How to Sell Your Story Through Your Pitch Deck
Venture capitalists' attention spans are at their shortest, but a concise, attractive and effective pitch deck can catch their interest.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
The number of startups and entrepreneur investments has grown drastically amid the uncertainty of the past few years. Although acquiring funds for a business has never been easy, venture capitalists are now spending less time than ever looking at each pitch deck. Especially in an age when time is money, VCs aren't just saying no to a few opportunities here and there — they're saying no on a massive scale.
One leading VC firm, Andreessen Horowitz, reveals just how difficult it is to hear "yes." According to an interview, the firm invests in just 0.7% of the startups its team investigates each year. Though the firm doesn't reveal all its selection secrets in the video, it does emphasize the importance of the pitch.
A perfect pitch — more specifically, a perfect pitch deck — can mean all the difference for a founder looking for funding. It's a chance to tell your story and show off your talents, business or craft. Delivering a perfect pitch deck grants you access to an investor who could provide transformational capital to your business, making it the most important part of having a successful meeting with a VC.
Related: How a VC Wants to Be Pitched
Constructing a memorable startup pitch deck
Unfortunately, most pitch decks fail to impress VCs for one simple reason: They're not written with their needs in mind. This makes it easy for a VC to say no quickly.
In some instances, VCs prefer poorly constructed pitch decks because they make their jobs easier. Venture capital financing is all about choosing specific investments that will generate positive returns. Mathematically, this can be illustrated with the null hypothesis formula, H0 is: E[rn] > 0.
VCs can't prove the null hypothesis without seeing into the future of the investment. Consequently, they must disprove the hypothesis with the information available. In other words, at the outset, every startup begins as a good investment. It's up to the VC to find reasons to believe it's not.
Therein lies the importance of writing a pitch deck through the VC lens. Certainly, every VC looks for different criteria. One might like to see a huge addressable market. Another might be moved by innovative solutions to a mission-critical problem or original concepts from first movers. Yet no matter what factors stand out to individuals, all VCs will be more motivated to invest in a startup if the pitch deck is polished and promising.
Related: Successful Fundraising Begins With a Stellar Pitch Deck
Mapping out a compelling VC pitch deck
The best way to plan your pitch deck as an entrepreneur is to think of your VC audience first and your personal desires last. Otherwise, your VCs might not get three slides deep before moving on to the next opportunity.
Whether you're new to writing pitch decks or you've written many, the following rules should become an integral part of your playbook.
1. Embrace the power of six
According to DropBox DocSend, investors have significantly increased the time they spend on the competitive landscape, product, and business model sections of pitch decks. Whatever VCs prioritize, however, they will all want to see a solid package without a lot of fluff so they can find the details they care about with ease. That's where the "power of six" can help.
Far too many entrepreneurs overload their VC pitch deck slides with colors, pictures and an overabundance of words. For better results, force yourself to strive for fewer than six bullet points per page and six words or fewer for each bullet. Add visualizations, if necessary, but never exceed 36 words as part of your bulleted points.
2. Think short and sweet
Your pitch deck is not a novel. It's a synthesis of the most important details about your startup. In most cases, VCs spend less than four minutes looking at pitch decks, so keeping your deck short keeps VCs actively listening to what you have to say.
What's the harm in submitting a long pitch deck? The VC probably won't get past slide three. Remember, the investors aren't using your seed funding pitch deck to decide whether to fund your company immediately. Rather, the VC uses the pitch deck as a determining factor for a follow-up conversation. In other words, you should annex your overflow items into extra slides that you can use as a supplement during future exchanges.
Related: 10 Slides You must Include in Pitch Deck to Raise Funding
3. Prune your pitch deck with ruthless efficiency
The only way to whittle down a massive pitch deck is to edit every aspect of the project ruthlessly. Your pitch deck should not exceed 15 or 20 slides, but it can be difficult to shave off words when you spend so much time constructing it. A better approach is to work around a very specific slide deck outline. The outline will help you keep your slides on target so you don't cut something that might have been important.
Following a slide order that naturally peels back the layers of your startup is the best solution to combat overwriting in the first place. Start with your title slide and then dive right into a slide about your solution. Follow up with two slides devoted to the problem you're solving. After that, include a series of slides showing the paradigm shift you're driving, any use or case studies, your startup business model, your go-to-market strategy, product validation and your five-year projected financials. End with a slide outlining your ask in specific terms, a slide with your team members and a slide explaining how VCs can contact you.
4. Invest in professional VC pitch deck design
VCs might seem like they make all their decisions by the numbers, but eye-catching pitch deck designs can still draw them in and hold their attention. In a piece for Entrepreneur's Handbook, one angel investor explains how they can estimate a startup's valuation based on the attractiveness of the pitch deck. Accordingly, when they come across one that looks like it's been treated with care and respect, they delve deeper.
If you're not adept at designing strong pitch decks, find someone who is. It might cost you more than $1,000, as the aforementioned angel investor pointed out, but it's worth outsourcing the design to a professional who can make it look tidy and appealing. Think of it this way: The money you spend on the pitch deck design can produce untold returns if a VC is moved to contact you after seeing it.
Related: 5 Ideas You Should Steal From Uber's 2008 Pitch Deck
Getting VCs eager about your startup starts with sending them a pitch deck written for their eyes and needs. Even if you feel confident that you know how to make a venture capital presentation, you won't see results if your deck doesn't shine as a compelling first impression. Stand out, make your pitch deck stronger and watch as VC investors show more interest in what you have to say.