How to Pitch Your Startup
tl;dr Pitch Deck TemplatesDon't have time to read the guide? You can access our Pitch Templates quickly below.
- Elevator Pitch Template
- One-Minute Pitch Template
- Simple Pitch Deck Template (To edit and use, click “File” and then “Make a Copy”)
- Long Template
- Angel/VC Template
If you’re like most founders, you probably think about your startup 24/7. You wake up in the morning brainstorming product features, and you fall asleep at night contemplating marketing campaigns.
You can’t remember the last movie you saw at the theater; your idea of a fun, Saturday night is collaborating with developers overseas. And stalking VCs on LinkedIn has become a favorite past-time.
Passion, hardwork and a healthy amount of obsession are essential ingredients to entrepreneurial success. However, it’s not uncommon for founders to become hyper-focused on initial ideas at the expense of an important fact:
A startup founder’s ultimate success is dependent on others buying into his or her vision.
Translation: Your progress is contingent upon your ability to pitch the value of who you are, what you’re doing and why it matters.
Reaching important milestones like raising venture capital, sourcing top talent and acquiring new customers all require the same skill — telling a story that makes someone say, “Heck, yeah!”
Sometimes you have 30 minutes to make that happen; other times you have 30 seconds. Regardless, your job is to clearly communicate why a given audience should care about your business.
If you are a startup looking to get to traction and funding, check out the Founder Institute pre-seed accelerator program.
One of your most powerful tools in achieving this objective is the pitch deck. Early-stage founders can use templates to create visual presentations that provide brief overviews of business value propositions, market opportunities and metrics.
At the Founder Institute, we see dozens of decks every week. The majority of them are completely forgettable because someone overlooked a few essential ingredients to storytelling success.
The purpose of a presentation deck is to enable entrepreneurs to effectively tell the story of their business,” says Bill Gurley, general partner at Benchmark Capital. “In many ways it’s like a structured scientific proof. You want to walk the listener through an argument as to why this is going to be an amazing business.
The reality? Phenomenal pitches aren’t thrown together in a weekend — they are thoughtfully contemplated, tested and refined.
In this guide, we’ll make a case for why founders should master both The Elevator Pitch and The 1-Minute Pitch before tackling decks. We’ll also provide guidelines for constructing narratives, customizing pitch deck templates and communicating with potential investors. These are many of the same techniques Founder Institute alumni have used to procure $1.75BN+ in funding.
Finally, we’ll conclude with some examples of real decks utilized by globally recognized startups. After reading this guide, you will know exactly what it takes to create a compelling deck, give a memorable presentation and stand out from the crowd.
Let’s get started...
Three Types of Startup Pitches
Think back to elementary school: Did your foray into your first language begin with a 1,200-page copy of War and Peace?
No, you started by learning simple words. Similarly, you shouldn’t expect to construct “the perfect” pitch deck right away. Instead, begin by constructing the simplest description of your business possible: The Elevator Pitch.
2. The Elevator Pitch Template
As a startup founder, you will meet hundreds of people at various meetings, events and conferences. You will also, routinely, introduce yourself to complete strangers by email. In such situations, you have seconds to peak someone’s curiosity. And the best way to do that is a compelling Elevator Pitch.
This one-sentence statement explains what you do, who you serve and why it matters in simple language. As the name implies, the summary can quickly be recited to a stranger on an elevator ride.
Founder Institute CEO and Co-founder Adeo Ressi has developed an awesome Elevator Pitch template dubbed “Startup Madlibs.”
Use the template below to craft your own:
Let's go through each of the items
- The defined offering must be short, simple and capable of being understood by everyone, like "a website", "a mobile application", "hardware" or "desktop software."
- The defined audience is the initial group of people that you will market your offering to. In the case of consumer applications, it is usually a demographic, such as "women age 25 to 35 years old." In the case of business applications, it is usually a job function at a type of corporation, such as "system administrators at medium sized technology businesses."
- Now that you have an offering helping an audience, you need to solve a problem. The problem needs to be something that everyone understands, such as "reduce the time collecting bill payments" or "engage in an immersive entertainment experience."
- The final component, the secret sauce, adds your unique approach to solving the problem and demonstrates a mastery of the market. Some examples are "by sending automated email alerts based on analysis of highest response times" or "with virtual worlds constructed in reaction to the movements of the players."
OK, let’s look at a couple of examples…
Mediocre Elevator Pitch Example:
My company Socialista,
Is developing a revolutionary, social utility
To help female consumers
Find deals online faster.
What’s wrong with this pitch?
- The offering is vague: A ‘social utility” could be a phone company. The pitch should read “ecommerce website.”
- The adjectives are empty: This person may think their business is revolutionary, but it’s an over-inflated claim. Let the numbers speak for themselves!
- The audience is vague: It could be more clearly defined (e.g. female consumers between the ages of 18 and 25).
- The problem isn’t obvious: Why can’t the target consumer use search engines to find deals online? Why is this platform better than her current options?
Including these details implies the person has done their homework, knows their stuff and has a viable business idea.
Improved Elevator Pitch Example:
My company Socialista,
Is developing an ecommerce website
To help female consumers between the ages of 18-25
Shop for hip, baby products at wholesale prices,
With automated ordering of diapers and other staples.
As you can see, the Elevator Pitch format is deceptively simple. The key to standing out is (a) being super specific, and (b) emphasizing your startup’s “secret sauce.”
In this case, the founder’s unique differentiator is providing a fashionable solution at an unusually affordable price. Mastering this exercise is extremely helpful in refining Unique Value Propositions.
3. The One-Minute Pitch Template
Once you’ve articulated your Elevator Pitch, you are ready to move onto the One-Minute Pitch. Here you can add several key details to your Elevator Pitch, including:
- The value of the market your business is in.
- Your competition, and how you differentiate from them.
- The current state of your business or product.
- Your Ask (how the person/ people you are pitching can help you).
Check out the easy-to-use "One Minute Pitch Template" from the Founder Institute below:
4. Preparing to Pitch Investors
Before you begin creating your pitch deck, it’s important to consider the perspective of potential investors.
Top VCs see and hear dozens of pitches per week, both in-person and via email. Luminary Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) hears from around 3,000 startups each year. How many of those company’s procure investments? Only 15 of them.
The current VC landscape is showing bigger deals spread amongst fewer startups. Despite funding reaching its highest levels since 2000, seed-stage investments consisted of only 25 percent of total deals made in 2018. Translation: The competition is tough.
Pre-requisites for Pitching to Investors
As Mike Suprovici (Founder Institute EIR) lays out in his Startup Guide: How to Raise the First Round of Funding for Your Startup, before you even begin to approach investors, you need the following:
A strong startup idea that is vetted and backed by solid market research. See this startup idea guide from the Founder Institute.
A prototype, a patent, or a proof of concept for the final idea.
A simple and scalable startup financial model that shows at least $10M in revenue after 3 years. See this revenue forecasting template from Aaron Patzer, Founder of Mint.com and FI Mentor.
A strong 10 to 15 page presentation that meets investors' expectations. We will discuss this in the section below.
An incorporated entity with a smart capitalization table ("Cap table"). See this simple cap table from Venture Hacks.
The ability to quit your job and live for six months on savings while you conclude the financing and launch the business.
Another factor to consider is what kind of investor you are approaching. Consider the stage of your own company, before trying to pitch to certain investors. Do you meet their pre-requisites? If you are raising your first round of funding, then you are likely still at a pre-angel or angel investment stage. As a result, you should NOT try to pitch venture capitalists.
What Investors Want to See in a Pitch
If you are ready to pitch angels or venture capitalists, it's critical to understand what those investors are looking for. In order to stand out, your pitch must include both (a) the specific informational components investors are seeking, and (b) a memorable story that illustrates a compelling opportunity.
As Jasmine Foroutan, CEO and Founder of Pitch Genius, says, investors want more than rote slideshows:
The biggest challenge of making a memorable deck is building a storyline that echoes outside of the pitch deck. This means, building a storyline that is not only easy for investors to remember, but also a storyline that’s easy for them to repeat and regurgitate to other potential investors.
Investors make decisions based on return and risk: How big of a return could they receive? And what might prevent them from receiving that return? Most VCs want a 10-20x return.
As a founder, your job is to convince investors your startup offers the greatest potential return, with the least amount of risk — in comparison to the others on their list.
Generally speaking, investors will evaluate risk in three main areas:
- Market Risk: Are you addressing a large, growing market?
- Product Risk: Do you have a sustainable competitive advantages?
- Execution Risk: Can your team “pull it off?”
What Makes a Startup "Fundable"?
During one of Naval Ravikant's (Founder of AngelList) talks at the Founder Institute, he described 'The Anatomy of a Fundable Startup', which you can watch below:
Similarly, when Aaron Patzer (Founder of Mint.com) described his Pitching Secrets to the Founder Institute, he outlined four main questions investors will ask themselves whever they evaluate a startup pitch:
- Does it solve a problem?
- Does it solve that problem in a big market?
- Is it something that has a competitive or sustainable advantage?
- Can you make money or make a profit?
Address those four questions, and you will have a much higher chance of attracting funding from professional investors.
5. Pitch Deck Guidelines
Think of your deck like a visual business plan. Your objective is to succinctly illustrate your marketplace knowledge, business model and qualifications for execution.
A standard deck consists of 10 to 14 slides. The most common mistake made by newbie founders? Providing too much detail, too soon. Jenny Lefcourt, General Partner at Freestyle Capital, cautions early-stage founders against making this error:
What's really important is to not go into the weeds of all the details because what you’re trying to do is give them enough information that they want more information. Your goal at meeting No. 1 is to get people interested enough that they want meeting No. 2.
- Avoid excessive text.
- Use large fonts that are easy to read.
- Include colorful charts, statistics and graphics.
- Label each slide (e.g. problem, solution, team).
- Include unsubstantiated growth projections.
- Describe extraneous hiring details.
- Use tons of bullet points.
- Inflate your capabilities.
Make Two Decks
Many founders are surprised to learn they need two decks: (1) a detailed version that can be shared with investors via email, and (2) a simplified version that can be elaborated upon in person.
It’s not uncommon for investors to request to see a deck before agreeing to meet. For this reason, your “reading” version should include enough detail to stand alone.
Conversely, a standard deck should be streamlined to ensure investors spend more time listening and less time reading. Most of the presentations available for online viewing showcase “listening” decks.
We recommend beginning with the construction of the “reading” deck, which can then be edited for pitch presentations.
Is there a RIGHT way to organize a pitch deck?
The answer is both yes and no. In terms of information provided, there are certain points you absolutely must cover. However, you have creative freedom when organizing and presenting your slides.
Here are the four most common types of decks:
- The Problem-Solution Deck
- The Vision-Opportunity Deck
- The Team Deck
- The Traction Deck
The most commonly used pitch deck template is the Problem-Solution Deck, which is ideal for founders with especially unique solutions to widespread problems.
All four frameworks contain the same informational points, organized in different ways. A variety of templates exist online and can be modified to meet your needs. However, don’t be afraid to venture outside of existing formats, so long as you're including necessary information.
The biggest misconception founders have about pitch decks is that there’s a simple formula for building a perfect pitch, and that’s by replicating other successful pitch decks,” says Foroutan. “Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. How will startups ever stand out to investors if everyone is using the same pitch to persuade them?
The most compelling elements of your business plan, your unique value proposition (UVP) and your intended audience should all inform how you structure your deck.
With that said, the Problem-Solution Pitch Deck Template is a great place to start. In this section, we’ll walk through all of the elements included in the standard deck:
The Problem-Solution Deck Format:
Announce your big idea — the one thing you do better than anyone else. You have 10 seconds to engage your audience. Include:
- Title: N/A
- Name of Company
- CEO First & Last Name
- CEO Email (must be the CEO’s direct email address)
- CEO Phone number
- A simple image (reinforce the idea without distraction)
Summarize the highlights of your business opportunity, emphasizing minimization of market, product and execution risk. Include:
- Metrics that prove traction.
- Special advantages your startup has.
- Summary of investment size you are seeking.
Describe the problem you solve, who you solve it for and the reasons why your target customer are unsatisfied with current solutions. Include:
- Title: Problem
- One sentence description of the problem (10 words max).
- Sub-description of the problem (3 bullet points max).
Describe your solution and the major benefits it entails. Are current solutions slow, expensive or difficult to use? Are your solutions faster, cheaper and easier to use? Do customers care? Include:
- Title: Solution
- One sentence description of the solution (10 words max).
- Sub-description of the solution (3 bullet points max).
Make your product more tangible by illustrating how it works in three simple steps. Utilize screenshots, graphics and/or video. Skip the demo. Depending on your idea, this might be the ideal place to showcase the filing status of important patents. Include:
- Title: Product
- Product Screenshot
- Multiple Slides (if necessary)
NOTE: The order of slides 6, 7, 8, 9 can be rearranged to fit your particular narrative.
6. Business Model
Illustrate your primary revenue model. Generally, investors prefer active revenue streams to passive revenue streams. They also, particularly, like recurring revenue streams like monthly and annual subscriptions. Note: Companies that make money via advertising revenue are the exceptions – not the rule. Include:
- Title: Business Model
- Proof your market is willing and able to pay.
- Use a quote if you haven’t launched yet.
7. Market Opportunity
Illustrate how much money you could, theoretically, make if you dominate your target market. Many investors like to see both a top-down and a bottom-up analysis. Although bottom-up is more difficult to calculate, including it will increase your credibility. Here’s an article on how to calculate it.
- Title: Market
- Total Addressable Market (TAM): All the people who could use your product or service. eg: All auto detail customers in the US.
- Serviceable Addressable Market (SAM): The subset of your TAM who are likely to use a product like your current product. eg: All mobile auto detail customers in the US.
- Serviceable Obtainable Market (SOM): The subset of your SAM that you can reasonably obtain in the next 3-5 years. Aka your realistic market share. eg: 10-20% of all mobile auto detail customers in the US.
This might be the most important slide of the entire presentation. However, many founders struggle to clearly differentiate their products and services from the competition.
Your offering must be SO compelling that users enthusiastically switch from existing solutions. In this slide, your objective is to provide 3-4 reasons why your solutions is superior to both direct and indirect competitors in the marketplace.
Warning: Don't make the mistake of saying you have no competitors. Investors will assume your idea isn’t worth pursuing.
Of course, if you’re pioneering a new technology, your competition will be its traditional counterpart. Nonetheless, your job is to clearly compare the differences between the status quo and your game-changing solution.
You have two options regarding layout: The"Gartner Magic Quadrant" shown below or the “Competitive Grid” shown above.
Here your objective is to demonstrate your knowledge of customer acquisition, customer retention and product innovation. Investors expect you to know a few key metrics:
- Customer Acquisition Costs (CAC): What's your fully loaded cost of acquiring a paying customer? Ex. $100
- Lifetime Value of Customer (LTV): How much will someone pay your startup before they leave? Ex. $4,800
- Payback Period: How long does it take to cover acquisition costs? Ex: $100/$100/mo = 1 month.
- Generating an LTV that is a strong multiple of CAC is a prerequisite for profitability. Of course, don’t forget to consider the cost of revenue[m] and other operating expenses, such as product development and customer service.
This is another important slide that showcases customers love your product and are happy to pay for it. The Traction Slide should seek to mitigate the three types of risk: Market risk, product risk and execution risk.
It should suggest that your startup can replicate initial success at scale, decrease future acquisition costs and increase profitability.
Use key metrics[o] to illustrate traction, highlight trends and rates of change. An ideal scenario for investors, for example, might be customer and revenue doubling monthly coupled with declining customer acquisition costs. If you have yet to launch, use this slide to illustrate major milestones in product development, key hires and funding.
How much money do you expect to make within the next 3 to 5 years? Do your best to estimate projected revenue, costs and expenses based on hitting your funding goals. Include:
- Title: Financials.
- EBIT (Earnings Before Interest and Tax)
- Percentages alongside numbers for gross margin etc.
Your Team Slide should mitigate investor concerns about execution. VCs love to see team members who have previously worked with successful startups, similar technologies and in similar markets. Check off as many of those boxes as you can.
Note that your Team slide should include every important member of your extended team. This should include founders, key employees, advisors and investors (if any).
Creating an advisory board is a very simple way to add industry expertise to your "team" and is something that I strongly recommend For example, being able to drop a line like "We have the CMO of the largest real estate brokerage in the world on our advisory board" really boosts your credibility if your are focusing on a real estate opportunity.
A second and equally important benefit of advisors is that they can quickly help you refine your business and product vision themselves and connect you to people they know who can do the same. You can also use advisors to add significant technology and startup experience and expertise to your team.
Finally, it’s time to ask for the money you need. Include:
- Title: Funding
- Amount you are raising
- Financial objectives (i.e. reach $2mm ARR in 12 months)
After your presentation finale, end on a copy of your Summary Slide in the background. At this time, you will be fielding remaining questions that have yet to be answered.
Though not mandatory, some founders include an Appendix with supporting information positive PR, customer testimonials, technological details and/or in-depth financial information.
Remember: Creating a pitch deck isn’t a “one-time exercise.” Practice your pitch often in front of peers, advisors, and mentors. The clearer your messaging becomes, the faster you will close deals.
7. How to Ace Your Presentation
Here are some of Ressi’s best pitch presentation tips:
- Keep it under 10 minutes: Be respectful of your audience’s time, and summarize your ideas into a brief presentation.
- Tell a story: Don’t just talk numbers — take your audience on a journey of why this business matters.
- Have a clear UVP: Investors often hear dozens of presentations a week. Stand out with a real unique value proposition.
- Show your passion: Don’t be afraid to let investors see your excitement over your idea.
- Anticipate questions: Though it may not seem like it, getting interrupted is a good thing; it shows your audience is listening and cares enough to voice their concerns. Think through answers to potential questions ahead of time.
Investor Pet Peeves
Investors listen to a ton of pitches, so it is only natural for them to see (and be slightly irritated) by common mistakes.
One of the biggest pet peeves of Manu Kumar, of K9 Ventures, is when presenters say they will answer a question later:
You have to follow the flow,’” says Kumar. “When somebody asks you a question, that’s the right time to address the question. Even if it means you have to jump ahead or jump back.
Over the years, we’ve spoken with several VCs who echo this sentiment — entrepreneurs must demonstrate flexibility, spontaneity and willingness to “jump off” script. You may be eager to talk about your team because it’s in the next slide. However, the investor sitting in front of you may care more about customer acquisition costs.
Which is why practicing your pitch in low-stakes situations is SO important. The more familiar you become with addressing unexpected interruptions, the more confidently you will handle diversions in meetings that matters.
Adeo Ressi (CEO of the Founder Institute) has something that frustrates him even more:
One of my biggest pet peeves is when founders pitch me a business, and they don’t clearly define who their customer is,” says Ressi. “If you don’t know The Who, it’s very hard for me to understand The What or The How.
See more investor pet peeves from funding experts Manu Kumar of K9 Ventures, James Cham of Bloomberg Beta, Adeo Ressi of the Founder Institute, and Alex Gurevich of Javelin Venture Partners below.
The bottom-line: Delivering “the perfect pitch” takes practice. It’s normal to feel nervous before speaking to a room full of strangers. However, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Founders who wanting to expedite progress should consider joining an intensive accelerator program.
8. Successful Pitch Examples
Below are some examples of decks and presentations — from both big and small names — that have resulted in funding.
Notice the common elements we’ve discussed woven throughout the decks. And take note of any presentation strategies that might be advantageous to your startup:
Pitch Deck Examples:
Founder: Aaron Patzer
Funding: $31.8M in 5 rounds, acquired by Intuit
Founders: Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia, Nathan Blecharczyk
Funding: $4.4B in 13 rounds (as of March 2019)
Pitch Presentation Examples
Should you study the pitch presentations of legends like Steve Jobs, Marc Benioff and Elon Musk? Absolutely.
However, it’s often helpful to watch entrepreneurs who are less removed from your current stage of business. Below are some pitch presentations from up-and-coming Founder Institute Alumni:
Pethub is an award-winning software company helping pet owners manage their pets’ lives online. PetHub ID tags are officially in-use by over 250 communities and 20 states in the U.S as their government or shelter issued ID tag, and 98% of PetHub recovered pets are reunited with family without ever entering a shelter. The company has raised several million dollars in funding and is on pace to track and protect over 1 million animals by 2021. Pethub is also a Seattle FI alum, founded by Tom Arnold.
SpaceiShare, a Toronto FI company founded by Sarah Selhi, is a marketplace that allows people to offer their empty physical spaces as storage for people who need the room. They secured a sizable deal on on Dragon's Den, and have been featured across Canadian press.
And here is Sarah's presentation on Dragon's Den, where she delivers a modified pitch and fields a very different set of questions:
Bridgr, a Montreal FI company founded by Amira Boutouchent, is an online platform that helps small and medium-sized manufacturing companies find and collaborate with validated and qualified independent experts to solve their operations issues, allowing them to grow quickly without the need for expensive and time-consuming consultancies.
Climber is a Lisbon FI company founded by Mário Mouraz. They build revenue management software that takes data from external sources, such as weather, air traffic, online shopping, and claims regarding a hotel’s reputation. They cross analyze all of that with information from the hotel user, in order to automatically calculate what to sell and how much to sell it for.
ConclusionConstructing a pitch deck is a crucial component of delivering a compelling investment presentation. A winning deck clearly articulates a target audience, a problem worth solving and a scalable solution. It also mitigates the three types of risk investors care most about: Product Risk, Market Risk and Execution Risk.
However, displaying something “technically correct” isn’t enough. For better or worse, most investors associate good storytelling with entrepreneurial capability. Therefore, “mastering the pitch” is crucial for founders wanting to secure venture capital. The easiest way to enhance your entrepreneurial storytelling skills, and improve your pitch, is to join a startup community dedicated to your success.
The Founder Institute is a 3-month accelerator program designed to transform pre-seed founders into storytellers capable of achieving funding. We provide members with weekly business mentoring, pitch deck feedback and plenty of pitch practice opportunities.
Our startup curriculum is led by leading startup experts with proven track records of success. This approach has led to more than 6,500 companies launching and raising $1.75BN+ in funding.