This Silicon Valley founder is an expert in designing presentations. Here’s what he thinks your startup needs to include in a pitch deck — and what you should leave out.

Mitch Grasso has made a career out of visualizing ideas and helping others do the same.

Grasso started his career as a software designer. He then became a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, using presentations to raise millions of dollars in venture capital. Two of the startups he founded, including his latest, Beautiful.AI, have focused on offering software that allows people to create and present slide shows, including the so-called pitch deck slideshows that startups put together to win over potential investors.

So you might imagine that Grasso has some well-considered ideas on what makes for a perfect pitch deck. Perhaps surprisingly, when it comes to investor presentations, Grasso thinks substance is much more important than style.

“Every pitch, every presentation is primarily about telling a story and not about designing beautiful slides, necessarily,” Grasso told Business Insider in an interview earlier this month. “That’s something you don’t want to be worrying about.”

From a design standpoint, Grasso’s chief advice to founders is to keep their presentations simple and legible. The decks should look polished, but not overproduced, he said.

“Presentations aren’t really an opportunity for personal expression,” he said. Instead, he continued, they’re “about communicating ideas.”

“You don’t want it to be incredibly creative, because then it’s distracting,” he said. “You don’t want it to be incredibly terrible, because then it’s distracting as well.”

Here’s what to include in a pitch deck

At least for entrepreneurs whose companies are still in their early stages, there are certain elements Grasso thinks they should need to include in their decks. Among the sections he thinks they need to include are ones that show:

  • Founder-market fit. Most decks include a slide showing the team the entrepreneur has put together for his or her startup. But that’s not enough, Grasso said. The presentation needs to explain why this team is best suited to solve this problem or pursue this opportunity, he said.

    “What is your background, what is your story, what is your insight, and what’s your experience that makes you better suited for this?” he said.

  • Product differentiation. The deck shouldn’t just show a company’s product or service or illustrate how it works, Grasso said. Instead, the presentation needs to explain why the product is different, why it’s better than anything else on the market, he said.

    “It’s got to be big. It’s got to have a big opportunity,” Grasso said.

  • Why now. Many of the venture capitalists Grasso has worked with have said this slide is essential. The presentation should explain why the timing is right for the startup’s founding idea or opportunity — and why it couldn’t have been successful before then.

“All this stuff about traction and go-to-market and business plans, that becomes important as you move further along, but in the earlier stage, it’s more about that vision,” Grasso said. He continued: “It’s about convincing rather than showing the data.

Here’s what to leave out

There are other things that Grasso would discourage founders from including in their pitch decks, at least when their companies are still in their early stages. Among them:

Ironically, Grasso didn’t prepare a formal pitch deck when he raised money for Beautiful.AI. Instead, he used the company’s software to design one on the fly as a way of demonstrating the capabilities of its software.

Read this:This serial founder thinks pitch decks are passé. Here’s what his startup used instead to raise $45 million in new funding.

Even if he didn’t need one this time around, Grasso thinks pitch decks remain important for founders, especially new ones who don’t have a reputation to lean on or established relationships with investors. But they’re not all-important; entrepreneurs should realize that they and their story trump their slide shows, he said.

“At the end of the day, the pitch is about you, and if you can’t convince somebody of your idea without a pitch deck, then you probably don’t know your idea well enough,” he said.

Got a tip about a tech company? Contact this reporter via email at twolverton@businessinsider.com, message him on Twitter @troywolv, or send him a secure message through Signal at 415.515.5594. You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.

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