Wednesday, February 9, 2011

90 Seconds Could Change Your Life

I’m an MBA student-analyst for an angel group in Southern California and they put on a pitch competition every year.  The deadline to apply was yesterday and we finished with 139 applications.

The first round has two parts – entrepreneurs complete an online application and then they deliver their 90 second pitch live on a conference call.  I’m on the screening committee, which means I’ve reviewed/analyzed/scored almost all of the 139 apps/pitches.

An interesting reality has emerged during this process – the pitches are either very good or they need a lot of work.  There is little middle ground.  Most are excellent, but I’m surprised at the number that fall into the not-so-good category.

A solid elevator pitch is one of the most valuable assets an entrepreneur possesses.  In the start-up world, your idea/company lacks pedigree.  Thus, you need to convince people that they should care about your business.  You likely have 1-2 minutes to do this before the other party becomes disinterested.  Think about it – how long is your average elevator ride?

First, I believe the goal of an elevator pitch is twofold: 
  1. Spark curiosity so the person wants to learn more
  2. Give the listener a good enough sense of what you’re doing that he/she can describe it in one sentence to someone else
In my experience, strong pitches have these universal components:
  1. Customer pain (what’s the problem?)
  2. Product description (what’s the solution?)
  3. Customer definition (who’s going to buy this?)
  4. Market analysis (what does the market look like?)
  5. Your competitive advantage (what’s your IP/defensibility?)
  6. Team background (why will you be successful?)
In a 90 second pitch, you have 10-12 seconds for each item when you include an introduction and a closing.  Thus, you get about one sentence on each topic.  Make it worthwhile.  Doing so requires that you come down from the 100k foot level and talk about tangible things while not getting so detailed that the elevator doors open on item #2.

The subject most commonly overlooked is ironically the one that’s most important to the person listening – the team.  With a start-up, you’re asking people to invest in YOU.  Your job is to convince the customer/investor/etc. that YOU are the person who can solve the problem, bring the product to market, create a scalable/profitable business, etc.  Thus, make sure you talk about you and your team.

If you’re an entrepreneur, my advice is to make sure you have a strong elevator pitch.  This requires preparation and practice.  You never know when you’re going to bump into the Steve Jobs of your industry and be asked – “So, what do you do?”  A good answer is essential to the concept of happy entrepreneuring…


  1. Well said, Steve. Good stuff. Now if you could help me with my elevator pitch sometime I'd be forever grateful. :)

  2. MP - I'd be happy to help with your pitch ... give me a holler any time.