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?

The Overlooked Pitch – Your Online Presence

online-presence-will-ferrellToday’s post comes from Nick Wangler, a recent addition to DeveloperTown. Every two weeks, Nick will be sharing stories of DeveloperTown startups and the lessons we can learn from them. Today, he’s introducing us to the overlooked pitch – our online presence.

You know those videos where celebrities read angry tweets about themselves? If you haven’t seen them, imagine Will Ferrell sitting on a toilet reading tweets where he is heckled mercilessly and you’ve got the idea.

There’s something surreal about the moment when words clearly intended for the internet are heard in a different context. Read aloud and considered, what’s written online often takes on a new perspective.
For instance, imagine reading your LinkedIn profile from the stage of the next Verge event. Are you totally satisfied with how that would go? Would there even be anything to read? Would it be compelling? And if not, why? I know I’ve got work to do and I’m sure others do too.
Everything we write online is a pitch to the unseen yet seemingly ever present potential investor, partner, employee, and customer. A pitch for who you are, what you’re about, and how well you can communicate big ideas in constrained spaces.
What’s more, taking the time to write original thoughts with the constraints of a summary on LinkedIn or 140 characters on Twitter forces you to understand exactly what you want to convey and do it concisely. As author John Piper once said, “The effort to say is the path to seeing.”
While I’ve always paid attention to the way I communicate online, I hadn’t given this area as much thought as I should until a recent discussion with Jason Seiden made me reconsider. He said, “If you aren’t at least as compelling online as you are in person, you’re doing it wrong.”
When is the last time you read your LinkedIn profile from the perspective of a potential client? Or took the time to think through how to communicate an original thought in 140 characters rather than just sharing yet another blog post about your industry to appear knowledgable? (I’m guilty.)
Frequent writing and refining of original thoughts through online platforms doesn’t just broaden your reach, it strengthens your core ability to communicate. While design and development is (righfully) experiencing a huge boom, the need for good writing is as important as ever and will multiply the effectiveness of whatever position you find yourself in.
So go watch Will Ferrell read tweets on a toilet (somewhat nsfw, obv), check out one of my favorite resources for learning to write well, and then go write something.

To learn more about improving your online presence, make sure  you check out our September event with Connections!

3 Pitching Mistakes That Make You Sound “Salesy”

ben-franklin-close“Draw a line down the center of the paper,” said Mr. Brown.

We were on the third hour of back and forth and Brown wasn’t ready to let go without pulling out all the stops.

“Now on the left side of the paper, write ‘Reasons For,’ and on the right side, write the word ‘Reasons Against,’” Brown said. This was the first time I had ever been sold anything in a one-on-one situation. But even I knew the “Ben Franklin” close.

I’ve seen a lot of pitches since then. It’s surprising how many make the same mistakes—especially because they’re so easily avoided.

We’ve all had bad days, or even found ourselves in a rut. So, do a quick self check on these common “salesy” pitch habits:

You’re way too eager.

Slow down, Sparky. We appreciate your enthusiasm, but we can’t understand what you’re talking about, no matter how wide you open your eyes or how broad make your gestures.


When you give your pitch, you’re going to get a shot of adrenaline. And that jolt can be your friend or your worst enemy.

Stay calm. You need to be enthusiastic about your business, but you also need to make good decisions (and stay coherent) during your pitch. A few deep breaths before your next pitch may do the trick. But if you’re really amped up, you may want to try a quick meditation.

Yes, meditation.

Even if you have only 2 minutes. Research has shown that you communicate better and make better decisions when you’re calm.  And meditation has been proven to decrease stress and maintain a calm, confident mindset.

eleven-fifty-pitchYou sound like a robot.

Have you ever had someone impress you with their industry vocabulary or clever sales phrases?

Yeah, me neither.

When you really know your industry and product, it’s easy to get carried away. But using big words or jargon makes it difficult to make a genuine connection.

At the same time, clichés and overused phrases are an easy (and did I mention, ineffective?) fallback strategy. Unless you’re making a joke, don’t ever use any of the following:

  • “We’re world class…” << It’s great that your product is world-class. Instead of claiming this, tell your audience who said you’re “world class” or why they should believe this.
  • “This is cutting-edge.” << Oh snap! Cutting edge, you say? This idiom couldn’t be more ironic. If you actually utter the words “cutting edge,” you’re not cutting edge. Think of something original to say in a way that makes sense for your product.
  • “Can I be honest for a second?” << If you want to build rapport with your audience (hint: you do), you should just go ahead and be honest all the time.
  • “I will offer this only to you on a discount.” << Don’t resort to these kinds of “sales tactics.” They make you seem cheap and disingenuous, and they rarely work.
  • “It’s a paradigm shift.” << No. Just no. Please don’t say this.
  • “Value-added” or “Added-value” << How do you add value? Why does this matter? Talk about the benefit or the pain point you’re solving and you’ll hook the audience’s attention.

I could go on, but you get the point. Bottom line: People do business with people. Pitch accordingly.


You forget the “ask.”

You’ve hooked the audience’s attention. You built intrigue and demonstrated the value of your business. Now bring us home.

I’m sure you’ve done research on your audience (right?), so craft a concise, actionable ask for the end of your pitch. When you deliver your specific request—this could be a sale, funding, a referral, etc.—remind your audience why they will benefit.

pact-safe-pitchThen, shut up.

If you keep talking, you’ll lose your audience. So, give your audience the opportunity to help you.

If you’re using slides, leave your contact information presented for all to see. If you’re presenting to a large audience, keep yourself extremely visible to the room and open to starting new conversations. Book a specific next step and make sure you have a way to contact your new friend (grab their business card).

Hopefully, I gave you some “Reasons Against” being too eager or robotic during your pitches. And when you nail your “Reasons For” during the ask of your next pitch, there is one thing of which I’m certain…

Ben Franklin would be proud.

Did you find these suggestions helpful? Learn what investors have to say about pitching mistakes entrepreneurs make when pitching for Seed Funding.


Grown Up Lessons For Your Startup’s Next Pitch

startup pitching lessons from thaddeus rexAs they gear up for this year’s Innovation Showcase, over 80 founders from across the nation are honing their investment pitches. They have read every book, every blog, and consulted a half dozen mentors, but this month, Verge is bringing in an incredible resource for honing your pitching skills who has a surprising background.

Thaddeus Rex is an extremely well respected public speaker and consultant. Today he works with marketers and salespeople across the country on building and leveraging world-class brands. Sounds cool, right? He must have spent his youth hopping from Madison Avenue Ad Agency to Madison Avenue Ad Agency, learning the biz better than anyone in the world.

Not quite.

Thaddeus didn’t start off as an advertiser or a sales guru. In fact, he got his start as a children’s singer. Thaddeus began his career as a musician on PBS followed by a decade’s worth of touring performing for schools and family groups.

So what could this possibly have to do with crafting an investment pitch? Thaddeus sat down with the Verge crew for a Google Hangout to chat more about the lessons he’s learned about crafting brilliant presentations and building winning brands.

The Magic to a Perfect Pitch? Appealing to Dual Audiences

It’s extremely easy to get caught up in the minutiae of a pitch deck. To Thaddeus, it’s all about understanding who your audience is (and why only thinking about one audience is never enough.)

“If you’re writing songs for kids, you’re really writing songs for parents. It’s about appealing to two audiences.”

So how do you apply that to a startup pitch? When you’re pitching to an end user, it can be extremely easy to forget about the business and focus on the features and benefits. When you’re pitching to an investor, discussions of market cap and revenue streams may clutter what the product actually does. To hone your pitch, you need to choose a defined target audience and put investors in those shoes. Make sure that your investors can see the end user experience while still appealing to their pocketbook.

If you’re pitching in the Innovation Showcase, you may be wondering “How do I fit all this in 60 seconds?!” Thaddeus has a quick three-step solution to taking this solution and fitting it in a tight time frame.

1. Develop intrigue and connection and immediately by highlighting an issue and making them feel a part of that problem.

2. Help them imagine the solution to that problem.

3. Surprise them! You have the solution.

Want Your Brand to Tell a Better Story? Give It Vocal Lessons

The biggest challenge brands face can be trying to take a product that no one really cares about and giving it value. Because of this, many marketers go on and on about brands telling a story.

“A story is important, but a song is linear, a song has a theme.”

Thaddeus Rex – Your Brand is Like a Song (a Rainmakers’ “Sparks Talk” event) from Thaddeus Rex on Vimeo.

It’s Time To Sharpen Your Ax

We’ve all heard the Lincoln-ism “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening my ax.” Well if you’re going to be looking for funding any time soon, this month’s Verge event is your time to sharpen your ax. With all of the investor insights we’ve given you in the past, Verge has never provided such a great resource in the art of public speaking and honing your message.

On top of that, we’ve got two killer pitches, one from a well-known neighbor to many of our friends at the Speakeasy and another from a newcomer to the Indy startup scene who is already working with some SERIOUSLY big name clients! You also have the opportunity to meet the Hoosiers vying for over $100k in funding at this year’s Innovation Showcase and meet Indianapolis’ newest superstars, the Indy Xterns. 

KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR INBOX. Tickets are going live tomorrow AM (Wednesday, June 18th) and with the interest we’ve seen from founders and investors alike, they won’t be open for long. In the mean time, beware! Dinosaurs are everywhere!


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?

Winning Startup Trade Show Ideas from The Innovation Showcase

It’s been a big year for Santiago Jaramillo and the BlueBridge Digital team. The kind of year that landed him on the Inc. 30 under 30 list.

Startup Conference Tips to Win

Santiago Jaramillo, Founder and CEO of BlueBridge Digital.

A year ago, BlueBridge had fifteen clients and three employees. They now have over 110 clients and more than fifteen employees, but that’s only the beginning–with plans to add 199 jobs over the next nine years, Santiago and BlueBridge are only going to continue accelerating.

And when Santiago pitched at The Innovation Showcase in July 2013, the team was already well on their way to growth mode: they took home 1st place in the Early Stage Startup category, attracted lots of attention from the startup community in Indiana (and around the country), and have continued to innovate in the mobile space.

So when Santiago shared with me how he and the BlueBridge team prepared for The Innovation Showcase, I knew it was advice worth heeding.

Santiago explained that three things take the most effort and time to prepare for startup conference and events: the exhibit, the team, and the pitch. Catch the full interview and my takeaways below.

Winning Startup Trade Show Ideas

Startup Trade Show Idea #1: Be Intentional with Your Exhibit

Attendees at most conferences won’t have any clue what your company does when they walk through the door, so start with the pain or problem you solve. Try to avoid industry jargon. Your goal is to be understood–to create an “Ah, yes, I see!” moment–not to speak over attendee’s heads.

BlueBridge delivers Mobile Apps as a Service (MaaaS?). Which may or may not come across clearly, even to a techno-literate audience.

Keep your exhibit simple, like your pitch, Santiago said. Put a lot of thought into the few items you will bring, and keep attendees laser-focused on the real value you provide–not the chintzy usb drive the booth next to you is giving away.

Startup Trade Show Idea #2: Be Intentional with Your Exhibit

Startup teams are tight-knit, but that doesn’t always mean that everybody is on the same page going into scrutinous environments like The Innovation Showcase. Prep your team with finely-tuned talking points to make sure the message is consistent. Rehearse.

“When you start describing what you do,” said Santiago, “There are just so many solutions out there that people wonder why you should even exist.”

So why does BlueBridge exist?

“There are more smartphones sold than babies born in the world,” said Santiago, chuckling. “It makes you laugh, but it captures their attention…and they’re willing to listen to how we’re solving that issue.”

Key Startup Trade Show Idea: Ask yourself what key metrics you can share, and how you can create buy-in from attendees with your reason for being.

Startup Trade Show Idea #3: Perfect the 60 Second Pitch

Startup Conference Pitch

Santiago Jaramillo and his partner Adam Weber delivered a conversational, easy to understand pitch that really resonated with the judges.

At The Innovation Showcase, companies only have 60 seconds to pitch–but since founders really only have about a minute to get the point across any time they pitch, the lightning-fast 1-minute pitch gets a lot more use than you might think.

“Put yourself in the shoes of your audience,” said Santiago. “You have to really simplify and condense.”

Key Startup Trade Show Idea: Keep your pitch simple. Really simple. Questions afterward do not always mean the pitch was unclear–often, they demonstrate real interest.

Santiago’s pitch style earned him a win at The Innovation Showcase–and if you’re thinking of applying for the 2014 Showcase, his advice is certainly worth incorporating into your pitch: “Be very specific, clear, and simple. Those people don’t know the industry and buzzwords like you do.”

“You want to be either loved or hated, but not ignored or confused!”

The Innovation Showcase is accepting exhibitor applications until April 30, 2014. Get your application in now for a chance to secure one of the first 15 spots!

Haters Gonna Hate: How Reddit Co-Founder Alexis Ohanian Deals with Critics (from UberFacts)

Three months into the launch of Reddit, co-founders Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman were invited out to Silicon Valley by an executive at Yahoo. What happened next, is now legend among many tech entrepreneurs.

That’s why UberFacts—one of the most awesome brands on the internet— teamed up with us to capture this story first hand during Ohanian’s recent visit to Verge ®. Take a look:

“Haters Gonna Hate”

If you’re an entrepreneur, you don’t need reminders that haters are gonna hate. But with this new story from UberFacts, Ohanian gives us a perfect anecdote for why early criticism should be taken with a grain of salt.

alexis ohanian haters gonna hateYou are a rounding error,” scoffed the Yahoo executive at the other end of the table. A memorable line, given the history of what happened next. Of course, Reddit went on to grow to one of the top websites on the internet and eventually sold to Conde Nast Publications.

Alexis Ohanian‘s new book Without Their Permission chronicles this entrepreneurial growth story in detail, with several other insights into the magic behind Ohanian’s career. It’s a worthy read of anyone who does anything with the internet, as Ohanian’s stories also delve into his personal and political efforts to keep the Internet free and accessible—for everyone.

It’s clear from this story, and others within Without Their Permission, that Ohanian has loads of hustle. But he also had the foresight to build himself an awesome support infrastructure. And much of that early foundation came through the mentorship of Paul Graham and the community at Y Combinator.

So, how can you build your own support team? How will you deal with haters?

Because as long as you’re building something different and taking risks, haters gonna hate. The next time you’re feeling down, remember this story and replay the video to remember (in the immortal words of Alexis Ohanian), “Haters gonna hate …So, you know what? Eat them for breakfast.”

haters gonna hate

Drop your comments below!

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?