Entrepreneurs

6 rules to pitch your big idea...and not annoy everyone

It's a question many entrepreneurs face: How do you talk about your big idea without being that person whose self-promotion irritates everyone?

By striking the right balance of pitching succinctly and reading the room, entrepreneurs can plug a business without driving off friends and family, experts said.

"It is a tightrope walk. Nobody wants to have a friend who's constantly talking about their business, who's trying to sell you and push you on something. You'll end up losing friends that way. But you also want to get feedback and talk about your idea," said Jill Jacinto, millennial expert at Works, a career and branding consultancy.

The founders of Coffee Meets Bagel—Dawoon, Arum and Soo Kang—found that pitching their product to friends and acquaintances when getting started was a great move.
Source: Coffee Meets Bagel
The founders of Coffee Meets Bagel—Dawoon, Arum and Soo Kang—found that pitching their product to friends and acquaintances when getting started was a great move.

Like many start-ups, dating app Coffee Meets Bagel grew in part by word of mouth. The app's co-founders, Dawoon Kang and her two sisters, recruited their single friends to try the app and tell their single friends about it. Soon, they had more than 1,000 potential users before the official launch.

"Especially if you're a first-time entrepreneur, you probably tend to feel bad about reaching out to friends or acquaintances, thinking, 'Maybe I'm talking to them too much, or too often,'" Kang said. "But you'll be surprised at how a lot of your friends may be excited for you and want to help you."

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Kang's top rules when pitching in social settings were to honor the other person's time, have a clear idea of the question you'd like to ask them and be open to their feedback.

But how would you actually go about pitching your friend? Follow these rules of entrepreneur etiquette:

1) Make sure you are in the right setting

Events focused on someone else can be dicey. While it may seem like a good time to talk business while catching up with friends, sensitivity is key.

"Be careful at a private club or family event," said Ann Mehl, an executive coach and career strategist. "Your cousin or your great-aunt may just want to see you and not have it be a sales moment. You need to be sensitive."

Experts recommend reading the room and avoiding too many drinks.

"I like to make sure that I'm in what I call a 'pitch-appropriate' setting" said Sherry Sims, founder and CEO of the Black Career Women's Network. "It's never OK to pitch your idea when you've had several cocktails."

2) Find the right timing

If the person you'd like to pitch is in a rush, holding a screaming baby or about to hop on a call, then it's probably best to hold off.

"But you could say, 'Next week, remind me I wanted to share something about my business if you're interested in hearing about it,'" Mehl said.

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3) Ask before you pitch

Before you pitch, check in with your friend or family member. The best way to know if someone wants to hear about your start-up idea is simple: Just ask.

"Ask permission and ask it as straight as you can," said Lauren Handel Zander, co-founder and chairwoman of executive and life coaching company Handel Group.

Here are some suggestions on how to ask from experts:

Mehl suggests, "I have this business idea that I'm lighting up about, and I'd love to share it with you. Would you want to hear more?"

Another option, from Zander is, "Are you open to me pitching you? I've been building a business and am interested in hearing your feedback."

Experts said regardless of their answer, honor what your friend or family member says.

4) Ask again, especially in this situation

Even if friends are receptive to the pitch, remember to ask whether they want to hear more when you run into each other on later occasions, experts said.

"If you ever pick up or read that your friend is uncomfortable, say they didn't get back to you after you talked business, it's best to just ask," Zander said. A good way to tackle the issue is to say something like, "Hey, did I make you comfortable? You said, 'Yes,' but then this happened. I never want to put you in an uncomfortable position."

It's also important to ask if you're interested in pitching your business idea to a friend of a friend. If you're at a party and you start talking with someone who you think would be great to pitch to, stop before you pitch and ask your mutual friend if it's OK.

5) Be succinct

Know your 10-second pitch inside and out. And then stick to it.

"When you're launching a business, it's like your baby, for lack of a better word. You can get really excited about it, but people don't have hours," Mehl said. "Have your soundbite."

6) Embrace the feedback

After you pitch your idea, listen to what the other person says. Even if it's negative, it's useful.

"Feedback is money that you're saving on research," said Works' Jacinto. "You shouldn't see any negative feedback as a deterrent, but as advice to edit your product for what people actually want."