What pitch decks teach us about business

If you were to start your business again – right now – would you be doing the things you currently do? It’s a question every business owner should be asking themselves regularly.

Startups get the chance to create a new business out of thin air. It’s exciting, but not without its challenges. Trying to disrupt an existing market and take on incumbents is hard.

However, the Achilles heel of the existing businesses is the very ways they do business right now. Startups set out to take that on, reinventing business models and revenue streams and customer relationships.

If and when a startup pitches for money from investors, they usually have a slide deck on hand. They can whip it out in coffee shops, talk to it in a boardroom setting or email it beforehand to those who may be interested.

The first slide deck startups use when approaching investors and venture capital (VC) companies for funds is the 10-slide ‘teaser’ or ‘intro’ deck.

The purpose of this deck is not to win investment necessarily, but to get through to the next round, where they can wheel in a longer, in-depth pitch presentation.

10 slides, that’s it

The 10-slide intro deck may be emailed to the potential investor beforehand, probably as a pdf to keep the file size down and ensure all fonts and graphics are consistent.

The initial deck will be previewed in about a minute by the potential investor. Venture capitalists can see more than a thousand of these a year, so they will scan it quickly, stopping on anything that jumps out.

Golden rules: only have one message per slide, and don’t have more than 20 words per slide.

The first slide – company name and logo and a one-liner – has to make an instant impression.

The slides should look professional and tell a story. The deck really is a test: does it captivate the reader… does it have understandable, believable logic?

3 Most Important Slides

Not every 10-slide intro deck will be the same, but each one should have the following three slides, and they have to pack a punch:

  1. Ambition – this slide captures what that startup does; it’s simple, strong and global
  2. Team  – it’s the team that will either win (or lose); it’s the team the investors are investing in, so the team has to be impressive
  3. Traction – numbers, even if small, are better than adjectives; the deck should show growth of users, dollars, or some kind of early validation

Other Slides

Right up front, the customer problem being solved should be clear, and how the startup solves it, why customer will pay (value) and why this team will be the ones to pull this off.

Business Model slide will show how the business will make money, the size of the first market segment, the total global opportunity and how the business scales. Scalability is what most VCs and investors look for.

There will also be an ‘Ask‘ slide – explaining how much they are looking for, and what it allow them to do.

There should also be a ‘Why Now?‘ slide. The intent here is: the train is leaving the station, get on it now, or miss out.

If you’ve been counting, that’s the ten slides.

The 10 Slides

The titles here describe each page’s purpose, they are not to be written as headings. Rather, let the page tell the story, in 10 bite-sized sections:

  1. Opening
  2. Ambition
  3. Problem
  4. Solution
  5. Business Model
  6. Why You / Team
  7. Why Now
  8. The Ask
  9. Use of Funds / Milestones
  10. Closing / Why Now

If you are thinking about investing in startups, or have attended pitch nights, look out for these elements.

If you are running your own business right now, how would your ‘teaser deck’ look? It might be an interesting exercise to run.

About the author

20+ years in Perth’s business, tech, media and startup sectors, from founder through to exit, as CEO, mentor, advisor / investor, and in federal and state government. Originally an economics teacher from the UK, working in Singapore before arriving in Perth in 1997 to do an MBA at UWA. Graduating as top student in 1999, Charlie co-founded aussiehome.com, running it for 10+ years before selling to REIWA, to run reiwa.com. In 2013, moved to Business News, became CEO, then worked on the Australian government’s Accelerating Commercialisation program. In 2021, helped set up and launch The Property Tribune, and was awarded the Pearcey WA Entrepreneur of the Year (at the 30th Incite Awards). In 2022, he became Director Innovation, running the 'New Industries Fund' at the Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation (JTSI).

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