How to Deliver an Elevator Pitch That Gets Anyone to Ask for More

Think Movie Trailer

The elevator pitch is one of four foundational pitches every founder should master.

A good elevator pitch should provide a 30-second overview of your big idea and get anyone to ask for more.

The problem is that most elevator pitches sound like this:
“We build lightsabers.”

Or worse:
“We build plasma-based weapons powered by a force-sensitive Kyber crystal. Utilizing magnetic containment, they project a fixed-length blade capable of cutting through nearly any material. And represent the apex of intergalactic weapon engineering.”

Most elevator pitches fall flat because they are

  • too solution-centric,
  • too us-focused,
  • filled with jargon,
  • have no story, and
  • are a conversation killer.

In today’s issue, I’ll share a simple Why Now Elevator Story Pitch recipe you can use to craft an effective elevator pitch step-by-step.

Good elevator pitches do not lead with a solution but a relatable and specific customer story.

The mistake many entrepreneurs make is trying to explain their solution by cramming it into a 30-second elevator pitch. That's not the job of an elevator pitch.

The job of an elevator pitch is to pique interest. And if you're successful, prompt the other person to ask for more (versus making an excuse to leave).

The way you pique interest isn’t by leading with your solution but by contextualizing why your product needs to exist — with a relatable and specific customer story.

We are wired for stories, and the good news is that you can build a compelling elevator pitch using one of the most popular types of story arcs: The Hero’s Journey.

Here are the steps:

Step 1: Define the characters in your story

Every good Hero Journey story needs a cast of characters.

  • The customer, not your solution or you, is the hero in the elevator pitch.
  • The villain represents the obstacles (or problems) that prevent your customers from succeeding.
  • You are the guide character that helps your customers through their transformation from ordinary to hero.
  • Finally, your product is the gift you give the hero that makes this transformation possible.

Step 2: Identify an inciting action

All good stories start with an inciting incident that turns the hero’s ordinary world upside down and sets them off on a journey.

Elevator pitches are no different.

Your job here is to identify a macro switching trigger that breaks your customer’s old way (status quo) and sets them on a journey in search of something better.

For the inciting action to be convincing, it needs to:

  • Be self-evident: Otherwise, you’ll come across as self-serving.
  • Raise the stakes: Doing nothing should have negative consequences.
  • Have a deadline: Deadlines or time walls force action.

Examples of macro switching triggers:

  • Technological shifts
  • Market shifts
  • Cultural shifts
  • Regulatory shifts
  • Black Swan Events

Step 3: Craft your Why Now Elevator Story pitch

Here’s a 3-act template for an elevator story pitch:

ACT I: Set the stage
When [customers] encounter a [job trigger],
they need to do [
job] to achieve [desired outcome].

ACT II: Break the old way
They would typically use [existing alternatives],
but because of [macro switching trigger], these [existing alternatives] no longer work because of [these problems].
If these problems are left unaddressed, then [what’s at stake].

ACT III: Tease the new way
So we built a solution that helps [customers]
achieve [desired outcome] by helping them [unique value proposition].

Note that nowhere in this template do you (have to) mention the name of your product or how your solution works. Like a good movie trailer, the job of the elevator pitch is to tease the story and get the other person to want to watch the whole movie. Getting them to ask a follow-up question or request a demo is mission accomplished.

Treat the template above as a meta-script. It’s not essential to use the structure verbatim. You can change the order for flow and leave some aspects out that might be readily apparent to your audience.

Let’s make this framework more concrete with examples next, where I’ll showcase several well-known products without naming them. Let’s see if you can guess the products.

Elevator Pitches

Product 1

When people want a high-performance car, they typically buy a supercar like a Porche, Ferrari, or Lamborghini.

But these cars generate high emissions, which are a leading contributor to climate change. Left unchecked, these emissions will have irreversible and catastrophic effects on the global stage.

So we built the fastest and greenest 100% electric sports car with zero-emissions—so that you can burn rubber, not gasoline.

Product 2

Everyone uses a smartphone and/or a laptop now.

But when people are on the go, they need a lightweight device to do certain everyday tasks like browsing the web, checking their email, or watching a movie.

They would typically use a netbook (small laptop). But netbooks aren’t good at any of these tasks. They are slow, have low-quality displays, and run clunky software.

So we built a solution that is the best way to experience the web, photos, email, and video. It’s more capable than a smartphone and more intimate than a laptop.

Product 3

When early-stage entrepreneurs get hit with a killer idea,
they often need to raise money to get their idea off the ground.

They would typically
write a 40-page business plan,
but because of the recent explosion in the number of startups worldwide, no one reads business plans anymore. Investors today don’t fund business plans but look for startups with traction. If a startup fails to stand out and grab the attention of investors, they don’t get the necessary resources to grow their idea, and their idea withers away.

So we built a solution that helps entrepreneurs pitch their ideas clearly and concisely and get buy-in from key stakeholders—so they can spend more time building versus planning their business.



Product 1: Tesla Roadster

Product 2: Apple iPad

Product 3: Lean Canvas


If you'd like a step-by-step framework for assembling your elevator pitch, check out my 30-Day Business Model Design course.

The elevator pitch is one of four foundational pitches every founder should master. The course also covers the other three:

1.The Elevator Story Pitch: Used to provide a 30-second overview of your big idea and get anyone to ask for more. Think movie trailer.

2. The Founder Story Pitch: Used to tell your origin story and build credibility. Think why you.

3. The Customer Story Pitch: Used to acquire customers. Think problem/solution fit. Think mafia offer.

4. The Business Model Story Pitch: Used to acquire advisers and investors. Think why now.

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