As an entrepreneur, particularly at the beginning of your journey, you will constantly have to come up with and refine your message in a multitude of different formats. Whether it’s a thirty-page business plan, a ten-page pitch deck, a five-minute presentation, a one-page executive summary or a twenty-second elevator pitch, your primary goal is to answer the question, “What does your startup do?” The market size, go-to-market strategy, competition, and problem definition are all important but if you can’t articulate a compelling answer to the question “What does your company do?” you are sunk.
Your quick answer to The Question of “What does your company do?” can be framed in a variety of ways. To explore these, I’ll give you two examples: one from Shep, and one from Litr.ly, which is a made-up company that allows writers (copy, technical, editorial, fiction, etc.) to get peer reviews and feedback from other professionals in their field (I guess I just came up with my next startup idea).
Here are some of the most common ways to frame your 1 to 2 sentence answer:
- Mission Statement
- Problem Statement
- What If
THE MISSION STATEMENT
Answering The Question with a mission statement serves to set out your grand idea or vision in a sentence or two.
Shep: “Shep is an employee-centric tool that lets HR and Finance departments guide and track real-time spending as employees book business travel on any site they like.”
Litr.ly: “Litr.ly will bring together the writing community to allow for peer-sourced edits and professional collaboration to improve the quality of the written word around the world.”
THE PROBLEM STATEMENT
Focusing on the problem and suggesting that you can solve it is a good way to educate the listener or reader on a market and its related issues that they might have never considered.
Shep: “Business travel is a company’s second largest controllable expense but for most of the market, existing travel tools are overkill and expensive. Shep solves this for free.”
Litr.ly: “As a writer, finding a reliable and affordable editor to help you improve your writing is costly and difficult. Litr.ly solves this.”
A well-stated overview is the most direct and simple way to answer The Question but without stating the vision nor identifying the problem, you should assume a fair deal of market knowledge on the part of your audience.
Shep: “Shep guides open booking activity and captures business travel expenses in real time on consumer sites.”
Litr.ly: “Litr.ly peer-sources professional editing and opinions to empower amateur writers with the knowledge of the industry.”
THE WHAT IF
A “What If” answer exists in the world of movie trailers where the listener or reader is asked to suspend disbelief and imagine a world…
Shep: “Imagine a world where business travelers could spend their company’s money anywhere they like, the way they should.”
Litr.ly: ”Imagine a world where even the most amateur blog writer could write compelling, grammatically correct prose.”
Using a well-known analog to create an association between your napkin idea and an existing, well-known company is a convenient shorthand to say a lot without having to explain a lot.
Shep: “Shep is a combination of Grammarly, showing business travelers which results they should book on any travel site, and Concur’s TripLink, allowing travel purchases on sites like Expedia, AirBnB, Orbitz and more.
Litr.ly: “Litr.ly is like dribbble and Google docs for writers, allowing social feedback, editing, and collaborative creation.”
There is no “right” way to describe your company and you’ll often find that you need to adjust your approach depending on the audience. Remember, the goal of your elevator pitch is not to explain your entire business but to get the person you are talking to intrigued enough to say “tell me more.”
So get out there and practice your pitch to your partner, co-founder, Mom, and, most importantly your mirror. With time and refinement, you’ll be able to very clearly and effectively tell the world “what your company does” in just a sentence or two.