From the October 2013 issue of Entrepreneur

Adam Tratt and Kevin Leneway didn't set out to build a productivity app for small businesses. In 2011 the Seattle TechStars alums were busy trying to get their celebrity-driven Facebook game off the ground.

Despite raising $600,000 in seed money, partnering with rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot (yes, he of "Baby Got Back" fame) and nabbing a mention on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, Mix-N-Match With Sir Mix-A-Lot flopped. Nobody wanted to play.

After a couple of course corrections fizzled out, Tratt and Leneway knew the jig was up. It was time to tell their investors they'd failed. Like good 'treps, they planned to show up with a slide deck. But without their in-house designer, who had left when Mix-N-Match imploded, creating a decent deck was tear-your-hair-out frustrating. That's when lightning struck.

The duo knew they couldn't be the only small business struggling to put together a slick presentation without a design staff. So they decided to invent a simpler way to get the job done. They built Haiku Deck, a free iPad app that can easily build spiffy slide decks.

Here's how it works: Type in a keyword, and the app searches the web for relevant images licensed via the nonprofit group Creative Commons, complete with attribution.

Original photos are easy to add; charts and graphs can be created from scratch. The result is a hip, polished presentation that's shareable on any device with a web browser. Presentations also can be shared via Facebook, Twitter and e-mail, or on a blog or website.

Adam Tratt of Haiku Deck
Adam Tratt of Haiku Deck

Haiku Deck launched to rave reviews. "I've never seen such enthusiasm for a product," says CEO Tratt, who cut his product-development teeth as an original employee of game company Cranium, bought in 2008 by Hasbro.

Not wanting to waste momentum, he and Leneway, who serves as CTO, quickly began raising capital last fall. In March they closed a $3 million Series A round led by Bellevue, Wash.-based Trilogy Partnership, with contributions from Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group. (Madrona first invested in the two during their Sir-Mix-A-Lot days.)

Yuval Neeman, a partner at Trilogy and a Haiku Deck board member, was attracted to the deal by the way the app democratizes presentation design and modernizes it for the mobile age. "Every business has a story to tell," Neeman says. "Haiku Deck makes it so much easier than existing tools to do that."

Haiku Deck's customer base of more than 600,000--who mainly use it for sales pitches or real-estate listings--have created more than 1 million slides. It's been ranked a No. 1 productivity app in 36 international markets on the App Store.

The app operates on a freemium model: The free version comes with seven slide-deck themes; additional themes cost $1.99 apiece or $14.99 for the entire 19-theme suite. Stock photos from Getty Images also are available through the app at $1.99 a pop.

Tratt is using much of the $3 million raised this year to flesh out the development team (11 employees and counting), improve the product (a web-based version rolled out this summer) and offer above-and-beyond customer service (Haiku Deck employees like to surprise customers who make a support request by picking up the phone and calling them).

The short-term goal is to grow the customer base. The long-term goal is to build a premium set of features--such as better analytics and the ability to capture sales leads--to sell to businesses at a subscription rate. Says Tratt: "We want to build a scalable platform that lots of people can use to create awesome presentations."