Countless tweaks and revisions improved the flow of the story and finally, after weeks of agonizing over every word, our pitch came together. By Andrea Johnson (Co-Founder & CEO, ThisLife)
"If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough." - Albert Einstein
This great quote perfectly sums up a critical challenge for entrepreneurs. At some point early in the process of developing our “big idea", we inevitably need to explain it to other people: friends, family, potential team members or advisors. That explanation is the pre-curser, the early ancestor, of what will later become our "pitch".
Pitch sometimes seems like a bad word, like a 5-letter version of a 4-letter word. It can suggest disposability and insincerity, and it’s often delivered as a monologue. I don't mean it that way at all, however. I mean it as our best description of the product we've built and loved. As the discussion that engages new people and energizes them about the opportunity we are pursuing. The way an idea comes to life and excites those hearing about it for the first time.
It sounds simple, and yet it isn't. Early on, articulating our ideas is tough because they are still in an amorphous stage. But even as the ideas coalesce it is still difficult. Sometime we are just too close to see clearly. Sometimes the ideas are just complicated. In my case, our product is multi-faceted and that, I think, was the crux of the challenge.
I have developed pitches before. I have done it for internal projects at large companies, for my own business ideas, and for friends seeking a second opinion. I actually thought I was pretty good it. But when it came time to do it for ThisLife, I flailed. I kept describing the product in different and incomplete ways that did it no justice. The snap shot, that short, sweet bit of text that "just grabs you" eluded me. We had parts of the story but we hadn’t pulled them together. We were miles from polished. And it was time to raise our initial round of external capital.
Our team met to brainstorm our pitch together. We started simple: We described the problem we were solving and our approach to the solution. We compared our product to the best of what was in our category and explained why we were different (and better). We drew analogies to similar products in other industries to give people an outside frame of reference. We laid out the value proposition for consumers and the financial model for the business. We illustrated our brand, our marketing plans and our customer acquisition strategy.
We provided background bios for key team members. Each of these elements included the relevant facts and also reflected our goal of engaging and thrilling customers as well as our passion for the product and its potential. And we developed a slide deck with great graphics that told the story of our product and of our beta customers. Countless tweaks and revisions improved the flow of the story and finally, after weeks of agonizing over every word, our pitch came together. We went out with it to raise capital, and were fortunate to secure an investment from a terrific group of investors.
Developing the pitch is difficult but important for entrepreneurs — not only for the fund raising process but also because it forces us to self-assess: What problem am I solving and why is my solution different and/or better?
And the key to a successful venture, I think, is to keep asking ourselves those questions and to keep wrestling with the answers.
Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Andrea Johnson is Co-Founder and CEO of ThisLife, a complete cloud solution for easily protecting, organizing, enjoying and sharing your photos and videos. ThisLife raised $2.75M funding led by Madrona Venture Group in June 2012. She blogs at ThisLife. Andrea, her husband and their three children live in Palo Alto, California. Andrea holds a BA from Dartmouth College and an MBA from Harvard University. Follow her on Twitter at @Andrea_ThisLife.