3 Common Pitching Mistakes Your Startup is Making

Many startups are becoming increasingly bloated throughout their lifecycles, constantly launching new features and services to remain competitive. But as this happens, it becomes increasingly difficult to explain the core concept of a business in a simple manner. As a new company, you must be able to explain your ideas effectively to others however more often than not, this can be a challenge.

Explaining what you offer is much different than explaining how what you offer benefits your customers. In other words, the platform in which you choose to deliver your product (i.e. a web app or mobile app) is rarely as compelling as the problem it solves. And regardless of how robust your startup’s offerings have become, or how many new features you plan to launch, you must find the simplest language to describe them.

Here are some of the most common pitching mistakes we see startups make, and how your startup can avoid them.

1. Your One-Sentence Pitch is Dull

There’s a trend among startups to reduce their concept to the simple “X for Y” formula to make it easier to understand. But if this sounds like your startup pitch, then you should take a harder look at the problem you’re trying to solve and identify how you can truly differentiate your company. Investors or potential partners are going to ask what your plan will be if a competitor enters your space.

If your company plans to be the Uber for pets and tomorrow Uber decides to take over that space, you definitely won’t be differentiating your startup enough.Rather than compare your startup to an existing idea, focus on what you do extremely well and refine your solution into an explanation that is short, clear, and can be easily understood by anyone — even your grandmother.

If you still can’t describe your business in one sentence without industry jargon, then you might not understand your solution well enough, and you might need to go back to the drawing board. Try using this simple one-sentence pitch format from The Founder Institute as a guide.

  • The “Defined Offering”: This should be short, simple and capable of being understood by everyone, like “a website,” “a mobile application,” “hardware,” or “desktop software.”
  • The “Defined Audience”: This is the initial group of people that you will market your offering to. In the case of consumer applications, it is usually a demographic, such as “women age 25 to 35 years old.” In the case of business applications, it is usually a job function at a type of corporation, such as “system administrators at medium-sized technology businesses.” A properly defined target market is key. “Women” or “small businesses” are way too large and not nearly targeted enough.

  • The “Problem” You’re Solving: Now that you have an offering helping an audience, you need to solve a problem. The problem needs to be something that everyone understands, such as “reduce the time collecting bill payments” or “engage in an immersive entertainment experience.”

  • The “Secret Sauce”: The final component adds your unique approach to solving the problem and demonstrates a mastery of the market. Some examples are “by sending automated email alerts based on analysis of highest response times” or “with virtual worlds constructed in reaction to the movements of the players.”

Words to Avoid

  • “First”, “Only”, “Huge”, “Best”. These words signal inexperience.

  • Buzzwords and industry jargon

2. Your Explainer Video is Painfully Generic

Why does this video feel so familiar? Probably because it perfectly packages every generic advertising trend into a three-minute video. This video’s stream of stock photos and inspiring buzzwords are meant to call out lazy marketing. The good news is your startup doesn’t have to fall into the same trap.

Explainer videos can be an excellent way to convey your startup’s concept in a simple, engaging way but as these explainer videos begin to saturate every corner of the Internet, your brand must find a unique way to make your video stand out. One of the best ways to win the attention of your viewers is with storytelling.

As we enter the “attention economy”, attention is being treated as a scarce commodity. Consumers now have unlimited access to information and limited time, or attention, to give to it. As a result, it’s becoming much more difficult to capture your audience’s attention with traditional messaging strategies. Consumers have become skeptical of branded messages and numb to blatant promotions. If you want to hook your viewers, consider how your video’s message can not only explain why your idea is simple and useful but also how it tells your brand’s story. A smart, captivating, and possibly humorous, approach to your script may be necessary.

3. Your Content Doesn’t Speak to Your Audience

Your startup’s team may think you know what’s best for your audience but more often than not, startups produce content that only serves their own interests rather than produce content that truly hits the pain points and solves the problems of their target audience. If you have a technically complex product or service, it’s crucial to understand who your target audience is, and where they like to spend their time in order to explain why your solution is the best.

Dig through social media, forums, and industry publications and make note of the problems your target customers are trying to solve. Only when you have a full grasp on what this audience looks like can you craft a content marketing plan that serves them in an easy-to-understand manner — rather than confuse or bore them with overly complex content.

This Hubspot post has a great list of tips for creating interesting, share-worthy content for “boring” industries and the advice well serves startups with complex offerings that are difficult to describe too. Here are some of the key tips, simplified.

  1. Be genuinely helpful. An exhaustingly overstated tip, but the point stands that "boring" content isn't actually boring to the people that need it.

  2. Eliminate business babble. Write like you speak.

  3. Write with specificity. Your content will be far more helpful if you've taken the time to think of specific angles, scenarios, and examples that relate to your reader. (Hint: another reason why you must define your target audience first.)

  4. Let your sense of humor show.

  5. Use relatable analogies to explain complex concepts.

  6. Edit for brevity. Consumers spend 60% of their internet time on mobile devices, meaning content that's difficult to read is even more likely to be abandoned.

  7. Give readers little mental breaks. Break up your content into smaller, more digestible pieces.

  8. Tell your story visually, or via different mediums. A picture is worth a thousand words.

  9. Interview interesting people.

  10. Shock people. If you can take a complex or “blah” topic and find a surprising facet of it around which to center your content, your audience will be hooked.

No matter how your startup develops through its lifecycle, it is essential to communicate your idea clearly and simply to an audience encountering your startup for the first time. As a marketing agency that works exclusively with startups, we can partner with you to develop a clear communication strategy that helps you meet your goals — whether it’s to increase brand awareness, your user base, or position your name as a leader in your space. Shoot us an email and let’s chat about how we can work together!