How to Write a Pitch Deck
“They made a great deck. But it wasn’t really the slides we liked—it was their ideas, the clarity of their thinking, and the scope of their ambition” writes early Airbnb investor, Sequoia Capital, about the company’s founders on their blog.
This single line illustrates perfectly what many entrepreneurs miss when faced with the daunting task of writing a pitch deck. Investors don’t invest in slides, they invest in great ideas and in the people behind them. Even more so, they invest in the ideas and people they believe will return that investment and more.
Your job as an entrepreneur is to get investors excited about your vision. A pitch deck will never lead directly to an investment, it has served its purpose when your audience is interested enough to ask for a second meeting. To achieve that, you’ll need to cover all the bases they care about most.
Before we start:
- Keep them wanting more… Be short, direct, and focused. You want to share enough to get them excited, not to overwhelm them with too many details.
- Use 12-15 slides.
If you can’t get people to understand your value in 15 slides, you won’t do it in 40.
- Use as little text as possible.
People can’t read the slides and listen to what you’re saying at the same time. Use bullets, icons, graphs, diagrams, and pictures, and fill in the blanks with your speech.
- Discuss facts and avoid meaningless statements. “We increase global eCommerce shipping productivity by 30%” is way better than “We’re revolutionizing global eCommerce shipping.”
- Write a script.
Figure out what you’re going to say with each slide and make sure you tell a compelling story that follows a logical and natural order.
- KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid. Investors might not be well versed in your industry or familiar with your technology. Use the simplest terms to describe what you’re doing. Ask yourself “Would my grandmother understand this?” Rephrase if your answer is “no”.
- Practice!!! In front of the mirror, your team, family, or friends, and as often as you can. It will help you keep any public speaking anxiety to a minimum.
Now let’s get to the slides…
Please note: You don’t have to write your deck in this particular order. Each company is unique and it’s more important for your story to make sense than to stick to a template. Use this flow as a reference but feel free to move things around.
The Cover The cover slide is the first thing investors see. It’s meant to set the tone for your pitch and should feature your company logo and an appealing background or image. Consider adding the month and year to indicate that you’re about to discuss the most recent available data.
It will usually be accompanied by a short intro like; “Hi, my name is [YOUR NAME] and I’m the [YOUR JOB TITLE] of [YOUR COMPANY NAME].”
Elevator Pitch / Vision and Value Proposition The elevator pitch slide is technically your starting point. You need to explain your company in a single, precise sentence that:
- Gives investors a general understanding of what you do and what you’re trying to achieve.
- Piques their interest so they want to hear more.
Most entrepreneurs follow the “We provide [WHAT YOU DO] for [YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE]” structure to keep things clear and simple.
Another path you may choose to take is to compare yourself with a recognizable brand: - “We’re the Uber of…” - “We’re the Tesla of…”
The Opportunity Keep things positive by focusing on opportunities. Instead of bringing everybody in the room down by discussing pain points, delight them by tapping into market potential.
The Opportunity slide should cover: - Your target market. - Market size (in people or dollars). Avoid trying to display your market as larger than it really is. You need to be very specific and have the data to back you up. - Why now? What’s happening in the market that makes this the right time for your idea to succeed? Timing is everything in business, so what makes now the right time for you?
Remember, investors are interested in big opportunities. They look for startups that disrupt their markets and change consumers’ behavior. It’s up to you to prove that enough people will be willing to buy what you’re selling.
The Solution After you’ve shown the scope of the opportunity, you want to demonstrate how your solution is the right match for it – the thing that makes it desirable enough to dominate the market. This slide is where you explain how your product/service works and how it provides people with value.
Now is the time to show your prototype or do a demo and give the investors a glimpse into how your solution will work in the real world.
Don’t make the mistake of giving a full description of your features or be too technical. Your goal here is to show value, so briefly describe how your tech works and how your customers benefit from it.
Focus on what investors are looking for: - Better solutions than the alternatives. - Something proprietary and unique. - Scalability.
Business or Revenue Model This is one of the most important slides to an investor and with good reason. Investors fund startups for the sole purpose of generating enhanced investment returns. From their point of view, your product is not your solution but rather your ability to generate revenue. To put it gently, they care less about what you do and more about how you’re going to make money.
Explain: - What you charge. - How payments are made. - How your business model is validated.
Traction and Validation At this stage of the pitch, most investors would want to know if the business can actually work and are hoping to be impressed by your progress and achievements.
Questions you may want to answer: - What do you plan to build in the next 3-5 years? - What are some important milestones? - How many paying users do you have? - How much revenue are you generating? - How are you growing? - Do you have any strategic partnerships? - Are you profitable?
Go To Market Your job as a startup founder is not only to create a better solution, it’s also to guarantee it finds its way into the hands of your customers. It’s ok if your marketing strategy isn’t entirely done yet, identifying key marketing and sales channels lets investors know you’re giving product promotion the attention it deserves.
Cover topics such as: - Distribution strategy. - What you’ve done to validate sales channels. - Early adopters and where to find them. - LTV (lifetime value) and CAC (customer acquisition cost). - Churn.
The Team Anyone can have a great idea, the execution part is the real challenge. So, what makes your team the right mix of talent, skill, experience, and determination to beat the competition? Don’t waste energy worrying about a less-than-perfect team, investors don’t expect you to have everything figured out so early.
To avoid a text-heavy slide, use a simple picture, name, and job title format to introduce your leadership team in writing and elaborate on strengths and achievements with your speech.
Financials Projections are educated guesses and therefore will never be 100% accurate. What investors want to see here are realistic founders. The worst thing you can do is to oversell. Stay conservative – it’s better to exceed expectations than to underperform.
Prepare a 3-year forecast in a separate Excel file in case investors want to go over it after your pitch and highlight your key metrics like number of customers and conversion rates in the deck.
Competition VCs know markets. You need to be prepared to study your competition, talk about them, and have a clear plan to beat them.
Let investors know: - What makes you different. - Why people will choose your product or service over your direct or indirect competition.
- How you position yourself in the market.
- You’re confident in your ability to adapt to the market and grab your share of it.
The Ask Whether or not to have an ask slide is a very personal choice for startups. Some prefer to be more discreet and choose to leave it out to keep their options open, others are very clear about what they need and rather have it out there. Whatever you decide is fine, but know this: in life and in business, asking for what you want significantly increases your chances of getting it. If you do decide to include this slide in your deck, write down: - How much capital you need. - How much runway it will give you. - How you plan to spend it. - Your goals before the next round.
Back Cover Same as your front cover, the back cover should feature your company logo and an appealing background or image. Add a “Thank you” and your contact information and you’re good to go!
Two things to keep in mind before your next fundraising round: - You’re not asking for charity or favors, you’re presenting an opportunity. Investors need startups just as much as startups need them.
- No one owes you anything. Having a great idea doesn’t mean investors will just give you their money. VCs have to justify themselves to their investors (AKA limited partners) and therefore will only fund companies they can defend.
Put in the work, come prepared, be confident in your idea and in your skills to execute on it, and sell your dream.