pitch deck fuck you list

The pitch deck fuck you list

Tl;dr: Learn a simple but important exercise I teach all founders when they write pitch decks. You need to know what is important and special about your startup so you can write your pitch deck and communicate key points to investors. This will help you cut the bullshite and figure out what you need to communicate

Note: I’m presently writing a huge pitch deck training course to help founders write their deck as I’m so sick of how much they struggle. Whilst I’m writing it I thought I’d post some of the content modules to share actionable learnings. This content will be turned into training videos. I’d love feedback on the content to improve it. 

There are certain things about your business that really matter. They are the special things that underpin why you will win. They are the things you want to tell everyone about (hiring, partnerships…), including investors. They are what needs to hold true for you to get the exit you want.

The issue is that most founders struggle to really get what is important across in their pitch deck and when pitching investors. You get lost in meaningless details as frankly you don’t know what matters!

To know what is important, you first have to define it clearly.

I’m going to teach you an exercise I teach all my pitch deck clients. It’s called the fuck you list. Though I joke I call it the screw you list with Americans since some people get offended with F bombs! Well, I’m the wrong person to talk to in which case.

The fuck you list story

I invented a bunch of pitch deck stuff through working with clients and needing to find ways to make the process less painful for myself and to get what I need to know out of their heads. The fuck you list (like most of my innovations) came from early clients when I was frustrated that I couldn’t understand why their startup would matter to VCs. This is a failed attempt at a more literary version of the story I tell clients now…

You received an invitation from the membership manager at your old High School. Turns out you are invited to come back for your 10-year reunion to drink and mingle with your former classmates.

Like an American movie about high schools, you can think back on the social dynamics that existed when you were a child and that are likely to persist as an adult.

You arrive and find your safe zone.  You spend a few hours talking with your old best friends and everything is going well, but it is a workday and you need to head home to get up in the morning. As you start making you way towards the exit, you hear a deep baritone thunder and your heart sinks.

“Holy shit balls! It’s Alexander!” 

You still remember that voice. It’s Billy Bob. Your high school tormentor. He bullied you for years, making your life miserable. You thought you were passed all this bullshit. You’ve grown, had some success and this high school drama should be a repressed, distant memory now.

“Hi… Billy Bob.”

It’s almost 11pm now and you’ve both been hitting the beers to make this event easier to put up with. Billy Bob hasn’t changed and he’s pretty plastered, as he sways to the side occasionally.

“Alexander, you were a loser in high school and you’re a loser now! Your [startup name] sucks and is going to fail! There’s just no way someone like you is going to be successful!”

Who the fuck does this guy think he is to be saying this to you?! You just don’t care, but you need to set the record straight.

You aggressively shout “FUCK YOU Billy Bob!” 

People notice.

You then go on to explain tersely why your startup is awesome and destined to win in an aggressive but measured cadence.

Mic drop.

Billy Bob’s jaw drops and his fat mouth is left gaping.

You momentarily pause to smirk at him and make your exit.

Your job is done.

In your head you can hear your classmates applauding.

What is the fuck you list?

Simply put, it’s what you tell Billy Bob to get him to shut the fuck up, and as someone who hates you, still make him think what you are doing actually makes sense.

You’re drunk, you’re angry. You aren’t going to use fancy $2 words. You’re going to get to the point. You’re going to talk in a way that this moron can understand. What you say needs to matter or he’s going to call bullshit on you. Billy Bob has a short attention span and you don’t have long before he wants to have his say, so you need to be done before he takes over. Get me?

You have an opportunity to only say three things, what would you say?

The fuck you list are 3-5 key points about why your business is amazing and you are going to win. They are the important points you would feel annoyed for having not conveyed when you leave that big meeting with the investor you really want to close.

Let’s go through what’s important when composing your list.

  • Write what you mean
  • Simple language
  • Key to your individual business and not overly generic
  • They are both macro and micro
  • They flow together (when completed)

Write what you mean

When you are composing your list, it’s important to not care about wording at the start. Say what you mean and write what you say. 

Every client of mine does this wrong, especially those with corporate experience. Everyone gets what I mean after I tell them the Billy Bob story and when I ask for their list they are totally game for it, but I have to stop them!

It’s not that they don’t know what’s important, it’s that they wrap everything up in corporate bullshite. Then when they read what they said, it’s hard to see what the actual point was.

Let me make up something to explain:

  • What they say: An unparalleled ability to understand user interface design to create enjoyable user interactions through a bloat-free, product-focused features
  • What you need to write: Simpler product so users use it

Which one is easier to look at quickly and know what the actual point you want to communicate is?

I constantly have to drill into clients’ heads that you need to focus on what the actual point is and then you can wordsmith after.

Simple language

Always write in the simplest language possible. No fancy superlatives. I call fancy words two-dollar words.

When writing your deck, you want to make life easier for you by being very clear on what it is you want to say. When investors read something they want to get in and out asap, and if they have to google a word, well, that’s not going to happen.

Imagine you have me calling bullshite on everything you say and saying “Jim, nope. Do it again. Simple words. What do you actually mean?”

Or if you don’t know me, pretend you are explaining to a precocious 9-year-old. 

Key to your individual business and not overly generic

The points in your list need to be key to your business and the industry you operate in. It’s better to be specific than overly broad. You can start with a broad point, but you need to end the process with a specific point.

Many founders make a ‘special sauce’ slide which says “we have the best team”. Every investor rolls their eyes at that. Every startup needs a great team. So try harder.

For example: 

  • Lame: Big market
  • Better: Lawyer fees to banks is a $500b market. We can shrink that to $100b and take 30% through automation

Huh? That’s kind of interesting right?

They are both macro and micro

Most completed lists I’ve helped founders write generally have a market size and industry problem point, then something about how they solve the problem and the size of the opportunity if they win. Probably because that’s what I teach them!

You want to have something about the market, timing, and industry problems. And you want to have points about how and why what you are doing is so smart.

They flow together (when completed)

Start out making a list of what you think is important. Then kill anything that isn’t actually that critical.

Once you have the list, try and see if you can order your list in a way that sorts of flows, and even tells a mini-story.

The fuck you list are points that you will expound in written and verbal communication. They are the core points in a story you will tell. Think of them as your notes from Cliff Notes of your startup.

They should ideally flow from point to point like a mini-investment thesis. In fact, one client used this principle to write an investment thesis that we included in his pitch deck. I’ll show you that later.

What points are typically in a fuck you list?

To help you out with ideas for what might be in your list, here are some ideas for inspiration. I’ve tried to come up with some examples of ‘smart shite’.

  • Market size- It’s large now, or will be in the future so what you are doing is attacking a big market. Uber tacked black cars, but redefined as transportation
  • Timing- There is a really awesome reason right now that someone like you can go kick some incumbent ass! Has regulation changed? Weed is an obvious example
  • Competition- They suck for a reason they can’t control. Maybe they have legacy tech as they’re been around too long and changing the code base is untenable?
  • Structural issues- Is the way things are being done expensive for a reason the competition can’t change? 
  • Do you mess up the competition through a business model innovation?– Robinhood did away with trading fees. Zenefits killed fees and charged for software
  • Have you invented something new?– Twilio did away with Asterisk boxes. 
  • Are you appealing to a new niche?– Stripe focused on developers
  • Are you organizing a fragmented industry?– eBay helped people buy Pez… Etsy helped people be hipsters
  • Different- Facebook made social exclusive and cool? Snapchat identified a new behavior in disappearing images (Well, their users did)
  • Team- You need to be careful here. Unless you are special, you aren’t (Mom doesn’t count)
  • Customer acquisition- Have you figured out how to acquire customers in a new or unfair way? Buzzfeed innovated in clickbait and Zynga did all sorts in the cowboy days of Facebook

Examples of a fuck you list

I’ve made up two examples for you. Since I’m not the founder of these I’m not going to be able to write them like you will be able to, and they’re probably a little too polished.

Example one 

  • Fragmented, trillion $ industry
  • $1b [sub-industry] evolved our clients can’t structurally deal with and they hate it
  • We’ve exited two companies in this industry before and know everyone
  • Our solution works for all the key players and saves them lots of cash

Let’s break down the mumbo now to explain my thinking. 

  • Fragmented, trillion $ industry

Fragmented industries are always brilliant, especially if it’s an old boring one. You come in, clean things up for everyone and they pay you for innovation.

Big industries are great as it means you can make lots of money! Billion is needed at a minimum to make the VC business model work. There aren’t many trillion ones, but all the better so long as what you are saying is plausible and not naive.

  • $1b [sub-industry] evolved our clients can’t structurally deal with and they hate it

Villains are great for storytelling. In this example, because of the inefficiencies of how your clients work an evil industry has evolved to capitalize on it. Your clients hate this industry. You’re going to make them happy by killing it for them without lifting a finger!

  • We’ve exited two companies in this industry before and know everyone

I know. Not all founders have exited, but investors love them as it gives huge credibility. Sell what you have and be shameless about it.

The fact you have high-level connections makes the job of pulling off enterprise deals far more likely. Again you have something most competitors might not have. 

  • Our solution works for all the key players and saves them lots of cash

If you are attacking a big problem, it’s fair to assume that there will be people who want to stop you. People like inertia, they don’t like change. If you have figured out something really smart as you understand all the dynamics, that’s sexy.

It’s important to know that clients love to make more money. That’s the easiest sell. If you don’t make them money per se, then saving them money is cool too. In this case, your clients are wasting lots of money for no good reason so the value proposition is really compelling.

Example two

  • Commodity prices tanked. Client budgets have too. Focus is smaller projects
  • Incumbent big companies structurally need huge projects to cover costs and can’t service needs
  • Industry is huge and never going away. Clients always have to do projects but need consultants
  • We figured how to deliver the best tech at a low price, but with the enterprise BS our clients need
  • We bootstrapped to profitability and proved we can beat big companies for contracts

Let’s break down the mumbo again.

  • Commodity prices tanked. Client budgets have too. Focus is smaller projects

Something has happened in this industry. It’s caused a lot of issues that clients need to adjust to. The consequence is their budgets have become smaller and they need to do commensurately smaller projects.

It’s always great when you have a real timing reason- most startups don’t. Commodity prices coming down isn’t really the best reason as the prices could come up again, but if there’s a reason for them to stay down, it could be plausible to investors. 

So commodity prices came down, clients don’t have big budgets, so they are doing smaller deals than they are used to. Which leads to the next point. 

  • Incumbent big companies structurally need huge projects to cover costs and can’t service needs

This startup wants to undermine the big boys. The big incumbents have got fat and used to huge projects. They spend on CAPEX, staff on file, etc, so they need these big, high margin projects to make their business model work. No doubt they’re not stupid and will find a way, but there is an opportunity for these guys to build a business.

  • The industry is huge and never going away. Clients always have to do projects but need consultants

Typically you either want to mess up a big established industry, or you have invented something new and are creating the industry. 

The benefit of big old business is that the market is quantifiable, you just need to have innovated in something that is ideally 10x better. The benefit of creating a new industry is there is no competition, but the size of the market is unknown. 

These guys are going after a boring industry (boring is good). Due to how their clients operate they always need consultants, but the current solutions structurally don’t work for the new normal.

  • We figured how to deliver the best tech at a low price, but with the enterprise BS our clients need

Clients want innovative solutions at a price that meets their budget. Big companies also expert lots of BS and these guys know it.

  • We bootstrapped to profitability and proved we can beat big companies for contracts

They’re already doing it. It’s not a matter of if they can do it, it’s how big they can make things now. They have already gone head to head with the big boys and proven their thesis works. 

This isn’t your typical SaaS startup, but so many startups aren’t. I purposefully picked an example that isn’t super easy in case that’s you!

How many points are in your fuck you list?

That’s up to you and depends how awesome what you are doing is. If you really have a startup with something awesome and covered all bases, that list might be a little longer than others. In which case you should cut the points down a little.

If what you are doing is honestly a bit lame you might struggle to have any points, or be naive and have a huge list. Either way, you need to come up with the smartest things you can sell to investors, or you need to pack up and stay in your job.

If you have a shopping list length fuck you list it is too long. It should be about 3-5 points. Let’s face it, if you have more, the points probably are waffle. 

Follow the usual brainstorm principals to start by chucking down everything you can think of, and then review what you have and think about things critically.

What do you use the fuck you list for?

Let’s talk about the main applications of the list. 

Core messaging

Your whole deck to investors is about communicating why investors should give you money instead of another startup. Investors need to spend money every year, so if you are sexier than the others, you get the money. Squeaky wheel and all.

You go through the exercise of writing the fuck you list to figure out what you are selling for investors to invest in.

Writing the narrative of your deck

The hard thing about decks is there is no such thing as the perfect pitch deck. Investors only have so much attention spans and willingness to read your deck. You need to communicate a reason(s) for them to want to learn more.

Given there are so many potential story arcs you can tell, you need a means by which you can zero in on one that probably makes the most sense.

The fuck you list helps you figure out what is unique and special to you and to instruct on a few possible narrative variations to tell.

When you’re trying to write your pitch deck narrative, there are so many ways to go, when you are sure what is special about you, you can use the key points to direct a narrative around what you want to prove.

Pitching investors

When you pitch an investor, you are in a sales meeting. How you present yourself, what you say, what you don’t say is all being judged, and millions are on the line.

You constantly need to remember why you are in the room and that you need to cover what investors need to hear/know.

You should have a mental checklist of the things you need to cover. The fuck you list should be a few of those key points that an investor needs to be clear on by the end of the meeting. 

Closing slide (Three things to remember)

The most tangible output is that the fuck you list is basically your last slide in the pitch deck, wrapping up your deck in a bow.

I’ll explain this to you briefly now.

You use the fuck you list to make your three things slide

I’m not going to get into a lot of detail on this as I’ll cover it on another blog. I just want to share how I mainly use the fuck you list tangibly on a slide. 

Short version, lots of startups have an ending slide in their deck which says “Thanks!”, or add their contact details. Both are pointless slides. I mean investors have your email as you emailed them already! How the feck does writing “thanks” add any value?

What I invented instead is the “3 things to remember” slide. It’s just the three things you want investors to remember after your pitch, or reading your deck. Um duh, isn’t that your fuck you list?

Yeah it is. In fact, the reasons I’ve had to make up two fuck you lists rather than pasting some examples and anonymizing is I can’t think of any client examples off the top of my head. I always end up turning the list into the 3 things to remember slide!

On the 3 things slide, you literally just have three sentences. That’s it. Easy to format, but hard to write well.

Example one

This is for a SaaS company that hasn’t launched yet. It’s very problem and solution-focused. It misses a bit of punch.

  • [INDUSTRY] are a surging industry in need of a credible solution to support them
  • [COMPETITION] will shed millions of communities looking for a new home
  • Our product will provide the entire value chain for this market

Example two (in investment thesis format)

I mentioned the investment thesis a client ended up writing. Here it is. I’ve heavily anonymized it though.

  • [FOCUSED SUB INDUSTRY] is a $x.x Trillion industry … [SUB INDUSTRY] is fast-growing, fragmented and a counter-cyclical play
  • [CLIENT TYPE] have NO solution to deal with “current” customers
  • No pure tech platform exists … only a [SOLUTION] “platform” can comprehensively resolve the [SUB INDUSTRY] problem favorably for all parties
  • [CLIENT TYPE] NEED a centralized source that can address a [PROBLEM] “comprehensively” 
  • [SOLUTION] is key to delivering $billions of [PROBLEM] through automated [SOLUTION]… similar approach leveraging data-driven [SOLUTION] to “[SOLUTION]” will work again
  • Team has expertise /experience to execute and dominate this market with $xxxm revenue potential

Example three (Poor example)

The client went corporate and wrote this. The flow is fine, it’s just not really punchy and insightful, right? It’s like it was passed through lawyer review.

  • [INDUSTRY] is a massive market, ripe for innovation, with a major issue to solve in order to salvage the most popular [SOLUTION] in the [MARKET]
  • Our program design, transparency, and spirit of collaboration is what the market needs
  • Our team has the connections and experience needed to make this happen, with a first-mover advantage

The founders are actually really great and I’d fund them given what I know. 

Conclusion

I’ve turned a simple story and easily understood exercise I teach all of my clients into a long blog in an attempt to teach you at a distance and inform you as much as I can. It’s typically a very short teachable moment when I do it one on one!

It’s such a simple but powerful exercise if you really internalize the fact you’re meant to be schooling a dick head about why you are awesome. The real goal is to help you strip away all the bullshite and to focus on what matters.

I want you to figure what really is special about you, everything smart you have gleaned an insight into and condense it into a few points. Then use it when writing your deck to ensure you communicate those points and ensure investors know it when you pitch them.

The list will be really useful in informing you of how to structure the narrative for your pitch deck as you are figuring out how to tell your story and what to focus on.

I recommend you open up a google doc and just do the exercise now. Maybe even open up a cool one, kick back and imagine you shouting “fuck you, Billy Bob!”

If you have questions, hit me up in the comments.

Keep hustin’

Get in the game

Free tools and resources like this shipped to you as they happen.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.