Your investor pitch deck is one of the most important assets you have for your business. While it should take time to put together a good deck, you don’t have to start from scratch. We’ve done extensive research on what VCs really want to see in a pitch deck (download our pre-seed fundraising research report here). Based on that research, we’ve found 11 criteria that can have a material impact on whether your deck can get you a meeting and, hopefully, a term sheet.
Also based on our fundraising research, we pulled together some science behind a successful early-stage raise — compiling it into 2 resources:
🧬 A step-by-step pitch deck guide
🎨 Two pitch deck templates (pre-seed & seed)
Download the guide and templates
After analyzing thousands of decks, we find that many decks make the same mistakes. Whether it’s not offering enough details about the team, or relying too heavily on product, these things can make it difficult for a VC to glean the information they need from your pitch deck.
Here are the top five mistakes we’ve seen and how to fix them:
Some rules of thumb to remember
Keep it concise.
All of our research has found that investors spend less than 3.5 minutes on average on each pre-seed pitch deck. That’s not a lot of time for them to absorb who you are and what your business does. But remember, your pitch deck isn’t trying to secure the investment, it’s just there to get you the meeting. You’ll have plenty of time in your Zoom meetings to dig into specific aspects of your business. The deck is only there to entice an investor to want to meet with you. There’s a lot of information you need them to get in that amount of time, so make the most of it. We’ve found the best way to do this is with a 20 page deck that follows a clear narrative outline (which you’ll see below).
(We also analyzed some famous seed pitch deck examples to show what they did well and where they needed to improve, you can see those examples here).
Tie everything back to your problem and your solution.
The problem slide is actually the crux of your deck. It comes first and sets up the entire rest of your narrative. Use it as a guideline for what aspects of your product you highlight, how you show your business model, and what information you put on your team slide. Everything should show how your team and your business are directly addressing the problem you’ve laid out.
Don’t forget, you are telling a story.
Your deck should have a narrative arc. While we have a recommended outline, it won’t always be perfect for every deck. If you have an incredibly experienced team, you may want to lead with that. If your traction includes high profile customers or lots of daily active users, you may want to put that ahead of other financial or competition slides. Build a narrative that highlights the strengths of your business. We heard from Robbie Crabtree, a trial lawyer and storytelling coach to founders, about the art of storytelling with the skill of brevity when pitching your startup during fundraising.
Practice your pitch and know it well
If you were to meet a (non-technical) stranger on the street and they asked what you did, how would you describe it? Or how do you describe your business to your parents? While it used to be standard to have an “elevator” pitch ready in case you found yourself talking to an investor, it can actually be helpful when creating pitch deck. Your elevator pitch will be the backbone of your deck. From there you can begin to build your narrative and create your slides.
1. Your Problem and Why Now? aren’t clearly defined
Percent of pre-seed pitch decks that include it: 92%
Average number of pages: 1.9
In our pre-seed research, we found that 92% of successful decks globally — and 100% in the West Coast of the US — had a slide explaining the problem that the product or company set out to solve. That is to say: This is important. Your problem slide is one of two main pillars in your pitch deck. If you aren’t able to clearly define the problem that your business is meant to solve, it’s time to step back and re-evaluate your business.
While you should put some work into refining how you will explain the problem you’re solving, it doesn’t need to be complex — and in fact, it shouldn’t be. According to our recent research, successful decks spent an average of 1.8 slides on the problem they’re solving. Make it concise and make it clear.
The more challenging part of expressing your problem — and a larger barrier to entry for some investors — is explaining why the problem needs to be solved right now. Not only should you spend time coming up with an air-tight answer to this, but you should also devote a slide to it in your pitch deck.
The key here is to make sure your “Why Now?” slide isn’t simply a “Why?” slide. Your entire deck is meant to explain why investors should consider your business a worthwhile investment, so use this section to drive urgency and eliminate any reasons they can put off investing. Use any data you can to explain the market in its current state would benefit from your company entering into it.
2. You either have too many Product slides, or not enough
Percent of pre-seed pitch decks that include it: 86%
Average number of pages: 2.7
It’s easy to get this section confused with the Solution slides. But this section is about showing investors what you’re actually building, whether it’s screenshots, mocks, a prototype, or a finished product.
You don’t need to get too into the weeds here. In our pre-seed research, we found that founders used an average of 2.8 slides on this section. Remember, the Product section should still tie back into your Problem — it’s the manifestation of your Solution. So, what are the specific features of your product that are meant to directly address the problem? Show them, but you don’t need to get into the intricate details of how they work at this point. If investors want to know, they will ask, and you can provide that information then.
3. You aren’t highlighting your Traction
Percent of pre-seed pitch decks that include it: 59%
Average number of pages: 1.7
The Traction section may look different based on what stage your company is at. Investors want to see any early indicators you have that you’ve built the right product to solve the problem. According to our research about 60% of companies include this section in their decks. This isn’t necessarily Financials, either (there’s another section for that information). Traction can include current customers, customer quotes, or even Letters of Intent.
What you want to address in the Traction section is simply that your company has gained any level of momentum with outside parties. Investors will take into account the current stage you’re at, so be honest, but you’re better off showing that your idea has legs.
4. You aren’t showing how you’ve built the right Team to solve the problem
Percent of pre-seed pitch decks that include it: 93%
Average number of pages: 1.4
While the vast majority of decks include the Team slide, we actually see a lot of founders skimp on the information in it. Just as you should feel comfortable working with the right investors, they want to know who they’re potentially working with for the long haul. Not only that, they also want to know specifically why you should run this company. This is a slide where investors spend a lot of time — second only to Financials and Fundraising Goals (The Ask) — so give them something to work with.
Our past research has found that the average word count of the Team slide is almost double that of the other slides, and that’s okay. This slide should include each founding member’s photo, name, title, and a description of their experience and how it specifically pertains to your company and the role they play in it. You should also make it easy for investors to investigate more by including links to the team’s LinkedIn profiles.
5. You haven’t fully thought through your Business Model
Percent of pre-seed pitch decks that include it: 88%
Average number of pages: 2.8
Investors know the Business Model you put into your deck is likely going to need a few tweaks once you start operating in the real world, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t present something realistic to them. You not only need to answer the basic question, “how are you going to make money?”, you also need to show what type of customer you’re targeting.
This shouldn’t take many slides. In fact, if it takes you more than three slides to successfully explain your Business Model you likely need to make some changes to how you’re going to monetize. But it also shouldn’t be one simple slide showing your pricing structure. You need to include your basic unit economics, your target audience (are you B2B or D2C?), plus some go-to-market information showing how you’re going to reach that audience.
Pre-seed research reportDownload the report
Now, work on your narrative.
It’s a story, remember? Once you’ve got all the pieces in place, take a look back at your deck, and try to be as objective as possible. Are there spots where you could adapt the order of information to make an idea more clear? Does the amount of information you included require investors to do too much decoding to figure out what’s actually going on in your deck? While we really recommend that you do the above steps in order, every pitch is different, and the most important things to remember are: 1) that your problem and solution resonate throughout your deck and 2) that everything should be clear, concise, and it should logically follow — don’t waste any of the precious time you have of an investor’s attention with them confused. If something is going unexplained, explain it, but briefly. If a graphic is unnecessary or doesn’t help clearly convey a point of information, chuck it — don’t make them look at something that won’t provide any value.
The information you share in your deck should all logically follow and you should try to optimize and enrich your deck with information that is helpful, new, and related to your company’s purpose and narrative.
Ready to send your pre-seed pitch deck to investors?
Is your pitch deck investor ready? Pre-seed and seed stage founders can apply to the DocSend Fundraising Network to get feedback on your pitch deck and amplify your outreach to our network of notable investors. Get started with the DocSend Fundraising Network.