We’ve seen too many potent founders come to us for investments with pitch decks that, putting it mildly, could use work. In this post, we want to help you screen noise and understand how to put together a winning pitch deck.
It’s based on our extensive investing experience, as well as our personal entrepreneurial endeavors, topped off with advice from entrepreneurs we work with who managed to secure funding – in no small part thanks to their pitch.
In other words, we’re sharing what has been proven to pass the “investor exam”. Our breakdown is done by topics instead of slides, as a lot of the finer points will depend on what your business is, and a one-size-fits-all approach is no good.
Without further ado, here’s what we think the ultimate outline of a winning pitch deck should include:
Every pitch starts with one, and it typically defines how you set up the entire pitch. This is a pretty straightforward affair but inexperience can lead to missing out on the basics and starting off on the wrong foot.
The cover slide should include the following:
- Name and logo of your startup – if you’re at a pre-branding stage, don’t worry about it. Own your stage.
- Tagline – a one-sentence summary of what you do. Make sure to think this long and hard. What is it that you do? This sentence should be crystal clear. For example “We create mobile games that help people stay in touch”.
- Name of the investor/s you’re pitching to
- Names of your founding team
- Month/year (duh)
The goal of the cover slide is to set up the first impression of your startup. Keep it clean and laser-focused on the elements above so that investors understand what they are about to review.
This is where the juicy parts begin. Your first task is to describe the problem.
Note that as a means to get any point across with maximum effect, nothing beats a story.
Stories have a universal appeal because they easily convey meaning and purpose. They have the power to influence and inspire because they forge connections not just among people, but between people and ideas too. Present your startup in the form of a story that begins with the problem and ends with you and the investor sailing together into the sunset.
Investors tend to prefer entrepreneurs who are solving a problem that they’ve had to deal with themselves. Such businesses typically end up more successful than ones that were based on opportunism alone.
Obviously, if you’re not solving a problem for yourself, you’re not going to portray it as such. In that case, try to put yourself in the shoes of your target audience and show the problem through their eyes. Empathize to make these pain points as relatable as possible.
The key point here is to clearly and objectively underline who has the problem and how it shows up in their lives. You want to paint a vivid picture of why your startup should exist and, ultimately, why someone should invest in you. It’s the beginning of a greater tale of how your solution will solve this painful problem and you need to hook them up.
Data is vital. You need to be able to back up your claim(s) – and how you package it matters.
Make sure that the potential investors see that you’ve researched and understood the industry. You should cover:
- Market opportunity (the potential market size) – a good way to have investors easily understand the scope of the market (and as such, the problem) is to use comparisons.
Let’s say you’re pitching a mobile gaming startup. A data point such as that “Last year alone, the mobile game market generated revenues of $86.3 billion, while the global box office revenue amounted to just $12.4 billion.” helps form cognitive connections. Everybody knows and understands movies so they can easily correlate what you’re talking about.
Make sure to go slightly granular about your respective genre in mobile gaming to convey a more precise industry state. For instance, if you’re in the business of making Strategy games, these had a 21% share of mobile games revenue in 2020.
- Who the leading players in the industry are
- How many other startups in your field have raised in different rounds, and from whom – this helps in understanding what you’re up against, and how much you’d need in order to be able to stand a change in your ocean.
Don’t go overboard with details – stick to what’s relevant for the investors you’re pitching to in order to get a clear picture.
This is the yang to the Problem’s yin. Your goal here is to show how you can make an impact and solve the problem/pain point.
In essence, you’re answering two questions:
- Why your solution
- Why now
In a few words, describe what is your solution to the aforementioned problem, and be specific about what it solves. A simple sentence will explain everything:
“We are solving X (the problem) for Y (our target audience) by doing Z (description of the solution, what exactly we’re doing/building).”
The Solution part is the point of the pitch so it will be tempting to focus on features. As Admiral Ackbar would say, it’s a trap. You have to show the benefits to the investor, which ultimately translates to one of the main reasons why you are the person/team to invest in.
So, tell a story about what life will look like for your target audience once your idea comes to fruition. Paint a clear picture of how their lives will be better and why the time is right for disruption.
Your goal here is to show how you can make an impact and solve the problem/pain point, as well as to go into detail about the business model you have in mind.
This mainly means:
- How customers will pay for it – the pricing strategy, payment methods, and so on.
- Additional revenue streams
Make sure that both your Problem and Solution parts have similar, if not identical layouts. This will make it easier for the investor to recall the problem(s) you want to solve and make the connection quicker.
For many, us at M51 included, this is probably the most important part of the pitch.
This is where you answer the key question: why you?
Investors want to be sure that the team leading the startup is resilient enough to deal with navigating a startup, as well as the ups and downs that are going to be inevitable along the journey. A startup is as good as its team. Period. They want to know about your collective passion and commitment, as well as how you complement each other’s skills and personalities.
The idea is to make it crystal clear that not only are you devoted to building something great but that you’ll be able to handle the storm you’re about to enter and overcome obstacles.
You can convey this by including the following in your deck:
- How long has the founding team known each other and how you met
- Previous projects you worked on together
- Everything that is unique about your team that makes it possible to execute your vision – in the case that you have some previous success in running a startup, be sure to mention that!
- Talent requirements to complement the team (shows that you’re self-aware and know your limitations)
This is also where you mention your board of directors (if you have one) and squeeze a mention of notable members who are already associated with the project. These can be some established, known entrepreneurs or investors who agreed to have their name used as a consultant or some amorphic position. Some entrepreneurs use this trick to raise the sexiness of their pitch, and it’s ok.
Bottom line: you want investors to know that if they let you take the driver’s seat and drive their money, you can be trusted to take the right turns and maximize the potential on the way to what you define together as success.
One great way to kill a pitch is to say “we don’t have competition”.
Yes, you very much do, and you have to show it.
Even if not directly, you’re competing for some share of some market segment. Investors need proof that founders know their stuff. Do your homework and reflect that you’re aware and mature enough to not have tunnel vision (which can be healthy sometimes but NOT at this stage!)
So, you need to show:
- Who your main competitors are (who you’re up against)
- Your position versus the competition, if possible
- Your strengths and weaknesses vs theirs
Point out what truly sets you apart. Use visual elements like the power grid, petal diagram, magic quadrant, or similar to present how three or four of your most significant competitors stack up against you in terms of key benefits, business model, and so on.
This slide explains why you are looking/asking for the investment, how much, and what you hope to achieve with it. Above all, you’re showing how this capital will bring you to a successful milestone realization and create value. It is a key bit of information for investors as it provides them insights whether you match your overall plan or not and if additional money will be needed at what point in time.
So, you’ll be answering:
- How much money is needed
- On what it will be spent
- What it will help realize – your planned infrastructure such as:
- Human capital
- Third-party service providers
Keep things straightforward without big metrics, claims, and unnecessary explanations. Save your detailed breakdowns for questions (more on that further below) that will surely follow after this slide.
It’s critical to show that you can get it done by explaining how you plan to use the invested funds.
You need to show:
- Where your startup is now – if you’ve launched or not, current profit margins and user base (when applicable), product stage and other subjective and crucial information.
- The major milestones you’ve reached – things related to your solution, growth, funding, revenue, partnerships, etc.
- How long it will take to achieve the next/specific milestones with this funding round
As mentioned, the Timeline is a great place to show how you intend to use the funding by explaining two things:
- What your next milestone is/are – number of users, revenue, round A funding, IPO, etc.
- Exciting future products/services and features that are in the pipeline
Depending on the lifecycle point where your startup is, you may need to show more metrics for later stages. At some point, these milestones will be a significant part of what your success will be measured by so make sure to focus on the big, priority stuff and avoid getting into details.
Some startups generate revenue from the very beginning and that’s something you definitely want to show. This will be the foundation of the future financial goals you set. You’ll also have to rely on assumptions based on industry benchmarks when creating your projections. Briefly and on point, talk about:
- Current financial achievements – revenue, profit, expenses
- Financial forecast – three years looking forward is typically enough
- How much money the founding team invested
- Additional relevant information – cash flow, burn rate, as such
Some investors, particularly those at later investment rounds, like to see a cap table included. This is a list, table, or spreadsheet of all of your startup’s securities like stock and options, and those who own them.
However, not all startups are blessed with a revenue stream early on. In this case, leaving out your financial slide might be a better option in favor of a traction slide instead.
Don’t forget to include a final slide with contact details such as company website (if there’s one), email and business address, possibly WhatsApp number and LinkedIn profiles of you and the rest of the founders.
For the most part, there is no right or wrong about where certain parts of content should go. For instance, you can easily insert the ‘Competitive Landscape’ part into the ‘Industry Background’ part where you mention your competitors. One will make more sense to you.
You can also combine multiple segments on one slide such as:
- Growth timeline for the next few years
- Revenue stream forecast
- Users forecast
- Valuation forecast
Additionally, for more established startups that already have some revenue and funding under their belt, it makes perfect sense to expand the pitch deck and include things like:
- Details about the product/service
- Customers and engagement
- Other investors
and so on.
Don’t fret about the number of slides. Investors usually aren’t sticklers for a specific format, just for simplicity. As long as your slides are simple and aren’t text-heavy, the vast majority of investors won’t mind going through a few more. It’s about engaging content and relevant data so if you need to show specific parts on two or more slides – go for it, just keep them focused and light.
Consider that you may also have an opportunity to send out additional info as needed such as the profit and loss (P&L) statement so make sure you have every relevant piece of data ready and on standby.
Remember that in fundraising, storytelling is everything. There are different ways to craft your pitch, meaning there can be multiple topics on one slide. Feel free to experiment a bit as long as you remember that content is the king. When all is said and done, information itself is the most important part; how you present it is secondary.
Bonus: have a ready answer for these topics
Most experienced investors will assume the business model will change, so this is a chance to show your thinking process and how grounded you are. Hence, it’s critical to acknowledge the possibility of a pivot briefly. By failing to do so, you’re essentially showing that you don’t realize the full scope of being an entrepreneur or running a startup.
Why you are a good fit for this specific investor
Some investors might simply ask you:
Every investor has their own thing, interests, and experiences. Some put more focus on the analytical side and numbers, while others prefer to be enamored with a storytelling vibe and personal stakes. By explaining why them, you’re showing between the lines that you see them as the right match.
It’s about doing your homework to not only secure funding but also to see if the investor is a match for your startup. Contrary to popular belief, there is such a thing as the wrong investor. They can demand you give up too much or have a radically different view of the future than you. In the end, it’s important to understand that you’re not looking just for an investor – you’re looking for the right investor, about as much as they are looking for the right investment. Smart investors don’t buy the idea, they buy the people behind the idea.
So, if prompted, discuss the following:
- How their previous investments are inline with what you’re pitching
- If there weren’t any in your particular field, you can present your startup as an opportunity for them to diversify their portfolio (basically, open their eyes to new ideas)
Try to look at it from the investor’s POV. Besides looking at the ROI of the deal, they are also thinking about how they can help grow your startup. If they have strong connections, the probability of investing in a startup in your industry is higher because they know they can leverage their network, as well as previous investments to potentially create synergistic collaborations.
The research of their previous investments may be relevant and at the very least, will definitely increase their attention.
Your exit strategy
At the end of the day, every investor wants to make money, some sooner rather than later. It’s ok to be hung up on your solution as enthusiasm certainly helps sell the story, but there needs to be a clear path to a payoff-exit strategy. It’s a key concern for investors so by showing them who the business can potentially be sold to, you’re closing full circle on your pitch.
Ready for pitching
There are no guarantees you’ll get funded by following these practices. Every investor is different in their own right and, honestly – who knows how their brain works when looking at pitches.
We can promise though, that by following this outline, you’ll cover everything that’s in your power to make the best impression.
Make sure you read our previous post that covers secret elements investors look for in a pitch.