You may be tempted to jump straight into Keynote or Powerpoint to get started. Don’t do it! Here’s the secret to a great pitch:
It’s not about the slides; it’s about the story.
So how do you tell a compelling story about your company to investors?
First, figure out which type of story you should be telling and make that narrative into a sandwich, emphasizing the key point at the beginning and again at the end. Next, use your problem and solution statements to emotionally and intellectually engage your audience, and be sure to adequately address all the expected areas in the deck. With all that in mind, you’ll be ready to follow a three simple steps to craft your winning deck.
The first and most important thing to decide about your pitch is which story you should be telling. Fiction may have seven plot archetypes, but pitches tend to fall into one of four narratives, listed here in order of strength:
Be realistic in your self-analysis of what qualifies as “impressive.” Every founder thinks they have an awesome team and technology; the question is, what will investors think? If you’re not sure which story you should tell, then get some feedback from investors or other founders. (Andrea Barrica, a former 500 Startups pitch coach, wrote a blog post discussing these four narratives and other pitching tips.)
A pitch that didn’t go according to plan from HBO’s Silicon Valley.
To capture investors’ attention and help them remember you, open the pitch with your company’s single most impressive achievement to date, and then highlight that achievement again at the very end. This what Dave McClure likes to call the “traction sandwich” (though it could also be a team sandwich or technology sandwich).
Open the pitch with your company’s highest achievement.
If you’re telling a traction story, then call attention to your traction in the first 30 seconds. If it’s a people story, then open by highlighting your awe-inspiring team. You want to capture the audience’s interest at the very beginning so they sit up and pay attention, and then leave them with that One Thing To Remember at the end.
Once you’ve decided whether to tell a traction, team, technology, or vision story and have a good idea of your opening and closing, the next step is to develop a strong problem and solution narrative. This as a key opportunity to get your audience intellectually and emotionally engaged with the problem you’re solving. One of my advisors, Joe Malcoun, once told me this in an email:
I recently heard someone say that a great pitch is one in which you create a conspiracy and then invite the potential investors in on being part of the solution. Present a problem in a way that they are arguing for a way to solve it before you even tell them how you intend to do so. It makes sense. When smart people are confronted with a real problem they go into solutions mode quickly. That’s where you want the investor before you share your own vision.
It’s certainly easier said than done, but has the potential to make your pitch exceptionally engaging if you’re able to pull it off.
We’ve talked about the opening and closing, and the problem and solution statement. What else needs to be in a good pitch deck? Guy Kawasaki’s list of 10 slides is a solid start. I’ve added a couple more, bumping the list up to a dozen:
Some of these are more important than others. For instance, Problem and Solution almost always appear toward the beginning, while Roadmap and Ask might be omitted until you go in for a partner meeting. Also, the number and order of slides isn’t what matters; what’s important is that you tell a compelling story. Story first, slides second.
An infographic of Guy Kawasaki’s 10 slides.
Now that you’ve chosen a story to tell, honed your product and solution narrative, and know the questions your deck needs to answer, how do you go from these abstract concepts to a real, live pitch deck? Here’s a simple three-step process I learned from Eric Bahn, my 500 Startups mentor:
If you follow these steps, you will have a clear, concise pitch deck that an investor can quickly skim the headlines and come away with an accurate understanding of your company and pitch.
Here’s an example—a pitch deck I created for Crema.co while in 500 Startups. Notice how the headlines flow together like a paragraph, and how each slide focuses on a single idea.
You may want to create a few deck variations to serve different purposes:
Andy Spark has created a list of public pitch decks for additional inspiration.
Despite all the advice in the world, creating a great pitch deck is hard work. To make the process as efficient as possible, get feedback early an often—including at the bullet-point stage. Then, start practicing your pitch in front of others and keep iterating. Most decks are never “done”, but constantly evolve.
By figuring out which type of story to tell, crafting your problem and solution as a conspiracy that you invite the investor into, and using the three-step process to create a coherent, focused narrative, you’ll be armed with a winning pitch. Remember: it’s about the story, not the slides.
This is the third post in my Startup Cheat-Sheet series. Here are others: