Your pitch deck will become the single most valuable communications tool to use with external audiences of all types. You will use it for multiple purposes. If you ever decide to pitch at a pitching event, you’ll obviously need one (see related article titled “Why Participate in a Pitching Event” ). And instead of writing a 30-50 page business plan, let your pitch deck serve as the starting point for an expanded version that essentially becomes your business plan (see related article titled ‘Don’t Waste Your Time on a Business Plan’ Doesn’t Mean Don’t Plan).
There are a few different philosophies about this but the flow I prefer to use/see and what I encounter most often is outlined below. For each section I’ve provided a couple of tidbits or things to consider. But I could write an article on each section by itself, so don’t limit yourself to the things I’ve mentioned.
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. The slides in your pitch deck are there to support your storytelling. 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”
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 on slides and deciding about the order of the slides, decide ahead of time what you think/desire the audience to conclude. That’s your foundation and the content in your pitch deck should shine extra light on these areas.
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
- Wow, they’ve got some unbelievable traction already
Typical Pitch Deck Flow
Now let’s proceed with your pitch deck flow, starting with the infographic below.
- What problem do you solve?
- See my related article titled “Vitamin or Aspirin – Which are you Offering“
- See my related article titled “Use Storytelling to Describe the Problem You Solve“
- What market are you in?
- How big is it? (see related article titled “Sizing Your Market“)
- How fast is it growing?
- What are some significant trends that relate to your approach
- 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?
- 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)
- How do you make money?
- What is your average transaction size?
- How do you acquire new customers (customer acquisition model)
- What evidence do you have that your business model is working?
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
- 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 can be mentioned here, if needed
Call to Action
- What do you want from the person you are pitching to?
- Are you raising money? If so, how much and why is that the right amount? (see related article titled “How Much Should You Raise“)
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 $250K (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.”
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 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 augmentation of the flow is to insert a Summary slide immediately before the Call to Action. On this slide, list the three most significant or impressive aspects of your pitch. Just don’t include “soft” items like team passion or commitment. This approach is convenient when your Call to Action relates to fundraising but the audience for a particular pitch isn’t an investor.
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. Maybe also for the Business Model or Traction section 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 can fill in any gaps.
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, consider my idea above about the Summary slide and put both the financials and the Call to Action after the Summary. Keep any financial projections in the main deck section high-level and graphical 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 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.
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.
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.
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 this great article by Kevin Hale.