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Creating a pitch deck is hard, especially when you’ve never done it before. If you’re a first-time entrepreneur like I was when we raised our series $15 million first round for Bigcommerce back in 2011, then you’re probably excited, nervous, and anxious about raising your first round of financing.
The good news is that a pitch deck can (and should be) be almost formulaic. You’ve got to tell a story, paint a vision, know your metrics, and sell, sell, sell. Whether you’re raising a small seed round or a bigger series A straight off the bat, you need to get a few things right, and the rest will fall into place. In this post I want to share with you eight tips to create the perfect pitch deck.
There’s a lot of advice out there about creating pitch decks, so why should you take mine? Well, I’ve raised a total of three rounds of venture financing totaling $75 million for Bigcommerce over the last three years. I’ve pitched to dozens of venture capitalists, including most of the tier one and tier two VCs up and down the west and east costs. And I’ve received multiple term sheets, all with strong valuations, great terms, and the most important thing: great investors and board members.
So let’s jump in. Here are the eight tips I think are the most important for creating a pitch deck that will make your fundraising experience short, effective, and rewarding for you, your co-founders, your employees, your business, and your future investors.
1) Have a big vision, then make it 10x bigger
Having a compelling vision for where you want to take your business is important, but most first-time entrepreneurs think too small. I know I was guilty of this a few years ago. I can tell you now, whatever your vision is, it needs to be bigger and more compelling.
For example, if you have a vision to make it easy for people in a specific country to solve a problem, then expand your vision to help everyone in the world solve that same problem.
How do you know when you’re thinking big enough?
When you’re uncomfortable and even nervous with the size of the vision you’re adding to your pitch deck. Over time you’ll get used to the bigger vision and you’ll be surprised at how much more aggressive it will make you towards pursuing it.
2) Explain in detail how you’ll use the money
“We will invest half in marketing and half in engineering” is not the most articulate way to address how you will spend the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars you want an investor to trust you with.
Having a detailed financial model for at least the next two years will paint a picture of not only your operating expenses but also your revenue growth, margins, and potential profit over that time, as well.
More than anything, know by department and ideally by business case where you will invest the capital, and if you already have a marketing machine with a predictable ROI (i.e. $1 in brings $5 out), then explain that in detail, too.
Having an accurate financial forecast will help mitigate some of the risk potential investors see in your business, especially if you’re pre-revenue and/or are a first time entrepreneur. Remember: the more risk you can take away, the better your chances of closing the deal.
3) Know your metrics better than anyone
For a subscription business it’s CAC, LTV, CAC:LTV, net MRR, conversion rate, churn (both number of clients and percentage of revenue), gross margin, etc. For other businesses the metrics will be similar. You need to know your current and future metrics in exact detail, and you should be able to talk to how you will improve the metrics that aren’t up to scratch.
David Skok wrote the ultimate guide to metrics back in 2010 on his great blog For Entrepreneurs. It’s a long and detailed post, but it’s foundational to understand if you’re raising capital.
4) Have a short main deck
This one is simple. Your pitch deck should have two parts: the main deck and an appendix. In the main deck, include slides that are critical to telling your story and showing your metrics, team, and vision. Supporting slides should be in the appendix.
How long should your deck be? Generally 30 to 60 slides is about average. The main part of our series C deck, which we used to raise $40 million from Revolution, was 26 slides. The appendix was 16 slides for a total of 42 slides.
5) People grow a company, not capital
The best companies are built by amazing and capable people. Devote at least one slide in your deck to outlining your team and what makes them amazing.
Are you an amazing engineer? Spell out your talents and how they contributed to your product. Do you have a strong executive team from A-list companies? Include a mini bio on each executive, including the companies they’ve been at and each of their key accomplishments.
For example, has your head of sales built large, high-performing sales teams before? If so, call it out. Did your CTO built highly scalable systems that handle tens of millions of users at her previous company? You get the idea.
Investors know you have competitors, and generally, the strongest team will build the best product and brand and therefore win the market. If you have a strong team, make it known. If your team is just a handful of first-timers, then talk to your vision for the team. Who will you hire with the capital and how will you recruit them?
Have ambition to hire and build the best team you can, and communicate that ambition in your pitch deck. Be honest about your team’s weaknesses, and emphasize your strengths.
6) Talk about pain & how you solve it
All great pitch decks include a story that guides the reader from the initial pain point to the solution to the promised land (a business with excellent metrics that’s growing quickly). Be sure to talk about the initial pain point your product solves.
How did you come across it? Why are you solving it? Why is your approach the best one, and how can you solve the problem for more people as a result of raising capital?
7) Traction speaks louder than words
Whether you’re generating revenue or not, it’s important to show your product already has traction. Again, this reduces the risk in the eyes of potential investors and gives you a better shot at getting a term sheet.
If you’re generating revenue and it’s accelerating fast, make sure that’s a slide in your pitch deck. If not, look at all of your metrics and choose the one that best represents the potential of your business, such as total number of users, total photos uploaded, or similar. Ideally this metric should chart “up and to the right” and show that with a little capital you can push this metric even faster while on your way to revenue and profit.
8) Pitch, polish, repeat
As soon as you’ve wrapped your first pitch, make sure you have a Q&A session at the end. Questions help potential investors get clarity on everything from your numbers to your competitive advantage. Take note of their questions and feedback and use them to tweak your deck before the next pitch.
Repeat this for every pitch you do and, after three or four pitches, you should notice you’re getting fewer questions about the content in your deck. Because your pitch deck is continually improving, you should get a lot of positive feedback about your presentation — assuming you’re a captivating speaker and actually have a business that excites potential investors.
Mitchell Harper is the co-founder and co-CEO of Bigcommerce, the leading e-commerce platform for small businesses looking to grow their revenues faster. Starting with $20,000 in credit card debt from a rented office above a friend’s phone shop in Sydney, Australia, the company has grown over 100% year-over-year and has raised a total of $75M from US-based General Catalyst, Floodgate, and Revolution. Mitchell tweets at @mitchellharper.
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