How to Build a Winning Pitch Deck

You’ve got your great idea. Now what?

If you want to start your own business, you’re going to need investors. And if you want investors to give you the time of day (and more importantly, the money you need), you need to first build a boss pitch deck.

A Slide-by-Slide Breakdown

Let’s say your idea is a high-tech shoe for kids that’s somehow connected to the cloud that allows parents to follow their child on their daily journey. You build a prototype — you insert a GPS into a shoe and put it on a toddler — and test it out. Then you present your idea and the prototype results to potential partners or investors in a slide deck.

Your deck shouldn’t be more than fifteen slides. You want to keep it fairly tight. If you want to see what an award-winning pitch deck looks like, you can watch Jewel Burks’s pitch for Partpic (acquired by Amazon). Generally speaking there are at least ten slides that you need, plus another four or five optional slides.

Those first four slides tie the idea, the problem, the solution, and the audience together.

The first slide introduces your vision or big idea. You might have an image of a child at Disney World wandering in a crowd of characters and the parents looking at their phone to track the child. People can see the value of your GPS toddler shoes.

Slide two describes the problem. Here you go a little bit deeper to help people understand the hole your product fills. If you’re solving a problem that’s for a specific niche audience, in this case parents with small children, you may have to illustrate and describe that problem more fully. While any parent knows it takes a millisecond to lose a child in a department store only to find him hiding in a clothes rack, non-parents might not see the usefulness of GPS toddler shoes and need a little more explanation.

The third slide presents the solution. The GPS toddler shoes offer busy, easily distracted parents’ peace of mind.

The fourth slide addresses the market. You want to describe your target audience and illustrate how many people have this problem and how much of that market you think you could penetrate. Rough estimates are fine here and are expected. Aim high — big numbers help!

The next group of slides addresses the business model.

Slide five outlines how you plan to make money by showing the cost of goods and how you’ll price the product. Think about whether you’ll offer a wholesale or direct-to-consumer price or both. Is this a B2B (business to business) or B2C (business to consumer) product or service? That will impact your pricing model.

Slide six talks about where people will buy your product, for example, online or in a brick-and-mortar store.

Slide seven describes your marketing strategy, where and how people will learn about your product, and how you plan to get your product in front of people.

Slide eight lists your competitors and explains where you sit in relationship to competing options. Compare yourself to the competition and show any traction or current users you have. These figures show you’ve validated your product. On this slide, you can also reference anything you’ve learned about your target audience’s interest, which could come from surveys or comments on social media. If you’ve been mentioned in the media, include that too. Anything that validates your idea is helpful to have on a slide. Your business model should address each of these issues.

Slide nine presents the team. To date, you may have been an army of one as a nontraditional founder, but investors want to know that you understand that you’re not good at everything (even though, yes, I know and you know you are a superstar!) and that you’re going to need a team that brings different skill sets. You don’t have to have all of your team members in place, but to help funding, the slide should illustrate where you sit on the team and show the other team members you’ll include. The core team members tend to be the visionary, the tech lead, sales and marketing lead, and some sort of advisor.

Finally, there’s slide ten, which asks for the investment. The amount you ask for often depends on the stage of your startup. If you’re at the seed stage, the ask is usually in the $250,000 -500,000 range. You may have bootstrapped the initial stage and now want to scale, and your ask may be higher. You want to indicate the amount and how you plan to use it. Nontraditional founders tend to be overly conservative in their assessment of where the product can go. Dream big because investors are going to cut your projections by a third to half, so you want your sales forecast, your cash-flow forecast, and your profit-and-loss statement (P&L) to look exciting. Be hopeful and optimistic.

Beyond slide ten, there are a couple of optional financial slides that are nice to have handy should people start to ask more specific questions. It’s a good sign when people start to ask about the financials, and it’s helpful to show the hockey stick projection of starting small and growing fast. It’s a useful exercise for you to think about your cash forecast over the next three years. Have an optimistic, yet realistic projection of how revenue will grow to a size that can produce a meaningful return for investors. Angels and VCs are used to hearing bloated estimates and tend to discount. You don’t want them to discount you out of business right out of the gate. That said, not all business models go hockey stick, and a hockey stick to one million or ten million dollars likely won’t justify a five hundred thousand dollar investment.

If you don’t know how to do a cash forecast, search the internet or take a guess. It’s okay to estimate because it doesn’t have to be perfect. People dumber and sloppier than you have been given millions of dollars for their dumb, sloppy ideas. You’re smart enough, and if you can’t figure out how to do it yourself, then make it your mission to find that team member or partner who can help you on AngelList.

The first slide deck my business partner and I put together, like most, was pretty terrible. We did the best we could with the information we had. We put together my pitch deck, and I shopped it around to people I knew, asking if it looked right, sounded right, and if anything was missing. I got a lot of helpful feedback. Show your pitch deck to as many people as possible before you go into more formal pitches. Each time you present your idea, you gain insight and should go back and refine the pitch deck to reflect what you’ve learned.

Shyness, uncertainty, or an apologetic stance are not compatible with startup success. You have to be willing to believe in your concept when no one else will. Only then can you convince people to be part of your team!

For more advice on starting your entrepreneurial journey, you can find Mechanical Bull on Amazon.

Cheryl Contee is the award-winning CEO and co-founder of Do Big Things, which brings together a diverse team that uses new narrative and new tech like blockchain, AI, bots and machine learning to make the world a better place for everyone. Previously, she was the co-founder and CEO of Fission Strategy, co-founder of groundbreaking social marketing software Attentive.ly at Blackbaud (the first tech startup with a black female founder on board in history to be acquired by a NASDAQ-traded company). She is also co-founder of #YesWeCode, which represents the movement to help low-opportunity youth achieve high-quality tech careers.

Chief Innovation Officer at The Impact Seat and Chair/Founder of Do Big Things