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Founder Advice

Why the pitch deck is here to stay (and 4 alternatives that are just a fad)

The difference between a good and great pitch is to be clear and concise, not fast and short. Based on my experience, here are the fundamentals of a great pitch deck and my pros and cons for pitch deck alternatives.
Saba Karim, Global Startup Pipeline Manager, Techstars

I have the best job in the world. This is because I am the head of Pipeline at Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. In my role, I am responsible for helping source startups across the world for all of our accelerators. That is about 450 companies a year, with that number expected to double by next year. Yep, given that we invest about $120,000 into early-stage startups, I am helping us invest (read: spend) close to $50M a year.

This is why I read, receive, and listen to about 120 pitches per week! Whether it’s in person, via email, on audio-first apps, or events that I host or attend, I am getting pitched all day. Good thing is, I love it.

The makeup of a solid elevator pitch

Given my role, people often ask me what was the best pitch I received this week, and it’s a tough question to answer. The best pitch isn’t always about what people often associate with the best pitch: lots of traction, bold vision, big-name investors interested, and so on. To me, the best pitches (usually go for under a minute) do the fundamentals extremely well.

The goal is to be clear and concise, not fast and short. Note the difference.

The difference between a good and great pitch is to be clear and concise, not fast and short. Note the difference. Click To Tweet

Here’s what a good pitch entails:

  • Lead with the team – who you are, who you’re working with, why you’re qualified to solve this problem
  • State the problem statement upfront. This is where you should really frame up the pitch, but clearly identifying what problem exists, and the target audience who experiences this problem
  • The solution which solves the said problem
  • Followed by the other things like traction, competition or market.

Worth noting: I’ve heard that underrepresented founders tend to want to put team slides at the end due to avoiding unconscious bias, and whilst I totally understand the logic – my honest opinion is that you should be unapologetically you. If they’re going to disfavor you, you may as well save their time, and take your business elsewhere without delay. I do like to think this is changing though and that talent and opportunity is being leveled out.


DocSend Startup Index Note:

Saba’s right: the order of sections in your pitch deck matters and can make a difference in getting funded. Here’s a breakdown of how pre-seed companies that successfully raised their round organized their decks:

DocSend startup preseed fundraising slides

 


The pitch deck and why it’s here to stay

When you ask any founder who has successfully fundraised, most of them will tell you that the reason for them getting the money was due to the story. And a pitch-deck lets you do that well. Its 10-12 glorious (sometimes beautiful, but not as important) pages of a perfectly narrated story.

Common mistakes to avoid

  • Focus on the content more than the design. No, you will never get penalized for a good design, but it doesn’t give you bonus points either.
  • A product pitch is different to an investor pitch. One focuses on what the problem and solution is, whereas the other is about what the investment opportunity is. Know your audience. I would go as far as saving multiple pitch-decks versions for different investors.

Sure, sometimes the best pitch is not a pitch at all, and it’s just a low-intensity conversation between two people over coffee or during a phone call without a presentation, but most of us find it easier to digest information by having something we can read – a strong pitch-deck is going to be your best friend.

The same goes for a pitch deck, except it takes a bit longer to consume. Instead of it being a minute, it’s something I can flip through end to end in 2-3 minutes, then spend a few more minutes deep-diving into the key pages like team, solution, traction as needed.

For this reason, this is why I think pitch-decks will never die.

Remember, you know your business and market in and out, but don’t assume the audience does. If you are in a niche industry be sure to provide the needed context, and avoid jargon at all costs.


DocSend Startup Index Note:

The time Saba spends evaluating pitch decks is right on average. According to DocSend’s Pitch Deck Interest metrics, in 2021 investors are spending an average of 2 minutes, 47 seconds reading through a deck. This means it’s important to draw your reader in with a strong narrative that’s tightly organized and concisely worded.


4 alternatives to a pitch deck

Every couple of months I get sent a new format for a pitch deck and whilst it’s intriguing, nothing beats a classic pitch deck. Here are the other formats I’ve seen and some thoughts on them:

Video walkthrough pitch

Founders usually sends me a link to watch an 8-10 minute video of them presenting their pitch deck.

What I like: I get to see them, hear their voice, and get their vibe

What I don’t love: They always feel very long and it’s kind of transactional (Hey Saba, here’s a video I sent to 50 other people)

One-pager pitch

A one-pager whether as a PDF or landing page with core information.

What I like: I can quickly decide whether I want to see their deck or not

What I don’t love: Sometimes it feels like an additional step that just delays me getting all the information I likely needed anyway to evaluate the startup

Memos

2-3 pages of plain text speaking about the startup. Basically a pitch deck in written format.

What I like: Less emphasis on design and imagery, and can focus on telling the story of the core business and rationale around why we should invest

What I don’t love: No standardized headings like there is with a pitch deck so it often feels harder to follow along

Teaser Deck

Admittedly, I have not received many of these, but it’s basically a cross between a one-pager and pitch deck. 2-3 pages of the most important information.

What I like: Nothing really. They’ve always left me yearning for more.

What I don’t love: It’s too salesly. If you’re going to ask me, to part with money, to invest in something that one day turns into something, then don’t “tease” me, and just give the information upfront in a proper pitch deck.

Final thoughts, a good founder knows what to put in their pitch deck, a great founder knows what to leave out. It can take fifty no’s to get one yes, then one yes to change fifty minds. Do multivariate testing on what opening slide works, or sometimes omitting sections to see what follow-up questions you get. Stay patient and hang in there and try a bunch of stuff.

A good founder knows what to put in their pitch deck, a great founder knows what to leave out. Remember it can take fifty no’s to get one yes, then one yes to change fifty minds. Click To Tweet

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