Every week at Pitch Practice, we go through a simple exercise with every pitch. After the entrepreneur delivers his or her pitch, I ask the group the following questions, to see how well the message of the pitch was received:

  1. What is his/her name?
  2. What is the organization name?
  3. What is the problem they are trying to solve?
  4. Who is the customer?
  5. What is their solution?
  6. What did they ask for?

Generally, these are pretty easy questions to answer; however, the point of asking these questions of the audience (the pitching entrepreneur is not allowed to answer unless we get stuck) is to determine if, and how well, the speaker’s message got through. Most of the time, we get stuck on two or three of these points for various reasons. But one question gets people tripped up every single week: what is the problem they are trying to solve?

Without fail, when we ask this question, someone will answer it with an accurate description of what the startup does, and they are completely wrong. What the startup or business does is not a description of the problem. My go-to line here is this: “if you use the words I, me, my, we, our, or us in your description of the problem, you are wrong.”

The problem you are solving – your “why” for creating your startup – is not you (hopefully). You are providing the solution. The problem is out there in the marketplace. For example, people used to use spreadsheets to keep track of thousands of customers, contacts, messages, and orders. Or, hailing a cab, riding in a cab, paying for a cab, and dealing with a nasty cab driver is a bad experience. Or, there are no hotel rooms in SFO during DreamForce and I use my vacation home for exactly 2 weeks each year and the rest of the time it sits empty.

Those are all problem descriptions that have nothing to do with Salesforce, Uber, or Airbnb. Those companies solve those problems with their products and services. The problem is the pain in a market space. Your solution is what you do to solve it. You must know the difference, and very clearly articulate that difference to your audience.

This is the kind of discussion we have every week, and we’re bringing the same learning to the Pitch Practice Podcast, which we’ll launch in June. We want to launch to #1 on iTunes “New & Noteworthy” category, and we need your help to do it. Will you sign up for our launch team? All you have to do is subscribe, rate, and review the podcast when we launch. Click here to join the launch team!

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What do you think?