Red Flags in Pitch Decks: What Investors Avoid in Startups

Benjamin Debonneville
Founder & CEO
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Ever been to a magic show? Imagine, the magician pulls out a rabbit from an empty hat, the crowd gasps, and the applause is deafening.

That's the reaction every founder dreams of when they unfurl their pitch deck before a room full of investors. But, sadly, not every pitch is magic.

In fact, according to a recent report by DocSend, the average investor spends just 3 minutes and 44 seconds on a pitch deck. A grim reality, isn't it?

Red flags. They're the subtle signs that say, "This startup might not be worth the gamble".

Now, don't get me wrong.

Every startup carries a degree of risk. But wouldn't it be nice if we could avoid the obvious pitfalls, the glaring errors that have investors spending less time on your deck than it takes to boil an egg?

Of course, it would be. So, here are the most common red flags in startup pitch decks.

These are the mistakes that transform potential fireworks into damp squibs.

Ready to learn more?

Let’s dive in!

Most Common Red Flags in Startup Pitch Decks

Let's cut to the chase. In the heart-thumping world of startup pitches, red flags are the dreaded, deadly 'no-nos'. They're the errors and oversights that make investors swiftly swipe left.

Here lie the most prevalent blunders in startup pitch decks that make investors think twice:

Unrealistic Financial Projections

Picture a carnival. You see a Ferris wheel promising a city view, but it also claims to take you to the moon. Exciting, yet implausible.

That’s how unrealistic financial projections in a startup pitch deck feel to investors.

Sure, founders want to portray stellar growth, but investors know the startup ride’s twists and turns. They're looking for grounded projections, showing a clear path to profitability.

In the words of venture capitalist Fred Wilson, "Financial projections are a shot in the dark. But they need to be grounded in some reality, and that reality is how you make money."

So, display growth, but ensure it’s tethered to reality. Share your business model, and show that you've done your market size homework. Because, guess what? They will.

Vague Problem Statement

Imagine setting off on a journey without a destination in mind. You're strolling along, but where are you going? What's the point?

That's precisely the scenario when a pitch deck features a vague problem statement.

It's akin to being at sea, navigating the choppy startup waters without a compass, leaving investors perplexed about where you're headed.

Remember, your problem statement is the North Star that illuminates your startup's path. If it's not clear or too broad, investors will have a hard time fathoming your startup's raison d'être, its value proposition. They'll be left scratching their heads, wondering, "What's the real problem here?"

A compelling problem statement is specific, concise, and defines the problem your startup is addressing without ambiguity.

As Guy Kawasaki, the chief evangelist of Canva and former Apple employee, says, "If you can't define your problem statement in ten words or less, you don't have a focus for your model."

So, ensure you set a clear destination. Give your investors not just a journey, but a purpose to embark on it with you. Are you ready to set your North Star?

Ignoring the Competition

Picture this: You're a gladiator in the grand Colosseum, ready for battle, but you've got no clue who your opponent is. Does that make for a winning strategy? Certainly not.

This is the same scenario when a startup overlooks competition in their pitch deck.

It might seem counterintuitive, but having well-funded competitors is, in fact, a plus. It validates that other investors are keen on the space you're exploring, signaling a potential for future funding. However, ignoring them in your pitch deck is like going into battle blindfolded.

As seasoned entrepreneur and investor Marc Andreessen says, "The only unforgivable sin in business is to be boring; the second is to be unaware of your competition." So, let's avoid that second sin, shall we?

Highlight your competitors, but also showcase your unique strategy or competitive advantage. Let your potential investors know you've got the winning strategy, that you're the gladiator they should bet on.

Ready to take on the arena?

Missing Traction

Consider the pitch deck as your startup's stage, and traction - it's the dazzling star performer. It steals the limelight, brings credibility, and most importantly, keeps the audience - the investors - captivated.

In the grand opera of entrepreneurship, traction is not just another melody; it's the symphony that can make or break your pitch.

It's the tangible proof that your concept is more than just a dreamy idea; it's a reality that's already stirring the market.

Remember, investors are more than just financiers; they are risk assessors. They need evidence that their capital is not going to fall into a void, but it's seeding a venture that has already shown promise. That promise is your traction.

As Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator, puts it, "Startups = Growth. If you have no traction, you have no startup."

Neglecting to highlight your traction is akin to burying your treasure; it may be there, but if investors can't see it, they won't value it.

In essence, traction is the linchpin of your pitch deck, the undeniable proof that your startup has momentum. It's the driving force that can nudge investors from interest to investment.

So, does your pitch deck showcase your star performer?

Inadequate Business Model Description

Your startup pitch deck with an inadequate business model description is a red flag waving high and mighty in front of investors.

Investors are not just investing in a product or a service; they are investing in a journey - your business journey.

They want to understand the route you'll take, the revenue streams you'll tap into, your pricing strategy, and the way you plan to scale.

Hence, your pitch deck must clearly illustrate how your business model tackles a problem effectively and how it will monetize the solution.

Remember, a rocket's flight plan is vital for a successful journey. Similarly, your business model description is crucial for a successful pitch.

So, have you charted your course meticulously? Is your pitch deck ready for take-off?

Poor Market Research

A pitch deck without clear, targeted market research is like a surfer stepping into the ocean without understanding the waves - they're both likely to wipe out.

Your revolutionary idea might be the surfboard, the vessel to ride the entrepreneurial waves, but comprehensive knowledge of the market - its size, your target audience, and the competition - is your understanding of the ocean's rhythm.

Investors, akin to experienced surfers, grasp the importance of this understanding, this market mapping. So, your investigation of the market landscape needs to be thoroughly mentioned in your deck.

Remember, your market research isn't just a tool, it's your surfboard leash, your safety line in the vast, unpredictable ocean of entrepreneurship.

It assures investors you're not just riding the waves, but mastering them. So, ready to surf?

Ineffective Valuation of Startup

A startup's valuation is not just about assigning a price to your business. It's an art that involves assessing the financial, market, and even emotional value of your startup.

It’s the bridge that can connect the entrepreneur’s vision with the investor’s expectations.

As the renowned venture capitalist and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel once said, "You are not a lottery ticket. You have to persuade yourself that you're not just the product of various undirected, random events."

Your startup valuation should echo this sentiment. It should convince investors that their investment is not akin to buying a lottery ticket but a calculated, promising venture.

So, don't let your pitch deck become a shiny car with an elusive price tag. Paint a compelling, reasonable valuation that reflects your startup's true worth and potential.

Too Much Information (TMI)

In the investor-startup world, a pitch deck loaded with excessive information is akin to an overstuffed suitcase - it's heavy, cumbersome, and likely to burst open at the wrong time.

Consider your deck a concise, persuasive sales document. Its sole objective is to secure you a meeting with potential investors. It's not the time or place to delve into the minute details of every business operation.

A well-structured deck should have no more than 10 to 15 slides, each communicating a single, compelling idea with clarity and impact.

Renowned investor and LinkedIn co-founder, Reid Hoffman, has stated, "The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities."

Each slide of your pitch deck must be that priority, a succinctly presented, vital aspect of your startup.

So, remember, you're not penning an autobiography; you're crafting a persuasive teaser. Keep it short, sharp, and impactful. Your pitch deck isn't the destination, it's the compelling trailer that makes investors want to see more.

Lack of a Clear Ask

Asking for funding without specifying the amount needed is like going to a restaurant and ordering "food".

When it comes to your pitch deck, the "Funds Needed" slide is that order, and it needs to be precise.

The 'Ask' in a pitch deck isn't a passing remark. It's the crux of why you're presenting to potential investors in the first place.

It's a clear statement of how much funding you require and what you intend to do with it. Without this, investors may be left with an unsavory taste of confusion and ambiguity.

Providing a clear ask doesn't just demonstrate your financial intelligence; it also gives your potential investors options. It allows them to weigh their willingness and capacity to invest.

So, make your order clear. Let your investors know exactly what you're asking for, how it's going to help your business grow, and why they should be a part of this exciting journey.

After all, isn't it better to savor the meal you really wanted?

Lack of Narrative Structure

Indeed, storytelling lies at the heart of compelling pitch decks. It's one thing to possess a groundbreaking business idea, and it's another entirely to narrate it convincingly to potential investors.

Your pitch deck isn't merely a collection of disparate facts and figures. Instead, it's a gripping narrative, a saga of your startup that keeps investors engrossed from the beginning to the end.

A pitch deck without a well-crafted narrative is akin to a ship drifting aimlessly in the open sea. It may boast all the makings of a robust vessel, but without direction, its journey becomes futile.

Your pitch deck is the stage to translate those midnight worries into a captivating narrative. It interweaves your business idea, market research, and financial projections into a story that's uniquely yours.

A compelling narrative seamlessly binds all the elements of your pitch deck, carrying your startup from the realm of abstract ideas to the tangible land of investment.

So, are you prepared to narrate your tale?


Now that we've set sail through the turbulent waters of pitch deck pitfalls, it's time to anchor our insights.

The truth is, mastering the art of crafting a persuasive pitch deck is akin to creating a hit song - it requires the right mix of elements, a catchy chorus (your key message), and a rhythm that keeps your audience tapping their feet (or in this case, nodding their heads in agreement).

You might have the next big startup idea - the proverbial unicorn - but if your pitch deck is riddled with red flags, your startup's flight might be grounded before it even takes off.

So, ensure your financial projections aren't a wild stab in the dark, your problem statement isn't a vague puzzle, and your understanding of the competition isn't just a passing mention.

Remember, the most compelling deck doesn't just show the 'what' of your business, it reveals the 'why'.

It's the well-woven narrative, the sweet spot between too little and too much information, and the clear 'Ask' that grabs the investors by their collar and makes them sit up.

In the end, your pitch deck is not just a collection of slides; it's your business's first impression. As they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, so make it count.

Let your pitch deck be the golden ticket to your startup's grand premiere!

Here is our complete guide for crafting a compelling pitch deck that boosts your chances of raising funds.

Benjamin gave great tips to my start-up Blend for polishing and optimising my pitch deck, refreshing perspective. Recommend!