The concept of an elevator pitch is so common in the startup community it’s easy to forget (or overlook) the unlikely premise it’s based upon.
As many founders already know, an elevator pitch is a summary of your startup’s value proposition and mission that’s compelling, convincing and short. So short, in fact, that an entrepreneur could deliver it while travelling in an elevator with a potential investor, partner or customer.
It’s probably safe to say that most startup leaders focus on the pitch, but make some assumptions about the “elevator” part of this metaphor.
You might imagine, for instance, that the elevator ride takes place in an extremely tall building, which will offer at least ten minutes to get across why your firm will become a market leader.
Another assumption is that the ride will be uninterrupted — that you’re in one of those express elevators that only goes straight up to the executive penthouse on the very top floor, perhaps.
Now think about the last elevator ride you took in real life. It was probably only a few floors up, taking less than one minute. Or if it was a ride up or down a very tall building, it was probably punctuated by a series of stops along the way, with multiple people getting on and off before you reached your floor or returned to the first level.
This is actually a much better way to conceptualize life as an entrepreneur if you’ve already made some progress with a startup. While the initial elevator pitch you used might have worked to get into an incubator or accelerator program, things change once you start to launch your company into the market.
When things go well, you might manage to win a round of funding from a major investor. That’s great news, but it might also mean you have to reformulate the contents of your elevator pitch to reflect the investor’s feedback on your strategy.
In other cases there will be new competitors that crop up without warning, or realizations that come from serving your first customers that make it clear your elevator pitch will have to be refined.
This might be a bit frustrating at first, because founders tend to know their elevator pitches by heart and have worked hard to make them sing. Updating your pitch doesn’t mean throwing all that hard work away, however. Think of it as simply adding new lyrics, or singing in a slightly different key.
Keep some of the following elements in mind as tools to update your elevator pitch for whatever course your ride takes you on next:
When you first created your business, you probably developed a business plan based on in-depth research about the market and its needs. A lot of what you included there, whether it was statistics about your addressable market and key pain points, might still be true. As you make your first sales, however, you have more real-time information to weave into your pitch.
Think about the difference you can make by leveraging what you learn through your CRM, such as the typical size of your customer, the length of the buying cycle and the share of wallet you can achieve based on cross-selling and upselling. These are all data points that help investors and other important stakeholders understand your growth potential. It makes your pitch more relevant than what you used to first get the company off the ground.
Build validation with customer voices
You still might not have a very large number of customers, but that's okay. What matters is that they’re happy customers and that they give you testimonials or case study material that can be briefly touched upon in your elevator pitch.
“XYZ Corp. has already improved (Pain Point) by (Number) %,” could become the killer line that showed your audience you’re quickly gaining traction in the market.
If the customers are well-known brands, just mentioning their names in your pitch can help bolster your credibility the next time you're pitching. If you’re using slides as part of an elevator pitch, include their logos or any quotes that might make an impact.
Lots of startups want to describe themselves as “category creators,” but the reality is that few products and services are truly unique or new. Instead, revise your elevator pitch by focusing on your positioning — what you are and why it is important to a particular set of customers.
This has likely evolved a bit as you’ve started to run your business. A startup might have first have been positioned as simply a health-care company, for instance. As it gained some initial customers and recognized the special problems they needed solved, the positioning might change to reflect that. The same startup might now position itself as, “a patient-centred health-care firm for people who want their parents to enjoy the best of their senior years.”
The more specific the positioning in your elevator pitch becomes, the more it will stand out from others, and be memorable to your audience.
One of the biggest challenges with elevator pitches is cramming everything in and dealing with short attention spans. That’s especially hard for early-stage startups who haven’t even gotten a chance to test product-market fit. In due course, however, you might have begun to develop a content marketing strategy alongside your initial sales efforts.
If you have a great blog, for example, your pitch might end with a suggestion that the audience check out a particularly insightful post. Other possibilities could be a throw to a video you shot, a link to a webinar you recorded or your most relevant social media account handles.
These are all areas where your story is told on a more ongoing basis, which means they give those hearing your elevator pitch a sense of where to continue to learn more about you. Or, to put it another way, it will let you end your pitch with something for them to do once they finally step off that metaphorical elevator.