As an early stage investor I look at A LOT of pitch decks. In the seven years since we started Homebrew there has been some evolution in this area – Docsend, videos, the occasional memo – but the lingua franca among founders and investors is still largely 10-25 slides with several expected sections. And while some of us have very strong personal reactions to certain portions (seed decks should never include an exit slide), we’re generally aware these are lowest common denominator methods of ordering and conveying thoughts in a consistent format. But there’s one common slide that I’m *always* going to offer the same question about – whether you’re building a spaceship or a shoe. If you show me a competitive 2×2, I’m going to ask you what the competitors on the slide would say about it if they were critiquing the matrix categories and their placement.
You see, I’ve never been presented one of these slides where the startup pitching isn’t in the “upper right” (canonical best) square. Sometimes alone by themselves, incumbents and adjacent startups spread elsewhere. Often with another logo or two, but with the startup in an advantaged differentiated position. Very occasionally with a simulated time lapse – ie “Pitching Startup 2020” located one place and “Pitching Startup 202X” located elsewhere, to depict how, over time, the company will move from an unassuming position to one of dominance.
So I’ll review the slide, grok what they’re basically trying to convey and ask “what would your competitors say about this slide?” It’s not meant to be a gotcha! If it was, I just kinda blew it by publishing this post. Rather it hopefully leads to an interesting conversation about how the entrepreneur sees the market. Or how articulate (and intellectually honest) they are about why they selected the two matrix attributes versus any other comparative set. When the discussion falls flat it’s often because the slide isn’t based in reality, the matrices are swerves made to enhance the startup’s position but with very little actual connection to customer needs or strategic advantage. Or it reveals a lack of understanding of the competition.
This is one of those pitch deck slides that’s similar to an iceberg — 90% of the the mass is below the surface. And if we’re going to work together for many years, it’s worth including a thoughtful understanding of your market. Otherwise you’re better off leaving it out – or just taking money from someone who will focus only on the iceberg’s tip.