Designing Your Startup Deck – Dave Mack, Sketchdeck ceo


I just want to cover quite a broad amount
of ground, but we’ll keep it quite a high level, thinking about going from nothing to
having to a really great pitch deck. Part of that slightly involves content. We’re all
talking about fund raising pitch decks today. The first thing is that…To frame all of
this, there are a lot of different of types of pitch decks, and the answers for what works
most appropriate there is different. Everything from your Demo Day deck is all like super
big, super bold to something that you’re going pitch to VC’s in a room, to something you’re
going to just talk over coffee, to things you’re going to email. All of these are going
to have a slightly different answer, and that prefaces everything we think about. I just
want to be wary of the saying, “Always have massive text.” That only works in some scenarios. A lot of people ask us about the pitch deck
process. The way we frame it is you want start out and do this whole thing intuitively. So
thinking of when you’re first learning about pitching, you’re going to get together your
story arch and find advisers – people you trust, people you’re happy to talk to about
this – and start to just talk it through with them, and don’t even have any slides. And
then as you start to find a pitch that comes back with – people get it, people like it,
people are excited about it – then start to bring it to a wider audience. That’s the point
at which you’re going to start thinking about design. We would say that the amount of design
effort should be inversely proportional to how well you know the person. If you’re sending
out to Demo Day 500 people you’ve never met, you want to be really impressive and beautiful
because they’re going to judge you straightaway on what they see. If they see something that
seems polished, they will assume that the internals of your company are polished; that
your operations are stellar, that your marketing is great, that everyone in your company is
a rock star. But if it’s day 3, and you’re just trying to work out which slides you should
include, at this point it’s fine, you’re with an advisor you know. If you imagine that rolling through, you’ve
got your initial pitch, and then as you’re starting to work out that and take it to a
wider audience, you’re starting to design it more and more such that probably at least
right now, we’re setting up our next round and we have a half-pretty deck. We’re talking
to maybe 10 Angels VC’s. We know them all quite well, and that’s good. We will use our
own service and get that final polish before we send it out to the broad audience. Think
more about this. Your pitch is going to change a lot, and if you start and try to make it
really well designed on day 1, you’re going to burn so many cycles and so much effort
in redoing everything over and over. For the broader context, that’s how we would advise
working on this and thinking about it. By the way, if you have any questions, please
just ask. There’s design in general. Design and pitch
decks. There are two main functions and two main benefits. The first one they’ve said
is people are subconsciously judging you whether you like it or not, whether they want to or
not, on what they see. When you’re meeting with somebody, it might be two minutes on
a stage or it might be 20 minutes in a room together, and they never before or after learn
anything more about you. Design has a big multiplier. All they have is the document
and you yourself – how you speak and how you act. That’s why we see a lot of people design
pitch decks, and that’s why the design of pitch decks today has gotten crazily high,
crazily polished. If you want a laugh, go and pull up Facebook’s original pitch deck,
and it looks like they photocopied it and used stickies to put it all together. It looks
horrific. You’ll see the same for a lot of the old tech companies because it was a different
market. Now VC’s are heavily oversubscribed for funding. There is an insane number of
entrepreneurs in the world. There’s thankfully a lot of money currently in the world. That’s
the first reason. The second reason is that design is all about reducing the cognitive
effort to understand information. It’s interesting because as much as design seems this intangible,
maybe questionable activity, every single aspect of it is to make it easier for whoever
you’re talking to, to understand exactly what you said with no effort. This is obviously
useful to you when you’re pitching for 2 minutes. That’s a preface of design and getting in
to pulling the design together. One more piece about the role of design. The
content of your pitch deck and the design are actually quite linked. The first obvious
point is that if you have poor content, if you do not have a strong story to tell, no
design can help. It can make it pretty, it can fool people for 20 seconds, but that’s
all it can achieve. If you have to side on where to put your effort, you want to put
your effort into having a clear story of what your company is that’s concrete, strong, and
convincing. Then hopefully spend whatever you have left to make it look really good.
We recently did a piece where we looked at all the pitch decks we designed and the funding
people received. We also looked at YC decks versus other decks as a curious other cut.
And the results simplified, and these go back to the content, is the successful decks generally
had more actual business numbers in them. Seeds were about seven big business numbers
like your total revenue so far, your average revenue per customer. CSA decks were more
about 12-13. Successful decks had more graphs. They definitely showed their growth. They
usually start out with their value proposition or their mission. Their word density was very
light, and the ratio of numbers to words was higher. So there were more numbers per word
per slide in successful decks. When I say a number, I mean a big headline number like,
“We had 40% growth over the last month.” Things like that. Not showing a table of small details.
In terms of thinking about your content and what you’re including, showing tangible growth
is always going to set you well, and you want to with…All of this is leading to something
that’s very summarized. That is low on text. That is punchy. Really punchy. Really distilled
down. That is the precursor to making something look good, and it’s also the precursor to
making something digestible. You need to start out by thinning the whole thing down and turning
it into a small silver bullet of really convincing information before you can go ahead and add
the final layer of polish to make this look good. I have some examples and I have down
some design principles. Let’s get this going. I’m going to show you one of two decks that
are really good from all these perspectives. One of them is Mixpanel which you’ve heard
of. Another one is a much younger company called Finvoice. They both have taken quite
different approaches but done really nice work. I guess you’ve all heard of Mixpanel.
Yes, analytics. Really useful. I think this is for a series A, so it’s slightly denser
in terms of content. First of all, first slide. Notice how little there is on it. It’s exceptionally
simple. It’s their logo and a small bit of visual framing. Nothing else. This is great
because there’s nothing else you need to know at this point. Then we come through to the
problem. (09:21 reading) “Problem number 1: Most of the world will make decisions by guessing
or using their gut. They will be either lucky or wrong.” This is nice. It looks beautiful.
It’s very simple. There’s nice typography. You gather they’re going for the problem/solution.
(09:37 reading) “Problem 2: They’re measuring bullshit metrics like page views and installs.
It’s hard to be really sophisticated.” There are 4 lines here, but it’s quite pithy and
you can take it away. There’s nothing else distracting you. There’s literally nothing
else. Notice, so far we’ve had two colors: blue and white. The entire thing even the
palette is super simple. (10:06 reading) “Solution: Mixpanel’s built software…” Going through.
(10:12 reading) “Mission: Help the world learn from its data.” None of these slides have
had more than one sentence on them. Depends on the situation but this works. (10:24 reading)
“Competitive advantage” They’re telling you this is why they’re better. We get to the
proof of everything they’ve said. A slightly ugly graph…They’ve just pasted this in a
hurry, it looks like, but you can see they have tangible growth. They have real numbers.
They have a strong growth rate. I assume those growth rates are equally as strong. This is
great. They’ve just told you what they did and then they’re showing you that it’s successful
and it’s going really well. From a graphic design point of view, things to improve this.
Keep the same palette. We just want the blue and white and maybe one other color if you
need it. We want to use the same fonts. We want to reduce the number of lines in details.
You can imagine this being a line with these numbers being nice and big. White line, white
numbers and that would look great. Here we are. We’re getting more dense. This isn’t
that designed. It’s interesting. Here they are telling you all the key impressive numbers
about their business. They have put much design effort in, but it doesn’t need it. You can
read here and I’m assuming those numbers are impressive given the raise (11:42 meaning?)
they did on this deck. These are all KPI’s. They’re the key numbers. The NEVC can just
churn through this and know how good their SaaS model is. No decoration, no distraction
right there. Marked in similar, the bottom is slightly begging for an illustration but
nonetheless, they’re not hiding from you. They put it straight on the table. It is visually
simple. It’s a sentence but it’s a short sentence. This is feeling a little bit hard to digest.
They continue on the same thing. They could break this out. They could make this a bit
more visual and easy to digest. Boom, we have the competition slide. This is exactly what
we were talking about earlier. Two axis, shows where they lie. You can see here they are..Where
is Mixpanel? They’re not there. Interesting. Here they’re not trying to compare themselves.
They’re giving the information. Make of that what you will. Super visually simple. No other
clutter. We have a bold font, an unbold font, and a bigger font. Three text styles in one
slide. Boring simple graph. Slightly pasted out of Excel and not that pretty. There’s
one example of a pretty nice deck and one approach. The interesting thing here is the
next deck you’ll see is much more classic start-up design. This is a C stage company (13:32 meaning?)
providing invoicing finance. The very first slide, we have three colors, two fonts. We
have no clutter. We have their logo and what they do. Super simple. If you’re in the industry,
Net 60 should mean something to you, and you should understand what they do. They take
your invoice, and they give you money before you would normally get the money. You beat
them at 60 days. Sorry, it won’t go next. That was a back slide, apologies. Similar
start. There’s an image in the background. That’s slightly distracting. It depends on
the white balance of your monitor how good or bad this will look. If you’re going to
go for background images, test it out on the projector or on the printer you’re going to
use and see if it’s readable. It doesn’t look great on this screen. It looks quite good
on my Mac screen. Here we are. (14:52 reading) “Mission”. We have a title. We have a big
sentence. They “empower small and medium size businesses giving them cheaper and faster
access to capital.” To cheer you up, there’s a nice image, and you can see there are three
colors here. There are two fonts. There are three font styles. We have one small logo
here. The key to making…This is very simple. This is not super high-end graphic design
but it’s simple and that makes it quite pretty and straightforward. Problem. Oh, go ahead.
(15:25-15:32 inaudible question from audience) I feel on this one, it’s positive. If you’re
going to use images or things like this, you want to make sure they’re on brand. What does
that mean? That means they’re all a consistent style of illustration. They’re consistent
colors. They’re consistent line thicknesses and that they have been customized to your
brand. If you’re going to use illustration, it needs to be consistent and speak your brand
otherwise it’s distracting and looks bad and cheap. You can see this same color. You can
see this same line thickness throughout the deck. You could not have it here. It lightens
up and gives a little flavor of the industry. There is a good principle here. If you’re
ever designing something and you wonder, should I include this or not, that’s a sign it’s
probably unnecessary and you can cut it out. It will probably be beneficial. From the perspective
of making a minimum effort to digest what you’re looking at, illustrations are most
valuable when they convey something that would be hard to convey in words. A pie chart is
a classic example of this. Does that answer your question? We’re 50/50 on this one. Here
it’s quite useful though. Here you can see…Calendar, something to do with time. Something else
to do with time. Something to do with institutions which stress me out. It lightens this up and
you’ve got a bit of text. Here again we have very little on the slide. We have consistent
title style. Very simple. Only one color, one big block. We have a small amount of text
and a visual to lighten it. This is relevant for when you want to do a little bit of education
with the person you’re pitching. Maybe you’re talking to an angel who hasn’t invested in
this industry before. Here you can give them the information they need to know. Here we
are at market slides. Quite nice there’s a little map to A: lighten it up and B: make
you instantly understand where they’re referring to and then there’s a big number. Easy to
digest. Not much on the slide. You understand it. You can move on to the next one. Here
is their demonstration of what they are. A marketplace like we’re referring earlier.
This is nice. There are two people. They’re in the middle, and there’s an hour to it.
Hopefully you instantly realize they connect these two things together. Two lines of text.
Pretty short, pretty simple. Basically repeats what the image says. Here we are on traction
and growth. Notice number…numbers…no number…lots of numbers. Numbers are good because as a
business, you’re dealing with tangibles. You’re dealing with number of users, number of money,
all this stuff. It’s so vital and you want to share it. Here is their actual monthly
growth so far and you can see there are numbers. You understand what the scales are. You can
see what the growth is. Silicone Valley, as I’m sure you’re all so aware, runs on growth.
It’s the determiner of how well a company is doing. Here we have a second panel, super
simple. Big number made really clear. Team page. You can see they’ve taken these photos
from somewhere else and made them all black and white so they match each other. It’s a
good cheat if you can’t get nice photos that match. The one improvement would be to get
some logos in here. There are lots of universities like Cambridge, etc that people know of and
if you put the logo, people will pick it out faster. Then final slide. Any questions? (19:27
no response.) One thing I want to go through in the remaining
20 minutes is a number of design principles. We’ve written out this deck as a way to slightly
hack the design. The idea is if you follow these rules, things will turn out looking
good. This is a reduced version of the hour we’d normally go through. First piece, content. We have visual examples
to demonstrate this. Dense content always looks bad. You have to work hard to make dense
content look good. Coming through, here is a perfect example. Some science slide and
there’s so much going on. It’s all over the place. Next thing is to think about…This
is all about making it digestible. I want to show you here is the alternative. We have
two numbers, one big image. Something that’s digestible. When you’re starting to think
about design, what content you’re trying to design is going to have a big effect on how
good you can make it look. You always have to think about that and consider it. Here is an example of making dense content
look good. This requires a lot of effort. How it is worked is because there’s really
strong information hierarchy. We have titles, subtitles, titles, little subtitles that break
it all up. We have here a grid structure between everything. We have really nice alignment.
We have two different colors. If you need to make dense content look good, you need
to respect all the design principles to pull it all together and to guide people through
it. Always use grids. If something looks bad, pulling it into your grid structure could
solve your problems. It’s kind of amazing. This is…It’s horrible. This is some slide
I found on the internet. What I’ve done here is these lines are all edges of something
in the slide. Hopefully you can see the density of these lines. What happens when your eye
is looking at anything, a slide, is your eye is tracing across these lines and trying to
follow them. The more lines you have, the more lost and stressed out your brain is in
trying to process this. I hope you feel a bit stressed out by this because I definitely
do. Let’s go to here. Newspapers. If you see,
it breaks down. I’ve done the lines again into really nice laid out sections. Everything
is a neat grid of five across and regular sections. Some things span multiple of them.
You can imagine if the newspaper did not have a grid system and was like this. It would
be impossible to process the information. This goes for every single slide. You want
to make sure that you have a well-defined margin. Things butt up against it. You maybe
have three main sections, so looking at that again…Your slide is maybe just this section
and you want to make sure all these things are aligned. Nothing is breaking your grid
system. You can bootstrap all these web layouts (23:10 meaning?). They’re all about grid systems
for the same reason. Everything is a block that fills the grid. It’s to make it easy
for your eye to navigate through this. Next thing, you want to reuse visual devices.
I’ve got an example of this. Here this is kind of complicated. There’s a lot going on.
They’ve been really consistent with using the same thing to guide you through it. Consistence
is reducing variation, simplifying, making it easier to digest. It’s the same principle
playing out again. Typography. This is very (23:54 unclear) style deck so I’ve used massive
text. If you’re going to print this out and look at it then you’re going to need…You
wouldn’t quite want this in a slide. The golden rule is to make it easy to read. If you have
to choose between making it pretty and making it easy to read, you always want to make it
easy to read. Your message is the most important thing and if you compromise on how easy it
is to read, as a designer, you’ve failed in your goal. Let’s look. Readable and legible. I don’t
know if you’re familiar with these concepts. Legibility is what you have on billboards.
You can see these letters clear from a very far distance away because they’re simple,
they’re smooth, they’re sans serif. Then readability is how you cope with newspapers. They’re in
lines. The serifs help you read across it. Readable is what books care about. Legible
is what you care about for demo day decks. Readable is what you’re going to worry about
if you’re giving people large volumes of information printed out, which I assume not. This is the rule of 5. I think it’s called
Five Points by Mercer Mayer. You want to count on, say a slide, the number of different styles.
Sizes, font faces, color, underline weight, italics. You see this slide has four. This
guy is big. These guys are italic. This guy is bold. You want to keep this to 5 or fewer
if you can. Fewer is better. Here is the same slide with fewer. Immediately it’s less stressful
to you. There’s less scanning and your eye has to think, “How do I cope with this new
type face?” You go for that, and you have to think and same thing across there. Especially
when you’re going through large volumes of information, these small stresses are good
to minimize. Here is the perfect Geocities example of this all failing and going wrong.
Thank God we moved away from that. Here is another classis pitfall. This is an ultra-thin
font. It looks pretty on my screen here but for a room of 500 people, this is going to
be hard to read. It gets fuzzy. Avoid it. Use a bold font if you have to and just use
it everywhere. Test it out on the projector. Stand at the back of the room and see if with
your eyes slightly squinted or poor vision, you can still read it clearly. Contrast. Contrast is how you keep things
interesting. This can be contrast between…This is obviously the simple contrast of black
and white, reading black and white. The more important contrasts are between, say fonts.
This goes big, this goes smaller. It’s easier for your brain to pick them out as different,
and it’s easier for you to understand, “This is the header. This is the text.” Let me show
you an example. This is quite nice. Here are two different fonts and two different colors.
(27:10 reading) “Seven tips to beautiful PowerPoints” Here they’ve used this on the very first slide
to make it more interesting for the eye. More enjoyable. Serif font. Sorry, it’s a cursive
font. Really simple san serif font. Two different colors. Illustration. This is going back to what you
were asking. When do we use illustration? Why do we use illustration? We’ve got great
text. We’ve got great grid structures. We’ve got everything lined up. We’ve kept everything
simple and easy to read. Now we can start to think about illustrations. Reiterating
what we said earlier. Illustrations instantly trigger mental associations in your head.
They reduce the cognitive effort. You see a picture of money, you’ve got money straightaway.
You didn’t have to read dollars or whatever that is. You see two bars, one is bigger than
the other and feel it. Or you see a growth graph, and you feel the growth without having
to read a sentence. It’s less work for the brain. Here is an illustration. This is half
good. We see a lot of people try to do design where they just add icons beside everything.
These help you instantly know, like Snap Chat, you pick it out. They are functional. They
are good from a functional point of view. It does help you analyze this. In terms of
if we want to make something pretty and beautiful, if you drop in generic icons beside every
single point. That’s a logo, but if you’re dropping in clip art all in the same color
above each point you do, it adds nothing and it detracts from it. You want to make sure
the illustration is still relevant to your brand. Is relevant to the point its describing.
You want to always think, “Should I remove this? Is this really adding something valuable?”
As we said, illustrations should have purpose. It should be an integrated style across your
whole design and brand. Here is an…(laughs.) It’s horrible. Here’s an example of this all
failing in so many ways. This is not part of their brand. There’s flat bevel going on.
It’s cliché. It’s horrible. I don’t think that helps you understand cost cutting. This
is better. These guys are all of the same visual style. They integrate with the same
color. They do look very cliché. They don’t look like anyone’s brand. This is cool. Here
we’re talking about personalization and it’s the front cover of something. We’ve added
the personalization of people and lots of small accessory items. This really livens
up…You get it. It’s fun. It really adds something to it. For a demo day deck, this
might be a bit overwhelming and distracting. For an eBook, this works well. Here’s another
fun one. This is a slide. (30:21 reading) “Marketing should be data-driven, not delusion-driven.”
Here we have a unicorn saying he’s a pro. It’s stupid but it’s fun. It’s all on the
same brand. It’s all the same kind of thicknesses. Same kind of colors. It follows the same illustration
style throughout. For this, it lightens it and has a useful purpose. Final section of this design: hygiene. Color
is important. As I’ve been saying throughout, the fewer the better. Every additional color
is an additional cognitive load. It’s something else your brain has to think about. “Here
is a nice poster. It has 3 colors: the background color, the highlight color, and the body text
color. Pretty nice. First of all, who would say they have a well-defined brand? Put your
hands up. We have a small number of hands. A lot of companies we work with and certainly
ourselves have been before quite early in our branding journey. That usually means you
haven’t worked out how things should look and feel in every scenario. One of the first
things to do is to make sure you have a well-defined pallet. A set of colors you use in every circumstance.
The thing about pallets is they can all look great if you use them well and consistently
and with a bit of sense. You can see these are very divergent crazy palettes, but they
all individually look quite cool. You can imagine a company that could use them. You
can start to think maybe this is a crazy analytics company and maybe these guys make really elegant
dashboards. Maybe this is jumper on demand delivery service or something. A simple palette
you generally have. This is SketchDeck, our palettes. You can have one primary color,
and that is the color you always use. The first place you see it. It’s right here on
my t-shirt. It’s right here on this sticker. If there’s one color you’re going to use,
it’s going to be that color. You have your primary color. Black and white are free. You
get those anyway. You usually have some grays and a secondary. Your secondary is usually
highlight. You can see here orange seems to be primary, and they’re using a body color
of the white. This is not a strong and fast rule. This is roughly the set up that you’re
normally working with, particularly in web and print. To summarize all of this, we’ve done an hour
session in roughly 20 minutes. I hope you don’t mind running through all of that. Simpler
is usually going to look better. If you ever have any questions and you’re not sure if
I should include this, simplify it. A clean grid is fundamental to absolutely everything.
If your grid is messy, nothing else is going to look good on top of it. The final part
which is sort of a summarization of all those other things I’ve said is to be consistent.
If you use a type of line, a type of font, a color, a grid, whatever, be consistent throughout
the entire piece and use it again and again. This is giving you more simplicity so people
can digest it easier. I’ve thrown quite a lot at you. Does anyone
have any questions based on that? (34:04 no response.) No? Cool. I think we’re about finished
on time. Is that correct? Cool. Thank you. (applause)

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