I’ve met a few people recently who were pitching their new business. It struck me that people often struggle to describe their business to an outsider in a way that makes it compelling and coherent. Getting the pitch right is one of the fundamentals of making your business work and over the years I’ve had some great advice on this, notably from Bryan Keating, Doug Richard and Bill Liao.
The basics of this are that getting your pitch perfected is the best use of anyone’s time and while it can be difficult and take a long time, it’s almost always free to do and is so completely worth it. Human nature means that businesses always do too much which creates a barrier to investment, sales and profitability. Having a well refined pitch can help avoid doing this and gives you a reason to stay focused and say “Nah, we don’t do that because its outside of what we’re good at”. A few gems that I’ve remembered:
1. Narrow businesses succeed – make your business as narrow as you can early on & then execute relentlessly;
2. Get your product to sell itself – this is possible only if customers will sell it for you so figure out what the single feature makes your product truly awesome and focus on that to the detriment of everything else;
3. Write down a profile of your customers – give them names and tell the story about how they will use your product so you can understand how everything you do will help them or bring them to your company;
In all of this you need to teach yourself to describe:
1. What your customers want. Customers buy a product for one of two reasons – to take away pain or to get competitive advantage. There are no other reasons. Decide why your customers will buy your product and build every feature with this in mind;
2. Your story. It’s no good saying, that taxi drivers have a problem doing this or that. You need to be able to tell the story about the day you were in a taxi, saw that the driver wasn’t able to do something you thought was obvious or easy and you got out of the car in the middle of the street to go off and build your product. This is all about telling your story which, as Doug Richard points out, is the fundamental bit of making an early stage business work, not least because it’s the only thing you’ll have early on;
3. Your promise. This is tied up in your brand and your company’s identity. Decide what you promise to do for your customers that no-one else can do or that you can do better than everyone. The promise might change a little in focus depending on who you’re talking to (bank versus customers) but if you get this right everything you do – your customer service, marketing, values and culture - will flow from this. Everyone who knows says you should be brutally clear about this – rehearse it in front of the mirror and write it down. Also think how it will look on a web page or in a tweet as this is where most people will see it.
I think this stuff is incredibly important and it’s something that we work at every day at Learning Pool. Although we have grown a portfolio company we still try to make sure that we stay as narrow as we can to succeed while broadening the portfolio so we can grow. We also do A LOT of storytelling because it helps us achieve so much. Telling a story gives the people you are talking to a sense that things are real, they see the passion in your eyes for what you are doing and they learn to trust you. I sometimes feel sorry for the guys in the team who listen to me tell the story about the day we decided to build our first LMS product day after day but then I’m reminded… its 30% of our revenue and we wouldn’t have a bloody business without that story! Its also true and was one of the coolest days we’ve had at Learning Pool so its going to stay around for a while!