Getting ready for another great session of Pitch Practice today at @Atlanta Tech Village, I went back and looked at my notes for some of the best elevator pitches we’ve seen out of the 2,800 pitches since 2013.

The Good

There are six very common things that all of the best elevator pitches have in common. The best elevator pitches:

  1. tell a story (yes, in 30 seconds-ish!), because everyone remembers a good story;
  2. describe very specifically the problem they are solving;
  3. make it obvious who their ideal customer is;
  4. are very specific about their “ask”, or what they need today;
  5. are quite vague (you read that right) about their solution to the problem;
  6. keep in mind that they ONLY purpose of the elevator pitch is to get the meeting, which is the reason for No. 5 above.

Done well, the natural response to a great elevator pitch is something like, “OK, I really want to know more about HOW you do that!” And, you got the meeting.

The Bad

There are also some common mistakes that occur almost every week at Pitch Practice.

  • Speaking too fast – if we can’t understand you, we can’t buy in to your idea.
  • Not asking for anything – always ask for something. Believe it or not, people actually want to help. That’s what the whole startup community is built on. If you don’t ask, you will not get.
  • No business model (yet?)
  • No story – everybody loves and remembers a good story
  • Lack of clarity on the problem – per David Cummings’ tweet, “better problem definition = better solution”
  • Thinking “everybody” is a customer; they’re not. You need to identify the customer who experiences the problem the most. They will pay you to solve it.

These are easy mistakes to make, and some of them are easy to fix. One can slow down, with practice. One can learn to ask for what one needs. Learning to tell a story takes some time, thought, and practice. Those can be overcome fairly easily. Not having – or knowing – your business model or monetization model is not good, but it can be overcome by massive amounts of repeating traction. Good example of that is Instagram: get so many users Facebook cannot ignore you, and instead buys you for $1B when you’re 2 years old and have exactly zero revenue. But you are not instagram. Doesn’t mean you can’t get somewhere before you know how you’ll make money.

Bad example is Yik Yak. They got lots of traction and raised tons of money, but lost 25% of their audience (college students) every year, and could never put together a monetization strategy.

The Ugly

Not really validating a clear, specific problem, and not knowing your customer are often fatal flaws. See the Lean Startup. Create a business around solving a big problem for a specific audience. When an entrepreneur lacks these two items in their pitch, what we’ve seen all too often is that they have a great idea in search of a problem to solve. It doesn’t work that way.

That really comes out at Pitch Practice because we’re so focused on answering “What is the problem they’re solving?” and “who is going to pay them money?”

What do you think about that?

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