Whether you’re building a teaser deck for investors or preparing for a big VC meeting, these 5 tips will set you up for success.
For many start-up founders, the pitch deck is the most important piece of content they will produce during a fundraising round. Typically, it’s the first way an investor will encounter your fledgling company, and when it comes to raising capital, first impressions matter.
Whether it’s a teaser deck that you send out in investor emails or the full-blown slideshow presentation you share at your pitch meeting, there’s a lot riding on just a handful of pages.
So where do you start? How do you ensure you get it right so that your pitch deck can work as a compelling storytelling tool rather than a convoluted distraction?
Every month I see hundreds of pitch decks from Foundersuite users who are actively reaching out to investors. Here are the nuts and bolts behind creating a killer pitch deck and avoiding common pitfalls along the way.
Investors invest in stories, not companies. The ultimate goal of your pitch is to tell such a compelling story that the investor leaves your meeting ready to hand over a check — or at least a term sheet that indicates they want a piece of what you’re building — or at a minimum, a next meeting to dig in deeper.
Your pitch deck is the gateway drug for investors. The story it tells should be intoxicating.
Your pitch story should do two things: illustrate how you’re going to change the world with your startup, and explain to the investor how this world-changing idea will make them lots of money. The best decks effectively have an emotional pull + a logical conclusion.
The most common story structure I see in pitch decks is the problem/solution structure. You have identified a deep pain point in the marketplace, and you’ve created a lucrative, valuable solution to that problem.
This type of story is very effective, but it’s not the only option. Explore these 6 different pitch deck archetypes and play with a few until you find the story arc that you feel will really hook investors.
For many folks, the hardest part of this process comes at the moment when you’re sitting at the computer, staring down a blank Powerpoint document, watching the cursor blink expectantly.
Here are three ways to get over that blank-page hump:
- Go analog: Take 10 sheets of blank white paper and sketch out the main points you want to include. Shuffle the pages around trying several different orders until you find a flow that feels good.
- Skeleton slides: If you’re getting started on the computer, begin by just typing in your slide titles or headings, then drag those around to solidify the order before adding your content. Bonus pro tip: each slide title should be written in for the form of a conclusion, not just a title — for example, “We acquire customers at 1/10th the cost of competitors” vs. “Sales strategy”
- Use a template: Find an old slide or a template online (used by another startup) and modify it to fit your needs, with your content.
Once you have the basic outline of how you want your deck to flow, then it’s time to put some meat on those bones. Add in a few bullet points here, a diagram or chart there, and then bring it to life with a few illustrations or photos — be sure to include a photo of your team.
As you’re creating this deck, check that you’re striking the right tone. Remember that you’re telling a story about your world-changing, money-making idea, so be optimistic. Be confident, but not cocky. Make the investor believe that you will knock down any obstacle in your path to bring your vision to life.
More is not better when it comes to pitch decks. One of the biggest reasons I see startup founders fail at fundraising is that they have pitch decks stuffed with too much text that distracts from the amazing story they’re trying to tell. Keep it simple.
Once you’ve captured your company’s story in slide form, there are a few things you’ll want to consider before you share it.
First, you’ll want to make two versions of your pitch deck. The first version is a “teaser deck” that you can send out to investors in your request for a meeting, or even include in an email asking a mutual connection for an introduction.
A teaser deck should be no more than five slides and should cover the basics like:
- The problem you’ve identified in the market (make it visceral and memorable — use a “for example” if your market is technical)
- Your company’s solution (i.e.: what you’re doing and why + what makes your approach unique)
- The market for your offering and why now is the right time for it (paint a story of converging meta trends)
- Your traction (users, revenue, growth rates, upsells, partnerships, etc. — proof points that the market likes your solution)
- Your team (who you are and what you’ve done previously)
These 5 slides are all you need to “hook” the investor into taking a meeting.
Because it’s meant to be sent via email, choose a file format like PDF or Powerpoint that your recipient is likely to be able to open, and leave out fancy animations or features that can’t be guaranteed to work well on someone else’s computer.
The second version is your full-length deck, which will be used for live pitch meetings. This version should top out at about 10 slides. You can include an additional 10–15 slides in an appendix to cover more details as needed.
When you’re ready to send your deck, consider whether you’d prefer to send it as an email attachment or put it online and include a link in your email. Hosting it online — whether through Foundersuite or another platform — can enable you to send a larger file.
Several platforms such as DocSend, Foundersuite, Box and various data rooms offer some form of view tracking that allows you to see who has viewed your deck, how long they spent reviewing it and how many times they revisited it. Some investors aren’t fans of this technology, but more and more are accepting it as the new norm — and it never hurts to know who your most interested investors are!
Here are a few more tips for making the most of your pitch deck:
Ruthlessly trim down your slides
When you’re building your deck, you will be tempted to include too much information, and it will be difficult to leave out details that excite you but may distract from the main story.
Walk away from your presentation for several hours — preferably overnight — and when you return with fresh eyes, challenge yourself to cut out 25% of what’s there.
Removing the “fat” will further emphasize what matters most.
Anticipate your FAQs
Your pitch deck is a living document, and you should be updating it regularly throughout your fundraising process. As you meet with investors and begin to identify questions that come up frequently, create new slides for your appendix that address those questions directly.
Pro tip: If you have a co-founder or team member attending your pitch meetings, ask them to take notes specifically on questions from investors.
Don’t expect secrecy
Always assume that your pitch deck will be shared beyond the intended recipients, even if you add a confidentiality statement. Don’t include anything in your slides that is truly proprietary or that would cause problems if it ended up in the hands of your competitor.
It’s probably not necessary to invest in heavy duty encryption or data room security, especially in early fundraising rounds.
Prepare to shine
Building a shiny pitch deck is just the first step — and hopefully a foot in the door — to securing capital for your startup.
Memorize your deck — the last thing you want to do is pull up a slide and then read it to the investors. You want to keep your presentation professional yet conversational. You should be able to talk your way through the slides without giving them a second glance.
Whether you’re pitching on Zoom or in person, arrive early enough to set up your presentation, ensure that you can connect to the projector and that your demo is ready to go. Always have an offline backup of any presentation assets, videos or demos in case the internet won’t connect!
PS: Need specific tips for virtual pitches? Check out “Zoom Mistakes to Avoid When Pitching Your Startup.”
It’ll serve you to view your pitch presentation as a performance — an opportunity for you to share your startup’s story with people who can help you bring that story to life. Think of it like this: your deck sets the scene. Its job is to be good enough to invite investors into your money-making, world-changing vision.
Author: Nathan Beckord