Since we help entrepreneurs and teams with Lean Innovation, one thing we inevitably get involved in is helping them with their pitch deck and raising money. Sometimes they come with a deck that they feel is ugly and want help with that (although that's rarely the only issue we find once we dig in), other times they don't have anything created yet and they want a thought partner to kickstart the process and save them some precious time. 

When looking at pitch decks, we find ourselves doing a few things over and over again to help people get to a much better deck: 

  1. Restructure the Narrative   
  2. Weave the Story Around Your Strengths 
  3. Make it Visually Compelling
     

1. Restructure the Narrative     

If you have your narrative down, you can jump right into creating the deck. But if you don't have your narrative, it's best to work it out on post-it notes or whiteboard before spending tons of time iterating your deck. Sometimes we see that people mix up the creation of the deck with the narrative and they waste a lot of time in Powerpoint, Keynote, or SlideBean.

Even though many entrepreneurs we work with have already Googled bestpitchdecks and studied them or use a service like Slidebean and started with a great template, but they wonder why their decks still suck. Many of them are littered with way too technical and domain jargons; Others are way too optimistic about market potential; or they are just pages and pages of graphs, we've seen one that has 8 graphs on one page and the 30+ pages was full of graphs copied and pasted from excel along with copious amount of explanation text!

We even see seasoned entrepreneurs make these mistakes. Here are few things we do to get them unstuck:

  • Sometimes, even if a team has a deck, I prefer that they close the laptop and tell me the story verbally. If they can do that in 5-10 minutes and the story is coherent, then we write down key points that we hear and create a new, more clear narrative outline for them. By naturally telling the story in a conversational manner to someone not inside the company, they aren't bogged down with details, which makes it really easy for us to help them clean up their story. 
     
  • If they can't tell me the story, I would sit with them and sketch out the narrative with post-its like writers do with plots. We get all the ideas out, one on each post-it. Then we categorize them into story chunks and order them to create a story arch. 
     
  • Finally, it's important to to think outside in. Step into the shoes of your investors and create a narrative and order your slides in a way that they would want the information unfold for them. Remember, you're in your business everyday but other people are not, so you have to structure the narrative in a way that logically makes sense to them so they can follow!
     

2. Weave the Story Around Your Strengths

There are a lot of deck templates out there that lays out the 12 or 16 or whatever the magic slides you must have in your deck. Inevitably a few slides should be about traction and why this is a good investment, supported by real numbers. But every entrepreneur has a reason to go off that script a little bit because of their unique situations:

  • We have helped serial entrepreneurs raise seed money before they even have a product in the market. The company fundamentals we choose emphasize in this situation is different from a company that has had revenue for a number of years. Some of the things we focus on more in this situation:

    • Who we're solving the problem for and why this team
    • Validation the problem exists supported by market research
    • Our customers love the way we are solving the problem and would pay for it (again, supported by research data, even if it's with a prototype)
    • Realistic market sizing and growth projections 
    • A beautiful product prototype demonstrating how it solves the problem it claims to solve

Check out Mint.com's prelaunch pitch deck and airbnb's seed deck for some inspiration.
 

  • Series A fundraising is a different story. At this point, what we find with these decks is typically information overload. It's hard to get entrepreneurs to cut back on the number of graphs and all the domain and technical jargon they have. After all, they know their company, market and competition inside out. We have to really force them them to prioritize and simplify which numbers are the most important to weave the story around and leave others in the appendix or as support data that is not as prominent on the slide.

    Just because investors probably know the space well and are savvy with this stuff, it doesn't mean they should be punished with the "spreadsheet dumpster" deck. Instead of hitting the investor with 50 graphs, be succinct about the 3 reasons why they should invest. Unless the deck is meant to be sent and read by people, pitch you deliver in person does not need to have every detail explained on screen. Leave some of the data in your head and ready to share them during questions and discussion.  

    Creating your own pitch to raise Series A money and not sure how to get started? Andy Sparks put All the Public Startup Pitch Decks in One Place for us, check them out to get some inspiration! 

 

3. Make it Visually Compelling

It's great that you have a lot of numbers to support the fact that you've built a really really awesome product and company. If you want people to enjoy listening to your story, make it beautiful and engaging. Here are some pro tips:

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Simplify visuals 

By following simple graphic design principles, your deck will go from a busy bazaar to a more upscale clean modern situation. Commit to one primary color and one primary font. Then play with layout and hierarchy to tell your story.

The example here looks very nice, communicates a lot of key information but it's also very simple: it's white on pink, just 2 colors.The use of different copy sizes and changing opacity on some elements makes the information that should standout do so.

We made the supporting copy more subdue so it doesn't take away from the important numbers. You wouldn't give the supporting actress the same number of lines as the lead right? Just remember, every one thing you add to the slide makes everything else that much harder to read.  

Make Data Easy to Read 

We often see decks with dozens of graphs in it copied and pasted from excel, which is a great tool but they are often very hard to read. We would hate for a deck that a team pour days and days into to cause the investors to squint their eyes and look confused while the entrepreneur is delivering the pitch. 

To avoid this, spend a little time cleaning up those graphs before pasting them into your deck. Excel actually does allow you to make graphs as beautiful as the one we made on the right. Or you can import the data into Keynote or Powerpoint and achieve the same effect. 

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Create emotional connection 

Whenever appropriate, use inspiring imagery as backdrops to your message, make the text to the point and succinct and add emotional tug with visuals to drive your point home. Pitching your company is no different than any other sales and marketing effort, put your best foot forward can make a big difference. 

 

 

There are a lot of templates out there, people can still struggle with the deck creation process. Sometimes, figuring out which numbers to show on the traction slide and choosing which story to tell requires a lot of thought before actually penning it down. I hope these tips are helpful to you. Get in touch if you have any questions during your funding process!