Pitching to investors to get funding can be scary. Typical professional investor listens to hundreds of pitches every year, and this makes them busy and impatient. If you don’t make it easy for them to understand why you are the next big thing, they’ll throw you out. You have to earn every second with the investor. Here’s the simple pitch deck structure that the Nestholma startups have been using successfully when pitching to investors for funding.
When you get a meeting with an investor for 20 minutes, don’t expect it to last for 20 minutes. It’ll last as long as the investor thinks you’re interesting. If you have five minutes to pitch on stage, don’t expect the investors to listen for the entire time. If you’re not making sense, they’ll start looking at their phones while waiting for the next pitch. Investors value their time – make sure you value it, as well.
You need to deliver the punchline right in the beginning: what is your big idea, what is the real problem you’re solving and how you do it. Tweet this!
If these seem interesting, only then the investors want to listen to the details and consider funding you. Start with these three first:
1. The elevator pitch needs to say the essentials in 10 seconds
In the first 10 seconds you need to convince the listener that you have something interesting to say. Saying your value proposition is a great starting line. Personally, I’m fond of Steve Blank’s value proposition formula “We help X do Y by doing Z”. You need to get the investor excited and curious to hear more why you should get funding from them. The investor may only listen to this!
2. Problem worth solving and funding
What is the problem that needs to be solved (not all problems are like that)? How have you validated that the problem really exists? Don’t over-do this, but make sure that the investor can understand what you are solving and why. If you want to tell a short personal story, this is the place to do it – not in the beginning.
3. Solution that customers are willing to pay for
How can you solve the validated problem in a way that customers are willing to pay for? Be as concrete and specific as possible. Screenshots, workflows or even a short video are great. Stay away from meaningless jargon, such as “Our solution provides unprecedented ease of use and scalability”.
Now you’ve covered the most important things. If you’re still in the room, you can go into details in your pitch to get funding from investors.
4. Real and addressable market and customers
Your opinion about the market doesn’t matter. Numbers are great but explain clearly what is the significance to your business. “We are working in a $3 billion market” may sound nice, but it is meaningless fluff. Show your traction or explain the logic for getting the customers (deals in place, access to customers or distribution channels etc.). Testimonials are always good. When you have a paying or just a potential customer (at early stages) say nice things about you, it’s always powerful.
5. Revenue model for monetizing the value you provide
If you solve a real problem, the customer will want to pay for it. It can be with money, their data, time or, for example, with services that they provide in turn. Give a clear outline of how your company makes money with the idea. What value are your customers paying for, how much and often and who are your partners etc? Focus on the logic. The details – such as $4.99 or $9.99 a month – may change.
Especially at early stages, it’s more important to convince the investors that the logic behind the revenue model makes sense. Tweet this!
6. Your unfair advantage that keeps others away from your market
Do you have something that competitors don’t have or cannot get easily? Be critical about this! It has to be something unique, or don’t say anything. It can be existing deals, IPR or, for example, unique experience. It’s not “great and committed team”. Not everyone has an unfair advantage in the beginning (just think about Google or Facebook in the early days). For an investor, it’s an added benefit but not a showstopper if you don’t have it.
7. Marketing and getting customers
How do you reach your customers? This not a list of the obvious channels (blog, some, Adwords, PR etc.), but your recipe for success. Everyone uses social media channels, but how will you make them work for you? Explain in your pitch what are the most important channels to reach your specific customer base. What is the cost or, for example, conversion rate you’ve validated? Does your product have a growth engine or can you use some clever growth hacking tactic to boost your growth?
8. Why are you better aka positioning
The thing about what makes you unique and why your customers are paying for your product. Make a 2X2 matrix the two most important things in your product as the x- and y-axes. Place your company and the competitors on the matrix. The aim is to give an easy way to see how you compare with others at a glance. You can provide the feature-by-feature comparisons to investors as background materials if requested.
9. Running the business with the numbers
Provide an overview of the business with a simple cash-low estimate. Don’t just make Excel fantasies. Justify the numbers with deals, traction, benchmarks, sales funnel, customer development etc. Your business logic is more important than the plain numbers. Remember that these may end up in the actual funding decision, so don’t treat them lightly.
Don’t show Excel fantasies to investors! You need to justify the numbers with data. Tweet this!
10. The team worth funding
Explain why you have the perfect mix of people and way of working. Why can make a big business out of the idea? Show the core team, but also mention interesting advisors, investors or board members. Unless you have 100 people and a real organization, don’t use titles like SVP of Product. That may sound nice to your mother, but for an investor, it sounds funny. Most investors will tell you that the team is one of the – if not the – most important thing in funding decisions. Therefore sometimes startups start with their team slide. I’d advise against this unless the investors know the team members. Another “greatest full-stack developer in the world” is interesting only if you have a good idea. But if you have Mark Zuckerberg in your team, put that on the cover slide.
11. Roadmap and how you’ll use the funding
Present a timeline that shows what you are going to do and how much money you need for each step. Explain how you are planning to use the investors’ money. Pay also attention also to working capital needs if your solution has, for example, hardware unit costs. Make sure that the roadmap and spending is aligned with your overall message. It sounds strange if you claim to have the best developer team, and now you say that you need to hire more developers. You may need them, but you need to have justified the new hires with, for example, the market opportunity.
12. Make the last words count
We remember the first and last things. Don’t waste time and space on Thank you’s or contact details. They’ll find them if needed. Instead, end with your value proposition. It reminds the investor why you are interesting, what value you provide. And why they should join the ride.
Every investor has their own preferences for the pitch content. Depending on your company stage, you will be expected to deliver different types of things. Also, take into account who are the persons in your audience. What interests them, do they like technical details, numbers or something else? Before every investor meeting, make sure you find out what is the expectation. Talk to their portfolio companies, read their blog posts and tweets or just ask the investors.
This blog post is based on one of the more than 20 workshops run during Nestholma’s accelerator program.Check out also how our startups pitch to investors at our Demo Day.
Topi Järvinen @topij