Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 8th 2013 Contents When you re
preparing to tell
your idea for a
are going to tell
you to prepare
an elevator pitch, the standard summary selling
a business idea in a minute or less. But there
are many more locations and situations in
which you may encounter a potential investor---
anyone from a business leader in the industry
to a family member---and you ll need to be
able to convince that person that your business
will be game-changing. Why limit yourself or
your imagination to elevators?
You need to think of it as your anywhere
Over the past few months entrepreneurs
have pitched their ideas to me in two far
more interesting settings than elevators. One
was while riding a bicycle in South Africa.
Some of the Virgin team and I were in the
country in March for the Cape Argus Pick
n Pay Cycle Ride, which is 109 km long. I
hadn t been on a bicycle since I was a boy,
so we had decided to use my last-minute
training ride to raise money for the Branson
Centre for Entrepreneurship South Africa, a
nonprofit that provides assistance and training
to new entrepreneurs. We agreed to listen to
some quick pitches from the participants
during that Ride With Richard.
Sixty people signed up to ride and pitch
their ideas to myself, Josh Bayliss, who is
CEO of the Virgin Group, and Tracey Webster,
who is the new CEO of the Branson Centre
South Africa. The entrepreneurs had to think
on their feet (literally, while pedaling) and
make their ideas stand out from the rest of
riders in our peloton.
The novelty factor kept everyone laughing,
the huffing and puffing helped people to keep
their pitches succinct, and the exercise got
everyone s brains into gear.
We heard some good initial ideas and built
on them together. And we all completed the
entire race the following day, so that practice
was very helpful.
Then in May, I listened to some enthusiastic
pitches during an AirAsia flight on which I
was working as a stewardess. (I was making
good on a friendly bet I d lost two years before
with AirAsia s chief executive, Tony Fernan-
dez, over whose Grand Prix team would do
Some passengers passed proposals forward
and I invited those who d handed me the
most attention-grabbing ones to tell me about
One woman had even worn a beard to
ensure that she caught my eye. And as for
me, I was dressed as a stewardess, complete
with lipstick, tights and red shoes. It was a
pretty surreal experience, but several people
shared excellent pitches and I was able to
point a few of them in the right direction.
Of course, not everyone will meet potential
investors while riding a bike or sitting in a
plane. These days I receive lots of striking,
original ideas via social media. How do you
make your pitch stand out? If your idea really
is ground-breaking, try to make your pitch
just as innovative.
Lots of people have good ideas, and some-
times unique delivery can make all the dif-
One of the most unusual pitches I ever
gave involved a magic trick. Back when we
were working on starting up Virgin Atlantic,
I met with Airbus, hoping to buy a plane.
As a new business, we desperately needed
a big discount, and I told them that if they
sold their plane to us and our airline became
successful, which it surely would, they d
receive much more business in the long term.
However, Airbus would not agree to the
price we could afford.
I knew that their executives had probably
heard pitches like mine before, so I decided
to make mine stand out.
As we sat down for lunch, I asked the
executives: "Do you think there is any chance
that your CEO could be hypnotised?"
"Absolutely not," they replied. I said to
the CEO, Jean Pierson: "If I can hypnotise
you in five minutes, will you give us the $5
He and they all agreed and we shook
About three minutes later I asked what
time it was. Pierson glanced down at his
wrist and discovered that his watch was
gone. He looked worried. I then looked at
my wrist, where there were now two watches.
The executives believed that I had hyp-
notised Pierson and he had handed me his
watch, rather than simply being nimble
enough to pocket his watch when we shook
Airbus gave us the discount as promised,
which was critical in getting Virgin Atlantic
off the ground. While my approach was
unorthodox, it did the trick.
Whatever your idea is, follow these simple
• Explain how your new business will make
a difference, but do it in an entertaining
• Show off your expertise in a personable
way, highlight your experience and your
team s strengths, and ground your idea with
simple, realistic messages.
• Do not use jargon.
• Most importantly, pitch quickly.
You never know, the person you are pitch-
ing may have an elevator to catch.
AUGUST 2013 • WEEK TWO www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG17
Forget the elevator
pitch, prepare an
Q: I have a goal, a vision and a strategy plan. Where is the best place
to find potential investors or funding? How do I pitch my idea?
Sandra, Entrepreneur magazine reader
(Richard Branson is
the founder of the Vir-
gin Group and compa-
nies such as Virgin
Atlantic, Virgin Amer-
ica, Virgin Mobile and
Virgin Active. He has
recently published two
books: Screw Business
as Usual and Like a
Virgin. He maintains a
You can follow him
on Twitter at
branson. To learn
more about the Virgin
readers will be
answered in future
columns. Please send
them to Richard.Bran-
Please include your
name, country, e-mail
address and the name
of the Web site or
publication where you
read the column.)
by the New York
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