There’s a strategy to pitching investors.
You need a compelling story of course, but how you tell it is important, too. That’s where a solid “pitch deck” — a brief presentation, generally in slide form — is invaluabl for capturing investors’ attention.
But be warned, investors don’t look at pitch decks for very long — just an average of 3 minutes and 44 seconds, according to a study by DocSend.
“There’s a standard way investors think about these opportunities,” explains Russ Heddleston, CEO of San Francisco-based DocSend, a document analytics and tracking service that is used to send pitch decks securely. “Knowing what decks are successful and which aren’t is highly informative.”
DocSend recently partnered with Harvard Business School professor Tom Eisenmann to study more than 200 pitch decks to discover best practices for raising startup funding. In total, the companies they looked at raised more than $360 million.
While such presentations aren’t necessarily one-size-fits-all, there’s a certain science to them, experts say.
- Less is more. Generally speaking, the optimal deck is six to 10 slides, according to the DocSend study, which advises entrepreneurs to keep their decks to 20 slides or fewer.
“If you go past six to 10 slides in the angel world, you’ll probably lose their interest,” says Michael Faltischek, chair of the board of directors of the Long Island Angel Network, which invests in early-stage companies. “It is meant to whet the appetite and induce people to get more in-depth in terms of making an investment.”
Andrew Hazen, co-founder of Hicksville-based Angel Dough Ventures, an early-stage seed fund, and CEO of LaunchPad, an incubator/accelerator for startups with five Long Island locations, tells presenters at LaunchPad’s monthly pitch nights to keep their pitch deck presentations to no more than 14 slides, including the intro and ending slide.
“I send them a short application and a pitch deck outline,” he says, adding he receives at least 200 pitch decks a year. “I don’t want them to waste my time.”
- What to cover. In that outline, among the 14 slides he recommends are an “elevator pitch” slide (a two- to three-sentence attention grabber), the team, market problem and size, their solution and competition.
In DocSend’s report, the slide order they suggest is: company purpose, problem, solution, why now, market size, product, team, business model, competition and financials.
Financials was the page viewed for the longest time (23.2 seconds), yet only 57 percent of successful decks have this section, according to the study.
That’s because, for a startup, showing financials can be difficult.
“Historical financials in a startup don’t exist,” says Faltischek, who is also a senior partner at the Uniondale-based law firm of Ruskin Moscou Faltischek.
And providing overinflated or unrealistic financial projections is a big turnoff to investors like himself, he notes.
Rather, “I think you should get to the problem and why what you’re proposing is the solution right away,” Faltischek advises.
- Know your audience. You might tweak your pitch deck for different audiences, Hazen says. “You might leave out one slide for one group and add another for another group.”
That’s what Michael Russo, founder of Rockville Centre-based Sticky Quotes, which sells inspirational sticky notes, has done.
Russo has presented at LaunchPad’s pitch nights several times and says his pitch deck has “definitely been a work in progress.” He’s tweaked it over time and says he learns something new at each presentation.
He tries to limit the amount of words per slide, opting for more graphics and pictures.
“I found that if there’s a lot of words on the slide, the audience is either going to listen to you or read the slide,” he notes. “If they’re reading the slides, they’re most likely not listening to you.”
Percentage of investors who read pitch decks from their mobile phones — so make sure your deck is readable on a tiny screen.