The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Your Startup’s Investor Pitch Deck
I wrote hundreds of them over 15 years, here’s my winning formula
When you see about 50 pitch decks a week over 15 years, you see a lot of repeat mistakes. And when you fix these decks, you see many successes.
People ask me: “How many slides should the deck have?” Or they’re sticking to a template that forces them into something that just doesn’t work.
So is there one “right” way to do a pitch deck? I think so! But if everyone uses the same method, won’t they all look the same? The answer is a resounding no.
Buildings are built with the same idea — a foundation, frame, walls, windows, paint, etc. But each building has its unique characteristics. Without a proper structure, however, your building might collapse. The same concept applies to your pitch.
It’s All About The Story
So what is that elusive structure? It all comes back to our neanderthal brain craving the structure of a story.
People often are confused by the term story. They think it’s just about standing around telling anecdotes, inserting a meaningless joke or “dumbing down” serious materials to the level of stupid or silly. But on the contrary:
- Stories are thousands of years old, and they’re the reason information has survived from generation to generation.
- We learn through stories — I’ve seen my three-year-old go from chewing on a book to actively discussing elements of the story with zeal even though she’s heard it hundreds of times. She gets it and has become a storyteller in her own right.
- Stories inspire, captivate, resonate, and influence! And aren’t those the things you want when pitching for fundraising or sales?
Most importantly, our brains are hardwired for a structured story, but they can’t deal with mounds of data. And there is a very specific structure that stories have. Look at Shakespeare, Chekhov, Moliere, even the Bible. The stories all go the same way: problem, solution, what happens when the solution comes into play, and the aftermath.
Your investor pitch is merely a story, and the entrepreneurs are merely players.
The Magical Structure of Your Story
Here is a high-level outline of the slides as they correspond to the story format:
The Need: The problem; the “villain” of the story.
The Solution: The “hero” of the story. What will solve the problem and slay the villain?
The Business Plan: What will happen after the hero takes action?
Moving Forward: The aftermath, hoping that the hero is triumphant!
Drilling Down the Slides
Now I’ll go through slide by slide and explain each one.
Include one line about what it is you do. Go for the big vision statement — not what you do, but why you do it! Hit them in the gut with this.
Here’s the place to describe the gap/problem /challenge that needs solving. This is best told in a story — your own, a friend or family member’s, something from the news, or even a made-up story. Back up the story with stats showing this is an issue worth lots of money, and hint that current solutions aren’t cutting it…
How are you solving this? Create a simple solution sentence: We’re doing X(solving a problem) for Y(for a specific audience) by Z(in a nutshell, what are you — a platform/app/solution/tool/etc.). And as a bonus, include your secret sauce that is enabling you to do it.
This should be so simple that anyone could understand it — even if they don’t have a degree in computer science or engineering.
Create a one to two-minute demo showing off your solution. It could be a short film, screenshots, a screenflow (use Camtasia), or even a mock-up. Guide them through a first-time user experience and highlight four to five of the standout features. Make them go wow, but don’t overwhelm them with details.
Highlight the important benefits to your users (if this has already come across in the demo, don’t repeat). Keep it at six to eight, and no more. You might have two types of users — i.e. Businesses and Customers or Publishers and Brands — and you can list benefits for each.
What are the major milestones you’ve hit in funding, product, users, downloads, revenue, growth, endorsements, partnerships, etc. since the time you launched or launched beta? If you haven’t launched yet, where are you at? The later stage you are, the more metrics you need to show.
Share the numbers of the TAM (Total Addressable Market), SAM (Segmented Addressable Market), and SOM (Share of Market) so they get an idea of the size. Include the value of the markets as well — what was the spend on similar solutions last year? You can go top-down or bottom-up — the most important thing to show is that you have a huge potential market!
Trends and opportunities
This slide is a silver bullet! It’s the, “Why us, why now?” This is the place to really show movement in trends and opportunities. Have there been major fundings or acquisitions among your competitors? Did an industry leader or a research firm like Gartner, Forrester, or the like say that a solution like yours is missing? Are there market trends among your users showing a shift in behavior? Was there a change in law or regulations mandating people or companies to find a solution like yours?
What is your main revenue model (subscription, ads, affiliate, rev share, etc.)? What are some additional revenue streams?
What are the strategies that will help you penetrate the market and gain users? Remember, you might not have money at the beginning for things like a sales team, so look at different phases—it’s likely that you’ll start with strategic partnerships, distribution channels, or before that, content marketing or social campaigns.
Who are your main competitors? We’re talking either enterprise, backed by VC money, or rapidly growing companies — though you should know about smaller competitors as well. Try to group them into three or four types and then create a magic quadrant, a petal diagram, or a marketscape showing how you measure up to them.
Most importantly, add in your true differentiation statement: “What truly sets us apart is…” It’s very important to not say anything bad about your competitor. It’s great that you have competition — now just prove that you have a clear advantage over them.
Who are your executive team members? Include pics, titles, and a few important facts about them. You can add logos of outstanding organizations they’ve worked for, been affiliated with, or studied at. If you have an Advisory Board, add them too — it might need a separate slide.
What are your major milestones to be hit (product, marketing, revenues) over the course of time this funding round will last for — 12/18/24 months? Trying to put in financial projections past that is not entirely necessary. You can have a financials, P&L, and projections slide in your back pocket to send out as needed.
Any exciting additional features or products in the pipeline that you intend to work on later? Maybe this is just the first step in a much bigger vision!
Seeking $XXM for: (List the main allocations, such as R&D, Sales and Marketing, Team Expansion, etc.)
Round Objective: This will take us to XX months, XXXK users/revenue/downloads, etc., break-even/cash flow positive — wherever you will be when you are ready for the next round.
Key investment merits
Sort of a summary of what you’ve already said — the five to six bullets highlighting the most exciting things about your startup that make you an attractive funding opportunity.
Does Size Matter?
There is no magic number for slides. As long as they’re simple, communicate one big idea, and aren’t loaded with text, they aren’t going to count the slides as you go through. So even if you need to spread some of the data onto more than one slide, don’t sweat it — I’d rather see you have more simple, clear slides than fewer slides that look like eye charts!
Hope this was helpful, and I’m here if you have any further questions or need any more support! Good Luck!