Startup Pitch Decks

A few weeks ago, Alex Iskold of TechStars NYC asked me to talk with the Winter 2017 class about constructing an effective fundraising pitch deck. I jumped at the chance because this is an important topic that often comes up with first time and even repeat entrepreneurs when they’re about to embark on a fundraising process. In my short career as a VC, I’ve reviewed thousands of pitch decks and helped hundreds of founders refine their pitches. Additionally, I’m often approached by founder friends to provide feedback on their slides before they go to market. Given pitch decks are frequently discussed and they’re essential in the fundraising process, I thought it would be useful to create a simple guide to building an effective pitch deck.

Our goal with ‘Startup Pitch Decks’ is simple: to provide founders with a simple framework and reference guide that can be utilized before kicking off a fundraising process or when you’re in the throes of drafting your pitch deck. We dive into a number of topics including the ideal format, a sample build process, tips and tricks, advice from RRE founders, and even things to avoid. We’ve tried to make the guide as comprehensive as possible but realize it’s impossible to include every piece of advice and address every question. As such, we’d love to hear your questions, suggestions and feedback. Our aim is to evolve ‘Startup Pitch Decks’ with your help and input so it gets more useful over time.

All that said, it’s my pleasure to present Startup Pitch Decks. Hope you find it useful, thought provoking and perhaps even inspiring.

(Finally, I’d like to thank my colleagues at RRE — Jason Black, Alice Lloyd George and Cooper Zelnick — for providing feedback and adding some polish to the final product)

Don’t Congratulate Me For Writing A Check

On Thursday we announced our Series A investment in Managed by Q. Throughout the day, I received countless congratulatory emails and tweets from friends. “Amazing investment.” “Love that company.” “Nice win.” “HUGE CONGRATS.” And so on. On my way home, as I reflected on these kind messages, it occurred to me that I don’t deserve a pat on the back. There’s a long road ahead for the company, and I really haven’t done shit. Sure, I built a relationship with Dan and Saman, hustled to help Q win new customers and key employees, and gave them a generous term sheet. But writing a check is easy. Being an engaged board member and a supportive partner in good times and bad is the hard part. And building an enduring, category-defining company is nearly impossible.

Mark Cuban once said, “the magic in business isn’t raising money but making money.”

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On Writing: Growth Through Resistance

I have a confession to make. I hate writing. It scares the shit out of me. Since I started this blog a four years ago, I’ve had hundreds of ideas but they’ve remained stuck in my head. When I finally muster up the courage to start writing and I commit to a post, I tend to over analyze every word, every sentence, every paragraph. I always know what I want to write but the words don’t flow easily. Every post seems to take hours. The voice in my head is always doubting and questioning. What will people think of me? What if I’m wrong? What if my grammar is incorrect? Who will disagree with me? What if I offend someone? Who is actually going to read this? The simple act of writing comes naturally and is liberating for others but it’s paralyzing for me. That sucks. It feels awful. I’m sick and tired of holding myself back and giving in to the voice in my head. 

After some reflection over the last few weeks, I’ve decided that being open honest with myself and facing my anxieties will eventually lead to greater fulfillment and personal growth. For many years, I’ve used my phobia of writing as an excuse not to share my thoughts with others. This negative mindset has admittedly weighed me down with inaction, anxiety and self doubt. If I don’t fight this perceived weakness and face it head on, I’ll never be able to grow personally, improve as a writer and share my ideas with family, friends, colleagues and strangers. What a shame that would be. Those days are over starting right now. I’m making a commitment to myself to start writing more frequently. I’m finished caring what people think. I’m finished worrying about perfect grammar. I’m finished comparing my writing to others. I’m finished holding myself back. I want to grow. I want to share my ideas. I want to learn. I want to write from the heart. I want this for myself.  

Hightower: The System of Record for Real Estate

A few years ago, Brandon Weber, CEO and Cofounder of Hightower, and I were catching up over a casual dinner in Brooklyn. We had met ten years earlier when we started our careers at Microsoft and quickly became friends.  A few months before our dinner, Brandon left the commercial real estate (CRE) brokerage powerhouse CBRE, where we was a Vice President, to start Hightower because he saw that the industry was broken. He explained in fine detail the great paradox facing the industry. Despite CRE being a fifteen trillion dollar market and highly data intensive, many of the processes were manual and relied heavily on paper, excel and email.  Additionally, existing industry standard solutions such as Yardi, MRI and Argus were siloed and 20 years old. Brandon explained that he and his cofounders, Donald and Niall, were starting Hightower to solve these problems.

I was initially skeptical because I had seen dozens of real estate tech startups and many of them struggled to gain adoption with institutional landlords and brokers. CRE remained one of the major industries that hadn’t embraced the cloud and mobile.  My gut told me there was a huge opportunity because at some point in the near future “software would eat” CRE. After spending more time with Brandon and his cofounders, they convinced me the time had come and they were the right team to back.  They argued the market was ready because brokers and landlords were using iPhones, Google, Facebook and other cloud-based tools in their personal lives.  These customers now wanted and expected the same quality of tools at work.  As we dug deeper, it became obvious that Brandon, Donald and Niall were the right team to invest in because they had the unique blend of domain expertise and world-class product experience. A few months later, RRE Ventures was lucky to invest in Hightower’s seed round along with strategic investors Thrive, Bessemer, The Box Group, and Red Swan among others.

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Apple Watch Venture In Residence

In just two weeks from now, the Apple Watch finally comes to market after months of anticipation and speculation. You may recall back in November, Apple released its WatchKit SDK to developers and companies to ensure there would be a large selection of apps when the wearable computer hits the market. In fact, Tim cook wrote in a memo earlier this week that more than a thousand apps have already been submitted to the App Store. Based on intuition and early screenshots, many of the initial apps will be geared towards communication, news, payments, transportation, health and productivity. Like with any new platform, it’s mind bending to think about the range of apps and services that we’ll now be able to access with a flick of our wrist. 

The big question that everyone’s asking is: Does Apple still have the magic to create a category defining product that will ship hundreds of millions of units? People much smarter than me believe Apple Watch will be a flop. Additionally, many of the early reviews have been mediocre because the user interface has a steep learning curve. Taking a contrarian angle is understandable given we’ve become tethered and addicted to our smartphones and Apple Watch feels like a nice to have rather than a must have. I personally struggle with making predictions and betting against Apple before a single unit has shipped. What I do know today? Thousands of developers are building apps, Apple Watch is beautiful and hyper personal, and Apple is putting all of its marketing might behind the launch. In my limited experience, that’s a recipe that I probably wouldn’t bet against.    

Given the developer interest we’re seeing, I strongly believe that thousands of watch-specific apps will emerge over the next few years and several large companies will be built on top of this new platform. I don’t pretend to know what the winners will look like and where value will be created but I do know that RRE Ventures is eager to learn and invest in the ecosystem.  As part of this process, we’ve decided to establish the RRE Venture In Residence Program which will initially focus on Apple Watch.

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Shuddle: Scheduled Rides for Busy Families

When I was a kid my mom always used to complain how she had to schlep us around town. Often times she had to be in three places at once and finding alternative transportation wasn’t easy.  Not much has changed twenty years later. Talk with any parent today. Many will admit that safe and reliable transportation is one of their biggest challenges. The reality is households are busier than ever and the stay-at-home mom is a relic of the past.  

Last October I stumbled across an article in Recode that featured a new startup called Shuddle. The piece described Shuddle as “Uber for kids.” It occurred to me that Shuddle was trying to solve the transportation problem that has haunted families for decades. Several hours later, the article was emailed around the firm because the idea of providing safe and reliable transportation for kids resonated with the group. Everyone agreed that we had to meet this company.    

The following month, Rebecca Kaden of Maveron introduced me to Nick Allen, Shuddle’s Founder and CEO. Prior to starting the company, Nick co-founded Sidecar, a popular ride sharing application. At Sidecar, he observed many families were using Sidecar to transport their kids. Upon further research, he discovered that traditional ride sharing companies aren’t built to handle that customer segment.  They typically don’t have the right insurance and it’s against their terms of service since passengers must be at least 18 years old. In discussions with many parents, he discovered they don’t trust the existing brands since safety isn’t built into their products. While Nick isn’t a parent, it was clear to me after the first meeting that he was going to build the safest and most reliable transportation product in the world. 

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Products I Couldn't Live Without in 2014

Every year around the holidays, my buddy and fellow Patriots fan, Ryan Spoon, compiles a list of his favorite products. I’ve always enjoyed reading his annual post so I’ve decided to follow his lead and curate my own list. Given I review and test hundreds if not thousands of new products each year, I’m fascinated by the ones that create enough value that I come back to over and over again.  These are the apps, tools and gadgets that cut through the clutter and ultimately made my life more productive, happier and healthier in 2014. 

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New Investment: theSkimm

About three years ago when I was at Lerer Ventures, I first met Carly Zakin, Co-Founder of theSkimm, through my friend Rob Fishman. At the time, she was working at NBC News as a Producer and wrestling with her next career move. We discussed a number of her options including joining a startup or building one from scratch. Later that winter, Carly was back in my office explaining that she was hours away from quitting her job to start a media company with her best friend Danielle Weisberg. Carly and Danielle ultimately launched theSkimm because they could not ignore a huge void in the market — they saw that their friends, who are intelligent and super busy, were not engaging with news in a way they enjoyed, fit into their routine, or made them keep coming back for more. 

theSkimm is the first company that has been able to transform news and information into a lifestyle brand.  The team is obsessed with making it easier to be smarter and finding ways information can be streamlined into their audiences routines. Their first product, the Daily Skimm, is an email newsletter that arrives in your inbox every morning and provides all the news you need to know for the day. In essence, theSkimm is recreating what morning television means for their target audience. The numbers prove that Carly and Danielle are on to something big. theSkimm now boasts more than one million active readers, thousands of volunteer Skimm’bassadors in more than twenty cities, and an authentic voice that its readers trust. 

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Radical Transparency: Review Me on Dunwello

Earlier this year, Dunwello, a review and ratings site for people, quietly launched to provide more transparency into how effective people are at their jobs. The service is the brainchild of Boston-based serial entrepreneurs, Matt Lauzon and Matt Brand. They founded the company on the core belief that every person at every company should be both happy and productive. In essence Dunwello is a lightweight review platform that enables anyone to receive “micro feedback” from customers, colleagues and partners. If Yelp and Glassdoor are used for reviewing businesses, Dunwello is used to review people at businesses. Think of it as a Net Promoter Score (NPS) for professionals. The company is currently targeting beauty stylists and fitness coaches but just about any worker can have a profile: therapists, lawyers, doctors, freelancers, handymen, cleaners and even VCs.

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Improving Human Interaction

While on vacation I decided to finally read the timeless classic by Dale Carnegie, ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People.’ The book was first published in 1936 and has sold more than fifteen million copies worldwide. It’s the granddaddy of all people skill books. Many of the lessons contained within are still relevant for anyone that deals with people.  Given Venture Capital is a highly social business with thousands of human touch points each year, this book was probably one of the most important I have ever read. 

We have a saying at RRE that our brand is the sum total of the positive and negative interactions that someone has with our team. Every touchpoint matters regardless of the medium (face to face, email, social media, etc.) and those involved (founders, limited partners, other VCs, etc.). At the most fundamental level, we operate in relationship-driven industry so we’re only as good as the interactions that people have with us (and of course the success of our investments). 

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New Investment: Breather

Two years ago I was introduced to Julien Smith, Founder / CEO of Montreal and NYC-based Breather, by my good friend Taylor Davidson. Taylor explained that Breather was building a new type of private cafe that could be accessed via mobile app. I thought the concept sounded crazy and unique at the same time so I agreed to take a meeting with Julien. When I first met Julien and he explained the concept to me, I believed he was absolutely nuts. For those of you who haven’t heard of Breather, it’s a network of private spaces you can access by the hour through an iPhone and Android app. Think of Breather as productive and private space on demand. 

Breather quietly launched in NYC earlier this year and Julien encouraged me to give it a shot. I believe I was one of their first customers. In fact, I was so pleasantly surprised by the experience I decided to write a detailed post about what it’s like to work in a Breather space. I had never experienced anything quite like it. The company created a “full stack” experience that felt like magic. Pull out my phone. Activate the Breather app. Pick a location. Reserve a time slot. Invite colleagues. Turn by turn directions to the space. Arrive at the door. Access the space via the Breather app. And presto! I now have private space all to myself. Here’s where Breather is different: they own the end-to-end experience from the app all the way down to the look and feel of the spaces. The experience is carefully crafted and consistent throughout the network. You can tell the team deeply cares about the user experience. A well-known investor used the service after I encouraged him to give it a try. He texted me immediately afterwards and simply wrote, “It was flawless.”  

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Tinybop: Educating Kids In Every Country

Several years ago when I was at Lerer Ventures, Sam Gerstenzang, our summer intern, recommended  that I meet with Raul Gutierrez, Founder CEO of a Brooklyn-based creative studio called Tinybop.  When Sam explained that Tinybop was building educational apps for kids, I was immediately skeptical because I’ve seen hundreds of companies in the space and my identical twin brother founded a children’s media studio, CloudKid.  After some back and forth with Sam, I begrudgingly agreed to meet with Raul but promised that I would keep an open mind. Over the course of the next two years, Raul and I spent countless hours talking about the future of children’s media and his vision for building the next great education brand.  To Raul’s credit, he was able to transform me from a skeptic to a believer.  Despite the space being hyper competitive with thousands of app publishers, I truly believe that Tinybop is the one percent of the one percent.  That’s why I’m incredibly excited and proud to announce that RRE has led Tinybop’s Series A Financing with participation from TwoSigma, KEC, Brooklyn Bridge Ventures and Kapor Capital.  

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Standards of Performance & Organizational Values

I recently finished reading the seminal leadership book, The Score Takes Care of Itself, by Bill Walsh, the legendary 49ers Head Coach. In 1979 when Walsh took over the 49ers, the franchise was the laughing stock of the NFL as it managed to win only two games that season. However, in less than two years, Walsh led the 49ers from last place to Super Bowl Champs. A true Cinderella story. When Walsh left the franchise ten years later, the team had won three Super Bowl Championships and completed perhaps the greatest run in NFL history. 

How did Walsh fuel this transformation and build one of the great NFL dynasties? He credited his “Standards of Performance” as the catalyst for driving organizational change and maintaining a high level of performance during his tenure with the team. Walsh codified his “Standards of Performance” and drove them throughout every level of the organization including the administrative staff.  Within the first year, there was a dramatic shift in the way that everyone approached and performed their jobs.  Nothing short of excellence and a team first attitude would be tolerated.  

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On Demand Everything

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the “Uberfication” of the U.S. service economy. Given the positive response from founders, investors and the broader tech community, my partners at RRE invited me to speak about this investment theme at our annual meeting this afternoon.  As part of my talk, I prepared a high level presentation which summarizes the opportunity (see embed below).  As always, would love to hear your questions, comments and / or feedback.  We’re always looking to get smarter about how mobile is simplifying our lives and reshaping our economy.     

https://www.slideshare.net/schlaf/on-demand-everything

Uberification of the US Service Economy

Since I joined RRE Ventures last fall, I’ve spent time researching mobile on-demand services that we are able to access with a push of a button. “On-demand mobile services” (ODMS) is a broad category so I believe it’s important to start with a definition.  My friend Semil Shah defines ODMS as “apps which aggregate consumer demand on mobile devices, but fulfill that demand through offline services.”  I’ll take it one step further:  ODMS deliver a “closed loop” experience by collapsing the value chain including discovery, order, payment, fulfillment (offline but within owned network) and confirmation. In the pre-mobile era we had to search yellow pages (or google), find a provider, call  or email that provider, wait to connect with someone, schedule a convenient time, hope the provider arrives on time, and then pay with a credit card or cash.  Thankfully, a new array of mobile services removes all of that friction we were used to experiencing. Welcome to the uberification of our service economy.

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What I've read so far in 2014

One of my 2014 goals is to read at least one book per month. To help me achieve this goal, I decided to buy a Kindle Paperwhite so I could read on the subway and have an uninterrupted reading experience while at home.  Like many people, I’ve struggled reading books on Apple devices because the screen isn’t optimal and I’m constantly being distracted by notifications. The Kindle, which I think is the ultimate single purpose device, has changed my life because I’ve honestly never enjoyed reading so much. While I still have ten months until I achieve my goal, I’ve already read more books in 2014 than I did in all of 2013. Here are the books I’ve read so far this year: 

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Why Saying No Is Hard

Being an investor isn’t easy for a number of reasons. But the hardest part for me is saying “No.” I meet hundreds of entrepreneurs each year, and at RRE Ventures we invest in only a small percentage of them. VC’s generally invest in less than 1% of companies they meet. So if you do the math, you know I have to say “No” a lot.

There are countless reasons why we choose not to back an early stage venture. Market size. Wrong team. Bad timing. Competition. Traction. Lack of monetization. Little or no competitive advantage. Outside our expertise. Valuation. I could go on. 

But regardless of whether I exchange a quick email with a founder or spend hours getting to know him or her, passing is the worst. It’s the only part of my job that I truly hate. And it’s not just because I lose the option to invest down the road. I hate passing because my daily work with entrepreneurs has given me a good look into their struggles…what founders sacrifice daily to ensure that their company is in a better place tomorrow than it is today. It becomes personal, emotional…it's only human to feel for the founders who…

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Nail Your Seed Round

Several years ago I started teaching a class on raising seed capital at General Assembly and Skillshare.   I initially created the class because friends and founders were coming to me for fundraising advice and I was answering generally the same questions over and over.  

A few months ago, I realized the initial slideshare that I used for dozens of classes was good as long as there was a voiceover but not great as a standalone guide. I decided to speak with a handful of my students and founders to see what they would want in a v2 fundraising resource.  

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What Startups Can Learn from Bill Belichick

“There is an old saying about the strength of the wolf is the pack, and I think there is a lot of truth to that. On a football team, it’s not the strength of the individual players, but it’s the strength of the unit and how they all function together.“ 

-Bill Belichick

This Sunday The New England Patriots are playing in their 8th Conference Championship in the Bill Belichick era. During this fourteen year span, The Patriots and their legendary head coach have not had a losing season and won an NFL-best 163 regular season games, 3 Super Bowls, 5 AFC Conference Championships, 11 AFC East Division Championships.  These numbers are especially impressive since the NFL is designed for parity in the salary-cap era.    

I’m sure you’re asking yourself, how are The Patriots able to maintain excellence over a long period of time while other teams slide up and down the standings?  The answer lies in how Bill Belichick recruits, motivates, and compensates his coaches and players.  And I strongly believe that startup founders can take away some important lessons by studying how The Patriots handle HR and personnel decisions.

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