I’m currently advising a financial startup that is what I’d describe as being ‘highly engineered’. The Founders have thought of everything, and if their Whitepaper was an actual physical document, I guess it would be the size of an old telephone directory. Believe me, it’s comprehensive! The problem is that it’s too comprehensive for the initial reader. There’s a reason why news programs begin with the headlines – so that we can immediately understand what the main points are, and whether they are important to us. Only then do we decide if we want to watch, or read the detail.
The KISS principle was proposed by an engineer named Kelly Johnson back in the 1960s when he was working for the US Navy, and rapidly spread through the American armed forces. ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’ is the idea that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated. For ‘systems’ you can also substitute ‘marketing’.
We are all familiar with the concept of the elevator pitch – that three minute opportunity to give all the important information, headline-style, without the backup of documentation, slides or any fancy stuff. Surprisingly however very few startups truly develop or practice their elevator pitch. Hundreds of people-hours will be devoted to getting the Prospectus and website just right, and yet the potential of that all-important three minutes is forgotten. OK, maybe the Founder will never actually ride an elevator with a potential key investor, but what if… How prepared is your business for that unique opportunity to impress? At any point you could get an introduction to a potential funder – at a conference or meetup for example – and that’s when your story must be focused and deliverable in a very brief window of opportunity.
There’s always the temptation to talk about the detail – of what a great engine we have, how the cylinders are micro-engineered and so on. What we need to remember is why the engine exists: to power the car, to transport us from A to B. We presume that our listeners know what a car is and what the benefits are, then dazzle them with engineering details when maybe that’s not what they need to know. I mean, how often do most people even spring the hood of their car to admire the engine? – Quite rarely, I suggest.
So the KISS principle is a valuable one, especially when pitching to investors. Never presume anything without checking in first: “I presume you know what the engine in a car is for…” The probable answer is ‘Yes’, in which case you can move right on to the pitch, but it really is worth always confirming that your assumptions generally match the knowledge of your audience. Seems obvious? Yes, but Keep it simple, stupid if you want to get your message across.
And what exactly is that message which must be accomplished in three minutes in an elevator, or on a single introduction page of a website?
Number one: What is your product, service or company? Practice and sharpen this until you can deliver it with laser-precision, until the least amount of words deliver the maximum clarity.
Number two: What problem do you solve? Startups usually concentrate on their unique solution without ever addressing a problem. If there’s no problem in the first place, then there’s no need of your solution. It’s a solution looking for a problem, and that’s the wrong way round! Your offering must always be based on a problem and the need for a solution to it.
Number three: Why are you different? Most Founders are in love with their offering and believe that what they’re bringing to market is really new, and even unique. In reality it’s probably only ‘a bit unique’ because it’s very hard to create something which has never ever existed in the world before. Most things are a variation or small step change from something else. And yet your offering must be different, so you really need to drill down to find your true niche. When you are there, you can then impress people with your degree of differentiation.
Number four: Why should your audience care? If you get the pitch right for the three previous stages, you still have to satisfy the need for your potential investor to care, otherwise you’re simply blowing hot air. Getting a funder to care is paramount, but to do that you have to know what makes them tick, or rather what ticks their boxes. If you’re attending a meetup for example, study the attendee list, read the bios, check out the social media of the people you could possibly get stuck in that elevator with. Do your homework! Everyone has their trigger points, the moments when ‘No’ turns to ‘Maybe’ turns to ‘Yes.’ A great pitch always satisfies the need of your audience to care about your offering.
So practice, practice, practice, and KISS!
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