By Richard Harroch
Startups frequently prepare a “pitch deck” to present their company to prospective angel or venture capital investors. The pitch deck typically consists of 15-20 slides in a PowerPoint presentation and is intended to showcase the company’s products, technology, and team to the investors.
Raising capital from investors is difficult and time consuming. Therefore, it’s crucial that a startup creates a great investor pitch deck by articulating a compelling and interesting story.
In this article, I provide important advice for creating a strong, thorough, and engaging investor pitch deck, along with guidance on presenting to angel and venture capital investors. I also provide links to sample pitch decks you can check out for reference as you begin the process of building your own.
Important Do’s and Don’ts for Investor Pitch Decks
Too many entrepreneurs make a number of avoidable mistakes when creating their investor pitch decks. Here is a list of preliminary do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.
What to do:
- Do include this wording at the bottom left of the pitch deck cover page: “Confidential and Proprietary. Copyright (c) by [Name of Company]. All Rights Reserved.”
- Do convince the viewer of why the market opportunity is large.
- Do include visually interesting graphics and images.
- Do send the pitch deck in a PDF format to prospective investors in advance of a meeting. Don’t force the investor to get it from Google Docs, Dropbox, or some other online service, as you are just putting up a barrier to the investor actually reading it.
- Do plan to have a demo of your product as part of the in-person presentation.
- Do tell a compelling, memorable, and interesting story that shows your passion for the business.
- Do show that you have more than just an idea, and that you have gotten early traction on developing the product, getting customers, or signing up partners.
- Do have a soundbite for investors to remember you by.
- Do use a consistent font size, color, and header title style throughout the slides.
Don’t do this:
- Don’t make the pitch deck more than 15-20 slides long (investors have limited attention spans). If you feel you need to add more information, include it as an appendix.
- Don’t have too many wordy slides.
- Don’t provide excessive financial details, as that can be provided in a follow-up.
- Don’t try to cover everything in the pitch deck. Your in-person presentation will give you an opportunity to add and highlight key information.
- Don’t use a lot of jargon or acronyms that the investor may not immediately understand.
- Don’t underestimate or belittle the competition.
- Don’t have your pitch deck look out of date. You don’t want a date on the cover page that is several months old (that is why I avoid putting a date on the cover page at all). And you don’t want information or metrics in the deck about your business that look stale or outdated.
- Don’t have a poor layout, bad graphics, or a low-quality “look and feel.” Think about hiring a graphic designer to give your pitch desk a more professional look.
Make Sure to Review Other Pitch Deck Examples
In creating your pitch deck for investors, it’s extremely helpful to view other sample pitch decks. A great many pitch decks are available online, including:
Check out this sample investor pitch deck for Recuperate.com (a mobile app startup) that I created, which incorporates the advice I give in this article. This sample can be downloaded for free and used as a template for your own investor pitch.
What Are the Key Slides You Want In Your Investor Pitch Deck?
You want your investor pitch deck to cover the following topics, roughly in the order set forth here and with titles along the lines of the following:
- Company Overview
- Mission/Vision of the Company
- The Team
- The Problem
- The Solution
- The Market Opportunity
- The Product
- The Customers
- The Technology
- The Competition
- Business Model
- The Marketing Plan
- The Ask
Try to avoid deviating from this format, as investors expect this type of presentation.
1. The “Company Overview” Slide of the Pitch Deck
I’m a big believer that the page after the cover page should be a “Company Overview” where you summarize in 4-6 bullet points your business, what problem it solves, where you are located, the experience of the management team, and any key traction already established.
For example, here is what your “Company Overview” page could say:
Your company overview page should grab the reader and convince them that your company has the opportunity to grow big.
2. The “Mission/Vision” Slide of the Pitch Deck
In this slide, you want a crisp summary of the mission/vision of the company. Some examples of a mission include:
- “Our mission is to be the enterprise solution for cybersecurity holes in a company’s data storage.”
- “We are the mobile solution for millennials wanting to invest in the stock market.”
- “We are the Uber-like on demand solution for house cleaners.”
The “vision” can be the goal you think you could become, such as “Our vision is to become the leading e-commerce company for individuals recuperating from injuries.”
Think of this slide as your 15-second compelling elevator pitch.
3. “The Team” Slide of the Pitch Deck
Many investors believe that a company’s team is the most important determinant of whether or not to invest. “The Team” slide will typically include:
- Pictures of the key team members
- Titles of the team members
- Short summary of prior employment of the team showing domain experience and relevant expertise
- Advisors, consultants, and Board members (sometimes included in this slide to bolster credibility)
4. “The Problem” Slide in the Pitch Deck
You need to define the problem or need your startup is solving, including:
- How big is the problem?
- Why is it important?
- Who are you solving the problem for?
- Who are the target customers?
5. “The Solution” Slide in the Pitch Deck
Since the prior slide articulated the problem, “The Solution” section of your investor pitch deck should articulate your proposed solution and why it’s better than other solutions in the market. This deck should be carefully coordinated with the “Product” slide of the pitch deck, as there may be some overlap.
6. The “Product” Slide of the Pitch Deck
You must clearly articulate what your company’s product or service consists of and why it is unique, so “The Product” slide of the pitch deck should answer:
- What are the key features of the product?
- Why do users care about the product?
- What are the major product milestones?
- What are the key differentiated features of the product?
- What additional product features are planned?
Images, visuals, and videos can play an important role here—don’t just have lengthy written explanations.
7. The “Market Opportunity” Slide of the Pitch Deck
Investors want to invest in big opportunities with large addressable markets. On your “Market Opportunity” slide you want to:
- Define the market you are in.
- Set forth the dollar market size.
- Include graphs showing that your company will be addressing a large part of the addressable market.
8. The “Customers” Slide of the Pitch Deck
If the company has early customers, a “Customers” slide can be powerful and add credibility. Normally, the logos of customers that are well known are included in this slide page. Here is an example of this page, which highlights both customers and partnerships of the company:
9. “The Technology” Slide of the Pitch Deck
Investors will be particularly interested in your underlying technology (both existing and that in development). This slide of the investor pitch deck can address:
- The basic technology backbone
- Key intellectual property rights the company has (patents, patents pending, copyrights, trademarks, domain names)
- Why the technology is or will be superior
- Why it will be difficult for a competitor to replicate the technology
10. The “Competition” Slide of the Pitch Deck
The company’s competitors will always be an issue to investors. Your “Competition” slide should anticipate the following questions:
- Who are the company’s competitors?
- What gives your company a competitive advantage?
- What are the key differentiating features from your competitors?
You really have to show an understanding of the competitive landscape and be prepared to answer questions about your competitors. If you don’t understand your competitors, then the investor may conclude that you really don’t understand the market.
11. The “Traction” Slide of the Pitch Deck
A company that has obtained early traction in some way will be viewed positively. A “Traction” slide is sometimes, but not always, included in the pitch deck (sometimes the company’s progress/traction is just sprinkled through other slides). The “Traction” slide can cover the following:
- What early traction has the company gotten (sales, traffic to the company’s website, app downloads, growth metrics, etc., as relevant)?
- What strategic partnerships have been consummated?
- How can the early traction be accelerated?
- Press and accolades
12. “The Business Model” Slide of the Pitch Deck
The investors will want to understand your business model. So this slide can address key issues like:
- How do you make money?
- What is the pricing model?
- What is the long-term value of a customer?
- What are the customer acquisition channels and costs?
13. The “Marketing Plan” Slide of the Pitch Deck
No matter how good your product is, you will need to have a good marketing plan to get customers or users. The “Marketing Plan” slide of the pitch deck can cover:
- What key marketing channels will you use (paid search, social media, TV, radio, email marketing, etc.)?
- What early successes have you had and what channels have worked?
- What are your preliminary customer acquisition costs per customer (and, correspondingly, what is the projected lifetime value of a customer)?
- What PR will you be employing?
- What early press or buzz have you gotten?
14. The “Financials” Slide of the Pitch Deck
Investors will want to understand the company’s current financial situation and proposed future “burn” rate (monthly or yearly cash loss while the company is developing and marketing its product).
The “Financials” slide sometimes includes the following:
- Three- to five-year financial projections
- Unit economics
- Burn rate
- Key metrics that are important to the business (such as annual recurring revenue)
- Total revenue and expenses
- Key assumptions
Make sure your projections are not unrealistic; you don’t want prospective investors to immediately question your projections as absurd or just not believable. Avoid the trap of saying you will grow revenues by 10x in one year but only increase sales and marketing costs by 2x.
15. “The Ask” Slide of the Pitch Deck
Near the end, you should have a slide entitled “The Ask.” On this slide you should address:
- How much money you are you seeking (a range is fine, such as “we are seeking $2-$3 million in financing”)
- How long you think the financing will last (15-18 months)?
- What major milestones you think you will be able to reach with the financing
- What your key use of proceeds from the investment will be (e.g., technology and product development, new hires, capital expenses, marketing, etc.)
- Who your existing investors are (highlighting any well-known investors)
Here is a sample slide from my sample investor pitch deck:
For related information, see:
A great investor pitch deck can make obtaining financing for your startup much more likely. But you need to make sure the story is compelling and interesting. You must address the topics that investors expect to see.
Copyright © by Richard D. Harroch. All Rights Reserved.
About the Author
I write about startups, venture capital, mergers and acquisitions and Internet companies. I am a Managing Director and Global Head of M&A for VantagePoint Capital Partners, a large venture capital fund in the San Francisco area. My focus as a venture capitalist is on investing in Internet and Digital Media companies. I am the author of several books on startups and entrepreneurship. I am also the founder or co-founder of several Internet companies, having sold them to NBC Interactive, LexisNexis and D&B. I am the co-author of Poker for Dummies and a Wall Street Journal bestselling book on small businesses. I was also a corporate partner at the law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, with experience in startups, mergers and acquisitions, strategic alliances, and venture capital.