A great pitch is rooted in a compelling story. Raw information reaches us on an intellectual level, but stories reach into our hearts. They connect. They move. They alter perspectives and exert influence.
A few weeks ago, we wrote about how a great story is the core of effective communication with all kinds of stakeholders: new hires, business partners, the press and, of course, prospective investors. In fact, your pitch deck is probably the first place you put your story to use.
There are many different formats for pitch decks, and many are equally effective. That said, here’s one framework that draws on the storytelling lessons that we often share with early-stage founders at Surge events.
Let’s start with your title slide.
Define your company in a single, declarative sentence. This is harder than it looks. Sometimes founders try to list out all their product features here – save that for later. This slide is all about your one-liner.
The one-liner for Surge 04 company Epsilo is this: “Epsilo’s marketing automation software helps brands and merchants sell more on e-commerce platforms.”
Another approach to crystalise your vision and mission into a short, clear statement. The title slide for Surge 01 startup Telio’s pitch deck, for example, states that their vision is “to use technology and data to build Vietnam’s largest B2B commerce platform”. Their mission: “To empower small, local businesses to grow”.
It’s crystal clear what both these companies do and what they want to build.
The rest of your deck should answer five questions:
- Why are you launching this particular business – and why now?
- What are you building?
- How are you performing so far?
- Where do you go from here?
- Who’s building this company?
Below, we outline key topics that you should cover when answering each of these five questions. Plan to make three to five slides for each of the five points below.
Draw on the story framework we went through in this earlier post on storytelling to create three slides that highlight the market shift, the pain point for consumers, and how your product solves it or takes them ‘to the promised land’.
Market shift. Talk about the innovation, the breakthrough, the market asymmetry or the shift in the market that’s opening up this opportunity. The rapid digitisation of Indian and Southeast Asian SMSEs, is one example of a recent market shift we’re seeing in our region. The tailwinds created by regulatory changes in India, like Unified Payments Interface (UPI) and demonetisation, are another. ‘Why now?’ is a question we at Sequoia often ask founders. Nature hates a vacuum — so why hasn’t your solution been built before now?
Impact/Problem/Opportunity. Describe the problem or opportunity caused by this market shift. Explain the specific pain point your target customer faces, and why current solutions don’t cut it.
Promised Land. The next slide should highlight what success looks like; it should describe the ‘promised land’, or the ideal state, for your customer. As we discussed earlier, paint a picture that hints at your value proposition, giving a taste of what the world would look like when your product or solution is rolled out.
Now is the time to introduce your product and features that make your customer successful and help them reach that ‘promised land’.
Product. Explain how your product works and articulate the features and the product architecture clearly. Show, don’t tell – a live demonstration or a short explainer video can go a long way.
Value Proposition. Talk about how your product solves the pain point you’ve just described in a unique way. How does it deliver value? Here’s where you can share the value proposition we talked about in the ‘Your
Business Model. Next, explain your business model. A business model is not just your pricing or monetisation strategy. It is the holistic model of how you create, deliver and capture value. Explain your go-to-market and monetisation strategies, and dig into distribution by outlining the path you’ll take to land your first customers – it could be your first 1,000 users, or the first 10 enterprises. Talk about how you have an unfair advantage in reaching target customers, or in activating unique channels. What moats can you create to protect your business?
You’ve already described how you’re going to execute your idea in the slides on your product and business model. This is more about how you’re doing, so far.
Traction. Share your operational and financial metrics, such as customer acquisition metrics, usage and retention metrics, unit economics and your profit and loss account. Try to demonstrate product-market fit. Talk about customer love – such as passionate user feedback or high user retention. If you can demonstrate strong growth, through usage or engagement metrics, or transaction and revenue, that’ll be helpful. Talk about monetisation by sharing details on your customers’ willingness to pay for your product, or by showing healthy unit economics. Investors understand that very early stage startups may not yet have much traction – but if you can demonstrate either customer love, growth, or a path to monetisation, it would be a great start.
The prior slide gave a snapshot of where you’re at now. The next few slides should talk about the opportunity ahead.
The Future. Where will you go from here? What’s the upside? Paint a picture of what you plan to build in the next few years. Show the transformation of your company – and your consumer. To get yourself in the right frame of mind, try writing an email to your future self, celebrating the fabulous success you will have achieved in five years’ time.
Market opportunity. You can only build an exciting future in an exciting market. What does that market look like? Explain how big this market is, how fast it’s growing and what piece of it you intend to own. Demonstrate deep understanding of the market structure and inefficiencies; what
are the layers and who are the players, what the margin structure looks like and where the revenue pools are. Show it’s a market worth going after. In an earlier post on assessing market size and industry structure, we talked about how a market with a US$10 billion TAM, a US$1 billion SAM and a path to US$100 million revenue is a pretty good place to start.
Competition. Who competes with you for that same market – both directly and indirectly? What are the alternatives for your target customers? Talk about how you’re different, not just better. Detail your customer obsession – and outline your plan to win.
Team. Do you have a team that can execute and win? Tell the story of your founder and key team members. Illustrate that your startup has a strong second-level management team.
Demonstrate product-founder fit, by showing you have deep understanding of the market and the customer, and a unique approach to solving their pain points or meeting unmet needs.
Remember that people can’t read and listen at the same time. Aim to put a few key points on each page of your presentation deck. Talk to your audience, not your slides. Use it as a guide post for your story, and a tool to highlight the critical points you want your audience to take away. Don’t think of a pitch as a chance to show a deck or to run through a classic ‘problem / solution / opportunity’ line. Think of it as an opportunity to tell a story that educates, engages and inspires.
- Share your vision by telling a story about your market and the shift you see in that market; the problem you are solving; the ‘Why Now?’; what success looks like for your customer; and a high-level overview of the product and value you provide.
- Demonstrate a deep understanding of your customer, your product architecture, your value proposition and what differentiates your company from competitors. Talk about your business and your model by explaining how you create value; how you deliver value (your go-to-market strategy); how you capture value (your monetisation strategy); your path to a US$100M in revenue and the key moats around your business.
- Demonstrate your data orientation and how well you measure your business. Make sure you have several slides in your pitch deck to show your operational metrics, including customer acquisition, usage, retention and conversion; your product metrics (depending on your business model, show the mobile app metrics, marketplace metrics, or SaaS metrics discussed in ‘Your Performance’); and your financial metrics, including P&L and metrics that explain your unit economics.
This post is part of the Surge Founder Starter Pack: Company Building Essentials for Early Stage Startups. To download the rest of the pack, click here.
To watch a video of Pieter’s Tech in Asia talk on “Anatomy of a Pitch”, click here.