Why Give a Damn:

This article explores the the single biggest problem that entrepreneurs have when it comes to pitching. Not knowing how to tell a good story. Read on for a great story, a great pitch and some stellar tips to skyrocket your pitching skills.


The author of this post, Teju Ravilochan, is co-founder and CEO of the Unreasonable Institute.

In my opinion, the single biggest problem that entrepreneurs have when it comes to pitching is that they don’t know how to tell a good story. And I don’t just mean one story somewhere in the middle of the pitch – I mean making the entire pitch one big story!

First, why should you make your pitch a story?

There’s a simple reason: people hate pitches and people love stories.

Why turn your pitch into a story? People hate pitches and people love stories.  Tweet This Quote

Why? Everyone gets weird about pitches. A lot of people turn into robots – they feel like they have to cram everything they can into a tight amount of time. There’s a loss of human connection in a pitch because a pitch-maker feels like they are only doing it to ask for something. Someone who hears a pitch feels like they are waiting to be asked for something. The whole thing is just…icky.

But stories – stories open people up. When you tell a story, other people seek connection with you. And if you lace in an ask or a request, people are much more receptive, as you’ve placed that ask in a more genuine context.

So this post explores one way, one example, of how to turn your pitch into a story. It’s inspired by one of my best friends, Unreasonable Mentor Eric Glustrom (founder of Educate! and Watson University)!

Tell the Story of How You Discovered the Problem.

Often times, this is the most moving part of an entrepreneur’s story. Well told, it gives an audience the ability to discover the problem as you did, to experience the surprise you felt, and to come to the conclusion as you did. This can get them very bought into your message, especially if there’s a logical flow and an emotional element to your story. Not everyone’s story lends itself to being a focal point of your pitch, but this is often a good place to start. Here’s an example (a paraphrasing of Unreasonable Mentor Eric Glustrom’s story):

    Eric Glustrom

    Eric Glustrom

    When I was in high school, I had been learning about the refugee crisis in Uganda, as a result of war in the DRC. I applied to Amnesty International to make a film about it. They turned me down saying I was “too young” and the trip was “too dangerous.” Nevertheless, I went on my own and visited Kyangwali refugee camp in Western Uganda. As I made my film, I became friends, especially with young refugees, like Benson Olivier. I was so moved by the terrible conditions in the camp that I asked Benson, “How can I help?” He said, “Help us get an education. If you do that, then we can help ourselves.” So I went home and did the simplest thing I could: raise money to provide scholarships to Benson and other students in the camps. And I was able to get some of the young refugees I had met into high school.

    A few years ater, I returned to Uganda to visit Benson and my other friends. When I came to see them, they were pleased to see me, but stressed as they were preparing for their upcoming exam. I asked them what they were studying and I found out that they and thousands of other students across Uganda were memorizing all of the regions of Germany, which they would soon have to regurgitate on their upcoming test.

    The education that could enable these refugees become the leaders to bring peace to their country, was instead teaching them to memorize the districts of Germany?!

    My stomach churned. Malaria and deadly diseases were rampant in their refugee camp. There was hardly any clean water. And most importantly, the bloodiest conflict since World War Two still was underway in their homeland, the DRC. Yet the education that could enable these refugees to free themselves from their circumstances and become the leaders to bring peace to their country, was instead teaching them to memorize the districts of Germany?! WHEN would that knowledge EVER be used? What’s more, memorizing these largely irrelevant facts was actually stifling their creativity!

    That’s when I realized it wasn’t enough to get these amazing youth into school. We had to change the school itself. And we had to change it fast.” (to be continued later…)

Create Tension with Your Problem.

In the example above, you can see that Eric comes to a logical conclusion that you understand. AND there’s a tension at the end. The tension is, “Yes I agree with you! We need to change school! But HOW?” You feel impatient to know what the solution is. What happens next?! Eric has you right where he wants you. He can milk it a little longer by saying something like this:

    Help us get an education. If you do that, then we can help ourselves.

    “When I shared my frustration with other people, they waved me off, saying, ‘Okay, maybe. But even if you were right, school doesn’t change overnight. There are 5,000 high schools alone in Uganda, teaching a curriculum mandated by the Ministry of Education. And you can’t just stroll into their office and tell them your story and expect them to change the whole country’s education system.’ They were right, I thought.

    But ten years later, that’s exactly what happened. 10 years later, my team and I finalized a partnership with the Ministry of Education of the government of Uganda that fundamentally changed the way the next generation is being educated, impacting more than 25,000 high school students every year.” (to be continued later…)

If you’re like me, you’re going “WHAT?! How did you do that? What happened?” You’re hooked. You want to know what happened in those 10 years. You want to know if this is real.

Your Solution Matters Less than Showing that it Works.

In Eric’s story, the next logical step is to explain his solution – what he did over ten years. But the truth is that his solution is going to matter less than how effective it was, than the traction that he achieved. He’ll show this through examples of how students who went through his curriculum were transformed and what they were able to do. He’ll show this through highlighting key partnerships, through showing his work was validated by the UN, and eventually adopted by the Ugandan Government to reach 90,000 students / year. The takeaway here is: people are rarely equipped (even experts) to gauge your solution to a problem. What’s far more important is showing them that it works. Here’s what Eric says.

    People (even experts) are rarely equipped to gauge your solution to a problem.  Tweet This Quote

    “Of course, I did not know what would happen 10 years later. But in that moment, I knew I had to do something to change the Ugandan education system. I knew, from my first conversation with young refugees, they needed an education that would empower them to change their circumstances. So I began, shortly after graduating college, to piece together a mentorship program and curriculum they could go through to actually become leaders and entrepreneurs. Teammates came on and helped me. We drew from places like the Transformative Action Institute. And once we built our curriculum for a two-year leadership and entrepreneurship course, we first went to schools and asked if we could start working with some of the students after school. They agreed. We added in mentorship from highly-trained mentors and alumni support. And we challenged our students to start businesses and programs that could improve their communities. One student in our program, Lillian Aero, started a company for HIV-positive widows to make beads. She exports those beads to several countries worldwide and has provided jobs and livelihoods to over 50 women. 50 women!! She’s a student. She may not know the districts of Germany, but there are 50 women who have new found dignity and can provide for their families because she’s providing them jobs. 50 women who can eat three meals a day. 50 women who can send their kids to school. When I saw what Lillian and hundreds more students had done, with our mentorship and training, I knew what we were doing would work. I knew that we could show headmasters and district supervisors and even the Minister of Education that there was a much better way to develop a student’s potential.

    The first 1,300 graduates started over 650 different businesses and community initiatives.

    Eventually, we partnered with 56 schools and had 8,000 students going through our program. The first 1,300 graduates started over 650 different businesses and community initiatives – ranging from planting tens of thousands of trees in heavily deforested Western Uganda to starting a successful youth-focused microfinance organization. And over the years, we had been trying to get the government to take note of our work. We found many introductions into the Ministry and related institutions such as the National Curriculum Development Center and spoke to dozens of people inside it. As we started seeing results, they grew interested. Simultaneously, the UN with support from the World Bank began to conduct a third-party evaluation of our results.

    Today, the government has implemented our curriculum in over
    1,200 schools across
    the country.

    The government was soon convinced. We sat down with key decision makers. We told them that we wanted to measure students’ potential on their ability to create jobs and change their neighborhoods, towns, cities, even the country, rather than on their ability to memorize random facts. Everyone agreed.

    Today, the government has implemented our curriculum in over 1,200 schools – public and private – across the country. Because of Educate!, they’ve changed the national high school exam of Uganda to measure students’ progress starting businesses in their communities. Today, the core competency that any Ugandan high school student must demonstrate is the ability to effect change. Today, the new curriculum empowers 25,000 students / year. Today, the dream of transforming the education system in Uganda is a living, breathing reality!!

    But we are not done yet…” (to be continued)

Be Clear About What’s In Front Of You (this sets up your ask).

At this point, the audience not only believes it’s possible to solve the massive problem of education in Uganda, but they also believe in Eric’s ability to do it. And that gives him credibility as he moves into what this speech is all about: getting the audience’s support as he moves forward into the next opportunity. Here’s what he says:

    Be clear about what’s in front of you (this sets up your ask).  Tweet This Quote

    If this model can work in Uganda, can it work elsewhere? Can it work everywhere? Our dream is to transform the education system of the entire globe, turning it into something that doesn’t simply produce job-ready, booksmart young people, but young people who can (and already have) changed their world.

    With Educate! going strong, I kept thinking back to my own education in the US. Where was the leadership and entrepreneurship training, where was the mentorship, where was the support our students in Uganda are now receiving? In other words, our students in Uganda have opportunities that I didn’t have at the best schools in the US! I knew our next step must be to bring this model to the United States to prove its global potential.

    This past fall, we launched Watson University, a new university model for college students dedicated to one thing: equipping them to change the world. And if we can get it to work in the US, and it works in Uganda, we believe there’s no place on earth this model couldn’t work.

    Here’s where we need your help. We have:

  • A proven curriculum
  • Dedicated faculty, including Scott Sherman, founder of the Transformative Action Institute
  • Nearing break even through student tuition
  • Partnerships with numerous universities
  • Exploring university accreditation (meaning we plan to offer real degrees for this program)
  • Over $100,000 in funding
    All we need now is $1.5 million in startup capital. That’s what stands between us and between being able to prove this model in five more countries by 2016. With these funds, we’d be able to:
  • Create campuses in five countries including the US, Uganda, and India
  • Build out Watson’s degree track, thus transforming the nature of higher education
  • Empower millions of young change makers across the globe through Watson online for free, for all
    I know that $1.5 million is a big number. But think of what it could mean. It could mean that for every student, in every nation, no matter what circumstances they live in, we could fulfill the request that Benson Olivier made of me that night in Kyangwali refugee camp in 2002: Give me an education. For with it, I will change the world.

    Thank you!

    [Thunderous applause]

Where is the leadership and entrepreneurship training? Where is the mentorship in our education?  Tweet This Quote

Notice how Eric sets up a list of the things that he needs to get the job done and all the things that he’s already got behind him. The $1.5 million he’s asking for is just the last piece of the puzzle. People in an audience feel much more able to support you if they are helping you “close the gap” as opposed to giving you resources in the absence of other progress.

Also notice how Eric lays out how he’s going to use that money and what it could mean for his impact.

Finally, notice how in his closing line, he ties back to the initial drive of starting Educate!

In Summary.

Assuming that Eric delivers the above speech well (with pauses in the right places, in a way that is engaging and exciting), the whole thing takes less than 5 minutes. It’s not complicated. It’s simple. And yet, you can see that it communicates everything important: what the problem is, who Eric is and how he got involved, what the solution is (notice that there’s very little said about it), how it works (more said about this), what the next steps are, and where Eric needs help.

There’s no formula.

There’s no “template” that will work for everyone. You’ve got to find whatever allows you to be authentic. But I am confident about one thing: everyone, including you, will be much happier if you turn your pitch into a story.

Everyone, including you, will be much happier if you turn your pitch into a story.  Tweet This Quote

About the author

Teju Ravilochan

Teju Ravilochan

Teju is co-founder and CEO of Uncharted (formerly the Unreasonable Institute). He is driven by the desire to live in a world where every human being can be the master of their own fate, unbound by the chains of poverty, oppression, or injustice.