In early stage funding, investors tend bet on the jockey (the founding team) and not on the horse (the idea).
Pivots are expected to happen in a startup’s lifecycle. Business models, products, services, and more are bound to change to keep up with marketplace demands. The team plays a crucial role in identifying and executing these pivots.
According to Josh Kopelman of First Round Capital:
“We invest at the earliest stage, at the seed stage, so everything that we see is wrong. As soon as a founder gives us their pitch deck, we know the product is wrong. We know the pricing is wrong. We know their go-to-market is wrong. We know their team isn’t complete. We know the technology isn’t built. So fundamentally, we have to bet on the founders.”
Naturally, this makes the Team slide a critical part of any pitch deck.
DocSend’s 2015 study confirms this as the Team slide ranks second in amount of time spent by investors when reading a pitch deck.
But like everything in the world of pitch decks, there is no clear answer as to what makes a great Team slide.
The answer always depends on who you ask.
So, in order to clear the confusion, we found and analyzed over two dozen credible, online opinions from investors and consultants.
The resources found were mostly pulled from credible articles and blog posts. Then, as always, we filtered out the spam to ensure we used only high quality, credible opinions from verified investors or noteworthy startup consultants.
Our analysis uncovered a total of 394 unique opinions on the Team slide from 30 sources. We bucketed these opinions into two main categories:
Going one-layer deeper into the data, here is what we found:
What does a winning team look like:
What makes a great team slide:
Let’s break it down further.
Before we discuss what goes into the ideal team slide, let’s first analyze what investors are looking for in a startup up team in general. These qualities span from attitude, skills, and team dynamic.
Under this category, we found a total of 58 unique opinions from investors and consultants. We bucketed them into three sub-categories:
Clearly displaying a team’s skills and experience are obviously crucial in leading a startup to success. However, our study revealed that the founding team’s attitude also ranks very high in terms of what investors are looking for.
We found that investors value resilience, commitment, and passion among the startup teams they fund.
Investors voiced that a startup team with experience and skills, but no heart, will easily give up or be too passive in the face of adversity. However, teams who are passionate about the industry, the problem they’re solving, and their target customers are more likely to succeed in the long term.
Passion and commitment received 47% of mentions, placing it at the top of the list of what investors look for in a team overall. Based on this, it’s likely that investors are more interested in the team’s headspace given that a startup’s growth is unpredictable and ever-changing.
A few qualities that investors are looking for were:
According to HCVC:
“One truth in building companies — things never pan out as expected. How people react in bad times is critically important — because hell will break loose — multiple times, in every startup’s journey.”
LinkedIn Co-Founder and Greylock Partner, Reid Hoffman believes that:
“Yes, seed investors understand that early stage companies have many unknowns and the idea will change a lot, so they look carefully at the people to see whether the team will be able to adapt.”
A dynamic team with a great working chemistry can easily attains their goals and perseveres through hard times. We found that investors are interested in learning the history of the team and how they got to where they are.
Investors prefer teams with solid working relationships for optimal productivity. Think of it like a well-engineered machine — each member should have their own role and function that compliments everyone else’s. One missing piece, and the machine falls apart.
Similarly, teams should also be diverse in skills and point of view. The team needs to have a variety of skills and expertise to manage the different sides of the business. Investors prefer backing teams that are complete from accounting to marketing.
Team dynamic ranked second with 31% of mentions under this category. The data suggests that this is a secondary priority, but a priority none-the-less, to investors.
Investors also mentioned that:
Startup publication Holloway says:
“Investors know that the number of companies that die because of team dissolution is far greater than those that weren’t able to reach product-market fit. What can you tell them that will give them confidence that this team is devoted to the project and has what it takes to see it through?”
“Investors also want to see a team that is diverse in many different ways. Investors recognize that a diverse team means a range of perspectives and a diverse approach to problem solving, which is good for your business. Funding amounts from our research support this as well: Of all the teams surveyed, gender-diverse teams raised up to 57% more overall."
The world is highly competitive and investors need know that the team they are backing is equipped with right skills, experience, and education.
Under this recommendation, investors asked if the startup team has special access to important data, industry connections, research, tech, and more.
In other words: does the team itself possess a unique competitive advantage?
This recommendation category was tied with the previous one, also receiving 31% of mentions. The data suggests that both recommendations are equally important to investors.
Some examples of unique skills or access were:
Alejandro Cremades, Investor and Entrepreneur says:
“There are two parts to this. The first is if your team has the technical ability to solve this problem. What unique skills have you developed to understand and solve this problem? Maybe you are one of only a few engineers or scientists in the world to have spent years studying and working on systems like these.”
Peter Adams, Executive Director of Rockies Venture Club
“The primary purpose is to show that you have the team with the expertise, connections and know-how to get the ambitious plan you’ve laid out in your deck executed.”
Now that we know what makes a winning startup team, how to reflect this greatness on a slide? At first glance, the Team slide looks simple and straightforward. Which is why we’ve seen many startups treat this slide as an afterthought.
Names, headshots, and bios, right? Not quite.
In reality, the team slide needs to leave investors with the impression that the team is best qualified for the job at hand. It also needs to be as visual as possible.
There are many discussions surrounding the Team slide:
We found 336 opinions that answer these questions (and more). Under this category are five recommendations:
Let’s dig deeper into the data.
Successful startups don’t always have groundbreaking ideas or cutting edge technology. What they do have in common are well-experienced teams.
And we’re not just talking about any experience, like winning a hotdog eating contest. We’re talking about relevant experience within the startup’s chosen industry.
Does a Master’s degree in English Literature help out a fintech company? Probably not.
Does 10 years working in IT for Fortune 500 banks? Definitely.
Our study confirmed that investors look heavily at a team’s track record as an indicator of their capabilities. Investors in our study highly encourage startup teams to briefly write about team members’ career highlights and achievements.
If the team has experience in running a startup, make sure that investors see it in the team slide. This is especially true if anyone on the team has had successful exits in the past.
This recommendation received 33% of mentions. This makes experience the number one thing that needs to be apparent on a team slide.
The founder-investor relationship should always be grounded in trust. Teams need to gain the full confidence of an investor. So when the investor asks, “Is this the right team for the job?” the team's track record should speak for itself.
A few things that investors are looking for were:
Tip Piumsomboon of Blackbird Ventures says:
“Before there’s any product or traction, investors are backing the founding team’s vision, so it’s important to answer the ‘why you?’ question with this slide. At Blackbird, one of the most important things we look for are founders doing their life’s work. Tell us your story, your relationship to the problem and why you and your team are the ones to solve the problem.”
Nicole Gravagna and Peter K. Adams of Rockies Venture Club advise:
“Having team members who’ve been part of successful exits is another strong asset because it shows you know how to scale up big and become attractive as an acquisition or initial public offering (IPO).”
We at STORY consider brevity as a general best practice when writing a pitch deck. As expected, we found this recommendation in our team slide study. If we had a nickel…
While investors recommend that notable experience should be listed in the Team slide, they also stress the importance of keeping the slide simple.
For one, investors and consultants in our research recommend that the Team slide should not be overcrowded. This starts with who is on the slide - and specifically, it means keeping it to no more than five. The Team slide should include founders and/or C-level executives.
While our resources did not specify an exact number for the slide, investors recommend that the founders should not be more than three. Charles Hudson, the Managing Partner and Founder of Precursor Ventures explains:
“The only time I worry about founding team size is when the founding team (as defined by the company) is more than 3 people. I think it’s really hard to have more than 2-3 people who are core to starting a company at the founding stage. It’s not a hard out, but it is something I’d like to understand.”
Investors also advise that the Team slide should be highly visual and professional-looking. Headshots are encouraged but investors emphasized that photos should be uniform and professional to boost credibility. So, fishing trip photos and selfies should be left for Facebook.
Another recommendation is to use logos to list experience as they are easy to recognize. This practice also saves space and character count.
As to the position of the Team slide in the deck, our resources have mixed opinions.
On one hand, our sources believe that if the team has a prominent figure onboard, it would be wise to put the Team slide at the start of the deck. Otherwise, it would be better to place it somewhere in the middle or at the end of the deck. Investors and consultants explain that context is necessary when presenting the Team slide.
Startups need to present the problem and solution first before introducing themselves. In this sense, investors will understand why the the team is best suited to solve the problem.
This recommendation earned 29% of the mentions under this category making it nearly tied with the number one priority of investors when it comes to the Team slide.
Other suggestions under this were:
Peter Adams of Rockies Venture Club advises:
“The team slide should be found towards the back of the deck – usually in the last four or so slides. Why? Because your primary purpose in having the team slide in there is to show that you have the team with the expertise, connections and know-how to get the ambitious plan you’ve laid out in your deck executed. If the slide is the front, you can’t do that, because we don’t know what kind of expertise is needed yet.”
Side note: At STORY, we tend to put the Team slide somewhere in the middle-third of the deck depending on the startup and its narrative. In a sense, this aligns with what we do.
Angel Investor, Matt Ward says:
“You only need to elaborate on the core team, people who are 100% with the company. At the early stage, it’s usually just the founders, or maybe 1–2 other key members if their contribution is substantial.”
The Team slide needs to reflect the competence of each team member.
Investors in our study claimed that startups need to justify the presence of each team member by highlighting their individual capabilities.
Industry-specific skills received 23% of mentions, placing it third in the category. The data suggests that many investors might value the team’s experience and achievements slightly more than skills.
This makes sense – a simple degree in chemical engineering without any work experience isn’t nearly as substantive as 10 years of chemical engineering experience in a relevant field.
Some suggestions under this category were:
Angel Investor, Matt Ward asked:
“What makes YOU the person to solve this? Highlight the founder-market fit and don’t be afraid to brag and sell yourself. You’re the product, the ONLY difference between success and failure.”
In approaching the Team slide, startups need to be clear in terms of each team members’ role and function in the startup.
Our study confirmed that investors prefer seeing clear titles such as VP of Sales or CMO (Chief Marketing Officer). We saw plenty of recommendations against made-up titles such as “Code Ninja” or “Chief Happiness Officer.” According to our sources, none of these mean anything to investors. So don’t try to be cool or fun when it comes to job titles and functions.
Clear roles and titles received 12% of mentions in our study, making it the fourth recommendation in creating compelling Team slide. The data suggests that it is less of a priority for investors, but it doesn’t mean this recommendation should be ignored.
It’s always best to be transparent in order to fully justify the presence of each team member in the slide.
Steve Bayle of MIT Venture Mentoring Service recommends:
“Titles in startups tend to be exaggerated – the C-suite is very crowded in startup pitch decks! Not everyone on the team is a CXX, some may be “directors” or “senior managers.” While an org chart isn’t a necessity, it would be a good backup slide, especially in ventures that are further along in their development – where organizational design becomes important as the company grows. The one title investors and others need to know is CEO. CTO and director of sales and marketing are the other important titles.”
During our study, we found a total of 394 disparate opinions. As such, we felt compelled to have a final ‘catch all’ bucket for the rest of the recommendations we found.
These miscellaneous recommendations received 3% of mentions placing it last in the category. As mentioned, we believe that going against these recommendations are not exactly deal breakers for investors. However, it might be best to follow these best practices to create an impactful Team slide.
These miscellaneous recommendations included:
Investor and Consultant, Alejandro Cremades says:
“To round off what to include in the team slide of a pitch deck, remember that the team and illuminating their strengths do not belong solely relegated to the team slide. A great presentation and pitch deck outline will drip in their strengths from cover through your story around the problem to solution slide and beyond.”
Consultant, Dave Parker recommends:
“Why are you the right team to win? Do you have a diverse and inclusive team? Industry experience? Track record of success? You want to balance humility and arrogance here but tell your story with conviction.”
Our research has hopefully shed light into the conflicting discussions revolving around the startup team and the Team slide. We know it has for us.
Here’s an overview of what we found:
As a final thought, the entire pitch deck essentially reflects the competence and experience of your team.
Samantha Wong of Blackbird ventures reiterates:
“Inevitably then your whole pitch deck is your team slide. Your problem and solution slide explains why this is your life’s work. Your product and go-to-market slides contain the kind of rich detail and insights that prove why your team is uniquely qualified to win in a sea of competition. Your traction slides show how you have the hustle to produce something out of nothing. Your team slide shows, hopefully, the early indications that you are a magnet for talent.”
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