You only have 10 seconds to pitch your startup

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Startup pitch tips by Nick from Blackbird

When you think “startup”, you probably picture a charismatic CEO in a branded t-shirt standing in front of a big screen, pitching their story in five minutes or less. Pitch nights, demo days, showcases. Startup founders pitch a lot.

And when it comes to finding the right investors (if a startup chooses to raise capital), you’ll be pitching a lot more.

But before you can pitch to investors, you have to get them to take the meeting—which means emailing your pitch deck to potential investors, and hoping it’s enough to get them interested.

What do investors look for in an emailed startup pitch deck?

Blackbird’s Nick Crocker sat down with Territory3 and conducted a live pitch deck evaluation—demonstrating his process for reviewing an emailed pitch deck to decide:

“Would I take the meeting?”

Here are our top 5 takeaways from this rare peek behind the curtain:

(scroll to the bottom to view the full video on YouTube – it’s 1hr / 14 minutes long)

1. Your Startup pitch

Nick said he might spend 30 seconds skimming the deck and, realistically, you have about 10 to 15 seconds to make an impression.

I used to say you’ve got one minute to make an impression, and I think I was being too generous. I think it’s more like 10 seconds or 15 seconds.

– Nick Crocker, Blackbird

Towards the end of the session, Nick demonstrated just how quickly he goes over the deck. 

“No dollar sign. Founder: not sure. No dollar sign. No dollar sign. Market slide. No revenue, 11 pilot customers. Go-to-market. Defensibility. Closing.” In 16 seconds he has gone through everything and decided if he wants to spend more time looking deeper.

You can see from the clip above that the pitch deck is being viewed using Gmail’s preview mode. It won’t be downloaded, and it won’t be opened in a native program like PowerPoint or Keynote.

Send the deck as a PDF to make sure it fits into this workflow and everything looks the way it’s supposed to. 

So what parts of a pitch deck grab an investor’s attention?

2. Put your team and traction at the beginning

“A really important input to a nonfiction book is the credibility of the author.”

Team and traction are two ways of establishing your credibility. 

“If you have a great founder story, tell that before the product story.”

– Nick Crocker, Blackbird

Does your team have the expertise to build this type of company? Use numbers, data, and details to build the credibility of your team. Some examples:

  • Include data points ($, %, #, etc)
  • Places you’ve worked
  • Projects you’ve run
  • Results
  • Number of people that you oversaw
  • Size of the business that you oversaw
  • Add links to Linkedin profiles — they won’t get clicked in the first skim, but they might be if the reader goes deeper

“Traction is only expressed in one way: dollars.” 

– Nick Crocker, Blackbird

When Nick is flicking through the deck, he is looking for dollar signs. Literally, the dollar symbol. That represents a key data point. In the case of traction, demonstrate that customers are willing to pay for your solution. 

If you’re pre-revenue, that’s OK. But again, put concrete evidence in the pitch deck, whether that’s unpaid pilots, letters-of-intent, user growth, etc. Put your best foot forward. 

3. Keep your startup pitch short

Twelve [slides] is a bout the right number. 15 means you could have deleted three.

– Nick Crocker, Blackbird

Remember that the purpose of an emailed pitch deck is to generate enough interest for a follow-up. Do that by telling a compelling, concise story.

Part of telling a good story is knowing which bits to leave out.

Removing the boring stuff helps you tell a clear story. You can test this by showing someone your pitch deck and asking them to summarise it for you. 

Did they pick up on the important points?

If you want an example of keeping it sharp and to the point, take a look at the way Nick answers some of the questions that come in via chat:

Q: What metrics would you want to see for a SaaS business for a Series A?

A: “Let’s call it $1m ARR and 100% year-on-year growth.”

Q: Should this be at the front of the pitch deck with the team slide?

A: “Yes, because if you’re growing at 100% year-on-year & that’s a good story, so tell it!”

Just the good parts, and nothing else. 

4. Invest in your design

Design is important as a shortcut in communication. The visual identity of your pitch deck should match your startup and value proposition. 

Is your product and brand positioned as a premium audio product? Then your pitch deck should reflect that.

This might seem like it’s nit-picking, and it sort of is. Nick said he uses slide design as a proxy for the founder’s attention to detail. 

Given the importance of design and visual identity, Nick recommended writing your pitch deck and then sending it to a designer to make sure it effectively tells your story.

Design can send unintended messages. See Nick’s comment on the Team slide below: 

“I would interpret this as the two people on the left are full-time, and the person on the right isn’t full-time.”

5. Give it a go!

“There’s 127 people on this call but only 3 were brave and bold enough to put their decks forward for critique.”

Raising startup capital is a numbers game. Out of thousands of pitches and coffees and meetings, an investor will likely only put money into a handful of startups.

Let’s put some numbers around that.

Nick has seen 1,000 startup decks in the past few years. He has only written 10 term sheets. 

That’s 990 “No’s.”

But you have to be in the thousand to begin with, which means sending that cold email with a compelling story to get the meeting. 

If you want to improve your pitch deck and your chances of getting that meeting, take advantage of programs like our own StartupU—our self-paced, online startup university that will teach you everything you need to know to create, validate, and launch your own startup—plus prepare a pitch deck for your future investors.

You can also check out the Territory3 Pitch Evaluation Session, startup pitch nights, pitch coaching sessions, accelerator office hours, and online startup communities. 

Put yourself out there, be open to feedback, and iterate.

Give it a go!

***

Take a step-by-step walkthrough for preparing your first pitch deck at https://www.startupu.io/

See more Territory3 recordings at https://www.territory3.community/academy

View the full video of the Territory3 session: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o685C47gEh8