Startup Series: How to Pitch to Investors


If marketing is the art of understanding customer needs and then creating solutions to meet those needs at a profit; then nowhere is marketing more important for an entrepreneur than at seeking funding from investors at start up and subsequent rounds. Continuing our Start Up series, here are tips on how to pitch to investors:

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Pitching to investors is about understanding what investors need to know about you and your venture. Always follow The 10-20-30 Rule, a presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points

10 Slide Presentation

  1. Title - see below
  2. Problem - see below
  3. Solution - see below
  4. Competitive Position (real analysis)
  5. Team (industry knowledge, track record, expertise,)
  6. Business Strategy (the plan to grow beyond launch)
  7. Financial Projections
  8. Funding Sought (amount, use)
  9. Milestones (product launch, next funding, breakeven, etc)
  10. Exit Strategy (IPO, acquisition, who?)

Recommended reading: A Quick Guide to Understanding Venture Capitalists


Your Slide Deck Dissected 

Slide 1 Title Slide

‘Tell them what you are going to tell them' opening. Show them where you are going to take them - the agenda. It tells the skeleton of your whole pitch in a nutshell. The key elements might be numbered and subsequent Slides/Points reinforce the elements in turn. Put forward a clear, simple case.

Slide 2 The Problem Slide

Show the simple ABC situation/gap analysis:

  • A = Today (the current market situation)
  • B = Tomorrow (the place where the market should be / the big opportunity)
  • C = Gap (what's missing to get there/ the special play you have to fill the gap)

Tell them why your play is better than everyone else's

  • What specific problem or need do customers have?
  • Why is the problem important?
  • Who, specifically is the customer?
  • How do we know the market exists? What independent evidence can you cite, such as independent market research?
  • How large is the specific (narrowly defined) market for your product?
  • What growth is expected in this market?
  • Are the market size estimates realistic?

For industrial product companies...

  • What 2-3 industries comprise the most important prospects in Year-1? In Year-3?
  • What are the job titles of the buyers (decision-makers) in these prospects?

For consumer product companies...

  • What are the demographics of the 2-3 most important customer segementsw in Year 1? Year 3?

Slide 3 The Solution Slide

Set out your clear market positioning - ‘We have the only X product that solves Y customers problem in Z unique way and we can back this up with - team's track record, customer traction, real competitive analysis, etc'

  • X = Product Category (the specific product type market for your business)
  • Y = Target Buyer (the person who actually writes the cheque)
  • Z = Differentiation (advantage or positive distinction over the competition)

Proofs are better than ‘claims'.

  • What, specifically, are the company's products?
  • What do the products do?
  • Why would the customer buy these products?
  • What makes the products unique or special?
  • In general, how are they better than other products or alternative methods of solving the problem?
  • How much better are they than other solutions?
  • Can we demonstrate that they are cost effective?
  • What, if any, proprietary technologies are used to make them? Any proprietary process?
  • Are there patents? If so, what, specifically, do they protect?
  • Why will they be of value to the company?
  • What special issues relate to manufacturing the product(s)? Any special materials or processes?
  • What special equipment or facilities are required?
  • What investment is required to set up manufacturing? For what capacity?
  • How do you know you can manufacture the product at a cost that will yield acceptable gross margins?

Slide 4 ‘Competitive Position'

  • How else can the customer solve the problem your products solve?
  • What are the alternatives?
  • How does your product compare to each?
  • Why is it better?
  • In what ways is it worse?
  • Who are the vendors of these other solutions?
  • How do they compete with each other?
  • Where will you fit into the industry?
  • Why will you be able to compete effectively against them for the next ten years?
  • Why are you confident that no new entrant will come along with a better solution and blow you away?
  • Why do you think you can dominate your market niche?
  • How does it meet the 5 criteria for early Adoption
  1. Better than current idea
  2. Compatible with existing people, processes and technology
  3. Ease of Use
  4. Easy to try out
  5. Easy to see benefits

Slide 5 ‘Team'

  • What is your background and previous experience?
  • Where did the idea for the company come from?
  • How did you get involved with the company?
  • Who is presently involved in managing the company?
  • What are their credentials?
  • Why will they be able to build a successful company?
  • If not all management spots are filled, what is the plan for filling them?
  • What kind of people are you seeking? To fill what roles?
  • f you do not expect to be the CEO that builds the business to $10 or 20 million, what kind of person would you bring in? When?
  • Who is on your board of directors and board of advisors ?
  • How does the board function?

Slide 6 ‘Business Strategy'

  • How has it been funded to date?
  • What is the business model? (i.e. what will produce the company's revenue?
  • What kind of gross margins will the company have?
  • What level of operating profit can the business generate?
  • Do you have (or plan) any corporate partnerships in place?
  • What are the significant risks your business faces?
  • What needs to be done to finish your first product(s)? What's your next act?
  • Do you rely on outside contractors? How much do you license from others?
  • What expertise do you have at developing this kind of product?
  • What development challenges are most important or difficult to overcome? How do you intend to do so?

Slide 7 ‘Financial Projections'

  • What kind of revenues can the business produce, on an annual basis, over the next five years?
  • Profits?
  • What investment is required to carry the company to the next major level of valuation?
  • When do you expect the next rounds to take place?
  • What specific tasks need to be accomplished to do that?
  • How long will it take? (Try to identify a "next level" that can be achieved in less than 18 months.)
  • What investment will be required beyond that?
  • To the extent possible, explain key assumptions behind your forecast. And make sure the forecast relates in a logical way to the market forecasts you described previously.
  • How will the investor get his money back? Through an IPO? Acquisition? When?

Slide 8 ‘Funding Sought'

  • How much hard-money (cash) have the founders put in?
  • How much cash have Directors and Advisory Board members invested?
  • What equity is available to recruit key executives?
  • How did you arrive at your pre-money valuation for this round?
  • What comparables are you using for your proposed IPO/exit round?

Slide 9 ‘Milestones'

  • What is your track record at hitting schedules on similar efforts?
  • Are you fully-staffed for the work indicated in the schedule?
  • How are you going to get your partners to meet your schedule?
  • What makes you think you can achieve this schedule when "X" failed?
  • What contingencies have you built into the schedule? The budget?

Slide 10 ‘Exit Strategy'

  • Why won't one of your established competitors step in and leapfrog you?
  • How long do you think you can maintain your lead, thus preserving your company's value?
  • Why would this be an exciting business opportunity for an acquirer?
  • Why would it an exciting IPO opportunity?
  • What are the three most serious risks the company faces?


20 Minutes Duration

1. Go with the best foot first. 

Adapt the organisation of the pitch and how you tell it to the stage of your company's development. Always put the strongest case elements first.

At Seed Financing

Relatively small amounts of capital are made available to support the entrepreneur's exploration of an idea or product concept.

Pitch first about initial market validation (quotes from prospects in target industry), then about the product specification, the team (such as it is) and then the other slides.

At Start Up Financing

A commitment of more significant funds is made to an organisation that is prepared to commence operations. The company has a clear competitive advantage and a prototype. Capital is primarily for production and initial marketing.

Pitch first about initial customer traction (some demonstration of willingness to try and pay for the product), then the best real numbers you have, the product specification, the team and then the other slides.

At First-Stage Financing

Funding for an up and running business. The venture is normally not yet profitable, an established organisation, a working product and preferably some revenues. Capital is primarily for the company's first major marketing efforts, to hire sales and support personnel in anticipation of higher sales volumes. Product enhancement and line expansion is also typical.

Pitch first about the momentum of the business (the progress made, milestones achieved), then show the sales numbers and the trends, then the product specifications, the team and then the other slides.

2. Wrap up, recap and go for the close

Tell them again in summation what your pitch story was and deliver your prepared, though-out, aggressive enough ask.

3. Handle questions competently

Always show progress as a team, product and with customers. Understand the management, market, financial, technological and operational risks to your venture and the industry it will compete in - Investors will ask.

Know the 10 companies across the different verticals who will want to acquire your venture and why - Investors will ask.

Keep the business model specific, simple and non-aggressive. It shouldn't be a total innovation.

The deal must make lots of money for the investor - multiples of 5 to 10 x initial capital to be earned in an exit 5 to 8 years down the line.

Good luck with your pitch! 

Over to you now. If you've pitched successfully (or not) tell us your experience in the comments below. 

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