It’s the make-it-or-break-it moment that defines the future of your business, the moment where you lay it all on the line, bare your teeth, and expose yourself to the world. It’s the pitch, and for some rising entrepreneurs, it can be the most stressful, vulnerable part of the business-building experience.
The test of succinctly outlining what a particular entrepreneurial project aims to accomplish puts pressure on a budding upstart to put into order a fuzzy cloud of conditions, not all of which are necessarily worked out when it’s pitch time. To put it another way, a good pitch requires entrepreneurs to have more than a vision—they have to have a plan.
Suzanne Muchin, the co-founder and CEO of Bonfire (a company that provides resources for training women for leadership in the workplace), and a professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, doesn’t think that the pitch has to be a crippling moment of overwhelming angst. With more than 20 years of experience coaching young entrepreneurs in the art of the pitch, Muchin knows that is doesn’t have to be an unknowable contrivance aimed at uncertain success. Quite to the contrary, over the years she has built a collection of tools that her experience shows will lead to improved results, no matter what idea is in the pitcher’s hand.
After sharing her insights with audiences at Chicago Ideas Week during the ENT 101 series presented by Capital One, we broke down the meat of Muchin’s session into these four learnings so that you can go into your next pitch armed for success.
1. Ideas aren’t sold. Ideas are bought.
Before we get into details, let’s establish stakes: how you show up and execute your pitch in many ways matters as much—if not more—than what you’re pitching.
People bet on you before they bet on your idea. While, for you, the pitch is about fundraising for particular projects, maybe even about bringing in helpful stakeholders and advisers, for your audience, the pitch is about long-term success and returns. While a solid idea is valuable, your pitch is as much about convincing people about your potential as it is about touting the efficacy of your idea.
2. You need a solid value proposition.
It’s the question that brings you to the brink of the abyss, the question that keeps you up at night: what makes your idea worth anything?
This will be at the front of your potential investors mind, and addressing this clearly, concisely, and resolutely is one of the primary purposes of making your pitch.
You should be able to answer these questions: What could happen if your idea is brought to market? Why (for your investors) should that happen? What would success mean (for the world?
Or, if math is more your groove, think of it as a formula that your company would answer:
We are the only_______ (firm) that ________ (what you do) for _________ (your customer base) ________ in an era in which ________ (norms you’re disrupting).
3. Have a pointy point of view.
When you start out, your impulse is to cast a wide net. Bring in as many potential customers as possible, make this idea relevant to everyone you can.
That impulse is wrong.
“You don’t break down a door with brute force. You bring it to a point.”
You need to be bold, clear, and unyielding in who your idea is for. More important than knowing who your customers are is knowing who your customers are not. Every idea is a conversation, and some people just may not be interested in having the conversation you’re having. That’s fine. That gives you clarity on who you need to be in conversation with.
Your mission is to bring your idea to life, to refine it, to give it air out in the world. That means being clear about who your idea matters to.
It looks like this: A (assumptions) + B (your beliefs) + K (what you know) – dB (what you don’t believe) = Your Business.
Once you know what your idea is, you line everything up behind that point. Then push.
4. Tell a good story.
Your idea is tactile to you. It does a thing. It accomplishes something. It is clear and its value, to you, is assumed.
But it wasn’t always that way.
The best ideas come from years of experience that forced you to make choices. Those decisions and the experiences that came from them are more than the foundation for your idea; they’re the fabric of your life. Which means they are the components of a story.
In a pitch, the people you’re talking to aren’t actually buying a product or service—they’re buying a story. Your idea solves a problem, and if they want to be involved, it solves a problem that matters to them. What you do matters to you, and a truly powerful pitch is all about telling the story of how that came to be the case. Your success hinges on your capacity to sell the story of which your idea is the main character.