The ultimate guide to creating a brilliant startup pitch presentation
The timer starts now. It’s you and thousands of other people for the next three minutes. You have your startup pitch presentation and a few minutes to convince your investors that your startup idea is worth their time and money. Of course, you are one out of tens of other entrepreneurs who pitched before you and tens of others who will pitch after you. It is worthless saying that investors are always the same for all startups, therefore only a very few highly selected startups will be funded.
If you have ever watched a startup pitch competition, you will know the difference between the entrepreneurs, who seem to be convinced they’re pitching the ‘next big thing’, and the audience/investors, who are easily bored of the startup pitch presentations, which all look the same.
Your mistake is to assume that if you have a 60-minute meeting, you get 60-minutes’ worth of attention. You don’t. In fact, the typical attention span in an hour-long meeting goes something like this:
You have very few chances to catch investors’ attention and pass on the right message. If you have an average startup pitch presentation, you will lower your chances even more.
In order to get it right, you will need:
- Great presentation skills
- Great contents
- An outstanding startup pitch presentation
The startup pitch presentation is often a very short slide deck but it is the main reason for good results. The startup pitch presentation is meant to be a unique call to action for the investors. Therefore, you cannot afford to make it wrong. You need your startup pitch presentation to be the most appealing and amazing presentation of the day so that it will stick in investors’ minds.
But how do you create an outstanding startup pitch presentation?
A presentation is a well-balanced mix of relevant contents and a great design. You need to have something interesting to say and you need to be able to communicate it in an appealing way.
Contents – what to include in a pitch?
Pitching your startup to investors is an art. If you join accelerators/incubators or you consult any VC, you will receive a slightly different version of startup pitch deck examples to use as best practice. If you analyze them well, you will be always able to spot commonalities.
Is there a correct way to structure a startup pitch deck? I believe that you can find a best practice structure for almost any pitch deck. I collected some of the best startup pitch decks (Airbnb) available on the internet and I put their structures one next to one another for easy contrast.
Investors pitch deck examples (see figure below):
Some of them might not be a complete startup pitch deck examples ready for presentation, but there is still enough material to discover interesting insights. Let’s highlight commonalities between the best startup pitch decks.
Some sections clearly prevail over the others. You can immediately notice the opening combination of Problem/Solution and the high presence of the Team section. Those are 3 pillars of startup pitch presentation. If you think for a second, you’ll see that it is reasonable. With the first 2 sections you introduce the problem you are focusing on, the solution how you want to solve it and the people that will solve it.
The team section is as important as the others: ideas are important but people make the difference. You need to have the right people to make and idea come to life. We’ll get deeper into detail about the team section.
Moreover, introducing the pitch with the combination Problem/Solution makes the basics for a powerful storytelling.
In order to have the most meaningful set of data as possible, I will add the recommended startup pitch presentation structure to the analysis with several leading influencers in the startup world.
Even though this second analysis shows less fragmented flows, it’s fascinating how much we can find in common between influencer and startup structures. In the influencer analysis the presentation opening stands out to be different because of a specific section: the elevator pitch.
It seems that influencers recommend entrepreneurs to clarify what they are after in the very first slide. After that they stress the importance of Problem/Solution sections.
Let’s wrap up, some sections clearly stand out over others:
- Problem / Solution
- Market Size
- Business model
- Fund raising request (only in the influencer’s part)
Problem / Solution
All the pitch decks, from real startups and from influencers, have at least one dedicated slide for both: the problem and the solution. You can often find the Problem/Solution slides in the first part of the presentation. The problem describes how relevant the issue is for which people (how many people have that specific problem). The ‘problem’ slide states what the startup stands for. The ‘solution’ is the way the startup proposes to solve the mentioned problem.
This is a crucial section of every startup pitch deck because it gives the venture a reason to exist. Who would want to fund a startup that does not solve a relevant problem? Who would fund a startup that doesn’t have the best solution to a specific problem?
Steve Blank refers to this stage as the “Customer Discovery”, where you need to achieve Problem/Solution fit. Steve states this is the first step:
- Customer Discovery – Achieve Problem/Solution Fit
- Customer Validation – Achieve Product/Market Fit
- Customer Creation – Drive Demand
- Company Building – Scale the Company
Aribnb starts the pitch clearly stating the problem and the solution they provide:
I really love that they are extremely straight forward, but their design is really poor.
At his TED speech, “The future of early cancer detection”, Jorge Soto gives an outstanding demonstration on how to hook the audience with a relevant problem. In the first one and a half minutes of speech, he starts with an easy-to-follow story, and then reveals scary statistics based on which third of the audience will be diagnosed with some type of cancer.
Trust me, he definitely got the audience’s attention. In my opinion, the slide could have looked like:
You could even suggest the solution to intrigue your audience and to make them curious. The video about Digital Nomads from oDesk.com (formerly Upwork.com) includes a beautiful example of that:
The video follows the perfect storytelling structu as it describes the problem first and makes it real. Then there is a transition part where a possible solution is imagined and finally the story goes through the solution stating that it will absolutely be the future.
The basics of storytelling teach you that every good story begins with a description of:
- What it is today
- What it could be tomorrow
Learn how to leverage storytelling in your presentations: Forget slides, tell stories!
The problem/solution part should be the beginning of every startup pitch deck. If you are able to hook the audience with a relevant problem and you can convince them that you have the best solution to it, you have already completed 90% of your work.
Suggested structure – Problem
- Define the pain
(EG. 1M people die each month because of cancer)
- Why is it painful for people?
- How many people have this problem?
- Prove this is a problem
(EG. We already have 20k users using our platform)
Suggested structure – Solution
- What do we offer?
- How do we solve the problem
- Why is this the best way?
Most of the analyzed start pitch decks include the market potential for the proposed solution. The purpose of every business idea is to build a sustainable business over the specific solution. Therefore, you need to have enough room to develop the business and to acquire new customers. One might be wondering: is there a market for your idea? How big is it? This problem arises when you need to show the estimated figures, as rough estimates can be hard to trust. This section can often be forgotten or skipped because it’s hard to estimate, but it is absolutely crucial to support the potential of your idea.
The following slide, from the official pitch deck of Airbnb, shows the funnel from the potential market to the penetrated market:
Beginning with the total population, you can narrow down your market to be more specific:
Potential market: People interested in buying the product
Available market: People in the potential market who have enough money to buy the product
Qualified available market: People in the available market who legally are permitted to buy the product
People in the available market that you can serve
Penetrated market: People in the target market who purchased the product
You do not need to go through each level in your startup pitch deck, but having the complete path can help you to focus on the right ones.
Always include a slide to describe how many people could potentially adopt your solution, because it gives the investors an idea of the potential of your idea in quantitative terms. Refer to reliable sources if you can to support the figures.
- Target Audience: Who is your client?
- Market size and growth rate (estimates): How big it is today and how big it is estimated to be tomorrow?
When I launched my startup (http://ekoodo.com) and I began pitching investors, I was totally scared about mentioning I had competitors locally and worldwide. With time and experience, I learned that having competitors is a good thing because it simply shows that there is a market for what you are doing.
The trick is:
“Better to be a small player in a valuable market than the unique one in a market that does not even exist.”
To succeed in a valuable market, you need to be excellent at execution. Most people believe that developing the technology is always the hardest part. The truth is that execution really makes the difference. Do these names tell you something?
Do they tell you something now?
Google was not the first search engine out there, it was the one that exceeded in execution. The same example could be given for the famous social networks:
Finally, be aware of your competition. You do not want to be asked about a competitor you do not know during a pitch presentation. This would show you are not even able to research your industry.
Don’t be scared to show your competitors. List the most relevant information, leverage their results to show that you have a great idea, and differentiate your idea with a positioning matrix:
Another example of competition matrix comes from the Linkedin series B startup pitch deck:
You need to tell investors that your startup acts in the same market as your competitors, but you need to convince them that your positioning is different. Tell them more about your killer execution strategy, why it is special and why it will succeed where the other did not. Finally, convince them you can really make it happen.
- Main competitors, entry barriers, main market dynamics, important competitive factors (competition chart)
- Competitive positioning (kind of product/service, price, clients, channels)
This part answers the question, “How do we make money?” The business model slide is always present in the recommended influencer’s startup pitch deck structures, and is always present in real pitch decks. If you are asking for money from investors, you need to give more money back in the future. This is the basic of every investment. Therefore, it is very important to show investors your ability to make money out of your project. If you have a proven business model that works already, you can also show results achieved so far, like they do in WeWork:
Generally speaking I’d prefer you not to show tables in your PowerPoint pitch. However, if you really need to, then at least work smartly embedding storytelling in the communication sequence. If you want to learn how to do so check the guide I wrote about how to presenting data in PowerPoint
This is a must-have slide. Always include the business model section to show investors how you make money. My recommendation is to make it as simple as possible so they can immediately understand your money machine. Linkedin, for example, lists the 3 business model in a clear and direct way.
- How do we make money?
“A bad team with a brilliant idea will go nowhere. A brilliant team with a bad idea can always make it work.”
In the startup world, team is everything. If you do not have a killer team to showcase, then you’d probably better quit the venture as it will never be funded and it will likely never work. If you take a look at the influencer’s recommendations, everybody includes a slide named “team”. Show the faces of your teammates, show the hierarchy of your organization, and show relevant roles and past experiences of each member. Demonstrate that the team covers the minimum requirements to succeed. You need to convince investors that you built a team based on careful requirement-skill matching analysis.
If you want to build an e-Commerce startup, you’d better demonstrate that you have a coder in your company. Go into detail and show everybody with his own specific skill: User Experience Designer, User Interface designer, a backend and a frontend developer.
Let us inspire by the two team slides from Linkedin and Buffer (two of the pitch decks part of our analysis). You can see they give you information about why a person should be part of the team. In the Linkedin slide, they justify the presence of each team member based on past experiences, while in Buffer’s one, they tell you what each team member has achieved so far in the company.
A nice tip to include in your Startup pitch presentation is to insert a slide to describe your team. Be sure the slide gives all the information about why each team member was chosen to be part of the company. Moreover, I suggest you include a small nice picture of each team member in order to make the pitch feel more personal.
- Name, qualification (+ picture)
- Relevant experiences (no more than 2 lines)
- Directors and Advisors
Fund raising request (only in the influencer’s part)
This section seems to be missing in most of the analyzed presentations from real pitches. You can find it instead in the recommended pitch structures from influencers. This might happen because, as it is a sensitive part, it might have been removed from the pitch decks available on the internet not to disclose information about the company valuation.
I believe this is a crucial part that you can’t miss in your pitch deck. This part is the final call to action to your investors. It’s like the “so what” at the end of the meeting. This part is the reason why you are pitching investors and this will give youthe chance to quantify your request. You do not want to finish your presentation and be asked by the investors, “Okay, interesting story. So, why have you pitched us?”
Make it crystal clear how much you seek to raise and be ready to discuss how much of the company you are ready to give over for it. Remember that showing a big number to the investors might scare them, so contextualize it. Show funding allocation and tell investors how you will spend their money:
Funding allocation will give investors a general understanding of what they are paying for. Based on their experience, they might agree or disagree, but you can discuss a more accurate feedback about a specific part of the full budget.
- How much do we need?
- How will we allocate the funds?
Design & Communication – beautiful startup pitch presentation
Design does not mean making slides look better. Rather, it is the concept of combining elements to achieve a better communication.
“Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose” – Charles Eames
Design is the concept of combining elements to achieve a better communication.
G. Reynolds said, “Design is about people creating solutions that help or improve the lives of other people.” Artists follow their impulse and create whatever they need to express. Designers follow their user’s needs and work in business environments to solve problems from the user’s standpoint.
When you pitch investors, you have very few minutes to convince them to fund your venture, so you absolutely need to hit them with your message. That is why Presentation Design is widely used in the startup world, because that small pitch deck is often worth millions of dollars.
Below is an example of startup pitch deck I developed for my startup.
Who can make a well designed startup pitch presentation?
Entrepreneurs often have all the disordered information, but they do not know what to say first and how to display information in an effective way. On the other hand, graphic designers are very good with digital graphics so they can make custom appealing designs for your presentations, but they will deal with it as though they are making the layout of a book or designing flyers. The Presentation designer is somebody who has the business skills to understand and reshape the information in the most effective architecture. He can also make a beautiful design, to create the effective, appealing startup pitch presentation to hit investors with a message that will stick in their minds forever.
Conclusion – it’s time to create your startup pitch presentation
We analyzed many sources of information, spanning from real pitches of famous ventures to recommendations of leading influencers. Based on the analysis and on my personal experience of hundreds of startup pitch decks designed for my clients around the world, I would recommend the following startup pitch presentation structure:
- Elevator pitch
- Market size
- Business Model
- Go to market
- Financial projection
- CTA Funding request
I put all the information together in a free pitch deck template that I named the Startup Pitch Deck Canvas. The Canvas includes all the information you need to include in your startup pitch presentation to stand out in front of your investors. Stop waiting, begin creating your killer pitch deck now!
Digital Entrepreneur, Marketer, Blogger, Public speaker, Presentation design guru and Founder at MLC-Design. Top 5% PowerPoint presentation expert on Elance.com, top rated freelancer on Upwork.com and lecturer at Cattolica University of Milan. “Time is free but it’s priceless”