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Unspoken Secrets of an Elevator Pitch

  • Palo Alto, CA
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startup sarcasm

Your success depends on the quality of your elevator pitch. Basically, your success doesn't depend on much of anything else. The pitch is king. You have to impress the catcher investor in just a few seconds while the elevator is still moving (that's where you are supposed to hunt for that prey). It's not rocket science; you can learn a few basic principles and become a expert. Here they are, the principles.

Huevos de oro (1993) by Bigas Luna
Huevos de oro (1993) by Bigas Luna

Look. Rule number 1: You must look right, like Mark Zuckerberg—the same gray T-shirt every day with the same smile. The way you look must demonstrate that you're part of the community. You're one of us! These three things will help: a beard, an electric skateboard, and an Apple Watch. If you're a girl, replace the beard with a yoga mat and you're all set. By looking that way, you're telling investors that your chances to succeed are way higher than anyone who doesn't have an Apple Watch and is a stranger because of that.

Innovate. These are the words you must include in your pitch: innovation, innovative, innovate. It's never too many. Put them (or their synonyms) everywhere; it's all for good. How about this: "Our innovative solution is an environmental breakthrough"? Nobody knows what it means, but everybody understands that you're a big-time innovator. Even if it's yet another calorie calculator. Investors must understand that you're not just making a software product; you innovate.

Complicate. Internet of Things in lieu of a thermometer, augmented reality instead of goggles with a camera, and global health rather than a database of dentists. You get the idea. Don't be specific; it's dangerous. They may ask you what kind of database it is and how it's different than the other 50 databases on the market. But if you say global health, they won't have any idea what you're talking about, which is exactly what you need. Learn those words and use them whenever possible. Here are some of my favorites for you to remember: business model canvas, viral mechanics, growth hacking, data-driven mentality, design thinking, and game-changing disruption.

Smile. You are super excited about this fantastic opportunity! You're extremely motivated to do this project with these absolutely great people! You're passionate about the idea and fully committed to implementing it! You love the team, the partners, the investors, and the customers—they're all very nice people you're happy to work with! You're very enthusiastic about everything! You love everyone! ... But be careful; don't overact or you may end up in a mental hospital.

Compare. Compare yourself to Uber; you will never lose. It was Airbnb a few years ago and Dropbox before that. Today it's Uber. Start your pitch with "It's like Uber but ..." No matter what you put after that, it will work. All investors are dreaming about getting a new Uber in their portfolio. You should help them make this dream come true. There's no need to be too complicated; just say you're "like Uber but ..." and your chances to score Round A will jump higher.

Imitate. Elon Musk! You have to mention this guy; you absolutely must. Try this: "As Elon Musk said in his book, it is very difficult to build a successful startup". You, being aware of wisdom like that, give them the impression that you're related to the Silicon Valley culture, which is what they want to feel. Always try to show that Elon Musk is a role model for you. Having a T-shirt featuring his face will also help. By the way, don't use Steve Jobs; it's not a trend anymore. Moreover, he is dead already. Stick to Musk.

Respect. Always remember that you and your potential investors are not equal. They have money, experience, reputation, and a Tesla. You have nothing. You must demonstrate that you always remember that. Always position yourself a bit lower, play newbie, ask questions, and imitate interest in everything they say. Never compete with them or even try to argue! They are always right, and they are simply awesome; you're just another nobody. Something like "I'm honored to be in the same room with you" is a very good opener.

Co-Found. You absolutely must have a co-founder, or even a few of them. They could be anybody. A roommate will work or just a friend of a friend who recently quit her full-time job. It doesn't matter who they are as long as you can call them co-founders. Put their pictures and names on your website and always say "we" instead of "I". Investors, in general, love to have a few phone numbers they can call when they realize their money is gone and there is nothing left. Also, it's more fun to invest into a group of people—investors look more serious in that case.

Radiate. Never say anything bad about anything or anyone. You literally have to be 100% in positive thinking mode. That competitor who is stealing your customers is "such a nice guy". That cup of coffee made of some dark powder is "very delicious". The programmers from Pakistan you found on Upwork for $10 per hour are "absolutely awesome". The marketing plan you invented yesterday is "simply great". Never admit any mistakes, risks, or threats. Simply ignore them. Stay positive. Investors like that.

Bluff. You have to mention that the market is absolutely huge, at least a hundred billion dollars. They won't be able to check anyway. Actually, nobody can check that, so don't worry. But don't give a round number; that would be a mistake! It should sound more like $73.5 billion. That's very convincing and will give them the confidence you need—the market is huge and you're not just saying it; you actually did some math. How can they not invest in such a huge and promising market?

Scream. Especially if you're in a public place, you must speak as if you're a bit deaf. Be loud. That will prove that you're absolutely confident in what you're saying, today and always. The investor will be sure you are capable of attracting mates customers and other investors, if for no other reason than because you're not afraid of being that ugly loud in public. You're 100% extrovert—you must demonstrate it shamelessly.

Beg. You may mistakenly think that this is a balanced transaction—they give money and you give part of your equity. You may expect that both parties are equally interested in this. But don't make that mistake. You're begging, and they are giving. Out of courtesy. That's a win position for you. By having money, they expect to be on top of others. This is what capitalism is about, right? Don't take this away from them. You must be ready to shine their shoes. With a big smile on your face.

Love. The truth is that investors don't want to make money. They want to make love. You're a perfect candidate. They are mostly old, rich, lonely, and miserable. Their success stories are behind them. All they have is money, which they are afraid to spend because they understand that they won't make it again. They are used-to-be successful gamblers, but not anymore. Give them what they want: love. Money is not so important, so long as you love each other. Remember, first they must fall in love with you, then they will send the terms sheet.

Did I miss anything?

Rehearse your pitch in front of the mirror in the bathroom three times every morning. I guarantee that in fewer than two weeks, you will sound like a proper SV startup founder. Well, a co-founder—don't forget that. Good luck; you will need a lot of it!