A pitch deck is one of the most powerful pieces of marketing collateral a startup can create. When done right, it does more than just clarify your company's opportunity to potential investors—it gets you a seat at the table.
I have crafted my fair share of pitch decks and reviewed over five hundred as a prospective investor. Of those five hundred decks, roughly ten stood out. I would describe most investor decks as overkill. In the words of Mark Twain: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Choose your words carefully when constructing a deck if you want it to be memorable.
With that, here are the 10 keys to an effective pitch deck that will garner investor interest by framing your company’s story in a novel way:
1. Be concise and straight to the point
No one likes reading walls of text—especially investors. Respect people's time and try to keep each slide to a maximum of 100 words.
2. Design with mobile in mind
Unlike our desktop, our smartphone goes everywhere with us. Make sure that your visual presentation reads well on mobile devices (keep your font sizes legible and your content easily digestible), as your potential investor will likely be viewing it while they're on the go. I’ve reviewed more decks on airplanes and at airports than anywhere else.
3. Mention your addressable market
Mentioning your business' addressable market is almost always a good idea, especially if your target market is a niche. However, make sure that you take into account a) the stage of your industry's lifecycle and b) your audience. For example, if you're a cannabis company pitching a consortium of venture capitalists in 2019, chances are they're already well aware of the global cannabis industry's potential market size.
Don't waste your energy (and an investor's time) on trying to educate what's already known—educate potential investors on what they don't know (ie. the unique benefits of your company's proprietary technology).
4. Explain your go-to-market strategy
After mentioning your company's addressable market, you'll need to explain how you plan on capturing it. Who will buy your product or service? What is your sales strategy? How do you plan to reach potential customers? While much of your pitch deck can and should be focused on your company's track record and potential, your go-to-market (GTM) strategy should be rooted in reality. Enough with the hockey stick charts!
5. Provide a six-month map
You should have a graphic timeline that shows what you have accomplished over the past six months and where you anticipate being in the next six months. This demonstrates to potential investors that your company could be in a very different position (and thus have a higher valuation) in a short period of time. It also suggests that you are operating with a sense of urgency.
Savvy investors know that the greatest enemy of any startup is time, so be sure to show them how you plan to beat the clock.
6. Analyze competitors
Although this section can be tempting to gloss over, demonstrating an intimate understanding of your opponent's strengths and weaknesses can help instil some much-needed confidence in a potential investor. It shows integrity and that you have done your due diligence on your marketplace. As an investor, I find it frustrating when a founder tells me they have no competitors because they’re so unique.
7. Provide moments of validation
A moment of validation refers to any laurel your company has received or any milestone reached that supports your company's potential (ie. technological validation from a university or government agency, partnership with a big company, or even just a spike in sales). Although I've found it's best to have at least three, don't include something inconsequential just for the sake of having three.
8. Get first-time perspectives
After slaving away for days on your pitch deck (and yes, it should take you days if not weeks to build), it can be difficult to discern how "good" your deck actually is. In order to overcome this, have a handful of people outside and inside of your organization review the deck; although the hope is that your first-time viewer is left in awe, it's helpful if they're not impressed—at least then you'll have an idea of what you can do to improve.
9. Maintain your message
A pitch deck is a living, breathing document that evolves with your business. Because of this, you'll need to keep a watchful eye on the changes you make and the content you add to your presentation. You'd be surprised at how muddy your company's messaging can become after just one business quarter.
10. Sleep on changes
Don't stress out if you feel uncertain about the direction of your pitch deck after making changes. Instead of forcing yourself to come to an immediate decision, science suggests that you should sleep on it. Having been at a crossroads on almost every deck I've worked on, I can personally attest to the importance of sleeping before committing to any significant changes.
Bonus: If you’re making presentations to a rather large group (8 or more people), tweaks should be made to the deck to tailor it to your audience’s education / interests / industry / personality (if you know them). You wouldn’t take the same pitch deck to a room full of brokers as you would to a conference full of scientists.
A Good Pitch Deck Is The Bridge To A Meeting
By adhering to these 10 rules, your pitch deck will come across to potential investors as natural, informative, and respectful. But remember: a pitch deck isn't intended to close the deal. It merely functions as a bridge between the unknown and the known—nothing more. It is up to you to make sure the bridge is as architecturally sound as possible, so that investors will want to cross it...