Your pitch deck is the most important assets your business will have, arguably more than the business plan itself. After several years of creating my own pitch decks and helping teach other startups how to build their own, I’ve seen what works and gets results.
Based off the “Pitch then Plan” template originated by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki, I believe in creating a strong pitch first and then building a business plan based on it. Why? Because if you get the pitch right, you’ll get the plan right.
Think of your business as a house you’re building. To build a house, you need a blueprint. And although a blueprint is merely an outline of what the final product should be, what seems simple is truly imperative if you want to create a viable product from the start. It shows that you’ve thought it through and figured out how all the moving pieces will work together to make a successful project.
If you don’t have a sound blueprint for a house, chances are you won’t find a construction company who will help you build that house. Likewise with your business pitch, its will determine whether you will generate further interest from potential investors. If you can’t hook them with your pitch, then there’s no way they’re going to dive into the minutiae of your business plan.
Focusing on your pitch first also saves you time. While you may never get feedback on a business plan, you get immediate reactions to your pitch. Considering a pitch is a lot shorter and contains less text than a business plan, it will be a lot quicker to fix. From there, you will have a solid foundation for your business plan.
Here are 4 things you should do when creating your pitch deck:
1. Explain Yourself in the First Minute.
Make it clear what your organization does, what pain you’re solving, and why you’re the person to do it. Keep it short and to the point to engage your audience. You will not impress investors with a complicated deck; it should be something they can read through and understand in under 10 minutes.
2. Answer the Little Man.
Often, engineers will talk about technology and won’t explain in layman’s’ terms what that means to the average person. If you say, “We provide 128-bit encryption in a portable device,” the little man’s going to ask, “So what?” Always include the answer to that question in your pitch. While nobody might care about the 128-bit encryption, they will care when you tell them it means super secure phone calls for companies that deal with highly sensitive information.
3. Use a Bottom-Up Model.
A common mistake is using a top-down model to forecast financials. When you do that, you look at the overall market and use this information to define your target demographic and determine what percentage you think you can capture. This model tends to be way too optimistic, and ultimately unrealistic. Using the bottom-down model, you use your current situation and capabilities to see where you can reasonably go from there. With bottom-down forecasting, you predict what company activities will drive results, which leads to money in the bank.
4. Observe the 10/20/30 Rule.
The 10/20/30/ rule is to cover your pitch with 10 slides in 20 minutes and 30-point font text. But really, your pitch should be covered in 7 minutes, allowing 13 minutes for questions and discussion. By allowing it to be more of a conversation, you’re able to see what part of the pitch isn’t landing and explain any holes that might be discovered in your pitch.
As for the 10 slides of your business pitch, consider each slide as an element of your blueprint. Blueprints cover what aspects and expertise go into building a house: first the general structure and layout, then placing plumbing, appliances and fixtures, and electrical wiring. Some show as detailed as where pieces of furniture will go. With your pitch, start general and dig deeper into details with each slide. Here’s what I recommend when you plan your startup pitch deck:
- Introduction slide: Include Organization Name, Your Name, Title, and Contact Information. During this slide, introduce yourself and discuss quickly what traction your organization has gained. If you’re just starting out, talk about how you’ve established credibility (i.e., education, specialization, etc.)
- Slide 1: Describe the pain your organization is taking away. Try to personalize that pain.
- Slide 2: Explain how you take away this pain. This is your value proposition. If your product is physical, include an image of it on this slide.
- Slide 3: Introduce your business model. How you make money, who pays you, your channels of distribution, and your gross margins. This is what investors look for.
- Slide 4: Underlying magic. Describe the technology, secret sauce or magic behind your product. Specifically, how does it create value for the customer?
- Slide 5: Describe your position in the marketplace. What story will you tell that makes you more important?
- Slide 6: Marketing & Sales. Convince the audience that you have an effective go-to-market strategy that won’t break the bank.
- Slide 7: Competition. Address your competitors, and explain what differentiates you from them that helps you dominate in your market.
- Slide 8: Management Team. Describe the key players, board of directors, advisors and major investors. Discuss how they complete the management trinity: production, marketing, and financial expertise. If you have any holes in the team, explain how you plan to fill them.
- Slide 9: Financial Projections. Include projected prospect and customer numbers, revenue, costs, and profits for years 1-3. Most businesses should be able to show turning a profit by year 3.
- Slide 10: Milestones. Explain the current status of your product or service, what the near term future looks like, any accomplishments to date, and how you’ll use any money that you are trying to raise. Even if you’ve been in the business for 3-4 months, tell them what you’ve done so far and your trajectory. You want to show momentum to investors.
Before presenting a pitch deck to potential investors, be sure to run it through a few times with your mentors and colleagues. Fix what doesn’t land, and see if you can reduce the number of words on slides. If you need notes, consider using a program that allows you to have presenter notes. Once you’ve presented a deck to investors, you’ll be able to continue revising it, as well as get started on a solid business plan. A solid pitch deck can also be used to create variations for different target audiences, such as one as a more general introduction to your business, and even one that can later be used for training future employees.
Edmund Buckley, co-founder & CEO of CampusSafe™, is a 20+ year Austin veteran entrepreneur, having founded and built 2 successful startups. He is passionate about revolutionizing the way campuses think of safety. Before joining the CampusSafe™ team, he was the Co-Founder & CEO of 360 Mortgage Group, Co-Founder of TrieverMedia. He is an alum of Austin’s Tech Ranch Venture Forth Program. He continues to stay involved in their Venture Builder program as a volunteer leader, where he teaches start-ups to how to build pitch decks.