The Elevator Pitch

Quickly explain what you are doing and why it matters to get feedback and help

We entrepreneurs live in our forest – we know our market, we know our product, and we know what makes us special. This knowledge is a curse when explaining our company to new people and important stakeholders. We commonly overlook or forget that other people don’t understand what we are doing as well as we do and we assume they’ll ‘just get it’ when we talk about our company. It’s a dangerous assumption that prevents others from engaging with us and results in missed opportunities.

Entrepreneurs should spend time developing a quick, clear and interesting elevator pitch for their company.

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Why: being able to describe your company in a quick, clear and interesting way enables you to convey understanding of your business so you can get feedback and help

How:

  • Having a clear understanding of what you are doing and why it matters
  • Finding a way to help others relate to you and your work
  • Being interesting

What: 20-30 second description of your company that sparks someone’s interest thereby inviting them to engage further. Used whenever you have a chance to describe what you are doing.

  • “Quickly and simply define your company and its value proposition”
  • “Distill your company down to its very essence”
  • “More than a one liner and less than a full pitch”

How to create a basic elevator pitch and three templates

It can be hard to know where to start so we’ve provided three basic templates to get started. The first is the most basic template that ensues the main points are covered. Fill in the words and then add some color and spice so it doesn’t feel robotic. The second template works well if your team has experience that will make you uniquely qualified to solve the problem. This is a powerful way to get the audience to trust you and pay attention to the rest of the elevator pitch. The third template tells a story of the problem from the perspective of the customer. It works because people resonate with stories and it helps the audience empathize with the customer. Begin with these templates, practice and then iterate into a version that works for you and your company.

Template for a basic elevator pitch

  • Who you are: your name, title, company name
  • For [customer]
  • with [problem]
  • we offer [product/solution]
  • so that [value product/solution delivers]
  • ***Then add color & spice

Example: My name is Natty Zola, I’m the CEO of Elev8r. For office workers in big cities who work in tall buildings with a need to reach their office quickly and without expending a lot of effort we offer an elevator that carries them to their office without effort and in seconds so that they can be more productive at work.

Template for a credibility centric elevator pitch (thanks to Alex Iskold)

  • Who you are: your name, title, company name
  • Credibility: what makes you uniquely suited to address this problem? Could be past experiences, a special insight, a unique skill set.
  • What: 1­-sentence description of what your company does.
  • ­Traction: Either specific revenue, usage milestone or investor involved (if you don’t have it skip)
  • Other: If you don’t have traction or credibility, you can add a sentence on the problem you are solving or elaborate on the solution

Example: My name is Dan Gurney, and I am a musician and six-time US accordion Champion. I co-­founded Concert Window to help musicians make money online by playing live shows right from their laptops. Concert Window hosts over 500 concerts every month and has been used by Grammy & American Idol winners.

Template for a problem narrative elevator pitch

  • Who you are: your name, title, company name
  • Problem narrative: describe some situation or story that helps the listener understand the problem, this should include a description of who has the problem and why it is important to solve (it is hard to keep this concise, but it must be, every word matters)
  • Solution narrative: how you are uniquely solving the problem
  • Credibility: what makes you uniquely suited to address this problem? Could be past experiences, a special insight, a unique skill set.

Example: Hi, I’m David Pitman, CEO of Converge. Every day thousands of building inspectors climb onto roofs, hang out of windows and scale ladders to assess insurance claims. This poses huge risks and high liability costs for insurers. Our drone software enables any inspector to fly any drone to inspect a building without even entering the structure – saving costs, reducing risk, and speeding up inspection work. Our backgrounds in drone research at MIT and our work the last seven years in the drone space have enabled us to already be working with one of the top 5 insurers.


How to know if it’s working

There are three areas to watch to tell if your pitch is working. The first is if your audience asks a relevant question that shows basic understanding of your company. If the question is generic or they don’t ask a question, it’s a bad sign. The second is if their tone conveys excitement and curiosity. Your goal is to be interesting and connect with the listener. The third is to watch their body language. Watch to see if they physically lean in, their eyes enlarge, or they stop what they are doing to pay attention. If they check their phone or watch, it’s obviously a bad sign. Once you consistently get positive responses in these three areas, you know you are onto something.

“I’m sorry I wrote you such a long letter; I didn’t have time to write a short one.”

Elevator pitches are hard and take a lot of effort to slim down to only the most critical words that fit into 20 seconds. Experimentation with different versions, iteration and practice will help you find what resonates best.

How to be great at your elevator pitch

  • Write it down – this will help you remove unnecessary words, polish and memorize it.
  • Don’t bury the lead. Tell the most interesting thing about your business up front, don’t expect to get to it in the Q&A.
  • Prepare for common follow up questions – pay attention to common responses, are they what you want them to ask?
  • Architect it to lead to specific questions – if you have a particular area of your company that is a strength and you want to talk about, you can construct the elevator pitch to drive to questions in that area.
  • Have an ask ready – many listeners will ask how they can help, take advantage of the opportunity.
  • Delivery matters – speak with purpose, passion and slow down!
  • Broad understanding – everyone you give your elevator pitch to should understand what you do. Whether they like it or not only matters if they are your target audience. Make sure it isn’t too technical, you can go into specifics during follow up questions. Be careful, it’s not uncommon for entrepreneurs to brush off listeners that don’t understand it assuming their target market will, which can be an incorrect and costly assumption.
  • One is good enough – elevator pitches are short enough there aren’t enough words to make customizing it for different audiences effective. Getting one good one is hard enough and all you need at the start.
  • Leverage teammates – usually the CEO works on the elevator pitch but we’ve found that other team members bring fresh, clear ideas that usually get the CEO out of seeing just the trees in the forest.
  • All for one and one for all – everyone in the company should be able to say the elevator pitch and should practice doing it. You never know who’s going to need to explain what you do to an important potential stakeholder.

My anecdote

As an entrepreneur, it’s hard to stand out. We know because we meet thousands a year at Techstars. A powerful way to get noticed is to have a clear, compelling and concise elevator pitch that rolls off the tongue. It shows preparation, it shows knowledge and it enables a deeper more interesting conversation around the specifics of the company instead of trying to understand what the company does. We can tell right away who has done their homework and who hasn’t.

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Checkins

The first step to build trust, connection and team cohesion

High performing teams don’t just happen, they are built. It takes intention, time and a process to build trust, connection and cohesion. Laying the foundation for a high performing team to emerge and thrive is straightforward. The first step in the process is a commitment to understanding who we each are, how we show up on any given day and how that context drives our interactions and engagements. It starts with the awareness and acceptance that we are not different people when we walk through the door at work than we are outside of work. The context of our life outside of work impacts our work. The context of our work impacts our life outside of work. Honoring this allows us to fully show up and do our best.

To begin building a high performing team, we recommend the daily Checkin. In the short term, Checkins build awareness and empathy for each other. Over the long term, they build a trusting, connected and cohesive team that is the foundation for creating value.

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The daily Checkin sheet for the Techstars Boulder staff for a week in March 2017

 

Why: high performing teams cultivate psychological safety – the ability to see and be seen by others on the team for who we are, better understand how we show up at work everyday and how our behaviors are contextually driven – to build trust, connection and team cohesion.

How:

  • Radical self-inquiry
  • Having empathy and caring for others on your team
  • Being authentic and vulnerable to bring together what is happening on the inside and outside

What: daily Red/Yellow/Green Checkin by everyone on the team sharing how they are doing personally and professionally (both and separately). Typically teams report individually right after their daily standup and use the colors below (and anything in between). It’s okay for people to opt out but it’s encouraged that everyone share every day. The depth of sharing is up to each individual, it could be as simple as stating the color you are personally and professionally or could include sharing a few details why they chose that color.

  • Green: I’m in a good place and I’m here and present.
  • Yellow: I’m here and present and there are things happening that are causing me some distractions
  • Red: I’m here physically but I’m not here. There are things happening for me that make it difficult for me to be fully present here.

 

My anecdote

My six month old baby was up all night. Maybe he was sick, maybe just hungry, it didn’t matter – I was tired. At 9am, I arrived at work, in the middle of week six of the Techstars Boulder thirteen week accelerator for high growth startups. Work was intense. 80+ hour weeks working closely with 13 passionate startups and a hundred mentors. Time was tight, energy important and it was not the time to be tired. But I was tired, and frustrated, and sad.

During our 9am daily Checkin, I reported being Red at home due to my lack of sleep and sadness that my baby wasn’t doing well. I reported being Yellow at work due to the demands and their related expectations and stress. Reporting that I was Red/Yellow meant I was physically there, but mentally not. By being open about how I showed up that day, our team jumped into action, a few shifted priorities, some team members jumped in to help with a few of my to-dos and I ultimately got home early enough to get a good night’s sleep and reset myself for the next day and the rest of the week. We all have goods days and days when we need to lean more on each other.  We bonded, they understood me and how I showed up, and we put another marble in our jar.

RYG Checkins

Daily Checkin sheet for Techstars Boulder staff in 2017

Presence not problem solving

Checkins are about about being there for each other, being seen and heard and a little better understood.  It provides context for how you show up on any given day. They aren’t about solving each other’s problems – there should be no advising, fixing, correcting, probing questions or helping – which can be hard to not do for entrepreneurs.

Basketball vs. golf

Checkins help a team work collaboratively together (baseketball) instead of independently working on a common task (golf). You show up as a better teammate because you know what’s going on with you, and your interactions will improve because you can empathetically tune your interactions with others because you know what’s going on in their world.

Marble Jar

Great teams are not built overnight. They are the result of hard work, and lots of authentic and vulnerable interactions – each a marble added to the jar symbolizing the relationship. A full jar is a high performing, cohesive, trusting, connected team. Withholds (see below) remove marbles from the jar.

Withholds

Withholds are feelings, emotions, praise or conflict that is not shared with each other. Withholds are initially common on teams while trust is being built but the best way to move faster as a team is get them on the table as soon as possible. Remember that not saying a complement is also a withhold.

Leaders need to lead

Everyone on the team should participate in the Checkin, especially the leader. Leaders need to be Red/Red from time to time to model safety in being Red. If the leader is always Green/Green they won’t create the space and trust on the team for people to be authentic and vulnerable.

What to expect at the beginning?

Sharing emotions, feelings and praise or conflict may be hard at the beginning. Many people come from traditional backgrounds where sharing authentically and vulnerably can be perceived as weakness. They will find this especially challenging at the beginning and will manifest itself in lots of withholds (marbles removed from the marble jar). Over time, this will improve, especially if the leader models true authenticity and vulnerability. The consistent process of revealing our state bonds the team, removes withholds and builds connection and trust (marbles added to the marble jar).  

What to do when someone checks in as Red/Red?

When your teammate checks in as Red/Red (Red personally and Red professionally) you know there are significant things happening to them that is preventing them from fully showing up at work. It’s likely they will have a hard time meeting the normal expectations of their role during this period and it’s important to know this context when interacting with them at work. The natural inclination is to try to help, to ask for details, to solve the problem with them. This isn’t helpful unless they explicitly ask for help or share details. If you want to offer support, wait for them to ask for help or take them aside later in the day and tell them you are “not there to pry, but what help would they like?” This wording is critical, you are not asking how you can help them, that makes the question about you, not them. It’s okay for them to not answer, and if they do, you can help them figure out how to get the help they need.

 

For more complex Checkins, we’ll explore Niko-Nikos in another blog post where we incorporate emotional state and energy levels.