Fast Company

Perfecting Your Pitch, Part One: Assume Short Buildings

Bill Joos, vice president of business development for Garage.com, teaches entrepreneurs how to perfect their elevator pitches -- a sales lesson anyone can apply in under a minute, or in fewer than three floors.

Bill Joos preaches the art of the pitch for Garage.com a venture-capital investment bank that's helped more than 60 startups raise a total of $200 million since 1999. Joos, who learned to sell in IBM's legendary training program, has adapted that experience to the new, faster world of Internet startups. The soul of his sermon? Brevity brings the best results. Following is Joos's eight-point program for bringing your elevator pitch to new heights.

1. Assume short buildings.
Joos is fond of quoting Mark Twain's bon mot, "I didn't have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one." Some elevator rides may last more than 60 seconds, but don't allow your pitch to last more than a minute. Brevity requires effort -- you must think hard about the essentials of your message and ruthlessly cut away the unnecessary details.

2. Put a tag on it.
Joos recommends starting with a tag line -- a wordplay to pique interest in your pitch. For example, GE "brings good things to light," Archer Daniels Midland is "the supermarket to the world," and the New York Times publishes "all the news that's fit to print." A tag line must encapsulate your business's core purpose or product, but, more important, it must grab your audience's attention -- you'll fill in the rest a few sentences later. Joos's personal tag line? "At Garage.com, we start up startups."

3. Solve a problem.
Avoid sounding like a solution in search of a problem. Right after your tag line, launch into an explanation of the need you plan to meet. If you aren't solving a problem or filling a need, you're in for a tough sell.

4. Turn adversity into opportunity.
Every problem offers the opportunity for a solution. Once you've presented your prognosis, lay out your prescription. Boil down the unique elements of your approach into one or two sentences.

5. Lay out the benefits.
Remember this subtle distinction: You're not pitching a great idea, team, or product ... at least not in the elevator. You are pitching what your idea, your team, and your product will do for investors and for customers. This is the time to lay out your mission statement. How will your business benefit the world?

6. Conclude with a call to action.
Always end your pitch with a call to action. Different audiences prompt different requests. Ask friends and acquaintances if they know anyone who would be interested, who's working on something similar, or who's working in the investment world. Ask angels and VCs if they'd consider investing, if they'd take your call, or if they'd be willing to set up a meeting. If you're really in an elevator, offer to walk straight back to the office to talk more.

7. Make it tangible.
Throughout your pitch, talk in tangibles, not abstractions. Frame the problem, your unique solution, and the benefits your company will bring to the man on the street. Keeping it tangible means killing MBA- and tech-speak. Joos fondly recalls one mission statement he helped transform for a Garage.com client that makes a little box that encodes digital signals -- plug your phone into it, call someone else using another little box, and you're on a secure line. The client's mission statement? "Utilizing the 20-48 Diffie-Helman key exchange of 160-bit Triple DES ..." You get the idea. The new mission statement: "We safeguard your communications."

Keep your pitch short, and keep it at a level people understand viscerally.

8. Show your passion.
"A good pitch changes the pulse rate," says Joos. "When we look at a business plan, we look at the normal kinds of things -- the numbers, the competition, the market -- but we also look for fire in the belly, a passion to succeed at something that's never been done before. That passion has to come across. You have to act like a new parent showing off pictures of your newborn. If you can't get me excited about your plan, we're done. You have to change my pulse rate."

Next week: More tips from Bill Joos's talk at Garage.com's Bootcamp for Startups in Boston (September 2000). For more information on Garage, their boot camps, or Bill Joos, go to Garage.com.

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