What's a Startup Pitch?

In this section of our Funding Series, we’re going to walk through each element one at a time, to give you the best way to truly understand the full anatomy of a business plan, and by way of that, every other type of investor document you will need to create successful pitch decks.

August 8th, 2022   |    By: The Startups Team

Welcome to Phase Three of a four-part Funding Series — The Pitch:

Phase One - Structuring a Fundraise

Phase Two - Investor Selection

Phase Three - The Pitch

Phase Four - Investor Outreach

Any startup interested in raising money will need a pitch presentation to share with potential investors, and successful startups all have one thing in common (most likely) a solid business idea backed by a convincing presentation deck.

In this article, we will talk about the 10 sections of a pitch and what they include.

Let’s dive in!

Creating Your Own Pitch Deck

There are two ways to think about your pitch – the short pitch and the long pitch.

The short pitch is a very well-crafted, bite-sized description of the problem you solve, why your solution is amazing, and perhaps how big the market opportunity would be. It’s also called your “elevator pitch.”

The long pitch is all the details that back up your grandiose claims. That comes in a few form factors such as a business plan, a pitch deck (also referred to as a slide deck), and an executive summary. We cover those elements in “Part 2: Key Pitch Assets.”

Each of these elements draws from the same 10 aspects of a modern startup’s business plan. Supporting the business model, your pitch presentation should reflect a few key metrics every venture capitalist wants to see.

In this section, we’re going to walk through each element one at a time, to give you the best way to truly understand the full anatomy of a business plan in your specific competitive landscape, and by way of that, every other type of investor document you will need to create successful pitch decks.

Side Note: Beyond Startup Pitch Decks

The information in this series is useful well beyond the use case to secure funding with your own pitch deck. The clarity you gain from going through this series section by section will certainly help you pitch your business to potential investors but just as importantly it will help you more clearly communicate your idea to partners, your target market, and help with hiring key team members. The "pitch" isn't just a visual document like a one-pager or a slide deck, it's a distillation of your business model into its simplest and most useful communication points. We will look at plenty of pitch deck examples but we want to be very clear that this isn't just an exercise for those who want to secure funding for their business.

The 10 sections of a pitch include:

  1. Problem, Solution & Market Size

  2. Product (How it Works)

  3. Revenue Model

  4. Operating Model

  5. Competitive Analysis

  6. Customer Definition

  7. Customer Acquisition

  8. Traction

  9. Funding

  10. Financials

Bear in mind – this is a ton of work! You don’t need to complete all of these in a single sitting and many of these will evolve over weeks and months. Right now, just get a good feel for what each of the pitch elements looks like, so you can pick a comfortable place to start when you're ready to start raising money.  

Most people start with the Problem, Solution & Market Size and build from there — so let’s begin with that.

Problem, Solution & Market Size

The heart of every investor pitch involves 3 elements — Problem, Solution, and Market Size.

The best startups solve painful problems with huge market opportunity — or what your specific competitive landscape may be. Long before they become all the apps on your phone or your favorite restaurant chain, they spent countless cycles refining how they would communicate this problem to potential investors, employees, and customers.

These three elements also form the core of your Elevator Pitch. In its shortest form, if you were pitching your business to potential investors, they would want to know these three critical pieces of information before they would listen to (or care about) the rest of your business plan. This is where you need to generate interest, and is the basis of why your business exists, in the first place. 

Simple, right? Well, not so much.

A seasoned Founder may iterate on this pitch hundreds of times until they get it right. It's not just words, but an understanding of the business itself that comes with lots of cycles and experience. There isn't a single, clean cut pitch deck template out there to copy/paste into, as every startup's business idea, problem, and unique value proposition, etc., will vary. The constant revision, until you get it right, is what makes this so hard. And while pitch deck templates can be helpful, the real win comes from the revision and refinement of how your big idea is going to take on a big market and become a big well known company.

Before you do anything else — like create financial projections, detail the competitive analysis, or put a funding plan in place — you need to nail this part. 

Founders love their business financial projections - but remember, these are often best kept as extra slides only presented on request.

Problem

Every great company starts by solving an important problem. The more accurately you articulate the Problem, the more valuable the Solution will be to your target market.

In many ways, the Problem is the heart of your concept. It’s what intrigues people about the rest of your business and ultimately becomes the focal point for everything you build.

Building a great case for your problem isn’t just about stating the problem, it’s about building an engaging story around that problem that people can empathize with personally.

Let’s use the example of Netflix which initially solved the problem (back in the days of yore) people had while having to travel to the video store to rent a movie.

Netflix sought to avoid video stores altogether and instead deliver movies in an envelope to your mailbox, allowing you to keep the movie as long as you’d like. 

At the time, the Netflix problem statement would probably look like this:

 "Going to the video store is a pain. People don't like traveling back and forth just to rent a movie and they hate paying late fees even more."

That’s a pretty simple problem statement, and it’s accurate. Notice that it doesn’t include any reference to the solution. We’ll get to that later. A good problem statement focuses entirely on the problem so that the audience can build a powerful case for that problem and ideally connect to it personally.

A great problem statement has a lot more character to it. It tells more of a story and provides an emotional connection to the solution. Building a better story takes more effort, but the payoff is real because you can draw your audience (or target market) into your world and get them excited about your journey.

We're not all going to raise venture capital.

Step 1: Pick the Biggest Problem

There’s a good chance that your product solves multiple problems for your target market, and that’s wonderful. Right now, however, it’s time to lead with just one of them – the biggest problem you solve.

There are two important reasons for this. 

Investors Won’t Remember.

Investors don’t have time to remember every detail of your pitch. Can you remember the last time you spent an hour watching a TV show and remembered every line of dialogue? To ensure your deck stands out, you need to focus on the highlights, key points, and save the details for pointed questions later.

One Problem Needs to Succeed.

If your biggest problem isn’t compelling, it stands to reason that the second biggest problem you tackle isn’t going to save you. You don’t win on the number of problems you solve, you win on how well you solve a particular problem.

If problem one is compelling enough, certain investors might want to jump ahead to questions before moving foward, so it's extremely helpful for both you and their time to make sure your visual document of this slide will generate interest with competitive advantage.

In the example of Netflix, we know that movie delivery solves lots of problems – convenience, movie selection, and cost-effectiveness – among others. Yet, some are more important than others. 

If Netflix was far cheaper than its rivals but less convenient you could argue that it could fail. Therefore, Netflix needs to be cheaper, but more importantly it must be more convenient. We then realize that “convenience” will be our lead problem.

This doesn’t mean we will ignore the other problems. We can certainly cite those as well, but we want to tighten our focus initially so that we can talk about this problem first, build a story around it, and then expand into related problems to solve later.

We need to clearly illustrate the problem our product or service solves for the target market

Step 2: Pump up the Pain

Not all problems are created equal. The value of a problem is proportionate to how painful that problem is. The more painful the problem, the more powerful the solution.

You don’t have to be addressing a life-threatening problem to make it powerful. You need to focus on the detail of the pain in your problem. Even “convenience” can be presented very differently if it isn’t given enough character.

Compare these two versions of the same problem:

Version 1:

“Going to the video store is a pain.”

Version 2:

“Going to the video store requires fighting traffic, wandering the aisles and waiting in long lines just to get a single movie.”

Both statements have the same intent, but the second one details the pain. You don’t want to hope your audience will remember what fighting traffic was like – you want to tell them. You want to remind them of the nuances that make “going to the video store” such a miserable experience.

Step 3: Make your Story Relatable

As emotional beings, we attach to things we can relate to personally. The vision for your product is no different. The more your audience can relate to your story the better they will understand it and want to connect to it.

Founders raising funds live and die by their pitch decks.

There are a handful of ways that Founders tend to build a relatable story:

Create a Character. You’ve seen this in popular “explainer videos” where the story opens with “This is Jim. He loves watching movies but hates having to travel back and forth to the video store every week.” Startups use this to give their audiences a persona to connect to which allows them to more easily relate that to their own experiences. 

Connect a Personal Journey. The problem often comes from the Founders themselves, which suggests a personal story that people can relate to. In this case, you’re relaying the origin story of your startup or product, discussing how this problem affected you personally. This allows you to be the central character that venture capitalists can relate to and connect with.

Suggest an “Everyman” Problem. Some problems are universal, such as a common frustration people have in everyday life. In the case of Netflix, the frustration of movie rentals was something almost everyone could relate to. They could open with “Aren’t you tired of having to travel back and forth to the video store every time you want to watch a movie?” Chances are their audience has dealt with this. It’s a bit of a gamble, so be mindful of assuming your target audience (potential investors) shares your problem.

Any of these approaches can be used to create a story around your problem if they naturally work. If there’s nothing particularly relatable about your product or story (it may just be too specific) don’t torture it. These techniques can help communicate your problem more effectively, but they aren’t an absolute requirement.

A pair of cofounders talking through their business model.

Constructing the Problem Statement

Now that you have a sense of how to pick your problem, focus the pain, and build a story around it, we can construct our problem statement in a very deliberate manner :

Step 1 – Biggest Problem.

We determined that convenience was the biggest problem we were going to solve. While other problems like cost and selection were interesting, if consumers didn’t think Netflix was more convenient, they just wouldn’t use it.

Step 2 – Pump up the Pain.

It’s not just going to the video store that’s a pain, it’s all the frustration that involves making that journey. We expanded upon just how painful the convenience problem is.

Step 3 – Tell a Story.

We then began to build a story around who feels that pain and how it was something our audience could relate to.

Even though you know the elements of a good problem statement, it’s still possible to articulate this poorly. Just assume the first 20 times you pitch this problem (maybe a lot more!) you’re going to refine it.

Don’t try to get the definitive version right out of the gates. It’s nearly impossible. The best pitch decks narrow down these key metrics with specific, pointed language.

Here's a horrible way to articulate the problem:

"The video rental industry has a categorically broken distribution model when delivery video-based content to consumers."

Is that true? Yes. Is it relatable? Not at all! Remember that facts alone are not a compelling narrative. A good problem statement isn’t just correct — it’s compelling. It pulls the audience in and gets them fired up.

Compare this to the version we developed earlier where we detailed the pain more acutely:

 “Going to the video store requires fighting traffic, wandering the aisles and waiting in long lines just to get a single movie.”

If we really wanted to get creative, we could try to build a story behind who is frustrated by using a character or a relatable scenario as well. This is helpful but not a requirement. If it doesn’t feel like adding a character tells the story better, leave it out. Regarding potential investors, less is always more if it gets the job done.

The goal of the problem statement is not only to garner the attention of your audience, it also serves to make the solution look amazing. Next, we are going to dig into the Solution, but mind you we’ll be tweaking each element (to point to what investors expect) – problem, solution, and market size – as we go. Iteration is our friend here!

The problem statement is the cornerstone of a pitch deck.

Solution

Once you've articulated the Problem your next step is to think about how your Solution fixes that Problem beautifully. This requires just as much effort to keep the answer short and punchy as the problem statement — showcasing key expertise where your startup saves the day! 

If we’ve done a good job of constructing the problem statement, our Solution slide should be quite obvious. 

Connect Directly to the Problem

Your Problem Statement should set the stage for your Solution to shine. Investors such as venture capitalists want to see what your business solves. In the case of Netflix, we did a respectable job of explaining how painfully inconvenient going to a video store is. 

We want our solution statement to connect directly to that problem – before we get into any other part of the Solution. 

In the case of Netflix, our solution involves allowing anyone to watch movies streamed directly to their home or delivered to their mailbox (in case you forgot, Netflix also delivers DVDs!)

Problem

“Going to the video store requires fighting traffic, wandering the aisles, and waiting in long lines just to get a single movie.”

 Solution

“Netflix allows anyone to enjoy thousands of titles streamed directly to their home or delivered to their mailbox.”

Voila! In just two sentences we’ve given a potential investor an easy-to-digest problem/solution statement. There is a power that can be hard for Founders to comprehend with this level of simplicity. When we make something simple, we make it easier to relate to. When we make something relatable, we make it easier to understand. When we make it easy to understand, we win.

What’s important here is what we’re not including. We’re not talking about the cost savings or the ability to get streamed content on multiple devices. We will certainly discuss those benefits as dig into our pitch, but we want to hook the audience in with our strongest value proposition from the start, as you will never convince investors to invest in your product or service without it.

A Founder working on a startup idea

But Wait! There’s More!

Now that we’ve lured potential investors in with a well-articulated problem and solution it’s time to expand our use case a bit. This is where we can start to expand upon additional problems that our business model can address - but always remember not to do so in a way that dilutes from our core problem and solution.

The cadence is essentially the same – starting off with the key component of a problem and then citing the solution. As before, the more closely our solution slide or statement aligns with the problem - the better.

 Typical Pitch Cadence:

  • Primary Problem / Solution

  • Market Size

  • Secondary Problem / Solution

  • Tertiary Problem / Solution

Up Next

Later in your presentation, you will dig into How it Works and perhaps a demo to walk you through these major milestones. For now, just make sure that your audience is compelled enough by the business case to care about how it works.

Remember that you don’t need to include every last problem or solution product or service addresses. If the Primary and Secondary problem/solution propositions tell a story that's compelling, that’s really all you need!

Continue to Part 2 - Market Size


About the Author

The Startups Team

Startups is the world's largest startup platform, helping over 1 million startup companies find customers, funding, mentors, and world-class education.

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