a) startups that ask me for help to refine their own pitch deck
b) VCs/Angels who pass them to me for investment consideration
c) entrepreneurs who are pitching me directly
In b) and c) the decks are generally complete. The quality of the b) ones coming from other investors is typically pretty good, because these decks have already been vetted and refined along the previous food chain. But the c) batch coming from entrepreneurs runs the gamut on the good, bad and ugly spectrum.
In the a) pile, I work hands-on with startups to help them make a better deck, and I have been doing that for over a dozen startups in the past 45 days. What I’m seeing is that pile a) is where founders agonize the most about what goes inside these decks.
For many startups, it is their first time pitching to investors. And their key goal is to get in the door. So, it dawned on me that these pitches are a bit like resumes, because resumes are supposed to get you an interview, and decks are supposed to get you a more in-depth discussion with investors.
So you can take most of the conventional advice about resume and apply it to startup decks. Length matters. It should be long enough to get attention and open the door for an invitation, but not too long. Too much design is distracting. Try to be different without being sensational.
Rather, I will talk about pitch strategies. The type of deck will depend on where you are in the process.
If you are raising from angels for the first time, don’t bloat your deck with everything. The resume analogy applies 100%. This week, during a final mentoring session with a startup I’m working with, they tried to cram everything into 17 slides for a 3 minute “graduation pitch”. I jolted them and said to stop worrying about putting everything there. The goal of a 3 min pitch is to make an impression with the audience, so it’s OK to leave questions unanswered. That invites investors to want to talk to you later.
If you are presenting to a large audience, it’s important to make an impact. Prepare your presentation style as much as its content. The audience will remember your presentation probably more than your slides. Search YouTube videos about Y Combinator and Techstars demo day pitches and watch some examples.
If you are sending a deck that is part of an ‘investment round” package, and you know that sophisticated angel investors are on the other end, then you can be more elaborate than if you were seeking just an introduction. There, focus on answering anticipatory questions that investors may have. I like to see 1 or 2 slides with 3-5 FAQ’s that are addressed via a very short answer. This shows you’re being predictive and reading the investor’s mind. You can come up with the FAQs after showing the deck to a handful of trial run investors who will ask you these questions, or your mentors can also help you identify these FAQ’s.
Another factor is whether you’re going for a larger Series A. Larger rounds may require more details about your business, especially on the traction side. There, you need to be as quantitative as you can. Larger rounds assume you’ve got some traction, and you’re beyond the product/market fit stage, so you need to be generous in providing credibility with numbers.
I don’t like it when some accelerators impose a very strict format and asking for a lot of detailed numbers and projections. That forces the entrepreneur to invent things and write fillers that aren’t credible. It’s ok to offer general guidelines on what you’d like to see in a pitch, and better to let the startup be creative in how they’d like to pitch you. Their clarity (or lack of) and approach will be more telling about them, than if you try to enforce cookie cutting. A rigid structure could dampen the personality of the startup which needs to also come out.
Finally, don’t forget the product demo. It’s part of the pitch. If your product demo has a good appeal about it, you can insert a short video clip of a user using your product, or a direct link where the investor can try it directly. If there is no product linkage, some investors may assume that you’re either not ready with it, or trying to hide something. Let the product seal your pitch.
So, don’t cram everything in the deck. Give investors a reason to want to contact you and connect with you to learn more.
Hook them with your deck. Don’t bore them.