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How to pitch and explain your business

(or: How To Overcome The Pitfall of Every Startup’s Pitch)

I’m apologising in advance for the generalisation I’m going to make here, but most founders cannot explain what their startup is all about. Not in a sentence, not in an elevator pitch and not even if you give them 30 min to present their beautiful deck.

Why? Because either they come from a technical background and look at their idea as a set of features, or because they are so heavily involved in the product, that they can’t see the bigger picture. Sometimes they look at themselves as representatives of the perfect target audience, so they assume they “get it”. And they don’t.

They understand the problem, they know how they solve it, they can profile the target audience and market perfectly, but they can’t put it in one simple sentence. It’s all so complicated for them… They don’t want to leave any feature behind…

I like to think of myself as an intelligent person, however I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I met a founder, heard his/her pitch and end up asking them “ok, but what is it exactly that you do?” I just can’t grasp what is the final product only by hearing them pitch about it.

Usually, seeing the actual product resolves a lot of the open questions but most investors/potential customers will not stick around to check out your product demo, you need to win their attention over the first few seconds.

tweet this pitch2

So how can you go about it? What can you do to improve your pitch or tagline? Here are some basic tips:

There is a difference between a pitch and a website tagline but in both cases the leading principle is that you have to be able to explain WHAT is it that you do and HOW do you do it in one sentence. You get extra bonus point for adding the WHO as well. With Pitches, this will be the starting point for the conversation and it will set the tone and level of interest. With websites you can be more creative and playful. It’s the way visitors will judge if your product/service/website is a good fit for them.

But whatever you do, try to remember the following guidelines:

WHAT = It’s not about the features – It’s about the problem. Or to be more exact, it’s about the solution/result. It’s about what people get out of using your product or service. What problem do you solve for them? How do they FEEL after they used your product?

HOW= It’s not your main feature/s – It’s the way you solve it. Forget about the technical details and try to understand what will the summary of features give you? What kind of an experience will someone get when using your product? What is the whole picture: A _____ messaging app, An ______ Analytic Product? A ______ MarketPlace?  Try to fill in the blanks with an adjective that describe the difference, that tells the “how” story. Then see if you can use other words to explain the same experience (but you don’t have to, you can stick to this formula and it may be good enough).

WHO= It’s not your target audience – It’s who they aspire to be. Try to tap into your target audience’s dreams, aspirations, nightmares etc. Then describe them in a way that triggers these perceptions. let them feel as if it’s exactly what they were looking for.

Emotion = The Secret Sauce – no matter how good your tagline will be, if you are not generating ANY emotion, people will not be able to connect to your product. They won’t be intrigued, they won’t understand why THEY need it and why would they WANT to use it. Using keywords that are based on your target audience research (the who) will help you trigger those feelings. Writing something that reflects this keyword is even a more sophisticated way to get this effect.

Let’s take AirTasker as a good example for all of the 4 points mentioned above:

Airtasker Tagline Mar 2016

  1. Get More Done! – The what. If you use AirTasker you get more things done! As simply as that. People who are looking for outsourcing help are simply trying to get more things done.
  1. (Over 480,000 trusted people ready to complete your task today – The How. A lot of trusted people and a quick turnover. That’s how they are going to outsource your tasks.. As you noticed they didn’t list the search abilities, the secure marketplace features or any other feature for that matter. It’s all about simplifying the “how” to the essence of the experience.
  1. Australia-wide) – The who. It’s clear it’s for Australians, that’s the target audience. But they also “narrow it down” to people who are looking to get more things done.
    People who use outsourcing think about themselves as people who like to get things done. It’s who they aspire to be and that’s why they opt-in for such services.
  1. Emotion – This tagline gives you a sense of accomplishment. It means that if you use AirTasker you will feel good with yourself! Who wouldn’t like to feel good about themselves?
    You also get the feeling that they already ran a trust check for you (reliable), that you have a lot to choose from (variety) and that you can find someone really quickly (urgency). What more can you ask from an outsourcing service?

Here are some other things you should consider when trying to explain your business:

  1. Use the PFLO cycle (Practice – Feedback – Learn – Optimise) – talk to as many people, try starting your pitch with your chosen sentence. Let them reply (don’t ask them anything, just hear them out). Try to learn from it (what questions repeats, what part did they get, what part they didn’t, what information did you have to add in order for them to understand it. Did they laugh? Giggled? Were shocked?). Carefully listening and observing when telling someone about what you do will teach you more than anything else.
    Picked up on something? Great! Fix your pitch and go at it again, and again, and again, until you are as close as you can be to being pitch perfect.
  1. Validate – never base your pitch on a hunch. Come up with various ways to test your slogan: A/B testing on landing pages, use services like Usabiltyhub to show people your slogan without the product name or images and see if they can understand your product based on its description only etc.
  1. Avoid vague statements and buzzwords – saying “The New Way to Hire Great Freelancers” (real example by the way) means nothing… is it an agency? A marketplace? Online? What’s so new about it? Another vague example would be “Where vision gets built”– haa??? Can you even guess what the company does based on this statement?
    The general thumb rule here is that if the same tagline can be applicable to another business, it’s probably not the best one for you…
    look at all the buzzwords you placed in your explanation or tagline (“cutting-edge”, “innovative”, “flexible”) – if they are meaningless and can be explained in a more specific way (e.g what makes them so innovative), it’s time to let them go.

I’ll finish this post with 2 very interesting ways my Behavioural Psychology and Social Media mentor, Eliav Alaluf suggests for testing your pitch:

  1. Try to explain it to a 12-year-old kid. If they can’t understand it, you don’t understand it either.
  2. Try to draw it. If you can draw it, they can imagine it, and you can sell it.

Do you have a unique technique for testing your tagline? I can’t wait to hear about it. Tweet me @yifi or comment below.

Yifat Shirben
Yifat Shirben
Yifat Shirben is an entrepreneurial marketer, with over a decade of international experience in marketing, branding, PR and business development within the innovation and entrepreneurial environment. As a former start-up founder herself, Yifat has developed a unique consumer-driven methodology to analyse and allow cost-effective, tailored made marketing strategies and solutions for start-ups and entrepreneurs. Yifat is also a director at Jayride (ASX:JAY)

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