Seed Fundraising — How to Build a Deck
An updated version of this post is available here: How to Build a Deck
A good deck is central to fundraising. It frames the conversation in a familiar format for investors and serves as an important visual aid while pitching. There are hundreds of well discussed approaches to building a deck but many founders still struggle. Here are 10 slides that work well at the seed stage.
Slide 1. The Problem — Grab investor attention by immediately presenting a specific problem, which they’ll agree should be solved urgently. Don’t begin with a personal story detailing the source of your passion. Support your assertions with data and focus on the customer pain. For example, don’t say: “Travel industry software is bad”, instead say: “A TripAdvisor survey found travel agents waste 40% of their day on bad software workflows”.
Slide 2. The Solution — You want the investor to agree with your proposed solution. Focus on communicating the highest level feature and benefit your customers experience. Don’t go into any details yet. For example, don’t say: “Bringing 21st Century software to legacy travel industry”, instead say: “A unified platform, removing repetition and increasing agent productivity by 30%”.
Slide 3. How it works — After this slide, the investor should understand how your startup achieves the solution. Usually a 3-step process on one slide is more than enough. It can be helpful to contrast your process against what customers currently do, but only if you can explain it quickly, e.g. “What used to take agents 3 hours switching between platforms, is now down to 30 minutes thanks to our simplified 3-step process”.
Slide 4. Traction Graph — This slide should get an investor excited. Use one graph, charting one metric, over at least 6 months. Graph a meaningful metric like revenue or user engagement, not something easily influenced, like app downloads. Even a good graph can be ruined by too many annotations or multiple graphs on the slide. Note: if you’re in the enterprise space, or very early, you may have to cut this slide due to lack of data.
Slide 5. Use Cases & Customers — Let an investor know who uses your product and why. Specific examples will help them understand your product. Take this opportunity to display the logos of your most recognizable customers. If your customers are not well known brands, explain the most valuable use case, with statistics on its prevalence. For example: “80% of paying customers are mid-size travel agents, each replacing 3 to 4 legacy software tools with our unified platform”.
Slide 6. Testimonials — Investors want to know customers love using your product. Include 1–3 quotes from satisfied customers, from recognizable brands or within your most valuable use cases. The best testimonials explain why the customer likes your product and the difficulties they suffered before using it, e.g. “It used to take hours to process each booking, with TravelFlash bookings take minutes and we can operate anywhere”.
Slide 7. The Team — You want the investor to believe your team is capable of building a billion dollar company. Use pictures of up to 5 people, with logos highlighting their experience. Prioritize logos of well known companies, schools and publications, in that order. You’ll get a chance to provide details on each person during the pitch, so don’t clutter the slide. If your team is truly exceptional, move this slide to the beginning.
Slides 8 & 9. Market & Vision — Demonstrate the market is large but you’re taking a realistic approach. Three sections is usually enough: the current niche, the broader mid-size sector and the overall potential if you dominate. You should put the Vision and Roadmap slide next, to explain how you’ll be attacking these markets over the near and longer term. Don’t be afraid to dream big.
Slide 10. Projections & Hiring — You need to tell an investor what they’re getting for their investment, so briefly describe the big company your startup will grow into. You need only project high level costs, quarterly for ~2 years at this stage. The hiring plan should start slow and accelerate over time. You’ll want your projections to show revenue increasing in line with headcount.
Closing & Appendix — Finish with a slide including your contact info and a “Thank You” to let people know you’re finished and it’s time to clap. Any other slides, beyond this list or those with more detail, should all go into the Appendix. Use the Appendix as your library for answering questions, you’ll have visual aids to reinforce your answers and demonstrate preparation.
Example — Airbnb’s seed deck from 2009.
The deck is critical but it’s only the start of the conversation. Don’t try to squeeze every detail into your slides. If you keep it simple and concise, you’re more likely to hold an investor’s attention and get them interested in your startup.
This article is part of a series on Seed Fundraising.
1. When to Raise Money
2. How to Build a Deck
3. VCs vs. Seed Funds vs. Angels
4. How to Get a Meeting
5. How to Request an Introduction
6. How to Get Early Momentum
7. How to make a Good Pitch Great
8. The 5 Most Common Pitch Mistakes
9. Meeting Requirements
10. The Basics of Meetings
11. How to Handle an Angel Investor Meeting
12. Know these Numbers for your VC Meeting
13. 4 Investor Gotcha Questions
14. How to Follow-Up After an Investor Meeting
15. How to Close the Lead Investor
16. The 4 Stages of a VC Process
17. How to Raise a $2 Million Seed Round
18. Go from Investor YES to Cash in Hand
19. When Investors Say Yes but Mean No
20. When and When Not to Use an Investors Name
21. Stop Making These Common Fundraising Mistakes
22. How to Avoid Bad Terms that Kill Startups
23. What to do After Receiving a Term Sheet
24. Term Sheet Problems Part 1 — Money Talks
25. Term Sheet Problems Part 2 — Boardroom Blues
26. Term Sheet Problems Part 3 — Side Letters
27. 10 Traits of Successful Founders
Sterling Road invests in pre-seed B2B startups based in North America. Full process here: sterlingroad.com/process.
You can reach me here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to Kaego Rust, Alec Barrett-Wilsdon and David Smooke for reading drafts of this.