This post was written by Kevin Hoskins ’18
The members of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program at UVM were recently treated to a workshop on pitching by Cairn Cross. Cross is the co-founder and managing director of FreshTracks Capital, a venture capital firm based in Vermont that invests in early stage entrepreneurial companies. (He is part of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program’s Changemaker Network, as well as teaching the program’s class on venture capital.)
What is pitching? It is the art and skill of describing one’s project, entrepreneurial venture, or oneself in the minimal amount of words that communicates your message to the listener. For startups and entrepreneurs, it is a skill that can be developed and honed over time with practice and feedback.
Cross began the workshop by outlining a number of different pitching styles. The first, is the one sentence pitch, as illustrated further by Adeo Rossi. It answers the question: “If you had to describe your company or mission in one sentence, what would it sound like?” For entrepreneurs, that response could look like this:
My (company) is developing (a well-defined offering) to help (the audience you’re targeting) (solve this problem) with (your secret sauce.)
The second style is the mantra. A mantra is a sacred verbal formula repeated in prayer, meditation or incantation such as an invocation of a god, a magic spell or a syllable or portion of scripture containing mystical potentialities. Entrepreneurs and start-ups can use mantras to explain their mission in only a few crucial words. Guy Kawasaki, in his video Don’t Write a Mission Statement, Write a Mantra, gives a few helpful examples:
- Starbucks: rewarding everyday moments
- eBay: democratize commerce
- Disney: fun family entertainment
The class was then asked to come up with mantras for The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. It’s important to remember that mantras should be short and sweet, but also outwardly focused. Your mantra should focus on the benefits that you provide to the customer.
Thirdly, Cross discussed the Art of the Pitch for entrepreneurs. The idea behind this is that entrepreneurs should always be prepared with a pitch handy for potential investors, co-founders, or partners. The pitch outline Cross illustrated and the questions you should answer in your pitch is as follows:
- Title (name, organization, contact information)
- The “Ask” (I am here today to ask you…)
- The Problem (what is customer pain you will alleviate?)
- Your Solution (why are we better?)
- Your Management Team (why are you the one(s)?)
- Your Business Model (how will you make money?)
- Any Underlying “Magic” (what is your secret sauce?)
- How Will You Reach the Customer? (sales/marketing)
- Repeat the “Ask”
Cross noted that pitches should be as concise and succinct as possible. Remember that you can only speak at most 150 words a minute comfortably. It’s also helpful, Cross noted, to think of someone on your shoulder whispering “so what?” to better focus on the value your offer needs to create for others.
Lastly, Cross touched upon the idea of the personal pitch. Have a way to describe who you are what you do clearly and succinctly in a way that resonates with people. As a way to frame your personal pitch, think of these questions:
- What’s your motivation?
- What do you do well?
- Why you?
Answering those questions is key to communicating your personal secret sauce.
Do you have a business idea that you’ve been working on? Can you say it in 140 characters or less? Tweet your business idea to @vtcairncross. Just remember to keep it concise!
Editor’s Note: What should we call a business pitch delivered by tweet? A “twitch”? Or a “peetch”?