Pitch your innovative project

Pitch: Present your innovative project to executives as you would pitch a startup to investors, with +40 startup pitch decks for inspiration.

Photo by Luca Dugaro on Unsplash

Miners find gold under a pile of dust. Some miners believe in a gold mine from the start, and others don’t see it right away. The same is true for new businesses and innovative projects.

Your role as an innovation leader, product manager, or business owner is to make this value visible to sponsors and investors. A pitch is a tool to paint a quick and exciting picture of a business opportunity.

Even within a company, pitching to executives helps you strengthen your project and move on to the following milestones.

Presenting an innovative project to executives is like pitching a startup to investors. Kind of.

This article will walk you through the different concepts to make your pitch a success. I’ll illustrate these concepts with an example from my experience.

  • #1: Be Prepared to do Some Hard Work
  • #2: Get to Know your Audience
  • #3: Think of a Compelling Story
  • #4: Pay Attention to the Format
  • #5: Build your Slide Deck

And at the end of the article: +40 real startup slide decks for inspiration.

#1: Be Prepared to do Some Hard Work

Building a pitch deck is the best opportunity to clarify your thinking as a leader and get your team on the same page with a singular vision for your project and a shared plan for execution.

As you work on the slides, you may realize that you need to stop and think about it with your team. You are solving many critical decisions about your innovation by solving your pitch deck.

So it’s ok to start with a draft that consolidates the information you initially have, then enrich the presentation with iterations until you are confident in your project.

That’s the secret. Convince yourself that your startup is worth investing in, and then when you explain this to investors they’ll believe you. — Paul Graham

For my project, I already had a lot of crucial information available all over the place (roadmap, prototype, UX research reports, metrics, etc.), and working on the pitch deck helped me synthesize it more sharply.

Thinking about structuring questions — I’ll present these later — is a significant first step. But you still need to know your audience better to show your project correctly.

#2: Get to Know your Audience

There are probably many reasons your innovative project is excellent, but executives can only really remember a few of them after a pitch. Also, they are more easily distracted and impatient than most other people. If they don’t get your point right away, they will check their emails.

To ensure having an impact, you can paint a quick portrait of your audience using these questions:

  • What are their goals, and how can you help them achieve these?
  • What will they gain from sponsoring the project?
  • How and when will you get them a return on their investment?
  • What is their current level of knowledge of the project?
  • What are the 5 to 7 most important ideas you want them to know about?

You can answer these questions with hypotheses and then refine them later.

As my project aimed to develop a unified platform for project management within the company, I focused on the specific benefits for executives: having an overview of the ongoing projects in one place, with a dashboard of metrics and decision-making tools, etc.

This enables me to identify the key points to highlight in the presentation specifically for the audience and thus build the presentation around these ideas.

So you have the critical project deliverables, and you know your audience. You then have everything you need to imagine an impactful story.

#3: Think of a Compelling Story

Pitch decks generally answer the same questions — which we’ll discuss later. However, each innovative project is unique. Before you sit in front of your computer, it’s worth imagining a memorable story to tell executives about your project.

I usually pitch my project out loud and record myself repeatedly until I find the right story. I keep in mind the usual questions I need to address in this story: What do I do? Is it working? Why does it matter? Where is it going? What do I want from the audience? etc. Then, I listen to the best recording version and make slides.

I am convinced that it’s useful for the following reasons:

  • Speaking aloud while thinking of the audience suddenly generates many ideas, while writing immediately on slides limits thought.
  • Performing the oral presentation exercise from the start helps you consider the pitch deck as a tool to generate a discussion and not as a cold and dense presentation of facts.

For my project, the short story is as follows: while discussing with project managers, we identified that they all encountered the same 3 pains in managing their project. So we imagined a world where these problems would no longer exist and decision-makers would focus on value-added actions. This world is possible with the platform that we co-built with users. In less than 4 months, here is what we have achieved. And the best is yet to come with an ambitious roadmap. To perform it, we have unfair advantages that enable us to surpass any other tool on the market. Several people are already satisfied with the platform, so help us by asking your teams to use it!

Once you imagine the story, you can start designing the slides. But, before discussing the pitch deck slide by slide, a word on the format.

#4: Pay Attention to the Format

In a pitch deck, the format is as important as the content:

  • Make it legible: use large type, bold text, simple font, and a good contrast with the background

Legible slides are ones that even old people in the back of the row with bad eyesight can see — Kevin Hale

  • Make it simple: express one simple idea per slide. A simple idea is an idea that you didn’t intertwine with others.
  • Make it obvious: explicit on each slide what your audience needs to understand at a glance.
  • Make it short: limit the presentation to a handful of slides (less than 20) neatly and logically ordered to convey the basics and necessary details upfront. Put details in the appendix as a backup.

#5: Build your Slide Deck

We’ll now discuss the pitch deck slide by slide.

As each project is unique, these are more guidelines than a checklist. Some slides can be left out if you judge that they are irrelevant to your project. The order of the slides can change depending on the story you want to tell.

“The Pitch in One Sentence” Slide

https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/1600/0*chaCbzryoi3C_rO5.png
From Airbnb, 2009, Seed, 0.6M

Goals: Avoid any suspense. Captivate the audience. Make executives interested enough to ask follow-up questions.

Content: A simple statement of the change you and your project are making, a memorable one-sentence explanation of what you do for users.

Tips: Keep it simple, and use plain language.

Example from my project: a slide with one sentence, “Let’s transform the way we manage projects within the company through a common process and tool.”

“Problems” Slide

https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/1600/0*uOeae4CC4JTrZkF6.png
From LinkedIn, 2004, Series B, 10M

Goals: Highlight the problems identified. Align the audience with these findings.

Content: 3 or 4 one-line undebatable sentences about the issues.

Ideas for questions to address in the slide or during the pitch:

  • What problem are you solving for your users?
  • Why is now the right time to solve it?
  • What opportunities do you provide for users to be faster, more cost-effective, more efficient, happier, safer, etc.?
  • How many users need this problem solved?
  • Have you validated that users will pay to have it solved?

Tips: Keep it clear and concise. Avoid complex, wordy problem statements. Include one killer stat or analogy that gets the point across in a powerful way. Make sure executives will agree that the problems need to be solved urgently.

Example from my project: a slide with 3 sentences “No visibility on the global project pipeline. No enabler platform to follow a common project process. No unique place to collaborate and share best practices.”

“Solutions” Slide

https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/1600/0*ULi1TD8aO74Bi6vK.png
From Intercom, 2012, Seed, 0.6M

Goals: Highlight how users can benefit from the service provided by the project or product.

Content: 3 or 4 sentences about the benefits of the problem statement.

Ideas for questions to address in the slide or during the pitch:

  • Who uses the service or product created by the project?
  • What does your project or product do for users?
  • How does it work?
  • What are the benefits users get from it?
  • How have you tested it with users?

Tips: Don’t get to the features. Be sure not to let the product dominate the pitch, but rather the service provided and the benefits to users. Double down on how much customers love your product (quotes, NPS metric, etc.). Get the executives from a “this is pretty interesting” mindset to “I want to contribute to that!”

Example from my project: 1 slide for each benefit derived from the project in response to the issues raised “Imagine a world where (1) there is full visibility on the project pipeline, (2) project managers are guided through a common project process, and (3) there is a commonplace where to collaborate and share best practices. This place is our vision for the platform.

Product Demo

https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/1600/0*WNExu2OXn7mY67GW.png
From Tinder, 2012, Incubator

Goals: Show how the product works. Make executives excited about the project. Prove the ability to create value.

Content: Several options depending on the progress of the project:

  • Live demo, but risky — mainly if the tech team works on it during the presentation (always have a backup video or screenshot).
  • Video of the product.
  • Video of real users using the product.
  • Screenshots.
  • Prototype.
  • User quotes from UX research.
  • A bulleted list of user journey steps.

Tips: Get to the demo as quickly as possible.

Example from my project: I recorded a video of the prototype, which illustrates the main use case covered. I added a bulleted list of user journey steps next to it.

“Business model” Slide

https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/1600/0*PJwyHQs6fQUOD5Yu.png
From Buffer, 2011, Seed, 0.5M

Goals: Tell how the project will make money.

Content: Several options depending on the business model:

  • Subscription or SaaS business → How much per month?
  • API requests → How much per request?
  • Etc.

Ideas for questions to address in the slide or during the pitch:

  • How do you get paid?
  • How much is each user worth?
  • What is the average contract size?
  • What is the opportunity for growth?
  • How can you scale beyond your current scope: new industries, territories, application of partnerships, and technology?

Example from my project: as the project was intended for internal employees, I skipped this slide.

“Traction” Slide

https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/1600/0*ZlzagfQ6gWJMKI2q.png
From Ad PushUp, 2014, Angel, 0.6M

Goals: Set the stage with the early traction you already have. Show early signs of revenue and user excitement. Prove that the project can make money.

Content: metrics that demonstrate traction.

Ideas for questions to address in the slide or during the pitch:

  • What are the successes so far?
  • How many users per type (pilot, unpaid, paid)?
  • Which brands have you partnered with?
  • What is the observed or estimated growth?
  • What are the north star metrics?

Tips: Use data and facts to strengthen your case.

Example from my project: as the project was in its early stages, I demonstrated target users’ excitement through quotes from UX research reports. I’ve shown our north star metrics, each with the current situation proving traction, the target, and the monthly growth goal.

“Go-to-Market” Slide

https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/1600/0*wT7Pptzc87i3GST7.png
From Mapme, 2015, Seed, 1M

Goals: Show how you plan to acquire users. Prove that you know how you will spend the project budget if you use it to acquire users.

Content: The plan to acquire users and the budgets necessary to achieve the growth goals.

Ideas for questions to address in the slide or during the pitch:

  • What does your user acquisition process look like? (outbound sales, inbound marketing, etc.)
  • What is your rollout plan or timeline for your critical resources?
  • What are your forces and budget to bring users in?
  • How much does your average customer acquisition cost?
  • How long will it take to recover it based on your business model?
  • What is the length of your sales cycle?

Example from my project: I presented a timeline with our internal company communication and change management actions to acquire users.

“Market Size” Slide

https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/1600/0*bQAIY3onyA9WUvdq.png
From DocSend, 2013, Seed

Goals: Show how much money the project can make. Prove that the business opportunity is large enough to invest in it.

Content: Raw data, assumptions, and calculations.

Ideas for questions to address in the slide or during the pitch:

  • Is this (or will this) be big? → Potential to generate revenue, save budget, improve performance, etc. Estimate the number of users who want your product and approximate how much you could charge them.
  • Why now? What is different about the market today that makes this the right time to go after this opportunity? → Emphasize the pace at which demand grows or the underlying shifts that may make this opportunity huge.
  • How do your business tactics (especially your go-to-market) match some of the unique elements of the market today?

Tips: Wise advice here. Avoid top-down market estimates (saying that you plan to get 1% of a trillion-dollar market is irrelevant). Instead, do a bottom-up calculation of the total market demand for a product or service (TAM).

Example from my project: as this was a platform used internally, I presented the target number of users within the company and the time savings that this will bring them.

“Competitor Comparison” Slide

https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/1600/0*WtokPAFbMhWrKXpN.png
From Front, 2016, Series A, 10M

Goals: Show you have researched the market and know what competition is and how you differentiate yourself from it.

Content: 2-axis chart or feature grid.

Ideas for questions to address in the slide or during the pitch:

  • What makes your project unique regarding technology, relationships, or partnerships?
  • How do you help your users get results differently from your competition or alternatives?
  • Why will your project be challenging for anyone to compete against? → Show the accumulating advantages that you’ll build over time.
  • What competitive barrier to entry will enable this project to succeed where others have tried and failed?

Example from my project: I presented a comparison grid of features with other project management tools, then highlighted the differentiating elements.

“Roadmap and Milestones” Slide

https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/1600/0*Fn4y5taLy46mdqQj.png
From Buffer, 2011, Seed, 0.5M

Goals: Share the long-term vision and where you want to go with the project. Show how you plan to move from A to B efficiently.

Content: Timeline with milestones.

Ideas for questions to address in the slide or during the pitch:

  • What is the projection in terms of resources? Features to develop?
  • What are the key milestones and associated metrics?

Example from my project: I presented the product roadmap.

“Team” Slide

https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/1600/0*vh2CvuLZnzJkYQlj.png
From Front, 2016, Series A, 10M

Goals: Establish strong credibility. Show how the team is the right mix of people to have an unfair advantage.

Content: Line-up of team faces. Logos of companies or institutions that are relevant to the domain. Few sentences of what the team member’s role was.

Ideas for questions to address in the slide or during the pitch:

  • Does the team have the vision and the wherewithal to make the project successful?
  • What relevant experience does your team have that supports your story?
  • What brands have they worked for? What are their achievements or sales successes?
  • What binds you together as people and as team members?

Tips: Don’t present an extensive biography. Briefly highlight where everyone is coming from and how the team distributes the functional duties. Show how your team has a unique perspective on the problem that few others will be to see. Start with this slide if you need to introduce yourself to the audience.

Example from my project: I briefly introduced the team, indicated who to contact for a question, and underlined that our team was cross-functional (marketing, IT, etc.)

“Financials” Slide

https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/1600/0*29fPTOhuxTTb6RSP.png
From Airbnb, 2009, Seed, 0.6M

Goals: Show projections on how you expect growth in the revenue in the following years.

Content: Financials numbers with projections.

Ideas for questions to address in the slide or during the pitch:

  • Have you spent a budget so far?
  • How much are you looking for now?
  • What big things will you use the budget for?
  • What milestones will you reach with the budget?

Tips: Simple and to the point, with a clear goal.

“The Ask” Slide

https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/1600/0*aWeM-mAhz6is-NO8.png
From Intercom, 2012, Seed, 0.6M

Goals: State clearly what you expect from the audience. Indicate what actions you want them to take after the pitch.

Content: End statement with a call-to-action, an explicit request for the audience to take action.

Example from my project: a slide with one sentence, “Ask your teams to use the platform today!”

“The Appendix” Slides

Goals: Centralize detailed information to answer pointed questions from executives during the pitch.

Content: A flexible go-to resource to support a genuine dialog with the audience. Meaningful material with little concern about the length or where it fits into the story.

Ideas for slides to put there:

  • In-depth comparison analysis with the competition
  • Detailed financial projections
  • Product screenshots
  • Traction deep dive
  • UX materials: personas, quotes, etc.
  • Etc.

Takeaways

  • Beyond designing slides, be prepared to do some hard work, iterate, solve critical decisions about your innovative project and align your team. Convince yourself that your business opportunity is worth investing in, then you’ll be able to convince executives.
  • Empathize with your audience. Get to know the people’s individual goals and their current knowledge of the project. Build the presentation with 5 to 7 key messages you want them to remember after the pitch.
  • Think about creating a story that resonates with your audience. You need your presentation to factually answer common pitch questions and speak to people’s hearts.
  • Polish the presentation’s format. Make sure it’s legible, simple, obvious, and short.
  • Answer the questions usually found in each pitch deck section if it works with your project. Separate the first 10–20 storytelling slides from the appendices, which present more detailed information for follow-up questions. Keep the calculation assumptions somewhere.

Good luck!

Resources

Raise Money

Build a Pitch Deck

Get Inspiration from Templates

Get Inspiration from Founders Pitching

Get Inspiration from Startup Pitch Decks

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Product Manager

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