In an Elevator with a VC: Putting Oren Klaff’s Pitching Methods To Work

It’s 8:27am. I’m standing in the elevator waiting for the doors to close, licking the spillage off the lid of my piping hot Venti Americano. All of a sudden a tall, dark haired guy with his full spandex rolls in his ten thousand dollar road bike and shouts to me, “Hey kid! Hit 27 for me will ya?” Stunned, I quickly hit the button. Almost fumbling my coffee like I played for the Browns in 87.

It must have taken me a full 5 seconds to even comprehend the weight of what was happening. The doors started closing and everything slowed down like I was about to be in a car accident. This was Jim Breyer. One of the big dogs at Accel Partners, early investor in Facebook as well as over 100 other successful tech startups and founder of his very own Breyer Capital. Literally one of the most influential people in Venture Capital. Ironically, I was on my way up for an intro meeting with one of his junior guys to potentially, possibly.. a month from now, get a sit down in front of John and his partners for a real look.

Ding! .. headed up.

Back track 4 months. This was right around the time we were applying for Y Combinator (world famous tech seed fund) and having to come up with a video pitch that would help us stand out among 5k other applicants. Some of the biggest companies in the world have came out of that incubator (eg. Airbnb, Dropbox, Zenpayroll, Zenefits, Stripe, Twitch etc. etc.) so I wasn’t going to spare any time when it came to researching how to deliver a good pitch. After a few quick Google searches I was introduced to a guy named Oren Klaff, he would eventually coach me through his frame control methods and be a key influencer in how I approach any meeting going forward.

Gulp.. “Excuse me, It’s Mr. Breyer correct?” …thinking back to my training and trying to remember the steps in order.

“Uh, yeah. Matter of fact it is. Do I know you?” said Jim, looking up from his Navy grade Garmin biking watch.

“Sir, you don’t know me but my name is Broc with Marathon Marketing and I’m actually headed up to speak with one of your associates right now. I would have got you a coffee, had I known, but to tell you the truth the Starbucks in the Sequoia building can’t hold a candle to the place you guys have.” Sequoia capital, who have famously invested in Apple, Cisco, LinkedIn and a plethora of other big players are known rivals of Accel and it was no accident I name dropped them in the first 20 seconds of my conversation with Jim.

“Couldn’t tell ya, I only drink Gyokuro steeped in my office.”

Of fucking course you do, I’m thinking to myself as the elevator starts soaring through the single digit floors.

“Sounds delicious but since I’ve got you here for the next .. 16 floors, you gotta let me share a quick story with you. I know you’ll love it, you’re not going to believe what happens to this lady.” At this point I have no idea what the story is going to be. All I can remember is Oren’s voice saying MAKE A BIG CLAIM.

“Sure kid, let’s hear it.”

Me. Time to shine. “So I’m starting to get a lot of inbound calls lately, people are hearing about what we do and what we stand for which I’m a bit confused about because we’re yet to spend any real money on marketing. Then I get this one call, it’s a lady who’s literally making soups out of her kitchen. Her husband is a fire fighter in Boston and she’s been staffed by the entire hall to make these homemade soups because the guys can’t get enough of them. So long story short turns out she had student loans up to her eye balls, she catches wind of our software program from a realtor friend and decides she might want to turn her thing into an actual business. Or need to for that matter.  …3 months later the impossible happened. By sheer coincidence we end up uncovering a connection she had with the daughter of the head buyer for Whole Foods.”

Ding! 26th floor. My stop.

“Mr. Breyer, do you have 20 minutes to sit in on the pitch downstairs? I can finish the story for you.”

He pauses for a second, staring at me like he can see the underlying business financials through my eye balls.

“You know what, give me 15 minutes to change then come up and show me what you got. I’ll let the guys at the front know the change of plans.”

I stepped off the elevator after shaking his hand.

“Hey Broc!” He yells at me leaning over the handlebars. “Are the soups in Whole Foods or what??”

“ha ha. I’ll tell you when I make it up, It gets better!” He smirks and lets the doors shut.

All I could think was; holy shit, that just happened. Looking back, I managed to apply all three of Oren’s principles in my brief elevator pitch.

First, I time framed. I got some help by the setting we were in but even the subtle mention of how long I was going to take to introduce him into my story was important to gain attention. Also, I spoke to his croc brain (explained below) when playing up the value of the story like it was something he absolutely needed to hear.

Secondly, I prize framed. No one likes things that are too easily attainable, they have no value. I mentioned how I had just met with Sequoia, implying that many other investment firms were also interested in my business. I built value in myself and what I had to offer with that one sentence rather than just vomiting out my pitch like I’d been taking vodka tequila shots with my breakfast burrito. Another thing I did was pitched with a narrative. It tells him I know how to play the game and hopefully put him at ease, everyone likes a good story. Lastly, I packed the actual story itself full of hints that me and the company were in very high demand. I managed to lead on that the product could be used in different verticals, that our lead velocity rate was increasing and that our customers were loving us and giving great reviews. Who wouldn’t want to hear more?

The last frame I used was Oren’s power frame. In this example it’s things as subtle as me getting off the elevator first. This was  partially by coincidence but I could have tried to follow him up to 27 like a puppy dog. Instead of submitting to his status I took control of the interaction and decided to be the one to pull out of the conversation. I also suggested next steps for us which luckily, he complimented with his suggestion that I meet with him in his office.

To Recap the Pitch:

Keep in mind this can literally apply to any social interactions you’ll ever encounter.

Step 1.

Speak to what Oren calls the croc brain. This is basic survival instincts, fight or flight. Do I need this or am I in danger? You extract those emotions when you; make a big claim, introduce something novel or intriguing, purposely induce tension or even play to humour, especially when the humour has some type of immediate social context. Bonus points if you can do this in a narrative.

Step 2.

Once you get past the croc brain you’re at the mid brain. (FYI you’re working against human nature here. We are literally programmed to filter these new ideas and messages out otherwise we would get too overwhelmed with all the info we have to process.) The mid brain understands social relationships and authority. This is where you need to use prize framing to demonstrate value. You do this by being mindful of everything from your vocabulary to your body language. It’s important that your mindset needs to reflect this frame as well. Example; your prospect would be so lucky to be able to do business with you, the thing that is rare in this relationship is something as valuable as yourself, your business, your skills, etc. I’m sure you can also think of other ways to demonstrate social value, it could be as simple as the lanyard you have on at a conference or the connections you have on social channels.

Step 3.

Lastly, if you make it this far and still have their attention you’ve made it to the front brain or the neo cortex. This is where all the heavy lifting happens and represents the area responsible for your conscious thought. Here you need to power frame. You become the expert and you explain what you are able to do to solve the prospects problems. In a lot of cases you can even get the other party to qualify themselves by asking basic questions like “What’s keeping you from overcoming this challenge? Is there anything you’ve seen your competitors doing that you wish you were? What do you want your company to be known for being the best at?”

That’s it. You’re now in control of the conversation. Use your power frame to lead your prospect into the next action you want them to take. Likely it’s setting the next appointment or commit to trying certain areas of your product. To be clear, pitching is not selling. Pitching is your prepared best approach at resonating with this one particular customer. It’s your one shot at it. Selling is a process that you can engage in after the pitch.

If you’re having a hard time remember the steps I use the link association method for spur of the moment times when I can’t reference my notes. I think of a stuffed crocodile that I won as a prize for the hammer smash game at a fair. It includes all the elements that will trigger my memory. The crocodile, so I know I have to induce fight or flight. The prize frame is the story I can tell and the mindset I need to have. Lastly, to get the results I need the power frame. It might be a bit far fetched but associating words to images is proven to be the most effective way of memorizing anything.

If you’re interested in hearing more about Oren’s approach from himself here’s a recent interview he did with London Reel. Also, if you’re a startup trying to perfect your pitch check out Alex White’s demo of his company Next Big Sound back in 2009 at Techstars.

I’ll leave you with some Don Draper inspiration.

Full Disclosure: this didn’t actually happen.