Welcome to the 29th podcast of the Ask Alex show! Today the question is “35 things not what not to do in your pitch deck.“
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You’re fundraising so you need a pitch deck. We get it. That’s why you’re here.
Now getting a pitch deck right is really hard. It can, in fact, be easier to learn what to not do and not do than instead of thinking how to get it right!
Here is a list of things not to do.
Formatting and structure
Have a deck longer than around 20 slides
As much as you hate to write decks, investors hate reading them more. Don’t make life miserable for investors.
Your first deck is just to establish interest. Investors use it to filter you. They don’t care till they do. If you were an investor, would you want to read a 40 page, dense deck about something you don’t care about yet. No? So don’t do it.
Now people write your deck shouldn’t be more than 10 slides or some arbitrary number. There is some logic in that, but the real answer is not simple. It is ‘it depends.’
People write 10 in the hope you keep the number down. If you use best practice, the length doesn’t matter so much… because it’s easy to parse. A 40 page deck that’s super easy to read isn’t so bad, but it’s still long. Generally, a full, well-written deck is around 24 slides in my experience. A short version can be 10 slides, especially if you have traction. It depends.
Use no images
Images convey emotions. If you have no images your deck is really boring. Don’t be cheesy though, don’t use anything offensive. You should never have more than ~5 images on a slide (such as showing your customers with testimonials).
You can use small images when you have a series of columns to show as features. It breaks up the text. I typically like to put them in circles since squares sometimes are ugly. But we are nit picking here, and of course it always depends.
Use no graphs
Graphs convey information in a way a table can’t. Tables are used when you have to and they do have their place, but they can be hard to parse.
If you want to convey your use of funds, then 30%, 30%, 40% can be put in a little pie chart!
Use small font
Small font is small. It’s hard to read. Hard to read is hard to read fast. Investors want to be able to flick through your deck and they can’t do that if they have to squint.
The smallest font I use is for body copy and that’s 26. You should target 30 or more.
The only exception is if you are adding “Source: xyz” which can be as small as 8.
Small font on charts
Format every aspect of your charts. Don’t just think of the size of the pie chart.
Your x/y axis labels need to be fair-sized, as does your legend, as are the numbers you present. Don’t forget that just because Excel generates a chart, you don’t have to format everything.
Use weird colors/font
Be simple with color use. If you have website branding colors but don’t know how to use them (nor have a designer), don’t. Opt for something standard. Your deck is not a place to be original and take a risk.
Just be simple. Bebas, Poppins are all great fonts I use a lot. You can’t go wrong with blue.
Write a lot of text
Less is more.
Do not write an essay, no one wants to read it.
Write everything in bullet points. Each bullet is maybe 15 words. Each bullet actually makes a point.
You don’t want to be comfortable with ‘paragraphs.’
Have an ugly deck
If an investor opens a deck and it looks like a joke… they think you are a joke.
The investor doesn’t know you so they judge every little thing more than you might think is reasonable.
An ugly deck screams you don’t take your startup seriously and you don’t take the investor seriously, so make the effort to present the best possible design you can.
Use PowerPoint or Keynote and convert into PDF at the end.
Never use Word.
Write the investor name or date on the deck
You are going to pitch 20 to 200 investors. That takes a lot of time. And you forget stuff.
- Date: If you don’t change the date when you started raising, investors know how long you are raising
- Investor name: You are going to forget to change the logo at some point. Then you look really dumb. Adding their logo scores you no points
No consistent structure / alignment
Your deck looks nicer if your headers are in the same place, the same size and the same font. All your images and text are aligned well. It feels consistent.
If you aren’t sure, then just make one structure of a slide and replicate it. You can’t totally mess up then.
You can also buy templates which will take out the guesswork for you. There are a lot of templates around which look SUPER pretty but they are not designed for fundraising. The use of space is terrible. They’re probably better than you can do though. If you want a pro deck with less stress, then that’s what Perfect Pitch Deck does.
Believe this is your only time to share everything
Your deck’s goal is to get a meeting. Note, I personally prefer a deck before a meeting.
The investor is going to look at it and think ‘Interesting, I want to know more.’ You are not (going to write) going to send a 100-page detailed deck and think anyone has time for it.
If you get a meeting with an investor they want to know more about you. They don’t know everything (yet), the meeting is to learn more. That’s when you share more, but not everything. When the investor is really interested then sure, they want everything and they’ll read it as they want to manage their risk. They don’t do that for everyone… they don’t have the time, right?
Write ‘problem’ as your header
What do i learn when you write ‘problem’ as your slide header? I learn the slide is about a problem. But that’s it. What a waste of real estate!
I then have to read the slide to understand what the problem is!
Why don’t you write ‘There is no way to order a taxi on demand.’ You just told me what the problem is. I can flick through the deck and understand it.
Leave no ‘white space’
Space is your friend. The biggest design tip I have picked up is to leave more space. The website, pitch deck, same thing. Beautiful products have a lot of space.
Be spatially aware of the negative space on your slides. Make space, it will look better.
List data points and don’t share a story
If you list a number of data points, I have no context to them. I look at the slide and the data points and think ‘so what?’
Data supports your story.
Your story is what investors buy into. If you don’t tell a story, you are depriving investors of what they want. Why would you do that?
Your pitch deck is a story. Data supports the story. Take the pitch deck thinking course to understand this.
Use PowerPoint templates
Gross. Microsoft has no design style. Your deck will look like something out of the 1990s and that’s bad.
Look at the Cloudera deck. 1990s. They’re so nerdy that they get away with it, but the deck is really ugly.
Blindly follow a template (e.g. Sequoia)
Sequoia, Dave McClure etc, there are a number of outlines to follow.
Yes, if you know nada, that’s really useful. But these are guides, not gospel.
If you just follow and paint by numbers it is mechanical.
There is never ever a reason to use slides animations or transitions. Just don’t. You might selectively use these at a demo day, but just save the time, you won’t get bonus points.
Send your pitch deck in PDF. There are no animations in PDF anyway.
Don’t take crappy screenshots and paste them with white backgrounds.
Don’t use low-resolution images which are pixelated. They indicate low attention to detail. That’s not a good trait.
If your images are pixelated, use another image.
Not compressing images (lossless)
This is a little one, but be careful about using lots of 5mb images. They add up and then your deck ends up 40mb.
There is a trick you can do on Mac though, I figured out. Save your Keynote as a package. Then open the file, go to the data and you can see all the images. Drag them into Imageoptim and it will do the work. Just check nothing goes wrong before you save.
Have no flow
A story has a beginning, middle and end. You are telling a story. Does your deck follow the same logic?
No, you aren’t writing your grand opus. It’s a deck. But it needs to flow. There is a problem, with a large market needing it. We have the solution. Our team is the best to solve it. We’re making money already and here is how we make money. We’re raising money to do more of that.
Don’t write a series of independent slides. It needs to flow slide to slide.
Don’t use the cover slide
The first slide in your deck is a cover slide. It’s the first slide investors are going to see.
Make it attractive and keep it basic. But, make it work for you.
Prominently brand it with your logo, then add a tagline that actually makes sense. It should explain what you do in a few words (with no buzz words). That sets up investors to know what they are getting themselves in for before they get going.
Don’t explain what you do
No joke. I have seen a lot of decks where I don’t even know what the startup does. That is a huge fail.
The way to fail safe this is to literally write what it is you do on the first slide. I’m so not kidding.
‘We index the world’s information so you can type what you are looking for in a search box and get the best possible answer.‘
‘We enable everyone in San Fran to order a taxi on demand with an app. Push a button and a taxi turns up in under 5 minutes. No phone calls involved‘
We have no competition
Everyone has competition. Inertia is competition. Excel or your whiteboard is competition.
If you don’t have competition it’s actually a flag that there may be no market. Having no competition is a bad thing. Market adoption and education are really hard.
Never say you have no competition. If you do, investors are going to find out. They know how to use Google better than you do.
Don’t sell the team
70% of an investors decision is the team. The team really matters.
If you just list some names on a slide, what does that tell you? Nothing other than your name. Your deck is sales. Sell.
Think of every really impressive accomplishment of the team (be shameless). Write down one or two of the most important ones.
No one care about Uni. If you went to Stanford, sure. Some VCs love that shizzle. Some state school, just don’t bother, even if it is tier 2, does it really sell? You have limited real estate so use it to sell.Exits are the prize. Startups and raised from good investors, that’s a good sign too. brand name companies you worked at, add the logos.
Sell the solution not the problem
If you are doing an early stage raise your product probably is buggy and you have limited metrics to prove product/market fit. You aren’t selling the solution.
Investors care about problems. Customers pay to solve problems. If there are a big problem and a lot of people who would pay to solve that problem, then with the cash there’s a lot of people who will possibly pay you after marketing.
Spend as much time as you need to ensure investors understand the problem.
Give unrealistic market size
Next… your market size needs to be big. This only matters if there is a problem to solve first.
The market size has to be credible and related to your product though.
If you pick some market size that is totally massive and unrelated then it is not credible. Say you are selling beany babies in Asia, your market size is not the global market of physical products.
You need to do both bottom up and top down market sizing with logic. This matters, read more here.
Use buzz words
Don’t. It’s so annoying. No one really believes you are doing ‘AI,’ and there is no such thing. It’s just advanced analytics.
People who really know what they are doing don’t need to show off with words. They can explain things simply.
Even if investors are technical, it’s so much easier to read in simple language. You may even let them feel smart by reading and be thinking ‘I bet they are solving this by x.’
Adding blockchain doesn’t really add $20m more to your valuation. Ok, that’s sort of a lie 😉
Dude, you are going to get caught. It’s a terrible idea. You may be smarter than one person, but collectively you aren’t smarter than everyone.
Use big words
People who know big words don’t use big words. The only time to write 5 syllable words is when you are writing a scientific thesis and those guys all know it’s painful writing in the most complex manner possible.
What do you gain with big words? If they know the word they wonder why you use it if they don’t they feel dumb and making people feel dumb is the biggest sin one can make.Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis see what I just did there?
Write every word
Less is more. I’ve said that a few times now because you need to remember it.
DO NOT write everything you are thinking. Write the point. Treat every word as a selling point. If something doesn’t add, it detracts. Become a hm, a real Nazi about word choice. Beyond a certain point, yes, it takes a lot of time to be really short.
I like to say ‘sorry, I didn’t have the time to write a short email,’ the same principle applies to your deck, but you need to take the time to make yours short.
Be unrealistic/uncredible with your plans
You need to have really big goals for investors to invest in you, but the difference between a dream and a goal is a plan.
If you say to me I’m going to beat Amazon, I’m really going to call BS. You’re really not. If you say you are going to get to a billion MRR in 5 years, I’m going to think you are a muppet.
If you are going to triple for two years and then double for 3, then that’s pretty standard for what investors want to see.
If you say stupid things… well ‘stupid is as stupid does.’ Be punchy, but not ignorant.
Be arrogant (Disparage competition)
People like nice people. Show off, know it alls are annoying. Don’t say dumb things. If you are a big deal, people know you are a big deal. You should be modest.
Your competition are not idiots. The VCs probably know a few of them. If you aren’t already the leader, then be humble.
Say you are the Uber of…
It’s been done 1,000 times. And the on-demand economy…
Don’t be a walking cliche.
Don’t show your product
Your deck should have at least one photo of your product. These days, UI matters.
Ideally, you are going to do a demo in the meeting. Nothing beats a good demo.
If you are an app then a slide with say 3 images in a phone is sort of standard.
Don’t do these things. I know it’s going to be a little easier said than done, but pitch decks really are hard.
If you want to stop wasting time on your fundraise and deck, Perfect Pitch Deck can help you.
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