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6 big mistakes you need to avoid in your pitch deck

6 big mistakes you need to avoid in your pitch deck

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw was just named the National League Most Valuable Player and Cy Young award winner, only the 11th pitcher in the history of baseball to receive both honors in the same year.

The list of his accomplishments this year is nothing short of amazing. Still, it is rare for a pitcher to be awarded the MVP, which is usually given to a slugger who plays daily.

Since the pitch starts every play in baseball, I wonder why MVP recognition of a pitcher is so rare. This prompted me to start wondering about the value of really good pitching in business as well as baseball.

Over the last four weeks, I have judged and observed many pitches made by biotech and med-tech CEOs. I was even a “pitch doctor” at the Life Sciences Summit several weeks ago. Several companies have asked for my help in raising money and so I have been working with them on their pitches.

I was debating this with my friend, Kristian Anderson, who told me that the formula for a great pitch is quite easy. He has reached this conclusion after working with many companies through his strategic design consultancy, KA+A, and as the head of Gravity Ventures, a seed stage investment firm. Kristian worked on the road show presentations for several very successful companies, including Angie’s List, LifeLock, and ExactTarget, to name a few.

He considers the pitch to be the intersection of design and investing, and offered the following tips.

Here are the six biggest mistakes to avoid in your pitch deck:

1. Bad design: One of the simplest, but most often overlooked, aspects of a winning pitch deck is design. There is no question that a well-designed presentation is more compelling and effective than a presentation that is thoughtlessly designed. This may seem obvious, but you’d be amazed at the number of promising startups that fail to achieve lift off because they turned a blind eye to the power of design.

Pitch deck design matters

Above: Pitch deck design matters

2. Claiming you have no competitors: One of the most basic, rookie moves you’ll see first time entrepreneurs make is to claim that they don’t have any competitors. This is at best false and at worst delusional. Any market that is worth pursuing will have competitors, even if you don’t think of them as competitors. A competitor can be anything that is competing for your prospects’ dollars.

3. Failing to establish your own credentials: At the end of the day, investors are investing in people. Yes, market size, product/market fit, and the business model all matter, of course. But the single most important aspect of the business is, “Who’s running it?” Take the time to show your credentials and give investors a reason to believe that you are the best person in the world to launch and grow the business.

4. Underestimating the importance of storytelling: Most entrepreneurs fail to understand that a pitch deck is really a story. It’s a plot-driven narrative, complete with protagonists (your product), antagonists (your competitors), a climax (product/market fit, first big enterprise client, etc.), and a denouement (the exit). Nothing captivates an audience like a compelling story. After all, stories are easier to understand, share and get excited about.

5. Too many slides = bad. You’ve only got a limited amount of time with an investor and that investor has a very limited attention span. Relentlessly edit your pitch deck for brevity and impact. The law of diminishing returns is especially true when it comes to presentations. Ten to 15 slides are sufficient for almost any startup. Using more, you run the risk of coming across as muddled and indecisive.

6. No clear call to action: Many a great pitch has been ruined by a conclusion that lands with a thud. You’ve done a great job of explaining your business and painting an ambitious vision for the future but then you fail to provide clear next steps to your audience. Always finish your pitch with a clear ask (usually funding, but it could be advice, connections, etc.). Tell them specifically what you are asking for (and the terms) and provide them with an easy way to follow up.

Spring training is just around the corner; the Opening Day starters will soon be announced.

Make your pitch count.

Batter up!


Joseph V. Gulfo, MD, MBA, is the author of “Innovation Breakdown: How the FDA and Wall Street Cripple Medical Advances” and CEO of Breakthrough Medical Innovations, a team of biopharma and medtech consultants. An Inc.com contributor, he also teaches graduate cancer biology and business and entrepreneurship classes and maintains an educational cancer biology blog. Dr. Gulfo received his MD from University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and his MBA from Seton Hall University.


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