Building block basics
We've looked at how to create a pitch deck that will get VCs banging your scaleup’s door down.
The next step? Knowing what slides to include in your deck.
I've written hundreds of pitch decks for businesses in my time, given advice as a board member and founder advisor and have been pitched too as well. I’d like to think I know my stuff!
Let's look at what you need to know when compiling your pitch deck.
How long does a pitch deck need to be?
When it comes to pitch decks, you need to cut the fluff. You don't want to be halfway through your presentation only to find your investor keeps checking their watch or, even worse, falls asleep on your shoulder.
Seed pitches should be about ten slides long, while Series A-B-C+ funding can get away with being more detailed. Anything more than 20-25 slides though, and you're in for a bad time.
From my experience of working on pitch decks, the average length is about 16 to 18 slides. Long enough to cover the essentials, but concise enough to not be boring.
'But JB'… I hear you say… 'What if I have a lot of technical information I need to give to my investors? How can I possibly keep to 18 slides?'
The good news is there's an answer to this conundrum, my friend. Here’s how you can use a pitch deck appendix as a mini secret weapon!
So… which slides should I include?
In my experience over 90% of all pitch decks are made up of 20 standard slides.
Think of your slides as pieces of Lego that you click together to build a house or a car. You ultimately want an overarching narrative that will entice your investor to request another meeting with you or start signing cheques.
If you want to find out more about optimising your pitch deck narrative, I’ve gone into more detail here.
I've run the numbers on over 650 pitch decks and over ~10,000 slides - if you read through to the end of this page I’ve included a link to the database.
With this in mind, here’s how often the 20 standard slides feature in these pitch decks:
Overview/investment thesis: ~52%
Company mission/purpose vision: ~37%
Brief history/company details: ~37%
Problem/user challenge: ~95%
Solution/value proposition: ~96%
Market timing and validation: ~43%
Business model: ~71%
Target market/opportunity size: ~76%
Competition/market landscape: ~38%
Advantage/your moat: ~37%
Sales and go-to-market: ~28%
Current traction/achievements: ~73%
Use of funds/future goals: ~29%
Fundraise/the ask: ~34%
Future vision/BHAG*: ~42%
* And for those wondering, BHAG stands for 'Big Hairy Audacious Goal'. Blame Jim Collins for that one.
As you can see, some numbers look low (e.g. Competition, Financials, The Ask, etc). This is because it's likely that entrepreneurs have removed these slides from public view so competitors can't get their dirty hands on them.
This means that although the stats are low here, these slides are more likely to appear in the full, unedited version of the deck.
So, we’ve crunched the numbers and included the perspectives of a gazillion entrepreneurs, VCs and board members. What does it all mean?
It means these are the 'no regrets' slides you should be including in your final deck regardless of stage:
Target market/opportunity size:
Aiming for Series A-B-C-D+ funding? Here are the additional slides you should include to add extra perspective:
Company mission/purpose vision
Market timing and validation
Sales and go-to-market
Use of funds/future goals
Now – I appreciate this is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It may be the case that a company history or mission statement slide is the perfect addition to your pitch deck. You could choose to dedicate two or three slides about your sales strategy as it’s something that is critical to your product or service.
It’s ultimately about adding value. If you have information that will be of interest to your prospective investor and increase the odds of them coming on board, then it’s worth including.
After all, you know your business better than anyone else does.
What to include in each specific slide?
The next step is knowing what to include on each specific slide.
Imagine you were attending a job interview. If you strolled in wearing last night's clothes, stinking of tequila and passing out on the table, it’s highly unlikely you’re going to get the job (though it is not impossible!).
The same logic applies to your pitch deck – you don't get a second chance to make a first impression.
(Need a little extra help with your pitch deck delivery? This playbook will help refine your presentation skills)
Here’s a brief intro to what each slide needs to include. If you want to know more, I go into a bit more detail in other PlayBooks - just click the relevant link.
This slide sets the tone for your whole presentation. It needs to look good, be simple and hook your audience in.
Think of this slide as your elevator pitch – what do you do better than anyone else in the market? You want the investor to go, 'yes, this is interesting; I want to know more'.
Don't forget to include the name of who is pitching and their contact details – you'd be surprised how many people forget!
A problem defined is a problem solved. Or at least half-solved anyway.
This slide introduces your customers and what their pain points are.
While it can be tempting to go into lots of detail here, it's best to keep things simple.
My top tip: Try and quantify the problem somehow – facts and stats can help explain the magnitude of the issue to your audience.
Think of this slide as the Superman to the previous slide's Lex Luthor – you want to explain how your product or service solves the problem that users have.
You don't have to get technical here; just explain how you solve your customers' pain points and why you're different from the other similar businesses out there.
Been itching to showcase your product or service? Ring the bells and hang the bunting… this is the slide to do it on!
Show how your offering works in three steps or less. This slide should be a breeze if you have a great product or service. If not… you have work to do!
Don't be afraid to use additional product slides if needed. If your offering is more visual, a video or demo can work well here too.
This slide is the money shot… quite literally. You need to show your audience how your scaleup will earn its coins.
Your investor wants to know that your idea can be a profitable one. They need to see what profit margins you're operating on, how many paying users you have and how healthy your sales pipeline is looking.
Got businesses that are already using your product or service? Now's the time to mention them.
Target market/opportunity size
Ask yourself who your target audience is. If you say 'everyone!' then go and sit in the corner and think about what you've done.
You need to identify your target customer with laser precision. What are their key demographics, how big is the market, and how will it grow over time?
Be prepared to explain your market size using simple bottom-up maths if your slide doesn't show this.
For every Uber, there's a Lyft. For every WhatsApp, there's a Telegram.
Let's face it, a little competition in business is always healthy.
On this slide, you need to list your key competitors and explain why your product or service is better. Which competitors concern you the most?
Don't say you have no competitors at all – this just shows the investor that you've not done your research.
Leave the trash talk at home – this slide is all about why you're good, not why the competition is bad.
What are you doing well at the moment? Unless you're yet to launch, this slide gives you the perfect opportunity to show your audience where you are winning.
Stats and tangible proof win out over hearsay and anecdotes – you want to show how your metrics are improving. Be prepared for follow-up questions from your audience here, and don't use any sampling that might trip you up.
This is the biggie. You want to show how much money you can make in the next three to five years, as well as how much you've brought in on your journey so far.
Most investors are incredibly finance-savvy, so they will pick holes in this slide. Run through the metrics with your CFO before you pitch, or better yet, ask them to present this section.
This slide lets you show your audience the lovely beaming faces of your team. Who's in charge, what experience do they have, and why is your team the winning one?
This slide is usually the easiest to put together, so create this one first if you're not feeling confident in your pitch deck prowess.
Don't be afraid to show up with a less than perfect team. It doesn't matter if there are holes, as long as you acknowledge these gaps and how you can fix them.
Generally the final slide of your pitch, this lets your investor know how much money you need and what you will do with it. What would you do if you got more or less cash than you asked for?
Break down the elements and be specific – now is not the time to be vague.
Remember… if you don't ask, you don't get.
In terms of a pitch deck, an appendix contains additional information that may give extra insight about your scaleup but doesn't need to be included in your main slide deck.
It’s the stuff that will give your investor additional information if they are interested in reading further or have any additional questions. However, it won’t put them (or you) at a disadvantage if they choose not to look at it.
Think additional customer research, risk assessments, trademark applications and customer testimonials.
I'd definitely recommend implementing a pitch deck appendix for later funding stages. You might not need it for a seed deck, but it ultimately depends on your industry and business.
Be inspired to your personal pitch deck nirvana using my pitch deck database
There are a lot of pitch decks on the internet that are open for everyone to read.
I've crunched the numbers on over 650 of these decks and have put my findings on my website, free for all to see.
If you're stuck for inspiration (or just want to see how terrible some businesses' pitch decks were when they started), why not take a look?
Check it out and see how your pitch deck compares here.
In summary: Master the core slides, then get clever
Hopefully, this guide has given you an insight into the ‘building block’ elements of a pitch deck that everyone wants to read.
The average investor spends three minutes and 44 seconds reading through a deck initially. That's not a lot of time! This means it's essential to stick to the basics and get them right first.
So if in doubt… leave it out!
What's next? How do you master the style of a great slide
We have covered the key building blocks awesome, but how do you make them look awesome. And I suppose does that even matter? Let's dive into that whole game next.