The first impression may be the only impression. Make it good.
After looking at dozens of pitch decks a month, I can guess a startup’s valuation with only a quick glance.
The pitch decks of pre-seed startups are generic PowerPoint templates thrown together by the founders. They’re missing key information while being filled with too much text. The graphics are rudimentary, and the clashing colors and messy typography make them painful to read.
In other words, the deck is UGLY.
By Series A, the deck is gorgeous. Colors, typography, and graphics all come together to tell an easy-to-follow story. Only a few words of text are needed on each slide. Paging through the deck gets me excited about the company instead of giving me a headache.
Pre-seed startups have a low valuation befitting their early stage and high risk. Series A startups are much farther along in every respect, but their high valuation and large minimum investment put them out of reach of small angel investors like me.
So what happens when I get an attractive pitch deck from a pre-seed startup instead of yet another collection of bullet points screaming at me in all-caps?
I page through it, heart thumping, fist pounding on the desk, saying, “Yes, yes, yes!”
When I get to the deal terms on the final slide and find a valuation of $8M instead of $80M, I shoot off a reply — “Tell me more!”
Get Past Swipe Left for a Second Look
I’m an engineer at heart and still look the part — I wear old jeans because they’re comfortable. My wife cuts my hair and it kind of sticks out in places. I drive a dusty Honda because it’s efficient and reliable when I go out. I’m a firm believer in not judging a book by its cover.
But looking at pitch decks, when I see one that’s attractive, I naturally pay closer attention. Instead of breezing through it, looking for a reason to reject it, I read it closer to see what the company is building.
Sending out a pitch deck to investors is akin to posting a profile on Tinder. You’re dating now, trying to attract investors, so put on your best clothes. Even if you can’t afford a Ferrari yet, at least wash and wax the Honda. Yes, in the end, what matters is what’s inside, but first, you have to get past swipe left.
An attractive deck is more than just superficial dressing. A well-designed deck is not only easy on the eyes, but easy to follow. Graphics are designed not to be pretty but to convey complex information at a glance.
What makes a deck attractive are the same things that make it easy to understand — fonts and colors that are easy to read, with caps, sizing, highlighting, and bullets showing the eye how to follow the story.
Colors have meaning, too, and invoke a subconscious response. Yellow for warmth, Orange for cheerfulness, Red for excitement, Blue for trust. Good color coordination and plenty of white space evoke a sense of calm, while a jumble of colors and blocks of text spattered across the page leave me feeling screamed at from all directions.
Yes, it’s just a set of slides, but this is my first impression. If it exudes calm competence, I’ll assume the founders know what they’re doing.
Deck Quality Is a Signal of Company Risk
The pitch deck is more than just a cover on the company. It’s more like a window into the company. What I see in the pitch deck is what I assume, rightly or wrongly, is what’s inside, too.
A well-designed deck tells me the startup is a safe investment. And the perception of safety and risk are the primary determinant of whether I’ll invest in a startup and at what valuation.
A professional-looking deck signals to investors that the founders are professionals who know what they’re doing. As investors, we don’t have much insight into the company’s inner workings, so especially for early-stage startups that don’t even have sales trends to evaluate, we have to work with what we can see.
A deck that looks slapped together tells me the company doesn’t have experience pitching. That usually means they’re missing a lot of other experience, too. A quality deck gives me confidence that the founders have done this before and know what they’re doing.
More importantly, if the company has an attractive pitch deck, it’s likely to have an attractive customer presentation, too. This tells me they grasp the importance of marketing and know how to sell products to customers, which is as important as knowing how to build products.
The Best $1000 Investment You’ll Ever Make
I doubt anyone would dispute that an attractive pitch desk is preferable to an ugly one. It’s simply a matter of priority for the limited time and money available.
I’m a firm believer that founders need to do as much as they can themselves. It not only saves money but helps the founders understand and refine the business.
Hiring a consultant to create the deck from scratch would be a huge mistake. The process of creating the story and the messaging can’t be separated from building the business strategy. It takes time and effort and struggle, even painful arguments between the founders, to decide what the company is, and how to explain that to investors and customers.
So the founders need to work hard on making the best deck that they can. But before finalizing it, they need to bring in professional designers to make it into what they intended it to be.
Founders don’t hesitate to hire lawyers to write the company’s patent applications and accountants to file their taxes. And yet, most founders feel they can make a pitch deck themselves and that’s good enough. Some can. But most can’t. Okay is not good enough.
Design is a skill that takes both talent and training. Years of experience creating hundreds of pitch decks enables specialist pitch deck designers to know exactly what’s needed and how to create it.
So here’s my advice: if you want investors to think your startup is a professional operation, you need a professional-looking deck. And the best way to do that is to hire a professional designer.
The good news is designers are affordable. There are hundreds of them on Upwork specializing in pitch decks. If you have a good draft to start from with clear and concise messaging, it’ll probably cost about $1000 to refine the design.
If you need help refining the pitch messaging and flow combined with the graphic design, specialists like PitchScene can provide a more comprehensive service that costs somewhat more, but still worth every penny.
I guarantee it’ll be the best investment you’ll ever make. An attractive deck can raise your valuation by a million dollars and cut your fundraising time in half.
If you’re trying to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars from investors, you have to make a good first impression. Because the first impression may be the only impression you’ll get.
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