Pitch decks are like a short story that allow founders to share their company vision with investors. But when you’ve only got a few slides — and often only one chance — to make an impression, how do you stand out?
Sifted turned to VCs investing in companies from pre-seed to Series A for their tips and tricks on how to build an early-stage pitch deck. Scroll to the end for pitch deck examples from startups raising up to Series B.
What is a VC pitch deck for investors? And why you need one
In short, a pitch deck is the set of slides sent by founders to potential investors at the start of a fund raise.
“Often an investor will want to see a certain amount of information before taking a first meeting, in order 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 investments, tells Sifted. “It’s often the first time, especially at pre-seed and seed, that a potential investor will be learning about a given company.”
Oliver Kicks, principal at Concept Ventures, the UK’s largest pre-seed fund, splits pitch decks into two categories:
1/ A teaser deck, the main purpose of which he says is to secure your first investor meeting. “The teaser deck typically is used to get the VC/investor excited about the team, market opportunity and/or product,” he says. It should outline the startup’s headline vision and strategy, and finish with the amount you’re seeking to raise.
2/ A long-form deck, which is often shared after a first meeting and contains more detail and often an appendix — for anything generally considered too detailed and not part of the startup’s core narrative, such as:
- More in-depth data around market trends/conditions with links to sources/references;
- A detailed product roadmap;
- Customer/user references, or aggregated data/outputs from insight gathering;
- Team structure, with plans for post-raise hiring.
When do you need a pitch deck?
You’ll need a pitch deck when it comes to raising money, or presenting at a demo day. But Julia André, partner at Index Ventures, says the sooner you make one the better.
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“It’s smart practice to create a pitch deck early on in your company’s trajectory,” she says. “I always advise founders to build their content early, because 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 to send anything that’s not ready.
It’s smart practice to create a pitch deck early on in your company’s trajectory
“Even if you’re not raising an active round, having one on hand that’s easy to update could be useful,” he says. “If you meet a great angel or potential next round investor, you can easily make some headline edits to the deck and get them excited about what you’re doing.”
What do investors want to see in a pitch deck?
André says there isn’t a formula per se for great pitch decks, but there are a few critical elements to include:
What is the problem you’re solving and how will you get there?
The product or solution
What are you selling? Can you share images or specs that help bring it to life?
The market environment
Who are your customers, what’s the total addressable market (TAM), is it a resilient sector, how would volatility affect or help your plans?
What is the market pull, what success have you seen to date, how will you monetise the business?
What this looks like depends on the category and on the stage of your startup. At later stage, traction can be read in the pace of acquisition of customers, engagement with the product or repeat customers, revenue and volume growth, or virality.
If you're a very early-stage company, you might show more qualitative signals such as customer feedback and references demonstrating the market pull, or even a growing waiting list.
In some instances, it’s helpful to show where you’re positioned and how your company is different, especially in a crowded market.
Financials and performance metrics
Of course these are critical, and should be presented in a straightforward, easy-to-understand way that underscores business acumen and sound financial planning.
Again, what this looks like is company stage and sector dependent. For example, if you're B2B or B2C, a SaaS company or a deeptech.
For a transaction business model, André says the minimum you would give would be, on a monthly basis:
- Number of active customers (and year-on-year (YoY) growth)
- New customers and monthly churn
- Gross merchandise value (GMV) and YoY growth
- Take rate on GMV
- Net revenue (and YoY growth)
Investors are putting their money behind bold, inspiring people and their unique and innovative ideas, so it’s important to bring the team behind the vision to life.
"What we need to understand when looking at the team is why [they] are uniquely positioned to solve this problem. What, in their background, experience and education give us comfort that they have unique insights, positioning and motivation to build a market leader in their category," André says.
She also advises founders to be up front in their pitch decks, even if they’re in a crowded sector or have had a tricky quarter — because investors will do their due diligence and will crunch the numbers.
When it comes to formatting your pitch deck, Kicks mentions the 10-20-30 rule — no more than 10 slides, a maximum of 20 minutes presenting and no font size smaller than 30 throughout the entire deck. But, he says, overall it’s just important to be concise.
He echoes André when it comes to elements to include, adding that you should also include use of funds — why are you raising this round? And how will you use the capital to grow/achieve your goals?
What you need to include as you move through funding stages
At pre-seed, Kicks adds the team slide is very important, “with a specific focus on ‘why you’ and a way to quickly demonstrate cofounders have worked successfully together before”.
In light of current market conditions and rocky economic forecasts, Kicks says Concept Ventures would like to see a minimum of 18 months runway. André echoes that and says it’s important to put a greater focus on your path to profitability and to demonstrate short, mid and long-term opportunity.
Kicks adds that generally speaking, the later the stage a company is at, the less focus there should be on the high-level narrative and the more there should be on traction, data and metrics — for example, highlighting core KPIs and how the business is outperforming competition or tracking to a larger comparable in another vertical/category.
He says decks at each stage should show the following:
- Pre-seed: Great team, market dynamics/competitors, insight/differentiation, an execution plan.
- Seed: Same as above, plus a minimum viable product (MVP) and some early customers and signals toward product-market fit (PMF).
- Series A: You’re 75% toward PMF with early pilots/paying customers — not fully worked unit economics but can prove demand.
- Series B: You have 100% PMF with stable unit economics, and are looking to raise to scale sales operations, plus the next product in your pipeline.
What do investors not want to see?
There are also a few things that’ll put investors off pitch decks. Phillips says LocalGlobe (and other early-stage investors) don’t want to see:
- Five to ten-year financial projections — they're completely made up numbers at the early stage;
- Short-term exit plans — we're looking for Unicorns++, therefore a short-term exit plan would instantly put off a VC;
- Fake news. It's a small world and if a founder adds a customer logo on 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 longer than 10 to 15 pages. Or anything with too many words.
Pitch deck best practices
So there are quite a few do’s and don'ts, but what are investors' best practices for pitch decks?
Phillips says she sees dozens of decks every day so it needs to be snappy and visually appealing. She adds it’s important to make the deck easy to edit too, as you will likely receive a lot of feedback.
Can you do something different to stand out? Phillips says one founder (Ronen Givon from Rekki, an ordering app for chefs) wrote what he expected Rekki's Wikipedia page to say in 10 years' time. “It was genius, and we encourage all new investments to do the same,” says Phillips.
Kicks says less is more, because he generally finds himself “more intrigued and keen to learn more when the slides aren’t super detailed and the founder can point to some early signs of traction or customer love”.
He recommends sending decks out as PDFs or with DocSend, as Google Slides often need permissions and can set you back. And if you book a meeting, you should circulate the deck at least one day before to give everyone time to read it.
VC pitch deck examples
The pitch deck Eleven Labs used to raised pre-seed cash
An example seed pitch deck from LocalGlobe
The pitch deck Vue Storefront used to raise €20m in Series A funding
Creative Fabrica's $61m Series B pitch deck
👉 Next read: What it means when a VC asks for a pitch deck