8 Universal Qualities of Great Pitch Decks

“Send me your deck.”

Early entrepreneurs hear this a lot. And it’s because a pitch deck is a great way for an investor or potential customer to quickly size up your company. 

So, don’t leave this important communications piece to chance. We interviewed eight experienced entrepreneurs to get their perspective on the important aspects of an effective pitch deck.

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

What’s one lesser known thing you can include in a pitch deck that will really wow a VC?

1. Revenue

Danny BoiceWe very deliberately set out to have a solid revenue story for investors from day one. I know this sounds like common sense, but it’s unfortunately quite rare. I can’t believe how many investors we’ve pitched to who couldn’t believe that we had revenue our first month in business.

– Danny BoiceTrustify

2. A Personal Connection

Kristopher JonesDo research on the personal background of the person(s) you are sharing a deck with, and find one or more things in common to create a lasting personal connection. Maybe you went to the same college or high school. Maybe you are both Philadelphia Eagles fans (that would make three of us) or both attended Burning Man. A genuine personal connection can impress a VC and set the tone for discussion.

– Kristopher JonesLSEO.com

3. Synergies With Their Current Investments

Daniele GallardoI found that it is really important to understand the portfolio of your VC or strategic partner. Browsing the companies that they funded in the past gives you an understanding of what is important to them. If the companies are in the realm of what you do, it is often very simple to find synergies that the VC would really love to see in your deck. Do the homework for them, and show them!

– Daniele Gallardo, Actasys

4. Lessons Learned

jared-brownTelling VCs that you’ve made mistakes and sharing what you’ve learned from them will definitely make you stand out from the other startups that might be pretending to be perfect. You’ll show them that you’re adaptable, resilient and perceptive — all qualities they’re looking for in a potential investment. Then show how the lessons added to the value of your product or expanded your market reach.

– Jared BrownHubstaff

5. People Who Believe in You and How to Contact Them

dave-nevogtIf you already have influencers and advisors on board, show VCs who the three or four most important ones are and how to best get in contact with them. Having established entrepreneurs and businesspeople who will sing your praises to potential investors is an important signal of credibility, and in some cases, it can sway a VC that’s potentially interested but still needs some reassurance.

– Dave NevogtHubstaff.com

6. Video

Miles JenningsVideo and imagery are what attracts attention most from any audience you are trying to speak to, even an audience of VCs. Include a short video in your pitch that shows who you really are as a company, what you have accomplished and what your goals are. The video will make your story more tangible and will give a VC an inside look at your company and what you have to offer.

– Miles JenningsRecruiter.com

7. Thorough Financials

Jason LaAs an active investor in early stage companies, I review pitch decks every week, and I would be impressed by a thorough discussion of key metrics beyond mere sales projections. This should include compound annual growth rate, customer acquisition cost and return on equity as well as a timeline of the cost to achieve specific milestones. Thorough financials demonstrate solid business acumen.

– Jason La, Merchant Service Group, LLC

8. Future Vision of the Industry

Mike SeimanInclude the vision of the future of your industry. Too many people get caught up in the numbers and forget to tell a story. VCs want to know the bigger picture – where your company and your industry is going. In the end, marketing and finance decks aren’t that different. Both tell VCs a story and focus on getting them to invest in that vision.

– Mike SeimanCPXi

Pitch: PactSafe is the 1st Application that Seamlessly Manages, Tracks and Deploys Website Legal Agreements

PactSafe is the first application that seamlessly manages, tracks and deploys website legal agreements. In his August presentation at Verge, Brian Powers unveils PactSafe to the world. Watch his 5-minute pitch here:

PactSafe: Seamlessly Manage, Track and Deploy Your Website Legal Agreements

What is website legal?

  • Terms of Use
  • Privacy Policies
  • Terms and Conditions
  • Disclaimers


The problem:

  • Enforceability
  • Deployment and Management is a Huge Distraction
  • Tracking is Non-Existent

The solution (PactSafe):

  • Maximizes enforceability of website legal agreements.
  • Manages and deploys all aspects of website legal without disrupting development teams.
  • Tracks and records user acceptance of website legal agreements and modifications.

How you can help:

  • Sign Up and Use PactSafe!
  • Spread the Word!
  • Email the founder, Brian Powers if you or someone you know is looking for any of these awesome jobs

How are you currently managing website user agreements? Does PactSafe look like something you would use?

Two Companies to Watch: DCODIA and Social Sweepster

2 Companies to watchCamera and image-based technologies are at the core of two Verge startup companies. And, while their businesses couldn’t be more different, both founders draw from close personal experiences to focus on a problem they know well. Both are pitching at Verge on April 24th.

These startups approach interesting problems with novel solutions that are well worth keeping your eye on.

Picture This: Two Image-based Startups to Watch

DCODIA Decodes Dyslexia

Co-founder and CEO Kris Parmelee recently said, “Necessity is the mother of invention and I’m the mother of a dyslexic child.”

Kris at DCODIA


Frustrated with the lack of assistive technology for her son’s needs, Parmelee decided to solve the problem herself.

DCODIA is a discreet mobile solution designed to help dyslexic students read without the assistance of a parent, teacher or tutor. With it, readers who get stuck on a tricky word can un-stick themselves—which means greater freedom and independence for dyslexic students everywhere.

And, thanks to the unique data tracking features baked into DCODIA, dyslexic students will soon have better insight into precisely where their challenges are and how to overcome them.

Social Sweepster Cleans up Your Act

As a recent college graduate, Tom McGrath wanted to make sure that he continued to carry the lessons he picked up at Indiana University with him. He didn’t so much want to carry every beer he’d had at school with him, though. But with the proliferation of social media into so many aspects of our lives, Tom (and countless grads like

Tom at Social Sweepster

him) discovered that it’s not so easy to leave your digital footprints behind.

Enter Social Sweepster, the image recognition platform that promises to simplify putting your best foot forward online. The tool scans users’ social profiles and flags unbecoming photos (how many solo cup photos do you have on Facebook?) so graduates can be confident stepping into the “real world.”

Social Sweepster isn’t alone in the image recognition market—but as Facebook, Google and Apple are already snatching their competitors up, the future looks bright for this young company.

Continue reading

DreamShare takes on Video with BadaBoom

badaboom video pitches verge

Video’s hot right now and everyone knows it. Trying to cash in on the gold rush is web app developer, DreamShare. Their new web app, BadaBoom, aims to act as a sort of Pinterest for video. Make it easy to make lists and share those list among your social networks. John, Josh, and Squid walked us through the pitch at Verge Bloomington

Company: DreamShare (BadaBoom)

Business: Web App Building

Key Value Prop: Bada Boom allows you to keep a clean record of your favorite videos and share them through various social media sites

Pitch Successes We Can Learn From

  • Establishing a Gap in the Market: We all know how large the market is for online video sharing, but we may not know that there is a gap in services being provided. By establishing this early, you’re validating your idea.
  • Live Walk Through: So frequently you can get lost in screenshots. If all you have is an MVP, that’s one thing, but when you’re pitching a working web app, I want to see it! I love that they went through and did a live demo.
  • Comparison to Something Established: It could be easy to look down on them for being small and not well known, but by drawing a comparison to early stage Reddit, they’re sending a message. Don’t you wish you invested in Alexis Ohanaian early?

I was missing the comparison to their competitors. Let’s not shy from the elephant in the room (and the marketplace). How is this app going to differentiate itself from YouTube which allows you to create and share playlists? What about Vimeo and Vevo that allow you to do the same? This is a crowded market, what makes you different?

What were your thoughts? Do you believe in BadaBoom’s product or do you think their competition is too stiff?

Why Launch a Tech Company in Indianapolis? Verge Does it #WithGusto

The question has been asked of Shawn Schwegman too many times. The founder of Gusto, an email app about to launch, had entertained the idea of launching at South by Southwest (SXSW), but declined. Instead, he decided to launch his company from the Verge stage here in Indianapolis. The result? The largest launch in Verge history.

So if you were a tech startup, why would you want to launch in Indy? Keep your eye on these three trends in Indy that set it apart from other tech scenes throughout the nation.

1. Community


Personally, I have been involved with Verge for about 8 months and I’ve heard this community receive high praise from everyone who comes to know us–from IEDC President Eric Doden last night, to reddit.com co-founder & best-selling author Alexis Ohanian just a few weeks ago. And what we have in Indianapolis is special for many reasons beyond our tech talent. Yes, Indianapolis is the Marketing Technology Capital of the World. Yes, Indiana is second in the nation at attracting out-of-state talent to our Universities. Yes, Indianapolis is positioned to launch some of the nation’s coolest tech startups, but that alone isn’t what makes Indy great.

Our community came out in a big way last night. 500 techies joined to help launch a new brand that is in a position to revolutionize the way we view email and personal storage, and that’s what this community is best at. Supporting one another and lifting each other up.


2. Access to Talent

A common refrain for Shawn throughout the process of building Gusto was “Go Big or Go Home.” He wasn’t going to half ass this app, so he found five of the best developers in the state, grabbed the best branding agency and PR firms he could find, and shelled out some serious dough.

Well, one of those is a lie.

Shawn talked last night about how the talent we have here in Indianapolis is as good as anyone in the world, but here you don’t have to pay the premium. You can get world class work done for half the price of Silicon Valley or New York.

3. Analytic and Marketing Capacity

Indianapolis is uniquely positioned as the Marketing Tech Capital of the World, and Shawn used every bit of that capacity he could find. As an analytically-driven person, he’s running thousands of marketing campaigns with this launch, micro-targeting every single one with the ultimate goal of making the advertising as personalized as possible.

This highly-analytic, yet creative, approach is a quintessential Indianapolis move that takes advantage of technologies that didn’t exist until recently. While this is definitely the more difficult path, Shawn doesn’t flinch at the task. He understands that this is what you have to do if you want to tango with big data.

I was extremely proud of the Verge community last night. It was incredible to see such a large group of people come out and support Shawn and the Gusto team. This community is why people like Shawn are choosing to launch in Indy as opposed to at SXSW, and it’s why so many new Indy-made companies have so much forward momentum right now.

And we aren’t showing any signs of slowing down.

What else makes Indy a great place to build and launch tech? What opportunities do we have to step our game up to the next level? Drop your thoughts in the comments below!

Game Mechanics Meet Education: Chris Gray Pitches Track Ahead

Track Ahead uses game mechanics to help companies recruit college students

As the world of recruiting top talent to businesses changes, there are tons of great opportunities for disruption. Track Ahead is looking to disrupt the field by adding game mechanics to college education to help pair students and employers. By gamifying the education and recruitment process, Track Ahead is venturing into uncharted waters and people have taken notice. This education gamification startup has pitched at The Economist, and Founder Chris Gray was kind enough to pitch for a second time at our Verge Education Celebration at the Conrad, take a look:

Key Takeaways

  • Never Apologize for Evolution: Chris talks about the evolution of Track Ahead and how the company has changed and pivoted through the years, but he warns against apologizing or making excuses for why you’ve changed course. “You just get out there and talk and some of the ideas are going to be validated and some aren’t.”
  • Always Be Learning: Those pivots and adjustments were necessary, but they wouldn’t have been possible if Chris wasn’t constantly learning. His biggest advice, however, is to never make the same mistake twice. “There’s very little education in the second kick of a mule.”
  • Always Cater to Your End User: As Chris gives a high-level overview of the future of Track Ahead, he mentions building around the features that the students, educators, and businesses are actually using. This is always important for founders in the early stages. You have a limited amount of functionality you can launch with. Use it wisely.

For Chris’ pitch for The Economist and more information on Track Ahead click here.

What were your thoughts on his pitch?

Verge Startups Pitch Review: Earbits

Every Modownloadnday we feature a pitch from a recent Verge meeting at one of our hubs. Today’s post comes from Joey Flores from Bloomington pitching his company, Earbits.

Company: Earbits

Business: Music Advertising

Key Value Prop: Allow bands to play their songs for users who are interested in their style of music.

Pitch Successes We Can Learn From

  • Establish credibility: Joey started his pitch by establishing why both he and his business partner are uniquely positioned to corner this market.
  • Put himself in the buyers shoes: By telling a story of how he had to deal with this problem himself, he was able to validate the idea.
  • Show his believers: He showed a slide around the 3 minute mark that had many of his current investors listed. While this isn’t always possible, it goes a long way for investors to know that they’re not the only ones that believe in your vision.
  • Show results: Comparing $58 in flyers to $58 in Earbits promotions really hammers home the value of his platform.

If I were there, I would’ve asked Joey to explain how the song selection works. As a user, would I exclusively hear paid bands, or would it be a combination of bands I know with bands that paid for advertisements? Is there any sort of ratings system like Pandora? It sounds like a walkthrough of the actual user interface would have been helpful.

What are your thoughts on Joey’s pitch? Does Earbits finally solve the problem of music marketing or does it, as Paul Grahm said, “kill an otherwise good startup?”

Verge Startups Pitch Review: Evacua

Every Monday we highlight a pitch from a recent Verge Pitch Night at one of our hubs. Today’s post comes from Mike Beckwith from Bloomington pitching his company, Evacua.


Company: Evacua

Business: Evacuation and Safety Program for Travelers

Key Value Prop: Access to private transport for travelers, even when commercial and government transport is unavailable.

3 Pitch Successes We Can Learn From

Mike zeroed in on a couple of things in his pitch that can really help elevate your pitch to the next level.

  • Tell a story: By sharing the story of his friend, Chris, trying to escape a tsunami, Mike was able to create a more compelling pitch.
  • Establish a clear problem: “There’s an excess amount of inventory available, but there’s no good way to manage it.”
  • Establish a clear pain point for a consumer base: “If he was on a business trip for his company (in the middle of a tsunami, with an inability to escape), they could be sued for a lot of money. 31 of the last 35 companies to get sued for this have lost big.

When asking for a six figure investment, your revenue model can be what makes or breaks your pitch. A few things I wanted to know:

  • Who are you targeting? Individual travelers? Companies with business travelers?
  • How much is this going to cost me?

What are your thoughts on Mike’s pitch for Evacua?

One Startup’s Journey to Revolutionize Professional Development & Recruitment

It’s no secret that the video game industry is now twice as large as Hollywood, thanks largely to the Millennial Generation. It’s also no secret that the rising Millennial generation in the United States is facing employment challenges that few have faced before. And the problem isn’t because they’re playing too many video games. As The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson writes in his piece, “The Unluckiest Generation”:

Finding a good job as a young adult has always been a game of chance. But more and more, the rules have changed: Heads, you lose; tails, you’re disqualified. The unemployment rate for young people scraped 18 percent in 2010, and in the past five years, real wages have fallen for millennials–and only for millennials.

Cue entrepreneurial efforts to solve this problem for America’s unluckiest–and largest–generation.

Like Chris Gray and his startup, Track Ahead.

Chris Gray, Track Ahead

Track Ahead aims to revolutionize the way that students develop their professional interests and relationships by leveraging gamification and incentives to drive action.

“Too often,” said, Gray, “People spend more time shopping for a car than looking for their first job. We’re changing that.”

Learning more about a company, for instance, earns points for a student. And offering learning opportunities earns points for companies.

“After a student accumulates enough points, companies will want to talk to them.”

Track Ahead is diving into solving some of the challenges that come with higher education–and as Gray has continued to pursue his mission with Track Ahead, he continues to learn how to better resolve his own challenges. He’ll be sharing some of that learning at the Verge Education Celebration on December 11th. But in the mean time, I’ve shared a little of what I’ve learned from Chris Gray and Track Ahead below.

Learning in Action, and Action in Learning

Track Ahead

Track Ahead aims to drive proactive learning–and Chris Gray has certainly learned a lot about how people learn about Track Ahead.

In October 2013, Gray pitched Track Ahead at The Economist’s Human Potential Forum. Watch it, then compare it to his first ever pitch at Verge in 2011.

Gray’s pitch from The Economist’s stage is brief, concise, and crystal clear. Compare his recent pitch in New York to the first time he ever pitched Track Ahead at Verge.

Pitch Practice Makes Perfect Pitch

Gray’s Track Ahead pitch at Verge is certainly a good one–and you can see how much he learned from it. For instance…

Show Me the Money

Notice how Gray’s recent pitch focused much more on the company side of the Track Ahead platform, not the consumer side. Where do you see Track Ahead’s growth coming from?

Watch the Game Tape, Seek Feedback.

Gray wanted to pitch Track Ahead years ago, and it wasn’t just to get the name of his startup out into the market–in addition to the round of financing Track Ahead was raising, Gray wanted feedback on his pitch from the other entrepreneurs in the Verge community. Just like football teams deconstruct their competitor’s game tape to find weaknesses in their defense, Gray was able to learn from his pitches over time to really deliver at the Human Potential Forum.

Note: He’ll be sharing some of that learning in less than 24 hours at the Verge Education Celebration.

What Did You Learn from Comparing how Gray Pitched Track Ahead?

Let us know in the comments!

Celebrate Learning with Chris Gray and Track Ahead

See Chris Gray discuss what he’s learned with Track Ahead at the Verge Education Celebration Event, Wednesday, December 11th 2013. 

3 Can’t-Miss TED Talk Takeaways You Can Apply Today

Ted Talk TakeawaysAs I click my fourth YouTube link in the past hour, I realize I’m here again. With over 2,300 recorded videos of engaging performers, it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of discovering new TED talk takeaways.

And if you haven’t caught the TED bug yet, you soon will.

The lessons to be learned at TED conferences extend far beyond technology education and design. They apply in the business and startup world as much as they do anywhere else. These three talks contain golden insights for startup founders and entrepreneurs from some of the most well regarded TED speakers…

TED Talk Takeaway #1: Take the Carrot off The Stick

Traditional business incentives can be bit like a carrot dangled from a stick. Daniel Pink illustrates that the incentive systems we tend to lean on in business aren’t always the best for solving complex problems. His TED talk is full of great ideas, but how can they be leveraged for startups?

Don’t let your functional tasks distract you from solving the bigger problem. When you deliver a solution for one customer, spend the time finding ways to create processes to automate that function so you can keep your eyes on the prize.

TED Talk Takeaway #2: Give Everything to Your First Followers

Startup founders tend to be thought of as the valiant hero, the mystical “idea guy” or “idea girl.” But as Derek Sivers points out, the first follower transforms the lone lunatic into a visionary. It’s the first follower that creates momentum and legitimizes the founder’s effort.

When you find your first follower, or first followers, and treat them like co-founders (because as Sivers says, they pretty much are) and listen with the right feedback systems.

TED Talk Takeaway #3: Create “Aha” Moments

Joshua Foer takes a complex concept–how to develop a world-class “perfect” memory–and simplifies it in a way the entire audience can understand. I love that he begins by not just asking for the audience’s attention, but demanding with an intriguing introduction. He creates a narrative arc based on showing his point (not telling the audience about it) that gets the everybody nodding along, as if they subconsciously agree with him.

Foer closes his talk by creating an “aha” moment, one that leaves a lasting impression about how memory works. It’s like Foer lets the audience in on a secret–and this privilege, this exclusivity, is a powerful selling effect. For another example of this, check out how Apollo Robbins lets the audience in on the way pick pockets leverage misdirection in his TED talk.

Structure pitches like stories. Think like Foer and Robbins. Show your audience what you mean. Instead of merely telling them about it, allow your words to carry some weight. Aim for the “aha” moment.

Make the Magic Happen

Verge founder and president, Matt Hunckler, was able to give a TED talk at TEDxIndianapolis in October and learn from the experience. Keep an eye out for the video later this month.

What are some of your favorite TED talk takeaways? Share your video links and takeaways in the comments below…