This article comes from Eva Dobrzanska, who helps early-stage founders with advice on capital raising, scaling, and accessing the right funding. If you're a founder currently raising capital, you can reach out to Eva here.
Understanding how investors think and work will dramatically improve the results you get when reaching out. For instance, VCs receive dozens of pitch decks each day. If your email doesn’t create a sense of anticipation, the investor may not click on your deck at all. If they do, research shows they’re likely to spend around 3 minutes on it. Most will make a judgement call within the first 30 seconds or so. Can someone read your deck in 3 minutes? If not, you need to shorten it.
So what are investors hoping to find in your deck?
Having reviewed thousands of decks, and seen repeatedly what works and what doesn’t, here’s my take on the perfect pitch deck, slide by slide:
Slide 1: Introduction and Elevator Pitch
This is the elevator pitch. Describe in a single statement what you do, what makes you different, why it’s exciting, and why you’re raising. For example:
A financial management tool that is growing 10% weekly, already helping thousands of young people to save, invest, and become financially literate. Raising $1m seed funding to accelerate through paid marketing, and execute signed partnership deals with 7 top universities.
Slide 2: Problem
This should describe the problem and the segment of people that experience that problem. It should be easy to understand, relatable, and very specific. Investors prefer startups that solve a very obvious problem, with the scope to expand to serve a much wider audience later. Ideally you will be able to show evidence, stats, interviews, or research that supports your view that this is a problem worth solving, which can lead to a much larger opportunity later on. Investors know that problems need to cause significant distress or frustration in order for people to take action and adopt new solutions. Don’t pick something too vague or broad.
Slide 3: Opportunity
How can you best describe the market opportunity you are going after? Is there some evidence that will show the scope and scale of the problem you’re solving? What can you show that explains why now is the right time?
Slide 4: Solution
This slide gives more detail about what you are doing. It should echo the elevator pitch from the introduction slide, but go into more detail about the product, explaining what it does, how, for whom, and what the business model is. Try to keep it straightforward.
If you can, include a picture of your product. Visuals can bring your idea to life, which helps investors understand and get excited about what you’re developing. It also helps them explain your idea to other people - perhaps including other investors in their network, who may want to meet you too.
Slide 5: Market
Market size slides all tend to look the same, so if you’re going to include one, make sure it is properly thought out. Also, it’s better to use revenue rather than customer numbers (i.e. your market is worth $1bn per annum rather than your market size is 1m people).
Expect your investors to stress-test your claims bottom-up as well as top-down.
A top-down market sizing tends to be simple: your total target market size multiplied by your target share of that market.
Our target customers spend $1bn annually on savings products. Our conservative estimate of winning just 2% of that market would generate $200m revenue per year.
Don’t do that. Don’t say you’re “conservatively” forecasting just 2% market share. Investors know that winning 2% of a significant market away from the incumbents is a huge task. Top-down alone also means the 2% is completely arbitrary.
A bottom-up approach is far better: total number of customers multiplied by the average revenue per customer per year.
Bottom-up allows investors to validate your claims against your existing data. How many customers do you have already? How much are they paying? If they’re not paying yet, what’s your pricing structure? Are you charging a sensible amount for a believable number of transactions per customer?
Watch out for the market size terminology too: TAM (Total Available Market or Total Addressable Market), SAM (Serviceable Available Market), and SOM (Serviceable Obtainable Market).
Extending our top-down example:
TAM = $10bn (100m students using smartphones, paying $100 annually)
SAM = $6bn (60m students with smartphones who want to save money)
SOM = $60m (1% of SAM that you can realistically convert into paying customers)
Slide 6: Go-To-Market
This slide should explain how you’ll get your product into the hands of your users. Again investors should be able to validate your claims against what you’ve achieved already. Are you expecting your current marketing to scale? Is it realistic that your CAC (customer acquisition costs will stay the same/fall/rise)? Is there a network effect? Is your cost of acquisition currently lower than your average customer lifetime value? How quickly does a paying customer recover the CAC? If that doesn’t make sense to you, here’s a classic explanation of what these metrics mean, and why they matter.
This article is also worth a read: How the biggest consumer apps got their first 1,000 users.
Slide 7: Competition
Whatever you do, don’t say there’s no competition. That’s a pet hate of many investors. It usually means a) there’s genuinely no competition because the idea sucks, or b) it’s a good opportunity, which means someone somewhere is already working on it, and you’re being naive.
Competition isn’t a bad thing. It’s healthy. It gives you an opportunity to demonstrate how you compare to others, and why that means you will succeed when they won’t. If you don’t have any competitive advantage, it’s time for a rethink. This idea may not be worth pursuing anyway! If you do have an unfair advantage, try to demonstrate it (or them!) against four or five competitors. Explain in each case why your solution is superior.
Slide 8: Traction
This is your most important slide. It’s your proof. Some people make this slide 1, with good reason. Many investors skip straight to it anyway!
The traction slide’s job is to demonstrate why this is more than a nice idea… Because it’s working. And yes, you can must have traction pre-launch.
Slide 9: Team
I've heard dozens of investors say that they flick straight through to the team slide. Startup investing, especially in the early stages, is as much about investing in people as in an idea.
- Bring your business to life by including pictures of your key team members. A (front/back) cover shot showing your full team is a nice touch.
- Show what each key person is responsible for, and make sure that non of your key business areas lack an owner (especially product, growth, fundraising, customers). Also, consider including one highlight each, showing what your people have achieved in the past.
Slide 10: Financial Forecast
Investors won’t spend too long on your financial forecast because they know it’s make-believe. Even established companies struggle to forecast accurately, so fort a brand new business, it’s impossible. What this slide should show demonstrate is how you think about your business.
- When do you start making money?
- Do your unit economics make sense?
- Does the business have low marginal costs?
- Can the business scale?
Your forecast should also tie into your market size numbers. Remember when we mentioned number of users and customer acquisition cost? This section is where you can dig deeper into revenue per user, (negative) churn (see below), and lifetime value. It’s way better to show you grasp the fundamental levers that can steer your business, than making a sweeping forecast with nothing to substantiate it.
If you’re not familiar with these terms, do some reading before you start pitching. This stuff is fundamental.
Slide 11: Ask
You will gain a lot of credibility with investors if you can tie together your ask with your financial projections, explained in the context of what you need to achieve before you can raise your next round of funding.
By now, your deck has explained your milestones: how quickly you’re going to grow, how many users you’re going to acquire, and how much revenue you can create. It’s also explained what that will cost - a function of your CAC, churn, and LTV. Your ask should therefore be a direct extrapolation of the above, plus overheads you need to pay in order to do it, plus a buffer of ~6months burn to give you time to complete the next funding round.
If you can explain your ask in this way, your investor will gain confidence that you have a strong handle on the way your business will scale, and what areas of the business will need to grow in order for you to get there.
Entrepreneur-turned-investor, Mark Suster, believes you should keep your ask and your valuation somewhat fluid. Pick a range, not an absolute number for the size of your round, and don’t try to tell investors what you’re worth. Something like:
“We’re hoping to raise $5–7 million in this round. We know roughly how VCs price rounds and we think we’ll likely be within the normal range of expectations. But obviously we’re going to let the market tell us what the right valuation is. We only raise every 2 years so the market will have a better feel for it than we will.”
Slide 12: Thank you
Include your contact details at the end (email is usually enough). If your raise has a close date - include this too.
Last but not least...
Keep your deck and investors updated, as you progress through the round. There’s nothing worse than out-of-date slides, and sending over an update is a great way to remind investors that you’re still raising (and to show them the progress your business is making in the meantime).
Keep your investors updated with a regular investor update (which you can send to both existing and potential investors). Investors love regular communication from their portfolio companies, so this is a good way to demonstrate you’re a founder they’ll enjoy working with. (If it helps, Ankur Nagpal has open-sourced the first 20 investor updates for Teachable, which document the company's path from inception to $1M+ in ARR.
– Featured unicorn image by Joakim Roubert.
– Elevator pitch image by Pexels.
– Problem image by www_slon_pics.
– Opportunity image by www_slon_pics.
– Solution image by Andrew Martin.
– Market size image by Eak K.
– Go-to-Market image by BioSteak.
– Competition image by Andrew Martin.
– Traction image by www_slon_pics.
– Team image by www_slon_pics.
– Financial Forecast image by ErikaWittlieb.
– Ask image by Andrew Martin.
– Thank you image byAndrew Martin.