7 Tips for a World Class 90 Second Startup Pitch

Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unsplash

The 90 second startup pitch is one of the most versatile tools available to you as an entrepreneur. Being able to quickly take a listener on a journey about your business is a skill that many founders overlook when they are heads down working on their startup.

If founders take the time to develop this skill, they’ll find it much easier to create investor interest, win over key talent, and hype up those early customers.

As a Startups Manager at Future Founders I get the privilege of seeing about 300 startup pitches a year through our competitive pitch competition U.Pitch. You’ll be surprised to know that no matter what industry you’re in, your background, or your traction there are some basic principles good pitches always follow. To help you achieve that world class pitch here are seven basic principles to stand out and create insane hype.

Understand your own market opportunity.

Many entrepreneurs have a personal story inspiring them to start their businesses. That’s great, but how is the opportunity bigger than just you? Sheldon Barrett from Cocovana and a Future Founders alum, does an excellent job at this, detailing how his high blood pressure encouraged him to seek alternative drink sources, and invent a can opener for coconuts. He follows this up by sharing how many people were just like him who could buy his product.

Your audience isn’t an expert in every industry. Sharing your market opportunity not only helps educate them but provides validity to the problem you’re solving.

Understand how you’re going to capture the market.

Having a stat about your Total Addressable Market (TAM) isn’t enough. How do you plan on capturing your market? Your answer to this is a great way for the audience to tell if you have done your homework and are an expert in this domain. How do you scale and why is your way of scaling going to work?

Know how to talk about your team.

You may have already heard that startups need to have a solid team. As a Startups Manager I see many startup teams with fancy resumes on their team slide, but many founders stop there. Show your audience why those impressive resumes are relevant to your business.

Why does going to an elite college help you? Why is your job background important? Don’t just list accomplishments or awards, tell them why this is important to the problem you are solving. Then those early customers or key investors will be convinced you have the right people for the job.

Know how to talk about traction.

Out of all the tips in this list, this one is a heavy contender for the most important. Traction shows so much, including progress made on the idea, how capable the team is, and if you’re focusing on the right things. Traction is not just about sales! Our 2019 U.Pitch competition third place winner Alissa Lopez hadn’t even launched yet, but she used her market research and customer discovery numbers as traction and it worked!

When talking about traction always, always, always, provide context through time.

When talking about traction always, always, always, provide context through time. We interviewed 100 customers in two weeks. We got 50 users in four days. We made our first 100 sales in a month. Dividing by time shows how committed you are to this and makes it easier for investors or pitch competition judges to project how well you’re going to do moving forward. If you divided by time and are unimpressed with your own traction, you may be too early for a pitch competition or raising money — which is fine! Just go back to working on your business and make something worth sharing.

Have an appropriate ask.

This one is easy to miss. Take our U.Pitch competition for example. U.Pitch has a $10,000 prize pool. If your ask is to raise a $500,000 pre-seed round, U.Pitch cannot help you. Instead take the time to show the listener how this money, or ask will help you. What are you going to spend it on and why is it critical to your business? People want to feel like they’re actually helping you move forward.

Keep this in mind when talking to early investors or key talent. Know exactly what you need from them and explain how this is critical to getting your business to the next level.

Be innovative.

I’m sure it’s special, but people don’t want to hear about your T-shirt business. That is, unless it’s U.Pitch’s 2019 Winner Mi Terro, which turns unused milk into cotton fibers which can be made into new t-shirts.

If you want to attract attention with your pitch, you need to showcase what’s new and special about your startup. This doesn’t mean you have to have the flashiest new technology (in fact, previous U.Pitch winners have included everything from farm equipment to chips). But, you need to show your unique take on your product or service. What are you doing in the space that’s never been done before?

Be a good presenter.

People can quickly tell if this is the first time you’ve talked about your idea out loud. Please practice. Find mentors and small groups of people to pitch in front of for feedback. It’s going to be awkward at first, and you’re going to stumble. The point is to be awkward and stumble in private so when you pitch on a live stage or to customers you already worked the kinks out.

BONUS TIP: Get your pitch in the top 10%

Tell a good story

This is what separates the good pitches from the great ones. Once you have every item mentioned above, how do you tie them together? Things should naturally flow to the next topic and create a coherent narrative. Messages delivered as stories are 22 times more memorable. Stories are how you leave a lasting mark on your audience. SwineTech founder Matthew Rooda uses a neat trick to turn his customer discovery into a story, saying “We interviewed X potential customers and they told us Competitor A, B, & C, simply did not work.”

So there you have it. Seven tips (and a bonus one) for a world class startup pitch. Don’t forget that pitching is a skill that can be improved and with a good one, the entrepreneurial journey becomes much easier, so if you want some feedback on your pitch find me at @salnotsal on Twitter. Public feedback is a great way to learn from others. Entrepreneurship is tough so please reach out and don’t be shy!



Startups @ Future Founders

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