Have you ever sweat bullets on national television in front of 1 million viewers while pitching your startup in front of Google executives? And messed up? No? Good for you, I did though. My biggest lesson learned from that moment was to always be prepared. So, right now we are going to help you prepare some ways you can pitch your startup today. Take this as a getting started guide, there is much more to learn, and way more to experience.
You will learn: How to do a high concept pitch, a basic framework for an elevator pitch, and a simple framework for a pitch deck.
Why should you learn how to pitch your startup? If you want to get investors interested, potential customers excited, press to cover you, then you should definitely learn how to pitch. You’re telling a story every time you pitch. Here are the 3 types of stories you can craft right now:
The One Sentence Story
Take a look at these movies: Snakes on a Plane, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friends with Benefits.
It’s pretty easy for me to guess what these movies are about from the title alone. You should have a one sentence story similar to titles like this. We call this a “high concept pitch.” I first heard of this term from Venture Hacks:
“A high concept pitch distills a startup’s vision into a single sentence. It’s the perfect tool for fans and investors who are spreading the word about your company.”
These high concept pitches are extremely easy to share, especially among people who don’t know anything about tech or industry you are in. These are also helpful when it comes to social media. We now live in a world where 15 second videos and 140 characters are becoming the norm, so you should have a pitch that fits in that frame too. The formula in simple:
Something Familiar + Something Familiar = Your Startup
Take two familiar things that perform functions similar to your business, marry them, and then create your baby. I did this for my mobile app “Playd”. At the time the most popular application was Foursquare, which allowed people to “check-in” to different locations. My app, much like Foursquare, allowed people to check-in, but not into locations but into video games. So my high concept pitch was “Foursquare for video games.”
My pitch included Foursquare because my audience was very familiar with it. Be careful when choosing your familiar comparisons. I was really pushing it using an app only techies knew about.
Once you have yourself a good high concept pitch, go test it out on family, friends, fans, and social media. If they don’t get it, go back to the drawing board. On to the next one…
The Thirty Second Story
The thirty second pitch is what we call the elevator pitch. The elevator pitch is the most famous pitch known to man. When I was a kid dreaming of owning a business, all the business shows talked about having a good elevator pitch. Elevator pitches are still very common today, because people don’t want to hear what you have to say. They don’t believe you have the next big thing, you have 30 seconds to prove it.
I think it goes without saying that an elevator pitch doesn’t actually happen in an elevator. Although its origin is pretty interesting.
Let’s break down the pitch…
- High concept pitch/What is your product?– This is where you could fit your high concept pitch if you created one. If not, then a simple statement of what your product is should be fine.
- Problem– What is the problem that your business is solving?
- Solution– Explain the solution. How is your business solving this problem?
- How do you make money?– This is where you give a brief picture of your business model. This is very important if you want to appear as a legit business.
- Traction– If you already started your business then what traction do you have? How many users? How much money is being made? If you haven’t started yet, then you can drop some lines on the size of the market and opportunity.
- Who is working on the business?– This is where you highlight yourself or the top two actors on the team.
- Why are you better than your competition?– What makes your business so special? Why should you be seen as the best? Special patents, technology, etc. Show them why you’re the next big thing.
- The ask/Follow up– This is where you tell them what you want. Money? A Meeting? An introduction?
The second most important part of the elevator pitch is timing. You want to be brief and very detailed without sounding like you’re rushing. That means when writing out your pitch you need to save the large words for another day, and only spend time on the details that matter the most.
When you start to figure out what time to spend on each, think of your weaknesses and your strengths. You want to spend more time on your strongest points, so you have to start adding and subtracting from each part. You may start to feel like your high concept and your team needs more focus, so add more time there, and take from somewhere else.
There you have it. You have now crafted a nice little elevator pitch for your company. It’s very important that you focus as much as you can on numbers 4 & 5 if you’re really strong there. Practice. Practice. Practice. I can’t say this enough. Once you have your pitch down, practice.
The Five Minute Story
Truthfully, in some situations you may have less than five minutes to do a pitch presentation. When putting together a pitch deck (aka slide deck, Powerpoint, investor deck, etc.) you have two different versions to create. One version you create when you intend to have a live audience in front of you, the other you use for all digital/email purposes.
Let’s say you decide to email this really good angel investor you met at a conference. You want to eventually get her to invest in your company, so you send her your presentation you created for a pitch competition you did. When you do live pitches, you tend to only focus on the imagery, most details are orally explained. So don’t send her a photo gallery with small captions!
Take the scenario from above and imagine the complete opposite. You don’t want a deck that’s heavy on details and words to be presented to a live audience. Your goal is to be detailed, but without putting people to sleep.
Make sure you keep both these versions in mind as you create your deck. If you have one that fits both scenarios, that’s great! One optional tip an investor gave, was to include an appendix when necessary. Also, apply these suggestions for any audience, not just investors.
Creating a deck is kind of confusing right? What information goes on which slide? Where to put your team? Where to put your traction? There is really no standard to a pitch deck. You can go online and find different frameworks for decks, and they were all successful. The goal is to find out which one works for you. For this post I will cover a format that was recommended by Mark Suster on his blog.
Your deck should be 10 to 12 slides telling your story. Here are the chapters:
- Bio of top 3 people in the company. Short sentences, bullet points, easy to read.
- Problem definition (with the market … it’s why you exist)
- Details on the solution [Demo could go here]
- How you solve that problem conceptually at the highest level
- Why you believe there is economic value in what you do / how you think you can monetize one day
- Progress to date of your company (when started, key milestones, what shape is the product in, any pilot /beta customers, financing)
- Market sizing
- Potential future exit possibilities
- How much are you raising, how long it will last, key milestones you plan to hit before the next round
I loosely followed this format, and had some success with it. I never met Mark, but thanks to him I was able to raise an angel round to my startup Playd (now dead, post coming on this soon). Why loosely? Because I had a few weaknesses I didn’t want to focus on. When I pitched my first company “Playd” I switched some things around. My team wasn’t super technical so I placed it near the end to put more focus on the problem I was solving and traction.
Be careful when doing this. You want to make sure you are still ready to be drilled with questions on every single topic. Don’t think just because YOU didn’t focus on a particular slide, no one else did.
Some common mistakes:
– Taking way too long explaining a point
– Taking way too long demoing the product
– The entire presentation as a whole not being 5 minutes or less
– Using bad resolution images/slides (the bigger/cleaner, the better)
– Horrible stage presence (I’m working on this myself!)
I think this is a great start to learning how to pitch your startup. Don’t stop here though, keep learning and researching for yourself. I’m learning way more about presenting these days, it never gets old. If you are reading this and have some helpful tips, or feel I missed out on something please leave a comment.
Image Credit: CC by Howard Lake