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5. Juli 2021, 16:32 :: Accelerator
Autor: Lukas Gräf
If you are a founder who recently started their first startup, then the topic of writing a pitch deck has most likely already become relevant for you (or will very soon). Writing a good pitch deck takes time but it will help you in many ways, both internally and externally. Internally because it will help to challenge your main assumptions on why you are building this specific startup and externally because a pitch deck is a great tool to present/pitch your startup to early outside stakeholders. These can include potential co-founders, investors, pilot customers or accelerator programs. Pitching your startup and idea to others in the early stages can be very difficult and thus a good pitch deck can support you in convincing others to follow you on your journey.
Many founders do not fully utilize this opportunity because they do not have a good pitch deck, be it unstructured, complicated or missing information. If externals are not able to understand or follow your pitch deck, it conveys a negative signal and therefore hinders the success chances of your startup. This pitch deck guide gives you the fundamentals that will help you create a great pitch deck independent of the specific content.
Note on differences between pitch decks you present in person and those you sent out via email. This pitch deck guide is focusing on the content and the design of the slide, not the presentation style in front of an audience. The presentation style is also important but another topic that needs to be addressed separately. Generally speaking, a pitch deck can have different purposes (winning a customer or raising money from investors) and you should always be clear with respect to what your target is.
The team at STARTPLATZ created a template for a pitch deck that includes many of the tips that are written in the following guide. Feel free to use it as an inspiration. You can find it here: Link to pitch deck template
Whether you send your pitch deck via email (typically, investors spend 2-3 minutes on a pitch deck) or present it in front of an audience (the attention span is now down to 8 seconds, link), people have a very short attention span these days and get distracted if your pitch deck does not catch their attention. Therefore it is helpful to build your pitch deck around a specific storyline that supports your argument on why you started this company and why you want to solve this specific problem. In a good story a person or company faces the specific problem you are solving, therefore your startup improves their lives by solving this problem. Humans are triggered by stories because stories have always been the main format that uses emotions. The story you are telling should therefore trigger the reader’s emotions, as this can enhance their reading experience. It is crucial to include various elements of emotion in your written pitch deck that you send out via email, even if the story is harder to portray than if you were pitching it live on stage.
A good pitch deck should make logical sense when you read it from the beginning to the end. That means each slide builds upon the information of the previous slides and strengthens the argument on why your startup has a high potential. Remember, this should still feel like a story and not like a list of boring slides. Boring slides mean a lot of text and too much information.
A logical structure may look like the following example:
Using this kind of logical structure immensely helps the reader to follow your story and argumentation.
Who is the audience and how much do they already know about your business, market or customers? How much do they need to know? Throughout your whole presentation it is crucial that you always put yourself in the perspective of the reader or listener. In general, the reader will know much less about the problem you are solving than you. That means, it is always useful to keep your pitch deck simple to understand and also not filled with too much information. Most of that is probably not super relevant to the reader in the beginning. Remember that a good pitch deck is often just the key to getting a second meeting or call in which you can go into more detail.
Depending on your audience, you can use different versions of the pitch so that it is tailored more specifically: If you’re pitching to investors, your main goal should be to show that your startup has the potential to scale rapidly and for a billion-dollar exit. You need to include information such as competition in this scenario. Also, investors often know many industries and you don’t need several slides explaining the problem you are solving. They get it. When pitching to potential customers, however, it’s much more important to go more in depth on your product offering. In this version, you probably do not want to show them all potential competitors.
The design and layout of your pitch deck are as important as your content but often do not receive the equal amount of love. A bad design distracts you from the content itself and is confusing. A great design doubles down on the content provided by making the content easier to read, easier to understand and easier to follow, supplementing the logical structure provided before.
In fact, the content itself is made up of design. The text on your slides can be influenced by many factors such as the position on the slide, the size, the intensity, the colour or the font. So what are some design features that you should think about when creating a pitch deck? Here are three design features that will go a long way:
The most important space is the one you don’t use. Think about a slide with a lot of information. It is very difficult to focus on what to look at and read first. You want to use lots of empty space instead to guide the viewer’s attention towards the important parts of the slide (similar concepts apply to websites). As a founder, you often feel like there is a lot of information you want to convey that you want to share and need to cover. That is why many startup pitch decks feel overly stuffed and sometimes chaotic. Don’t do that and use space to guide your reader.
If you look at a very well-done pitch deck, you will see a common theme when it comes to colour picking throughout the presentation. Only very few colours are used and they support each other. It is also helpful to use one colour that generally highlights key points or visually guides the reader through the slides. For that, you don’t necessarily need to have a complete CI (corporate identity) document ready but it is advisable to stick to two to three colours max throughout the pitch deck. An easy start here is to decide on your main colour and then use the colour wheel. Mark your main colour and then look at the opposite colour on the wheel for the complementary colour. Another option is to pick the two colours to the left and to the right of your main colour, called analogous. Or you pick two colours that form a triangle with your main colour, called triad. According to color theory these combinations work best. This should give you a good enough start and obviously you can then use various intensity levels of the colours that you picked to add certain emphasis.
Visual elements such as icons, pictures, or product screenshots can make a pitch deck much more appealing to look at, as well as help you deliver the message more easily. Humans can understand pictures faster than text and emotions are transferred much easier. You should therefore use this to your advantage. Specific parts in the pitch decks where this makes more sense are for example: The problem slide, the solution slide or the business model slide. It works better for some startups and industries than others. So play around and see what works for you.
Note: It is generally good to have (at least) two versions of the pitch deck, one for sending out and one for presenting in front of an audience. If you are presenting in front of an audience, you can keep the slides even cleaner and focus mainly on visuals, everything else you will explain verbally.
Your pitch deck is a never-ending document and requires constant iteration and improvement. So don’t worry if it is not perfect, it will probably never be and many people will have opinions about it. If you can manage to keep it clean and simple, clearly convey your vision and make it easy to understand, you have a higher chance of succeeding with your investor or customer meetings. This guide hopefully helps you to avoid some mistakes and gives you some useful tips on how to improve your pitch deck.
As a best practice for pitch deck, you often come across the deck that AirBnb used to raise their Seed round. It is indeed very clean and simple and you can study it in detail here: link.
Many thanks to the following people for feedback on the draft: Emmet, Victoria, Marius and Johannes.
You can find out more about the STARTPLATZ Accelerator here: Link to website
Author: Lukas Gräf, Managing Director STARTPLATZ Accelerator