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The exact pitch deck strategy I’ve used to raise $125M since 2011

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The right way to create a killer pitch deck and get funded — from someone who has raised $125M since 2011.

Creating a pitch deck is hard, especially when you’ve never done it before. If you’re a first-time entrepreneur like I was when we raised our $15M series A round for Bigcommerce back in 2011, then you’re probably excited, nervous and anxious about raising your first round of financing.

The good news is that a pitch deck can (and should be) be almost formulaic.You’ve got to tell a story, paint a vision, know your metrics and sell, sell sell.Whether you’re raising a small seed round or a bigger series A straight off the bat, you need to get a few things right and the rest will fall into place. In this post I want to share with you the 8 ingredients to create the perfect pitch deck.

There’s a lot of advice out there about creating pitch decks, so why should you take mine? Well, I’ve raised 4 rounds of venture financing since 2011, totalling $125M. I’ve pitched dozens of investors, including most of the tier one and tier two firms up and down the west and east costs.

I’ve also received multiple term sheets — all with strong valuations, great terms and the most important thing: great investors and board members.

Finally, I’m also an investor myself, so have been on both sides of the table, so to speak. I’ve seen good pitch decks, great pitch decks and terrible pitch decks. Probably 300 in total over the last few years.

Anyway, enough about me. Before we move on — and if you feel so inclined — you can follow me on Twitter @mitchellharper.

Here are the 8 “ingredients” I think are the most important for creating a pitch deck that will make your fundraising experience short, effective and rewarding for you, your co-founders, your employees, your business and your future investors.

#1: Have a big vision — then make it 10x bigger

Having a compelling vision for where you want to take your business is important, but most first-time entrepreneurs think too small . I know I was guilty of this a few years ago. I can tell you now, whatever your vision is, it needs to be bigger and more compelling.

For example, if you have a vision to make it easy for people in a specific country to solve a problem, then expand your vision to help everyone in the world solve that same problem.

How do you know when you’re thinking big enough?

When you’re uncomfortable and even nervous with the size of the vision you’re adding to your pitch deck. Over time you’ll get used to the bigger vision and you’ll be surprised at how much more aggressive it will make you towards pursuing it.

#2: Explain how you’ll use the capital — in detail

“We will invest half in marketing and half in engineering” is not the most articulate way to address how you will spend the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars you want an investor to trust you with.

Having a detailed financial model (AKA best guess) for at least the next 3 years will paint a picture of not only your operating expenses but also your revenue growth, margins and potential profit over that time as well.

More than anything, know by department and ideally by business case where you will invest the capital and if you already have a marketing machine with a predictable ROI (i.e. $1 in brings $5 out) then explain that in detail too.

Having an accurate financial forecast will help mitigate some of the risk potential investors see in your business, especially if you’re pre-revenue and/or are a first time entrepreneur. Remember — the more risk you can take away, the better your chances of closing the deal.

#3: Know your metrics better than anyone

For a subscription business it’s CAC, LTV, CAC:LTV, nett MRR, conversion rate, churn (both number of clients and percentage of revenue), gross margin, etc. For other businesses the metrics will be similar. You need to know your current and future metrics in exact detail and you should be able to talk to how you will improve the metrics that aren’t up to scratch.

David Skok wrote the ultimate guide to metrics back in 2010 on his great blog For Entrepreneurs. It’s a long and detailed post, but it’s foundational to understand if you’re raising capital.

#4: Short main deck

This one is simple. Your pitch deck should have two parts: the main deck and an appendix. In the main deck, include slides that are critical to telling your story, showing your metrics, team and vision. Supporting slides should be in the appendix.

How long should your deck be? Generally 30 to 60 slides is about average. The main part of the Bigcommerce series C deck, which we used to raise $40M from Revolution (founded by Steve Case), was 26 slides and the appendix was 16 slides for a total of 42 slides.

#5: People grow a company, not capital

The best companies are built by amazing and capable people . Devote at least one slide in your deck to outlining your team and what makes them amazing. Are you an amazing engineer? Spell out your talents and how they contributed to your product. Do you have a strong executive team from A-list companies? Include a mini bio on each executive including the companies they’ve been at and each of their key accomplishments.

For example, has your head of sales built large, high performing sales teams before? If so, call it out. Has your CTO built highly scalable systems that handle tens of millions of users in her previous company? You get the idea.

Investors know you have competitors and generally the strongest team will build the best product and brand and therefore win the market. If you have a strong team, make it known. If your team is just a handful of first-timers then talk to your vision for the team. Who will you hire with the capital and how will you recruit them?

Have ambition to hire and build the best team you can and communicate that ambition in your pitch deck. Be honest about your team’s weaknesses and emphasize your strengths.

#6: Talk about pain and how you solve it

All great pitch decks include a story that guides the reader from the initial pain point to the solution to the promise land (a business with excellent metrics that’s growing quickly). Be sure to talk about the initial pain point your product solves.

How did you come across it? Why are you solving it? Why is your approach the best one and how can you solve the problem for more people as a result of raising capital?

#7: Traction speaks louder than words

Whether you’re generating revenue or not, it’s important to show your product already has traction . Again, this reduces the risk in the eyes of potential investors and gives you a better shot at getting a term sheet.

If you’re generating revenue and it’s accelerating fast, make sure that’s a slide in your pitch deck. If not, look at all of your metrics and choose the one that best represents the potential of your business, such as total number of users, total photos uploaded or similar. Ideally this metric should chart “up and to the right” and show that with a little capital you can push this metric even faster, while on your way to revenue and then profit.

#8: Pitch, polish, repeat

As soon as you’ve wrapped your first pitch, make sure you have a Q&A session at the end. Questions help potential investors get clarity on everything from your numbers to your competitive advantage. Take note of their questions and feedback and use them to tweak your deck before the next pitch.

Repeat this for every pitch you do and after 3 or 4 pitches you should notice you’re getting fewer questions about the content in your deck. Because your pitch deck is continually improving, you should get a lot of positive feedback about your presentation — assuming you’re a captivating speaker and actually have a business that excites potential investors.

Good luck!

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