In the context of tech startups, an elevator pitch is a short, 30-second presentation that introduces key stakeholders to your product or business idea. The purpose of an elevator pitch is to capture your audience’s interest and make them curious to learn more.
As a startup founder, it is your responsibility to prepare and practice your elevator pitch so that you can make a great first impression.
There are many ways to write an elevator pitch, but at the end of the day, you need to communicate two core components: why your company exists and how you are uniquely qualified to solve the problem. These components are borrowed directly from Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle or the Why, How, What framework. We highly recommend watching his Ted Talk!
The goal is to hook your target audience and start conversations. If an investor is interested in your business idea, they will ask follow-up questions like "Do you have evidence to back this up" or even better: "I love this! What are your next steps and how can I help?"
During this initial presentation, you don't have the time or enough of their attention to go into nitty-gritty details about your qualifications. You don’t want to get lost in the weeds of technical jargon. It should be at a high level and no longer than 30 seconds.
Let’s walk through putting an elevator pitch together. We’re going to use Apple as our example as we walk through this step by step.
In Sinek’s framework, the “why” question is at the center and gets to the core reason why your company exists. This is your answer to the critical “so what” and “why should you care” questions. Strong answers usually involve addressing a pain point or gap in the way things are currently done.
If your why is compelling, it will be more likely to resonate with the right audiences and be more memorable. Some questions to think of would be: What problem are you trying to solve and why did that compel you to create your company?
Now, let’s go back to our example of Apple. Back in the late 1970s, computers were a relatively new idea to the general public. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak found that the current models were unaffordable and not practical to use. The reason why they created Apple was to challenge this status quo.
Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple to challenge the status quo of unaffordable and impractical computers.
The “how” in the second ring of Sinek’s framework gets at your company’s value proposition. How are you different from other competitors in the same market? What sets you apart? If the why resonates with the person, the how piques the investor’s interest.
Going back to our Apple example, the way Apple challenged the status quo was by “introducing a sleek design that was intuitive to use.” Apple computers were some of the first to include a display, which made the user interface more accessible and nicer to look at.
If you can answer these questions, you are 90% of the way done. You might have noticed that we didn’t include the “what” ring of Simon Sinek’s framework. Since you only have roughly 30 seconds to give your pitch, you probably won’t have time to get into the details of what you do on the day-to-day. You should be familiar with what your company is currently doing, but keeping it towards the end of your pitch ensures you get to the important stuff first.
If it is your first time learning about elevator pitches and you need some structure, here’s a template that includes the two key points we've discussed so far.
Be sure that you tailor the wording to fit your brand voice and style:
Hi ___, my name is ___ and I’m the founder of ___.
[how you came across the problem; talk about industry]
[describe the opportunity you saw; the “why” you identified]
I wanted to create a company that [value proposition; the “how” you identified]
Thanks for listening and do you have any questions? Here’s my business card and LinkedIn.
Hi! My name is Steve Jobs and I am the founder of Apple. I believe that computers are the tools of the future because of their capability as an external memory bank. Unfortunately, the models on the market are super expensive and impractical to use.
I created Apple to challenge that status quo. We want to empower people with this powerful tool of innovation and bring personal computers to the public. We are focused on designing our computers with the user’s experience in mind and making sure our products look amazing.
Once you have the first draft, the best way to edit and revise the speech is to read it aloud. An ideal elevator pitch should feel natural to say and listen to in any situation. Ask people in your network (or anyone willing to listen to you) if the speech conveys the emotions and key points you want to impart to your audiences. You generally want to keep it down to 30 seconds or less.
Although there are a ton of example elevator pitches out there already, we highly recommend not looking at those until after you take your first attempt at making your own. If you look at what other people are doing too soon, you will be influenced by them, for better or worse.
You should also prepare tailored versions of the pitch with slight differences to target different audiences. In other words, you should consider emphasizing certain details in the pitch depending on what you are hoping to get out of that particular conversation. Maybe if you are talking to an investor who is familiar with the industry you are working in, you might want to emphasize the value proposition and the company’s key differentiators and spend less time contextualizing the problem you are trying to solve.
The ultimate goal of an elevator pitch is to make a lasting impression on your stakeholders in a short amount of time. If you have a good elevator pitch, the person listening will want to learn more, which will spark conversations down the road.
As such, you don't want to just memorize the words and robotically say an "elevator speech." It is important to also practice how you say it. Consider body language, clarity, and other communication skills that will help you express the passion you have for your business idea. Check out this Forbes article to learn more.
It's one thing to know how to write an elevator pitch, but that is worthless if you don't know when you should do it. Let's break down the relevance of this question based on two high level categories. We'll walk through an explanation as well as provide a score, 1-10, that shows you how relevant this question is whether you do or don’t have a product.
The first scenario we will walk through will be if you do not have a product yet. Whether it is a website or a mobile app, you are still in the ideation or planning phase and have not yet built anything. Maybe you have started development but just aren’t finished with your first version. Whichever it is, we'll get into why this question is or isn’t relevant and why you should or shouldn't care about it if you do not have a product.
Having a solid elevator pitch ready pre-product will be a huge asset for your company. At this stage, you are probably looking for early investors or at least networking with other professionals in the space to ask for advice or drum up excitement for your company. The elevator pitch is a way to succinctly convey what you are doing and why you are doing it. You never know when an opportunity might arise so you want to be prepared.
The second category is if you do have a live product. Maybe you just launched your business or maybe it's been live for years and you're continuing to improve its quality and release new features. Regardless of the scenario, if your product is live, this question carries a different weight of relevance.
Your elevator pitch will always be important, even when your product is live. While you might have a beta to show to potential stakeholders, you will still need to have your elevator pitch ready to go for the day-to-day conversations. Never underestimate the power of your pitch!
Writing an elevator pitch can be difficult to do alone. It is something that can require a lot of time and even more critical thinking. Thankfully, there are tools and services out there that can help you through this journey. Keep reading below to find out more!
This elevator pitch template will help you structure your elevator pitch in an organized manner. Follow along the templates provided, answering specific questions such as, "Who is this pitch for?" or "What is your solution?" As you work through answering smaller questions, you can then work to put the pitch together through combining your bite-sized responses rather than having to tackle it all at once.
Using this template, you can customize your pitch by audience, type of events you're going to, networking goals, and much more. The beauty here is that you can build an elevator pitch that differs depending on who you talk to, that way you can optimize the quality of each conversation you have. This will help you stand out in the crowd with each interaction you have.
Search Commander was able to reproduce a tool that Harvard Business School once had published on their site. This tool is an elevator pitch builder. Whether you are promoting your company, trying to make a sale, looking to raise capital or just networking for your own benefit, this tool can help you structure your pitch.
After clicking Start Crafting Your Pitch, you'll answer a question for each of 4 high-level categories: Who, What, Why, Goal.
This tool is similar to the ones mentioned above, just laid out a bit differently. You'll walk through a series of five summary questions that you will first answer. After doing so, you think will work on your attention grabber. Once completed, you'll finish up by loading your responses and putting it all together into a concise elevator pitch.