Practical Design: Pitching

by Dominika Blackappl8/15/2016

Design doesn’t have to be complicated, intimidating, or expensive. In an early stage startup design serves one purpose: helping startup founders understand their users. To that end, design encompasses more than formal product execution, logos and layouts, it also means user observation, clear messaging, MVP specs, concise pitches, and more.

I’ve set out to create a set of free tools to demystify design and help founders materially improve their user understanding. This is the third tool in the series. The first two were User Observation and Messaging. Coming up: Design Brief Creation and MVP Spec.

These tools are all designed to drive action. I hope they can lower the barrier to entry around thoughtful design by helping you learn by doing. Interactive versions of each tool are available on my site as they’re released.


150 Second Pitch Tool
This an excerpt. The full, interactive version is available here.

A short pitch in a group setting rarely results in an investment on the spot. Therefore, the purpose of a pitch is to gauge investor interest and secure follow-up meetings. This 150 Second Pitch Tool helps you, the founder, plan your pitch.

Our guided template introduces constraints to avoid common mistakes such as lengthy language, illegible imagery, complicated infographics, and meaningless charts. The slides you create with our tool present your statements in a legible font, size, and with appropriate contrast so you can focus on practicing your pitch, rather than pushing pixels.

A pitch is sometimes referred to as an elevator pitch, because it should be easy to understand in a short period of time and without any supporting assets. If all founders were great speakers, slides would not be necessary. During your short pitch, think of your slides as a scenography for what you’re saying.

A typical short pitch summarizes what your company does, how it does it, the size of your market, who your customers are, your team, your progress, and your growth. However, a successful short pitch elevates the three most powerful facts about your company above the expected information. These powerful facts are sometimes referred to as the pitch vertebrae.

They are powerful when investors remember them. These facts get you meetings and investment.

I. List the five most powerful facts about your company.

II. With your mind set on those facts, lay out your pitch.
There are nine sections in our short pitch template that correspond with nine facts about your company that investors expect to see. Each section consists of explanation of its purpose and forms for filling in your narration and the copy for the slide in support of your spoken words. The order represents the most common short pitch flow. But we specifically designed this tool to create standalone slides. Change this order, or even omit some slides, to follow the arc of your story. For example, some founders open with an impressive revenue number, statement of profitability, or a unique insight before presenting the expected details.

1. What does your company do?
State concisely what your company does and for whom. Be as specific as possible. The more specific you are in this statement, the less time you need to spend on explaining the problem you are solving. Playing with our Messaging Tool will help you tailor these statements.

2. How does your company do it?
Explain how your company delivers what it promises. Describe the process as you would in a “how it works” section on a typical landing page.

3. Who are your customers?
Mitigate the fear many investors will have about you building a product based on your assumptions of a need, rather than a well understood and tested need. Sharing your story, or someone’s story close to you, about a need that inspired your business is a meaningful way to contextualize your product.

4. What is your unique insight?
Share a unique insight that either you’ve discovered during interactions with your users or you know because you’re an expert on the subject matter.

5. How big is your market?
State how big your market is. There are two methods for estimating market size – top down and bottom up. The bottom up approach is more credible, therefore we suggest using that. First, figure out who buys products similar to yours. These people are your potential customers. If your product is novel, look for current solutions to your problem and determine who buys those. Then figure out how much your potential customers would be willing to pay for your product, i.e. the unit price. Last, multiply the number of potential customers by the unit price to estimate your total addressable market.

6. How much progress have you made?
Help investors understand how effective your team is. Describe when you started, what you have built in that time, and if you have customers or LOIs (Letters of Intent).

7. How fast are you growing?
Share an impressive growth number if you have one. If you share something it must be true and impressive. You can show revenue, a statement of profitability, a significant number of customers or users, or any other number that communicates a healthy upward trend.

8. What’s impressive about your team?
Convince investors that you are the perfect team to deliver on your mission. Focus on showcasing only the most relevant experience. For example, if you are entering a highly regulated market or building a sophisticated technological product, investors will look for founders with specific expertise and a proven track record.

9. Summarize your powerful facts
This is the grand finale. Plant in the heads of the investors the three most powerful facts about your company. These can be repeated statements from previous sections or specific to this slide.

You can find an interactive version of this tool on my site.

When we designed the 150 Second Pitch Tool we adhered closely to the YC advice on pitching. Here are other publicly available resources on pitching:
How to Present to Investors, YC founder Paul Graham
How to Pitch Your Company, YC partner Michael Seibel
A Guide to Demo Day Presentations, YC partner Geoff Ralston
How to Design a Better Pitch Deck, YC partner Kevin Hale
Advice on Pitching, YC partner Aaron Harris


  • Dominika Blackappl

    Dominika Blackappl is a designer and Part-Time Partner at Y Combinator.