We have been able to come up with a simple 5 steps template for the invincible pitch deck after having worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs and having helped them raise millions of pounds in pre-seed and seed funding.
Putting together and delivering a pitch deck for a business idea can be a very stressful time. Trying to squeeze your dreams and all your hard work into 3 minutes may feel daunting and overwhelming at first.
If such a thing as the blank page fright exists, we know that the ‘blank pitch deck’ fright is even more daunting.
Where should you start? Is there a structure or template that you should use to deliver a powerful and compelling pitch?
Our job is to help hundreds of entrepreneurs raise their pre-seed and seed rounds in the millions, every year. Over time, we have iterated and perfected a template for the invincible early-stage startup pitch deck.
Let’s review this template together step by step.
First of all, what is a pitch?
A pitch is your opportunity to tell a compelling and credible story. As simple as that.
After having failed many times in our careers, we have learnt that there is no better way to convince investors, judges, panelists and corporate executives alike than to tell them just what they are expecting to hear:
- We are solving a big problem that matters
- With a clever and innovative solution
- That customers want
- Executed by a team that can deliver
- We just need your money/support to make an impact
In fact, it’s a very simple story, made of just 5 points, but it works because it is able to tell everything your audience needs to know: what you do it matters, it’s special, it works and customers want it, you can do it and you have a clear plan.
The ground rules for an invincible pitch deck
Before we expand on each of the five main points of your compelling story, let’s make sure we are aligned on the ground rules.
First of all, there are two types of pitch decks
- The one that you are going to present on screen in front of a panel of investors, judges or execs
- The one that you are sending over via email that will be read throughly, potentially after being printed
In this tutorial, we are focusing on the pitch deck to be presented on a screen. There are a few things to be taken into account
- Use 45+ pixels as font size. Writing text with big fonts forces you to be concise and to limit yourself to just a few words maximum per slide. Why do we want this? The simple answer is that if the audience is busy reading what’s on the screen behind you, they won’t be able to listen to what you have to say
- Use figures. Figures are able to tell the same story as 100+ words, but in a more credible way. A number on a slide will do justice to the size of the opportunity, the pain of your customers, the uniqueness of your idea, the strength of your business model and most importantly the traction of your business idea than any other words. The audience will see a big number on the screen, and will focus on your words while you explain why it’s so important.
- Use images and logos. Since the deck you are preparing is supporting your talk – and not replacing it – images will do a great job on the slides together with numbers and simple short sentences. We recommend teams to include things that can help make the idea become real: photos of them on the field, mockups of their products, prototypes being used by clients on the field, anything you’ve got to support your story and make it real will help enormously.
Ok, now that we have agreed on the ground rules, let’s review the five steps of your story, one by one, and let’s see which slides you can use to illustrate them.
Step 1: we are solving a big problem that matters.
Your audience is very likely to have seen a stream of pitches before you. Execs in large companies do back-to-back meetings, investors see multiple startups during office hours and judges or panellist have seen many other pitches before you. It’s extremely important that you punch them in the face – not literally – right from the start. Perhaps they are thinking of sneaking out for a drink? Or checking their twitter feed for a second? Or replying to important email or notifications?
Well, here’s your pitch, make sure they understand, they better pay attention from now on.
How do you do this? That’s exactly the job of the first three slides of your pitch.
Key message: what we do in one sentence.
We have seen that the following format is very helpful to create anticipation and provide an understanding of what you do: “we help [your customer segment] achieve [their goal]“.
The most common mistake for founders here is to describe what they do. Try to focus on the benefit you are delivering to your customers, instead of the tools you are using to deliver it, and you’ve got this.
Key Message: we are solving a big problem that matters
This is the moment when you can capture the audience’s attention and keep them glued to your story until the end.
Explain why what you are doing matters, using impactful figures and stories as much as possible.
Make sure everyone understands that there is a big problem at the moment, or a giant opportunity lost.
Key message: this is why that big problem is still happening today
Now that everyone understands the impact of what you are working on, it’s time to explain why that big problem exists, or that giant opportunity is lost.
Why are all these people are dying? Or why is all that money wasted every year?
We find that what you wrote in your lean canvas under “problems” (see here how to compile the lean canvas for your great idea) and then you have validated through customer discovery interviews (see here how to run them and the key questions you should ask).
Our recommendation is to make sure the problems you are reporting are strictly linked to the impact in the previous slide. We are telling a story, and everything should be linked.
Step 2: with a clever and innovative solution
At this stage you should have spent at least 30% of your time to make sure everyone is aligned on the problems you are solving and why they matter.
What you don’t want to do is to assume everyone in the audience appreciate the complexities and the details of what you are doing.
Besides, if they don’t understand the context of the problems that you are solving, then how could they appreciate the value of your idea?
Here comes the exciting part: you are unveiling your big idea.
Key message: this is what we do to solve it
We recommend to put in these slides what you wrote in your lean canvas under “solutions” (see here how to compile the lean canvas for your great idea).
Just make sure each part of your solution is strictly linked to the previous slide. There should be a solution for each problem, one by one. Not doing this will deeply confuse your audience.
A super important point: show any data you’ve got that demonstrates the impact of your solution on the big problems you have illustrated in the previous slides. Even if it’s coming from small scale pilots or trials, it will help deliver a compelling story.
Another recommendation is: if you’ve got something, show it! A mock-up, a prototype, pictures of customers using your product, quick videos showing your product in action, show it. It will make everything real, and relatable.
Depending on the length of the pitch, you might want to add a competitive analysis to demonstrate how your idea is delivering in a unique way the benefits that matter the most to customers. You can find here a detailed tutorial on how to compile a customer centric competitive analysis.
Business Model Slide
Key message: this is how we are planning to make/we are making money
At this point, it should be clear enough how you are creating value. That’s the real job of an entrepreneur: to solve big problems, to have an impact with clever and innovative ideas, to generate value for customers and ultimately for the entire society. It’s just fair to say that, if you are creating value, you should pocket some of that value for yourself. A win-win for everyone.
Why don’t we share with the audience how you are planning to do that?
We recommend to put in this slide what you wrote in your lean canvas under “revenue” (see here how to compile the lean canvas for your great idea).
Step 3: that customers want
This is a key part of the entire pitch, this slide is the stare of the entire deck. That’s where you are really playing your cards.
So far you have been making great promises: solving a problem that matters, with a clever and innovative solution, making money in the process.
It might be the best story in the world, but it’s now time to demonstrate that it’s real. It works, and customers want it!
Key message: this is the evidence that customers want our solution
We define traction as the evidence of early positive market response. A business idea with traction is what makes the difference between a vision and a hallucination.
Getting traction is the key job of an entrepreneur, so you might want to be focused on that from day 1.
Have you achieved sales? A high returning rate for customers? Have you got pre-orders? Have you got thousands of orders on your waiting list? Have you got at least a decent conversion rate for your landing page?
There are really no excuses to go to and pitch with showing traction. Especially when you have a long list of initiatives you could put in place to get traction, most of which don’t require any investment at all. Check it out here.
Step 4: executed by a team that can deliver
You might have noticed, the more we go ahead with the pitch, the more we are grounding it into reality. You have just shown how you have been able to demonstrate that customers want a solution which is solving it in a clever and innovative way, a big problem that matters, and you can make money out of that. Very good. Now let’s deep dive on how that was possible.
Key message: this is why we will deliver what we promise
Considering what you have achieved so far, your team must be a stellar one. Let’s elaborate a bit more on the team members in this slide.
We recommend on this slide to include any achievement that can reassure execs and investors that you can deliver what you promise.
- Previous jobs achievements?
- Previous relevant experience?
Our recommendation here is to put everything you got. As usual, figures and logos will help deliver the message more than a thousand words.
Step 5: we just need your money/support to make an impact
This is the closure of the pitch. Since the purpose of a pitch is to ask, make sure you always finish with this slide. What we need to do is to show our audience that we have a clear understanding of what the key milestones ahead are, and what we need to do in order to get there.
Timeline And Request Slide
Key message: why your money/support will make the difference
This is the final step. We started with big aspirations and promises of impact, and we finish with a plan and asks.
There are two key elements in the final slide:
- Show a timeline. A key factor of trusting someone to deliver a promise is having visibility of a clear plan of action to achieve their objectives. So what are the three/four key meaningful milestones you want to achieve next, and when? The recommendation here is to show a timeline 3- 4 key steps that would signify sensible progress for your venture (e.g. first trial started, the first sale, 100 customers signed, etc)
- Have a clear ask. Whatever the milestones on your timeline are, you must be there, pitching in front of an audience, because you have a gap to fill. You need something, that’s why you are pitching, right? You’ve done an amazing job so far, done everything you possibly could to make progress, but you need help to bridge the gap between today and the milestones in the future. So now is the time to say it: which kind of help do you need? Is it money? How much and to achieve what exactly? Or is it some form of support? In which form, and to achieve what exactly?
Now that you’ve got an invincible pitch, it’s time to deliver. Make sure you give yourself enough time for rehearsals and watch your body language, and go rock it!