Every year at Costanoa, we see 1,000s of early-stage fundraising decks from a wide array of industries. Despite obvious differences, great decks all have the same general characteristics: they are clear, concise, professional-looking, and tell a compelling story. As simple as that may seem, it’s far more common to see a pitch deck that fails to tie the pieces together and leaves the reader overwhelmed with information and unable to articulate the main thesis.

Given how close to the business founders are, it’s easy to feel the need to cram as much information into a short deck as possible. There is so much to share because founders live and breathe their business and understand it at a level of detail and nuance that no one else can.

Here’s a few tips to keep in mind when building a fundraising deck:

Pay attention to design

It’s easy to think that design shouldn’t matter but if you’re building a product-centric software business, many investors will assume the appearance of your deck reflects the level of effort you put into it and the attention to detail that you put into your company. How your deck looks is one of the few pieces of data we have about you and is usually the first impression we have of you and your team, especially if you don’t have a lot of revenue or customers to vouch for your product. So, design a professional deck that tells a compelling, easy-to-understand story, and investors will assume that’s how you’ll build your product.

Avoid information overload

A good deck makes its case quickly and thoroughly without overwhelming the reader. Every business is complex and it’s easy to create busy, information-dense slides. However, the real skill comes in creating punchy, concise slides that tell your story effectively while minimizing text. While you may think that more data convinces, what it really does is confuse. Keeping slides punchy accomplishes two things:

  1. It shows you can concisely articulate your messages
  2. It minimizes distractions during a pitch

The less that’s on the slides the more time your audience spends listening to the voiceover. The conversation the pitch deck creates is far more important, and a deck that conveys key points without overwhelming leads to better questions and better dialogue.

Follow a logical flow

Telling a compelling story is essential to a successful pitch, and to do that you need to get the sequence right. While there is no perfect flow, the following tends to resonate with me:

⬇ Problem: what’s the pain point you’re solving?

⬇ Market: how big is the problem?

⬇ Solution: how are you or how will you solve the problem?

⬇ Traction: Show any progress you’ve made to date. This doesnt have to be just customers, it can be design partners or key discovery conversations.

⬇ Team: showcase your team and explain why it’s the right one to build this company.

⬇ Fundraise: include round size, any prior capital raised, and how much runway this round will provide.

Appendix: this will vary depending on your company, but it might include financials, a more detailed product roadmap, customer testimonials, and so on.

Share the deck ahead of time

This is somewhat controversial but I highly recommend sharing your deck in advance of a first meeting. This allows the investors to do their homework, but equally as important, it allows you to see who actually did the pre-work and came prepared.

Ideally, your investors should be able to understand your business quickly, and giving them more information before a meeting saves everyone time and lays the groundwork for a meeting that can advance to deeper discussions quicker beyond just surface-level information. Finally, I understand that everyone is concerned about security, but using secure sharing services like Docsend can sometimes impede distribution, try to avoid them if you can.

Practice out loud

You can spend as much time as you want perfecting the deck, but you won’t know how well it works until you present alongside it. I recommend practicing out loud five times or more befor you present to your target investor list. Why? This will inform you whether or not the flow and text of the slides match with your story. Ask people outside of your company, like an advisor or an existing investor for honest feedback, because even the smallest changes will make a difference.

Ideally, someone should be able to flip through your deck and afterward be able to articulate a one-sentence summary of what you’re building, why you’re building it, and why you’re the best team to build it. If this is possible, you’re probably well on your way to building a best-in-class early-stage pitch deck.