The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for your Startup’s Investor Pitch Deck

After 14+ years of writing hundreds of investor pitches that raised hundreds of millions of dollars — here’s the winning formula!

Photo Credit: HBO

When you see about 50 pitch decks a week over 14 years, you see A LOT of repeat mistakes. And when you fix these decks, you see many successes.

People ask me: “How many slides should the deck have?” Or they’re sticking to a template that forces them into something that just doesn’t work.

So is there one “right” way to do a pitch deck? I think so! But if everyone uses the same method, won’t they all look the same? The answer is a resounding no!

Buildings are built with the same idea — a foundation, frame, walls, windows, paint, etc. But each building has it’s unique characteristics. Without a proper structure, however, your building might collapse. So too, your pitch!

Its All About The Story

So what is that elusive structure? It all comes back to our neanderthal brain craving the structure of a story.

People often are confused by the term “Story” — they think it’s just about standing around telling anecdotes, insert a meaningless joke or “dumbing down” serious materials to the level of stupid or silly. On the contrary

  • Stories are thousands of years old, they’re the reason information has survived from generation
  • We learn through stories — I’ve seen my 3 year old go from chewing on a book to actively discussing elements of the story with zeal, even though she’s heard it hundreds of times. She gets it and has become a storyteller in her own right
  • Stories inspire, captivate, resonate and influence! — aren’t those the things you want when pitching for fundraising or sales?
  • And most important — Our brains are hardwired for a structured story — while they can’t deal with mounds of data. And there is a VERY specific structure that stories have — look at Shakespeare, Chekhov, Moliere, even the Bible — the stories all go the same way:

Problem — Solution — What Happened When the Solution Came into Play — The Aftermath

And your Investor Pitch is merely a story and the entrepreneurs are merely players 🙂

The Magical Structure of Your Story

Here is a high level outline of the slides as they correspond to the story format:

The Need=The problem, the “villain” of the story

The Solution = The “hero” of the story, what will solve the problem and slay the villain?

The Business Plan — What will happen after the hero takes action?

Moving Forward — The aftermath, hoping that the hero is triumphant!

Drilling Down the Slides

Now I’ll go through slide by slide and explain each one.

Title Slide — One Line about what it is you do — go for the big vision statement — not What you do — WHY you do! Hit them in the gut with this

Problem– Here’s the place to describe the gap /problem /challenge that needs solving. This is best told in a story — your own, a friend or family members, something from the news or even a made up story to illustrate it. Back up the story with stats showing this is an issue worth lots of money and hint that current solutions aren’t cutting it…

Solution — How are you solving this? Create a simple solution sentence: We’re doing X(solving a problem) for Y(for a specific audience) by Z(in a nutshell, what are you? A Platform /app /solution/tool/ etc.) and as a bonus, your secret sauce that is enabling you to do it This should be so simple that anyone could understand it — even if they don’t have a degree in computer science or engineering.

Demo — Create a 1–2 min demo showing off your solution — it could be a short film, screenshots, a screenflow (use Camtasia) or even a mock up. Guide them through a first time user experience and highlight 4–5 of the standout features. Make them go wow — but don’t overwhelm them with details.

Benefits — Highlight the important benefits to your users (if this has already come across in the demo, don’t repeat) keep it at 6–8, no more. You might have 2 types of users. ie Businesses and Customers or Publishers and Brands — you can list benefits for each.

Current Status/Traction — What are the major milestones you’ve hit in funding, product, users, downloads, revenue, growth, endorsements, partnerships, etc. since the time you launched or launched beta. If you haven’t launched yet, where are you at? The later stage you are, the more metrics you need to show

Market Analysis — The numbers of the TAM (Total Addressable Market) SAM (Segmented Addressable Market) and SOM (Share of Market) so they get an idea of the size. Put value of the markets as well — what was the spend on similar solutions last year? You can go top down or bottom up — the most important thing to show is that you have a huge potential market!

Trends and Opportunities — This slide is a silver bullet! It’s the “Why us, why now?” This is the place to really show movement in trends and opportunities — have there been major fundings or acquisitions among your competitors? Did an industry leader or a research firm like Gartner, Forrester or the likes say that a solution like yours is missing? Are there market trends among your users showing a shift in behavior? Was there a change in law or regulations mandating people or companies to find a solution like yours? Etc.

Business Model — What is your main revenue model? (subscription, ads, affiliate, rev share, etc.) What are some additional revenue streams?

Go-to-Market Strategies — What are the strategies that will help you penetrate the market and gain users? Remember, you might not have money at the beginning for things like a sales team, so look at different phases — likely you will start with strategic partnerships, distribution channels or before that, content marketing or social campaigns.

Competitive Landscape— Who are your main competitors? We’re talking either Enterprise, backed by VC money or rapidly growing companies — though you should know about smaller competitors as well. Try to group them into 3 or 4 types and then create a magic quadrant, a petal diagram or a marketscape showing how you measure up to them. Most important — add in your true differation statement: “What truly sets us apart is…” It’s very important to NOT say anything bad about your competitor — it’s GREAT that you have competition — now just prove that you have a clear advantage over them.

Team — Who are your Executive team members? Pics, titles and a few important facts about them. You can add logos of outstanding organizations they’ve worked for, been affiliated with or studied at. If you have an Advisory Board, add them too — it might need a separate slide.

RoadMap — What are your major milestones to be hit (product, marketing, revenues) over the course of time this funding round will last for — 12/18/24 months? Trying to put in financial projections past that is not entirely necessary — you can have a financials, P&L, projections slide in your back out to send out as needed

Future Directions — Any exciting additional features or products in the pipeline that you intend to work on later? Maybe this is just the first step in a much bigger vision!

Funding Requirements — Seeking $XXM for: (List the main allocations such as: R&D, Sales and Marketing, Team Expansion Etc. Round Objective: This will take us to XX months, XXXK users/revenue/downloads etc., break even/cash flow positive — wherever you will be when you are ready for the next round.

Key Investment Merits — Sort of a summary of what you’ve already said — the 5–6 bullets highlighting the most exciting things about your startup that make you an attractive funding opportunity.

Does Size Matter?

There is no magic number for slides! As long as they are simple, communicate one big idea and aren’t loaded with text, they aren’t going to count the slides as you go through. So even if you need to spread some of the data on to more than one slide, don’t sweat it — I’d rather see you have more simple, clear slides than fewer slides that look like eye charts!

Hope this was helpful! I’m here if you have any further questions or need any more support!

Clients Say

  • I worked with Donna last year. She is, simply put, one of the best at corporate storytelling out there. I recommend her regularly to those looking to raise capital, especially when they have a more challenging story to tell. If you want to take your corporate storytelling to the next level, don't hesitate. Work with her. You won't regret it.

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    Leo TrottierLeo TrottierFounder at CleverPet


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    Eva GagnonEva GagnonNudge
  • Donna is "the best" startup fundraising pitch coach I've worked with. Women Who Tech has retained her services for each of our Women Startup Challenges where she helps each of our startup cohorts prepare and hone their investor pitches. I highly recommend her!

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  • Donna is absolutely fantastic! We have been working with Donna within week programs in Silicon Valley for Executive MBA of Moscow school of management SKOLKOVO. She is great in transforming 180 degrees your skills and approach to pitching. The students leave the workshop with pure brilliant feeling what and how they should do. Donna is unique, energetic, engaging and super professional. She knows exactly what you need to succeed. And I strongly recommend her workshops for big and small businesses, corporate people, start-uppers and serial entrepreneurs.

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  • Donna is the pitching Jedi, Yoda of messaging and story telling! She helped turn our deck into an incredible story with a touch of “wow”. She has the rare combination of messaging expertise combined with fund raising experience. She is easy to work with and get things done. We highly recommend her.

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    Joe CastonJoe CastonRainmaker - Revenue and Growth Acceleration. Fractional CRO / VP of Sales, and CMO. Founder at PlayMakersX
  • Donna is an absolute pleasure to work with.
    Her knowledge of pitch decks and storytelling combines for an utmost distillation in information for investors.
    The outline of what she presents is second to none and just from a simple phone call with Donna and some follow up we were able to refine our deck to a point that many investors and other entrepreneurs immediately offered to pass our deck along to their contacts.As someone who raised capital before and has constructed a few pitch decks, I can attest to the fact that she brings a different perspective, edge, & insight to the table that the entrepreneur generally doesn't see.

    I HIGHLY recommend Donna's methodology for pitch/sales decks and believe that whether first-time or experienced entrepreneurs, her services will prove to be invaluable!

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  • My startup was struggling to capture investors. I decided to contact Donna. After a few hours work on my deck the startup presentation became clearer, the selling arguments were evident, the problem/solution was well enhanced. Result: we have now a VC investing in
    Thanks Donna, great job!

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  • For Donna, finding the story in a pitch is like a logic puzzle. The approach is brilliant. She listens to you tell your story, then guides you through the logical connections. Finally she helps you knit them into a natural story. You retain the authenticity, yet your story delivers your message with a wallop. She shows you the concrete metaphors and guides you around the slippery slopes. At the end of the journey, you've found a story that's your own yet tells the tale you want to tell. She's a remarkable professional. That she's a delightful human being just makes it all magical. I can't recommend her more highly as a corporate storyteller.

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  • I had the pleasure of working with Donna a couple of months ago, and I was blown away by her art, dedication, and her ability to communicate. She took the words I had on paper and created a story in my voice. She knew exactly what I was trying to say. She is a great listener and the stories she creates from talking with you really resonate with the audience. She is the first person I will call when I need to build my story. Thank you, Donna, my success would have not been possible without you

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  • Its been a great pleasure working with Donna. Her insight, experience, and advice were instrumental in shaping Flyzen's deck and pitch. Donna shared her perspective on our processes which was eye-opening.
    I highly recommend her to anyone who is looking to improve and shape his/her storytelling abilities, anyone who wants to work on his/her messages, either one-on-one, for a conference or for an investor presentation.

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  • Donna is an expert, guru, professional — all of the above — when it comes to learning the methodology and science behind pitching your business. We've had many high-profile experts host a pitching workshop in our Seed Fund Program (where learning how to perfect your pitch is 99% of the program), and she's been the best by far. Five stars and two thumbs up for you, Donna!  All the best, Keenan

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  • Donna is a Wizard, a magician that can turn any idea into a story, into something that resonates, inspires with a touch of "wow" in the few right places that will catch attention. She brings processes into the way any company needs to build and articulate a message. All done in a fun, creative environment. But there is more... While building the messages, Donna adds so much value in the words she is using, in the questions she is asking that not only she can help build a presentation for any audience, but the outcome and discussion brings so much more, so many new ideas and angles to think about. Very glad I worked with Donna and cannot recommend her enough.

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  • Donna was a big help in defining our sales pitch. She is very professional and she is able to write everything in simple words and she did it in the time she promises. Thank you Donna!

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  • Donna helped me hone my story when I went on TV for Planet of the Apps. She truly transformed the way I thought about my business and explained it to others. I can't recommend her enough

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  • Donna helps crystalize the important messages and get them out succinctly for exec presentations. Exactly what many of us need! And she is so fast and efficient!

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  • Magic Donna. The only one we can trust to perfectly express our vision and ideas in words that anyone can understand.
    Thanks for the great work!

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  • We are a young startup in the IoT and Big Data arena. We worked with Donna as part of building our strategy, storytelling etc. Donna has a very unique ability to sharpen the message, crystalize the exact value proposition and build the right pitch for the company. Donna is super efficient, smart and well experienced.
    Don't miss this opportunity !!!

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  • Even though Donna doesn't have a background in our field, she "got" our messages very fast. She knew how to refine them into clear, powerful texts that improved our presentation immeasurably! This was all done in a very pleasant and efficient way. I would work with her again in a heartbeat.

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    Ran HirschRan HirschCo-Founder of A1C Foods
  • Donna is a magician! In just two hours she was able to convert our deck from a presentation full of facts to an engaging story! We even used it at a pitch competition which we won! She also helped us with our website and a few other projects, I recommend her to all CEOs who want to save themselves tons of time, money and disappointments, and want to learn how to pitch their startup better. Thank you Donna!

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  • I had the pleasure working with Donna for the past several years. She helped my company to create and polish our technological branding and messaging. Our products target big clients in the enterprise cloud solutions space and rely on complex and sophisticated technologies. Donna was able to simplify our technological message and bring it from concept and into writing. Donna was very professional throughout the entire process and I highly recommend working with her.

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