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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

4 Steps to Creating an Amazing Pitch Deck

Pitching investors is daunting. You have to tirelessly arrange meetings, only to hear people tell you why your company won’t work. Even successful companies (that eventually end up raising millions of dollars) hear the word “no” dozens of times when fundraising.

Pitching has its upsides though: In addition to the whole potential money aspect, you get to develop your company’s story and talk about strategy with a bunch of smart, experienced people—and that can only help you in the long run.

And while the most important part of any pitch is the company itself, putting together a great presentation can help you get both initial meetings and eventual term sheets. Here are a few tricks to get you started on the right foot.

1. Scrap the Business Plan

Investors hear from dozens of companies every day (sometimes more) and don’t have time to read through bulky business plans, as well-thought-out as they may be. Instead, focus on telling your story through a short deck—about 8-12 slides (more on what you should include in those below). When it comes to pitching, this will serve a dual purpose: You can email it to investors to pique their interest and then use it to tell your story while meeting in-person as well.

2. Start Early and Get Feedback

While you may have been able to pull off last-minute presentations in college, your company’s pitch will benefit greatly from forethought. Ideally, you should go through 10+ rounds of showing and giving your pitch to knowledgeable friends, mentors, and other entrepreneurs before pitching your first potential investor. Each person you show it to will be able to provide new tips and ask new questions. I spent about two months gathering feedback from people I trusted before showing our deck to a single investor.

3. Answer the Important Questions

There are lots of great resources out there covering what should be in a pitch deck, each a little different, but all of them focus on getting to the important stuff as quickly and succinctly as possible. In a nutshell, you want to anticipate the questions potential investors will ask, then answer them in your presentation.

Here are the questions that we answered in our seed pitch deck, each with a single slide.

  • Who are you and why should investors care? At the seed stage, investors are making their biggest bet on the team, so it’s important to show why they should take you seriously and believe in you. Include a brief professional bio for each co-founder, focusing on what each person brings to the company. If you have advisors, list them as well.
  • What’s the size of the opportunity? How big is the market you’re targeting, and how is it changing? How much of it can you reasonably capture? Seed investing is risky, so most investors want to see that there’s an enormous potential upside if the company is successful. Many companies choose to put this later in their pitch, but we found that investors took things more seriously when we moved market size and trends up.
  • What’s the problem you’re addressing? This is a great opportunity to show why investors should care emotionally about your company. When fundraising for InstaEDU, we talked about students who would contact our in-home tutoring company looking for a last-minute tutor. If investors had children themselves, we’d talk about struggles over homework and pressures to do well. If they didn’t, we’d chat about the college experience.
  • What’s the solution? This is your chance to show the goods. For us, this slide had two short sentences, a big screenshot, and a link to a demo. We started fundraising as we finished an early version of InstaEDU, and despite the fact that the site was very simplistic at that point, we were much more effective with investors when they could see our service in action and try it themselves.
  • How does it work? Actually showing how your product works using text and images is helpful when you send someone a deck and know he or she might not go through the demo. Keep it simple, though. Ours was just four screenshots with a short sentence each. Boil your product down to its most basic functionality.
  • What kind of traction are you seeing? If you already have users, this is your chance to show that your product appeals to real people. Depending on where you are with the product, this can be as simple as showing that out of 10 people testing it, five come back every day.
  • Who are you competing against? Share the main players in the space to show you’ve done your research—then, more importantly, talk about why you’re better.
  • How are you going to grow? What’s your plan for marketing and distributing your product? Show that you have a viable way to reach the market that you said you were going to capture.
  • What do you need financially? This is your chance to say how much you’re trying to raise, where you are in the process, what you plan to do with that money, and how long you expect it to last. We kept this slide basic, but linked to a more complex financial document in which investors could see what calculations and assumptions led to those numbers.
  • Wait, what was that again? This one is a little less common, but I liked ending with a summary slide. This can help remind investors of the most important aspects of the company without having to flip back through the deck.
  • It’s tempting to put a lot more information in your deck; after all, there are many more things that you’ve been thinking about (e.g., your product roadmap, more detailed go-to-market strategies), but keeping your messages crisp and concise is important to make sure that you drive the most important points home. A good solution is to create the additional slides you want to fit in but don’t have space for, and then put them in an appendix at the end. That way, if those topics come up in conversation, you can flip there for a visual guide.

    4. Refine, Refine, Refine

    Don’t be afraid to adjust your pitch as you talk to more and more investors. You’ll see what piques people’s interest, where there are often questions, and where you tend to get out of order, so make use of these learnings for the next meeting. I liked keeping our deck as a Google Doc so that anyone we’d sent it to always had the most recent (and theoretically, best) version.

    Putting together a great pitch can be time consuming, but it’s well worth it. Remember, it can save you dozens of hours of meetings if it helps you land the right investors sooner!

    All dressed up and nowhere to go? In my next article, I’ll provide some tips for landing investor meetings.

    Photo of woman pitching investor courtesy of Shutterstock.