5 Questions Your Pitch Deck Should Answer if You’re Not There to Pitch It

I’m staring at a pitch deck and I don’t know what to make of it. I’m having coffee in one hour with the entrepreneur, and this startup looks really smart and well thought out. I’m excited to learn more. The problem is, the company is in an industry I’m not familiar with, so I have no idea what most of these words mean.

I want to ask this deck some dumb questions.

Dumb questions are the way I learn about topics that are completely new to me. They often start with “Explain this to me like a 5 year old.” They ask the fundamentals behind a business, an idea, or a product, usually cutting through industry terminology or jargon to get to the most basic knowledge of the space. Dumb questions almost always result in someone else saying “oh, I’m so glad you asked that. I didn’t know either.”

When I am learning about a completely new industry or business space, here’s what I ask:

  1. Can you walk me through exactly how this works today?
    This helps your reader establish a “current state.” If I’m talking to someone about medical staffing, I’ll ask “how does someone get a shift at a senior living center today? What exactly do they do?” Show me the pain points through an explanation of the current state, instead of telling me that the current solution is costly/time-consuming/inconvenient/etc.
  2. Tell me who the various players here are.
    This helps us understand pain points through humans. To truly understand the show you’re watching, you’ve got to know who’s on stage. What are the various roles of each of the stakeholders here, and what do they do in this process, exactly? Why is the current state not working for them personally? How do they suffer in the current state?
  3. How much is good?
    Often, I see numbers indicating “current solutions cost $166K” or “right now, this process takes 21 hours.” I can assume that those numbers are “bad” and that the solution is going to fix that. But what does good look like?
    Try this: instead of saying “this costs the consumer $10,” try saying “this should cost the consumer $3, but it costs them $10.” Now you’ve shown the severity of the problem you’re solving.
  4. How will someone use your product, start to finish?
    Understanding the process of using the product or service seems like a no-brainer. But I find it’s often where there are gaps or “figure it out laters.” Also, if I’m just learning how it works today (question 1), just seeing the app screen shots may not be intuitive enough for me to follow along in the deck. Often, a really simple diagram/flow chart showing exactly how the thing works can help a lot. No crazy software necessary — Keynote/Powerpoint shapes and arrows are all you need.
  5. What are you going to need to make it really work?
    People are usually coming to me for operational advice and not money (because I have more of the former than the latter). So when I ask this, it’s different than “how much money are you looking for?” I want to know how many customers you’ll need, how big of a coding lift is this, who do you need on your side, and what kind of resources (human, financial, and knowledge) are required to be successful.

My overall advice when I look at decks for entrepreneurs is this: In order to get the traction/funding/support you need, the person you’re talking to is going to have to explain your business to someone else. You won’t be in the room to explain the acronyms or numbers in your deck, or explain how your solution is the best one. Make it easy for someone to tell someone else about your business.



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Founder and CEO of Alpaca. Goals Nerd, Spreadsheet Enthusiast, and Runner.