The Archetypal Pitch Deck : A Guide

Note: This post was co-authored by Tomas Reimers. (Medium won’t let us add co-authors.) Definitely check out his profile!

Hi again! In case you missed our last post, we’re Tomas & Joe: student partners from two student-run venture capital firms, Rough Draft Ventures (RDV) and Dorm Room Fund (DRF).

After our previous post on the questions we ask founders, some readers asked us to discuss how successful founders address the questions in their pitches. We thought we’d take some time to flesh out the ideas a little more, and suggest how to convey them in your deck.

For everything that follows remember not to worry too much about design. We care more about your ability to design your company — not your deck. (But, if it’s really pretty…)

Title Slide

Title slide from Airbnb’s seed deck. Check out the whole thing: http://www.slideshare.net/PitchDeckExamples/original-airbnb-pitch-deck-2008

Team Slide

We care more about whether or not you have the expertise, insight and hustle to pull off the startup than we do about flashy titles / work experience. Though the halo effect is definitely a thing, you’re always better off if you can simply connect your background to what you’re working on right now. Likewise, fancy titles — looking at you Mr. VP of Happiness — are unnecessary; just tell us who does what.

If you start with the team slide, remember that we’ll see the rest of the presentation through the lens of “who you are,” so this is a great opportunity to establish credibility.

Also, definitely include how the cofounders know each other and if you’ve worked together in the past . Cofounder dynamics can play an important role in evaluating a super-early stage team.

Narrative Slide

Quantify

That said, if you have detailed financial models, it’s often best to keep them in the addendum, especially because these are often quite hand-wavy at an early stage. In any case, teams don’t usually have time to walk through a whole spreadsheet and can only go over 1 or 2 numbers — maybe TAM and beachhead size (size of starting market / foothold). That said, if your estimates seem way off, we may dig in at the end.

Keep in mind that the worst founders are self-delusional. Why is it rational, given your personal preferences, for you to work on this?

If you’ve thought deeply about the problem you’re solving, and find it compelling enough that you’re willing to dedicate years of your life to it, you should be able to convince us you’re not chasing stardust fairly easily.

About your company

Also, be ready to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing. The best companies have carefully tested different hypotheses and versions of their products. What is the logic behind your intuition?

Go to market

The most insightful founders are often able to leverage specific dynamics of the markets they’re tackling in their business strategies.

It’s also a good idea to chat about CAC, LTV and give us a reasonable idea of how your plans are sustainable.

Remember that selling to whole organizations is almost always more difficult than solving a problem for a small group of users within your target user base, and allowing product usage to grow organically. At least for the moment, most early stage startups aren’t in a position to hire mammoth sales teams à la Wolf of Wallstreet (looking at you, Zenefits). Remember to tell us specifically who at the organization you’ll be selling to; the names of your customers alone won’t carry the conversation.

Traction

If you’ve already got traction, you may also want to swap this slide with go to market, and use the time to show off your pretty up-and-to-the-right projections for future growth.

Bonus: If you have any customers who demonstrate your credibility, definitely mention them.

(Demo)

Competitors

A lot of people like to do this comparison with the classic consulting 2x2 matrix. Pick 2 attributes, plot them, and explain why the competitors are different from you. We’ve also seen folks use Venn Diagrams. If formulating your thoughts like this helps you, go for it, but remember that we care more about your reasoning than the presence of a pretty graph. Personally, the notion that 2 dimensions can usefully capture the subtle differences between businesses is a little fluffy… so definitely be prepared to go into more detail than “we are better at social, but also at business, as this graphic clearly shows.”

Remember that defensibility goes hand-in-hand with competition. Once you start proving that your product is valuable, what’s to stop others copying you and stealing your users?

Timeline

We also love to hear about your proudest achievements of the last three to six months. What’s your momentum like? How hard do you hustle?

Advisors / Partnerships

This slide can also be harmful if the advisors you’re working with aren’t notable.

Budget & Ask

If you are a student team: both DRF & RDV are made up of students and invest around $20,000 in student-led startups. We’d love to chat and talk about your company.

By the way, you can see a ton of real, successful decks from companies like Snapchat and Airbnb at https://pitchdeckexamples.com/.