Pitch Deck Series Part 3: Wait, What Do You Do?
Having covered the most common mistake I see with pitch decks and why the title slide is so often a wasted opportunity, I wanted to address another sin that I see way too often in pitch decks.
One of the biggest frustrations when reviewing a deck or listening to a presentation is not understanding what it is the company actually does. You would think this would be obvious but having reviewed tens of thousands of pitch decks, you would be shocked at how often I have no clue what it is the company does even after making it half way through the deck. Having talked with other investors, I know I’m not the only one who has routinely experienced this.
In my opinion, your first slide should tell the reader exactly what the company does. Waiting any longer than that is a mistake. The reason is, once I know what your company does, I can I begin to understand other aspects of your business and ask questions. And you want me to ask questions, it means I’m engaged.
However, until I know what it is you do, I have no context for thoughtful questions or discussions. I will just sit there, trying to figure out what you do. I won’t be able to really grasp the impact of any of your other slides because I will be too busy trying to piece together a riddle that you should have just given me the answer to at the very start.
Another reason for describing what you do in the first slide is some VCs have very specific strategies. If they don’t understand what you do right away, they might mistakenly put your deck in the “pass” pile and not even take a meeting even though you might be right in their sweet spot. Raising money is hard enough as it is, last thing you want to do as an entrepreneur is create self-imposed road blocks.
Speaking from experience, do not wait to tell the reader exactly what your company does.
Furthermore, not only should you say it upfront, you need to say it in a manner that the audience is likely to understand. Simplify the message. Make it so obvious that a third grader can understand it (and yes, feel free to insert joke about how VCs are like third graders).
The reason you need to simplify the message at the beginning isn’t because the reader is dumb but rather, this is likely the reader’s first time learning about the business. As a founder, you have to assume the reader does not have the same level of intimate knowledge you do about your market or your company. Therefore, the reader may not be able to dive into the details or complexities right off the bat. It’s your responsibility to make it easy for them to grasp the concept and then entice them to learn more.
One good example of simplifying what it is a company does comes from Opendoor’s Series A deck. Buying a home is a complex process and Opendoor has built a lot of technology on the backend to price and automate a sale. However, none of that gets mentioned when they describe what they offer. The team at Opendoor did a great job distilling their offering down to 3 simple steps.
I love this slide because the reader immediately understands what they do and how they are different from existing solutions. Notice there is no mention of AI, network effects or next generation platforms. They do not use abstract language or buzz words. They distilled their product down to the core experience they offer their consumers, rather than trying to explain the technology they built. It’s like the old marketing saying, “People don’t want a quarter inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole.”
This approach is also is likely to trigger a lot of interest from the reader to learn more about how they determine a price and execute on a transaction in a fraction of the time it normally takes to sell a house. This one slide makes the reader want to flip to the next slide or start a dialog if presenting in person. That could never happen if it wasn’t clear what Opendoor actually did. My only quibble about this slide is that it should have been the very first slide in the deck.
Note: Neither Sway nor I am an investor in Opendoor. The example used is taken from a public post.