🦄 Pitch Deck: Layout for Early-Stage Startups

How to structure a deck when you're just starting with your project.

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Good morning friends,

Welcome to Fundraisedd, the newsletter that tells you all you need to know about fundraising and startup finance.

“Ahoy” to all the new subscribers who’ve joined this week, I hope you enjoy the ride. ⛵

This week, let’s talk about a topic that’s on every entrepreneur’s mind: the almighty pitch deck.

As I’ve already discussed here, a pitch deck is a fundamental corporate document that helps you share your company’s story with the world. This story is specific to you, your company, and your circumstances.

No template or generic structure will ever be a perfect match for you. You’ll have to tweak and adapt them. This notwithstanding, there are best practices you ought to follow at an early stage to maximise your chances of success.

Without further ado, let’s look at those.

Before we start, an important PSA:

⚠️ All the figures and all the copy in your deck are commitments you make towards your investors. You’ll be asked to answer for them, so think twice!

📋 Slide Order

Here is my recommended structure for an early-stage startup pitch deck:

  1. Title Slide

  2. Executive Summary

  3. Team

  4. Problem

  5. Solution

  6. Market

  7. Business Model

  8. Competition & USPs

  9. Go-to-Market

  10. Investment Proposition

🖼️ Title Slide

I’ve written about the importance of a good title slide here. Your title slide might be up on a monitor in a conference room for 10 to 15 minutes. You should maximise its impact and not let this precious time go to waste.

Your title slide must:

  1. Feature your logo & brand name prominently;

  2. Show a tagline or slogan highlighting your value proposition;

  3. Describe the purpose of the deck (e.g. Seed round 2021).

On top of this, your title slide should:

  • Introduce your brand imagery and tone;

  • (If applicable) Show your product

  • Engage the reader ➡️ Add a link to download your app, add logos of key customers, anything to make you stand out.

🥇 Executive Summary

At an early stage, it is safe to assume most people reading your deck don’t know who you are or what your company does. It’s good to start with a simple slide containing two or three sentences explaining:

  • What you do — A short description of your value proposition;

  • Where you’re at — The current state of affairs, including any relevant metrics about traction;

  • What’s your ambition — Where you want to take your company.

📊 If you have traction already, show it here! Brag about your figures. Traction helps you be more confident and more assertive. It also creates FOMO in your audience.

🧑🏽 Team

You’ve just told your reader what you do and what you plan to achieve, now’s time to introduce yourself. As I’ve said it countless times in my pitch deck teardowns, at the onset, you must start your deck with your team!

The story at this point revolves around you and your co-founders. Investors will put their money in you, your abilities, your motivation, and your vision. That’s what you need to sell the most.

Keep your team slide simple and impactful.

  • Picture — Standardised, professional

  • Name & title within the company — Avoid weird titles that sound fun but no one but you understands.

  • Short bio — Highlight key professional achievements. Unless it really adds to the story, your academic background doesn’t matter. Put forward the logos of great companies you’ve built/worked for.

Your team slide should only feature your team. However, for purposes of name dropping (let’s face it, it helps), you can add your board members or investors. However, you should make it clear visually that they’re in a different group.

⚙️ Problem

What problem are you solving? Try to think of the easiest, shortest way to express it. If a picture is enough, go for a picture. If you can ask a question to your audience that you know will expose a given issue, do it.

Your problem slide should be engaging and should make your audience feel the problem; they should relive moments in their lives when they’ve encountered it. The more “annoyance” you generate, the better the slide.

For a problem to be valuable, it needs 3 things:

  • Urgency — People have the problem now;

  • Need — The problem isn’t solved properly;

  • Importance — The problem is significant enough that people will want to pay to solve it;

  • (Bonus) Size — Many people have this problem the world over;

💡 Solution

Once again, the simpler, the better. If you can’t explain your solution to your grandma or a five-year-old, work harder (I’m exaggerating for effect here, but you get the gist).

Your solution slide should feel simple because, to sell, your solution needs to be understood by potential clients.

A solution that is too complex may be solving a problem that does not exist. A solution that is impossible to understand may be impossible to implement.

If you have a working product, do a demo! Get your prospective investors to download your app and play with it.

🌍 Market

I’m not a great fan of market-sizing at an early stage. Whatever the method, you tend to end up with numbers in the billions or trillions of USD for your TAM (total addressable market), and while it may seem appealing, these figures are a long way down the road.

At this stage, you’re better off being more specific, more targeted:

  • What market segments are you going after (location, industry, groups of people)?

  • How are their habits and budgets evolving (change, growth)?

  • Do they already spend on comparable services/products?

You can definitely hint at the total size, but what you need to demonstrate is that you’re targeting a valuable market that is both growing and dynamic and that you know who your customers are.

📊 If you have traction already, show it here! Brag about your figures. Traction helps you be more confident and more assertive. It also creates FOMO in your audience.

💷 Business Model

How are you going to make money?

This is an essential slide, so get it right! There is no need for you, at an early stage, to describe every revenue stream you can imagine. I’d argue this is counterproductive.

Keep it simple and focused: Where will your first dollars come from? In what form are you selling your service? How much does it cost and how much do you make per unit sold?

🔬 You should be able to describe in detail the unit economics of your principal revenue stream.

You can hint at potential developments down the road and try to price them, but don’t go into too much explanation.

⚠️ Remember: all the figures and all the copy in your pitch deck are commitments you make towards your investors. You’ll be asked to answer for them, so think twice!

🤼 Competition & 🏆 USPs

Please, don’t show a quadrant! I know it’s tempting to throw two axes on a slide and rank your competitors from left to right, bottom to top with you at the top-right corner, but don’t.

Nobody cares about these charts. They don’t tell us anything about how you’re different or how you’re better.

Prefer a comparison table where you highlight the differences in key aspects of your offering. This does two things:

  1. By comparing you to existing companies (let’s assume they are well-known and respected), it primes your audience into thinking higher of you.

  2. By highlighting differences on specific features/pricing/speed/… it shows how you are objectively better and how you can articulate your sales pitch.

🎯 Go-to-Market

At an early stage, no one should expect you to have detailed operational plans for all the departments of your company (you certainly don’t have departments yet, do you? :)

What you should focus on is a roll-out plan whose duration should match your investment proposal. Raising funds for an 18-month runway? Highlight your plan over an 18-month period.

Your go-to-market plan should include the following 3 elements:

  • Key initiatives you will implement to reach your target market;

  • Milestones you target as a result of your initiatives;

  • Resources needed to successfully conduct your initiatives (people, material, money).

⚠️ Remember: all the figures and all the copy in your pitch deck are commitments you make towards your investors. You’ll be asked to answer for them, so think twice!

📜 Investment Proposition

Finally, don’t do like many decks you see online and forget to tell your audience what you’re looking for!

An investment proposition slide should include:

  • How much you're looking to raise;

  • The proposed pre-money valuation;

  • The structure of the deal (equity, convertible, SAFE);

  • Your target runway;

  • Milestones you commit to achieving within the given runway;

  • How you will use the funds.

If you have any commitments to invest, say it! FOMO is a powerful motivator in a fundraising round.

Once again, there is no “recipe for a deck,” but I hope that this template helps you build a coherent and compelling story for your company!

Looking forward to reading your comments and discuss further with you,

Have a great week,