The Startup Fundraising Playbook

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

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.  

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.

Read all pre-seed fundraising trends

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.

Read all pre-seed fundraising trends

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.

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.

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.

Read all Series A fundraising trends

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.

Read all Series A fundraising trends

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.

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

Absolute gains, relative disparities

VC interest in funding startups skyrocketed in 2021, but a rising tide has not lifted all boats equally. On the one hand, our data showed that all early-stage (pre-seed and seed) teams raised more thanks to record-setting amounts of available capital. On the other hand, disparities remain for all-female teams and teams with minority members.* For example, all-female teams raised 25% less than all-male teams on average.

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

Some underrepresented founders saw much more VC engagement early on in the fundraising process, but that initial interest didn’t translate into funding commitments. All-female teams with minority members averaged 57% more meetings than their peers while raising less than any other demographic.

Read more about fundraising bias

Pitch deck scrutiny and gender

Investors spent the most time overall scrutinizing the team sections for all-female decks, averaging 130% more time on this section than for all-male teams and 157% more time than for mixed-gender teams. For all-male teams, the team slide had one of the lowest viewing times.

By contrast, the disparity went the other way when it came to the product section. VCs spent 105% more time scrutinizing the product sections of all-male decks than all-female decks (and 78% more time than mixed-gender product sections). For all-female teams, the product section was one of the least-scrutinized.

VCs spent about the same amount of time scrutinizing the business models of all-male and mixed-gender teams. However, investors averaged 43% more time on this section for all-female teams. The relative importance of the team and business model sections for all-female teams suggests that investors were especially concerned about whether these teams had the right members to monetize a product.

Read more about fundraising bias

Pitch deck scrutiny and race

When we break down deck scrutiny by racial demographics, several sections stand out in particular. Investors spent 20% more time on the product sections of decks by teams with minority member(s) and 67% more time on the market size sections for these teams. By contrast, investors spent nearly 50% more time scrutinizing the business model sections of all-white teams.

The competition section shows the largest discrepancy between all-white and diverse teams. Investors spent 78% more time on this section for teams with minority member(s). These discrepancies indicate that for diverse teams, VCs focused on whether a company’s product-market fit stood out from other players in that company’s sector. This focus may have been more critical, since diverse teams in our dataset raised less than teams without minority member(s).

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