Grab my attention with key information instead of packing the deck with details

For all the time, tears, and money founders put into perfecting their pitch decks, you’d think investors would review it carefully and scrutinize every word.

Unfortunately, that’s not what happens. You’ve got my attention for a minute. Or less. Sorry.

Around 95% of the decks I receive are not a fit for me. They’re the wrong stage or a field where I have no interest.

My goal reviewing the deck is to see if the startup is a fit, and if not, get it out of the queue. Rather than waste time reading every deck carefully, I skim quickly looking for that needle in a haystack.

I won’t read every word, especially if like most early-stage decks, there’s far too many words. I undoubtedly miss important points and fail to connect important dots. It will drive you crazy and you’ll call me an idiot, but it’s your job to craft a deck that fits investors’ way of reading it and not the other way around.

So rather than obsessing over whether the TAM is $41B or $43B, obsess over the headline for the slide. Instead of a generic headline like “TAM/SAM/SOM” or “Market Size”, grab my attention with a headline that tells your story: “Huge Market for QA Testing.” Then fill in the slide with graphics that back up the story and are easy to catch at a glance. If I have to work to figure out the slide, you’ve lost me.

Am I just lazy?

A bad investor?

Perhaps. But other investors are reviewing pitch decks the same way. We’re either angel investors working full time jobs and investing on the side, or we’re VCs reviewing hundreds of decks each week. Time is our most precious commodity, so we review them as efficiently as we can.

The Goal of the Pitch Deck

To make your deck as effective as possible, let’s start by understanding what it needs to accomplish. If you think the purpose of the pitch deck is to get investment, you’re going about it wrong.

Yes, we’ve all heard the stories of startups who’ve been handed millions from nothing but a deck. People win the lottery, too. It’s nice if it happens, but that’s not a strategy for success.

A successful pitch deck won’t get you a check, but it will get you a short meeting or a screening to go through the basic points.

If that’s successful, it gets you a longer meeting to dive into the details. If that goes well, we start the multi-week diligence process.

The pitch deck is just an introduction, an overview, similar to a resume. Both require basic information in a structured format to see if you’re a fit and if so, invite you in for an interview.

The deck only needs to get me excited that the startup looks like the 1 in 100 that will turn out to be a great investment. It’s a high-level overview of the investment story rather than a detailed analysis. There will be plenty of time later to dive into the details.

What I’m Scanning For

I generally only invest in B2B climate tech or enterprise IT, areas where I have expertise and passion. Most of the decks I receive are for blockchain, life sciences, consumer products, social media, or other areas I’m not qualified to evaluate. They get bitbucketed right away.

As an angel investor, I invest in pre-seed/seed rounds after startups have initial customer traction. Most of the decks I receive are for startups that haven’t yet found product-market fit. All I can say is I wish you the best and hope to see you again in a year or two when you’re further along.

Once we’re down to startups in the right stage and field, many have valuations that I find absurd, or don’t have a valuation cap at all. Some are LLCs, or non-US investments, or offering common stock. Sorry, those are non-starters. Come back when you’re ready for investors.

Now I’m down to the handful of startups that have potential for me to invest. The first step then is to try to figure out what they’re making. That’s often surprisingly difficult. If you can’t summarize the problem and solution in 2 short sentences, you haven’t found product-market fit yet.

Next up is the team. Do they inspire confidence? Have they done this before? Do they have the technical chops to develop a killer product, and the business skills to grow a business from 0 to $100M?

Then I look at the growth plan. Is it viable to get to $100M in revenue in 5 years? Can the company protect itself from copycats once they’re proven the need? Will anyone want to acquire the business at a large multiple? If not, this might be a great business, but a lousy investment. I have too many of those in my portfolio already.

If that sounds like a lot to figure out in a minute, it isn’t with a good pitch deck.

Crafting the Perfect Pitch Deck

Here’s how to create a pitch deck that gets me excited in under a minute:

  • Focus on storytelling: I need the story at this stage, not the details. Sell me on why this will be the greatest investment I’ll ever make.
  • Start from an outline: Instead of starting from a slide template and filling in information, start with an outline in a text document. Write down the key takeaway of each slide, and make those the slide titles. That alone should tell your story. Fill in the handful of details that you need to emphasize those takeaways.
  • Keep it simple: 10 pages describing a complicated problem or listing the features of the product will get skipped.Get the problem down to 1 line. Get the solution down to 1 line. Get the market size down to a diagram. 
  • Rely on graphics: A picture is worth a thousand words. Put everything possible into graphics. Revenue projections are a simple graph. Competition is a few X’s or checks on a table.
  • Understand each slide at a glance: Craft every slide so I get the point at a glance without having to read it. Make the takeaway from each slide the title. Put line breaks in the right places so information is absorbed without reading. Use logos instead of company names. Be obsessive about line breaks, fonts and typography — they make a difference in how the eye picks out the important information.
  • Cut out clutter: Get rid of the mission statement, the legal disclaimers, the fine print, references to reports. They just get in the way.
  • Remove every word possible: The more words in the deck, the less I actually read. Go through every word one-by-one and ask yourself what would happen if you removed it. Use a few strong, evocative words to tell the story.
  • Cover all the points: See this list of the 11 topics that need to be covered in the deck.
  • Include deal terms: A pitch deck without deal terms is like a restaurant menu without prices. Without knowing the valuation, there’s no point in looking at the deck.
  • Make it professional: Hire a graphic designer who understands pitch decks. It’s not just about making the deck attractive but highlighting the right information in the right way to tell the story.

Save Yourself Time, Too

Yes, I’m busy, but you’re even busier. Instead of spamming as many investors as possible and hoping for a few responses, find the right investors and reach out with a personalized explanation of why we should be interested.

That takes a lot more time up front, but will get a better response from people far likelier to invest. That will get you investment faster without wasting time pitching to people who are unlikely to invest.

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