Did you know that venture capitalists spend, on average, 3 minutes and 44 seconds viewing a pitch deck? That’s it. You have as long as the average pop song to catch — and hold — an investor’s interest.
There’s an art and science to building a pitch deck that helps open doors to financial backing. Read on for a guide to help you through the process and help you get the results you want.
What is It?
A pitch deck is a series of slides that illustrate your product or service, value proposition, market, business model, and strategy. It’s sole purpose: make potential investors confident about investing in your business.
It’s not a marketing or recruitment tool. It doesn’t have to be flashy.
It has to be clear, honest, and address what investors look for.
Your pitch deck is arguably the most important document when you’re seeking funding to establish, grow, or save your business. Allocate enough time and resources — key team members, trusted advisers — to do the job right.
Plan to spend 1-2 months on building and refining the deck. That won’t be all you’re doing during that time but it should be your top priority.
Aim for 15 slides. If you have fewer than 13, you might be missing key information. If you have more than 18, you’re probably going into too much detail.
The scope of content spans from the story of your product or service to how the investor stands to make money.
Drafting the Deck in Five Slides
The best way to catch an investor’s attention is a compelling story about a problem and viable solution.
Using bullet points, write a broad outline of the story behind your product or service. Focus on the problem, how you recognized it, who has it, your initial solution, and your evolved solution.
Right now, don’t worry about brevity but do work in PowerPoint, Keynote, or other slideshow applications. Keep the “story” bullet points to one slide. This will help you stay out of the weeds.
In the end, most of what you write will become your speaking notes. But in the drafting stage, the goal is to get the right information out of your head and onto slides. Editing comes later.
On a second slide, jot down a broad outline of the market and your experience in it. Focus on gaps, competition, timing, and the traction you’ve gained. Also, note significant missteps and what you learned.
Use the third slide to outline your strategy. Note your competitive advantage and business model. Describe key team members and their roles. Outline risk mitigation plus how much funding you need and how you’ll use it.
Your fourth draft slide is for key financial information. Include the value of investments to date and by whom, customer acquisition cost, sales, run rates, and debt.
The fifth and final draft slide is for less objective results. Capture key points of customer or beta-user reviews and feedback, press coverage, and blogger reviews.
Shaping the Deck and Notes
Now that you have most, if not all, the important facts, figures, and experiences on virtual paper, you can begin weaving the full story. This gives the pitch deck its shape and helps you develop speaking notes.
The fundamental “rules” for a pitch deck are:
One Idea Per Slide
This rule also means “one slide per idea”. If you can’t distill the message to one slide that has plenty of white space, you’re getting into too much detail.
Further, the idea of the slide must relate to a business driver. If it doesn’t help an investor see your business as sustainable and profitable, don’t include it.
Visual Engagement Matters
No one is expecting your pitch deck to be a design masterpiece. But you do need each slide to be visually engaging and consistent with the others. Keep text black and use brand colors for shapes, headings, and visual accents. Use simple graphics with clean lines. Don’t crowd the slide.
Impress With Every Slide
Impressing investors isn’t about dazzling them. It means that each slide gives one more reason to believe your business is worth risking their money. Even “negative” information about setbacks or missed targets can impress. Never forget part of their assessment is how resilient you and your team are.
The goal of your pitch deck is to tell investors a compelling story that they’ll want to help write to a profitable end. So, after the title slide, there’s a common and effective slide sequence.
Consult the notes you made at the draft stage. Pull out the most relevant and powerful points.
1. The Clear Nutshell
This slide should have one sentence on it. It’s the sentence that encapsulates your value proposition and reflects your vision.
Examples from well-known businesses:
- “Send better email.” (MailChimp)
- “A great shave for a few bucks a month.” (Dollar Shave Club)
- “Small business accounting software designed for you, the non-accountant.” (FreshBooks)
You can imagine an investor’s reaction seeing that on the first slide. It gives them a good sense of what the product or service is about. It also implies or states who the target customer is.
2. The Problem
In your speaking notes about this slide, you might tell the (brief) story of how you recognized the problem. But the slide should make the investor see and feel a pain point.
Even if they can’t relate to the problem, frame the problem through visuals and what you say to make them believe it’s a real problem.
3. The Market
It’s one thing to know there’s a problem. But an investor needs to know if it’s a big problem. Either a lot of people have it or it’s a significant issue for a smaller, more motivated group.
This slide is about who potential customers are, how many there are, and where to find them. Resist the temptation to overstate the size of the market. Be equally realistic about competitors, including their market share and depth of resources.
4. The Solution
Now that you have an investor believing there’s a problem and a market for a solution, it’s time to present your solution. Remember to stay high level. If there’s a way to show the solution “in action” through graphics, use it.
You might use two slides to cover this topic. But make sure the second slide adds new and compelling information.
5. Defend Your Solution
In these 3-4 slides, you need to prove that your solution has value to customers, which means they are willing to pay for it.
Give an overview of your business model and your traction in the market. Share corrections you made in response to market reaction, and your road map for the next 12, 24, and 36 months.
Outline your sales and marketing strategies along with key tactics. Describe the pipeline and sales cycle duration. If your product is digital, give an overview of your development and user interface strategies.
6. Your Team
By this point, you should have investors, feeling confident about the solution. Now you need them to know your team is the one that’s going to make it a successful solution.
In 1-2 slides, highlight individual and collective skills and differentiators. Show breadth of perspective and expertise. Give a sense of your company culture and how you deal with success and failure.
7. The Financials
If everything goes as planned, the investor should like the solution and the people behind it. At this point, they want to know how they’re going to profit.
It’s reasonable to devote 2-3 slides to the money. If in doubt, put less on each slide and add to the appendices.
Try to lay it out in a way that tells a compelling story. Don’t shy away from negative numbers. But do show numbers that reflect that lessons were learned.
8. The Investment
In a single slide, let the investor know the amount you’re looking for. Include how you’ll use it. Show when they might start to see a return and how much.
If you’ve built a clear and engaging pitch deck and told a compelling story during a face-to-face presentation, the investor shouldn’t be thinking if they should invest. They should be thinking about how much to invest.
Reviewing the Deck
Creating a pitch deck is an iterative process. Allow for several rounds of feedback to make it as succinct, relevant, and engaging as possible.
Always involve core team members in the review process. Their assessment of accuracy is especially important.
Also, seek feedback from a business coach or trusted adviser. Ask them to comment on the quality and relevance of the content as well as presentation. Encourage them to tell you what they would keep and what they would change.
One Deck Only
Pitch decks, like elevator pitches, shouldn’t be tailored to specific investors. Every investor is looking for the same things: confidence in the solution, the people behind it, and the financial possibilities.
Interested investors will want more information. Have it ready but leave it out of the pitch deck. Instead, create stand-alone appendices.
Common topics covered in appendices include:
- Detailed calculations of customer acquisition costs and sales forecasts
- Details behind market research
- Metrics from beta testing and/or market experience
- Customer reviews and press coverage
Make sure you touch on these topics in your pitch or appendices:
- Data about actual growth of customer base
- Financial projections and actual financial results
- Images of actual product line (or mock up, if still in development)
- Potential exits
- Key assumptions
- Real and potential risks and related mitigation
During reviews, check for and correct these common mistakes:
- Absence of metrics and financial data
- Too much jargon or too many buzzwords
- Exaggerating successes
- Only including successes
- Describing market in terms of number of internet users
- Not mentioning exit plans
- Not focusing on what investors want to know
The Beauty of Pitch Decks
Great pitch decks do more than attract investors. Creating them helps you recognize and articulate your vision, strategy, and story. They help you see blind spots and put successes and failures into perspective.
An outstanding pitch deck is one of the best investments you can make in your own business!