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)

A Bunch Of VCs Went On A Retreat. Here’s What Happened.

This past weekend I had the good fortune of participating in the first Reboot VC Bootcamp. For those of you who don’t know Reboot, it’s a values-driven organization led by Jerry Colonna that primarily helps founders and their teams deal with the constant ups and downs of startup life. At the most fundamental level, Reboot is a personal development company that offers bootcamps, executive coaching, 360 reviews and a variety of other programs to help leaders discover their true selves. Reboot also publishes useful and powerful content including a phenomenal podcast hosted by Jerry. I can’t say enough great things about this organization, its team, and their mission.

This formula is the essence of Reboot:

PRACTICAL SKILLS + RADICAL SELF-INQUIRY + SHARED EXPERIENCES

= ENHANCED LEADERSHIP + GREATER RESILIENCY

Jerry and Brad Feld, a Partner at Foundry Group and Co-founder of Techstars, decided to run a bit of an experiment. Instead of facilitating a boot camp for founders, they tailored a program designed specifically for venture investors. Jerry and Brad have over forty years of combined investment experience. They’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. Most importantly, they deeply care about the startup ecosystem and believe in paying it forward. When they’re in a room together the discussion is always authentic, insightful and inspirational.

Over the weekend, sixteen investors from funds of all sizes and both coasts descended on Boulder, CO to speak openly about our challenges and to learn how to improve our interactions with our portfolio companies and the founders we work with. Jerry and Brad worked closely with the group to help us uncover our authentic leadership styles and provided practical skills for managing the array of feelings that can be triggered as we navigate the startup ecosystem. The goal of the weekend was to help each of us become the best board member, investor, supporter that we can possibly be.

Read More

Investing With A New Purpose

Several weeks ago, I was hanging out with Lindsay Ullman of Sidewalk Labsand we were talking about some of the companies I’ve backed at RRE andLerer Hippeau Ventures. She paused at one of them and asked, “Do you believe this company is good for the world?” Candidly, I was caught off guard. I wasn’t expecting such a direct question and didn’t consider it much when I was making the initial investment. I didn’t know what to say.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve thought about my conversation with Lindsay at least a dozen times. Her question forced me to be honest with myself about the reasons why I funded this startup, and the rationale behind some of my other investments too. I realized that my investment philosophy had been slowly changing for some time, and our conversation was a kind of tipping point. I finally arrived at the following conclusion: If a company doesn’t solve a worthy problem and make the world a better place, then I have no business investing in it.

Read More

The Advice a Cabbie Gave Me The Day I Moved to NYC

On this day nine years ago, I stuffed two huge duffel bags with all my clothes, left my apartment in Seattle for the final time and boarded a red eye in route to NYC. At the time, many emotions and questions were racing through my mind. Do I have what it takes to succeed in the big city? Will I be able to survive in the concrete jungle away from the mountains and lakes of the Pacific Northwest? How the hell am I going to navigate the subway? Will I make enough money to live comfortably? I was nervous about so many unknowns but amped about the endless potential and opportunities of NYC.

When I finally landed at JFK and deplaned, I was still half asleep and took a minute to get my bearings. I then stumbled to the baggage carousel, located my overstuffed bags and hoisted them on to a SmarteCarte so I could make my way to the taxi stand. Since I landed early on a Sunday morning and the airport was virtually empty, I was able to stroll right to the front of the line. As soon as I got to the curb, I was greeted by a middle aged cabbie from the Bronx with a thick New York accent. He got out of the taxi, helped me load my bags into his trunk and slammed the door behind me as I got into the back seat.

We made eye contact through the rearview mirror and he asked, “Where would you like to go, chief?” I fumbled with my tattered itinerary, glanced back at him and relayed, “I’m heading to 48th Street between 7th and 8th Avenue. Do you know how to get there?” The cabbie laughed for a second and glanced back at me. “With all that stuff, you must moving to the city, huh? What brings you here?” I explained that I had just moved to the big city for a new job and was starting a new life. Our eyes met in the rearview mirror once again. He then he became serious and delivered words I’ll never forget:

Read More

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.”

Read More

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.  

Transitions

Over the weekend I was fortunate to participate in my first “Medi Club,” a monthly gathering of urban-dwelling meditators. Medi Club is the brainchild of Jesse Israel who wanted to create a safe place for modern meditators that achieved three core goals 1) meditate with like-minded meditators; 2) discuss how meditation relates to issues like relationships, creativity, sex and work/life balance; and 3) deepen practice with new knowledge and interaction with the community. Here’s a little more context on what Medi Club is all about: ‘A Place for Modern Meditators.’ Last night’s theme was centered around transitions in life and work. This particular topic has been top of mind for Jesse because he’s in the process of finding a new path.

For many people, going through a career transition can be both exciting and scary. There’s so much unknown. What are people going to think of me? Can I survive without an income? What do I want to do with my life? Who should I talk with? What would make me happy? Who do I aspire to work with? How long will this take? So much is on the line. For many New Yorkers, a big part of our identity is tied to what we do for a living because it provides meaning and context in a dense city with eight million people. When our immediate existence is challenged, it’s only natural to feel anxiety and uncomfortable because there’s so much uncertainty. In my own career, I’ve found change is never easy but it’s a natural step in the process and it’s required to evolve into a better human.  

Read More

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. 

Read More

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. 

Read More

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. 

Read More

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.

Read More

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). 

Read More

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.”  

Read More

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.  

Read More

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.  

Read More

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

The Era of Decentralized Computing

Over the last three months, my partner Adam Ludwin and I have been spending a good chunk of our time researching and thinking about decentralized technologies and networks.  I’ve just started my quest to understand exactly what’s going on but believe ‘decentralization’ will emerge as a mega trend in the next two to three years.  We’re not only seeing decentralized innovation around the block chain and mesh networks like OpenGarden (global) and NYCmeshnet (local) but also around storage and content delivery. My Spidey Senses tell me implications of this trend will fundamentally transform the way in which we all connect to the internet and exchange value.  It’s pretty hard not to get excited about this shift. 

RRE is actively making bets in these types of emerging technologies so I’m trying to learn as much as I can by devouring blogs, talking to founders and listening to podcasts every night.  In my quest to learn the basics, I recently stumbled upon a great podcast titled Let’s Talk Bitcoin and was pleasantly surprised when I discovered the latest installment features David Irvine, Founder / CEO of MaidSafe, one of the leading proponents for decentralized computing. In his talk David explains why decentralized architectures are good for the internet, the story behind MadeSafe and his philosophy on building a platform that creates rather than extracts value.  

Read More

Update My VC

Today we are launching Update My VC - a modern guide on how founders can easily update and keep in touch with your investors. At RRE we always strive to provide the best possible support to our companies, but we realize you’re slammed building product, growing your business and recruiting the best talent. We also understand the last thing you want to think about and have time for is sending a lengthly update to your investors. 

To make this process easier for you, we’ve created a Tumblr blog that outlines the perfect investor update. Our template includes Highlights, Lowlights, Product, KPIs/Core Metrics, Business Development, Hiring, Financing, Press, Help Wanted, and Kudos. The site even has an Email Template button that auto generates a blank investor update as a new email message.

Additionally, we’ve included a library of resources including useful blog posts, slideshares, and Quora discussions.  Our expectation is to update this library so the most useful content and advice is all in one place.  We view this as an evolving site and community so feel free to share your questions, comments and feedback with community@rre.com

Finally, I’d like to thank Amrit Richmond and Kane Hsieh from the RRE team for their help in launching this site.