What are the most common pre-seed and seed-stage Pitch deck mistakes?
Post was originally published in December 2020, updated in March 2022
Especially as a first-time founder, you don't know what you don't know. It’s no easy task to give a 90-second/2- or 3-minute pitch that inspires confidence and convinces your audience that they’ll be missing out if they don’t become a part of your journey as an investor or customer.
Between mentoring, advising and attending pitch events for pre-seed and seed-stage start-ups, I’ve seen 100s of pitch decks. Everyone has an opinion on your pitch deck -- here's mine. :)
Do you cover "team, traction and tech"?
Shruti Gandhi recommends focusing on the story around the "team, traction and tech" as early as possible in your pitch deck.
Do your milestones inspire confidence?
You heard that your graphs need to up and to the right. Are your graphs telling a true story?
Graph is going up and to the right -- based on cumulative calculations, not new demand
e.g. If you get 1 new customer per month for 12 months, rather than showing a flat line at 1 for each of the 12 months, your graph plots 1, 2, 3, ..., 12.
Graph is going up and to the right -- based on graph formatting, not growth
Graph for launched 2-sided marketplace is missing the demand-side
Graph shows impressive exponential growth -- based on simulated data
Not showcasing traction or key milestones of what it took to get the MVP to this point, what the pre-orders (for pre-MVP) or engagement (post-MVP) is, and where the product will go in the near future
MVP hasn’t launched -- and your 1st year projections are $800K
MVP launched during COVID (!) -- and your projections go 4 years out
Recommendation: if showing projections, project to the end of the quarter and (potentially) one more quarter out, as there’s a lot of uncertainty with how things may go, especially during COVID
How is the raise going to help you hit the next milestones?
Raising $2M, with $1.2M for Facebook ads
Raising money to turn side-hustle into a full-time role, per panelists on "The Real Truth About Running a Start-Up: From Protecting Your IP to Avoiding Burnout"
Raising to hire for roles A, B and C -- not raising to hit milestones X, Y and Z
Raising money to “have AI solve this” need
Recommendation: Talk to experts in analytics/AI (including me), to learn what it may take to develop the capability you want -- and discuss if this is the biggest need for the product right now.
More advice here on understanding challenges with AI: Dear Advisor: How do I avoid the biggest AI/ML mistakes others make?
Is this the right audience for your pitch?
Do the types of start-ups in VC’s portfolio align with your industry, business model, expertise, etc.?
Does the audience need an industry/technical background to understand your pitch?
Is there anyone in the audience who may be a potential customer?
Is there a clear need?
Not clear what pain point(s) your customers have, how you’re solving them, and if there’s a big need in the market.
Advice for understanding your customer pain points: Dear Advisor: I have a startup idea, now what?
Not clear why you, why now, and how the product will stand out from the competition
Are you mentioning exit plans?, which panelists on "Perfecting the Raise: Raising Capital for Pre-Seed and Seed Stage Startups" advise against
Do you require an NDA to see the pitch deck? as panelists on "Demystifying Venture Capital" not recommend
Parting advice with general presentation tips:
Do you have too much information on the slide? e.g. Can someone not familiar with your product use your slides to give your pitch?
Do you read off the slides?
Did you practice? Does the pitch fit in the time allotted? (I'm practicing at Toastmasters.)
Is it hard to follow along?
Did you tailor the pitch to your audience and time allotted? Or do you plan to cover the same content in a 3-minute pitch in 90 seconds?
Do your visualizations pass the “5 second rule”? e.g. will it take someone 5 seconds or less to understand what’s going on?
Hopefully now you've learned from others, won't make the same mistakes other are -- and stand out from the crowd. Good luck!
(Not affiliated) Opportunities to practice pitching and get feedback:
Dolphin Tank with the Women Founder's Network
You may also like:
Dear Advisor: I have a start-up idea, what should I do next?
Pitch decks from successful start-ups
How to Pitch your Startup, by Founder Institute
Common Pitch Deck Mistakes and How to Avoid Them, by Anne Cocquyt
Lenny Rachitsky's advice on answering "Why now?"