Friday, October 26, 2007

And the elevator is yours, starting... now.

Come this November the 14th, twenty teams in Madison, Wisconsin will live the toughest 90 seconds of their life. 4 people strong, each team will taste the same intensity that their MIT colleagues did exactly a month ago. Only the MIT team had it worse. They had to get away in 60 seconds.

No, it's not a Houdini contest. Not a sports car caper either. It's the Elevator Pitch Olympics. Venture capitalists and angels will be standing by eagerly to grab the team that could sell themselves in 90 seconds.
Teresa Esser recently reminded me the story of Christopher Columbus back in 1485, when corporate elevators did not exist.

Columbus had a well thought out plan of reaching the Indies through the Atlantic Ocean instead of the treacherous land routes. In 1485, he visited John II, King of Portugal, and laid out his proposal. He also made a few funny demands. He demanded to be made "Great Admiral of the ocean", and also the governor of any lands he discovered, and also be given a tenth of all revenue from the discovered land.
The King summarily rejected him on grounds that:
  • His calculations of the proposed route were way shorter than what could actually be. This meant that he could have oversimplified certain routes, and also made some assumptions.
  • He had not taken safety measures in case his calculations were indeed wrong. No ship that existed then could carry enough supplies to last a longer journey. The sailors accompanying him would die of thirst or starvation.
Columbus's elevator pitch had clearly not taken off ground floor. He pitched John II again three years later, but to no avail. Clearly the investor was not interested.

Not the kind to be bogged down, Columbus secured an appointment with Queen Isabella I of Castille, Spain. On May 1, 1486, he pitched the same plan to the Queen. After much time, the Queen and her committee dismissed his case on the same grounds as King John of Portugal. However they did want to keep their options open and not lose his idea. Thus it was decided that Columbus would be given an annual stipend of 12000 maravedis, and free food and lodging.

Persistence finally paid off for Columbus in the famed year 1492, when the Spanish empire decided to back him up. They also met with his other demands. Columbus set sail. He might have made some mistakes for sure, but he did set sail.


Immortalized in stone: Columbus' elevator pitch to Queen Isabella


Columbus teaches us, the elevator generation; that it's not a trivial matter to be able to impress an investor by the time he exits at the 60th floor. It is not just a matter of articulation, but is the ability to do your distance calculations accurately enough.
  • Know what your assumptions are, and be able to speak them out.
  • Do not make outrageous demands, unless you know how good you are.
  • Arrange for exit strategies and alternatives for the worst cases.
  • Lastly if all else fails, then stick to your guns and persist.

4 comments:

mindmidget said...

Looks like we are in for the roller-coaster generation next.Imagine having to sell your investment plans in 15-20 seconds screaming over the sound of the wind while your stomach did flip-flops.
Nice touch with the Columbus analogy.

Anu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Swaroop said...

Thanks...

Ashwini said...

hey, that's something really big and exciting! it calls for a follow-up post on what happens!