📻 — Pitch Deck Evolution: The Decks I Used to Raise > $4M in Venture Capital for My Startup

This is your Community, Daily.

Reading Time: ~ 6 min.

Good morning yeniverse!

I really enjoyed having a few one-off convos about yesterday’s issue and the technicalities of building search-engine optimized content! For most folks the goal is to not quit too early; especially before you start seeing results!

A few good reads from around the interwebs:

  1. Circle raises $4M! Comm engage…ment.? Wow. ZenCastr raises $4M.

  2. Live video shopping. Doc Editor for teams. Sports cards are back.

  3. The creator lifecycle. Legalize crypto in India. Text marketing.

  4. Monetize your knowledge. Whimsical docs. One financial hub.

  5. Beyond Trello. Rent your backyard. Local subscriptions. 3D icons.

  6. VidTech errors. Open source search. Remove background noise.

  7. Blue collar work marketplace. Therapy, psychiatry networkRealm.

  8. Immersive. Convo bots. Repurpose contentBeeCanvas. Abuse. Sad.

  9. Build culture. Atelier launchesHomelessness. Master plansDominion.

  10. Zoom school sucks. Facebook and Australia. All your base. 20 years.

Finally, I recorded the first episode of the new #yenPODyesterday! The rough plan is to invite some folks that I have known for at least 10+ years and candidly-chat through whatever we want: Family, startups, technology, building stuff and making money on the internet, and everything else in-between! These are some of the folks that know me the best and I can’t wait to get a few of them recorded and published to share with all of you!

To infinity & community,

— john

I don’t know how many of you are looking to take your ideas, projects, and or businesses the venture-funded route so as to follow a proper startup’s path, but, a handful of you recently asked about how to design and put together pitch decks for raising venture capital.

I’m not an expert (and yes, there are real pitch deck “experts” out there apparently; AI anyone?) at designing or composing them but I’ve done it enough to have a few strong opinions (weakly-held) and I’ve done my fair share even for the YEN project and community.

So, I thought I’d share some of the historical pitch decks that I put together over the years since we started this project back in 2017 and share some (strategic? tactical?) thoughts on creating them, lessons-learned, and copies of the deck for your own use.

But first, a few things to note:

  1. I’m being very specific when I use the word “startup” which, in this context and issue, means a company that is purpose-built and intentionally designed to grow fast. There are many types of companies but there is only one type that is all about growth. And, on the whole, companies that aren’t growing fast (or aren’t designed to) usually aren’t making pitch decks because pitching for money means that you’re trying to grow fast. Get it? Got it? Good!

  2. The obvious thing that you might actually miss is the fact that the slide deck changes as the project / product changes, the result of inevitable pivots that occur in a startup’s life. It’s not uncommon for a startup project to build one product and pivot to another product that will eventually build the business (e.g. make revenue).

  3. Although the product and the industry changed, our mission didn’t! We’ve always been about building community, serving creators, and startups!

We started earnestly in the Summer of 2017 and by November it was obvious that we had a real (and rare) opportunity to capitalize on the growing community that we were serving and they were hungry for more.

Consequently, we incorporated the company officially in the 3rd week of that month after 3 consecutive months of positive revenue growth and after surpassing 60,000 subscribers on a YouTube channel — Decentralized TV — that didn’t even exist a few months prior!

We had big dreams, as you’ll read in the second slide, and we thought we had enough momentum to warrant raising venture capital for a real startup venture where we’d try to go even faster.

We thought we’d build a media company and bolt on some software solutions but to be honest I wasn’t clear on exactly what we we’re supposed to be or what I wanted us to become — these were very early days!

Take a look at the first pitch deck for YEN:

Decentralized — Nov, 2017 — Pitch Deck

This was a pretty decent first-pass, all things considered. But, I was massively wrong on most of the elements here.

After test-driving the deck with a few friendlies I updated it with some newer branding that I had put together in December of 2017:

DCTV — Dec, 2017 — Pitch Deck Download

This helped frame what I believed was going to be the obvious direction of our company; I mean, the revenue graphs were telling us a story that made us feel invincible!

Here’s a look at one of the slides on the pitch deck that we used to eventually close a $1.71M Pre-Seed Round. Our initial target was only $500k based on the strength of what we believed was our financial position and I didn’t believe we needed much to get to where I wanted to go:

We had 800+ customers with an average recurring value of $12.50 per month. We were, up until that point, completely bootstrapped and by January, 2018 things were heating up and we had just crossed $100k in total revenue on a project that was incepted less than 5 months earlier.

Then the bubble burst and the entire decentralized finance industry collapsed; revenue dried up literally overnight. I’m so grateful that we had closed our round and had a little powder to pull off a pivot and I already had the next product lined-up and we had already started building it.

Here’s a snapshot into what our world looked like in May of 2018 — the project was also had it’s final name change from Decentralized TV, a media-centric company, to YEN, a community-centric one:

YEN — May, 2018 — Pitch Deck

So, we kept going and we built a beautiful product, a product that combined the best worlds of Twitter and Coinbase. We had 1,000+ users and a few of them bought / sold more than $1,000,000 USD of crypto through our platform. We were on a roll!

Our team grew to 19 over the next year and together, with our amazing community, had successfully built the world’s first “Meta-Exchange” for cryptocurrency investors, enthusiasts, small business owners, and community builders.

But we needed more time to prove-out the concept and execute a business model that would get us profitable; so I decided to start the process in late-2019 / early-2019 to raise another round of venture financing.

Initially I wanted to raise a larger round of $4-5M but it honestly wasn’t warranted and we put together a slightly smaller round, what we’d eventually call a “Series Seed” of ~$2.4M. Here’s the full pitch deck that made it all happen:

YEN — Feb, 2019 — Pitch Deck

Here's a fun "alt" deck that I had created for fun to test-drive a few different designs I was messing with:

YEN — Feb, 2019 — Alt Pitch Deck

After closing the round we simply put our heads down and we kept driving forward, hoping that the market would turn; it didn't.

I knew I had to make some very hard calls and I ultimately had to let everyone go. I took some time off and seriously contemplated quitting, giving the rest of the money back, and taking a long break but I was certain that that insights that I had received were exactly what were necessary for the project's next pivot and restart.

I put together a few ideas and started moving toward an analytics and community platform product that would combine some of what we had already done as well as some of the experience from a previous venture:

Here's the deck with some of the business development slides included (we were courting a large enterprise player that may have sent us down the enterprise platform route):

YEN — Dec, 2019 — Pitch, Biz Dev Deck

I felt good about our direction and by January, 2020 I had done nearly 100 interviews and had made my first hire. We were ready to take on the world... except the global pandemic happened and it became immediately clear that the analytics part of the product would have to take a backseat and the community platform was even more necessary.

We test-drove our early-concepts in late-Feb of 2020 and by August we had validated the platform and had already begun a major rewrite of the platform.

And although we haven't been looking for our next round of venture financing I have continued to create small pitch decks to calibrate and test-drive with a few "friendlies" who help me stay fresh and "warm" for when the timing is right. Here's one from August that gives a small taste of what was coming down the pipe (and since then, we've made quite a lot of progress):

YEN — Aug, 2020 — Pitch Deck

Our angle, approach, and the copy used above has changed significantly since and I'm grateful for the continued experiments and iterations! And, most importantly, I'm grateful for the community that has continued to support us every single step of the way.

In December of last year we went live with a semi-public, early-alpha version that some of our closest members could test-drive, Codename: Dogfood:

Since then we've been building the community-centric, CommSaaS-way and every week the product gets better and better based on our community's direct feedback. Eventually — inevitably — our product will be ready for public use!

And I'm sure I'll be putting together yet-another pitch deck for the project.

Onwards and upwards!