How to kickstart and scale a consumer business—Step 3: Craft your pitch
Lessons from Pinterest, Netflix, Tinder, Dropbox, DoorDash, Robinhood, Amazon, WhatsApp, and dozens of today’s most successful consumer businesses
👋 Hey, I’m Lenny and welcome to a 🔒 subscriber-only edition 🔒 of my weekly newsletter. Each week I tackle reader questions about product, growth, working with humans, and anything else that’s stressing you out about work. Send me your questions and in return I’ll humbly offer actionable real-talk advice.
Welcome to part three of our six-part series “Kickstarting and scaling your consumer business.” If you’re just joining us, here are links to previous posts, and a sense of what’s ahead:
Step 3: HOOK: Craft your pitch ← This post
The main question we’ll be answering in today’s post: How do you get your super-specific who’s attention?
Again, a disclaimer: following these steps will not guarantee success. But it will increase your odds.
People are busy. They’re bombarded with ads and life responsibilities, and have absolutely no reason to pay attention to your product. As venture capitalist Marc Andreessen put it, “Their time is already allocated.”
To have any hope of grabbing someone’s attention, your pitch can’t be just good. It needs to be remarkable. Something worth remarking about. Watch this 30-second clip:
“Competition is so fierce that you have to create something remarkable in order to succeed. Something remarkable is worth talking about. Worth noticing. Exceptional. New. Interesting. The opposite of remarkable is very good.”
—Seth Godin, author of Purple Cow
When Tony Xe launched DoorDash in 2013, he spent weeks going door to door trying to convince restaurants to sign up. It was a slog. He pitched them on the value of food delivery and mobile technology and on the promise of new customers. Growth was slow and restaurant owners were unimpressed. One day, he finally found a value prop that worked:
“What I realized was that we were selling revenue. Unless you hated money, you should sign up with us, because you didn’t pay us anything until you got a sale. It took me a while to realize this. I hadn’t sold anything before, so I had to learn it.”
The product stayed the same, but the new pitch changed DoorDash’s trajectory.
Similarly, when Scott Belsky first tried to convince designers to put their portfolio on Behance, he had a really hard time.
“Inviting top designers to showcase their portfolio on a website they could barely pronounce and had never heard of was a fruitless endeavor. Nobody cared or had the time.”
Eventually he adjusted what he was pitching designers, and his luck immediately turned around:
“We contacted the 100 designers and artists we admired most and instead asked if we could interview them for a blog on productivity in the creative world. Nearly all of them said yes. After asking a series of questions over email, we offered to construct a portfolio on their behalf on Behance, alongside the blog post. Nobody declined.
This initiative yielded a v1 of Behance that was jam-packed with projects, each from 100 top creatives, built the way we wanted. This manual labor was the most important thing we ever did. It solved our chicken-or-egg problem.”
Netflix iterated on its product offering for 18 months and eventually found a hook that worked, as Marc Randolph (former CEO and co-founder) shared:
“Hundreds of failed experiments later, and after many a sleepless night of worrying, we finally tested the unlikely combination of ‘no due dates, no late fees’ and ‘subscription’ that ultimately was the thing that ended up working. And boy, did it work. Within days of testing it, we knew we had a winner.”
The question you need to be asking yourself: What is your remarkable hook?
Here are some examples of great hooks that helped launch massive consumer businesses:
Nail your hook and you’ll notice an immediate shift in interest, growth, and engagement. Miss the mark and you’ll continue to struggle.
How to craft your hook
There are many approaches to coming up with your hook. I’ll share four. My advice is to try them all. Feel out which path leads you to something that excites you, grabs your potential users’ attention, and tells your story in as few words as possible. As you start to see what’s working and what isn’t, keep tweaking. Almost no one got this right the first time.
Before you start, make sure you’ve come up with your super-specific who. Also don’t overthink the difference between a hook, a pitch, a value prop, a tagline, and positioning. They’re all important, but in the end, you need to figure out a way to describe what you’ve got, in a compelling way, and get someone to care. Here’s four ways to do this:
Strategy #1: What’s unique about your product?
Strategy #2: How do your users describe your product?
Strategy #3: What job is your product doing for people?
Strategy #4: What about your product is likely to grab people’s attention?
You can use this simple B2C GTM template that I introduced in the previous post to capture your ideas.