How to Sell Your Startup Idea to VCs in 30 Seconds

By Elevator PitchFOXBusiness

Deirdre Bolton on alternative strategies for retail investors

FBN’s Deirdre Bolton on investing strategies and her new show ‘Risk & Reward.’

When stepping into a FOX Business Network elevator, I ask that one question : "What is the idea?” The entrepreneur is on the spot! There is one cameraman, one audio technician, a producer, myself and the startup guest all in the elevator, watching the elevator doors close together. It is a lot of people in a small space and is The Moment for the entrepreneur to deliver his or her succinct, compelling message -- in 30 seconds time. This is the scenario entrepreneurs are faced with when they come on my show, Risk & Reward on the FOX Business Network. Every Friday, we let a budding entrepreneur pitch their concept to potential investors in a segment called “The Elevator Pitch.”

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The best pitches are from entrepreneurs who are passionate about their company, and can describe in one phrase what it does. With the remaining 25 seconds, they can also tell you how it solves an important problem. All entrepreneurs -- from green to more experienced ones -- always say the same thing:  "the trip from the lobby to the 18th floor goes so fast!” Advice to entrepreneurs: know your material cold. Time is always the enemy, the clearer and more succinct your message, the better.   It sounds hokey, but I tell people to practice their pitches at home with a stopwatch. Do it 50 times, practice until your timing is perfect, practice with a buddy who will listen and offer constructive feedback. Practice in front of a mirror, unless you will get distracted by the fact that you really do need a haircut. Be so confident and so practiced that when you show up in a hustling, bustling lobby after an annoying taxi ride and are jammed into a 27-square-foot spot with three other people and a camera and bright lights in your face, you will be unshakeable. Emily Washkowitz arrived ready to go. She founded Shareswell, and the purpose of her company was clear:

"When people get married, they get silver or China or toaster ovens. We are doing something different. We are providing a way for guests to give money towards a couple's financial future,” Washkowitz said. "Shareswell lets you donate money to a couple's brokerage account, or set one up if they don't have it.” In Emily's pitch, she pointed out a common problem (un-needed gifts). Her company is providing a solution, and if it gains traction, scalability is evident. Emily was passionate in her delivery, she will be married this summer and she is using her own company as a live case. In real life, an entrepreneur must research the backgrounds of the investors he/she is pitching to. The founder should know the kinds of investments the investor has made in the past, and whether the investor is familiar with his/her type of company, and should alter the pitch to differentiate his/her company even more. An entrepreneur needs to be prepared for a potential investor to know a lot about the idea, or nothing about it. A founder needs language ready for both scenarios. (For TV purposes, we don't give the entrepreneur any info on the judges/investors). Also in real life, an investor will want more than a 30-second description, even if the founder manages to snag the investor's attention at an informal gathering or a serendipitous run-in.  In TV, I call prepping for 30 seconds *and* prepping for 30 minutes "accordion answers". The founder has to be ready to expand and contract his/her answers based on the time the listener is willing to give. It is great to have the 30-second version down, but if someone says, "Tell me more,” a founder has to seize that opportunity. Being prepared for short and long-timing scenarios is the key to scoring capital. But in TV and "real-life pitching,” don't put yourself out there before you are ready. The tech and funding environments are fiercely competitive. If you don't have your messaging down, it is a waste of everyone's time.

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