The Elevator Pitch

by Sandra Lara, Production Manager at Nóvalo.

A few months ago, when we started preparing our trip to USA, we became familiar with a term which is widely spread in the North American market and which is directly related to companies seeking for investment: the elevator pitch.

What is an elevator pitch?

Let’s picture this. An entrepreneur with an innovative and revolutionary idea, but with no resources, gets on an elevator, for example, of a mall, where he meets by chance with a Silicon Valley investor who is in the same elevator. A completely casual situation. During this short ride across the floors, the entrepreneur must be able to take advantage of the opportunity and tell the investor, in the few seconds that this ride may last, what his idea is based in and what he needs to make it real, in order to catch his attention in a quick and shocking manner. The elevator pitch is a short summary used to quickly and simply define a person, profession, product, service, organization or event and its value proposition. Any startup which boast of being such must have one ready or even a few, if the target is raising funds.

So you may say, any startup? According to the Wikipedia, a startup is a partnership or temporary organization  designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model. These companies, generally newly created, are in a phase of development and research for markets. The term became popular internationally during the dot-com bubble when a great number of dot-com companies were founded.

This is the common profile in Silicon Valley: thousands of startups looking for funds to execute their disruptive ideas, consequently, thousands of elevator pitches ready to be launched in any casual meeting or networking event.

This is the general and base idea, however, this concept has been so widely spread that it has suffered different evolutions. There are 5 min, 3 min or 30 sec pitches, depending on their target or the context they are launched in. Many different articles and posts have been written on this topic, even full books: about the best way to give it shape, creative ideas to execute it, etc.

In order to give you some hints to be able to make your own pitches in a heartbeat (yes, that is, go ahead), find below some advices and recommendations from the book “Elevator Pitch Essentials”, by Chris O’Leary.

1) A good EP must be structured according to nine base principles, the nine “C”: Concise, Clear, Compelling, Credible, Conceptual, Concrete, Customized, Consistent and Conversational.

2) It must include four key concepts about the person, the idea or the startup: experience, values, targets and mission. Or, in other words: who are you, what do you do, why what you do is important, how are you making it real, how much will be the cost, how many people more are working on the same thing and why are you different from them and, lastly, how much will you earn with it.

3) Be emotional, simplify the concepts (no fluffy words) and use active words. Make your pitch enjoyable, not a talk about numbers.

4) Use fresh pictures to illustrate your idea and just a few words (the pitches are usually supported by graphic media and PowerPoint slides).

5) A pitch must include around 150 words per minute and a maximum of 5 minutes. A normal person would articulate around 125 and 250 words per minute, but it is recommended not to go beyond 150 words per minute, so you do not lose the audience attention and you do not seem a disorganized person.

6) The structure must be in accordion and inverted pyramid shape. This is, it must be shrinkable if needed, according to the provided time, and it must start firstly with the most important information, in order to finish with the less important one.

7) The first lines of the pitch constitute the lede of any contents, this is, what finally remains in any story. This is called Summary Sentence and it is a sentence with no more than 25 words which sums up the most important information in the pitch. This sentence is what is firstly said and, also, it is the sentence to memorize if you only have a few seconds to make a good presentation of your company (or yourself). To sum up: what you must say if only one thing can be said.

These would be the key guidelines according to this author we picked, although you will be able to find many posts and articles on the web regarding this topic, which now seems to be an endless issue.

Coming back for a second to our visit to USA, I would like to finish this post with an anecdote. In San Francisco, we luckily attended to the Startup Conference, one of the varied events celebrated in the city which brings together, in one day, many different startups in order to establish relationships with other companies and with potential investors. As a part of this conference, they organize an elevator pitch contest, where hundreds of startups participate to become the winner. They pre-select the best pitches through the website; the selected ones give their pitch live and direct, in the contest.

The winner is given an economic prize and great visibility before the investing community and, above all, the Jury, which is composed by five major investors, commonly called VCs (Venture Capitals). This is a very interesting and rewarding event, as you have the opportunity to witness live what a high level pitch can make. This year, the winner was a Spanish startup, The Mad Video, what made us (the Spanish companies in the event) feel specially proud.

With the idea of illustrating all that has been said, find below a link of an elevator pitch example video which I firstly found funny and which barely lasts a minute: the winner of the Dayton University elevator pitches contest in 2010. I think this is a good example for shortness, creativity and effectivity.

Dayton University 2010 – Pitch Contest

The elevator pitch is not only a concept for startups: it also works for freelancers. You never know whom you may meet or who can need your services so… let’s go, translators, make now your own pitches!