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…And Totally Nail Your PitchTank 1:1!


We recently announced a new event from our Tech Entrepreneur Nanodegree program team. It’s called PitchTank, and it represents an incredible opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs to pitch their business idea directly to a top investor in a 1:1 session. But, getting in front of an investor can be a nerve-racking and high-pressure experience. It can also lead to great success if done right. So the question is, how does one create a great pitch?

Stripping Away Pitch Hyperbole

This post collects together some phenomenal resources to help you do just that, and our aim is to strip away as much hyperbolic pitch rhetoric as we can. This is important, because for aspiring entrepreneurs, the idea of “the pitch” can take on a kind of supra-real significance, and the ensuing pressure to create a perfect pitch that nets actual investment can be almost paralyzing.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The Branson Way

When it comes to soliciting business advice, it never hurts to check in with Richard Branson. As it turns out, he has some great perspective on how to create a great pitch:

  1. What’s in it for them?
  2. Be clear
  3. Demonstrate smart disruption
  4. Plan for sustainable growth
  5. Show them your strengths

The Importance Of Clarity

What should be immediately clear from this list is that creating a great pitch deck is not a feat of magic or alchemy. It’s a process of distillation to essential clarity. To see some great examples of SERIOUS distillation, take a look back at a contest held by TechCrunch, in which they challenged startups to create one-sentence pitches! You can read the original contest instructions here, and discover the winners here. Here is a great example from the contest of Branson’s second element, clarity:

“My company, Zoot Interactive, is developing a mobile app to help college students find free food on campus in partnerships with organizations to increase traffic at their events.”

And there’s this, for smart disruption:

“My company, LintinZone, is developing a social shipping network to help customers buy stuff from all over the world without worrying about the cost and availability of international shipping and travelers earn extra money during their trips.”

Reference vs. Narrative

While the elements that Mr Branson proposes above are indisputably rock solid, there are nonetheless many potential ways to achieve the goals he lays out. Let’s consider two classic approaches: call them the Reference Model, and the Narrative Model. To understand the first, we have a great article from VisionMobile. The article—entitled The Art of One-line Pitching: A Study of AngelList— is a summary of research looking into the practice of referencing other companies to explain your own in the context of a one-line pitch:

“If Facebook and Pandora had a baby it would be …”

If you’re unsure about the merits of this kind of approach, consider the results of VisionMobile’s research:

In our research of AngelList startups we identified more than 60 companies referenced by more than 1700 startups in their one-line pitches.

Clearly, the Reference model is a thing. But is it right for you? That of course depends on the idea you want to pitch. As an alternative, we have the Narrative model. To understand this approach, let’s look at an article by the folks at unreasonable. The article is entitled Forget Pitching. Tell A Story. Here’s How! They’re pretty passionate about the merits of this approach, as evidenced by the opening paragraph:

…the single biggest problem that entrepreneurs have when it comes to pitching is that they don’t know how to tell a good story. And I don’t just mean one story somewhere in the middle of the pitch – I mean making the entire pitch one big story!

First, why should you make your pitch a story?
There’s a simple reason: people hate pitches and people love stories.

Could this be the way to go with YOUR pitch? If you look back at some of the most famous (and famously successful!) pitches in startup history, you’ll certainly see a lot of great storytelling. Clear, smart storytelling, but storytelling all the same. Here are two excellent articles that gather together some of these legendary success stories:

Lessons From The Early Pitch Decks Of Airbnb, BuzzFeed, And YouTube

The 9 Best Startup Pitch Decks of All Time

Pitch Resources

We’ve suggested quite a few resources for you already, but here are a few more we recommend:

4 Steps to Creating an Amazing Pitch Deck

The Do’s and Don’ts of Pitching to Investors

Best Pitch Decks

3 Steps to the Perfect 3-Minute Pitch

Pitch Deck Complete Guide

7 tips for nailing a startup pitch to a boardroom full of VCs

Startup secrets: How to pitch a VC the right way

This 18-Slide Pitch Just Landed Payment Startup Dwolla $16.5 Million

Will PitchTank Be YOUR Big Break?

Being an innovator and an entrepreneur can sometimes feel like both blessing and burden. On the one hand, what a wonderful thing to do, to bring new ideas into the world that change things for the better! To pursue your dreams, and see them become reality! To succeed on your own terms, on the strength of your own unique vision! On the other hand though, what a challenging road to travel—the pressure you must survive, the risk you must assume, the worry you must manage, the responsibility you must bear.

In many ways, the process of building your pitch deck and refining your pitch is an act of defiance against these potentially overwhelming factors. The real work of entrepreneurship is in the details: investor needs, audience targeting, competitive analysis, financial forecasting, prototyping, and more. Regardless of whether you follow Branson’s lead, adopt the Reference model over the Narrative approach, or elect to constrain yourself to a single sentence, acquiring skills through disciplined study and focused project-building is ultimately how you prepare for a successful future. As to PitchTank, it really is an incredible opportunity. The challenge is to be ready for it. 

Christopher Watkins
Christopher Watkins
Christopher Watkins is Senior Writer and Chief Words Officer at Udacity. He types on a MacBook or iPad by day, and either an Underwood, Remington, or Royal by night. He carries a Moleskine everywhere.