Jan 10, 2021

Looking for Seed Capital? We Analyzed 100 Investor Pitch Decks to Reveal What the Perfect Fundraising Deck Looks Like.

Raising Seed funding can be difficult, especially for first-time founders. We studied 100 publicly-available pitch decks in search of answers.

Keane Angle
BY

This is our analysis of Seed Round pitch decks from our detailed study of 100 pitch decks. See here for our Series-A round pitch deck analysis and here for our Series-B and beyond pitch deck analysis.

Pitch decks. Everyone has a different opinion on them.

Sure, it’s possible to find a list of slides to include, but each list is different.

There’s also a ton of conflicting information on how long and in what order the slides should be.

STORY specializes in pitch decks. We’ve got our own ways, but we wanted to leverage our background in advertising strategy and market research to get serious about data-driven decision-making for pitch decks.

So, we did some research. A lot of research actually.

Our quest: to answer critical pitch deck questions that have long been a matter of opinion. This time, it’s time for some pitch deck facts.

Let’s start with a simple question and a simple answer:

How long should a Seed-round pitch deck be? 14.55 slides.

We analyzed 100 publicly available pitch decks. Of the 59 looking to raise a Seed round, 44 did so successfully. The average length of those pitch decks? 14.55 slides – round up to 15 for arguments sake.

Here are a few more, burning Seed-round pitch deck questions.

First up, what is a pitch deck for a Seed round and do founders- need to make one?

Quick answers here so we don’t mess around before the good stuff.

What is a pitch deck? A pitch deck is a presentation that helps founders communicate with potential investors. It highlights the potential of a business through a powerful story. Pitch decks also contain everything investors need to determine if they want to back a business or not.

Does every company who look to raise funds need to make one? Yes.

Really? Yes.

But, isn’t it such a pain in the ass? Not really. It’s possible to learn how to make a great one through online research. However, startups can also pay someone to make it (like us at, STORY).

Okay, but don’t founders do different versions of their pitch deck? Yes. Sometimes founders create a few versions of their pitch deck. One is usually 15 slides and used for presenting. Another is usually 3-5 slides (or even a one-pager) and is used to send ahead via email to gauge interest. The ones we analyzed were likely used for a variety of purposes.

Last question, what’s a Seed round? It’s an early-stage investment round usually ranging from $500,000 to $2 Mil and up. It’s used to create an MVP and/or fuel growth via marketing and staff.

Cool? Cool.

STORY’s study of 100 pitch decks: behind the data

A quick bit about the methodology.

First up, we gathered 100 publicly available pitch decks.

Next, we scored them across 36 criteria – How much did they raise? What round was the deck for? What slides did the deck have and in what order? That, and many more.

In total, we analyzed 1,686 slides:

  • 100 decks were analyzed from nearly every industry
  • 85 successfully raised funding, 15 did not
  • Of those that did raise, 44 raised Seed-round funding
  • The average Seed round totaled $1.1 Mil – with a low of $100,000 and a high of $9 Mil
  • All decks dated from 1999 to 2020, with 40 of the 100 dated from 2015 to 2020
  • The Seed decks analyzed dated from 2007 to 2020

Overall, we scored the below criteria:

  • Company information (industry, operating status, etc)
  • Round information (how much raised, when, what round, etc.)
  • Design, Story, and Writing (design quality, story strength, word density, etc.)
  • Number and order of slides (slide count, prevalence of common slides, etc.)

We plan on putting out new posts on a regular basis as we gather more pitch decks.

Got questions about this study? Check out our detailed post about our methodology here.

Onward.

Seed-round Pitch Deck Breakdown

We’re going to summarize our results into four main areas:

1. The Business Story

2. The Order & Flow

3. The Words & Copy

4. The Visuals & Branding


1. The Business Story

First up is the story. It’s literally why our company is named STORY. How founders tell the story of their business is critical. Arguably, it’s the most critical element.

What’s “the story” exactly? It’s the words and the narrative used to succinctly describe what a company does, why it’s amazing, and how it will make lots of money doing it. It can be as short as a few sentences, or as long as a 15 slide pitch deck.

What slides need to be in a Seed-round pitch deck?

Here are the standard slides that most pitch decks have based on a number of cross-referenced sources.

This is also the list we used for our analysis:

  • Problem
  • Solution
  • Value Proposition
  • Market Validation
  • Why Now?
  • Product
  • Market Size
  • Business Model
  • Underlying Magic
  • Competition Research
  • Competitive, Advantage
  • Marketing Plan or Go-to-market
  • Leadership Team
  • Board or Advisors
  • Traction or Milestones
  • Press
  • User Testimonials
  • Fundraising or The Ask
  • Financials
  • Use of Funds
  • Thank you or Contact

But, Keane, there are 21 slides in that list!” Yes, yes there are.

To put it plainly, everyone’s got a differing opinion on what works best. So, we included all of these in our analysis so we could see which ones were the most prevalent in Seed round decks and in what order they occurred.

We’ll go over the most common order and prevalence in the next section, but let’s first talk about story strength.

How good is the storytelling of a Seed-round pitch deck, on average? 2.75 out of 5.

Slightly above the average of 2.5.

Not amazing to be honest; the range of storytelling quality was quite disparate.

It is possible to get funded if a company doesn’t have a great story in its pitch deck. The founders probably just need to present the hell out of it… or have an amazing idea… or both.

But, this is kind of surface-level, so we wanted to dig deeper.

When we compared unfunded and funded Seed decks, we found that funded Seed-round decks had a story strength score of 2.78, where as unfunded Seed-round decks were at 2.67.

When a company has a pitch deck that tells a better story, it has an increased chances of getting funded.

Next up, we wanted to go one step deeper and cut the data to see if there was a relationship between how good the story was and the amount raised.

The answer? Yes, there is somewhat a relationship between story strength and funds raised.

A pitch deck with a better story raises more capital.

Awesome, so storytelling matters and it can also positively influence the amount of funding a startup receives.

Now, let’s chat order and flow.

2. The Order & Flow

Making a pitch deck with a compelling story isn’t easy—especially if a founder is doing it for the first time. Presentation writing is it’s own skill and, as we’ve seen, there isn’t always a clear way forward for founders.

There are billions of articles online with different suggestions on slide order. None of these really agree on anything.

In 2015, DocSend conducted a study of 200 pitch decks to see best way to order a pitch deck’s slides.

This was their observed order:

  1. Company Purpose
  2. Problem
  3. Solution
  4. Why now
  5. Market size
  6. Product
  7. Team
  8. Business model
  9. Competition
  10. Financials

Unfortunately, five years is an eon in the tech world, so we did our own digging to see the optimal order of slides. So, we aimed to clear up the mishmash of recommendations online with hard data.

Here we go.

The average position of common Seed Pitch Deck slides (n=44 funded Seed round pitch decks)

That’s the raw data, and just pulling from this verbatim won’t work, so we bucketed the slides out into sections to make more sense of it.

One quick reminder before we jump in: this order isn’t perfect for every pitch deck. Founders should adjust their stories each time so it makes the most sense, both logically and emotionally.

Slide 1: The Title Slide

In our study, we first found the obvious: pitch decks start with a title slide. It would be weird not to.

But, after digging through a hundred decks, we also found that most title slides are just that: a place holder for a standard headline like “Investor Pitch Deck.” Other times, title slides simply just said the name of the startup.

Thrilling, right? Not really…

One way to beef up the title slide is to use it to establish credibility.

Put social proof like awards, positive reviews, press, or influential quotes on it. This helps establish trust and credibility right off the bat, making the deck presentation much more powerful.

Slides 2 - 4: Establish a problem, show the solution

Problem / Solution / Product / Value Prop

What we found next mirrored what was commonly acceptable for pitch decks: establish the problem, show the solution, and explain how it works in the first 2-3 slides.

Most founders in our study followed this particular order which isn’t surprising given that most resources online collectively agree that this is the best way to start a pitch deck.  

A quick tip? This section needs to be concise while also emphasizing urgency. Don’t take 10 slides to do something that can (and should!) be done in two or three.

Slides 5 - 7: Show a real opportunity exists, right now

Validation / Traction / Why Now / Market size

The next section, according to our data, is to reinforce that the company’s solution is the right one.

The pitch decks in our study did this by discussing the market size and defining why now is the right time to launch or invest. Founders also used additional validation like initial traction with the target market to demonstrate that a very real market opportunity exists.

Slide 8: How will the solution make money?

Underlying Magic / Business Model

After establishing an opportunity, founders chose to jump right into their Business Model and/or their Underlying Magic slide.

These slides discuss how the business plans to create value and ultimately profit from that value. This comes in the form of single or multiple revenue streams. Often times, this section is where pricing and unit economics is introduced.

In this section, we also found that founders took this opportunity to differentiate themselves from their competitors through what is referred to sometimes as an Underlying Magic slide. They often do this by showing proprietary technology or optimum workflow that sets them apart from their competition.

Slide 9-10: Who is the team and how will they use investor funds?

Leadership team / Use of funds

After the Business Model, most of the pitch decks in our study introduced their team and their respective credentials.

This section is all about demonstrating why they are the best team for the job. Startups also discussed how they plan on using the funds they were seeking to raise.

According to a study by Docsend, investors are particularly interested in the Leadership Team slide as it is one of longest viewed slides in a pitch deck.

Slide 11: Instill trust with social proof

User Testimonials / Press

After talking about the team and the use of funds, the pitch decks in our study chose to show social proof. In one or two slides, the founders demonstrated that their startup’s solution is indeed legit and others have publicly praised it.

Slide 12-13: Show how the startup will thrive in a competitive marketplace

Go-to-market / Competitive Advantage / Competition Research

“We don’t have competition” is common among startups raising Seed funding.

Interestingly, competitive research didn’t make it into the top ten list of most common slides for funded Seed-round pitch decks.

The ones that did include competitive research, used it later in their deck.

This kind of blew us away. Everything we've read (and heard from investors) tells us to include competitive research. Yet, only 14 out of 45 funded Seed-round decks actually included a competitive research slide, that’s 31%.

However, we don’t recommend skipping this slide. It’s a weird finding. Please, “grain of salt” on this one.

Go-to-market was also kind of rare for the decks we observed. This slide talks about how the startup will launch and grow. Again, don’t skip this slide either.

Slide 13-14: Advisors + Financials + The Ask

Board of Advisors / Fundraising / The Ask / Financials and Projections

Rounding out the last part of a deck are the financials, fundraising, and advisors slides.

Again, according to the same DocSend study, investors spend the most amount of time looking at the financial slide.

The pitch decks in our study concluded with all things financial: cashflow statements, projections, how much they’re looking to raise, etc.

Lastly, many pitch decks also included a Board of Directors slide to show that it’s not just one or two people going at it alone.

Slide 15: Wrap up and conclusion

Thank you / contact

We at STORY always prefer to close on a slide that includes contact information and a powerful closing statement. Plus a thank you of sorts.

But, the pitch decks we observed preferred to just kind of… end.

This might have been because whomever prepped the deck for public distribution might’ve taken out their contact information, or it might have been for some other reason.

Either way, it’s nice to have investors know who to contact at the end of a deck.

Let’s move onto copy.

3. The Words & Copy

Overcrowding any kind of presentation with text is generally a no-no.

More than 80% of the information we process is visual, so it’s always better to show vs. tell.

Also, investors don’t really read pitch decks for very long. The DocSend study showed that the average time an investors spends viewing a pitch deck is only 3 minutes and 44 seconds.

Get zapped with that stat. Wow. Let’s put that into context.

The average person can read 300 words per minute. With 3 minutes and 44 seconds, they are reading only around 1,019 words in total.

Divide that by 15 slides, and that’s about 75 words per slide to work with.

Headlines, the big sentence usually at the top of the slide, should usually be around 10 to 15 words or so. This leaves about 50 extra words on each slide that an investor might (or might not) actually read.

The short version? Make each and every word count.

While conducting our research, we rated the word density of pitch decks with three metrics: low (1), moderate (2), and high (3). We found that Seed pitch decks have a moderately-high word density of 2.2, see graphic below.

Compared to Series A and higher pitch decks, Seed-round pitch decks are the least word-dense of the three groups.

This makes sense as there’s simply more things to talk about and substantiate with Series-A and higher decks. Higher round startups have been in business for a while and they are seeking more funding which means more words and more convincing.

4. The Visuals & Branding

Pitch deck design isn’t solely about making a pitch deck look fancy or pretty.

Slide design is all about clarity.

Since investors spend less than four minutes viewing a pitch deck, slide design should emphasize ease of understanding.

This section helps shed light on how design directly affects the performance of pitch decks. It also helps set expectations for visual elements such as graphs, concept visuals, photos, illustrations, and screenshots.

Do better-designed Seed pitch decks get funded more often? Yes and no.

During our analysis of 100 pitch decks, we compared the pitch deck’s design rating to the amount of funds raised.

Sadly, we discovered limited correlation between these two variables. In addition, unfunded pitch decks even had a higher design rating than those that raised successfully.

However, this does not mean design is unimportant. Quality design is table stakes— it’s required from ALL decks regardless of funding round or amount being raised.

It’s the same principle with websites— is it possible to sell something from a bad looking website? Yes. But is it a smart business decision? Heck no. The same applies to pitch decks.

Can a startup get funded with an average looking deck? Yes.

But, when has it ever paid off to look “average?” Also, think about the way the “average” presentation looks… not our cup of tea.

Our findings also back up the assertion we’ve heard that investors sometimes criticize founders for spending too much time on “design” and not enough time on “substance.”

STORY is all about bringing both of these elements together for maximum impact.

Remember, what we make reflects the care and attention we put into our business. Pitch decks are no exception.

We also looked into visual elements such as graphs, charts, photos, illustrations, and concept visuals that help presentation authors tell stories more visually.

How many charts does a Seed-round Pitch Deck have? 1.3 charts.

We dug through 1,686 slides and we discovered that funded Seed pitch decks have less charts and graphs than Series-A and higher decks.

This implies that Seed-round pitch decks can get away with showing less data (like financials) than other rounds, simply because the data doesn’t really exist yet.

How many concept visuals are in a Seed-round pitch deck? 1.3 concept visuals.

Likewise, concept visuals (graphics that demonstrate a concept like a business model, process, or strategy) are common in funded Seed pitch decks, but there’s usually only one.

Concept visuals are usually about how the products or services work—especially for software or tech startups.

How many images does a Seed-round pitch deck have? 10.3 images.

Presentations are a visual medium. Pitch decks especially so.

In our scoring, images included screenshots, illustrations, and photos.

Funded Seed pitch decks have the most number of images of any round. Founders at the Seed round most likely need to communicate a new idea – requiring more visuals to do so. Whereas Series-A and higher rounds already have their idea established, so they require less visual support.

Recapping the data

There are so many speculations online as to how a Seed pitch deck should look.

Our data shows that Seed pitch decks are widely varied in form and structure.

Here’s a quick run-down of what we discovered in our study:

  • Winning Seed-round pitch decks are rated 2.78 out of 5 in storytelling strength.
  • The average slide order of winning pitch decks are as follows:
  • Slide 1: The Title Slide
  • Slides 2 - 4: Establish a problem, show the solution
  • Problem / Solution / Product / Value Prop
  • Slides 5 - 7: Show a real opportunity exists, right now
  • Validation / Traction / Why Now / Market size
  • Slide 8: How will the solution make money?
  • Underlying Magic / Business Model
  • Slide 9-10: Who is the team how will they use investor funds?
  • Leadership team / Use of funds
  • Slide 11: Instill trust with social proof
  • User Testimonials / Press
  • Slide 12-13: Show how the startup will thrive in a competitive marketplace
  • Go-to-market / Competitive Advantage / Competition Research
  • Slide 13-14: Advisors + Financials + The Ask
  • Board of Advisors / Fundraising / The Ask / Financials and Projections
  • Slide 15: Wrap up and conclusion
  • Thank you / contact
  • Seed pitch decks have a moderately-high word density of 2.2 (1= low, 2= moderate, 3= high).
  • The average number of charts in a Seed pitch deck is 1.3 which is lower than higher rounds
  • Likewise, Seed pitch decks have an average of 1.3 concept visuals which is also lower than higher rounds.
  • On the other hand, Seed pitch decks have the most number of photos, illustrations, and screenshots than higher rounds with an average number of 10.3 photos in a single deck.

A closing thought to entrepreneurs and founders:

A pitch deck tells the story of a startup. But, like all great stories, a pitch deck needs to reflect reality.

Putting in the time, energy, and effort to build something real – a real problem, a real solution, a real opportunity, a real team, a real business – is what makes a company truly great.

The pitch deck is simply a bi-product of that greatness.

We’ve written dozens of pitch decks, and the best ones usually write themselves because they have a powerful STORY.

Need a Seed-round pitch deck?

STORY can help. Click here to start your pitch deck today.

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