Elevator Pitch: where did it all start?

For many people we should have started our blog with an article about the “famous and feared” Elevator Pitch… In my opinion, starting preparing your pitches with the elevator one is a mistake: if you haven’t put a broader plan/ explanation “on paper”, it might be tough to come one with a very concise (90 seconds) and winning pitch.

Apart from my opinion (unrelated to this article!), people always ask me where does the term “Elevator Pitch” come from… Well, there are 2 theories:


The Hollywood urban legend theory


First theory is also kind of an urban legend, and puts the born of the elevator pitch decades ago in Hollywood. It was the golden days of movie making, and people from all different backgrounds and geographies went to Hollywood, with their scripts in hands, hoping to get rich in a blink. Side note: any resemblance to Silicon Valley?

Back to the story, screenwriters would then chase producers wherever they could to sell their ideas… even on elevators! The time between floors (60 to 90 seconds) was all the got to convince producers to invite them to a follow up meeting.

They had to come out with a very concise, but exciting, pitch structure. It had to be clear enough so they could just talk through it (no Power Point, folks!), in front of other people, ambient noise etc…

That’s the cool version of how the Elevator Pitch was born.


Version 2: the actual elevator demonstration


The second theory is much less glamorous. According to the Tom Tunguz  (if you’re an entrepreneur, you should subscribe to his awesome blog) on an article called “To sell is human”, the origin of the term dates back 1852, with the demonstration of elevators themselves:

The term elevator pitch originates from the very first demonstration of an elevator with a safety brake. At the time, elevators were hazardous, routinely plummeting down shafts when their hoisting ropes fell, destroying their payloads. In 1852, Elisha Otis invented a locking system that would catch and secure plunging elevator. Unable to drive much interest in his innovation, Otis organized a demonstration in New York City. He stood in the elevator as an assistant severed the hoisting ropes and the safety brake engaged. Otis’ innovation paved the way for humans to ride in elevators. Today, the Otis company’s products transport 7B people every three days.

To Sell is Human, Tom Tunguz


To me, attributing the creation of elevator pitch to a single moment or person is too much of a stretch. Sales Pitches have been around for a long long time, and if you know salespeople (especially the desperate ones) you know they will take every opportunity they have to sell.

It’s more likely that people started delivering shorter and shorter pitches, and started to package and spread the concept/ theory until  the term “elevator” sticked. Had this concept been created by a single entity, believe me, we would all be seeing trademarks and requests for royalties!

Having said that, understanding the history behind the concept, no matter the theory you believe in, is, to me, soothing: people have been struggling with this for a very long time, so I’m not the first one!

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