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Pitch Deck Workbook

The Pitch Deck Workbook goes over the 10 slides every startup pitch deck has to include, based on what we learned from analyzing 900+ pitch decks from the Pitch Deck Database.

It’s all about getting the structure of your pitch deck right.

Table of Contents

The Slides

Getting the structure of a pitch deck right is crucial to successfully pitching your startup idea to investors.

While it may be tempting to get creative with the structure, it’s generally not advisable as investors go through a large number of pitch decks and have a checklist to help them quickly weed out unsuitable projects.

On average, investors only spend 3 minutes and 44 seconds on a pitch deck. Therefore, it’s important to cover all the topics that investors expect to see. A non-standard structure could mean that investors won’t consider your project more closely, and it increases the chance that some of your audience will be confused.

The keys to a successful pitch deck are:

  • Presenting your idea clearly and concisely.
  • Differentiating your idea from those of other startups.
  • Convincing your audience of the high potential and likelihood of success of your idea.

Each slide should be created with these three principles in mind. Generally, a startup pitch deck should cover 10 main topics, though more than one slide can be used to cover a topic.

If you’re doing a two-minute presentation, you may have to skip a few topics. In this case, make sure to preserve the topics that contain the most convincing arguments for your business.

For instance, it’s fine to skip talking about competition, but skipping validation or traction (if you have them) is a big mistake.

Slide 1: Introduction

This slide is critical because it establishes the first impression of your business. After viewing it, your audience should have no doubt about what your business is.

Objective: Clearly and concisely communicate your business offering.

Airbnb’s pitch deck provides a fantastic example: “Book rooms with locals, rather than hotels.” They give an overview of their business in a single sentence without using any jargon or obscure language, making the information very accessible. After the first slide, the audience already knows what the business is offering, taking care of the first key to success. The rest of the presentation can then focus on the second and third keys.

Peloton’s “On the most basic level, Peloton sells happiness” is a poor example. If Peloton was an unknown startup, this would give their audience no information about their business. Very few people associate stationary exercise bikes with happiness. Only world-famous brands can afford this type of language because people already know what they do. Unknown startups can’t.

Shorthands, such as “Uber for X industry,” are sometimes used to do this job effectively. However, if you go for this route, make sure the comparison is extremely close. Otherwise, the audience can jump to the wrong conclusion after the first slide, which would be challenging to undo.

Aside from the explainer sentence, it’s a good idea to have a powerful visual. Ideally, you would have a graphical element that helps explain your business. If you’re producing a physical product, a high-quality photo of the product is an ideal candidate.

In a way, the first slide in a startup pitch deck is reminiscent of a landing page that your customer visits after clicking your ad. It should communicate as much information as possible in as little time as possible.

Including your contact details on this slide is not a bad idea, but you could leave this for the last slide to make the first slide less cluttered.

Slide 2: Problem

The main reason for startup failure is the lack of product-market fit. In other words, you may be building something that nobody is willing to pay for.

Objective: To persuade your audience that your startup is solving a real, pressing issue.

The purpose of this slide is to convince your audience that this is not the case. To do so, those you are presenting to must empathize with your target customer. They need to comprehend the problem both logically and emotionally.

The approach you should take depends on your specific case. A good example of this is Nikolay Storonsky, who efficiently tells the story of how currency conversion and transfer fees annoyed him while he was traveling abroad, motivating him to create Revolut. This way, he presents a real story that is easier to empathize with rather than a theoretical problem.

Problem: Spending and sending money abroad is an inconvenience.

  • Expensive
  • Inconvenient
  • Deceptive

This industry has yet to be revolutionized.

Of course, this isn’t the only approach you can take. It’s also a viable strategy to focus on data and let the facts make your case for you.

A great tip concerning the problem is to focus: solve one issue instead of many. For one, a pitch deck usually doesn’t give you enough time to address multiple problems. Second, solving a single problem is hard enough, and early-stage startups shouldn’t spread their resources too thinly. It’s much better to solve one problem well than to solve ten problems badly.

Remember, the ideal early-stage startup addresses a single problem for a single type of customer with a highly scalable, single-feature solution. Complexity is a significant drawback at this stage.

Slide 3: Solution

Assuming that your introductory slide has already explained what your business does, use this opportunity to highlight the unique benefits of your offering.

Objective: Clearly present your business offering and what sets it apart.

Avoid discussing features, as the pitch deck is meant to be a high-level overview. Instead, focus on what makes your offering valuable to your customers and what sets it apart from other existing solutions.

Ideally, your solution should be simple and highly scalable. This is because as an early-stage startup, you may not have the capacity to deal with complexity, and scalability is a prerequisite for rapid growth. Keep in mind that growth potential is a mandatory quality for startups looking to attract funding.

Slide 4: Market

In the world of startups, growth is crucial. Since innovative and disruptive businesses are inherently risky, the potential upside has to be significant enough for the investment to be worthwhile.

Objective: To persuade your audience that the project has a high potential for growth.

A good rule of thumb is that a startup should have a realistic chance of returning the initial investment at least 100 times over. This is because one successful investment needs to offset at least nine failed projects. Moreover, investors typically only hold a minority share in the business, which gets diluted by subsequent investment rounds. Therefore, a 10% stake in the business must be valuable enough to cover losses from other projects and generate a significant return.

Hence, the market must be large enough. Use data to present a believable, albeit significant, number for the total available market and the serviceable market. Then calculate the value of your venture in the best-case scenario by using a realistic market share.

For instance, in Airbnb’s original pitch deck, they aimed for 84 million booked trips from their platform out of a total of 560 million budget and online trips worldwide. This would result in yearly revenue of $2.1 billion and suggest a business value of over $20 billion. While these numbers may seem ambitious for an early-stage startup, Airbnb’s best-case scenario turned out to be conservative. As of writing this, Airbnb’s market cap is $88 billion, and their revenue is over $4 billion.

Slide 5: Product

While the solution slide focuses on your offering and value proposition, the product slide should provide your audience with a clear understanding of what you’re building.

Objective: To showcase your product.

A live demo is an option, but only if time allows. If not, including visual representations of your product (screenshots, mockups, prototypes, etc.) is a good alternative.

On this slide, you can highlight the key features of your product, but avoid going into too much detail. Keep in mind that this is a high-level overview, and features often change based on customer feedback.

Including real and positive customer feedback about the product is a good idea, as it can serve as a segue to the next topic: validation and traction.

If your presentation is very short, you could merge the solution and product slides, as they have a similar purpose.

Slide 6: Validation and Traction

In today’s startup world, investors are savvy and require concrete evidence before investing. They understand that most early-stage startups fail because they create something that the market doesn’t need.

Objective: To provide evidence of problem-solution or product-market fit.

To catch the attention of investors and potential partners, you need to nail this part of the presentation. However, to do that, you must put in some work before creating the pitch deck. In the early stages of your venture, this usually means running idea validation experiments. After launching the first version of your product, it means measuring traction, growth, and ideally selecting a KPI that is a good leading indicator of product-market fit.

If you have done this work effectively and the evidence supports that you are moving towards PMF, all you need to do in this slide is present the information as clearly as possible.

For a longer presentation, it’s a good idea to present multiple metrics that speak favorably of your business. For a short pitch, however, it’s best to focus on one or two metrics at most. Ideally, this would be the month-over-month growth (programs like Y Combinator expect at least 15% month-over-month growth) in financial and usage terms. Choose an appropriate usage KPI to strongly suggest PMF.

Slide 7: Team

It’s often said that a tech startup needs a hacker, a hustler, and a hipster. While the hipster (a.k.a. designer) may not be necessary for some startups, the hacker and hustler definitely are. Investors are seeking the right combination of technical skills and marketing savvy in your team. If they don’t see it, they may become concerned.

Objective: To leave your audience with the impression that your team is the right fit for the job.

To make this slide effective, get right to the point. What experience do your team members have that proves they have the necessary skills? If your team’s credentials are not that impressive (e.g. you founded the startup while still in college), try to attract at least one mentor who has more experience in your field and, ideally, in startups. This way, the experienced mentor’s presence will alleviate any fears that the inexperienced founding team may cause in investors.

Remember that how you present yourselves will complement the impression that this slide makes. Investors are people, and they prefer working with founders whom they like. Being friendly while showing confidence and competence is key.

Slide 8: Competition

Avoid the mistake of assuming that having no competition is a good sign. Stating that there are no competitors in the market conveys two things to potential investors: either you have not conducted thorough market research, or there is no demand for your product, which suggests there are no businesses that offer a similar product. Both of these scenarios are deal-breakers.

Objective: To introduce competitors in your market and explain your competitive advantages.

Instead, identify your main competitors and clearly explain how your product differs and why you have a competitive advantage. A comparison table is a common way to achieve this quickly and efficiently.

Additionally, keep in mind that investors are influenced by social proof and the fear of missing out is a major factor in the startup investment landscape. Having other startups in your industry that are successfully raising funds at high valuations and growing rapidly can help you benefit from this factor.

Crunchbase is an excellent resource for finding this information. Remember, in future negotiations with investors, you can use fundraising information on other startups to your advantage.

Slide 9: Financial Projections

It is crucial to have financial projections, including revenue and costs, in an Excel table, especially if your startup is generating revenue. Most investors expect to see this information once you start discussing your business in more detail. When presenting to investors, it’s best to use charts to visualize the financial information.

Objective: To present a positive financial outlook for the business.

Investors typically expect 3 to 5 years of projections as it helps them evaluate the cost structure of the business, its potential, and the capability of the founding team.

While it’s important to be realistic, don’t underestimate your projections, as this may discourage investors. It’s important to strike a balance between conservative estimates and accounting for the fact that startup investors are looking for potential unicorns. Exponential growth is the key to achieving this balance. Be conservative in the short term, but let the compounding effect of good month-over-month growth help you achieve big numbers in the long run.

Keep in mind that people often overestimate what can be done in a day, week, or month, but underestimate what can be achieved in 5 years. Avoid falling into that trap.

If your startup is in the very early stages, this slide may not be as important. If you are still in the process of creating a working product and finding product-market fit, it’s better to show a high upside potential in the market slide.

Slide 10: The Ask

If you intend to seek funding, provide a range for the amount of money you hope to raise rather than a specific number. You should also describe the stages, expected valuation, and how you plan to use the funds.

Additionally, inform the audience of how long the funding will last and what you plan to do once the period runs out. Typically, this means either conducting another funding round (the most common option) or achieving self-sufficiency.

Objective: What do you aim to achieve with this presentation?

If you are not seeking funding but instead looking for partners or team members, make sure to clearly communicate your goals and circumstances to the audience.

Additional Slides

Objective: Provide crucial information that does not fit into traditional slides.

  • Exit Strategy: Potential acquisition by a company, IPO, and other options are not necessary to discuss early on. However, if you are a late-stage startup, it is not a bad idea to consider paving the way for a potential exit.
  • Strategic Partnerships: Highlight any strategic partners you have, as they increase your chances of success.
  • Business Model: While this information should be included in the product, traction, or finance slides, if you have not done so, you can dedicate a slide to it. Answering how your business makes money is a vital question to address, particularly in the early stages of a project.
  • Advisors and Mentors: Advisors and mentors are usually included in the team slide. However, if you have more, you can dedicate a separate slide. This is especially important if the founding team is inexperienced.
  • Other Investors: They provide social proof and validate the project in the eyes of investors.

Recapping

  • Introduction – Clearly and concisely state what your business offers.
  • Problem – Persuade people that you are addressing a real and pressing issue.
  • Solution – Present your business offering and unique value proposition.
  • Market – Convince your audience of the project’s high potential.
  • Product – Demonstrate your product.
  • Validation and Traction – Provide evidence of problem-solution or product-market fit.
  • Team – Show that you have the right team for the job.
  • Competition – Present other players in your market and clarify your competitive advantages.
  • Financial Projections – Present the financial trajectory of the business.
  • The Ask – Clearly state what you aim to achieve with this presentation.
  • Additional Slides – Provide other important information.

Best Practices

  • Use a large font and concise, information-packed sentences.
  • Use bullet points instead of paragraphs to provide key information and structure.
  • Use narrative to engage your audience with stories, but be mindful of time constraints for a two-minute presentation.
  • Utilize visuals such as pictures, charts, and graphs to convey information quickly and effectively.
  • Include contact details on the first or last slide.
  • Use slide-show templates on platforms like Canva to create visually coherent and appealing pitch decks. Expectations are higher now than they were ten years ago, especially if you don’t have a designer on your team to create a custom pitch deck.
  • Practice your pitch in front of others to ensure you present fluently and manage time restrictions well.

Mistakes

  • Avoid including too much information on the slides. There isn’t enough time to read everything during a presentation.
  • Stick to a clear and expected structure. The audience expects certain information, and it should be presented as clearly as possible.
  • Stay on topic during the presentation. A pitch is not a conversation.
  • Avoid including too many details for a single topic. Time constraints require you to focus on the most important pieces of information in more depth, rather than listing many things without covering them at all. For instance, if you are a later-stage startup, avoid including too many team members on the team slide.