How To: Develop a Series A Pitch
Writing a terrific pitch deck is hard, just like writing a hit song is hard. VCs make their money on hits, like platinum record deals.
A Series A venture fund can only thrive if it manages to find and lead one of the top 10-20 venture deals each calendar year. Anything less is a failure in their eyes, so you need to be building a business of that caliber if you want to raise Series A venture capital. Help the VC to see how you are building an extraordinary company. Show how you will make an impact on the world, and how you will become one of the best deals in their portfolio.
Don't shoot for average.
Don’t shoot for average. Seed was about whether you can get in the game. Series A is about showing how you can win the game, and why this is a game worth winning.
Like the best songs, the best pitch decks tell a story. It’s important to get your story straight before jumping right into deck design, to make sure everything flows.
Start by writing out your story in a Google Doc. Who is your audience? What is the impression you want to make? How will your company change the world? You can use our Pitch Deck Storytelling Template here.
Once your story is well-versed, you can start mapping it to your slides. All pitch decks for a venture-backable company need to show:
(1) You have identified a target customer with a painful need
(2) You can serve the need with a product or service that earns a profit
(3) The market is large enough to build a unicorn-scale company
(4) As you grow, you will develop a moat that protects the profits you earn
A VC must believe all four to consider an investment.
By Series A, you are already shipping a product and have some small sales, so typically you have evidence to support your claims 1 and 2. The goal for a powerful Series A deck is to awe investors with your answers to 3 and 4 so that they become convinced you are a unicorn in the making.
Building your pitch deck
A basic pitch deck should open with an attention-getter, then team slide, then walk through the four questions above with 2 slides per question, then financial projections.
We see highly successful Series A pitch decks start with a first slide or slide sequence that grabs attention and opens the mind to big possibilities. See a library of 15-20 different examples here.
Consider how to frame your company’s industry. Is Tesla a battery company? A car company? An energy company? A software company? A lifestyle brand? A community? Pick the most valuable positioning for which you have a solid, credible claim.
Hit songs also have a “hook” that listeners love, so think about yours. What is going to make your company extremely important and valuable in the future? Focus on business model, barriers to entry, network economics, competitive dynamics. How do you build outsized value? Why is this a profit machine? How do customers become hooked? What is the implication of your company’s success? Is it economies of manufacturing scale? Technical leadership? A unique channel? SEO content? Who will respond? How do create a major change in society? What new opportunities are created if you succeed with this first product?
What is going to make your company extremely important and valuable in the future?
In terms of what to cover, you can go back to the Pillar pitch deck template. Now insert that attention-grabber slide up front. Add detailed slides that show the specific proof of product-market fit as it applies to your business. (If you don’t have the proof yet, stop! You’re not ready for Series A.) And add whatever slide(s) will really drive home your hook.
Now go back, polish, and refine it down to fit your story.
1 story, 2 decks
You will need two separate versions of your deck.
Brief deck – 12-15 slides – you can forward this with an introduction and walk it during your first call or meeting.
Do NOT put this in DocSend because investors hate DocSend – investors do a lot of behind-the-scenes discussing of companies with their internal team, fellow investors, and expert advisers and they need to be able to do that easily and privately. So you WANT them forwarding your deck for this purpose. Just expect it to circulate widely and think of this as free advertising; assume your competitors will see it.
A Longer deck with Appendix – 20-25 slides PLUS up to 50 slides – for use with an interested investor who schedules a second meeting or site visit.
When you are done, hire a graphic artist to give it polish and flow. The visual quality of a business presentation matters more than you might imagine. Having an editorial eye that organizes ideas and eliminates clutter is a way to demonstrate that you know how to prioritize. Keep it simple, clean, clear, attractive, lots of white space, readable font sizes. Deliver just one point well on each slide. If you don’t want to hire an artist, CEO, Dave Balter suggests “Get to know Unsplash and 500px and your slides will do the work for you.”
Expect to go through several different rewrites and a lot of conferring with your Board and advisers. You are writing a brochure to convince someone to pay you $10 million for a single piece of paper (the stock certificate). It’s got to be great!
Working on the pitch
When your deck is complete, it’s time to start working on your pitch.
A method that works well here is an “accordion” style. Be able to explain each slide at three different levels, and then compress or expand as time allows.
The high-level version should be just one declarative sentence.
Let’s say you have a bar chart. The one conclusion is “Heavy Email Users Want More Speed.” Make it easy on yourself and just use that sentence as the title of each slide. You can flip the entire deck at this level in less than 5 minutes. This title tactic is also endorsed by Eric Paley, Partner at Founder Collective, here.
Imagine you fly out to San Francisco and endure the traffic and you get to a key meeting and the VC announces that he or she has a fire drill and can only spend 20 minutes! Inside you are mad and flustered. As you grapple with these emotions, you stay right on track by just explaining your bio (3 minutes) and then flipping your deck, reading the titles slide by slide. You are done in a flash. Wow, you look well organized and used only half the time! After the VC realizes he or she is actually looking at a hot deal and a competent CEO, the VC can follow up.
If you make your titles like this, a key benefit is that anyone can read your deck and understand your message without you standing there to explain the slides. It is important that the deck stand on its own.
The deck must
be able to stand on it's own
The medium-level version allows one minute from you per slide: “We interviewed 150 heavy email users and asked them about 8 different reasons why they would consider changing software, and this bar chart shows the top reason each person selected as a percent of responses. As you can see, a staggering 40% of heavy email users are eager to try a new email client that would save them 15 minutes per day. So that’s where we focused our product development effort for the past year. I’m sure you would like to see the results! (flip to next slide to discuss beta user testimonials)”
The medium-level version allows one minute from you per slide.
This is how you would present the slide if you have a one-hour appointment. First there is a comfortable 5-minute start, then twenty slides at one minute each will be 20 minutes of you talking plus 20 minutes of friendly back-and-forth discussion with the VC during the pitch, and then 15 minutes of feedback and conversation and planning for next steps at the end.
The deeper version adds a carefully- selected story or anecdote
if the chance presents itself.
The deeper 3-5 minute version for each slide adds a colorful story or anecdote if the chance presents itself. You don’t have time to tell 20 stories for the 20 slides, but when you see the audience is very interested in a topic, you can tell that story. Let’s say you hear a VC ask “How did you collect this survey data and what else did you learn?” Now you know the VC is interested in market research (!), so let’s dive in. “This data comes from the trade show where we asked people to rate their email use and focused on people who send 100 emails and up per day which qualified them as heavy users. Then we scheduled a follow-up visit to their place of work. We watched how they worked, then asked them questions according to a structured guide. So many mentioned time pressure! Let me tell you about Lucy. Lucy works as a real estate agent, and when she gets an email from a prospective client, she has to respond within a few hours to have any chance to get the business. Her problem is that she is often squeezing in her email replies while she is parked between appointments. So, she needs a quick way to screen her mail and tag some to handle that evening, some for her assistant, and then she can easily see what’s left that needs immediate attention.” This story impresses the VC both for its content and your diligence.
Across all your slides, memorize your key numbers. Interested VCs will ask lots of probing and what-if questions and you need to know your numbers to be able to answer on the fly.
Great CEOs know by heart the sales targets and headcount targets for every month for the next 12 months and every year for the next several years, and they obsess about their business metrics like CAC, LTV, commission rate, ASP, days receivable, the average salary for different positions, and so on. Such numbers are vital to building an actual company and so your modeling them in advance and internalizing the targets is a sign of operating competence and readiness; not knowing them is a sign you and the project are still green. Great CEOs know by heart the sales targets and headcount targets for every month for the next 12 months and every year for the next several years, and they obsess about their business metrics like CAC, LTV, commission rate, ASP, days receivable, the average salary for different positions, and so on. Such numbers are vital to building an actual company and so your modeling them in advance and internalizing the targets is a sign of operating competence and readiness; not knowing them is a sign you and the project are still green.
Practice, practice, practice
As you practice, bring a co-founder or teammate with you to help watch the audience and take notes.
Write down every question you get.
Then go back later, and polish your slides, re-order, and develop new materials so that the next audience will be less confused and more convinced.
You’ve got it.