Written by: Jim Wrubel Published on: Mar 17, 2021 Last updated: Mar 17, 2021
Tools Used In This recipe
A pitch deck is a critical tool when you are seeking venture investment for your startup. It's less important if your business is bootstrapped, but even in that case the act of building a pitch deck will force you to make decisions about your business that can help you avoid mistakes that are common in early-stage businesses of all types. In this Recipe we'll list a number of common mistakes that founders make with their deck and how to avoid them, and we'll use the presentation tool Beautiful.ai to show you how to build a deck that is both visually compelling and easy to maintain.
Designing your deck
The reason a pitch deck is so critical is because of the multiple roles it needs to play on your behalf. A potential investor will often ask to see a copy before taking a meeting, so the deck needs to effectively generate excitement about your business without you being there to provide context. But your deck also needs to be an effective anchor for your company presentation. It should help you communicate your startup's story and highlight the reasons why your company is worthy of investment.
Your deck needs to have enough information to communicate all of these things but not be too text-heavy and not contain a bunch of complex graphics. There are some excellent design tips on Presentation Zen (and there's a book of the same name that's worth picking up if you want to dig deeper). A few other best practices that you should be aware of:
- No matter what tool you use to create your deck, you should only send a PDF version. Don't send PowerPoint, Keynote, or other editable formats.
- Because of this, be careful when using those tools' builds/transitions functionality. Those don't always translate well in PDF so make sure you QA check the finished deck.
- Avoid using font sizes smaller than 24 point. When you do get a chance to present to a potential investor you won't get to control the quality or size of the projection screen or how large the room is, so you want to make sure every audience member can read your copy.
- Don't embed video or other rich media. You may want to have a recorded version of your pitch or to provide potential investors with a copy of your product video. Just host those on YouTube or Vimeo and link to them from the deck.
- If your finished deck is over 10MB in size, revise it so it's less than that amount. Some mail servers will reject large attachments, and you don't want an investor's IT policies to prevent them from accessing your deck, or causing the investor to wait while it downloads (if they are on their mobile phone).
- QA check your pitch deck on mobile phones, not just on a desktop. Many times a potential investor will first encounter your deck on their mobile phone, and you want to make sure it looks good there.
What should it say?
There is no single 'right' set of content to include in a deck, and no 'right' length. You will likely need to maintain several versions of your deck. At minimum you will likely need one that's standalone for sending, one for a 15-minute presentation, and one for a 3-4 minute pitch competition. When you are invited by a potential investor to present, or you get a slot in a pitch competition, review and edit your deck so it supports a presentation of the expected length. A good rule of thumb is 30 seconds per slide.
In terms of content, rather than try to include one specific set of slides, here are some prominent investors and their preferred content and slide order:
- Founder Institute
- Guy Kawasaki
- First Round Capital
- Sequoia Capital
- Pitch Patterns from Brendan Baker (formerly of Greylock VC). This one lists several variations in each slide and is definitely worth your time to review.
- Mac Conwell of Rarebreed VC
While there is plenty of overlap in all these, there's definitely some areas that differ. If you have an upcoming presentation and feel comfortable / have the prep time, it's perfectly fine to ask the organization what they look for in a pitch deck and try to match their preference.
Having trouble getting started? This article, "20 lines to write before starting your pitch deck", can help.
In the deck you use for presentation, you'll want to include slides after the last formal slide as an appendix. Use these as a reference if you get questions or someone asks to go into more detail about a particular topic. If you get a question during your presentation that you don't feel you answered well, make a backup slide that covers it and add it to your appendix for next time. Over time your deck will reflect your growing mastery of your business.
Building a Pitch Deck with Beautiful.ai
In this section we're going to walk through features of beautiful.ai that you can use to build your pitch deck. While PowerPoint and Google Slides are more popular presentation tools, Beautiful.ai comes with a very large collection of pre-built slide templates, including templates for the most common slides that you'll use in your pitch deck. It also features an intelligent auto-layout feature that can prevent those situations in PowerPoint where you find yourself tapping the left arrow key trying to get two text boxes to line up properly. Lastly, it has a fairly generous free tier (although note that the free tier will embed a 'made with beautiful.ai' tag in your finished presentation).
Signing up with beautiful.ai works like any other online platform - the sign up button is in the upper right, and you can create an account with an email/password or through your Google account. Once you are logged in you will see a default presentation - this works like a product tutorial and is worth exploring to see some of the options beautiful.ai offers.
When you're ready to start, click Create New Presentation.
You'll first be prompted to choose a theme for your presentation. The theme defines your color palette and headline/body copy font choices. We'll select these later, so for now click the Templates link on the left and scroll down until you find Startup Pitch Deck.
Click the template link. The template detail page will show you the default slides and layout that the template will create, and offer some tips & tricks for making your content. Once you've reviewed the information click Use This Template.
Once beautiful.ai has finished loading your default presentation based on this template, you'll be in the edit interface for the first slide.
If you click on any text element or the default image you'll see that each of these are editable, so you can change the [Company Name] default to match your company. You'll also want to remove the STARTUP PITCH DECK label, which you can do by clicking on the text then clicking the X to the right.
Working with themes
Before you make any major changes you should first set the presentation theme. Click the button that shows four colored dots in the upper left of the screen to open the theme menu, then click Edit Theme.
The beautiful.ai theme menu allows you to customize the presentation's colors, header and body fonts, decorative effects, and options like whether to include page numbers on your slide. If you have already established a brand identity you can update the colors and fonts here to match, but if not you can click the Custom dropdown at the top of the Colors tab and select from a number of options that will work well.
Any changes you make will be reflected in the sample slides on the right. When you are satisfied with the changes, click Apply Changes to Presentation. It's also a good idea to click Save To Theme Library so you can create additional presentations with the same theme as your company grows.
While each slide comes with a default layout there are also variations that you can apply. Clicking either the layout button on the left or on the bottom will show you different options for relatively positioning the elements on this slide.
Working with images
The first slide layout includes an image, but you'll want to replace it with something that fits your deck. If you have created any product images you could use those here. Click the image, then click the camera icon to see options:
Click Replace Image... . Beautiful.ai includes an integration with Unsplash that allows you to search and add any images from their substantial library of royalty-free images. Beautiful.ai's paid tier can also link a Dropbox account. Click the Import button to use an image from your local machine.
Beautiful.ai will scale and center your image to try and fit the layout, but if it doesn't look right click the image to open the context menu and click Adjust Image. There are a number of useful tools available, including a slider to adjust the image's scale, a button to flip the image horizontally, and a number of Instagram-style filters.
When you are finished adjusting this slide it's time to move on. You can navigate through the slides using a two-finger left and right swipe if your computer supports it. You can also see all the slides using the navigation icon at the top.
Click the icon to view thumbnails of all the slides in your presentation, then click the slide you want to switch to it. You can also click and drag the slides in this view to re-arrange them.
Adding a Slide
If you want to add a slide to your deck, navigate to the slide immediately before the place you want to add it. The + button on the right of the screen is used to add a new slide, but if you hover over it there are also options to duplicate, export, and delete the current slide.
Click Add Slide. In the pop-up menu you'll be able to choose from any of the dozens of built-in templates. You can also import from PowerPoint if you are migrating from an existing presentation. If none of the templates suits your needs you can start with a 'Classic' slide that provides only basic layout.
When you click on a template, a slide with that layout will be added to your presentation. You can use the theme, photo, and layout options described above to further customize it. If you discover that the layout doesn't work for your purpose, it's easy to delete it and start over by adding a different slide layout.
Presenting with your deck
When you are ready to present or just want to test out your finished product, click the Play button in the upper left.
As with other presentation tools you can choose to present from the current slide or start from the beginning. Since beautiful.ai is browser-based, you can use your machine's full-screen mode (F11 on Windows, Control + Command + F on a Mac) to hide your browser's controls.
Also like other presentation tools, beautiful.ai has a speaker notes feature. It's located in the bottom left of the edit screen.
You can also share your presentation by clicking the Share button. This will bring up a menu with a unique URL that you can send to people so they can view your presentation. You can also export your presentation as a PDF or get a snippet of HTML that you can use to embed your presentation in a Website by clicking More Sharing Options.