Elevator Pitch: Keep Your Ego Out Of It

A non-running post for a change, but I had to get this out. Lately, I’ve been talking to and advising a number of startups and the problem of honing the elevator pitch seems more exacerbated in enterprise security startups than anywhere else. I was there many years ago with my own company trying to create a category and struggling with the elevator pitch for quite some time. Consumer startups don’t seem to have this problem for a simple reason: The implied assumption is that the consumer is non-technical and the elevator pitch automatically becomes friendly.

Elevator Pitch

Security startups usually tend to have very technical founders (ahem!) and in turn they think that who they sell to are equally technical. When we first started Mu Dynamics, we began our life by writing commercial fuzzers. Period. We broke things, found bugs which were in many cases vulnerabilities and we did it with style. The pitch could’ve been “We find more bugs in your code than your exterminator“. Direct, to the point and elicits a “really, how so?” response.

Uh uh, no way, we were way too cool for that. We did Security Analysis to generate Attack Vectors that found Zero Days in your code to Prevent Downtime. WTF? Looking back, I can’t help but laugh, since at that time we truly, really believed that this would be universally understood. Admittedly, as we matured as a company, we got ruthless at identifying this bullshit bingo. Trouble is it ain’t just us. Many technical founders have no empathy to their target audience. If their elevator pitch is not embellished with arcane jargon, they think they don’t have a unique enough differentiator. I’ve even seen companies with a message for this new fangled thing called FooBarLaLa (I’m a huge Sandra Boyton fan!) that goes like this:

We have this special magic called FooBarLaLa (first the magic of font-weight) because it does something. However FooBarLaLa (next comes reverse-italics to really emphasize this unique differentiator that nobody except the founders understand) is really awesome. The most important thing to remember is that FooBarLaLa (font-size: 150% is always a deal closer) is the first true breakthrough in enterprise security.

Calvin Hobbes

Calvin Hobbes – photo courtesy walkn

That’s really sad. Next time I talk to a security startup, I’m going to hand the founders the Calvin strip where Calvin tells Hobbes that Big Bang should really be called Horrendous Space Kablooie. If you think about it, that makes a lot of sense. More often than not, saying it as it is makes people understand what your product actually does. Next time you are working on your elevator pitch, keep your ego out of it ‘mkay?

What’s your favorite overblown, nonsensical startup pitch?

If you got this far, you might also enjoy startups are like ultra-marathons.


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