No matter how good an idea, your chance at success may hinge on the quality of your product pitch
On the last weekend in September, the Edison Nation and Enventys teams headed to the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth, Ga., for the Amazon Inventions Tour. It was a great event for inventors to make their product pitch, network and listen to great speakers. Inventors with mature ideas or inventory made their product pitch to Amazon to get approved for the new Amazon Launchpad platform. In a different part of building, inventors that were still in the idea or prototyping stage pitched ideas to the Edison Nation team in hopes of landing a licensing deal. There were great speakers talking about all different aspects of product development and inventing, including Tom Charron from 3D Systems, Anthony Knight from the USPTO, Kate Drane from Indiegogo, and even Edison Nation superstar inventor Eric Huber. There was even a mixer on Friday night hosted by Budweiser which was a fantastic time to network.
While the Edison Nation and Enventys design teams are usually hard at work at the home office in Charlotte, we took a few days off to join the panels to review the ideas submitted to the event. We piled into a few cars on Thursday afternoon, my team packing four grown men in a Jetta TDI, and made the short four-hour journey to Atlanta. On Friday and Saturday we split up into American Idol style judging teams comprising at least one team member from the different disciplines like industrial design, licensing and engineering. We were setup behind dramatic black-clothed tables in rooms that were big enough to host a soccer match, and gave inventors at least seven minutes to show us their ideas and make their product pitch.
After two days of hearing numerous pitches I noticed that despite all of the inventors having immense passion for their ideas, not all of them did an equally good job of communicating their innovations. No matter how good an idea, the chances of getting investors, landing a licensing deal, or even selling product at a trade show may hinge on the quality of your product pitch. Here are a few pointers to make your next pitch better.
Don’t Bury the Lead
By far the most frustrating mistake that was made during pitches was not explaining what the product was early in the presentation. There were many times that after five minutes of explanation, I still had no idea what the product was or what it did, which left little time after that to get caught up. Fortunately, the judging team was skilled and kind enough to ask probing questions and extract the idea, but other groups or audiences may not be so forgiving. A great way to pitch a mouse trap would be to say, “I became frustrated by mice running through my house, so I designed a device to trap them. It has a wooden base with a spring loaded gate and a food tray. When the mouse steps on the food tray, the spring releases the gate and it unwinds rapidly, killing the mouse.” You need to quickly and concisely state the problem and your proposed solution as early as possible in the product pitch to keep your audience interested.
Back Story is OK, but in Moderation
Every product that makes it to market has an interesting story. There are bins full of prototypes, the magical trip to the hardware store that saved the day, and that time it almost burned down the garage. The trials and tribulations of the process is what makes inventing and product development so much fun. These stories are great fun when sharing with family or fellow inventors, but can be a drag on a pitch. Back stories can add flavor and context, but when speaking to someone unfamiliar with the product, it needs to stay high level and be really interesting to avoid losing their attention. James Dyson made 5127 prototypes before he came up with the bagless vacuum cleaner, but if you had to sit in a room and listen to a story about each one you would lose your mind. Back to the mouse trap, a good back story might be, “My wife and I like to pop cheese curds while practicing our ballroom dancing at home. One day a mouse scampered through the living room towards our cheese bowl. My wife freaked out mid Foxtrot and stepped on my toe so hard that I fell over and crashed into the lamp. I had to go to the ER and get four stitches on my forehead. After that I knew I had to find a way to get the mice.”
Rehearse Your Product Pitch
No activity performed well is done without practice, and this goes for pitching a product, too. One of the best pitches I saw at the event was a gentleman who came in with an idea for exercise equipment. The product was novel, but the presentation was outstanding. In just four minutes he talked through the history of the product and its benefits all while doing about 20 different exercises. He was a fit guy, but by the end he was sweating. Most importantly the panel had a crystal clear picture of his concept and had very few questions. It was clear he had practiced the routine a number of times and it helped communicate his concept clearly. Of course not everyone has great charisma or knack with words, but rehearsing your pitch will help you understand your own concept better and give you the confidence to communicate the idea clearly.
Prototypes are Gold
You could pitch a product to someone who does not speak your language and it would likely still go well if you have a prototype to help tell the story. Seeing an idea born in three dimensions is immensely helpful in communicating a new innovation. The ultimate is a prototype that functions perfectly and looks like a finished product, but much simpler prototypes can be just as compelling. Having a prototype shows that you have put forth significant thought into the form and function of the innovation, even if it is made from simple household materials like paper, wood, or PVC. Just make sure to transport the prototype in an opaque package so as not to accidentally have a public disclosure, and make sure if it requires a consumable like water or batteries that you have spares on hand to replenish.
Giving a pitch is a nerve wracking experience. It can feel like the stakes are high and that your idea will live or die based on how well the product pitch goes. However, with plenty of practice and a prototype in hand you will maximize your chances for a positive result from the meeting.
Have you ever thought, “wouldn’t it be cool if…”?