Over the last 3 years, High Alpha has created 11 new software companies, and our design team has been responsible for developing the brand, identity, product UI, and pitch decks for all our companies. This has given us incredible perspective and insight as a design team, and we want to share some of those learnings with the world. This article will be the first in a series of articles on entrepreneurship, startup culture, and “business design” from our team here at High Alpha. I wanted to start our first article in this series by taking a deeper dive into the infamous pitch deck through a design lens.
Great pitches are really just great stories.
The pitch deck can make or break a startup. It’s used to cast your company’s vision, compel investors, and win over prospective customers. This sounds like a daunting task, but great pitches are really just great stories. The deck is an important storytelling device, and your ability to craft a compelling narrative is critical to hooking your audience’s attention. As a designer, we spend a great deal of time thinking about the narrative and storyline of a presentation and how that impacts the design and flow. The perfect pitch deck’s narrative should answer three key questions:
- Why should someone care about this?
- What is your solution and why will it work?
- Are you and this idea a good investment?
Over time, I have developed a design template that answers these key questions by breaking this story up into 12 chapters, or 12 smaller questions. This template is a great place to start and can get most companies 90% of the way right off the bat. Every company is unique, however, and your pitch should change based on what’s best for your story. Make adjustments to the order or content by focusing on your differentiators, early success milestones, and the most disruptive and appealing elements of your pitch.
Basic Pitch Deck Template
This template is laid out through the lens of a fundraising deck, not a sales or first call deck. It’s important to think about these as different presentations with different purposes.
Chapter 1: Who Are You?
Most people overlook the title slide. This slide, though, will sometimes get some of the most face-time before a meeting begins or when you’re sending the deck in advance. It has a unique opportunity to introduce yourself, your company, and your brand in a compelling way.
Chapter 2: Why Should Anyone Listen to You?
Some debate exists in the startup world on the importance of a team slide and where it fits into your deck. If you have an all-star team, I think it’s important to set the table by introducing yourself, your team, and their impressive backgrounds. This is your opportunity to highlight expertise and unique experiences that make you a winning team. This is also a chance to tell your origin story and set up your own connection to the problem. Investors want to hear your passion and know you will stop at nothing to solve this problem.
Chapter 3: What Is the Big Problem You’re Trying to Address?
Describe the 30k-foot-view of the market and the problem that exists—the mega trend you are tapping into. It needs to be intriguing enough to get the attention of your audience, while provoking a need to learn more. As an example, our portfolio company Zylo rallied around the explosive growth and proliferation of SaaS across the enterprise.
Chapter 4: How Do You Prove It?
Back up your big-picture problem with further statistics and research around the state of the industry and problem. This could also be an opportunity to include quotes from industry experts who have expressed the gravity of the problem. It’s important to showcase this is a massive, growing issue.
Chapter 5: How Are People Trying to Solve This Today? Why Isn’t It Working?
Help your audience understand how we got to this point and how it is being addressed today. You could show some version of a competitive landscape or a timeline of outdated solutions. It’s important to highlight the gaps current solutions are not addressing and to have the audience identify with the challenges that exist.
Chapter 6: What Are You Building?
When introducing your product, keep it simple, but exciting! Show an awesome screenshot, your well-tailored tagline, or short brand video. Most importantly, this slide needs to quickly convey what you are. An App? A marketplace? A piece of hardware?
Chapter 7: What Are You Focused On?
Dig into a handful of the key value props your product will deliver on—think about solutions, not specific features. These buckets should illustrate the big vision of what could be accomplished with your product. Describe buckets that are unique to your product and avoid overused descriptions like “Cloud-Based” or “Mobile- First”. For example, one of our companies, Lessonly, would highlight their product values as: create the ability to learn essential work knowledge, practice work skills and best practices, and perform effectively on the bottom line.
Chapter 8: How Does Your Solution Come to Life?
Depending on your stage, it’s always good to either jump into a product demo or just show a series of Hi-Fi product screens. The demo itself could be framed as a story, but the point is to hit the key features that illustrate how you deliver value to your customers. Be sure to call out any unique aspects of your architecture or truly cutting-edge technology.
Chapter 9: What Is Your Unique GTM Strategy?
The Go-To-Market (GTM) slide should describe one of two things: either your strategy around who you’re targeting and how or the momentum you’ve had to date. Describing your GTM could include strategic partnerships, your target personas or ideal customer profile, or a unique sales process. Showcase your ARR momentum, new logo growth, important product releases, or when you added new key team members.
Chapter 10: How Big Can This Be?
During a pitch, investors will be starting to do the math in their heads — they want to know “how big can this business be?” You need to visualize your total addressable market and adjacent possible expansions for your product and target markets. However, since you can’t do it all on day one, you also need to identify your “beachhead” — the specific slice of that massive market you’ve chosen to address first. Show some simple math on your pricing breakdown and how long it will take you to hit your next milestone (either revenue or funding milestone). Be sure to highlight any existing major customers or logos. (Keep your full financial projections and time series charts in the appendix slides to use during your discussion.)
Chapter 11: Why Now/Why You?
Your last slide should really drive home a sense of urgency and the unique value your team brings to this immediate problem. Investors need to feel the urgency and that if they don’t invest now, they will miss out on a huge opportunity.
Chapter 12: What Do You Need?
What are you asking for? Capital? A partnership? This needs to be very clear. In addition to what you are asking for, you should describe what that money will be spent on or what benefits will come from that partnership. How will this funding get you to your next milestone or next funding round?
Hopefully, this template gives you a good starting point for your pitch deck and an intentional way of thinking about the narrative you tell! Don’t wait until you have an investor meeting to get started — create your deck now and start practicing in order to perfect your message.
High Alpha is a venture studio pioneering a new model for entrepreneurship that unites company building and venture capital. To learn more, visit highalpha.com or subscribe to our newsletter.