Last week I had the opportunity to sit in on a Founder’s Live pitch event in Boston, held at the CIC (where we have our offices). As always, these entrepreneurs were smart, passionate, and promoting incredible ideas. However, of the five participants, three of them received the comment from the judges: “I have no idea what you do.”
On the one hand, this is surprising. The entire point of a pitch is to explain what you do in a way that excites potential investors to learn more. A clear description of what one does would seem to be the first thing these founders would master.
On the other hand, as a brand strategist, I was not surprised at all. Established, moderately successful brands sometimes struggle with this challenge, so why wouldn’t startups?
At some level, all of our branding services include helping organizations articulate who they are and what about them is relevant and competitively differentiated. (In fact, check out our recent case study on how we helped tax strategy consulting firm GAGNONtax update and bring their brand to life.)
So, here are some reasons why a clear one-sentence description may elude you as well as what you can do to find it.
- You’re way too close to it. Your business is your primary focus. You think about it 24/7/12. You know everything there is to know about it and think of little else. It is so easy to forget that not everyone has the level of intimacy with it that you do. Plus, you think, isn’t it obvious? The need is so clear!
Suggestion: Take a step back. Put yourself in the shoes of someone not associated with your industry or the need you’re fulfilling. Ask yourself, what words would not make sense? What need am I meeting that they might not see?
- It’s complicated! It’s not as if the world is getting more simple with each passing day. The opposite is true. Sometimes, the solutions we create are complex and getting their message across succinctly is almost impossible.
Suggestion: Join the Press Corps. Many journalists use a simple trick to learn about a topic quickly so they can report on it: Who, what, when, where, why, and how. By answering each of those questions, one at a time, you will have all the pieces you need to complete your startup pitch puzzle.
- You’re speaking too broadly. Pitch competitions like Founder’s Live have a broad audience. Funders, supporters, potential investors, and hangers-on like I was fill the room, and speaking to them all is challenging.
Suggestion: Prioritize your audience. If you are faced with explaining what you do to a wide array of people and interests, it’s time to prioritize. What type of listener is most critical to your success? In this case, one can argue the judges were the most important (there was prize money at stake, after all). Plus, they were listening with the same ear as investors do. For example, one message to convey sooner than later is your revenue model. The judges had to ask two of the five what it was. For that type of introduction, the revenue model should have been front and center.
Sessions like these reinforce our belief that it’s never too early to Start with Brand™. Never. That means beginning with your startup pitch. A brand strategy is for everyone. Not just the big dogs.
If you struggle with finding a succinct message, fret not, you are not alone. Almost all of the work we do for our clients as a brand consultant involves helping them do just that at one level or another. Brand positioning starts with the one-sentence description.
Remember, try to step back, think like a reporter, and prioritize your messages.
— Douglas Spencer, President and Chief Brand Strategist