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About the pagination of this eBook
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Get Your Venture Backed with Persuasive Data Viz:
An HBR Collection for Building the Perfect Pitch Deck

Contents
Get Backed:
Craft Your Story, Build the Perfect Pitch Deck, and Launch the Venture of Your Dreams
By Evan Baehr and Evan Loomis
Good Charts:
The HBR Guide to Making Smarter, More Persuasive Data Visualizations
By Scott Berinato

Harvard Business Review Press
Boston, MA
eISBN: 9781633697324

“Successfully raising money requires sharing a big vision in a clear way.
Anyone who comes to pitch on Shark Tank should read this book first!”
—BARBARA CORCORAN, ABC’s Shark Tank

GET
BACKED
CRAFT
YOUR
STORY

EVAN BAEHR I EVAN LOOMIS

BUILD
THE PERFECT
PITCH DECK

LAUNCH
THE VENTURE
OF YOUR DREAMS

H A R VA R D B U S I N E S S R E V I E W P R E S S

“Get Backed is the essential guide to launching a
company—not only raising money, but also raising
relationships. If you’re a founder or an entrepreneur, this
book has the tools you need to succeed.”
—ADAM GRANT, Professor of Management,
the Wharton School; New York Times bestselling
author, Give and Take
“This book delivers completely new and refreshing ideas
on how to raise money and build genuine relationships
with investors.”
—DAVID COHEN, cofounder and Managing Partner,
Techstars
“The best way to solve the world’s most pressing problems
is to start a company. This book shows you how.”
—JOHN MACKEY, cofounder and Co-CEO, Whole
Foods Market; coauthor, Conscious Capitalism
“The ability to get a startup funded is a crucial test for a
founder. It pulls together all of the larger requirements
of the job—crafting a clear vision, laying out a clear
execution path, and cultivating relationships a; bove
money. Evan Baehr and Evan Loomis have created a
field guide to help the best founders get the funding they
deserve for their disruptive ideas.”

“Even the best business plan will fail if you can’t pitch it
well. Read this book to make sure you can.”
—BLAKE MASTERS, cofounder, Judicata;
coauthor (with Peter Thiel), Zero to One
“Successful companies grow out of strong communities.
This guide helps you raise friends, partners, and
investors—the ultimate community to make your venture
succeed.”
—TOMMY LEEP, Chief Connector,
Rothenberg Ventures
“Founders envision how the world can be different—and
invite others to join that vision by telling stories of hope,
failure, triumph, and a better future. Get Backed is the
definitive primer on how founders ought to tell these
stories.”
—JAMES K. A. SMITH, Professor of Philosophy,
Calvin College; author, Desiring the Kingdom
“Finally, a book by people who have actually done it!
Get Backed is a staple for any startup library. It was our
handbook for raising capital for our venture—and it will
do the same for you!”
—LAURA and BEN HARRISON, cofounders,
Jonas Paul Eyewear

—MIKE MAPLES JR., cofounder and Partner,
Floodgate; investor, Twitter

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GET
BACKED
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GET
BACKED
CRAFT
YOUR
STORY

EVAN BAEHR | EVAN LOOMIS

BUILD
THE PERFECT
PITCH DECK

LAUNCH
THE VENTURE
OF YOUR DREAMS

H A R VA R D B U S I N E S S R E V I E W P R E S S
B O S TO N , M A S S AC H U S E T T S

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HBR Press Quantity Sales Discounts
Harvard Business Review Press titles are available at significant quantity
discounts when purchased in bulk for client gifts, sales promotions, and
premiums. Special editions, including books with corporate logos, customized covers, and letters from the company or CEO printed in the front
matter, as well as excerpts of existing books, can also be created in large
quantities for special needs.
For details and discount information for both print and
ebook formats, contact booksales@harvardbusiness.org,
tel. 800-988-0886, or www.hbr.org/bulksales.

Copyright 2015 Evan Baehr and Evan Loomis
All rights reserved

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into
a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior
permission of the publisher. Requests for permission should be directed to
permissions@hbsp.harvard.edu, or mailed to Permissions, Harvard Business
School Publishing, 60 Harvard Way, Boston, Massachusetts 02163.
The web addresses referenced in this book were live and correct at the time
of the book’s publication but may be subject to change.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Baehr, Evan.
Get backed : the handbook for creating your pitch deck, raising money, and
launching the venture of your dreams / Evan Baehr and Evan Loomis.
pages cm
ISBN 978-1-63369-072-1 (alk. paper)
1. New business enterprises—Finance. 2. New business enterprises—
Management. 3. Entrepreneurship. I. Loomis, Evan. II. Title.
HG4027.6.B24 2015
658.15'224—dc23
2015015748

Find more digital content or join the discussion on www.hbr.org.

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When your relationship with your spouse is strong,
you move out into the world in strength no matter how
tumultuous it is, explains theologian Tim Keller. But
when that relationship is weak, you move out into the
world in weakness, even if everything seems to be
going perfectly.
As residents of a tumultuous world, we dedicate this
work to our spouses, Kristina and Brandi, who—like so
many spouses of entrepreneurs—sacrificed eternally by
making ends meet, putting the kids to bed alone, and
shouldering way more than half of the work at home.
And despite the burdens they bore, they often looked
us right in the eyes during entrepreneurship’s darkest
moments and said, “I believe in you.” And that belief
alone equipped us to move out into the world with
great strength.
—Evan Baehr and Evan Loomis
Austin, TX

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Contents

Acknowledgments

ix

Introduction

1

Part One: CREATE YOUR PITCH
1

The Birth of the Pitch Deck

9

2

The Building Blocks of a Pitch Deck

15

3

Story

39

4

Design

53

5

Text

65

6

Actual Pitch Decks

73

7

Pitching Exercises

135

Part Two: GET BACKED

BaehrLoomis_T.indd 7

8

A Primer on Startup Financing

145

9

Overview of Funding Sources

153

10

Intro

173

11

Build

189

12

Delight

203

13

Invite

209

Conclusion

223

Index

227

About the Authors

237

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Acknowledgments

We are truly grateful to all those who have assisted with this
project, and we’d like to express our sincere thanks for the
generous help and support we’ve received along the way.
This book would not have happened without Trevor
Boehm’s tireless work and creativity. He served as our
quarterback, led the writing and research efforts, and conducted countless interviews. Our names are on the cover,
but Trevor is the true hero of Get Backed.
We’d also like to express our deepest gratitude to Harvard Business Review Press. Our first e-mail from Tim
Sullivan, editorial director at the Press, said, “The good
news is that I took the project to our acquisitions meeting
this morning. The better news is that the committee was
wildly enthusiastic about the book—and how often can you
say that any committee is wildly enthusiastic about anything?” From the get-go, the Press has been a joy to work
with, and we are deeply indebted to Tim for believing in us
and seeing the importance of a book like this. We are especially grateful to a few folks on his team, namely, Jennifer
Waring, Stephani Finks, Julie Devoll, Kevin Evers, and
Nina Nocciolino.
Showing your investor pitch deck to strangers is a bit
like giving the world a key to your front door. It is courageous and an extreme act of generosity. Most of the entrepreneurs we interviewed simply said, “No, you cannot
publish my pitch deck . . . are you crazy?” It is for that
reason that we are so grateful to the thirteen founders who
said “Yes”: Brad McNamara, Cofounder and CEO, Freight
Farms; George Arison, Founder and CEO, Shift; Jonathan
| ix

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Beekman, Founder and CEO, Man Crates; Justin McLeod,
Founder and CEO, Hinge; Kegan Schouwenburg, Founder
and CEO, SOLS Systems; McKay Thomas, Cofounder and
CEO, First Opinion; Michael McDaniel, Founder and CEO,
Reaction, Inc.; Russ Heddleston, Cofounder and CEO,
DocSend; Ryan Allis, Cofounder and Chairman, Connect; Steven van Wel, Cofounder and CEO, Karma; Wade
Eyerly, Cofounder and CEO, Beacon; Zvi Band, Cofounder
and CEO, Contactually; and Will Haughey, Cofounder and
Chief Blockhead, Tegu.
A few other people without whom this labor of love
simply would not have been possible: Curtis Eggemeyer,
CEO of Lemi Shine, who gave us a lot of encouragement
and the seed capital needed to continue our work. A book
is quite possibly the worst investment you can make, so
we’re hopeful that Get Backed provides social returns
for Curtis; Steve Nelson, at Harvard Business School,
who first introduced us to Tim Sullivan; Charlie Hoehn
and Tucker Max for their marketing genius; Erin at Able
Lending and Lori of 33Vincent for taking care of the small
details so we could keep our sights set on the bigger picture; Steven Tomlinson, who opened our imaginations to
the idea of “play”; Steven Eggert, former designer at frog,
who took on the first designs of the book; Dave Blanchard,
Josh Kwan, Jon Hart, Jason Locy, Jon Tyson, and Dr. Steve
Graves—our dear friends at Praxis who provided friendship, insight, and encouragement along the way; Francis
Pedraza, our hero of the Friendship Loop, for allowing us
to dig into his methodology and crack the code on relationx

ship fundraising; Mike Rothenberg, Founder, Rothenberg
Ventures, who made countless introductions to founders
of startups along the way; Jason Bornhorst, Founder and
CEO, Filament Labs; Will Sauer, Director of Finance and
Operations, Skycatch; Sanjay Dastoor, Cofounder, Boosted
Boards; Adam Tichauer, former President and CEO, Playbutton; Deena Varshavskaya, Founder and CEO, Wanelo;
Jeff Avallon, Cofounder, IdeaPaint; Jason Seats, Partner, Techstars; Scott Harrison, Founder, charity: water;
Dan Martell, Founder, Clarity.fm; Nancy Duarte, author,
slide:ology; Tommy Leep, Chief Connector, Rothenberg
Ventures; and Chi-Hua Chien, venture capitalist, Goodwater Capital, and Twitter, Facebook, and Spotify investor.

Evan Loomis would also like to thank:
Mom and Dad for always saying “go for it” and funding
every crazy startup idea I’ve had—from lawn mowing to
pressure washing and even wedding videography (what
the heck was I thinking? I was terrible). I’ll pay you guys
back soon . . . Yes, soon . . . I promise . . .
Former President George H. W. Bush for inviting me to
serve as his assistant during college. Watching him genuinely care for people and write countless handwritten
notes humbled me and helped me understand why he was
one of the most powerful people in the world.
Former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and senior
lecturer Jim Olson, two former cold war spies and professors at Texas A&M University, for casually suggesting that

| Acknowledgments

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I look into investment banking after graduation. Their
counsel changed the course of my life.
Ian Sugarman, now Vice Chairman of Retail Investment
Banking at Morgan Stanley, for giving me my first job on
Wall Street. Ian meticulously taught me how to create pitch
decks and helped me realize that I love people more than
cubicles and Microsoft Excel.
Scott Erwin, an American hero and friend, who got shot
in Iraq, almost died, and lived to complete an Ironman
Triathlon and swim the English Channel. He constantly
inspires me to dream bigger and keep going when I get
knocked down.
Dr. Steven Garber and Mark Rodgers, my former colleagues at Wedgwood Circle, for showing me how to advance “goodness, truth, and beauty for the common good”
through the critical sectors of media and entertainment.
Judi McQueary, my aunt and boss at Corinthian, for
being the very first investor in TreeHouse at a time when
there was nothing but the proverbial notes on a napkin.
But I’m most thankful for her friendship, laughter, and joyful spirit.
My cofounders and investors at TreeHouse, for teaching me everything I know about startups and giving their
hearts and souls to get our first store launched: Jason
Ballard, Kevin Graham, Paul Yanosy, Peter Ackerson, and
Brian Williamson. Simply put, TreeHouse would have been
a pipe dream without a few key investors backing us: Garrett Boone, Cofounder, The Container Store; Greg King,
former President, Valero Energy Corporation; Bruce Hill,

private investor and co-owner, San Antonio Spurs; Justin
Cox, Partner, Cox Partners; Thomas Lehrman, Founder,
Haystack Partners; Brad Allen, private investor. You’re all
mentors and I’m thankful for your wisdom.
The last section of the book, titled “Introduction to the
Friendship Loop,” would have been hollow without my
closest friends, who embody true friendship. C.S. Lewis
said that “Friendship is the greatest of worldly goods,”
and I could not agree more. Here are the people who
have made me better simply by being my friends: Taylor
Jackson, Dave Thompson, Jason Ballard, Jonathan Lusk,
Jared Fuson, Yobany Mayen, Trevor Brock, Jon Wolfshohl,
David Hollon, Ryan Nixon, Brent Baker, Brad Dunn, Will
Haughey, Brock Dahl, Hunter Grunden, Sean Clifford,
David Vennett, Justin Yarborough, Dave Blanchard,
Duncan Sahner, Clayton Christopher, Reese Ryan, Jay
Kleberg, David Mebane, Jeff Harbach, Brian Haley, Curtis
Eggemeyer, Kevin Robnett, Noah Riner, Jared Jonker,
Kevin Patterson, AJ Gafford, Kevin Peterson, Derick
Thompson, Sly Majid, Trey Arbuckle, and Tim Cleveland.

Evan Baehr would also like to thank:
Ms. Hess, my high school debate coach, who taught me the
basics of speech and rhetoric and embedded in me my lifelong passion for communication.
Kenny Trout, for creating Excel Communications, giving me my first chance to sell something—and yes, it was
door-to-door long-distance phone service.
Acknowledgments | xi

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Kate Reilly, my Princeton college debate partner, with
whom I disagree on nearly every possible topic . . . which,
of course, made us unstoppable.
Robert George and Cornel West, two Princeton professors who teach the world that two men of goodwill but
diverging opinions not only can but must have civil discourse to advance the cause of humanity.
My cofounder, Will Davis, who puts up with my antics
and is always a source of encouragement. Will extended
perhaps the most generous invitation to me five years ago
when he said, “I want to do this with you because I know
that if something ever happened to me you’d care for my
family.” And I absolutely would.
Tony Deifell, who introduced me to one of the biggest
and most important questions of my life: “Why do you do
what you do?”
Sheryl Sandberg, who introduced me to Mark Zuckerberg
by saying, “Evan is the only person I’ve ever hired because
he asks great questions.”

Peter Thiel, whose intellectual rigor demands answers
to questions such as: “What is something you believe that
no one else does?”
Mike Maples, our first major investor, who has been
the ultimate supporter and encourager at every turn, and
who commented after our Series A: “You could sell ice to
Eskimos.”
Dylan Hogarty, who was the first person to ever say,
“You know, you might actually want to try out this entrepreneurship thing.”
And finally to Dave Crabbe, Brett Gibson, Joel Bryce,
Will Davis, Mark Gundersen, and Mike Lage: You inspire,
congratulate, coach, and help me become the person I was
made to be.
The achievement of this publication is as much for each
of you as it is for us. Thank you, thank you!

xii | Acknowledgments

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GET
BACKED
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Introduction
by Evan Loomis

Fundraising for my startup almost wrecked my marriage.
Every Monday morning, I would fly out of Dulles Airport
and crisscross the country to pitch my dream of a new, sustainable, home improvement store to potential investors.
The weeks and months dragged on. The dream started
to unravel.
Investors committed, only to bail months later because
the process was taking too long. My friends sent e-mails
with subject lines like, “Are you alive???” It was even worse
at home.
A creeping separation had started to set in between my
wife and me. We were spending too much time away from
each other. Our love was icing over. Our lives were diverging, and I hated the direction in which mine was headed.
I knew a lot about raising money. After college, I worked
as an investment banker on Wall Street, where I sold megacompanies like Burger King to private equity firms. I had
analyzed hundreds, if not thousands, of deals. When I left
New York, I cofounded an angel investment group in DC.
I knew what investors wanted because I was one of them.
Every day I received e-mails from people looking for tips
on fundraising. I was the fundraising guy.
And yet, here I was, two years into launching TreeHouse
Home Improvement, with a third of my $7.5 million round
left to close in the worst housing crisis in US history. It
felt like Bill Murray’s 1993 classic Groundhog Day. In every
meeting, I relived the same maddening defeat over and
over again. A few friends had the courage to tell me that
the dream needed to die.
| 1

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In November 2010, I finally admitted that there was no
way I could close the remainder of the round. This e-mail
was my white flag of surrender:
Date: Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Subject: TreeHouse Update
Dear Friends and Investors:
Over two years ago, we started off with a unique vision to
launch a green home improvement store called TreeHouse
that would make sustainable building easy, accessible, and
fun . . . As you know, we have hit some roadblocks that
have kept us from getting the necessary funding for our
first store.
With this in mind, here are a few options our team has
considered:
KEEP PUSHING. Under this scenario, our team would keep
pushing to lock down the remaining investment capital. In
our opinion, and while our emotions and courage want to
walk this path, this is not the right choice. It is not sustainable
to our team financially, it stretches our credibility and good
word with partners, and it fails to acknowledge the current
situation.
THROW IN THE TOWEL. This scenario would dissolve the
idea, team, and legal entity. We do not believe this is the right
course either. One of the consistent points of feedback from

2

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our investors and partners is “This is a great idea. Someone
will eventually do it, but the timing for the launch may be off.”
TEMPORARILY PUT THE BUSINESS IN HIBERNATION. In
light of a great business concept and potentially bad timing,
we think that putting TreeHouse in hibernation is the right
course of action. It allows us to preserve all the intellectual,
relational, and financial capital that has been poured into the
business, and wait on alert for better timing.
This decision was not reached in haste, or without a lot of
consideration. We look forward to discussing or answering
any questions with you over the phone, but wanted to make
sure communication got out in a timely manner, so you are
released to take any steps you need to take.
Again, we are proud to call you partners and friends, and
we will continue to keep you informed of any developments.
Many sincere thanks on behalf of the entire TreeHouse team,
and as always, please do not hesitate to call us with any
questions.
Best, Evan

I had failed. We were done.
Then, a miracle happened. Two weeks after that e-mail
went out, I got a call from Greg King, one of my investors.
“TreeHouse needs to come off the shelf,” he said. He would
help us raise the remaining $3 million.
Within thirty days, we had closed the round.

| Introduction

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How Do You Launch
the Venture of Your
Dreams?
Sixty-three percent of today’s American twenty-somethings
want to start a business.* By 2020, there will be an estimated billion entrepreneurs worldwide. Whether it’s the
next Facebook, the next world-changing nonprofit, or the
next coffee shop down the street, starting something is the
ambition of today’s generation.
But here’s the dirty little secret: starting something is
insanely hard.
Launching the venture of your dreams takes more
hustle, more failure, and significantly more resources
than a lot of people can stomach. Yet, talk to any entrepreneurs who’ve been through it and they will tell you
one thing: it’s worth it.

*Minda Zetlin, “Survey: 63% of 20-Somethings Want to Start a Business,”
Inc., December 17, 2013, http://www.inc.com/minda-zetlin/63-percent-of20-somethings-want-to-own-a-business.html; and “An Entrepreneurial
Generation of 18- to 34-Year-Olds Wants to Start Companies When
the Economy Rebounds, According to New Poll,” Ewing Marion
Kauffman Foundation, November 10, 2011, http://www.kauffman.org/
newsroom/2012/11/an- entrepreneurial-generation-of-18-to-34yearolds-wantsto-start-companies-when-economy-rebounds-according-to-new-poll.

The purpose of this book is to demystify one of the
most intimidating parts of launching a venture: raising
money.

Seriously? Another
Book on Fundraising?
There’s no shortage of advice on fundraising. Most of it is
terrible.
Self-described experts spout phrases like, “create a business plan,” “show traction,” and “create urgency,” without
any practical insight into how to do what they suggest. A
great strategy for a serial entrepreneur with a track record of success will likely be the worst possible advice for
a first-time founder. Experienced entrepreneurs forget
what raising money is like when you have no network, no
track record, and, at best, only a conceptual knowledge of
a term sheet. The entrepreneurs we know aren’t interested
in the theoretical best way to do something; they are interested in what works. That’s why we (Evan Baehr and Evan
Loomis, longtime friends) wrote this book. We wanted to
give entrepreneurs what we wished we had had when raising money for our ventures.

Introduction | 3

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There’s a big gap between what
experienced entrepreneurs like
giving out as advice and the
specific circumstances in which
young entrepreneurs are operating.
—Deena Varshavskaya,
founder and CEO, Wanelo
Over the last two years, we mentored dozens of firsttime founders and interviewed angel investors, venture
capitalists, directors of angel networks, heads of family
investment offices, and CEOs of crowdfunding platforms.
We took improv classes. We infiltrated some of the country’s biggest accelerators and angel groups, and sweettalked fifteen successful entrepreneurs into letting us
show you exactly what they did to raise money, including
the pitch decks they showed investors. We’re excited to
write this book because we have done this and are doing
it now. In the middle of writing this book one of us scored
a $100 million business deal and one of us raised $25 million, which included the second-largest round ever raised
on the startup platform AngelList at the time. We did all
of these things to answer one question: What does it really
take to raise money?

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The Secret to
Raising Money
What we discovered is that the skill to raise the money you
need, get expert feedback, and build partnerships isn’t just
an X factor that some people have and others don’t. On the
contrary, it can be decoded.
There are specific habits and tools that aspiring entrepreneurs can cultivate to dramatically increase the likelihood that their ventures will succeed. We give you those
skills and tools here.
In the next several chapters, you will:

• Study the original pitch decks of startups that raised
wildly successful funding rounds.

• Access templates for common pitch deck elements, like identifying the problem, showing
your solution, and distinguishing yourself from
the competition.

• Find out which kind of capital to raise from
which people.

• See e-mail scripts and techniques to get a meeting
with absolutely anyone, including angel investors,
venture capitalists, and potential board members.

| Introduction

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Yet, as helpful as these techniques are, they are not the
secret to raising money.
Nearly every startup founder we interviewed had a
“miracle” like the TreeHouse story you just read about—
some unexpected occurrence that catapulted him or her
into ultimate success. As we dug in, we discovered that
these miracles weren’t really miraculous at all; they were
the direct result of relationships the founders had nurtured
earlier. For Loomis, his friendship with Greg King caused
Greg to put his own reputation on the line to help Loomis
close TreeHouse’s funding round.
The secret to raising money is one simple principle: successful fundraisers don’t raise money, they raise friends.

Friendships Matter
We want you to crush it with your startup. But even more
than that, we want you to build friendships that outlast any
term sheet and create true value for you, your community,
and your venture. The different strategies for fundraising
will come and go. Market dynamics, industry trends, and
timing make each venture’s fundraising journey uncharted
territory. Yet, the one constant across every startup, every
industry, every moment since the beginning of human life
on earth is the value of meaningful relationships. This book
is really about challenging people to move their visions for

the future further down the field by surrounding themselves with like-minded brothers and sisters who believe in
what they are doing. Along the way, you may just find yourself with access to more cash than you need.

Part One: Create
Your Pitch
Part one is all about the pitch. It starts by introducing you
to the pitch deck, why people make them, and why they
matter. Chapter 1 describes the birth of the pitch deck.
Chapter 2 outlines the key building blocks of a deck: ten
key slides you should start with. Then, chapters 3 through
5 focus in detail on three elements of your pitch deck and
pitching in general: story, design, and words. Chapter 6 is
devoted entirely to the pitch decks that have successfully
raised money, and chapter 7 offers some practical exercises
for improving your pitching muscle.

Part Two: Get Backed
Part two is all about the fundraising process. Chapter 8 is
an introduction to startup finance 101—how funding rounds

Introduction | 5

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work, the difference between debt and equity, and an overview of basic terms in an agreement. Chapter 9 describes
which kinds of investors fund which kinds of companies.
Chapters 10 through 13 are the culmination of everything
else in the book—a simple but powerful process for build-

6

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ing relationships with people who have the power to take
your venture to the next level. The final part of chapter 13
coaches you through the elements of closing when an investor says yes.

| Introduction

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Part
One

CREATE
YOUR
PITCH

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What if you could take everything
world-changing about your venture
and boil it down to a handful of
words and images—a bundle of
“ahas”—that you could pass along
to people who could help you take
your venture to the next level?

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1
The Birth of the
Pitch Deck
• What is a pitch deck?
• A short history of startup funding
• The pitch deck as your first prototype

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What Is a Pitch Deck?
A pitch deck is a series of words and images that illustrate
a venture’s story and business model.
Pitch decks do three things: they get people to understand, they get people to care, and they get people to take
action.
Entrepreneurs have used them to raise money, recruit
employees, and close customers, partners, and suppliers.
They are one of the most powerful tools early-stage entrepreneurs have at their disposal. They represent everything
that is valuable about the startup—the vision, the team behind that vision, the core elements of its business model,
and the insights into the customer that the venture plans
to take advantage of and the industry that the venture
hopes to disrupt.
There are two kinds of pitch decks:
1. Presentation deck. A visual to assist your oral
presentation in an investor meeting or on stage at a
demo day.
2. Reading deck. A more thorough and detailed deck
that can be read and understood without you there.

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A Short History of
Startup Funding
If you were an entrepreneur in the 1960s, your options for
funding were slim. Today, the startup landscape is overflowing with options.
It’s not just in tech and health care. In 2014, $24.1 billion were invested into 73,400 ventures in angel investment alone. Add another $48.3 billion in 4,356 deals from
venture capital. Then, double that from friends’ and families’ investments. Simultaneously, crowdfunding sites
like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have opened the door for
entirely new ways for entrepreneurs to fund and validate
a business. With the passing of Title IV of the JOBS Act
in 2012, almost anyone will be able to invest and receive
equity in startups, not just the ultra-wealthy among us. We
have moved from a few venture capital firms investing a
few million dollars in startups to an almost infinite variety
of funding sources collectively investing big-time money.
The funding that many visionaries and entrepreneurs
need is more available than it has ever been. You probably
already know all this.
You also probably know something else: getting funded
is hard. Depending on whom you talk to, it’s either way too
hard or not nearly hard enough.
You can guess what an entrepreneur would say. Entrepreneurs hate being held back. For a founder struggling to

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get funded, the problem is that there isn’t nearly enough
money to go around. Investors, on the other hand, hate losing money. Yet, they know that most of the startups they
invest in will fail. For them, there aren’t nearly enough
good startups to go around.
Both sides agree that there needs to be a better way for
the startups that have the best chance of success to get
in front of the right kind of funding. To get there, entrepreneurs and investors look for ways to date each other—
opportunities to charm or size up those on the other side
of the table. Often, though not always, this means entrepreneurs spend their time wooing the investor while the
investor plays the role of coy mistress, oscillating between
flirtation and outright rejection.

The Age of the Business Plan
For years, the de facto entrée into this dating game was the
business plan.
Originating with companies like DuPont and GM that
had large government contracts with the US Department
of Defense during World War II, the business plan takes
cues from strategic planning within the US military. After
an exhaustively thorough analysis of the industry, the
competitive landscape, and target and potential markets,
aspiring entrepreneurs would create a play-by-play of the
business from launch to exit, articulating every detail of
the marketing and operations plans, year-by-year growth
in revenue and costs, and, ultimately, the amount they

expect the market to value the company when they sell it
or take it public.
This “business in sixty pages or less” gave entrepreneurs everything they needed to execute the venture. All
that was left was for the right investor to come along, see
the value of the plan, and pour a ton of cash into it. The
idea caught full steam in the 1980s when every business
professor, consultant, and professional coach in the nation
published books to get the everyday Joe to become the
next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates through one simple tool: the
business plan. Sounds great, right?
Business plans for startups turn out to be one of those
great ideas that fall apart in real life. Serial entrepreneur
and Stanford professor Steve Blank puts it this way, “No
business plan survives first contact with a customer.” Plans
work fine when all the information you need is available
and all you have to do is execute. By definition, though, a
startup exists in an environment of extreme uncertainty. A
startup, as Steve Blank puts it, is an organization in search
of a business model, not an organization with a plan to execute. Between 1982 and 1989, in the middle of the business
plan craze, 79 percent of the companies in the Inc. 500 were
launched without a formal business plan (including Apple
and Microsoft). A more recent study found the same conclusion: business plans aren’t critical to a startup’s success.
Over the last ten years, and with the encouragement of
books like Eric Ries’s The Lean Startup, more and more
entrepreneurs are abandoning the business plan as an
opportunity analysis and launch tool in favor of tools that
The Birth of the Pitch Deck

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give them the flexibility to test and iterate the critical assumptions of their business model—assumptions like the
problem you are solving, the cost of acquiring a single customer, and your defense against competition.

The Rise of the Pitch Deck
Entrepreneurs weren’t the only ones to realize the business plan didn’t work. With the explosion of venture capital starting in the 1970s, the investment banking industry
found itself faced with ever-increasing stacks of potential deals. Tossing the business plan, it began to adopt
new methods to quickly screen and pitch the opportunities before it. By using new presentation software like
PowerPoint, investment bankers could replace the business plan with a series of slides that displayed big ideas,
data, and other visuals while they gave a short pitch for
the venture.
These presentations became known as “pitch decks.”
In addition to being shorter, this new way of presenting
the business had several other key benefits. Pitch decks
could be easily revised and customized, for example. A
business plan took months to draft and redraft, but with a
pitch deck, you could swap out individual slides for others
and rework your entire presentation in a few minutes. You
could also create a readable version of the presentation
with the script written down on the slides so it could be
printed out and sent to an investor ahead of time. Investors
loved the new format, using the short presentations to filter
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out the obviously unqualified prospects and clue them in
to opportunities where they could do a more thorough process of due diligence.
Perhaps the greatest advantage of a pitch deck was that
it allowed the presenter to tell a great story. Investment
bankers, like all great salespeople, knew that the data they
had on a company wasn’t nearly as important as their ability to tell a compelling story about that company. Like a
filmmaker crafting the arc of a great movie, investment
bankers made their living telling stories of how awesome
the world would be if ACME Corp. bought AJAX Corp. to
make the super-company ACMAJAX (the marketing department would sort out the naming). Pitch decks became
the medium to tell that story. By the time Loomis entered
the “Analyst Class of 2004” at a bulge bracket investment
bank on Wall Street, his company devoted nearly a month
of its three-month employee training program to PowerPoint. (You read that right.)
The next year, a serial entrepreneur named Paul Graham
launched a three-month summer camp for startups. In
it, very-early-stage startups would get access to mentoring, connections, and a small amount of seed money. The
focus of the program, which Graham named Y Combinator, would be what he called “Demo Day,” an all-day event
where each team pitches its startup to a room of investors
using a short presentation and a slide deck. As for business plans, “Not for us,” the company writes on its site’s
FAQ. “We love demos, but we never read business plans.”
By 2011, that summer camp had become the “tech world’s

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most prestigious program for budding digital entrepreneurs,” according to Wired magazine. By then, it represented just one of as many as 200 startup accelerators in
the United States.
That same year, the Wall Street Journal posed a question to a forum of startup mentors: “Where do founders
go wrong with business plans?” The short answer: when
they make one. The response from one of the mentors was
to say, “Burn your business plan—before it burns you.” Instead, the mentors said, focus on two things: your business
model and your pitch. In another response titled, “Your
Business Plan Isn’t a Fundraising Tool Anymore,” venture
capitalist Paul Lee writes: “The best pitches come with a
10–12 slide PowerPoint that succinctly explains the business, with a link to the working service or website and the
entrepreneurs biography/past experience. That’s it.”
Despite the cries from a remnant of business professors,
consultants, and bank officers, the business plan was dead.
In the world of startups, a new kind of tool had been born.

The Pitch Deck as
Your First Prototype
You’re at work, doing what you do every day, when, all of a
sudden, this brilliant idea pops into your head.

“What if I . . . ?” or “Why isn’t there a . . . ?” or “Wouldn’t
the world be so much better if . . . ?” That seed, once planted,
grows so invasively that it’s impossible to ignore and you
can’t help but do something about it.
Now, that first moment of insight might be totally wrong
(it usually is). But what is most certainly not wrong is the
questioning—that burning, impossible to ignore “why?”
The hidden power of the pitch deck is its ability to infect
others with the “why?”
Think about the excitement you feel about your venture.
You probably can’t help but tell people about it. There’s a
good chance your husband or wife is jealous. Let’s be honest; you are obsessed. In another time period, you wouldn’t
be an entrepreneur; you’d be a crazy person. That’s the kind
of excitement you want others to feel when you pitch them.
But getting others that excited about your idea will be maddeningly difficult if you don’t know how to communicate it.

Getting Clarity on Your Idea
Too often, people passionate about ideas have articulated
them across scraps of paper, e-mails, and thoughts in their
head. This constellation of notes looks a lot like the way
the idea looks in your brain: thousands of neurons firing
thoughts, making connections through synapses in a web
of what were once disconnected memories and inputs. But
if you want someone else to understand that mess of a
web, you’ve got to find a way to get it into something more
accessible.
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Committing a business model to paper is the first step
to making the model better. It forces the entrepreneur to
break down the business into each of its components and
to articulate those components clearly. You might say you
can’t make a business model better until you actually have
the business model written down.
For first-time founders, advice on their idea is more valuable than money and is likely to be a precursor to it. There’s
an old cliché we heard often while interviewing investors
and entrepreneurs for this book: If you want advice for
your startup, ask for money. If you want money, ask for
advice. To succeed, you will need both.
You owe it to yourself and anyone you meet with to have a
description of the vision and business model of the venture

14 |

BaehrLoomis_T.indd 14

ready to send in advance. This artifact then becomes something others can react to, comment on, and add or subtract
from. There is no faster or cheaper way to iterate your venture when it is in its earliest stages than to create and revise
a pitch deck. For many pre-seed-stage startups, the pitch
deck literally is the startup, the very first prototype. It articulates the critical assumptions of your venture, and almost
more importantly, it gives you a chance to practice telling
others why they should care about it.
So how do you create a pitch deck for your venture? The
basic anatomy of a pitch deck is surprisingly simple. It
aligns with the critical questions investors ask themselves
when looking at a potential opportunity. We introduce you
to them next.

CREATE YOUR PITCH

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2
The Building Blocks
of a Pitch Deck
The building blocks of a pitch deck are the slides. Slides are like the panels of a comic strip;
they break down the story of your venture into discrete digestible chunks. Each slide highlights a different aspect of the venture and furthers the plot of the pitch. Eventually, you’ll have
a whole archive of slides to draw from and sequence for each meeting or presentation. These
are the essential ten (not including your cover page):
Cover

Overview

Opportunity

Problem

Solution

Traction

Customer or
Market

Competition

Business
Model

Team

Use of Funds

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Cover

What is it?
The cover slide captures the audience’s attention, sets the
tone for the pitch, and serves as “white space” during a presentation so you can express gratitude for your audience’s
time, show your passion for your venture, and build trust
by mentioning mutual connections.

What should I expect?

What should I demonstrate?
February 2015

MAPPING THE WORLD WITH ROBOTS

•

Clean logo. Your logo is the face of your brand;

it can be very important to your overall image.

•

Inviting picture. You might include an engaging

picture of your product or customer.

•

Descriptive title. Put “Investor Briefing” or “Inves-

tor Presentation” somewhere on the front cover
with the date. Dates help you keep track of different versions.

Skycatch

What questions do I need to answer?
• Does the cover make you want to open the pitch
funding the fortune 5 million

• Does the cover visual communicate what the

Karma. WiFi Made for Sharing.

Able

Karma

16 |

BaehrLoomis_T.indd 16

deck?
product is or who it serves?

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Overview

What is it?
The company overview is your “elevator pitch”—the fifteensecond version of your deck. It describes a problem you
see in the world and how you are going to solve it. Give
your audience a small taste of what your company does,
but leave them hungry for more.

Who are we?

What should I demonstrate?
•

Clarity. It should be extremely easy to understand

what the company does.

•
Contactually is a relationship marketing platform
that helps professionals keep and generate business from
their existing network.
Contactually

Swagger. Startups are bold, audacious undertakings.

Your summary of the venture should demonstrate
that you have the energy and the confidence to take
on something big.

•

Passion. If you don’t care about what you’re doing,
no one else will.

Reaction Systems, inc.

Meet Karma
Karma is the easiest way to get online. By unlocking WiFi we
will make it possible for everyone to bring their own
bandwidth, anywhere in the world.
Today, our Social Bandwidth hotspot brings frictionless WiFi
sharing to the masses. It's WiFi for everyone to use.

Building hardware &
software to (re)meet
a basic human need:
shelter.
And, we know how to turn a substantial profit
doing it. By targeting vertical markets valued at over
$11.4 billion annually with innovative products and
services, we are going to change the world.

Karma

What questions do I need to answer?
• What exactly does your company do?
• What industry are you in?
• Is this a novel idea?

Reaction, Inc.

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DEEP DIVE

The Elevator Pitch
An elevator pitch is the simplest, quickest way to describe
what your venture is and what makes it so amazing. It’s the
pitch you prepare for when you only have fifteen seconds
to catch someone’s attention—like when you meet him in
an elevator or see him on a street waiting for an Uber or
Lyft ride.
The great screenwriter Blake Snyder argued that the secret to all great pitches is learning to combine the familiar
with the intriguing. You must start with something your
audience knows well. Then, surprise them with an ironic
twist that captures their interest and will make them want
to know more.

Pick a fight. Don’t be afraid to build off of a universally
hated experience. Picking a fight can be a clear sign that
you’re solving a real problem.
Tell your vision. Don’t get lost in describing the product.

Describe the new and better world you want your product
to help create.

Examples

•

The first [what you are] that doesn’t suck.
SilverCar: The first car rental company that doesn’t

•

suck.
Karma: The first mobile provider that doesn’t suck.

•

The [easiest/fastest/funnest/best] way to [your solution].

Use an analogy. Do not assume your audience knows what

Shyp: The easiest way to ship your stuff.
It’s [analogy] for [your space].

you are talking about. Describe your venture with common language and universal images that appeal to your
prospective investor and future customers.

•

TreeHouse: It’s Whole Foods for Home Depot.
We help [your customer] do [your solution] by [your prod-

Don’t talk about what your product does; talk about what it

uct]. Or, We are a [your product] that helps [your customer]

does for your customer. This is a really common mistake

for engineer types. The classic maxim from Harvard professor Ted Levitt illustrates the idea well: “People buy a ¼"
drill bit not because they want a ¼" drill bit, but because
they want a ¼" hole.”
18

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|

•

do [your solution].
Contactually: Contactually is a relationship marketing

platform that helps professionals keep and generate
business from their existing networks.

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Opportunity

What is it?

What’s happening in this market?
Why now?
The Housing Gap
There is a housing gap today Ð a 45 to 90 day long window where there
are simply no mass housing systems currently available that can be
deployed in a cost effective manner. Reaction housing units fill that gap.

The opportunity slide is your chance to describe your industry and how your business will work within it. You will
describe trends within that environment, the size of your
market, and the growth potential of your venture.
The opportunity slide is the 40,000-foot picture of your
product’s space. You want the investors to see the trends
and market conditions that will give you an entrance into
the market and a competitive position. If your audience
agrees with you on how things actually are right now, they
will be open to the particular problems and solution you
describe.

What should I demonstrate?
Disaster Event

\

Opportunity

Temporary Housing Arrives

+ 90

+0

days

Recovery Complete

+ 18

•

Explosive market sectors. By explosive, we mean

growing very, very fast. The faster your market is
growing, the bigger the opportunity for your venture will be.

months

days

Reaction, Inc.

•

ACROSS 300B+ IN APPLICATIONS

M I L I TA R Y

Market becomes less interested in drones

HEARING
AIDS

Replaced with demand for aerial data
ORTHOTICS

HEAD
PHONES
BRAS

Tech evolves to fulfill data demands
CLOTHING

BRACES

SOLS Systems

clarity allows ventures to easily differentiate themselves from others.

GROWTH IN AERIAL DATA MARKET

FOOTWEAR
HELMETS

SHIN
GUARDS

Confusion and ambiguity in the market. A lack of

•

Thoroughness. This slide is proof that you have

done some serious research and really understand
the market better than your audience does.

Skycatch

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What questions do I need to answer?
• What trends is your company riding?
• How big is the market?

Problem
What are you trying to solve?

• How big can your company be?
• What are the macro- and micro-trends that your
company will be riding?

HUMAN SHELTER IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE MAJORITY OF ENERGY,
WATER, AND RESOURCE USE. THIS IS THE PROBLEM, AND
OPPORTUNITY, THAT ANIMATES EVERYTHING WE DO AT TREEHOUSE.

72% ELECTRICITY USE

30% WASTE OUTPUT

38% CO2 EMISSIONS

14% WATER USE
4

TreeHouse
1

Ò ONLINE DATINGÓ FOR 23-36

Moms Need Discussion

Current offerings donÕ t appeal to this generation.

2M Moms At Baby.com.br

80%
Singles 18-301

At Baby.com.br I helped build a base

18%
more

33%
MONTHLY

Ò I donÕ t want to create
a dating site profile.”

and audience of over 2 million moms,
which we communicate with on a daily
basis. In engaging with these moms, I
found them actively discussing the

40%

“I don’t think I’d find the
right kind of person.”

health and development of their

More Smartphones

Track Health

Moms are 18% more likely
to own a smartphone than
any other adult.

33% of smartphone-owning
moms used it for health and
wellness last month.

kids with us and others.
Moms have an emotional need to
discuss their children. They don’t need
answers so much as conversation.

0%

Bad

INFO FROM BABYCENTER SURVEY, MARCH 2011

Team

Moms have
a problem

1st
Opinion

ing

Dat

Life

Confidential | Copyright 2013 Cleod9 Inc

te

g Si

atin

dD

Trie

Use

ing

Dat

Site

1

Survey of ~300 people conducted by Hinge in 2012 and confirmed by TechCrunch article Oct 21, 2013

Tuesday, October 22, 13

First Opinion

20

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|

Hinge

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•

Deep understanding. Confidently and empathet-

What is it?
Entrepreneurship, at its core, is about solving problems.
The bigger the problem, the better.
In your problem slide, describe the problem you are
solving and how and why that problem is painful. Your audience should feel as if an injustice has been done. In a
meeting, you’ll know if your problem hits home when the
investors begin nodding their heads in agreement. Describe the problem at a high level first and then quickly
transition to a specific story of a customer to make the
problem personal. People don’t empathize with big, general problems; they empathize with the struggles of specific people with names and faces.
Not all companies solve new problems; some focus on
solving age-old problems in a way that changes customer
preferences. This is especially true in apparel, restaurants,
and many consumer product goods. If you have one of
these ventures, you should focus on the opportunity before you (the previous slide) rather than the problem you
are trying to solve.

ically display how well you understand the complex market dynamics surrounding the problem.

•

A specific person. Consider presenting the prob-

lem by telling a short story of a real person and
how he experiences the problem.

What questions do I need to answer?
• What is the problem?
• How big is the problem?
• Why does the problem exist?
• How is the problem currently being addressed?

What should I demonstrate?
•

A big problem in a big market. Provide a very large

and specific number of people who feel the pain of
this problem every day.

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Solution

What is it?
By this point, you and your audience agree on what is happening in the industry and you have introduced a huge
problem. Now, it is time to pull out all the stops. Show them
your magic, your one-of-a-kind solution to the problem.
You want the investors to marvel at it. You can also remind
them how you can defend what you are doing through intellectual property claims. Develop use cases to demonstrate
how your customer will be delighted with your solution.
Make your solution as realistic and interactive as possible. In meetings, bring the physical product or do an interactive demonstration. Short (one- to three-minute) videos,
illustrations, screenshots, pictures, prototypes, samples,
sketches, or demos are all great ways to show rather than
tell your solution.
If you learn nothing from this book, remember this:
never use bullet points for your solution slide!

What are you doing about it?

Connect

HOW HINGE WORKS

Tegu is building the world’s most innovative premium toy company.
Better research. Better design. And, a modern brand to boot.

No Profile
One-click signup via Facebook
People already have an identity.

What should I demonstrate?

Right People
Friends of friends, or their friends
Uses the Facebook social graph
and other ambient information

•

Moves Offline
Social validation + natural intros
Friend in common and content-rich
introductions facilitate meetings

2

Beauty. There should be an element of elegance
to your solution. It should feel like the way things
should be.

CONFIDENTIAL

Confidential | Copyright 2013 Cleod9 Inc

Tuesday, October 22, 13

Tegu

Hinge

•

Surprise. Your solution should feel like nothing

your audience has ever seen.

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•

Repeatable and scalable. It should be evident in your

solution that what you are building can be replicated
across the market.

•

Solving something painful. It should be clear that

your solution relieves a persistant pain point the
customer currently experiences.

•

Traction
What evidence do you have that shows
this will be successful?

Team excellence. This is your chance to brag and

We’ve built a reliable, scalable
inside sales model

show off that you have an awesome team that has
built something that delights.

What questions do I need to answer?
• Does it solve the customer’s problems like magic?
• Is the customer going to crave this product?
• What will the customer’s life be like once the problem is solved?

• How are you going to pull this off?
• Is it awesome?

• 3-person inbound sales team
• Each rep owns $400k new ARR

Trials

(8x cost)
Customer size: 1 to 73 seats
Payback period < 3 months

•
•

$453

$110

Qualifying Call

22%

CAC

Annual
Contract Value

38%

% Annual Accts
(vs Monthly)

25%

88%

Check In Call

$898

24 days

3.46

Customer
LTV

CAC Ratio

73%

Avg Sales Cycle

Conv Rate

Close Sale

(ACV * Gross %) / CAC

Contactually

Sales Strategy.

TREEHOUSE QUARTERLY REVENUE

$XXX, XXX, XXX

• Digital
• In-person
• Direct mail
• Trial flights
• Brand Ambassadors

$XXX, XXX, XXX

$XXX, XXX, XXX

$XXX, XXX, XXX

$XXX, XXX, XXX

Methods

$XXX, XXX, XXX

• Cost to Acquire: $1K
• Estimated Customer:
LTV $32K

Acquisition
Cost & LTV

$XXX, XXX, XXX

2012 - Q1

2012 - Q2

2012 - Q3

2012 - Q4

2013 - Q1

2013 - Q2

2013 - Q3

2013 - Q4

2014 - Q1

2014 - Q2

2014 - Q3

2014 - Q4
8

TreeHouse

Beacon

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What is it?
The goal of this slide is to demonstrate that each of your
assumptions about the venture is proving true and you
are making significant progress. The most common way
to show traction is through growing sales or users—one
with the “hockey-stick” graph—but you can also focus on
other key metrics you have identified. Investors don’t want
to feel that a venture needs them. Traction helps convince
an investor that the idea is going to be a success no matter
what. If you are preproduct and don’t have any meaningful milestones or metrics to display, you can use this slide
as an opportunity to illustrate your sales and marketing
strategy.

What questions do I need to answer?
• Is there massive growth?
• Where are the venture’s assumptions proving true?
• What is the strategy to reach and close more
customers?

What should I demonstrate?
• A pattern of fast-growing momentum.
• Clarity around what you are measuring and why it
matters.

• A clear sales process you use to attract, educate,
qualify, close, and provide after-sale service for
your customers.

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Customer or Market

What is it?

Who are your customers—and how many
of them are out there?
Go to Market Strategy

Focus on three vertical markets provides stable & diverse cash flow

We will generate a steady cash flow through direct sales and support
of the Exo Housing System components to three vertical markets.

In this slide, you demonstrate how well you know your customers and the market they represent. Describe where they
live, what they like to do, and how much they’d be willing
to spend. If you already have sales, you can use those as an
example. Also describe the market, that is, how many potential customers are out there who will want to buy your
product.

What should I demonstrate?
•

1. FIELD SERVICES

2. RECREATIONAL

3. DISASTER RESPONSE

Science research stations; Military;
Utilities & Construction base camps

Large scale multi-day music &
sporting events; camping & hunting

Government agencies &
suppliers; small to large NGO's

Sales Cycle:

Sales Cycle:

Sales Cycle:

Short

Medium

Long

Short

Medium

Long

Short

Medium

The customer. Describe the person in a way that

reminds listeners of someone they know.

•

A clearly defined market. Give specific numbers

Long

Example Customers:

Example Customers:

Example Customers:

NASA

SXSW / ACL / Coachella

FEMA’s Suppliers

Variety of agencies and universities

Large Event Organizers

United Nations

U.S. Military

Cabela’s / REI / Other “Outfitters”

Red Cross

Foreign Militaries

Wal-Mart (Outfitter)

Foreign Governments

Various Site Operators

City & County Governments

Variety of small & large NGOs

Worth over $3.2b annually

Worth over $156m annually

Worth over $8.1b annually

for how many people fit your customer descriptions. Include how many people might possibly
buy your product, what percentage of those people
you expect to buy it, and which ones you will target first.

Reaction, Inc.

We target the 8M professional
service providers in the US
Other Professionals
1,762K

Financial Planners

238K

IT Consultants

311K

Advert/Marketing
Consultants

1,389K
Attorneys

895K
Consulting Engineers
Residential RE Agents

421K

844K

612K
701K

Commercial RE Agents

Accountants

718K
Insurance Agents

$3.9B TAM

¥ We sell to both individuals

CHANNEL

CUSTOMERS

1% MARKETSHARE

10% MARKETSHARE

50% MARKETSHARE

¥ Our most successful

P O D I AT R Y

8,820

2,646,000

26,460,000

132,300,000

PHYSICAL THERAPY

10,000

1,500,000

15,000,000

75,000,000

CHIROPRACTORS

51,000

7,650,000

76,500,000

382,500,000

CUSTOMERS

237,000,00

71,100,000

7 11 , 0 0 0 , 0 0 0

3,555,000,000

and companies

customers are topperformers that realize
high ROI

¥ We’ve specifically focused

on residential real estate
(30% of paid accounts) and
are expanding to other
verticals in 2014

(at current price point)

Source: Hoovers

Contactually

•

OPPORTUNITY SIZE

SOLS Systems

Revenue. It’s much easier to argue that there’s
a demand for your product if you have paying
customers.

What questions do I need to answer?
• Who is your customer(s)?

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• How will you reach the customer?
• What is the acquisition cost per customer?
• Is your customer willing to pay for your product
or service?

DEEP DIVE

Market Sizing
Market sizing is about answering a few key questions on
who your customers are, how they are segmented, and how
big the opportunity they represent is. The science of market
sizing is finding hard data on your customers—how many
there are, the amount of revenue you could get from each
customer, and the percentage of the market you hope to capture. The art of market sizing is deciding what key characteristics differentiate your customers from everyone else in
the world in order to make those calculations. For ventures
that are targeting new markets or helping to create one, the
challenge of market sizing becomes even harder. You can
simplify the process by focusing on those key questions
that hide behind the terms many investors use.

Total addressable market:
How big can this get?
The total addressable market (TAM) is about figuring
out how many people could possibly buy your product,
how much revenue you could make from each one, and
the product of those two numbers. Many ventures find
TAM by searching industry profiles from big research

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companies like Gartner, Forrester, Dun & Bradstreet, and
Hoover’s for big, sweeping, industrywide categories like
“e-commerce” and use whatever number they give for that
industry. A more reliable way to find TAM is to pick one
to two relevant characteristics (that is, “e-commerce businesses in America”) and multiply the number of people or
businesses with those characteristics by your expected
lifetime value of a single customer.

Served addressable market:
Who do you plan to serve—and how
big an opportunity is that?
The served addressable market (SAM) is a smaller collection of potential customers who you are actively choosing
to serve. With SAM, you are increasing your degree of resolution into who your customers are by choosing one to two
more characteristics, like location or product, and filtering
your bigger TAM with them. The process for calculating
SAM is the same as TAM: choose your filters, count the
number of people who match those filters, and multiply by
your expected lifetime value of a single customer.

need done that they could hire your product to do. To find
these customers, you have to find special characteristics
that only your customers have. These characteristics are
unlikely to be traditional ones like location, industry, or
income level. Harvard professor Clayton Christensen describes a fast-food restaurant that was trying to improve
its milkshake sales. When traditional segments like demographics failed, it started looking at the “job” that people
were hiring a milkshake to do. When it dug in, the company found that most people bought milkshakes either to
entertain themselves during a long morning commute or
to treat a son or daughter in the afternoon. This insight
helped it improve its product and gave it specific filters for
segmenting its customers (that is, those with long morning
commutes or parents with small children). For your beachhead, choose a job that people hire your product to do, find
a measurable characteristic that unites those people, count
them up, and multiply them by your expected lifetime customer value.

Beachhead market:
Who are you selling to first?
Your beachhead market is the first market you will sell
to. These customers should all have a similar job they

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Competition

What is it?

Who or what will steal your customers?

Able = Network Lending to SMB
Consumer

SMB

1:5 relationship
1 borrower, 5+ backers

Network

1:1 relationship

Traditional

Able
Competitive Landscape
Our closest, existing competitors

Despite a tremendous TAM, at present there are no direct
competitors in market. Here are the closest competitors by type.

WeÕ re uniquely positioned against
other competitors & partners

Every venture has competition. Every venture.
Your customers must be doing something right now to
cope with the problem you solve. That “something” is your
competitor.
List competitors and describe how each competes in the
market. Then, show what differentiates you from competitors and what advantage you have over them. Partnerships,
technology expertise, intellectual property, simplicity,
business processes, and networks can all be significant advantages. Many founders find it helpful to create a map of
the competitive landscape, using important aspects of the
product as x and y axes. For example, if you have a product that is both priced affordably and is a great value, you
could put “cost” on the x axis and “value” on the y axis and
place your product in the top-left quadrant (high value, low
cost), with the rest of your competitors spread throughout
the other quadrants. By doing this, you visually demonstrate how your product differentiates itself from other
players in the market.

Relationship Marketing

SFA / CRM
MIL. SPEC TENTS

MODIFIED CONTAINERS

TRAVEL TRAILERS

PREFAB STRUCTURES

¥ Inexpensive
¥ Very portable
¥ No privacy
¥ Not secure

¥ Cheap materials
¥ Mass shipping friendly
¥ Lots of hand fabrication
¥ Needs heavy machinery

¥ Kitchen & restroom
¥ Ò Trailer ParkÓ feel
¥ Low volume transport
¥ Expensive hookups

¥ Good for long durations
¥ Kitchen & restroom
¥ Long lead times
¥ Low volume transport

Competitors:
Eureka!

Competitors:
Global Portable

Competitors:
Gulfstream Coach

Competitors:
Clayton Homes

HDT Global

Aztec Container

Forest River

Mahaffey

$3,600 +

Industrial Crewquarters

$16,390 +

Keystone

$18,000 +

Marketing
Automation

•

Action Mobile Industries
Pacific Mobile

$26,000 +
= Contactually Integration Partner

Reaction, Inc.

What should I demonstrate?

Industry-specific competitors (Ex: Real Estate)

Industry knowledge. You should know your competi-

tors and their unique advantages and disadvantages.

Contactually

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•

Sober judgment. Entrepreneurs caught up in the

brilliance of their own ideas might miss major
warning signs. An investor wants to know whether
or not you are underestimating the threat of
competition.

•

Differentiation. Is it clear that you are different
enough to compete?

•

Unique advantage. What is your specific advantage

Business Model
How will you make money?

over your competitors?

What questions do I need to answer?
• Who are your primary and secondary competitors and in what ways do they compete for your
customers?

• Are there any unknown or potential competitors
that would have a better advantage than you if they
entered the market?

• Do you displace commonly used companies?
• How will you disrupt the current competitive
landscape?

• Are you faster, cheaper, better?

Tegu

Unit Economics.

(1 Market Ð Steady State)
●
●

1 Members per Market: 1,000

●

2 Revenue per Member: $2000/MO

●
●
●

3 Monthly Recurring Revenue: $2MM
4 Aircraft Cost: $1,500/HR; $1MM/MO
5 GROSS PROFIT MARGIN: 45%

DocSend

Beacon

• Why won’t an incumbent rip your product off and
roll it out faster than you can?

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What is it?
Don’t worry; showing how the business makes money is
much simpler than you think.
For example, a solid financial model will answer the following questions:
1. How much does it cost to acquire a customer?
2. How much cash will you make from that customer,
over the course of their lifetime with you?
3. How do your costs break down, per unit and on a
monthly basis?

What should I demonstrate?
•

Consistency. There should be a clear relationship be-

tween how costs and revenues grow over time.

•

Financial literacy. You know how to think about the

financials of a startup.

•

Level-headedness. You are not overly optimistic

about your projections or too cautious.

What questions do I need to answer?
• Can you acquire customers for less than a third of
their lifetime value?

Prerevenue companies may have the good fortune of
making up assumptions and financials, but that is not
an excuse for having unrealistic projections. Since the
pitch deck is designed to introduce the idea, it’s not too
important to show a full-blown financial model with every
assumption, sensitivity, and margin analysis. However,
it should include the important aspects such as revenue,
gross profit, earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation,
and amortization (EBITDA), net income, burn rate, and
cash flow. Equally as important is to contextualize your
math (as in, “if we get 1 percent of the market, then we will
have hit our revenue projection”).

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• What is your monthly burn rate—how much money
are you spending a month?

• Are the revenue projections reasonable?
• Are costs legitimate?

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DEEP DIVE

How Financial Models Work
Assumptions

➞

[create]

➞

All financial models begin with assumptions—a series of guesses about
when a business will gain customers,
how many customers it will gain, and
how that growth will affect costs and,
ultimately, profit.
Common assumptions:

Projections

•

[that give you]

➞ Critical Insights

•

Those assumptions, played out over
time, create projections for the venture’s
future financial health. A full financial
model will have three projections:

The reason you create a financial model
is to gain a few critical insights about
the venture that can tell you how risky
or attractive the opportunity is:

•

Income statement. How much

Cash flow. Will it make money?

money the business brought in
through sales, the cost of making
and selling the product, and the
amount of money left over (net
income).

Customer acquisition cost. How

much does it cost to acquire one
customer?

•

➞

•

Revenue growth. How fast do you

When?

•

Burn rate. How much cash are you

losing each month?

•

Profit margin. Your net income di-

vided by revenues.

expect revenue to grow? By how
many customers a month? By what
percentage a month?

Cash flow statement. How much

•

cash a business has in the bank.
With complex businesses that have
things like inventory or debt, a cash
flow statement can be very different
from its income statement.

•

Breakeven. When will the venture

turn cash flow positive?

•

Pricing. Do small decreases in pric-

ing eat up your profit margin and
cause you to run out of cash?

Balance sheet. A list of a venture’s

assets—things like cash, buildings,
and inventory—balanced against
its liabilities—things like debt—and
all the owners’ equity stakes.
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Team

What is it?
In the team slide, you want to give the background for
each of the key team members, including their current
roles, prior experience, significant accomplishments, and
education. If there are any major investors or advisers, you
can name them here. Keep your bio to less than a minute
total when presenting. Your goals are to build rapport, be
known, and build confidence that the team can accomplish
the mission.

Who is going to pull this off?

Leandro

Harper

What should I demonstrate?

McKay Thomas

•

Father Of Two
Co-founded Baby.com.br

Brevity. Each bio should be only seventy-five words

or less.*

From Ideation To $23MM In VC
Over Product

•

Domain expertise. You have the experience and

insight to get the job done.
Team

First Opinion

1st
Opinion

•

Passion, intensity, and a good team culture. You

know the kind of team culture you are creating and
that each person is committed to it.

THE TEAM

Kathleen Shea-Porter Justin McLeod
Operations / Brand
CEO
Editorial Manager
Game Theory Major
at LivingSocial
Harvard MBA

Moms have
a problem

AJ Bonhomme
Lead Engineer
Cyveillance (acqÕ d)
AgentLogic (acqÕ d)

+2 engineers, data scientist, growth hacker, community mgr, designer
Confidential | Copyright 2013 Cleod9 Inc

Tuesday, October 22, 13

Hinge

Shift

*You should also prepare a longer (250–500 word) bio, in case an investor asks
for it. The point of the pitch deck bio is to get your audience’s attention, not
tell your life story.

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What questions do I need to answer?
• Why are you the right people for the job?
• Is this team sufficient to accomplish the goal?

Use of Funds
What do you want and why?

• Are there others who need to be hired?

We’re raising a $5M Series A
with three goals
1. Ramp up sales: Scale inside sales team and develop
outbound sales practice
2. Optimize the platform for scale & ROI:
Improve performance & deliver value, esp for teams
3. Emphasize thought leadership: Drive lead gen
via content marketing and partnerships
Contactually
Funding Needs

Seed capital for 12 months of operations + initial inventory

Raising

$

1M - $ 1.5M

Everything is in place, we just need capital to move forward.
The following provides initial startup capital, 12 months of sales
and operations (full time staff x 4), work space, rapid
prototyping, and freelance contractors as needed.
Build Initial Inventory

$175,000

Staffing & Service Overhead x 12 months

$550,000

Operating Costs x 12 months

$100,000

Initial Startup Costs

$125,000

25 Exos for demonstration, initial low volume sales, lease based operations

FOR THE FOLLOWING
Full time staff of 4, ample freelance/contractor budgets, legal & accounting services

2 APPS (Moms & Docs)

Office space, prototyping facility, utilities and supplies

McKAY THOMAS
415-726-8494
mckayt@gmail.com

500,000 active moms

Office equipment, furniture, prototyping equipment and needed software

Inventory Equipment Costs

Flatbed trailers, forklifts & vehicle purchases for lease based operations

Total Funding Needed

First Opinion

Reaction, Inc.

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$50,000

$1,000,000

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What is it?
A good pitch deck has a clear ask of the investor. This is
married with an understanding of what the investor gets in
return and what the money will be used for. Some entrepreneurs like to create a slide with every way the company can
be sold, potential acquisition targets, initial public offerings,
yada yada. Everyone will tell you something different, but
we think it’s best to focus on your company. Spell out how
you actually plan to use the money you are asking for. What
will it give you in terms of resources or achieved milestones?

What should I demonstrate?
•

Clarity. You specifically and clearly state what the

funds will be used for.

•

Milestones. You should show what you expect to

achieve by the time the money is gone.

What questions do I need to answer?
• What size and type of investment are you looking for?
• How will you spend it?
• What will you accomplish with it?
• Who else is likely to be participating in this investment round?

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Extra Slides
Although the ten building blocks make up the core of most
decks, there are an almost infinite number of slides you
might add, depending on your venture and the way you
tell your story. Here’s a list of forty-one other slides to build
into your deck or add to an appendix.
1. Frequently asked questions (FAQs). Usually, there
are about five to ten questions that almost everyone
asks. Build trust with investors by facing the difficult questions head on. Create a slide and put the
questions and answers next to each other.
2. History. Context can be helpful. A history slide,
typically laid out as a timeline, gives you the ability
to show your company’s key mile markers, for example, incorporation, team formed, first product sold,
money raised, and record sales month.
3. Products. Simply show your product(s). Make the
product the hero of the slide: large, front and center,
with little or no text around it.
4. Market. The market slide can show anything you
want about the market you operate in. Characteristics like where the market is heading, how large it is,
the changes taking place are important to lay out.

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5. Patents. Patents can add value to your company.
If you have them, show them. Patents are a clear
demonstration that you can defend your venture
from copycats.
6. People you are learning from. Few entrepreneurs
include this slide; it’s one of our favorites. List
everyone you are learning from: advisers, friends,
investors, and so on. They can be people you know
personally or whose work you follow and admire.
The list shows you are curious and are sourcing a
wide range of feedback from key people.

get stuff done. If you haven’t released your product yet, milestones are a great way to demonstrate
momentum.
11. Branding. Consumer-facing and product-based
startups often live and die by the experience they
create for their customer. If the physical experience of your product matters, this slide gives you a
chance to show that off.

7. Executive summary. This simple overview of the
venture and its opportunity usually consists of one
or two sentences, placed in the middle of the slide.

12. Product road map. Investors want to know where
you are headed next. What’s most important in the
next three, six, and twelve months? A product road
map, usually displayed through a timeline or Gantt
chart, gives your audience a full picture of the longterm vision of the product and your priorities.

8. Income statement, balance sheet statement, and cash
flow statement. This trio makes up what people
usually mean when they say “financials.” The later
the stage of the venture, the more important these
elements become.

13. Mission. A mission statement should be actionable
and personal. It answers the question: Why do we
exist? The mission statement should help your team
make better decisions and gives others insight into
what’s driving the venture.

9. Investment highlights. List well-known and respected investors who have already invested in the
business, as well as previous successful funding
rounds.

14. Vision. Vision statements are aspirational; they describe the kind of world you are striving to create.
The goal of this slide is to get others to buy into
your vision of the future.

10. Milestones achieved. This timeline of important
achievements shows that your team knows how to

15. Pictures. This really isn’t a slide type, but a storytelling technique. Using a picture with few or no

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words can help immerse your audience into a scene
or experience that you want them to understand.
16. Supply chain. This diagram traces where and how
you source your raw materials and inputs for your
product. A solid and protected supply chain can be
a hedge against competition and an unfair advantage over existing players or new entrants.
17. How it works. Quickly explain to your audience how
your product does what you say it does.
18. Risks. This slide lists the biggest challenges you
face as a venture. Examples of risks include assumptions you’ve made that you have to prove or industry dynamics that make you vulnerable. This slide
explains that you understand exactly what those
risks are and what you are doing to defend against
them.

22. Screenshots. Screenshots of your product are a
simple way to show your audience exactly what you
are doing and lets them experience your product as
a customer would.
23. Sales funnel. This diagram demonstrates how you
are systematically getting customers. A typical
funnel moves through a process of gathering leads,
qualifying those leads, educating potential customers and answering objections, closing, and then
following up with after-sales service. Investors like
to know how you are moving people through each
stage in the process and what the conversion rates
are from one stage to the next.

20. Locations. Show a current map of where your customers are or where your product is available.

24. Customer acquisition strategy. This slide is a different way of showing the same thing as the sales
funnel: how you plan to get customers. Be specific
on this slide. E-mail marketing campaigns, Google
AdWords and Facebook ads, influencer or ambassador programs, referral programs, trade shows, and
cold-pitching are all examples of potential acquisition strategies. In addition to showing the strategy,
give data on the expected costs and conversion
rates of these strategies.

21. Geographic growth plans. This future-oriented version of the “locations” slide shows where you plan to
be over the next several months.

25. Customer lifetime value. How much will each customer be worth over the course of his or her engagement with your product? Show this number and how

19. Differentiation. If you are in what others may consider to be a crowded market, this slide explains
what makes you different.

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you arrived at it (how many times do they purchase
over what period of time?).

32. Customer quotes. Customer quotes give others a
more intimate picture of why people buy your product or service.

26. Designs/blueprints. Similar to the “how it works”
slide, this gives you a chance to demonstrate the
underlying mechanics of a product.

33. Comparable companies. This slide lists the companies in your space and key metrics.

27. History and background. Tell the backstory of your
team and the venture that led to where you are
today. This slide can help you demonstrate expertise and previous success in your space.

34. Go-to-market strategy. Which customers do you
plan to target first and how do you plan to target
them? Include evidence for why this is the right first
move to make.

28. Unique value proposition. Popularized by tools like
the Business Model Canvas and Lean Canvas, this
slide presents a clear statement of what makes you
different and why customers will buy your product.

35. Case study. Tell a story of a specific customer or
partnership and how your product did amazing
things for them.

29. Competitive or unfair advantage. What difficult-tocopy advantage do you have over competitors?
30. Pipeline. Depending on the size of each deal, this
list of the customers that you are currently negotiating with shows the names and logos of well-known
customers or calculates the total size of those deals
in dollars to show likely future sales.
31. Strategic partnerships. This slide shows the names
or logos of strategic partnerships that will help you
get more customers, lower costs, or break into new
markets.

36. Organization chart. This slide is a diagram of your
current team, their titles, and who reports to whom.
Show a typical organization chart in a hierarchical
tree format.
37. Exit strategy. Explain your strategy for whether
you plan to exit the business through acquisition,
IPO, or something else, when you plan to exit. For
acquisition exit strategy, include a list of potential
acquirers.
38. Exits. List the companies that are similar to yours
and have had successful exits. Include their valuations at the time of the exit.

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39. Conclusion. This is the “sum it all up” slide—a clear
statement that explains the power of your venture
and the opportunity your audience has to be a
part of it.
40. Technology. Describe and visualize the core technology that powers your product and keeps your
venture from being copied by others.
41. Valuation. List the terms of the deal you are offering:
how much you are raising and the valuation of the
company. If you are structuring your raise with a
convertible note, include the valuation cap and the
discount you are offering.

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Beyond Just Slides:
Story, Design, and
Text
In “The Building Blocks of a Pitch Deck,” we gave you a
basic outline. Most entrepreneurs stop there. But over the
next three chapters, we’re going to dig into the key elements that transform a deck from a lifeless document that
fails to inspire into one of your biggest assets: story, design, and text. For perspective, you might spend 25 percent of your time on the architecture and the remaining
75 percent on these components that really differentiate
your deck.

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3
Story
Stories explain, captivate, disturb, and inspire. They can tell us there is something very, very
wrong, and they can give us a vision for what we never thought possible. Great stories are
about what’s true inside all of us. That’s what makes them work. Entrepreneurship is about
telling a story that connects the deep needs of a group of people with a repeatable solution.
For your deck, stories are the fabric that stitches everything together. You will use stories in
three primary ways:
1. To create a narrative arc that ties your slide deck together.
2. To explain one or more of your slides.
3. To have as a reservoir of things to discuss and ways to respond to questions during a
conversation.
Whether you’re presenting in person or sending the deck for someone to read, without the
elements of story, your deck is just a bunch of boring slides.
In this section, we outline four basic story archetypes and use the case study of Scott
Harrison, founder and CEO of charity: water, to illustrate their power. In the last decade,
charity: water has revolutionized the nonprofit industry, put a significant dent in the global
water crisis, and set the standard for raising money in the twenty-first century for any venture.

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Its efforts have funded more than 16,000 water projects
and brought clean water to 5.2 million people in 25 countries. It has also raised over $185 million from 1 million
supporters.
As a nonprofit, charity: water’s engine works a bit differently than a typical startup, but the basic stories it uses to
sell others on its vision are universal to any venture.

Key Elements:

• The origin story
• The customer story
• The industry story
• The venture growth story

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The Origin Story
After eighteen years in a loving, conservative family,
Scott Harrison decided it was time to rebel. Like a kid in
a bad teen movie, he moved to New York, joined a band,
and started drinking. The band broke up immediately, but
he discovered you could make a lot more money booking shows than playing them. If you got good, companies
would pay you to be seen drinking their booze at a party.
That began Scott’s life as a nightclub promoter. Every night,
he would convince people to buy $20 bottles of champagne
for $200. Budweiser paid him $2,000 a month to drink its
beer; Bacardi paid him another $2,000 to drink its rum.
Ten years later on a New Year’s trip to Uruguay, he
realized he was the worst person he knew. Surrounded by
beautiful people and Dom Pérignon magnums, he said to
himself, “I’m never going to find what I’m looking for where
I’m looking for it.” Hung over the next day, he started reading the Bible. He came across this verse: “True religion is
to look after widows and orphans in their distress and to
keep oneself from being polluted.” Not the most encouraging verse for a guy who got people wasted for a living.
He knew he had to do something big. Making a deal
with God, he decided to spend a year serving the poor to
make up for the ten he’d wasted. Eventually, an organization agreed to take him on as a volunteer photographer if
he paid them $500 a month. “Here’s my credit card,” he
said. “Where are we going?”

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Liberia. Doctors from the organization Mercy Ships
traveled from country to country, giving operations to help
people with facial deformities. Overwhelmed by the poverty and sickness surrounding him, Scott broke down. He
photographed thousands of people—people with tumors
on their lips so large that they were suffocating or whose
communities shunned them and threw rocks at them—all
of which were healed by simple surgeries. The first year
went by. Scott signed up for another. In the second year, he
discovered one of the things that made people sick: dirty
water. Standing in front of a beautiful still pond on the outside of a village, he watched as a young girl dipped her
bucket into the green water and pulled it out to drink. “No
wonder there are things growing on people faces; look at
what they’re drinking,” he thought.
He moved back to New York City, unable to get that
image of the girl drinking from a swamp out of his mind.
Eight hundred million people just like her lacked access to
clean water every day. So, at the age of thirty and $30,000
in debt, he moved onto a friend’s couch and started charity: water with the goal of ending the water crisis in his
lifetime.
Seven years later, every time Scott speaks about charity:
water, he opens with that story.

Images copyright Scott Harrison

Story

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Your Origin Story
The journey from loving home to the nightclubs of New
York to the poorest parts of the world is Scott’s origin
story—his personal “why.” It’s how he came to discover his
mission and start pursuing it, and it is at the core of his
ability to rally people to his cause.

If you want to get people fired up about an idea, they
need to know why you are fired up about that idea. Scott
knows that sharing the story of how he started keeps
people from seeing charity: water as just another charity
and creates a bond between him and his audience. “Many
people want to know what is driving the entrepreneur forward, and learn more about his or her character before
they invest,” Scott said. “I think one of the most important
The Hero’s Journey

12

Diagram of
Joseph Campbell’s
Hero’s Journey

Act 3

Final mastery
of the
problem

11
Final attempt
at a big
change

Return
with the
Elixir
Resurrection

Gray circle = inner journey

10

Blue circle = outer journey (character transformation)

9

Rededication
to change

Consequences of
the attempt
(improvements and
setbacks)

8
Act 2B

Call to
Adventure

Reward
(seizing the
sword)

Special
World

Ordeal
Approach
the
Inmost
Cave
Preparing
for a big
change

Act 1

2
Increased
awareness

Ordinary
World

Road Block

7

BaehrLoomis_T.indd 42

Limited
awareness of
a problem

Ordinary
World

Attempting a
big change

42 |

1

Refusal
of the Call

Reluctance
to change

3

Meeting with
the Mentor

Overcoming
reluctance
Crossing
the
Tests, Threshold
Allies,
and
Committing to
Enemies
change
Experimenting
with first
change

4

5
Act 2A

6

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things is being able to tell your personal story in a way that
engages people.”
What has brought you to this moment? Why were you
“made for a time such as this”? What has prepared you to
take on this challenge? Why is it so important to you personally? Why would you do what you’re doing for free?
Like Scott, many of the best and most successful entrepreneurs have found a beautiful match between their personal passions and the companies they launch. They talk
about their journey in a way that feels as if their ventures
are the fulfillment of their life stories. The beautiful part
is that it is true.
A founder’s origin story follows the classic pattern
known as the hero’s journey, originally described by
Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. It
starts with the hero living life as usual, unaware of any
great need or problem. Then, one day, he’s faced with a
deep and troubling experience that keeps him from ever
living “life as usual” again. That experience leads to a new
sense of purpose, causes him to take great and sometimes
risky action, and ultimately changes the way he sees the
world. All great hero stories follow this storyline—including those about entrepreneurs.

The Elements of an Origin Story
1. You’re living life as normal, unaware of anything
wrong with the world.

2. Suddenly, you have an epiphany and feel a call to
adventure.
3. You accept the challenge and take bold action.
4. That action gives you a new sense of purpose
and understanding that continues to motivate
you today.

The Customer Story
Scott also tells another type of story whenever he speaks:
the story about the people charity: water helps. He talks
about a woman who walks eight hours a day for water, carrying a clay pot that weighs ten or fifteen pounds empty, and
another thirty pounds when it is full. One day, she comes
back into the village with her clay pot filled with water, and
she slips and falls. The clay pot breaks. She takes the rope
she used to wrap the pot around her back and uses it to
hang herself on a tree in the middle of the village.
Or, he tells the story of a woman named Helen Appio.
Helen grew up in a village in northern Uganda. Before her
village had clean water, Helen woke up before dawn to walk
nearly a mile and a half to the closest water point. There,
she would wait for hours with hundreds of other women to
fill her two five-gallon jerry cans. When she walked back
to the village, she was forced to make a decision: How do I
use these ten gallons of water today? Cook a meal with it?
Story

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Images copyright Esther Havens

44

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Drink it? Clean the children’s clothes? Then, charity: water
built a well in her village. Now that she has water, everything is different. “I’m happy now,” she says. “I have time
to eat, my children can go to school, and I can even work in
my garden, take a shower, and come back for more water if
I want. I’m bathing so well.”
Seeing her bright face and beautiful green dress, a
woman from charity: water told her, “Well, you look great.”
Helen put her hands on the woman’s shoulders. “Yes,” she
said. “Now, I am beautiful.” Recounting that story, Scott
marvels, “What an amazing thing. What a crazy thing! To
be able to restore someone’s dignity and make them feel
beautiful, just by tripling the quantity of water.”
A venture’s success rests on its ability to make the lives
of the people it serves better. By telling the story of a person your venture serves, you demonstrate how it solves a
deep need in the world. By articulating your value proposition as it relates to a single, real-life person, founders can
help the people they are trying to persuade understand the
true potential of what they are working on.
These stories follow a very predictable pattern, as well.
First, they introduce someone with a big and frustrating
problem. They describe what life looks like for that person,
how she tries to overcome or solve her problem now, and
how nothing she tries works. Then they describe how, one
day, that person came in contact with your product, which,
almost miraculously, solved the problem she has been
struggling with for so long. The stories end by describing

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what life is like for that person now that she has your product. She is happy. She can’t help but tell others about it.
She is free to do so many other things that before she only
dreamed of.
These stories communicate the value of a venture
in microcosm and give others an anchor to focus their
attention.

The Elements of a Customer Story*
1. Meet Joe. Joe has a problem. This problem really
bothers Joe.
2. Joe tried this and this, but no matter what he does
he can’t solve his problem.
3. Until, one day, Joe finds [your amazing product].
4. Now Joe is so happy, he tells all his friends. Don’t
you want to be like Joe?

*Adapted from Lee LeFever, The Art of Explanation (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley,
2013).

The Industry Story
Scott tells another story about the charitable industry itself. He talks about how, after coming back from Africa,
he discovered his friends were disillusioned and suspicious of charities. With the image of charity directors buying BMWs and multimillion-dollar mansions with other
people’s donations stuck in their heads, no one was interested in giving. “How much money would actually reach
the people? How will I know where my money is going?”
they asked.
Scott realized that the charity industry was ripe for
innovation. People didn’t give because they thought too
much money went to the operations of the charity itself. So,
Scott opened two bank accounts when he launched charity: water: one for all the overhead of the business, which he
would fund with money from private donors, and another
for the work of the charity. This way, 100 percent of the
funds he raised publicly would go directly to the people
he served.
Another reason people didn’t give was because they
didn’t feel connected to the impact their money was having. With most organizations, it felt like any money you
gave went into a black hole. You never knew where it went
or what kind of effect it had. Scott decided charity: water
would make a commitment to never fund a project unless it
could know it exists through photos and GPS coordinates.

Story

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100%

PROOF

BRAND

Images copyright Scott Harrison

Whenever someone gave to charity: water, he or she would
be able to go to a Google map and literally see the well that
was built with his or her money.
Finally, he realized that charities were often phenomenal at the service they gave but horrible at raising money. The damning words of New York Times
columnist Nicholas Kristof motivated him: “Toothpaste
is peddled with far more sophistication than all of the
world’s life-saving causes.” There were no effective charity brands. They had horrible websites, hosted speaking
events that nobody came to, and were constantly limited
by a lack of funds. To be successful, Scott decided, charity: water would create an amazing brand that people
wanted to identify themselves with.
This is Scott’s industry story: how, at a macrolevel, the
trends and environment of the charitable industry created
a unique opportunity for charity: water to do something
amazing. In the pursuit of ending the water crisis, it would
also reinvent charity.
Telling the industry story gives your audience the confidence that the larger forces at play around you are moving
in your favor. The story also shows that you have a deep
understanding of how your venture fits into the larger social, political, and economic picture. Can you identify the
trends and signs of the space you are in? Who does well in
good times? Who does well in bad times? What are the barriers to entry in your industry? What effects do customers,
suppliers, substitute solutions, rivals, and the threat of new
entrants have on you and other companies in the space?

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Industry stories usually follow this kind of pattern: They
start by describing where the industry is now and how it
got there. They identify the key players in that industry,
and the assumptions they make and problems they are facing. Then, they introduce a few key cultural, technological,
or economic trends that present an opportunity for someone to do something different. These stories are proof that
the wind is at your back and not in your face.

The Elements of an Industry Story
1. For a long time, the industry has operated according
to a set of assumptions based on the environment it
grew up within.
2. As a result of specific social, technological, or economic factors, those assumptions are no longer
holding true, creating problems for the big players
in the industry.
3. This change creates a unique opportunity for someone to step in and take advantage of these new
circumstances.

The Venture
Growth Story
The fourth story Scott tells is charity: water’s growth story.
This story illustrates how the other stories—his personal
discovery of his mission, the transformation of the people
he serves, and the emergence of an opportunity caused
by broader societal forces—have come together to enable
charity: water’s amazing growth and impact.
Scott launched charity: water by doing the only thing
he knew how to do: throw a party. Luring them with free
booze, he convinced seven hundred people to pay $20 a
ticket for his thirty-first birthday party as a fundraiser
for the charity. Then, he took the $15,000 they made and
brought it immediately to a refugee camp in northern
Uganda. They fixed three wells and sent the photos and
the GPS coordinates back to the people who had given.
The donors couldn’t believe it; they had never heard of a
charity following up on such a small donation. Some had
forgotten they had even given.
The next year, he told people to stay home for his birthday and donate $32 instead. That year, he raised $59,000.
Soon, others followed suit. A seven-year-old in Austin,
Texas, raised $22,000. Justin Bieber raised $47,000. Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey raised $174,000. Charity: water
experimented—using any medium it could to get people
to care and take action. With each experiment, it took
Story

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IN SEVEN YEARS...
$100+ MILLION RAISED
500,000+ DONATIONS

Images copyright Scott Harrison

what worked and found a way to expand it. By 2013, charity: water had brought clean water to 3.3 million people in
twenty different countries. Yet, as impressive as that progress is, the need is still far greater. Scott has set a goal that
by 2020, charity: water will have given 100 million people
access to clean water. To get there, it is going to need help.
Charity: water’s growth story contains four basic elements. Scott starts by describing the actions and experiments charity: water took to achieve its mission. Then, he
tells how it followed up with those experiments by closing
the loop with donors and taking what it learned and applying it to more experiments. Then, he shows how that
learning has resulted in astounding results and progress.
Finally, Scott shows how despite all that progress, charity:
water still has a long way to go, and he invites people into
the adventure to help achieve the vision.
Once you discovered your idea, what did you do about
it? What happened after that? What needs to happen in the
future? For founders, the venture story is the hub around
which every other story turns. If the team members cannot
translate their passion, understanding, and potential into
a venture that produces measurable results, they are wasting their time.

The Elements of a Venture Growth Story
1. We took action.
2. We got results. We learned from those results and
took more action.

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3. This resulted in unbelievable progress.
4. For as much progress that’s already been made, the
vision for what we can do is bigger.

How to Tell a
Great Story
A story has been the preferred medium of world changers
since the beginning of history. Plato told stories. Jesus
told stories. Abraham Lincoln told stories. Steve Jobs tol