- Craft your startup pitch deck to be focused, intriguing and credible
- Make the value of your product or service easy to understand from a consumer's point of view
- Ground your VC pitch in reality — be candid about the challenges you face and how you'll succeed
A concise, compelling startup pitch deck is key for securing a meeting with the right investor
A typical venture capitalist or angel investor may see hundreds of startup pitch decks every year. They usually spend 2-5 minutes reading each story before deciding whether to meet with the founder. Although this is a very narrow window to make an impression, a short, complete and well-positioned VC pitch deck can spark interest, begin a conversation and secure the funding — and future — for your company.
Whereas an outstanding startup pitch deck by itself can't land the financing you need, it can certainly improve your chances of getting the meeting you need to present your idea. Your pitch deck is what will open doors. It needs to spark interest, tell a story and answer the questions investors will have before backing your idea with the funds you need to pursue success.
Keep your VC pitch short, easy to scan and packed with valuable information
On the surface, creating a successful pitch deck is straightforward. The content you need to provide is well known:
A clear explanation of the problem your product or service is solving
The size of your market and potential competitors
Evidence that your team can pull it off
These are the critical aspects of your business. But to be persuasive, your startup pitch deck also needs to demonstrate your passion and commitment. It needs to show that you can sell your idea, recruit the necessary talent to achieve success and win over customers and partners.
Show that you can sell your idea, recruit the talent needed to achieve success and win over customers and partners.
There are dozens of startup pitch deck templates available. Whether you choose to download an existing layout or create your own, ensure the look and feel is appropriate for your business — and your investor audience. If your business concept is lighthearted and consumer-focused, a softer approach may be appropriate to reflect your brand. If you have cutting-edge technology, a more sophisticated presentation may be appropriate. But in any case, remember that your startup pitch deck needs to deliver key information and branding elements should always play a secondary, supporting role.
This is a 12-page pitch deck template that's a good start. It shows how your visual brand elements can be integrated into your pitch without overwhelming the message. Add or delete pages, as needed. Remember, the goal is a concise, precise and intriguing presentation.
"I want a deck that right off the bat, on the first slide, tells me what this company is about," says Ariel Poler, an entrepreneur and angel investor. "That starts with a good impression. From then on, I know what I am looking for. I know the context."
"The best decks provide a narrative," says Karin Klein, a founding partner at Bloomberg Beta, Bloomberg LP's venture arm. Your VC pitch deck should open with something relatable about why you're passionate about the opportunity, or why others should be, says Klein. Take the time to distill the essence and impact of what you're proposing into a tight message. "Simplicity is helpful and shows a clarity of vision and the ability to sell," says Klein.
It is obvious that Facebook did a lot of things correctly when it created and built their business. However, it's brightest moment may possibly be Facebook's 2004 pitch deck. It started with this quote from the Stanford Daily, the university's student newspaper:
"Classes are being skipped. Work is ignored. Students are spending hours in front of the computer in utter fascination. The facebook.com craze has swept through campus."
Needless to say, the quote had impact. And once you have investors' attention and interest, your pitch deck must deliver on three key topics in detail.
Pitch deck topic 1: Describe your product
Ideally, you want to explain your product or service in just a few words. Defining what your product does and how it works is critical, but more important is answering the question of "why?" framed in the context of end user benefits.
What is the consumer problem that you're solving? The technology enabling your product may be impressive, and undoubtedly it represents a lot of work. But consumers — and therefore investors — aren't concerned about how their smartphone works. They want to carry the internet in their pocket.
You'll have a huge advantage if you can demonstrate your product.
When you can show, don't tell. You'll have a huge advantage if you can demonstrate your product. "At Bloomberg Beta, we believe a product demo is more useful than slides," says Klein. "One is a description of a thing; the other is the thing itself." If this isn't possible, good pictures and a link to a video can be invaluable.
As a founder, you may be too close to your product to write a good product description. Before you go "live", give your deck to someone outside your company. If they can explain what your product does after reading the deck, you've done a good job.
Your pitch deck topic 2: Assess your market
Overestimating your market and inflating your potential can be enticing. But avoid the temptation. Use industry standards, benchmarks and the success of comparable products to support your projections. Don't claim that you're right and everyone else is wrong. If your competitors are smart and tough, show how you can gain the advantage. And frame your projections in the context of the TAM, SAM and SOM
Total addressable market (TAM) — the total possible users of your solution
Serviceable addressable market (SAM) — the realistic number of customers who can be reached in terms of market access, regulation and other logistics
Serviceable obtainable market (SOM) — the specific customer universe that the company can reasonably serve under its current strategy
Regardless of how big your market may be, investors are more concerned about whether you've put a good deal of thought into understanding the opportunity.
Talk, too, about the future. When you actualize the success you anticipate, you need to answer the question about how you plan to scale to meet demand.
Most important, be honest. When you describe your market in generalities and exaggerate potential, you run the risk of investors thinking that you "don't know the market or are trying to pull the wool over the reader's eyes," says Klein.
Your pitch deck topic 3: Prove that you've got a team
Credentials, backgrounds and successes are valuable, but they're only a start. You must prove that your personal skills are relevant to this business and that you can sell your concept to investors and partners. Plus, you need to demonstrate that you'll be able to recruit the right team and win customers. You should also consider your team's diversity. "When everyone looks the same on the team slide," Klein says, it could send "a negative signal."
Work hard on your startup pitch deck but focus on substance.
What to leave out of your pitch deck
There are a lot of incredibly smart and talented entrepreneurs and founders in the innovation economy. It's best to recognize their skill and show how your product's strengths will overcome the challenges you will undoubtedly face. A great deck doesn't pretend that you're right and everyone else is wrong. And if your competitors are doing some things right, don't try to gloss over that; address it head on.
Nonetheless, if you have a unique approach or a unique angle that will give you a competitive edge, show how that will play to your advantage. Say Ariel Poler, "That’s going to win you investors. But don’t pretend everyone else is an idiot and only you get it.”
Don’t let perfection get in the way of success
A slick, overly produced pitch deck is a red flag. It suggests you don’t have your priorities in line. Work hard on your startup pitch deck but focus on substance.
“We shudder at the idea of founders spending lots of time making fundraising presentations,” Klein says. “Whether perfect or otherwise, give us anything you've already made — financial model, deck, background materials. It helps us make sure our conversation is more of a discussion.”
Your most crucial task when pitching a startup
Finding the right targets for your VC pitch is perhaps more important than the content. Focus on those potential investors who appear to be appropriate partners for your business and research their area of interest, investment theses, targeted investment size, existing portfolio and investment climate. Sending off your startup pitch deck to a list of 25 investors you know nothing about is unlikely to be successful. Instead, take the time to learn about your target and deliver an opportunity that is a good fit for their firm. Finding the right targets for your pitch is “more important than anything that's in the deck or how good the deck is,” says Poler.
You have a lot riding on your company
It’s more than money, of course. It’s the endless hours, the emotional support you’ve received from family and friends, and the confidence you’ve placed in yourself to make your company a vibrant reality. However, the time and thought you put into a strong VC pitch deck may be the biggest investment you ever make. Do it right and take your business to the next level.