To pitch or not to pitch…

Team discussing on a pitch

…is never the question! Rather, the dictum seems to be, “If you are an entrepreneur, you must pitch”! Startup founders who don’t go out and seek funds are a rarity nowadays, much to the delight of content folks like us: after all, they fuel our bread and butter as we toil on investor decks, explainer videos, value prop statements and website content for them.

Investor decks or pitch decks are often the first step towards ‘gelling’ as a team, yet, one of the most contentious things among startup founders. I think it’s because many times, a deck is the first time that co-founders may sit around a table and start putting pen to paper as to what their understanding of the value proposition of their product or service is. I’ve been in meetings where co-founders have argued about their value proposition till the cows came home – rather, till our office manager booted us out. They came back the next day, argued some more, but we did manage to get a winning deck out!

These decks are used to pitch first to investors, and then in some modified form, to mentors, early adopter customers, prospective employees and other stakeholders up and down the chain. They’re a crucial piece of collateral to get the product journey off the ground.

The three Cs that matter

What is it about these decks? For one, a pitch deck is a crystallization of the value proposition, as I said, and the plans for the first few years – where your total addressable market (TAM) and serviceable/available market (SAM) and serviceable obtainable (SOM) are, where you hope to make money, how you plan to do it and so on. Although it requires a lot of work – market research, competitive analysis, pricing strategy creation, revenue number crunching – to get to these numbers, the end result is almost always crisp – beware of pitch decks that go on and on into tens of slides. Finally, it makes sense that the deck must score high on clarity of messaging – when you have a few minutes with your target audience, you better ensure your story is on point and easy to understand.

The ideal size? Around 10, according to the legendary Guy Kawasaki, whose pitch deck structure I love and use as a foundation while starting new pitch decks. I also love this recreation of the original Airbnb pitch that the Pitch Deck Coach has helpfully put on Slideshare.

How does one build a pitch deck? Let me narrate our process here at CB. We have a discovery call (or two) with our client and pull in all the necessary information from them. The information roughly falls into three categories:

  1. The offering (product or service) – this could include the product story (the why?), the value proposition (the uniqueness versus everyone else in the market), the features and benefits.
  2. The financials – this could be the TAM and SAM, any market and competitor data regarding pricing, pricing packages, business and revenue models, and related details. It could also include an operations plan for the coming year or two. In essence, the road to using the funds well and making profits
  3. The team – the founders and their stories (why do they feel passionate about building this product?), their credentials – academic, business success, past startups. This information is part of what I call the ‘trust building’ – showcasing to investors that their money is in safe hands with a sound team that knows what they’re doing. This is also an opportunity to do a little bit of name dropping and relationship-building with your investors!

We then take this information and build our storyline – we have a couple of in-house variants on the different templates.

The work on the deck begins once the client signs off on this core storyline. We bring in copywriters and/or senior folks to finesse the headlines and make the on-slide copy crisper. We often give a storytelling touch to the narrative. The visual designers step in to build the beautiful infographics and slide layouts that make the deck memorable. [Side note: We always recommend keeping the visuals clean and uncluttered. Less is more, is our mantra. But some clients like more of everything!]

What’s on screen?

Some clients ask us to build a script for them that they memorize before delivery. Whether the script is a set of bullets or a detailed narration is an individual choice. Frankly, I would sweat bullets if I had to memorize a detailed narration, but I’ve seen some folks ace it! I’ve also worked with some master presenters who just take their cues from what is on screen to talk extempore. Such presenters don’t need much on-screen to weave their magic – a few images and keywords will do. Others prefer more detail on-screen – if there are multiple narrators using the same deck, this is often the case. Your mileage may vary.

Another note on what goes on the screen – please stay away from fancy animations, exit and entrance effects and things that crawl on the screen. These almost always go awry at key moments and they are terribly distracting anyway. Also avoid fancy and custom fonts. If you’re using someone else’s computer to present (as is often the case with pitch events), take a PDF version along with you – a PPT may not render well if that computer does not have the fonts you’ve used.

Scaling while pitching? 

One of the key asks from startup teams is to build ‘scalable’ decks. I recommend this approach from experience: I’ve supported a startup founder in the minutes leading up to a major pitch when they told him he had 3 minutes and needed to pitch with just one slide! So, work with your content/design team on three formats for your deck:

  • A single slide ‘infographic’ approach for a 3-minute ‘speeding dating’ pitch
  • A three slider – product, revenue/business model, team – all in infographics for a 10-minute pitch
  • A more elaborate 10-12 slide deck for all other cases. This one should encompass the previous two sets, if possible.

So there you have it! A primer on building pitch decks for all seasons and all reasons. If your end result is quite simple and startling, it’s a great job done, in my opinion. Go out there and get that funding with the deck! We wish you more wind under your wings as you go out and conquer the marketplace.

Carpe Diem!


If you’d like CB to build your pitch deck, let’s talk.

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