Investor decks - there’s more than one kind! Use them correctly

Startup founders all know that an investor deck (or investor presentation in layman’s terms) is a key tool in their fundraising arsenal. But I am always surprised to discover that so many founders believe that there is just one type of investor deck. Oy.

TL;DR – you can divide decks into two broad categories: pitch and send. A pitch deck is a mostly graphical deck that is used to support a presenter in a public pitch setting. A send deck, on the other hand, is meant to be read by the investor without the presence of the founder. Let’s delve into the key properties that exemplify these two types of presentations.

The pitch deck

So you finally got that golden opportunity to pitch in front of some investors. Congratulations. Now, here’s what will happen: you will stand in front of a room with anywhere from 2 to 200 people (think pitch competition) and try to convince them that your company is interesting and they should give you a deeper look-over (what, you thought you’d get a term sheet after a pitch? Dream on.).

Here are the things that you should take into account:

Attention span – most humans cannot focus on a single unidirectional (that is coming from a single direction) conversation for more than ten minutes. Really. It’s evolutionary. Check it out. Therefore, aim to finish your pitch in less than that.

What does that mean for your pitch deck? no more than 8-10 slides. Think one slide per minute, and you will be fine. Otherwise, you’ll have to rush through slides and the listeners may miss your message completely.

Storytelling – once your ten minutes of attention span is over, your aim is for the investors to remember you. What do people remember most? stories, anecdotes, interesting tidbits. What don’t they remember – dry facts.

What does that mean for your pitch deck – arrange the flow of your pitch to tell a story, try to weave the need, the solution, and the team into one cohesive tale of adventure (really, I’m not kidding. Make it interesting).

Details – whoever said that genius is in the details, wasn’t talking about pitching. Another interesting fact about human beings is that they can either read or listen, but cannot do both at the same time. So if you want people to listen to you and actually hear what you are saying, do not bombard them with too much-written information or too many details. Keep that for later (see the section below about the send deck).

What does that mean for your pitch deck – keep the amount of information on the slides to a minimum, one or two short sentences and a graphic that helps convey your point. Most of the information should be given orally (that is – tell it).

Focus – I think I already mentioned that us humans are limited in our mental capabilities. Never forget that investors are human too. Humans with money (many times other people’s money, but that’s not the point), but still human beings. As humans, they can only really focus on one thing at a time and you want that one thing to be you.

What does that mean for your pitch deck – avoid slides with flashy effects and hard-to-read infographics. Simple, obvious, and informational. That is the key.

Messaging – the purpose of the pitch is not to pitch, it is to achieve something – get a meeting, interest investors, maybe win a contest bold, something. If you want it, you will have to say it. Don’t think that because you are on stage people understand what you need. Convey your message clearly.

What does that mean for your pitch deck – don’t forget that one slide that says it all – your message, your call to action, your raison d’être.

The send deck

Yay, you got a contact with an investor and heard the magic words, “send me your deck”. What exactly are you supposed to do? If you send the pitch deck, the investor will only see 8-10 slides with mostly graphics. How can s/he understand the revolution you are promising? This is why you need a send deck. The send deck is essentially your business plan presented as slides and needs to contain as much detail as possible and be understood fully without you.

Here are the things that you should take into account:

Readability – your send deck will probably be read quickly on the computer. Your would-be investor will skim it and focus only on what really interests him/her. When something does catch his/her eye they will want to get more information.

What does that mean for your send deck – Each slide should be structured in a way that can be read fast. Highlight the important section by using different fonts, styling, colors, or graphics.

Numbers – by reading you send deck the investor is hoping to understand your business, and the best way for most investors is through numbers. Make sure that you are able to bring the needed numbers for your market size, your business case, and from your financial model.

What does that mean for your send deck – In every slide try to think if you can add numbers to make a stronger case. Numbers can include – number of customers (current, pipeline), revenues, expenses, market segment sizes, and KPIs.

Structure – reading a send deck is like reading a business plan, don’t skip the stages and make sure to flow from the need to the solution to the market to the competition and so forth. Make sure that the reader is aware at each stage where s/he is in the flow of things.

What does that mean for your send deck – don’t be afraid to add slides but make sure that the sections are clearly marked using large headers or even section dividers.

The punch – there is an old saying in the consulting world that every slide needs a punch. What does that mean? A punch is the “bottom-line” a single line that sums up what you need to understand from the slide you just read.

What does that mean for your send deck – try to have at least one sentence per slide that details the slide’s takeaway. Many times the reader will only read the punch, make sure it makes an impact.

Sources – every time you make a statement try and validate it, that is show where you got that piece of information, it can be a link to an online source, an industry specialist, or a survey you conducted, but the reader needs to understand where that statement came from (hopefully not Wikipedia)

What does that mean for your send deck – like in a business plan or an academic paper, add footnotes to each slide. Don’t put the information in the slide’s notes, because most people will never open them. Simply put the footnotes at the bottom of each slide in a small font.

The call to action – like the pitch deck, the send deck needs to achieve a result. Whatever that result is, make sure to specify it in your last slide. Raising money – say how much. Looking for a design partner – tell the reader about it. Anything else? Don’t leave us guessing.

Never forget – one final note, and it may be the most important thing on your slide deck. Don’t forget to include your contact info! Make it easy for the reader to reach out and continue the conversation.

The Bottom line

Decks serve a purpose. They need to get you to a meeting. But to serve their purpose they need to be adapted to the scene where they are used (and sometimes to the specific reader). Never use the same slide deck to pitch in front of an audience and as sending material to an investor. Make sure you have a copy for each scenario:

  • a pitch deck – short, graphical, intended for you when you speak
  • a send deck – longer, detailed, intended for the investor to read without you

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