For over a decade now, pitch decks have been a critical part of how startups pitch investors.
But how can you make a pitch deck that guarantees you will get the funding you want?
Most people make mistakes when creating their first pitch deck.
The first thing to realise is that there is no way a pitch deck, no matter how good, can guarantee you funding.
That is not the purpose of the pitch deck, and if you try to make it do that, you’re DOING IT WRONG!
A pitch deck is one thing and one thing only: a sales document.
Like most sales document, it has a singular, straightforward purpose: to get you the next meeting.
No intelligent investor will ever invest based solely on a great pitch deck. But they might schedule a chat.
So the pitch deck is there to persuade someone to reply to the email and schedule something.
So how do you persuade someone? This is another place where most people fall down, because they jump into this task without having answered the most critical question.
The most critical question BEFORE you start preparing your pitch deck is:
Who is your audience for it?
The only way to persuade people is to start by understand where they are, and take them on a journey with you to where you want them to be.
So here you need to think about the kinds of investors you want to persuade. Serial super-angels from Silicon Valley will respond differently than London bankers with a startup investing hobby, or than a Hong-Kong-based VC.
This will then enable you to make decisions about what to include and what to leave out, and how to present things, to satisfy this target audience.
There is no persuasion in a vacuum. You need an audience in mind, to persuade them to schedule the next meeting.
So, with that in mind, there are a number of features and principles which are generally universally good for an effective pitch deck, no matter the audience, though they may need some adapting depending you who you’re actually pitching.
#1: LESS IS MORE.
A pitch deck is not a business plan. It is not a detailed financial model. It is not an in-depth marketing strategy.
A pitch deck is a sales tool to get you the next meeting.
It’s ok and even desirable if ppl have questions after reading it.
If the pitch deck does its job, no doubt a savvy investor will be asking about your financials and your marketing and even your hiring plans. But the pitch deck does not need to answer that.
So focus on making the information compelling rather than complete.
#2: AVOID BAD SLIDES
That seems obvious, but what do I mean by that?
While preparing a pitch deck, you may be tempted to make a slide that has some information that you think is really essential… and maybe you won’t find a neat way to present it succinctly.
So there, you may think “let me just cram it in, because it’s really good information, when investors see this their eyes will light up!”
Except they won’t. Active investors see many pitch decks. when they see a bad slide their eyes will glaze over and they might lose interest.
Every over-complicated “bad slide” is a chance to lose the investor’s attention. They get distracted, they open Slack, talk to someone, check their mail, have to go to a meeting… and you’re forgotten.
Investor attention is precious, don’t give them a chance to drift away.
#3: START WITH THE WOW
If you’ve thought about your startup enough, you should have, by now, figured out what is your startup’s Wow moment. If you don’t know what I mean, please check this thread:
Investors are people too. That means they are emotional beings. That means the most powerful way to engage them is emotionally. And one of the best ways to do that is to Wow them upfront.
If you Wow investors upfront, they will read the rest of the deck with friendly eyes, looking for more reasons to schedue a meeting.
If you don’t, they will be looking for reasons to send you a polite “no thanks”.
#4: DIFFERENT IS OK:
It’s ok to break any of the rules, just know why you’re doing it. Eg: If you have a good sense of a given investor perhaps when they ask for a pitch deck you just send them a brief paragraph – because you know that will get you the meeting immediately.
If you look up the pitch decks of successful companies, you’ll find many examples that don’t appear to follow all the principles I’ve outlined, and miss out on information I might call critical.
This guide is just a guide. If you think you know better, maybe you do!
Finally, let’s conclude this guide with what you should include in a pitch deck.
This is not an exhaustive list, but most pitch decks should include a slide about each of these… and they probably shouldn’t have more than 10 slides total.
##1: The problem:
You must have a slide that describes the problem that you’re solving. This slide should make it easy to understand who has that problem, and why it’s a big problem that costs money or serious aggravation and so is worth solving.
##2: The solution:
Of course there must be a slide describing why your startup is the answer to that problem – how it solves the problem. It should follow naturally from the problem and be obviously a suitable solution given how the problem was framed.
##3: The market:
Since startup investing is (still, for now, until @pledg3r really takes off) a unicorn hunting game, find the most compelling way to convey the idea that:
This is going to be huge.
Use numbers, include references, make it clear this is a BIG opportunity.
##4: The business model:
If it’s not 2000% obvious, how do you make money?
Too many entrepreneurs haven’t thought about this, so investors want to see this in a pitch deck.
##5: The competition:
There must be some comparable products out there. If there aren’t, investors will think you unserious and probably won’t call you.
Nobody really buys the green ticks that always make you seem obviously better, but this shows awareness of the space.
##6: Who you are:
Despite the adage that “investors invest in teams first”, this is not the first slide. But it needs to be there. Who is this team? Include brief bios that express how amazing you are and how relevant your experience is to this startup. Don’t be shy.
##7: Where you are now:
aka traction, story.. If you have numbers to show (and you should, before you go out raising even a seed round), show them here. If they’re not compelling, you may skip this… but investors WILL ask and if you don’t have good answers they won’t invest.
There are certainly other slides you could include, but if you make a compelling case with those 7, you should have a fair chance of getting that meeting scheduled! Which, let’s remember, is the whole point of this – not to give a complete picture, but to get the meeting.
Please also don’t make the mistake of preparing a slide deck for emailing and then making that your in-person live presentation deck. If you’re giving a live presentation, go back to square one: who is the audience, how do you get what you want from them?
Live presentations usually should have much less text (though pitch decks should not be very text heavy), and be focused more on inspiring than communicating subtle details. But that’s a whole nother thread.