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DocSend Fundraising Research: What we Learned from 200 Startups Who Raised $360M

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Why do some startups get funded? What makes for the best pitch? How does the process work? DocSend recently teamed up with Professor Tom Eisenmann from Harvard Business School. Together, we conducted research that gave us the answers to those questions. We studied the fundraising of 200 startup companies as they went through their Series Seed and Series A rounds. Altogether, these companies raised more than $360 million. Why this data is awesome: Fundraising is a historically opaque endeavor. There’s very little data available and most advice tends to be anecdotal. DocSend is in the unique position of being able to quantitatively analyze the interaction between founders and investors, and tie that to fundraising outcomes in a statistically meaningful way. Why we built this report: DocSend aims to help companies share documents in a smarter, safer, and more impactful way. We believe this research is in service of that mission and can help push the startup ecosystem forward as a whole. Background on DocSend: DocSend helps sales people track and control documents they send to clients. We’ve also become very popular amongst founders in the fundraising process. Hundreds of startups have used our platform to circulate pitch decks to investors. Ready to ditch email attachments and put your pitch materials to work for you? Sign up for a free plan at docsend.com

DocSend Fundraising Research: What we Learned from 200 Startups Who Raised $360M

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Why do some startups get
funded? What makes for the
best pitch? How does the
process work?
DocSend recently teamed up with Professor
Tom Eisenmann from Harvard Business School.
Together, we conducted research that gave
us the answers to those questions. We studied
the fundraising of 200 startup companies as
they went through their Series Seed and Series
A rounds. Altogether, these companies raised
more than $360 million.
from
$360M
Who Raised
200 Startups
What We Learned
$360M RAISED200 COMPANIES
$
DocSend is a sales enablement tool
that tracks per-page analytics on
document usage and is a popular
way for founders to send pitch decks
to investors. This put us in a unique
position to conduct this study.
All of the companies that we chose
through our selection process opted
into the research. In addition to
sending their decks to investors using
DocSend, they answered a detailed
questionnaire on what the overall
fundraising process was like. Some
of the companies that participated
include August Locks, Panjo, Shift
Cars, Back to the Roots, Wiser, Tiggly,
20twenty, Boomtrain, and mNectar.
2
Here are some of our main findings:
Stats From an Average Series Seed Raise
Starting a company is a brutal process. Getting outside funding is a necessary step for many tech
startups, but it’s an opaque and frustrating process for those doing it for the first time. With that in mind,
we wanted to shed some light on what a typical successful seed round looks like.
DeckFundraising Process
58Investors
Contacted
40Investor
Meetings
$1.3MCapital
Raised
12.5Weeks
to Close
19.2Page Avg
Deck Length
03:44Minute Avg
Visit Time
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$1.3M
0
3
20 1
2
3
4
5
20-30
7
6
Seven Actionable Takeaways
If you’re thinking of raising a seed round for your
startup, here are seven take aways from hundreds
of companies who successfully raised.
Keep your deck to 20 pages or
fewer. Each visit will only be 3m
44sec on average.
More meetings does not equal
more money. Focus on getting
quality introductions to investors
who are likely to be a fit. Quality
over quantity.
You’ll likely need to contact 20-30
investors. But you won’t need to
contact hundreds.
Don’t list your deal terms in your
deck. Deliver them in person.
The terms can vary by investor.
Spend time on your deck.
Specifically, make sure your
team slide looks awesome. If you
include a financial slide, which is
optional, remember it’ll be your
most viewed.
Raising seed funding will take
longer than you think. Don’t start
to despair until you’ve been at it
for a few months.
Try to raise from a seed firm
before you go to angels. Firms
will give you more money in
less time with fewer meetings.
4
What to expect and how to manage the
fundraising process
Series A, the next step
The optimal pitch deck
11-15
16-17
6-10
Slides
Table of Contents
5
Designing a Successful Seed Deck
The average length of the seed decks we studied was roughly 19 pages, and most had a similar format.
The following table shows the types of pages used in the average order by the frequency in which
they occurred. This table also notes the average length for each section of the deck, if that figure was
included. We categorized pages according to Sequoia Capital’s list of recommended categories.
Company
Purpose
73%
Category
% decks
including
Smart
Key
If included,
# of pages
Product
96%
Problem
88%
Team
100%
Solution
69%
Business
Model
81%
Why Now
46%
Competition
65%
Market
Size
73%
Financials
58%
1.8 2 1.2 1.7 1.4
5 1.2 3.4 1.4 2.3
6
Ad

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DocSend Fundraising Research: What we Learned from 200 Startups Who Raised $360M

  • 1. Why do some startups get funded? What makes for the best pitch? How does the process work? DocSend recently teamed up with Professor Tom Eisenmann from Harvard Business School. Together, we conducted research that gave us the answers to those questions. We studied the fundraising of 200 startup companies as they went through their Series Seed and Series A rounds. Altogether, these companies raised more than $360 million. from $360M Who Raised 200 Startups What We Learned $360M RAISED200 COMPANIES $
  • 2. DocSend is a sales enablement tool that tracks per-page analytics on document usage and is a popular way for founders to send pitch decks to investors. This put us in a unique position to conduct this study. All of the companies that we chose through our selection process opted into the research. In addition to sending their decks to investors using DocSend, they answered a detailed questionnaire on what the overall fundraising process was like. Some of the companies that participated include August Locks, Panjo, Shift Cars, Back to the Roots, Wiser, Tiggly, 20twenty, Boomtrain, and mNectar. 2
  • 3. Here are some of our main findings: Stats From an Average Series Seed Raise Starting a company is a brutal process. Getting outside funding is a necessary step for many tech startups, but it’s an opaque and frustrating process for those doing it for the first time. With that in mind, we wanted to shed some light on what a typical successful seed round looks like. DeckFundraising Process 58Investors Contacted 40Investor Meetings $1.3MCapital Raised 12.5Weeks to Close 19.2Page Avg Deck Length 03:44Minute Avg Visit Time $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $1.3M 0 3
  • 4. 20 1 2 3 4 5 20-30 7 6 Seven Actionable Takeaways If you’re thinking of raising a seed round for your startup, here are seven take aways from hundreds of companies who successfully raised. Keep your deck to 20 pages or fewer. Each visit will only be 3m 44sec on average. More meetings does not equal more money. Focus on getting quality introductions to investors who are likely to be a fit. Quality over quantity. You’ll likely need to contact 20-30 investors. But you won’t need to contact hundreds. Don’t list your deal terms in your deck. Deliver them in person. The terms can vary by investor. Spend time on your deck. Specifically, make sure your team slide looks awesome. If you include a financial slide, which is optional, remember it’ll be your most viewed. Raising seed funding will take longer than you think. Don’t start to despair until you’ve been at it for a few months. Try to raise from a seed firm before you go to angels. Firms will give you more money in less time with fewer meetings. 4
  • 5. What to expect and how to manage the fundraising process Series A, the next step The optimal pitch deck 11-15 16-17 6-10 Slides Table of Contents 5
  • 6. Designing a Successful Seed Deck The average length of the seed decks we studied was roughly 19 pages, and most had a similar format. The following table shows the types of pages used in the average order by the frequency in which they occurred. This table also notes the average length for each section of the deck, if that figure was included. We categorized pages according to Sequoia Capital’s list of recommended categories. Company Purpose 73% Category % decks including Smart Key If included, # of pages Product 96% Problem 88% Team 100% Solution 69% Business Model 81% Why Now 46% Competition 65% Market Size 73% Financials 58% 1.8 2 1.2 1.7 1.4 5 1.2 3.4 1.4 2.3 6
  • 7. The ordering for DocSend and Sequoia differed only in a few places: SEQUOIA RECOMMENDED ORDER OBSERVED ORDER Company Purpose Problem Solution Why Now Market Size Product Team Business Model Competition Financials 6 7 8 9 10 1 2 3 4 5 Company Purpose Problem Solution Why Now Market Size Competition Product Business Model Team Financials 6 7 8 9 10 1 2 3 4 5 Recommended Deck Ordering The ordering of the sections was fairly standard, except for the team page. This page appeared either at the beginning or the end, but never in the middle. Within the 200 companies we studied, more companies placed the page at the end and not the beginning. This practice is in line with advice from Reid Hoffman, who advises companies to lead with their investment thesis, not a team page. 7
  • 8. Mobile Views 100% 0 12% investors of Viewers studied the average successful deck for 3 minutes, 44 seconds. This time might not sound like much, but the length was more than we expected. Compare that time to DocSend’s own pitch deck, viewed on average for a little more than two minutes. Twelve percent of investors read the pitch decks from their mobile phones as well, so make sure your deck looks OK on a tiny screen. The Average Pitch Deck View 8
  • 9. Which Pages Matter the Most A few questions arise: Where was this view time spent within the pitch? If you spend extra time fixing up your deck, which pages should you focus on? Where should you anticipate questions? The following table shows the average time spent per page in each category. Interestingly, although the financial category takes the place, only 57 percent of successful decks have this section. The low rate of inclusion is mostly due to the fact that many seed stage firms do not yet have financial results on projections. Almost all of the seed decks, and many of the A decks, don’t contain any significant financials to discuss. If you include financials, be very thoughtful with the content, as viewers will spend the most time on this section. Ensure your team slide, whether at the end or the beginning, also looks amazing. One thing that’s important to note is that almost no decks listed the amount they were raising and the terms of their fundraise. This information is always better delivered in person, and can vary from investor to investor. 0 5s 10s 15s 20s 25s Solution Problem Market Size Product Business Model Company Purpose Why Now Competition Team Financials 10.6 11.3 13.3 13.9 14.9 15.3 16.3 16.6 22.8 23.2 Categories Time / Page View in Seconds 9
  • 10. Example Pitch Decks Some of the companies in our data set agreed to share their decks publicly. If you’d like to see some pitch decks to get ideas to create your own, these samples are great. Boomtrain Panjo Shift Cars Yoga Trail Smart Host Sunshine Dineserve DocSend 10
  • 11. Surviving the Fundraising Process A Matter of Time How long does a typical seed round take to raise? Within DocSend’s data set, on average, the round took 12 1/2 weeks. However, we saw much variation around this average. One-fifth of the companies took 20 weeks or longer, and another one-fifth took six weeks or fewer. The longest successful round took 40 weeks to close. Companies that failed to successfully raise funds gave up after an average of 6.7 weeks. These companies may have failed simply for lack of patience: the companies that had successful rounds reported that the process took longer than expected. We asked the research participants to rate the actual length of their fundraising round against their expectations. On a scale of one to five, where three was “as expected” and five was “waaaaay longer,” the average response for seed rounds was 3.6. Certainly, while patience is beneficial for startups, knowing when to give up, take a step back, and take a fresh look at the situation is important. Three-fourths of the companies that failed to raise seed funding planned to try again, and the average time until they plan to restart their efforts is 8.9 weeks—plenty of time to make progress on their business and incorporate feedback. 0 - 5 15% 6 - 10 26% 11 - 15 42% 16 and up 17%Seed Round in Weeks 11
  • 12. Strive for Quality, Not Quantity, of Investors It’s tempting to think that the more investors you contact, the better your chances of raising money. Unfortunately, this situation isn’t the case. Certainly, the more investors you contact, the more meetings you’ll get, up to a point. Note: in the data reported here, an entrepreneur could have multiple meetings with one investor, making it possible to have more meetings than investors contacted. Contacting more investors will get you more meetings, but it won’t necessarily get you more money. Focus on the quality of your connection to the investors you contact. In this graph, we compare the number of investors contacted and the amount of funding raised. There isn’t much correlation, and if anything, the impression is a bit negative. Investors contacted vs meetings Investors contacted Investormeetings 0 0 50 200 150 100 100 200 300 Contacted vs money Moneyoffered Investors contacted 0 0 1.5M 6M 4.5M 3M 100 200 300 Contacting more investors will get you more meetings, up to a point. Contacting more investors won't help raise more money. 12
  • 13. How Much and From Whom to Raise Earlier, we noted the average seed round in DocSend’s data set was $1.3 million. The amount and the process, however, varied widely depending on whether the entrepreneur raised from angels or a seed firm. Angel investors are wealthy individuals who give their own money to a project; they typically give between $25,000 and $100,000. Seed firms are small venture capital funds that pursue investments on a full-time basis. These firms usually invest between $250,000 and $1 million in a project. Angels Seed firms 0 $25,000 $100,000 $250,000 $1,000,000 What to Do and When to Give Up Create a list of 30 investors you feel would be particularly passionate about your pitch. Most of the startups in our data set had to contact only 20 to 30 investors to close their round. If none of them agree to invest, something may be off about what or how you’re pitching. Take their feedback seriously and make some changes to your pitch before contacting more investors. If you still haven’t closed investors after contacting 100 of them, you should seriously rethink either your timing in the market or the project. A few companies raise money after contacting more than 100 investors, but that scenario is rare and a big drain on your time. 13
  • 14. The following are a few of the key trade-offs: Angels are typically operators, so they can relate and have a personal interest in your project. Because you'll have a few angels in your round, you'll have a sizable support group behind you. Seed FirmsAngels These firms have professional, savvy investors. The firms invest more, so they have a greater financial interest in seeing you succeed. Firms also have more money to give you later if you need it. Pros Angels have busy lives and fluctuating funds, so you may not always be able to rely on them for the money and support you need. You also need to sell to more of them for a round. Firms may try to control your business decisions, and they aren't always qualified to give you the best advice. Firms also see a lot of deals, so it's hard to get their attention. Cons Angels vs Seed Firms 14
  • 15. The following summarizes the differences: Firm Rounds: Rarer but Better In general, angel-led seed rounds are much more common than firm-led seed rounds. According to David S. Rose, an angel investor, seed firms fund about 1,500 startups each year while angels fund roughly 50,000. This discrepancy is partially because seed firms invest in about one of every 400 companies they consider, while angels choose one out of every 40. Those numbers are by no means exact, but they do illustrate that if you wish to get a firm’s attention, you need to have an outstanding pitch deck and know the selling points of your business inside and out. According to DocSend’s data, although angel-led seed rounds are more common, firm-led rounds have much more favorable characteristics. If you are able to raise funds from a firm, you’ll get twice as much money in 30 percent less time. You’ll also need to contact only 40 percent as many investors. Our recommendation is to try raising from a Seed Fund first. Firm Angel 9.6 29 27 13.5 68 45 Firm Firm Angel Angel $1,995,952 36.8% $989,118 18.9% Avg time to fundraise (weeks) Avg investors contacted Avg investor meetings Avg money raised % oversubscribed $per contact 0 $100k $91,830 $17,210 15
  • 16. Series A vs Series Seed Rounds Series A rounds are much less common than seed rounds. In DocSend’s data set, nine seed rounds existed for every series A round. It appears that the Series A Crunch is still in effect. Although we have fewer data points, we managed to collect some statistics on the differences between seed and A rounds. If you are able to raise a Series A round, the process is easier than for a seed round. A rounds take less time, yield more money, and require fewer investors than seed rounds. Series A rounds took an average of 9.6 weeks, 24 percent less time than the time given for the average seed round. During A rounds, companies contacted an average of 26 investors, versus 58 investors contacted for seed rounds. During A rounds, companies had on average 30 investor meetings, versus 40 investor meetings for seed rounds. The average money raised during seed rounds was just under $1.3 million, where the money raised during A rounds was more than $8 million. Here are some of the key facts we gathered: 9.6weeks 26investors 30investor meetings $1.3million 16
  • 17. Easiest Markets for Seed Funding Consumers’ needs and other economic conditions impact which business models receive the greatest success during fundraising. While trends are always fluctuating, in the past 12 months, four types of companies stood out as having the most success during seed rounds: consumer, business, marketplace, and hardware. On average, marketplace companies raised the most money in their seed rounds. Successful marketplace businesses are quite rare, but when they work, they’re also much bigger, like Uber or Airbnb. Raising money for a marketplace startup takes a long time. Although there’s a lot of money for companies in these categories, convincing investors that your startup is going to win takes longer. The following are some of the key statistics on the fundraising efforts of the four types of business models: Consumer 32% Business 32% Marketplace 22% Hardware 14% avg $ raised % deals $1,330,000$1,738,750$1,245,435$945,870 $2M 17
  • 18. 20 1 2 3 4 5 20-30 7 6 To Recap, Seven Key Takeaways Fundraising for your startup can be an opaque and frustrating process when the future of your business is on the line. Keep these take aways in mind to maximize your chances of successfully raising a seed round. Keep your deck to 20 pages or fewer. Each visit will only be 3m 44sec on average. More meetings does not equal more money. Focus on getting quality introductions to investors who are likely to be a fit. Quality over quantity. You’ll likely need to contact 20-30 investors. But you won’t need to contact hundreds. Spend time on your deck. Specifically, make sure your team slide looks awesome. If you include a financial slide, which is optional, remember it’ll be your most viewed. Raising seed funding will take longer than you think. Don’t start to despair until you’ve been at it for a few months. Try to raise from a seed firm before you go to angels. Firms will give you more money in less time with fewer meetings. Don’t list your deal terms in your deck. Deliver them in person. The terms can vary by investor. 18
  • 19. Wondering what happens after you raise a seed round of funding? See what DocSend did on our blog Want to see who reads your pitch deck and where they spend time? Sign up for a free DocSend account