One of the most critical tasks startups face, is creating a killer elevator pitch — a short, verbal description of who they are, what they do, and how they are going to succeed as a business. There are countless blog posts and listicles that have been created to guide founders through this process, but they rarely include how to get to actually get the chance to do the elevator pitch.
The elevator pitch process has led to parodies on sites like the Startup Elevator Pitch Generator and “it’s like x for y” pitch roulette sites. This doesn’t mean that creating an elevator pitch isn’t a challenge or important — it is. However, there’s another critical pitch that’s just as important, but is often overlooked in terms of media attention — the pitch deck.
Creating a pitch deck that your startup can use to attract investment from VCs is a vitally important milestone. Your elevator pitch is essential for face-to-face meetings and other opportunities to pitch in person.
However, before a startup can even secure a meeting or a face-to-face opportunity with a VC, they often have to go through digital gatekeepers. In that process, a killer pitch deck is a startup’s golden ticket through the gate to secure that all important meeting. Here’s what you need to know when creating the ultimate pitch.
Getting started — A teaser for your startup
Before starting to craft the deck, every founder has to understand one simple, yet crucial concept: it’s a teaser, its purpose is to whet the appetite of potential investors and reach the next stage. If your startup is a movie, then the pitch deck isn’t even a trailer. It’s the few short seconds of teaser before the trailer even starts – a trailer for a trailer.
Being a teaser, your pitch needs to be super concise and to the point. You have only a few moments to grab the attention of your audience, and the attention span of a VC is even shorter than you might think. You need to have a laser-focus on the most important aspects of your business.
Bringing the pitch into focus
If the secret to real-estate is “location, location, location,” then the secret to a perfect pitch deck is “focus, focus, focus.” What’s remarkable is how many founders struggle to explain what they actually do.
This can happen because they simply struggle to synthesize their story into an easy-to-understand message or because they are trying to tell too broad of a story. In addition, most VCs aren’t necessarily experts in the field startups are operating in, so it’s important to use the right language and present the appropriate level of information that VCs will understand.
Meet DoggyHut – A totally awesome and fictional startup
I’ve seen lots of advice for startups on how to build the “perfect” pitch deck. However, all of that advice doesn’t carry the same weight as seeing a real-world example. So, based on my years of being pitched by startups, I built what I see as the ideal pitch deck, containing the key elements needed to persuade a VC, but in the compact and focused form factor that I’ve seen achieve the best results.
But first, a word of caution. This deck is intended to be emailed or handed over to a VC for them to review. This is not a presentation deck, which should feature far less text and information.
This pitch deck features a fictional startup I created called DoggyHut — think AirBnB for dog owners. The actual concept of the startup is less important than the core elements and messages the deck should contain.
The DoggyHut pitch deck is broken down into 11 sections, including the most important components that should be conveyed to VCs. Note that this isn’t an absolute number, every startup is different.
1. Company purpose — What’s your mission? Condense your pitch to a simple, yet powerful sentence about the purpose of your startup. To help you in this process, I would refer you to the words of Simon Sinek: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.“
2. Problem — Give a striking overview of the challenges that you address and solve.
3. Solution — Time to reveal your product. Screenshots preferred.
4. Market — Show that you address an appealing market. You can touch lightly on the Total Addressable Market, and what percent of that you believe you can obtain.
5. Why now? — Poor timing is one of the top causes of startup failure. This makes it critically important for you to explain why the market is ripe for your startup at this particular moment in time.
6. Competition — A common mistake founders make is claiming that their company has no competition. There is always competition, direct or indirect. You need to stress clearly how the competitive landscape is differentiated and what makes you unique.
7. Revenue model — How will you earn money and who will pay for it? This doesn’t need to be comprehensive at this state, but you need to show that you’ve addressed this question.
8. Marketing/sales — The most important thing is to have a clear go-to-market strategy and a plan for how to acquire users. Demonstrate that your strategy is KPI driven, and what steps you’re taking to achieve those results.
9. Team — Why is your team the best fit for this startup idea? Show that you have the relevant experience and skills for this business. If you have experience in working together, make this explicit.
10. Roadmap — The purpose is to discuss important details of your startup including: company history and previous funding, evidence of growth or traction, milestones you hope to achieve with new funding, and target sum for funding round.
11. Vision — End with the overall vision you have. What is your long-term goal? In five or 10 years?
The bottom line is this — your deck needs to be a tightly composed and focused presentation that conveys that key elements of your startup’s story. Don’t be afraid to adjust the deck depending on your target audience and what makes sense for your startup. Your pitch deck is your foot in the door, and shouldn’t be more than that.
It can be hard to hold back, especially if you have a message or information that is important to you. However, if you put in the hard work of honing your message to its most important elements, it will help you understand the core value your startup holds — not just for VCs, but for your potential users and customers as well.
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