Investment pitches are a tricky subject. There are thousands of opinions of what makes a great pitch, but if you look at the decks of startups that raised millions, likely you won’t be impressed by what you see.
Certainly, there are famous examples like Airbnb’s market size slide, but even that one isn’t much of a visual treat. In general, it’s hard to find a correlation between gorgeous slides and successful funding rounds.
So, what is it that helps startups convince investors?
What successful startups do have in common is their founders’ ability to build relationships with people. Not only do they know their product and market inside out; they also understand the needs of their audiences. And most importantly, they know how to condense that mass of information into powerful stories that convince others to do business with them.
I work with many talented startups that face a dilemma you might recognize: Their product gains traction and their company grows, but it’s their company presentation that doesn’t advance naturally. Well, it does, but usually in terms of the number of slides. ;)
Talking to dozens of people every day - including investors, customers, and prospective hires - the founders’ level of insight increases dramatically, but that’s only half of the battle. With all those findings and different audiences in mind, many company stories become increasingly complex and somewhat blurred.
What might look like a slide design challenge (“let’s make this prettier” or “let’s pull together some relevant slides”), is usually a storytelling challenge in the first place. It’s about content that requires alignment and prioritization. And lastly, a pinch of creativity to touch your audience’s hearts and minds.
To build trust with your audience and allow them to go with the flow of your presentation, you need to be focused and clear. It’s hard to tell your entire story in just a few slides (take Guy Kawasaki’s 10 slide challenge), but it forces you to prioritize and rethink which key messages you need to get across. And whether there are gaps in your story.
Sometimes it’s important to zoom out to be able to see the full picture and understand what’s critical. For investment pitches, the focus should be on key pillars such as the problem, solution, business model, market, and traction. After all, you will have to prove that you’re onto something real and that your business checks all boxes.
It’s important to provide the right level of detail to control the storyline and not lose people on the way. If after slide 5 the problem you’re solving is still unclear, you have lost. Leave no room for interpretation, but do leave room for imagination.
To build relationships with people, you need to tell a story they care about - and for that, you need to know them. Investors want to invest, but of course in the right business. To convince them you are the one, you need to build an emotional bond and speak their language.
It’s important to test different key messages and designs to find out what resonates with your audience and what doesn’t. Do not miss the opportunity of documenting the outcomes of every experiment to be able to apply your learnings and continually improve the presentation.
I recommend keeping a diary in which you jot down your audience’s reactions. What caught their attention? Where did you lose them? Which misunderstandings occurred? And most importantly, which language, examples, and analogies did they use? This works best in F2F investor meetings, but tools like DocSend can help with analytics for email attachments.
It’s important to constantly remind ourselves of whom we are talking to and what key messages we need to convey to meet our business objectives.
Beautiful slides can certainly add to the clarity and emotional impact of a presentation, but it all boils down to the unique story we are sharing to build relationships with humans.
Hence, my call - double down on storytelling, not slide design.