Typical Pitch Deck Flow (Topic Order)

By March 24, 2013Fundraising
pitch deck flow

Your pitch deck will become the single most valuable communication tool for external audiences of all types. You will use it for multiple purposes, but especially presentations to investors.

If you ever decide to pitch at a demo day or 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 to consider.

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 and don’t assume that everything mentioned in a given section applies to your startup.

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 suggest some ultimate goals. Specifically, to Tell a Story and Take the Audience on an Exciting 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.”


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 want the audience to conclude after reading/seeing/hearing your pitch. That’s your critical foundation.

The content in your pitch deck must shine extra light on the identified areas that will derive the desired conclusions. Another way to think about it is to imagine that 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 example conclusions 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.
  • The problem they’re solving is something that desperately needs to be solved.
  • Their solution is 10X better than anything in the market today.

Typical Fundraising Pitch Deck Flow

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

Pitch Deck Flow

Now let’s double-click into the sections mentioned in the infographic. You’ll notice the first suggestion for each major section below is to determine the relevant and compelling information that best supports your foundation (mentioned above), and to decide what you most want the audience to remember or conclude. You should identify this info before putting content onto actual slides. Think of it like creating an outline for a book manuscript before actually writing the chapters of the book.

It is unlikely that you will need to include information for every topic and question listed in each section. Some might not apply to your company. Rather, use the bulleted info as a menu to select from, while making sure to support your foundation and desired conclusions.

If you have not yet launched your product, you won’t yet have responses or evidence for some of the items listed below. Instead, consider foretelling what you believe will be true. In the early days, your business plan is a huge list of assumptions (you should my article by that exact title here). Share those key assumptions via your pitch deck and be prepared to defend them.

The Problem Being Solved

  • 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 that desperately needs to be solved.
  • 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

The Market Being Served

  • 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? A “market” can be an industry, type of customer, or type of consumer.
  • What is the total available market size (TAM) and the serviceable market (SAM)?  (to understand how to properly calculate these, ready my article titled “Sizing Your Market“)
  • If the market is rapidly growing or undergoing some interesting transformation that you exploit, it might be worth mentioning?
  • Are there any significant market trends that relate to your strategy and will also help you succeed?

The Solution That Was Developed (or is being developed)

  • 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 – ready my related article titled “The ‘So What’ Rule” for a tool that will greatly help with this)
  • What does it look like?  (one product shot or screen shot, if elegant, professional and/or helpful to explain the value)  Don’t give a full product demo, unless requested.
  • 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 sometimes 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.

The Company’s 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 important unit economics?

Evidence of 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 usually the best indicator, but there are numerous other ways to evidence traction.
  • What is the historical trend for results you selected as key performance indicators (KPI)?
  • If you’re working on something that won’t generate revenue traction for years (ie – solutions that require regulatory approval or years of research), evidence your traction via the milestones you’ve passed along the way towards your ultimate commercial product launch.

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

The 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?
  • If any team members are specifically relevant to the opportunity you are pursuing, make sure to call that out. This could relate to domain expertise (industry, technology), a prior exit in your market, or something else.
  • 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.
  • If you’re fundraising, how much are you raising and why is that the right amount?  (For more on this, read my 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 fundraising, 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 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 bring solved and the solution that solves it. 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, you would recap the 3-4 most significant or impressive aspects of your business plan. Basically, the info you identified at the start of this exercise for your foundation. The objective of this slide is to make sure the audience identified and digested the most important things, right before hitting them with your call to action.

Number of Slides

Most sections will only have 1-2 slides. The solution section is the one that might have 2-3 slides. That’s 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 2-3 slides, 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 onto each slide, but rather the important info. Your narrative dialog while presenting the slides can fill in any gaps.

Revisions and the Backup Section

One you’re using your pitch deck on the fundraising trail, you’ll get questions and concerns that will lead to needed revisions. But how many revisions is normal. Listen to my 3 min podcast recording on that exact topic for an answer. I also talk about the magic of the Backup section in your deck and how to best use it.

Startups With an Initial Focus that Will Evolve Into a Really Big Idea

This is an interesting dilemma that comes up from time to time. Some startups have a really, really big idea, but one that’s going to take a while to evolve. In the meantime, they have an initial focus (smaller idea) that gets them started down the path towards the big idea. Should their pitch deck start by describing the problem/market/solution associated with the ultimate big idea or the starting smaller idea?

Below is a paraphrased summary of how the two approaches come across:

Big Idea First

There’s this massive problem that desperately needs to be solved and we believe we have the team and the vision to do it. But since there is a lot that needs to be accomplished to achieve the big idea, we are going to start by focusing on (the initial focus – smaller idea).

Smaller Idea First

There’s this very identifiable and immediate problem that needs to be solved and we already have some traction with the solution we’ve built. But wait, there’s more! This puts on a path to (the really big idea).

The benefit of describing the big idea first is that the audience is likely to lean in and pay close attention. They might initially get concerned that the startup is taking on too big of a challenge. But they’re soon going to learn about the evolutionary plan for pursuing the big idea.

The audience might conclude it’s a sound and logical plan. Or they could get concerned that the startup might not achieve enough momentum with the initial idea to continue the pursuit towards the big idea. Or maybe they’ll worry about hitting some major issues while working on the smaller idea and selling the company before ever really working on the big idea.

I find that pitching the smaller idea first works best when it’s associated with a good-sized market and something that could get the company to $100M or more in revenue. With those attributes, the “wait, there’s more” section of the pitch deck truly comes across more like moving into a bonus round, versus just getting to the exciting stuff.

Having said all this, I find that the only way to figure out the best sequence, for startups with this dilemma, is to test drive both approaches. See how it feels and closely gauge the reactions.

Fundraising 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 your answer is often 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 gets to see 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 your pitch with 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. Quick enough to determine if they want to go back to the first slide and spend a few 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

Following are some questions I often get from founders regarding the content and flow of their pitch deck.

What about financial projections?

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

If you decide to incorporate projections into the main part of the pitch deck, keep them at a high-level and use a graphical format to help tell your story. If the investor wants to dive deeper into them, you can have those additional details in the Backup section.

What about a backup section?

I think it’s great to include material in the backup section. This usually represents the things you considered putting 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. It comes 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.

You’ll want to read my article titled “Answering the Exit Strategy Question” for more insights into this.


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.

In this article, 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 lesson module titled “Pitching Your Company”.  It is one of four lesson modules of my free course titled “Funding the Early Stages”.  You can find that on my COURSES page. I can also suggest this great article by Kevin Hale

P.S. – I generated the featured image for this blog using the generative AI tool Midjourney. The prompt I used was “startup founder creating the storyboard for a presentation, technology, futuristic, interesting lighting, –ar 16:9″

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