The Minimally Viable Pitch – The Team Slide



Next to the competition slide, the team slide is the one that gives me the most consternation when reviewing startup pitch decks.  The point of putting together a pitch deck in the first place is to let you consolidate your thoughts and present the best package to potential investors. Essentially, you are making the case for why your vision matters, how you’re going to achieve it and why you are the best one to make it happen.  And usually, in that order, the story goes from mildly intriguing to a complete train wreck.

Before going any further, I have a few theories about talent and startups.  Everyone says that talent is the biggest determinant of a startup’s success, but I’m not buying it.  The idea that you can put a bunch of super smart people in a room and make something great is a fallacy that I see happening time and time again.  There are many brilliant people who, for many various reasons, never could get a startup off the ground.  Startup success is not simply about the people, but a variety of factors including timing, networks, markets and a big helping of luck.  I’m not saying people don’t matter, but it’s important to evaluate a team in the context of the vision, the market, the solution and the plan.

However, we are in the era of founder glorification, so the team matters immensely.  Oftentimes, it is the only thing that investors look at when you’re a very early-stage startup.  Some, like Paul Graham, have even stated as much, rather than having these would-be founders simply figure it out in 3 months time, when they hit the stage during demo day.  So if you are going to convince investors that you are the “A” team, then you need to make a clear and compelling case when you present your team.

With that in mind, here are 6 points to consider as you build out a team slide and talk about each person’s accomplishments and talents.

  • Highlight the relevant experience.  Like the rest of the slide deck, brevity is next to godliness.  I have seen people put down entire CV’s on a slide.  Firstly, it becomes impossible to read.  Secondly, much of it is irrelevant.  Thirdly, it obscures the best parts of your personal story, and the parts that make you interesting to others.  Keep it brief and only mention the points that would have the most impact on convincing investors of your ability to successfully lead the startup.
  • Pedigree is not the same as skills.  This is where I have to bite my tongue.  Little to nothing learned in college is ever relevant when launching a new business.  However, while I may not find much value in an Ivy League degree, private school education or boatloads of awards, many investors do attach importance to such things.  Plus, there is admittedly some value in the networking and associations fostered through such institutions.  What people really want to ultimately know though is that you have the skills to take your vision from concept to reality and to build it into a high-growth venture.  Make sure you make room to highlight your relevant skills and experiences rather than superfluous and ego-inflating recognitions and honors.
  • Connecting what you’ve done with the task at hand.  Single dudes launching a site for sharing baby clothes?  Founders starting a restaurant software solution without having worked in an actual restaurant?  I often see a major disconnect between a founder’s experience and the startup concept they are launching.  That is not a deal breaker, but it does give investors another thing to consider.  If you are doing something related to the industry you’ve worked in, this is an easy task.  If you’re not though, you need to explain what skills you and others on your team bring to the table in order to overcome the gap in knowledge and experience.  I recall one such story where the founders became licensed real estate brokers and worked for a broker for a couple of months just to gain perspective and insight into the business.  That gets the attention of investors.
  • Avoid ambiguous roles or overinflated roles.  Does everyone need to be a C-level executive at an early-stage startup?  What exactly does “vice president” mean on a seven-person team?  And yet, I see this quite often.  The only C-level title one should allow is CEO, which indicates that one person on the team is the ultimate decision maker.  CTO is bearable, but that should really be it in the title department.  Until you actually start hiring people and ramping up your startup, generic titles make the most sense.
  • Calling all the social networks.  It amazes me that teams will pitch and not bother to include any links to their social network profiles.  It takes no time at all to include your LinkedIn, Twitter, Github, Behance, AngelList or personal blog, or whatever networks you use that highlight you as a person and a professional.  Admittedly, there are folks that do not use any such social networks, but it’s becoming more and more rare to encounter.  Take the time to set-up your social profiles, keep them updated and organized and let investors know you are up there.  Also, as an added bonus, have a decent photo of yourself and each team member attached to the bio (pictures have much more impact for readers of your deck and helps to personalize your story).
  • Startup entrepreneurial experience trumps all.  Have you launched a startup in the past?  Did you raise money?  Was there a significant exit event?  You could put down nothing but that information on your bio and investors would fall over themselves to invest in you.  Even though previous success is no guarantee of future success, just having gone through the fire once changes the perception investors have of you.

The best way to sum up these points is to keep it simple and clean.  You should be in the habit of asking yourself and each person on the team how a particular position, skill, award or achievement benefits your startup’s needs when creating each bio.  I guarantee your team slide will get a lot less chatty once you narrow things down with that framework in mind.

This article was originally published on Strong Opinions, a blog by Birch Ventures for the NYC tech startup community.

 Image credit: CC by Official U.S. Navy Imagery

About the author: Mark Birch

Mark is an early stage technology investor and entrepreneur based in NYC. Through Birch Ventures, he works with a portfolio of early stage B2B SaaS technology startups providing both capital and guidance in the areas of marketing, sales, strategic planning and funding.

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