Improving on Unicorn Pitch Decks

Template Train
Nov 9, 2017 · 6 min read

We analysed the pitch decks of Uber, LinkedIn and Intercom and here’s our most powerful insights.

Back in the day, the founders of a couple of small startups that you probably have now heard of — Reid Hoffman from LinkedIn and Travis Kalanick from Uber — put together their pitch-decks and set off to meet with investors with dreams of becoming the ‘U’ word that all startups aspire toward. The founding story and sharp rise of these companies has since been etched into startup folk-lore, however (as is the case of almost every unicorn), the founding story starts with a pitch… and hopefully, a really great one!

So, if we’re not Reid or Travis or Mark or any other Unicorn founder, what can we do to get that all-important Series A over the line? Obviously, have good tech, traction, and a passionate team, right?! Well… yeah… but being the well-informed, well-read founders that undertake our own due-diligence, we can refine our pitch by learning from the mistakes of our predecessors.

I’m talking about what Reid Hoffman describes as the ‘substantive stylistic errors’ in our pitch-decks. These are the simple design tips that every founder should be utilizing to make an impression and foster a connection with the investors they are pitching. And yes, you still need all the other big-ticket-items that come with being a fund-worthy startup, BUT (and it’s a big BUT) in a crowded startup landscape, being noticed can also be the difference between being the big ‘U’ or alternatively, the big ‘F’.

With that in mind, we’ve taken a look at the original pitch-decks used by some of these unicorns and pinpointed where some of the weaker aspects of these presentations lie and ultimately what lessons you can take away from them.

Intercom’s Pitch Deck

Eoghan McCabe and his founding team used this pitch deck to raise Intercom’s first $600K back in 2011. Whilst they were successful in raising the capital, their deck left a lot to be desired. This is the entire pitch-deck below:

Team Slide

They kick off the pitch with the tiniest ‘bang’ we’ve seen — the ‘Team’ slide… so we’ve redone it in a way that sets the tone for the rest of the presentation.

Eoghan’s mistake with this slide is the lack of personal images that would help foster a connection between the investors and his team. As one of the most successful startup investors/billionaires that has ever walked the pavement of Silicon Valley, Chris Sacca, says: “I only invest when I think I have found the right team for the right business”. In short, investors are investing in the team as much as the idea, so personalizing your team and creating that connection is integral!

Also, using your slides to help create brand identity, is a great way for investors to identify with the product. Here, we’ve taken the Intercom messaging functionality and utilized it to introduce the team.

LinkedIn’s Pitch Deck

“Today, I share the Series B deck with you, too. It has many stylistic errors — and a few substantive ones, too — that I would now change having learned more.”

— Reid Hoffman, Founder, LinkedIn.

With the benefit of time, Reid understands that styalistically, his pitch-deck from 2011 leaves a lot to be desired. Fortunately, they filled their Series B round regardless and LinkedIn has gone on to be a household name. However, for a lot of us out there pitching to VC’s, we don’t get a second chance at making a good first impression, so take a minute to bite your teeth into this and think about what impressions you’re getting as you go through it:

The main problem with this deck is that we are given way too much information over a ridiculously large number of slides — 37 to be exact! Having paragraphs of information on your slides can ultimately result in your investors spending more time reading over your shoulder, than being taken on this journey with you at the reins. Your narrative is hugely important, so make sure they are listening!

In the above example, we’ve taken a fairly dense slide and pulled out the important aspects. We’ve then highlighted them front and centre. Using the same color palette and a device (laptop) mockup that was included in the template gives it an uncluttered feel that allows our eyes to focus on the statistics. There are 1000 ways to redo this slide and this is just one of them, so it is worth playing around with a number of layouts to ensure that the investors eyes are being drawn to the key information. If your traction is the key piece of info, make sure they know it!

Uber’s Pitch Deck

Travis Kalanick and Uber have done a much better job at incorporating visuals into their Pitch Deck than our previous examples. Though this definitely helps with investor engagement, they make the classic error of copying and pasting tables of information directly into their deck— leading to INFORMATION OVERLOAD!!!

Instead, pull out the information from the table that matters, and highlight it! This can be accomplished with an image (such as a map) or a chart, which is much more easily digestable. A little rule to go by: if you can reduce a bunch of information into a graphic, do it!

This is just the first in a series of articles that will break down the do’s and dont’s of successful (and unsuccessful) startup pitch-decks. Stay tuned for more over the coming weeks!

We’d like to thank Dublin_Design for his awesome Powerpoint and Keynote templates that were utilized to create these pitch-deck examples. You can see all of the templates that we utilized here:

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