Pitching your startup is less about simply describing what your product is or what your offering does. Rather, the art and science of pitching a startup is about captivating your audience, whether it’s your first customers or potential investors.
In this blog post, we’ve gathered insights from top startup specialists and entrepreneurial experts, providing a one-stop resource for crafting the perfect pitch, covering everything from pitch basics to advanced narrative techniques to proper formatting.
If you could use even more expert help for your startup, the Founder Institute is accepting applications in cities around the world. Apply today!
Establish the Foundations for Your Startup Pitch
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Before you begin pitching your startup to others, you must first ensure that your offering has several important qualities. Set aside some time to analyze how impactful and potentially lucrative your product or service is, as these will be the selling points of your startup.
1. Does it solve a real problem?
Simply having a great idea is not enough; your pitch has to actually address how your idea solves a problem or fills a void in the market you’re working in. When crafting your pitch, emphasize the problem you’re solving rather than the how amazing your solution is. Remember, you won’t win anyone over with a product that provides a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.
Founder Institute Mentor Dave Parker discusses how founders can learn to identify problems in their target market in his blog post, “Have An Acute Focus On The Problem, Not the Solution”.
I worked on a technical hardware product some years ago. The company had spent a great deal of time and engineering building a hardware device for IT Security. The problem was that they had never clearly identified a (large) target market, or an initial launch market. They started with the solution then asked me to work backward to find the problem that the product could solve. Regretfully, it’s not that simple.”
2. Does it solve it in a big market?
Aaron Patzer, the founder and former CEO of Mint.com, posits that understanding your market is a crucial part of startup success. In the formative stages of creating your startup pitch, become an expert in your respective market as it will establish your credibility and enable you to clearly define what market you should be working in.
Your startup pitch should answer the following questions:
- Are there any technological or market barriers to entry?
- Are there bigger markets for your product/service?
- How do you handle logistics of the market by balancing supply and demand?”
3. Is it something that has a competitive or sustainable advantage?
Perhaps Martin Zwilling, CEO & Founder of Startup Professionals, Inc., discusses the matter of identifying a competitive advantage for your startup best in his blog post, “6 Key Drivers To a Long-Term Competitive Advantage”. According to Martin,
A sustainable competitive advantage requires value-creating products, processes, and services that cannot be matched by competitors now, and plan content to maintain that position as you scale. Of course all of this assumes you are in a big growing market, with adequate resources, marketing, and great people to deliver. No one said it would be easy!
4. Can you make money or make a profit?
Your startup pitch needs to demonstrate revenue potential, and the best way to do this is to employ any metrics you may already have. If your company already has paying customers, or even free users, this will speak volumes compared to other techniques. Remember, traction speaks louder than words.
However, if you don’t have any customers or your product has not yet been built, you can at least share your results of any customer development that you’ve done to help illustrate your company’s prospects of making money.
Employ Storytelling in Your Startup Pitch
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In the article “17 Storytelling Tips for Startups", Alexis Niki outlines the 17 most useful storytelling tips founders can employ when creating their startup pitches, drawn from an event featuring Founder Institute Mentor Tyler Crowley. According to Tyler, integrating a story into your pitch not only makes you more memorable, but more personal as well. For, at the end of the day, investors are more likely to invest in the person pitching rather than the idea being pitched.
- The audience doesn’t remember data, especially not when they’ve just been presented with a lot of it. Keep your introduction short and get right to the meat of your pitch.
- The audience does remember story because stories speak to the visual and emotional parts of our brain.
- Make your audience feel the WOW moment - the moment when your audience gets your product, when they feel the same thing you feel about it.
- Help your audience experience this WOW moment through two key characters: the hero and the antagonist. Tip: Make one character a male and the other a female so you can refer to them using “he” and “she” without confusing your listeners.
- Introduce your hero or heroine in a dramatic fashion, as this is the moment moment to grab your audience’s attention and prevent them from checking their cell phones.
- Build the drama by showing us your character’s problem. It’s imperative that you clearly identify what your character is up against and what the worst case scenario is.
- Cast your product in the role of the vehicle that helps your hero. Explain how “he” uses your product to impress “her” and improve his life.
- Start and close with your elevator pitch. Book-ending your pitch with your elevator pitch sets the stage for your audience’s expectations.
- Avoid using “I,” “you,” or “we” in your pitches, as this will lend objectivity to your presentation.
- Avoid hypotheticals such as “can” and “could” because it opens up too many possibilities, which may be confusing to audiences. Be sure to tell your stories in present or simple past tense.
- Story can communicate important information in an elegant way, so look for opportunities to slip in any data your audience needs to know.
- If you must give figures, avoid big numbers. For example, ditch “300,000 parents think taking their child to the dentist is like pulling teeth” and use“Two out of five moms say taking their kids to the dentist is like pulling teeth.”
- Your story needs to have a happy ending. Audiences want the emotional satisfaction of seeing your product help your “hero” overcome their obstacle.
Don’t try to memorize your story, but remember these key elements: Character intro, Problem, Struggle and solution, and Happy ending.
Create variations of your story for different audiences and different lengths, and try to anticipate the questions you might get during your presentation. If you can, integrate the answers into your story for longer pitches, or save the answers for the Q&A for shorter pitches.
Keep testing your stories by telling them to anyone who will listen, and keep refining them until you’ve achieved the desired emotional reaction.
Finally, study storytelling in action by watching videos and attending pitch and startup events.
Format Your Startup Pitch
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Now that you know the necessary elements for a successful startup pitch, let’s turn our focus to formatting your pitch. Founder Institute Directors J. Ramphis Castro and Marcos Polanco have provided a startup pitch template for entrepreneurs in their Mindchemy blog post, “The Foolproof One Minute Startup Pitch Formula”."Did you know that [CUSTOMER CATEGORY] experience [MASSIVE PAIN]? This is a [MARKET SIZE] billion dollar opportunity in the US alone. [PRODUCT NAME] is a [PRODUCT CATEGORY] that [VALUE PROPOSITION]. Unlike other alternatives we, [KEY DIFFERENTIATOR]. The team includes [CREDIBLE TEAM BIOS] and we make money by [BUSINESS MODEL]. In essence, we are the [WELL-KNOWN ANALOGUE] for [ANALOGUE PRODUCT CATEGORY] and our vision is to [HOW WILL THE WORLD BE DIFFERENT? WHY DO YOU CARE?]. We have already [EXECUTED MILESTONES] and you are must be involved because [INVITE!]."
Take note that while this template doesn’t include all of the topics covered in this blog post, it still functions as a strong starting point to formulate your pitch into a cohesive narrative. Once you’ve mastered this basic format, you can begin integrating more advanced storytelling pitching techniques and tricks to captivate your audience.
Hopefully this blog post has provided you with some invaluable nuggets of information to help you perfect your pitch. If you’re still not convinced on the importance of the pitch, just ask professional baseball player and Hall of Fame Major League manager Earl Weaver about how important pitching is to success:
Nobody likes to hear it, because it's dull, but the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same - pitching.