Your startup pitch. Just uttering the phrase can excite and stress every aspiring startup founder in equal measure. Startup pitch made easy it is, then!
As you may imagine, there’s reams of content out there on how to create the perfect pitch. From what format you should use and the deck itself, to what data or content you should include and what you should actually say.
The goal of this post is not to regurgitate all of that. We’ll leave some references for you to peruse at your leisure for inspiration. For all intents and purposes here, we want to keep it simple and practical. And, to put down a checklist or sorts that you need to tick off to make sure your pitch is as ready and razor sharp as it can be.
Let’s face it, going in front of a team of investors can be a daunting experience. And it doesn’t matter which startup funding stage you’re at: if it’s simply for getting feedback from a mentor, aiming for pre-seed or early-stage funding, or even seed level funding. You will have the same feelings of anxiety, stress and pressure to get your message across effectively.
Your startup pitch made easy: pitch types
It may not surprise you in the realm of startup pitches, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. In fact, there are actually different types of pitches depending on several important variables. Some of these variables include the audience, whether the pitch is to in person or sent via email correspondence, and the stage of evolution of the startup in question.
Quick sanity check. Investors will not write a cheque based just on the pitch. Despite any Hollywood startup stories out of Silicon Valley that you may have heard. And so the purpose of your pitch is to convince investors that they need to learn more about you, and your company.
Many investors and funds have deal-killer, or showstopper criteria. These are the few criteria, which if you don’t address in your pitch, such as a sound business model and financial data and projections, will result in the investor immediately saying “No”. Or “Thanks but no thanks”, if they are polite. Remember, investors get swamped with startup pitches on a daily basis. So the majority are looking for an easy way to say “No” as quickly as possible in order not to waste their time.
With that in mind, since we’re looking for a startup pitch made easy, here are the main types of pitches (disclaimer: there are some sub-types, but these are the ‘main’ types):
The elevator pitch
The most common type of startup pitch that you hear about in the beginning. And here you need to get straight to the point, but in an impressive and engaging way. In short, you need to leave a reason for the person listening to you to say, “Tell me more.”
For an elevator pitch, the idea is that you will have, at best, only 60 seconds to make it. With that in mind, most of the advice out there advises you to focus on the following:
- Who you are < 5 seconds. One sentence.
- What’s the customer problem you are trying to solve? < 20 seconds. 3-5 sentences.
- Your solution < 25 seconds. 2-3 sentences
- What’s your ask? < 5 seconds. One sentence.
- Finally, the one one sentence everyone in the audience needs to remember < 5 seconds.
The one sentence pitch
Even shorter than the elevator pitch, think of this as a summary of your elevator pitch. And that one sentence that everyone needs to remember. And so, it needs to be simply, but effective and easy to recall. The key elements you need are:
“My company (company name) is developing (a defined offering) to help (a target audience) solve (a problem) with (secret sauce).”
The Founder Institute’ has some great examples and tips to help on crafting this vital aspect for a startup pitch made easy.
The in-person pitch
This pitch deck is designed to support a founder or team member doing a presentation. This means that the ‘juicy parts’, or bulk of the information, should be communicated verbally. As you can imagine then, this deck needs to be very visual, with limited words and numbers. Think Ted Talk.
The standalone pitch
This package is created so that it can be read through without someone speaking. It contains all the key messages, talking points, and numbers. This pitch deck may often be left behind after a presentation and/or emailed to potential investors. You need to make sure that there are as few questions unanswered as possible in the information you provide. Therefore an appendix with further details to back up your business model and financials are essential, so it’s clear you’ve done your homework.
Pitch versus pitch deck
Obviously, there is a difference between a pitch (i.e. what the founder says) and the pitch deck (the slides with the information about your startup). Let’s have a quick ‘bare bones’ look at the objectives of both. The below is paraphrased from a great article from Y Combinator which we think sums it up in a very useful practical way
- Convince or persuade investors why your company must exist.
- Be memorable – the investor must remember you the next day. Otherwise, rest assured you’ll be waiting a long time for that call to come.
- Be a pro. Look and speak as if you already are the CEO of a successful company. This includes your body language, how you stand, and how you speak (like it or not, this means practising many times in front of a mirror, and in front of friends/relatives/team members).
- Create a trust, confidence, and emotional connection between the investor(s) and the presenters.
- Create the excitement and interest in the investors to learn more, while demonstrating your oral presentation skills and ability to have a Q&A dialogue.
- Be able to communicate with an audience that has no previous information about you. Assume that the investors are not experts regarding your customers, your industry, or your technology.
Within the pitch, Y Combinator suggest that you need to answer seven common key investor questions, which we definitely agree on:
- What do you do?
- How big is the market and opportunity?
- What is your progress?
- What is your unique insight?
- What’s your business model?
- Who is on your team, and why are they the people to bring this vision to life?
- What do you want?
Startup pitch made easy: Slides you simply cannot afford to leave out
Based on the above, it’s clear that there are plenty of things to think about when trying for a startup pitch made easy. Most importantly, you need to be aware of the audience you are targeting, and the format of the pitch, i.e. if it’s in-person or not.
Let’s focus on the pitch deck side of things to finish off. Because this piece of content is what you will base your pitches on most, and it’s what you will spend the most time tweaking and sharing with investors – at all stages of your journey.
The important thing to remember with any pitch deck is that the end goal is simply to get to the next step. A request for more information, and hopefully, a follow-up meeting.
Here’s our view on the 9 slides you must have in your startup pitch made easy:
Vision and value proposition
This is your reason for existence, and your audience’s reason to want to invest in you. It’s typically a quick one-sentence overview of your business and the value you will provide to your customers. It must be a very simple sentence, that your parents would get. Many commentators out there suggest that you think of it as a tweet in terms of the length.
Like it or not, any successful startup these days is solving some kind of problem in the world. Use this slide to talk succinctly about what it is, who has the problem, and talk briefly about current solutions in the market. It’s always useful to use a real example if you can so your audience can relate.
Target market and opportunity
To paraphrase the Spiderman comic books, with great problems come great opportunities. You need this slide to expand on how the problem has created this huge opportunity, how the current solutions don’t address it enough or as well as they should, and who your ideal customer is, as well as how many of them there are. Here is where you show that you have clearly thought this through and have done your homework with details of the total estimated market size and how you will position your startup in the market. This is the slide where you begin to get into the juicy part of your story about the scope and scale of the problem you are solving. Don’t overdo it on size though, you will need to ‘drill down’ and show investors that you have a very specific and reachable market. This keeps it real.
This is the great ‘reveal’ moment. This one is vital and it’s where you describe how your product or service works, how customers will use it, and how it makes a better job of addressing the problem you mentioned earlier than your competitors. If you can, use images and relatable life stories when you describe your solution. Remember show and tell in school. It was nearly always the showing that grabbed the most attention.
Business model and roadmap
The ‘show me the money’ slide. After talking about your awesome product or service, you have to now show how it makes, or will make, cold hard cash. Pricing, who and how the bills will be paid. Be as detailed as possible. It’s also useful to refer to the competitive landscape at this point, comparing things like prices and how you shape up against the current incumbents.
Also, if you already have some sales, early adopters, or beta users, add the details here. One thing that investors are really keen to see is that you have ‘proof of concept’, i.e. you have proven some aspect of your business model. This reduces the apparent risk. Finally, it’s also worth adding your milestones and timeline going forward. What are the main objectives you have already achieved, and what are the major goals going forward. Your company or product roadmap outlining key milestones is helpful in terms of providing a guide for your progress.
Marketing and sales strategy
Customers don’t just walk in the door. Investors are well aware of this. So this slide is key to showing how you are planning on getting customers’ attention, and what your sales process will look like. In outlining your marketing and sales plan, you should provide the key tactics that you intend to use to get your product in front of prospective customers. This is often the hardest part for any startup in the beginning, so it’s vital to demonstrate that you and your team have a firm grasp of how you’ll reach your target market, be seen and heard by them, and what sales channels you plan to use.
This is often one of the most important slides, simply because it has been proven to be one of the most important aspects in Investors’ decision process. The team. Show here who you really are and why you and your team are absolutely the right people to build and grow your startup.
Highlight any special skills that you have that others do not. Talk about your team’s strengths and successes they may have had at other companies, and the key expertise – and character – that they bring to the table.
This one is an extension of the business model details. But here you need to be very specific. Any investor worth their salt will want to see your financials: sales forecast/projections, income statement, or profit and loss statement, as well as things like your cash flow forecast for at least three years. Remember though that for a pitch deck you don’t need hugely detailed excel sheets that will be tough to digest. Your pitch deck, after all, is a presentation. Make sure you limit it to simple graphs and charts that show sales, total customers, total revenue, expenses, and profits.
The investment ask
At last, it’s time to actually, yes really, ask for the money. That’s the reason you created the pitch deck in the first place, remember? It certainly wasn’t just to impress your friends. Here you need to give your potential investors an accurate idea of how much money you are looking for. And more importantly, what you are going to use each dollar for. So ensure that you also include a breakdown of what you intend spending the money on.
There are few other extra slides that you may want to include, or at least have in reserve. These are: Exit strategy (if you have one in mind already), Partnerships, some of which may be key to your business success. For example, you may have a key distribution partner or technology partner which your success depends on. It’s vital to showcase anything like this. If you can as well, have some slides with a Demo and/or some screenshots.
In addition to your pitch deck, you should have an executive summary, as well as more detailed, additional information that you can provide if requested. Preparing these additional documents can also help ensure that you don’t try and fill your presentation with too much overwhelming information.
Tips on making your pitch
- Keep it simple
- Keep it short (20-30 mins max)
- Tell a story. Engage your audience rather than give them a comprehensive guide to your business
- Don’t overstate the market opportunity
- If you already have data on how an MVP, or early version of your product is selling to some early adopters, use the numbers to help drive the rest of your forecast.
- And always, make a specific request for a specific amount
Over to you: Make your startup pitch, easy
What are your next steps then? Start creating the different kinds of startup pitches we have explored above. Research your target audience to understand their expectations and get some solid insights into what buttons you need to press.
Before you present or send any pitch decks, make sure that you adjust your oral and written presentation to meet the critical requirements of your target audience. This process is very similar to how you would adapt your resume depending on the industry and job that you are applying for.
Above all, get to the point, make it simple, and always have facts and numbers to back up your grand story.
With a grain of salt
A startup pitch is definitely not the be-all and end-all of startup life. A pitch is not the best way to evaluate a startup and an investment opportunity. That goes to say, a founder’s — or presenter’s — public speaking skills may offer a level of theatricality that makes the startup seemingly irresistible to invest in. These skills will tell us nothing about their ability to create and grow a business. We think you can appreciate that.
Now, pitches have always provided a way for investors, partners, customers and experts to understand our story; they always have and always will. But, it doesn’t hurt to keep in mind their biased nature, before you join the race for your perfect pitch.
Don’t get us wrong. We, at Starttech, do use a pitch to give us a clue as to what a startup is all about. But, this biased nature is exactly the reason why we never judge a startup exclusive from the quality of the founder’s pitch. There is so much more to a startup than that!
Now it’s over to you!