Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Screwing Up My Elevator Pitch

Elevator Pitch Series Table of Contents:
After having recently written four posts on writing great elevator pitches (Intro, 3 Key Lessons, Content & Delivery) I've become pretty confident in my own ability to pitch. Last week I attended an SDForum event because there was an investor on the panel that I wanted to set an appointment with. After the event I waited in line with other entrepreneurs who wanted to speak with the investor. By the time I got my turn we were standing in the parking lot but I felt it was worth waiting for because I really wanted to speak with the guy. However, when I opened my mouth I stumbled my way through a description of our product that just wasn't articulate to anyone living outside of the Cryptine Networks cocoon. It was a terrible pitch. In fact, it was so bad that he told me directly that he wasn't interested, which is pretty rare from a VC.

This experience exemplifies of several points that I'd like to share in closing my series on elevator pitches.

The first point is to never stop practicing. I believe that I know what it takes to deliver a good elevator pitch but executing requires continuous practice and refinement. My elevator pitch sucked because I got so used to thinking I was good at it that I stopped practicing and I blew a good opportunity because I wasn't prepared.

The second point is that setting appointments is a numbers game because you'll never win 'em all. No matter how good your pitch is there will be people who it doesn't resonate with. So after you've filtered the investors you want to speak with by sector, stage and competitive portfolio companies, pitch early and pitch often.

The last point is that VCs have 'pitch fatigue,' and being the last guy in line probably lowers your chances of receiving a positive or even semi-interested response. VCs get pitched to over and over again. In fact, Tim Oren writes that some VCs specifically avoid the spotlight because the "general press notice just gets a VC a batch of dumb proposals and dumb questions." Lots of pitches + low quality = pitch fatigue. In retrospect, being the last guy to pitch in the parking lot clearly exacerbated the investor's sense of pitch fatigue. The bottom line is that it was worth my time to wait for the investor but we were in the parking lot becasue he wanted to leave and my eagerness to pitch clouded my reading of the situation. Pitch fatigue shrank my margin of error to zero and no sooner I sucked, he stopped listening.

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