Monday, July 28, 2014

Pitching a Book, Pitching a Business


by Wendy Tokunaga

A few months ago my husband quit his job to start his own business. He’s helped co-found a couple of companies before, but with this one it’s just him and his partner, who is located in a different state. So this is an exciting and important time. I want to help him as much as I can, but I’m not directly involved in the business. His industry is medical imaging, where he has many years of experience. I’ve worked in a few tech startups in the past in an editorial capacity, but I don’t have any expertise in my husband’s industry. I haven’t been sure how much help I can provide him in this new venture other than to give emotional support.

One way to get money to run the company is to tap venture capital (VC) funders or “angel” investors. We live in the heart of Silicon Valley so there are many such funders in the area. My husband started to devise a slide presentation to explain what his company does to prepare to pitch to VCs and investors. I had him practice in front of me.

To be honest, the presentation was much too long, rather dull and full of technical jargon the average person wouldn’t understand. I could comprehend very little of what he was saying. Something struck me immediately: he needed to use much simpler, to-the-point-language, leave out all the extraneous details and clearly describe the problem that his product solves and its benefits. He needed to tell it like a concise, compelling story. It was then that I realized that some of my expertise could help him. This was not unlike writing a query letter or pitching a novel to an agent. And this was a lot like the editorial service I’ve provided at writers conferences where I listen to an author’s pitch and tell her how to break it down so it’s short, sweet and compelling enough, with just the right amount of plot details and character motivations to make an agent sit up, take notice and request the full manuscript.

And it turns out that when you’re giving an initial business pitch, you’re not allowed to use Power Point. You must relay it in a two-minute speech. You can even do “speed dating” with investors. This, of course, is very familiar to me—how many times had I done speed dating with agents when I was pre-pubbed?

My husband and I attended a “Shark Tank” investors pitch event just to see how this operates and it was quite eye opening. A lot of people had the same problem—they didn’t know how to effectively explain their business in two minutes. The ones who were chosen to meet with VCs had their pitch down.

So I was able to give my husband some good advice on his pitch. And a few days later we went together to a pitch workshop and I was validated to hear the facilitator give largely the same advice. Why would a VC even think to fund you if you can’t give a compelling story about your product and clearly explain in jargon-free language what it’s about and why it’s worth his while? It’s the same with an agent.

I may not be able to help my husband’s company by coding in JavaScript or C++, but I feel good that there is some concrete way that I can give him support. We’re in this together and I’m looking forward to exciting times ahead.


My husband is blogging about his experience starting up his startup. You can read about his adventures here: http://rerereboot.blogspot.com/

Wendy Tokunaga is a novelist, creative writing teacher and manuscript consultant. Find out more about her at her website www.WendyTokunaga.com and find her on Twitter at @Wendy_Tokunaga

11 comments:

  1. Great advice, Wendy! Getting your pitch down is hard but necessary work. Best of luck to your husband!

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    1. Thank you very much, Maria! It's going to be an interesting journey.

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  2. You're right, Wendy...and it's the hardest two minutes anyone can devise.

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    1. Thank you, Sheila! The pitch can be a b***ch for sure!

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  3. I love the idea of applying writing pitches to his medical imaging business! Please keep us updated on how it goes!

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    1. Thanks, Leslie! I'm just glad that I can be of some practical help to him. :-)

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  4. Hmm, I love that phrase.."the pitch is a b**ch." :)
    And heck, yes, storytelling is vital for every business. Nice angle!

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    1. Yes, Leslie—I never realized how important storytelling is outside of the fiction biz.

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  5. You offered your husband some *excellent* advice, Wendy!! Fingers crossed for him on his new venture and all the best to you both ;).

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  6. Thank you, Marilyn. We're working really hard on this pitch!

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  7. Medical imaging sounds like a wise and forward-thinking investment. Not only is it an interesting product, it's also very useful, especially for the people who will need it for treatment purposes. I think it's best to put that out there as much as possible, and for your husband to employ the most expansive ways in which to do so. The more you can place those as a call, the better, in order to really get to the homes of the ones who are most likely to be of use to it. Wishing you all the best in that!

    Tom Coshow @ TeleDirect

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