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Is Your Pitch Deck a Book Report or a Treasure Map?

Joseph Flaherty, Director of Content & Community

😭 This problem impacts 10M people a day!

💰 $5B is spent on this annually!

🔮 Forrester predicts this market will be worth $50B in five years!

There’s nothing wrong with having factoids like these in a pitch deck, but add too many and it starts to feel like a book report.

1–2 slides that showcase a market opportunity using stats and prestigious headlines are great. More than that and the deck starts to signal the team isn’t engaging with the market directly. A good pitch deck should feel more like a treasure map than a recitation of data.

Instead of telling a story with top-down estimates and Googled market research, great founders talk about the “secret” information they’ve uncovered. This data lacks the patina of prestige and the imprimatur of impartiality, but that makes it all the more valuable.

They have marked a path to great wealth with an esoteric set of data that they have assembled and are uniquely qualified to follow. Data from experiments. Anecdotes that reveal nuances the news and number-crunchers miss. Counter-intuitive insights gained by selling. They tend to say things like:

🔪 “We didn’t need 90% of the functionality we thought we did…”

🏦 “We stumbled into a model where we get paid by three parties for the same work…”

🤑 “Facebook was a terrible channel for us — but our affiliate model has an unreal ROI…”

They don’t have answers to every question, but they’ve figured out a direction and assembled ad hoc guideposts. Founders need to be able to explain their “map” to investors and support their contentions with info — except it’s rarely the kind found in analyst reports.

In short, if an investor could replicate a startup’s pitch by linking to articles from The Atlantic and the NYT, the entrepreneurs are probably not operating at the right level of granularity.

Founders need to demonstrate the instincts of an investigative journalist and the resourcefulness of a sailor when trying to validate their hypotheses.

So before you pitch a VC, try to think through these questions:

🙈 What critically important fact isn’t addressed in popular accounts of your market?

🔦 What important nuance is lost in a sea of stats?

👀 What do operators know about this industry that observers do not?

An investor once wrote that the way you make money in startups is by being contrarian — and correct. Data points that help establish that scenario are worth more than all the pirate’s booty in the Caribbean.

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