High Pitched Assessments: The exhaustive list of what makes a good pitch deck
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From the number of slides to structure of the content, here’s what you need to know
A pitch deck is the first time a potential investor looks at your business. Hence, it makes sense to ensure that it hits all the right notes from the word go.
What makes this especially challenging is the fact that VCs often spend as little as four minutes on each deck, as shared by Chetan Bhatia, Co-Founder of Honest Create, a company that works with founders to create compelling pitches.
So, what can you do to ensure that your deck represents you well?
The first step towards building a good deck is to ensure that the founders are the ones who are building the deck
Mohit Bansal, founder of Deck Rooster, which helps founders articulate their stories for sales and investor presentations, says, “I truly believe the process of making a deck gives you a lot of clarity. If you are choosing to be a founder, you should get your hands dirty and learn this process. The more iterations you go through, the more lessons you learn.”
Make it clear whom the team is pitching to: the customer or the investor. The language and details in both cases differ and often, if used incorrectly, the message doesn’t land.
Who are you?
One point to ensure complete clarity is on is: “what does your company do?”
“I think we spend a lot of time trying to figure out that very clearly. Visual thinking is also one of the tools we end up using, which is basically simply sketching out things when you’re thinking about, you know, how does the money flow from the customer to the company, and if there are multiple stakeholders,” says Bansal.
Looking at the service/product from the POV of the customer can help. “It's easy for someone to understand Swiggy as a food delivery company. But, if you start looking more closely, we'll start seeing them as more of a transportation company. They do a lot of other stuff. So, they become like a transportation layer. But if you have to now explain that transportation layer to someone, it becomes very hard,” he adds.
Your deck should explain what the various processes in your business are and how they come together for the final product. Who are the various stakeholders and how do they engage with each other? Can you share how each team works and where the value add comes in? How are you making money?
Bansal says being clear about this information will help create a mental model, which you can explain. He uses the example of Amazon to explain how visual thinking might help give this clarity.
“Simply sketch out what you're thinking about—how does the money flow from the customer to the company, and if there are multiple stakeholders. As an example, if we had to think about what Amazon does, it’s a marketplace where a lot of shopkeepers can come in, put up a shop, and a lot of customers can come in and browse through these shops,” says Bansal adding that the customer can browse through the shops on the layer that Amazon has created and look at all the products on offer products. “And, when they buy, Amazon on one side sends a confirmation to the customer, and on one side sends a confirmation to the shopkeeper, telling them that their product has to be sent to this customer,” he adds.
Be specific, be clear
While founders are immersed in their business and are able to make decisions intuitively, often they haven’t spent time articulating those thoughts. Creating a pitch deck helps bring clarity.
“Someone might say ‘we have a really great customer experience and that's why customers love us’. We sit and break it down, because what does ‘great customer experience imply’?” Bansal points out.
On asking for specific customer feedback, someone might say that instead of an overall customer experience, it was the sign-up process that was 10x better. “And maybe then you can talk about why sign up in this industry is so important. Or, something specific like that. So, when you become more specific, it's easier to understand. There is more stickiness to your message,” Bansal says.
Sajith Pai, a member of the investment team at Blume Ventures, says that he often finds that cold pitches are unable to explain what problem the company is solving. “It’s important to recognize that VCs are pressed for time and may not always know your industry well. A good cold pitch deck will plan for this, reduce the cognitive load on the VC and slot the pitch/product well in the competitive landscape.”
The best pitch decks are those that explain well the core customer problem they are solving.
The ideal deck
What constitutes the ideal deck for the pre-seed/seed and pre-series A rounds? A discussion with the Blume investment team resulted in the below following:
(Note: This is by no means an exhaustive list, and certainly other venture funds may have their preferences, but this is sufficient to address most venture fund requirements)
A slide on the team. Who are your founders, what’s their background? Add any details that sells them better. The earlier the stage of the company, the more important this slide and the earlier it should come. Most early stage VCs are fundamentally betting on the team.
What is the specific problem you are solving? (This point can’t be emphasized enough.) And, for whom? For example, we help consumer goods distributors reduce inventory holdings through our SaaS analytics tool. Not we are a retail AI analytics offering. The latter description doesn’t give the investor a clear understanding of your product.
What is the solution or the product? Share details on how the product solves the problem. It might help to be specific on the business model too, that is, who pays whom, how much and how.
What is the size of the opportunity or the Total Addressable Market or Serviceable Obtainable Market? While this is not mandatory, arriving at the size of the opportunity is an exercise that gives you clarity as well.
Who are your competitors and how do you stack up against them? What differentiates you? This can be represented as a 2x2 chart also. If you don’t have a direct competitor, then describe how presently how your target segment is solving the problem.
Why now? Why can’t this opportunity wait? Is there something in the present context or environment that will drive rapid adoption at the customer end?
What has been your progress so far? What is the traction (sales /accounts opened or units sold, or beta users)?
The ask: What are you raising, what are your spend areas and where will this take you to?
It is okay if you feel the need to add additional topics and slides to explain your start-up better, but this is the bare minimum you should have.
The perfect number
What number of slides is perfect for you pitch deck? While online templates will have you believe that 10-15 is a good number, our experts shared that since your business is not a template, your slides shouldn’t be one either.
That said, templates help by giving you a wireframe of slide headers with keywords to address when making a pitch deck. Bhatia adds: “Use those templates as a checklist to say, have I covered all areas in my deck? Also, what is the purpose of this deck? You can't use a 10-slide deck in a meeting that is going to go on for an hour. And please don't use a 60-slide deck and expect to go through it in one hour either,” he added.
During Velocity 2022, our annual bootcamp for founders, Bhatia said that it’s okay to take enough time/slides to come to the point, especially if the problem is a complex one. “Because, if they [VCs] get the complexity of the problem, they will understand the importance of the solution you are providing,” he said, adding that sometimes 10-15 slides might be the minimum for the investor to understand the problem or even the industry if they are not familiar with it.
However, he cautioned against adding more slides just to make the pitch deck look weighty. “Make it enlightening enough for the investor. The investor should feel, 'Oh I didn't know this'. Don’t just give information, give the whole story.”
Twenty-five to 30 slides is a good number for Series A, said Bhatia, where you can include the problem, solution, market, financials etc. One can create a teaser version to send to the investors initially as well. “Depending on the industry, your deck could also have 35-40 slides but don’t send that deck to people in the first email,” he added.
Founders often split hairs over the perfect deck. The right font, the right shade of colour, the right amount of whitespace – they’ll lose sleep over every detail.
A good-looking deck certainly signals something, and indeed leaves a positive impression, but it is not worth obsessing too much over, for there are diminishing returns to cosmetics.
On this point, Bansal says, “We used to aspire to pixel perfect designs. And those looked overly prepared. I do feel that there is a fine line between a deck raw and dirty. The ideal pitch deck should look raw enough, but not pixel perfect.”
Additionally, don’t use too many colours in your deck. Pick one or two key colours and use them. You do not want your investor getting distracted by the colours.
It is also very likely that your investor may read your slide deck on her phone. So make sure that you make sure the deck is mobile-friendly. Occasionally, the Blume team members have also got WhatsApp-friendly vertical slide decks.
Vrinda Rungta, Co-Founder of Honest Create, says that it is important to remember that visuals of the slides also leave an impact. “They [investors] tend to remember the visual. They might not remember what you said, but in terms of what you present visually that will always stay in their head. So that way also, the visuals are very important what you put in a slide,” she said, adding that visualization is a lot about how you present the information you have pictorially.
Bhatia shares he and Rungta often play a game of Pictionary with their slides. “We try to explain the slides to each other without the text. It helps a lot when you're just drawing it out. It doesn't have to be a good drawing, but you are at least making an effort to find that connection visually. That's what is important. Try to draw those key slides,” he says, adding that it was important to follow the “Three Second Rule”. “If your slide doesn’t communicate in three seconds visually or leave a mark behind, the slide doesn’t belong in the deck,” he adds.
On visual thinking, Bansal adds their first step is to sketch their slides, even as they build their deck parallelly. Sketching helps them understand if there are any gaps in storytelling. Tech wise, he uses OneNote on iPad to sketch. “These tools make it easy for me to edit and replicate components and even share them with my team,” he adds.
This sketch becomes your mind map. Once you have the visual ready, the gaps and loose ends in your narrative will jump at you.
Less is more, if used well
A good rule of thumb is to use 40 words per slide on a pitch deck. This not just allows the reader to absorb what you are trying to say within 10-12 seconds, but also forces you to edit your thoughts and make your writing sharper,
Pay close attention to the headlines of the slides. Avoid generic words like ‘problem’ and ‘solution’ in the header because they don’t say much. Ask yourself - if someone only sees your headlines, do they get the story? The motivator to read the slide should come from title itself. Everything else is just supporting content.
Every slide/piece of communication must have a main message or key takeaway. Be minimalistic in your approach. However, do ensure that you don’t club 2-3 key messages in a single slide; each message should have its own slide.
Bansal says that at Deck Rooster, they make slides to allow for both, the one skimming through the slides and those wanting more information. How to achieve that balance is a matter of design.
“Such decks are designed in a way that the contrast between the two sets of information is so much that the reader knows what are the details he can skip, knowing everything else will still give them enough information,” he adds. Such decks are great for when you are making a presentation and not just sending an email.
When pruning the deck and deciding what to cut out, look at the services that are not adding a lot of value or bringing in a greater portion of the revenue, to keep the model simple. Also, simplify the language you use and try and find terms that are easier to relate with.
Data isn’t enough
Numbers by themselves don’t tell a story. If you want to include data in your deck, find the story behind the numbers and tell that story.
When the audience looks at a graph, the takeaway with large data points is not always obvious. Ask yourself: what are you really trying to say? What's the key message of the graph or the data that you're trying to show? And then make sure that you use your visual abilities, graphic design abilities to emphasize that point, to bring attention to that point.
Humanize your deck
Ask yourself if there’s a way to humanize your story, even if it’s a B2B pitch. Humanizing your deck, by illustrating the problem faced by a real individual, or even a hypothetical persona, makes the problem and the solution more relatable. The investor could also be some person who has faced that problem sometime in his or her life. So, it's also about creating that relatability through that persona. That is why it's also very important to humanize your deck.
Keep your ask fixed
Asking for funding? Don’t give a wide range of $2 million to $6 million. Keep the range within 20%. The reason for this is the investors writing cheques for $2 million are very different from those writing cheques for $6million, and you don’t want to come across as someone who hasn’t done your investor research.
The best format
If you have been wondering whether to pick Google Slides or PDFs, videos or GIFs for your decks, here’s what our experts think.
Bansal said, “Founders who prefer PDFs have only static stuff, since PDFs don’t support those formats. But in some cases, it can be helpful to have something a video or a GIF that explains something. Google Slides allows you to share a video or a GIF and you can send a link for a presentation mode. I think DocSend’s experience is slightly better in terms of receiver.”
Post pitching hygiene
After your pitch is done, there will be follow-on discussions where you are asked for supporting details and data. “To prevent a lot of to-and-fro of asking for data, keep your data rooms organized, using tools such Notion and Airtable and send those links with your pitch deck, but do not send all these details in the first email or to non-reputed investors,” says Bhatia.
Lastly, make sure you level up your pitch when you graduate from pitching for seed funding to a Series B round. Early-stage decks focus on the founding team and their experiences. Here, the key point to discuss is the product market fit rather than a vision. But once you reach Series B, the you will be questioned on long-term goals and vision.
The end note
Just as your pitch deck should not follow a template, neither should your story. As a founder, you have your own unique narrative. Why are you doing what you are doing. What is it about this startup that excites you? Ensure that that magic ingredient is added to your pitch, so that at the end of the day the person reading your pitch wants to talk more about it.
Want to read more? Here’s a link to various articles and Twitter threads, where you can continue your research:
1. Blume Ventures and Mohit Bansal’s conversation at Velocity ’22 on hitting the right pitch: https://twitter.com/BlumeVentures/status/1552179492746997760
2. Brett Adcock, founder at Figure Archer, sharing his insights on the pitch deck points that helped him raise millions: https://twitter.com/adcock_brett/status/1589281462242549760
3. 6 Powerful Pitch Deck Tips to Get Seed Funding by Emily Williams at Duarte, a global firm that’s been creating presentations for brands and leaders since 1988: https://www.duarte.com/presentation-skills-resources/6‑tips-powerful-pitch-deck/
4. The Slides You Deliver Versus the Slidedoc You Leave Behind by Maegan Stephens for Duarte: https://www.duarte.com/presentation-skills-resources/the-slides-you-deliver-versus-the-slidedoc-you-leave-behind/
5. Listen to Mohit Bansal of Deck Rooster talking about what goes behind creating multi-million dollar deck on The Story Rules Podcast: https://storyrules.buzzsprout.com/1742201/8211066-e01-mohit-bansal-the-guy-who-creates-multi-million-decks. If you’d rather read it, the transcript is available at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1qLgPltad83msqG8b39opR2rrVOwX-Pli/view
7. Sajith Pai, a member of the investment team at Blume Ventures, shares on Twitter some of the pitfalls to avoid while making a deck: https://twitter.com/sajithpai/status/1352885936518959104
6. LeadTribe 2022 cohort’s session with Chetan Bhatia of Honest Create on acing your pitch: https://twitter.com/Lead_Tribe/status/1526853527162978304