The Startup Fundraising Playbook

DocSend Startup Index provides data-driven insights into what the latest fundraising trends are and how to succeed.

DocSend Startup Index startup fundraising research and answers for founders on raising capital

About Our Research 

Our data-driven research demystifies the startup fundraising process and answers many questions founders have about what goes into a venture-backed raise. 

Our Approach to Research 

Contribute to Our Research

Our research is possible because of the survey responses and pitch decks submitted by startup founders. To share your fundraising experiences, process, and results, take our startup fundraising survey. All survey data is aggregated–individual responses are kept strictly confidential.


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Pre-Seed Startup Fundraising: All You Need To Know

Increased pitch deck scrutiny works in the founder’s favor 

Unlike 2019, in 2020 investors spent more time on decks they were interested in, quickly passing over decks that didn’t make the cut. This means that VCs are quick to judge and a pitch deck must catch their interest in the first couple slides.  

Pre-seed Startup Fundraising pitch deck trends

Our data also shows that first impressions matter: venture capitalists spent less time on subsequent visits to successful decks but more time on subsequent visits to unsuccessful decks. A company narrative that doesn’t stand out may yield a more critical second look from investors.

3 shifts in pre-seed pitch deck scrutiny

Three key pitch deck elements came into sharp focus for pre-seed companies. Compared to 2019, investors in 2020 spent 51% more time on the competitive landscape section, 46% more time on the product section, and 28% more time on the business model section. These shifts indicate that investors expect pre-seed stage companies to look like fully-fledged businesses: companies need detailed monetization plans, a product at least in the alpha or beta stage, and a keen understanding of where they fit in a competitive marketplace.

Pre-seed pitch deck venture capital scrutiny data

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Pre-seed pitch deck trends: Compared to 2019, investors in 2020 spent 51% more time on the competitive landscape section, 46% more time on the product section, and 28% more time on the business model section. Click To Tweet

Pre-seed founders move out of Silicon Valley

All regions except the Western United States saw an increase in representation in 2020 compared to 2019. With startup fundraising going virtual due to the pandemic, more founders are starting companies from outside the traditional Silicon Valley hub. But a skills gap still persists, though, since founders from the Northeast and Western United States tend to be more successful in raising their pre-seed rounds.

Where pre-seed startup fundraising is in United States

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Pre-Seed Pitch Deck Analysis

By contrast, founders should cut from their deck sections that do not immediately advance the narrative: for instance, none of the successful decks in our survey used a table of content.

Pitch deck slide order for startup fundraising
Pre-seed pitch deck slide order for startup fundraising

Pre-Seed Pitch Deck Template

To help pre-seed founders create effective pitch decks, we launched a section-by-section guide to the art and science of pitch deck construction. This guide builds on our pre-seed research and highlights what’s unique about pre-seed decks compared to later rounds. We also created deck templates that founders can customize with their unique company stories.

Download the guide and templates

Seed Startup Fundraising: All You Need To Know

In 2020-21, two key factors emerged as “make or break” factors of seed fundraising pitches. Highly engaged investors look for robust business models and compelling traction in the seed stage companies they ultimately fund.

Monetization plans and market traction are key differentiators

The focus on monetization plans has become heightened among seed stage companies. Investors require thorough-yet-realistic business models in pitch decks, and they spent 94% more time scrutinizing these sections among decks that got funding.

Seed startups must also succinctly demonstrate their market traction. VCs will give extra scrutiny to companies whose traction results are limited or unconvincing. In fact, investors spent 78% more time on the market traction sections of decks that didn’t receive funding.

Read all seed fundraising trends

Seed fundraising trend: Investors spent 94% more time on the business model sections of decks in @DocSend’s data set that ultimately received funding. Click To Tweet

A fully-launched product is becoming the norm for seed startups

Product readiness has become essential at the seed stage. Across all the decks in our data set, the product section had the second-longest viewing time on average. But companies need more than just a slick product deck section: they should have their product as close to launch as possible before even attempting a fundraise. A majority (58%) of the companies in our data set had already launched their product at the time of fundraising. This signals that the GA launch of a product is becoming the norm, a step companies must take to even be considered “fundable.”

Read all seed fundraising trends

Contacting more investors doesn’t yield better results 

For your seed round, contacting a healthy number of investors can yield more meetings. However, diminishing returns kick in after about 100 investor contacts, and many companies in our survey secured meetings from less expansive investor outreach strategies. Further, our data shows no clear trend between the number of investors contacted and the amount of funding raised. Persistence doesn’t necessarily pay off: seed founders should focus on contacting investors who 1) fund companies in their field and 2) write checks in the amount they’re looking for.

Read all seed fundraising trends

Seed Pitch Deck Analysis

The order of sections in successful and unsuccessful decks was similar: where both groups had a certain section, that section was in roughly the same place. With the exception of a small minority of companies that included a table of contents, almost all decks put their nucleus of Company Purpose, Problem, Solution, and Market Size sections up front. This similarity suggests that what’s likely to catch investors’ attention in a pitch deck is becoming uniform: these four sections are essential just to get your foot in the door with VCs.

Seed Pitch Deck Template

To help seed stage founders build effective pitch decks, we launched a section-by-section guide to the art and science of pitch deck construction. The guide builds on our seed research and shows how seed decks differ from pre-seed decks. We also created deck templates that founders can customize with their unique company stories.

Download the guide and templates

Series A Startup Fundraising: All You Need To Know

Succeeding in Series A fundraise calls for a more forward-looking approach. The rounds are much bigger and the meeting acceptance rate is much higher. Investors want to see scalability and positioning for the future.

Successful Series A decks focus on the future

Series A round pitch decks are all about building long-term confidence with investors. At this stage, companies need to show a solid track record of fiscal responsibility as well as future-oriented metrics like customer retention strategies and market share growth. Since decks at this stage should look forwards and backwards, they tend to be longer: the decks in our survey averaged 25 pages. However, since Series A investors are so specialized and know exactly what they’re looking for, the time they spend on decks tends to be lower than for earlier-stage companies.

Series A pitch deck order template for startup fundraising

Traction needs to be repeatable and varied

One of the reasons Series A fundraising decks are longer is because companies need robust traction sections. Earlier-stage companies might show only one type of traction, whereas Series A companies need to show multiple forms of traction–such as awards or profit/loss metrics–to indicate to VCs the strength of the product/market fit. Further, companies need to show that these types of traction are repeatable over the long term.

Series A pitch deck traction examples for startup fundraising

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Choose your lead investor carefully

Nearly all (88%) of the companies that successfully raised had previous investors participate in their Series A round. But how do companies choose who leads the round? Only 8% of companies reported choosing a lead based on a brand name; by contrast, 30% chose their lead because they had industry-specific experience, and 23% because their lead offered the best terms. These figures show that the name on the check matters less than the type of deal being made or the sector expertise and connections a lead investor can offer.

How to choose your investor, venture capital, angel investor for startup fundraising

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Series A Pitch Deck Analysis

Investors at the Series A round tend to spend more time on three key sections. The product and business model sections are crucial at this stage, since Series A companies need to show solid monetization plans for products that are more mature than at earlier stages. Relatedly, the business model section needs to show scalability over time. Compared to the Seed and Pre-Seed rounds, investors at this stage focus less on the purpose, competition, and “why now?” slides because companies that have reached the highly competitive Series A round of funding tend to have already positioned themselves clearly in the marketplace.

Series A pitch deck slides sections

Read all Series A fundraising trends

Series A pitch deck trend: Investors at the Series A round tend to spend more time on three key sections: product, business model, and solution vs. purpose, why now, and competition in seed decks. Click To Tweet

Gender & Race Bias in Startup Fundraising

Mixed progress for diverse and underrepresented founding teams

2020 was a year when diversity and representation became prominent issues, and our data showed mixed fundraising progress for early-stage (pre-seed and seed) founding teams. On the one hand, teams with minority members raised 42% more than teams with no minority members.*

Startup fundraising trends by gender, location, and team metrics

On the other hand, though, some groups fell further behind: all-female teams raised 70% less than all-male teams and averaged fewer investor meetings.

Average number of VC investor meetings by gender in startup fundraising

*In this data set, “minority” refers to survey respondents who self-identified as members of nonwhite racial groups.

Read more about fundraising bias

Pitch deck scrutiny changes with team gender demographics

At the pre-seed stage, investors spent the most time on the business model sections of decks by all-female teams, spending nearly 20% longer on these sections than on those in all-male decks. They also spent over 58% less time on the product sections of all-female decks than they did on all-male decks. This is significant because the product section became one of the most important pre-seed deck sections last year.

By contrast, the fundraising ask section was viewed very differently when it came to male and female teams, implying that venture capitalists were more seriously considering investment in all-male teams. This implication is borne out by overall success rates (79% for all-male teams versus 75% for all-female teams). Further, the fundraising ask section was the longest-viewed section of all-male decks in our survey but investors spent almost 55% less time on this section when it came to all-female decks.

Pre-seed pitch deck slide order deck template by investor in startup fundraising

At the seed stage, the business model garnered the most scrutiny for both all-male and all-female teams. However, VCs spent 48% longer on this section in all-female decks. They also spent 77% longer on the traction section. 

The greater discrepancy is in market size: this section was one of the least important for investors looking at all-male seed decks, while it was crucial for all-female decks. Investors spent 200% more time on the market size section in all-female decks. Combined with the business model and traction discrepancies, the relative importance of the market size section for all-female teams suggests that VCs were more concerned about how these teams could monetize a product-market fit than they were for all-male teams.

Seed pitch deck slide order deck template by investor in startup fundraising

Read more about fundraising bias

Gender bias in pre-seed fundraising: The fundraising 'ask' section was the longest-viewed section of all-male decks in our survey but investors spent almost 55% less time on this section when it came to all-female decks. Click To Tweet

Scrutiny changes with racial demographics, too

Like all-female teams, founding teams with minority members had their business model sections scrutinized much more closely than teams with no minority members.

As with the gender deck scrutiny breakdown, the business model and product sections are key differentiators: investors spent 140% longer on the business model sections of decks by founding teams with minority members and over 78% longer on the product sections.

Investors also spent 146% longer on the fundraising goal section. Teams with minority members in our data set tended to raise more, so more time spent on the fundraising section might indicate favorable scrutiny. This trend also holds true for the all-male/all-female deck breakdown, since the fundraising section garnered the most scrutiny for all-male teams who, in turn, raised more than all-female teams.

Pre-Seed decks: average investor time spent-minority mix

At the seed stage, there were many similarities in the scrutiny faced by teams with and without minority members. The business model, product, and traction sections were important for both groups, although investors spent 48.5% more time on the financials section for teams without a minority member.

The biggest disparity was in the “why now?” slides: VCs spent 177% longer on this section in decks of teams without minority members. VCs attributed more weight to the timing of a potential investment depending on the ethnic makeup of a team: for more diverse teams, a compelling “why now?” case was actually far less important.

Pre-seed pitch deck slide order deck template by investor in startup fundraising and why now, traction, product

Read more about fundraising bias

Pitch Deck Interest Metrics

  • Founder links created: Number of pitch deck links founders send out
  • Investor deck interactions: How actively VCs are on those decks
  • Investor time spent: Average time investors spend reading decks