Typical Pitch Deck Flow (Topic Order)

By March 24, 2013Fundraising
pitch deck

Your pitch deck will become the single most valuable communication tool to use with external audiences of all types and you will use it for multiple purposes. You’ll use it for presentations to investors and if you ever decide to pitch at a pitching event, you’ll obviously need one for that too. In the old days we actually wrote out a 20-30 page business plan. Today, your pitch deck serves as a summarized, and visually appealing version, of a business plan.

There are a few different philosophies about the ideal flow of information in a pitch deck, but I usually prefer to use/see what I most often encounter.  That is what I’ll mostly describe in this article.  I’ll also mention the most common variations.  For each pitch deck section, I’ve provided select tidbits and things to consider for maximum effectiveness.  But I could actually write an article on each section by itself, so don’t limit yourself to the things I’ve mentioned.

This article explores just one of the topics covered in Chapter 4 (Your Fundraising Toolkit) of my bestselling book “Startup Success – Funding the Early Stages”.
You can listen to the pitch decks portion of the chapter now, and if you’re interested in the book, you can
find it on Amazon here.

It’s Your Story to Tell

Before diving into the suggested flow of your pitch deck, I want to mention that your ultimate goals are to Tell a Story and Take the Audience on a Journey.  I often say that successful fundraising involves a transfer of enthusiasm from founder to investor. The slides in your pitch deck are there to support your storytelling and resulting transfer of enthusiasm.

You should also have a “backstory” or theme that weaves through your narrative and explains your original and continued drive/motivation.  An article in the April 2016 issue of Entrepreneur magazine (titled “Five Ways to Tell Your Brand’s Story”) included a couple of examples that I really like:

  • “The old way had to change”
  • “Nothing else like this existed, so we built it”
  • “We know your problem and have a solution”

Foundation

The second key principle for a great pitch deck is to build the slides around a foundation of the most significant conclusions you want the audience to draw.  Before typing words onto slides and deciding about the order of the slides, decide ahead of time what you think/desire the audience to conclude after reading/seeing/hearing your pitch deck.  That’s your critical foundation, and the content in your pitch deck must shine extra light on these areas.  Another way to think about it is to imagine your pitch deck could only support the 2-3 most important things you want the audience to conclude.  That’s the foundation.

Below are some examples to make sure you understand what I’m referring to:

  • This company’s market opportunity is HUGE
  • These founders are total bad asses and winners I want to bet on
  • Wow, they’ve got some unbelievable traction already
  • Their solution is 10X better than anything in the market today

Typical Pitch Deck Flow

Now let’s proceed with your pitch deck flow, starting with the infographic below.

Pitch Deck Flow

You’ll notice the first suggestion for each major section below is to determine the relevant and compelling information best supports your foundation (mentioned above) and to decide what you most want the audience to remember or conclude.  You should outline this before putting content onto actual slides.  Think of it like creating an outline for a book manuscript before actually writing the book.

It is unlikely that you will need to include information for every comment and question listed in each section below.  Rather, use them as a menu to select from, while making sure to support your foundation and desired conclusions.

Problem

  • Is there relevant and compelling information on this topic that supports your Foundation?
  • What is it about this topic that you most want the audience to remember or conclude?
  • What problem do you solve?
  • Why is the problem worthy of being solved?  Hopefully you can describe it as a really nasty problem.
  • Read my related article titled “Vitamin or Aspirin – Which are you Offering
  • Read my related article titled “Use Storytelling to Describe the Problem You Solve

Market

  • Is there relevant and compelling information on this topic that supports your Foundation?
  • What is it about this topic that you most want the audience to remember or conclude?
  • What market is the best target for your solution?
  • What is the total available market size (TAM) and the serviceable market (SAM)?  (see related article titled “Sizing Your Market“)
  • Is the market rapidly growing or undergoing some interesting transformation that you exploit?
  • Are there any significant market trends that relate to your strategy and will help you succeed?

Solution

  • Is there relevant and compelling information on this topic that supports your Foundation?
  • What is it about this topic that you most want the audience to remember or conclude?
  • What is your offering?
  • What value does it provide?  (benefits, not features – see my related article titled “The ‘So What’ Rule“)
  • What does it look like?  (one product shot or screen shot, if elegant, professional and/or helpful to explain the value)
  • Do you have any unfair advantage against competing solutions or alternative approaches to solving the problem?  The focus hear is on the unfair advantage, not just basic competitive differentiation.
  • How does it compare to the competition?  (A 4-quadrant diagram is usually most effective, with your company in the top-right quadrant.  You get to decide what the axis are.  If this doesn’t work for you, consider a multi-column checklist with your company as the first or last column, or possibly a Venn diagram with you in the middle)

Business Model

  • Is there relevant and compelling information on this topic that supports your Foundation?
  • What is it about this topic that you most want the audience to remember or conclude?
  • How do you acquire new customers (customer acquisition model)?
  • How do you make money?
  • What is your average transaction size?
  • What are your unit economics?

Traction

  • Is there relevant and compelling information on this topic that supports your Foundation?
  • What is it about this topic that you most want the audience to remember or conclude?
  • What evidence do you have that your business model is working?  Revenue is often the best indicator, but there are numerous other ways to evidence traction.
  • What is the historical results trend for your selected key performance indicators (KPI)?

If you don’t already have an established customer acquisition track record, see my related article titled “Establishing Valuation Before Revenue Traction” for additional ideas

Team

  • Is there relevant and compelling information on this topic that supports your Foundation?
  • What is it about this topic that you most want the audience to remember or conclude?
  • Who are the key members of your team and what are their roles?
  • Are any of them specifically relevant to the opportunity you are pursuing (domain expertise, etc)?
  • Advisors and board directors can be mentioned here, if needed (especially when your team size is still very small)

Call to Action

  • What do you want from the person you are pitching to?  It’s usually funding.
  • Are you raising money?  If so, how much and why is that the right amount?  (see related article titled “How Much Should You Raise“)
  • What will you accomplish if you get what you’re asking for.  In other words, if you’re raising funding, what will you accomplish over time via the new funding?  This is really important and you can get more insights in my article titled “Investors Write Checks for Outcomes, Not Activities“.

Most sections will only have 1 slide.  The solution section is the one that might have 2-3 slides because you might decide to drop in a screen shot and might decide to show how the solution compares to competition.  The Business Model or Traction sections might have more than one slide, if you have more important things to say than will fit on a single slide.  Your objective is not to jam as much info as possible on each slide but rather the important info.  And your narrative dialog while presenting the slides can fill in any gaps.

Most Common Variations

Some investors/VCs like to learn about the Team first.  If the experience and credentials of your team is one of your biggest selling points, then I can certainly see the benefit of covering it first.  If not, then I prefer to first get the audience super excited about the problem you solve and the way you go about solving it.  Then, you don’t have to hide behind any team deficiencies and hopefully you’ve already secured some solid advisors to help show how you’re shoring up the team gaps.  And never forget that if all else fails, traction can save the day, because it’s almost impossible to argue with evidenced traction!

Another possible variation involves describing the Solution before the Market.  Sometimes Problem-Solution-Market flows better and is more logical than Problem-Market-Solution.  A test drive of your pitch deck can help confirm for your situation.

Some founders insert a Summary slide immediately before the Call to Action.  On this slide, list the 3-4 most significant or impressive aspects of your business plan.  The objective of this slide is to make sure the audience identifies and digests the most important things right before hitting them with your call to action.

Pitch Decks During the Pre-Launch Stage

If you don’t have a shipping product and paying customers, you might be frustrated by all of the recommended things to consider including in each section.  Don’t worry, every startup has a pre-launch pitch deck and you will too.  Instead of communicating what you’ve already done, communicate what you are planning to do and what you expect to happen.

I wrote an article titled “Your Initial Business Plan is a Huge List of Assumptions“.  The examples of important assumptions I describe in that article are what you’ll include in your pitch deck.  The quicker you can validate the assumptions, the quicker you can update your pitch deck accordingly.

Slide Titles & the Glance Test

Don’t title your slides “Problem”, “Market”, “Solution”, etc.  That’s missing a huge opportunity and just wasting real estate on the slide.  Instead, what is it that you want the audience to conclude for each slide?  A short version of that is the best title.  Also make sure to use my “So What?” rule to get to the best possible message.

Here’s another trick.  When you’re done with the slide titles, copy and paste them into a document by themselves, but in a sequenced list.  Imagine your audience only saw that list of slide titles.  Does it seem exciting and compelling?  Does it flow correctly?  Where are the high points of most excitement?  Sometimes starting and ending with these high points can be a good strategy.

These two tips also help with what I refer to as the “glance test”.  If you’re ever required to email your pitch deck to a prospective investor before being able to present it, they usually will give it a quick glance by flipping through the slides.  When I say “quick”, I literally mean 20-30 seconds total, in order to determine if they want to go back to the first slide and spend 4-5 minutes giving the whole deck a closer review.

During their quick glance, they will mostly read the slide titles and look at any diagrams/graphics/graphs as well as any big, bold text.  Titling the slides as I’m suggesting here will dramatically help you pass the glance test.

Other Tidbits

In highly simplified narrative form, the final result might flow something like this: “There is this really hair-pulling problem in a huge market.  We developed an ideal and unique solution, figured out an efficient model for making money (business model), and have evidence (traction) to validate that our business plan and long-range vision are sound.  We’ve assembled the perfect team and just need $500K (call to action) to achieve our next significant set of milestones and continue on a track to make you a lot of money in return.”

What about financial projections?

Some startups like to incorporate 1 slide for this.  I usually recommend having 2-3 slides for the backup section (see more about that below) that pertain to operational and financial projections.

If you decide to incorporate it into the main pitch deck, keep any projections at a high-level and using a graphical format to help tell your story.  If the investor wants to “double-click” on them, you can have additional details in the Backup section.

What about a backup section?

I think it’s fine to include material in the backup section.  This usually represents the things you wanted to put on the main slides for a given topic/section but couldn’t find room and couldn’t prioritize it higher than the other content you put on the slide.  The reason to have it in the backup section is to be able to respond to a specific question where the added content is helpful when answering.  The last time I raised a Series A, after about the 15th investor meeting the backup section was longer than the main section.

Charts and graphs, roadmaps, financial projections and the like can make for good backup section content.  But if you ever need to email the pitch deck to a prospective investor, you might want to remove the backup section.  Remember, your objective is to get a face-to-face meeting and you don’t want them making their full decision based on your emailed pitch deck alone.

What about your exit strategy?

I don’t personally like including this in the standard pitch deck because it come across like you’re potentially too anxious to sell the company as soon as things get interesting.  I think it’s better to show how you’re going to build a great company and let interested investors ask the exit strategy question.  Check out my article titled “Answering the Exit Strategy Question” for more insights.

———————————————–

Easy, right?  Now you just need to fill in the proper content for each section.  At a minimum, take your existing pitch deck content, arrange it this way, and give it a try to see what you think about the new flow.  It must feel natural and get the desired reaction from the person/audience you’re pitching to.  If not, refine and repeat until it does.  Also remember to keep the So What and Yeah, Right rules in mind as you make bold or important claims.

I didn’t cover anything related to pitch deck format and style.  If interested in that for an on-stage demo day presentation (different than an investor pitch deck that can have more detail and is typically viewed from 2-10 feet away), check out my free streaming video titled “Preparing for a Pitching Event” at the top of the Videos page and read this great article by Kevin Hale

Don’t binge read my whole blog, just order the book!!!

Dramatically improve your odds of fundraising success by reading my book titled Startup Success: Funding the Early Stages of Your Venture. It leverages my knowledge from making more than 200 early stage investments and from raising more than $80M in private and venture capital.

Learn More

“Startup Success is so actionable that I immediately started applying the concepts as I read. After reading the book, I now have a plan of attack with a very high level of confidence and certainty.” (Ramon Berrios, CEO, Trend)

“Whether you’re a first-time founder or have already raised millions from VCs, Startup Success is a book you want close by before hitting the fundraising trail!” (Andy O’Hara, Founder & CEO, Chiron Health)

Want Notifications When I Post New Material?

Either select the preferred method on the top-right side of this page or complete the form below.