Startups

What you need to know to pitch to investors in the US

There are a few norms to take into account when fundraising in the United States, and particularly in Silicon Valley.
Russ Heddleston at Web Summit

Earlier this week, our CEO, Russ Heddleston, gave a talk at Web Summit in Lisbon called “The anatomy of the perfect pitch deck.” If you’re a founder from outside the US, it can be challenging to understand the best way to approach fundraising here. How do you connect with US investors? Do you even need a pitch deck? Based on DocSend’s research, here are some key practices that will give you a leg up when fundraising in Silicon Valley and the US as a whole.


A pitch deck is the norm

When pitching to US investors, especially in Silicon Valley, sending a pitch deck is standard versus an executive summary or any other format. The pitch deck gives potential investors insight into you, the company, and how you think. It’s your opportunity to show them a narrative and entice them to learn more (i.e. take a pitch meeting with you).

Our research shows that seed round decks have an average of 19 pages. You certainly don’t want to go higher than that, and if you take into account the average investor’s visit time of three minutes and 44 seconds, you may even want to cut it shorter. In fact, investors tend to spend less time viewing pitch decks for startups that they end up funding. If an investor spends more time on your deck, they are likely trying to make sense of it. Make the most of the short window that investors will be engaged with your deck by omitting anything that isn’t pertinent or clear or that doesn’t serve your narrative.

Decide who you’re pitching to

Two of the common ways to secure funding for your first round are through a seed firm or through angel investments. Both options have benefits and drawbacks, but if you have the option, you’ll see more benefits from a seed fund. Entrepreneurs are often attracted to the idea of angels because it allows them to keep more control—angels won’t require a board seat, and founders don’t need to give up equity right away.

While staying in control early on has its merits, there are more benefits from taking money from a seed firm. They tend to move more quickly (9.6 weeks on average versus 13.5 weeks with angels), and they typically have substantially more money at their disposal—our research shows that rounds with seed firms raised more than double those with angel investors. Yes, you will have to answer to a board, and they will get preferred stock, but this isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, when you pitch for your series A, investors will be happy to see that your business has oversight, and securing funding will likely be easier.

Get solid intros to VCs

If you can connect with VCs through someone you know, you’re better off. A warm intro is more likely to get a response than a cold pitch. That isn’t to say it can’t work, but you’ll likely be more successful if you’re introduced to a VC by one of their portfolio founders. In Silicon Valley, it’s common practice to take part in what’s called “double opt-in.” This happens when you ask another founder to make an introduction to their investor. Typically, the founder will forward your pitch deck to their investor, and if they show any interest, then the founder will make the introduction. Depending on the level of interest that the portfolio founder shows in your pitch deck, the investor may be more likely to take the meeting this way.

Go for 20-30 investors

Contrary to what you might think, it does not benefit you to reach out to hundreds of investors. Our research shows that, unsurprisingly, the more investors you reach out to, the more meetings you’ll get. But there is no correlation between the amount of money you’re offered and the amount of investors you contact. Reach out to 30 investors that you think are the right fit for your company. If you don’t succeed after three months, take some time to reassess and reiterate. And don’t discount the contacts that said no, either. After three months, even if your pitch doesn’t change much, the market may have changed, or they may have a different view of your business.

Don’t spend too much time on product

For pitch decks, particularly in the seed round, it comes down to your narrative. We found that the average pitch deck spends around five slides on the product. While every company is different and you should create your pitch deck accordingly, be critical about how important the details of the product are for the stage you’re at. Even if you have five amazing product slides, they’re not the reason you’re going to get an investment. Most VCs will want to know why they should care about the problem you’re trying to solve and not the specifics of the product you built to solve it.

What you should focus on is answering “Why us?” and “Why now?” Investors will not only want to know why the problem matters, but why it’s timely and why you are the right team to solve it. Fun fact: The team slide was the only one that was present in 100% of successful pitch decks in our research. Make sure yours is well thought-out and answers questions rather than prompting more.

Give yourself time

It’s always a good idea to allow yourself six months of runway to raise. Give yourself three months for pitching, and three months to figure out a plan B in case you don’t succeed. We found that the majority of seed rounds took between 11 and 15 weeks. Only 17% were funded after the four-month mark—so while it’s not impossible to get funding at that point, it’s much less likely, and it’s probably a good idea to stop and try again in another three months or so.

When scheduling pitch meetings, try to have them in a two-week window. This is helpful if you’re traveling from outside the US, because it makes travel simpler. But for any situation, it limits the amount of time you’re away from work. Schedule your second-tier contacts in the first week to practice. When you go to pitch your top-tier investors in week two, you’ll really have your pitch down. Then you’ll (hopefully) have secured funding, and you can get back to work.

While it can be daunting to plan pitches to US investors, following these best practices will set you in the right direction. To better understand your potential investors and how they are interacting with your pitch deck, try sending it with DocSend. You can sign up for a free trial here.