*This post is part of our “pitch deck” series where we dissect the seed stage pitch deck and discuss the ideal flow for a pitch. You can read the rest of the posts in the series by clicking here*
After you’ve covered the team and have established some credibility around your company, it’s time to talk about the “what”. What does your company actually do?
After 12 years of hearing startup pitches, my favorite first 5 minutes came from John Katzman, the founder of 2U. At the time, 2U was pre-launch, raising what today would be considered a super-seed. He was a repeat founder looking to do something ambitious, but he was months away from launch, raising $5M out of the gate.
After introducing his background, he moved into the next part of the pitch, which in my view is to answer the question “what does your company do?”. I’ll never forget his pitch:
“Bar none, online higher-education completely sucks. We’re going to make it fucking great”.
He then very succinctly laid out how he was going to accomplish this, which is nearly identical to the first sentence of the company’s Wikipedia page and their subtext on google search results:
“2U Inc., is an education technology company that partners with top colleges & universities to bring their degree programs and credit-bearing courses online.”
He then said EXACTLY what he was going to be shipping first: A 100% online, fully-accredited Masters in Education degree with the University of Southern California.
What I loved about his pitch is that he summed up both the market problem and the simple north star of the business in one pithy sentence. His next sentence described what their unique angle and approach was going to be. Then, he told me what he was going to ship first. We were able to then spend the rest of the meeting talking about the details.
My biggest pet peeve in a pitch is when we are 15 minutes into a pitch and I still have no idea what the company does. Often, this happens because of one of two reasons. The first is that the founder is worried that the investor won’t “get” what they are building unless they go through an elaborate preamble on the state of their market. The second is that the founder fears that what they are going to be starting with will be perceived as too small, and so tries to combat this by focusing too much on the problem and vision and not on the practical thing they are raising money to build.
Here’s my recommendation on combating the first: Be prepared to articulate your market problem in one simple sentence. Try to do so by including one killer stat or analogy that gets the point across in a powerful way. John got away with his pitch above because he was a very experienced education entrepreneur and his pitch was in an era before the “XYZ sucks” style pitch. But at the time, online education was dominated by University of Phoenix, and no VC thought to themselves that a University of Phoenix degree was great, even if they had never taken an online course.
From there, you can ask the investor if they are familiar with the market or problem, or want to pause for more context. If they want to pause, flip to some appendix slides that lay out more market or industry information. If they don’t, the investor is still probably fairly ignorant of the market, but would rather you tell them what you do and then circle back to the market later. They are willing to take your claims about the market at face value, and can do confirmatory research or diligence later.
The way to deal with the second problem is to be straightforward about it. “Our goal is to solve problem X, and our wedge into this market is Y.” You can then talk about what your product actually does (or is going to do) and how that will get the company into a strong position to achieve its broader ambition down the road.
This slide is one that typically defies an easy template. You probably want a 1-2 sentence statement about what you are doing, along with some visual cues that help illustrate the point or lend credibility to your business. This can be a combination of screenshots, customer logos (eg: already trusted by brands like…), a workflow diagram, or an illustration. Don’t be worried about spelling things out too simplistically. For me personally, I’d rather know exactly what a company does and then dialog about why it’s interesting vs. being pitched why something is interesting without fully understanding what the offering actually is.
The goal of this deck template is to hit the highlights quickly and succinctly, and then to circle back to add more depth and texture once the investor’s interest has already been piqued. This is why there are a couple slides later to answer “why does this matter”? At this point, after introducing yourself, you want to just make it clear what problem you are tackling and what you are building.
In the next slide, you can wow the investor with the traction or proof points you have achieved, after which, you’ll be able to go into more detail with the feeling to positive momentum at your back.
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