Raj Nathan wants you to have a voice. In fact, he wants everyone to have a voice. And he helps startups use their voices to tell their stories — and to pitch investors.
Based in Chicago, Raj is a pitch and presentation coach, helping startups stand up and stand out in a crowded field. His small team at Startup Hypeman works with five to 10 organizations per week to hone their elevator pitches and pitch decks.
“Startup Hypeman is intently focused on being a hype man for startups, by helping them not suck at how they pitch themselves,” he says. “And most often, that is for the purpose of fundraising.”
The problem with most pitch decks, according to Raj, is that they either don’t tell a compelling story or they fail to tell a story at all. That’s true even when a company has an incredible product.
On an episode of the How I Raised It podcast, Raj walks us through how to turn your run-of-the-mill pitch deck into one that does the heavy lifting for you.
A winning pitch in five steps
Raj shares the steps he uses with entrepreneurs to get their pitch decks polished.
1. Make your elevator pitch the foundation
The first thing Startup Hypeman works on with any client is the elevator pitch. Raj says many entrepreneurs fall into the trap of trying to cram too much information — or not enough — into their elevator pitches.
“By the end, you're just incredibly confused as to what they do. There's this push from a lot of founders to be like, I gotta use all the jargon words possible to make this sound interesting,” he explains.
Instead, he has what he calls a “Que PASA” framework: Problem, Approach, Solution, Action. We’ve all seen (or perhaps made) the pitch deck that starts with “X is a $50 billion industry.” While numbers can be helpful elsewhere, Raj wants founders to think about deeply defining the problem, because as his dad used to tell him growing up, “A well-defined problem is already half solved.”
2. Set up the emotion
Raj talks about the difference between what he calls “Cinderella storytelling” and “advanced storytelling.” An example of Cinderella storytelling might say, “Jimmy has a problem. Jimmy is frustrated. Jimmy finds a solution and lives happily ever after.”
The more complex storytelling leads from emotion rather than problem/solution. Here’s how he approaches a problem from emotion rather than mechanics:
“We build up this story across a few slides about how the world is becoming more authentic,” Raj says.
He gives the example of celebrities who make authentic connections with their fans on social media. The hashtag “#nofilter” is more popular than using filters on Instagram. Then he ties that back to the (hypothetical) product: Despite authenticity being on the rise, dating still remains inauthentic. Here’s an app to increase authenticity in dating.
3. Detail the go-to-market strategy
This is the place to be explicit. You can have a great product, but if you don’t show how it will make money, it’s worth nothing to investors.
“I will ask entrepreneurs a question about their traction strategy. And they'll just be like, Oh, social media. Okay, what about social media? And then it's a deer-in-the-headlights look in response,” Raj says.
Whether it’s ads, social media, or partnerships, be sure to think through how you’ll make money and make that the focus of your go-to-market strategy. And with ads, consider how quickly you can attract advertising dollars.
“You're standing here and you're telling me that on day five, when you've got nine users, you're going to attract advertisers? Why would they buy from you? What value could you possibly bring them? I get animated about that.”
4. Specify what success looks like
Metrics can be tricky. While some industries have standard metrics, they aren’t always the best for showing how your startup works. So, show investors how to measure your success from the beginning — by telling them which metrics mean the most.
Along with that, don’t use neutral headers in your slides. Instead of labeling a slide “Customer acquisition,” start with “We are excellent at acquiring customers — here’s how.”
5. Rethink the competition
Rather than using the classic four-quadrant competition grid that’s been seen time and again, Raj likes to create exclusivity.
By carving out a category all your own, you get to set the pace and create more hype around what you’re doing. It’s not always possible, but with some creative thinking, you can set yourself apart from the pack.
This — and that: Raj’s do’s and don’ts
Here are some final tips of the trade for a pitch that investors won’t forget.
For many investors, watching pitches on Zoom is here to stay. Raj recommends investing in a few pieces of equipment to make sure your picture is professional. That means spending a few hundred bucks on a good lighting setup and an external camera with higher resolution than whatever your computer’s built-in webcam offers.
Don’t forget that your background helps tell your story, too. Let it reflect your personality and your brand. Finally, take a tip from newscasters the world over: Stand up! Reconfigure your desk if you have to. The energy boost from standing while talking will pay off.
Don’t craft your pitch the night before you need to give it. Ideally, Raj recommends starting your deck at least a month before you plan to start pitching investors. That leaves plenty of time for practice and revisions.
Get over the hump
When it comes to actually putting the slides together for a deck, Raj starts in Word rather than PowerPoint.
“We start in a Word document,” he says. “If you outline it first … it's a way easier exercise. It makes then putting it on to slides a lot easier because you're thinking about not just the raw information, but also [asking yourself], What is my belief? Or — What do I want to say about this thing?”
Sometimes the hardest part of making a pitch deck is getting over yourself and getting started.
Nathan is also the CEO of Fundingstack.com which is a new platform for VCs and investment bankers to both raise capital and assist clients and portfolio companies.
Users of these platforms have raised over $9.7 billion since 2016.
This article is based on an episode of Foundersuite’s How I Raised It podcast, a behind-the-scenes look at how startup founders raise money.