Introducing The “Elevator Question” For Entrepreneurs

Introducing The “Elevator Question”​ For Entrepreneurs

Are you an entrepreneur who struggles with your “elevator pitch”?
You’re not alone!

Most entrepreneurs start with an overly verbose attempt to cram every catchy buzzword they can think of into an insanely long sentence that requires them to draw an enormously long breath in advance, just to get it out!

(Yes, I just did the same to that sentence on purpose.)

Should you care?

Yes, you absolutely should. Most entrepreneurs find themselves needing to give their elevator pitch repeatedly, unexpectedly, and in the most unlikely circumstances. After all, we can engineer some pitch situations but we can’t control them all. When chance affords itself we need to strike!

So what’s the deal with the elevator?

It’s an old metaphor, yet it also happens in reality. You’re alone in an elevator. The doors open and in steps the person you’ve always dreamed of pitching. Your dream potential partner, co-founder, VC or ______ (you fill in the blank). Your heart pounds as you realize you’ve got just 3 floors to the ground. It’s now or never. You take a deep breath and pounce.

3 . . .

2 . . .


The doors open.

What just happened?!

I don’t know, and neither will you if you try making a pitch in that fateful and time limited ride and that’s the point. There are so many assumptions you’re making before you even start. Is the person ready, willing, or even able to hear your pitch, let alone interested? Well, how about starting right there: “Hi! May I ask you a question?”

At least you have a 50/50 shot with this approach. And if you get a “yes,” then of course you’ve got to have your real question ready.

Introducing the “ELEVATOR QUESTION” for entrepreneurs

Instead of an elevator pitch for your venture, think what “elevator question” you could ask that would be so compelling your recipient would just HAVE TO ask to hear your fuller pitch? Now the tables are turned, they’re asking you for time so they can listen. Get ready for a dramatically different response.

Build your question(s) up in this way…

  • Have you ever wondered why [interesting problem statement] hasn’t been solved?
  • Would you be interested to know how it could be solved?
  • Great! Would you like to meet the people who have solved it?

As you can tell, this will lead you to being able to make an appointment if you’ve posed the right questions. In the process, you’ve introduced the 4 key elements of any pitch that you will need to make at that follow on meeting: why, problem, how, who.

  • Why = what’s your purpose
  • Problem = key to establish the need / opportunity / potential
  • How = explain how you solved the problem uniquely well
  • Who = who is on your team (that is passionate about your purpose, particularly advantaged to understand the problem, and how you have solved it uniquely well.)
  • This will all set you up for a perfect pitch – something you can read more about from my Harvard Innovation Lab workshop here.

    If you still need more help, here are a few ideas for your opening elevator question:

    • “Have you experienced X?” (Where X is a burning pain that your research has indicated will qualify their need)
    • “I’m curious to know if you think X” (where X is an urgent, unsolved problem you believe they are facing) “and if you’ve heard of Y?” (where Y is an example of an approach to solving it.)
    • “Have you ever thought what it would be like if …?” (paint the “before and after” scenario of the pain point / solution you address that you know they’d understand from their vantage point)
    • “I acknowledge your position on …” (verify you know what’s great about their current stance), “yet wonder if you’ve ever seen the impact of …?”(X breakthrough that has had Y impact in Z other cases like theirs)

    You get the point. It’s a simple concept, and it’s applicable in many other ways in your startup, such as in sales or business development qualification. So ask your sales and business development people what’s helping them qualify, and then listen and adapt it for your Elevator Questions. As usual, practice makes perfect, so try it on everyone you can until finally people are just begging to hear more.

    What have you got to lose? A lot, actually. A lot of assumptions — and a likely unwieldy, rushed, long elevator pitch that falls on deaf ears.

    So go ahead, try figuring out your elevator questions – you might be surprised at the results!

    Share this if it works for you.