The first decade of my career saw me joining as an early employee at an uptrending technology company and riding the growth wave all the way through an IPO and eventual exit for $644M. As part of my responsibilities during that exciting period, I built and launched healthcare IT’s first innovation app store, Greenway Marketplace. Today, the partner ecosystem consists of 100+ companies providing value-added services and solutions to thousands of healthcare providers and generating millions in annual recurring revenue. In order to identify and recruit these partners, I formally evaluated more than a thousand companies during my four years overseeing this program.
As you can imagine, seeing this volume of pitches over such a short period of time allowed me the opportunity to adeptly identify the companies that would be an ideal fit for our program. The added upside was that we could see the level of success achieved once a partner was launched, which further helped us hone our evaluation criteria.
Based on this extensive research, my findings are that the following steps are crucial to a successful pitch:
Start strong. The opener during any initial call I conduct is, “Tell me about what you do.” Surprisingly, many startups have a difficult time clearly articulating the value they bring to the table. While building a business around an idea obviously involves knowing what you intend to do, being able to share what you’re actually doing is another story.
The best opening follows a simple pattern: outline the problem, then detail your solution. Seems elementary, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to an opening response drag on for 10-15 minutes and I’m left more confused than enlightened. Why do you think concerts always start with popular songs? The musician knows they can just as quickly lose the audience as they can draw them in … your goal is to wow them from the very beginning! Practicing a short opener where you identify pain and make the cure you’ve created resonate clearly is the best way to pull in your audience and start in the right direction.
Be concise. Similar to the first point, you want to ensure that your value message is to the point. If explaining what your company does takes Shakespearean soliloquies, you’re doing something wrong. I literally met a guy in an elevator one time and in striking up small talk, he explained his business before we hit the lobby. Granted it was a high floor in Vegas and we had a handful of stops on the way down, but the fact that he had tightened up his value proposition to paint a clear picture told me a great deal about him. The classic elevator pitch cliche, played out in real time before my eyes.
You see, it’s not just that a direct message means less wasted time for both of us, it gives insight into how you will present when you’re selling to potential customers. Potential investors, vendor partners, etc are all thinking about the bigger picture, not just how your presentation comes across in that one instance. We look for confidence, competence, delivery, passion … and if you can combine all of those characteristics with a concise pitch it speaks volumes to what we ultimately want to know: how prepared is this company to consistently win?
Impress with strategic opportunism. If you’re working at a startup, odds are you’re passionate about what you’re doing. Rarely will you find someone who is taking the road less traveled, betting their life savings or working 80-hour weeks not actually believe in what they’re doing. We expect to see your excitement and optimism poured on throughout the presentation. But your message will come across with even greater success if your passion is backed by solid market analysis and a well-defined plan of attack. Someone who is merely passionate about their product and/or company but has not identified what the market demand is or figured out how to drive success leaves a hollow aftertaste when the meeting is adjourned.
Again, looking into how the entrepreneur thinks and prepares is going to reveal a great deal of what an investment in this company could potentially return. Showing an opportunistic eye and strategic outline of how you intend to dominate will undoubtedly create piqued interest while instilling confidence and illustrating that your company has their act together.
There are countless ways to ensure your startup pitch is well received, but from my experience, mastering these three steps will help immensely. When you see presentation after presentation over a long period of time, the ones that have put a focus on perfecting theirs are easy to spot … and the ones who pitch well reveal a great deal about their work ethic and focus - both key attributes to leading a successful startup!