Designer Fund's Guide to Building a Winning VC Pitch Deck

If you’re looking to land VC funding for your company, one of the smartest investments you can make is to build a stellar pitch deck. A pitch deck is the hook that gets investors interested in your company’s potential—it helps articulate your vision and progress and, when done well, can play a huge part of helping you raise capital.

While there are a lot of great resources that share high level guidance and examples of winning pitch decks, we wanted to share what we think truly makes a great deck—and where and why founders go wrong. Over the course of our nearly 10+ year careers, my Designer Fund co-founder Enrique Allen and I have looked at thousands of pitch decks—some good, some bad, and everything in between.

As designers, we know how to communicate effectively and tell good stories—and unfortunately, this is where most pitch decks we see fall short.

An investor’s key job is to return capital many times over. Everything in your pitch deck should ultimately prove this argument: Invest in us and we’ll help you make a lot of money. Do not lose sight of that fact. Ben Blumenrose, Co-Founder of Designer Fund

The number one question: Will your company allow your investors to 50x-100x their money?

At the most basic level, seed investors need to know that investing in your company will help them make money—because that’s their job. There’s no sugarcoating it—the math behind a fund requires picking companies that won’t just return their investments a few times over, but actually return their investment 50x-100x.

What does this translate to? At the most fundamental level, you need to convince investors you are ready to build a big, big company—make this central to your pitch deck story.

The confidence to make it happen

In my experience, the best founders tend to speak almost as if their vision for the future is inevitable. They’re excited by the road ahead. They’re excited by how hard it’s going to be. They’re excited by the scale of that work. And they have no doubt they will achieve it.

I think back to Mark Zuckerberg when I first worked at Facebook. He was completely confident in his vision of getting every person in the world on Facebook. When I told him years ago, “Mark, billions of people in the world don’t even have internet access,” he responded, “Well, we’ll bring them online.” That’s the kind of confidence and inevitability you want to have when pitching VCs.

💡 Insight: Not every company needs to be VC-funded

If your company doesn’t have a clear case for investors getting 50x-100x on their investment, you might need to revisit your business concept—or consider alternative funding. I’ve seen some great concepts over the years that will likely turn into great companies, but they’re not good candidates for venture funding. Consider what sort of funding structure makes the most sense for your company.


Key points for designing a great pitch deck

More than anything, a pitch deck is a story. It needs to be cohesive and compelling, and convince VCs that your company is an inevitable success. But before you open up PowerPoint or Figma to start building a deck, here’s what you need to write your story.

The goal of a pitch is to turn VCs into believers. If you get only one thing right, nail the narrative. Tommy Leep, Founding Partner, Jetstream

Tailor your story to the investor

First, know know who you’re pitching to and what they value. Every investor looks at the world differently and will prioritize different areas of an investment opportunity. Some investors will be much more team-oriented, others very market- or business model–oriented, while some like Designer Fund will have more of a product orientation.

Next, don’t be afraid to highlight or emphasize different parts of your story depending on who you’re talking to. For example when teams pitch Designer Fund, founders will often highlight their relationship to design, how important they realize it is to the success of the business, and how much they want to ensure a high level of design in their product. Since they know we invest in founders that value design, doing this is probably a good idea. 🙂

Similarly, in The 23 Rules of Storytelling For Fundraising, James Currier, General Partner at NFX, explains:

Each time you start to tell your story again, you’ve got to be able to judge the room and speak to what they’re interested in, only including only the key details that are relevant for that audience. You need to adjust your story so that they can understand from their perspective—using their language—what you are doing and why it’s interesting for them. James Currier, General Partner, NFX

💡 Insight: Mission-oriented founder? You need to speak two languages when pitching investors

Enrique and I encountered this challenge when we were first pitching our concept for Designer Fund. Although we developed Designer Fund with a strong mission of building a design community that could facilitate bringing better designed products and services into the world, when we only used that language with investors, they couldn’t care less. Our pitches fell flat because mission alone wasn’t enough.

While as an investor I still want to know if you’re a mission-oriented founder (it means I know you’ll walk through hell and back to make this idea happen), I ultimately need to know that your business is going to 50x-100x my investment (see question number one above). You need to speak both languages through your pitch deck. So, find a way to tell that story: How will achieving the mission of your company help your investors achieve their mission of returning capital many times over?

Make the pitch appropriate to the stage

Additionally, don’t forgot to tailor your messaging to make sense with your company’s stage. If you’re a pre-seed company with a 30-page deck and a data room, you’re probably doing it wrong. Conversely, if you’re a seed company and your full pitch/memo lacks details about your team, the market opportunity, the product, or other key areas, you’re unlikely to escape an investor meeting unscathed—assuming you get one in the first place.

You’ll also want to have a shorter version of your deck to send out first before inviting investors to learn more, as Ian Rountree, Managing Partner at Cantos suggests:

I strongly recommend having a super simplified teaser deck that you share liberally and a longer deck once an investor is interested. Ian Rountree, Managing Partner, Cantos

This is a great tactic to help you get that first meeting—it’s better than an overview paragraph alone, without sharing too much detailed information about the company.

Center your story around 2-3 core strengths

This is the core of your story. Ask yourself: What are the three most convincing pieces of your pitch? Is it your team, market, traction, product, fundamental IP or something else? Find those two to three things and really nail them. Once you’ve identified these strengths, distill the crux of your pitch into two to three sentences and build your narrative around that. Here are some examples:

  • Netlify: Website-building platform Netlify had both team and traction. Their core pitch deck narrative? “The way we’re building websites today is slow and insecure, costing companies billions of dollars. We have the domain expertise to build a new type of web infrastructure and early traction shows our approach is working.”
  • Monograph: Architecture project management software company Monograph focused on their team and the product. Their core narrative: “Billions of dollars are paid to architecture firms every year but they struggle to know if their projects are on time and on budget. We are a team of designers, engineers, and architects who viscerally know this problem and have built a product that will solve this for architecture firms.”
  • Forma: Forma, a decentralized employee benefits platform formerly known as Twic, had both product and traction that made us sit up in our seats. Not only had they built a product, they’d sold it to two large companies and had fully deployed at those companies, and it was actually USED by many of the employees already. When you have that, you shout it from the rooftops.

This is Forma (formerly Twic)'s original “traction slide” that made us take notice:

A slide from Twic’s pitch deck with text: “Pioneer in employee experience,” showing the Twitch and Twic logos together, followed by bullet points: “92% employees active on the platform,” “5+ stakeholders finding value from the dashboard,” and “88% reduction in internal admin time.”

By their series A, the traction slide looked like this, validating how they were clearly solving a painful problem in the right way for multiple companies:

Office

💡 Insight: Consider writing a memo first

Having trouble getting your story down? Start by putting yourself in your investors’ shoes. Tara Viswanathan, founder and CEO of Rupa Health, swears by writing a memo—rather than creating a deck—to communicate with potential funders. Why?

When you explain your thinking in writing, it forces you to narrate your logic step by step. You can get away with holes in thinking in a deck—with a memo, it’s impossible. Tara Viswanathan, Founder & CEO, Rupa Health

A memo can also remove some of the legwork for investors, streamlining the investing process: “All investors need to write internal deal memos to invest in your company. Creating a memo for them simplifies A LOT of that work,” she shares.

Lachy Groom is also a fan of this approach:

Write the investment memo you wish was written about you. That is your ideal output. The deck needs to be the input that gets the partners you're pitching there. Think about the goal throughout. Lachy Groom, Investor

Show why you have the winning team—or focus on your other strengths until you do

If having a great founding team is one of your core strengths, make sure to highlight that as part of your narrative. This is not the time to be shy! Ideally investors want to know: that you’re exceptional leaders; that you’re uniquely suited to solve this problem; and that you’ve been able to convince other great people to be part of your journey.

If you don’t have an obvious winning team right out of the gate, focus on your other strengths. For example, at seed, the Netlify team didn’t have many of the “logos” investors often use for signals—top schools, top startups, or top investors.

What they did have was a technical team with deep domain expertise and great early traction: nearly 300 paying customers and 5,000 users helped get investors over the line.

A slide from Netlify’s seed deck showing the team. Three photos are highlighted, with notes detailing their deep technical expertise.
The seed deck team slide highlighted Netlify’s deep domain expertise.

By their series A you can see a number of great investors, angels, and advisors had signed on, and Netlify’s updated pitch deck did a great job of highlighting those relationships. If you are raising your seed round, make sure you highlight any great affiliation past or present, domain expertise, or exceptional accomplishments.

A slide from Netlify’s series A deck showing the team, now with more focus on what makes them “A World-Class Team” including photos and logos for high profile investors, angels, and advisors.
In Netlify’s series A deck, they highlighted their advisor, angel, and investor connections to signal their credibility.

Another example—Framer, formerly known as Motif—had one of the most humble team slides we’d ever seen, which very much fit their personality! Founders Koen Bok and Jorn van Dijk are two of the best designers/product builders we know: they sold their company to Facebook, they built great software there used by hundreds of millions of people, and they’d won Apple design awards, just to name a few highlights. All these accomplishments are listed almost like whispers at the bottom of the team slide. If we had to redo their team slide today we’d flip the bottom bullets into the main headline.

A simple, text-only slide that says “We are raising a seed to accelerate growth,” in large text. Followed by“Motif was founded by two guys who have always been building tools that designers and developers love,” in smaller text. Followed by “Product design for Photos, Messages, Ads and NewsFeed,” “Acquired by Facebook,” “Apple Design Awards for Checkout and Versions,” and “Founded Sofa” in very small text listed by bullet point.
Framer’s early team slide is too humble, in our opinion.

💡 Insight: Are you a silicon valley “outsider”? Make it part of your story

Venture capital has a diversity problem. The field is still overwhelmingly white, male, based in Silicon Valley, and Ivy-educated. If you don’t fit into this specific set of characteristics, it can be harder to access funding. To combat this, you need to find a way to make that difference a part of your pitch. What about your background makes you uniquely suited to solve the specific problem your product is focused on?

Explain why the problem you’re solving is a hair-on-fire problem

Ideally, your pitch deck should show the problem you’re addressing costs companies or people a lot of time or money. The problem needs to feel urgent and big—and your solution needs to feel absolutely necessary. If what you’re offering seems like a vitamin versus a true painkiller, you’ll have a tough time selling the product and growing fast as a company.

Find ways to make your problem feel really tangible to investors—a true hair-on-fire problem. Invite them to grow their empathy by stepping into the shoes of a customer, or share details and other data that make the pain point feel undeniable.

A slide from a pitch deck showing a screenshot from a GIS Basics class with header text, “The core problem with existing mapping tools is they require years of training and hours of setup before you can start getting any value.” To the right of the screenshot, there is an arrow pointing at it with text, “excerpts from a 45 min lesson on loading census data in a 15 week course on GIS basics.”
This pitch deck slide makes the problem with mapping more tangible by inviting the audience to experience how complicated and inaccessible current mapping learning tools are.

Focus on just one idea per slide

Use headlines to keep each slide focused on one thing at a time—which will help you create a more memorable narrative. It should be very clear when you look at a slide what the core idea of that slide is. If that’s not evident in three seconds, you’re not putting the right information upfront.

Keep it simple:

  • “Our revenue is growing 5x”
  • “Our team is uniquely suited to solve this problem”
  • “Our product is loved by hundreds of people”

If you find that you present a slide by reading the content on each slide, you’ve put too much content on each slide.

One way to help solve this? Use slide headlines to focus on key takeaways. Make each slide’s headline the one point you want the investor to understand from that slide. For example, this performance slide was a big reason we invested in Netlify. The headline is “Netlify Performance” but really the key point is “We grew from 0 to 300 paying clients in ONE YEAR.”

A slide from Netlify’s pitch deck which shows “Netlify performance: March 2015 – now” featuring a couple of graphs, customer logos, and text detailing monthly growth.
Use slide titles to highlight the biggest takeaway for your investors.

Another example where the generic headline hides how amazing this data is. The title “Revenue” doesn’t mean much, but “1000% Revenue Growth in One Year” does!

A bar chart showing growth over one year. Text at top is titled “Revenue.” Chart is only labeled with dates, making it hard to understand exactly how much growth has happened.
This is amazing revenue growth in one year. However amazing, the headline doesn’t match the beauty of that graph. Our recommendation: Make the headline “1000% Revenue Growth in One Year."

Always anticipate the questions

Last but not least, anticipate the questions. As you put your pitch deck together, it makes sense to remove certain things that you don't feel play to you strengths, but you should be ready to respond to the questions that will almost certainly come up.

For example, if you talk about your revenue growth but don’t have your burn or how much you’re spending to achieve that growth, you’d better be ready to get questions about that! Additionally, if you have a slide about the amount you want to raise but don’t have any info on why you want to raise that amount or what you’ll spend that money on, be ready to respond to questions about that, too.

A slide from Monographs pitch deck which shows traction metrics with growth numbers and a chart showing upward momentum.
In this slide, I can see growth but I’ll have a big question about how the company is getting new customers (something they had more information about in the appendix).
A slide from Twic’s pitch deck, showing how their product works. Headline: “Twic is a digital wallet that manages all discretionary benefits with one place,” with an image showing a Twic card and a small screenshot of the web experience.
Twic had a complex product but this slide only showed a small screenshot. The founders anticipated that we'd ask to see the product at this point, and they had a demo ready to go.

A great way to be ready for these kinds of questions is to add a slide with that information to the appendix, so you can jump to that if/when the question comes up without interrupting your narrative flow.


Other investor tips and hot takes

While we’ve shared a wide variety pitch deck tips that can apply to any company and any investor, every investor is unique. We asked a few of our friends for their tips and hot takes. Here’s what they shared.

“I love demos”

Don’t ditch the demo, shared Katie Jacobs Stanton of Moxxie Ventures. A demo can be a great way to communicate what your product brings to the table. She explains: “I love demos. Give me a product demo as part of the deck that shows me what the product does. I want to see how you think and build an exceptional product and experience.”

“Start with a ‘suitcase’”

A “suitcase” is the simple idea that carries the most important thing to convince an investor, and the simpler, the better. Roy Bahat, Head of Bloomberg Beta, shares: “Startup investors need a reason to believe you could become one of the greatest companies ever, ideally stated on the very first page, even the title page. ‘We’re the first/best/only company to ___’ is often a good frame for your suitcase.”

Check out Roy’s article, Our most frequent comments on pitch decks for more great ideas.

“Use your title slides wisely”

Simplify your deck—and that means cutting unnecessary text and slides. Natalie Sandman of Spark Capital shares, “For pitch decks, my biggest pet peeves is slide titles, specifically when people use nouns (eg. Company Overview) as title slides instead of phrases. When you use a noun as a slide title, you give up the opportunity to share an interesting anecdote about your market/business/customer with the investor. For example, imagine you're a modern payroll company. Why say ‘Problem’ when you could say ‘Legacy payroll providers, like ADP ($103B market cap), fail to meet the needs of modern companies’? Why say ‘Product’ when you could say ‘Our seamless developer experience is why we win’? When compiled, each slide title should string together to form a narrative about your company.”

“Avoid feature comparison slides”

There’s definitely a point where your content can be too simplified to the point of being off-putting to your investors, so be wary of content formats that prioritize style over subject. As Ian Rountree shared about the image below: “One of my pet peeves is the feature comparison slide. It's helpful only in so far as (1) the attributes aren't completely contrived/irrelevant and (2) you use something less binary than checks and X's.”

A pitch deck slide comparing a Rolex to a Frog Watch. Along a series of qualities, there are checkmarks. For “Tells Time,” both watches are checked. For “Affordable” only the Frog Watch is checked. For “Frog” only the Frog Watch is checked.
What is this slide really saying, if anything at all?

The good news and the bad news

The good news and the bad news: there’s no one magic bullet for creating a great pitch deck. The best deck for your company will change as your company grows, your stage shifts, and you talk to new investors. Don’t get married to the first draft you like—remember that a pitch deck is a valuable tool that’s always in flux. Like building good products, don’t be afraid to ship and iterate as you fundraise.

Here’s a quick summary of what to keep in mind as you develop your next pitch deck:

  1. First and foremost, focus on how your company will enable investors to 50x-100x their money
  2. Always tailor your story to the investor and the stage
  3. Center your story around your company’s 2-3 core strengths
  4. Explain why the problem you’re solving is a hair-on-fire problem
  5. Keep your narrative focused and memorable
  6. Anticipate investor questions and prepare responses