“PowerPoint plans greatly increase your chance of getting a term sheet, or at least the dignity of a quick no.”

David Cowan, Bessemer Venture Partners

Summary: An introduction and elevator pitch are critical to getting a meeting. You can also provide a “ten-slide” deck that tells a compelling story about your team, product, traction, and plans.

Bonjour!: If you like this article, check out our free e-book on Pitching.

A PowerPoint plan (“deck”) is less important than an elevator pitch, and an elevator pitch is less important than an introduction. Read What should I send investors? Part 1: Elevator Pitch for tips on crafting an elevator pitch. Many investors will just skim a deck and take a meeting if the introduction and elevator pitch are good.

But you can still send a deck. A deck lets investors learn more about your company. It demonstrates that you’ve thought about the company in detail. It’s an industry norm. And you need one for presentations anyway.


Include a “ten-slide” deck with your elevator pitch.

The best deck template in the universe is David Cowan‘s How To Not Write A Business Plan—use it. There are other templates from excellent sources on the Web, but this is the best.

Read David Cowan’s article and apply these headings and minor changes:

  1. Cover.
  2. Mission.
  3. Summary. Summarize the key, compelling facts of the company. You can steal the content from your elevator pitch.
  4. Team. Highlight the past accomplishments of the team; if your team has been successful before, investors may believe it will be successful again. Don’t include positions you intend to fill—save that for the Milestones slide. Put yourself last: it seems humble and lets you tell a story about how your career has led to the discovery of the…
  5. Problem.
  6. Solution. Include a demo such as a screencast, a link to working software, or pictures. God help you if you have nothing to show.
  7. Technology.
  8. Marketing. Include market size estimates here or in the Problem. If you haven’t launched, discuss your plan to acquire users or customers.
  9. Sales. If you don’t have sales, discuss your business model and prospective customers. Ignore the cost of customer acquisition unless you have some insight into the issue.
  10. Competition. Describe why users or customers use your product instead of the competition’s product. Describe any competitive advantages that remain after the competition decides to copy you exactly.
  11. Milestones. Don’t build a detailed financial model if you don’t have past earnings, a significant financial history, or insight into the issue. Instead, include your current status and milestones for the next 1-3 quarters for product, team, marketing, sales, and quarterly and cumulative burn.
  12. Conclusion. This slide can be inspirational, a larger vision of what the company could do if these current plans are realized, or a rehash of the Summary slide.
  13. Financing. Dates, amounts, and sources of money raised. How much money are you raising in this round?

These slides tell a story.

This sequence of slides tells a story:

We have a mission and a team that is taking us there. Why? We discovered a large problem and solved it with a product that has this amazing technology inside. We’re going to market and sell it to these customers, with these advantages over our competitors. In particular, we’re working towards these milestones over the next few quarters. In conclusion, this financing is a great investment opportunity.

The product isn’t revealed until the fifth slide of this methodical sequence—that’s annoying. Fortunately, the elevator pitch and Summary slide kill the suspense by summarizing your company and product before an investor jumps into the deck.

Put pictures in the slides and text in the notes.

Keep the slides simple, visual, and minimal, with 30 point or larger font. The slides will look great when you present; see Gates, Jobs, & the Zen aesthetic. (We’ll cover presentations in a future article, this article is about the deck you send investors.)

Put talking points, reasoning, and prose in the notes that accompany each slide. Don’t try to cram cogent arguments into bullet points on the slides; see The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint.

Email a PDF that combines each slide and its notes on a single page; slide on top, notes on bottom. Please don’t email a PowerPoint file unless your deck contains critical animations or movies.

You now have a single file for emails and live presentations. An investor can read the slides and notes together and imagine a presentation. And you can present the slides while you refer to the notes.

Finally, try Keynote if you’re on a Mac. It makes beautiful decks and it’s fun to use.

Business plans, NDAs, and Traction.

Read What should I send investors? Part 3 for suggestions on sending business plans, asking for NDAs, and what investors care about most.

Got a question for us?

Send your questions to ask@venturehacks.com. We read every question and answer the most interesting ones here!

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Image Source: kimcm.dk.

Topics Decks · Pitching

21 comments · Show

  • Deva Hazarika

    Here’s a VC presentation outline I’ve seen all over the place that I like a lot – I believe the original author was someone at Sequoia:

    1. The Business
    – What is the company’s business ?
    – Mission statement

    2. The Market
    – Trends
    – Size: historic and projected
    – Competition
    – Channels of distribution
    – Customers

    3. The Products
    – State of development. Development schedule
    – Differentiation
    – Price point
    – Match to market definition

    4. The Team
    – Background of management
    – Board composition

    5. The Financials
    – Historic and projected P&L
    – Projected cash flow
    – Projected balance sheet
    – Projected headcount
    – Capitalization schedule

    6. The Deal
    – Amount raised
    – Valuation asked
    – Use of proceeds

  • Scott Handsaker

    Nice article….there are a lot of suggestions out there for creating investor presentations, but the 10-11 slide maximum certainly seems to be a recurring theme.

    In the presentation we are putting together we have stuck to 11 slides….which is hard to do! It really makes you clarify your thoughts, as there isn’t much room on a powerpoint slide when everything is 30pt.

    Thanks for the tip on leaving notes for each slide…my presentation is being written as if I would be there presenting on the day, and I always wondered how anyone would make sense out of it if I just emailed it! Now I know.. 🙂

  • chrisco

    FYI: The VC slide show is called the “Dirty Dozen.”

  • startup ceo

    Different suggestion:

    NEVER send slides before meeting VCs. Reserve them for in person presentations ONLY!

    Sure, VCs would like to have them, but do you want your biz plan, product, sales, marketing strategies distributed to their portfolio companies, or some company (your potential competitor) they already are in discussions with? If they ask to email your presentation, it is a RED FLAG.

    If a 3-4 line intro is not good enough for a VC to meet, then that VC is NOT good for you to begin with.

    • Nivi

      Good thoughts.

      If you want the meeting more than they do, provide what they want.

      If they want the meeting more than you do, provide what you want.

      • startup ceo


        Thanks. I enjoy reading Venture Hacks.

        It is very important that startup CEOs/founders represent themselves as savvy business professionals, and not get manipulated by in most cases ordinary VCs.

  • Ian

    The 30pt rule is intended for presentation slides where you are actually present and speaking, I believe. If you try and fit the items mentioned above onto a slide using 30pt type you will find it is practically impossible.

    If you are mailing your presentation chances are someone will be reading it up close so there is no need for 30 pt.

    Better to have different presentations for different occasions (i.e. detailed for reading, 30pt for in person where you want the audience looking at you and not the slides anyway) .

    • Nivi

      Hi Ian,

      Two presentations are best but that is often impractical, i.e. too much work. In the words of David Cowan, “Who has time for this?”

      In the article we suggested making the slides appropriate for presenting, and the notes appropriate for consulting while you present.

      And making the notes appropriate for reading, and the slides appropriate for consulting while you read.

  • Richie "The BootStrapper"

    A rule for PPTs for any situation…

    Your PPT should be a guide, remember you are the story teller. Your PPT should not be the story itself.

    You are selling the dream, you are not selling the product. You can bet for any idea, 10 other people have it. You’re selling yourself as the savior who can build it. Make sure you tell the story.

  • Trace

    “If you want the meeting more than they do, provide what they want.

    If they want the meeting more than you do, provide what you want.”

    Beautifully said, I laughed out loud at the simplicity……

  • Michael

    Great stuff. I wish these resources were available months ago. I’m wondering what the consensus is on writing full business plans. I have not written one, nor has a single VC asked me for it. I have a one page overview which acts as a very simple exec summary, a strong investor deck and full financials with 3 year projections. One VC recomended doing 5 years but he’s the only one.

    For every VC I’ve met with, this has been more than enough.

    What are your thoughts?

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  • Nav

    Great follow-up post.

    I’d also recommend How to Write a Great Business Plan by William Sahlman. Short read in the Harvard Business Review collection.

    Also, been a fan of a short teaser deck, especially for early stage companies. 5 slides: Team, Problem, Competition, Solution (with screens), Agenda (next steps and contact).

    Followup with Product Timeline, Numbers, Use of Proceeds and an Appendix with Market Research and Key Team Resumes. Walk potential investor through product prior to discussing this deck.


  • mkeuntje

    comparing David Cowans mentioned article and your list I do like your effort to put his list into catchy terms. so I would like to sugest a minor change:
    topic 7 appears to be better called ‘market entry (status)’ which you call marketing. that’s simplifying ‘marketing’ too much which I would define with ‘forming a product as to match technology with (suspected) demand’ thus going either to your topic 9 ‘marketing& competition’ or to 5 or 6 / ‘solution’ or ‘technology’. the selection here might show where you come from with your understanding of marketing (as you might be a techie a sales pro or a strategist by personal background)

  • Moxe

    PowerPoint’s can be hard to distribute and boring to read. Make it interactive. Email only a link. Investors won’t complain. Adobe Captivate 4 helped me design a multimedia presentation — without Flash or HTML skills. I built credibility before a first meeting ever took place. (Although, I’m still looking for cash.)

    Captivate will allow you to:
    Maintain the visual integrity of PowerPoint
    Be viewed the same way on computers w/ different operating platforms
    Add voice narration, video, and flash animation
    Obviate large email attachments

    This is the process I used:
    •Important; unless you want to purchase Captivate 4, develop your presentation in PowerPoint first. Get the layout, graphics, and script completed before moving to step two. You only get a 30 day trial before having to pay $700 to edit your presentation. (If you have a child in school, you can get it for $252)
    •Download the free 30 day trial here: http://www.adobe.com/products/captivate/
    •Copy and Paste one full page at a time from PPT to Captivate. I only needed a day to get comfortable with the software – even the “advanced” capabilities.
    •Add voice over, video, other animation effects.
    •I uploaded my presentation to both an FTP server, and to my computer for face-to-face meetings. Captivate automates all of these functions.

    While not hosted on my website, this is me using it to its full capability: http://www.gowebx.com/moxe/ycpublic.htm

    Thanks to all the posters! Venture Hacks is an apex resource!

    P.S. Missouri is a desert island for a Web startup. I’ve applied to Y Combinator for W 2010. Their Q&A format is my new Exec. Summary. Highly recommended exercise.

  • Jonathan Chamberlin

    What are your thoughts on creating a non-linear pitch deck? For instance, Prezi.com.

    It’s not as “simple” as linear pitch decks made in PowerPoint or Keynote, but it may be more effective in telling your startup’s story, and it’s very visual.

    I’ll probably use Keynote, but the non-linear possibilities are appealing.

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