How to Build a Deck

For most founders, the deck is a cornerstone of their seed fundraising process. Unfortunately, most decks are terrible. They’re often difficult to understand, too detailed, or missing key details. The goal of the deck is to provide a clear, simple overview of your company and encourage investor questions to begin a conversation.

Here’s a template for a seed stage deck:

Title

What: Begin your deck with a bold and attractive title slide that includes your company logo, one-liner, web address, and the CEO’s contact name and email (plus cell if you’re comfortable). This slide will be many investors’ first impression of your company, so make sure it looks good and have a professional designer work on the deck!

Common Mistakes: Bad design or no professional designer. Listing multiple one liners. Missing founder contact information.

Problem

What: Start with a brief outline of the problem you solve and quantify the amount of money this problem costs. Ideally, the problem should be simple to understand, appear urgent, and have a high dollar cost: usually over $5B/year.

Common Mistakes: Not focusing on a clear numeric cost of the problem. Quoting numerous statistics. Beginning with a long, industry history lesson, e.g. don’t start with “Apple launched the app store in 2007…”.

Solution

What: Present a high level solution to the Problem. The solution should be simple and allude to your product but try to avoid mentioning it directly. You want the audience to understand the basics of your market before diving into the specifics of your product.

Common Mistakes: Discussing multiple solutions. Not previewing your product. Jumping into a detailed technical review.

How it Works

What: This slide shows investors how your product is utilized by customers. Ideally, the process is broken down into 3 simple steps and you can briefly mention the benefit the customer receives, e.g. “(1) Customers move their website to our hosting service, (2) We automatically create backups on multiple providers, (3) Our customers stay online even when most cloud providers go down.”

Common Mistakes: Explaining the process in depth. Using screenshots that are hard to understand.

Traction

What: A basic bar chart, showing your revenue, customers, or engagement over time. It should be annotated with your monthly growth rate. Most founders will use a monthly graph but if the growth is sporadic, try quarterly to reflect a clear ‘up and to the right’ direction, if possible. Example below.

Common Mistakes: Multiple graphs on one slide. Not writing your growth rate on the slide. Including customer logos on the traction slide.

Customers

What: Highlight 3–5 customer logos and the total customers. You can also mention the average charge per customer. Even if the logos aren’t likely to be recognized, they still add credibility.

Common Mistakes: Listing dozens of customer logos. Listing potential customers who are yet to agree.

References

What: Include a quote from a very happy customer. The quote should be concise, explain why they chose you and the business impact you’ve had. This quote provides important validity to your claims of being “better” than the competition.

Common Mistakes: The quote is too long to quickly read. Not including the name, position, and picture of the person quoted.

Market

What: Break this slide into 3 sections. First, for your current niche, often a $500-$2B market. Second, expand out to a broader sector, ideally at least a $2–5B market. Third, list the market size if you become the “Google” of your market, usually a market size in the $10B+. Using 3 concentric circles is a clear way to visualize this.

Common Mistakes: Omitting the current niche market. Detailing multiple market size calculations. Using a market size not backed by evidence.

Competition

What: List the most common alternative product your customers consider and why they chose you. Ideally, you would emphasize a feature that is hard for others to replicate, which you do exceptionally well.

Common Mistakes: Using a complex comparison matrix with 10+ rows. Listing multiple Big Tech giants as competitors. Listing more than 5 competitors.

Team

What: Start with the photos, names and titles of the founding team. Then include logos of all the best known companies and educational institutions your team is associated with. The team is one of the most important aspects this early and the goal is to instantly prove your team is worth more time.

Common Mistakes: Using lots of text to describe each founder’s backgrounds. Not including the logos of the organizations you’re associated with.

Use of Funds

What: List high level plans for the money you will raise, focusing on hiring plans, as well as launches of features and/or locations. You should also set a progress goal for your next round. For example: “Hiring: 4 engineers, 2 sales, 1 customer success. Integrate with AWS, Azure and GCP. Goal: $1M ARR in 18 months & raise Series A”.

Common Mistakes: Reviewing detailed projections. Omitting the progress goal and timeline.

Appendix

What: The Appendix is an almost mythical place where most of the Deck rules do not apply. You can keep all the slides that didn’t make the main deck here and use them when you’re asked a relevant question. Some examples:

Projections — Over 12 quarters. Include payroll, workspace costs, marketing, cost of goods sold and revenue as a start but no need for more than 10 rows at this stage.

Detailed Tech Review — Provide a detailed description of your technology, how it works, why it is better and why it is hard for others to build. Be prepared to provide a demo and in depth explanations but don’t hand over your intellectual property.

Additional Customer References — More quotes from customers who love your service.

Sales Pipeline Overview — Show off your sales pipeline, include the number of leads at each stage of the process and the potential revenue. Don’t name specific leads in case they don’t close.

Common Mistakes: Reviewing the Appendix before the audience asks a relevant question.

Final Rules

Some additional rules your deck should follow:

280 chars per slide — There’s no room for large blocks of text in a deck, 1 tweet is all you get. Focus on the headline for each slide, that’s usually all you need.

1 idea per slide — Don’t put multiple points on the same slide, it’s hard for the audience to follow.

No more than 15 slides — Nobody wants to sit through a long deck presentation, use a maximum of 15 slides then put the rest in the Appendix.

Text size easily readable by any adult — No need to test the eyesight of potential investors. Using a large font also limits how much text you can include.

Easily understandable by any adult — Speak in simple language that any adult would understand, to avoid excluding investors who might not grasp all the technical terms and details.

Almost all founders should use a deck template, as it ensures you answer the key questions an investor will have. This approach gives your deck the best chance of getting an investor excited to learn more.

Thanks to Kaego Rust and Katie Andresen for their help with this article.

Sterling Road invests in pre-seed B2B startups based in the US and Canada.
Full investment process. Contact: ash@sterlingroad.com

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Pre-seed Investor. Email: ash@sterlingroad.com. B2B, US only. I work with founders for 3 months before investing. More info: http://SterlingRoad.com/process

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Ash Rust

Ash Rust

Pre-seed Investor. Email: ash@sterlingroad.com. B2B, US only. I work with founders for 3 months before investing. More info: http://SterlingRoad.com/process

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