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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