Don't send me your deck

Slide decks have replaced business plans of the previous decade as the document of record to tell a startup’s story. Lots has been written about the ideal length and format for decks so I won’t get into that here, but how you manage and control your deck after you’ve refined it is nearly as important as the content itself. I recently asked a CEO, with whom I’ve become friendly, to send me the deck in advance of a presentation they were scheduled to give us. This was a request I had made 100s of times before so I didn’t think much of it. I wanted the deck to review and begin thinking about the mechanics of this particular business in the hopes of making the formal pitch more engaging. The CEO declined, saying he preferred to control the narrative and would share materials after the presentation. The competitor in me felt slightly defeated, but I quickly laughed it off, remembering a policy I set earlier in my own career to never share sales decks. The rationale back then was that one of two things is likely to happen by sharing sales decks: 1. without controlling the narrative, the message may be misconstrued; and/or 2. the deck will end up in the hands of competition. Neither of these outcomes is particularly helpful. The logic this time around was no different, and I ended up feeling even more impressed by this CEOs leadership than if he had given me what I wanted.

While it may be convenient for lazy VCs, there is little upside for an entrepreneur to email a deck. The narrative rarely comes across without the voiceover and you have to assume the deck will get around. I now recommend to all my companies to limit the emailing around of fundraising or sales decks. Your business plan and trade secrets are too valuable. If a VC or sales prospect won’t make time to sit down and discuss your business with you, they’re probably not worth your time. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. While raising a seed round, particularly managing a big syndicate of angels, sharing materials can help optimize for time. In the course of doing BD, one-pagers and other sales collateral is often necessary to pique a prospect's interest. And there are products like ClearSlide that provide some controls which make sharing decks less risky. Some VCs reading this are probably cursing me right now, but the reality is that there's been a gradual power shift in the industry that only serves to amplify this point. Entrepreneurs have more of the power and VCs have less. Continuing to say “send me your deck” - implying that the VC remains the gatekeeper - represents the old paradigm and doesn’t recognize how the landscape has shifted. Equally relevant, when I think about my first meetings with the past six or so CEOs that ultimately resulted in investment, the vast majority of them were free form conversations without a deck to frame them. My favorite meetings with entrepreneurs don’t involve decks. They involve two people, talking about a business, without any constraints or templates imposed thereon.

By Josh Guttman