It’s common practice among investors (and LPs) to “share decks.” In a world where all the action is in the private markets and where deal flow is never ending, scanning a deck shared and received via email is the quickest way to make a first impression and make a subconscious decision to invest more time in the opportunity itself. To be clear for this post, once bigger institutions start getting involved, having a set of slide decks (one to be emailed, one to present with) is critical, though as the market is pushing me to invest earlier and earlier, I’ve made some of my recent very early-investments either with an unpolished deck or no deck at all. And, it all got me thinking — at the very earliest of stages, does a deck even matter?
A number of people who I respect and who have way more experience than I do commented that decks are critical as a test to see how a founder can distill and communicate succinctly. It’s a critical form of business communications. No argument from me — though in the very early stages, what if the product isn’t well defined yet? What if the team is still forming? What if there’s data but it’s paltry? What if the product or service requires a behavior change or new market to form?
When I’ve met these most recent founders, they were working on a product or service, trying to design their model, and I saw something big in the mess of each early-stage company. In some cases, I went in and offered up my point of view of how it could be explained, especially to an investor audience. I don’t believe people starting these new companies spend too much time trying to fit their creation into a few slides or model — in fact, the opposite can be a negative signal, an overly polished slide in the early-stages can oftentimes reek. And, sometimes people creating this stuff don’t fully grasp what they could potentially have — which is why I get interested and involved early.
So, yes, eventually, you’ll need a deck. No argument there. But in the very early stages, other things can go a long way. People using and talking about your product on blogs and Twitter; or people talking about your service in the press (organically); or simply speaking to investors who can offer their own POV on how they conceive of your model after a phone or f2f conversation. Here, a short 3-5 slide investment deck may be worthwhile, just listing team, product, and vision — as a vehicle to get the call or get the meeting. Like Charles, I find the live conversation to be the most revealing.