Here's a typical exchange between a founder and an investor:
Founder: Hi! Would LOVE to meet you and talk to you about what we are doing. Investor: Do you have a deck? Founder: Sure, here it is. When can we meet?
Then, after about a week or two:
Investor: Sorry, doesn't look like I could help. (Or even worse: I am pretty busy now, let's reconnect in a month.)
So why do investors ask for decks? To avoid a meeting. Most founders don't get strong introductions. They just get any introduction they can get. Investors ask for decks to get an idea if the business is a fit for them. But that's not quite true. Investors are really just looking for the team slide and the traction slide. They want to know if the team has experience in the space, and what progress they have made.
Investors will make a decision to pass on your business based on your deck. Investors pass immediately if the team doesn't have relevant experience and there is no traction. Once they decide to pass, it will be difficult to get another look.
Your business isn't your deck. You are not your deck. Don't let the deck represent you.
This is as simple as I can put it.
Once an investor gets the deck, there is little urgency to act. It can sit in his or her inbox for days. It feels like work to look through.
All decks are different. Some are really long and not standard. Investors hate those. They flip through a slide or two and stop. I know that because I often struggle to get through the decks I get.
Then there is the danger that if you liberally send out your decks, you will quickly find that your competitors have it.
But, you say, everyone asks to send the deck. How could I possibly say no? What do I do?
To solve a problem, let's understand its cause. The cause is that you are actually too early, don't have traction, don't necessarily have background in the space, are coming to the investor via a not-so-warm introduction and asking for a lot of time.
Flip this on its head. Don't go after investors until you have traction. Get a warm intro from someone who knows you and can attest to your progress and who knows the investor. Find a person who the investor actually trusts and respects — most likely another founder he or she backed or a person he or she worked closely with in the past.
Instead of the deck, send a two-paragraph introduction. Be sure to include progress on your traction thus far, how you are different from competitors and why you are working on this business.
Ask to get feedback via a 15-minute Google Hangout session. This way, you can still make a connection with the investor, because in the worst case you will get a call, and in the best case the investor will actually be impressed and ask you to come in for a meeting.
Two well-written paragraphs should be easy enough for the investor to decide if it makes sense to engage with you. Those two paragraphs are easier to understand than a deck. You are saving the investor a lot of time. You are also making sure your deck is not parading around the Internet.
If you want to up your game, shoot 60 seconds (no longer) of video to give the investor more background on you and the business. I love seeing these in Techstars applications. Video is way better than the deck. The investors can actually tell a little bit about you as a person. Awesome video increases the chance of investors saying yes to a meeting.
While sending the deck before the meeting is generally a bad idea, you do need a deck, and it needs to be awesome. You will use the deck when formally raising money from venture-capital firms. Typically you will need the deck to walk investors through your business during the second and the third meeting.
What has been your experience with investor decks? Share your story in the comments section below.