Startup Advice

Investors fund people, not pitch decks: Here’s what’s actually important in your startup pitch

Jon Westenberg /

Bluechilli’s Alan Jones tweeted recently about startup founders sending him Prezi pitch decks that he couldn’t open on his phone.

The message was pretty simple: Don’t do that shit.

I can understand Alan’s irritation. Those founders aren’t considering what he needs. They’re just looking for something that’s going to impress.

At its most innocent, that looks naive or thoughtless. On the other end of the spectrum, it looks like their priority is trying to wow rather than be straight-forward, like they’re almost missing the point of pitching.

I can’t take a startup seriously when they have an approach to investment that is focused on style over substance. I can’t take a founder seriously when their goal is to impress people rather than inform them.

Let’s not kid ourselves. If your company is solid, your ideas good enough and the information in your pitch deck is complete and thorough, nobody will notice how pretty it looks. If you’re a pitching a bad idea, there is no design in the world that can save you.

In either scenario, an investor won’t give a damn about the way it looks.

The founders sending Prezi decks are making a key mistake, in trying to impress with their presentation, rather than with the information inside it.

It’s not just about pitch deck design. The same applies for any approach to pitching that emphasises hype or style or a cool factor over information.

After all, that’s what seeking funding is about. You’re trying to educate people about the clear, bullshit free reasons that your company is a good investment. You want to provide them with the facts, the data, the (legitimate) numbers, the background and the research that will demonstrate a potential return on their investment.

Recently, the investors I’ve spoken to have had the same story to tell. They see founder after founder try to impress them with a big presentation, a big song and dance, a lot of buzzwords and very little substance.

I got a beer with a VC the other night who said he’s had to stop founders half way through a presentation to ask for a clear, simple explanation of what they’re actually doing — and many of them can’t provide one. They stumble over that most basic element, the part that should have been defined long before they went hunting for money.

If you want someone to invest in your company, you need to realize they are looking at five different factors:

  • You and your team — your experience, knowledge, dedication and vision;
  • The product, and its quality;
  • The target market and audience;
  • The numbers around pricing, marketing, development, infrastructure and growth;
  • Your roadmap to scaling the company.

When a reputable VC firm makes a decision about whether or not to invest in a startup it is always going to be based on those factors. It’s not going to have anything to do with buzzwords and hype or with a flashy presentation. They want to be able to go through the deck, read the information, gain the necessary knowledge and then act on it.

Nobody wants to see your own inflated numbers telling them how much your company will be worth. Believe it, they’re going to make their own valuation, and it’ll be a damn sight more accurate.

If you go in spraying numbers you’ve made up based on five minutes of browsing Mattermark looking for your competitors, it’s going to show.

Nobody wants to play buzzword bingo, and they won’t give a shit about how many times you can say VR, IoT, AR, bot, chat or disruption in one sentence.

They’ll be looking beyond anything like that to try and discern the facts.

If you’ve found a VC who’s impressed by buzzwords, flash and inflated projections, you don’t want to work with them anyway. They will not provide you with the insight, support or long term care that a growing startup needs.

You could go into a pitch with pyrotechnics, a choreographed dance number, a keynote speech from Sir Paul McCartney and an audio-visual virtual reality presentation experience, but without substance and real information, you’ll be like that one drunk friend from college who thought the graduate mixer was a costume party and turned up dressed as Elvis – flashy, embarrassing and inappropriate.

Investors fund people and products, not pitch decks.

This article was first published on Medium.

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