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Because I teach entrepreneurship at Stanford, I get asked about “pitch decks” a lot.

I’m pretty cynical about the whole pitch deck obsession, honestly. Venture capitalists don’t invest in pitch decks; they invest in people. And the ability to create pretty slides is hardly an indicator of the skills required to build a great company. But I do passionately believe that every great entrepreneur has the ability to tell a crisp, clear, and compelling story about what she’s working on, and why it matters.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned as an entrepreneur happened when I took my carefully-prepared pitch deck into a meeting with venture capitalist Rich Melmon, opened up my laptop, got ready to show him my awesome slides, and he said “Close that damn thing up. I don’t want to see your stupid slides. What I want to know is whether you can tell me using words — and words alone—why what you’re working on is so interesting that I would want to invest”.

I did, and he invested, but he never saw those beautiful slides I had worked so hard on.

So my first piece of advice, with regard to slide decks, is to first make sure that you have a crisp, clear, and compelling story to tell. Once you have that, creating a few slides to provide visuals for the story should be easy. Creating the compelling story (and making it short) is the hard part.

The things that go into your story might include:

  • Why are you the exactly the right entrepreneur for this venture?
  • What problem are you solving?
  • What’s your secret sauce?
  • How will your venture make money?
  • What does the current competitive landscape look like?
  • How big is the opportunity?
  • How are you going to efficiently acquire customers?
  • What are your initial capital needs, and what milestone will that initial capital get you to?

This is not a definitive list, of course. Every venture is different. But you should be able to, in about 3 minutes, tell an interesting story that incorporates most of these key points and leaves the recipient intrigued and wanting to hear more.

And remember that the desired outcome is exactly that: So work on that: articulating what you are working on in a way that will make investors, customers and partners wanting to hear more.

Once you have that, making some slides to go along with it will be easy.

Written by

I’m a Silicon Valley guy. I teach entrepreneurship at Stanford, coach startup CEO’s at Miller Center, and run the 4thly Startup Accelerator. Also, I love tacos.

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