What we’re talking about
A pitch deck is a visually compelling and succinct presentation that outlines the story of your business at a high level – explaining why it’s worth investing in. It’s usually the very first step in eliciting some interest from an investor, whether that’s an angel investor or a venture capitalist. Not many investments are signed and sealed after the first meeting but, if the pitch deck does its job, it might open the door to another meeting, another conversation and, eventually, an investment of capital into your business.
While pitch decks vary in size, the average length is 12 to 14 slides (and never longer than 20), with each slide presenting one clear idea. Although its order can change depending on how you wish to tell your story, the general slides to include are:
1. Company vision. A one-sentence overview of your business and the value you’ll provide to customers.
2. The problem. Outlining the one core problem that you’ve spotted and are hoping to solve.
3. Target market and opportunity. Information on who your ideal customer is, the size of your target market and the size of the opportunity.
4. The solution or product. Information on how your product or service will solve the problem – this might include a demo.
5. Business model. Outlining the revenue model, ie, how the business actually makes money.
6. The competition. A look at who your competitors are and why customers will choose you over them.
7. Traction or validation. If you have early sales and users or have reached key metrics, this is where you highlight the evidence that your business works.
8. Marketing and sales plan. A summary of how you’ll get your product or service in front of your customers and the sales channels you’ll be using.
9. The team. Bigging up why you and your team are the right people with the right skills to make the business a success.
10. Financials. Not suitable for every pitch, but if included this should contain easily digestible charts projecting sales forecasts, total expenses and profits. More detailed information will be necessary to supplement this.
For seed rounds – ie, the first time you raise money – the focus of the pitch deck is likely to land on the problem being solved, the size and potential of the market, and how compelling the solution and business model is.
Why it’s important
Raising money is really tough – even getting your pitch deck in front of the right people is a big challenge. Creating a captivating snapshot of your business that excites and engages an investor is the only way they’ll be persuaded to have further conversations with you. Ultimately, investors need a good reason to part with their cash; particularly when you consider that, according to venture capitalist Reid Hoffman, an average partner at a VC firm might see 5,000 pitches in a year. A study by DocSend and Professor Tom Eisenmann from Harvard Business Review suggests investors spend on average three minutes and 44 seconds looking at a pitch deck. So, whether you’re sending yours via email or presenting in person, you need to know the selling points of your business inside and out, and tell that story in a simple, compelling and speedy way.
Things to note
Although the pitch deck has minimal copy, you should have more detailed information and documents to illustrate and back up some of your points, which investors might request to see.
The pitch deck you use for your seed round will not necessarily be the same as subsequent rounds of investment (known as series A, series B, etc). In these rounds, you’ll be focusing on different parts of the business as your ambitions and reasons for needing capital change.
Some investors view pitch decks on their phones – which is why strong visuals and minimal text are so important.
Along with the core slides outlined above, there are occasionally other slides that might be suitable for your business including detailing exit strategy, partnerships, and demonstrating the product or service.
How to create a pitch deck
1. Get clear on the problem and solution. The number one question your pitch deck needs to answer is what problem you’re focusing on, why it needs to be addressed and how your business or product is the solution. Write the answers to those key questions down and think about the supporting evidence you’ll need to demonstrate that to the people you’ll be presenting to.
2. Collect the data you need. Based on the core slides you’ll be including, gather the necessary information and data for each slide. That’s likely to include info on the market, your competitors and potential customers. Create projects and plans for areas like marketing and sales to help potential investors understand how you plan to sell your product or service, generate revenue and grow your business.
3. Develop a narrative. Based on the information you’ve collected, figure out how you can turn it into a compelling story. Consider the key takeaways you want an investor to have at the end of the deck, and the logical order in which they’ll need to learn things so that they reach those takeaways.
4. Outline your slides. Now you’ve got the overarching narrative, it’s time to decide exactly how many slides you’ll need and what information will go on each one. The key here is to try to keep things simple but comprehensive – sharing only what you really need to tell your story. Only make one point per slide so you don’t bombard the viewer with information – remember, you can always add context when you’re presenting.
5. Build the deck. Use your presentation software of choice – Google Slides, Keynote, or PowerPoint are all decent, user-friendly options – and turn that outline into a bare-bones deck, with the key information on each slide.
6. Make it look good. Although your pitch deck should be judged by its content and not how it looks, there’s no denying that design is important. You don’t necessarily need to go all out here and hire a graphic designer to whip it into shape (although that is an option if you have the budget), but there are some fundamental basics to get right: font styles and sizes should be consistent; the colour scheme you use should be consistent and work aesthetically; and you should make it as visual as you can through images, charts and graphics where appropriate.
7. Practice, practice, practice. Once your deck is ready, make sure you’re well prepared to deliver it. Talk through the presentation and decide what points you’ll make on each slide, which slides you’ll spend longer on and which you’ll quickly flick through. It’s important here not to repeat what’s on the slide – you want to add the engaging information and context that you didn’t have space for. Practice really does make perfect, so don’t skip this step.
The core purpose of the pitch deck is to create a compelling story and build some excitement around your business – you’re not trying to outline every detail.
Stick to the principle of one idea per slide, and make sure that idea is presented in a visually compelling manner – it’s up to you whether to hire a graphic designer.
Consider how you’ll present your pitch deck in person – how you’ll verbally supplement each slide and provide key context. And then practice presenting it!
Find more than 100 expertly designed pitch deck templates tailored to all kinds of businesses at Slidebean.
Check out the pitch decks from some brands who got it right, like Peloton, Buffer and Uber.
Take a look at some design dos and don’ts, specifically when pitching at demo days, from Y Combinator’s library of resources.
Watch this 80-second clip from Mike Vernal, of venture capital firm Sequoia Capital, where he outlines his key tips for getting the pitch deck right.
Delve a little deeper into the key differences between pitch decks for seed, series A and series B rounds of investment through this blog from Slide Heroes.
Find talented freelance graphic designers who can help you bring your pitch deck to life at platforms such as Fiverr or Upwork.