Startup businesses, especially SaaS startups, need a way to consolidate their ideas before they put in the respective effort to build their product or service. They need to be able to communicate — or pitch — their vision to investors, to their team and co-founders, to their partners and to their customers. To efficiently do that, they will need a brief presentation including a deck of slides summarizing their findings; that is, regarding their market, their customer segments, the problems they’ve found are worth solving and the solutions they’ve come up with. We call this presentation a “pitch deck”.

What is a pitch deck and who is it for?

What is a pitch deck?

A pitch deck is a brief presentation created by the co-founders of a startup company. It’s purpose is to provide investors, team, co-founders and partners with a quick overview of the company’s business plan. We can use a similar but simpler version of this presentation to inform customers of what the product is, how it works and how it benefits them. 

In fact, depending on the use of a pitch deck, there are a few different types of pitches one can come up with, to achieve better results. A pitch deck is not educational in nature. It needs to be brief — 10-12 slides will usually suffice — and should provide barely sufficient information for the audience to understand our point of view. As such, a pitch deck should not take more than 15 minutes to go over, including any potential questions and answers.

What types of pitch decks are there?

Depending on the type of audience one intends to pitch their ideas and vision, a different type of pitch deck may be required. Investors need different information than customers. Co-founders need more in-depth details than the rest of the team. Partners need different reassurances than stakeholders. As such, there are a few different ways to structure a pitch deck.

1. Investment pitch deck

Its purpose is to try and convince an investor that it’s worth their while to learn more about the startup and its objectives; perhaps even avail themselves of the opportunity to make an investment. Typically, no more than 10-12 slides are required. Their content is discussed in the next section.

While there are a series of details that can be orally communicated to the investor, this type of pitch deck should be able stand on its own; without further analysis; for example, it should provide useful information on its own, as an email attachment.

2. Marketing pitch deck

A marketing pitch deck serves to “educate” potential customers or partners about the value proposition of the product. That is, leveraging any Key Selling Points tied to quantifiable benefits to the potential customer or partner. It should be no more than 10 slides long — usually 4-5 slides will suffice.

This type of pitch deck should be able stand on its own, without further analysis.

3. Competition pitch deck (e.g. Congresses)

We typically use this type of pitch deck in congresses and startup competitions. Startups of all types compete against each other for the attention of an investor that will take interest in their endeavor. Founders usually have 3-5 minutes to build a case, explaining their value proposition and traction. Above all, this requires the presenter to captivate their audience in the first 30 seconds. For that reason, on should keep it short and sweet.

Most of the information is delivered orally to the audience. Images are used quite more heavily than words. This pitch deck is not required to stand on its own. Further analysis will be directly available from the presenter.

4. Opportunity and Vision pitch deck

When a startup is attempting to position themselves in a specific market — untapped or not — this type of pitch deck is ideal to present the opportunity at hand and their vision. One can: 

  • Put their vision in a sentence 
  • Describe the opportunity with quantifiable data
  • Briefly describe the product or service
  • Summarize their progress through existing traction
  • Summarize their business model
  • Produce a competitive analysis matrix
  • Identify their go-to-market strategy
  • Go through the investment requirements through business objectives

This type of pitch deck should be able stand on its own, without further analysis.

5. Team pitch deck

A team of noteworthy professionals is always a key selling point in presenting a startup. In short, this usually leverages the level of commitment in the team, along with their sought after skill-set. This type of pitch deck should include a brief presentation of all resident team members, along with their accomplishments. A well balanced portrait image for each member is also helpful in selling the concept. 

The presentation may also include:

  • The vision and opportunity at hand
  • The problems being solved and the respective solutions

This type of pitch deck should be able stand on its own, without further analysis.

6. Traction pitch deck

A traction pitch deck is only good if the company has gained significant traction up to that point. Therefore, it needs to be the main focus of the presentation. This type of pitch deck should include:

  • The idea and objective in a sentence; otherwise known as an elevator pitch — more on that at the end of this section
  • Any existing quantifiable traction and its course, over time

This presentation may also include, as well:

  • The vision and opportunity at hand
  • The problems being solved and the respective solutions

This type of pitch deck should be able stand on its own, without further analysis.

7. Bonus: Tweet and Elevator pitch (no deck)

A Tweet — or Twitter — pitch has the length of an actual Tweet. A message that is so condensed and summarized proves to the listener that the presenter knows what they’re talking about so well that they can articulate it in a single self-explanatory sentence.

An elevator pitch is quite similar to a Tweet. A single sentence that demonstrates the value proposition of the product or service, so that the listener can perceive its value. Then, one can continue with the problem, the solution the team came up with and the kind of investment that is required. The main idea behind it is to be able to explain the product or service to an investor that one just met in the elevator, before they get off at their destination.

Ad lib delivery is a normal way to go in both of these cases.

What slides should you include in an investment pitch deck?  (+ duration of each slide)

Different types of pitch decks will include different slides and, occasionally, in different detail. These are the most important bits of information one can use towards a successful presentation. We have also included a crude approximation of the time an investor would spend on each slide.

1. Vision/value proposition

Short and simple does it. In fact, it needs to be memorable for customers, partners and investors alike to remember. Practicing messages at tweet length will eventually pay off. The final message should sufficiently describe the business and its value to customers.

A high-level concept based on something people already know may also be helpful.
E.g. “We’re the YouTube for Athletes”

Duration: 15”

2. Team

Why is this team the right team to build this business? What makes it better from others? Key members and key expertise will greatly help support this claim. Even the positions to be eventually filled will provide the audience with a hint at how we intend to build the company and help it grow.

Duration: 22”

3. Problem

Solving a real problem for real people that would be willing to buy the solution is of paramount importance to positioning the product and the business in the market. References to existing solutions may help validate the existence of the problem and the need to solve it. To explain, if the audience can relate to the story of this real problem, they will understand the business and the objectives.

Using images that emphasize the problem always help get the message across.

Duration: 11”

4. Advantages/Benefits

How will the customer benefit from the solution? How will the company benefit from selling it? And how will the stakeholders and investors benefit from this business? Of course, all these are valid questions and should be answered adequately.

Also, if there are any disruptive advantages — or unfair advantages over competition — this is a great opportunity to briefly mention them.

Duration: 16”

5. Solution 

How will customers use the product to solve their problems? Storytelling is key here. For this reason, getting to the solution without building up the appropriate tension as to why and how these problems are bad and need to be solved will not leverage the value of the solution. Granted that, focusing on the customers and their problems is the best way to help investors understand how the product will bring value back to them, if they make an investment.

Using images to illustrate the solution always helps achieve better understanding and capture the audience’s interest.

Duration: 10”

6. Product (screenshots/demo)

What does the product or service look like? How does it work? And how does it solve people’s problems? To that end, a simple demonstration with screenshots makes the conversation quite more “real”.

Duration: 13”

7. Validation/Traction

An established customer base, even a small one validates the hypothesis that people are indeed looking to solve these specific problems. That is to say, any early adopters that use it, along with a testimonial or some feedback will prove that the business model is not highly risky. This is, indeed, powerful proof — validation even — of what the business model describes as a set of assumptions.

Discussing the high-level milestones that have been reached helps validate the assumption that the team can see this through to the end. Conversely, what are the future milestones for the company? How will this play out?

Duration: 23”

8. TAM/SAM/SOM — Market Opportunity

Who is the ideal customer for this product? Is there more than one ideal customer? What is the Total Addressable Market? And, of course, what is the Serviceable Available Market, out of that?

Of course, a market opportunity virtually never comes without competition. As such, what would be the Serviceable Obtainable Market opportunity?

And then, how is the company positioned in the market, against all the competition? A few numbers indicating the size of these measurements, along with the buying power of said customers and how much they invest in solving these problems will set the stage regarding the scope and scale of the problems and how lucrative this whole endeavor will be.

Different offerings often call for different market analyses and strategies. To that end, bringing in the specifics for each case will help investors understand the value of each different investment opportunity.

Duration: 13”

9. Competition/Perceptual map

A quick way to identify the closest competitors in relation to each other is to create a perceptual map. There are many different ways to set up a perceptual map; that is, depending on the business aspects one needs to throw into consideration.

Each competitor is placed on a Cartesian coordinate system, in direct relation to all the other competitors. This puts them close enough or far enough from each other to indicate which the closest competitors are; that is, according to feature set, pricing, customer segments or any other aspect being investigated. The resulting graph will help investors verify the company’s positioning and the competitive forces around it.

Duration: 16”

10. Business or Revenue model

How will the different aspects of the business work together? How does the company create its revenues? Some businesses base their revenues on a freemium model, while others rely on advertisements. Understanding how cash flow occurs verifies whether the model can be viable; and whether it risks a single point of failure or not.

Setting the stage to describe the competitive landscape and how the pricing model fits the market helps identify if the product offered undercuts existing alternatives, already established in the market.

Duration: 14”

11. Road map (High level)

Asking for investment funds is not all that simple. The investor needs to know how the startup intends to utilize the investment and when. A high level breakdown of the goals and objectives helps roughly outline the timeframe in which each step will most likely be completed. With that, along with a rough estimate of the budget required for each step, the stakeholders and investors have all the information they need to understand how the company will use their funds to build their product and grow into a healthy business. That’s a high level road map.

Duration: 14”

12. Amount being raised (Distribution: optional)

If the road map includes several steps into the startup process, a slightly more detailed breakdown of the costs incurred during each step may be essential to help everyone understand how the founders intend to steer the ship into these unknown waters.

For that reason, a high level distribution of cost centers, indicating where the investment is going to be put to good use and at what point in time, keeps everyone aligned towards common goals, offering some peace of mind, if everything seems to make sense.

Duration: 23”

13. Contact details

An investor, a partner, a stakeholder or a potential customer will need to leave the room with some kind of contact details for the people that are in the driver’s seat. Therefore, a brief listing of all the key specialists in the company, along with a couple of different ways to get in touch with them shows they are open to discuss any new opportunities; or follow up on any questions that may arise from the presentation.

Duration: less than 10”

14. Cash flow/Forecasts (optional)

Most startups start looking for investment funds even before they get their first customer. Of course, this means it’s highly likely that they have no cash flow to show with their business model.

A forecast based on market research and the size of the Serviceable Obtainable Market will provide the information needed on the size and viability of this investment opportunity. That goes for both the potential investors and the team that aims to build the product.

Duration: 23”

15. Marketing/Sales strategy (optional)

A viable and repeatable sales cycle is extremely important in bringing in new business at the lowest possible customer acquisition cost. What’s the plan on getting people’s attention? What will the overall sales process look like? Does the team have a solid grasp of the customer segments and how the market works? Have any sales channels already been established?

A brief illustration of the key tactics we’ll be using to reach the target market and the ideal customers is really important in devising a viable sales strategy and a plan to execute it effectively.

Duration: 14”

16. Competitive advantage (optional)

Competition comes in different forms and sizes. Every business has it; Most likely, people are already using some alternative commercial solution, homegrown solution or workaround to solve their problems. All businesses have to face that fact, even when entering an entirely new market.

There are usually two different factors that affect our competitiveness right from the start:

  • A possible competitive advantage — also known as unfair advantage. This is something that is really difficult to copy or recreate.
  • The positioning of our company in the market. This is our differentiating factor; perhaps even a disruptive feature in our business model.

Any or both of these things will help us stand out from the competition.

But, if we’ve understood our customers well enough, the one thing that can help us really hit pay dirt is what we call our “brand asset”. Simply put, a brand asset is the reason why people will want to use our product or service instead of an already existing alternative in the market. So, what is the reason people would buy from us? What is our brand asset? That is, actually, something we can build our brand around.

Duration: 16”

17. Partnerships (optional)

Strategic partnerships, be it about hardware or software, human resources, know-how, IP licensing or available clientele and business network, make for a great validation of our value proposition. In other words, if other businesses are currently interested in what we have to offer, it’s probably worth it for an investor, as well.

Duration: 14”

18. Board of Advisors (optional)

Advisors can include industry experts, analysts or influencers. In some cases, they can include some professionals that have taken interest in our efforts early on in the process; for the moment, we can call them early adopters.

In conducting market research, it’s really important to take hints from people that are already in our target market. Startups have the opportunity to shape a board of advisors, as soon as their MVP is available. Apart from the fact that the board of advisors will help determine what customers need, they may also function as advocates for our product or service; perhaps, even create some valuable awareness for us.

Duration: less than 10”

19. Testimonials (Press or Users: Optional)

Testimonials prove that people have shown interest in using the product and have found actual value in it. Personal testimonials, official reviews and press coverage can all help identify the value people have found in the product or service; thus, validating our value proposition and company positioning.

And if people can attest to the value of the product, perhaps it’s worth the time and money from investors.

Duration: 16”

20. Exit strategy (optional)

At the far end of the entire endeavor, startups may aim to gain the interest of certain companies or large corporations. To do that, they must form what’s called an exit strategy; a plan that will help reach their goals, fulfill their objectives. And, of course, to manage to get enough traction, so that a bigger player in the industry will be interested in acquiring the product and the company in its entirety. Who might be these players?

Another option is for the startup company to grow enough to be eligible for an IPO. Once they go public, anyone will be able to privately buy any amount of stocks and become a part of the company. In some cases, this might be a better way to go.

Duration: 16”

What does an investor expect from your pitch deck?

An investment pitch is relatively different from a partner or stakeholder pitch or a marketing pitch. Investors usually need to get certain information from a new pitch. And, even if not all investors are looking for the exact same things, there is a somewhat standardized guideline to a successful pitch deck. In short, the information one is required to put in an investor pitch, include — but are not limited to — the following:

  1. Team and vision (or mission)
  2. Problem(s) and opportunity
  3. Target customer segments
  4. Solution(s) and product
  5. Business (and revenue) model
  6. Go-to-market strategy
  7. Competitive analysis
  8. Traction
  9. Financial projections
  10. Current status and future roadmap/milestones
  11. Exit strategy

However, in anticipating a few extra questions at the end of the pitch, a few more informative slides may be added after the end of the presentation, as per the suggestions in the previous section. Apart from these 11 items above, all remaining slides should probably be added as part of an addendum.

How do other types of pitch decks differ in content and expectations?

The stakeholders pitch

Stakeholders need to know more about the milestones that we plan to achieve, how and when. They usually already know the current status of development and financials. Most of the slides that would be included in an investor pitch would have no significant value in a stakeholders pitch.

The partner pitch

A prospective partner will not come on board until they’re confident they’ll be getting into a healthy collaboration with a viable and healthy — ideally growing — business. They will also need to know the team and build a relationship of trust and transparency with them. In a sense, they will be investing in our company with whatever they have to bring to the table.

The marketing pitch

We use a marketing pitch to get through to potential customers. Any information related to how the business works would be irrelevant. Notwithstanding that, any prospective customer would be interested in the problems the product or service is dealing with, how it solves them and how it benefits them. More specifically, customers won’t just buy products; they will buy better versions of themselves, every time. That’s why the brand asset is really important to figure out and use to build a brand around the product. So, how will the product help them become a better version of themselves?

Best practices in making a pitch deck

Keep it short and simple

Long presentations have people wander off into their thoughts and unanswered questions. Conversely, a short presentation makes sure they have the energy and time to ask the questions and enter a productive discussion. Simple does it, as well. That goes to say, getting into too much detail will take away some of the impact of the storytelling.

Keep it up to date

Updating all pitch decks with the latest information ensures team readiness whenever any opportunity knocks on the door. Furthermore, one would be prudent to avoid any awkward moments when they discover some of the information is out of date, during a presentation. A pitch deck that is out of date may make the audience think the whole thing might be almost an afterthought — or not well thought out. They might think we’re wasting their time. That’s something to carefully avoid.

Use storytelling

An emotional response from the audience, during any presentation is a powerful factor in getting them on board with what we’re suggesting. A bunch of slides without coherence will not have nearly enough impact as a story would. We can use storytelling to add flow to the presentation. And a more personalized story may also be quite more relatable than a mere set of numbers and graphs. Using impactful pictures instead of text and putting them into context with what we’re offering and what we’re asking for will help people understand why we’re doing what we’re doing. It provides them with our values and our mission; our brand personality.

Also, emphasizing the consequences of the problems we’re looking to solve if they remain unsolved, can help identify and quantify the value of our solutions and our product. A much promising product surrounded by people with the right values and skills is much more likely to land us a deal than a boring presentation that might not provide enough context.

Avoid lists and long text

A list and some long text can help make for a stand-alone pitch deck. But, people don’t really need how we reached our conclusions. They do, however, need to know what our conclusions were. Visualizing them into graphs and numbers will do the job, and they won’t seem boring. Keeping it short and simple is key to getting everyone’s attention.

The more detailed parts of the presentation can be delivered orally. And even so, some of them might also be added as an addendum at the end of the main presentation, after the “thank you” slide.

Be honest in what you ask for

When looking for investment funds, we need to be honest in what we’re asking for and why. Investors need to know how the funding will be used, when and for what purpose. A relatively detailed breakdown of how the funding will be distributed, providing value to the growth stage of the company is of cardinal importance to investors. As such, honesty and transparency is key to land a deal.

Don’t exaggerate your numbers

Exaggerating numbers about our serviceable obtainable market and market penetration will get us nowhere closer to an investment deal. Investors will conduct due diligence before they decide to come on board; they will see right through any exaggeration. So, this is not helpful. Showing deep understanding of our competition, our market power and the size of the opportunity will help investors understand that we know what we’re talking about and we know what we’re doing. That is to say, while this is counterintuitive, non-exaggeration will get us one step closer to closing the deal.

Mind your formatting

Coherence in formatting, color coding and branding is essential, if we need to avoid our audience wondering why everything is different while we’re presenting to them. Following a simple, well thought through, coherent structure for our pitch deck helps everyone understand our point and our bottom line better.

Additionally, since not everyone is equally tech-savvy, we need to make sure the pitch deck is visually displayed exactly the same for every recipient. When sending a pitch deck to someone via email, converting it to a PDF beforehand, is a good practice.

Do your homework — for investors

Investors may have a ton of questions that need to be answered before they write a cheque. Typically, there will be a follow up meeting with them to clarify any questions that come up. But, they will still need to go through certain documents before that. Being prepared to send them over is key for them to perceive the team as a well oiled machine. Better yet, if they seem eager enough to enter discussions, there could also be an additional slide in the pitch deck, with links to all relevant documents. Usually, one would need the following:

What are a few good examples of a pitch deck?

Good examples of a pitch deck are any examples that demonstrate simplicity, cohesion and storytelling. So, not judged by aesthetics or strict formatting of information, here are some examples that might help structure a good pitch deck:

TL;DR: Tell your story in a nutshell

Now, a quick disclaimer here. Pitch decks are not the way to justly evaluate a startup. The presenter’s skills in public speaking should not guide an investment decision. As a founder, these skills say nothing about their ability to create and grow a business.

But, startups need pitch decks to tell their story. A pitch deck helps a startup team consolidate their ideas and processes in product development and goal management. In essence, it provides clarity and helps identify their purpose. A pitch deck is not made the same for all audiences; a different pitch deck proves useful for investors. Just as a different one is used for stakeholders or potential partners; and an entirely different pitch deck will help prospective customers understand our value proposition.

Knowing what kinds of information each audience needs to see and how one can make it into an impactful, structured story is the key to a successful pitch. Storytelling and simplicity are essential elements of a well made pitch deck. As discussed, it gives clarity to the audience; and receiving an emotional response from them always keeps things moving, bringing us closer to closing the deal we need.

How do you tell your story then?

Pitching is a skill that is built over time. A pitch deck built with best practices will not instantly make for a skilled presenter; but it will help the presenter retain some good flow in their presentation. Startup incubators and accelerators will help entrepreneurs practice their skills in public speaking. And, with any luck, after a few presentations they will be able to captivate their audience, delivering impactful stories and getting things done. But, a storyteller is nowhere as good as their potential if they don’t have a good story to tell. So, everything starts with a well made pitch deck to leverage the important parts of the story; the story of your startup!