Create the Perfect Deck When Pitching Startup Investors

VP K12 Computer Science Products, EMC School

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

This especially holds true when pitching an investor. We entrepreneurs work hard to get an audience with each investor. We want each encounter to lead to either an investment or other positive result. That places a LOT of pressure on the entrepreneur to deliver a perfect pitch.

Nikki Navta pitching at ISTE 2017
Nikki Navta pitching at ISTE 2017

When raising a round for my company, Zulama, I presented to many, many investors before getting to a positive result. Each time I pitched, I listened carefully to the feedback and kept refining my message.

Just when I thought I was getting close to having a perfect pitch deck, I went into yet another investor meeting and received well-intentioned suggestions that were in direct opposition to what another potential investor just said. How much contradictory pitch feedback can one entrepreneur withstand? Is it possible to achieve perfection?

Up Your Pitching Game

One key to success is to pay extremely close attention to context. I used the consistent feedback to create a pitch deck that contained all of the basic requirements. The core deck remained fairly similar over time. I mostly discarded or kept a separate list of outlier feedback. Comments that I heard only once or twice didn’t prompt a change in the core deck.

Then I created a (slightly) customized version for each pitch I gave. Even very small tweaks can make a huge difference in how a particular investor responds to your pitch. For instance:

  • Use words from the investor’s website or blog so you are “speaking their language.”
  • Tailor your “ask” to the size or type of investment the investor usually makes.
  • Compare your company to those in their existing portfolio. For instance, show that you have a similar business model to others they have invested in, or your sales strategy is similar to one used by their portfolio companies.
  • Demonstrate that your product or team matches well with other investments your target has made. 

Start by developing confidence in your basic story and numbers. Respond to and incorporate feedback that you hear consistently—chances are, that’s core info that ALL investors want to know about.

Then, do your research before every meeting. Use that recon to make adjustments to your deck that will keep your audience on the edge of their seats. Give them the feeling that you’ve met before … that you think the same way as each other.

‘Perfection Is in the Eye of the Investor’

The best resource I found for developing a solid, basic pitch was Christopher Mirabile’s blog on the topic. It’s a few years old but has stood the test of time. Similar to how “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” “perfection is in the eye of the investor.” The flow of Mirabile’s storyline was the basis I used for my core pitch—the pitch that didn’t change unless I heard the same feedback from multiple sources. Then it was relatively easy to incorporate the investor-specific tweaks that really gave each investor the impression I was a good match for them.

Must have worked relatively well, because I successfully raised capital—though it took three times as long as I wanted. But the time it takes to raise a round is another story. Stay tuned!

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Image courtesy of Grant Hosford at Codespark.

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