Over the last six months, I’ve written up 25 Pitch Deck Teardowns — the popular series of articles where I review a pitch deck in detail, celebrating the wins and gently (and sometimes not-so-gently) suggesting improvements. We’ve seen 74-slide decks (yes, really), decks that are riddled with spelling mistakes and bogged down by hideous design (but still work incredibly well), and decks where the founders don’t fully seem to understand what market they are in.
For every deck I reviewed for my TechCrunch series, I saw dozens of other decks as well. Don’t tell my bosses, but I have a side hustle as a pitch coach, and through that, I see a lot of decks. I also am friends with a bunch of lovely VCs and accelerators who often forward decks for me to take a look at. I have a folder with hundreds and hundreds of pitch decks, ranging from $10,000 angel rounds to multibillion-dollar deals in progress. People on occasion send me screenshots of slides, too (I like to think of those as “unsolicited deck pics.” Ahem.)
In any case, I have long since lost count, but I’ve probably seen a few thousand pitch decks over the past few years. Suffice it to say: I have opinions about ’em.
In this post, I want to break down the top 11 (yes, it had to be 11) most common mistakes I see in pitch decks, along with a bunch of examples of how these mistakes show up.
Oh, and if you want to submit your own deck for a potential pitch deck teardown, you’re in luck: Instructions are here.
Not knowing your audience
A pitch is a story, and stories have audiences. You wouldn’t put a child in front of Arnold Schwarzenegger hacking and slashing his way through various parts of the Predator. Similarly, the story you use to sell to your customers is not the same story that you need to get across to your would-be investor audience.
You need to understand how VC works; that’s non-negotiable. If you don’t, it means that you have no way of knowing how to tell your story, and you don’t truly understand what they are buying. Get that resolved for yourself!
Examples of decks that get this right:
Examples of decks that get this wrong:
Not fully understanding your market sizing
It’s painful to read a pitch deck and realize that the founders have no idea how to size their own market. At the earliest stage, your company needs to prove exactly two things:
- Can you build a venture-scale business in this market?
- Is this the right team to build that business?
The way you answer the first question is by having sensible things to say about the market you operate in, and how you see the size and trajectory of that market. If you fail to do that, guess what — you’re proving that you’re not a good founder, and you’re probably not the right team to build the business.
Yes, calculating the TAM, SAM and SOM for your market can be really hard, and sometimes it involves assumptions and guesswork, but that’s OK — you’re not getting graded on how accurate your numbers are but on how you view and think about the market you are in. If the numbers are “wrong,” but you can defend why you thought about them this way, it tells your potential investors a lot about your quality as a founder.