Aristotle on Pitching

The Greeks had the idea of pitching figured out long ago. Aristotle talked about the concept in Poetics, though he wasn’t thinking about selling to customers. Aristotle was concerned with the construction of literature, in particular tragedy, and with how people often end up in a state of misery and then find a way back out. The three–act story we know and love is built on this idea.

  • Act I: Girl Meets Boy
  • Act II: Girl Loses Boy
  • Act III: Girl Gets Boy Back

The reason we watch movies and read novels is to follow along with the characters to see what they will face and how it will change them. Loss and its cousin, absence, are the most common tensions in literature. The character discovers early in the story that something is missing—happiness, freedom, wealth, beauty—and that he or she needs to fill the hole in his or her pocket or heart—someone has a felt need that needs to be resolved.

A pitch is just a 30–second, three–act play that describes the current state, makes apparent the unsatisfied felt need of the customer, and shows how that need might be fulfilled by the work of your startup. As Y Combinator co–founder Paul Graham says, startups need to improve people’s lives and bring about some change for the better. If writing your pitch is hard, go back and find the poetic tension that drives the story of your company.

This is an excerpt from Chapter 5 of Every Book Is a Startup that ran in this week’s edition of O’Reilly’s TOC Newsletter. If you are going to be attending TOC in New York next week, I am going to be speaking on Minimum Viable Publishing in a workshop session Monday February 13th from 3:30pm to 5pm.

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