• Thursday, May 23, 2024
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An unexpected evening with Aliko Dangote: The importance of a perfect elevator pitch


The life of an entrepreneur is a blend of thrilling successes, heartrending setbacks, and invaluable lessons. Often, it’s not the lengthy board meetings or comprehensive strategies that stand out, but rather fleeting moments that reshape our understanding of business. One startup entrepreneur asked me last week what was the most important tool a startup must not joke with.

Without hesitation, I said: “Your elevator pitch,” as if I was waiting for him to ask me the question. I told him I had an interesting experience that would further explain the importance of an elevator pitch. I had one such enlightening experience that I’d like to share, showcasing the sheer weight an elevator pitch carries.

The Prelude
Back in 2013, my firm, SB Telecoms, was scaling the heights of success. Our innovation had been recognised, and we were listed among the top 50 burgeoning small businesses by the esteemed Tony Elumelu Foundation, All World Network, and Professor Michael Porter of Harvard University. The accolade wasn’t merely a feather in our cap. It was a gateway to networks that many can only dream of. I was recognized along with the likes of Collins of Sigal Alliance, Obinna of Wakanow, Abimbola of Jobyeln, Lanre and Tope Ajayi of Portion Consult.

The Invitation
In 2014, the Tony Elumelu Foundation team extended an invitation to the Nigeria 50 winners. It was an invitation to a grand presidential dinner to honour President Goodluck Jonathan then, on the sidelines of the UN General Meeting. The invite wasn’t merely an opportunity to be seen but also to converse, collaborate, and create new avenues for business. Despite the short notice, I got my ticket and headed straight to New York.

As I flew to New York, my thoughts weren’t focused on TAMS or how best to present it. Instead, my mind was abuzz with the elite guest list and potential implications. This oversight, as I would later realise, was my Achilles’ heel.

The Evening of Opportunities
The opulence of the event was palpable. The room was a mosaic of influencers, decision-makers, and visionaries. As the evening unfurled, I found myself amidst a diverse group, casually discussing the attendees. With a hint of jest and bravado, I mentioned that I was an acquaintance of Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Africa’s business powerhouse. Their intrigue was evident, and I basked in the momentary limelight.

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To my astonishment, as the universe’s serendipity would have it, Mr. Dangote walked in later and took the seat next to mine. Our ensuing chat, interspersed with his recount of a hectic week spanning travels from Obajana to Dubai and finally to New York, must have seemed to bystanders as a reunion of long-lost friends.

Yet, beneath the surface-level pleasantries, I was mentally scrambling. When he probed about TAMS, my response was hazy, lacking precision. The climax was his request for my business card, to which I had none left to give. Because I gave away the pack of over 150, I had with me.

Soon after, Mr. Awolowo, the executive director of the Nigerian Export Promotion Council, ushered Dangote to a more prestigious seating, but not before we shared a photograph, a memento of our unexpected interaction.

As the event rolled on, the group I’d spoken to earlier approached with heightened anticipation. Witnessing my “friendly” chat with Dangote, their curiosity was piqued. I was cornered into maintaining my playful narrative.

Unpacking the Elevator Pitch

First Impressions Matter: In an era of instant gratification, the initial impact can set the tone for future engagements. An elevator pitch ensures this impression is not just lasting but positively resonant.

Brevity with Clarity: Decision-makers are inundated with information. An elevator pitch carves out the fluff, delivering a sharp, clear message, making sure you’re heard above the noise.

Always Be Prepared: The realms of opportunity don’t work on appointments. Being perpetually prepared ensures you capitalise when they come knocking, be it at a gala or a casual coffee shop.

The Essence of Your Vision: Your elevator pitch isn’t a sales pitch; it’s the distillation of your passion, vision, and innovation into a digestible format that invokes interest and intrigue.

Opening Doors: A good pitch isn’t the conclusion of a conversation; it’s the intriguing prologue to a deeper engagement, fostering potential collaborations and partnerships.

The Retrospection

Post the event, amidst the glamour and the glitz, a realisation dawned upon me. In business, as in life, it’s not just about seizing opportunities but maximising them. That evening wasn’t just about meeting Mr. Dangote or the elite guest list. It was an opportunity to share my vision and my innovation and create collaborative avenues.

My lapse wasn’t in attending the event or in networking, but in being underprepared. An elevator pitch, succinct yet impactful, would have made all the difference. It would have transformed a casual conversation into a potential business proposition.


To all entrepreneurs out there, understand this – your ground-breaking idea, your years of hard work, and your vision, all need the right introduction. And often, this introduction is a brief 30 seconds. Your elevator pitch is not just a collection of words; it’s the essence of your entrepreneurial journey. Craft it with care, refine it with passion, and always, always be ready to share it. After all, you never know when opportunity will sit beside you waiting to be enthralled. As for me, I remain hopeful that Mr. Dangote or his associates may by chance stumble upon this article. Who knows, this might just serve as a belated platform to present that elusive elevator pitch, resonating precisely as it should have that fateful evening.