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Here’s How Analyzing 1270+ Startup Pitches Got Me More Investor Meetings

A structured guide for a structured pitch

photo credit:
photo credit:

by Roy Tertman []

Let’s face an honest fact, ~85% of the time, we send our pitch decks over email, ergo, we are not there to actually pitch. So the fact is your pitch needs to be self explanatory. It has to beat: low attention span, thousands of emails, thousands of opportunities, etc. but the email pitch should get you a meeting, and the meeting should get you a follow up meeting. I used to have a ratio of about 1 in 20 (meetings / email pitches), now its about 1 to 3.

For most of my career i was a technical trainer and instructional designer, a career that gave me tools, heterogeneous audiences and thousands of guinea pigs. I experimented a lot with various methodologies to determine what works best when delivering knowledge (in our case, knowledge = story = pitch) and equally important, evaluating efficiency (reception) of said knowledge. I am using the same methodologies today through RET2082, my pitch design workshop where i’ve fine-tuned personally over 100 pitches, and through Fitfully, Kupoya, Naki Laundry and 2 others, i delivered over 1500 pitches. some raised, some acquired and some failed. This post is the result of analysing close to 1300 pitches i was part of personally (pitched, was pitched to), and i chose to use comparison between the prevalent approaches and the recommended ones.

TL;DR:  We have to make them (investors/partners) ‘get it’ on the first time, and by ‘get it’ i mean making sure they have all they need to make a clear decision whether they want to waste our time and theirs. we need to make it stick.  A story sticks. (but not necessarily why you think)

Shakespeare’s Key To Storytelling.

There is a reason why we are captivated by a movie, or a story, and that is because it has what is so eloquently called Dramatic Structure (Dramatic Structure is the analysis done by Gustav Freytag, a German novelist and playwright that determined that every story must assert to a certain structure).

How this post is structured:

  • Use the image above as a reference to the 5 stages of the dramatic structure in storytelling

  • Each numbered item is a slide that should appear in your pitch deck

  • The order of the slides is important and essential

  • There are also a few examples of the tone and what should and shouldn’t be discussed (pitched) — note i used shouldn’t, not mustn’t

  • Each slide must live on its own. meaning each slide as a clear objective of what knowledge it delivers.

The Slides:

  1. Hello World, Welcome to our life.

Prevalent approach: include the solution, team bios, testimonials, data — too much and we haven’t even started.

instead try: A clear logo, some fancy (product) screenshot, and who are you. I always put a relatable quote. It’s interesting, relatable, and get things going.

2. Problem — Exposition, welcome to your (the audience’s) life

Prevalent approach: long explanation about the setting in which the problem can appear, or just one big image without any numbers associated to it — your audience must connect to the problem

instead try: I will start by saying, if you can’t explain the problem in one sentence, this may be due to two reasons: 1) you don’t understand the problem yourself, 2) it’s not a real problem. For your startup’s sake — don’t create solutions to problems that don’t exist. For example, Fitfully — the clear majority (93%) of consumers rarely buy shoes online. and 1 in 3 of the ones who do, returns them.

2.1 Problem Space — Rising Action / Complication

Prevalent approach: this is actually missed and rarely seen — founders are problem finders, not problem solvers. We need to find a bridge from the micro to the macro in the realm of our problem.

instead try: Explain what is the result and effect of that problem. For example, problem: People can’t evaluate their pension funds (thank you Feex), the result — thousands of dollars are going down the drain. For Fitfully — high OPEX for the retailer due to shoe returns, and a huge miss on the eCommerce side. Usually the results will show some impact on your target clients / users / market. Another example: Spniea Medical: >80% of people are suffering from undiagnosed LBP (lower back problems), which makes it the no. 1 disability and work abstinence in the US.

3. Solution — Climax

Prevalent approach: showing the solution at the beginning or before talking about the problem.

instead try: according to Shakespeare (and Gustav) the climax is the turning point, which changes the fate of your users. We’ve established that there is a real problem, we’ve shown what the consequences of this problem may be — we got them right where we want ‘em! Show time. Logically, human beings are creatures of causality. We operate in a state of cause -> effect, and when superimposing that to a product: problem -> solution, remember to keep that flow.

3.1 Demo. Demo. Demo — Uber Climax

* should be right after the solution slide, you shouldn't wait till the end to show it.

Think about how you remembered the Bullet Time effect in The Matrix, or even this famous cinema moment, it’s memorable! Also, it shows that you don’t just talk the talk, and you put some time/money into actually creating what you believe in. [Note: no one cares how it looks.] It’s also best to represent the solution in visuals (easier to remember, left to right) and with as little text as possible.

Market — Falling Action (Reversal)

Prevalent approach: blown up markets, always talking in Billions, not segmented and targeted enough — even if you say you only want 1% of a market, doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy to get that.

instead try: Don’t let yourself hear this in a pitch: “it’s a great idea, but who will pay for/use it?” As investors, or potential clients go, it’s about a good deal. “Show me I can get a nice return on my investment” (investor) or “show me how can [your startup] add value / save me money”. The definition of Falling Action describes the unraveled conflict — the causality of problem ->solution, all we need are users and we have a market. Show that market.

[Note]: by the way, >$100B markets rarely exist, don’t be pompous…

4. Business Model — Resolution / Denouement

Prevalent approach: unique and complicated models, ad based models, not knowing your price ranges — this is the last place you want to be un-clear.

instead try: If you can’t show how you can make money off of your solution — no one will see this as a business, even if your startup is about user-growth-then-figuring-out-the-business-model. This is not the place to get super creative, instead adapt to your target customers. My experience showed me that at least be clear about what your Billable Transaction is (what needs to happen in order for you to charge money), it is the basic building block of your monetization scheme. It doesn’t necessarily have to be one, for example, a hosting service can charge based on volume or number of transactions (number of files).

Now that the story ended and you are triumphant. Let’s get back to reality and let them know how we, and why specifically we (the team), will execute.

Add slides:

5. Current State

Prevalent approach: not including a current state slide.

instead try: This is what needs to be included: Tech | Customers / Partners | Legal | Funding Just highlight the milestones achieved in each front. And don’t forget humility, the road is longer ahead of you, and thats why you’re fundraising.

6. Road Map

Prevalent approach: not being realistic about your objectives, e.g., reaching a million users within 6 months.

instead try: Show what will be done in 3, 6, 9, and 12 months. Be specific and memorable, meaning write what will be done by Aug 2016 (example).

This is also the place to say what the funding will be used for. (I’ve learned that percentage pies work great)

7. Meet the Team. The A-Team

Prevalent approach: spending a considerable amount of time on this slide, and sharing full, un-relevant details about team members.

instead try: i know this sounds counter-intuitive to everything you may have heard about the emphasis on the team when fundraising, but try another perspective: you are there, they see you and respond to you, they get to know you. And they also learn a lot about by seeing and learning your product and business thought process.

8. Summary

Yes the big thank you, with all the contact details of the team. A conclusion, in which the main character (user/client) is better off than at the story’s outset. In our case, this is where you quickly rinse-repeat. The Problem, the Solution, the Market (opportunity). This is what you want them to ponder upon after you’ve left the room.

To simplify: if someone now asks the audience what you do, they can answer it. Hopefully now they can make a clear decision for a meeting (or a follow-up meeting, yay!)

In Conclusion

Story works simply because: 1. we are used to it 2. it’s easy to follow 3. it’s easy to remember

Keep in mind one key thing that we, entrepreneurs, tend to forget. It’s the first time your audience learns about what you do, make it dead simple, and follow a structure that is easy to remember and has a clear “take home message”.

A pitch, or a deck, is not just about fundraising. It’s about your product. it’s about all the Why’s people will ask you and all Why’s you need to ask yourself.

Let’s make this a discussion, share your experience and help us all!

Happy pitching :)

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