I understand that when it comes to creating the perfect pitch, people often look to templates to give them the answer. But, I have a different view. Yes, using a pitch deck template can give you the basic building blocks of what you need, but it’s just that. It’s the foundation of the building, not the whole structure. Pitching is both an art and a science. A template might give you the science, but the real art is storytelling.
I have nothing against the idea of a pitch deck template and there are many fine examples out there. There is a reason the Sequoia Capital Pitch Deck Template has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times by startup founders when preparing their pitch deck – for a first time founder it gives you a great checklist.
But, and here is the big but, templates will only take you so far. What they don’t allow for is the fact that creating a pitch deck is not just a science, but also an art form. To stand out, you need to weave your story in the best possible way and this is where the art comes in. It is not about simply cramming your story into a template. Every business is unique and therefore the way to pitch it must be unique too.
So templates aren’t everything – but if you’re going to use one then at least make sure you avoid some of the common pitfalls …
There’s a lot of talk about starting with the problem. But sometimes it’s not a problem that you’re solving; maybe just a way of doing something better, or differently, in response to a shift in the market landscape, an evolution of technology, or a shift in consumer trends.
So don’t get totally hung up on the problem statement if it doesn’t work for your story, but you do need to start with something very attention grabbing that gets everyone on the same page fast. Remember that investors, like most audiences, can have extremely short attention spans, which means you don’t have long to get to the point. If you are going the problem route, then don’t just state it, make your listeners feel it. Bring it to life, show them the pain and give them the context. They need to be nodding thinking, yeah, that needs fixing.
What you do
Just say it - in simple language! Just say it so your mum would understand, or your 12-year-old neighbour. Remember: plain language, one sentence. And I know, this can be hard! Think about how you would say it rather than write it - the written word is different and we often get all fancy when putting something down on paper. Often I see decks where either it isn’t written ANYWHERE what the company actually does - amazing but true - or else its scattered over a few pages where you have to take everything together to try and gather up the elements and work it out. Put it in one place in one sentence.
Also, I am not a fan of explaining what you do by reference to someone else’s business, "we are like X (think Airbnb or Uber) for Y”. Investors love to pigeon hole and leap to conclusions so fast you’ve not even had a chance to finish what you’re saying. Your business is YOUR business, its unique! Explain it simply, concisely and clearly, and you won’t need the crutch of the comparison.
Say how you do it - what the user experience actually is
This is different to the above. So, once I get what you do - now tell me again but with pictures! Almost like telling me in theory and then telling me in practice. Show me how it works from a user’s perspective, take me through it – screenshots can be very helpful, flow diagrams for the user journey etc. Anything that helps me understand and brings it to life whilst making it feel real too. Depending on what stage your business is at, seeing images of the product can make it feel more tangible and show progress.
If you’re doing something completely new, you might not have any competitors! I have seen decks where the company genuinely didn't have any real competition in what they did, but felt they needed to put something on the slide so filled it up with businesses in vaguely relevant adjacent areas that weren’t really true competitors at all, which just ends up confusing everyone and making a wide open space look totally crowded!
You need this slide in the deck, but make sure it’s right. And if you do have competitors make sure to be clear on how you are differentiated - don’t assume this is necessarily obvious because you’ve just explained what you do so I should be able to see it for myself.
Market landscape business model and traction
The most common mistake at this part of the deck is that people use crazy large numbers - making wild estimates and getting carried away. This can devalue your proposition rather than the reverse. Knowing your TAM (total addressable market) is important, but don’t focus on it too much; a high TAM value doesn’t necessarily translate into a high degree of demand.
You need to talk about your market share and you need to explain how and why this achievable to be believable - tie it to your business model.
Depending on the stage you’re at then demonstrating traction is ALL important - revenues, number of registered users, active users and traffic generated; whatever the relevant metrics are for your business. This is obviously how you prove that there is demand.
The Team slide
This has to go in somewhere - but where can depend on many things. I’ve seen it at a start of a pitch, the middle and the end. But, bear in mind that investors are very unlikely to take a meeting with you without looking you up on LinkedIn first. They are going to have some idea as to who you are – and perhaps you’re also going to do a brief verbal intro at the start of the pitch that explains a little about your background and what drove your idea in the first place. At the start of a deck the team slide can really interrupt the flow of the pitch and the storytelling. So be careful where you use it.
Whatever you do, whether you are purely following a template or not, make sure that the titles of the slides tell a story. Make sure that as an investor I could flick through your deck and grasp the key points. Then I might flick through it again, take on more of the story… and then email you back and ask you in to pitch me.