Building a pitch deck is one of the best ways to make sure you’re answering the key questions about your business. There are a few standard formats you can use to make sure you cover the most important issues, one of which I will share a variation on later in this post.
Most importantly, make it short and sweet!
Would you want to sit around watching a presentation with a thirty page powerpoint deck? No. Now imagine if you were a VC and looking at decks was a major part of your job. They have even less tolerance, so don’t bore them!
Your deck should be 10 slides or less.
One good rule of thumb is Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 rule: your presentation will be an hour, so it should have 10 slides, you should expect to present for 20 minutes (leaving 40min for discussion), and have no font smaller than 30pt (your audience shouldn’t be reading, they should be listening to you). Guy’s blog post on the subject can be found here.
Full disclosure: I don’t necessarily stick absolutely to the 30pt rule. In some cases, you can be concise with something smaller. (To learn more about making a deck awesome, you can read more detail in my post here.)
Another suggestion, from Fred Wilson, is to whittle it down to six killer slides. If you can communicate your business well in six slides, do it, but I would still recommend starting with a standard ~10 slide deck to help you think through the key issues of your company, then refine.
THE TEN SLIDE PITCH DECK
There are many variations on this theme, and two folks who often receive credit for this structure are Guy Kawasaki and David Cowan. (I’ll let them duke it out). This is my variation.
- Cover (contact info)
- Good place for a demo
- Business model
- Why you?
- How will you get users?
- Who are you and why will you kick everyone’s butt?
- Timeline / milestones
- The ask (and routing #)
On your cover page, make sure to include your name and contact info. Make this really clear so the audience remembers you and can reach you again.
As I mentioned in an earlier post on creating an elevator pitch, your audience isn’t sitting there thinking about how much they need your product. Your goal here is to set the stage so the audience gets emotionally involved and thinks “I wish somebody would DO something about this!” and your solution scratches their itch.
Make sure that your audience can relate to your problem statement. For example, the investor you’re speaking to may not “like, totally hate it when he can’t post his class notes to just his boys on his tumblr”, but will understand how painful it is when he can’t send a powerpoint deck to the LPs invested in his fund.
Finally – I recommend trying to be entertaining here. Presentations can get boring, especially if you’re a VC who listens to similar pitches so frequently. Make them laugh, make sure you give them something they can relate to emotionally, and jolt them out of slide monotony!
A description of what your product does to solve that problem.
Make sure this is concise and clear (for pitfalls, see my post on elevator pitches). Preferably, use visuals to make sure this hits hard in one glance, rather than making the audience read bullet points and think to put it all together.
Solution, Part II – Demo
During this slide, or just after, is a good time for a demo or screenshots. It’s good to show that you’ve made progress, and it will likely answer a lot of the “how will you do X” questions your audience will have.
Make sure your demo is quick and snappy. Don’t make a 3 minute video describing all your features. Test your video with people ahead of time and watch when they get bored. Then speed these parts up or remove them. This should be 1 or 2 minutes max.
This is the slide where you tell people how you’re going to make money. I recommend also including a market size or some data implying the market size.
However, don’t put a bunch of boring stats – your market size should pop (a chart, visual or large number). If your numbers are not impressive, find numbers that are, or you may have a larger problem than slide creation.
Obviously, you also need to put your business model on this slide. One of our mentors, Chris Savage (CEO of Wistia) said it best:
“Really, an early stage startup is an exercise in finding the business model. The next step is an exercise in scaling up as quickly as possible.”
As a result, you’ll probably have more than a few ideas for business models. Include the most compelling ones, as long as they have significant and realistic revenue potential. You want to show that your company has different paths to success, and that you’ve thought ahead to future revenue streams.
This is where you describe your special sauce. Whether it’s a description of proprietary technology, or some other competitive advantage, you want to make sure your audience knows why you’re going to crush it.
How are you going to get users?
You may have a great idea and product in the works, but your customer acquisition (marketing and sales) strategy is one of the most important questions you’ll answer as you build your company.
In short, don’t tell people you’ve got Twitter and Facebook accounts, a lot of friends who would use it, and are going to get written up in TechCrunch, because this is code for “I don’t know anything about entrepreneurial marketing”. See my post here on customer acquisition for ideas.
Another red alert for investors or other entrepreneurial audiences is “we don’t have any direct competitors”. No one will believe you don’t have any. Almost every “new” business is a variation on an old theme, and these slightly different businesses are usually your direct competitors.
Describe the competitive landscape on this slide. Make it visual if possible, and be very clear about how your company and other industry players are different.
Who are you?
Here’s where you show how much your team kicks butt.
Don’t write full prose bios on here – just the interesting stuff. Names of previous startups, money raised, prestigious companies/schools/awards, etc. You want your audience to see a bunch of impressive words, not sentences to read.
This is also a good place to list advisors you may have.
One of the things an investor will be trying to understand on this slide is which skills your company is missing – whether it’s industry or functional (e.g. marketing, strategy) expertise.
Advisors or mentors with expertise in your industry or with skillsets where you are lacking are major assets, because they strengthen you where you may be weak, and their place on your team shows that you’re self-aware and willing to find and accept help where you need it.
Timeline / Milestones
This is where you show your investors your progress, what you expect to do, and what are your upcoming milestones.
This will give investors an idea of where you expect to be in a few months or years, and this information is valuable to help them understand:
- …what their investment will return before the next round of funding is raised
- …value inflection points and other times when investment should be discussed/made
- …whether you understand how to set realistic goals
What you need, what’s next
Note: This can sometimes be combined with the previous slide.
You need to be able to tell an investor how much money you’re raising, for what uses, and how much they’ll get in return.
Your slide may only have a high level description of uses, but you should have a good idea about specifics (e.g. salaries, types of marketing you’ll spend on) to voice-over or respond to questions. As for what they’ll receive in return, this doesn’t necessarily need to be in writing, because it will be a negotiation, after all. You should be prepared to tell an investor how much equity they’ll receive, and in some cases (angels more than VCs), what kind of return on investment they’ll get. My post on technical aspects of raising money may be helpful here.
(If you want to go brash, I’ve read many VC blog posts suggesting that they’d like to see routing numbers or PayPal accounts on this last page, though I’ve yet to hear a specific successful story using this tactic.)
PRACTICE, KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT, AND BRING BACKUP
As I suggested in my elevator pitch post, you should practice your presentation of this deck in front of as many people as possible, get their feedback, and refine.
When you do this, you’ll begin to get used to 1) where you’re not comfortable and 2) which follow-up questions you’ll typically be asked.
To fix #1, just practice more!
To help out with #2, I recommend building backup slides on the questions you’re frequently asked. This will let investors know that you’re well prepared and that you know your company’s key issues. It will also make sure you’re not left giving a credibility-lowering “ummm…” that could have easily been prevented.
(For advice on making your deck more awesome, see my post on the No Thinking Rule here.)