The Startup Pitch Deck

by Adam on October 10, 2013

What makes a good startup? There is a long list of things, including team, vision, market opportunity, but even with the best startup idea in the world, entrepreneurs still need to have a strong handle on how they pitch the idea to investors if they want to stand a chance of bringing their idea to market. Enter the startup pitch deck.

The anatomy of a startup pitch deck can vary from industry to industry, and I’ve sat in on many presentations where the deck changes greatly depending on the type of company. The most successful examples I’ve seen always use powerpoint or PDFs, and are used to tell a strong narrative about the opportunity. I usually recommend entrepreneurs keep their pitch decks to no more than 15-20 slides, using more than that usually means that the story is not succinct enough and is getting bogged down in too much detail.

The below is a bit of an outline for how to frame your startup pitch deck, with a slide-by-slide overview. One important thing to keep in mind when putting together your pitch deck is to sell vision, not process. While it’s useful to include a slide or two on what the product or service will do, don’t spend the majority of your presentation talking about how it’s built or what it does. Instead, focus more on why the market needs such a solution, how it will change the current processes, and what that means for potential market opportunity.

  • Title Slide – An obvious one, but for a personal touch, in addition to your company name, include the company name of whomever you are presenting to and the date of the presentation.
  • Landscape – Also know as the “problem” slide, this is meant to give a bit of background on how the market exists today and why it is broken.
  • Proposed Solution – Here, you answer the problems of the previous slide with relevant and concise solutions, thinking ahead to what bullet points will strengthen your argument in favor of your company’s product or service
  • Company Introduction – After proposing the solution, you now introduce the company, explain what it does, and how it fulfills the relevant solution(s).
  • Team Background – Probably just as important as what the company does is who’s behind it. Give short bios for each of the people on your team. Bonus points for talking about how your backgrounds led you to start the company, making sure that the passion and interest in such a solution are clear. If applicable, either as part of this slide or another right after, include information about advisors, mentors, or networked connections that can help you to launch successfully.
  • Competitors – It’s helpful to show that you’ve also done relevant due diligence on the space by exploring potential competition. Talk a bit about each of the main competitors and include information about what they do, and how you’ll do things differently (or where they fall short).
  • Progress to Date – Depending on the state of your fundraising, you may have progress to show, or not. If so, include it here with relevant metrics (revenue YTD, unique visitors, registered users, downloads, etc) as well as the timeline it took to achieve those results.
  • Timeline – Once you’ve laid the groundwork about what’s been done already, explain more about what your milestones are for the next 12-24 months. For the first year, include a month-by-month breakdown of relevant milestones, and then for the second year, include semi-annual milestones.
  • Fundraising Details – Also known as the ask, this is where you include information about how much money you are raising, by what date, and any structured terms of the deal you feel comfortable sharing at an early stage. Also, if you’d already circled money in this current round, be sure to share that detail.
  • Use of Funds – Once you have the money in hand, what will you do with it? While some of this may have come out in your milestones timeline, it’s useful to annunciate exactly what the money will go towards. Marketing? Hiring? Development? User acquisition? Whatever it is, make it clear that the money will be well-spent by also explaining what the expected goals of such fund usage will be.
  • Specific Follow-up – So as not to let the opportunity pass, end the presentation with a slide that asks for specific follow-up/next steps. It could be anything from a second meeting, reference checks to relevant contacts in your network, or more materials (such as detailed financial analysis), but be sure not to leave the meeting without some kind of follow-up in place.
  • Appendix – If there’s anything you need to include that doesn’t fit into the above framework, you can include it in the appendix for additional information/resources.

When you set up a meeting with an investor, decide in advance if you’d like to use the pitch deck or not. If you decide you’d like to, make sure to send it well in advance of the meeting (at least a week, and perhaps more), and do not use the meeting to walk through the deck slide-by-slide. The assumption, although you should confirm this at the start of the meeting, is that any investor will have reviewed the deck in advance, and will hopefully have feedback and questions. Instead, use the meeting to give a high-level overview of the team, the company and what it does, as well as any analysis on competition and progress to date (much of the information that you’ll present will also be in the deck, but I’ve spent many a meeting walking with an entrepreneur through slide information that I had already reviewed and it wasn’t a good use of anyone’s time). When in doubt though, ask whether the investor would like to walk through the deck, or would rather have a conversation about the company. My gut tells me that most will choose the latter.

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