One of the first and last words entrepreneurs hear when forming a tech startup is “pitch.” Referring not to the black muck that’s used to pave roads, nor the slant of a roof that prevents snow from piling up, nor a thrown ball that dances past a bat. This pitch is a PowerPoint deck.
Actually two decks: vanilla with about 10 slides and Neapolitan with about 50. Vanilla is for stakeholders who don’t dawdle. It cuts to the chase. Neapolitan is for slackers who need time to imagine that the venture wants only three years to pay out 10x what’s put in. A deck is paired with a script that couches the bulleted points in persuasive storytelling.
Prominence of a pitch contrasts with obscurity of a business plan. According to pundits who pass through startup incubators like roving bounty hunters, business plans are fossils. They take time to research and write and evaluate (diligence), they involve demonstrable facts and testable assumptions (empiricism), and they are not viable (so yesterday). Dude, if we’re going to bet on PITS (pie in the sky), let’s go fast and break things! The investing equivalent of high-throughput screening.
What a designer famously wrote about websites may be said about the pitch: “don’t make me think.”
A good pitch makes people think in a certain way, of course. That’s called fantasy. A business plan makes people think different, in a way called dialectics. It took me a while to realize this, and I am now creating the Humaginarium business plan (better late than never). Using the cloud app LivePlan to organize and prompt my writing, the business plan covers operations and markets; in an appended business pro forma, it covers commercialization and finance. Slowly. Carefully. Decisively. Come what may.
Writing a business plan feels to me like exploring majestic terra firma, after imagining a new world while sailing, surrounded by sea and sky.
To fresh entrepreneurs who have been threading the needle of a just-right pitch, I can recommend that you set it aside for the loom of a business plan and pro forma. Put first things first. Prove to yourself and stakeholders that you have the right stuff for a moonshot. Don’t mistake an albatross for a necktie.
The time will come later to whistle a happy tune in a dainty little pitch.