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Make Strong, Simple Slides

Pitch Deck Tips for Early-Stage Startups

Here’s a simple approach to crafting strong content for your startup’s pitch deck slides.

Before you open Keynote (or Google Slides, etc.), open a simple text editor (doesn’t matter which). Be minimal. Write in bullet points, not paragraphs. Don’t worry about the design yet — it’s much easier to design when your content is succinct.

For each slide…

1. Pick a single topic.
Your target market, the problem you’re solving, your product, etc.

2. Decide the single most important point.
Think from the perspective of an investor. What is the question they’re asking when they see the topic? What must they know about your startup after reading this slide?

3. Pick 1 to 3 supporting sub-points.
The fewer, the better, and they must be strong. More than 3, and you’re probably expecting people to process too much information on the slide. Make sure they support the overall point. If they’re unrelated, that makes everything harder to understand.

That’s it! Try to communicate no more than this on a single slide.

Many founders get busy thinking of what charts and info they want to include on a slide, then completely fail to make the most important points obvious. When I ask them to verbally tell me what they are trying to communicate on a slide as simply as possible, they often have great answers that make far more sense than what’s shown. Use the above steps to generate content more like those answers.

Example

Let’s walk through an example. How about the competition slide for a fictitious startup that offers an on-demand, mobile (comes to you) car washing service. Press a button in an app, and someone comes and cleans your car within an hour.

1. Pick a single topic.
Competition. Every business has competition (something else competes for attention, at a minimum), and investors expect this slide, so you’ll need to include it.

2. Decide the single most important point.
The competition slide can demonstrate how you’re framing the competitive landscape, educate investors unfamiliar with your market, and make it clear why your product is better.

For our car washing service, since car washing already exists in the world, we know there are existing solutions (DIY at home, drive-throughs, full-service, self-serve, garage washes while you shop…) and likely competitive startups working on similar solutions. So, what are the biggest questions investors will be asking about this business in regards to competition? I would bet differentiation and value to the customer are top of mind.

I’m going to invent a new innovation for this fake car wash startup, since differentiation seems rough here and it’s race to the bottom time/price-wise otherwise. Let’s say we’ve come up with a patented cleaning fluid and drying device that cuts washing time in half. Our washers can wash twice as many cars as our competitors can in the same amount of time, which means we can minimize customer wait time.

This is the most important point that we’d write down:
Our tech makes us faster than the competition, which makes us more valuable to the customer.

3. Pick 1 to 3 supporting sub-points.
Now that we have the overall point to communicate, what are some points that support that idea? In this case, we need to show why our service is better than non-mobile solutions as well as competing mobile services.

Let’s make a short list of ways our service saves the customer time to support our premise that we’re faster, and therefore more valuable.

  • Our car wash comes to you, so you don’t need to come to the car wash
  • We wash your car, so you can do other stuff with your time
  • It takes us 1 hour to come wash your car on-demand, it takes other mobile services 4 hours or requires booking in advance
  • It takes us 30 minutes to wash your car, it takes other mobile services 1 hour

Let’s refine/reduce this further. It’s not going to be too hard for investors to see how our mobile solution is going to be better than the DIY or non-mobile solutions as long as the price point is right. So let’s condense those two points down to one. Then, let’s make everything time-specific (our advantage) and grouped by solution.

  1. DIY and non-mobile solutions take you 1–3 hours, and you do the work
  2. Other mobile services come to you within 4 hours to days from your request, and take 1 hour to wash your car
  3. We come to you within 1 hour from your request, and take 30 minutes to wash your car

See how these 3 sub-points will frame further questions and conversation with investors around our strengths? It’s also helpful for communicating to customers. And it’s going to be easier to design this slide. You could imagine a horizontal axis representing time to car washed with guess who on the far right. 😎

Make your content this easy to understand. If you make a matrix of 20 features and 10 competitors, your most important point will get missed. If you create a grid of competitor logos with no indication of your differentiation, your most important point will get missed.

The key is to focus in on your primary differentiation, and then communicate only that. If an investor wants to follow up to ask about another angle of your competition, that’s great! Remember, the point of your pitch deck isn’t to explain every possible detail of your business, it’s to spark more interest.

Was this helpful? I’d love to hear your feedback to make sure I’m sharing ideas that help you. I’m @bryanlanders on Twitter.

Photo by Emile Séguin.

Get in touch! And hit that 💜 if you liked this story to help other founders.

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Bryan Landers

Bryan Landers

Idea-stage investor/builder at Make Studios. Venture Partner at Backstage Capital. Banjoist. http://bryanlanders.com

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