Buyer , User , Startups — 12.06.2023

Where Are All the Good Ideas?

Meghan Pfeifer Corsello, Principal Product Marketer and Brand Strategist

A VC recently shared a startup’s pitch deck and asked if I could give it a quick look. 15 minutes, nothing more. Send some thoughts over email. They likely weren’t going to invest because the idea seemed small, too quickly acquirable, not enough return.

But I saw something different. The thoughts I shared with them changed everything. And they ultimately brought that company to their investment committee.

I started thinking, at the speed at which venture moves, how often do great ideas slip through the cracks?

I was reminded of a handful of recent conversations I’ve had with founders and investors alike:

  • Like when I sat in on a “pitch deck teardown” run by a VC. Founders presented their pitch decks, and the VC critiqued them live.  His advice was consistent from startup to startup, but I could tell some founders had received different advice elsewhere and didn’t know how to balance what they’d heard.
  • Or the roundtable I joined, during which another VC and I provided founders with pitch deck advice. She and I were aligned on about 70% of the advice we gave. But what made me feel for the founders was how often we said, “It depends.”
  • And just last week, I grabbed coffee with a founder who told me she’d had a recent conversation with a potential investor who said she hadn’t shared enough about her team and their expertise. So, she made some edits to her deck. In the next conversation, the feedback was that she spoke about her team too much.

We, agencies and investors alike, put so much pressure on the pitch deck and on founders to get it right.

Tell the right story.
Make us feel the pain.
“Imagine a world…”
Talk about your team, but not too much.
Explain what the product does, but don’t harp on features.
Prove that your idea is worth a minimum of $25M or $25B but use real math on imaginary situations.
Tell us with conviction how you’re going to use our money but listen to us when we tell you how to use it differently.

We require so much of founders, and rightfully so. Reviewing hundreds of decks per quarter is a herculean feat. We need information to be clear, skimmable and worth our time and money.

But what do we require of our own? Can anyone on your team spot a good idea in a bad pitch deck?

What if we spent less time advising founders about what makes the “perfect pitch deck” and more time training our teams on how to get to the gold (or lack thereof) faster?

As a product marketer by trade, I frequently review and decode pitch decks. I can easily simplify complicated concepts and technical language into ideas a kindergartener, let alone a seasoned investor, can understand. This skill set is valuable for anyone tasked with reviewing pitch decks. The good news? It can be taught and learned.

Here are a few simple practices investors can start using today:

  • Make your own metaphors. After skimming the problem and solution, challenge yourself to come up with, “So it’s like X for X?”
    • If that metaphor makes the opportunity feel too small, look for something in the deck to challenge or disprove that assumption, like a big vision with a clear roadmap.
    • If that metaphor makes the opportunity sound unrealistically large, look for something that indicates focus, like a small initial ICP. Or traction, like real customer proof.
  • Put less stock in buzzwords. Everyone is trying to get noticed, and they’re using buzzwords to do so. Whether you’re looking for non-negotiables or to disqualify companies based on buzzwords, you’re not going to get the full picture either way.
  • Look for cross-pollination. Does this idea sound like they’re taking a successful approach from a more innovative industry and applying it to a legacy one? Because that is like rocket fuel. Think of all the concepts from B2B SaaS that have now trickled down to industries like healthcare, insurance, and manufacturing. They are revolutionizing those industries.
  • Ignore TAM. Don’t kill me here. Rather than writing off startups based on an imaginary potential market size, look at the market they plan to capture first. Do they have the expertise on staff, features built and messaging targeted to win that first market? Because if not, there’s no way they’ll win anything after it.

Pitch decks aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

And no matter how much (subjective) advice we give, the average pitch deck won’t improve. This means good investment opportunities will continue to present themselves in a variety of forms, good and bad. It’s time to take responsibility for recognizing them. 

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