Raising: Creating a Deck and Narrative

March 24, 2021

The “deck” is one of the most commonly discussed elements of the fundraising process. There’s a lot of discussion on what makes a great deck, so I’m going to write less about that and more about the process of creating one.

Creating a slide deck has three parts:

  • first, creating an overall narrative and v1,
  • second, pre-raise tweaks
  • third, tweaks during the raise

Creating an overall narrative and deck v1

A failure case here is spending twenty hours creating a beautiful deck around a bad narrative, and then having to rework the whole thing later.

To avoid this, it’s worthwhile running your pitch narrative by your co-founder and your friendlies (founders and other experienced startup folks you’re leaning on for advice) for high-level feedback first.

Sometimes you get responses like “so when you were explaining $COMPANY_NAME to me last month, you did it this way, which is way more compelling than the way you’re doing it right now.” This is important feedback!

Pitching, like any formal, structured conversation, can be weird. We often overthink things and come up with some complicated narrative. Often better are the simple stories we casually tell our friends when they’re curious what we’re doing with our lives. Simplicity, as the saying goes, lies on the other side of complexity.

One you have the narrative, create a v1 including all the normal elements — “market trends”, team, traction,  competitive landscape, product, roadmap & TAM, milestones, ask.

Distill and Compress Your v1 Until It’s Solid

After you get an overall narrative you’re comfortable with and write v1 of the deck, you’re going to tweak it a ton. You’re going to re-arrange order, and make tons of tweaks to individual slides. Some things to remember:

  • Nail the intro. Spend 3-4x more time on the first slide or two, the tagline, initial 30-second pitch, than on any subsequent slide. VCs are busy folks. If you lose them in the beginning, they may spend the rest of the meeting politely nodding along.

  • Every slide means something. If you give three slides to team and throw the traction slide in after that, that implies you have little traction.

  • Understand your “strong” slides and your “risk” slides. Remember, startups are risk bundles.

Tweaking Your Pitch During The Raise.

  • Understand what investors are actually asking. Investors ask a lot of questions that are actually something else. When they ask how you met, they’re not just being nice. They’re trying to assess risk of founder breakup.

  • Avoid dumb answers. By a similar token, making sure you don’t have any really dumb answers usually has a higher ROI than making a great answer amazing.

  • Write down every question you hear. Prepare an answer for it.  Potentially include a slide in the appendix.

Consider Creating Multiple Deck Versions With Different $ Asks

Not the Amount You’re Raising is a variable, not a constant. Consider having multiple versions of the deck with this slide changed, and present different versions to different firms.

Why? If you’re pitching a $50M seed fund, they probably back away around a $10M or $15M valuation, and don’t want to write checks over $1.5M. A Series A fund might offer you double or triple that valuation — but you have to ask for it! It’s all about fund size.

(A good rule of thumb is that funds will write checks of max 2-3% of fund size, and will want 12-15% ownership if they lead the round)

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Written by Sam Bhagwat, cofounder & chief strategy officer at Gatsby; programmer, analyst, writer; follow me on Twitter!