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Fundraising? Why you shouldn’t just copy Sequoia’s Pitch Deck Template

Posted: 11 October 2016

This post is for founders creating fundraising decks from Seed to Series C. By the end you should understand how to use this framework for creating a 10–12 slide investor presentation.

I’ve been helping a few startups prep for their Series A and Series B fundraises recently and they all seem to suffer from the same problem that I suffered from earlier this year — bad pitch decks filled with too much content.

Some time ago, Sequoia published a great piece of content: “Writing a Business Plan” and someone other than Sequoia took poetic license and subsequently turned their b-plan template into “The Sequoia Pitch Deck Template”. Pretty much every startup pitch deck starts off with their framework before adding additional slides. And don’t get me wrong, for a first time founder with little experience it is a really good format to follow.

The content and order are very good, but I would humbly suggest a few changes: delete the “Company Purpose” slide as you will be stating Who you are on slide 1; for seed deals I prefer the Team slide further up; and after the “Financials” slide I would add a separate slide on Fundraising — what you will be spending the $ on and where that will take you. So you ultimately end up with something like this:

  1. Title Slide (don’t forget to include who you are ie we’re Chef for Security Automation)
  2. Problem
  3. Solution
  4. Product (I’ve moved this up)
  5. Team (I’ve moved this up but it depends on your team — works just as well at the back most of the time tbh)
  6. Why now
  7. Market
  8. Competition
  9. Business model
  10. Financials + Key Metrics
  11. New Slide -> Fundraising amount, use of proceeds and milestones/goals for the next 18 months
  12. Thank you slide with compelling statement on who you are again
  13. Appendix if you absolutely HAVE to include MAX 3 more slides — possibly a back-up on market data, cohort data or further compelling metrics, a case study or two, or further screen shots of your product

But we need to talk about why you shouldn’t literally copy the text (ie the Titles of each page) from their template which every founder seems to do?

Pitch decks are typically your first interaction with an investor you have been introduced to. It is 100% a marketing document. It is not a McKinsey report. It is not a board pack. It is not a way to cram every fact and figure that you have gleaned over the previous 12 months into a presentation. You’re also not trying to get a termsheet after they read it. You’re simply getting them excited about taking a meeting (this should already be the case if the referral comes from someone they rate highly — so don’t let your deck screw this up!). It is also the first piece of content a Partner will share internally with their Partners so better that its a 12 page marketing document than a 60 page McKinsey doc dissecting your startup.

Taking the placeholder Titles like “Problem” and “Team”. They are not only a waste of precious real estate in your deck, but it doesn’t help convey why your product/company/team are interesting prospects for them to invest into.

We all suffer from wanting to share every piece of information with prospective investors. But the first interaction that an investor has with you needs to convey several things:

  • You know how to communicate very clearly and effectively
  • You have spent time designing an aesthetically pleasing looking deck and therefore likely care about your customers (aka we are design obsessive and want every interaction with our company to be a positive one)
  • You understand how to frame the problem you are solving, clearly explain how your product works, why your product exists in the market right now and can demonstrate traction with customers

So how do you create the killer pitch deck that along with a strong referral will guarantee a meeting is set-up with a potential investor?

Creating a deck to pass the ‘Flick Through Test’

Having reviewed thousands of pitch decks over the years, when it was my turn to create one, I thought it would end up in the pitch deck Hall of Fame. How wrong I was, our first attempt was disappointing to say the least! What we eventually learned was the importance of capturing and communicating our story.

The starting point for the deck? Create your 12 separate slides with the basic piece of each part of the story that you want to get across. Instead of the blatant “Problem” “Solution” “Team” slide headings, your deck needs to tell a story through your headings. If you took all 10–12 slides and just read the headings and nothing else in the body of the slide, they should tell the story of your startup. If you took out just one slide or even moved a couple of slides around, then your story should not make as much sense.

This is called passing the ‘flick through test’ which I wholly attribute to the Pitch Master Benjamin Ball. After he taught this to us, I became conscious as an investor how I would review a slide. I would literally flick through it and pull out the most interesting pieces of information. “They all worked at Google Brain”. “Cool, they’ve already signed Nasa, Facebook and Box as customers”. Then I go back through and soak up the relevant info and dig into how their product works; why they are using those particular metrics; why they are raising x amount, etc. Success. But why? Because I didn’t have to work hard to pull out the relevant information, it was told to me through a story. And because stories stay with humans longer than random pieces of information, you have a better chance of making a meaningful first impression on an investor.

Let’s look at Ben’s framework a little closer. Instead of a one word slide, let’s take “Problem” as an example, include a proactive statement about the problem you are solving. Something like “30% of a full stack engineer’s time is wasted on code reviews*”. Ok, thats intriguing, I’m interested in learning more.

Also, don’t oversell in the headlines and don’t repeat words that you have already used. And try to stay away from obvious phrases that everybody uses (disruptive, innovative, world-class). Use your own language. It needs to sound like a story you would tell.

The $ Slides

So where to begin? The two most important slides in the deck are the first two slides. If they are sloppily designed, boring, or unclear, I promise you an investor will spend all of 10 seconds looking through the remaining 10 slides.

Slide 1 is your cover slide which normally just says the name of your company and possibly even “Series A Fundraise”. This sets the tone for the entire presentation. You can’t assume that an investor has paid attention to the email that your mutual friend sent them saying great things about your startup. So Slide 1 needs to get across in one line what you do. Don’t include your vision or mission statement, include a statement on who you are.

Let’s go through a little dissection exercise as a case in point. Front CEO Mathilde Collin** published her Series A pitch deck online (and I give it a 9/10 although I give the company a 10/10 on product/team/traction!).

Notice she starts the story off by stating exactly what they do on the tin, “All your company’s external communications in one collaborative inbox.”. Ok so you’re kind of like Slack for external comms? Cool, I’d like to learn more! Turn the page.

Slide 2, according to my own YesWare analytics, this is the most important slide in the deck. It’s the slide that generates the most attention because investors look at this slide for the longest. This is the slide in most Seed and Series A decks that begins with “Problem” and then lists a problem in one sentence in the middle of the page before moving to Slide three which says “Problem Continued”.

Front does a brilliant job on their slide two with the title “Email is the most important business communication channel” and does an even better job of backing this up with compelling data and graphics (but not too much to make the slide too busy). Mathilde got a 9/10 because the “Problem” above her punchy statement on this slide or “Solution” on the next slide, were in my opinion unnecessary.

I like how her slide titles are short, punchy and explain exactly what I’m reading on that page. In her own way, Mathilde has created her own story. But some of the slide titles could have been even stronger. In many cases, her supporting statement on each page is strong enough to be her title. ie Page 6, instead of “Select Customers” which is kind of obvious, Mathilde could have used the statement at the bottom of the page as her title “Front works for teams of all sizes, across many different industries.” Page 12, “Acquisition Channels” could have been, “We’ve identified repeatable strategies to acquire new customers.”

But I’m being overly picky on their deck, which again is a great example for any startup. Skipping ahead, take a look at her team slide on page 16, “The Right Mix of Passion and Experience”. How much better is that than “Team”? If you are a team of Ivy League computer scientists, or if you and a co-founder are spinning out of Palantir or if this is the second startup that your founding team has worked on together, highlight this in the Heading!

In closing, you have created a pitch deck that tells a fantastic story, hopefully with a crescendo and finale.

Happy fundraising!

*I made this stat up, but I’m sure they do waste a lot of time on code reviews

**Disclosure: my partner Krishna is a personal investor in Front

Further Reading Materials:

How to storyboard your pitch deck in 10 steps — by Brendan Baker

What SketchDeck learned from designing 200 pitch decks (disclaimer, I’m a personal investor).

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