Guest Post: Alena Gribskov, The Four Crucial Steps to An Effective Elevator Pitch
Ah, the elevator pitch – the most loved, most hated, and probably most used tool that is in the entrepreneurs’ toolkit.
As soon as you say you have an idea, people want to hear it: the short overview of your business venture, in (ideally) the time it would take for an elevator ride (so, 60 seconds max). It’s what people are asking for when they ask, “So, what do you do?”
At the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, we begin working with student entrepreneurs from the moment they come up with their startup concept all the way through the fundraising process and beyond. In the couple of years that I’ve been at YEI – and been working on my own ventures – I’ve given and listened to more elevator pitches than I can count. Some are amazing and compelling, but some sell their (and the idea’s) potential short.
So what makes a great elevator pitch?
1. Tailor Your Elevator Pitch to Your Audience
Over the life-cycle of your venture, you’ll pitch in a myriad of environments. Informal networking receptions. More formal investor pitch nights or pitch competitions. To friends, family, and potential partners or employees. To the press. To your next door neighbor who wonders why you’re always up so late at night.
The most important part of a strong pitch is that it’s tailored to the audience. Before you open your mouth, consider who you’re talking to and what they care about. Are they looking for a sound place to park an investment? Are they evaluating you as a potential employer, or looking for a great scoop for their tech-savvy blog following? Are they hoping to get involved or connected with the next big thing in your industry?
Make sure to highlight your audience’s interests prominently in your pitch. (And yes, this means you’ll have as many different versions as you have situations to give it.)
2. Start With a(n Authentic) Bang
Along those same lines, the best elevator pitches start with something attention-grabbing, something authentic that makes the audience want to listen whether you talk for 30 seconds or 30 minutes. Michael Inwald, founder of the grilled cheese fast food chain Cheeseboy and a YEI fellow in 2009, was a pro at the elevator pitch. He always started by introducing himself and his love for grilled cheese sandwiches – it was an unforgettable declaration of a passion his audiences could easily understand and appreciate. It explained who he was and why he was there, instantly.
But you don’t have to start with a personal appeal. It can also be a fascinating statistic – “The eBook industry grew by 300% this year” – or the start of a story – “I came up with the idea when I was working as an architect and discovered that there were no easy ways to do this.”
Starting with a compelling hook right up front – something that is interesting to the audience you’re speaking to – is the key to creating an energizing pitch.
3. Establish the Opportunity for the Listener
The elevator pitch is all about answering the listener’s usually unspoken questions: “So why are you here?” and “Why should I care?”
The answer to why you’re there is pretty straightforward. You have to explain, in a concise, interesting, and exciting way, what your venture is all about, how you’ll generate revenue (or for social entrepreneurs, how you’ll make an impact), what your competitive advantage is, and what progress you’ve made so far.
The second question is the important one. Most people are frankly not going to care about your venture – they are too busy, they start checking their phone after the first ten seconds, they don’t ‘get it.’ So you have to figure out how to make them care.
The answer to “Why should I care?” For most ventures and in most situations, is “Because this venture is an exciting opportunity for you.” If you’re pitching to potential Cofounders, you want to attract the best possible cofounder in the room by showcasing why your idea is the most exciting and compelling to work on. If it’s to Angel Investors, you want them to see how great of an opportunity to for generating revenue and/or pulling off an amazing acquisition the company is – where better to invest their money?
Once you’ve made the pitch personal and started with a bang, you need to show them why they can’t pass this opportunity up.
4. Don’t Forget to Introduce Both Yourself and the Venture
Startups are about execution, so the savviest pitchers recognize that you can introduce yourself in such a way as to convincingly explain why you’re working on this venture and why you’re the best one to be working on it.
(As investors often say, they invest as much in the team as the idea, so they’re usually looking to get to know the entrepreneur.)
It isn’t enough to add a sentence saying, “Hi, I’m Jack” – that’s missing the opportunity to weave your background throughout the pitch and strengthen each point you’re trying to make. How does who you are inspire what you’re working on, what the competitive advantage is, the progress you’ve made, and your plans for the future?
But a word of caution – you’re pitching your business, so you should be weaving your personal introduction into the business pitch, not vice versa. Focus instead on how you will leverage your and your team’s identity to build a strong venture that your audience should get behind.
Pitch Early, Pitch Often
So that’s it! Keep these four crucial points in mind as you craft your elevator pitch and practice it in the mirror, with your cofounders, and eventually, with the outside world.
I am fond of telling YEI’s student entrepreneurs, “Always be pitching.” Because you don’t know who you might run into at a cocktail party, the post office line, or the elevator – and by sharing your vision with as many people as possible, you’ll get invaluable feedback, connections, and hopefully, the resources you need to take the business to the next level.