Can You Do It: The Elevator Pitch


I was at a great function last week run by a local association. It was an opportunity for businesses to pitch to business angels. It was fantastic and I met some really good businesses run by very passionate and talented people. Honestly, sometimes I think I am such a lucky guy – I think this line of work keeps you very young as you are working with people who are saying no to accepting the status quo and are following the dreams despite knowing that statistically the chances are against them. Trust me; this keeps you young, alive and energized!

Sorry, that was a bit of a side track. As I said it was a great event but may I give some advice to anyone who is thinking about pitching to investors (or actually anyone)? Make sure that after no more than two minutes; your audience understand what it is you do! I kid you not, 12 minutes into a 15 minute pitch I had no idea what two of the six businesses pitching did and therefore how they made money from owning an air purifier for cigarette smoke. But I did learn lots about digital conversion technologies and how that other system was a really good database (the competition)!

I am a big fan of the Elevator pitch. The phrase comes from the USA and the story behind it (I have no idea if it is true) is as follows. A guy was trying to get his pitch across to some wealthy backers in New York. He was struggling to get an appointment to see any of them – but then waited for them in the lobby of their offices. He would get in the lift (or elevator as our cousins across the pond call it) and then have until the elevator got to the 7th Floor to sell the business idea – and he succeeded in generating enough interest for the backers to agree to meet him for a proper chat.

The thing I like about these pitches is that they force you to be clear and focused and really get to the point quickly. It is a good discipline to get into with lots of different aspects of your life. Before important meetings you should always get into a situation where you are able to summarize the outcome you would like within 90 seconds. Remember you are just trying to convey the basics and why somebody should learn more.

I do have to attend many meetings about the Winix PlasmaWave 5300 – but I find that the optimum time for a meeting is 20 minutes provided people are clear and concise. People tend to waffle – and bore you with stuff you just don’t need to know – and if you do you can always read a business plan or ask questions. When I do ask a question, I don’t want the reply to be “that is a good question”, or “it is not as simple as that” – I just would like the question to be answered clearly and in a language that I understand.

Like most investors, I think I am intelligent enough to understand things if they are explained properly. My failure to understand something is often a reflection of the person doing the explaining! We see it on The Apprentice every week – the candidates waffling for ages rather than give a straight answer. I just feel that as Winston Churchill once lamented the art of brevity is being lost. Please, let’s bring it back.