Getting face time with a venture capitalist or angel investor can be next to impossible. Often you have to rely on quick intros, a pitch competition, or a friend’s promise to pass along a message. Once you have a foot in the door, you’ll need to win over an investor with your pitch deck. Tailoring the deck to the individual investor is vital to the successful launch of your business.
The perfect pitch deck is thorough but concise, covering a variety of topics (but not too many!) and offering a strategy that is ambitious but not unrealistic.
In my role as chief architect of the App Idea Awards, I’ve seen evaluations from venture capitalists, angel investors, and successful entrepreneurs of more than 600 pitch decks. Based on that input, I’ve homed in on the strategies that could be a boon to your success and the ones that could spell disaster.
1. DO consider the audience
Before you start putting together your deck, you should be able to answer three questions: what, who, and how? You should consider how to structure your answers based on the communications channel you are using.
For example, how are you pitching this idea? If the pitch is happening in person, and especially if it’s happening at a competition like Startup Battlefield, you should keep the deck simple, driving home the most important points with bullets and leaving the rest to be spoken. With written pitches you won’t be there to discuss nuances, so make sure your content is thorough enough to explain your business model. At the same time, don’t over-explain. There’s no need to define common tech lingo that the investors will already know.
2. DO have a focus
The best products fill a variety of needs but have a primary function. Many entrepreneurs who entered the App Idea Awards treated their decks like a Shamwow or Salad Shooter infomercial, listing off dozens of possible applications. Being multi-purpose may help you attract more customers in the future, but at the early stage, investors will see this as a sign that you lack focus and can’t think strategically.
Your focus should be obvious throughout your pitch, and your tagline should pass the “grandma test” (would your grandma understand it?). Simple language that touches on common experiences can usually stand alone. If your focus is both easy to understand and exciting, you’re in great shape for pitching.
3. DO get there fast
Staying focused is important, but even more important is getting to your main focus fast. Start by laying out the problem, which tells the audience why they should care about your idea, and then explain what the product does within the first two slides of the presentation. You may not have an investor’s attention for much longer than two slides, especially if he or she is in high demand.
4. DO have a user acquisition plan
The last two do’s will help you seal the deal, and they both come down to money. Investors are excited by big ideas, but they also have a responsibility to their limited partners to provide a return on investment.
You must know how you’re going to get your product into potential users’ hands and how much it will cost you to do so. You should know your CAC (cost of customer acquisition), which is the total cost of marketing divided by the number of users acquired. In calculating the CAC, you’ll need to consider what marketing tactics you plan to use, whether it’s ads, events, or guerilla marketing. During the App Idea Awards, investors rejected many pitch decks because they didn’t have a solid launch strategy.
5. DO demonstrate profitability (or at least a road to it)
While Instagram may have found success without an initial monetization strategy, hundreds of thousands of other companies have failed because they didn’t think about profit. In your pitch, show a business model that is or can become profitable. The most important thing is to make sure your model is viable. During judging, investors saw several apps built on user-generated content that actually charged the user to provide content. This concept causes friction in the model, and investors immediately dismissed it.
Now that you know what to do, let’s take a look at some definite don’ts.
1. DON’T try to do it alone
There are no commercially successful one-man bands. Your team should be diverse enough in terms of experiences, expertise, and education to execute your business plan successfully. Make sure to detail your cofounders’ backgrounds and experiences in the deck, as well as how the company will benefit from each member’s involvement. The investors reviewed quite a few decks where the idea was strong, but there wasn’t enough information about backgrounds to determine if the team could pull it off.
2. DON’T downplay the competition
Understanding what you’re up against will help you build a product that speaks to investors and customers. Know the competitive landscape and what it’s lacking, and make sure you have a competitive advantage to beat the competition at their own game. Further, don’t limit the scope to today’s competitors. You also need to think about future competition. Our judges saw many decks that reflected the current marketplace but didn’t explore the possibility of technologies like bots or 3-D printing taking over. Investors want to know you will be able to adapt to a rapidly changing landscape.
3. DON’T make promises you can’t keep
Once you’ve compiled your document, review it multiple times, then have several others give you feedback. You should be on the lookout for exaggerations, miscalculations, and logistical incongruities. While it’s important to wow potential investors, this should not come at the cost of misrepresenting what you will achieve with the funding. Ask yourself: “If I had everything in place today, could I accomplish these goals?” If the answer is no, you’ll need to revise your plan and/or expected outcomes.
4. DON’T use a generic template
Once you’ve figured out content, the final step is to craft a deck that shows off your idea. Strong branding will help you stand out in a sea of competition. Unless someone in the company has the ability to make a standard Microsoft PowerPoint template truly spectacular, you should consider hiring a graphic designer for a few hours to whip it into shape. Sites like Graphicriver and Slidecarnival are great places to find inspiration for designs.
5. DON’T include Clipart
This should go without saying, but Clipart is dated. Including it in your deck will make investors think you are stuck in the 1990s. If you want to add a little flair to your presentation, find a designer on Behance or even Fivver (if you’re on a budget) who can create custom illustrations. Do your best to make it your own so you’ll stand out from the crowd. Good luck!
Zz Twainy is Vice President of Roko Labs.