The 30/90 Rule for Pitching Problems

Best startup pitch of 2011 NYC

Getaround wins TechCrunch disrupt using the 30/90 Rule

When over 90% of funded pitches share one thing in common, your pitch better include the same. Successful startups like, airbnb, and ZocDoc all began their pitch with the problem. To win funding, so should you.

But many startups present the problem so poorly that they destroy their pitch. This has led at least one prominent investor, Bill Reichert of Garage Technology Ventures, to coach startups against presenting the problem!

The key to pitching the problem successfully is to follow the 30/90 Rule. If the problem is simple, explain it in less than 30 seconds. If the problem is obscure, explain it in less than 90 seconds.

Case in point: In 2011, GetAround pitched onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt and started with a familiar problem: “We’re here to share our vision for solving a problem we call Car Overpopulation. We have over 250 million cars in America that sit parked 22 hours each day. Our solution to this problem is Getaround, a new way for people to share cars.” Simple, clear, and it required less than 30 seconds. This simplicity not only contributed to GetAround taking home the $50,000 grand prize for best pitch; today the company has over $19 million in funding.

Two years later when Enigma pitched on the same stage, cofounder Marc DaCosta had to explain the esoteric issue of public data access via online databases. DaCosta gave a short description of public data, then outlined the difficulty with data access, including “restrictive web portals to messy FTP sites to 1970’s database formats.” It took Enigma 90 seconds to set up the problem before they introduced their solution, and in that time they successfully oriented the audience to the issue and highlighted the need. Enigma would take home the $50,000 grand prize that year.

Don’t waste time explaining familiar details like the number of cell phone users in the U.S., and avoid long exposés on the importance of fashion in the modern world. Limit yourself to 30s for simple problems, 90s for complex problems. When you do, you maintain investor interest while highlighting the needs that your product fulfills. That wins funding.

For more on how to pitch the problem, read Chapter 2 of The Startup Pitch.

Q&A – Stay Curious!

Nothing can feel more intimidating than stepping into a room to meet investors. After all, they can be rich, they can be famous, and they can be key to your success. When you feel intimidated, you become defensive. If you respond to investor questions defensively, you will fail.

PartiePoche pitched their product on SharkTank in 2012.The two young founders delivered a strong problem-solution pitch, but when one investor asked a simple question about the valuation of the company, the pitch fell apart. After trying to dodge the question, the founders said the question was crazy. There was some argument back and forth, and then one founder said “bring it on; let’s do it,” illustrating a classic aggressive response. After every question, the founders immediately attacked the question with a terse answer. This led one investor to say “you’re not listening to us,” and another investor to say “you didn’t even take a breath there [after I finished my question]… I don’t feel listened to.”

When you notice yourself feeling defensive, consciously shift your frame of mind to be curious. Listen to questions. Pause and consider the investor’s words as if they were spoken by someone on your team. Then and only then position your answer appropriately. You can use your curiosity to even ask questions yourself, thereby reducing the feeling that you’re under interrogation.

Investors constantly assess whether they can build a cooperative relationship with you to make your company successful. Next time before entering the meeting room, ask yourself: are you open to hearing the inevitable doubts that investors will share? It’s important to position yourself well, but never forget that relationship is equally important. Stay curious.
For a detailed review on how to be successful in Q&A, read Chapter 4 of The Startup Pitch. You’ll get insights and examples of exactly how to manage questions and appear more confident.