From the February 2003 issue of Startups

The more time you spend in business, the more you will hear people refer to "the elevator pitch." The goal of this column is to inform you of what the elevator pitch is, how to develop one and how to use it effectively in the business world. It is an essential part of any networking strategy.

What is an elevator pitch? As an entrepreneur, you may find yourself always pitching your product or service to a potential customer, partner or investor. Sometimes these people only have the 60 seconds it takes to ride an elevator, hence the term elevator pitch. You should not have just one elevator pitch perfected, but rather a few different pitches that you can target depending on your audience.

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Developing the Pitch
Start by deciding how many tailored pitches you want to develop. I would suggest putting a general pitch together and then tailoring it to the investor, the customer or the partner. Then make a list of the most important nuggets of information you want to communicate. Include such information as your product and what problem it solves, prominent executives or board members, customers, when you expect to make a profit, competitive landscape and where you fit in, etc.

Organize those bits of information into a coherent description of your company that answers the who, what, when, where, why and how questions. For example, a start for me could be: "My name is Ben Casnocha. I'm founder and chairman (who) of a San Francisco-based (where) technology company that has developed affordable customer service solutions for the public sector (what). Since our launch in September 2001 (when), we have signed up numerous municipalities and we're on track to becoming a market leader in the customer service/e-government arena." That's just a beginning. If I were speaking to a city manager, I may want to talk more about the product and what specific problems it solves. If I were talking to a potential partner, perhaps I'd talk more about our growth strategies and product lines. To investors, obviously I'd offer more numbers concerning profitability, burn rate and the like.

Don't feel pressured to include every fact about your company in the elevator pitch--simply provide a hook to get the person interested. The ultimate goal of the pitch is to exchange business cards and follow up with a call or meeting to talk more. While you certainly want to engage the person with your story, remember to listen to their spiel as well. People like talking about themselves and their successes.

Here are some other tips to consider:

  • Watch the lingo. Be wary of technobabble or fancy MBA buzzwords. Talk at a level that everyone can understand.
  • Grab the person's attention. Don't let them fall asleep on you. Something like "we're revolutionizing the way government interacts with their citizens" can pique interest.
  • Don't forget the call to action. Even if it's merely an exchange of business cards, you wouldn't want all your effort in putting together the pitch to go to waste!

With an effective elevator pitch in place, you can whip it out at almost every business occasion. It's a must for every entrepreneur.


Fourteen-year-old Ben Casnocha is founder, CEO and chairman of Comcate Inc., a San Francisco firm focused on providing technology solutions for local governments. His work has been profiled in over 50 magazines, newspapers, radio stations, TV outlets and Web sites nationwide. Got something to squawk about? Write to Casnocha at ben@comcate.com.