Practice your Pitch!

May 8, 2014

What does your startup do?


“If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.” ― Albert EinsteinAbout a year ago, right around the time Kevin Sandlin joined the Village, he also pitched at Startup Riot, went through ATDC’s Pitch Gauntlet, presented at Atlanta Startup Village, and attended a few sessions (as a mentor) of Startup Gauntlet.  In the midst of those events and at the Village, he saw a recurring theme:

Startups must be able to articulate their business briefly and clearly, in response to the simple question, “What does your startup do?”

Kevin had a brief conversation with Jon Birdsong about how and why he created ASV, at Chipotle, of course. From Jon’s insights and experience, Kevin created what is now known as Pitch Practice. It is a HUGE value to the Atlanta startup community and the Village.

Here's more from Kevin-

What is Pitch Practice?

I always tell my kids when they’re struggling with homework or something, “don’t make it harder than it is.”  The same applies here. Let’s not complicate it. Pitch Practice is an open meetup for anyone to practice their pitch. It really is that simple.

The goals of Pitch Practice are just as simple: Pitch. Learn. Network. None of these is a requirement, but those are the goals of the meetup and the reasons to attend. And anyone can attend. Anyone can pitch. Anyone can give constructive feedback. Anyone can attend to network with other entrepreneurs and, every now and then, investors.

Typical Session

The typical session of Pitch Practice lasts 90 minutes, and has 9-12 people attending. Usually 5 people pitch.  For emphasis, we always reiterate the goal of the 30 second elevator pitch: get a meeting.

I ask “who’s pitching today?” because you don’t have to pitch.  Many folks come to Pitch Practice just to hear others pitch and learn or to meet other entrepreneurs.  Then we pitch!  Here’s where it gets interesting, because there are always a lot of smart people in the room ready and willing to pay it forward by giving good constructive criticism.  That’s a big part of the DNA of this meetup: you should be coachable, teachable, and willing to learn what it is that you’re doing wrong.  But first you gotta pitch!

Guidelines: 30-second pitch

I always start the 30-second pitches by walking through the very basics of “the elevator pitch”:

  • Name
  • Company Name
  • Problem you’re solving
  • Your customer
  • Your solution

You have to cover these things in 30 seconds, and that half minute flies by. There’s no particular order, though we have discovered that many businesses will benefit by telling a story (a short one, obviously) that explains the problem first.  Doesn’t work for everyone, but it is an effective tool.

Guidelines: 3-minute pitch

After 30-second pitches have been done, we’ll do 3-minute pitches, some with slides and some without.  Here are some guidelines around effective pitches with slides:

  • No more than 5 slides for a 3-minute pitch
  • Graphics only, no text
  • If you must have text, make it HUGE, like 50 point
  • The slides are the cake; you are the icing. You tell the story.
  • Expand on the elements of the 30-sec pitch by explaining your business model and how you’ll make money.

Without slides, you’re talking to the audience for 3 minutes, which is fine, but doing so requires an extra level of confidence in your story. That said, you should always be prepared to deliver your pitch without slides, because life happens and you might not have a sweet 70-inch screen on which to display your PowerPoint artwork.

These are guidelines. Folks have pitched and broken all these guidelines, while making the audience salivate to know more about their business. THAT is the idea. Whoever the audience is, make them want to know more. The goal of the 3 minute pitch is to get to the “investor presentation”, which is typically 5-6 minutes, though obviously that depends on the investor(s) and the situation.

Guidelines: 5-6 minute pitch

In your 5-6 minute pitch, again, keep it simple. Nice graphics, few words, you tell the story; however, you need to go deeper into your operations, customer segments, distribution channels, pricing model, and how you will make money for the investor.  There are several topics that you really need to cover in your 5-6 minute investor presentation.

  1. Management Team - What do you do, and how will you hire your weaknesses?
  2. Total Addressable Market (TAM): the larger the market, the better the opportunity.
  3. Business Strategy: A good business roadmap of how you are going to get from A - Z.
  4. Value Proposition: What makes you different so your customers will pay money for it?
  5. Strong and Sustainable Financial Picture: Do not show hockey stick growth.

Your 5 or 6 minutes will also fly by, which means that “what you do” is going to be a much smaller piece of this presentation. A good place to start is to repeat that portion of your 30 second pitch. That’s what got you the meeting, so start with that. Then tell the story, and weave in the 5 points above.  Then practice it over and over and over and over and over...until you can literally spout off any of your pitches at any time to anybody.

When you can explain your business to a six year old in less than 30 seconds, you’ve got it.

Great presentations - and hence great pitches - take time, and practice.  That’s the whole reason Pitch Practice exists: to provide a real place for you to do a real pitch in front of real people who are there to help you, not only with your pitch, but also with your business.

#practiceyourpitch every Friday at 1pm at Atlanta Tech Village and follow Kevin Sandlin on Twitter.

May 8, 2014
Karen Houghton