How To Structure a Five Minute Pitch

Pitching is one of the most essential skills an entrepreneur can have. At any given time, you’re going to have to convince customers, investors, co-founders, candidates, the media, and even your family that what you’re doing is new and compelling.

One of the rarer forms of pitching is the five minute un-interrupted pitch format, most frequently used at demo day pitches for accelerators such as Y Combinator and Techstars, as well as StartupWeekends. This is a particularly unique beast to tangle with, and should be approached with attention to structure.

Getting up to speed takes time.

I’m not going to tell you that producing a world class five minute pitch can be achieved in less than a day. When we were in TechStars, we spent the final four weeks writing, practicing, re-writing, and getting hammered on our pitches. Some teams spent longer.

After you watch and reverse engineer enough, however, you’ll understand the common components and sequences that drive many of these pitches. To help you get a little bit closer, I’ve outlined a suggested starting point for your own five minute pitch structure that should help you outline content and begin to sort out exactly what goes where.

1. Introduce yourself, and your team.

This is pretty simple, but a lot of people make the mistake of skipping this step. Personal introductions make us feel like we’re having a chat, rather than being spoken to. Make them feel like they are having a 1:1 conversation with you.

Additionally, while you’re speaking, show a big branded slide for visual effect to burn an impression into their brains. Keep it simple – company name, maybe founders email or twitter.

  • I’m Andrew, I’m here today with my cofounders, X, Y and Z.
  • We’re Startup Name.

2. Tell them what you’re going to tell them.

If you just dive into the details without giving them an overview, you haven’t given them the big picture that they can anchor the details off of. You’ll be asking them to do mental juggling and trying to piece your ideas together. But if you give them a quick preview, they won’t be wondering why you’re telling them something.

  • We’re making a product that does X.
  • Going to tell you today why millions of people are dying for what we’re building.

3. Describe the problem.

Another common mistake is to assume your audience already understands the problem you’re solving. It once took me about 30 minutes to convince somebody that I didn’t understand the hoops merchants had to go through to process their credit card receipts at the end of every month. He literally thought I was toying with him – I wasn’t. I’ve never known merchants had to do this, and until I understood the situation, I couldn’t make heads or tails of his solution.

It’s your job to describe the problem in lay terms that anybody can relate to, and then make the problem sound EXTREMELY painful. The more you can make them relate to it, the more they will believe people will be willing to pay for your solution.

  • What’s happening in the world?
  • Is this a long standing problem, or new problem since something started?
  • There’s this huge problem, nobody is solving it!
  • Exactly who does the problem effect?
  • What does that person’s day look like?
  • Can you show a picture and provide a name of the person who hates this problem? Make the customer REAL to the audience.
  • How big is their pain?
  • Make the audience feel it!
  • Money wasted. Time wasted. Confusion. Mayhem. Frustration.
  • Feel free to tell a story to paint a clear picture.

4. Substantiate the size of the problem.

There’s a difference between a problem that 10 people feel, and a problem that 100 million people feel. The more people in the world who feel this problem, the bigger your market is.

  • What data do you have about how many people are in this situation?
  • Can you show data?
  • If you ask 100 people how painful this is for them, what percentage say they hate it?

5. Introduce the solution.

Now that you’ve teed up the problem, you can hit them with the solution. By now you should have them clammoring for it, itching to be rid of this feeling that the world is broken. You now have a golden opportunity to show them an elegant solution.

  • Tell them at a high level of how your product solves the problem.
  • Then transition to the demo with, “Let me show you how it works”
  • Only do a walk through of the most important pieces. Don’t show the signup process unless that’s your product – BORING!
  • You won’t have everything built, so use mockups to illustrate where you don’t have a demo.
  • Do NOT expect the internet to work for you, it is also subject to Murphy’s law.

6. Cover the money.

They now know the problem, the size of the problem, your solution, and they want to know who’s paying for this, and how much. It’s your job to communicate who your buyer is, and what their motivations are. How do the economics wok for them?

  • Are you saving somebody time?
  • How much are they willing to pay for that?

7. Mention the competition.

At this point, if you’ve done a good job, audience members will be thinking, “That is so painful, and a solution would be lucrative. How is it that nobody else has jumped on this already?” You need to address it.

Tell the audience about the terrible options currently at your customer’s disposal, and why they suck. Tell your audience about how your customer has to waste their time hacking together a solution that wastes time and money.

  • Who is aware of this problem?
  • How have people tried to solve this already?
  • What don’t they understand about the problem that you do?
  • Why do they suck?
  • Why are they focusing on the wrong thing?

8. Talk about traction.

If you really want to impress an audience, you need to validate their emotions with some momentum. By showing that you have real people who are already using this thing, or expressing intent to buy from you, you’re showing hustle and an ability to sell. Nobody wants to invest their time or money in a product that just sits there.

  • Did you get users yet? If you did something during StartupWeekend, point to that.
  • Have you gotten customers to sign letters of intent to purchase if you build it?

9. Paint the market opportunity.

Now’s the time to quantify the pain, how much customers are willing to pay, and the industry size as a whole into a number that somebody can groc. This is always an estimate, so try and use reference points that are realistic and people dont call BS on.

  • If you tackle this market, how big is the market?
  • Use existing markets or companies as a reference point for market opportunity.
  • If you were to KILL it as a business and capture 2% of the market, how much money are we talking about?
  • Market – make it real. 1 billion is HUGE. no need for 226 billion.

10. Present the team.

You can have the best idea and opportunity in the world, but if the team is lacking, it will eventually fail. It’s your job to show your audience you have an amazing and balanced team that can tackle the challenges running a real company will face.

  • Show pictures of the team.
  • Communicate backgrounds and areas of expertise.
  • Think about the roles that make a company successful, and have somebody representing those areas.
  • Can you aggregate years of experience in the industry into something powerful?

11. Give your ask.

For a pitch like YC or TechStars, this tends to be about money, but for StartupWeekend a great ask is for introductions to the right people in an industry. If you don’t tell people what you want them to do for you, you’re not only missing an opportunity to get free help, you’re communicating that you aren’t super ambitious.

  • Are you raising 200k to build a beta?
  • Do you have anything committed?
  • Do you just want to ask for introductions to customers?
  • Do you just want to ask for mentors?
  • Do you have specific industry questions you need hep with?

12. Close it!!

Ah, the close. To this point, you’ve been building excitement and painting a clear picture of an amazing opportunity. They’ve now listened to your words and have been piecing things together – but how will they remember the most important pieces? Because you’re going to remind them!

It’s your job to re-state whatever it is you want them to remember when they wake up in the morning, so hit them with the important stuff:

  • “What you’ve just seen is how millions of people are frustrated by Z, and how we’re changing the way X works by doing Y.”
  • “We’re going to be (solution in detail) so that every (customer) can X.”
  • Communicate team passion, “We’ve go a great team that’s going to KILL IT!”
  • If you want to join us, come talk to us!
  • Thanks!

You might also want to check out another post about how to prepare for being on stage.