The rise of the tech industry and its dependence on venture capitalists has redefined “pitch” from a thrown baseball into form of persuasion (perhaps with a hint of desperation?). Every entrepreneur knows to have an “elevator pitch” honed to a tight 30-60 second summary of the purpose and prospects of their startup, which it is hoped will lead to an opportunity to present their pitch decks to deep pocketed investors focused on deepening their pockets further.
Markets being what they are, it was inevitable that eventually pitching would become its own cottage industry. The aptly named Keane Angle, after 11 years as a brand strategist for Fortune 500 companies including Coca-Cola, Ikea, NBC Universal and General Electric, founded STORY Pitch Decks and has become a recognized expert on the arcane art of convincing investors with data-driven pitch decks and deeply researched presentations.
We asked Keane what makes a persuasive pitch deck and a convincing presentation.
What are the must-haves for an effective pitch deck?
- Meet expectations. Knowing the expectations for your business model and round/level of maturity is a must. For early-stage businesses, it’s all about having a great team that’s been able to accomplish a lot with only a little. Traction means more than just revenue and customers; it usually means momentum which can take many forms.
- Do your homework. Demonstrating knowledge of your industry, the competition, and current and future market forces shows investors that a founder knows their stuff. This also includes doing your homework on the investors that a founder is pitching to. You don’t want to bad-mouth a competitor only to discover that the investor is actually already backing said competitor.
- Use the right data. A solid business case means using credible, powerful data to back up your claims. Having the right data is much more important than having a lot of data. If you can get away with having a single data point that really nails what you’re trying to say, this is much more preferred to the alternative which is having a half-a-dozen data points that only sort of show what you’re trying to say.
- Great copy and design. This one kind of goes without saying, but great copy and great design are a must. Copy and content come first, but don’t skip on the design either. Great copy always says more with less and design does the same thing. Great design also shows investors that you care about your brand and how it’s presented. This ensures founders are putting their best foot forward.
- Be bold but don’t overdo it. Investors have a strong BS meter and can smell it from a mile away. Confidence is great, but huge claims that seem unrealistic or unattainable usually cross the line and venture into hubris territory. Usually big huge audacious claims also tend to be too vague. In pitch decks, every single word needs to matter. So wasting a slide just to say some big vision statement that everyone either rolls their eyes or scratches their head as it is a waste of everyone’s time.
Some say that the founder is more important than the startup idea. Is there anything to that? And, if so, how does that factor into the pitch deck?
Absolutely. Early-stage investors bet more on the jockey, not the horse – in other words, the team not the idea. Look at it this way: startup A has a team of four, well-rounded, complimentary leaders all of which have deep expertise in the startup’s industry and a proven track record of success, but they’ve got a mediocre idea in a massive market. Meanwhile, startup B has two leaders with only a few years of experience in an industry that has nothing to do with their startup, but their idea is revolutionary in a small, yet growing market. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. However, the safer bet would be on the experienced team with the mediocre idea. Why? Odds are, if they’ve been successful in the past, they’ll likely be successful in the future. The point on market sizing plays into this because a large market means there’s more room for competition. It’s easier to build a $100M company in a $100B market than it is to build a $100M company in a $1B market.
I understand that your company does both quantitative analysis of expert opinions and qualitative analysis of publicly available pitch decks. What has that analysis taught you about building a pitch deck?
The first thing it taught us was that everybody has an opinion about what makes for a great pitch deck. There’s a never-ending list of opinions out there in the form of books, blog posts, videos, courses, podcasts, and more. The second thing it taught us was that almost none of those opinions align. So there’s very little agreement on what a great pitch deck should look like. Should a team slide go at the beginning or the middle? Should financial projections be three or five years? Should a seed-round pitch deck be 10 slides or 15 slides? The list goes on, but none of these questions have clear answers. So, we decided to analyze them and come up with an actual quantitative analysis to find where the majority of opinions landed within each of these incredibly common questions. Knowing the answers to these questions gives us a leg up on creating a deliverable that more investors will nod their heads to on average. Are our decks perfect every time? Absolutely not. Founders know that a pitch deck is a living, breathing document that evolves over time. Listening to where those investor opinions overlap is usually the best way to ensure you’re addressing the most amount of concerns from the most amount of investors.
It is lavishly documented that minority and female founders, and especially minority female founders, have a more difficult time fundraising than do white male founders. Can a good pitch deck even the odds?
Less than 2% of all VC funds went to female founders in 2021 (source). Out of the last 80 pitch deck projects we’ve had, 14 of them had a woman as a founder or co-founder, which is about 17.5%. Fundraising as a founder is hard. I can only imagine it being harder to fundraise as a female founder given the incredibly low amount of VC funds awarded to women in 2021. Because women are in such a minority, a great pitch deck can only help amplify their platform even more. STORY is currently working on a program to help minority founders (which includes women of all ethnicities) get a leg up via pro bono work. More to come on that front.
In terms of evening the odds, it’s hard to say because there are so many variables – but having a great pitch deck will never hurt your odds as a founder trying to raise. I would say it also matters who female founders are targeting with their capital raises. Increasingly, more and more minority-focused and female-focused investors are popping up which pay special attention to this demographic, and rightly so. However, I wouldn’t call STORY an expert on this subject as of right now. This problem is layered and complex. While the numbers are simple, the solution is anything but and more investigation and dialogue are needed to really shed light on this in a way that is appropriate.
Is there anything you want to add that I have not asked about?
Sure. I would say founders have a tendency to overcomplicate their pitch decks. They’re so stuck in the weeds that they have a hard time seeing the forest through the trees. Not to mention, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. It takes a lot for a founder to be honest with how they see themselves and their company within their industry. Do you really not have any competitors? Probably not. Is your product really 10x superior to your competition who’s been in business for a decade and has $100M in funding? Probably not. Are you really going to increase your revenue from $0 to $100M with only $500k in funding? Probably not. If founders can balance honesty with confidence while infusing smart positioning and an even smarter strategy it’s the beginning of a great investor conversation to be had.
Lastly, I regularly work with founders who don’t have a deep team bench. The best way to offset this is to get some short-term, informal advisors that you can add to your team slide. If you’re in the cannabis industry, you probably need some cannabis experience. Get a few advisors that will help round things out and add them to your team slide. Building a great company takes a village, so knock on some doors and see who’s willing to jump in.