My five learnings from a life as a pitch deck ghost writer.
September 26, 2023
Welcome to Observations, written back at ground zero in the Stockholm archipelago. Those of you who watch my Instagram Reels know that I am thoroughly enjoying the warm autumn weekends in the nautical countryside. Yes!
This week I share my best tips for writing a startup pitch deck. And don’t miss this week’s podcast episode, with two leading VCs, for the perspective of the receivers of pitch decks. Link below as usual.
All hands on deck
The past week I’ve been deeply entrenched in the task of crafting a new pitch deck for the fundraising of one of our biggest clients.
There are few things that are equally exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. There is so much at stake: the future of the company, the future of its founders, and, for us, our future working with the company.
Writing pitch decks is one of the more unusual skills I’ve acquired in the past few years. It started when we were looking for backers for my previous venture – the magazine-turned-e-commerce platform Scandinavian MAN – which raised a few million SEK back in 2018-2019. It was during those years that I first experienced the rollercoaster that is raising capital for a new venture.
Having no previous experience, I had to learn everything from scratch. From using the requisite lingo and finding the proper structure, to suffering through embarrassing moments when investors punctured your reasoning, pointed out faulty financial prognostications, and flat-out called you out on unreasonable sales expectations.
Yes, I’ve made all the mistakes one can make. Fortunately, all that has come in handy in later years, when I’ve had the pleasure of working with several startups in their journey to acquire capital for their bold ideas. Some have failed, some have succeeded, and all have taught me plenty about fundraising.
So I thought I would share some of the lessons learned. At the end of this article are a few resources for further reading.
Ok, here goes:
Give it time! Crafting a pitch deck is like writing the first draft of that novel you always wanted to write. It feels easy and inspiring in the beginning, you might be able to bang out 10 draft-slides really fast, but you quickly learn it’s a marathon. Problem/Solution slides often come easy — as they should, otherwise you don’t have a valid idea. But the rest of it takes gruesome hours to perfect: things like financial projections, competitive analysis, and finding the right way to frame the total addressable market. Never do it last minute.
It’s all about collaboration. Crafting a pitch deck is not something you can leave to an external copywriter (like me). It’s a fascinating collaborative process that includes the entrepreneurial vision of the founders, the storytelling skills of a brand person, the visual knack of a clever art director (shout out to my man Erik Olofsson Haavikko), and the sensitivities of the finance guys. Each of these skills needs to come together in a seemingly endless loop of iterations to make the deck presentable to investors. Enjoy the process!
It all starts with the Problem/Solution description. If you don’t have this, you don’t have a pitch deck. One clear problem to solve, with a well-defined solution is the first step. The key word here is one. Usually, startups have a plethora of products that span across the chosen field, but there is always one hero product, one key problem to solve that you do better than everyone else. Double down on that! Describe in very simple terms how your innovation can help solve a problem that no one has been able to do before. All other products or problem-solving features have to be secondary in the pitch.
Know that the pitch deck is just a supporting act. It’s my experience that investors are mainly looking at two things: One, is there a real business opportunity in the solution presented? If yes, are the people presenting the solution capable of executing the vision? Everything else: financials, roadmaps, market assessments, competitors, product description, target groups, funding need, brand development, pricing structure, etcetera, are all moving targets that everybody involved know is going to change along the way. But the problem/solution has to be there. And once they have made the investment, they are stuck with the founders. A long-winded way of saying: how you present yourself, build connections and credibility in your industry, and project confidence in the room is probably more important than any deck you project on screen.
Be audacious with your goals, but clear about your next steps. If the upside of your solution is exponential, it’s more important than ever to explain how you are going to get there in specific next steps. The allure of your Total Addressable Market (TAM) might be saliva-inducing for both you and your investors, but you need to make your Serviceable Obtainable Market (SAM) as clear as possible. If you can’t succeed with step 1, how are you going to get to step 10?
There are of course plenty of other lessons to learn when doing the deck, and thankfully, there is an ocean of resources out there. Here are a few good ones:
• The AirBNB pitch deck. This one is legendary, and the stories around its inception make for an inspiring read. But it’s also a blueprint for what a barebones pitch deck should include and a great inspiration for defining the Problem/Solution slides. In any new pitch deck process, I always start with this.