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How to Pitch Your Idea Now: Part I

There are many useful guides out there on how to pitch an idea correctly. They will tell you that your pitch should be short and to the point for instance. Or that you have to hit the main point as fast as you can in order to grab your listener’s attention.

Often you will only have one chance to intrigue somebody with your idea.

What is pitching and why should you care?

“Pitching”, is basically a term used commonly in the Start-up world for telling somebody your idea for the first time in order to get feedback. This feedback can come in various ways and will in almost all cases be valuable to you.

You can receive valuable advice from people with more experience than you in a specific field which can help you avoid mistakes or help you to reevaluate your ideas.

You can receive feedback from people who could be your future potential customers or users of your offering, which helps you to determine if your idea works theoretically even before it is implemented.

You will hear it in their voice if people love it (!) Or if they think it’s a “good” idea – which basically means it’s not very exciting to them. Which mean they weren’t too crazy about it. You will almost never hear “bad” feedback, people just don’t want to burst your bubble to your face. They’ll see how excited you are talking about your idea.

If you can see your vision taking shape in the other person’s face in the form of excitement you have something good going on.

If their face doesn’t change and they start pointing out problems right away – then they don’t think it’s going to work and are not convinced it’s a good idea.

Depending on your skill and your intentions you will receive information or possible resources from the other party if you did this correctly.

Now how do you overcome the initial fear of telling your precious Idea to somebody?

This is a topic I’m very passionate about because it could have saved me months or even years of frustration if I understood what to do with my ideas.(hint* it’s not “go into stealth mode” for the most part!)

If you are new to this concept you might say, “The hell I’m going to tell anybody about my world changing idea”. That’s at least what I was thinking in the beginning. I came up with lots of ideas for internet services, apps, movie and book ideas. I wrote them all down and kept refining and working on them constantly.

If you have multiple ideas or just a few – at some point you need to pick one and try to make it happen. And most of the time you realize that you can’t do it all by yourself. You will need help.

It was not my own decision to share my ideas finally; I was forced to. I was working on a tech idea and had no idea how to program it – or to run a company for that matter.

Today I honestly believe it was for the better and if you also lack an essential skill to make your idea happen in the beginning you are lucky. You have no choice but to seek help and start talking to people about what you are trying to do and whether or not they can help you. This creates the teamwork mentality.

Having no choice is a good way to start. But- if you really think about it, and are honest with yourself, you will be able to see that you have no reason to fear sharing your ideas. It all has to do with how the creative process really works. I’ll explain…

Imagine Stephen Spielberg has an idea for a movie and won’t tell anybody about it so that nobody steals his idea.

If you ever saw the credits of any movie or even short film it is staggering how many people are involved in making a movie. All of them knew the idea before the movie was finished or even before its filming had begun.

In our example Stephen had simply no choice but telling all these people about his idea in order to get them to help him make it happen.

Forget the NDA – “Non Disclosure Agreement”

I once thought “Oh I will just let them sign an NDA “Non Disclosure Agreement” so they won’t be able to talk to anyone about this idea anyway.” Even if that might be the case, talking to people only when an NDA is signed will hurt your cause way more than it protects you. I’m serious.

First of all, people won’t like you much for not trusting them. Especially if you are just starting out and don’t have a track record and not much experience.

No idea is as important to SOMEONE ELSE as it is to you. So why should they even consider signing that paper?

I learned this lesson the hard way and I am glad I did. In the very early days of our idea, we told some people to sign the NDA we had so artfully crafted. But these were friends and roommates – where it was more about getting a general opinion.They agreed, only because they were friends and they decided to indulge our silliness.

The moment we got into a room with people who could really possibly help us in making this tech idea happen – a programmer and a designer – they simply refused to sign the NDA.

So we split with a bad feeling in our stomachs and wondering what went wrong. What went wrong is that the moment people have something to lose – a venture, a business, or a job that is in a similar field as yours they might be jeopardizing, or even their own ideas, plans and ventures, signing an NDA is pretty much out of the question. It also does not create a collaborative atmosphere, which is what you would want from an early development team.

After all, they do not know what you are about to tell them yet. And yet they would be agreeing not to talk about it before hand, even if a similar idea is in the works somewhere. This practice might work with movie production where you promise not to go and make a movie when you refused to work on a project as a cameraman or an actor. Signing an NDA simply doesn’t matter to you because you’re not in the producing business.

However, when it comes to entrepreneurs, the best people all have great ideas and are always hustling to make things happen. They might need to get into a project one day that could be seen as similar. Therefore NDA’s only hurt the signer.

As a rule of thumb, if you feel you need an NDA to tell your idea to a specific person, it’s always related to lack of trust and it might be better not pitch to that person anyway. If the person is a professional and is more experienced than you in the field, they’re probably going to have lots of advice for you.

If you present yourself as competent and confident, they won’t even think about going after YOUR project. They’ve got better things to do.

So no NDA needed there either.

Sometimes this behavior is also a result of the tense relationship between non-programmers (non-techies) and programmers. The non-technical founders who often have an idea but nobody to program it – simply don’t trust the programmers. They think they will just run off with the idea if they don’t get them to sign first – and just build the whole thing themselves.

If that scenario sounds familiar to you, need to ask yourself if you’re bringing enough to the table yourself to make this project become a reality and a success.

From personal experience I now know that I was only afraid of telling my idea to a programmer because the only thing I had was the idea itself (back then).

I didn’t realize it at the time that by asking for an NDA, I was admitting that I was not ready to be part of the execution of my own idea.

But what does it mean “to not be ready to be part of the execution of your own idea?” It means what you got is not enough. It means that you don’t believe you have enough.

We got comfortable talking about our idea – without NDA’s – because we started developing the idea and putting so much work, research and love into it. We knew that just programming it from the main concepts would not duplicate the product we were working on.

The more you develop your idea – even if its only on paper, in writing – the more comfortable you will get talking about it. Because you can release information selectively.

For instance your idea may pivot at least once every couple of weeks. Which means your idea will evolve and take another direction based on your pitches and the advice you get, the research you do, and your gained experience. If you now tell somebody the core of your idea as how it was in the beginning it may still be the same idea- but- you added so many nuances and sometimes even features to it since then – that it is now a completely different service.

I personally would recommend to talk about the core idea, the essence, for most pitches. Keep details out when possible, since they take time to explain, and you often don’t have to explain everything. Maybe you need 1-3 unique reasons why you stand out from the competition but that’s it. It’s also really good to have your “secret sauce” or strategies on going viral to yourselves. Not revealing the secret sauce to everybody you talk to is the smarter form of keeping you idea safe, but still being able to talk to a lot of people about it.

So if you still feel that you can only talk to somebody with an NDA, this simply means you didn’t do enough work yet. You are still at the beginning.

It also means that the moment you tell anybody he will know exactly as much as you know. Think of it like this: you both just got to the line at the start of a race. But since the other one has a skill that might make him run faster (programming), you’re afraid you could loose.

This fear is important because it tells you that you need to do something. It’s natural. You need to be able to protect your idea simply by making it so much your own that nobody else but you can implement it. If you have nothing but the idea to implement, why should somebody work with you anyway.

But if you found solutions to a lot of the problems with in your idea – which requires work, research, time and love for the project – you will have so much of a head start that copying or stealing your idea is something only a fool would do – and it would be very unlikely that he succeeds.

There are many things you can do even if you lack one essential skill to finalize it completely. It could be programming, business or design. Most projects are so complex that every aspect needs a lot of work and attention. Focus on the ones you can do. And start learning about the ones you can’t do yet.

To come back to the metaphor of the runners, you will be 5 laps ahead from the start by default. So even if the other person takes your idea after you tell them about it – they will never be able to create the same product, or catch up to you- as long as you keep on running.

At some point you will look back at the different pitches you made over the course of several months and you will realize that what you told somebody 3 months ago is no longer valid – everything changed since then you had so many cool ideas in addition. That’s your best NDA – to keep working and stay ahead.

I got very comfortable talking about our idea when we realized how much work it is to implement all the things that we needed to figure out. And some of the technology we wanted to create turned many programmers off because it sounded too ambitious, too complicated and too time consuming!

How often did you hear somebody’s idea and went to actually steal it and implement it for yourself? Never – and countless times – would both be right answers.

Usually we wouldn’t take someone’s idea directly simply because we didn’t come up with it ourselves. We think it’s not worth it if somebody is already working on it – they have a head start. On the other hand if you come up with an idea chances are that somebody out there came up with that same idea years ago.

So the idea is often not new anyway – even if you think it is – it’s better to assume it’s already out there. The same idea given to different people with different circumstances living in different cultures – will result in totally different outcomes.

Coming up with a good idea is not the hard part – the hard part is to be true to yourself and give that idea your personal take that makes it new and unique.

We steal ideas from all over the place every day without noticing. But when somebody tells you the idea for a business that’s similar, we think all of a sudden a different thing- it’s stealing. But it really is not. That idea you have is probably made up from other ideas that you have seen elsewhere and you used your imagination (your personal take) and made something unique out of it.

Almost all our ideas are based on someone else’s idea or work anyway so it’s better to understand it as a sharing process with limitations – instead of a process of absolute secrecy.

We are always plugged in into the vastness of ideas of the present and the past.

This strongly affects our own ideas and imagination.

It is important to understand that we are a part of this process of creation. Only by sharing and implementing our ideas can we acknowledge that we understand this, and the fact that we have to pay tribute to the ones that came before us.

Stay tuned for Part II.

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Martin Labud

All around nice guy from Germany who is learning how to code, and raising two cats while traveling the globe. He is Co-founder of Tipabl, a social giving platform. Previously he worked as an Animator and Game Designer.

9 thoughts on “How to Pitch Your Idea Now: Part I

  1. Kristy Moore

    I love your comment “see your vision taking shape in the other person’s face”! So true – I believe a big part of pitching is connecting (to the right people) through your story, your why and of course you big idea and vision. Thanks for the reminder to focus on just one thing too – certainly makes it easier for judges, investors and the audience make decisions on the spot.

    Reply
  2. Michaela Cristallo

    Great advice Martin! I’ve often had good ideas for innovative services/products and I, like you, have had the tendency to want to keep them to myself for the same reasons you talk of. It’s really interesting to read your thoughts and experiences on this and I especially found the info about NDA’s useful. Thanks!

    Reply
  3. Tom

    I’ve never had someone come at me with an NDA, but I know I wouldn’t take them seriously if they did (well – it depends on the circumstances, but if it’s someone with simply an idea, yeah, no thanks).

    Not sure if you read it, but POP by….I forget who, but here’s the link:

    http://www.amazon.com/POP-Perfect-Tagline-Anything-ebook/dp/B000OCXFXS/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1381116960&sr=8-5&keywords=POP

    It’s about creating names that capture peoples attention – and a pitch is basically the same thing. You have 4 seconds to capture someone’s attention on your website, probably 10 seconds in person, and you need to be able to articulate in an interesting way what you’re all about.

    Of course…it’s always easier said than done.

    I remember hearing Seth Godin talk about it, and he recommended becoming 1 dimensional. Very cool stuff, and I actually wrote more about it if you’re interested (it’s in my pay what you want book 2 Days With Seth Godin, which you can find on my site).

    Keep it up Martin!

    Reply
  4. Melissa

    Interesting read martin! I completely agree with you that we have ideas all the time – the hard part is to be true to yourself and give that idea your personal take that makes it new and unique. It can be so hard to not get caught up in comparison that you forget what the intention was from the beginning. Thanks for the tips!

    Reply
  5. Pingback: How to Pitch Your Idea Now: Part II | Two Non Techies

  6. Tracey

    Hi Martin,
    I found this an interesting read. I have been guilty of wanting to keep ideas to myself out of some fear and I agree that it does not breed a ground of trust or collaboration. Definitely something to think about.

    Reply
  7. Menucha

    I find this very interesting and relevant to me right now. I have a brilliant business idea that requires a large investment, which I obviously don’t have the funds for. I’m wish I knew WHERE to pitch it and to whom, as I think it could save me financially. I would however need a whole team for it. I have mentioned it to a few people, and I think that this article will really help me out when I do find the right party to pitch to.

    Reply
  8. Connie

    A lot of great information in this post. I used to use NDA’s back about 10 years ago. Then I realized that if I could come up with one idea, I can come up with a lot more. 😉 I love the beginning part about pitching it to someone and see if they understand it. Usually, I am pitching over the phone though. To me, if they attribute ideas, then I know my idea is good. If they don’t, then they don’t get it. Thanks for the great article.

    Reply
  9. Susan

    Interesting article, Martin. My husband has been floating an idea for a unique product that he wants to pitch to some folks, but is concerned that they will steal his idea. I will be passing this article along to him! Also, as someone who is starting a non-traditional church with a unique focus, I needed to come up with a short pitch to tell others about it. And you’re right: You can tell when people are excited about your idea, and when they are just being nice. Having a great pitch that is true to your idea goes a long way for your cause.

    Reply

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