⚡️ I Analyzed 5 Pitch Decks From Unicorn Startups
What Airbnb, YouTube, and Dropbox did right in their deck
Hey y'all 👋
It's January, which means investors are back in the office and founders are thinking about fundraising.
But even if you aren't raising right now, it can always help to learn what works best in a pitch deck.
This week, I analyzed early pitch decks from 5 startups that ended up becoming unicorns.
Below I shared some points on what stands out about each one, along with the decks themselves.
Hope it's helpful and happy new year!
Read time: 5 minutes
⚡️ Analyzing 5 Early Pitch Decks from Unicorns
Dropbox | Deck
This is Dropbox's first deck. They used it to raise $1.2M after joining Y Combinator. It's one of my favorites because it uses simple, concise statements throughout and puts the problem they're solving in your face right away.
When you look at the picture they included on the second slide, you almost instinctually cringe due to the clutter. You feel the messiness that existed around storing information in 2007.
Then they double down on the next slide by calling out specific cases where storage is a common problem, and the things people are doing to solve the problem now.
As an investor, by this point you're hooked and excited to see how they plan to solve the problem. After these few early slides, the rest of the deck is just gravy — you're already either in or out mentally.
Normally I'd recommend that they use fewer slides than 17, but because of how simple and straightforward each slide is, it actually works. A common problem I see is that founders who make their deck 17 slides also put a ton of information on each slide. But, regardless, the big takeaway here is to get to the problem right away, and explain things as simply as possible.
YouTube | Deck
YouTube's first deck, from 2005, is similarly straightforward but there are a few additional callouts worth making.
They start off with their "company purpose" (which reads like a mission statement), rather than the problem they're solving. This lets investors know that, even though it's early, they a focused team that has a clear north star they're working towards.
They also shill the credibility of their founding team. Not only were they all from PayPal, but two of them were personally "recruited by Max Levchin" to join PayPal as early engineers. This is a clever way of communicating that they have the trust of someone whom the investors looking at the deck will definitely know and respect. Even if being a great engineer doesn't necessarily mean someone will be a great founder too, the investor now knows that they don't need to worry about the team being able to build product.
However, the most interesting part of the YouTube deck is the last slide. They call it the "Metrics" slide but don't list any metrics on it. Instead, they simple say that they've been able to become the dominant player in the space after just a few months of launching. This is a flex, plain and simple. Founders are likely only able to pull this off if they're confident they're going to get a meeting with the investors regardless.
Typically, on a metrics slide for an early stage deck investors are interested to see what metric matters most to the team (more than what the actual value is at this stage). YouTube's was apparently market dominance, rather than an actual product metric.
Intercom | Deck
Intercom's first deck is a great case study in how to raise funding before you've launched.
First, they emphasize that their product will be built by previously exited founders. I typically advocate for leaving the team slide until later on in the deck, but the exception to that is if you're a proven, previously exited founder. Square's early pitch deck does an even better job of this.
Then they articulate a clear problem is bold on the next slide. Investors who are skimming the deck will read the bold text and, if curious, then read the rest of the slide. What they'll find in the rest of the slide is that the team has laid out that they understand how to solve the problem (i.e. "Building meaningful relationships requires...".
The solution just needs to be interesting at this point, not built out.
Later, on the "Progress" slide, they include a tweet testimonial from an established name in Silicon Valley that lends credibility to the solution they're pursuing.
Airbnb | Deck
Airbnb's title slide says "Book rooms with locals, rather than hotels." This is going to get strong reactions right away. Maybe investors will be intrigued, or maybe they will write the startup off immediately. At the very least, it makes it clear what the startup is doing.
Their problem slide is a bit weak, to be honest. It isn't a single clear user problem that has strong demand. They do include market validation later in the deck, though the existing market doesn't seem particularly large unless you assume they'll be able to capture a good chunk of the hotel booking market, which was not at all obvious back then. And regardless, this isn't in the investor's mind when they're reading about the problem yet. This may be partially why they initially had a hard time raising capital.
What I do like, though, is that they frame themselves against a segment of the hotel market — budget hotels. This is a pretty low bar to be better than, in terms of service, and lets their stated differentiator around getting in touch with local culture, have a better shot of standing out and attracting users
Revolut | Deck
Revolut's first deck, rightfully, emphasizes the size of the market. Financial services typically have huge markets though, so what stands out about the start of Revolut's deck is that they frame their market not just in terms of transaction volume, but also opportunities to improve user experience around lost fees.
It's also quickly clear to investors that their team has great product and growth intuition. Rather than charging early users money, they let users unlock features only after referring others. Brilliant, if you can afford it. And, in financial services where UX typically takes a back seat, this is an encouraging sign that they'd be able to build a product users love.
They continue this user-centric mindset throughout. Their competition matrix isn't based on features, but rather user stories. I can't emphasize enough how important being customer-obsessed is, and how much it stands out in markets like financial services. Regardless of what space you're building in, look for the industry-wide weaknesses and subtly emphasize why and how you'll do things differently.
They include financial projections, which I don't love, but communicating that you can put together a financial statement helps a bit with FinTech companies.
💡 Related Resources
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Also, I'm looking to work closely with a few startups that are fundraising in Q1 to help them with their deck, strategy, and process. Reply to this email if you'd want to chat about having me get involved with your raise.