Image Credit: Adobe

12 slides! It’s all it takes.

Everything else is just fluff

July 26, 2017

I was recently approached by two entrepreneurs who were working on a fundraising deck. One was scheduled to present at the 2016 WebSummit in Lisbon, Portugal, the other was trying to wrap up a Series A round here in the City.; both wanted some tips and hands-on assistance.

My initial response was

Keep it short, simple, and neat.

Of course, this is easier said than done. The point is not to confuse a pitch deck with a business plan in slide show format. A pitch is nothing more than a door opener or communication starter. If you nailed it, it will leave your audience inspired and eager to learn more. You can always get into the nitty-gritty in the follow-up meeting.

So, if you’re working on a pitch or fundraising deck, it’s time to put your 30+ slides aside and learn how to tell your story with just 10 powerful slides. I often look at Airbnb’s so-called first-ever pitch deck as a source of inspiration. They certainly mastered breaking down the key drivers of their new venture on just 12 slides. Their pitch deck wasn’t perfect, but it came close.

Now, that we got this out of the way, let’s pull up that first slide.

Slide #1 Overview. Your cover slide is prime real estate in your presentation. Use it to make a great first impression. It’s typically displayed while the previous presenter passes the baton on to you and your audience is settling down in the room. Make sure you got a professional logo, along with a tweet-like tag line and your contact information on that slide. It’s the slide your audience probably gets to look at the longest. You don’t want to waste that opportunity for a perfect entree.

Slide #2 Problem. At first glimpse, Airbnb’s bare-knuckle problem statement doesn’t seem to be very compelling. If you consider though that they were first-to-market with a truly unique and disruptive business concept, they could have hardly done better than that. No matter what business you’re in, make sure you state the problem or deficiency in the marketplace clearly and to the best of your abilities. Without a pressing problem, there’s no need for a solution.

Slide #3 Solution. It’s the flip side of the problem/solution paradigm. With other words, the more pressing the problem or deficiency that you are going to address, the more points you can score by offering a compelling solution. Give your audience an example or two, if need be. That’s what the narrative is for. Going back to Airbnb’s somewhat lukewarm problem statement, their proposed solution surely was a slam-dunk.

Slide #4 Market Size. Here’s where I beg to differ from the Airbnb presentation. I would definitely look at the overall market and market size before looking for any validating factors. Hence, I switched the order of these two slides. It’s key that you’ll be addressing a large market that’s destined to grow at impressive annual growth rates over the next couple of years. There’s no room for eyeball estimates on this slide. Analyzing the market of a potential portfolio company is a crucial step of investor due diligence. So, you better have some hard data and other resources at your fingertips that can help you back up your claims.

Slide #5 Market Validation. This is where you look at the market segment you plan to target. Since Airbnb was originally conceived as a business renting out air mattresses to budget travelers, looking at couch surfing and temporary housing offered on Craig’s List made sense. It’s one of the very rare occasions, where the entrepreneur vastly underestimated the market potential of his business.

Slide #6 Product/Service. You have to own the room when you talk about your product. Pause for a few moments to get the full attention of your audience and think how Steve Jobs would have gone about presenting your product. This is where your narrative will be crucial. Take your audience on a virtual walk through your product. Use screenshots or images showing your actual product, rather than renderings, charts, or diagrams. If you’re already selling, incorporate one or two customer reviews (think video) or bring a few samples.

If it’s a new technology or web-based service, you might think about doing a live demo. I wouldn’t recommend that. There’s too much at stake and too much that can go wrong. Just imagine, if your laptop or tablet crashes; it will throw you off balance and make you scramble to catch up.

Slide #7 Business Model. This is the slide everybody has been waiting for. It shows how you’re going to make money. It’s one of my favorite slides in the Airbnb pitch deck, because it puts their assumptions right in front of you. It’s simple. Even better, it spits out a number your audience will remember and mull over until their follow-up meeting with you.

If you have more than one revenue stream or if your business model is more complex, think about how you could use info graphics to reflect it. It may be challenging, but it will be worth the effort. Many investors have a deeply ingrained belief that if you don’t know how to convey key information simply and quickly, they won’t be buying.

Slide #8 Market Status. The fact that you have been invited to present means you already cut through some serious red tape. This indicates that you got the attention of your audience and that they are open to buying into your pitch. Now, it’s time for a little reassurance. If you have yet to roll out your product, you can use early adopters, technology and strategic partners, incubators, and collaborators, even followers on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ to show initial traction. Nobody wants to be in first, but if you already attracted some high-reputation partners or a serious following, you make it easier for investors to follow.

Slide #9 Competition. This is another well-conceived slide in the Airbnb pitch deck. Instead of boring your audience with tabular overviews with hard-to-read characteristics, think of two key differentiators in your marketplace. They could be “inexpensive vs expensive”, “convenient vs inconvenient”, “online vs offline”, you get the idea. Then position the logo of your closest direct competitors relative to their assumed competitive position on the grid. Do the same with your company. There’s no point to cramp mind-numbing details into this slide. You can always add a few details about each competitor in your narrative.

And please don’t even think about telling your audience that there isn’t any competition. Airbnb was the first-to-market mover, and even they faced competition on various levels. If there’s no competition, there probably isn’t an addressable market either.

Slide #10 Competitive Edge. It’s your secret sauce in a nutshell. It’s the reason why you started this business and why you are pitching potential investors. It’s because you feel that you can radically change how business is conducted, perhaps even disrupt the marketplace altogether. Carving out a competitive edge, or establishing an unfair competitive advantage will raise barriers to entry; with other words, it will be much harder for others to travel in your footsteps. Investors know that protecting intellectual property by means of filing patent applications and copyrights is important, but also notoriously ineffective. Hence, you should try to raise high barriers to entry to assure them that their investment will be safe and hard at work for many years.

Slide #11 Team. This is, without a doubt, one of the most crucial slides in your deck. It’s a well-known fact that investors rather place their trust in an A-List team running with just an average market opportunity, than in some novices taking on the opportunity of a lifetime. It all boils down to whether or not you got what it takes to execute your business plan.

So, regardless if you present at an initial screening or at a meeting that’s already part of investor due diligence, you will need to put your best foot forward and present a dream team. Naturally, this would cover competencies in senior management (CEO), product development (VP Product Development), finance (CFO), and marketing & sales (VP Marketing).

If there are gaps in your team, identify them. Investors understand that the lack of capital restricts access to talent. They will help with the recruiting. It’s part of what they do and what they’re good at. There’s no point in adding your accountant or lawyer. They are third-party professionals and thus, only part of your extended team.

This slide wasn’t part of Airbnb’s original presentation, but it’s a good way of presenting your team. Include a small thumbnail picture for each member, state their position in the company, and highlight their track record. If you worked for Apple, Intel, or other well-known brands, consider including their logos to add visual impact. Depending on the quality and following of your social profiles (e.g. LinkedIn, Twitter), link to them to increase the reach of this slide. And please, don’t link to personal profile on Facebook!

Slide #12 Finance. This slide wasn’t part of Airbnb’s original presentation either. I only added it to show you a complete deck. State your capital requirements and show your audience how you plan to spend their money. Trust me, they’ll have something to say in connection with this slide.

Many sample fundraising decks, including that of Guy Kawasaki, suggest including a bare-knuckle 3-5 year financial forecast to show investors the general direction your company is headed. I typically recommend limiting such forecasts strictly to projected revenues and profits. Don’t concern yourself with valuation (although you should have one) or specific terms for an investment. Investors couldn’t care less and you’d likely trigger a debate you have no chance of winning.

I hardly see a point in including a final slide that just says “Thank you for your attention”. Unless you have a real powerful closing line like “Imagine you could turn back time to early days of the Internet. Would you act differently?” (I saw this on a presentation for a blockchain related service), I would forego that slide.

Of course, there’s no gold standard of how many slides a killer pitch is limited to. Every business is different. Working with as few slides as possible will force you to extract the essence of each key element of your business. Moreover, getting through fewer slides will leave you with some time to engage with your audience in a meaningful conversation. Imagine that.

© 2020 Karl Mohr. All rights reserved.