I’ve been speaking with some Y Combinator hopefuls as they prepare to interview for this coming batch. As usual, there are some really enthusiastic and super smart folks working to solve really interesting and important problems.

I love taking these meetings because I get to get back to the community that has supported me plus I learn a ton in the process. For instance, it was from all these meetings last time around where I wrote my most popular post of 2012: 11 compelling startup pitch archetypes.

This post addresses a very specific piece of the startup pitch: selling the dream.

The Final 10%

The vast majority of your pitch should be around the mechanics of your business: your customers, your product, your team, your distribution strategy. This is what’s going to make you successful: competent people who really understand the needs of their users and who have the ability to create the right product to address those needs and get it into the hands of their users.

But, there is a final 10% of your pitch which should be more aspirational. It’s about the vision, the dream, the magic. It’s the answer to the question “How is this going to be a billion-dollar business?” [1]

Two of the companies that I’ve spoken to were missing that part of their pitch. They had identified a market segment which had a burning problem, and their products all that problem, and they had good specific strategies to acquire those customers. This is a great start. [2]

But they were missing that aspirational story.
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“Don’t take too much advice. Most people generalize whatever they did, and say that was the strategy that made it work”

Ben Silbermann, cofounder of Pinterest

When we raised our seed round for Ridejoy, we got lots of great advice from many smart, experienced people. This was wonderful except that much of the advice was contradictory:

We had never raised capital from anyone (friends/family, angels, VCs) before and it was a little frustrating to seek out perspectives from people who had fundraising experience or who invest for a living and get such ambiguous advice!

Ultimately we had to carve out our own path by being relentlessly resourceful. We took the advice that made the most sense, made pitches, learned from our mistakes and iterated till we figured how to make it work.

I could write a “top 10 list of tips on raising a 1.3M seed round”, and maybe I will another day, but the point of this post is that with fundraising, as with many other things in startups and life, you’ll never be totally sure that you’re “doing it right”.

The best you can do is listen to everyone and then make up your own mind.

This is scary because that means if things blow up, you have no one to blame but yourself. On the other hand, this approach affords you the strongest learning opportunity (because you decide for yourself what you’re going to do) and over time, makes you a more capable individual.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve helped a handful of startups work on their YC applications and interviews. I spent much of the time brainstorming with the founders on the best way to explain their business in the most clear and compelling way possible. These founders knew a lot about the market and had spent months if not years developing their ideas, but that often meant they would be all over the place when talking about what they were doing. This caused their pitch to sound weak and not be as compelling as it could be.

Paul Graham is, among other things, really good at boiling companies down to their essence. When practicing for Demo Day, you’d see founders start to pitch their company and Paul would say “Wait, don’t say that. Why don’t you say you are doing ____” which summed up the company in a more beautiful and compelling way than anything the founder had previous pitched.

Startup Pitch Archetypes

When talking to an investor (or potential advisor, partner or other person who cares about the viability of your business success) you will talk at some point about all the major things: the market, the product, the team, the target customer, the business model etc — but how you lead the discussion and how you frame your points matters a lot.

From my experience at two demo days, talking to investors about Ridejoy and listening to lots of aspiring YC founders talk about their businesses, I realized that the best startup pitches seem to fall into several patterns. Depending on the type of business you’re building, who you’re pitching and your personal style, there are probably one or two archetypes that would be most compelling.

I’ve identified eleven compelling startup pitch archetypes (depending on how you slice it) and have tried to explain what they are, what they sound like, examples of YC companies that might have used this archetype and advice on how you might go about using it.

Take a look.

[alert style=”grey”]DISCLAIMER – I tried to match YC companies to pitch archetypes that I thought made sense but I was not at their meetings with investors nor did I attempt to verify this article with them (not enough time). The “What it sounds like” quotes are all simply illustrations of what this type of pitch might sound like and are all written by me, not by other YC founders. I’m not trying to put words in anyone’s mouth. Finally, these pitches are not magic. Nothing works unless you do.[/alert]

The Standard Pitch

What it is:

You’ve identified a problem / unmet need that a specific group of people have and have created product or service that addresses the need/solves the problem and is within your target customer’s budget.

What it sounds like:

“Over 40% of widget makers say they are “displeased” or “extremely displeased” with their widget designing software, particularly in areas X, Y and Z. We’ve built a better widget designer that is 2x as good in X, Y and Z than the competition” Continue reading