Pitching, or How to Not be Boring

When I arrived in Silicon Valley in 2014, I knew a little bit about pitching – but it was still challenging to make a stock photo agency sound interesting. On my first day I had a meeting with a seasoned VC, introduced to me through the Nordic Innovation House network. You might have heard stories of how terrifying VCs can be. They meet so many founders trying to pitch them stuff, and have little patience for bad pitches – it shows you either haven’t prepared – or worse, you’re not good enough to make a good pitch = you’re not doing a good job. Luckily, the guy I met was friendly. We went out for lunch, at a sushi place where the sushi would go around the table on a convey belt, and I started telling him my pitch. Not only was I jet-lagged and a bit nervous, I had a pretty boring pitch as well.

“Uhm, so we’re an image agency, and, uhm, we started in 2008.  And uhm our goal is to make it easier for businesses to use images online.. And now we have a service that is like Spotify for images.. ”

You know that face people make when they are a bit bored and a bit skeptical – but try to be polite? Yup, that is the face I got. Why? Because starting with your history is boring, and really – no one thinks it’s difficult to use images. I was offering a solution to something he didn’t think of as a pain – and I didn’t tell him what the pain was.

I was lucky that this guy came from a network of mine, and he gave me the benefit of doubt. He provided me with lots of good advice and feedback, and also gave me a couple of introductions. Imagine what could have happened if I had given him a great pitch?

social network

I’ve written before about the Pay it forward-mentality that characterizes Silicon Valley and the Bay area. It gave me the introduction to this VC, – and then a friend of mine introduced me to Nathan Gold. Nathan is a talented pitch trainer, or to say it in his own words:

“I prepare people for high-stakes presentations by rehearsing them as if they were performing in a Broadway show.” Nathan Gold

To my delight, Nathan offered to give me pro-bono pitching lessons. Before meeting him the first time, he gave me some homework to prepare.

One of the things I did was to read more about pitching and storytelling. One of best books on this topic is “Made to Stick” by Chip Heat and Dan Heat. This will give you a flying start. While reading, you should make notes of all the ideas you get for your own story and pitch. The book is based on a very intuitive framework, and they also have a lot of examples from all kind of industries.

The framework is built around:
Simplicity: Find the core.
Unexpectedness: Try to create curiosity, interest, violate expectations.
Concreteness: Sensory information, human actions.
Credibility: “..are you better off today than four years ago”
Emotions: Get people to care about your idea, make them feel something.
Stories: Tell stories to people!
As I told you, at YAY we would start off our pitch with.. “We’re an image agency, and we started in 2008. Now we have 6 million pictures…”. Boring! It sounds like a traditional company. Then we changed it, to “We’re an image agency, and we’re trying to make it easier to use images”. Boring, and confusing. Nobody thinks it’s difficult to use images.

With help from Nathan, my pitch evolved:

“So what do you do?”
Me: “Have you heard about Spotify?”
“Yes” (If no, explain).

Me:We want to do for images what Spotify did for music. This is a powerful statement!  “There’s no need for you to download images any more than you need to download your music.” This is something most people can recognize, even if they’ve never used a stock photo. “And if you look at the image industry, it’s at the same place the music industry was 5 years ago: Piracy, and no good online solution. You have to pay hundreds of dollars for legal images, or use Google Images, our Pirate Bay, to get illegal, poor quality photos. And you know, using illegal images isn’t a big problem – until it is.” Here I establish a pain for the industry, and our market place opportunity. “We’re changing this with our stock photo streaming service – just like Spotify you can stream all the pictures you need – for websites, presentations, ads, design, social media – and we’re priced as other SaaS: $10/month” – and then the solution to the pain, who the customers are, the price and business model.

This pitch is to the point, and it works 99 out of 100 times I do it. People get the idea, the product, the problem, the market, the price. We also mention that we’re changing a whole industry, and that we have a viable business model, making us more interesting for investors. Normally after this initial pitch the conversation takes different directions, depending on who I’m talking to. I do this version of the pitch to everybody I meet – no matter their background. It’s fun, because now you see the lights turn on in peoples eyes – instead of spacing out.

If you, like YAY, have a an elephant or two in the room with you, try to tackle it head on. We know most people use Google images, and that most people don’t care about legal images. Instead of avoiding this, I talk about it in the beginning – yes people use Google images, and no it’s not a problem. Until it is. 

Living room elephant

If your pitch is off, everything you do will be harder: Networking will pay off less, investors will be less interested, and your potential customers might not even get why they should be your customers. You need a great product, but you also need to know how to tell people about it!

A good pitch will help people understand what you’re doing, and why it’s interesting for them. Help them help you, by being pitch perfect!