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Pitch Decks 101

By J. Gary McDaniel, TCV Growth Partner-

Let’s start at the beginning. What is a pitch deck? A pitch deck is a short presentation, most often created using PowerPoint, Keynote, or Prezi, that is used to provide your audience with a quick overview of your business or of your products or services. You will usually use your pitch deck during face-to-face or online meetings with potential investors or with potential customers. The purpose, of course is to raise capital or make a sale. A pitch deck needs to be simple and easy to understand, professionally designed, and include a distinct call to action. In this blog I will focus on the investment pitch, but the key concepts discussed here are easily adapted to preparing a sales pitch.

So how do you put together an effective pitch deck? As Patrick Swayze said in the movie Road House, “Opinions vary”. You will literally find hundreds of pitch deck templates online, all offering a sure-fire approach. And, truth be told, they really are not all that much different. Over the years, I have created dozens of pitch decks and each time I put one together, I learn something new. This blog is my attempt to distill what I have found to be the key things to consider when putting together an effective pitch deck.

  • What is your ask? You need to know where you are going when you get behind the wheel of your car and start driving…and you need to know what you are pitching as you put your deck together.

  • Who is your audience? It is also important that you know the audience to whom you are pitching so that you can direct your pitch accordingly. For example, don’t make highly technical slides showing off how cool your product is to a non-technical audience. And, make sure you have financials if you are pitching to investors.

  • Who cares? You do, of course, but the pitch is not about you, it’s about them. Why should they care? You need to get them to care. If they care, they might just act. You need to tell them what is in it for them if they invest in your company or buy your product.

  • Tell a story. Your pitch is not just a compilation of obligatory slides that you diligently march through. It should tell a story and it should flow. A story keeps your audience engaged and is WAY more effective.

  • Short and sweet. I am in favor of short and sweet. This is what Guy Kawasaki calls the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint…“A pitch should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.”

    • Ten slides. Ten is the optimal number of slides in a PowerPoint presentation because a normal human being cannot comprehend more than ten concepts in a meeting. The deck I outline below has 12 slides, but if you don’t count the intro and summary slides, I have this nailed!

    • Twenty minutes. Longer just puts people to sleep and you will lose your audience.Doing it in twenty minutes will also leave you with plenty of time for o Q&A. And, interacting with the audience is often more impactful than your actual presentation.

    • Thirty-point font. The majority of the presentations that I have seen have at least one slide with text in a ten point font or even less. As much text as possible is jammed into the slide. It is not an eye exam, it is a presentation. Limit the information on the slides and talk through the details when addressing your audience. Less content will prevent people from reading the slides instead of listening to you!

With these thoughts in mind it is time to put together your deck. These are the slides that you will need:

1. Introduction. Who are you and why are you there? This seems simple enough, but many overlook the introduction slide. A good introduction will give your presentation context and will help your audience follow what you are talking about. Use this slide to communicate your mission or value proposition – your big idea. Try to articulate it in a single phrase or sentence. For example, Southwest Airline’s Mission Statement would be great on an introduction slide: “We connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.”

2. The Problem. What is the problem you solve and who are you solving it for? Oftentimes, you will see this referred to as the “Pain”. This because it not only has to be a problem, it has to be a big enough problem for your customers to take action and buy your product or service.

3. Your Solution. How do you solve this problem? Make it a “no brainer”, make it compelling.

4. Your Product or Service. How it works in 2-3 simple steps. Key features and benefits. (This slide can be combined with the Your Solution slide.)

5. Business Model /Growth. How do you make money? How will you acquire and retain customers, profitably, and at scale? You need to have an answer! If you can’t tell potential investors how you are going to make money, I guarantee that they will lose interest quickly.

6. Traction. Proof that your product works and that your customers/users love it. There are early-stage investors that will invest in a concept or idea, but most like to invest after some of the risk has been eliminated. A happy customer is scalable. It is much less risky to invest in a company that is going to use the money for growth than it is to invest in a company that is going to use the money for proof of concept. If you have a few happy customers you are halfway home!

7. Market. How big is your market? Is it big enough to make your opportunity interesting? This should answer the question of how much money you can make if you dominate the market. Your opportunity has to be big enough for investors to smell a profitable exit. This answers the question, “Why should they care?”

8. Competition. Your competitors and why your product/service is better than theirs. You’ve got to be able to win.

9. Financials. How much money will you make in the next 3-5 years. It always comes down to the bottom line.

10. Team. Show that you have a team that has the experience/expertise to own this opportunity. In the end, it is all about execution. Even if you have a great product/service and a great market opportunity, if you don’t have the right team, a savvy investor won’t invest, period. “The pitch deck is not main course, it is the side dish. The main course is the founder” -- Sanjay Nath, Blume Venture Partners.

11. Funding. This is the “ask”. How much money do you need and what are you going to do with it?

12. Summary. Huge opportunity…Differentiated product/service…Dream team…Strong traction.

So there you have it, the Gary McDaniel approach to creating a pitch deck. And don’t forget, make sure it tells a story!

If you need help putting together your pitch deck, we at TCV Growth Partners have several experts on our team that would be happy to help! Feel free to contact me at


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