How to ace your startup’s elevator pitch

What to include, what to avoid, and how to project confidence in your pitch.
by
Strategy
October 12 | 8 min

Launching a business is really difficult and raising money for a business is almost impossible – trust us, we know! Imagine finally having the perfect opportunity to speak to the investors you want to fund your business, but you only have 30 seconds to blow their minds – that opportunity is the “elevator pitch” that everyone always talks about. It’s basically just a condensed story about your company that aims to convince someone that your startup is the next best thing and that they should want a part of it by any means possible. Time is money, which is why having a killer elevator pitch is essential for every startup founder who wants to make a great first impression in a short timespan.

A great elevator pitch is not something you can come up with right on the spot. It’s an important tool that takes time to structure.You don’t want to sound like you are reciting a memorized version of your startup’s “about us” section; you want it to be clear and intriguing. Here are a few tips on what to include in your pitch, what to avoid, and how to be a badass in a situation in which you may normally be a nobody:

WHAT TO INCLUDE:

Relevant Information
Kurian Tharakan, founder and managing director of StrategyPeak, advises that your elevator pitch contain the following details: name, company, product, target consumers, unique selling proposition, difference from competition, and solid call to action. These are the basic details of your business that an investor needs to know and it’s your job to craft a unique and interesting pitch that will make a lasting impression. You must be able to convey the need for your product or service and set yourself apart from the rest of your field. Ending your pitch with a solid call to action is also a great way to draw attention to the possibility of investors expressing further interest in your business.

Highlights of your business’s biggest selling points
You may be offering several products and services that are amazing, but you won’t have time go through each one in your elevator pitch. Try to highlight the biggest or top product of your business and, if possible, include the numbers. Catch the attention of potential investors with the value of your product and proof of results.

Start with a hypothetical question
You should start with a hypothetical question, rather than a literal one, because you don’t want to spend half of your very limited time waiting for an answer. The purpose of this question is to draw immediate interest and engage the people to whom you are pitching. Ronald Reagan iconically started off his campaign by telling his audience to ask themselves, “are you better off now than you were four years ago?” This introduction successfully sparked conversation and got people interested. However, make sure that you ask something that is directly relevant to your business and that will provide a seamless introduction to your pitch.

Show that you know your product and audience
Do not only describe your business’s industry alone, be sure to also talk about the specific aspects that only your specific business provides. This sets you apart from competitors and leaves a lasting impression. Along with knowing the products and services you provide down to the very last detail, you should also know and understand your target audience and customers; this way, you will be able to better address how your business makes an impact in their lives, which is definitely something investors want to hear.

WHAT TO AVOID:

Avoid using jargon (aka playing buzzword bingo)
The point of your elevator pitch is to clearly and concisely get the mission of your business across, under the assumption that whoever you are pitching to has never heard of your business before. Therefore, you should avoid unnecessary buzzwords or industry talk that may sound too technical to the average listener. Find ways to make your elevator pitch understandable to everyone, or even better, modify your pitch according to who is listening.

Avoid making your pitch too long – keep it short and sweet
Keep in mind that the standard length of an elevator pitch is about 30 seconds. This may sound like a lot of pressure, but don’t be intimidated; if you think too hard about the timing, you may end up wasting it by blabbing about unnecessary topics. Simply keep in mind the important information that should be included and focus on the end goal, which is to open doors for continued discussion.

Don’t forget about your team
Showing off who you’ve got on your side is one of the biggest forms of validation in an outsiders’ eyes. It shows that you are good at selling your company and you are able to rally the troops behind you! Have someone from a good school or a cool company? Show them off!

You don’t want to make it sound like your business is a one-man-show because investors know that’s not sustainable. Investors want to know about the team behind the business, not just the founder. Whether there are two or twenty people involved in your startup, try to give a general idea of the size of your business and do not forget to give credit where credit is due. Remember, smart investors invest in people more than just great products.

Don’t leave out the facts and numbers
While it’s important to let your passion shine through and illustrate how you feel about your business, try not to use too much emotion over hard facts. An investor might discount your pitch without any proof of a market need or consumer numbers. Investors care about your passion, but they also want proof of your performance.

HOW TO PROJECT CONFIDENCE DURING YOUR PITCH:

Keep it natural
“Keeping it natural” not only refers to the actual contents of your pitch, but also your overall presentation. While, of course, it is vital to communicate the main selling points and components of your business, you don’t want your elevator pitch to sound too memorized. Try to feel out the situation and have an actual conversation with your audience. After all, you want to tell them about your business instead of sounding like you are selling them something. Make sure to keep it natural and easy enough for them to bring up any questions at the end — questions could mean potential interest.

Focus on your listeners
Draw in whoever is listening by addressing what your listener is interested in, how they could benefit from your company, and how they can help you. Most investors are turned off when you (or your business) isn’t relatable to them and their own expertise. You should be able to maneuver your elevator pitch in a way that is directed toward your audience. Find ways to relate your business to your listener so that it does not sound like another cut-copy pitch, but something more personalized. Don’t make it sound like another generic marketing spiel. You’re not trying to sell your products or services, but making the listener understand how you can bring solutions to their problems and to the problems of your target customers.

Be conversational
You should never sound like a salesperson. This is an immediate red flag for most investors, especially if startup founders are too “hard sell.” Instead, treat your elevator pitch as a very important conversation. When someone from your audience makes a comment or asks a question, warmly address whatever comes your way and smoothly pick up where you left off.

Smile and be confident!
Nobody knows your business better than you do — you, as a founder, should be the most passionate person on your team. Allow your passion to radiate when you talk to potential founders or others you are trying to impress. Smile, be genuine, be proud of your achievements, and tell your audience why your startup is worth their time. People want to work with those they genuinely like and who interest them, so be accommodating, knowledgeable, concise, and, most importantly, unforgettable.

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