If you only have a few seconds to communicate the essence of your company, what is the most important message to deliver?
When confronted with this question, most entrepreneurs think about their elevator pitch – sixty seconds of highly condensed hyperbole intended to entice an investor to ask for more. But all the workshops and how-to blogs offered on elevator pitches have probably done as much damage as good. Almost every guide to developing an elevator pitch suggests that you pack the six to eight key points of your 85 page business plan into 120 words. The result is usually an unintelligible gibberish of techspeak embedded in a cloud of superlative adjectives:
“We have a disruptive technology that enables us to fulfill the promise of the Information Age. Our mission is to become the global leader addressing the huge market opportunity in the emerging Enterprise 2.0 space. We have a world-class team of PhDs who have developed our patent-pending proprietary SaaS solution, launching in nine months, that will enable our customers to dramatically enhance their BI deployments and increase the actionability of their analytics.”
What are the three or four sentences that can be spoken by a normal human, and can be understood by a normal human, that really capture the essence of what makes your company so interesting?
Consider the following scenario: You are calling a potential investor, and you get voicemail. What do you say about your company? You could leave an elevator pitch voicemail, and hope you don’t run out of recording space. Or you can distill it down even further – to about 15 or 20 seconds. What do you say? “We found your name on the web and thought if we left you our phone number we might get lucky.” Probably not. Another scenario: You’re at a conference, and you bump into an investor. She asks you what you do. You don’t really have a license to give her the whole elevator pitch. You need something much crisper. You need a “Wow! Statement.”
You need to be able to articulate what is exciting about your company in a few sentences that connect with both the head and the heart of the listener. You have to make logical sense and get the listener’s pulse to speed up. You want the reaction to be, “Wow! I’d really like to find out more.” Not, “How interesting. Have you tried the shrimp?”
The principles of crafting a Wow statement are the same as those for all persuasive communications: Be clear, be credible and be compelling:
- Be clear: Your listener needs to understand in simple, specific terms what the heck you are talking about. Most entrepreneurs go too high and too abstract, or get way down in the weeds with technical jargon. Or they mistakenly think that teasing the listener by being mysterious is somehow clever and enticing. Instead, imagine how the Wall St. Journal or Forbes magazine might describe what you do to their readers. You are best served by offering a simple declarative statement that enables the listener to have a clear image of what it is you do.
- Be credible: Too many entrepreneurs destroy their credibility by using too many empty superlative adjectives and over-hyping their value proposition, or over-stating their potential (“We’re going to be the next Google ....”). Maybe you are going to be bigger than Google, but saying that you are doesn’t make it so, nor does it help your credibility. Instead, if there is something impressive you have already accomplished that enhances your credibility (“Steve Jobs has joined our Board,” or more realistically, “We’ve already signed three paying customers”), let us know.
- Be compelling: Your solution has to represent a dramatic improvement over the current state of the art, not just a nice incremental improvement. And you have to be novel or clearly differentiated – something your listeners haven’t heard before. You might be able to build a perfectly nice business if you have invented a better mousetrap, but if you really want the world to beat a path to your door, you need to offer a non-toxic technology that eliminates every single unwanted rodent in New York City. The trick is to state what is compelling in terms that are clear and credible. One of the best ways to do this is a simple metric: “We can demonstrate a 10x improvement in price-performance, based on our initial customer results.” If you have been clear about what you do, you probably don’t have to spew a bunch of market size and growth statistics; that should be obvious enough. Your Wow does not come from the size of your market, but from the size of your advantage.
For most entrepreneurs who have been living and breathing their incredible innovations for months, if not years, the hard part is translating what is compelling into the frame of reference of an outsider. Some just give up, and take the attitude that, if you don’t understand why this is so exciting, I shouldn’t be wasting my time talking with you. This attitude is not likely to generate a groundswell of excitement around your company.
Take the time with your team and advisors to craft your company’s Wow statement. Once you have something you think is close, test it out, and continuously improve it. When you have nailed it, make sure everyone in your organization has fully internalized it and can repeat it in emails, at trade shows, on voicemails, in press releases, at cocktail parties, on your website – and in elevators. You may need to modify it slightly for different occasions; after all, pitching a customer is different than pitching an investor. But the core Wow! should work in a variety of applications.
In the next part of this series we’ll lay out a framework for developing your Wow statement, and offer some examples to help you put your own Wow statement together. (Part II: A Framework for Building Your Wow Statement.)
Meanwhile, for additional information about launching your venture, check out the Garage website: Resources for Entrepreneurs: Getting Started.
Bill Reichert created this three-part series about how to wow potential investors and customers. Bill has over twenty years of experience as an entrepreneur and an operating executive. He has been on the Boards of CaseStack, WhiteHat, MiaSole, ClearFuels, cFares, and ThermoCeramix. Bill earned a B.A. at Harvard College and an M.B.A. from Stanford University.