We Raised Money for Our Startup Without an Investor Deck. Here's How.
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
When we were raising money for our clean beauty startup, NakedPoppy, we got plenty of advice from fellow entrepreneurs. One said, "Whatever you do, do not send your deck in advance."
Her reasoning? Investors love to look smart. One way they achieve this is by shooting rapid-fire holes in your plan. This is especially easy when you are two women, two laptops and an idea. So, the best way to control the situation, according to my friend's reasoning, is to not give them fodder they can mull over in advance.
For us, there was a simpler reason we never sent our deck in advance. We didn't have one.
I had become a fan of the Amazon-style six-page memo, for all the same reasons Amazon believes in them. When you write, you are forced to be crisp. Words are precise. You cannot fool yourself or dance around your thoughts.
In other words, no fuzzy thinking or in-the-moment interpretation, as is possible with slides.
For readers, the format is usually magical. In 15 minutes they can inhale what might take four times as long to digest with a live presentation. Without interruption, they can see precisely how your logic flows. What's the customer problem? What's the solution? What's your differentiation? How will you make it work? You can then have a fully informed discussion at the end.
So, that's what we did. We summarized our entire vision in less than six pages.
The memo began as something we carefully crafted for ourselves. We genuinely wanted to be sure our dissection of the customer problem and our solution hung together. Where there were holes in our thinking, we talked to prospective customers -- online and in shopping malls and farmers markets. We iterated, challenged ourselves and iterated some more.
I dared to show the early draft to a mentor, Thomas Layton, for his feedback. Two reactions ensued:
- He became an angel investor.
- He advised us to not waste time translating the material to a pitch deck. "Go contrarian. It's a better format anyway," he said.
Well, not everyone agreed. All of the following happened to us:
A Palo Alto venture capitalist asked for our presentation before the meeting. We said we didn't have one. Because we didn't. The VC disappeared.
In Menlo Park, a venture capitalist said, "You are trying to change the way we operate, but let me tell you something: People don't like change." In Silicon Valley, investors eat disruption for breakfast, lunch and dinner so we were rather disappointed. The VC did not invest.
Another Menlo Park venture capitalist cringed. "I'd like to invest, but please, for the love of God, create a slide deck to share with my partners. I will even sit with you and help you craft it."
By then, we'd become convinced that decks were a waste of time and that VCs should like co-founders who don't waste time. We said no and held our breath. And held it. And held it. We think of ourselves as pretty humble, but what if we'd overstepped? The VC convinced his partners to invest.
An East Coast venture capitalist said, "I wasn't interested the first time I read your memo. But, I read it a second time, and a third time, and it grew on me. Anybody this precise in their writing deserves consideration." The VC invested.
We know that taking a different approach was risky. But, it was what we believed in, and we didn't want to change our tune.
It's true that a written document doesn't work in every context (think: large audiences). But, in small group settings, where details matter, there's really nothing like it.