Monday, October 08, 2012

How NOT to Frame a Business Pitch

When you pitch, you need credibility, a good idea, and really sturdy rails.

Do you remember the closing ceremony of the Olympics this summer when the Spice Girls appeared on top of SUVs to sing? They gave us a minute to confirm it really was the Spice Girls (credibility), to hear them sing (offered content we understood), and they had rails (for the wild ride around the stadium).

Olympics 2012 Closing Ceremony - Spice Girls: Victoria Beckham
Photo used under Creative Commons licensed photo by flickr user p_c_w.

Pitching is a lot like that. VCers want to know you can do what you’re pitching. They want to know it’s something good. And, before you take them on a wild ride of possibility, you need to give them rails to hold onto so they don’t get lost when you mention the thing that sounds impossibly like something a four-year-old might say when speaking in a made-up language.

Sure, VCers will have the science vetted, and many will understand it on the first go, and for others, you could just describe the process as “magic,” and they’d be okay, but what they really want to know is: What are the benefits and who receives that benefit directly? Indirectly? Does the process of making this thing do any harm to humans, animals, the earth? And finally, how much does it cost and will it be profitable for them? (Very important, although most will wait politely until last to hear this part.)

To get through these pieces, though, you have to make sure you keep your listener’s attention. Here are a few sentences I think when I’m listening to a pitch (and none of these examples is good):
  • What did she say? I think that’s a made-up word. Was she trying to be funny? And meanwhile, the pitch is 30 more seconds along and I’ve lost complete track of the idea.
  • Did he just offend me? Students pitch a lot of things that benefit other students, and sometimes, they start out by saying, “You know how professors…” followed by an insult. Know who’s sitting in front of you. It’s incredibly easy to offend people without realizing it or meaning to.
  • Out of those two sentences, I understood the word composite. It’s very difficult to pull yourself out of your sub-specialty to talk to people who don’t specialize. Never underestimate how difficult this job is. When you hear a plain English explanation of what your invention does, you’ll be sad because you’re going to know it does so much more. To you, the beauty of it may be in its complexity; to the rest of the world, it’s in the simplicity that we want.
  • An image is worth a thousand words, but a prototype I can touch is even better. The best software pitch I ever saw was one that included a quick handing around of tablets so we could try the web interface. It was beta, not everything worked, but I could feel success.
When you talk numbers at me in rapid fire, my brain goes straight to the last Project Runway episode. I can handle a few numbers in the same sentence. I cannot do major math in my head. I need to see numbers in relation to each other on a paper or a slide, and the relationship needs to be clear. Make the numbers work for you.

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