Elevator Pitches: A Waste of Time For Entrepreneurs?

Elevator Pitches
Photo: D.H. Parks

 

Who?

This post is for entrepreneurs who’ve had to painstakingly craft an effective 90 second elevator pitch to raise money from investors, and for those investors who’ve had to sit through what I’m sure have been both killer and horrid elevator pitches over the years.

What?

Two weeks ago I was flattered to have my startup, WeMontage, be selected as one of 15 companies to participate in an “Elevator Pitch Olympics” (EPO) at the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium, which was sponsored by the Wisconsin Technology Council. Initially, I hesitated to participate, but after thinking about it for a second I quickly realized I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The reason I hesitated is because I initially thought an elevator pitch competition in which no real money is awarded would not be a productive use of my time. After all, I’ve got my head in the weeds trying to get these darned Ukrainian developers to finish the last few minor changes to the WeMontage website, so I can finally release the beta.

Boy, was I wrong.

The EPO is like the tv show, Shark Tank, minus the über “prickliness”/”slimyness” of the judges. Oh, and there’s one other difference: no one on the panel invests! But the panel is comprised of professional investors who score your pitch and provide extremely valuable feedback. And did I mention you get the practice of pitching and controlling your nerves in front of 500 people?!

Elevator Pitch Resources

With a quick Google search you can find a few dozen resources that help you prepare an effective elevator pitch. I used an Inc. article as a guide, but I found this article most helpful. I also referenced this handout I received at a panel discussion about elevator pitches at last year’s WI Early Stage Symposium:

Elevator Pitches

 

The Pitch

I mentioned there were 500 people in the audience; it was probably more like 750! Here’s a pic I took from the back of the room. Gulp!

Elevator Pitch

I was in awe of the size of the audience, entertained by all the nervous body language of some pitchers, and amazed at how composed and effective other pitchers were.

As for me, I was totally nervous. One woman sitting next to me who already completed her pitch, which, by the way, the judges weren’t too keen on for some reason, said  to me, “Don’t shit yourself.” To which I replied, “too late!” Ha!

My pitch went over well and I received mostly 3s and 4s from a scoring system of 1 thru 5. I was pleased with this result given the visual nature of my product and I didn’t have any video, pictures, or slides to show them (props were allowed but no use of the projector).

There was the one judge who, after I explained how I got the inspiration for WeMontage from an episode of HGTV and mentioned I have a patent pending, blurted out, “you know they’ve patented that, right?”

My response: “who?”

His reply: “the people on HGTV?”

Me: “what exactly have they patented?”

Him: “the whole thing?”

Me: “what do you mean?”

Him: “oh, I’m just kidding! Hahaha!”

Seriously, dude? What a jackass.

Here’s a youtube video of me practicing my 90 second pitch for the 50th time (no exaggeration):

 

Whaddaya think? Good? Great? Sucks? Lemme know by leaving a comment.

The Answer To The Question

I got a lot out of this experience and am thankful I was asked to participate. It’s incredibly difficult to distill your biz’s story down to 90 seconds and explain what you do, why it’s different, who the competitors are, how you’ll make money, and what the market opportunity is.

I also got to meet entrepreneurs who are working on some pretty kewl start-ups. For example, I met the founder of a company, Iristocracy (love this name!), which is building technology that lets you virtually try on a pair of glasses while sitting at your computer and see how they look in 3-D, from all angles. How kewl is that?! Actually, they won the competition.

I met another guy whose company, Novo Luggage, solves the problem of your luggage looking like everyone else’s at the airport by letting you add a custom skin to it.

So, are elevator pitches a waste a time for entrepreneurs? Absolutely not!

Have a thought about elevator pitches, how to best prepare one, or their effectiveness? Please share by leaving a comment.

Suerte! (Good luck!)

 

James Oliver, Jr.
Co-founder of the world's cutest twins. Founder of WeMontage.com. Parent entrepreneur advocate via trepLifeDad.com. Alum of the gener8tor.com startup accelerator and UNC-Chapel Hill (MBA). Cheeky. ESTP. Golf nut.
James Oliver, Jr.

Leave a Reply

20 Comments on "Elevator Pitches: A Waste of Time For Entrepreneurs?"


Guest
Bill Franklin
2 years 3 months ago

James,
Your blogs are always relevant and useful. I really appreciate you being candid about the entire process.
This is Kwel

Bill

Guest
James Oliver, Jr.
2 years 2 months ago

Thanks!

Guest
Kneale Mann
2 years 3 months ago

Fantastic piece, James! And I endorse Chris' book and work. I think it's a common struggle to find the words and the tone that works best. The best advice I've received is "be yourself" and "be authentic". As someone who has done a lot of presentations, I can relate to the nerves. You showed us your 50th practice session, congratulations! Anyone who thinks they can "wing it" is in trouble. Even those who appear to do this stuff effortlessly has practiced and rehearsed and worked at it for years. Keep up the passion and hard work!

Guest
James Oliver, Jr.
2 years 2 months ago

Thanks, Kneale. I appreciate it.

You used an important word there: authentic. I believe authenticity matters in all that we do. Perhaps I'll write a blog post about it someday.

Guest
Chris Westfall
2 years 3 months ago

Great story about the practical application of the elevator pitch! Hecklers are a pain in the ___, but a fact of life I guess. A lot of entrepreneurs are finding value in The NEW Elevator Pitch (http://thenewelevatorpitch.com) and the video examples of how to create a great elevator pitch on youtube (http://youtube.com/westfallonline). The key is to avoid an old-school, in your face sales pitch – and it sounds like you did just that. Congrats & best of luck – If you ever need any help with an upcoming elevator pitch, let me know!

Guest
James Oliver, Jr.
2 years 2 months ago

Hey, Chris. Very awesome. I'll be sure to check out these links. I'm actually working on an investor pitch deck now, which, as you know, is different from an elevator pitch. Thanks.

Guest
gtoz
2 years 3 months ago

Another great post with valuable insights for entrepreneurs. Would have loved to see your face during that exchange. Can anyone comment or share instances where they felt their elevator pitch really made a difference beyond helping them better understand what it is they are trying to do? Looking for stories of getting in the elevator with a plan and a dream and getting off with money, partners, customers ect.

Guest
James Oliver, Jr.
2 years 3 months ago

Thanks for stopping by, Gtoz. I too would love to hear a few inspirational stories like that! But I guess that's what Shark Tank is??

Guest
Churchill Madyavanhu
2 years 3 months ago

Congratulations. I see there is a lot I can learn from you. :-) I still find it difficult to make people understand what I do even when given much more time than you had in your pitch. Well, they say practise makes perfect so I guess I need more of that. The Einstein quote posted by rayhiltz got me a little worried too. :-)

Guest
James Oliver, Jr.
2 years 3 months ago

Thanks for stopping by. How are things in Poland? Cold yet?

Simple is DEFINITELY harder.