Elevator Pitches Should Work in Two Story Buildings

Quick Summary: Be concise to be memorable. Investors are busy and memories are short.


There appears to be universal agreement on the importance of an effective elevator pitch.  Follow the adages of “less is more” and “one size does NOT fit all” when creating yours. Keep them as short as possible, perhaps fifteen words or so.

The title and subject of this article go back to the Seventeenth Century.  Back then, Blaise Pascal, a brilliant French mathematician, once said: “If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter.” Applying this notion, ideal elevator pitches should be short enough to be said and understood before the elevator doors even close!  As Blaise Pascal implied, being brief is not easy. Expect to spend lots of time developing yours.  Typically, entrepreneurs believe that they have so much to say about their business that they feel it is simply not possible to convey their message in less than a full page, or two or three.  Unfortunately, others rarely take the time to listen to their long-winded explanations.   To quote another saying taken from the movie "Jerry Maguire", your goal should be “You had me with hello.”

Making a lasting impression on investors, prospects, and other potential business colleagues that you meet is only part of the challenge.  You also want them to remember specifically what you said and, equally important, be able to repeat it to others.  The defining characteristic of your elevator pitch should be concise clarity.  The “concise” characteristic can be achieved by limiting your message to fifteen words or so.  Clarity is achieved by the selection of those words expressing the essence of what you offer that is important to the audience, not how you do what you do.  Once you have your audience hooked on your elevator pitch and they are still interested, you can expand upon it with more simple, easy to express and easy to understand supporting statements.  Always keep in mind that the goal of communication is to be heard and understood not just to transmit a message.

Another factor to consider is that you may need multiple elevator pitches, each of which is applicable to a different target audience.  For example, the message that you want to instill on a prospect is probably very different than the message for a potential investor, and the message is different for a business partner.  The key difference is that you want your elevator pitch to resonate with the audience. Essentially make sure you are both on the same elevator!

Below are two examples of elevator pitches.  The first example is for a high tech company whose elevator pitch is focused on individuals that are intimately familiar with the application and similar technologies.  It is not intended for general audiences or even potential investors. Each bulleted statement would be delivered after a pause to allow the recipient time to digest what was just said, and perhaps to ask any questions. The higher level bullets can be used alone or can be supplemented by the sub-bullets.  The second example is targeted at entrepreneurs or CEOs of small private companies (the primary audience of this entire collection of articles).  Although the examples are far from perfect, they illustrate the point of a short, parsed message, aimed at a specific audience.  Also, note that the first line (seven words for the first example and nine words for the second) explains what the company does.  All of the subsequent statements amplify that line.

Example 1: Aimed at prospects who are familiar with the application and technology

  • We allow you to track your movable assets
    • Whether they are people or objects
    • As they move from place to place
    • With no action required by the person or object being tracked.
  • We do this with ad hoc movable wireless sensor networks
    • That automatically monitor their presence at specific locations
    • With internal motion sensors, we can determine if the asset is moving or stationary.
  • Our core technology is applicable to seemingly unrelated markets such as:
    • First Responders
    • Heavy Construction Equipment
    • Shipping Containers.
  • The network can be used anywhere in the world
    • It uses worldwide allocated, unlicensed radio spectrum.
  • We do this with patented technology
    • That provides extremely long battery life
    • That is measured in years, not days.
  • Our network automatically forms and reforms
    • As assets move, appear, or leave a particular area
    • Unlike any other network today, our network performance actually improves as more devices are present.
  • Multiple customers can use our system at the same time and in the same place without interfering with one another.

Example 2 is targeted at an entrepreneur or CEO of a privately held company.

  • We provide operational guidance to startups and private companies
    • Based on our experience of over 45 years working in large public companies, and running several small, privately held, venture capital backed startups.
  • We can help in operational areas ranging from raising money to customer service and virtually all areas in between
    • We have firsthand knowledge in each of these areas and have learned many lessons from our failures as well as our successes.
  • We have found that the basic principles we use apply equally to companies in all sectors.
  • We provide this guidance through short descriptions, antidotes, articles, and quotations that are simple to understand, remember, and share.
    • That can be called upon when the need arises to bring people together to solve business problems as they occur.
  • We also can provide a series of analytic tools to help companies evaluate themselves, their offerings, and their competition to make better decisions.

Here is a short test you can take to test your elevator pitch.  It is an excerpt from an article in the series “Getting to NO Before Getting to KNOW”.  Imagine it is Thanksgiving Day.  You have just arrived at your mother-in-law’s house.  As you walk into the kitchen the smells of the turkey, dressing, freshly baked bread, and all of the other fixings fill the air.  Your mother-in-law and four other people are all moving around in seemingly chaotic patterns.  Your mother-in-law has just taken a pumpkin pie out of the oven, her four-year-old grandson is pulling on her apron as she navigates across the kitchen and she says “So, Jim, I understand you are starting a new company.  What does it do?”  How will you answer her in one short sentence that she will find interesting and memorable?

The task of creating a concise and clear elevator pitch may sound easy, but it is not simple.  Do not be surprised if you spend many hours and sleepless nights pondering it.  Once complete, you will feel relief and a sense of accomplishment.  This activity could be the most important thing you do in starting your company.  Once complete, try it out on several people who are willing to give you candid feedback.  Be ready to start over.  Getting it right will be well worth the effort.

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