The Elevator Speech

February 24, 2007


The purpose of the “speech” is to condense the project definition into something that would fit into the time it takes to ride an elevator. This is where all good ideas are pitched, apparently; you stalk an unwary VC until he or she is trapped inside the elevator has no choice but to listen to your prattling. If your idea has any merit, pray that the VC doesn’t call on someone else to launch the project and leave you out in the cold.

Digging Deeper

Something else from the ArsDigita world, a questionnaire to help organize the project.

Project Title

List the class of users

The classes of user that you expect to be connecting to this Web service. In a community site for American owners of Honda cars, the anticipated user classes would be (1) Honda owners, (2) Honda dealers, and (3) employees of American Honda.

Say what they will be able to do

Remember that:

For each class of user that you identified above, please list the significant new capabilities that those users will have in virtue of our having built this site: See this example of what we’d write for the Honda owners service

Set forth a comprehensive feature list

If you have a laundry list of features that you want that aren’t especially innovative but would be nice to have, include them here in a complete list of desired site features. Note that this may contain for the Honda site, we’d tack on stuff like affinity email addresses, so that a person could be “” and pick up mail via a Web interface.

Say what is most valuable and why

For each important feature above, say what is valuable about the feature to the users, to the service operator (i.e., you) and why. Try to list the features in order of most valuable first.

Identify Dependencies

If your Web service requires getting data from another company or computer system, say something about that. For the Honda service that we’ve sketched above, we won’t be able to launch unless we get cooperation from the folks who run the company’s mainframe systems.

Minimum Launchable Feature Set

Any Web service tends to develop gradually over the years as the publisher and the users develop better ideas. Programmers can’t work at infinite speed. So it is best to view the ultimate service development as a continuous process. Decide in advance what the minimum launchable feature set is and then everyone will have a target. For the Honda service that we’ve sketched above, the minimum launchable feature set might be “email service reminders for owners; owner can log in and see service history; owner can book an appointment for additional service; dealer gets email or FAX alerts of booked appointments.”


It doesn’t matter how good the site is if nobody uses it. What’s your plan for reaching users? Have you raised money? Gotten powerful partners to agree to promote the site? Are you relying on word of mouth? Something like “American Honda already has the Snail Mail address of every vehicle owner and has budgeted to mail a four-color flyer to every owner in the US. In addition we’ll promote the URL in posters to be displayed in dealer service departments.”

The Elevator Speech - February 24, 2007 - Ken Mayer