The complete pitch deck I used to raise 10m in VC as a first-time founder (with explanations)
For first-time founders it is usually hard to build up their first pitch deck because they have never done it before. It can also be a little scary to know that the investor you pitch to has probably seen thousands of decks in the past.
Therefore I decided to share the pitch deck I used to raise the my last at my company RegioHelden in 2014. I will explain the thinking & learnings behind the slides. The pitch deck evolved over ~3 years from 2011 (first 1 million raised) to 2014 (last round before exit in 2015). At the time I was in my early twenties, which I usually never told the investors ;-)
I probably used the deck in ~50–70 meetings and ended up raising 10m in total from 6 investors over 3 rounds. The VCs were mostly from Germany and were a mix of institutional investors, business angels and public institutions/banks. I used a very similar deck when I sold the company later.
Top 3 things you should be aware of in pitch deck design
I think a good pitch deck should
- be easy to understand,
- show traction and therefore create FOMO and
- create trust.
What to do to achieve the Top 3:
- I tried to keep the whole deck as simple and easy to understand as possible. Now that I’m an investor and receive a lot of pitch decks it always strikes me that founders have a hard time simplifying their message. It’s easy to create complicated, consultant-like slides. Simplify.
- I tried to be as concrete as possible because humans are usually bad at remembering abstract concepts and numbers, but much better at remembering stories. I highly recommend the book Made to Stick. Summary: Your pitch has to be Simple, Unexpected, Credible, Concrete, Emotional and be told as as Story.
- As you will see, my pitch deck doesn’t look very polished design-wise. That actually never caused a problem and nowadays as an investor I’m rather suspicious when I receive a perfectly-designed agency-like pitch deck. I ask myself: Does the founder have the right priorities?
- I always ask myself what “the next question” of the investor would be and tried to create a logical sequence from slide to slide (I’ll explain in the comments). It’s much easier to understand a narrative that makes sense instead of jumping from topic to topic.
- Usually 80% of the questions I was asked were the same throughout different groups of investors. This is why I tried to pitch to the least important (or most unlikely) investors first, ask for a lot of feedback and adjust the pitch for the next investors. Also obviously the pitch got smoother over time with practice.
- I think a good pitch deck (just like a good MVP) is the result of lots of feedback and iteration. I created a new powerpoint deck for every appointment and changed the order & messages of the slides a lot in the beginning.
- When I gave the pitch I always tried to deliver 80–90% of good messages (“Look at how great we are”) and 10-20% of bad messages (“We’re not there yet”, “We still have to develop XYZ”) etc. This created a lot of trust because investors saw that I’m a reflected person and there was still potential to develop in the business. Sometimes they would start to give me advice on how to do XYZ which meant they were mentally moving to my side. It also helped not to oversell.
I used the following structure which I can recommend
- Problem & Solution
- Business Model & Technology
- Status Quo & Traction
- Market-size & -dynamics
- Sales & Marketing and Unit Economics
- Investment Round & Finances
Language — the slides of the deck are in German, but I think the specific content is not as important as the structure and the general learnings and the narrative.
Numbers — I kept all the numbers in the slides. However, since the deck is around 4 years old and we evolved the business model the numbers/KPIs are outdated.
So here we go…
The complete pitch deck I used with explanations
Slide 1: Cover
Fun fact: We raised money from a newspaper publishing house and actually had to print out the presentation like 10x in a copy shop for a physical meeting with their board. Therefore I switched the background color from orange to white save money ;)
Slide 2: Business summary
In a novel you create an arc of suspense for the reader and give out the most important facts in the end. Pitching is the opposite: Try to give out the most important message in the beginning to keep people informed & interested. I always tried to give a short, concise overview of the company upfront. Usually there were people in the room who were not really prepared, so that helped a lot.
Slide 3: The problem
Good start to create understanding: Show the investors the problem. Or rather shove it in their faces.. In our case the problem was straightforward: Nobody uses Yellow Pages anymore but SMBs have no clue about the internet. The trashcan shows this very visually. In live pitches I used a slide that only contained picture in the middle without the text. That was more powerful.
Slide 4: The solution I
I briefly showed how we solve the problem by managing the SMBs Google presence in the search results. It made a lot of sense to investors since each of them would rather use Google than a Yellow book, so this was a pretty easy sell. I would usually show them live examples and use the slide only as backup.
Slide 5: The solution II
The second thing I would show investors was a landing page we built to increase online conversions. Like above, I usually went out of the powerpoint and showed them live examples, which was more impressive than a slide. But I always had the slides with me in case something didn’t work. I think there is nothing worse than a live demo gone wrong, so this helped me a lot.
Slide 6: The solution III
Our reporting system. It was impressive for investors that we could show our SMB customers how many inbound phones calls they got. They had never heard of such a thing before and it showed a technological progress compared to existing solutions. That was actually a quite important USP (which always should be highlighted in the product slides).
Slide 7: A case study
I used a lot of very concrete case studies to show the value we created for our customers. I think this worked much better than the theoretical descriptions of the products because investors could really easily understand why our customers bought from us. In this concrete example a phone repair shop in Munich generated to many leads through our system that they had to hire 2 more people. Stories like this stick much better than product screenshots.
Slide 8: Even more case studies
This created trust in the fact that the model is repeatable and works for lots of different customers with different spending levels in different industries. The slide was important as a build-up for the market-slide that will later show how many SMBs there are in Germany. Also every investor could relate to this and had someone in their family or friend-circle that would run a business like that. I always loved it when there were comments like “Ah yeah, my brothers wife is a dentist, I should show this to her”. That usually got investors on my side.
Slide 9: Really simple overview of the business model
A simple answer to the logical question “How do you make money?”. We take a cut of the SMBs budget and can scale the business because we use technology to handle all the campaigns instead of manual processes like an agency. Easy to understand.
Slide 10: Short deep dive into technology
At this point investors would usually ask themselves how such a business can be scalable (because it sounds a lot like a typical agency). So I showed them a brief overview of our technology platform than handles all the automation and process standardization. If anyone was particularly interested I would show them a live version. Usually they had never seen a process management system like ours and were impressed (another USP).
This slide is another example of how I tried to anticipate the investors question and would answer it before they asked. It takes time and some pitches to learn about the questions and adapt the pitch deck accordingly.
Slide 11: Status quo
This was a very important slide because the pitch is switching from business model to execution. It basically showed what we had achieved so far and why it mattered. For example an SMB customer would spend over 6.000€ per year with us which was much, much higher than industry average. This highlighted the the product creates customer value. I picked easy to understand KPIs like ARPU, retention and CM1 so that investors could compare the numbers with other models they knew. My learning here is to pick plain-vanilla standard metrics like revenues, GMV, MRR etc. and no vanity- or made-up metrics like Facebook likes, “social reach”, “booked sales volume” etc. Otherwise you could waste a couple of minutes first explaining the metric and usually everyone gets confused.
Slide 12: Traction
This was probably the most important slide followed by the one about unit economics. It showed how our monthly revenue grew every month at a slightly accelerating pace. Investors love this because they usually realize that the business will keep growing in the future with or without them. I call this the FOMO slide ;) Again, this slide showed that we could execute and therefore created trust.
It’s best to use hard metrics like revenues if possible. If revenues are not growing in this way I would use some other, easy-to-understand metric that shows monthly progress.
Slide 13: Role models
The next question people would usually have was: “How big can this business get?”. Of course it was hard to say, but the US market gave us some perspective. At the point where I pitched our main competitor/role model ReachLocal was doing 500m in revenues in the US. That created trust and showed investors a massive opportunity.
Slide 14: Market dynamics
This slide showed the general macro-market dynamic. In our case it explained that there was a big disproportion in online usage vs. online spendings for SMB marketing dollars. Of course everybody easily understood, that the dollars would move from offline (YellowPages, newspapers etc.) to online (Google etc.) in the next couple of years.
Slide 15: Market size
Again, very simple explanation that everybody understands: X million SMBs in Germany spending Y Euros per year shows a market size that’s reasonably big (and will get bigger due to the macro dynamics shown before).
Slide 16: Sales and marketing
How are we addressing the market and what channels are working? Actually I think this slide was a little over simplified and today I would add KPIs like CAC per channel. The message here was basically: “We tested X sales & marketing channels and found out which of them worked for us”. I didn’t spent much time on this slide because the next one is much more important.
Slide 17: Unit Economics
It cant be overstated how important the Unit Economics slide was. It showed several things:
a) we exactly know the breakdown of our CAC and CLV. This creates trust.
b) an external investment can profitably be deployed into growth.
c) there is still room for improvement (lower CAC through scale and increase CLV through upsells and/or efficiency gains). This is a good discussion to have with investors because they usually develop some ideas of their own to improve the business (and therefore psychologically switch to my side).
If I could only pick 2 slides to use for my next pitch I would use “Traction” and “Unit Economics”. It’s really strange to see that in many decks I receive the unit economics are just missing. Very bad sign in my opinion. Do your homework!
Slide 18: The what-are-we-doing-with-your-money-slide
I also miss this slide in a lot of decks I receive. From an investors perspective it’s very interesting to see how far there investment (at least potentially) can bring the company. This slide made it tangible for the investors I talked to. This created a positive feeling and I found it to be more effective than a random 3/5-year financial plan that nobody believes in anyway.
By the way: See how the right box has higher contrast and is bigger than the left one? I think it’s usually much easier to understand the message if the slide visually supports the content.
Slide 19: Who are we going to sell to
I didn’t spend much time on this slide (and it has way too much text if I look at it know..). But it shortly showed, that there are multiple exit options and we were in contact with most of them.
Interestingly the company that I actually sold to is not even on the list and we ended up buying one of the US competitors (ReachLocal) later. This shows that the future is never predictable but it still makes lots of sense to think about the options and one’s own positioning.
Slide 20: The team
Some founders put this slide upfront but I liked it better at the end. A vulnerability I always had was being a solo-founder and your (between 22–25 years old when I raised). I usually didn’t tell that to the investors ;-) Still, I tried to offset it by showing our board members/advisors and COO to create trust. In earlier versions of the slide I also had profiles of some of the key employees there.
Look at all the ties on the slide. It showed that were really serious ;)
Slide 21: Cap table
This was rather a backup slide if an investor wanted to see the cap table. It usually did not come up as a question but was still good to have. The general messages was that I as a founder owned enough shares to be incentivised enough.
By the way: This is a good examples on how founders dilution works. I started out with ~67% of the shares before the Series A... But hey, I won’t complain.
Slide 22: Wrap-up
So that’s it. 20 slides + cover & back. By the way the phone number still works. Just please don’t call me in the middle of the night!
What I generally did in longer pitch sessions or second meetings was to put more information in the backup to answer specific questions. In due diligences I sometimes had decks with >150 additional slides on things like:
- Vision/mission slides
- Org charts and employee info (tenure, maturity etc.)
- Goals / OKRs
- Product margins
- Sales org & process and KPIs
- Cohort analyses, retention & churn
- Competitive environment
- Deeper info on technology, system architecture & IT processes
- IT/feature roadmaps
- Process documentations
- Legal background and info on past financing rounds
- Industry multiples on company valuations
Yeah… this is a lot of work. Get over it and start building your perfect pitch deck! :-)
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