Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How to write an elevator pitch

Cross posted to Startupsmart.

I’m trying to work out my elevator pitch for potential investors. I’m finding it hard to sum up the proposition of my business in a short, snappy way. How can I get around this?

The elevator pitch is important to any startup. You'll need to use it with investors, potential partners, customers, prospective employees and even your friends when you're telling them about this crazy idea that you're working on. Keeping it short, snappy and to the point is critical for getting your message across and getting buy in from these key groups of people you'll be working with.

A great elevator pitch does 4 things:
1. It sets out the problem
2. It sets out the opportunity
3. It sets out how the business is going to solve that in a way that's valuable to customers
4. And most importantly, it inspires the listener.

Not all of those 4 points should be explicit in the pitch, but each of them must be implicit and easy for a listener to arrive at and understand. It doesn't have to and shouldn't give all the detail, you don't need to describe the features you're building, the goal of the pitch is to inspire the listener to want to spend time with you to find out more.

Here's some questions to ask yourself before putting your elevator pitch together:

What do you and others find inspiring about the business?
What are your key selling points?
If you had to describe it to your grandmother what would you say?

In my view the ideal elevator pitch is 10 seconds and at most 2 sentences long. Here's what I imagine the elevator pitch to be for 3 of my favourite companies:

We're the fastest, most relevant search engine on the web. We'll monetise the results by showing useful, relevant ads to users.

We design and manufacture aesthetically amazing, highly desirable, easy to use consumer electronics products.

We connect everyone in the world with their friends online, and make it easy to communicate with them.

Your elevator pitch will evolve over time. Larry and Sergey, the founders of Google didn't know how they were going to monetise their search engine when they were pitching to investors back in 1998. When he started Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg was only planning to connect everyone at Harvard.

Our elevator pitch at Shoes of Prey is:

Shoes of Prey allows women to design their own shoes online which we then hand make and ship to them.

Talking to the 4 key points of a good elevator pitch above, ours:
1. Implicitly describes the problem - the difficulty in finding the perfect pair of shoes.
2. Implicitly describes the opportunity - lots of women find this to be a problem.
3. It explicitly says how we solve this problem - you design your shoes online and we make and ship them to you.
4. As it's a new and unique idea, our hope is that it inspires the listener.

Depending on their perspective the listeners mind will ideally jump to one or more of the following thoughts:
Customer - wow, I want to try this, my friend X would love it to, I should tell her!
Investor - this is a global online retail opporunity. It has low capital requirements as they don't need to hold stock.
Partner - this product would excite our customers, perhaps we can partner with this business.
Prospective employee - this sounds like a unique and fun startup to work at.

The best way to put together your own elevator pitch is to practice. Practice on your friends and family, try out different ideas to see what works. Like your business it's going to evolve

The great thing about an elevator pitch is that it can be a great tool for helping you determine if your product or business idea is going to work, and defining what it should be. If you're having trouble distilling what you're doing perhaps you're trying to do too much and you should simplify your proposition, or perhaps your value proposition isn't something customers are looking for and you need to adjust it.

If you're working on a startup at the moment what's your elevator pitch? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Photo by Aric


  1. You need some emotion for the inspiring part of your pitch. It's flat at the end. Lose the shipping part and add something about how it makes your customer's feel, something about the passion for shoes and the wearing of them. x Jeni

  2. I agree with Jeni. I like how it gets to the point, but it doesn't inspire me.

    for example:

    "Shoes of Prey inspires women to design their own shoes online which we then handcraft and deliver to them"

    its 12.30am, so that's the most creative i'll get =)

  3. Hey SoP know I'm a great supporter and advocate of what you are doing and the journey you are on, but I really am not buying that elevator pitch.

    You don't enable, or inspire?

    And the don't design...they bring their dreams or imagination to life.

    You are not a shoe maker. You are a team that enable fantasy to become reality.

    My argument for this would be a recent SM campaign by Pampers. They don't sell their product or mission statement or pitch as being about collecting kiddy shit. They sell convenience.

    For a company and brand which is so personalised, pretigeous, courageous, exuberant, stylish, boutique and premium, I can't help but think you've just given me something vanilla.

    I could be wrong, but I reckon there is more you SoP than that statement suggests. Make it compelling and make it not about SoP, but the experience of the customer.

  4. Good point Jeni and Matt, you're right, an emotional connection would help with the inspiration. Nice 12:30am attempt Matt and I think that's better than what we've got, will give it some further thought...

  5. to me, the most powerful pitch is still Microsoft's:

    "a computer on every desktop and in every home"

    Although their business model has changed quite a fair bit and their selling Software & online solutions, I still think that's the best statement I've ever heard. I'm not sure if it qualifies as an elevator pitch and sounds more like a visionary statement and would have been inspiring back in the 80's and 90's.

  6. Great post, Foxy.

    I'd add another point to why creating an elevator pitch is so important: it forces your startup to sharpen its focus.

    On Google Wave, we had tremendous difficulty coming up with an elevator pitch that concisely encapsulated what we were trying to accomplish; unsurprisingly, this was reflected in the released product.

    Currently, at my startup, we're getting a lot of benefit from using our elevator pitch to remind ourselves what is critical to our success.

  7. Dom - that's a fair point, and along with Jeni and Matt you're right, our elevator pitch is a little uninspiring. I guess it comes down to how long your elevator ride is and who you're pitching to. I like your suggestions, how's this?

    Shoes of Prey turns women's shoe fantasies into reality by hand making shoes that you design.

    Adam - An interesting insight from Google Wave. I loved the concept behind the product, it was so revolutionary, but you're right, it was probably trying to do too many things at once. Glad to hear you're on top of it with your new startup. Can't wait until you launch to learn more about it!

  8. Good post and even better suggestions from the comments. Using your framework, my elevator pitch would be:
    "Tortuga Backpacks facilitates world travel by crafting the ultimate travel backpack: secure, easy to access, and able to be carried onto a plane."
    I wrote a blog post similar to this one based on "Crossing the Chasm":

    Adam - Interesting post about Wave. Great technology but hard to concisely say how it made people's lives better or easier.

  9. Nice pitch Fred and I like your post and Crossing the Chasm's framework for elevator pitches, that's great. Your blog's great too, I just subscribed. Glad to see you liked Buzz Marketing.

  10. Thanks, Michael. That means a lot. I was inspired to start my blog because of 22 Michaels, which is also where I first heard of Buzz Marketing.

  11. Thanks Fred, glad to hear 22michaels inspired you to start your own blog. It's so nice to get feedback like that, much appreciated.

  12. Matt, Microsoft's is an inspiring statement. I think that's their mission statement though as opposed to their elevator pitch.

    I also love Google's, "To organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful". Inspiring stuff.

    It's a good point though, we're yet to nail our mission statement. Food for thought...