I woke up recently and realized that I was pitching CodeHS in my dream. I think this highlights the idea that if you are a co-founder or CEO of a small startup, you are pitching your company 24/7.
No one knows what your company does. You need to find a way to articulate it clearly and simply.
For quick background: CodeHS is an edtech company that teaches coding to high schools.
We’ve been working on CodeHS for almost four years, so 365 x 4 is 1460 days. Some days you’ll pitch your company once, and sometimes 100 times. You’ll pitch in customer meetings, interviews, conferences, investors, emails, when you meet new people and more. At a conference you may pitch 100 people. In a day of phone calls you may pitch 5–10 people. At a random event you may explain it 20 times. I think I’ve probably given over 10,000 pitches which at this point makes me an expert at pitching CodeHS.
Audience x Time x Goal
You need lots of different pitches for different situations. I think you should have pitches for a matrix of audience, time and goal.
Audience is who you are speaking to. Who are you pitching? For us that may be a customer or potential customer: a school, or a district. It could be a teacher or a principal or a superintendent. It may be an investor. It may be someone we are interviewing. It may be someone you just met outside of work. You may be speaking one-on-one, to a group of two, or doing an interactive meeting or a presentation. I might be speaking in a classroom.
Time How long do you have? 5 seconds, 10 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, or 1 hour? All of these pitch lengths necessitate a different approach, different points, different styles and different materials.
Goal What’s the goal? Is it just informational, or is it persuasive? Is it about trying to sign someone up? Is it about convincing them to work with you? Is it about trying to get them to learn more? What are you trying to get across to your audience? What do you want them to remember?
The Evolving Pitch
The pitch also evolves over time. It evolves as your company evolves and focused or expands. It evolves as you get a lot better at explaining it. It evolves as you realize the right things to say to the right people.
Here I’ll write a few pitches for CodeHS as I currently do them, with the goal, time, and audience.
5 second informational pitch to strangers
CodeHS is a site for teaching coding to high schools.
15 second persuasive pitch to potential school customers
CodeHS is a program for helping high schools teach computer science. We provide web-based curriculum, teacher tools and resources, and professional development.
15 second informational pitch to non-education people
CodeHS is a site for helping high schools teach coding. We give them online courses, tools for teachers, and teacher training — actually teaching teachers to teach coding.
5 second pitch to readers from Medium
CodeHS is an edtech company that teaches coding to high schools.
1 minute pitch to school principals
People often ask me for a description of our business. And while we have many pre-written descriptions, I don’t believe there is one description of the business. Because the description is the pitch. And the pitch varies by audience, time, and goal.