Mark Twain is often quoted as having once written, “I didn’t have the time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”  His timeless wit and clever observation ring true when making a great startup pitch.

At the AT&T Foundry, we meet with more than 500 startups a year. These are companies looking to help us solve business challenges and power new services for customers.

We’ve discovered some cool new ideas— like personalized video bills for customers, and technology to manage network loads better so calls stay strong and clear. But we’d never bring these to our customers if the startups involved didn’t have a great pitch. One that starts with a great story. The story can be about almost any subject. But the most compelling ones are where the impact of the product or technology impacts people in a visceral way.

We’re always looking for more big ideas. These might be partners to help us meet our goal of moving 75% of our network into software by 2020. Or those who can improve efficiency at our scale, or who bring compelling services to existing or new customers. But it all starts with getting your story right.

Want to make a successful pitch to us? Here are 3 simple tips to consider before you meet up with us at the Foundry:

1. Get to the point – fast: Context is important. But if it takes you more than 30 seconds to explain what space you’re in, you’re not going to get a lot of love. Naeem Zafar, who teaches entrepreneurship at UC Berkeley, where I’ve been a course mentor for 8 semesters, calls this concept “Slide Zero” and has a fantastic spiel on it that makes the course worth taking on its own.

Use Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 Rule, from his original masterpiece, “The Art of the Start.” As he writes, “a pitch should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.” It’s not about cramming in as much information as possible. It’s about getting to the essential story behind your offering.

2. Do your homework: Out of 500 pitches a year, only a fraction (about 12%) lead to a Foundry project or business unit engagement. The ones that succeed focus on what matters to us. You’ve got to do your homework before a pitch. Learn what your audience is already working on, what matters to them, and how you fit into the picture. They want to hear about solutions to problems that impact their bottom line. Keep checking into this blog; we’ll try to be pretty explicit about what we’re looking for.

3. Think big: There are many great ideas out there, and some are further along than others. Our Foundry staff loves to serve as mentors to early-stage entrepreneurs, but when it comes to solutions to bring to customers, we have to look for innovation at massive scale.

We have many customers to keep happy. That means the scale of our problems (and opportunities) is large. We’re looking to de-risk technology so that it can be available to make tens -to -hundreds of millions of dollars of real impact (at least) within a relatively short timeframe.

Oh, and a bonus tip: Be okay with getting a “No” from us. We’re different from most innovation folks in that most of us have actually been in your shoes before. We promise not to drag our feet and expose you to a lot of painful overhead if there’s little to no chance of us doing something with you and your company. That’s a guiding principle for us; we promise we’ll say “no” (if there isn’t a fit – saying “yes” takes a bit longer, but not much) and give you our reasons so that you know whether or not we’re the right fit for you.

And just so you know, even a “no” is never set in stone. Things change, and when they do, we’re always ready to re-engage. 

Faraz Hoodbhoy, Director, Ecosystem & Outreach

Faraz Hoodbhoy
Faraz Hoodbhoy Director, Ecosystem & Outreach