How to build a VC pitch deck that smells of money

As a new entrepreneur, you’ve been building your startup for months, and now you’re ready to start pitching to the venture capital community. You may be ready, but is your pitch deck? Are you sure you have the right elements to attract a VC? It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this checklist with you to make sure your pitch deck has what it takes to get investor’s attention and make you look like a professional.

What’s going on?

If you’re presenting to investors, you don’t have the luxury of time. By the time you fire up that slide deck, you’d better get to the point fast. How fast? You have two slides. 

If you were a stranger, would you know what the heck is going on by the time you presented the first two slides? The first two slides of your deck should compel investors to pay attention. They should quickly reveal: What you’re talking about and what space you’re in. If that hasn’t yet been communicated, you’re wasting time.

Fix that funky name and logo

Did you name your company after the stray kitten your kids brought home? Unless you’re running a pet-centric startup, there’s no reason to choose an eccentric name for your startup. A professional, compelling, or relevant name goes a long way with investors and the public. Many startups have the most mysterious startup names, for no reason other than, “we couldn’t think of anything else.” Nothing makes investors think, “we can take a high percentage of this company,” like an off-putting name and logo ruining the image of a potentially otherwise great startup.

Take the time to create a name, logo, and tagline that is unified and supportive of your brand. This will help you stand out and help investors take your pitch more seriously. It will pay off to do this homework.

The market problem, aka potential

Right now, people and businesses are suffering because they don’t have what your startup offers. Note: If the world is fine without your product, it may be time to rethink your business.

Find creative ways to quantify and visualize the market problem. If this is too broad, focus the market problem to your top three prospective industries. Investors want to see that there is a real-world problem you’re solving. Solving problems is lucrative, and it’s essential to make this a central component of your pitch deck.

Who is your market?

Clearly spell out who your market is. Don’t just get into the demographics, get into the psychographics. Know what affects your market’s decisions. Know what they believe. Know what they value. Know what keeps them up at night. The more you know your market, the better your solution will be.

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How will you reach your audience?

You don’t have to have all the answers right now, but you should at least be prepared to talk about this. “Buying advertisements” isn’t an answer. Talk about the markets you’re focusing on and the strategies you’re going to use to influence mindshare and reach your market. Be specific. Start making connections with influencers in those markets if you haven’t already.

What makes you sparkle?

There are a lot of startups that don’t have something unique, even though they do have fabulous marketing, products, and leadership. Many of these startups have a great business and business model. That’s fine, but if you’re a startup going in for investment, you should have something exclusive, and it can’t simply be a fancy degree in high-level computing and five years experience managing IT at a big company. You need a patent or a specific piece of IP that is all yours. If you don’t yet have this, get a good lawyer, and figure out what you can have that makes your startup unique.

Customer success

If you’re looking for investment, you might not yet have thousands of customers using your product, and that’s fine. Put together an anonymized “mini case study” of your top three customers, and have a slide talking about all three (or one per slide, if there is a lot to cover). Talk about how you solved the market problem for that client in a way that no one else could. Talk about the value you brought. If you have it, talk about repeat business and its frequency. “Proven and repeatable” are things investors look for. Not only is this an indicator of a potential initial return on investment, but it’s also an indicator if you're a candidate for future acquisition.

The bottom line

Building a great pitch deck does not have to take months of work and an expensive marketing firm, but it also isn’t something you can throw together a day before your presentation. Above all, be yourself and respect the VC’s time. Be professional. Practice your presentation beforehand. Be ready for questions. Don’t get defensive, but don’t change who you are just to get money. Finding the right VC is a dance. Think of your inspiration before you go into the building. Remember, you have a great idea, and the world needs to know about it. This is one step on a much longer journey. You can do it.

Jennifer L. Jacobson is the founder of Jacobson Communication, a boutique PR firm for startups. She is the author of one of the first communications books on social media, 42 Rules of Social Media for Small Business, as well as the upcoming, Snow Tires for Startups: How to Get PR Traction for Startups, Nonprofits, and Social Causes.

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