Elevator Pitches: A Waste of Time For Entrepreneurs?

Elevator Pitches

Photo: D.H. Parks



This post is for entrepreneurs who’ve had to painstakingly craft an effective 90 second elevator pitch to raise money from investors, and for those investors who’ve had to sit through what I’m sure have been both killer and horrid elevator pitches over the years.


Two weeks ago I was flattered to have my startup, WeMontage, be selected as one of 15 companies to participate in an “Elevator Pitch Olympics” (EPO) at the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium, which was sponsored by the Wisconsin Technology Council. Initially, I hesitated to participate, but after thinking about it for a second I quickly realized I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The reason I hesitated is because I initially thought an elevator pitch competition in which no real money is awarded would not be a productive use of my time. After all, I’ve got my head in the weeds trying to get these darned Ukrainian developers to finish the last few minor changes to the WeMontage website, so I can finally release the beta.

Boy, was I wrong.

The EPO is like the tv show, Shark Tank, minus the über ”prickliness”/”slimyness” of the judges. Oh, and there’s one other difference: no one on the panel invests! But the panel is comprised of professional investors who score your pitch and provide extremely valuable feedback. And did I mention you get the practice of pitching and controlling your nerves in front of 500 people?!

Elevator Pitch Resources

With a quick Google search you can find a few dozen resources that help you prepare an effective elevator pitch. I used an Inc. article as a guide, but I found this article most helpful. I also referenced this handout I received at a panel discussion about elevator pitches at last year’s WI Early Stage Symposium:

Elevator Pitches


The Pitch

I mentioned there were 500 people in the audience; it was probably more like 750! Here’s a pic I took from the back of the room. Gulp!

Elevator Pitch

I was in awe of the size of the audience, entertained by all the nervous body language of some pitchers, and amazed at how composed and effective other pitchers were.

As for me, I was totally nervous. One woman sitting next to me who already completed her pitch, which, by the way, the judges weren’t too keen on for some reason, said  to me, “Don’t shit yourself.” To which I replied, “too late!” Ha!

My pitch went over well and I received mostly 3s and 4s from a scoring system of 1 thru 5. I was pleased with this result given the visual nature of my product and I didn’t have any video, pictures, or slides to show them (props were allowed but no use of the projector).

There was the one judge who, after I explained how I got the inspiration for WeMontage from an episode of HGTV and mentioned I have a patent pending, blurted out, “you know they’ve patented that, right?”

My response: “who?”

His reply: “the people on HGTV?”

Me: “what exactly have they patented?”

Him: “the whole thing?”

Me: “what do you mean?”

Him: “oh, I’m just kidding! Hahaha!”

Seriously, dude? What a jackass.

Here’s a youtube video of me practicing my 90 second pitch for the 50th time (no exaggeration):

[youtube http://youtu.be/GCy14rKAte0&w=560&h=315]


Whaddaya think? Good? Great? Sucks? Lemme know by leaving a comment.

The Answer To The Question

I got a lot out of this experience and am thankful I was asked to participate. It’s incredibly difficult to distill your biz’s story down to 90 seconds and explain what you do, why it’s different, who the competitors are, how you’ll make money, and what the market opportunity is.

I also got to meet entrepreneurs who are working on some pretty kewl start-ups. For example, I met the founder of a company, Iristocracy (love this name!), which is building technology that lets you virtually try on a pair of glasses while sitting at your computer and see how they look in 3-D, from all angles. How kewl is that?! Actually, they won the competition.

I met another guy whose company, Novo Luggage, solves the problem of your luggage looking like everyone else’s at the airport by letting you add a custom skin to it.

So, are elevator pitches a waste a time for entrepreneurs? Absolutely not!

Have a thought about elevator pitches, how to best prepare one, or their effectiveness? Please share by leaving a comment.

Suerte! (Good luck!)


James Oliver, Jr.
Soon-to-be dad of twins. Entrepreneur & ESTP. Cheeky. Business plan consultant (bespokesolutionsllc.com). Golf nut and 12 handicap.

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  1. rayhiltz says:

    Love this, James.
    I use "elevator pitches" in my social media for business workshops as an exercise for clarifying business goals.
    As Einstein says: “If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough”
    – Keeping it simple is hard.
    Thanks for the link to the articles. Have a great day.

  2. Kittie Walker says:

    Good going James!
    As Ray said going through the elevator pitch exercise is a valuable process for start-ups and more established businesses to go through. It brings clarity to their goals through the verbalization of their thoughts. It's pretty much the very first thing that I do with students and clients (if they need it).
    I generally point people in the direction of this article http://www.businessballs.com/business-networking…. which helps to extract those words.
    Definitely not a waste of time, comes in very handy for speed networking too (/shiver).

  3. djoneslucid says:

    Wow, is this what you were calling me about the other day?! Now, I'm really sorry I wasn't able to take that call. What an awesome experience for you. Elevator pitches are not a waste of time at all. They force you to distill your thoughts down to the most important components and leave the fluff and filler on the floor.

    And the fact that the guy interrupted you with the patent joke, you should actually thank him because he did you a big favor. He forced you to think on your feet while under extreme stress. I remember pitching a VC a couple of years ago, and literally 2 minutes into my well rehearsed presentation, he interrupts me and says, "Derrick, as a matter of policy, we don't invest in companies like yours." Damn! Deer in the headlights moment.

    Anyway, awesome piece. The community needs more real life examples like this so we can all prepare better. Well done my friend.

    • James Oliver, Jr. says:

      Thanks, Derrick, for the feedback. Yeah, it was definitely a "think on your feet moment". I really wanted to call him a jackass on stage, but I didn't. I met some people who were there that day and they brought up how inappropriate they thought his comments were. And they all thought I did a good job. It was a good experience.


  4. James I love this topic. I've struggle many times myself with say, "whats even the point". Until I bumbled on talking to someone for 5 minutes and they still didn't know what I do. I practice it, to ensure I can effectively communicate my business to ANYONE. Whether a potential investor, or average person I just met. Now I find it critical to my communication. Thanks for sharing!

  5. djthistle says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience James. I think a lot of our readers are going to find value in this article. Your 50th practice attempt pitch was great too. I had an idea of what you were creating with WeMontage.com but after watching your pitch I really got a sense of your vision. Nice job.

    • James Oliver, Jr. says:

      Thanks, DJ. I wrote this piece, as I do all my posts, because I wanted to share hoping that someone, somewhere in the world (literally), will find it beneficial.

  6. Congratulations. I see there is a lot I can learn from you. :-) I still find it difficult to make people understand what I do even when given much more time than you had in your pitch. Well, they say practise makes perfect so I guess I need more of that. The Einstein quote posted by rayhiltz got me a little worried too. :-)

  7. gtoz says:

    Another great post with valuable insights for entrepreneurs. Would have loved to see your face during that exchange. Can anyone comment or share instances where they felt their elevator pitch really made a difference beyond helping them better understand what it is they are trying to do? Looking for stories of getting in the elevator with a plan and a dream and getting off with money, partners, customers ect.

    • James Oliver, Jr. says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Gtoz. I too would love to hear a few inspirational stories like that! But I guess that's what Shark Tank is??

  8. Great story about the practical application of the elevator pitch! Hecklers are a pain in the ___, but a fact of life I guess. A lot of entrepreneurs are finding value in The NEW Elevator Pitch (http://thenewelevatorpitch.com) and the video examples of how to create a great elevator pitch on youtube (http://youtube.com/westfallonline). The key is to avoid an old-school, in your face sales pitch – and it sounds like you did just that. Congrats & best of luck – If you ever need any help with an upcoming elevator pitch, let me know!

    • James Oliver, Jr. says:

      Hey, Chris. Very awesome. I'll be sure to check out these links. I'm actually working on an investor pitch deck now, which, as you know, is different from an elevator pitch. Thanks.

  9. Kneale Mann says:

    Fantastic piece, James! And I endorse Chris' book and work. I think it's a common struggle to find the words and the tone that works best. The best advice I've received is "be yourself" and "be authentic". As someone who has done a lot of presentations, I can relate to the nerves. You showed us your 50th practice session, congratulations! Anyone who thinks they can "wing it" is in trouble. Even those who appear to do this stuff effortlessly has practiced and rehearsed and worked at it for years. Keep up the passion and hard work!

    • James Oliver, Jr. says:

      Thanks, Kneale. I appreciate it.

      You used an important word there: authentic. I believe authenticity matters in all that we do. Perhaps I'll write a blog post about it someday.

  10. James,
    Your blogs are always relevant and useful. I really appreciate you being candid about the entire process.
    This is Kwel


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