For any startup that is meeting with investors during a fundraising round, there is one adage that is pretty much eternal: You only get one chance to make a first impression.
Like a first date or a job interview, an investor pitch leaves little room for error; if the person you’re meeting with comes away with any doubts about you, there’s little chance you’ll get a second date or the job or an investment into your startup. But as with the first round of a job interview (but less like a first date), a decision is rarely going to be made after your first meeting with an investor.
What that first meeting is meant to accomplish, then, is not necessarily to secure fundraising; instead, you’re looking to sell the investor(s) on your team, your product or service, the market opportunity and your long-term vision. And the key points that can convince investors of these things should all be effectively made in your pitch deck.
One of the challenges of putting together a pitch deck is knowing what to include and what to leave out. If you are one of the founders of your startup, it can be difficult to show restraint because this is your baby and like any doting parent, everything is important about your baby.
The problem is that if your pitch deck is essentially one big word vomit, then good luck counting on investors to parse out those key points that would actually convince them to pour money into your startup.
“Quick, highlighted takeaways and data points make for a compelling pitch deck,” says Tracy Loi, senior product designer for RocketAir.
In other words, don’t turn your pitch deck into a research paper or case study which can often rely on a significant amount of text that’s occasionally broken up by charts, graphs and data points. People will go into a 50-page research paper expecting to read a lot; they don’t go into a pitch deck with the same expectation.
“Don’t put your whole speech in a pitch deck,” Loi says. “Big blocks of text feel like essays.”
In order to avoid turning your pitch deck into an essay that can be a slog for investors to get through, it might be useful to think of it as a visual extension of your elevator speech: You want investors to easily and quickly come away with an understanding of what your startup does and why they would be compelled to invest in its future.
This means that you shouldn’t get sidetracked by trying to add a bunch of bells and whistles to your deck.
“You’re ultimately convincing someone that your company will be a profitable business,” Loi notes. “Things like title slides, a table of contents, page headings and page numbers are really unnecessary, as are the traditional ways of text formatting, which can make the process feel rigid and less fluid. Unless your deck is 30 pages long—which it should never be—I swear you won’t need page numbers that could potentially go out of order and make you look unorganized.”
An important rule of thumb when making your elevator speech, or elevator pitch, is to not waste any time getting to your point. The whole idea, of course, is to have someone be swayed by the point you’re making in the time it takes to complete an elevator ride.
While your pitch deck doesn’t have to make your point in quite that short of a time span, you should aim to make sure you don’t make investors wait until the final slides before they have a clear idea about your company. Loi explains:
Your plan-of-action, go-to-market, or product roadmap should be told in a visual way that's clear, measurable, and tangible. Usually it comes at the end and feels like an afterthought when building a deck. You should prioritize getting it right.
What you include in the content of your pitch deck could vary based on your industry and your business, but there are takeaways that nearly every investor is going to want to come away with after reading through your slides. These include information on your team; the problem and how you’re solving it; the market opportunity and how you can capitalize on it; and how you would be using investor money to help you grow your business and take advantage of the market opportunities.
In terms of what platform to use when creating your pitch deck, Loi suggests utilizing Google slides. Not only is it free (always a bonus for a startup), but it allows your team to share, edit and leave comments that you can revert to throughout the process.
Ultimately, when creating your pitch deck you should always err on the side of restraint and clarity.
“Don’t overthink it,” Loi says. “Decks follow a rough outline that most investors are familiar with, so there’s no need to tell an elaborate story that makes your company sound like a cult disguised as a ‘lifestyle brand.’ You’re addressing an unmet need in the market—don’t preach to the choir like you’re solving for world hunger.”