Pitching has become the standard means communicating information for entrepreneurs. It began as a way of speaking with very busy individuals who needed to make a decision in a short period of time, and has evolved to fulfill several needs a startup has in the long run – like raising capital, applying and competing in startup competitions, establishing partnerships, giving keynotes, selling products, applying for accelerator and incubator programs, and more.
Because it has become an important part of the entrepreneurial journey, I think it’s important to pay attention to these key elements when developing your pitch:
Let’s first start by covering the basics. Every pitch should serve a purpose and there are many types of pitches. For example you can develop investor pitches for raising capital, sales pitches for selling your products or services, employee pitches for alignment and on-boarding, elevator pitches for a summary of the project, Twitter pitches for short messages, partnership pitches, or competition pitches for competing in startup competitions. Having a clear purpose of your pitch will allow you to select exactly which information to disclose.
Purposes should be measurable by an outcome, so make sure your pitch has one that you can later measure. For example if you want to engage your customers and generate 100 emails from them, the 100 emails and the amount of money are your measures for the purpose. While if you’re developing a pitch to raise capital, your measure will be that amount of capital. This approach can help you to evaluate whether your pitch was successful or not, and it will help you modify the elements that did not allow for the purpose to be achieved until you finally achieve it.
Many posts and videos on how to create a pitch deck focus on the content that the pitch should have, or perhaps the visuals the pitch should show to engage and impress your viewers. But there is a key element in achieving the purpose of the pitch that many leave out, and that is to understand the audience. Pitching without knowing your audience is like giving a presentation to English speaking people in Russian. You might have amazing graphics, powerful videos, and great products – but no one will understand a word you’re saying.
To avoid getting lost in translation, do background research on the audience. Find out what they know what their background is, what is the technical language they best speak and understand, and try to put yourself into their shoes.
Then use this knowledge to deliver information the best way your audience will understand it, for example if you’re pitching to a financial investor whose interests are only financial, avoid showing technical and features about your product and focus on the financials. And it works the other way around, too – if your investor is a technical person, show technologies and describe in detail what they want to know.
Whether your pitch is a long presentation for raising capital or an elevator pitch, always research your audience. In case you run into an unexpected situation, try to discover a bit about your audience before pitching, ask questions about them and then start pitching; they will even be nicely surprised since most people don’t ask anything and start pitching.
The pitch should contain enough information about your project to satisfy its purpose, but not so much that it will bore, or doesn’t add to achieve the purpose and not too little that the audience is confused and full of doubts.
The next list of topics will guide you through most elements pitches should have. Keep in mind that not all of them are needed all the time and when to use each one depends on the audience, purpose and type of pitch you’re aiming for.
- Problem: One of the goals for entrepreneurs is to solve a problem for a specific community. The problem must be validated with the community to understand whether it’s really a problem to be solved.
- Solution: This is pretty much straight forward the solution topic must describe how are you planning to solve the problem, what is the solution of the problem your posing the community has.
- Market Size: This topic should cover how big is your market and how much you plan to achieve. You can choose two approaches to achieve this, whether showing how much money does it create and/or how much money is being invested in that market or by showing your financial projected incomes. Most of the times you can google and calculate a rough estimate, but in case you don’t find any information you could predict and guess those numbers based on your findings.
- Product: This topic should cover what is the product that implements the solution of the problem. You could choose to show or explain how does it work, and remember that you should start by working with a Minimum Viable Product.
- Business Model: This topic should cover how does your business makes money, you could choose a subscription based model, or a model that sells units of a product, or perhaps you want to sell the information to market research firms. The idea is that you show how does money go into the system.
- Go to Market Strategy: This topic should cover how are you planning to release and launch your products to the market, it should answer the questions of how you’re going to get the product on the hands of your customers, which sales channels are you going to focus on and what is your distribution strategy. You can include important dates of releases in this topic.
- Traction: This topic should cover in a timeline how has the business developed by showing metrics related to revenue, number of acquired customers, team growth and important events or milestones like capital raising rounds. If you’re in your early stages you should focus on showing the validations you’ve done about your potential customers, the problems they have and if the solution you’re proposing is a fit for them.
- Team: This topic is self explanatory as it should cover the team and roles of your project. While developing this topic take into consideration, that many investors believe a company’s team, is the most important determinant on whether or not to invest.
- Competition: This topic should cover what alternative solutions exist to the problem you’re solving and direct competitors for your business model. Most common way to show this is by comparing specific variables like price, availability, differentiators between you and your competitors.
- Use of funds/financials: This topic should cover how are you going to use the funds, and it should show the budget of your project over time. You could include important dates, milestones, goals and deliverables. It is also important that you cover how much money you’re asking for and what you’re offering in return.
Storytelling is an art and you should include this art in every pitch you craft. Why? Because you need to communicate a message to an audience and the best way to achieve this is through storytelling. This should not be a separate effort of different elements but every element of your project and pitch must be aligned to tell the same story, whether you’re present or not.
If done right, this is the most powerful asset you have in your backpack. Engaging with your audience and implanting a memory in their minds at a personal level about your project is the goal you should seek with the story you tell. If you’re looking for a guide to storytelling I recommend this post from HubSpot and the book Storybranding by Donald Miller.
5. Supporting Materials
Each type of pitch can be accompanied by different supporting materials to achieve its purpose. You can use documents for executive summaries, email deck presentations that only have the engaging slides, investor decks to present to your investors, demo decks to be used with a focus on the demo, video pitches that allows you to show in video, websites and landing pages, etc.
Remember that every supporting material must tell the same story to your audience in a way that captivates and engages. Don’t be afraid to use powerful visuals and graphics, and make sure your presentations follow some rules to achieve their purposes, like Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 rule for startup pitch presentations, which states that pitch presentations shouldn’t be longer than 10 slides, take no more than 20 minutes to talk through and not be typed in less than 30-point font.
6. Bonus: How it Works (Demo)
When pitching you should be able to show how things work. Again, depending on the purpose you could just have a 10 second explanation about the basic idea, or a 30 minute demo about how the product or service works. The goal is that you can describe in an easily understandable way what your startup does and why people should care.
Don’t worry if you still haven’t finished the prototype – nowadays graphics and explanations work really well in showing how things work, but if you manage to include a live demo it can become a powerful tool to engage your audience and reach the purpose of the pitch.