Data Can Make (Or Catastrophically Break) Your Pitch Deck

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Want to know the easiest way to an investor's heart?

Using data in a pitch deck.

It makes sense. Investors will be able to see exactly what’s in it for them, why their funding matters, and why you’re the right person for the job. All through the careful sourcing, curation, processing and visual representation of data.

Data does work. Data is powerful.

But, if you misuse it, it will be used against you.

Let's break it down. Here are some ways data can enhance (or tear apart) your pitch deck. 

Beware Of The Copycat Approach

There’s a sinister approach that founders make when creating their pitch decks: The dreaded copycat approach.

The copycat approach usually occurs when entrepreneurs get ‘inspired’ by the early pitch decks developed by some of today’s biggest businesses.

One example of this is the original Airbnb pitch deck from 2009. For some reason, today's founders are really quick to use the housing unicorn's slides as a template of sorts.

But truthfully? The Airbnb pitch deck, for lack of a better term, sucks. It doesn’t even work. Heck, we even wrote an entire book just to prove it.

What makes this approach especially bad is when founders copy the big-shot pitch decks to the last letter, only replacing out what needs to be replaced instead of coming up with their own structure.

Realize that creating pitch decks isn’t a ‘plug-and-play’ process. Sure, there's nothing wrong with taking a formulaic or structural process to make things easy.

But to literally copy every element of the structure? To the point where founders are blindly throwing in data into text placeholders where prompted? That's just unoriginal.

Being a copycat means you're throwing together text, numbers, charts and images into a mess of slides.

This leads to chaos.

And investors HATE chaos.

Don't do it. Be original. Use your data uniquely. After all, this is your data.

Your Data Needs to Tell a Story

An approach that will work is to tell a story with your data.

Because the best stories win hearts. And contrary to popular belief: investors have hearts.

Before you start sending me angry emails telling me how wrong I am, the answer is no. I am not saying that an investor’s decision to fund a startup is made solely on an entrepreneur’s ability to emotionally sway investors through storytelling tactics (even though that’s precisely how WeWork’s Adam Neumann basically did it, but we’ll get into that another time).

But I am saying combining the right balance of facts with a well-defined narrative can exponentially increase your chances of landing funding.

Even the world's most accomplished venture capitalists (VCs) agree with me. Mark Suster, managing partner of UpFront Ventures, clearly states that everything in a pitch deck "should come across as a narrative story rather than a stilted business plan."

This makes sense. A narrative builds structure. Structure helps create platforms to show off data. Data helps shape the flow of the story.

It’s all connected.

So take the time to build a narrative and use your data to help sequence it. Relying too much on facts alone doesn’t work. Relying too much on an emotional storytelling sequence doesn’t work either.

Find the right balance and go from there.

Data as a Pitch Deck's Visual Narrative

Did you know that 9/10 founders will use a pie chart in their pitch decks? (I made that statistic up, by the way).

There's nothing wrong with using a pie chart. If it works, then so be it! But it could be worth taking the time to experiment showing off your data in other ways.

We’ve even written up a detailed four-step process you can take to nail your data visualization efforts every single time.

The key takeaway here is to experiment with your visuals. Play around with your colors, use different shapes, try different typefaces. Seriously: have fun with this!

Just try not to go overboard. Remember, you’re designing a pitch deck, not a comic book. Just keep the design-focus lean and find ways to illustrate a data-driven story that appeals to investors. Everything needs to be as practical and cohesive as possible.

Be Careful with the Numbers

I’ve been in this space for a long (long) time.

And if I were to get a dollar for every time a client of ours said something along the lines of:

“Oh, we just rounded up our ask by a few million, no big deal”

 or

“Oh, yeah, we just guesstimated those numbers in there”

Then I’d probably be a bajillionaire.

Don’t. Do. This.

Let’s be clear: I know your intentions are harmless. I know you’re not here to pull something over anybody. But sometimes, under all that pressure, you’ll have that itch to cut corners and seem a little more appealing to those people with deep pockets.

But remember, investors are smarter than you think they are. These guys eat, sleep and breathe money day-in-day-out. If they see a figure that looks a little wonky, they will ask you where you got it from.

And if your answer to that question is “that’s just an estimate” you already lost the game.

Take the time to do your research. Find numbers that make sense. Keep rounding up to a minimum. Back the numbers you use up with cold hard facts in case you get drilled for them in a Q&A session.

Do these things, and you’ll be fine. 

Too Much Data Is a Recipe for Disaster

I know it's tempting to search every corner of the world for data just to convince investors that your startup is going to be a unicorn. Researching and compiling data isn’t wrong. If anything, I encourage it.

But there’s a difference between getting the data you need to tell the right story, and getting data for the sake of doing so just to show off that you've done your homework to investors.

The former is effective.

The latter just shows you’re looking for brownie points.

So, how do you make sure you end up with the right group? Simple. Only illustrate the data you need to in your slides.

Do not jam-pack numbers, charts, and graphs into your slides. Investors hate that. Heck, I’m pretty sure YOU hate that. Only use the data that is both powerful and relevant to your pitch.

For example: Let’s say I’m the founder of an app that connects business mentors to first-time entrepreneurs. Let’s also say I conducted a survey targeting 1,000 first-time entrepreneurs, and my results look something like this:

  • 94 first-time entrepreneurs claim they don’t want access to a business mentor for guidance and advice.
  • 142 first-time entrepreneurs claim they may want access to a business mentor for guidance and advice.
  • 764 first-time entrepreneurs claim they want access to a business mentor for guidance and advice.

Do you really think I’d even waste an investor's time with the first two points? I'd only communicate the last point.

Even better: I’d reshape the message to be something leaner. Maybe something like this:

“7 out 10 first-time entrepreneurs want access to experienced business mentors.” 

And just to be safe, I may even add a footnote somewhere stating that this statistic is based off a survey involving 1,000 entrepreneurs.

Remember, it’s about using data that’s relevant. So choose wisely.

See? Pitch Deck Data Doesn't Have to Be Tricky

It takes effort to make data work in a pitch deck. But believe me, this stuff matters.

Even the smallest, most cosmetic choices in visualizing your data (the choice of font, the type of chart used, the color you’re selected, etc.) can bring your pitch deck to new levels.

Or, if used incorrectly, completely derail your pitch to oblivion.

But don’t worry. We can help. We’ve got an ebook that explains the right way (and wrong way) to create a pitch deck. You’ll also find out why the “best” pitch decks ever made may not even be the “best” at all.

Oh, by the way, it’s free. Go grab it now!

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