Not all startup pitch decks are created equal, and that’s a good thing. Each should be unique, like the innovation, business and founder that it presents. The truth is – and we’ve all seen it – there’s a fair share of pitches that fall short or flat. How to master a winning pitch deck for angel investors comes down to how the most relevant information is presented.
There is certainly no lack of advice on what makes the perfect pitch. While the fundamental elements are similar, largely focused on core content, many best practices for preparation and design are often overlooked. These can help a pitch standout and win over angels! Here are some practical reminders of how to improve startup pitch decks, especially when preparing first-time pitches:
Make the Audience the Hero
When it comes time to pitch for funding, early-stage tech entrepreneurs are often fixated on presenting data and functionalities that they want to share. But these facts are not enough for investors to get behind an idea. Remember, the speaker is not the hero of the pitch but the guide. So, founders should approach it with the audience in mind, that is - what prospective angels would want to know and how to engage them. For tech founders looking to raise seed capital for early-stage startups in British Columbia, get to know the province’s top five angel investor groups before pitching.
Connect with a Story
It’s a well-known fact, a story is the glue that connects an audience to a presentation, and it activates a higher retention rate far more than features alone. Rather than focusing on an overwhelming stream of sterile details, presenters would do well to narrate their pitch with a purposeful and relatable story around the founder’s experience with the problem, the unique solution, and attractive opportunity. By bringing the audience on a journey through the pitch, angel investors may find it both memorable and motivating.
Frame the Message with Great Design
When founders get caught up in a laundry list of facts/features, the look and feel of the pitch deck is often a lower priority and neglected. No matter how great the content may be, a low-quality deck design can erode credibility. For details to be persuasive and clear, a pitch needs to look polished and professional to engage the audience. Having an original design that can deliver the story’s most compelling points should be a higher priority when preparing a pitch.
Therefore, it is essential that tech founders choose the best design – with a modern and progressive visual quality - to frame their pitch. Generally, PowerPoint is the commonly known and used tool because of the large pool of free or premium PowerPoint templates as a starting point. But there are a variety of other presentation software to consider, such as Google Slides (handy for co-creating), Ludus, Keynote, Slidebean, etc.
Ideally, a startup should create a master template that is unique to their brand style. More importantly, the framework layout for slides should follow a cohesive design with a consistent style format (fonts, icons, alignment, spacing, columns, image cropping, etc.). A mix-and-match approach on every slide is unappealing and challenging to follow. With a good design template, adding (and limiting) content will be much easier.
Some core slide etiquette tips to follow:
- A base of 2-3 highlight colours and fonts (<30 pts) that compliments the product/service.
- Graphical motifs or image textures of a brand.
- High quality images (same look/feel) only.
- Unique icons as sub-titles and instead of plain bullets.
- 16:9 format ratio, optimized for YouTube, devices, and websites.
- Subtle page numbers.
- A black or dark background. Text, images and graphics show up better on a light background.
- Fancy special effects or animations that distract.
- Too many slide transitions.
- Small, hard-to-read text.
- Too many images on one slide or textless images on all slides.
- Spreadsheets or tables. Instead, shape data with infographic elements.
Keep It Simple and Clean. Less Is More
The dreaded overcrowded slide with a volume of confusing facts is usually the main reason for loosing an audience’s attention. The key to a successful pitch is to know what to leave out. Whether it’s a 2 or 5-minute pitch, startups should realize the importance of brevity and aim to condense details down to pivotal differentiators that are presented in a simple and clean manner. The goal should be to increase the likelihood that investors will take the next step and leave the nitty-gritty facts for an angel’s due diligence stage.
One might argue that a listicle or point form style offers more advantages than full sentences. Using simple, bite-sized phrases that are easy to digest allows investors to listen to the presenter rather than reading long sentences. There’s also nothing worse than too many bullet points on one slide; therefore, sticking to three highlights is better. The trick is to craft each bullet like it was a punchy caption or a headline. Just as important – avoid the urge to display large tables of data. Instead, transform key numbers into a graphical format for easy consumption and to draw viewers to a focal point.
As for images, they should only be included if they are high quality, self explanatory, and reinforce a point. Resist using image cliches to fill space, like the handshake or thumbs up. It’s often better to have more white space then overburden slides with large or the wrong pictures. When it comes to images, size matters; therefore, keep the file size down while maintaining a good resolution (<1000 pixels and < 500 bytes at 96 dpi).
Unless it’s necessary, don’t insert a video. For one thing, a video can eat up precious pitch time, especially if it fails to launch. Be mindful of display efficiencies, that slides load quickly and are readable on any device. Both can be achieved by making the slide deck available in a PDF that is under 10 mb for investors or a pitch event. Bottom line - keep it simple and clean! Be straightforward. In a pitch, less is more.
Balance the Number of Slides
The slide deck is the backdrop for the pitch, not the script! Too many slides are a red flag. So, in addition to designing a minimalist deck to get a story across, angel-ready startups need to find the right balance in the number of slides. Easier said than done, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. It’s safe to say that 10 slides in a 1-minute elevator pitch or 20 slides in a 2-minute pitch is too much! The ideal number for an appointed timeframe will depend on how the concepts and story of the pitch unfolds when designing the presentation.
All of this said, our best advice is to continue finessing the slides and script until the optimal number of slides is achieved to prompt interest. Think quality over quantity. For a 5-minute pitch, aim for 10 slides and each slide should be dedicated to one topic. At the end of the day, a good presenter needs to accept when enough is enough and respect the assigned timeframe.
Core content for a startup pitch deck:
- Title slide - executive introduction
- Customer problem or pain
- Solution - value proposition
- Magic - tech innovation
- Market Opportunity – business model
- Go-to market – strategy & plan
- Competitive Advantage
- Team – management, mentors & advisors
- Financials – key metrics & projections
- The Ask – raising & using funds
Reference: Guy Kawasaki’s The Only 10 Slides You Need In Your Pitch.
Tap into Presentation Design Expertise
Many tech founders tend to be skilled scientists or engineers, not marketers. Despite their best efforts, reimagining their business in a contemporary and story telling presentation is generally not their strength or expertise. If no other team member has the skill to build a standout presentation, then they need to find a creative professional that can upgrade and elevate the pitch deck. In the perfect world, use a marketer with presentation expertise who has experience in the startup space and is closely familiar with the nuances of pitches.
Aside from the time savings for busy entrepreneurs, outsourcing the design or redesign of the pitch deck has many advantages. For one thing, a talented marketing expert is not emotionally attached to the material, so they can customize a fresh and streamlined approach. They also have an arsenal of creative software to enhance the slide deck. If delivering presentations is also not a natural strength for a founder, then use the same marketing specialist to fine tune the voice and style, along with coaching tips on the script or delivery.
Practice Makes Perfect
It may be obvious, but it never hurts to check, check and double check all the content in the pitch. In addition to knowing the material well, there is no such thing as practicing too much or over preparing. Make dry runs in front of business mentors, coaches and advisors to get valuable feedback.
Covid-protocols may make it more efficient for startups to pitch online, but it doesn’t mean that presenters should read their pitch script or their slides verbatim behind the camera. In order for investors to get behind a startup, they want to be convinced that founders can deliver results. Founders that can speak about their business with confidence and passion in a short pitch is an important first impression.
At the end of the day, startups need to invest in the time, effort and budget to achieve a pitch perfect slide deck. This is especially true of first-time pitches. It’s not enough to just share a great idea and cover a check list of required content. A winning startup pitch deck needs to be designed and prepared to impress investors. Following the above proven pitch deck best practices will improve the chances of capturing the attention of angels. There’s no substitute for getting it right from the start!