This article was originally published on March 26, 2021. It was last updated for accuracy and relevance on June 6, 2022.
There are many reasons to pitch your business — investment, sales, customer acquisition, recruiting, and more. In this article, we will focus on strategies to pitch when raising early-stage angel or venture capital.
We cover some of the high-level considerations and tips for pitching investors, an outline for early-stage pitch decks, and advice gathered from watching and reading the pitches and pitch decks of the most well-funded and successful startups.
Tips to Deliver a Business Pitch and Pitch Deck
The goal of any business pitch to investors is to raise money — that’s pretty obvious. You are selling investors on the vision of your company’s growth prospects and why the future you plan to build will come to fruition. However, sometimes the goal is simply to establish a second meeting.
With that in mind, here are a few high-level tips that are essential for business pitches.
1. Let the Forum Inform the Format
Where you will be pitching your idea or business will determine the level of detail that is expected from your presentation. If you are among multiple companies pitching to a group of investors in a demo day scenario, a high-level overview of your company is advised. The goal here is to get a meeting where you can go into more detail.
Alternatively, if you are raising a Series A round from venture capitalists, a ten-slide deck might not be the ideal level of granularity unless you can accurately talk through each metric. This is why you should understand the forum your pitch will be delivered, and optimize the depth of discussion based on what is expected. And if you are sending your deck over by email, you will want to include a note about any additional context needed to understand your slides.
2. Tell a Compelling Story
This piece of advice will never go out of style as long as you are pitching a human being. Even if only in a few slides, piece together a cohesive story of the problem, how you are solving that problem, why you are the right person to solve the problem, and what the world and your company will be like if you win.
We could probably copy and paste the essential elements of a short story, script, or novel and make a good analogy for your pitch deck. Just know that you will likely have a higher success rate with investors if they are told a story they can relate to, remember, and reinforce with their own experiences.
There are some components of a pitch deck that are simply non-negotiable. The pitch must be able to quickly and clearly inform the uninitiated about who you are, what you do, how you do it (or plan to), why it’s lucrative, and a call to action.
Below are some of the key components and slides to include in your pitch deck:
- Slide Template: It’s helpful to have a standardized slide template that includes the basics such as company name and contact information. With this in place, any slide that catches an investor’s attention allows them the opportunity to get in touch with you later.
- Title Slide: This should be a basic slide with the name of your company, logo, and a one-line slogan, mission statement, or description of what your company does.
- Problem & Solution: Outline the problem and how you came to understand the problem better than anyone which gave you an advantage for discovering the ideal solution.
- Team: Depending on your industry and other factors, team could be very important to include, but if the forum is a quick elevator pitch, a single slide of the team and brief resumes will suffice.
- Market/Competition: While these are important considerations to be aware of, having a grasp of the total market size and competitive landscape is only helpful to show that you are thinking about the big-picture. Most early-stage investors will want to know how you plan to compete for market share at all. This doesn’t mean you don’t need to be prepared with market data or competitor analysis, just wait to focus on it if specific questions are asked.
- Go-To-Product-Market-Fit: We are combining two buzzwords (Go-To-Market and Product Market Fit) to keep your pitch deck concise while still explaining how you plan to move up or down the value chain, starting with who you’ve found product-market fit with.
- Demo Slide(s): This could be a pre-recorded video or a physical demonstration of the product. Avoid detailed screenshots that are difficult to decipher at a moment’s glance and don’t try to manage both the pitch and the demo unless your product is patently simple to use.
11 Lessons from Famous Business Pitches
1. Keep Slides Simple (GitLab)
When watching GitLab co-founder Sid Sijbrandij pitch at Y-Combinator’s Demo Day in 2015, you quickly recognize how powerful simple slides can be. Understanding the forum of your pitch will be important for guiding the depth you go into with each slide.
At its last fundraising, GitLab was able to raise a whopping $268 million Series E at a $2.75 billion valuation.
Sid’s pitch was delivered on stage and viewed from afar on a large projector, which certainly called for a simplified presentation. The entire presentation was nine slides, with an average of seven words per slide. If you are planning to pitch in a demo day format, sticking to an average of seven words per slide is a good constraint to keep in mind.
Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures advocates his portfolio companies keep pitch decks to six slides.
2. Demo Your Product (Wrapify)
When James Heller, the founder and CEO of Wrapify, pitched at Launch Festival in 2016 he waited less than 10 seconds to say “let me show you how it works.” Heller did an amazing job of telling a cohesive story from both sides of the platform (drivers and advertisers) while including a few smooth transitions to important slides regarding market, traction, and growth.
To date, Wrapify has raised $9 million from 14 investors.
Everytime you pitch in front of an audience, even if only one investor, have one person manage the actual product demo, while the other person does the talking. If you try to manage both simultaneously, you’re almost certain to lose the viewer’s attention and have a poorly executed demo.
According to DocSend CEO Russ Heddleston, when early stage pitch-decks are sent to investors they spend the most amount of time reviewing slides about the product itself. Russ has presciently said, “Pre-Seed is all about the product.”
3. Use Simple Charts and Annotations (Coinbase)
Coinbase founder and CEO Brian Armstrong shared their seed round pitch deck from 2012 which includes great examples of clear charts with simplified axes and annotations. Many business pitches and presentations include convoluted charts and tables comparing multiple metrics which makes digesting information a challenge for readers.
Include charts in your pitch deck that depict one metric per chart and are immediately discernible. Given the small amount of time most investors have to view your slide deck or presentation and even less of their full attention, it’s more about the slope of the chart or size of the pie that matters most. This is not advice to manipulate data to take the most appealing shape, just that you should be cognizant of which metrics you show and why.
4. Know Your Numbers (Amazon)
In 1997, Amazon was 3-years old and Jeff Bezos was laser focused on selling books. In fact, when interviewed about why books were Amazon’s first entry-point in eCommerce, Bezos pitched the amazing opportunity to sell books grounded entirely in the numbers.
After some seed funding from friends, family, and angel investors, Amazon raised only one round of venture capital before going public, an $8 million series A from Kleiner Perkins in 1996. Today, the company has a market capitalization of more than $1.6 trillion.
When asked questions about your market, business model, or otherwise, rely on numbers to reinforce your argument in the eyes of potential investors. This is why it’s important to have a firm grasp on your company’s metrics, key performance indicators, industry statistics, market analysis, and more.
5. Include a Summary Slide (Proof)
When Dave and the Proof team pitched their product at YC demo day in 2018, they had a near perfect pitch. The slides were concise and the pitch told a cohesive story, but the real gold medal for this presentation was awarded for the recap slide.
At the time of their pitch, Proof had already bootstrapped to achieve significant adoption, product-market fit, and growth, but have since raised $2.2 million to elevate their growth strategy.
In cognitive science, recency bias is the tendency for people to remember information that was delivered more recently. Include a summary slide at the end of your pitch with information and metrics worth highlighting to help make your pitch more impactful and memorable.
6. Show Ability to Execute (Tesla)
When Elon Musk was interviewed in 2008 regarding his product development and pricing strategy for Tesla, he was able to clearly explain why the first generation of vehicle was priced so high and his plan to reach the mass market. Looking back at his elevator pitch for the future of Tesla, he was true to his word.
Tesla raised more than $20 billion and is currently valued at more than $800 billion.
Lots can be learned from Elon Musk but for our purposes, we will emphasize the power of deeply understanding your strategy and showcasing your ability to execute. Provide investors with updates on your execution, sending regular updates on wins, milestones, roadblocks, and more.
7. Use the Power of Humor in Storytelling (Unicorn)
We’ve covered a number of unicorn startups in the traditional sense, this example is more literal. Unicorn Skincare founder and chemical engineer, Johnny Shih, used humor in his 500 Startups batch 19 demo day in 2017 making for an engaging and memorable pitch.
Although the company has yet to achieve their billion-dollar unicorn status, they boasted 21,000 customers back in 2017.
If it makes sense for your business, use humor in your pitch to lighten up the traditionally stuffy and serious business pitch. If you can get an investor to laugh, it can break through their stoic facade and make the meeting more personal and human.
8. Evangelize Your Personal Story (Ro)
Zachariah Reitano, founder of Ro (formerly Roman), is unashamed to share his experiences with erectile dysfunction as the genesis for creating Ro’s first service and product line: personalized treatment for ED.
Ro has raised a total of more than $376 million as of their July, 2020 Series C round.
If the problem and solution you are working on have personal significance in your past or present life, narrate these experiences to explain your motivation and tell a more compelling story.
9. Include a Call-To-Funding (Intercom)
The first Intercom pitch deck from 2011 has a slide we haven’t seen in any demo day presentations, but should be considered if you are making a direct pitch to a potential investor: tell investors how much you need and why.
Intercom’s final slide outlines they are looking to raise a $600k convertible note to find product-market fit, customer discovery, and most of all, optimize for profitability. They also anticipate any investor’s next question given $600k won’t last long – they plan to raise another round in 12-18 months.
It appears everything went according to plan since, as of this writing, Intercom has raised more than $290 million.
Include a CTA slide within your pitch deck to make clear what your intentions are, eliminating any doubt of what you are asking for and quickly getting past any awkwardness common in asking for money.
10. Leave Investors With Something Memorable (Mars Reel)
When Brandon Deyo pitched Mars Reel, their short-form sports video network, he did well to end on a memorable note. Before leaving the stage, Brandon brought everyone’s attention to the fact that he and his co-founder Bradley are identical twins.
This is a great way to leave a lasting impression as well as an icebreaker subject for investors to approach either brother. This might be one of the reasons Brandon and Bradley were able to raise $4.8 million from investors such as Jason Robins, founder of DraftKings, and NBA player Shane Battier.
Whether or not you present in person or through a pitch deck, in addition to leveraging recency bias with data points from your presentation, include a memorable physical, digital, or personality trait to remain present in an investors mind.
11. Prepare a Cohesive Elevator Pitch (Apollo)
When Kathryn Fantauzzi, co-founder of wearable technology company Apollo, presented in a quick pitch format, she was conversational, cool, and calm under the pressure of a 60-second clock and was able to fit in a ton of useful information about the problem and their unique solution.
Apollo is still at a very early stage, and in June of 2020 raised their formal seed round of $5 million.
While elevator pitches are less formal in nature, it’s a good strategy to have a well-rehearsed and near perfect pitch prepared for situations like networking events, conferences, and actual elevator rides.
The infographic below includes links to watch each pitch or read each pitch deck referenced, as well as takeaways you can implement in your business pitch. If you are raising money for your company, consider leveraging EquityNet’s cutting-edge technology to connect with the more than 25,000 investors active on the platform.