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The pitch deck is a unique beast: Once it’s created, it’s never static. As you grow, your deck will evolve alongside you. Since it’s ever-changing, it can be hard to perfect. The hard truth is that no single deck will work throughout the different stages of your company’s journey.
From Seed to Series A, your pitch deck will go through some dramatic changes. When you pitched investors for your Seed round, you focused on your skills in finding product/market fit, assembling a great team, getting your first traction — and translating all of this onto 15 slides. Once you get to Series A, priorities shift: You’ll be talking more about tactics, performance and growth. So, how do you balance that with your big vision?
As a VC-founded branding agency, we have built our fair share of decks that cumulatively raised $400M+ in early-stage capital over the last five years. With many of our clients, we provided support with both Seed and Series A decks. This means that we witnessed firsthand how the narrative, design and data points shift over time. Here, I have collected the five most important elements of a great pitch deck for your growing startup to take it to Series A. I’ve focused on the things that change as you grow — and the things that don’t:
1. Narrative is still king
Your company has certainly changed since your Seed round, but the rules of storytelling have not. Your pitch deck should still be like a good movie or book — it should have a beginning, a middle and an end. It should have a story arc where the protagonist overcomes obstacles along the way until they reach their goal: growth, revenue, and most importantly, solving the problem they set out to solve. Your story needs to move forward as well. If you are using the one from your Seed round, then chances are, it’s out of date!
It might be tempting to use your deck as a collection of data points. After all, you have so many of them now. I would like to caution you here: Don’t do it. Instead, tell a story that explains why this data matters to the audience — which parts are important and how they fit together into something bigger than just numbers on a page.
Remember that by Series A you’re expected to have a data room (a file repository on Box, Dropbox, Google, etc.) in addition to a deck. This will include detailed files for any investor who is doing serious diligence. So, instead of trying to cram as much data as possible into your deck, use it as a teaser or a narrative device.
2. Zero in on your achievements to date
Apart from the big picture and the bottom line, Series A investors are making a big bet on the team behind the idea. The key question they will be asking at this stage is: Does this team have the capacity to take this company to the next level?
By the time your company reaches Series A, your vision is clearer, and you have moved past quite a few bumps in the road. This experience should be at the heart of your narrative. We see many startups cram details of their past achievements into a single slide, usually a timeline. This may not be impactful enough.
Instead, try giving your achievements room to breathe. Pick out the ones that are relevant to your ultimate vision, and present them with sufficient detail. This will show your potential investors that your team retains focus on the long-term vision while simultaneously hitting the near-term milestones.
3. Background information: It needs to be just right
There are many ways to start your presentation. One of the most common mistakes we see is companies going overboard with background information.
If you have a complex product in a niche industry, it might be tempting to dedicate quite a few slides in the beginning to setting the scene. While context is important, investors have very limited time to review pitches, so try to be concise and focus on a few hard-hitting brush strokes.
You may want to start your presentation with some “background information,” but instead of going overboard with data, try segmenting it. You could break down your market into different customer segments and go through each segment separately while linking it with your solution to their problems. This approach gives your narrative momentum: You can give more color when talking about your solution and traction while keeping things rooted in real customer stories.
4. Adapt your imagery
You can expect a variety of visual elements in your Series A deck. Compared to a Seed deck, your Series A deck will have more charts and less stock imagery or theme-based illustrations.
The focus should be on showcasing real images of your product and your team, so in preparation for creating this content, it might be a good idea to have some professional photos of your team, spaces and products ready. Adding a video to your deck may be useful in two ways: to provide your audience with a change of pace and to make your product (and team) more tangible.
Since the Series A deck will be denser in words, be ready to create a higher number of “smart” visuals and infographics that can simplify and reduce the word count. However, good infographics are a tough nut to crack in production and require a lot of foresight. Remember that no infographics are better than bad infographics.
5. Don’t get too wordy
When you get to Series A, you probably have a lot to say about your product and your vision. There are still some basic rules of human comprehension to follow, though: People remember 80% of what they see and only 20% of what they read — and the average investor spends only 3 minutes and 44 seconds viewing a pitch deck.
You need to find the balance between including important information while keeping the deck digestible. A “digestible” word count is up to 75 words per slide if you are using text, but no more than 50 words per slide if you are using visuals.
To cut down on the word count, try using ideas or concepts that the reader may already know as a bridge between their existing knowledge and the new perspective you are trying to deliver. This will help cut down on jargon and technical terms, making shorter descriptions more evocative and impactful.
Since a great pitch deck primarily depends on a stellar narrative, I reached out to our strategists and copywriters to recommend their favorite books on the subject:
- Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
- Talk Like Ted by Carmine Gallo
- Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger
- The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto
- Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite by Paul Arden
The pitches we see every day have grown increasingly sophisticated, with the same few slides becoming almost ubiquitous. But a good pitch deck is more than just a mélange of popular slides peppered with data: It’s a carefully constructed narrative designed to tell the story of your business in a way that excites investors and prompts them to make an investment decision. It’s not easy work, but if you follow the steps above, you can find yourself on track to landing that Series A.