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BTS (Without the Dance Moves)
A back to school refresher on the purpose of a pitch deck.
Once Upon a Pitch Problem #23
I hope you had a great summer and are ready to return to school. Once Upon a Pitch is back to the basics, focusing on common causes of founder agony. This week, we tackle the number one comment I hear from founders: “I hate my deck.”
Don’t worry. You are not alone because everyone hates your deck. The purpose of a pitch deck is to visually convey in 8-10 pages the journey of a successfully executed enterprise from Day 1 to Day 3,000 in the future, using large font, universally understood words, and non-distracting images and colors. An impossible task and thus, the heaping of scorn. You will always receive criticism about your deck, you will get deck fatigue, you will hate the deck, and yet, you must keep revising and presenting. Since you now know the natural lifecycle of a deck perpetually shifts between dismal and disappointing, don’t worry about it. You can always improve because there is no finish line. Answer the basic questions clearly and with authority: what is the customer problem, what is your solution, who is the customer and how are you going to sell the solution to that customer, how big is the market of customers that need your product, why are customers going to buy your solution instead of buying nothing or a competitor solution, who is going to build the company with you, how much money is required to get to profitable, and what are your milestones on the journey. As long as your 8-10 pages answer those questions, your pitch deck is working. You may never love the deck. You may not even like the deck. You need only ensure the deck is telling the basic business story.
“Once upon a time . . ..” Do you hate the deck or do you hate the business? When working with a deck-hating founder, the problem is often the business, not the deck. Recently, I had a call with a founder who was coming to realize that although her invention would add value, the customer was only willing to pay pennies to the OEM as part of an embedded system and for low volumes. This tiny market business is the source of her agony, not the deck. Her ambition is to build a massively impactful business with millions of customers and after buyer discovery, her business idea revealed it would never achieve that goal. She wasted time deck building a fantasy instead of meeting with procurement decision makers. Neither PowerPoint nor Canva gave her the knowledge she needed. If you find your relationship with the pitch deck troubling, make sure the hate is related to a font and not the enterprise. You are telling a story that is going to last for years and the story has barely just started. You better love that story now because you are going to hate a lot of the business building activities later (like revenue recognition).
High Intention, Low Attachment. Pitch decks require sustained high intention and effort especially when contrasted to the actual use of the deck. Four weeks or 9,600 minutes for a 15 minute presentation is a brutal ratio. You will always have to put high intention towards the pitch deck for the life of the enterprise. Need another round of funding? New deck. Need a loan? New deck. Want to go public? New deck. Instead, try to moderate your emotional attachment to the pitch deck. Keeping attachment low facilitates a faster ability to make improvements after receiving relevant criticism and market feedback. If you can easily delete a slide that took 3 weeks to build because that slide is not conveying your story, then you will easily navigate the constantly troubled waters of business building. The goal of the pitch deck is to move your story into your audience; if a slide isn't working, replace it. It has nothing to do with the idea, your leadership, or your self worth. It is just words on a screen. By moving unemotionally through the iterations, you are guaranteed a more calm pitch deck experience.
What They Said
“Is not the work absolutely magnificent?” said the two officers of the crown, already mentioned. “If your Majesty will only be pleased to look at it! What a splendid design! What glorious colors!” and at the same time they pointed to the empty frames; for they imagined that everyone else could see this exquisite piece of workmanship.
“How is this?” said the Emperor to himself. “I can see nothing! This is indeed a terrible affair! Am I a simpleton, or am I unfit to be an Emperor? That would be the worst thing that could happen—Oh! The cloth is charming,” said he, aloud. “It has my complete approbation.” And he smiled most graciously, and looked closely at the empty looms; for on no account would he say that he could not see what two of the officers of his court had praised so much. All his retinue now strained their eyes, hoping to discover something on the looms, but they could see no more than the others; nevertheless, they all exclaimed, “Oh, how beautiful!” and advised his Majesty to have some new clothes made from this splendid material, for the approaching procession. “Magnificent! Charming! Excellent!” resounded on all sides; and everyone was uncommonly gay. - Hans Christian Andersen, The Emperor’s New Clothes.
See You on the Track
Author The First Principles Pitch, startup storyteller, board member, advisor and investor. Once Upon a Pitch is a weekly newsletter looking at one business pitch problem and offering storytelling solutions to help solve that problem.
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