Design the Pitch Deck: Creating a Great Pitch, Part 2

by Mar 30, 2022

In this three-part post on creating a great pitch, we’ll help you understand the elements of a successful pitch:

  • The startup story—how you conceptually frame the “why” for investors
  • The pitch deck—how you showcase the key points of that story in compelling visuals
  • Your presentation—how you present your story, and yourself, as a winning investment

In our last post, we talked about the importance of story. In this post, we’ll talk about the pitch deck itself: how you showcase the key points of that story in compelling visuals. In our next post, we’ll walk you through the presentation.

A great pitch deck tells your story at a glance and complements what you’re saying out loud with images and key takeaways.

  • The slides communicate the information investors expect to see.
  • The design is attractive, easy to read, and engaging.

Let’s start with the slides.

Pitch Deck Slides

How many slides should you have? There’s no right answer. However, ten slides gives you enough room to communicate the most important information. You may need more or less to tell your story. However many you have, be sure that you will actually have enough time in the pitch to show each slide as you speak. Like a good story, a good pitch is edited. You don’t have to say or show everything, and rushing through slides defeats the purpose of including them.

Here are some basic slides you will probably want to include.

  1. Title: The name of your business
  2. Set up: Paint a picture of the industry or situation your startup is working in
  3. Problem: From your customer’s point of view, what is the pain point? What’s missing?
  4. Solution: Your startup’s product or service that addresses that pain point
  5. Team: Who is on your startup team, and why are they credible?
  6. Market: Investors want to know your TAM and your SAM.
  7. Competition: What is the customer’s alternative to your solution, and how does it compare?
  8. Revenue: How will you make money? What is the business model?
  9. Customer Acquisition: How will you acquire your first customer (or how did you already acquire them)?
  10. Key Next Steps: What are three big things you’re focusing on to grow your startup?

Check out 700+ decks from the best startups that raised over $355M on this pitch deck database from angelmatch.

Tell a Story in Slides

As you create these slides, always keep your startup story in mind, and build rising and falling action like a story. First, slides 2-3 should set up the problem as significant and meaningful. You’re setting the stage for your solution by providing context and building tension.

Slides 4-5 then act as the “Big Bang” that brings relief. Whew! There’s a solution to this problem, and it’s really the only solution that makes sense. Furthermore, this team has exactly the right skills and experience to bring this solution to life. The business is less risky for investors because of this team.

Slides 6-8 show the investors the scale of the opportunity for their investment to pay off. Finally, slides 9-10 show how you’ll make traction and what kind of momentum is building. You’re convincing investors that you are advancing the story of your startup, thus making it more likely than an investment will pay off.

When you pitch, you’re not going to spend the same amount of time on each slide. In fact, 60-70% of your time pitching should be spent on slides 2-4. Make your audience feel the urgency of the customer need, so they get excited about your solution. You want your audience to know you understand your customer, that their need is paramount, and that you have THE product (solution) that will meet their need in the most effective and exciting way. And fortunately, you probably know the most about this part of the pitch! At this point, you should have some inti­mate knowledge of the space, the customer, and the product. Showing that knowledge shows investors you’ve done your work and helps mitigate some risk.

Dos and Don’ts

If your field is very technical, translate it into terms and ideas a general audience can understand. Investors do not have expertise in every field.

  • Don’t litter your deck or your presentation with technical terms.
  • Do use analogies to what investors will know.

For example, OmTherapeutics created an RNA gene therapy for pancreatic fibrosis. The founder doesn’t explain how, medically, the therapy works. Instead, he uses an analogy: “This RNA gene therapy targets all the areas to help fight pancreatic fibrosis. Competing therapies target only one area. If a dam has 20 holes and is leaking water, current technology only allows you to plug one hole. But with OmTherapeutics, you can plug all 20 and fix the underlying structural issues at the same time.”

The team slide is very important. Investors know that startups shift as they learn. They are often investing in the team’s capacity to build a successful startup, rather in the precise product.

  • Do include co-founders, mentors, advisors, and contract employees with relevant experience, connections, or roles. Titles are not as important as showing that you have access to people who have the experience, connections, and knowledge that will make your startup successful.
  • Don’t leave out key roles. If one is empty, indicate that you’re looking for that person. Show you understand who needs to be on the team.

If you’ve been following our startup help series, you’ve already done your homework on the slides for market, competition, and revenue.

  • Don’t say you have no competition. Everyone has competition! Even if it’s simply the customer solving the problem for themselves (for example, doing their own taxes rather than using software).
  • Never say your market is “everyone.” You can’t boil the ocean.
  • Do have a plan for acquiring customers. Even great products don’t sell themselves.

Pitch Deck Design

The way your pitch deck looks is very important. Your choices of images, fonts, and colors, and how you lay them out, should look polished, clean, and exciting. Design is so important that it’s worth hiring a designer if you can. At the very least, ask some friends to give you feedback.

YCombinator has great advice on design.

Dos and Don’ts

Let’s start with the cardinal rule: Less is more. You can say much more than will fit on your slide. Earlier, we suggested you spend 60-70% speaking about slides 2-4. Clearly, you can’t fit 60-70% of your content on three slides! That also means your audience will see those slides for a long time. Make sure they’re visually dynamic, and triple check for typos. By the same token, your other slides won’t be up as long, so they need to communicate content very efficiently.

  • Don’t crowd the slides with content. Focus on making each slide communicate one or two points perfectly, and leave space between the edge of the slide and its contents. Embrace white space.
  • Use images and graphics more than words. Slides should communicate at a glance. If someone has to read at length, or work to figure out the point, that’s not “at a glance.”
  • Turn data to images when possible, and only highlight the most critical data in the slide. Remember, data makes people yawn. Don’t put a piece of your Excel spreadsheet on a slide.
  • Use short words, in simple fonts, in an easy-to-read font size. Avoid elaborate fonts, tiny fonts, and long passages of text.
  • Limit your color palette. If you have a logo or brand palette, use those colors plus neutrals like black, gray, and white. If you don’t have a logo or brand colors yet, limit yourself to two or three colors plus neutrals. And make sure that there’s enough contrast between colors. For example, yellow font on a white background or navy font on a black background can be too hard to read.
  • Don’t use blurry or pixelated images or text.
  • Get someone else to proofread.

Check out Canva’s pitch deck templates, examples, and advice.

Closing Thoughts

There’s one more important thing: don’t create a “read along” pitch deck. What we mean by that is, as you pitch, you should not be looking at your pitch deck and reading off of it, and your audience shouldn’t have to read your pitch deck while you speak, either.

Once you have your presentation ready — practice! Practice your pitch in front of your friends and family. Then practice your pitch in front of a mirror. Record yourself giving your pitch, and watch and listen to how it sounds. Get feedback, and make edits and revisions.

We’ll talk more about how to present yourself and your pitch in the next post.