There are a few secret weapons that every entrepreneur needs in their arsenal: an amazing business idea, lots and lots of coffee (like, a stupid amount), and an awesome pitch deck.
Your pitch deck is your key to getting the dollar bills you need to give life to your business. Including the right content can mean the difference between walking out of your meeting a couple hundred thousand (or a couple million) dollars richer…. Or walking out with a firm handshake, a “thanks but no thanks”, and a free coffee mug… if you’re lucky.
We’ve rounded up stories and advice from seasoned VCs, investors and founders to bring you 11 tips on creating a pitch deck that will get you funded.
1. Consider your audience
Before you walk into a meeting with angel investors or VCs, it’s super important that you know what you’re walking into. You want to make sure that you’re pitching the right people, i.e. the ones who are most likely to invest in you. Ask yourself: are they going to pick up what you’re throwing down? Or, in other words, do they typically invest in your type of company?
For example, if your business is focused on changing the world for the better, you’re going to want to target VC firms who are all about investing in businesses looking to make a social impact, like City Light Capital or The Impact Engine. You’ll have much better luck locking in an investment with a like-minded VC firms than with one that’s all about launching the newest and most profitable technologies.
2. Focus your message
Once you’ve identified the right VCs and investors to pitch, you need to make sure have one clear message. This should be a one-sentence take-away that you want investors to remember when you’re done. Your message should clearly communicate two things:
1. The problem. What problem are your customers struggling with?
2. The solution. How does your product or service solve that problem?
The way you present your problem and solution is vital when it comes to getting VC dollars. “The best presentations I’ve been involved with focus on the customer journey and why whatever we’re providing and presenting is going to be a unique and a transforming experience.” says Patrick Llewellyn, CEO of 99designs. “Investors really want you to demonstrate that you truly understand the problem you want to solve with your business and why your solution is going to be valuable and better than the current way that this is done.” Really painting the picture of the problem your customers are facing—and how you’re the company uniquely qualified to solve it—is how you’ll prove your value potential to your potential investors.
3. Give your audience the right information
What VCs want to know about your company is completely different from what your friends or your customers or your mom would want to know, and if you don’t package your information in the right way, you’re going to lose out on investment dollars.
Before they make the leap from “potential investor” to “investor”, VCs need to know:
- Market Size/Opportunity. How many people are struggling with this problem and looking for a solution? How many customers exist for your product or service?
- Your Business Model. How do you plan to make money?
- Proprietary Tech or Expertise. What do you bring to the table? What can only you deliver to your customers?
- Competitive Landscape. Who else is solving this problem for your customers? Who are your main competitors, and how are their businesses performing?
- Your Competitive Advantage. Why are you better than the competition? What sets you apart? Why are you a step above the rest, and how are you going to prove that to your customers?
- Your Team. Who are they and what do they bring to the table?
- Your Go-to-market Strategy. What are the milestones and timeline to make your vision a reality.
- The Financials. How much is all this going to cost? What do you already have secured? How much is it going to make?
- The Investment “Ask.” And how much do you want them to contribute?
All that being said, don’t get too bogged down in the details.
“Investors reviewing pitch decks spend 23 percent of their time on the financial slides, so it can be tempting to fill them with every figure and projection imaginable. You’ll want to steer clear of this bait, however.” says Eli Epstein of CoFoundersLab. “Investors aren’t interested in a barrage of numbers that are really just broad estimates. Instead, they seek honest projections (even if it isn’t hockey stick growth) and a thoughtful analysis of how you calculated them and how you plan to achieve them.”
4. Use your numbers and data to tell a story
VCs are all about numbers and data. They need to know everything there is to know about your numbers and financial data so they can determine whether or not your business is a sound investment for them. But you don’t want to just rattle off a bunch of numbers and bullet points; you want to use your numbers and data to tell a story about your business and customers.
“Start by visualizing simple data (such as sales, revenue, expenses, and user growth) and having an expert check it over,” says Epstein. “Once you’ve done that, work on contextualizing and explaining that information… You always want your commentary to corroborate and elucidate your data, showing investors that you have a complete understanding of how your business runs.”
In other words, the numbers and your analysis serve to demonstrate your in-depth knowledge of your market. This, in turn, corroborates your problem and solution message.
5. Pack an emotional punch
While numbers are without question super important in your startup pitch deck, you also need to build on the story you tell with your data by creating an emotional connection with your audience.
Use your pitch deck to put your VCs in your customer’s shoes. Use storytelling and graphics to create that emotional connection, Your VCs need to feel your customer’s pain, and feel the relief that they’ll experience when your product or service swoops in and gets rid of that pain.
You also need to show your passion. Your investors need to to feel how much you believe in your idea. Because newsflash: your investors aren’t going to be excited about your product or service if you’re not. “When you’re pitching a VC, you have to be appear passionate and well-informed, like you’re the absolute expert when it comes to your business.” says Stella Garber, co-founder and CEO of Matchist. “…the entrepreneurs who are aggressive and show an unswaggering dedication to their companies make a formidable impression compared to those who are more tepid.”
“The ideas that we back and the entrepreneurs we back—there’s so much conviction about the inevitability of success, it’s contagious.” says legendary investor Chris Sacca, whose portfolio includes early investments in little-known companies like Twitter, Kickstarter, Instagram, and Uber (#sarcasm).
6. Convey a sense of urgency
Once you have FOMO on your side, you don’t need to ask people like me for money. They’re lining up to give it to you.
Now, let’s be real: not every startup idea is going to pull at the heartstrings of a room full of VCs. And that’s ok! Because really, the emotion that you need to instill in your investors is FOMO (fear of missing out). You want them to sit in that meeting knowing that your idea is so good, they need to invest immediately—before someone else does.
Sacca faced a serious case of FOMO when he missed out on early investment opportunities at Dropbox and Airbnb and now considers FOMO one of the most influential tools for landing investors. “Once you have FOMO on your side, you don’t need to ask people like me for money.” says Sacca. “They’re lining up to give it to you.”
7. Get straight to the point
Remember how we just spent the last five sections advising you to tell a story and include all sorts of information? Well now we’re going to tell you you need to do it in a concise and straightforward way. You’re writing a short story, not a novel. (We never said convincing people to give you lots of money would be easy!)
“I encourage founders to put their key numbers and traction at the very beginning of their deck. This grabs attention and clarifies the market opportunity, especially if the numbers are good.” says Chance Barnett, VC partner and CEO of Crowdfunder.com. “Don’t make an investor wait until 5 or 6 slides in just to see what is going on.”
8. Keep it short, keep it simple, keep it honest
Keep it short
“Investors have a notoriously short attention span.” says Tony Conrad, co-founder and CEO of about.me. And the longer your presentation, the higher the chance your audience’s eyes are going to glaze over and their minds are going to wander straight to last night’s episode of “The Walking Dead.”
Use your introduction to hook your audience and grab their attention, and then build their interest to a frenzy point as quickly as possible. Let them know right off the bat that you’re not going to take up too much of their time. “State up front your deck is 5-6 slides, and need just 20 minutes to cover the introductory material,” recommends Conrad.
Keep it simple
Don’t try to fit too many words, graphics, data, colors, bells and whistles on one slide. You’ll end up visually overwhelming your audience and your message is likely to get lost in the shuffle.
“Don’t Exceed 20 words per slide. You get one headline phrase, one sentence caption, and that’s it.” says Daniel Eckler, founder of Mylo, an app focused on men’s fashion. Slides aren’t scripts, they’re a visual guide for your audience. Everyone in the room should grasp a slide the moment they glance at it.”
The more information you try to fit on a single slide, the less information your audience is going to process. As Eckler says, “If they’re reading, you’re in trouble, because that means they’re not listening to you.”
Keep it honest
This point is so, so important: when you’re putting together and presenting your pitch deck, make it a rule to practice full transparency. If you try to hide something because you think it’s going to reflect poorly on your business, trust me: your VCs will find out. And it will come back to bite you in the you-know-what.
9. Get your team involved in the presentation
If possible, bring a few key team members with you to run the pitch meeting.
“Investors love teams.” says Mark Suster, Managing partner of Upfront Ventures, a California VC firm that invests in technology-based companies like TrueCar, thredUP and MakeSpace. “They want to see a strong CEO/leader who is in charge, but they also want to see that you can lead talented people.”
Just make sure anyone you bring has something to do. “My golden rule is that if somebody on your team is attending the meeting, they need to talk.” says Suster. “Otherwise they end up looking ineffective or insignificant, and this is especially troublesome if you’re raising money.”
Split up the presentation so everyone on your team gets a chance to shine—and prove to your VCs that you’ve assembled the best team on the block.
10. Make sure it looks great
Design plays just as important of a role in the success of your pitch deck as data or your presentation skills. Your pitch deck design is what your VCs are going to be looking at while you present, and the right design will actually strengthen your message and get you one step closer to walking out of the door with the funding you need.
When it comes to design, you want to:
- Use consistent branding to get VCs comfortable and connected with your logo and brand identity
- Use images that are impactful, relevant, and help you tell your story (not just the ones you think look best). And when it comes to selecting images, try to avoid generic stock. Here’s a list of 30 great sources for free imagery.
- Keep it streamlined and simple
Good design tells your story in a visual way and adds emotional oomph. It can also help you connect with your audience by engaging more of their senses.
11. Make use of these awesome, free pitch deck templates
Your pitch deck is the bridge between you and your potential investors, and those 10-ish slides can mean the difference between your business taking off like a Tesla rocket or falling flat on its face.
To help you rock your presentation, we’ve created three (free!) pitch deck templates, designed by our experts here at 99designs. Use them in conjunction with this blog post to create your own killer pitch deck. Or, if you really want to have investors betting you for a chance to take their money, get a custom pitch deck professionally designed for your business.