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Product Development

How to improve your product pitch.


If you are going to turn an idea into a product, one of the first tests is to figure out how to talk about it. This can be especially hard when you have an idea that is just forming or if the idea is so big that you don’t even know where to start. Ultimately, you don’t want to embarrass yourself if you are not ready. The general wisdom is to pitch all the time and to everybody you know, but maybe you want to sound more prepared and confident. How can you practice without making a bad impression? I use the the following techniques to hone a pitch in a week.

Step 1: Start by writing to a friend

I start by writing emails that I never send. It helps me focus when I think a real person is going to read this, and I need to clearly articulate my thoughts. Sometimes I choose different people because I know they represent a different type of audience. The pressure and expectations really help to force your idea into a form that is better explained.

So, who would be interested in your idea? Put their name on the email and start writing. You will need to think from their perspective and that helps me try to explain the idea in a way that makes it relevant to them.

Save that email as a file somewhere so that you can use it as a script.

Step 2: Fill out a lean canvas

The lean canvas is a one page concise business plan. I like to joke that it is a business plan in a placemat form. In the end, it is just a simple set of boxes that force you to think about the problem, solution, key metrics, and more. What I love about this concept is how it rounds out your thinking so you don’t forget any aspects that will make it a business.

This is the next step because you want to make sure your idea doesn’t have any holes in it.

Here is my lean canvas template as a Google doc. Feel free to make a copy for yourself.

Step 3: Make a pitch deck

Now that you have a way of talking about the idea and you have thought it through a bit more, it is time to turn it into a presentation. The Alliance of Angels has a standard pitch deck which is actually a great place to start. It looks like this.

PURPOSE : Declare what your company does in a single sentence.

PROBLEM : Describe your customer’s burning pain point.

SOLUTION : Describe your product and explain why it makes the customer’s pain go away. Use examples.

MARKET SIZE : Use both tops-down and bottoms-up. Segment and identify your sweet spot.

BUSINESS MODEL : Explain how you make money. State your customer acquisition cost and lifetime value.

GO TO MARKET : Describe your sales distribution model.

TRACTION : List current customers, partners, and users, as well as your pipeline.

COMPETITION : List your competitors and describe your economic moat.

TEAM : List your founders, key management, and advisors.

Your task is take all of your thoughts and ideas and put them into a pitch deck. Add some pictures, add some text, but get all of it in one place.

This step helps to turn your idea into a format that is easier to communicate to another person at a high level. Some of this won’t be relevant to you at this moment, but you should at least think about how you must answer the question.

This is a link to a Google Presentation that you can make a copy of to get started.

Step 4: Pitch to yourself

If you have a Mac, you have Quicktime. It’s a great little program that has one feature I find super helpful. Go to File -> New Screen Recording. Right there you can draw a box around your screen and record your voice as you explain your slides.

The trick is that recording yourself simulates the anxiety you can experience when you talk to people. Use this to your advantage to force yourself to string together words in a way that other people will understand.

On day one it will be rough. I budget about 2 hours to get through all of this and make a terrible movie. I usually keep one copy around and delete the rest.

Step 5: Listen to your video and make a script

Give yourself some time to recover from making the video and everything else. Once you are ready to start again, watch your video and transcribe what you just said into a script.

The real trick now is simply to do this over and over, repeating Steps 4 and 5. Find a quiet place and a time when you won’t be interrupted, and then simply pitch. Listen to yourself, update your deck, and pitch again.

The next day do it again for 30 minutes. Then do it every day in the morning for a week. Try to get the amount of time down; remove slides, add slides, and work on getting your voice to change tone.

It is a little like practicing an instrument, you simply have to take a little time every day and after a while you realize you don’t even need the deck anymore. Now you are ready.

Step 6: Turn the final results into assets

Before you call this done, you need to make sure you have a couple of assets pulled out of this.

  1. Post your best video somewhere and save the link.

  2. Put the script and the slide deck somewhere safe.

  3. Make an elevator pitch version of the script and a 10 minute format.


Pitching to yourself it a great way to get your pitch dialed in. It takes about one week to take an idea from an abstract notion and refine it into something you can explain confidently.

The best part is that you can always watch your video right before you are supposed to stand in front of investors so that you can reload it. If you need to add new information to the deck, then make more versions.

In the end, this technique is a great way to train yourself to explain something clearly when you don’t have a lot of practice talking in front of people.

What is Product Development?

What is Product Development?


To me, this means the art of turning an idea into something people want. An idea is a solution. But, if the problem it is solving isn’t big enough then it will not live. In order for it to be alive, it must have both an audience and the technology to support it. I am focused on mastering this processes of build, measure, learn to turn ideas into sustainable businesses. The important notion here is iterations. Everything happens in a circle, not a line. The process repeats until it works or until the team and resources have reached a limit.

I like to set the iteration limit to three. This is arbitrary and could be more or less. The important notion here is that three iterations sets my team's expectations. No one shows up expecting to nail it the first time. It also protects us from the Sunk Cost Fallacy. This is when you reason that further investment is necessary simply because the resources already invested will be lost. It is a nostalgic position and is dangerous because it uses your time and money on ideas that have been tried thus stunting the other ideas that you haven’t tried yet. This is the balance between sunk costs and opportunity costs.

I also believe strongly in giving yourself some time to play with an idea. Especially in the early iterations. The first iteration could very well be just building the idea so that only you can play with it. Then at least you can see if it was worth it. A common mistake is to believe your idea will be successful before you have tried it.

Product Development is a system of limits.  Here are a few...

  1. Journal as you go.

  2. Write down your assumptions early and do a retrospective later to evaluate them.

  3. Keep your first build iterations to month size projects

  4. Build the simplest thing that could possible work first.

  5. Give yourself three iterations

  6. Build then operate.

The trick to this process is in the limitations. Keep the first build as small as possible to learn as much as possible. The Ministry of Product is a Dojo of sorts for helping to explore this. I am constantly learning new ways of thinking and new ideas. This practice will never really be finished. We can only hope to continue the practice so that each of us can learn from the other and ultimately discover real paths that no one has ever taken.