If you’re preparing for your first round of fundraising, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. There are lots of things you need to prepare before you can start speaking with potential investors. Perhaps you’ve been talking to a mentor or attending startup events. Maybe you even reached out to a potential investor already, and they’ve mentioned a pitch deck, one pager, or executive summary. Those might be totally foreign words to you right now. You may be wondering, “Which one do I need? And how do I create them?”
We’ll demystify these for you today.
- A pitch deck is a presentation deck, slide show or visual document that tells the story of your company at a high level and in a compelling and visually appealing way. Sometimes it’s used exclusively as a visual document (in a PDF format) and sometimes it is shown as a slide presentation. It usually includes 10-18 slides, though it can be up to thirty.
- A one pager is an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper that has been developed to tell the story of your company, covering key areas of information in a visually appealing way. It is usually sent as a pdf, but can also be printed out and physically shared.
- The executive summary is similar to the abstract on the first page of a scientific research paper. It’s basically an abstract of your business plan. It appears as the first page, covers key topics, and summarizes the document as a whole (it also typically summarizes your company as a whole).
If these three pieces of collateral seem similar, it’s because they are. Some pitch decks have an executive summary slide. And most one pagers cover the same things. If you prepare all three, it’s critical to keep them consistent and aligned with each other in messaging, content, and design.
Brevity & Length vs. Investor Attention
You may be thinking,“Why not just send potential investors my business plan?” This is not a good idea. Investors and VC organizations get a ton of invitations to fund tons of companies. It’s a constant stream of startups hoping to make a case for themselves. And while your well-thought-out business plan is great, these people could not possibly read a full business plan for each and every one of their applicants. There quite literally aren’t enough hours in the day.
So instead, investors need concise documents that they can quickly skim and decide if further review/conversation is needed. At some of the bigger firms, there are actually whole teams of gatekeepers doing the skimming and deciding what deals get in front of partners. You’re in a big pile and you need to stand out. That 30-page business plan is not going to be read, and you’re not going to have a chance to move forward.
So if these materials are so important, how do you decide? Do you create a pitch deck or a one pager or both? What about a business plan? What do you really need?
Back to Basics: Tell Your Story
All of these types of collateral have the same goal: to tell your story in a succinct and interesting way. You need to stand out, impress investors, and get the next meeting. So keep that in mind as you choose what you need. It may be advantageous to create all of this collateral for your company, so that you have anything your potential investors ask for (we see a lot of founders do this). Some other considerations below!
How You’re Using It
What you need depends a lot on how you’ll be using it. Very often our clients succeed with a pitch deck. It’s usually 10-18 slides covering basic information like revenue stream, financials, competitors, and market size. In addition, a pitch deck tells the overall story of what the company does, for who, and what is unique about the concept. Usually, that's too much information to fit into a one pager.
And from our experience, many potential investors will ask to see your deck. Pitch decks are primarily meant to be presented live, but they can also be saved as a PDF and sent to an investor. So it is wise to have a professional pitch deck ready for those occasions during your funding raise.
But as an add-on to the pitch deck, a one pager can be a valuable asset. It can be printed or shared with less-interested investors to capture their attention. It is just one page after all, and takes up even less mental space and time than a full slide deck.
Alternatively, if you have specific investors asking for a one-pager, or are using it to apply to accelerators or grants and they specifically ask for a one pager and not a pitch deck, then a one pager is clearly important to have.
What Investors Want
In the end, an investor wants to be able to quickly and thoroughly understand you and your company so they can decide if your company is a good fit for their investing strategy, ROI goals, and portfolio. While they may have preferences on the format in which this information gets to them, the important thing is that the material you send them is focused on that information, and interesting enough to spur movement towards the next steps.
All Collateral is a First Date
All of your fundraising collateral is first-date material. Your pitch deck, one pager, and executive summaries are some nice clothes, a big smile, and engaging conversation. They’re the way you introduce yourself, learn more about investors and what they are looking for, and decide whether or not to take things further. Very few (if any) investors will write you a big check without meeting you after they’ve reviewed one of these documents. You want the second date—and further conversations—before you really partner long-term with these investors. There is paperwork to be done, valuations to decide, and due diligence that the investor team will want to do to make sure that you’re legit.
While it can be confusing and overwhelming to prepare for your pitch, working with pitch experts can help you get the collateral you need to stand out and put your best foot forward. On the whole, companies with good, clear, and visually appealing pitch decks close their funding rounds faster. Whether you build a pitch deck, create a one pager, or write an executive summary, make sure it is professional and effective! You often only get one shot with potential investors. Get your collateral into the “follow up” pile and not the “reject” pile!