Standing along Pine Street in St. Louis, watching a pop-up bike lane in action, I struck up a conversation with a 64-year-old MetroBus...
I find meeting and getting to know new people to be one of the best perks of my job. In the startup world, you feel like you are constantly playing the conversation-starting game. To get the conversation going, you ask questions like, “Do you prefer Coke or Pepsi?” or “Do you prefer Netflix or Hulu?” You’re trying to help people compare and separate your company from Company X and hopefully understand what makes your company different and great.
When startups get ready to go into “market,” one of the most important things we need to have in our bag of tools is the well-crafted elevator pitch. As a founder, we are told that we have to get our elevator pitch down to a quick 30 to 60 seconds of information that not only tells the story of your company, but also highlights what makes you different and awesome and, most importantly, keeps your audience engaged with what you are saying.
The first time I ever did a startup elevator pitch was a few years back, when I took part in Lean Startup Machine – Kansas City at the Kauffman Foundation. The first thing we did was pitch a potential startup idea for the group to vote on, which we would then develop over the weekend. This sounds easy enough, right? The kicker was that we were only able to use a set amount of words to pitch our idea to the group. The point was to hopefully get our story out and deliver a solid punch line as quickly as possible. By the end of the weekend, we had a viable idea and a solid elevator pitch.
One of the most common startup elevator pitch lines (especially in the shared-economy marketplace) is the famous “We’re like the Uber for X.” Startups try to find a comparison to a company that has a proven track record and a brand that can be easily related to and understood. Over the past year, I have seen thousands of startups pitch their company and deliver their elevator pitches. I have seen startups use the “Uber for X” pitch and blow people away, and I have also seen startups who use this type of pitch and fail.
Each time you pitch, you need to know your audience and culture. When this type of pitch was a success, it was because the audience could understand what they company is doing and, more importantly, could see the relevance of the comparison. When the pitch failed, it was because the audience had a bad experience with the company that the startup was comparing itself to; sometimes, the audience didn’t know the company at all, which left them confused, as they couldn’t see the model being relevant in the market that was being pitched. This type of pitch can be a solid step or a slippery slope. The last thing you want to do is spend all your time justifying the relevance of the comparison instead of focusing on your company in your pitch.
I think it’s fair to say that there is no secret formula to a startup elevator pitch. Just when you think you’ve nailed it and that everyone understands and is on board with your pitch, you will realize that there is one person who doesn’t like or understand it. Just because it works or fails in one setting doesn’t mean that it won’t be different in front of a different audience. The most successful pitches I have seen are the ones that are confident and authentic. Another rule is to try making the pitch so simple that young children can understand and repeat what you do. However, depending on your market, this can be easier said than done.
Your pitch doesn’t have to cover everything in one quick sentence. If you deliver your pitch correctly, you will have the audience asking you questions, and you’ll start a conversation about your idea.