Family Traditions

One tradition that has developed in our family is that each night before they go to bed, my two oldest kids ask me about the new companies I saw that day and whether they were interesting as investment opportunities.  Apart from occasionally leading to "proud parent" moments when they dissect the business opportunity to a T, I am always struck by how some stories I hear retell easily and how others don't retell well at all.

While it would be easy to chalk this up to the more technology driven stories not making the transition from board room to living room, the common denominator is actually that great entrepreneurs have an ability to deliver a message that is compelling, concise and easy to remember such that it can be retold in a way that others understand it perfectly.  In our evening sessions, this has proved to be true whether the company is focused on consumers, SMBs, enterprises or OEM partners.  

While delivering a compelling, concise and easy to remember pitch such that I can discuss the opportunity with my kids is not terribly important, the gist of the message is.  Every time you make your pitch as an entrepreneur the recipient will retell the story to someone else and if all they get is blank stares, your likelihood of success goes down.  This is true if you are recruiting and your candidate goes home to speak to their spouse or significant other; if you are selling and your prospective customer discusses the opportunity with their boss or colleague; if you are speaking to the press and the writer reviews the story with their editor or tries to summarize in their blog; or if you are raising capital and your prospective investor discusses it with their partners.

What makes a good pitch?  The first key point is a simple vision of what you are trying to do and why this is important.  Far too frequently this gets bogged down in how you are doing something rather than why.  My kids, and anyone else for that matter, don't care that you have the best technical approach in the world.  Instead they want to know what the technology allows you to accomplish.  As an example, our portfolio company Goby launched today what they describe as a "search engine for your free time".  While the company is based on a tremendous amount of technology from very smart people at MIT, note they don't use the term "semantic" or "federated" or "deep web" in their pitch because, again, people care about what you help them to do, not how you can do it.  The second key point to communicate in your message is a sense for target markets and how broadly applicable your solution can be.  It is surprising to me how infrequently entrepreneurs fail to connect their idea with concrete market opportunities.  In the case of Goby, the connection point is that 71 percent of US adults find themselves frustrated with the irrelevant search results returned by traditional search engines and there is nothing more frustrating than spending your free time researching how to spend your free time!  Finally, the third key point in any pitch is how the idea, customer value proposition and market translate into a compelling business opportunity.  This is the point where my kids often surprise me with their insight based on the simple statement, "but Dad, i don't see how that would ever make any money".  At the end of the day, we are building companies and if there is no means to generate significant revenue, there is no company to be built.

Don Dodge recently had a good post on what should be in a short pitch, but the discipline I would encourage is to distill all your messages into a single powerpoint slide or if you are more ambitious, a single twitter message.  Either really forces the communication of what you do, why it is important, who cares about it, and how that will translate into revenue into a few, powerful sentences.  And then, when you are done, try it out on a 13 year old!

4 thoughts on “Family Traditions

  1. Desmond Pieri September 28, 2009 / 12:10 pm

    I like the thought of getting it down to a single slide, or maybe even a singer twitter message! In a previous life, I taught new sales reps how to write proposals for selling computer systems. Everyone’s proposals always seemed to come out around 45 – 50 pages, and this was in the days BEFORE word processing. I used to teach the reps that they could keep the long proposal, but they HAD to write a one page summary that a senior executive could read and give a “yes / no” buy decsion.
    I would recall the story (maybe an urban myth, I never found out) that the CEO at Boeing at the time that Boeing was deciding to build the 747 insisted that nothing reach his desk that was longer than one page long. Since the computer systems we were selling were far cheaper than the 747, I’d argue we should be able to get our proposals down to a page.

    Like

  2. chazard September 29, 2009 / 5:24 pm

    I normally just say Friend of Rich!
    But if forced to live up to my own posts, i would say:
    “early stage VC partnering with passionate entrepreneurs to create tech
    companies that address significant pain points in large markets” (134
    characters)
    On 9/29/09 12:58 PM, “typepad@sixapart.com” wrote:

    Like

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