Intrapreneur: Pitch & Preparation

Pitching the idea. As an intrapreneur, if you are lucky, and after an enormous amount of work, you will have to pitch a stakeholder (or group of them) on your idea, plan, and request. A lot goes into this, and while it is not as dramatic as say SharkTank, it can be intimidating, frustrating, disappointing and nerve racking nonetheless. While practice always improves performance, I have found that having the right framework to get and stay organized eases the burden a bit. Here are two tools that can help you be more successful.

Pitch decks. I have used pitch decks many times in my career. They have ranged from five slides to 20. If you have a deck with more than 20 slides you do not have a pitch, you have a lecture — and you will lose your audience. KEY — if you simply must or need to have more than 20 slides — keep the best most important ones up front and move the rest to an appendix. You and your idea need to be the center of attention for the pitch — not the slides. If for some reason your idea addresses a complex challenge or idea, think about providing supplemental materials in advance but know that most stakeholders will not read them.

Many in the startup world will disagree with what I say above, noting that the ten slide rule is dominant. I am not one for hard and fast rules, and while pitching to venture capitalists is high stakes, as an intrapreneur, we typically pitch to our bosses, executives, peers, and others with whom we must live with whether or not they buy into our idea. Also, we are in law land, not Silicon Valley, it makes sense to have a different approach, and I have found ten slides may be appropriate but often more are needed. That said, I have never broken the 20 slide mark, and I tend to have somewhere between eight and fifteen.

The key elements of an intrapreneur’s pitch deck are:
1. Who are the target users/customers/clients? Are they internal or external? If external, is this a new or existing segment for us?
2. What problem do they have? Do they openly recognize this problem or is it unrecognized?
3. What are their met and unmet needs with their current set of solutions?
4. What is the proposed new offering (service, product, experience)?
5. What are the benefits to the user?
6. What is the growth outcome for our business (wallet-share, market share, brand extension, etc.)?
7. Why will the users choose this offering over current service?
8. What resources will be needed to validate this idea? AKA — “the ask.”
9. Timeline for key milestones and report back to this group.
10. How should ROI/success be measured? Biggest risks of failure and mitigation plan.

It is important to note that in element #2 there is a callout for whether the problem is recognized or not. This is a vital observation to make and communicate. If the intended user currently does not perceive a problem, the ultimate solution you are a trying to design better either be immediately attractive on its own (a rarity and tremendously difficult to pull off) or in need of a change management or education campaign to accompany its rollout. Change management efforts increase the risk of failure significantly. Hearts and mind campaigns take a lot of effort and resources, and there is no guarantee of progress.

A pitch deck alone is not enough. You will need to do some pitch deck pre-work and create some insurance for yourself. Most intrapreneurs will tell you that a pitch is often not a quick and seamless event. The stakeholders tend not to be well-practiced at receiving pitches and may not even be sophisticated business people. In law firms, many of the leaders are practicing lawyers of varying disciplines so some may not even be comfortable discussing business concepts. This unevenness of comfort and experience often creates situations where the intrapreneur is taken off-script in the following three ways.

1. A stakeholder disagrees with the problem you have declared. This is especially true if it is an unrecognized problem. But they might also disagree that it is a big enough problem to solve.

2. A stakeholder challenges you on the solution you have proposed and often will offer up their own. These alternative solutions can range from being overly simple (“Let’s buy some tech.”) to rules-based (“We will just tell someone to fix it.”) which is not sustainable or healthy.

3. A stakeholder will not “trust” that you are qualified to make certain observations or judgments and will either dismiss you outrightly or challenge you based on your role or position in the company.

While no doubt you have done the work to get to this point, a technique that many intrapreneurs use is to prepare a Value Hypothesis Map prior to the pitch. This process and tool will help you address all three of these challenges and demonstrate your subject-matter expertise on this particular matter.

The Value Hypothesis Map. This map is created after a thorough exploration of the problem and ideas that could address it. It should be based on both analysis of relevant data and insights gathered. The Map process should generate a clear and crisp representation of the intrapreneur’s point of view on the opportunity/challenge.

The map itself is nothing elaborate. The process is rather simple, assuming you did the necessary work. The value it provides is that it helps you capture the vital elements of your idea’s value and some of your pitch deck material.

First — gather all of the insights from your previous work in terms of potential users and customers, needs (met and unmet, known and unknown), potential solutions, and benefits. This should be an exhaustive list and you should make no editorial choices at this stage.

Second — create a grid and starting from the left label four columns using your categories. Go in order as listed above.

Third- treat each insight as a separate item. If you are using stickies, use only one sticky per insight for each category. Place each insight into its respective category.

Fourth — begin to work through the various paths and combinations in an effort to find the most valuable, least desirable, and acceptable models.

Fifth — lock in on what you believe to be the most potent combination. There are many factors to consider in doing this that you will already have determined based on your previous work.

Back to the pitch meeting. If one of your stakeholders does indeed challenge you in one of the three ways listed above, you will be equipped to address it with deft. Share out the process you went through to create the map. Discuss the various alternative approaches and why you chose the one you did. Demonstrate your command of the problem by talking about all the work you did that allowed you to map these elements in the first place. It works. Either directly or indirectly, you will demonstrate that you have done more work, more thinking, and more doing.

Of course, they might decide not to accept your work and decide against you. But that is the life of an intrapreneur. Keep trying.