Ask the founder of a company to tell you what they do, who they’re looking for as customers and what the long-term growth potential of their company is … and you mostly get lots and lots of words.

It’s understandable. This could be their life’s dream and they really, really want you to see what they see.

But potential investors are bombarded with choices every day. They want a clear and concise picture. That’s where a pitch deck comes into play.

For the second straight year, the Thinker team attended the Chicago FUND Conference, the Midwest’s largest investor conference. It was a full day of searching for the next Airbnb, LinkedIn or YouTube. Each of those companies was just an idea in need of investment, and pitch decks helped hone in on what was really important to communicate to potential investors.

Most pitch decks are internal documents. Some have made it into the public domain. collected and published more than 40 pitch decks of startups that have since become household names. When it comes to ideas that have altered the world, precious few have made more of an impact than YouTube. YouTube’s simple 10-slide pitch deck contained:

  • The goal in Slide 2: “To become the primary outlet of user-generated video content on the Internet, and to allow anyone to upload, share, and browse this content.
  • The opportunity in Slide 5: “Digital video recording technology is for the first time cheap enough to mass produce …. Broadband Internet in the home has finally reached critical mass, making the Internet a viable alternative delivery mechanism for videos.”
  • Competitors in Slide 6 (remember any of these companies?): “, Open Media Network, Google Video, PutFile, DailyMotion, Vimeo.”
  • Revenue potential on Slide 8: “Advertising … Act as a pay-for distribution channel for promotional videos. … Charge members for premium features … Charge viewers for premium content.”
  • The 10th slide was the kicker — metrics: “Launched June 11. Has already overtaken all previously existing competitors and is now the dominant player in this space.”

Today, 1.3 billion people use YouTube, with 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute. Here’s the true impact: By 2025, it is estimated that half of viewers younger than 32 will not subscribe to a pay-TV service.

OK, not every idea has the potential of YouTube, but if you are putting together a pitch deck, here are a few key things you need to have, according to

  • Catch your audience’s attention with the first slide. showed a small “Do What You Love” card on a table, and Tinder’s first slide was “Match Box … the flirting game.”
  • Be clear in what you’re trying to do. Most good pitch decks have a slide presenting a problem and the next one proposes a solution. Airbnb said there is “no easy way … to book a room with a local or become a host.” The solution? “A web platform where users can rent out their space to host travelers to: Save Money, Make Money, Share Culture.”
  • Wow ’em with numbers. Investors are looking for profits. Mixpanel used the fourth of its 12 slides to show off monthly recurring revenue growth of 400 percent year to year. Show how you earn the money and give projections.
  • Show off your team. When we had John Phelps, head of Rockford Local Development Corp., in to talk about what bankers look for when making a tough call, he said “you bet on the jockey, not the horse.” Have a slide showing off the team, and their expertise, behind the idea.