Alum advice: Five tips to perfect your elevator pitch
When UBC Sauder Bachelor of Commerce alum Shizu Okusa appeared on the season premiere of the show Entrepreneur Elevator Pitch, she only had 60 seconds to pitch her natural farmacy business, Apothékary.
If her spiel was successful, the doors would open into the boardroom and Okusa would have a chance to negotiate with a panel of investors for her requested $50k, to close out her $3.5 million SAFE note. If not, she would be sent down the elevator with no possibility for a deal.
Okusa’s elevator performance earned a unanimous response from the judges. They all voted to bring her into the boardroom to learn more about Apothékary, which Okusa describes as ‘Mother Nature’s Farmacy.’ She’s careful to clarify it’s farmacy with an “f” because food is medicine. The company offers clean, natural alternatives to over-the-counter supplements and is rooted in science and over 5,000 years of using traditional herbal ingredients to heal from the inside out.
Several years ago, Okusa was working as a distressed investment trader and investor for Goldman Sachs in New York City, when she decided to leave Wall Street for ‘Well Street’ and pursue her passion for entrepreneurship. She then started her first company, JRINK, which was acquired in 2019. Today, her second venture, Apothékary, is thriving with strong investor support. She shares her top five tips for crafting an elevator pitch that will get you invited into any boardroom.
1. Start with a story and make it personal
The best way to draw someone in who you’ve never met before is to share a personal story that is relatable.
“Have you ever walked down the aisles of the drug store looking at pills and supplements and thought to yourself, these ingredients are gross?”
By sharing an anecdote, you build empathy and understanding with your audience. You make yourself peer-to-peer with the investor and remove the hierarchy because you’ve established a connection through this mutual experience.
2. Present the problem
Showcase the problem that was uncovered through your storytelling.
“When I first came up with the idea of Apothékary, I was going through mental health issues and the only thing out there were pills with ingredients I didn’t recognize. I felt like there were other people like me who wanted more transparent, clean, and plant-based ingredients that didn’t have side effects.”
3. Introduce the solution
Once the audience feels connected to you and senses the urgency of the problem, introduce your solution.
“That’s where Apothékary comes in. We’re a natural, plant-based farmacy that provides clean alternatives to over-the-counter drugs and supplements for stress, skin, beauty and everything in between. We offer a ‘Find your fix’ quiz on our website that consumers can take to personalize these products based on their unique mind, body constitution.”
Offer a look inside your company’s business model. Don’t just present the solution, describe how your company is different and the steps you’ve taken to solve the problem.
4. Show traction to prove the market wants your product
It’s incredibly important to follow with proof that your solution works. You want to show that the solution has hit some level of scale. You want to instill some fear of missing out among investors.
“We’re now shipping to 21 countries worldwide, we just launched in Urban Outfitters, we’re launching with Selfridges in the UK, we’ve grown our team from 1 person to 23 people, we are 95 per cent direct to consumer, and we recently launched a partnership with subscription box service Bespoke Post.”
You want to start with all of the high branded partnerships that give you legitimacy and put a stamp of approval that the market wants your product.
5. Give an overview of the financial metrics and close with the ask
You not only want to highlight the traction points, but you also want to show how much your company has grown since it was created. You want investors to see the value in working with your brand.
Next, be clear and concise when revealing how much you want to raise in capital. For my appearance on Entrepreneur Elevator Pitch, our ask was $50K because I had already secured $3.45 million to close out the safe round, which essentially means a secure agreement for future equity. Tell investors what you’re raising, what you’re going to do with the funds, your timeline and next steps.
“To date, in just two years, we’ve grown from being completely boot-strapped with zero revenue to now making over $10 million in revenue. We are profitable and we have exceptionally strong unit economics where new customer growth is funded primarily through existing customers, and we can use this growth capital for more long-tail investments like hiring, opening stores, and a robust product pipeline of 23 new products in the coming years. The $50k is part of a SAFE note totaling $3.5 million, with a $1.7 million line of credit. The former funds will be used primarily for growth and expansion, while the latter is more for working capital like inventory purchases that will turn into revenue within 90-120 days.”
It’s very important you use the right funds for the right investments – most founders over raise on the equity side, risking over-dilution in your own company.
Above all else, Okusa encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to be themselves when pitching and to not be afraid to “keep things raw – investors are also just people!”
She says she recognizes that everyone prepares differently, and that rehearsing can be beneficial in figuring out the sequence and cadence of your pitch, but that it’s important to maintain your authenticity and voice in the process.
“The more I practice, the more nervous I become, and I often get into my own head, so I like to say it how it is and just not practice at all,” says Okusa. “My biggest piece of advice is recognizing that you know your business the best – no one else can rob that from you. Own the room, the conversation and dictate your own terms. The right investors will recognize that passion, the why, and want to support you. If they don’t, well, their loss.”
Looking for advice on how to create an effective slide deck for a pitch? Check out Okusa’s sample presentation.