The Pitch

I assume they have all read the same book, because they use the same outline, start-up CEOs I mean.  It has two parts.  The opening, and the gonna have a revolution bit.

First the prolog:

  • Open with how grateful you are for the ideas and help the host (and/or the most powerful people in room) provided in starting your firm.  But, don’t explain why.  Leave that a mystery to hook your audience.  Set the hook “i’ll get back to that.”  Note how this reframes the usual thanks to the host for inviting you.  Note you don’t need to know these people, but you should have done your homework and be familiar with their ideas, papers, books, failures and achievements – certainly there is something in there you can use.
  • Introduce your founding myth.  The characters in the founding myth should be drawn from a sacred category, e.g. mom, family, your tribe, citizens, the profession of your audience.  Populism can work.  Customers is kind of a weak form populism.  Nine times out of ten these stories seem to involve a mention of family.  The pain the product resolves is introduced here, as felt by this representative of sacred/worthy group.  This works for a few reasons.  First off banishment from home is the usual kick off of any fairy tale: so this make your audience comfortable.  Secondly it draws our their empathy, everybody cares about mom.  It also makes you out to be a caring person so the audience begins to identify with you.
  • Introduce the broad themes of value generation.  It’s good if at this point you can begin to introduce yourself as the agent of resolving the problem previously introduced.  Your frustration at being unable to aid those in need.  This is becomes the quest in the classic story template.
  • Start to tempt the audience.  Letting them glimpse the solution.  Letting them glimpse an artifact or a prototype at this point can be good, but don’t show it to them!  This creates an appetite; which if can heighten by delay.  This might be a mistake if overplayed, I’ve noticed audiences that stop listening as they attempt to catch a glimpse of the hidden product.
  • Finally notch up the frustration at lack of resolution both for you as hero, and for your homie.

That end’s the prolog.  Now this is a VC funded start-up; so we need a industry game changing story.  That prolog doesn’t provide that.  In a story telling frame you now want to introduce the evil king (current industry structure) and how your firms innovative addition is going be the revolution.  At this point we are shifting out of the fairy tale frame and into revolutionary group forming.  You want to create in the audience a desire to join the revolution.

  • Tell story of current industry structure.  This structure must frustrate, bewilder, and/or anger you – our hero.  Done right you will not need to say it, but your audience will see how the glimpses of a solution you gave before foreshadow the resolution of these issues.  At this point you must have quantitative data; at least charts.  Trend lines, preferably  exponential, illustrating how it is only going to get worse.  A bit of casual social science about why it’s in the culture of the evil kings is good at this point.
  • This, or just after the next step, is a good point to resolve the quesiton of what you learned from your those powerful people in the room, it shouldn’t be the whole answer – it should be an addition to the core.
  • Now you can finally reveal the solution, but though not the demo or the prototype.  You can and probably should be rational, and quantitative.
  • Now double the bet.  Make it clear that the pain your addressing is felt so widely that there is broad demand for a new paradigm.  Clarify why your solution enables it.

That fits most of the stories I’ve heard.  Occasionally  there is another element.  Notice how that story is buyer facing; but it is good if you have additional bit that talks about how you have unique supply side advantages.  The lamest form of this is a single patent or research result.  In the story telling metaphor this is part where our hero picks up his band of uniquely talented buddies – the brother who can swallow the sea, the cat that talks, the cloak of  invisibility.  Weaving these into the story is tricky.  Too much too early and the audience figures out what your doing too soon – which leads to their minds wandering and then they make up objections.  But it’s cool if you can get them into the story early and the mystery of how your going to use that cofounder, or that unusual technology can suddenly become clear as you reveal your answer.  The other reason to get your supply side advantages into the narrative is so you can have charts that show how this revolution is inevitable and timely.

Timely is good because it answers the objection – why hasn’t anybody done this before?  Inevitable is good because it creates urgency to move now; before the revolution/wave – and it’s wealth generating power – breaks.

That framing is another standard framework.  You want to get a population (this industry) to move you build them a golden bridge (your solution) and set fire to their village.  You need to make clear that the problem your solving scales up to being so serious and widespread that the industry is soon going to be on fire.

I was surprised at first that nobody every goes back and explains how their Mom has now been made happy.  But that’s actually obvious, this is a start-up and the story’s not over yet.

One thought on “The Pitch

  1. bhyde Post author

    I wrote the first draft of this post a long time ago, years. And, I didn’t publish it.

    I was concerned that one of the people who’s pitches I’d been listening to would assume it was all about him.

    As I haven’t listened to any pitches recently so that risk has passed.

    Further, it is interesting how it is harder to stick to this story line if your pitching a two sided network business. Where you have two classes of buyers.

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