Are the headlines in your pitch deck there simply for decorative reasons or are you using them to tell the story VCs (venture capitalists) want to hear? In this follow-up article, Eric Bahn gives detailed examples of effective headline writing to get you closer to hearing the 3 words every founder hopes to hear from a VC: “Let’s meet up.”
Keep reading for a recap of the 5 most important rules of constructing slide headlines with clear examples of how to put them into practice, or see how ViewSonic and Hustle Fund are teaming up to provide new opportunities for entrepreneurs with the Acceleration for All Awards.
Eric Bahn is a co-founder and General Partner at Hustle Fund. Prior to Hustle Fund, Eric was an angel investor and partner at 500 Startups. Before becoming a professional investor, he spent over a decade as an operator (Facebook, Instagram) and entrepreneur (Beat The GMAT). Eric is a native of Detroit, Michigan and attended Stanford University (BA, MA), which launched his career into software and startups. Eric is happily married with two kids, loves minivans, and helps lead the Hustle Fund team from his garage in the Bay Area.
In the first article on this topic, I talked about the persona of a stereotypical VC who will take about 30 seconds, if you’re lucky, at the end of a long day to assess your pitch deck and decide whether or not to meet with you.
In this second part, we’ll walk through a fake startup example based on the tens of thousands of pitch decks that we have seen at Hustle Fund.
First, a quick recap of the rules we outlined in the previous article.
5 Rules for Writing Effective Slide Headlines
- Don’t assume anyone will read your deck.
- People will just glance at the biggest text in your deck which should be the slide titles.
- Make each slide headline a full sentence that describes the content of the slide.
- When reading just the slide titles, they should form a complete paragraph.
- The investor should have a 70%+ understanding of your business from the headlines alone.
OK, let’s go ahead and walk through the Hustle Fund fake example from the presentation I did earlier this year on this topic.
In this example, it’s a startup making a wearable device that helps stop babies dying from SIDS. Like a little sock or something that alerts parents when the infant is sleeping in the wrong position or some other vital sign. SIDS is something that all new parents worry about – I certainly did when I became a parent.
Now let’s walk through the most common slide titles that we see in a pitch deck:
By far, these are the most common slide titles that we see in a pitch deck.
But do you see the problem here?
Again, let’s circle back to the sweatpant VC persona.
I’m in my sweatpants, I’ve got my Chipotle in front of me, and I’m tired…it’s like 7:30-8pm and I just want to go watch Netflix.
But I’ve got to roll through these 20 or so pitch decks that just hit my inbox. And I’m like, OK, what’s this company??? OK, whatever…Team. Problem. Solution. Market. Traction… What the HELL is this thing?! It gives me nothing! I can’t scan this and you’re forcing ME to read?! How dare you. You’re forcing me to actually do VC work?! What the hell!! I’m so offended.
This is an example of some really bad slide titles, so let’s try to see whether we can fix this. In this exercise, we’re going to go ahead and design better slide headlines.
So in this scenario, I want to only produce 5 slides as a teaser deck.
What I think is best practice when it comes to creating assets for your fundraise is to have 3 things.
Firstly a blurb – which is a forward-able, very quick summary of some of the sexiest aspects of your business that can be forwarded very easily by your friends and other investors to make warm introductions to anyone else. I think that is a really critical first asset to create which is just the blurb. And we’ve had past workshops on this before that you can check out on the Hustle Fund YouTube channel.
A second asset that is very important is your full presentation deck, and that could actually be pretty long, 20 slides or more, that presents the deeper, more nuanced case of why your team and your business are compelling to invest in.
But what I want to focus on here is the teaser deck, which kind of sits in between the blurb and the long deck. It’s often the asset that is attached to your emailed blurb. It offers more of a flavor of what your business is about.
One more thing to set up here. Pretend that this is a seed fundraise, not a Series A or B. So for any good seed pitch deck, there are only 5 elements that you need to make the case for to try to garner investment. It is Team, Problem, Solution, Marketing, Traction, usually with the team at the start of the deck for a seed round. But let’s just go with the existing structure of Problem first with this example pitch deck to keep it simple. So you basically only need just 5 slides for your teaser deck.
The goal you want with a good teaser deck (along with the blurb) is not an investment decision but just the sweatpant Chipotle VC typing back saying, ‘Hey, let’s meet up’. That’s it. It is then a chance for you to make your full pitch with the VC.
How to Create Better Slide Titles
First, let’s start with the ‘Problem’ slide. I’m going to totally make up this data. Instead of just saying ‘Problem’, let’s go with:
‘Every year, 37,000 infants die in their sleep due to SIDS, and it’s completely preventable.’
So that’s the problem statement, which is a lot of dead babies. That is terrible and I don’t want to be flippant about it. This really did freak me out as a young parent and I’m sure many of you out there too.
From here we jump to ‘Market’:
‘We are in a massive baby boom, and this year alone 2.3m new parents will have their first baby. And everyone is fearful about SIDS.’
The title should fit into 2 lines maximum in the headline of a slide.
On the ‘Market’ slide, I would include things like statistics on the baby boom in the US, Asia and elsewhere. And then triangulate that into a total addressable market, size of billions of dollars, and so forth.
Let’s go with ‘Solution’ next:
‘We have created a simple wearable sock that monitors the vitals of infants and alerts parents if there is a problem during sleep.’
We can’t get any more straightforward than that! A cute little sock that you put on a cute little foot and the alerts happen. So this is the solution slide.
Let’s go with ‘Traction’ next:
‘Last month we trialed a crowdfunding campaign that generated 2,700 pre-orders of our product before it was ready for market.’
Oh my goodness, that’s pretty good… this traction. Now traction is, by the way, the one that we’re the most forgiving about at Hustle Fund, and a lot of pre-seed funds are the same. A lot of times you have only maybe the concept or a prototype already built out. Maybe there’s been one or two pilots or a handful of traction. So if you don’t have this yet, this is the least important I think at the pre-seed stage, possibly seed stage too.
Let’s finally end with the ‘Team’ slide title:
‘We are veteran builders in hardware and wearables with over 10 years working at Nike and Underarmour. We hold 2 PhDs.’
I almost want to tweak this one a little more because frankly, this is the most important slide. If you’ve ever viewed some of our past presentations on pitching, I generally like to see the team slide in the very beginning, but sometimes from a narrative perspective, if it just makes sense to put it in a different spot in your presentation, that is totally fine. It’s 70% about the team for pre-seed and seed companies. If the team feels right I’ll make the bet.
So let’s again go back to the setup. So we’re talking about this wearables company that is focusing on preventing SIDS.
We went from slides that said Team, Problem, Solution, Market, Traction. We understand the persona of the VC is this tired VC, probably a dude, again, the demographics are changing, fortunately. Anyway, he’s wearing stained sweatpants, hasn’t laundered himself for a while… pizza boxes and Chipotle and empty $100 bottles of wine are scattered around. It’s 7:37pm and he’s trying to actually just to blow through the decks that are in his inbox so he can just enjoy the rest of his evening, and watch whatever relevant Netflix show is on right now.
So how does this read – do the titles read as a sentence? Yes. When we read them together does it complete a full paragraph or 70% of what you need to know is here? Let’s find out.
Every year, 37,000 infants die in their sleep due to SIDS, and it’s completely preventable. We are in a massive baby boom, and this year alone 2.3m new parents will have their first baby. And everyone is fearful about SIDS. We have created a simple wearable sock that monitors the vitals of infants and alerts parents if there is a problem during sleep. Last month we trialed a crowdfunding campaign that generated 2,700 pre-orders of our product before it was ready for market. We are veteran builders in hardware and wearables with over 10 years working at Nike and Under Armour. We hold 2 PhDs.
OK, that feels pretty good.
You know I think I have a pretty good sense of the team, problem, solution, market, and traction. And for me, as the sweatpants VC, it might be interesting enough for me to reply by saying let’s meet up. Three words: ‘Let’s meet up.’ And that’s it. You can take it from there and hopefully present your full pitch deck which again will conform to some of these rules that we’ve mentioned.
So you’ll have a great pitch and then you’re ready to start collecting term sheets, or SAFE’s, or whatever you need.
Now finally to end the deck, your email and phone number should be on the last slide. And I’d suggest putting your email in the footer of each slide. Maybe also include in the footer a confidential disclaimer saying do not share, it gives people pause before they decide to share it and gives you a little more control over the distribution.
What to do when a VC wants a meeting? Think of this as a progressive discovery. It’s like going on a first date, you only stick to pleasantries. And then later in subsequent meetings, that’s when we air all the dirty laundry.
The ideal engagement sequence is the blurb, the teaser deck, then full deck and full pitch. You start with the pleasantries and then now you get really deep into the nuance, and the more time they sink with you the better. There’s a higher likelihood you’ll get the money from them. Telling your story in a very simple, clear, and concise way is the best chance of giving you a headstart in your hopefully long investment journey.
I just want to quickly add something at the end here. This exercise that we just went through ends up becoming a really really good practice for the rest of your team.
It’s just a good way of trying to align your story very clearly with the rest of your team and any of your advisors.
If you can get your entire company down to a few sentences, just like our exercise, then that can be distilled into any format, such as marketing, technical presentations and documents used in team meetings.
I think you’re going to find that you gain a lot in terms of how you can teach your team to pitch this deck. Your team will be armed with the key sentences to rely upon to pitch at any time.
This is when fundraising gets really interesting… when your engineering manager, who is not involved in the fundraising process, just so happens to be in line at Chipotle with me, Eric, next to them (not in my sweatpants).
She’s like, “Oh Eric, I see you on Twitter! If you have a minute between getting your burrito bowl, can I just tell you a little bit about what I’m up to?” She then casts her mind back and thinks about the exercise that she went through to refine the pitch headlines. She can now advocate on your company’s behalf too.
If you missed part one of this article by guest writer Eric Bahn, you can find it here. You may also be interested in visiting the ViewSonic workplace page for further insights into improving the productivity of your team.