The One Pitch Slide Everyone Gets Wrong

by Haje Jan Kamps

When raising money for their startups, entrepreneurs get one crucial slide wrong. every. damn. time.

Sometimes, the slide is known as 'the ask’. Some founders omit the slide altogether. Some founders just stick a number on there. Some add something like “We are raising $2m at a $20m valuation”. None of that works. Wanna know why? Because it isn’t about you or your startup — it is about what the investor is going to get for the money they invest.

Or, put differently: If I invest $2m into your company, what is my money going to buy me? I’m not talking about the number of shares or the percentage of the company. I am talking about progress and milestones. What are you going to accomplish with $2m?

Oh, and before we talk about anything else: If you don’t have a term sheet in hand, don’t include a valuation on the slide; that’s all up for negotiation anyway.

How much should you raise?

You would be surprised at how many of my clients don’t have clarity on how much money they should raise. Often, they think they should be raising a ‘seed round,’ and they have a feeling for how much money that represents. More often than not, that means they are raising far too much capital — or far too little.

You need to know how much money you need to raise. And how do you know that? Well — it’s simple: you need to know what you’re going to do with the money. Realistically, the amount of money you raise should be enough to get you to the next round of fundraising. That sounds simple, but how do you know how much that is? That is where your operating plan comes in. In fact — I usually advise to my clients to forego an ‘ask’ slide in favor of an operating plan slide instead.

SMART goals and milestones

What it all boils down to is this: What milestones do you need to hit in order to raise the next round of funding? For most startups, this includes:

  • Product — What product milestones do you need to hit in order to raise the next tranche of money? In particular, this includes beta or full product launches, major feature-sets in the product pipeline, or integrations with partners.
  • Traction — What business metrics do you need to hit in order to raise more money? How many units do you have to sell, how many subscribers do you need, how many customers do you want? Other metrics may also be helpful here — your NPS score, monthly active users, etc.
  • Market Validation — What can you do to prove that there’s a real market out there willing to pay for the product or service you are peddling?
  • Key hires —In order to reach the above goals, you probably need to hire. Who do you need to hire? When?

In other words: If you are raising a Seed round now, think about what you need to prove to your investors in order to be able to raise a Series A. Map all of that out, and figure out what resources you need to get there. That’s how much money you need if everything goes to plan. Add 30–70% as a safety buffer (depending on how good your planning is, and how predictable your business is), and that’s how much money you need to raise.

Each of these goals should be a SMART goal: The goals need to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. A poor goal is “Improve marketing,” or “Get more customers,” or “Add features to our product.” Examples of great SMART goals are “By June 2021, we need 2,000 paying customers on our recurring subscription model,” or “In the next 6 months, we need to reduce our customer acquisition cost by 20%,” or “Our B2B sales need to improve, so by July we are aiming to hire an experienced VP of Sales who can help shape our sales processes.”

Once you have clarity on your milestones, you can map them out in a spreadsheet. What resources (time, money, staff) do you need to reach each milestone? Are there any dependencies in your plan? Add it all to the sheet. Now, you’ll have clarity on what you need to accomplish, how long it will take, and what it will cost. Bingo. That’s the perfect “the ask” slide for your slide deck.

From milestones to a fundraising goal

With all of the above in place, you’re in a much better place; you’ll be able to see how long it will take to hit the milestones.

Don’t go into too much detail in your operating plan — you can’t predict things that happen 24 months from now, so there’s no point in even trying. Keep your numbers round and easy to read, and make sure that the next 12–18 months of your operating plan are reasonably detailed. As the founder, that’s roughly the amount of time you’ll need to hit your milestones and start the fundraising for your next round.

For your pitch deck, you will be able to distill all of the above into a simple table. Use one column per month, and mark out the major milestones and cost centers for your development.

Finally, make sure you do a sense check. If you are going from 10 customers to 10,000 customers over the course of the next 18 months, can the staff you have support the extra customers? Does marketing spend seem reasonable? Do the operating expenses scale along with the number of customers?

If all of those things seem right, then you’re probably on your way to having a solid operating plan.

About the Author

Haje Jan Kamps is an experienced author, entrepreneur, speaker, and business advisor. He has written 10+ books about photography, published by Wiley, Focal Press, Pixiq, Ilex, and others. His books have been translated into a dozen languages.
Frequently on the speaking circuit, Haje has been on stage in the UK, Norway, Denmark, Russia, Israel, Iceland, and the US, talking about various aspects of entrepreneurship. Alongside his own books, he has also ghost-written a number of books, including Accelerated Startup: Everything You Need to Know to Make Your Startup Dreams Come True From Idea to Product to Company and a handful of photography titles. 
Haje has founded four companies, including a hardware company in the photography space (Triggertrap), a software-as-a-service marketing company (ScreenCloud), a chatbot company that helped people have their very first conversation about death (LifeFolder), and the very first photography news site in Norway. 
Over the past decade, he has mentored more than a hundred startups, and he has seen thousands of pitches - the good, the bad, and the ugly. These days, Haje is working as a full-time founder coach, helping startup founders build companies that stand the test of time. And - yes - create perfect pitches.

This article was contributed by Haje Jan Kamps, author of Pitch Perfect.