Pitch stages

Which topics should a pitch contain?

10 in 10 entrepreneurs ask me that. Answer is not so straight forward, though. More than checking items on a list, when deciding what to cover in your pitch you should be worried about building a solid/ clear storyline and manage the different stages of the presentation. Having said that, I like to split a pitch into 5 big segments:

Pitch stages

Pitch stages

1) Opening:

I shouldn’t have to write this… but people do mess up right in the beginning. You must start by presenting yourself, professionally:

  • Hello…”
  • First and last name: “…my name is John Doe…”
  • Position: “…I’m cofounder of Company X…”
  • Thank for the opportunity: “…and first of all I’d like to thank you for the opportunity… we’re really thrilled…”

It’s impressive, but people just forget those simple things. They present themselves without their last names, or using nicknames. Startup pitches are supposed to be informal, but those 4 points are just basic etiquete.

I also recommend that your name + position + name of company are clearly stated in the first slide, so people can write it down properly.

Example of first slide

Example of first slide

On telling what you do in the company I have one personal preference: C-level titles (CEO, CFO, CMO…) are a huge stretch to describe someone working on a 5 to 10 people startup. It’s the same as calling the janitor of your building “Head of Infrastructure”. When telling what you do, you need to transmit 2 informations:

  1. Are you a member of founding team (meaning you have equity – founder, cofounder)?
  2. What kind of tasks you handle the most (“I’m take care of marketing and sales…”)?

Calling yourself CEO just make my eyes roll.


Audience will decide on the first 30 seconds whether to pay attention to you or check their e-mails, update their Facebook status, watch the latest cat video on Youtube etc. You need to convince them from start that you are worth their attention; you need to make a blast (that’s why I call it “baam”, like a bomb). The video above, from the movie “Guilt Trip”, with Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand, shows us exactly what a “BAAM” should look like.

For making a blast we use “grabbers“; really common in sales pitch techniques. These are structures that help you emphasize an specific aspect of your business, whether it’s the size of the market, how common is the problem you are trying to solve, or how cool your numbers are. We will dedicate an article only to grabbers, but to anticipate there are four main types:

  • Story telling: one of the most used by startups. You tell a story of a (real or fictional) character, exploring the problems you are trying to solve: “meet Ane. Ane is…”. Check an example on Preemadona’s pitch at Techcrunch Disrupt SF 2015.
  •  What if: this is a really effective grabber, and good to be used when you can assume your audience has some deeper understanding of the problems you are trying to solve: “what if I told you…. and what if there was…”. Check a personal example, of a Pitch I with AgendaPet did at the U-Start Conference in Brazil.
  • Numbers game: sometimes numbers behind your business/ opportunity are so interesting (and surprising) that you start by exploring them. With this grabber you present the audience with 4/5 numbers, which will be complemented in the next seconds: “I’d like you to remember those numbers: 4, 30, 5 and 200. We have more than 4 million users, 30% active…”
  • Props: props (or physical elements) alone are more rare to see. It consists of making use of a physical product, prototype, or even magazines/ newspapers to attract the attention to the problem you’re solving. People are naturally drawn to physical elements. The example is the movie above (you can click here to open in another window).

3) Main Content

Ok, you started off like a rocket and audience is hooked up. Now, it’s time for you to tell your story and cover the following topics:

  • About you: what does your company do?
  • Problem: what problem do you solve?
  • Solution: how do you solve this problem?
  • Market: how big is the opportunity (addressable market)?
  • Business Model: how will you make money?
  • Differentials: what you understand that your competitors don’t?
  • Team: who’s behind?
  • Credentials: what gives you credibility?
  • Traction: how well have you been performing?
  • Call to Action: what do you need?/ why you are here?

We will explore those point in dedicated posts, but I’ll lay down already few remarks:

3.1 About you: what does your company do?

A common mistake I see in the pitch courses is delaying to tell your audience what you do. Business communication rules contradict the structure we learned as kids (introduction > content > conclusion). In business (and pitches) you start with the conclusion. By doing this you are setting the context and making it easier for your audience to understand the whole presentation ahead.

In that sense, I like to add a quick summary (smaller than a tweet!) of what I do right after the first slide:

Example of quick description slide

Example of quick description slide

3.2 Financial projections

You may have noticed that I didn’t add financial statements/ projections on the content list; I didn’t forget that. If you are a later stage startup for sure you should add your estimations. However, if you are in the early moments of your company, audience usually just won’t believe your numbers! 

When I was in Columbia Business School I remember one professor (which was also a top executive in one of the world’s largest VCs) saying: “when I receive startup projections I cut revenues in half and double expenses, and only then start looking at the numbers”. Audience will be so skeptical at your projections that it will be just a waste of time adding them to your pitch.

Also, if you’re pitching to financial investors bear in mind that they love to make the math themselves; it makes them feel smarter! In this case, I recommend that you trick them into getting to your numbers! If you provide them the market numbers (focus on addressable market, not total market!), unit revenues (price/ margin per user, per product…) and burn rate they will get to your projections and feel smart doing the math in their heads. Rather, if you provide the end numbers already, their “skepticism chip” will activate and drive them to look for gaps in your calculations. Don’t fall into that trap. It sounds bad, but that’s real life.

4) Punch Line

Example of punch line: traction

Example of punch line: traction

Covering the content above will be dense and it’s expected (as shown on the first graph) that energy levels will fall. Try not kill your audience of boredom and keep a high energy level (in another post I’ll give you some tips on how to dominate the stage). With that in mind, I suggest building your pitch flow in such a way to save the “best for last”. That’s probably what audience will remember of your pitch, so choose carefully.

Ideally, a punch line should be the traction you’re having: growth, number of users, amazing conversion, closure of a critical contract, important client, patent authorization, test results etc. The message must be SURPRISINGLY positive, preferably with a growth line.

The image above, from an older AgendaPet Pitch, is a good example. At that time, traffic was our best variable, so I leveraged on it as much as I could.

5) Closing Remarks

Example of last slide + takeaway points

Example of last slide + takeaway points

Time is up and you should end your pitch. Punch line brought attention to a higher level again, so you need to take advantage of that to leave a final message.

If you haven’t do so already, you should make a call to action; tell people what you need/ want, and then close presentation with a brief summary of the main points you want your audience to remember.

If you are worried about the time, you may leave those takeaways in the last slide, together with your contact information (as on the example above). This way, if you run out of time, people will still be able to read your final messages. In some cases, this final message will sound almost like a slogan, reinforcing what you do, the problem you solve and how well you do it.

Finally, just thank people; a simple “thank you: will suffice. I have seen cases where people thank their families, teams, God… please don’t! Another common (and awful) mistake is finishing with: “ok, that’s all I had for today…”. It’s so melancholic! Again. just say:  “thank you”.

Remember to leave the basic contact details on the last slide. Make it big enough so people can take a picture with their phones.

Pitches are all about telling a story. The flow must be logic, following a “cause-consequence”/ macro-to-micro dynamic. A successful presentation will not only tell the story, but will manage the differences in energy level. People won’t retain all the information provided, so you need to point them out to what matter the most. If you deliver a pitch and the only time audience picks the phone is to take a picture of your contact details, believe me, you nailed it!

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