The Pitch
Emma Watson, founder of Little Hotdog Watson, pitches at The Pitch Final 2019

How to write an effective elevator pitch

Pitching your startup in less than two minutes is always a challenge. There are hundreds of things you could cover in an elevator pitch, so it’s important to understand what your audience needs to know and what could be left for a follow-up email or investment pitch deck.

Whether you’re pitching for investment, clients or at a startup competition like The Pitch, you have to be able to distil your business down into a few sentences. These sentences need to convince the audience that you have the idea, team and traction to succeed.

Even if you’re confident that you could pitch your startup off the cuff, it’s well worth putting the time into learning how to write an elevator pitch. Why? Because it takes valuable time and effort to get in front of the right people – angel investors or retail buyers can take months to pin down. 

When you do finally have the floor, it’s crucial to be able to put your best foot forward and deliver a pitch that gets your startup remembered for all the right reasons. 

In this article, we’ll look at the key elements when writing an effective elevator pitch and how previous Pitch finalists have used them.

The seven steps of a great elevator pitch

While you’ll need to tailor your startup’s elevator pitch to meet different audiences, most great pitches include the same key components.

  1. Hook
  2. Customer problem
  3. Your solution
  4. Market and competition
  5. Traction
  6. Team
  7. Your ask

These components are the best place to start when you’re writing your pitch. The level of detail you go into will depend on the stage of your business and length of the pitch, but make sure that you try and touch on each point. 

If you find yourself getting bogged down in a certain area, begin with an overview that allows you to plan out your pitch. Then you can go back and fill in the details.

Hook

The hook makes people sit up and listen to your pitch. In most scenarios, your pitch will be sandwiched between dozens of others. At our semi finals, we’ll hear as many as 12 pitches in an hour – how are you going to stand out?

“The best introductions make me stop and think. They’re memorable. They hook me in with something surprising, shocking, amusing or interactive. It could be a surprising statistic, a personal story or a question designed to make the audience examine their own response,” explains Lucy-Rose Walker, pitching coach and founder of Misadventures in Entrepreneuring.

These introductions act as conversation starters that the audience will remember and reference later. At one semi-final, a founder asked the audience to raise their hands if they had an item of clothing in their wardrobe that they’d never worn. Another promised to give a thousand pounds to anyone who could book a ski trip in less than six clicks.

Both hooks were incredibly simple, but memorable.

Humour works, too. Yang Liu, founder of underwear startup JustWears, starts her pitch with the iconic line: “I only care about two things: your balls.”

Customer problem

Once you’ve hooked your audience in, move onto the problem. If you don’t articulate the problem and why it matters, you risk getting a “But why do I care?” response at the end of your pitch.

Encourage the audience to personally relate to the problem. How might they encounter the problem in their daily lives? Why is it important? Does it cost them time or money that could otherwise be saved?

If your problem is something your audience might not be familiar with, use an anecdote. Provide a character that they can emotionally connect to and empathise with. 

Your solution

This section illustrates how you’re solving the problem. It’s one of the most important parts of your elevator pitch, so don’t be vague. Get across exactly what it is that your startup does and what your unique selling point is.

Tailor your language to fit your audience. If you’re pitching to a specialist investor, you can use technical terms to convey your expertise. But if you’re pitching at a competition or networking event, use language that’s clear and simple. 

It’s a good idea to test your pitch on a couple of people who have nothing to do with your business or industry. Once you’ve given your pitch, get them to explain back to you what your business does and why.

Market and competition

What’s the current market size for your product? How is it changing each year? Answering these questions helps give audiences a sense of how big the opportunity is.

Avoid using numbers that are grand but vague, which can undermine your credibility. If your company creates healthy snacks, don’t quote the entire health food segment as your addressable market size. Instead find research that more closely matches your target audience.

Once you’ve identified your main market, find smaller, niche markets you could reasonably succeed in. 

When you’re talking about the market, you need to mention competition too. They’re the elephant in the room, particularly if you’re going up against big companies. Talk directly about why your business is different and how you can seize market share. 

The level of detail you cover in this section will depend on the length of your pitch.

Read more about validating market size and getting financials in order for investors.

Traction

Traction is the palpable progress your startup has made so far. It’s essential to cover in your elevator pitch, because anyone can have an idea – traction is what validates it. 

While some audiences might be swayed by a great story or charismatic pitch, most of the time your success will hinge on cold hard facts. 

If your business hasn’t launched or is still brand new, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can’t mention traction. Every business should be able to demonstrate that people want what they’re offering.

Traction can be shown by:

  • Meetings with key partners or suppliers
  • Social followers or email subscribers
  • A pilot or successful demo
  • Customers or users

Team

Your team proves that you have the right people to make your business a success. In 90 seconds, you don’t have the time to deep dive into the background of every person. A sentence or two is all you need to let the audience know you’ve got the required skills and experience.

If you’re a solo founder, talk about why you’re equipped to take on the challenge. Mention any experienced mentors that are providing advice and direction. Investors will be considering whether you have the skills to achieve what you’re planning.

In a short pitch, you’ll probably be restricted to outlining the founding team. Here’s how two The Pitch finalists succinctly demonstrated their expertise:

“My background is in content and sustainability. My co-founder’s is in product, sales and machine learning,” said BizGive co-founder Louise Downing.

“We have strength and depth in the team. I previously worked at an accelerator and my COO previously worked at a dating app that successfully exited,” said dating app CLiKD founder Mike Blakeley.

Your ask

End your pitch by letting the audience know what you want from them. If you’re pitching in a competition, what connections do you want to make? What difference would winning make to your business? If you’re pitching to an angel investor, how much money are you seeking and why?

Pitch your way to startup investment

The Pitch is a national competition that gives startups the chance to pitch to a panel of industry-leading investors and entrepreneurs. Previous judges include Crowdcube founder Darren Westlake, venture investor Tom March and early-stage investor Ezechi Britton MBE

It’s completely free to take part and any startup that has been trading for less than three years can apply. If you still get nervous when pitching, don’t worry – we run friendly and informal sessions before each live event where you’ll get advice on how to improve your pitch.

Sign up to our newsletter to stay updated about key dates for this year’s competition. 

Kat Haylock

Kat Haylock

Kat is the head of content at Inkwell, the company behind The Pitch. She's worked with small businesses for the last four years, championing Britain's startup scene and anyone who has snacks.

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