Russian Entrepreneur Case Study

A Russian entrepreneur, Yaroslav, who was building a startup here in Silicon Valley was unable to say cohesively what his startup really did – and in just one sentence! So when he was at networking events or when he presented in front of investors, he wasn’t able to tell them what he did in just a couple of seconds. He felt – as many Latin Americans and Europeans do – that he needed to include lots of extra information and details for the picture to be complete. By the time he got down to the most important part, people had stopped listening.

He just couldn’t get to the point describing his value proposition, customer relationships, traction or how the startup planned to make money; therefore he couldn’t keep investors’ or other angels’ attention. They turned to their iPhones instead of listening to him.

Basically, this process of getting entrepreneurs to understand where their elevator or investor pitches are going wrong is like peeling an onion – we take away layer after layer until they get to the main messages. In addition we have to help them narrow their focus and tell their story as if they were talking to an intelligent Silicon Valley 15 year old. So no jargon, no long words, just easy to understand English.
It’s a complete “paradigm shift” for many to understand how differently Americans express themselves. Directly and to the point. Yaroslav and I started our work by my asking him, “Please tell us what your company does” and when his answers swerved off the main ideas – over and over – and he filled in detail after detail,  he had to start again until finally what he said was short and we knew listeners would be able to visualize the product and the market he was developing it for.

This is an incredibly frustrating path for many international entrepreneurs because they have such a hard time defining their main messages and it has nothing to do with the language being different. Europeans and many other cultures tend to add ideas to create, what is in their mind, “the whole picture”.  But that’s not what Americans expect. What they are waiting for is the “bare bones” message boiled down to its essentials. And only then, when people understand what the problem and the solutions are, can entrepreneurs start filling in details. Here is a good example of what VCs expect in a good pitch.

At our pitch practice sessions and only after many tries, and with help from his partners, he was finally able to explain the purpose of his company in one [long], clear sentence. Of course he was relieved that he’d overcome the block and could get down to just the basics of speaking in short sentences and not add details which were just detracting from his message and not adding anything.

Please email me if you’d like me to go through your pitch with you.

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