I’ve seen hundreds of pitch decks and really enjoy seeing someone’s vision boiled down to a concise and thoughtful presentation. Unfortunately, 95% of decks I see don’t have enough information, don’t tell a believable or exciting story, and aren’t in a suitable format to get the interest of investors.
Below is the outline of what every early-stage startup should answer in their pitch, whether that’s in the deck or the verbal presentation. The purpose of a pitch is not to get money, it’s to get a callback. The purpose of a callback is to hopefully get a follow-up meeting (ideally with more partners). The purpose of that meeting is to get to due diligence. The purpose of due diligence is to confirm everything you claimed. Then you can get a commitment! So remember, decks and pitches should not be designed to get investment commitment, they exist to get the follow-up.
The final ordering for what you cover is based on the story you’re telling and where the impact moments are, but these components below need to exist in every deck (plus or minus a couple based on your stage or business). Stay focused on the fact that investors care most about traction, team, structure, and business model. And never forget that investment is an emotional decision, no matter what anyone tells you. You have to appeal to someone’s emotions—you have to get them emotionally invested before you get them financially invested.
- [Intro/Cover] the name and what your company does
- [Big Problem] that you are or will be solving
- [Solution] to the problem
- [Proof] Market Validation
- [Potential] Your Market Size
- [Example] What your product looks like
- [Operations] What is your business model
- [Growth] What’s your adoption strategy
- [Competition] Headwinds or market validation
- [Differentiation] Competitive advantage
- [Team] Who are you & why you?
- [Social Proof] Any press or advisors
- [Customer Proof] User/Customer testimonials
- [The Ask] Financials (terms and size of round, use of proceeds with expected traction/revenue)
YOU DON’T PITCH FOR MONEY. YOU PITCH TO CONVERT!
To achieve a series of conversions, that eventually lead to financial investment, you need to align around each stepped goal that gets you to your final destination of money.
I prefer the following flow model when interacting with investors, or something very close to it. Never give away more than you need to in order to reach the next step. Be a savvy storyteller and reveal just enough to keep them hooked and tease any cliffhangers to ensure they come back for more. Some people use dating analogies here, but I will skip that. You are however very much trying to establish a trusted relationship with someone (or a group) in an extremely compressed timeframe.
- 30-second pitch – verbal (or text).
- Gauges interest and if it works the listener will want to learn more in a follow-up. Don’t answer important questions here, or keep it very, very limited to simple answers that build more interest, more reason to meet next. The details are for the 10-min pitch, aka the 30-min meeting.
- Pitch Preview (or executive summary).
- This can be sent together with a text 30s pitch, or as the first follow-up email where you are trying to schedule the “10-min” pitch. The 10-min pitch is the first time you present your deck and tell your whole story. It’s a 30-min meeting, but 10-min of prepared content with space for 20-min of interaction.
- This is usually a 1-2 page doc with high level information about your company, and does not give away the punchline of your mic drop. Include a couple of key, juicy stats, some accomplishments, a customer testimonial, etc.
- 30-min meeting, aka the 10-min pitch.
- This will almost always be with lower associates or partners. Your job is to set the hook and get the 1-hour meeting with senior partners. That’s it. If the listener doesn’t engage with your mic-drop moment in your pitch, then there is no follow-up. Period. Smile, take their input, and put them on a slow-drip email list. If they engage and attempt to go longer than 30-min, then flip that into a scheduling conversation!
- 1-hour meeting.
- If senior partners don’t show, reschedule. No exceptions. You’re worth more.
- If everyone is there, then you’re going to have to give your 10-min pitch and be super prepared to flip in and out of slides, field tons of questions, jump to the appendix, possibly whiteboard, have your co-founders there and share time, and make it feel like you’re collaborating in a partnership that already exists. If they believe in the fit then you will move to due diligence.
- Due Diligence.
- Don’t embellish facts or realities in your pitches! Don’t hide important information. Everything comes to light anyway, so do your part to control the narrative as long as possible and make sure your “issues” are typical, minor startup scaling things that shouldn’t shock anyone. A surprise in due diligence will end the deal and could lead to multiple other investors hearing about it. Which could then end your ability to raise funding at all. Memories are long, and the investor community is small.
- Answer everything that’s asked. Couch areas of struggle in a way that shows your investor that you’re counting on their support and guidance to get better in these areas.
- Ideally, you can land more than one offer around the same time. Action and momentum are your friends. Leverage FOMO whenever possible. And try to get the best deal terms you possibly can. But at the end of the day, any real and reasonable offer is better than the dream offer that never materializes. Take the money, adjust your plan, and get moving!
Also published on Medium.