The tip of the fundraising iceberg

As an investor, I rarely if ever stopped to analyze why I felt certain ways about some decks and different ways about others. As a founder and advisor though, deconstructing my reactions to decks while I was a VC has been instrumental in driving my own and others’ fundraising success. Through that analysis I’ve honed in on many key components to successful pitch decks.

One of those key elements that is widely mentioned in advice as being super important but rarely unpacked and explained is slide length.

Truthfully though, length of a pitch deck was never a specific thing I checked for as an investor.

It was never:

  • Quality of team? ✅

  • Understanding of problem? ✅

  • Length of deck? ⁉️

My reaction was my reaction to the content. It happened quickly and once an initial opinion started setting in, it was hard to veer away from it. The length of a 6-10 slide deck itself is not what triggered fascination with a pitch. That said 95% of decks that did hook me happen to be about that long.

There are a handful of reasons I believe that is the case. Here are some, each of which could (and probably will) spawn its own post in the future:

  • The average time a VC spends on a first read of a deck is incredibly short

  • If an entrepreneur deeply understands the problem she is solving, she should be able to concisely articulate her business.

  • When entrepreneurs don’t believe in their solution and business, they stretch. They add more and more detail because they’re unsure. Someone that is sure states her vision and leaves it at that.

  • Founders incorrectly believe their deck needs to close the sale.

The last point is the focus of this illustration.

Story Time

Last week, I was working with a very impressive founder who came out of YC. Her deck, as you might expect from a YC grad, had so much polish. That said, I was shocked to see it was 16 slides long not including any appendix.

It seemed like 40% of the length came from slides that gave extra explanation to various parts of the pitch. There were additional details on the market dynamics/competition, an extended walk through of the early traction, and a forensic breakdown of how her pricing model worked.

After asking a few questions, I uncovered the driver of the excess slides. She had added details that she believed an investor would need to see if the deck were the only information they would ever get.

This mistake in understanding is not uncommon. Here is the reality: the deck is not the entire pitch. The deck is just the tip of the fundraising iceberg. When you’re constructing the narrative for your deck, your goal is to excite an investor just enough to commit more time and effort to gain conviction. Gaining conviction happens when they spend time with your extensive appendix. It happens in follow-up meetings with additional questions. It happens during reference calls with trusted subject matter experts. Conviction does not (usually) come from reading a deck on its own.

It’s a fairly simple concept but impactful. When entrepreneurs discover this, they more naturally create punchy 6-10 slide decks that excite investors to learn more about the iceberg below the surface of their deck.

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