Startups often have just a few seconds to grab the attention of an investor and make a memorable impression. I’ve seen hundreds of pitch decks from startups and most are missing the critical elements needed to make their pitch stand out.
The most important thing for a startup, getting ready to pitch is preparation. If you’re planned ahead and rehearsed you’ll already be ahead of the crowd. The best pitches and presentations require a lot of preparation and rehearsal. You often have just a few minutes to make a great impression so every minute of presentation may require several hours of rehearsal and preparation.
Most pitches are forgettable, they lack energy and they lack soul. What I mean is that they describe a business problem and a solution but they don’t make me care. Great pitches should convey the founders’ character, they should tell a story, connect with listeners emotionally, and be memorable.
When I’m listening to a pitch. I’m asking a couple questions:
- Why you? – What makes you unique, what makes you as an entrepreneur special and why would I be excited to work with you?
- Why this? – Most ideas and successful companies capitalize on unique ideas, timed with when the world needed them.
- What makes this special? How will you compete with other entrepreneurs, what will make your business stand out in a crowded field of so many other companies?
Many entrepreneurs make the mistake that investors are interested in novel ideas or clever inventions. Nope. Investors are looking for great people and great businesses that have huge potential to grow. Your idea is a part of that but a great idea, without a great business and without a great founder, isn’t going to go anywhere.
If you’re putting together a pitch. There are lots of templates but the key things you need to include are pretty universal. Sequoia Capital even put together a business plan outline of the things that they like to see:
- Problem Describe the pain of your customer. How is this addressed today and what are the shortcomings to current solutions. Make me really feel the problem.
- Solution Explain your aha! moment. Why is it unique and compelling? Why is your solution better?
- Why now? The best companies almost always have a clear why now? Timing is as important as the idea. Why hasn’t this been done before?
- Market potential Identify your customer and your market. How big is the market and how will you capture it?
- Competition / alternatives Who are your direct and indirect competitors. Show that you have a plan to win.
- Business model How do you intend to thrive and grow?
- Team Tell the story of your founders and key team members. Most investors don’t want to invest in solo-founders so tell the story of your team and how you work together.
- Financials What are the financial models that support your story/vision. Don’t skimp on this, really knowing your financials helps investors trust you with their money.
- Vision – And lastly, and perhaps most importantly. If all goes well, what will you have built in five years? What’s the vision of the company? Paint a picture of how you get there.
In addition to these basics, you may want to include much more information. Don’t.
The point of the pitch deck isn’t to answer all the questions, it’s to get you to access to a deeper conversation with your investors.
It’s for them to lean-in and express interest in learning more. Resist having too much information.
It’s Ok to have your own notes or backup slides to answer deeper questions. This will help keep you focused.
There’s always more you can include in a pitch so you have to tune the deck and the presentation to the audience and the venue. For example, you should have several version of your pitch based on your situation.
The most common versions of pitches should include:
- Elevator pitch – A well-rehearsed 1-2 minute conversational pitch that can be done with no slides.
- Lightning pitch – 5 minutes (some visuals but not too much)
- Emailed deck – A variation in between your lightning and normal pitch that doesn’t require a voice-over.
- Normal Pitch. – 10-minute pitch visuals/slides
- Long Pitch – 30min-1 hour pitch tuned for Zoom or In-Person with backup slides prepped for any anticipated questions
- Demo Pitch – A rehearsed and working walk-through of the product that can easily be reset for the next demo
The most important two things for a startup, getting ready to pitch are preparation & passion. If you can connect with your audience in a deep and meaningful way and if you prepare well you’ll be far ahead of most startups.