Insights

‘Pitch it in 10’, or Branson’s not interested

Now, that's uncompromising.

Ten words is not many, and yet this week a client told me they and a colleague had spent most of the weekend prior preparing a major presentation to their leadership that was summed up in just 10 powerful words.

Despite all the weekend work, which included six complete storyline rewrites and rather a lot of coffee, their core message ‘clicked' only 10 minutes before they were to present to the leadership. This was the message:

We must invest $X in ‘Slingslot' to win against ‘Goliath'.

We were all delighted with the simplicity and even more delighted with the impact.

There was no argument from the leadership team, despite the leaders expressing strong opposition to Slingshot in previous meetings.

However, in previous meetings the team had not articulated exactly why Slingshot was necessary. They said it had been staring them in the face all along, but they were so lost in the details they could not see it.

Unsurprisingly, having listened to 25,000 or more pitches, Richard Branson has a nose for what works and he says that if an entrepreneur can't pitch their idea in 10 words or less he's not investing.

At Clarity Thought Partners, we are a bit more generous than that: we think 25 is OK, but concur with much of what Branson has said about pitching business cases in his new book Finding My Virginity.

“The best ideas don't always need to have detailed financial projections and complicated business proposals behind them. Sometimes they come fully formed on the back of a beer mat… If it can't fit onto the back of an envelope, it's probably a bad idea. Keep it short, sharp and picture-perfect,” he said.

You may be surprised – stunned even – that that the idea for starting Virgin's Australian operations came about this way.

Brett Godfrey was the CFO of Virgin Express, a regional airline that served cities in Europe was living in England and had decided to move his family back to Australia. Before he left, Godfrey was on the phone with Branson and asked if he had a minute to pitch an idea. He meant 60 seconds, literally.

“Hold on, I've got the idea on the back of some beer mat,” Godfrey said. Branson heard papers ruffling in the background. Godfrey found the pitch. He had written it on the back of a coaster where he had placed a pint of beer.

Godrey pitched the idea of a low-cost airline in Australia. As the son of a Qantas employee, he knew the Australian aviation market. He had sat down with an airline expert over a beer and together they hatched the idea.

Branson was hooked and asked for a more detailed plan, which Godfrey delivered.

The numbers added up, Godfrey's vision was clear, and Branson gave him the green light. In that moment, Virgin Blue was born and launched with $10 million and just two jets. Today, renamed Virgin Australia Airlines, it's the second largest airline in Australia.

Although not an orthodox way to pitch, we have seen this done before.

Gerard recalls a ‘meeting' where he and a client were debriefing at the end of a workshop and talked through a pitch that the client had to make the next day by doodling a storyline onto a coaster. That pitch worked too.

If you would like to learn how to condense your pitch so you can identify the short, sharp statement that encapsulates your idea and then back it up with a compelling case take at look at our new book, The So What Strategy.

The book offers our seven favourite business storyline patterns, including one called The Pitch.

Click here to download a chapter describing the Action Jackson storyline pattern.


Davina Stanley is Managing Director of Clarity Thought Partners, a team of structured thinking experts who help professionals make the complex clear and the clear compelling in their business communication. She and her business partner Gerard Castles have just launched their first book, The So What Strategy which describes the seven storyline patterns in detail.