What is a pitch deck
Unless your startup is using the bootstrap model, an investor pitch deck is something you are going to take time working on, perfecting and improving. Pitch decks make a big impact on the journey towards securing funding.
Startups need funding to grow, to scale, to hire and to accelerate growth. Without a winning pitch deck, it could take you longer to secure the funding you need. Or in some cases, make it nearly impossible. In the early days of startup growth, all you’ve got is time and skill.
Creating a winning investor pitch deck will mean spending less time prospecting for investors, and more time speaking to the right investors, reducing the time and effort involved in fundraising. When you spend less time fundraising, you can spend more time focused on growing your startup looking after customers, and gaining the traction investors need to see. A pitch deck is a smart investment of your time.
As a founder or co-founder, it’s useful to know what are investor decks as well as what their specifics are. It’s no news that most investors are equally pressed for time. On average, they spend around 3 minutes and 44 seconds per pitch deck, according to a DocSend study. With time reviewing the company and talking to colleagues, you’ve got 5 minutes at most trying to get the attention of an investor. Don’t go into too much detail. Tell a story. Imagine you are telling a 5-year-old about your startup: explain in simple terms why it exists and what problem it’s solving, and ultimately, how it creates value.
In this article, we will cover how to tell your startup story through a pitch deck, how to keep it simple and how to make it visually appealing and standout.
Telling your startup story through a pitch deck
To start with, you need to think about the key elements of creating a brand vision: Mission, Target Audience and Value.
- Mission: As Simon Sinek points out in a popular TED video, strong brands always have a compelling WHY. He says that, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” Without a strong WHY – your mission – the problem you are trying to solve, investors aren’t going to be interested.
- Target Audience: This is strongly connected to the why part of your story. What problem are you solving and who are you solving it for? Who are your potential customers? Who, ultimately, needs this solution to challenges they’re currently facing and why are they going to pay for it? As part of that aspect of the story, any interactions you’ve already had with the target audience is gold dust. Ideally, an MVP or even paying customers are the best possible example that you’ve potentially created a solution that can scale. Another aspect that investors need to see: a large enough addressable and serviceable target market to make your startup an attractive investment opportunity.
- Value: What value does it create? Say, for example, you charge $10 per month for your product. But it saves customers $100 in time/other relatable and explainable costs, your product is creating $90 in value. Have enough data or anecdotal information to place a potential figure on the value you are creating. Getting a clear picture on the size of the addressable market should help contribute to painting a clear picture for investors.
Now you’ve got the basics worked out, you need to translate that into a story format that can be used in a pitch deck.
Here are three elements of a good story that every pitch deck template needs:
- A simple, clear narrative. Stories can be as simple or complex as the writer makes them. In some such as Game of Thrones, there are multiple layers, threads, characters, twists and turns. But if you think about it, there is always a begging, middle and end. A narrative thread or arc throughout. Stories connect you with the subject of the story. Scientists call this neural coupling.
Your aim, in telling this story, is to make investors synchronise with the minds of your customers. Make them see why this solution exists and why supporting it is the smart move, worthy of their time and investment. A simple, clear narrative structure that makes sense is what you need to encourage positive outcomes and investor backing.
- Make sense of your mission. It is often said that investors don’t invest in products or companies, they invest in people. They invest in co-founders and teams, and if your team lacks experience, then having a few experienced professionals on the board or as advisors or even angel investors is always a positive sign.
One thing they absolutely need to see is that your mission makes sense. That you are committed to solving a problem that a) needs a solution and b) people want to or already paying for. And, ideally, that this is a mission they can clearly see makes sense and that you are going to stick with for the next 3 to 5 years. It could easily take that long to achieve a successful exit event, which is something that investors are going to want at some point.
In an ideal world, your mission ends with an exit and investors getting a healthy, positive return on their investment. Always include a road map in a pitch deck, so that investors can see where you are going as well as how you got to this point.
- Connect with customers. Show investors your connection with customers. How are you serving them? What have you done to demonstrate and find product – market fit? Startups with an MVP or beta testing and some sample customer data, or even paying customers are stronger contenders for funding.
At the same time, you need to show that you’ve got a strong emotional bond with customers. Brand story telling that already connects with customers is worth investing in.
Once you are clear on those three core elements of a strong brand story, here are the three steps to take to write a good story:
#1: Past, present and future
Why and how did the founder(s) create the company? How did they get to where the company is today? Key milestones always need recording and any data to support those. And finally, show investors where you want to go, how funding will help achieve that and what sort of exit you want to achieve.
#2: Develop a mission statement, vision and values
A clear statement that says why this company exists, the value it creates for customers and how you are committed to making the world, your customers lives, a certain vertical or industry a better place.
#3: Now bring those first two elements together
Use your chronological story and mission to create a brand story. This must be true, authentic and honest. It must connect with investors and your customers. It should be rooted in a sense of purpose, your mission and reasons for founding the company.
When working on a brand story and a pitch deck, simplicity is essential. We cover that next.
How to keep it simple
Guy Kawasaki is one of the masters of marketing. A former advisor to the Motorola division at Google and Chief Evangelist of Apple, he recommends 10 core sections to include in every winning pitch deck:
- Value Proposition
- Underlying Magic
- Business Model
- Go-to-Market Plan
- Competitive Analysis
- Management Team
- Financial Projections and Key Metrics
- Current status, accomplishments to date, timeline and use of funds
Other leading investors, such as Sequoia Capital, one of the most well-known and successful Silicon Valley VC firms – who’ve made serious investments in Dropbox, Airbnb, Evernote, Stripe and Youtube- recommend a similar albeit slightly different approach, with the following sections to include in a winning pitch deck:
- Why Now?
- Market Size
- Business Model
Safe to say, since investors only have 5 minutes to review a pitch deck, and it helps enormously if you can get on an investors radar through your network and people they already like, know and trust, it’s useful to keep the pitch deck simple. Don’t overcomplicate things. Remember, keep focused on telling a story, using statistics and eye-catching visuals to get a potential investor to take action.
Let’s take a look at some of the best investor pitch decks that have gained hundreds of thousands and later, tens or even hundreds of millions worth of investment.
Examples of the best investor pitch decks
Back in 2004, “The Facebook”, as it was known, a dorm room project of Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard University, didn’t have a pitch deck. Not in the traditional sense. But they did have a media kit containing everything that an experienced investor, Peter Thiel (one of the “PayPal mafia” and a Sequoia Capital VC), needed to invest $500,000 in to give them some early traction. The media kit included solid numbers such as their user engagement, traffic, users, and growth metrics.
Airbnb pitch deck is known to be one of the most effective pitch deck examples. Now a multi-billion dollar company, Airbnb kept its opening page on the pitch deck very simple. On page 2, they used as few words as possible to describe the problem. 35 words in total, or 36 including the word problem. In those few short sentences they clearly defined the two-sided marketplace and benefits to the customer, hosts and why people would choose Airbnb over the established hotels market.
LinkedIn, a company founded by one of the most well-connected networkers in Silicon Valley, Reid Hoffman – known as “the Startup whisperer” in a New York Times article talked about the networking value they were designed to create. In the pitch deck, they use smart analogies, talking about “web 1.0” and “web 2.0”, with LinkedIn created as “Networking for Businesses 2.0”.
But best investor decks aren’t only about words. Investors need a visual wow factor. Here are tips about how to make your pitch deck visually appealing.
How to make it beautiful
#1: Clear structure. Remember your story and narrative. Now you need to represent this visually. Clearly using every slide and visual element to map the story, take the reader on a journey and support that journey as much as possible with visuals. A simple and clear internal structure to every page is essential.
#2: Core messages. Make core messages, such as your mission, purpose, brand values and traction so far, with visuals that support the message. Especially when the message you are getting across is important for investors to see; e.g. “We generated $500,000 in revenues in 6 months, with an average order value of $500.” Keep deck slides clean, clear, easy to scan and read.
#3: Fonts. Keep your fonts consistent throughout. Use a clear, easy-to-read font and a logical organisational structure within each page of the deck.
#4: Screenshots. Do you already have a product, or at very least an MVP or even wireframe designs? Great! Show your potential investors. Show them that you’ve got something worth investing in. Give them a sense of how it should work and look for customers.
#5: Graphs and charts. There is a good chance that you’ve got a lot of financial or economic data to show an investor. Good! This is what they want to see. So if you can show them in a clearer way what your financials and traction currently and should look like after investment, put this in a graph format. If you can also do that wit your addressable market, even better. Graphs and charts are ideal for these sections: the Market, Traction, Financials, the Ask (amount you are trying to raise).
#6: Icons. Use icons and easy-to-understand graphics to visually represent key points. Make sure they’re simple and appealing, and support the narrative and content throughout. Keep the design consistent and the colour scheme the same. Avoid downloading some and having others created; be consistent.
#7: Tables. Another way to visually represent complex topics quickly is through comparison tables. It is a great way to represent a competitor analysis and demonstrate why your solution is entering/going to disrupt the market.
#8: Timeline. Map out, simply and easily, a clear chronological milestone, starting with the founder(s) and why/how they encountered the challenge they want to solve. Map out the road ahead and where you are now so potential investors can visualise the journey.
#9: Pictures. Use pictures to represent the emotions you want to create around your brand, values, mission, product and the market you want to address.
#10: Bring it all together. And finally, make sure before sending it to any potential investor, that everything works well together. The copy, the design elements, the visuals, data and most importantly, the story.
Creating a pitch deck is one of the most important documents any founding team will work on. Without it, or without enough effort and time going into this, you may never raise the money you need to gain the sort of traction that will get you where you want to go.
Keep focused on the following:
- Tell a story. Make it simple, and explain WHY you are building this startup.
- Show investors the traction gained so far, addressable market and where you want to go next.
- Make it visually appealing and easy/quick to read and digest the information.