Fundraising is a Work of Art - Part II: Pitch Your Startup

It is no exaggeration to say that as an entrepreneur, you are on a 24/7 standby mode to pitch your business idea.

You are constantly pitching your ideas: to potential clients, to business partners, to investors, and even to friends and families. You pitch via different channels and on different occasions - by email, with PowerPoint, on social media, over the phone, in physical meetings, etc. Thus, it is very important that you are able to explain what your startup does in a clear and efficient way with the right amount of passion, so that the people you are talking to will be interested in your idea.

There is a lot of great advice from seasoned entrepreneurs, investors and pitch coaches on how to get your message across out there. Although there’s no one-size-fits-all formula, there are certain skills you can master to impress, and increase your chance to succeed.

By Length of Pitch

  • In an elevator pitch, you typically explain your startup in less than one minute. Entrepreneur and startup mentor Elliot Loh has a formula for writing an elevator pitch:
    We solve [problem] by providing [advantage], to help [target] accomplish[target’s goal].
    We make money by charging [customers] to get [benefit].

  • For a three minute pitch, this article summarizes the 7 keys to a great startup pitch and presents a nice structure containing 6 parts and approximately 30 seconds for each part: 1) State the opportunity (problem); 2) Describe the story of “what you do”; 3) Reveal the “Secret Sauce”; 4)  Discuss the target market; 5) Explain how you’ll make money; 6) Paint the big picture.

  • If you are given five minutes or longer, you can share more details on topics that the investors you’re talking to are most interested in, such as how your product works, your team, and your market. This classic  10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint by Guy Kawasaki tells you how you can structure your pitch presentation: 10 slides, no more than 20 minutes, and no font smaller than 30 points.  Each slide focuses on one theme. This format is widely adopted by many entrepreneurs today.

  • If you’d like to brainstorm the talking points of your pitch, you can use The Pitch Canvas to help you organize your ideas. What’s nice about the Pitch Canvas is that it divides the different themes of a pitch into a set of sub-questions. In this way, you can adjust the length and contents of your pitch by simply deciding what questions you’d like to address in your pitch. The Pitch Canvas was developed by David Beckett, an excellent pitch coach with whom Ye! has worked at one of our BoostCamps in Amsterdam.

By Use of Pitch

  • Most of the time you pitch to investors by sending them a cold-call email.  Elizabeth Yin of 500 Startups thinks entrepreneurs would need at least two decks (a brief presentation designed to introduce your startup)- one for emailing, the other one for an in-person meeting. She introduced the ideal cold-emailing template to pitch a startup to an investor. In her opinion, 5 slides covering “Problem”, “Solution/Your Product”, “Traction/Your Unit Metrics”, “Team” and “Market” are sufficient. She also emphasises that it’s worth spending time articulating the problem you’re trying to solve.

  • Sometimes you are not pitching for funding, but for other forms of help. For example, you will email an investor you've met to ask a question about your business or if the investor can introduce you to someone who may be able to help you. Venture capitalist Mark Suster received many such requests from entrepreneurs and thus wrote a blog post about How to Ask for Help, Favors and Intros. His advice is to keep it short, focused, use an appendix, make the email forwardable, and attach a deck.

  • When pitching in-person or at an event, you can use a pitch deck to help visualize the most essential information of your startup. If you need some inspiration to kickstart this process, Google offers a free pitch template with around 20 themes for startups, based on “proven presentation tactics”, according to GV (formerly Google Ventures) that created it. You won’t be surprised to find that it is pretty much in line with the 10/20/30 Rule (the only slide it didn’t include is “Competition”, which many VCs also suggest to keep for discussions at a later stage, especially when you only have limited time).

Learn From Examples

  • British entrepreneur Kyle Gawley shared the lessons he’s learnt after delivering over 50 pitches in 18 months. The major takeaways are: 1) Master your elevator pitch; 2) Use a case study to explain your problem to make it more human and easier to understand; 3) Don’t go on and on about your product features - investors don’t care; 4) Use simple metrics; 5) Spend time designing your slides; 5) Practice, practice and practice. You can read his full article here.

  • Speaking of design, entrepreneur Daniel Eckler shares a great example of how you can design your pitch deck. He walks us through the  philosophy behind the design of his startup’s pitch deck, with explanations slide by slide. Key takeaways: 1) tell a compelling story; 2) don’t have more than 20 words per slide; 3) good design is “not about beauty”, it’s about “executing a desired outcome through visual communication.” Read his full article here.

  • You might disagree with the 5-slide emailing deck that was mentioned above. It’s fair if you think 5 slides are not sufficient in showing investors the full picture of your startup. If you prefer to add some slides to show more information such as the features of your product, that’s fine. In this case, make sure that your deck has a good clear structure and is nicely designed, so that it doesn’t look busy or boring. Here’s an example of a pitch deck of a hardware startup (the startup failed after one year but the founder selfishlessly shared their deck, convinced that it’s one thing they did nicely).  

  • Here’s the famous  10-slide pitch deck of Airbnb, back in the time when the company was still known as “AirBed&Breakfast”.

  • In this article How to Design a Better Pitch Deck , Kevin Hale, Managing Partner of Y Combinator shows how he’s helped startups improve their presentation before the Demo Day. The golden rule is to make it “Legible, Simple, and Obvious” (and he stressed this at least three times). Worth a read to see what difference that makes.

  • You probably have seen and have been impressed by the presentation by Steve Jobs, Apple’s previous CEO, on Apple’s product launch day. There are many great pitch techniques you can learn from Apple, such as “Keep it dumb”,  “format”, “build a story”,  “timing”, and “prepare”, according to this article What Apple Can Teach You About Pitching Your Startup.

  • If you’re searching for some examples of how to tell the story on stage, here are a few examples (and there are many more out there):
    Pitch of Twoodo at Startupbootcamp Amsterdam (approx. 10 minutes);
    Pitch of Moby Park at Startupbootcamp Amsterdam (approx. 10 minutes);
    Pitch of experiment at Y Combinator Demo Day (previously “Microryza”) (approx. 3 minutes);
    Pitch of Paysail at DEMO Africa (approx. 90 seconds)

This concludes our first look at how to give a great Pitch. There are more great resources to follow, so be sure to join the Ye! Community to receive more!

Other news