Pitch Deck Structure: What Investors Want To See

In the startup world, a pitch deck is what gets companies funded. Typically comprising 10-20 slides, a pitch deck serves as a concise business presentation highlighting key aspects of your company, including the business model, traction, and roadmap. Its uses range from securing investor meetings to delivering presentations at demo days - but it's almost always the defining factor on whether or not you'll raise funds from investors.

In this article, we'll go over:

  1. The Basic Pitch Deck Structure
  2. Company Stage
  3. The Intro Section
  4. The Status Quo Section
  5. The Product Section
  6. The Market Section
  7. The Why Us Section
  8. The Ask

The Basic Pitch Deck Structure

Different scenarios and time constraints allow adding more or less slides and information, but the basic structure remains similar. The structure of a pitch deck includes six main sections: the intro, the status quo section, the product section, the market section, the why us section and the ask.

A pitch deck should strive to achieve three objectives:

  • It needs to tell your company story.
  • It needs to convince the investor that they can make money with this.
  • It needs to do that in under 4 minutes.

This logic follows the three-act structure of storytelling: In the first act, it’s critical to engage your audience, capture their attention and establish the status quo. In the second act, your story should be developed to build excitement about the business opportunity, by providing numbers that are as irresistible as they are irrefutable. The third act is where the rubber meets the road and you deal the killer blow, making your point about why investing in your company is a fantastic opportunity.

A pitch deck can become especially effective when it's structured like a compelling story following the structure above, with a payoff that highlights your product and company, and a cliffhanger that'll make investors want to fund your vision.

Our team has helped hundreds of startups write and design their pitch deck in exactly this way.

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Company Stage

Time is of the essence when pitching investors, so deciding if a slide has a place in your deck is essential. This answers mostly to your company's current stage, how much you're aiming to raise, and from whom.

In the Intro Section, there's the Cover slide and the Traction Teaser slide. The Status Quo Section is comprised of the Problem, solution and Business Opportunity slides. The Product Section is made up by the Product, Features or Benefits, How does it work, Tech Infrastructure, Market Validation, Business Model, Roadmap and Target Audience slides. The Market section includes the Traction, Go-to-Market or Customer Acquisition, Market Size or TAM, and potential outcomes slides. The Why Us section has the Competitors, Advantages, Case Studies or Testimonials, and Team slides. Finally, The Ask has the Financials and Fundraising slides.

Again, not all the slides need to be included in every single pitch deck. If you're only in the idea stage and raising money from friends and family, you won't have traction or testimonial slides, and your financials won't be very detailed.

We generally recommend including at least the slides below, depending on your current stage. You can read more about the stages of a startup company here.

Intro Section

Cover

The cover slide should have a 5-7 word description of what you do: simple, self-explanatory, so short that you read without even trying. This tagline is not a marketing tagline: it's a very brief description of what your company does. In the case of Slidebean, We help founders pitch investors.

It's common to include the name of the presenter and some contact details, but this isn't really necessary. If you're pitching in person, nobody will bother to write them down at the very start. If you're sending the deck by email, then they'll already have your contact details.

Traction Teaser

If you want to hook your audience early on, you can include a short Traction slide that validates your company and gets people excited about what's to come.

Remember, they are coming in without knowing the context of your business: they aren't really sure what you do or how you make money (yet), so the information you put in here needs to be universally understood without context. This is the place to brag about your most impressive achievements so far, those that anyone can understand without further explanation.

Status Quo Section

Problem/Business Opportunity

Most great companies solve global problems:

  • Uber solved unreliable taxi services.
  • Slack solved excess emails and meetings.
  • Dropbox solved file syncing across devices.

There's a bit of an "aha!" moment if you get this slide right - if you can point out a problem that people experience regularly; that's standing right in front of them, that's so obvious, and yet they haven't seen it.

This slide can also make your whole pitch fall apart when you come up with questionable statements that the investor can't get behind. If they 'disagree' with you about this premise, then you might lose them here.

Some companies aren't necessarily solving a problem but instead tackling a business opportunity that has arisen. Examples here are mobile games, which certainly don't solve a problem; they are just jumping on a business opportunity they discovered.


Solution

Think of the solution slide as a mirror to the problem slide. Remember: this is the main plot point. This is when you break the status quo.

Great solution slides are also concise. They don't involve technology or features; it's not time to talk about the product yet. We are presenting our thesis: what if instead of doing things like this… we do things with this new approach. Focus on a single heavyweight statement. The end result, the main benefit of your product of service. Not the how, but the what.

In line with the previous example, think of Uber's solution: a fast and efficient on-demand car service that lets you know exactly when you'll be picked up, when you'll arrive, and how much you'll pay.

Product Section

How does it work?

This part of your pitch deck will be the one that's more uniquely yours, as it needs to showcase the uniqueness of your product or service. You can approach this slide in many ways: as a (short!) video demo, a how-does-it-work diagram, or even a series of product screenshots. These slides will probably not be too different from your marketing landing pages; you can get some inspiration there.

Features

Rather than a list of what your product does and how it does it, think of this slide as a list of benefits to the user. A feature would be: Slidebean is fully responsive. A benefit would be, edit your presentations anywhere, even on your phone on the go. Think of it backwards, not what your product does, but what convenience or major change it represents for the target audience.

It's important for this section to remain concise and impactful. While investors care about the product, they care more about numbers. 

Product Details (Demo video, screenshots, tech infrastructure, etc)

This section depends a lot on your specific product too. For products with a strong technological component, or when the tech infrastructure is one of their core differentiators, it's also relevant to include an 'Underlying Magic' slide that explains in simple terms how the tech works to deliver the final benefit to the target user. If your product is a physical object and you'll be pitching in person, it's totally feasible to leave a blank "demo" slide and demonstrate the product yourself.

Videos might work in some cases, but remember that investors expect to be able to consume the entirety of the deck in under 5 minutes, so keep it brief and to the point.

Market Validation

A 'Market Validation' slide is included to support products where adoption could be a challenge. For example, on their 2009 pitch deck, Airbnb had a market validation slide to support their thesis that people would be willing to stay at stranger's couches.

Target Audience

It's common for this slide to be skipped in many pitch decks, especially for later-stage companies. If you're just started or if it's one of your early rounds, this one could make the difference.

The idea of a Target Audience slide is to prove that you understand who the product is for: so many companies don't know the answer to this question, and that is a common deal-breaker. Great market adoption is easier if you start from understanding the end user and working backwards.

Business Model

Now on the Business Model. This is one of the easiest slides to solve, and one of the slides that many entrepreneurs get wrong. 

It’s simple: how do you make money? 

Is it a subscription, you need to lay out every single plan and its ins and outs, in my experience, that should be changing regularly as you experiment with different combinations: just tell us $XX subscription. With or without trial. Done. 

Is it a product or a service, tell us what the price is, or maybe the average order size, and give us an idea of margin. Is this a 30% or a 60% margin product?  That applies to ecommerce as well. 

Keep it simple. This slide is not about projections, it’s not about how much money you could make if you get 1 million customers, it’s just about how you make money. 

Some companies, of course, use a mix of different business models, but there’s often no need to lay out the full scope of things here. Try to limit this to 2, maybe 3 sources of revenue, and don’t get into too many details about the ins and outs. What you want is to offer something that’s simple and clear, and answer follow-up questions in the meeting that this pitch deck will get you. 

Roadmap

An ideal Roadmap slide goes over some of the major highlights in your product evolution and your company history, and then it talks about what you intend the product to become over the next few months. 

For hardware or medical companies that are not likely to generate any revenue until an extensive and years-long R&D process, then this roadmap slide becomes critical. 

Keep this in mind: we are not doing financial projections yet- this is the product section so we are talking about product vision, not numbers, yet. Don’t get revenue projections mixed in here. 

Market Section

Go-to-Market Strategy

The most common mistake on Go-To-Market slides is lack of focus and spreading the company's marketing efforts too thin, spending money on crowded marketing channels, or channels that don’t yield short term results unless you are an expert on them. Tackling many marketing channels at once may be just as innefective as not doing marketing at all.

A great Go-To-Market slide talks about 2, maybe 3 very clear, very specific channels that you are already using to grow your customer base, and that you will continue to use. 

  • What have you done to get here?
  • What are you doing that shows promise?
  • What are you going to do next?

Remember, rounds of capital usually fund 18-24 months' worth of operations, so we are looking for a growth plan: a marketing plan of how you will get the company to the next fundable milestone.

Market Size/TAM

The question this slide answers is "how big does this company get?"

The concept of that is TAM, or Total Addressable Market, but it’s a bit foreign to many of us. What does TAM mean? Well, again, it’s about how big this company gets, how much revenue would it make if it had all of its target customers? That’s TAM. 

You approach calculating TAM by estimating how many people, or how many companies would pay for your product. 

Two previous slides become absolutely critical here: first, of course, the business model. You have to understand how much money you will be making from each one of your customers. And second, the target audience slides. If you are not really sure about who your customer is, then this TAM number can become astronomically high, and that’s usually bad news. 

You have to be really sure about what your pricing is, and who your customer is. This video from our channel is a great guide on how to estimate your TAM:

If you're struggling to understand how to estimate your TAM, our team can help!

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Why Us Section

Competitors

Most companies will have competitors. Coming out with a Competitor slide that says that you have NO competitors usually represents a red flag. Many founders make the fatal mistake of believing that there’s nobody else doing what they do. 

If you say you have no competitors during your pitch and an investor happens to know of a company that does compete, you can pretty much give up on that lead. There’s nothing worse than lack of research. 

You can approach this slide as a simple business grid chart, a table comparing features, or a simple summary of your core competitors.

Team

The founding team on a startup needs to have the skills to get the company to $1M in Revenue.

If you are building an app, getting to $1M in Revenue requires marketing, development, UX, and business/operations. If you are building a B2B SaaS platform targeting enterprise, you need engineers, business development, and sales.

Secret Sauce

This slide is more commonly called Competitive Advantages. This secret sauce slide can be used to talk about patents, unique factors in your technology, unique players in your supply chain… overall, anything that makes you UNIQUE. 

When you talk about competitors, more than comparing features, more than comparing what your pricing is, it's about showing that there's something that you understand about the market that others don't seem to get.

The Ask Section

Financial Projections

The Financials slide is straightforward:

  • If you've been operating, we want to see the last financial year of data; and then, for everyone,
  • 3-5 years of financial projections for your company.

Founders typically add a simple table with their SG&A, COGS, CAPEX, and revenue- with a final profit margin and percentage number, requiring you to do some financial modeling. If you're looking for a budgeting template to run your financials, our financial modeling template is a great tool to get started.

We've also helped hundreds of startup founders understand driver-based financial modeling which helps them understand how to model their financial data and run projections for their companies. If you wish to learn more about this service, check it out here:

Financial Modeling Service

The Ask

The fundraising slide should cover how much money you are raising and be super clear about that next fundable milestone we have talked about. 

A Seed round is supposed to last until a Series A. Closing a round takes about 6 months, so this round should last enough for you to get to Series A status, plus an extra 6 months to close that round. 

You’ll see a lot of decks that talk about ‘this round funds 18 months of operations’, and that’s not necessarily a bad slide, as long as the math behind that number responds to a fundable milestone. It’s not about time, it’s about metrics. 

Tips for pitching

Writing a first investor pitch deck is an overwhelming process for many startup founders. From calculating your market to figuring out your go-to-market strategy, financials... we get how many founders just get stuck halfway. 

The first challenge here is- a pitch deck is a tool to paint a quick and exciting picture of a business opportunity. Sometimes that idea is not fully formed, or sometimes the founders haven't had the chance to sit down and figure out some key business components. 

The point here is, by solving your pitch deck, you are solving many strategic decisions about your business. Pitch decks are company stories. If you think of a deck as a story, then you can start thinking about a story arc, with plot points, developments, antagonists, and a climax. 

For MOST companies, this is a pitch deck outline that translates into a fantastic story.

That's what our team of experienced consultants is expert at: storytelling. We will work with you to understand your business and craft a pitch that showcases your unique value proposition.

Whether you're raising funds for a new startup or looking to grow an existing business, our pitch deck consulting services can help you get the funding you need. Contact us today to learn more.

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