How to supercharge Sequoia pitch deck template for better investor engagement

Since Airbnb’s seed deck triumph in 2008, the Sequoia pitch deck template has become a golden standard for budding entrepreneurs worldwide.

Its clear and concise framework has worked wonders for founders in the realm of fundraising and, without exaggeration, was pivotal in shaping the pitching culture into what it is today. Many novice founders turn to this template and blindly follow it in the hope of hacking investor pitching.

However, there are two problems with this approach. First, instead of using it as a foundation, a starting point that needs customization and refinement, most newbie founders use it as a ready-to-use blueprint. 

Second, like all good strategies that have existed for too long, the Sequoia template hasn’t kept pace with the evolving investor landscape. With investor engagement dropping 25% in 2022 and the number of pitches VCs receive climbing up 30%, regurgitating a tired template might be the ultimate bad call for founders.

Does this all mean you should kick the once-revered Sequoia slide deck template to the curb? Not at all. Rather, it means you should supercharge it, adjusting it to the changing investor expectations.

Having created 1000+ investment materials that have raised over $3B in funding, we’ll share strategies to revamp a Sequoia deck template to make it resonate with the modern investor.

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The elements of the Sequoia pitch deck template 

The original Sequoia deck template descended from Sequoia’s guide on how to write a business plan when someone on the Internet read it and turned it into the Sequoia slide deck we know today. 

The template consists of ten sections:

  1. Company purpose: A pitch opener in the form of a concise declarative statement that distills the essence of your company: [Company name] — Enabling African microbusinesses to manage their finances in one place.
  2. Problem: Describe the pain your customers experience and the shortcomings of current solutions.
  3. Solution: Explain how you will solve the problem and demonstrate a compelling value proposition.
  4. Why now?: Explain why investing now is the best move for investors and the market.
  5. Market potential: Demonstrate how many potential customers your solution can target through the TAM SAM SOM model and show a specific avatar of your ideal customer.
  6. Competition/Alternatives: Identify direct and indirect competitors and the edge that will help you to get ahead of them. 
  7. Product: Describe your solution, its unique technology, and its features.
  8. Business model: Explain your revenue model, pricing strategy, sales& distribution model, and other things that show inventors how you plan to make money.
  9. Team: Tell the story of your founders and key team members in a way that demonstrates their acumen and proves you have a fonder market fit. 
  10. Financials: Include your five-year financial projections with P&L, balance sheet, and cash flow statements. 

There are clear benefits to this formula: it’s simple, straightforward, and easily replicable by founders with zero experience in pitching to VCs or angels. This template can serve as a reliable guide for founders who take the time to understand the gaps they need to fill to stand out and win investors over.

However, simply copying this template won’t cut it. We’ve seen that most fall into this trap, and it’s a shortcut that rarely pays off.

Three problems with the Sequoia pitch deck template

Dull, obscure titles

The template encourages a robotized approach to writing slide titles. The titles like Solution, Team, Business model, etc., while helping structurize information in the deck, ultimately don’t add value and turn your presentation into a snoozefest.

Such titles don’t catch investors’ attention and leave out what investors want to know: why your solution, team, or business model is worth their time. Instead of telling a compelling, coherent story of your startup, they just mark sections.

Also, since those titles aren’t self-explanatory and don’t convey any ideas, founders usually follow them with an avalanche of information, which investors need to read entirely to make sense of. 

News flash: they don’t.

As a result, potentially strong and catchy ideas get lost in a boring, robotic template that doesn’t inspire investors to explore further.

Outdated order

The template slides follow a specific order, which 1. hasn’t evolved with investor expectations, 2. doesn’t cater to a specific fundraising stage, and 3. limits your storytelling.

Here’s an example. In the template, the Team slide is penultimate. Given that the team slide is the most important slide in the deck for pre-seed and seed startups, it’s often better to move it up. For startups that haven’t yet produced compelling traction, their team is their main asset; putting it way down is like keeping your ace when you should play it.

Another questionable tendency is to open with the problem/solution slides. There is nothing wrong with this approach per se; in some cases, it works perfectly. The problem is everybody does it

In the market where VC money is (way) more expensive than it was in the fundraising heydays of 2021-2022, investors have more choices they can handle. They see hundreds of pitches daily, and they’ve grown numb to them, which is evident from the 25% plunge in investor engagement and response rates over the past year.

Playing it safe by following the same tired opening just because a template says so is a sure way to get lost in thousands of similar pitches.

Generic structure 

While the structure of the Sequoia Capital pitch deck template provides much-needed direction, it also limits you. Very few founders succeed in adapting the structure to their funding stage, industry, and value proposition in a way that sells them better.

Usually, they blindly follow the template instead of using it as a backbone to craft a tailored structure that puts their idea and offering in the most winning light. 

For example, crucial elements like traction, market validation signals, go-to-market strategy, or the funding ask are absent in the template, giving founders a limited perception of investor expectations.

5 strategies to supercharge Sequoia’s deck template for investor engagement

Open with an ambitious statement

Your first two slides set the stage for your pitch. In 9 cases out of 10, founders open with something like “Company X: Vertical operating system for medical professionals,” followed by a problem/solution narrative.

In our experience, for your deck to catch the investor’s eye, you must get creative and shake things up with your first slides. 

Here are the tips that worked wonders for our clients:

  • Start with a bold vision statement. Impress investors with your ambition to get them curious about the opportunity with statements like “We are set to lead the revolution in the world of beauty,” or “The suffering-free future starts with our orthobiolugics solutions,” etc.
  • Highlight the opportunity. Although this lands in the Problem category, this approach further underscores the massive market potential of solving this problem, aka, the opportunity. Use statistics to help make your case and strengthen the opening message.

Here is an example of how we underscored the magnitude of the problem for a fintech client:

Pitch deck slide example
Pitch deck slide example

Ditch obscure placeholder titles like ‘Team’ or ‘Business model’

If you want to capture investors’ eyeballs and get them to read further, you must start with your titles. 

Your titles must accomplish two things:

  • Capture investor attention and pull them into reading the rest of the information
  • Drive your core business story to enable inventors to catch the main idea by flicking through your deck 

You can do this by making each title convey a standalone message while being logically built into the story. The titles must be strong, punchy, and carry a statement.

Here is what it might look like:

Before

After

Remember: in 98% of cases, investors won’t read your pitch from end to end. They’ll scan through it, searching for the juiciest pieces of information, giving it two minutes and 18 seconds of their time on average.

Fight this by making your slides more visual and catchy. Don’t stop on the titles: add subtitles, logos, big numbers, and prominent names. Those are the tidbits that will help you capture VCs’ attention and encourage them to dig deeper.

Talk about your GTM strategy—but do it the right way

Adding a GTM slide isn’t just a preference—it’s a must. 

Investors care about your ability to successfully bring your solution to market and drive market leadership as much  (if not more) as they do about your solution. So show them!

How do you do that?

Rule one: don’t conflate GTM with a marketing strategy. Your GTM strategy shouldn’t be about SEO, SMM, or paid ads—those are just tactical promotion actions. 

Instead, it should be about broader strategies and channels that will help you capture and retain clients and, ultimately, lead the category.

The options can include:

  • Community-led growth strategy
  • Growing through outbound channels (sales-led growth)
  • Viral inbound growth (product-led growth), etc.

Rule two: demonstrate your GTM moat. By that, we mean a unique leverage that helps you cut corners on your way to profits, de-risk your idea for investors, and get ahead of the competition.

It can be:

  • An established network of distributors
  • A pipeline of interested customers
  • Partnerships with key layers
  • Exclusive contracts with suppliers 
  • Access to industry newsletters and communities, etc.

How you should approach the slide varies depending on the complexity of your GTM strategy. Here is some GTM slide inspiration from our deck for a client:

pitch deck slide example

Add a slide with traction & social proof 

Your traction is the bread and butter of your pitch. Traction comes in many shapes and forms, which gives you plenty of room to show it off—even when you don’t think you have one. 

If your solution is up and running, investors will want to see hard numbers proving the upward dynamic. It includes revenue or customer engagement metrics like MRR, LTV, CAC, monthly active users, etc. 

For those whose solution isn’t ready yet, there are other ways to show progress:

  • Your product development roadmap with key milestones you’ve crossed
  • Sales funnel with a list of contacts and a system for converting them into clients
  • Patents and licenses 
  • Traffic to your website or landing page
  • Pre-orders 
  • Early customer feedback and testimonials
  • Quotes from user interviews and surveys that validate your idea
  • Press coverage
  • Awards, NPS scores, App Store and Google Play rankings, etc.

As you can see, not having an up-and-running product is no excuse for skipping the traction information. 

We had a prospecting automation startup client who needed to raise a $4M seed round while having no solution or *visible* traction. To help them enhance their case, we used their data from original user interviews and research to demonstrate market validation

This traction slide became pivotal in investors’ decision to give them $4M:

pitch deck slide example

Play with the slide order 

Ideally, your deck’s structure should be driven by your business’s story and whatever makes it more impactful—not some tried-and-true templates. 

When crafting your presentation, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How can I tell my story to make it more compelling and coherent? 
  • What parts of the story do I want to stand out to investors the most? 

In other words, focus on building a powerful investment story and let your slides reflect that instead of forcing it into a box. Play with the order to see what helps to build up your message.

The Sequoia deck template isn’t a shortcut—it’s a starting point

If there’s one golden nugget to glean from this read, remember this: investor engagement and conversions don’t come from popular templates; they come from powerful startup stories. 

To write such stories, you need to gain a deep understanding of what investors look for when scouting their opportunities and be creative about delivering it to them.

For more field-tested practices to help you do that, visit our hub pages on creating pitch decks and financial modeling.

Or save yourself the trouble and reach out to our pitch deck consultants to help you up your fundraising game!

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Jenny

CONTENT WRITER

Hey there! I'm Jenny, and I write for Waveup. I've spent the last three years getting to know the ins and outs of different startups. Here at Waveup, I get to work with some really smart folks and together, we turn all that cool know-how into stories and tips we share with you.