How I’ve learned to build a great pitch deck
Building pitch decks is hard. Trying to explain your company in 15 slides is probably the most frustrating thing a founder can do. After all, your company is your life. You can’t explain it in 15 slides, especially when everyone tells you things like:
“No more than half a word a slide”
“Pictures baby, pictures.”
“Say curated dude, people love curated.”
Now, common wisdom holds true. Your slides should not be overly wordy, bland or otherwise glazed-look inducing — but there are basic things I see missed time and time again. This is my day job. I run two businesses (VentureFocus and Bear Studios) that focus exclusively on helping start-ups succeed. I’ve seen the worst and I’ve seen the best. The one thing I’ve learned is that I love great presentations, and I love helping people build them.
So that’s why I’m writing this. Let’s jump into it.
There’s a format to these things, which to me was weird to think about. Theoretically you’re psyched about your start-up because it’s new and does things that no one has ever thought of before. All of this is true, but it doesn’t mean that your presentation should be entirely unique as well. There are a few things that MUST be presented if you want any chance of raising capital.
What follows is a narrative for your slide deck. You should present slides in this order, hitting these topics.
Explain why your product exists
- Give an in depth explanation of the current problem in the market. What’s going on, and why is it a problem? People often don’t do this, and it leads to huge issues. For example, we were working with a company (VivenHealth) that has developed training software proven to reduce rates of sickness at businesses. While pitching their product, we quickly realized that businesses don’t think about sickness as a solvable problem. They view it as a inevitable business expense. So we started off by framing sickness as something to be solved.
- A detailed analysis of the current market and the current players and the current shortcomings. Rarely are you going to find a problem that hasn’t been tackled. Most of the time, theres at least one competitor in your space. Your job here is to point out why they aren’t doing it the right way and why all the current solutions are no good.
Now, tell us about the solution
- Tell us what your product is and how it addresses the shortcomings you detailed above. Talk point by point, addressing each problem and why your business is the solution. Go in depth about what you’re accomplishing, but avoid being overly technical.
- Appendix. If you have some complicated algorithm or you’re developing a medical device, leave some technical validation in the main part of your deck. Just enough to prove a point. BUT put most of it in an appendix at the end. That way you avoid the glazed over look, and if you have technically inclined investors they’re still happy because of the appendix.
Next, your market and business model
- Tell us who you’re targeting, and how big the market is. Who are your customers? How many are there? Really dive into the detail and don’t be afraid to dream big. This is where you should show you’ve done your research. Know exactly who your first consumers are and why they’re buying the product. Tell us how many people exist in this area, and how much money is in this market. Talk about the different industries you can target. For now, focus on what’s on reasonable on a 2 year horizon. Later on in the deck is where you talk about your 1000 year plan. Here’s a link to a dope MIT presentation that helps you run these calculations.
- Seriously, for gods sake, include a business model. Please, please, please explain how you’re gonna make money. If I hear “Oh we’ll scale and then sell the data of our billion customers” I will hurt someone. That is not a damn business model. Instead, convince people you’ve done your homework. Let’s say your product could be a consumer facing product AND it also has an enterprise version. List both possible revenue streams and detail how much you would charge for each, and the most important people to target first. Talk about the packages offered and how you are going to tailor them to be perfect. Literally list every semi-decent revenue stream you could think of. Often what we’ll do is have two slides with our best ideas, and then one slide with 6 different revenue streams in a small font. Just to show you’ve seriously considered things.
Finally, where you are and where you’re headed.
- Timeline slide. This is simple but you need it. Have a slide that is literally just a timeline. Show yourself at the midpoint of that timeline. Include when you founded, when your MVP was ready, and the next major milestones you need to hit. Harp on the fact that you actually have made some progress, and whats coming up next is coming up fast.
- Future plans. What features are coming next? What markets can you expand to? Go big, talk about stuff that might be wild. Hopefully if you’ve followed my advice you’ve been pretty grounded up until this point, so a little excitement is good here.
- Team. Never forget your team slide. Investors invest in people, not ideas. Your goal with this slide is to tell investors why you are the one building this business. What makes you qualified, why should they trust you. Any sort of validation of your passion or expertise in the business is hugely beneficial. I know this slide is important, but I’m not sure where to put it. Mark Suster says the team slide should be your first slide so that VC’s know your qualifications and passion up front. Others (including me) think putting it at the end hammers the point harder. Whichever you prefer, as long as you have it.
- Funds needed. If you’re asking for money, people are wanna know what for! Make sure you detail exactly what you need that $1m for.
Just kidding, finally your appendix
- End your pitch deck with a blank slide that says questions. Leave it up there while fielding questions. However, sneaky sneaky you. You’ve included a bunch of “common questions” in the appendix along with your technical validation. That way when investors ask you that oh-so-common question, you can flip to the slide. Boom, you seem prepared and on top of your shit. Good job.
Now I’m not an angel, or a VC — but I’ve seen my fair share of good and bad presentations. I’m not pretending like I know everything, or that this guide is gospel, but these things are what I’ve seen in the most successful presentations. Most of this stuff is pretty straightforward, but incredibly important if you want a presentation with a strong narrative. I think that any deck that does a good job hitting the points outlined will have a killer deck.
Since this really is my day job, I’m more than happy to give quick pro-bono feedback to anyone that asks for it. I live and breathe presentations, just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
If this has been helpful to you, please let me know. I really love hearing success stories, especially if I’ve helped. If you have any thoughts or think something is dumb, also let me know. I love debate. Good luck with those decks!