Mr. Google is your best friend if you are looking for examples of great investor presentation decks and for advice on how to make yours accomplish its mission. However, not all that advice is good, nor is there much consistency, and what you see may be quite dated. You may, like me, have consulted YouTube for advice on home improvement projects and found many directly conflicting ways to go about what should be simple tasks for anyone who made an A in 7th grade shop class (dating myself there). You may get new electronic toys with instructions that presuppose you know the lingo and then run into some unexpected challenges. I was the first in line at the Apple store the day the new AirPods Pro came out, mostly because the salespeople appeared first at the tail end of the actual lineup. Not having had earlier versions, I was puzzled by the term “double tap” – an artifact of previous models. No web sites had yet been updated with this nuance. After some experimentation, I learned that a tap is really a two fingered squeeze on the stalk and not an actual tap on one of the black button-looking areas; I paid the price for being a late adopter and not having a human pro to consult. The net of all this is that creating your deck needs to be a team effort, including some ad hoc team members who have successfully raised money with decks they made for their own companies, plus any other advisors whose judgment you trust in this art.

Keep in mind that your deck must stand out in a sea of decks ahead of you in the queue of anyone from whom you are seeking money. You can’t expect them to work from the back forwards like Apple salespeople, and yours will be examined in due turn. For the purposes of this essay, let’s confine the definition of a deck as 15-20 slides designed to tell a complete story to an unaccompanied reader, to result in a next in-person step, and to guide you through a smooth progression of your pitch when you reach that step. If you are designing a deck to appreciate at 2, 4, 6, or 8 – minute competition formats, that’s a whole different process. I attend many such competitions, but I currently have about 200 “complete” decks in my Dropbox, and I rely on their contents to determine if, in my opinion, the law firm where I am EIR is a good match for them, and vice versa. We do not invest and are not looking for ROI metrics, but we are intent on spending our time on companies which match our specialties and which we believe would be appealing to our local and national investor partners. Since the vast majority of startups choose to raise some external money, we’re always conscious of whether or not we have investors that we can introduce with a reasonable expectation of success for all parties.

Forgive a listicle format this time, but it’s the best way to raise the questions that you do not want a potential investor to have to ask after seeing your deck and/or hearing your pitch.

  1. I’m not sure I understand what you do. Would you please explain again? Can you boil it down to a sentence or two?
  2. How have you validated that there is “authentic” demand for your product or service, which is defined by GA Tech luminary Merrick Furst as something that people can’t not not want
  3. What leads you to believe you can displace entrenched competitors in your space? You look exactly like company XYZ, which was not on your competition slide; tell me what you know about them. I go to Sunday School with their CEO.
  4. What proprietary IP is creating a moat protecting your innovations? How is your technology road map designed to stay in front of the moving targets presented by others in your market? What makes you a high-value technology company versus a mere technology-enabled company?
  5. What exactly is the current cap table? How have you kept it clean enough to facilitate future rounds? Do your existing investors, if any, add value to the company and serve as a solid foundation for those to follow? Show me also your current balance sheet and any P&L. You do have at least a fractional CFO, right?
  6. Who is fully committed to the team? Have all the IP and ownership issues been thoroughly documented? What are the rules if a key player leaves? Has any other ownership been promised outside a clearly drawn incentive plan? How well do you know the backgrounds of your partners? Are there any citizenship issues?
  7. How does your financial model prove to me that I have a plausible chance to get a venture return of $10 for every dollar I put at risk? Show that to me. What assumptions are there about future dilutive rounds? Have you done the math far enough into the future to stress test your business model? How do you generate margins that translate into significant value and staying power? What is your backup data for your estimate of customer acquisition costs? How big can you get if your assumptions are accurate? Does your TAM allow you to dream big and to execute accordingly?
  8. Who are the logical buyers for your company if you choose eventually to seek an M&A exit? What are some examples of successful companies in your sector? What access do you have to them? Are you already known as an authority in your field, or have you done some foundational research that might lead you to such recognition? 
  9. What have you done to mitigate risks stemming from such concerns as cybersecurity, regulatory actions, state or national legislation, international sanctions, and internal personnel misbehavior? You do have basic business risks insured, right?
  10. Will this venture have the undivided attention of the key founders until it has the best possible outcome? Are there any distracting ideas in the woodwork that I ought to know about? 
  11. Who has been advising you through the early stages? What are their credentials? Are the advisors you show in your deck intellectually and emotionally engaged in your project and available to you when you need them? Will they vouch enthusiastically for you when I make a due diligence call to them?
  12. What is the motivation of the founding team in this venture? How did the idea originate? Will you tell me a story about something that led you down this path?
  13. Talk to me about your followers – the people who know you personally, have seen you perform well, and who will support you in any endeavor. What have you accomplished along the way that created this following and put you in good standing to undertake an entrepreneurial journey?

Let’s feel lucky and stop with these 13. The one question you do want to hear is this: “When may we present you a term sheet?”