So you’ve decided it’s time to raise funding for your startup. You call up a few key advisors, board members, or investors you trust to chat about the raise. Inevitably, one of the questions raised is ‘What shape is your pitch deck in?’ Truthfully, the deck isn’t in shape because it’s one of 50 things on your to-do list and half of those things keep the day-to-day business running.
You finally sit down on a Sunday night and open old slide decks you’ve cobbled together to document or promote your startup offering. Fortunately, you have plenty to work with. Maybe too much content. Maybe some gaps. You try to reconcile deck advice you’ve received and realize it’s all over the place. Frustrated, you turn on HBO and swear you’ll get to it on Monday.
Having lived this experience, this post serves as a reference point for a typical, solid startup pitch deck that is shared with VCs. The goal is to provide you with guidance and guardrails around your deck content – to get you from aggregating content to crafting your story.
What is a Pitch Deck, and What is it Used For?
Is this context, a ‘pitch deck’ refers to an overview document or set of slides that is shared with VCs to inquire about an intro conversation and/or to walk through during that intro conversation (e.g., a 30-minute call) – with the purpose of raising capital from one or several of these VCs in the near-term. Thus, this is a short overview of your business value prop, market uniqueness, and avenue for growth upon receipt of additional funds. This deck is different from a short teaser, a ‘fireside chat’ deck, a sales presentation, or a Confidential Information Memorandum (CIM) typically used in a later-stage private placement or M&A process.
Pitch decks may vary depending on a number of factors. This includes who you are sharing it with (e.g., investor expertise, confidentiality), the length of the meeting, your company strengths and current status, and your own presentation or story preferences. No ordering of the slides or resulting flow that creates is ‘correct’ – rather, one should experiment and choose something that resonates internally and with any early ‘friendly’ investors willing to review your pitch and provide feedback.
Three Characteristics of a Strong VC Pitch Deck
There are unifying characteristics of most strong pitch decks, however. Typically, a VC pitch deck for an early-stage company is:
Compatible with a 15 minute or less voiceover (often 10-20 slides): Because this deck will be used as a discussion device in many 30-minute intro conversations, one should be able to hit the high points of the materials in half the time. This is because you’ll likely spend the first few minutes of the intro call talking about the weather and getting acquainted with the VC firm (e.g., their elevator pitch and intros). Then, engaged VCs will likely intersperse questions during the presentation or have follow-up questions at the end of your slide walkthrough. You’ll also want to save a few minutes to discuss follow-up timing and any specifics related to fundraise progress. Typically, 10-20 slides is a good range for the pitch deck, given these constraints.
Send-ahead ready and standalone: This deck may be shared directly with the investor or passed along via a mutual connection. The deck may also be shared internally between members of an investment team to socialize the investment and garner momentum to invest in your company. In both instances, the deck should have sufficient context on your company (what it does, what is has accomplished, where it’s going) to hook the reader and get them on a virtual call to learn more. If the ’what’ is confusing, the VC might not understand what the business does and move to the next inbound investment inquiry. If too detailed (e.g., 50 slides), the VC probably has more than they need for an introductory conversation and you’ve probably overshared. Too much content without voiceover could be just as ineffective as over-obscuring company success or plans.
Repeatable across investor types: This is a pitch deck that may need to be shared with a hundred potential investors and presented 100+ times. Thus, it is often preferable to design a pitch for the generalist investor, instead of the thematic or specialist investor. This saves you from constant reworking of the deck or saving 10+ versions specific to each type of investor. Contrary to some advice, avoid the temptation to include detailed technical diagrams or process slides in your materials (or at least simplify to something that is digestible for the lay investor). You will still have time and opportunity to nerd out on technical aspects with technical investors and show those investors how smart and thoughtful you are. You may find, however, that they’ll also appreciate your ability to explain complex aspects of the business more simply. These materials can go in the appendix or in the data room for follow-up conversations.
What Topics Should my Pitch Deck Cover?
In addition, while no pitch deck structure is perfect, a good deck often covers a number of different slide topics or ‘types.’ Most points specific to each topic can be covered in a single slide, but some may require two or three slides to properly address (one slide is often a good starting point, however).
Below are these topics distilled into a discrete set of bullets – to serve as a starting point for deck creation and structuring. Not every topic needs to be covered. For example, a company that does not leverage unique trade secrets or protective IP (e.g., many CPG brands) does not need to have an IP slide. A company that is not impact-focused or mission-driven probably should not have a standalone impact or ESG-story slide. If there isn’t a compelling or gripping ‘why now?’ story (besides needing funding to grow or survive), then those points can probably be voiced over elsewhere.
Our 16 Pitch Deck Topics
Mission Slide: This slide simply describes the mission of the company – the ‘why’ versus the ‘what.’
Problem: This slide discusses the pain point(s) that a startup has identified, who this negatively impacts, and the magnitude of this impact.
Solution: Solution content should touch on the Company’s unique product or service, and what it ultimately is doing to remediate the aforementioned pain points.
How it Works: This slide details the work or steps that goes into either creating, onboarding, and/or using the product.
Revenue Model: This slide should emphasize the primary and secondary/tertiary way(s) a startup generates revenue, now and/or in the future.
Differentiation: This slide should highlight and/or reiterate a startup’s competitive advantage.
Traction: This slide details the most compelling indicators of Company direction to date – whether that be through customer adoption and use, growth over time, partnerships, or otherwise.
Market Size: This slide connects the revenue model detail with a macro view of the offering and its potential.
Intellectual Property: This slide emphasizes the unique IP that is involved with the offering and can also discuss potential IP that could be developed over time.
Team + Stakeholders: This slide tells the reader who is running the company – not only the CEO, but also the other key players.
Growth Plan: This slide details thinking on next steps for the business, telling the reader what additional capital could do to transform the business.
Funding Need: What do you need to execute on this plan? What are you raising, and what will those funds go toward?
Financial Projections: This slide indicates how a startup expects its financials to evolve over the coming years (often next 5 years).
Impact / ESG: This slide characterizes the positive impact (realized or potential) that the company can have – any positive externalities from an environmental, social, or governance perspective.
Case Study: What are the specific customer use cases, with ROI?
Why Now?: Why is this the right time to invest in and grow the business?
The more clearly you can lay out each of these areas in your deck (and supporting detail in your data room), the more easily investors will be able to conceptualize and socialize the important points internally. One way to make the slide topic very clear for investors is to include the slide type (e.g., ‘’Market Size” or “TAM”) as a small sub-header on each slide. (These sub-headers are helpful regardless when constructing and reviewing the deck internally, and can be removed before sending externally - you can think of them like 'training wheels' for your pitch deck.)
Here is a corresponding ‘Bingo card’ with these slide topics, as VCs will be thinking about each of these areas as they craft investment memos to present to their investment committees.
Once you have the strawman, you can commence with adding content around the headlines and refining your story. Within the Ridge application, we have modals that go into greater detail, describing relevance of each slide type for a VC – including potential pitfalls and best-in-class aspects based on review of myriad pitch decks. For more pitch-related content – downloadable designs, story, and more – sign up for a free trial of Ridge today.