Pitch Like a Startup

Tim Metzner

As any good startup founder will tell you, nailing your story and ask in a clear, concise and repeatable manner is critical and often the difference between a good idea that gets funded and one that gets discarded. In other words, it’s time to pitch!

While we can’t help you with specifics of the story or ask, we can provide a model/framework for what successful pitches typically look like. Here are some things to consider before fine-tuning the pitch (i.e. what will lead to success).

Structure the Pitch

While getting to the actual “ask” and building a great “pitch deck” is a bit of an art, fortunately, the components of a good pitch have been pretty well established. Make sure your pitch includes:

  1. Executive summary: succinctly articulate the business opportunity.
  2. Team: who is running after this and what makes them uniquely suited for the task?
  3. Clear problem statement: what problem are we solving?
  4. Solution: how are we going to uniquely solve this problem?
  5. Traction: show evidence of validation & progress.
  6. Opportunity: what’s the “size of prize” if we win (prove there’s a compelling market opportunity)?
  7. Why now: why is now the right time to run after this?
  8. Business model: how is this going to make money?
  9. Funding needed & use of funds: see the notes below on how to structure the ask.
  10. Next 12-18 months.
  11. Appendix:

Your goal throughout the pitch is to make the ask seem like a “no-brainer” as much as possible.

Structure the Ask

Depending on the level of fear of failure and risk aversion that exists within your organization, it’s likely that you’ll need to find ways to help make the "yes" much easier. One of the best ways to get to a yes is to tell a compelling, yet believable, big-picture story (where we’re going), but then structure the asks in more bite-size stage gates.

Structure your ask so that resources get released in tranches after hitting specific milestones; this reduces the perceived risk because the organization can “pull the plug” on the initiative if things are not going as expected.

Be specific about the use of funds at each stage gate. For every phase, address how investments will be used and what the expected outcomes are.

Create urgency. Why does this need to happen now? What’s the risk of not doing it?

Be Resilient

Don’t be discouraged by a “no.” In fact, as with startups, pretty much the only thing that’s a guarantee is that when you’re pitching a big vision more people will say “no” than “yes” to innovative concepts. Don’t be deterred. After you’ve received a “no” you need to make a quick decision about whether you’re going to continue pitching the idea or start working on the next ask.

While we can’t offer specific advice about when to keep moving and when to move on, here are some things you should consider: internal politics, how big the idea is, the risk of not doing it, your passion, and the team you have behind you. If you’re lucky, you’ll eventually come across a problem you just can’t ignore—one that’s big enough and you care enough about that you can’t not run after it. Just know that this probably won’t be the first project you work on, so make sure to give yourself enough “at bats” to get there (i.e. be smart about what ideas to bet your job on).

If a “no” means you need to kill the idea, chalk it up as a learning experience. Take some time (with your team) to briefly review the opportunity, how you could have improved your approach and what you learned overall. Then start working on identifying the next problem you’re going to solve with confidence, knowing your skills (and odds of success) will improve with each at bat.

Path to Yes

One of the most important pieces of the puzzle is figuring out who you’ll need to pitch (i.e. who has to say “yes” in order for your project to move forward). Sometimes this is obvious (you have a direct boss with budget who has “sponsored” projects like yours in the past), but often times it isn’t as clear’s far less obvious. In fact, in many cases, unfortunately, there’s not a just a single person you have to ask. Next week we’ll talk about how to identify who exactly you should be pitching—that is, who has the authority to say yes and who is most likely to say yes.