight hits the Earth every minute to satisfy the energy needs of everyone on the planet for an entire year!  Hi, I’m Scott Burkett, founder and CEO of Acme, Inc., and we produce an advanced solar cell that delivers more power, at less cost, than any other solar cell on the market today.  With our product, a typical home can be retrofitted for solar power for less than the cost of a refrigerator, saving the homeowner an estimated 90% of their power bill each year. Thank you! “

“Do you know someone who was or has been diagnosed with cancer? I’m sure most of us do.  The good news is that our recent research and clinical trials with pixie dust demonstrated a 68% reduction in the spread of cancerous cells …”

Opening hooks are best delivered with passion, slowly and deliberately so that it sinks it.  Always pause for a second or two after tossing it out – for added effect.

Continuing Education Tip

Pitching is a mind game – seriously. Take courses or read books on drama (especially acting), and psychology.

Conversational Style

Far more popular than the presentation style usage of the elevator pitch is the conversational style.  Frankly, if it isn’t happening every day, or at least several times a week, you need to get out more often.  A great many deals succeed or fail due to this particular form of pitch.

It really can be nothing more than a conversation version of your presentational elevator pitch.

“Hi, I’m Jim Smith, I don’t believe we’ve met yet.”

“Hi I’m Scott Burkett, pleasure to meet you.

“So what keeps you busy these days?”

“Well, about a year ago I started a company called Acme, which is focused on solving the world’s energy needs.  A lot of people don’t know this but there are over 1.6 billion people on Earth that live without electricity.  Funny thing is, there is enough sunlight hitting the earth every minute to power the entire planet for a year!  We decided to do something about it.  We have a very advanced solar cell that delivers more power, at less cost, than any other solar cell on the market today.  With our product, a typical home can be retrofitted for solar power for less than the cost of a refrigerator, saving the homeowner an estimated 90% of their power bill each year. So, its definitely something we’re excited about.”

“Holy crap! Tell me about this solar cell, this sounds awesome.”

There ya go.

The biggest thing to remember in a conversational pitch is to be … well … conversational!  Don’t be stiff, and don’t be annoying sales-guy with perma-grin on your face.  It’s annoying as hell, people.  Relax, have fun.  Just talk and be yourself.

What Do Crappy One-Line Elevator Pitches Look Like?

Here are a few choice one-line elevator pitches that we’ve seen over the years via StartupLounge (we require entrepreneurs to submit their elevator pitch when they apply to attend our free events):

Creating an integrated, online infrastructure to build and support global, online communities — the first of which is all those who love water sports.

Recently founded Hosted VoIP Phone System provider looking to uniquely position within business telecom industry with innovative features to improve how we communicate at work.

Making cognitive healthcare portable, quick, objective, and cost-effective.

We collect consumer data for online retailers and other marketers.

Based in Atlanta, Georgia, the company was founded in response to the growing number of performance issues in the enterprise-computing environment.

I have the experience, pipeline and fortitude  to start on my own as successful national IT services provider.

A break thru beauty product for the face that brings out the artist in you.

Engage and Assess, better and deeper, with our software.

Helping businesses and entrepreneurs generate repeat customers.

Entertainment for mobile devices.

The reason for the failure of Smart TV is the input device – the input device we are working on will solve both current and future limitations.

A web-based sports community that allows athletes, regardless of location or skill level, to create a professional profile.

Egads, man. I’m not even going to get into why each of those are horrible – it should be rather obvious.

The Elevator Pitch for Frobozz

Okay, it is time to walk the walk on our elevator pitch.

First, I need a hook.  We have a product that can theoretically be used to find anyone.  But I need a problem to wrap it around. Remember, this is by design, as many deals have multiple, potential markets.  But we still need to pick one for now – our initial target market. If you recall, when we introduced our fictitious company, I stated that the product (TCC) was in a campus-beta state at Georgia Tech, and was calibrated in a way to help you find people of the appropriate sexual orientation that have at least one hobby in common with the user (to save precious time on the dating circuit).  So we’ll run with that.

You’ll also remember that I stated the elevator pitch should encompass our deal tags.  As a reminder, here is what we came up with for our deal tags:

Mobile | Proximity-Based | Stealthy People-Finder

And here is my first attempt at an elevator pitch (again, fictitious here, so just go with it lol):

Is your time important? It has been estimated that the average person will spend 2-3 years of their life engaged in activities with people that add no value to their lives. Wasted time.  Hi, I’m Scott Burkett, the founder of Frobozz Mobile Magic, Inc.  Our product is a mobile application called The Clockwork Canary, and it allows you to discreetly locate people within your immediate vicinity that match your customizable criteria. The best part is that due to our proprietary magic, it requires no input or action on the part of the people around you. No more wondering if that person is married, if they enjoy the outdoors, or if they are trying to deceive you. We are in a live beta now, and expect a full consumer launch within 12 months.

This can be transformed into a very similar conversational pitch with little effort.

Hi, I’m Scott Burkett, pleased to meet you, blah blah.  … Frobozz gives people 2-3 years of their lives back.  A lot of people don’t know this but the average person will spend 2-3 years of their life engaged in activities with people that add no value to their lives.  These could be bad dates, salesmen, you name it. Our mobile application uses actual magic to discreetly locate people within your immediate vicinity that match your customizable criteria.  So you tell it the types of people you are trying to find, or avoid, and it does the rest. We’re in live beta now, and pretty excited about the results we’re seeing.

Back to our forest example at the beginning of this article.  I’m not telling you how the magic works.  I’m flying above all of that and speaking to the benefits of the solution.

Perfect? Again, no.  It is subject to evolve like everything else.

Total time to come up with this elevator pitch: 10 minutes.  Total time to write this article? 2 hours.  See? Don’t over-think it.

Well, that’s it for this installment.  In the next post, I’ll be getting some feedback from some of my peers, and make any mid-course corrections that might make sense.  Remember, unless you do this, you will invariably end up getting too close to the trees at some point.

Cheers.

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