Pitch decks are like short stories that allow founders to share their company vision with investors. But if you only have a few slides — and often only one chance — to make an impression, how do you differentiate yourself?
Sifted reached out to VCs investing in companies from pre-seed to Series A for their tips and tricks on building an early-stage pitch deck. Here’s what they said.
What is an investor pitch deck? And why you need one
In short, a pitch deck is a series of slides that founders send to potential investors at the beginning of a capital raise.
“Often before an initial meeting, an investor will want to see a certain amount of information to see if the company is a good fit for their investment strategy,” Emma Phillips, VC at LocalGlobe, a London-based firm that focuses on seed and impact investing, Sifted tells. “It’s often the first time a potential investor learns about a particular company, especially at pre-seed and seed.”
Oliver Kicks, Director at Concept Ventures, UK largest pre-seed fund, divides pitch decks into two categories:
1/ A teaser deck whose main purpose is to secure your first investor meeting. “The teaser deck is typically used to get the VC/investor excited about the team, the opportunity, and/or the product,” he says. It should outline the startup’s headline vision and strategy, and end with the amount you wish to raise.
2/ A long deck, often shared after a first meeting, containing more details and often an appendix — for anything that is widely considered to be overly detailed and not part of the startup’s core narrative, such as:
- More detailed data on market trends/conditions with links to sources/references;
- A detailed product roadmap;
- Customer/user testimonials or aggregated data/results from intelligence gathering;
- Team structure with plans for hiring after the raise.
When do you need a pitch deck?
You need a pitch deck when it comes to raising money or presenting at a demo day. But Julia André, a partner at Index Ventures, says the sooner you do it, the better.
“It’s smart to create a pitch deck early in your business development,” she says. “I always advise founders to create their content early on as it helps solidify and build out the overall story.”
Kicks agrees, but adds that you need to be sure to control your narrative and not let anyone pressure you into broadcasting something that’s not ready.
“It’s a wise practice to create a pitch deck early in the development of your business.”
“Even if you don’t have an active round, it might be useful to have an easy-to-update round on hand,” he says. “When you meet a great angel or potential next-round investor, you can easily change some headlines on the deck and get them excited about what you do.”
What do investors want to see in a pitch deck?
André says that there is no formula for great pitch decks per se, but there are a few important elements to consider:
- The vision: What problem do you solve and how do you get there?
- The product or the solution: What do you sell? Can you share any pictures or specs that will help bring it to life?
- The market environment: Who are your customers, what is the Total Addressable Market (TAM), is it a resilient sector, how would volatility affect or support your plans?
- traction: What is the market pull, what success have you seen so far, how will you monetize the business?
- contest: In some cases it is helpful to show where you are positioned and how your business differs from others, especially in a crowded market.
- finance and key performance indicators: Of course, these are critical and should be presented in a simple, easy-to-understand manner that underscores business acumen and sound financial planning.
- The team: Investors invest their money in bold, inspiring people and their unique and innovative ideas, so it’s important to bring the team behind the vision to life.
She advises founders to be at the forefront of their pitch decks, even if they’re in a crowded sector or had a tough quarter — because of investors will do their due diligence and will Crunch the numbers.
When it comes to formatting your pitch deck, Kicks mentions that 10-20-30 rule — no more than 10 slides, a maximum of 20 minutes of presentation, and no font size smaller than 30 throughout the deck. But overall, it’s important to be brief, he says.
He echoes André, when it comes to elements to include, Add that you should also include the use of funds – why are you raising this round? And how will you use the capital to grow/achieve your goals?
An example pitch deck
What you need to consider as you go through the funding stages
For the pre-seed, Kicks adds that the team slide is very important, “with a particular focus on ‘why you’ and a way to quickly demonstrate that co-founders have successfully worked together before.”
Given the current market conditions and rocky economic outlook, Kicks says Concept Ventures would like to see a term of at least 18 months. André agrees, saying it’s important to focus more on your path to profitability demonstrate short-, medium- and long-term opportunities.
Kicks adds Generally speaking, the later a company is, the less focus should be on the overall narrative and the more it should be on traction, data and metrics – for example, highlighting core KPIs and the company’s outperformance of the competition or pursuit to a larger comparable product in another branch/category.
He says decks at each stage should show:
- presowing: Great team, market dynamics/competitors, insight/differentiation, an execution plan.
- seed: As above, plus a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and some early customers and signals towards Product-Market Fit (PMF).
- Series A: They are 75% towards PMF with early pilots/paying customers – unit economics not fully worked out but demonstrate demand.
- Series B: You have 100% PMF with stable economics and want to scale sales and the next product in your pipeline.
What do investors not want to see?
There are also a few things that will put investors off pitch decks. Phillips says LocalGlobe (and other early-stage investors) don’t want to see this:
- Financial projections for five to ten years — They are completely made up numbers in the early stages;
- Short term exit plans — we are looking for Unicorns++ so a short term exit plan would immediately deter a VC;
- Fake News. It’s a small world and if a Founder puts a customer logo in there that isn’t really a customer, there’s a good chance we’ll find out and it makes the Founder look very bad;
- A deck with more than 10 to 15 pages. Or anything with too many words.
Pitch deck best practices
So there are some do’s and don’ts, but what are investor best practices for pitch decks?
Phillips says she sees dozens of decks every day, so it has to be snappy and visually appealing. She adds that it’s important to make the deck easy to edit too, as you’ll likely get a lot of feedback.
Can you do something different to stand out? Phillips says one founder (Ronen Givon of Rekki, an ordering app for chefs) wrote what he expected Rekki to do in 10 years from the Wikipedia page. “It’s been brilliant, and we encourage all new investments to do the same,” says Phillips.
Kicks says less is more because he’s generally “more intrigued and inquisitive to learn more when the slides aren’t very detailed and the founder can point to some early signs of traction or customer love.”
He recommends sending decks as PDFs or using Docksend, as Google Slides often requires permissions and can set you back. And if you’re booking a meeting, be sure to distribute the stack at least a day in advance so everyone has time to read it.
Steph Bailey is a writer at Sifted. She tweets from @steph_hbailey