From Elevator To Contract

From Elevator To Contract

Can you wow, shock, and rock an audience in minutes?

In 1853, Elisha Otis developed a safety device for the pulley systems used in the first elevators. One year later at the New York World's Fair, Otis amazed a crowd when he ordered his assistant to cut the only rope holding the platform where he was standing. Otis had suspended an elevator in mid-air with the pulleys and cables fully exposed to the audience.

Standing on the platform, he ordered the rope to be severed by an axeman. The crowd gasped, and on cue, Otis' safety system engaged and caught the elevator. The platform fell only a few inches before coming to a halt. No one had ever seen such a demonstration.

"All safe gentlemen, all safe." And he put his life on the line to prove it.

The Elevator Pitch was born. Look in most elevators today and you'll see the Otis brand still dominating the market share in the elevator industry.

Elevator pitches are still used today. But I'd like to contend that they're becoming a bit archaic. They are still necessary when first pitching a prospective partner, investor, or mentor of who you are and what you do. Yet, what happens after the elevator pitch?

I've yet to meet an investor who heard an elevator pitch and invested on the spot without first going to dinner a few times, having followup calls, email conversations, and asking a long string of questions. The Delightful Pitch is vitally important. It's the intrigue that gets someone to care. The Delightful Pitch opens the door, but it's what comes after that can fling the door wide open.

Levels Of An Elevator Pitch

The following are the stages of an elevator pitch. Most entrepreneurs focus on the pitch and neglect the other stages. Stop off at each of these floors on your way to the top of elevator pitch success.


You should already know who you'll be pitching to. It's a rare occasion that you run into a billionaire in an elevator, who then proceeds to randomly tell you he's a billionaire. "Hey! I'm a billionaire! Pitch to me." Not likely. If they're in Africa, they are probably lying about that. Billionaires have their own private elevators now. No need to rub shoulders with the normal folk.

Research will make you look good. It doesn't have to be a dissertation, but if you're going to an event and you know that VC or prospective partner will be there, at least be caught up on who they are and what they're working on (LinkedIn is great for that). Have a few connection points or personal talking points that you could hit on if your pitch goes well and you get past the initial question "What do you do?"

The Connection

Connection is what people remember. Once you've pitched, the very busy investor will carry on with their jammed daily agenda. You're not in it. More than likely, they'll ask you to follow-up via email and hand you a card. Very rarely, although I've had it happen a few times more recently, they'll give you a personal mobile number.

Post Connection Punctuality

This is the easiest stage, yet most often overlooked. Follow-up. The ball is in your court. Take the ownership here and follow-up on time, all the time. Sending an email a month after you meet will throw you and your project into a distant maze of "I'm trying to remember who that guy is."

A few tips here via email: be short, get to the point, have your subject line reference where you met and they heard your elevator pitch (RE: We Met @ Empretec Conference in Mutare & Discussed Renewable Fuels…), and lastly, have a clear ask and a clear give. Ask: I'd like to send you our short executive summary, I'd like you to invest, I'd like to get an introduction to so-and-so. Give: I highly respect how you approach the world, and your new venture has inspired many young entrepreneurs like myself. Even a small comment like this can go a long way if it's from the heart.

Ongoing Connection

Usually, if the person you're contacting is really into your idea (and you), then they'll give you a timeframe as to when you should follow up (in a couple days, I'll be out of town until next Thursday, talk to my assistant). The busier and more important the person, it's not uncommon to connect directly with their executive assistant and be scheduled for a phone call 4 to 6 weeks in advance.

Tip: to keep the phone call relevant and interesting, send the executive assistant a briefing of who you are, what you will be discussing on the call, and how best to reach you directly. That's professional and helpful.

A few other tips for ongoing connection:

  • A creatively worded email thanking them for the call. Using uncommon words helps you stand out. Instead of: it was nice to meet you say, It was remarkable being able to shake your hand. Avoid being creepy with this—It was amazing being able to peer through your office window and watch you work—bad choice of wording.
  • A thank you note and something small as a gift (we call these 3-D mailings—a book, a memorable item, a gesture of exchange from your culture—the more thoughtful and relevant to their personality the better).
  • If they ask you for specific documents or details, do the work and submit those to them in a timely manner (don't sacrifice quality for speed though, make sure it's thorough and answers all the important details).

Your pitch must be delightful to open the door, but if you want it to fling wide open, then incorporate all of these stages into your pitch process. You never know, with a pitch like this the billionaires might ask you to ride along on their golden elevators. "Hey I'm a billionaire! Come ride on my elevator..."

Not likely.

(photo ed mcgowan)