The Elevator Pitch, Reloaded

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This past week in Silicon Valley, entrepreneurs gathered to present to and be critiqued by investors and the technology press at DEMO 2008 and the TechCrunch 50 conferences. Cash-infused or bootstrapped, brand new, or scrappy and established, they all came to two top conferences, hoping to pitch and attract money, fame and product adoption.

"So what?" you might say, "I'm not a tech company and I don't have to be a demo monkey to get money for my business." True, the tech industry does tend to be heavy on these "coming out parties." But because there are many of them, the pitch methods tend to be refined and sometimes are, like tech companies themselves, a bit ahead of the times.

Entrepreneurs are always pitching their businesses--to potential clients, to their bank loan officer, and even to their Linkedin or Facebook friends. What can you learn from these demo gods and demo wannabes?

Jason Calacanis, a serial entrepreneur, former AOL executive, and friend of mine from the early days of New York's Silicon Alley startup world, is a co-founder of the TechCrunch 50 event. He published two very extensive blog posts (here and here) regarding what entrepreneurs should and should not do when demonstrating their start ups. They're both worth reading all the way through, but I'll highlight a few of his key points here:

1) Show your product within the first 60 seconds
Most folks start their presentations with information like the size of the market they are tackling (tens of billions, we only need one percent!), their inflated corporate bios, the philosophical approach they're taking, and boring Powerpoint graphics explaining some convoluted workflow of their product. The longer it takes for you to show your product, the worse your product is.

2) Leave people wanting more
Folks should be either blown away or intrigued by your core product. If they are not somewhere in that spectrum, you need to rebuild your core product.

3) Talk about what you've done, not what you're going to do.
Weak startups and their leaders seem to immediately start talking about "what's next," as opposed to focusing on the core product. Who cares what you're going to bolt on to your startup? What really matters is the core functionality of your startup.

4) Short answers are best.
When taking questions about your product, answer questions succinctly. (And don't repeat your inner monologue about your product.)

5) Show, Don't Tell

6) And, finally, here are three horrible ways to start your presentation:

a) Talk about your bio and your business accomplishments. (We don't care, we can talk about that later if your product is any good.)

b) Talk about the market size. (We don't care, we can talk about that later if your product is any good.)

c) Give an overview of the competitive landscape. (We don't care, we can talk about that later if your product is any good.)

I've merely summarized these extensive blog posts here. Clearly, much of this advice is available in presentation books, or from a presentation coach. But taken as a whole, there is a good set of rules here that can help you be more effective the next time you're stuck in a slow moving elevator with a venture capitalist who mentioned he's looking for investment ideas.

Last updated: Sep 10, 2008




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