Sunday, April 18, 2010

Pitch Deck Study Hall Cheat Sheet

It’s been a couple of months since I “hosted” a Pitch Deck Study Hall in which I solicited pitch decks and offered to give some feedback on the decks. The response was great – definitely soaked up the two hours I allotted (and then some), and I still have pitch decks coming in.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get to all of them. So in reflecting on the decks for which I was able to send some feedback, I realized there were a few things I found myself repeating. For the people who haven’t yet sent me a deck or did but I haven’t been able to review, I thought I would consolidate a few tips:
  1. Words words words. The piece of feedback I found myself repeating most often was: way too wordy. This is how I think about it: Pitch decks aren’t made to be read, they’re glanced. A person should be able to glance at a slide and in 5-10 seconds “get” the point of the slide. It shouldn’t take 15-20 minutes to read a 15 slide deck. Think about what it would be like if you were presenting the slides. Would you expect the audience to focus on reading your slides instead of listening to your presentation? Of course not. They should be able to glance at your slide and get the point so they can focus on what you’re actually saying. My favorite decks were simple and elegant. They showed, not told. And did so with just enough words.
  2. Looks matter. Sorry, it's not just in your dating life :) The easiest way to make a great first impression on a VC, Angel or potential customer is to have one fine-looking deck. Some decks I saw just felt clean and professional. I could tell the person who put the deck together understood consumers, and that he or she would bring that same design aesthete and attention to detail to the design of their product. Other decks took away from the content of the slides with their unpolished presentation. Basically, you want your deck to be attractive and have a good personality. Does that mean you need to pay a designer to design a ppt master slide layout? No. But do what you can -- it goes a long way.
  3. Tell a story. A pitch deck is an opportunity to tell a story. When a reader effortlessly flows from one slide to the next, you have total control over that voyage. A choppy, random assortment of slides creates friction for your reader (or "glancer"). To test your story, try reading your slides out loud – does it flow? If you’re having trouble figuring out the right order for your slides, when I was working at a consulting firm, I remember I went through a workshop on the Pyramid Principle. You only need to read the first couple of chapters (at least that’s all I did – whoops!) but I really think it helps you think about how to structure the flow. That, or you can read my colleague David Cowan's great blog post, How to NOT Write a Business Plan (the ultimate pitch deck cheat sheet!).
Hope that’s helpful and look forward to hosting another Study Hall some time soon.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The NYC Echo Chamber (It's a good thing!)

I've been lucky to be involved in the NYC tech community for almost four great years now. It's really been wonderful to see how the scene has come into its own, especially in the last 12-18 months. Although NYC has always been home to a vibrant group of companies, NYC's newest generation includes a bunch of rising stars ranging from FourSquare to Invite Media to Rent the Runway to Learnvest to Venmo to HotPotato to Stickybits to Kickstarter to Tracked to Aviary to Knewton to OMGPOP to Hunch (disclosure: last three are bvp investments), and many more. As these companies continue to succeed and reach new heights, I'm noticing there is a virtuous cycle taking place in NYC that hasn't existed before. Call it the NYC Echo Chamber.

With each new employee these startups bring into the fold, the NYC tech scene becomes an increasingly dense social fabric. We hang out together, drink together, go to NYC tech events together, follow each other on Twitter and on each other's blogs. The net result is that when a new (often times consumer internet) startup is launched in the city, it's not unusual for the startup to get some great NYC grassroots "press".

For example, I remember not too long ago, Venmo caught fire on Twitter. Many of us in the NYC community know the company's co-founder, Kortina and thus were both curious and supportive of his newest venture. As Kortina's inner circle started to experiment with Venmo, suddenly announcements of people Venmo-ing money ricocheted through my twitter feed and inbox from one New Yorker to another (and therefore beyond the NYC community). At least for me, for a couple days, NYC and Twitter felt like a Venmo echo chamber. Soon thereafter, Venmo closed a seed round from NYC-based RRE Ventures, Betaworks and Lerer Media Ventures.

As far as I'm concerned, this is fantastic. SF-based companies have benefited from this effect for some time (even in pre-twitter times given the focus of more traditional media on SF-based companies). But it's taken some time for NYC to reach the critical mass to belarge enough (and tight enough) to be able to serve as a great catalyst for many up and coming NYC-based startups. All in all, this is one echo chamber I'm honored to be a part of, and hope it continues to get louder.