I’ve Got 99 Problems but a Pitch Ain’t One

By Stephanie Frias

For the last several months, my co-founder, Shereen Khanuja and I have been pitching our business idea to friends, family members, VCs, EiRs, professors, and unsuspecting children. In other words, we have spoken to anyone within earshot. Over that time, we were confident that we had a pretty decent pitch. Sure, we got some feedback here and there, and attempted to weave it into our content and delivery. However, if you asked me to grade ourselves, we were nothing short of a seven on a ten-point scale.

Then came the LTV Business Plan exercise. The experience re-calibrated both the rubric and our score. I realized that we had been sitting with our own thoughts for so long, that we simply forgot some of the fundamentals. Are you wondering how I would grade our original pitches now? Who needs numbers really, anyway [read: I rather not share.]? However, you can ask me about some of my key takes-aways. Those I’m happy to share.

Have someone else learn and pitch your idea. Our product, Hypeli, is an online marketplace to discover, engage with, and hire performance entertainment, specifically musicians and dance groups. As we dissected our idea with our LTV team, we realized that we were glossing over who was on the other side of the performer transaction. Were hirers brides or talent agents? Were they event planners or promoters? We noticed that we were using many of these words interchangeably, when in fact, they each have different implications for our different business model.

Our classmate Matt Bornstein agreed to pitch our product, and he was excellent. For one, he highlighted elements that we had not focused on previously, such as our unique approach to customer acquisition. That caught the audience’s attention. He also gave a concrete example of a hirer steeped in a dilemma requiring use of our product (i.e. a busy bride trying to find a band for her wedding). A final subtle tactic he used was repeating our business name, Hypeli. Though simple, it was powerful because it helped listeners remember the name after having received so much information. See what I did there?

Put yourself in their shoes. Jules Pieri, Co-founder and CEO of Daily Grommet, was the mentor for the pitches in our group. She made an excellent point about not forgetting that potential investors are real people. When they come in to a meeting, they have myriad things that can be distracting them. Maybe they just learned of a child struggling with geometry, or perhaps their prior meeting revealed that one of their other investments just went bust. Knowing these distractions exists, it is our job as presenters to reel investors in and make them care. We can’t simply dive immediately into product. We have to develop a story that makes our product relatable and immediately accessible.

Don’t kid yourself or others about competitors. That two-by-two diagram that places you perfectly at the top right corner vs. competitors is a necessary evil. However, we must be well aware of what our competitors do well and what they don’t. Since competitors are, were, or will continue to be in business, they know some valuable insights about our arena. We can’t deny that. What we can do is have compelling reasons why our time is now. What has changed about the industry landscape that makes our product more compelling versus what is out there? Whether the momentum is in our favor due to changes in technology, consumer behavior or policies, we must have a supported point of view.

Calculate the Gain/Pain ratio. Another of Jules’ points reminded me of a similar idea presented by Michael Skok, partner at NorthBridge Venture Partners. Michael suggests calculating the pain/gain ratio for customers.[1] Both Michaels and Jules noted that for customers to adopt your product, the gain delivered to them must be at least 10x their cost. Why? Because customers strongly dislike change. Effecting change requires a very compelling proposition that overcomes the inertia in consumer behavior. To convince investors that we get this point, we must provide proof of what we do uniquely well. To help prove that the ratio is favorable for our business, it helps to use examples and case studies. In so doing, we must articulate the problem not only from our viewpoint but also from that of customers. If we can’t explain the customer’s acute pain point before using our product followed by the huge relief for them after using our product, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

Overall, the LTV session was extremely helpful in taking a step back to ensure we always cover the basics and challenge our core assumptions. Our pitch and business idea are much improved because of the experience. We hope to have more of these throughout our journey to ensure we always have a compelling pitch for our product.

[1] Michael J. Skok, “Startup Secrets: Building a Compelling Value Proposition,” Powerpoint Presentation, March 7, 2013, Harvard Business School, Boston, MA.


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