“For investors, the product is nothing.”

Marc Hedlund

Summary: A high concept pitch distills a startup’s vision into a single sentence. It’s the perfect tool for fans and investors who are spreading the word about your company.

Hollywood has perfected the art of the high concept pitch:

“Its Jaws in space!” (Alien)

“A bus with a bomb!” (Guess.)

“Snakes on a plane!” (Do I really have to spell it out for you.)

“A serial killer who bases murders on the seven deadly sins!” (Se7en)

“Bambi meets Terminator!” (Okay, I made this one up.)

High concept pitches for startups.

“Summarize the company’s business on the back of a business card,” says Sequoia. We agree—every startup should have a high concept pitch:

“Friendster for dogs.” (Dogster)

“Flickr for video.” (YouTube)

“We network networks.” (Cisco)

“The Firefox of media players.” (Songbird)

“Massively Multiplayer Online Learning.” (Grockit)

“The entrepreneurs behind the entrepreneurs.” (Sequoia)

“Venture Hacks.” (Guess who.)

A high concept pitch distills a startup’s vision into a single sentence.

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What makes a good high concept pitch?

First, the pitch should be brief: one short sentence is perfect.

Second, people should already understand the building blocks of the pitch: buses, bombs, Jaws, space, the seven deadly sins, Flickr, Firefox, MMOGs, et cetera. The pitch combines the building blocks by using analogy, synthesis, juxtaposition, combination, whatever; e.g. “Jaws in space.”

Third, the pitch probably isn’t your company’s tagline. YouTube’s tagline is “Broadcast Yourself,” and their pitch is “Flickr for video”. If you’re lucky, you can find a pitch that’s also a tagline, e.g. Cisco’s “We network networks.” But don’t worry if your pitch isn’t a tagline.

What’s a high concept pitch good for?

First, the pitch is the perfect tool for fans who are spreading the word about your company. Investors use the pitch when they tell their partners about your startup. Customers use the pitch when they rave about your product. The press uses the pitch when they cover the company, e.g. see Mike Arrington’s article, Comparing The Flickrs of Video.

hedlund.jpgSecond, the high concept pitch is a great way to describe your product and vision in an elevator pitch. We started this article with a quote from Marc Hedlund: “For investors, the product is nothing.” Bad elevator pitches go on and on about the product. Good ones boil it down to a high concept pitch. The rest of the elevator pitch should be devoted to your traction, social proof, team, and market.

What are your favorite high concept pitches? Add them to the comments.

Related: “High Concept” startups.

Topics Pitching

24 comments · Show

  • Marc Hedlund

    Thanks for the mention. I’m still learning that particular lesson. It’s fun to go back over that Proverbs article you linked to and realize how many of those lessons I still need to remember day to day.

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  • Denis

    “Dyson is the iPod of vacuum cleaners”.
    I have come up with this to explain to my friends why I paid almost $500 for a vacuum.

    And for my new business:

    Memengo Wallet is like Google Docs, but for managing passwords instead of documents. As a bonus, it also works well on your mobile phone so that your passwords are always within easy reach.

  • Laurent Kretz

    A high concept pitch is easy to remember, quick to understand, fast to pass around, …. I understand and agree.

    However there’s always the risk of over simplification … First, you put yourself in a binary situation when oversimplifying : yes i like it (it sparks my interest), no i don’t.
    Second, you easily put yourself in a category and you have to do that right … All online video sharing solutions could pitch “Flickr for Video”.

    How do you deal with that ?

  • Permjot Valia

    I like it. The simpler the better for me. I would say get that and an elevator pitch correct. Not only works with investors but also a really good way to keep managment on track.

  • Shafqat

    Can I test out ours? “NewsCred: The Funded for the Media Industry.” We also use “NewsCred: the Last.Fm of news”, the latter referencing our plans for a recommendation engine. Great post!

    • Daryl

      “NewsCred: The Funded for the Media Industry.”
      We also use “NewsCred: the Last.Fm of news”, Hearing that, I don’t know what NewsCred is/does/will do? so it doesn’t work outside your niche.

  • Ethan Bauley

    My only comment would be to make sure you’re got TWO Hollywood pitches…sometimes your audience doesn’t know what one of your references is, and then you’re screwed.

    (this is an absurd example, but if “Firefox of Media Players” doesn’t work for someone explaining Songbird, you need to have “Open source Windows Media Player” in your back pocket)

    • Mac

      But it gets worse — if your audience doesn’t recognize Firefox but does recognize WMP, you probably shot yourself in the foot with the words “open source,” which most people still assume means “free”… and come to think of it, I haven’t paid anybody for my copy of Firefox.

  • Jitendra

    Great Piece…Got me thinking about our high-concept pitch:

    It probably be:

    SezWho: eBay like reputation for social web

    What do you think?

  • Luke G

    I think we ‘re headed in the right direction with this one…

    Jowba
    Startup companies. Startup jobs.

    I’m hoping that a little clarity will help make up for the fact that no one knows how to pronounce “Jowba” at first (um it rhymes with “cowba”). Seriously, no one – we might need to look into that.

  • Mark

    Our start-up’s is:

    “It’s like iTunes for online applications”

    although depending upon who we’re talking to we might use this one…

    “It’s like Salesforce.com for everyone else”

    Pretty succinct methinks.

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  • Mike

    Just watch out for anyone that says “Facebook for blank.” I’ve heard a million of those and saying something like that could instantly turn someone off.

    • Niyi

      I see your point, but what if the “Facebook” analogy accurately describes your product? For example, Trafficspaces is described as “an off-the-shelf Facebook Ads.” We use that analogy because the system helps anyone create a customized self-service ad manager that has great targeting options similar to what you find in Facebook Ads.

      High concept pitches are great communications tools but they start to fall apart when the linkage being described is tenuous as best.

      For example, “Facebook for kittens.” Okay I made that one up, but hey, everyone loves kittens.

  • Alexa

    Do you think there are downsides to relating yourself to another company in your pitch? Could it come across that your concept is not original if you’re the X of Y?

    • Roderick

      X of Y can be used when they are different products like: “iPod of vacuum cleaners.” It doesn’t mean you are not original.

      You can also use it for similar products. We considered using “Facebook for schools.” It would not mean we are not original. It would mean we have differences that are important to our users.

      Because many people are using Facebook pitches, we decided against it. We are probably going with “Schoolbinder: A safe and powerful social network for schools.”

  • Sunil Wilkinson

    We are in the process of re-appropriating our service deck for SoundStation.com, it will be relaunched in the next 6 to 8 weeks. After much thought, I believe our high concept pitch will be “SoundStation is like a greencard for immigrant music downloads”.

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    Is Quora the the Wikipedia of subjective answers?…

    E.g. what is high concept the ‘movie pitch’ explanation of Quora?  (See: http://venturehacks.com/articles/high-concept-pitch for an explanation of high concept startup pitches)…

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