You may have a fantastic startup idea, but unless you can effectively communicate it to investors that is all it might ever be – an idea. The good news is that even the most terrible elevator pitches can be polished and honed until they sing.
If you’re looking for secrets to pitching success, then it starts with knowing what not to do…
1. You’ve forgotten that you’re pitching to a human being
This is a very common mistake entrepreneurs make when they first start pitching. Rather than recognising that investors can be persuaded to be as passionate and excited about your startup as you are, it is easy to fall into the trap of treating them like the inscrutable sphinx. Yes, they need the hard facts but never forget that when you pitch, you are essentially marketing your business idea and the best marketing succeeds because it tells a story. Not sure what your business story is? We advise taking a big step back so you can rediscover what makes your particular business different from the competition.
2. You haven’t said what problem your startup is solving
They say everyone has a book in them, and it seems we all have a startup idea as well. However, just like the likelihood of getting your book published is low, so too are the success rates for startups. You’ve probably heard the infamous statistic that 90% of new businesses fail. There are many reasons this occurs, such as bad financial management, insufficient growth, and poor leadership. However, one of the top startup killers is that the product/service did not solve a specific customer problem. We hope for the success of your startup that you have recognised the pain point that your business idea alleviates, and if you have then make sure to mention it in your elevator pitch!
3. You don’t know your numbers
If you ever watched Dragon’s Den, you’ll know that investors love numbers! We’ve already explained how telling a story will stimulate the appropriate emotional response, but now you need to prove how this great idea of yours also works in real-world conditions. If you want an investor to part with their hard-earned cash and take a chance on your business, you will need to reassure them of your financial judgement with some compelling reports. More than anything else, investors want to know how exactly your idea is going to make money – so show them!
4. Your elevator pitch is too fast
Whether due to nerves or because you’re trying to cram as much information into your elevator pitch as possible, speaking too fast can kill a pitch. People can only retain so much information, therefore it’s your job as the pitcher to make it easy for your audience to remember as much of what you say as possible. Forcing people to try and keep up with you is not going to win you any points. If you’re looking for some inspiration, bring to mind the most captivating human voices in film and television; the languid tones of David Attenborough, Morgan Freeman, Joanna Lumley, and Alan Rickman should come to mind!
5. Your business idea is too abstract
Right now, you’re in the trenches with your startup. You’re up close and personal with every aspect of it and your head is chockfull with all the different ways it could go. Perhaps you’re deep into research and development at the minute or maybe you’ve been designing your marketing strategy. Before you approach an investor, it is important to distill all these jumbled thoughts down to what is actually important. At this early stage, they do not need to know every minute detail of your business (hence the term “elevator pitch”). Avoid sounding too abstract and knuckle down to precisely what your business is, who your customers are, and why that particular investor should care.
6. You don’t have a use case
If you really want to stand out from the rabble of entrepreneurs vying for investors’ attention, a great way to do it is by sharing a real-life example of how a customer has already used your product. This ties in well with deadly sin number 2 because it helps you get to the crux of what your business idea is all about – solving a real customer problem. Nothing is as persuasive as showing that real businesses/customers have handed over real money – this gives potential investors confidence in your ability to gain traction. It also is a valuable device to use in your overall business story as well as a perfect opportunity to thread in some impressive numbers to really win them over.
7. You didn’t practice your pitch
You’ve come to the end of another New Frontier’s blog and we are delighted to still have you with us, but in the words of economist E. F. Schumacher, “An ounce of practice is generally worth more than a ton of theory.” Pitching is a learnable skill just like writing or singing, so pitch repeatedly, into the mirror and to your friends, and make tweaks along the way. While you don’t want your pitch to sound over-rehearsed, you do want to be very familiar with it so that when the opportunity knocks you are always ready to answer!
About the author
Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.