The Pitch, Part II (or how I learned to stop worrying and love telling a story)

I never thought I would shake Kevin Harrington’s hand. I never thought I would be pitching a business concept to him, or asking him for one hundred thousand dollars, either. It turns out that I ended up doing both.

As I mentioned in an earlier post about the business pitch-being able to sell your idea to someone is an ideal skill to have. In the time it takes for an elevator to go from the top floor to the bottom, can you pitch your idea? Can you sell your business concept in less than 90 seconds?

I had the opportunity to pitch at DEMO Day-an entrepreneurship conference put on by the University of South Florida. As part of the student pitch competition, I was one of six competitors trying to win a six thousand dollar prize. It was a three judge panel of successful entrepreneurs and angels, led by Kevin Harrington of Shark Tank fame.

I arrived backstage and met the other competitors. I was lucky to be amongst two of my peers-Phil and Ryan-fellow students and entrepreneurs from the University of Tampa. As I heard the others pitching their concepts, I nervously paced backstage. I repeated my tightly crafted pitch. It was exactly 310 words and 90 seconds in length. I looked around and saw some of the others doing the same nervous walk. Positioning myself to see out from the stage, I could see the seats being filled up-there were over 300 people.

Finally, my name was called and I was mic’ed up. The MC for the day announced my name and business and I walked out. Ignoring the crowd, I moved to the judges, presented my business card, and walked back into position on the stage.

“Hi, my name is Paul, and I’m an entrepreneurship student at the University of Tampa. Before that, I served in the Marine Corps for eight years… and when I was looking to leave the military, I found myself in a very difficult position. I knew that I wanted to go to college, but I had no idea of what the process was like or where I would go to school.”

I could see the judges understood. I spoke to the crowd but could not see them. The spotlight that shined on me turned everyone into a bright flash, as if I were having a near-death experience.

I continued, “There was scattered information across the web, and since I was in Okinawa, Japan, at the time, I couldn’t really call schools for information, and I definitely couldn’t visit them.”

As I had been mentored and coached to do, I was telling a story in my pitch. More importantly, I was telling my story. It was passionate and real.

“I’ve also found that I’m not alone. In fact, there are over 2.2 million in my target market.”

A well-placed statistic helped demonstrate a real need beyond my own.

“With, that is exactly what we’ll do. will be the first web resource and social network for military members transitioning to college and veterans currently on campus.”

With this statement, the judges knew how that need would be solved. Now, how would I solve it? I had to show them why and give them the benefits for such an endeavor.

“The site will allow users to find the right school and help them with the GI Bill, for example, in addition to connecting student veterans across the nation. The site will be no cost to the user-earning revenue through advertising and lead generation for financial services firms, military publications, and universities.”

So here I have demonstrated need, a solution, how and where the money comes from. All of these elements are extremely important in their own right, but it has to be wrapped up in an eloquent conclusion.

The pitch conclusion should include two things: an ask-that is the amount of money that you are requesting and basic terms of agreement-and a good closing line. Here’s mine:

“By providing the only complete resource for the college process, is in prime position to earn substantial revenue and serve the men and women who have served us. I am asking for a 100 thousand dollar investment for startup and operating costs for the first year with break even coming in month 12.

I’m Paul, with, and I’m helping today’s veterans go on to become the next Greatest Generation. Thank you.”

I was finished, and it was time for questions from the judges. Kevin spoke first, asking me to clarify exactly what I would be doing. The other judges asked about the financials. I answered quickly and confidently. After ten minutes, my time in the spotlight was over. Thanking the judges and audience, I walked back stage.

After a few minutes of deliberation, we were invited back on to the stage. Kevin Harrington spoke, “It was a very touch decision. I know that I speak for all of the judges when I saw that we were very impressed with all of your pitches, but,”  he said, “we could not pick only one.”

They picked three first place winners. was one of them.

So what can be learned?

My experience was a great learning experience. There are many tips out there for how to craft a good pitch. Here are some of mine:

Practice, practice, practice. I practiced my pitch and got the words down exactly as I wrote them. I said it over and over for days. You want to be careful to not be mechanical in delivery, but you want to know exactly what you are trying to say. Writing it down, memorizing it, and knowing it will give you more confidence when you need to deliver.

Pitch your friends and family. If you can’t be confident in front of people you are comfortable with, you are not going to do it on stage. Have them time you and listen to your words. Ask for honest feedback.

Tell a good story. Everyone likes to hear stories. Don’t just dive into what your business is. Talk about a problem that you saw and how it made you feel. Personal connections help make your pitch more real.

Have a revenue model. The investor you are pitching wants to hear a good pitch with a good story, but the financials are what they really care about. Have an idea of how your venture will make money, and who your customer is going to be. If you don’t know, then it’s a hobby, not a business.


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