A Walkthrough of My Startup Pitch Deck to Solve Traffic
Updated: Nov 10, 2022
I’m launching a startup to solve traffic. It’s called rShare (get it?), and it’s a mobile app that rewards people for not driving alone:
In real life, the first version of the game encourages people to share rides or take public transit—where more passengers in a vehicle earns more rewards.
In the game, the points you earn can either be used to improve your experience, or withdrawn to your bank account.
I’ve created a pitch deck, and thought you might want to see it. I’ll walk you through my pitch deck strategy, as well as each of the slides.
You can flip through my pitch deck right now if you want
I’ve created a ton of pitch decks, both for myself and for many of the founders I’ve worked with over the years. It helps that many of my own startups were presentation apps—I’ve spent my entire career crafting narratives, making slides, and working with graphic designers.
I may do another post that details my process for creating individual slides in this pitch deck. It’s helpful to see the progression from too much text to (imho) well-designed slide. Short story: I do a brain dump of every possible fact first, and then I pick out the narrative that investors want to hear.
This pitch deck is for an idea-stage startup that’s looking to raise a pre-seed round. Later-stage companies with active users need to include more metrics in their pitch decks, although the basic structure is similar.
I’ve ended up creating two different versions of my pitch deck: the first version is for emailing to people (shorter, without animations); and the second version is for presenting live (more slides, with animations). I’ll discuss why below.
Watch me present my pitch deck (with animations)
Here’s what I’ll cover in this post:
My creative process
I worked with the immensely talented Marlon Portales, an artist I know here in Miami, to design the cover page art and the car game pieces These now form the core visual identity for rShare.
I then worked with a separate graphic designer (the also immensely talented Martin Rainone) who brought all of the slides together. He’s now helping me think through the UX / UI of the rShare mobile app.
Please see my article for non-designers about pitch deck design to learn my process for making my slides look good visually: Top 5 Pitch Deck Tips for Non-Designers
My process was:
1. Wrote out a long-form description of my business plan, which became the Litepaper (which is the current website at rShare.wtf). My secret to success with creating pitch decks is that I always have to word vomit first in order to eventually get to simplicity.
2. Worked with Marlon (artist), who created the car game pieces and the cover art.
3. Drafted the pitch deck using Marlon’s art plus my own (adequate but not awesome) slide design. Here’s what that looks like (you can compare this with the finished slide 9 in my pitch deck walkthrough below)
^ The slide I created ^
vs. after Martin helped with the design:
4. Worked with Martin (designer), who ran with the design concepts and created much better slides.
5. Created my own slide layouts that took the best of Martin’s ideas but focused on:
Professional look and feel (I didn’t use the handwriting font that Martin recommended, for example)
Dialed in the color scheme throughout
6. Started running my deck past as many people as possible in order to improve it rapidly. I’m focused on the questions that people ask, where they get confused, and where they suggest changes.
One example: a friend suggesting that I move the two slides about creating a sustainable economy into the Appendix.
A related example is me using that slide in every pitch, and then moving it back into the main flow of my pitch deck ;)
Keeping slides simple
I work hard to keep text off of my slides. I’m always trying to cut down the amount of content. One trick is to use large fonts that force me to use fewer words.
People are often afraid to present without a bunch of words, but I suggest the following:
1. I know that any words written on my slides will compete with me for my audience’s attention. In fact, people will stop listening to me for exactly as long as it takes them to read any new words on the screen. I want to be the hero of my pitch, so I try to use the fewest words possible.
2. People don’t want to hear me read sentences off of the screen. I try to have just a few words for them to get the point—and then I use different / more words to tell the story while they listen.
3. My slides still need to work when I email people the slides, so I use just enough text—and especially images—for people to be able to understand the story without me.
4. I don’t really need the slides to tell me what to say, since this is my story. I also practice, practice, practice—both with and without the slides—so that I’m comfortable in any situation. I pitch without slides at least half the time.
5. Images are worth a thousand words. I’m always looking for the right images and diagrams to allow me to remove words from my slides.
6. I use animations to reveal text one sentence at a time (see point #1 above). This gives me time to explain each point without overloading my audience with a full slide worth of text.
I did learn a big lesson during the time it took me to write this article, though. I’ve been sending a link to potential investors that allows them to flip through my pitch deck. Someone finally told me that the animations were annoying people who were reading on their own. Potential investors want to move quickly to decide whether to book a meeting. So I took the animations out of the version I’m emailing out. However, I’ll keep the animations in the version I present live, for the reasons I’ve stated above.
7. I use informative slide titles, rather than simply using “Problem Slide,” “Solution Slide,” etc.
I want to point out something important about the flow of this pitch deck:
In general, I’m a builder and most of the entrepreneurs I work with are builders. We builders have a powerful urge to talk about the problem—and the product or service that we’re building to solve it.
Investors, on the other hand, want to hear about how this is going to become a profitable business. Investors therefore want to hear about team, traction, and customer acquisition. In a weird way, the problem and solution don’t matter as much to the investors.
Therefore, I’m always trying to keep the problem and solution section of my deck as short as possible. I’m always going to focus on customer acquisition, team, and traction in order to get best results from my investor pitches.
In fact, I’ve kept the entire deck as short as possible. It’s 16 slides for the main pitch, and I’ve moved everything else into the appendix.
That being said, I’ve given my pitch five times this week and I haven’t ever had time to get through all 16 slides. Does my pitch deck need to be shorter? Maybe.
I also have some extra slides in the appendix. I found myself using the last two slides a lot, so I moved one of them back into my main flow. These talk about existing Web3 play-to-earn games and how they boom and then bust. The final slide is key to our pitch because it explains our strategy to succeed past where most games stop.
My co-founder talked me into moving it to the appendix, but I’ll move it back into the main pitch if I find myself using it in most of my pitches.
It’s also possible that it belongs in the appendix when I email the pitch deck to someone, but that it belongs in the main pitch when I’m presenting in-person.
Potential investors ask me questions every time I give a pitch. Best practice is to write down all of the questions—either during or immediately after the meeting—and then look for patterns.
When I hear the same question a few times, I update the deck to answer it before it’s asked.
Pitch decks (and financial models) are living documents. I’m constantly tweaking my slides.
Sometimes these are minor edits. Other times these require more work.
For example, last week Apple changed its rules around using NFTs in apps, which required a 2-hour session with my development team and then significant updates to some of my slides.
When we raised our Series A round for a previous startup, we pitched 40 or 50 investors over 8 months. That gave us a lot of time to evolve our thinking, our metrics, and our slides.
Slide 1: Cover slide
Marlon did a great job here! I asked him to create an image of a car with two people in a city with no other traffic. I specifically wanted a man and a woman in the car, and I wanted them to be visibly enjoying the open road.
I ended up creating the temporary rShare logo. Martin and I have been experimenting with other options—including pixelated throwback video game fonts—but we haven’t found anything better…yet.
I always want a pitch deck cover slide to explain what the project is. I’ve settled on “Earn rewards. Solve traffic.” for now. This helps people understand first what’s in it for them, and second what the goal of the project is.
Some other good options for the investor-facing pitch deck would be:
“A mobile app that rewards people for solving traffic”
“A mobile app that rewards people for not driving alone”
"Profitably solve traffic"
I want to give potential investors an idea of exactly what rShare is from first glance. And I want to make them feel a burst of excitement when they look at this slide
Slide 2: TL;DR / Summary / Quick Pitch
Mission accomplished! I found a way to include the sentence “We’re building a mobile game that rewards people for not driving alone.”
I just added this slide after a few weeks of pitching. I want to give investors the overview to save everyone time:
Investors can quickly decide if they’re interested, without having to read the entire deck
I’m finding that I can’t even make it through 14 slides in my investor meetings, and this one slide is exactly what I want to talk about in our limited time together
This also lets me talk about our experienced team up front, without having to start with the team slide.
Slide 3: Traffic…
We can all agree that traffic is a problem.
I chose this full-screen image of a traffic jam because I think everyone has an immediate emotional response.
My first two slides are as much about emotion as message: the cover page is joy and freedom, while this second slide is frustration and helplessness.
Do I have your attention?
Slide 4: Traffic…Is getting worse
What’s worse than being stuck in a traffic jam today? Being stuck in an even larger traffic jam next year!
This problem is only going to get worse.
Slide 5: Opportunity: A profitable economy to solve traffic
The whole point of this startup is to create a sustainable economy that:
Drives real-world value into the wallets of everyone who contributes.
This is what elevates this project from simply being a game. It’s also what’s different about rShare vs. most Web3 projects.
I was inspired by my conversations with David Katz of Plastic Bank. He’s created a for-profit solution (ie- a sustainable economy) to stop plastic from entering oceans. Plastic Bank profitably boosts the economies of third-world countries using money from large global manufacturers, and cleans our planet in the process.
I temporarily moved this slide into the appendix, but found myself using it in most of my pitches. So I’m bringing it back into the main flow.
Slide 6: We earn subscription revenue, and…
Now we’re shifting gears to talk about revenue. I originally had this slide later in the deck, but I know that investors want to talk about revenue—and this is part of our secret sauce.
Our baseline is that we’ll earn money from subscriptions.
A crucial part of our strategy is that people who play our game are doing valuable work that we can monetize in the real world.
This is different than most games, which is why we’ve given it an entire slide.
When I design pitch decks I often give big ideas their own slides with just a bit of text and a powerful image. This is how I focus the audience’s attention on what’s truly important.
Slide 7: Our revenue model
Now we’re into the revenue model, and this is the most information we’ve had on a slide so far. I use builds to reveal one layer at a time when I’m presenting it.
I’ve used color to highlight our in-game revenue vs. the additional diversified revenue streams that we’re planning to bring in.
Every investor wants to know how the business makes money, so this slide ends up being a long discussion in every pitch.
I’ve also found that some investors have pet peeves. One person hates selling data, while another hates advertising. I find it’s best to let these people vent, acknowledge them, and move on. I’ve been positioning the diversified revenue streams as experiments instead of being set in stone.
Slide 8: Earn rewards for not driving alone
This slide starts the big reveal of the solution we're building to solve traffic. There’s some complexity here, but I’ve boiled it down to a few quick slides.
One big secret to a short pitch deck is that I’m okay leaving details out. The potential investors who are interested will have multiple conversations with me, so I’ll have all the time in the world to give them the full story.
I worked with an artist (Marlon Portales, who also designed the cover slide) to give the car game pieces a ton of personality. Again, I want the audience to feel emotions—and I also want to give them a taste of how the app will look.
I originally had a ton of text on this slide, but I’ve revised it probably 10 times trying to reduce the text and pick just those words that make the point.
Also, I’m hiding something on this slide: We don’t have a mock-up of the app yet (yes, we’re working on it). This slide will be more powerful when there’s a phone screen that shows the layout of our game, where this car will be just one element. It’s coming soon…
Slide 9: Basic game play
(Remember the early version of this slide I showed you above? Here’s what it became after Martin the designer helped me out)
Now we’re into the game mechanics. I want this slide to say 3 things:
People have to work together to not drive alone
More passengers in a vehicle = more rewards, so this scales up from cars to public transportation
Our app is inherently viral because people have to work together (see point #1)
Remember that Investors care about two things: revenue and/or growth. This slide is all about growth.
Slide 10: Simple Onboarding
I find that a customer journey slide helps investors visualize how things work (remember that a picture is worth a thousand words).
This map has seven steps, and it’s told as a story.
The most important feature in any app—yet probably the least talked about—is the onboarding:
How easy is it for me to invite you to join?
How hard is it for you to get up and running?
This slide makes the point that we can onboard new users without them having to install our app. They earn points and they get to experience the game, which is designed to hook them so that they want to do the install.
Slide 11: Who’s our customer?
We’re going after a young crowd because they care about sustainability (which solving traffic affects), they love mobile games, and they want to be part of a social movement (“We’re working together to solve traffic!”)
At the bottom, I’m using STEPN’s 4.7 million registered users as a starting point, which I’ve narrowed down based on age and geography (people who live in cities are most likely to care about traffic).
Don’t know what STEPN is? You can read my deep-dive (“Is STEPN Actually Web3?”) or just take my word that it’s an incredibly successful rewards-based game for walking.
STEPN is a double-edged sword, though, because a) many people are nervous about Web3 in general, and b) pay-to-earn models are out of favor…precisely because none of them have created sustainable economies yet ;)
Honestly this slide is still weak without some customer validation. Our next step is to run tests using a landing page to:
Target our initial user base
Confirm that they will sign up
Test if they will pre-pay
Calculate our customer acquisition cost
These experiments will not only help us feel confident in our approach, they will give investors real data they can use to make a decision. It also puts us face-to-face with our audience so that we can learn their language, how they think, and why they say yes or no.
I’m re-reading The Right It by Alberto Savoia. It’s one of my favorite books about customer validation—and it’s been transformative for my approach.
Slide 12: Example City: Miami
I plan to use Miami as a launch city—partly because I live there and also because I’ve already built all the relationships as part of a city-wide competition to solve traffic that I helped my team win a few years back.
Miami’s ranked #43 in population in the US, and the top 100 cities in the US are good targets for rShare.
Why does this slide have a gray background? Mostly just to keep it fresh. Martin suggested using both gray and green backgrounds occasionally, and I liked the idea.
Slide 13: Why us?
The team is consistently ranked as the #1 thing that investors care about. The fact that we’re experienced and have multiple exits between us is key. I also want to highlight:
I’ve helped launch a similar company in the past (after winning that contest to solve traffic)
Our CTO is great at building tech
We have a development team already working on our app—even without funding
I’d like to add a marketing co-founder to the team. Especially one with Web3 and/or mobile app experience who can give input to the product design.
I’m being told that I need more advisors. As that starts to happen, I’ll probably move them onto their own slide. The two advisors that I have so far cover exponential growth and data strategy. I’d like to add government, carbon credit / net zero strategy, gaming, rewards, and Web3.
Slide 14: Wait, did you say game piece trading fees?
The truth is that NFTs are going mainstream, even in this bear market. Did you know that Reddit just launched NFTs—although they don’t call them that—and within a few weeks already have more NFT wallet holders than OpenSea? (OpenSea is the leading NFT marketplace, and it launched five years ago).
Starbucks is about to launch NFTs into their loyalty program, which has 27.4 members.
And STEPN is a mobile app that you’ve probably never heard of, but it's grown exponentially in under a year. STEPN has sneaker NFTs that trade like crazy, making them both profitable and popular.
The point of the last two slides is to show that NFTs are a massive wave that’s growing even in this bear market. I want to make investors feel comfortable about this part of the pitch.
Slide 15: Why now?
There comes a time when things finally work, even if they didn’t work before. Uber is a great example of using new technology to unlock a new revenue model at exactly the right moment.
I love pitch deck slides that show how we are riding several powerful trends.
The goal of this app is to nudge the behavior of undecided commuters to reduce traffic. We certainly won’t influence everyone. This is basically the same strategy as influencing elections by nudging the undecided voters (am I allowed to say that?)
Traffic will get worse, plus it generates a big chunk of emissions. One of my favorite things about rShare is that everyone agrees that traffic is a problem, regardless of their position on emissions.
I tried launching a similar business a few years ago (rewarding people for not driving alone), and it didn’t work for a few reasons. And then Covid took every car off the road for a while—who knew that “global pandemic” was the answer to solving traffic?
This summer, as I was stuck in traffic every day driving my kids to summer camp—and as I was watching the amazing success of some NFT-based apps—I realized that Web3 unlocked my old idea for solving traffic.
But Web3 is a double-edged sword. I see how it works, but I get blank stares or even discomfort from other people (“I don’t understand this whole NFT thing”).
I’m still trying to find the right way to deliver the NFT message.
Slide 16: Milestones
I like to leave this slide up at the end of every pitch—especially when discussing next steps with potential investors. It’s designed to create FOMO (fear of missing out) by showing:
How hard we hustle, even without funding
How much we’re raising
What we’ll accomplish with the money (very different than how we’ll spend the money, which is covered in the Use of Funds slide in the appendix below)
I leave all the other slides in the appendix. I find that I use them sometimes in my live pitches, but not all the time. If I find I'm using a slide all the time, I'll promote it to the main flow.
Slide 18: Use of funds
Some investors want to see how we’ll spend the money. I actually find this less interesting than “What we’ll accomplish with the money” on the Milestones slide above.
This is because “How we’ll spend the money” is always some version of:
Product development, and
Of course we can discuss the percentages allocated to each category. But no startup ever has an issue spending the money.
Slide 19: Spending rewards
This slide talks about some of the gameplay elements of our app. I haven’t ever used this slide in a pitch yet, so I may take it out. I do get comments from potential investors who read the pitch deck before our meetings. People definitely like the idea of casting spells.
Slide 20: Wait, did you say Web3?
I get a lot of pushback on the Web3 / NFT part of my plan, so I’ve de-emphasized it in my pitch.
However, I view the NFTs as a critical component—precisely because I already tried launching a similar company without them.
What we’re really talking about here is ownership, and aligning incentives.
I think this message will resonate with investors because they are also looking for ownership in order to align incentives.
This slide is my new plan for discussing NFTs, and we’ll see how it goes. My pitch deck is constantly evolving, so I reserve the right to change my mind at any time.
Slide 21: Web3 with a twist
We’re pitching a range of investors, not all of whom are comfortable with Web3. You’ve already heard me wrestling with the messaging around the NFTs.
This slide goes down the rabbit hole a bit for anyone comfortable with Web3, so I’ve left it in the Appendix for now.
We have some standard Web3 features, like NFTs and a DAO. We’re also doing certain things differently, like earned NFTs, infinite NFTs, and not launching our own cryptocurrency at first. You can read my deep dive on STEPN (“Is STEPN Actually Web3?”) where I explain how they launched several of their own cryptocurrencies to use as rewards points—but it appears to have put them in direct competition with their users.
Slide 22: Our sustainable economy is our advantage
This was originally one of the first slides in this pitch deck, but…
I’ve been told by my cofounder to move this to the appendix.
I’ve been told by someone else to not badmouth STEPN and Axie.
And yet I find myself jumping to this slide in many of my live pitches because it comes up in the conversation—and this insight is key to our strategy. I’ll probably take this slide out of the pitch deck that I email to investors, but I like having it in for live pitches.
Update: My co-founder just told me to take this slide out of the Appendix in the emailed version because he thinks it doesn't have enough context. So I'll only use it in my live pitches from now on.
This is one of the main reasons I started rShare: I see an opportunity to build a better mousetrap. Our sustainable economy is our advantage.
Which slides aren’t in this deck (yet)?
I’m only half-joking when I say that I can’t figure out who we’re competing with to solve traffic. There are government and business programs to promote carpooling and public transportation, but they’re going to become our customers.
We can operate as a rewards-as-a-service layer that sits on top of existing programs to make them even more appealing.
I’ll figure out what to put on this slide if investors want it, but so far no one has asked.
Social proof is powerful, and investors want to fund buzzy startups. Our startup has zero buzz so far, since we’re in the idea stage, so I’ve left this slide out for now.
I always recommend that startups get customer testimonials, or even prospective customer testimonials. These work well with investors—plus they force valuable conversations with potential customers.
Getting some buzz is on my short list of things to accomplish. Once we have buzz, I’ll immediately add a buzz slide.
Are you surprised that I haven’t made our financial projections yet? I mean, I make startup financial projections for a living.
I’m emailing this deck and doing pitches every day, so this pitch deck probably will have already evolved by the time you read this!
Again, if you want to see the presentation:
You can flip through my pitch deck (without animations)
Watch me present my pitch deck (with animations)
Have questions? Want to learn more? Want help with your pitch deck or financial projections?
You can connect with me at RocketProForma.com
Mike Lingle is the founder of Rocket Pro Forma (financial projections for Web2 and Web3 startups), CFO at Security Token Group (digital asset securities on the blockchain), and an entrepreneur-in-residence at Founder Institute. He co-founded SlideRocket, an online slide presentation app that was acquired by VMWare in 2011.