- Keep it clean - Pitch decks need to be data-driven, quick and to the point, compelling, relatable and easily understandable. An average pitch deck roughly contains 19 slides and should last no more than 20 minutes.
- Time is of the essence - Investors spend, on average, just 3 minutes and 44 seconds on a pitch deck.
- Structure - A rough pitch deck structure is as follows; Problem, Why now?, Solution/value proposition, Market & opportunity, Product, Traction, Team, Competition and Financials.
- Accessibility - Ensure your deck is readable and aesthetically pleasing on a variety of devices e.g. mobile, tablet & desktop.
An effective pitch deck should be short, simple, clear, compelling and easy to act on. It should provide a brief but informative overview of your startup and aim to pique the interest of the investor you are pitching. Investments are rarely made after one pitch and the aim of your deck should not be to raise money, but to obtain the next meeting and continue the conversation.
When it comes to the length of a pitch deck, an average pitch deck roughly contains 19 slides and should last no more than 20 minutes. To ensure you don’t risk creating too long of a deck, treat everything as if it were a tweet. In other words, try to describe things in 140 characters or less.The less text the better. Keep it clean, visually appealing and aim to capture attention. Investors will spend, on average, just 3 minutes and 44 seconds on a pitch deck.
There are a number of topics that you should always include in your pitch deck. These include, Problem, Why now?, Solution/value proposition, Market & opportunity, Product, Traction, Team, Competition, Financials and Investment/Amount being raised. This is not necessarily a chronological order and topics can be switched around. Different investors recommend different orders but this structure provides a rough idea around which to build your deck. A few things to note however. Team, financials and business model should always conclude, not open, a pitch deck.
The opener to your pitch deck. This is where you set the scene and outline the problem you are solving.
Frame THE problem in a way people can relate to and that shows the gap you are filling in the market. (Emphasis on ‘the’ as you should only be resolving one problem).
Don’t presume your audience are experts in your space and know what you’re talking about. Instead, imagine you’re explaining the problem to a 10 year old - it goes without saying this does not mean you should be condescending or patronising.
A helpful way of framing the problem is to tell a story in which you define the problem. Storytelling is an important skill that is very valuable when fundraising. The more your audience understands and relates to the problem, the more likely they are to empathise with, and become enthusiastic about, what you are working on.
If you are unable to summarise the problem in 1-3 bullet points then you need to ask yourself whether you really understand it.
A slide that was always important, but one that has become more so in the current economic climate, ‘Why now?’ explains why now is exactly the right time to be solving the problem and why now is the time for investors to invest in your business.
This is distinct from the problem slide which should have outlined why your product exists. The 'Why now?' slide aims to explain why now is the right time for your product to exist. It should create a sense of urgency and immediacy that helps make your solution appear all the more appealing.
To really nail the ‘Why now?’ slide you need to place emphasis on the now part. You want to convince investors that the problem is a timely, relevant issue with a small window of opportunity that they can’t afford to miss.
Be it related to your product, market or wider technologies, use data to show the pertinency of the issue and how your solution fits into prevailing trends and dynamics.
If you can picture this slide being used in a pitch deck several years in the past or future then you need to rethink the content.
Just like the problem, this needs to be concise and clear. Distill the benefits of your product and how it solves the problem into a maximum of three points.
Keep it focused and emphasise how your solution is different to existing solutions (there are always people who have or are coming up with similar ideas) and why your solution makes sense now.
Remember, you’re not selling the product, you’re selling what the product solves. Many founders are focused on their product when they should instead be focused on their customers and the problems those customers are facing.
Also don’t forget that you need to demonstrate scalability of your solution, especially if you’re a tech startup. Many investors, particularly VCs, are looking to invest in companies that will at least 10x their investment. Scalability of the product they are investing in is an integral part of them being able to achieve this.
Market & opportunity
Now is the time to focus on who is actually experiencing the problem you are solving. Don’t just quote figures, explain how the problem affect people's day to day lives and what impact your solution would have.
The market size is important to an investor as it is going to determine the potential exit for them. Because of this, many investors will not invest in a market under $1bn in capitalisation as it does not offer them the opportunities they need to see in order to maximise their returns over a certain timeline.
Moreover, institutional investors especially will look to invest in companies that not only disrupt, but fundamentally transform the industry they operate in and the way consumers behave.
Reference solid data, include sources from research papers, show past, present and future growth trends and provide an estimate of what market percentage you are looking to dominate (remember that the total achievable market is going to be smaller than the total addressable market).
This is where you showcase your product.
Use pictures and show rather than tell. Include images that present the product in action and include quotes from satisfied customers highlighting their love for your product and how it solves their problems.
Traction is the rate at which you are acquiring customers and/or increasing revenue.
For this slide you should include metrics such as revenue, customer acquisition, engagement, active & registered users and traffic to demonstrate your startup’s month over month growth. You may also want to include milestones and major goals that you have achieved so far. If so, consider explaining what your next major steps are.
Traction does not necessarily mean profitability. At this point, especially in the case of early stage startups, investors are more interested in growth rate and the potential for profitability. They want to see proven aspects of your business model and evidence that your product/solution is powerfully efficacious.
The bigger and steeper the better, so make sure you choose the metrics that best display your traction.
For reference, Y Combinator expects at least 15% month over month growth.
Now is the chance to highlight your amazing team! This is one of the most important slides in your deck. A study by DocSend found that the Team slide was the second most important slide as determined by time spent viewed by investors.
The Team slide is likely to be an investor’s first proper impression of you and your team so you want to nail it. Consider this slide as your means of introducing yourself. Who are you, what’s your background, what experience, expertise & insights do you have that others don’t? Why does your team have a competitive advantage? Anticipate questions an investor may have about you and answer them.
Include names & titles, photos & a short bio for each person and LinkedIn profiles.
First impressions do count, particularly during the fundraising process. This is a valuable and important way for investors to get to know you and construct an impression of who they will be potentially working with.
Things to think about
- What is your team culture and style of communication? When an investor invests in your business, they know they’re in it for the long-haul. They want assurances that the relationship will be as frictionless and painless as possible.
- Execution. Can your team actually deliver on the points you’ve outlined in your deck. Does it have the expertise, capability and connections required to pull it off?
- Founding team. We say introduce your team but this isn’t the time to introduce everyone in your company. Focus on the founding team. If possible, this should be kept to three people. Put simply, this is because from an investor’s perspective, more stakeholders equals more risk. If you include more than three people, clearly articulate why you need every person and what value they contribute. (This should be done regardless of whether you have a five-person or two-person founding team).
- Diversity. A diverse team is an attractive one. Research shows that diverse teams raise up to 57% more overall as diversity means a variety of perspectives. Think about diversity as multifaceted and encompassing multiple factors such as profession, skillset, background, gender & ethnicity.
Regardless of whether you’re opening up an entirely new market, every business has competition in some way shape or form. Customers are always using alternatives even if they aren't adequate in solving their problems.
Competition, and acknowledging it, is no bad thing. In fact, it signals to investors that you have done your research, are on top of things and have begun strategising ways to exceed your competition.
You want to show investors who your competitors are, how you compare to them and how your solution differs (and is better than) what they are offering.
Diagrams are a useful visual aid to use on this slide.
The aim is to clearly and undeniably differentiate yourself from competitors so your company comes across as unique and unrivalled. Highlight competitors’ weaknesses and signpost your unfair advantages e.g. Intellectual property (IP), technologies & innovations.
You may also want to include data on capital raised by each competitor so far.
This slide is not essential. Only 58% of successful decks have this slide. In most part, this is due to the fact many early stage startups do not have the necessary financial data to warrant a slide on the topic.
If, however, you are able to and decide to include financials, spend significant attention considering the content, as this is where investors will spend most of their time if it is in the deck. In essence, your financials represent the health and future health of your startup.
In this slide you should provide an overview of your startup’s current financials and projections. This encompasses metrics such as sales forecasts, income statements and cash flow forecasts.
For projections, you should aim to cover at least 3 years. Even though projections are an educated guess, they are valuable in providing a rough idea of what the future looks like for your startup. It also provides a good impression of just how much you as a Founder are grounded or have your head in the clouds.
Don’t include in-depth spreadsheets difficult to read and comprehend (although have them ready in your data room and to give to investors should they ask for it). Do provide a summary in a visually comprehensible format e.g. charts.
Assume you will be asked to discuss the underlying assumptions made to arrive at your projections and explain your key cost drivers.
Finally, don’t be over optimistic, be realistic. It’s always wiser to fall on the conservative side and over deliver than under promise and completely miss the mark. ‘Hockey stick’ projections are abound and investors will take such forecasts with a pinch of salt.
Investment/Amount being raised
This is another slide that is not required. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, investments are rarely made after one pitch and the aim of your deck should not be to raise money, but rather to obtain the next meeting and continue the conversation. As a result, few decks include the amount they are raising.
This sort of information is best communicated in person and the need to include it in your deck will vary from investor to investor. This is a good reason to conduct some background research on the investor you are pitching and speak to other startups that have raised with the investor to see what they included in their pitch deck.
It is useful to give investors some idea of how much money you are looking to raise. If you decide to do this, you shouldn’t put a specific amount, rather be strategic and define a range.
You will also need to explain why you need such an amount and how the money received will be spent. Investors will want to know that the money is being used efficaciously and understand how it will help your company achieve the goals you defined earlier in the pitch deck.
Additional points to consider
Obtaining feedback from someone with a background in sales psychology and/or expertise in building successful pitch decks can make a big difference to the deck’s reception.
- Format & design.
Make sure your pitch deck is easily and aesthetically viewable on a variety of devices e.g. desktop, mobile and tablet. 12% of investors read pitch decks on their mobile phones so it’s important to ensure the deck looks good on different screen sizes and resolutions. Don’t compromise on design.
- Public profile.
If you have a considerable following on social media channels, don’t hesitate to include links on the cover slide of your deck. Such a following can act as social proof.
- Contact information.
Don’t forget to include your contact information in the pitch deck!
- Have an effective tag-line.
“You should make sure to clearly outline the problem your solving, how you are solving it, why this is the right time, why you are the right team and how the market is big enough or nearing some inflection point that will expand it significantly. Any evidence of early traction or customer love and that you are on a path to become huge is good to include. ”
“A pitch deck is a basic set of information which will help us quickly get to know you and validate if your project is interesting to us. Quality decks:
- are clean,
- and short (10 slides is optimal),
- cover the key areas:
- Why now?
- Business model
- The Ask, i.e. how much you are raising
- help us understand the industry at a glance
- don’t make us think!
The deck is here to get us excited about your startup, not to tell us the whole story or answer all our questions.
We’re going to spend about a minute looking at your deck and then make a decision whether or not to book a meeting or ask some questions by email first. So make it attractive and make us want to know more!”
- Ryan Brodie, Founder
“Problem, solution, and insight. Less is more on slides: big fonts, high contrasting colours, zero stock images. Be bold and ambitious.”
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