Eight tips from digital innovators Schippers ’04 and Fisher ’06 steer students toward perfect pitch

In business, you’re lucky to get 30 seconds to interest someone in the product or service you’re selling.

Jeremy Fisher '06 explains the art of the pitch as Ben Schippers '04 looks on. Fisher was a guest speaker in Schipper's Short Term course on digital innovation on May 6, 2014. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

Jeremy Fisher ’06 explains the art of the pitch as Ben Schippers ’04 looks on. Fisher was a guest speaker in Schipper’s Short Term course on digital innovation on May 6, 2014. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

Students taking a course on digital innovation, one of four new practitioner-taught Short Term courses offered through the college’s Purposeful Work Initiative, have spent many hours thinking about those 30 seconds, whittling down their own pitches with the help of instructor Ben
Schippers ’04.

Schippers, co-founder of software development startup Happy Fun Corp in Brooklyn, N.Y., co-teaches the course with Happy Fun colleague Will Schenk.

Schippers’ students develop fundamental coding and design skills while learning the finer points of entrepreneurship — including the all-important pitch, or “elevator speech” — from professionals who have been on both sides of the negotiating table.

On May 6, Schippers invited his friend Jeremy Fisher ’06 to visit the class and help critique students’ pitches.

Fisher is something of an authority on digital innovation: His social media startup Wander was recently acquired by Yahoo! Inc. for more than $10 million.

Here are Fisher and Schipper’s tips for the perfect pitch:

Fisher says:

Jeremy Fisher ’06 is co-founder and CEO of Wander, developer of the Days app and recently sold to Yahoo.

Jeremy Fisher ’06 is co-founder and CEO of Wander, developer of the Days app and recently sold to Yahoo. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

Know your audience: “If someone in a bar asks what you do, you’re going to tell them about your startup in a different way than if you were in a boardroom.”

Keep it simple: “Don’t make your pitch do too much. It’s about finding the core that makes your idea intriguing or attractive to people.”

Leverage the absurd: “Sometimes having an idea that sounds really preposterous, or kind of ridiculous, is actually a huge asset,” because it gets people talking.

Always be on message: “The worst thing ever is not knowing what to say about your service. Having a clear value proposition — a really clear thing that you use it for — is effective. You need to be able to crystallize what you’re doing into a pitch that others can repeat for you.”

Find your hook: “Investors want to know how they’re going to pitch you as an entrepreneur. It’s understanding your personal narrative and how that fits into the story of your company.”

Schippers says:

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Ben Schippers ’04 is co-founder of tech start-up Happy Fun Corp. He and Fisher became friends while students at Bates. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

Get to the point: “When you say ‘like’ or ‘whatever’ or these really bogus vanilla words, it’s just noise.”

Avoid lazy comparisons: If you start comparing your product to an existing service — “‘It’s like Pinterest, but’ or ‘It’s like Facebook, but’ —  you’ve just lost.”

Bring the energy: “I like it when people come to my office and they’re really, really, really excited, and they figure out how to get me excited. Draw your audience in and figure out how to get them as excited as you are about your idea. Think of that as a No. 1 priority. That requires a huge amount of confidence and focus.”

Fisher adds a final bit of pitch wisdom for all career-minded students: “Realize that you’re always pitching, even to your classmates — even when you’re on campus going to parties, hanging out with friends.

“You never know which people are going to be in positions of power over you, under you, next to you.”

He shares a story from his time at Morgan Stanley when he learned his high school friend’s mother would be his new boss.

“Thank God I made a good impression on her when I was a kid.”

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