Why your startup pitch should be 8 seconds long

By John Greathouse , written on July 17, 2013

From The News Desk

In 1908, American baseball pitcher Addie Joss threw 74 pitches and completed the most efficient perfect game ever recorded (i.e., no hits, no errors, no runs).

To put this accomplishment into perspective, there have only been 23 perfect games recorded in major league baseball during the past 133 years, during which nearly 400,000 games have been played. Thus, perfect games account for .0058 percent of all games played.

The efficiency of Mr. Joss' performance is further underscored by the fact that the typical game involves approximately 150 pitches, more than twice the number thrown by Addie.

When seeking the perfect pitch, in baseball and in the startup world, less is a lot more. Entrepreneurs seeking funding should emulate Addie Josh's efficient and focused pursuit of perfection.


Perfection and efficiency are generally countervailing forces. When securing funding, entrepreneurs must balance the desire for perfection with the urgent need to ensure the process is efficient. Positioning pitches, one-line descriptions of a company's value proposition and relative placement within its ecosystem, are the first step in achieving such balance.

To what extent are such positioning statements important? In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Brad Keywell noted that, while the average New York city elevator ride is 118 seconds, most adults non-task focused attention span is closer to eight seconds. Following this logic, startups that lack a compelling positioning claim might experience fewer opportunities to deliver their elevator pitch and thus have greater difficulty obtaining funding.

The type of business, the nature of the investor audience, and the company's relative maturity all influence the relevancy of a company's positioning claim. For instance, in a crowded market, a highly differentiated one-liner might make the difference between a startup generating meaningful investor discussions and languishing in obscurity.

AngelList differentiation

In "The Art of One-line Pitching: A Study of AngelList," Chris Eleftheriadis reviewed 1,700 AngelList postings and identified the nine most common categories of positioning pitches. Chris' list is edited here for brevity:

  1. Ironic -- "Facebook for the dead" and "Yelp for medical marijuana."
  2. Humorous -- If "LinkedIn and had a baby who went to law school."
  3. ...But better -- "Better than Amazon's customer experience for any brand" and "LinkedIn on Steroids."
  4. Math Doesn't Lie -- "(Google x Facebook x Amazon) + (Universal Reviews) - Ebay+Soundcloud = us" and "FLIMBY=Yammer+Delicious+Gotomeeting."
  5. Explanatory -- "A Spotify with Pandora on top" and "Solving the Enterprise Dropbox problem."
  6. ...But For Nonprofits -- "Kickstarter on Steroids, tailored for nonprofits" and "Marriage of Salesforce, WordPress, Constant Contact, Ebay for nonprofits."
  7. Mashups -- "Blends Facebook, Pinterest, Google & Twitter creating world’s 1st  social shopping network" and "Think Flipboard and Hootsuite In One."
  8. Regional -- "Yelp for Brazil" and "Kickstarter of the Arab world."
  9. Customer Segmentation -- "Pinterest for MEN" and" for Gays and Lesbians."
I asked Chris which of these categories he felt most consistently grabbed investors' attention. He indicated that "X for y (e.g., Yammer for Education) & explanatory (e.g., Think TripAdvisor but instead of reviewing a hotel you review your street) are most effective, but it really depends on the value proposition."

Chris went on to highlight an interesting pattern in the AngelList positioning pitches. While it is not surprising that many of the startups associate themselves with one or more recognizable high-tech brands, the high concentration of the particular companies referenced is peculiar. Per Chris:

The top 10 most referenced companies account for the 46% of all startup references on AngelList. All of these 10 companies allow previously disconnected user groups to connect and transact, in what is termed ecosystem business models or multi-sided platforms.
Chris noted that the repeated references to ecosystem oriented companies is not surprising, given that many of the startups seeking funding on AngelList, "are solving real problems in innovative ways, and many of them doing so by joining disconnected user groups into ecosystems -- like Facebook connects users with advertisers, like Kayak connects airlines to travelers, or like Uber connects users with taxi drivers."

I also spoke with Naval Ravikant, co-founder of AngelList, regarding Chris' findings. Naval was skeptical of the relative importance of a company's positioning pitch to its fundraising efforts, saying:

Honestly, I don't think that the choice of how to position and the actual funding are all that correlated. To the extent that it even shows up in the stats, it's likely spurious. The details of the company traction, market, investors and team will strongly override pitching and positioning.
Naval's sentiments are well founded. An effective positioning pitch can serve to succinctly communicate a company's mission and value prop, but ultimately a startup's funding prospects will be predicated on its ability to execute. Clever positioning one-liners might attract an investor's attention, but it takes results to get them to pull out their checkbook.

Hall of Fame pitching

Addie Joss is unknown to all but the most ardent baseball historians. His nine-season career was cut short by tuberculosis, which eventually took his life. However, his efficient pitching career was not overlooked by the Baseball Hall of Fame, which relaxed its 10-season minimum tenure rule and accepted Addie into its ranks.

Although an effective one-line pitch is helpful, ensuring that a startup's overall fundraising efforts are efficient is more important than attaining perfection. Every minute the executive team spends seeking funding is time they are not enhancing the company's value prop or servicing its customers, partners and employees. Thus, successful entrepreneurs understand the value of striving for both the perfection and the efficiency of young Mr. Addie Joss.

[Image Credit: Wikimedia]