5 Reasons Your Idea Pitch Sucks

Idea Pitch FailI’m fortunate enough to see a lot of cool business ideas – both entrepreneurial and “big corporate” in nature.  While the people pitching the idea are passionate, smart, and excited, more often than not, the pitch itself sucks.

I’m not being bombastic or hyperbolic here.  The pitches really suck.  Bad.  Terribly.

I’m not saying I’m the best pitch man either.  I’ve made all of the following mistakes at one point or another.  The good news for you is I’ve both learned from those mistakes and I’m willing to share what they are.  More important, I have a few suggestions on how you can avoid making the mistake in the first place.

It doesn’t matter if you’re pitching your idea to a bunch of angel investors, venture capitalists, business partners, corporate executives, or prospective employees.  If you make any of the following five mistakes, you’ll likely not get the funding, the contract, the signature, or the support you’re looking for.  Without those things, your idea is going nowhere.

So strap yourself in.  I’m feeling saucy today and you folks know I get reaaalllly direct and candid when I’m saucy… Think of this post as a bit of me kicking up to all you smart folks out there (to learn what I mean about kicking up, CLICK HERE to read a post on the concept).  So here are the five reasons your idea pitch sucks (and how you can fix it):

You Don’t Have a Compelling Problem

People pay to have problems solved.  I don’t care if the problem is boredom, inefficiency, poor decision making, or not being able to find your keys – problems sell.  If your pitch consists of “people will buy our blidget because it’s cool and complicated and nobody else has ever created something like this before” then your pitch probably sucks and won’t garner much interest other than idle curiosity.  If nobody has done it before, the reason why just might be that nobody needs that kind of blidget.  Clearly articulate the problem, who has it, and why they are willing to pay to have it solved.  I’ve covered having problems before so GO READ THIS POST to get better at defining the problem.  If you can’t clearly articulate the problem, your pitch probably sucks.

You Use Meaningless Numbers and Top-Down Estimates

If you find yourself saying “the market is eighty gajillion people worldwide and if we just capture one tenth of one percent of those prospective customers we’ll be gazillionaires…” you sound like a complete idiot.  You’re telling me you’re lazy.  You’re saying you haven’t put in the rigor of a solid bottoms-up analysis of your sales and economics.  Sure, you have to pursue big markets to get big payoffs but once you’ve established it’s a large, growing, profitable and attractive market, you need to shift gears to bottoms-up estimates.  Figure out your conversion rates, sales cycles, etc. and figure out some more concrete estimates for growth.  If your numbers are frivolous, your pitch probably sucks.

You Have No Idea How You Make Money

First I have to pontificate – if you come to me with an idea that states “we’ll make our billions off banner ads and Google AdWords” I’ll kick you out of my office so fast your head will spin.  The only people who make bank on that stuff are Google and the gigantic portal players.  Everyone else just buys Rolling Rock or Heineken with the money from advertising.  There.  I feel better now.  Anyway, if you cannot clearly demonstrate the cash flows through your business and why your product is worth buying, then your presentation sucks.  If you want my money as an investor, you had better be able to tell me how you’re going to pay me back tenfold what I gave you.  If I’m a customer, I need to know that you’re running a viable business because I don’t like when my suppliers go under.  If I’m an employee, you’d better be able to tell me you have a business model that enables you to pay my paycheck.  Suggestion: map out the cash flows.  Justify your margins at every step of the process.  Understand the price of substitute products.  Build a solid financial plan.  If you don’t, your pitch probably sucks.

Your Visual Aids Look Like Crap

PowerPoint is a great tool but unfortunately it’s like a ball peen hammer and many folks injure themselves when they try to use it.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been in an audience of investors and heard the idea pitchman/woman say “Now I know you probably can’t read this slide out there in the audience but what it says is…” OH MY GOD ARE YOU LISTENING TO YOURSELF?!?!  Why the heck would you put up a slide you KNOW people can’t read?  If you don’t have enough sense not to do that, I’m betting you don’t have enough sense not to lose all my money as an investor.  Also, if you have 62 pages of PowerPoint for a 15 minute pitch, I don’t think you can fail any harder than that.  Seriously.  One slide for every three minutes you’re presenting.  Seriously.  ONE FOR EVERY THREE!  If your visual aids look like crap, are full of clip art, or are illegible from further than six inches away your pitch probably sucks.

You Don’t Know When to Shut Up

There’s always Q&A at the end of a pitch.  Treat it like a deposition.  Answer the question and only the question.  I have seen so many people pitch and when they get the first question, they spend 15 minutes answering it and taking us through a magical mystery tour of everything behind the idea when an answer of “We expect our conversion rate to be 11%” would satisfactorily answer the inquiry.  Answer questions directly.  If your audience wants to know more, they’ll ask.  Audience members get incredibly frustrated with you when they have a question they never get to ask because you couldn’t shut your cake hole and you blathered on ad infinitum.  Answer questions directly and succinctly.  If you don’t, your pitch probably sucks.

Look, I’m not trying to be mean here.  I’m trying to help you succeed.  Take the above peeves and advice in the spirit of helping you avoid mistakes that are easily avoided.  If you can’t get past the pitch, you’ll never get to the payoff.  Consider this fair warning for the next time you go pitch your idea to the crowd.  There’s no guarantee you’ll get a thumbs up if you avoid these problems but I can almost certainly guarantee a thumbs down if you do any or all of the above.

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

– Grab a presale copy of my upcoming book One Piece of Paper. CLICK HERE to get yours!

15 Responses to “5 Reasons Your Idea Pitch Sucks”

  1. Ruth says:

    Mike: Your post strikes me as applicable to nonprofit messaging as well. I’ve met a number of people who are either starting nonprofits, or trying to find funds for one. Listening to them describe their “plans” makes me dizzy! I can only imagine what a potential funder must think reading one of these grant proposals. I’ve told nonprofit directors that BEFORE they even THINK about funding, they must understand precisely what problem they are addressing, how they will do so, why they are uniquely qualified to do so, and how they will evaluate the results.

  2. Mike Figliuolo says:

    @Ruth – yep. I always say “non-profit doesn’t mean *no* profit.” You need gas to run the engine and that gas is money. It’s hard to get support for a cause unless people know what the problem is and why you’re the right person to solve it. The most successful non-profits I’ve seen are the ones that run it like a true for-profit business that simply reinvests the profits in the cause.

  3. Ruth says:

    Thanks, Mike! I really love your blog. No one says it quite the way you do!

  4. Mike Figliuolo says:

    Thanks Ruth. Glad you enjoy it. Thanks for being a reader. I appreciate the support.

  5. I liked your post, Mike, especially the powerpoint section…ugh! They are mind numbing! I’m a teacher and am always introducing new technology to replace the boring PP…you should try Prezi or any of the “new” presentation software and give PP the boot=) I would even hazard the advice of NEVER giving another powerpoint–tired and old.

    I am a faithful reader…thanks!


  6. Ryan says:

    Great points! One that I would like some further elaboration on for my own edification though would be the idea of “ONE FOR EVERY THREE!”

    I seem to remember learning something like this in school but doesn’t this result in bloated slides and a pitch that just seems to drag on? I tend to feel like in a society where an attention span greater than 30 seconds is a luxury, if I spend more than one minute on a fully built slide I lose people to their phones.

    Now this also assumes that the slides aren’t loaded with information and only have a p

  7. Ryan says:

    Accidentally submitted too soon. To finish my thought…

    Now this also assumes that the slides aren’t loaded with information and only have a point or two per slide as opposed to 15 fully loaded slides.

  8. Kathy says:

    Tweeting this focusing on the meaningless numbers point, but my personal pet peeve is the PowerPoint.

    Besides the teeny, tiny fonts, it’s the people that use every design tool PPT has to offer that make me want to scream. Please o please stop putting drop shadows, and underlines beneath words you’ve already italicized. (and stop using fonts from 1973. Ariel, Helvetica, Verdana….they’re all your friends. Get to know them!)

    Nice post!!

  9. Great article. Unfortunately, too true. The other bigger issue is that when a company grows at an exceptional rate, most have no clue as to why. They live under the false impression that their success will continue on. It doesn’t.This lack of clarity shows up in the pitch! In the pseudo business plan. Failure to provide a ROI.

    When a company is struggling, the same principles apply. Get clear as to why. It’ll make a big difference in turning around the problem. This will provide a great story for any pitch!

  10. Paul says:

    Terrific piece – a primer for anyone putting together a pitch to any sized investor, family members to corporate sponsor. Cannot tell you how many entrepreneurs I have worked with that got one or five of your items wrong on initial attempts. The worst is the interesting plan that has little to back up the projections. The top down, bs models are a killer – just 1% of the market is all we need to be successful – so what – show me that 1% of a sample were actually interested in your offering.

  11. Eric McCarty says:

    Great post! Right in line with what Guy Kawasaki said in Art of the Start. If you want to know how to pitch, watch this 3 minute vid of Guy describing the 10-20-30 rule.

    Then you’ll want to watch the rest of that presentation. Time well spent.

  12. Shawn says:

    Mike, if you want to lean anything about pitching your idea, no matter how much it sucks, you should study Billy Mays.

    His airtime was cut short not too long ago, but man could he bloviate! He is well know for his informercials touting products like Oxyclean. He is even better known for his hit reality show, “Pitchmen.”

    Check out his story…

    He was able to make anything that he sold seem like the best thing since sliced bread. The Moral – Have confidence in your product, service, business plan etc. Show enthusiasm! Reel people in! And make em pay!

  13. Great, real-life dose of reality!
    Question Re: your “bottom up” sales & eco analysis. Pls. provide some examples of how you calculate conversion rate in the social network space. I presume your definition of conversion rate is the # of targeted prospects in a given population and the # of those prospects that are secured as customers over/during a given period of time. Pls. clarify.

    Thanks for the direction/guidance, Mike.

    • Mike Figliuolo says:

      Thanks John. Yes, conversion rate is about impressions times click through times respond to click through times purchase. The more important calculation to then perform is ROI (what did all those clicks cost? What kind of profit did you earn on the ultimate sales. Hope that clarifies.

  14. […] I came across 5 Reasons Your Idea Pitch Sucks by Mike Figliuolo. While I don’t think our pitch sucked exactly, when I read his first point… You Don’t […]

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