Startup Lessons: You Are Boring. . . And It’s Not Your Fault

Your startup is boring.

Or so it seems, judging by your company presentation.  I’m sure that somewhere behind that carefully-groomed pitch deck, you are awesome and your company will make a billion dollars on its way to disrupting some woe-begotten old-line industry.  Unfortunately, I’d never know it by the dispassionate, just-the-facts-ma’am presentations that even you don’t seem to psyched about.

It’s not your fault, though. You are studious and you’re just doing what you’ve been taught by the legions of pitch coaches who dole out their 5-, 7-, 10-, or however-many-slide template instructing you to pitch the company by talking about the problem, your remarkable solution, the giant market size, the easily-dismissed competition, and your uniquely-talented team.   If you jam all that into the allotted time and have a minute to spare, you can always snap the audience back to attention by projecting just how quickly you will make your next investor very rich.

A Bing search on “investor pitch template” yields nearly a quarter-million results. Before you go digging through the results to find the “best” template, let me save you an hour of your life you can’t get back.  Just pick a random link; they all shill the same advice, more or less.  (Before I go much further, I should confess that one of those quarter-million links is no doubt my own tried-and-true, just-the-facts pitch advice, found in this Udemy course, complete with my 11-side template.)

All of these templates, mind included, suffer from the same problem: they lack meaning and passion.  These fill-in-the-blanks pitch templates are like paint-by-number kits of great artwork.  The basic information is all there, but the magic is missing.

So you have to ask yourself:  Why would present your business as a shallow, one-dimensional, anyone-can-do-it version of itself?

Because it’s easy?  Because that’s what people expect?  Because the rules of pitching mandate it?

Wake up!  Your job is to get me as excited about your business as you are.  Sure, I want to know what you do, but I really want to know why  you do it and  what impact  you will have when you’ve done it well.  I want to know that you plan to put a great big dent in the universe, even if you’re building one tiny app.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh doesn’t sell shoes.  He delivers happiness.  Sounds hokey, maybe, but it sets the tone and culture of the business. What would you rather invest in/buy from/work in/learn from: the happiness business or a shoe store?

Over the past few months, I’ve thrown out my typical pitch advice, focusing instead on asking entrepreneurs to stop telling me what they do and start telling me why it matters and for whom.  Sounds easy, but the standard pitch outline is a tough habit to break, particularly when you are so close to your business that you can’t see the landscape for the blades of grass.

If there is a short hand (please, not a template) for this advice, it’s pretty simple:  put your customer at the center of your presentation.  Tell me what they get from you, rather than what you sell to them.

I guarantee that the approach will be so refreshing to most audiences that they will be anything but bored.


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