Making a fantastic product is one thing, but it’s all for naught if you can’t sell it. It’s a lesson still fresh in Great Jones co-founder Maddy Moelis’ mind—having launched her cookware line at the end of 2018, she learned first-hand the importance of the perfect pitch.
“It’s important to share information that no one else has,” says Moelis, “so that you’re differentiating yourself from both the masses but also from stories that have already been told about you.”
Recently, Moelis was one of four experts tapped to judge the first Pitch Night at The We Company’s WeWork Now space. At the event, eight members gave their best 90-second pitches to the judges, who asked a round of questions before deliberating and choosing three winners, whose products will be showcased in all Made By We retail outlets nationwide.
By the night’s end, leather-accessories brand Haerfest, men’s clothing company Basic Outfitters, and sparkling-tea company Minna won the coveted retail placement. Here’s their best advice—along with some insights from the judges—on what makes a successful pitch.
Differentiate yourself, but keep it tight. “People go overboard with backstory sometimes,” says judge Alexis Swerdloff, editor of New York magazine’s The Strategist. “I do care about the backstory, but sometimes that overshadows the thing. Get to the point. Storytelling is great, but if you’re talking about products, at the end of the day you just want to know—why is this thing different? Why do I care?”
Know where you’re headed. Investors want to know you’ve got a plan for where you’re going, says Moelis. “With Great Jones, having both a very-near-term execution time and a long-term vision for where the company can go is a really valuable asset for us.”
Don’t be afraid to name-drop. Haerfest co-founder Daniel Joo noticed that the judges perked up when he mentioned the press coverage his company has received and the brands with which he’s collaborated. “Some people may not know who Haerfest is or who you are,” he says. “But if they know that GQ and Vogue covered you, you build a level of co-trust through the people you trust.”
Another judge, Serena Dai, Eater‘s New York City editor, confirmed this point. “When people are pitching, they’re like, ‘This chef is really great because he cooked for XYZ years,’ but then they won’t tell me where they worked, or they won’t tell me specifics, bona fides,” she explains. “Say, ‘This guy worked at Daniel and Per Se.’ I need to see something about this person’s résumé.”
Make it a short story. Even if you’ve got longer than 90 seconds to work with, brevity is key. Michael and Laura Dweck, the married team behind Basic Outfitters, competed on Shark Tank before pitching to WeWork Now, so they’ve had a chance to hone their message.
Besides keeping it short and sweet, Laura says, “Humor, confidence, and storytelling were at the forefront of the success behind our Shark Tank pitch. We painted a picture of everyday scenarios that happen to all of us to show how relevant and necessary our product is.”
Practice—again and again. “I made some bullet pointed notes about the brand and recorded myself over and over, reworking the wording to get the speech to the time allowed,” says Minna founder Ryan Fortwendel. “However, in the hot seat, nerves got the best of me—and a lot went out the window. That’s when practice and remembering those key bullet points helped bring me back on track.”
Growing from a few to a few hundred employees takes strategy and the right space.