Deconstructing Ideas

Everything I’m Hoping Is in Your Elevator Pitch

When I attend a pitch event, I sit with a notebook in my lap and sketch out a quick value chain of each product or solution while it is being described. At the end of each pitch, I write where I would focus first, were I to begin working with the group presenting. Too often, I find myself writing down missing fundamentals. To get a better idea of what I mean, here’s my quick pitch checklist:

  1. Did they say who their users are (who they serve)?
  2. Did they describe the user need they are hoping to meet?
  3. Did they seem to understand the work that’s involved?

As surprising as it may be, far too many groups pitch their ideas without talking about who the idea is for (#1) or what need it actually meets (#2). In my weird brain, it’s like hearing someone describe a very complicated Rube Goldberg machine that somehow produces gold bricks at the end. It’s elaborate and skillful-sounding but probably not going to turn out the way they think. Users and needs must come first.

A common pattern here is a preoccupation with new technology. “Just rub some blockchain or Artificial Intelligence or Machine Learning on it!”

Of the groups that get past users and needs, many still nosedive because their solution to meet the needs is unclear (#3). Broad and simplistic claims that a new app or widget or whatever will solve all problems by coming into existence just aren’t believable. It’s a bad sign when there’s no answer to the question, “Ok yes, fine, but how?” There must be a rationale that describes how the solution integrates with and directly meets the needs of the people being served, or I’m left assuming that the group doesn’t understand the work involved. The solution must actually meet the needs.

A typical example is when a group pushes a solution that depends on a peer-to-peer community and also claims, without adding any details on “how,” that their new app will cause the community to exist. It’s just unlikely to work that way. I’ll be more hopeful if integration into a pre-existing community is suggested.

I will get really excited about a pitch when a group passes this quick three-part checklist and is then able to articulate an understanding of what must be built, what existing solutions will be leveraged, and why. If they can point to their unique value proposition, I know they understand how they fit into the overall landscape. They know the game they are playing, which is beginning to look like it has decent odds.

To summarize, if I get to the end of a pitch with a comprehensible value chain/map sketched out, I feel much better about a group’s realistic outcomes. Ironically, the output of my checklist tends not to correlate with who ends up actually winning at pitch events. I suppose that’s one solid reason (there are probably more) why I’m not a judge at these sorts of things. 😏

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