The standard format for a pitch deck is by now very well established.
Many startups use two formats for their decks: One shorter introductory deck with about 10-15 slides, and another one with more in-depth information that can be up to 40-50 pages long.
An important thing to consider is that VCs look at a lot of pitch decks every week, so you should expect them to spend not more than 2-3 minutes for an initial look at your deck. It is therefore essential to
- get to the point quickly,
- concentrate on the most important messages
- and get their interest to talk to you in more detail.
Similarly, during a first 30-45 minutes pitch session, you should focus on the most important aspects, adding a bit of color on the voice track.
The typical outline for the intro deck is:
- Title with one-sentence company purpose: Make sure you can describe with a short slogan what your company does. This is not easy to get right. For example, Airbnb's pitch deck just said "Book rooms with locals rather than hotels". Straight and to the point.
- Problem statement: Describe the problem you're solving for your customers and why it is a relevant problem.
- Solution: Explain how you're solving the problem and (briefly) why this solution is better than existing solutions.
- Market: Illustrate why this is a big and/or rapidly growing market.
- Why now? Explain why now is the best time to capture this market. Is it a technical innovation that makes it possible? Market discontinuity? Regulatory change?
- Business model: How are you going to make money? What are your unit economics?
- Go-to-market: How are you reaching your target customers? Do you have an unusual trick for efficient distribution?
- Differentiation to competition and alternatives: Who else is in the market and why are you better? How else do customer solve the problem and why is your solution superior?
- Team: Who is building this? Why are you the right team? Who are your existing investors (if any) and advisors?
- Financials and KPIs: Current traction and high-level outline of a financial plan.
- The raise (optional): How much are you raising in this round and how are you going to use the money?
A lot of other topics typically go into an extended deck for advanced discussions:
- Product details and demo videos
- Technical details, particularly for deep tech companies
- Product roadmap
- Customer case studies and testimonials
- Details on competitive differentiation
- International expansion plan
- KPI details
- Detailed financial plan
Format and design
In terms of technical formats for decks, the standard is still a PDF file. This is often easiest for investors to handle since they have to involve their whole investment team as the process progresses.
Alternatively, online document sharing services such as Docsend, GDrive and Pitch are increasingly popular. These services give you more transparency over who is accessing the deck and let you update information dynamically. Confidentiality is not really a consideration since anything that is shared digitally can be captured as a screen shot, so don't use these services just because you don't want your info to be passed around.
Standards for the visual design of pitch decks are significantly higher nowadays than just a few years ago. You should use a professional designer to create a slide template for you (if you don't have one yet) and make your slides look clean and professional. There is no reason to go overboard with custom illustrations and such, but a well-designed deck signals professionalism and quality. See here for a list of recommended designers.
Individual slides should be relatively light on text. Ideally it should be possible to read a slide in its entirety in about 15-30 seconds, at least on the intro deck. This might sound superficial, but it is optimal for an initial impression. Once an investor is interested, they will spend much more time on in-depth materials.
Sequoia - Writing a Business Plan
When Brian, Joe and Nate founded Airbnb, they had an air mattress, entrepreneurial passion, and a vision for reinventing travel and hospitality, but no clear idea how to approach VCs or how to craft a pitch deck. They came across Sequoia's guide for how to write a business plan and the rest is history.
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