Refine Your Business Idea: Our Elevator Pitch for Future Founders
The term “elevator pitch” typically refers to a brief and persuasive introduction of oneself or a value proposition, aimed at capturing the attention of a customer, investor, or other key stakeholder and hooking them into a longer conversation.
Working with Future Founders at Menlo Labs, I’ve found that developing an elevator pitch is a powerful exercise for helping entrepreneurs sharpen their thinking around a potential new business idea. Coming up with innovative ideas is a challenge in itself, and founders are often caught spinning their wheels, struggling to bring clarity and focus to their vision. By forcing founders to succinctly capture their idea—even at the earliest stage—an elevator pitch provides a foundation from which to gut-check and assess it. Once a pitch is ready, a founder can test it with different audiences (fellow founders, industry experts, potential customers, etc.) and gather outside feedback to inform the next steps. At this stage, the next steps might mean going back to the drawing board! That’s the purpose of the elevator pitch: to ensure the key components of your idea are clear and compelling before investing significant time and resources.
Our Format for Future Founders
The key to a successful elevator pitch is to be concise—you should be able to communicate it in the time it takes to ride an elevator (30 seconds to 1 minute). We recommend keeping your pitch to a maximum of 250 words (the length of this post so far). A strong pitch will include the five key components that make up any new business idea: the problem you’re solving, why it should be solved, for whom you’re solving it, how others are solving it, and your proposed solution.
At the core of any successful business is a problem that needs to be solved. Your pitch should clearly define the problem and provide unique insights into why it matters. These insights should reflect your novel understanding of the customer or market that others might not have. You might draw on personal experience, market research, or an informed opinion on why this is a problem.
Timing is everything, and history is littered with failed startups that arrived too early or too late. Your pitch should highlight why now is the right time to tackle this problem. Industry data and statistics can be helpful in developing this point of view. This could be recent trends in the market, shifts in consumer behavior, changes to regulation, or new emerging technologies that enable your idea.
Your target market is the specific group of people or businesses that your product or service serves. It’s important to define the buyer or user. When you have a solid understanding of your customer, such as their demographics, user habits, and particular needs, your business concept becomes more focused.
Founders need to know their industry well. You should be able to describe the relevant market players and how their approaches resemble or differ from yours. Conducting market mapping exercises like those developed by Steve Blank can be helpful for this. But competition isn’t restricted to incumbent businesses and challenges in the market; your solution may be competing with manual tasks like paper records or clunky workflows that involve a number of siloed tools.
Finally, you need to have a vision for your high-level solution and how it’s differentiated from existing solutions. The key for very early business concepts is to keep it high-level; at this stage the idea is bound to evolve. Instead of describing product features, focus on the benefits. What is the unique value proposition that sets your solution apart from others?
To make sure you’ve hit each component, it can be helpful to color-code your pitch. These components don’t need to follow a strict order, so feel free to arrange them in a way that flows naturally. Lastly, aim to create a conversational and narrative-like tone for your elevator pitch, as it will ultimately be read by another person, and a pitch that connects with them will be much more effective in getting your message across. Here is an example of what a hypothetical elevator pitch might have looked like for one of our portfolio companies, Rover, back when they were first getting started:
At Menlo Labs, we use this elevator pitch framework as the very first step with founders who want to explore new business ideas with us as part of our Future Founders community. More often than not, we cycle through several pitches until we land on one that feels compelling. Entrepreneurship is not a linear process, and the best ideas often take time (and multiple iterations). It’s crucial to have the perseverance to keep pushing forward, refining your pitch, and pivoting as needed until you land on a pitch that resonates and explains your concept in a way that inspires people with your thinking. So go ahead, give it a try, and see where it takes you!