An elevator pitch is a quick description of what your company does. It is so named as it should be short enough to be spat out at a moment’s notice and take no longer than it would take to ride between floors on an elevator. The goal of this micro-pitch isn’t to tell your listener everything about your company but instead to share just enough to get them to want to know more.
There are several ways of doing this — which I discuss in this post — but the most effective method has to be the analog. Using a well-known analog to create an association between your napkin idea and an existing, well-known company is a convenient shorthand to say a lot without having to explain a lot: “Litr.ly (a made up company) is like Dribbble and Google docs for writers; allowing social feedback, editing, and collaborative creation.”
As a potential investor, team member or elevator passenger, I now know that like the design-focused portfolio site, Dribbble, Litr.ly combines sharing of creative work with a peer community. I also know that like Google Docs, Litr.ly allows real-time contribution and editing. As you can see, drawing an analog to your fledgling idea can be very helpful, particularly when talking to a sophisticated or relevant audience (My Mom would have no idea what either Dribbble nor Google Docs do). But it can be overused and is often done very lazily.
Instead of truly understanding the company they are piggybacking on, many entrepreneurs simply pick something popular and force a tortured comparison to make their potential seem as great as the greats. The most overused and misunderstood example of this these days has to be, “We are the Uber of mattresses/musicians/photographers/music discovery/wedding planners/lawn mowers etc.” If you’re not empowering the sharing economy nor on-demand services through technology, this analog is probably wrong.
Not everyone can nor should be the Tom’s Shoes, AirBnB nor Spotify of [fill in the blank]. Unless it’s true, it’s indolent and does more harm than good.
Another problem with just picking the biggest name in tech or in your market is that everyone else is doing it too. If three-out-of-five music tech startups were “Facebook for music discovery,” which one of them is truly innovating? If you are lazy with your analog and others are too, you essentially hide your differentiation. The natural response after hearing the third, “We are the WordPress of potato farming,” is to tune out. Even without hearing your idea, your analog can draw an “Here we go again…” response right out of the gate.
Another common mistake is neglecting to specify which part of a product of a large company you aspire to be like.
Saying that you are the “Google of” anything leaves more questions than it answers because Google (or Alphabet) is a LOT of things: IoT (internet of things like Nest), search engine (Google.com), email (Gmail), social network (Wave or Plus), self-driving cars (Waymo), augmented reality (Glass), maps (Maps or Waze) or any number of other pies the $600 Billion giant has their fingers in.Be specific and be relevant — if you’re referencing Wave, Glass or Plus, you might not be up-to-speed with those products’ current state of being (although Glass will be back albeit with a probable rebrand and redesign).
On the topic of being up-to-speed, beware of hitching your wagon to a known company without understanding their business model, current news and/or revenue numbers. While you are trying to implant success in the mind of your audience, you could also be invoking unintended risk. You may be referencing a flattering characteristic, “It’s a universal marketplace, like Amazon on steroids,” but the wrong person could focus on the fact that Amazon uses a loss-leader strategy (losing money on an initial purchase) on many of its hardware products with the expectation that it can make it up by getting you hooked on e-books and toilet paper subscriptions. So be ready to draw a new analog if and when you need to.
Equally, if you pick a parallel, you need to follow that company on anything and everything that you can to make sure that a good analog doesn’t go bad. Companies get sued, tweet unsavory things, support unpopular causes (or presidential candidates), unjustly fire employees, lose value on their stocks or get acquired by the wrong company overnight.
You DON’T want to be “the Zenefits for…” the week after they were taken to court for malpractice, or the “Zirtual for…” after they laid off 400 employees without notice. Despite their ubiquity, now is probably the worst time to call yourself the “SoFi” or “Uber for…” after their respective CEOs recently stepped down following scandals and misdeeds. Some of these things can eventually blow over or be bounced back from but you’ll be caught with your pants down if the pantheon of success you are pointing to just became a punchline.
If you are reaching outside of your market for an analog, be sure that the glove fits. The Lyft model works amazingly well for cars in ways that it might not in other verticals. While “Lyft for massage” startups, Zeel and Soothe, are both promising companies with great growth, inviting strangers into your house to put their hands on your half-clothed body is a greater risk than getting into a stranger’s GPS-tracked car. While it may be a good comparison, the person you are pitching may agree with Inc. Magazine’s Will Jacovitz who said on the Inc. Podcast, “The Uber-ization of anything but cars could get creepy.”
All of that negativity aside, picking a company role model for that quick elevator pitch is not all potential pitfalls.
Drawing an analog remains a great way to anchor your company’s potential in the mind of your audience and succinctly explains how you will dominate your market
You just have to be sure to:
– Know your audience
– Not overreach
– Don’t be a “me too” company
– Specify which product/feature of a large company’s portfolio you are like
– Be ready to draw a new analog if and when appropriate
– Know the current news and past struggles of your analog company.
– Look beyond the biggest startups and companies for ones that are a better fit
So go and build the next great Warby Parker for dishware or AirBnB for bronies, just don’t let your description be the Titanic of analogs
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