An elevator pitch is a short speech - usually 30 seconds to one minute long - that fully explains a business idea or proposition to a potential investor. Elevator pitches encapsulate why a business is viable and why it will be profitable, and learning how to write an elevator pitch is a necessary step for entrepreneurs as they begin to seek funding for their business ventures.
An elevator pitch is called an "elevator pitch" because you're supposed to be able to deliver it during an elevator ride, the idea being that you've either found yourself or put yourself in an elevator with a business leader or big-money investor and have one opportunity to get them interested enough to take your card and potentially set up a more formal meeting. You have a lot to accomplish in 30 seconds, a minute max, and this is someone you'll never get on the phone. You may never get this opportunity again.
There are a million other businesses this person could invest in, a million other startup founders just as excited about their company as you are about yours. This is your one shot, maybe your only shot, to really get your idea off the ground. Your palms sweat. Eminem's "Lose Yourself" starts playing in your head. Your potential investor probably heard 12 other pitches before they ate breakfast. If they're not somewhat annoyed, they're indifferent. This is the definition of "tough crowd."
Nervous? Of course you are - who wouldn't be? But you know what? You got this, because you've written the best elevator pitch ever written and you've practiced it until you know it like your phone number. So how do you write it in the first place? Here are 7 questions to ask yourself, and being able to easily answer them will help your elevator pitch write itself. We've provided Mad Libs-style examples of what you could say following each question:
Who are you, and why are you the best person to be doing what you're doing? The investor is investing in you as much as your business, and if they don't feel you have the confidence to sell yourself and the experience to back it up they may feel their money is best allocated elsewhere. This is the part where you first get them listening.
- What You Say: "I'm [YOUR NAME] from [YOUR COMPANY]. I know you're busy, and I respect your time, but I'd love to take this opportunity to quickly tell you about what I'm doing, because I know you've invested in [TYPE OF PRODUCT] before and I think you'll be interested."
Explain your idea, your concept, your business. And explain it fast, in layman's terms. Not too general that you risk saying nothing, and not so full of jargon that you also risk saying nothing. You're talking big picture with someone who's only going to want the big picture.
- What You Say: "My partner and I have developed a product that's going to make [WHATEVER IT IS YOUR SOLUTION DOES] easier and more profitable for the hundreds of thousands of people who use [SOLUTION] every day."
What is your experience in the specific thing you're doing? Were you working in the industry for years and noticed this lack that nobody was addressing? Have you, frustrated, cycled through a number of vendors or products and then thought "hey, nobody's doing this thing - why don't I just do it myself?"
- What You Say: "I've worked in the [NAME OF INDUSTRY] industry for 15 years. I've years of experience using [PRODUCT] and, while the solutions out there have their merits, I've always felt there was something lacking, that things could be easier. So I decided to fix it."
OK, unless you've perfected room-temperature fusion there are probably a few companies out there who, at first blush, do what seems to be a whole lot like what you do. What's your edge? If you're doing, say, chatbot messaging, in what way are you different than the big players? Why are you worth taking a risk on?
- What You Say: "If you use [SOLUTION] as part of your marketing efforts, you know that while the results can be great, it's a serious challenge to [DO WHATEVER YOUR PRODUCT DOES]. We've solved that."
- Brevity - keep it short.
- Clarity - clearly explain your idea.
- Originality - state the uniqueness of your idea.
- Practicality - have a plan to get it made / accomplished.
- Humanity - remember you're a person talking to another person.
- Honesty - don't make things up.
Seriously, why are you better than everybody else at doing this thing? What's your hook? What's the one thing that differentiates you from the others, that sets you apart? Your elevator pitch should be 30 seconds full of hooks, but this is the big one. What's the one mistake other companies like yours are making? What are clients clamoring for and not finding, and how do you scratch that itch?
- What You Say: "Just imagine that you can do [WHAT YOUR PRODUCT DOES] without [IRRITATING BYPRODUCT OF OTHER SOLUTIONS]. That's what [YOUR COMPANY OR PRODUCT NAME] does, and we do it better than anyone else."
Who's going to buy this? What's the size of that audience? What are the potential sales? In short, how much money does the person you're talking to stand to make if they invest? Even if they like you, they're not going to follow up if they aren't going to profit.
- What You Say: "500,000 people bought [RELATED PRODUCT] last year, and our research tells us that there's at least that big of a demand for [YOUR PRODUCT], and likely more. We've solved the [MAJOR DRAWBACK], and a lot of people badly want that."
You're on their floor, and the doors are opening. Close the deal. Reel them in. This is when you find out whether your pitch worked or not. And it might not, but you'll never know if you let them walk out and back into their incredibly busy life.
- What You Say: "It's been so nice to meet you, [PERSON'S NAME], and I really appreciate your time. I'd love to set up an appointment to discuss how we could work together - what works for you?"
Easily as important as the actual content of your elevator pitch is your delivery. If you don't project confidence and know your speech backward and forward, you likely won't impress your audience. While you're able to recite it in your sleep, you also need to convey your excitement - this is the best solution yet, and you've developed it.
Practice it in front of the mirror. Practice it in front of your partner. Practice it in front of your parents, your friends, strangers at the bar. Practice it in front of your dog. Practice it in the car during your commute. Record it and listen to it. Pretend you're the person who's got money to invest. What do they want to hear? How do they want to hear it? Are you saying it that way?
- Introduction: who you are.
- Explanation: why you're talking.
- Education: what you do.
- Differentiation: what makes you / your product different.
- Production: how you're going to make what you make.
- Monetization: how much money you'll make.
- Invitation: schedule a formal meeting.
It probably won't, at least the first time you use it. It's a rare occasion when someone gets traction on their very first pitch. But presenting an elevator pitch in real life is probably the best practice there is. You know how, ten minutes later, you're kicking yourself because of all the things you should have said? Write those down. They won't all be valid, and don't give in to self-recrimination, but the useful ones will help you further hone your elevator speech and the next time you give it, it'll be better.
And the next time, and the next time, and the next time: better, and better, and better.
Probably the best place is YouTube, where you can actually see people delivering their pitches. Just search "elevator pitch" and you'll find plenty of examples. Some of the best are filmed live, delivered at various conferences. There's also an "Entrepreneur" show full of actual elevator pitches delivered by people who are looking for funding.
You can find a lot of written elevator pitch examples online as well, but it's best to see them delivered. Of course, some of the more polished videos are a bit artificial; there's likely been some creative editing. There's something to be said for being more human than perfect.
While you'll probably have more time in a job interview than you would in an elevator, it's still important for job seekers to be able to succinctly and persuasively explain what makes them the best candidate for the position. Carefully read the list of qualifications and formulate a short speech about how you meet those qualifications. Study the company to which you're applying, and study it well. Learn as much as you can about its culture, and imagine how you'd fit.
Elevator pitches for job seekers are probably most useful in a career fair setting, when potential employers are speed-interviewing lots of potential candidates. You'll want to craft a great pitch showcasing your major accomplishments and abilities, but also make it unique enough to stand out in an ocean of job seekers. So don't say "I'm a people person" or "I'm a team player," because everyone's going to say that.
Say "when I was at [JOB/INTERNSHIP] I led my team to increase our client base by 40% in 6 months" or whatever other impressive and concrete major accomplishment you have on your resume. Then say "...and I can apply that experience to grow your company's business." (Also, and this should go without saying, don't make stuff up. If you're not telling the truth, somebody's going to find out about it. And nobody wants to be there.)
Writing the best elevator pitch depends on you knowing yourself, your capabilities, and your product. Even if you, for whatever reason, are never going to have to give an elevator speech to get business, it's a good exercise. If you're able to condense yourself, your business, and your mission into a 30-second statement, you'll have a clear idea of what you're doing and avoid getting bogged down by unnecessary details even when things get muddled.
A clear bird's eye view can be extremely helpful when you're knee deep in mud. Your elevator pitch is what keeps you focused. It's your lightsaber, your superpower. Wield it well, and wisely.