Communication Tips Series: Elevator Pitch – 30 seconds to talk about your startup

Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?

It’s a beautiful day and you have just stepped into an elevator heading to your meeting. Suddenly, you find yourself face-to-face with the investor you have been trying to reach, the VC fund manager that you were looking to be introduced to or the client you’ve been dying to land. Somewhere between the ‘good morning’ and ‘have a nice day’ they ask, “What do you do?”

This is when you will wish you had written and rehearsed a 30-second pitch where you can communicate who you are and what you do quickly and effectively enough to grab their interest and secure a proper meeting. 

This is where an elevator pitch come in; when you’re talking to a stranger at a networking event, in line at your favorite coffee shop, at a dinner table, or yes, on an elevator, and you want to communicate the most important points about your startup, no matter how short the conversation.

What’s an elevator pitch? 

As the name implies, an elevator pitch is an overview of your business that can be delivered in the time it takes to complete your average elevator ride. For an entrepreneur, it is one of the simplest yet most powerful marketing tools. 

In short, your pitch should meet these four criteria: convincing, concise, understandable, and attractive.

  1. Convincing: Your claim about who you are and what you do should be passionate and powerful enough that no one can deny it. 
  2. Concise: Your pitch needs to be easy and straight to the point.  
  3. Understandable: Anyone who hears your pitch should be able to understand it. No technical words! 
  4. Attractive: You want to capture the attention of the person listening and get them to ask to hear more. 

One of the most famous pitches is the one Steve Jobs used to convince John Sculley to join his company in 1983. After months of perseverance in asking Sculley to leave his position as president of Pepsi, Sculley was still holding on to his position refusing to join Apple even though it was already a Fortune 500 company only six years after it had started. Jobs finally challenged Sculley by saying: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?” His pitch was so simple yet so powerful that it finally convinced Sculley to leave Pepsi and join Apple.[1]

Your elevator pitch content

Writing your elevator pitch may seem difficult. How will you be able to communicate all that information in such a short time? The only sure thing is that speaking faster will not solve your problem! Instead, you need to learn how to create an attention-grabbing and exciting narrative that will make your audience want to know more about your business.

Here’s a quick overview of what your elevator pitch should cover:  the problem your company solves, the solution you are providing, the unique value you offer, your target market, your traction and progress so far, the competition you are facing, your experience, and your goal.

The problem your company solves

Start your pitch by describing the problem your company solves. This will allow you to connect with your audience and hopefully, the problem you are solving is something they can relate to. 

The solution you are providing

This is the most obvious part of your pitch – describing what your company does to solve that problem. Use a clear problem statement to help you focus your solution on solving that one problem. 

The unique value you offer

What are your unique selling points? The value that you provide to your customer is what makes your solution right for your target market. It is the reason why your customer is going to buy your product or service.

Your target markets

It might be tempting to say that your products and services are for everyone, but you have a higher chance of success if you focus your marketing efforts on a specific set of potential customers. 

Your traction and progress so far

Anyone interested in your business would want to know what you have achieved so far. Have you attracted customers? What stage of development are you at? Show your traction with milestones and talk about your upcoming goals and when you plan to achieve them. 

The competition you are facing

Every business has competition. What are the advantages of your solution over other businesses? Is it cheaper, better, faster? Why would anyone choose your solution over that of the competition? 

Your experience

Share who is on your team. Explain why you and your team are the right people to build this business and why your shared skillsets are exactly what you need to make this business successful. If you don’t have an entire team in place, it’s ok to recognize that you need to find the right talent to fill those gaps. 

Your goal

The goal of your elevator pitch is not to talk about every aspect of your business. Your goal is to get them interested enough to ask you to tell them more. You want what you say to be memorable and captivating so you can reach your final goal of asking for a meeting to talk more about your business. 

The DOs of an Elevator Pitch

Whether you are attending a networking event, presenting in front of an audience or anticipating that chance meetup in the elevator, here’s what you should do when writing and delivering your pitch.

  1. Learning more about your audience will help you build your pitch depending on their needs and knowledge. Don’t be afraid to tweak when you need to.
  2. Keep in mind the “show, don’t tell” rule which reminds you not to tell your audience that you are great, but to show them what you do so amazingly well that they will make that conclusion by themselves. 
  3. Remember that less is more even when you feel like you want to explain everything about your business. Keep it short while giving enough information to spark their interest leaving them room to ask you the questions you want to answer. 
  4. Make sure you create an opportunity to follow up by offering your business card or even better asking for theirs. 
  5. Ride the elevator! Put yourself out there, go to networking events, make those connections. Use your pitch to tell the world about your business. 

In order to nail his pitch, Naim Nasreddine – founder of Towbe, relies on what he calls the WOW effect: “A great elevator pitch for me is two things: One is explaining briefly the solution and two having the WOW effect. Why the WOW effect? It makes the listener immediately interested in getting more details. To get the WOW effect you need to explain how your solution is going to solve problems. If you talk only about your solution without explaining how it will solve your user’s problems, you will lose the interest of the listener.”

It’s worth noting that Naim nailed his first angel investment through his elevator pitch during a networking event.

The DON’Ts of an Elevator Pitch

So now that you know what to do in your elevator pitch, let’s quickly talk about what not to do.

  1. Don’t speak too fast. There’s no use in cramming everything you want to say in those few seconds or minutes you have. 
  2. Don’t use very technical terms, acronyms or industry-specific words that will confuse your audience, unless it is appropriate.
  3. Don’t turn it into a general conversation. Keep your pitch focused and clear. 
  4. Don’t miss a chance to practice your elevator pitch out loud. You need to sound natural delivering it otherwise you will come off too robotic. 
  5. Don’t forget to use it! What’s the point of writing a killer pitch if you don’t say anything?

Staying focused is what helps you nail your pitch every time confirms Maroun N. Chammas, Chairman and CEO of Berytech and an angel investor himself, “You need to be well prepared, every single word counts. Go straight to the point. Don’t lose time. Start by stating what you need. Say I need 2 million dollars to do the following and exactly what the project is, what you need the money for, how you are going to use it and who is the team. The shorter your pitch is, the better. People will come back for questions if they are interested. Don’t waste your time with useless small talk. You have less than a minute to make an impact. Either they like you and they ask for more information or they will just forget about the whole thing.”

While working to perfect your pitch, you can spend some time online watching great pitches (and not so great ones) on shows like Dragons DenShark Tank and Entrepreneur

[1] Source: The best elevator pitch in history

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