Perfecting Your Pitch: A Guide to Pitching Investors

To win over the hearts and minds of investors, you need to tell a good, clear, easy-to-repeat story—the story of an exciting new startup. Pitching is in many ways an art form. You will need to create a pitch deck that conveys the story of your startup. Below we outline the basics of what you need to tell a good story and excite investors.

Cover Slide: Company name, tagline, location, presenter’s name and title.

Key objective: Everyone in the room should know the basic idea and value proposition of the company before the next slide is shown. All the words should not be on this slide, but with one or two sentences orally, reinforcing and extending the tagline, everyone should have a foundation for what is to come. Cardinal sin: Launching into your presentation with an investor at the table thinking, “I wonder what these guys do?”

Slide 1: Company Overview.

The best way to give an overview of your company is to state concisely your core value proposition: What unique benefit will you provide to what set of customers to address what particular need? Then you can add three or four additional bullet points to clarify your target markets, your unique technology/solution, and your status (launch date, current customers, revenue rate, pipeline, funding needed).  If you had to do your whole pitch in one minute with just one slide (30 pt font), this should be that slide.

Slide 2: Team.

For some reason, everyone puts the team slide at the end, but investors almost always want to know this at the beginning, and it is just common courtesy to make sure everyone is introduced. But make this short, crisp and focused on your current business.  Only cover the three or four key people in the company. Highlight a significant, relevant accomplishment for each person that identifies that person as a brilliant choice for his or her current role. Maximum 10 to 15 seconds for each person.  Alternative strategy:  If your team is clearly thin, and they are not in the room, move this slide to the back.

Slide 3: Problem/Opportunity.

You need to make it clear that there is a big, important problem (current or emerging) that you are going to solve, or opportunity you are going to exploit, and that you understand the market dynamics surrounding the opportunity—why does this situation exist and persist, and why is it only now that it can be addressed?

Slide 3.1: Problem/Opportunity Size.

Even if your market opportunity is not obvious, in most cases you can assert the size of your opportunity on slide 2. But sometimes you may need a dedicated slide to clarify the factors that define the size and scope of the opportunity, particularly if you are going after multiple market segments. Or there may be a unique emerging trend that requires explanation.

Slide 4: Solution.

What specifically are you offering to whom? Software, hardware, services, a combination? Use common terms to state concretely what you have, or what you do, that solves the problem you’ve identified.  Focus on what you enable, and how you are able to do something no one else can do.  Don’t focus on your technical architecture, with a graphic that no one can possibly read.  This slide should be customer focused.

Slide 4.1: Secret Sauce/Intellectual Property.

Depending on your solution, you might need a separate slide to convince investors that no one else can easily duplicate or surpass your solution (assuming that’s actually true). If you are in a business sector in which intellectual property is important, this is where you drill down into your secret sauce. Highlight the elements of your technology that give you unique potential for leverage and scale as you grow.

Slide 5: Benefits/Value.

State clearly and quantify to the extent possible the three or four key benefits you provide, and who specifically realizes these benefits. Do some constituents benefit more than others, or earlier than others? These dynamics should inform your go-to-market strategy, and your product/service roadmap, which you will discuss later.

Slide 6: Competitive Advantage.

You need to convince the investor that lots of folks will buy your product or service, even though they have several alternatives. The best way to convince an investor that you really do have a better mousetrap is to have referenceable customers or prospects articulate in their own words why they bought or will buy your offering over the alternatives. Use this slide to summarize the three or four key reasons why customers prefer your solution to other solutions.

Slide 6.1: Competitive Advantage Matrix.

Depending on how important the analysis of competitive players is in your market segment, you may need a detailed list of competitors by category with their strengths and weaknesses in comparison with your company. Preferably, you develop this as a “pocket slide” to be used for Q&A, if necessary. Whether or not you present this slide, it is important that you do your homework on the competition, and that you don’t misrepresent their strengths or their weaknesses.

Slide 7: Go to Market Strategy.

The single most compelling slide in any pitch is a pipeline of customers and strategic partners that have already expressed some interest in your solution—if they haven’t already joined your beta program. You should focus on articulating the non-obvious, potentially disruptive elements of your strategy. Even better, frame your comments in terms of the critical hurdles you need to get over, and how you are going to jump them. If you don’t have a pipeline, and there is nothing unique or innovative about your strategy, then drop this slide and make the elements of your sales model clear in the discussion of your business model (next slide).

Slide 8: Business Model.

Explain your pricing, your costs, and why you are going to be especially profitable. Make sure you understand the key assumptions underlying your planned success and be prepared to defend them. What if you can’t sustain the price? What if it takes twice as long to make each sale? What if your costs don’t decline over time?

Slide 9: Financial Projections.

The two previous slides above should come together neatly in your five-year financial projections. You should show the two or three key metrics that drive revenues, expenses and growth (such as customers, unit sales, new products, expansion sales, new markets), as well as the revenue, expense, profit, cash balance, and headcount lines.

Slide 10: Financing Requirements/Milestones.

On this slide you should outline how you plan to take in funding—how big each round will be, and the timing of each—and map the funding against your key near-term and medium-term milestones. You should also include your key achievements to date. These milestones should tie to the key metrics in your financial projections, and they should provide a clear, crisp picture of your product introduction and market expansion roadmap

Closing Inspiration Slide.

Leave them inspired.  Your key objective on this slide is to solidify the core value proposition of your company in words that are memorable and unique to your company.  Do not just summarize what you’ve said.  That’s boring and redundant.  Rephrase your vision in a way that is exciting.  But don’t overreach; you need to stay credible.  When you finish, your audience should have a vivid picture of the future you are going to enable.

So here we have a good general outline for pitching your company. Remember that this is just a template, and that you should not get fixated on using this or any other template. You should know the issues about your company that investors are most concerned about. Those are the issues you need to concentrate on. Make sure you address all the predictable “burning questions” as early as you can in your presentation, even if it means violating the sequence above.

For more tips on pitching, and other topics, visit our Resources for Entrepreneurs page.

About the Author:

Garage Technology Ventures is a seed and early-stage venture capital fund. We invest in extraordinary entrepreneurs with unique technologies that will define the next era of innovation. We take a hands-on approach from the very beginning, partnering with talented entrepreneurs to transform their vision into reality.