A while back, I was standing at an entrepreneurship conference chatting with my former boss Ihsan Jawad, founder of Zawya.com, when a young entrepreneur who I had met earlier that day walked up and introduced himself. The entrepreneur shared how happy he was to have meet Ihsan, mentioning that magazine interview with the Zawya founder had inspired him to start his business. After being delighted with the flattering comment, Ihsan asked the entrepreneur what he does, and quickly asked, "What can I do for you?" The entrepreneur answered, "I just wanted to meet you and say hello. I've been trying to meet you for a while now and I'm happy I finally got the chance." Ihsan thanked him and politely moved on.
A little later that day, I was walking with Rabea Ataya, the founder of Bayt.com, who had just finished a panel discussion and was heading out. The same entrepreneur walked up to Rabea and introduced himself. Since Rabea was on his way out, he accelerated the encounter by asking him what he does. He then asked, "is there a successful international comparable for your business?" The entrepreneur stumbled, but eventually gave an example. Rabea finally asked, (you guessed it), "What can I do for you?" The entrepreneur answered that he just wanted to introduce himself. So Rabea thanked him, wished him luck, and excused himself as he approached the exit door.
Each interaction lasted about 30 seconds.
In both interactions, I had the urge to help the young entrepreneur. Yet I restrained myself from participating because I didn’t want to hijack his encounters. He had been waiting for the chance to meet Ihsan and Rabea, but it seemed to me that he was not fully prepared. If his intention was simply to say hello, then he succeeded. If he was looking for something more, like investment or advice, then he missed out on those two opportunities.
These two encounters were examples of an elevator pitch.
What Is An Elevator Pitch?
The elevator pitch is basically a summary presentation of your idea or business that lasts the length of an average elevator ride, which is 30 seconds to 2 minutes. You would typically deliver it to pique the interest of a potential advisor, when you have a quick moment of their attention.
The purpose of the elevator pitch is not to hear "yes;" instead, you are hoping for "tell me more." In other words, you're not looking to get someone to decide to invest in you. Instead, a great outcome is where you can set up an appointment to follow up. Daniel Pink put it best when he said:
"The purpose of the pitch isn't necessarily to move others to adopt your idea, it's to offer something so compelling it begins a conversation."
When and Where Does It Apply?
The elevator pitch can apply in both personal and professional contexts. You might be interested in someone on a personal level and want to make a great first impression. You might also be looking for a potential business relationship or a job.
Typically, you are either pitching something new to someone you already know (e.g. a new project to a boss or shareholder) or an existing idea to someone new (potential investors, job interview, existing customers or suppliers).
Nobody gets ahead in life alone. Opportunities in life are attached to people. You might need someone to invest with you, mentor you, buy from you, or do something else. When it comes to pitching, sometimes that person will give you a small window. Or sometimes you’ll have an official opportunity to pitch, as in Arabnet's Ideathon and Startup Demo.
If you don't pitch well, you might end up missing out on key people or resources.
I experienced that when I unsuccessfully pitched a new product to my boss a couple of years ago. The response was flat and the idea was not adopted. To my surprise, the same person heard about the same idea at a conference and got very excited about it. I didn't understand it then, but I eventually concluded that my pitch sucked.
How: The Three Basic Elements of an Elevator Pitch
Opinions differ on the best way to deliver an elevator pitch. Some stress that you should make the pitch interactive by delivering little nuggets that get the recipient engaged and asking for more. A more traditional approach is to deliver a condensed pitch that gives the essentials and whets the recipient's appetite for more.
Either way, the elevator pitch should have these three steps:
- The problem you’re
solving: focus here on the end result you are giving your
customers (e.g. convenience, productivity, etc). Don't get
caught up explaining the details of your business. Focus on the big
- The solution you’re
planning: make it clear what you are doing to solve the
problem you just mentioend. The listener should be completely clear
about what your business does.
- A call to action: after piquing their interest, state exactly what you want. Are you growing your company and looking for strategic investors? Are you looking for advice, partners, or star employees? Remember that you're not looking for them to give you the commitment then and there; you’re simply looking for a follow up.
Here's an example:
“Eat Well” helped 50k people lose half a million kilograms of weight last year.
We deliver fresh meals that are delicious, fresh, & healthy to your doorsteps everyday.
We are profitable & growing. We are now looking for investors to help feed our expansion plans.
Notice that each line represents a step. It's a short pitch, so you can add more to it if you have more time; e.g. you can add that they provide a customized nutrition plan, that they use no additives in their meals. You can also add growth and profitability figures to the third section to show success. Of course, there are many different ways to deliver an elevator pitch; this is just a basic example.
Here are some extra tips to improve your pitch or add to it if you have more time:
- Answer the question, "So What?" You have
to make sure the pitch is relevant to the person you are pitching
to. If the recipient is an investor, mention the financial
viability of the idea (financial figures, growth rates,
industry size, evidence of comparable international companies,
etc). If you are pitching for a humanitarian cause, include an
emotional appeal that is relevant to the listener.
- Speak up with confidence. You will be
delivering a lot of information through your tone and body
language. Make sure you speak up so you are heard and have
confidence. There is nothing worse than sounding unsure about your
- Be ready for the follow up. Your
recipient might shoot questions, voice objections, or challenge
assumptions when you pitch. Make sure you're prepared. Have answers
to questions like "who are the main competitors?" or might state,
"this industry has no growth." Make sure you have facts on hand:
"actually, this industry grew by 80% last year and is expected to
double in size next year."
- Inject your personality into it. One of
the biggest concerns people have about elevator pitches is that
they sound fake. That's why it's important for you to inject your
personality into it. I might be methodical in my approach and
include a lot of facts. You, on the other hand, might be a little
more creative and flamboyant. Make sure your pitch has your touch
in it, but make sure you cover the three steps (problem, solution,
and call to action).
- Use "normal" language. Also to avoid
sounding fake or robotic, use "normal" conversational language.
Choose your works to match your audience. A great presentation is
one that sounds like a conversation.
- Stay sharp. Keep your pitch straight to
the point. Make sure it fits the time you have (be ready to pitch
in as little as 30 seconds and to continue up to 2 minutes if you
have that extra time and your audience opens the door).
- Remove fillers. Get rid of the "ummm"
fillers you have between sentences. They can be distracting and
- Engage. It's great if your listener
engages with you on their own with a question or comment. If they
don't, engage them with questions. Sometimes, you might want to add
some silence between parts. So, for example, after your first part
where you state what problem you are solving you can pause and wait
for the listener to ask, "how do you do that?"
- Rinse and repeat. As you deliver your pitch to people, you will have an opportunity to refine it to improve your results. Over time, you will find a pitch that engages people better.
How about you? What does your elevator pitch look like? Share your pitch and experience in the comments below.