How to Create a Pitch Deck that gets you into a Top Startup Accelerator?

I applied to dozens of accelerators: yCombinator, Tech Stars, 500 Startups, you name it. I managed to squeeze to the last stage three times and eventually got accepted to HackFWD which completely changed who I am and how I do business. Now I run my own pre-acceleration program ReaktorX where I review hundreds of startups for each batch. Most of them are horrible. Some are just bad ideas, but in the majority of cases, it’s the pitch that sucks more than a startup. Here’s how to change it.

ReaktorX team reviewing applications. Not really but the caption seemed fun.
  1. Tell me what you do and why

Start with the basics. What do you do? How? And why does it matter? Skip the details. Here I just need to quickly understand if it’s a house design marketplace, a saas lead generation business, an e-commerce site, or a hardware product. When explaining the what and how, use terms that I know. When explaining the why, make me feel something.

Bad example:

Products and services for helping grow your business and sales organically in a global economy.

Good example:

We create a marketplace that connects software houses with international customers via a trusted network of local influencers.

2. Use plain language

A common mistake of founders it to try to look smarter than you really are by using a lot of buzzwords and adjectives. Kill the buzzwords! Kill the adjectives! Kill them all! They don’t do you any favor. If you’re selling cheap running shoes at scale, don’t tell me that you’re “enabling athletic innovation for the masses by incorporating affordable footwear products”. It’s not an ad. Just tell me the truth! You’d be surprised how refreshing that sounds after skimming through tens of blockchain-powered, first-of-its-kind, market-proven disruptive business models.

Remember that your number one goal is to be understood. Don’t assume any industry knowledge on my side. Explain things to me as you would explain your grandpa. The simpler your pitch, the more likely I’ll understand it. And if I don’t get it, your chance of being accepted is exactly zero.

3. Sell me your market insights

Whether you’re in adtech, fintech or education, you probably know much more about your industry than I do. So tell me about it! Explain how you’ve learned the insights from your potential customers. How come do you know about a niche that no one has found out about, yet?

This is your chance to show me that you’re an expert in your area and the best person or team to solve this particular problem. Accelerators invest primarily in people. Your experience is your strongest card. Sell it well.

4. Show me how determined you are!

I need to be sure you’re going to do whatever it takes to solve this particular problem of your customers. If experience is your ace, determination is your joker. With the right attitude you can get through on determination alone.

Don’t assure me how passionate you are, words are useless. Show me your actions. Tell me a story how you achieved what you wanted to achieve against all odds. It doesn’t need to be business-related. I just want to be sure you’re a hustler who gets things done.

5. Connect with me!

Now that you’ve sent your application you can rest and patiently wait for me to get back to you, right? Wrong! The application is just a formality. I want to know that you really care about my program and want to be in no matter what.

There are many ways you can reach out. The least you can do is to follow me on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn. It’s pretty easy to meet me in person though. I regularly attend OpenReaktor events. We also organize a number of info sessions before each ReaktorX batch where you can ask questions and meet the team.

There’s no harm in going further though. Jacek from Sinup signed up for the basketball game I’m at. Mendim prepared a personalised poem with my kid as the hero. You can find your own way. Just make sure you do what it takes so that I can associate your application with a human. That alone boosts your chances to be accepted significantly.

Bonus: We’ve scheduled a call with you. Now what?

The reason for the call is to meet you and get to know you a little bit. In 30 minutes we won’t dig deep into your business, but it’s enough to get a better understanding of your motivations.

Here are a few simple rules of how to prepare for the call:

  • Make sure you are in a quiet room and have a decent internet connection. We still have people on those calls sitting in cafes, driving a car or running in some park with wind blowing into the mic. This is super unprofessional and is an almost automatic reject. We treat you seriously and require the same from you.
  • Check the software before the call. Make sure google hangouts works on your machine, make a test call with your co-founder. The more time you waste for technical issues, the less you’ll have with us. It’s just common sense to be prepared.
  • Answer our questions clearly and don’t take too much time. We’re really not interested in low level details. By being precise and focusing on the big picture you show us that you are good CEO material in the making.
  • Have a list of questions prepared for us. There is always time for your questions at the end of the call.
  • But please read the FAQ before the call! Asking questions that are explained in FAQ exposes your lack of preparation. Not a good sign.

BTW, deadline for ReaktorX applications for batch 5 is March 22th 2019. Good luck!