Perfecting your startup pitch

Over the past month I have had the privilege of attending or speaking at a StartupWeekend in Boise, TechStars “for a day” in Seattle, TechStars New York,  Microsoft Kinect Accelerator in Seattle, TechStars Boulder (with Jason Mendelson) and finally mentoring at a Startup Weekend in Medellin, Columbia.  It’s been great to meet so many new and aspiring entrepreneurs in so many cities.  In the process, I’ve heard lots of pitches and coached many on how to make their presentations better.  Here are a few tips;

1.  Find the emotional hook (pain is better than opportunity) – most great companies solve a painful problem and as an entrepreneur you should be able to characterize the user/pain in a way that the audience connects with.  People should hear the pitch and say, “damn, that is a massive pain and I hope they can solve it” and the more they feel it the better.   Bonus points if the pain has some social benefit or very direct and quantified monetary cost.

2.  Compelling data points – For a good pitch you need to have 3-5 strong data points that make the audience think, “wow, that is a big space”.  This is usually the number of users who will be affected, the “cost” of not having the solution and a few examples of similar companies who have been successful solving a similar problem.  Pick the data points and weave them into the story vs. showing complicated graphs and forcing the audience to guess the meaningful numbers. For example, the winning team at SUW Medellin focused on the thousands (they had the real number) of women in Medellin who reported being the victims of violent crime last year and provided them a quick way (the red button on their phone) to report their position to police via sms and Twitter.

3. Show the solution – screen shots, live demos or video of the product are way more compelling than a verbal description of the solution.  Show vs. tell.  Worst case, make realistic screen caps and/or real wireframes of the product, but make it visual as if it really exists.  The closer to working product you can get the better!  Keep the demo to ~30-45 seconds and/or have an animated screen-cap version that you can narrate.

4. Develop your “it’s like” metaphor – Everyone is busy and inundated with ideas, companies, products…so you need a simple hook that they can remember.  Often this can be done with a “it’s like” which combines something they know with something new.  Or, it could be a combination of 2 well known things.  One of the compellig teams in Columbia developed a product that they described as “instagram meets graffiti” – without even seeing the solution, you could imagine what it does, why it would be cool, who might use it and even guess on a freemium business model where you could have virtual spray cans, fonts or other treatments.  Check it out at

5. Stick with one business model (and advertising is not usually very compelling) – I have seen countless teams pitch their idea with several business models (advertising + sponsorships + premium content + paid features…).  Each of these models requires different things from the user and likely different feature prioritization in the product.  Pick one and make a clear case on why it will work. If possible use other comparable companies in your space to validate that this model can work.  For example, with Gist we focused on business professionals and planned to charge a monthly subscription fee.  We based on model on the same users (sales guys) who already paid for solutions like and Blackberry that delivered them an information advantage.  While we could have had targeted ads (like LinkedIn) or API licensing deals (like Full Contact) we wanted to stay very focused on one model.   If you need help developing this, check out this post.

6  KISS – most good ideas are simple or at least sound simple of the surface.  Under the covers, it is likely that there are lots of problems (small and large) that need to be solved, but if it seems simple, people can remember the solution and often they believe the solution can exist quickly vs. it being too complex, complicated and therefore hard to implement, communicate and get right with too many variables.   Keep it simple, stupid.

7.  Passion – You, as the entrepreneur, need to show your passion for the company, the problem, the users, the solution, the team…People want to connect with others who have passion and commitment.  Passion will take you through the tough times, get your teams to work harder and keep your customers engaged when your product is less than ideal.  Get excited, get loud and be passionate when you talk about what you are doing and how it is going to change the lives of your users (and potentially the world)

If you can keep these points in mind, your idea will come across as much more compelling for investors, your team and most important, users who have the problem!

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