This is part of our series “Pitching to Investors” that shares real examples and practical advice from the Matrix General Partners on creating your pitch deck. See intro to the series here: Five Ways to Nail Your Pitch and Win Over Investors.
Our goal in this series is to help entrepreneurs nail their pitch so they can more easily communicate their incredible ideas and find the right VC partners to help them grow their businesses. We introduced the series with 5 tips on how to present to investors, because while no single slide will make or break your presentation, the way you tell your narrative will leave investors either believing in you and your company, or not. Having now crafted your narrative, we’ll dive into the details of each slide – using annotated slides from real pitch decks to talk about the most important dos and don’ts on each slide. We’re going to share what VCs are likely thinking as you present, but not saying.
In this post we’ll focus on creating a great Team Slide. We realize the team slide may not seem very challenging. However, many founders, not realizing it’s one of the most important slides in your presentation, throw it in as an afterthought. That’s a missed opportunity. At Matrix, we focus on early stage investments, and the biggest bet we make is on you and your team–we invest in people. We generally recommend your team slide come first in your presentation. My partner at Matrix, Dana Stalder, explains, “We often find ourselves asking the founders to introduce the team after they’ve gone through a couple pages and haven’t put the team slide first. This is your opportunity to introduce yourself like you would at the beginning of any new relationship.”
The team slide is your chance to showcase why you are exceptional and why we should bet on your team. It’s your chance to kick off the meeting with more than the standard 15 second intro. But, this slide is not as simple as it first appears. We’ve seen great ones, and crash and burns. Who from your team should you include and how much do you share?
There are three potential outcomes from your team slide:
- A positive bias. An investor sees your team as exceptional on its own and that they should invest in you almost regardless of your idea. Or, that your team is perfect for this idea and building this particular company.
- A neutral stance. An investor concludes that your team will not be the sole reason they would do the deal, but it’s not a barring factor either.
- A negative bias. Your team slide makes an investor question you and your team’s fit for your idea, or your ability to execute. This is most likely because they learn nothing from the slide due to a lack of information, or your team appears to be extremely homogenous or lacking relevant experience.
To create a team slide that makes us excited to learn more, it should answer a few key questions:
Are you a person of interest?
Show us you are a founder we want to meet, that you stand out in some way–that you are intelligent, driven, ethical, and that you have excelled in the things you do.
- Do you have a strong educational background?
- Have you been the top performer in your previous roles?
- Do you have a unique experience that makes you well suited to build this particular company?
Proactively shape our impression of you by listing the education, job titles and employment history that will show us how you stand out.
Do you have a strong founding team?
Investors are looking for a strong and diverse team with relevant domain expertise. If you have all of these things, great! Showcase them. But, whatever team make up you’re working with, play to your strengths. Put a positive spin on homogenous educational or company experience by emphasizing a super strong team dynamic. Similarly, you can counter a lack of experience by highlighting entrepreneurial spirit or accomplishments.
It’s helpful to give a high level breakdown of the number of people on your team and an outline of the functional areas. But, don’t list all 10 people at your company down to contractors and the roommate who delivers the keg on Friday afternoons.
Have you figured out with your co-founders who is doing what?
If you have multiple founders, your titles should indicate that you’ve had a conversation about who will own what functional areas of the business. Confusion around this can be painfully clear to VCs and is a red flag. We know everyone will do some of everything at a startup, but distinction around each founder’s focus shows maturity and readiness to execute.
What kind of founder and CEO will you be? Are you entrepreneurial and are we a good match?
Share with us more about who you are and what makes you tick. How have you gotten to where you are? What career highlights and accomplishments showcase your entrepreneurial experience? Or, if you’re recently out of school, what did you do in school or on the side that shows your drive and savviness. “We want to know as much about you as possible to determine whether Matrix will be a good match in helping you grow your business,” says Dana Stalder, General Partner at Matrix Partners.
Let’s visit some real examples of team slides from early stage companies to help clarify these points (some identifying information has been anonymized):
- An engaging photo helps investors put a face to the name and helps tell your story.
- Complete career history shows strong background and previous success, which increases credibility.
- Strong educational background adds to the credibility.
- Remaining Questions:
- What exactly is this person’s current title? We assume it is Founder/CEO, but you need to include this information to ensure your deck stands on its own.
- This deck came with this type of slide for the top three team members. Multiple slides can work well when focused on your founding team–but keep them focused, clearly indicate specific roles, and don’t do this for the whole team.
Impression Left: Positive
This is a strong founder who has deep experience in the tech field and will be able to execute in driving a team and building a business.
When LinkedIn’s Series B deck was being pitched, Reid Hoffman wasn’t the brand name he is today, but he optimized his team slide:
- Hoffman demonstrates an impressive background and domain expertise. As an investor in companies that are in similar spaces, he shapes your impression of him and shows off his relevant experience.
- Listing a team member with title ‘Chief of Staff’ is confusing because it makes the company seem top heavy–why does a startup need a Founder and a Chief of Staff? This person must be key to the organization, but it makes me wonder how so?
- The short vignettes for each person could be more detailed, but they do show the impressive background of each team member.
Impression Left: Positive
Easy to say in hindsight, but the team piques our interest with their strong domain expertise, and each team member’s relevant background contributes to the impression that they will be able to execute on this idea.
- Photos to humanize and familiarize the team are great.
- The right number of people are profiled–two founders, plus additional key team members listed gives overview of the core players, but doesn’t go into too much detail, which is good since we don’t need background for each of these people.
- There is no educational experience for one of the founders, so it would be nice to have consistency. But, in this case it’s not a huge deal because the team has chosen to highlight other experiences that show off relevant capabilities.
- Remaining Questions:
- What did the founders do at each of the previous companies? Even if the titles weren’t super impressive, you can add a positive spin. For example, if a previous role was an internship or in a less relevant department, instead of focusing on the title, call out any entrepreneurial aspects and achievements.
- It’s not required, but with more limited work experiences, listing your educational background (not just your MBA) will help us form a better picture of you.
Impression Left: Fairly Positive
This is one of those ‘just another team slide’ moments. We have a fairly surface level idea of who the founders are, and know that the size of the team is about right for their stage of growth, but we don’t know enough to conclude exactly what kind of team they’ll be. This leaves us relying on their presentation to gather more information about the team.
- They’ve chosen to include the same amount of information about what could be everyone on the team, which we can’t tell from this slide. The space would be better used to go deeper and really sell us on a few key executives and their achievements. This is especially true of the CEO where it matters a lot to us if they have had relevant experience to lead their company.
- Showing experience at big brand tech companies is a double edge sword. Certain logos tend to elicit certain responses, e.g., Google, Facebook and Apple – they have a high bar for hiring. But they are all big, safe companies. We’d like to see some evidence that these individuals are really entrepreneurial.
- Title-ing the slide ‘The band is back together’ is not a bad way to tagline. It shows the team has a shared experience, which could be good. But, when called out this way, we’re left wondering if their backgrounds will be diverse enough to pull from a range of experiences when needed. This is an example of highlighting a strength and spinning it, but neglecting to address the weakness that comes with it.
Impression: Just OK.
We don’t have enough information on the founders to make any real judgments, so this is a wasted opportunity–it leaves us with more questions than answers.
- Including advisors or investors on the team slide is misleading. We want to know who is dedicated full time to your company and putting in the blood, sweat and tears. Advisors generally allocate very little time and energy compared to full time team members, so they should not be given equal space on your team slide.
- While advisors should not be on your team slide, Board members are a different story. The difference between board members and advisors is like the difference between a ranking and a forced ranking. Advisors can advise any number of companies. Board seats are a limited commodity and require significant time, so they are a forced ranking. By taking a seat on your board, this individual has said ‘I believe in this company and think they’ll succeed’. This is worth highlighting on a later slide.
- By including the size of the team in addition to the founders/execs, we understand the breakdown of the company, which is helpful. But, who is/are the founder(s)? All three people noted, or not?
- A redeeming factor: This slide includes some measure of achievement about each person. The CEO has a number of profitable ventures, and others have built apps. With more detail, this could get us excited.
Impression Left: Not good, but not terrible.
We’re confused who the founders are, and we don’t really care about the ‘notable investors’ listed. This slide is on the right track, but there was a lot of space wasted.
- The descriptions of each core team member are so brief that we’re left with way more questions than answers. What is each of their roles? Who are the founders?
- We can see companies each person has worked at, but we have no idea what they did there or what they accomplished that would contribute to their abilities in their current roles.
- Educational background is so brief that not only is it not helpful, but it confuses and distracts us such that we’re not focused on what the team is trying to teach us about their company.
Impression Left: Negative.
This is a homogeneous team who went to average to above average universities, and some of them worked at tech companies previously. The team isn’t a barring factor, but they would now have more to overcome to prove they are the team to build this company, and we’re not overly excited to meet them.
*It’s worth noting that we went on to meet this team, and they are very impressive. Goes to show that there can be a big wasted opportunity in your team slide to convey how great you are.
- This is another example of information included on the team slide that is irrelevant to your team. Divorce who’s funded you to date and when from the team slide, it’s not answering the same questions. Previous funding is important to include (we like appendices), but it doesn’t help me get to know your team better.
- All employees at the company are included on this slide. Unlike many of the other examples, this is too detailed. The core executive team and their awesome and interesting backgrounds are what will get me excited to work with you.
- Formatting as an org chart can be helpful, but this is a terrible example. The Android developer reports to the iOS developer who reports to the Sys Admin/ Backend? Make it a functional org chart if you truly feel the need to include more than just a few key executives (e.g., if you have a truly incredible individual contributor on your team who is worth including). Otherwise, choose a simple format that isn’t going to distract.
Impression Left: Negative.
This slide leaves us confused, and frankly a little frustrated trying to extract information. It’s disorganized, misleading, and doesn’t give us relevant information on the key executives that’s needed to get to know them better.
We’re planning to provide advice and examples for the rest of your pitch presentation in future posts. But we started here because the first question we always have when meeting an entrepreneur pitching their business is, why you. We know how hard it is to start and build a business. We know we’ll be in this with you for years to come and working through ups and downs. So, why you? When you start with a team slide that tells us what’s unique and compelling about you and your team, and when you make us believe you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur, you make us want to learn more, and that’s exactly where you want to be leading into your pitch.