Week 2: Concept Notes, Pitch Decks, Finding Investors and Starting the Build
Time to read: 8 Mins | Tech, tools and stuff will always be in the last section. Feel free to skip it.
The Concept Note:
On 9 June 2004, Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon sent out an email to his senior team titled “No powerpoint presentations from now on…”
With this email, Bezos effectively banned presentations at the company and replaced them with 4 to 6 page memos that the company internally calls a “narrative”. The email reads:
A little more to help with the reason “why.”
Well structured, narrative text is what we’re after rather than just text. If someone builds a list of bullet points in word, that would be just as bad as powerpoint.
The reason writing a 4 page memo is harder than “writing” a 20 page powerpoint is because the narrative structure of a good memo forces better thought and better understanding of what’s more important than what, and how things are related.
Powerpoint-style presentations somehow give permission to gloss over ideas, flatten out any sense of relative importance, and ignore the innerconnectedness of ideas.
I’m personally a big believer that short memos, usually one or two pagers, are much better at getting ideas across than presentations. For one, it conveys full information even without someone orally explaining it. For another, a narrative memo tells a story. The kinds that people will internalize. For every political campaign we ran, we wrote these 2-3 page memos explaining the following:
- What is it that we’re proposing to do.
- Why we’re proposing it / why we think it’ll work.
- What’s required to get it done.
- Timeline / Next steps.
This is what I started the week with. I wrote exactly what the startup will build, why we think it’ll work (the problem we’re solving and why our solution works), what are the steps to actually getting it built – what the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) will look like + what’s the vision for the full product, and a list of next steps.
It wasn’t the most productive work week, with a lot of Diwali travel plans being made, getting fever with the third dose of the COVID vaccine, and working on a paper on US-China nuclear relations I’m co-authoring with fellow Schwarzman Scholars. Yet, some interesting things got done.
Plan for the Upcoming Week:
- Polish concept note and make it flow better.
- Make a Pitch Deck.
- Make wireframes / design app flow. At least write down what all the screens / navigation should be on paper.
- Make a list of people in my network who’ve fundraised, or might know investors. Look up active seed/pre-seed individual investors and firms in India.
The Pitch Deck:
Even though I believe written pages are often better, the industry demands pitch decks. This coming week, I’ll finish up a deck. It’ll most likely be made using Canva – an absolutely brilliant online design tool that lets you make beautiful graphics (and it’s largely free).
This is what I’ve decided is the best structure for a pitch deck:
Slide 1: Title Slide: Startup Name + One tagline. Beautiful and clean. Not much info here.
Slide 2: Define the problem (why does this product need to exist, what’s the need).
Slide 3: Why is it currently a burning problem, and what the current solutions look like (basically explain why the problem isn’t fully solved by anything that currently exists, so there’s space for us!)
Slide 4: The Vision: What are we building (The grand idea – the final version and how it’ll change everything and disrupt the space!)
Slide 5: The grand idea can often be too grand, so here I’ll bring it back to basics and break down what’s the MVP we’re building – the features in the first version.
Slide 6: Explain why the MVP will work + once it’s built, will integrate a demo here as a video.
Slide 7-9: Illustrate a few use cases for the product – examples of how people will use it.
Slide 10: Growth Strategy! How will we market the product and get it the widest distribution possible.
Slide 11: A Roadmap and Timeline – when will the MVP launch, what comes next etc.
Slide 12: Defensibility! (Most blogs and posts recommend that you put in a slide on the competitors you have. I’m not convinced by that. You must be aware of competitors and the industry landscape, but I think a better way to convey that idea is to talk about why your product will win, and mention the key differentiators from competitors. Ex: We’ll have X that main competitor ABC can’t.)
Slide 13: Why this’ll be huge! (Conventional startup advice is to list TAM – Total Addressable Market or market size for the product, and talk about projected financials. This makes very little sense at this early stage. Instead, I’m planning to focus on how big the market opportunity is and how big the product can become without actually delving into calculations of market size or financial projections. It’s vague, but at this early stage grand vision makes a whole lot more sense than back of the envelope calculations).
Slide 14: The team! – Why I’m the best person to execute on this! Lack of a co-founder will hurt me here. Even though I know enough tech to build, and have enough proven marketing credentials to sell, solo means you’ll be working on one thing at a time. Excellent startups have one person leading the building of the product while the other fundraises, sells and builds a brand. Both things need to run parallelly. This part needs work!
Slide 15: What’s the amount we’re raising, at what valuation etc. More on this in the next section!
Slide 16: End Slide: A “Thank You!” and a logo.
I’m not a designer, so read up this blog post on YCombinator that has excellent advice on how to design a good pitch deck – with the key advice being keep it simple and obvious!
Some ideas can be bootstrapped. Some businesses shouldn’t be raising venture capital and are profitable from day 1. Others, like restaurants or a small manufacturing unit don’t have the scalability to be able to raise VC funding. Political consultancy was like that – profitable and non-scalable – as are most service based / agency businesses. That’s why they’re a great place to start for anyone who wants to build a business without access to capital! Zero capital required and profits from day 1, plus low costs as it’s all service based and you can hire as you get clients.
This one is different though – it’s not a business, it’s a startup. That means it has the potential to scale to a multi-billion dollar company, but will also not be profitable from day 1 or even in year 1! It also has massive upfront costs – the tech product / platform needs to be built, users need to be acquired, everything needs to be scaled up! This means it’s exactly the kind of thing that needs VC funding! I will bootstrap the MVP, but will need capital to scale this.
How to Calculate How Much To Raise:
A good rule of thumb is to raise enough for the next 12-18 Months. List all costs, employees, rent, tech tools, server costs etc. that you plan to incur in the next 12-18 Months, and raise slightly more than that. This is what I’m planning to do.
- I’m making a list of everyone I know who’s ever raised funding and scheduling calls with them over the next month.
- Making a list of investors who are one degree away through the network.
- Making a list of active investors and seed funds in India, including all startup accelerators and incubators. YCombinator, Antler India, Sequoia Surge are programs I’m definitely looking at. Also listing down university affiliated incubators like NSRCEL at IIM Bangalore and CIIE IIM Ahmedabad. I’ll send across the full list on this newsletter once I have a good number – and we’ll keep it updated in a crowdsourced manner, continuously adding names.
I’ve joined YC’s Startup School and am testing out their cofounder matching platform to find people. I’m also exploring joining programs like Antler and finding a cofounder through them. Within the short time of a week, not much has happened on this front though.
Starting the Build
All of the above – concept notes, pitch decks, finding investors – are important things, but the most important thing is to build a product MVP and release it out in the world. It’ll tell investors you can actually build something, and early users will provide invaluable feedback that’ll get you on the right track and to Product Market Fit (PMF). PMF means you know the product is working and users want it. At that stage you start focusing on getting it in front of more potential users and growing the user base. This growth stage is where Venture Capitalists become super interested, because at this stage they see some evidence that the idea is working instead of just hearing a story.
I’ve thought about building a Progressive Web App, building the backend in Node.js and frontend in React. I’ve also thought of using no/low code tools to get an MVP out. Currently evaluating the following tools to see if any of them will get me to where I want:
- Bubble – No code, best for website though, not apps.
- Airtable – No code database tools.
- Webflow – No code for websites.
- Adalo – No code for apps.
- AppGyver – No code for apps, and is free! Low levels of support and community though.
- FlutterFlow – Low code for apps, looks promising. Requires coding knowledge for Google Firebase (database) integration, but paid plans are reasonable and the sample apps look beautiful.
In the next week, I’ll select a tool – let you know why I chose the particular one – and start building!
Until next week, Adios!
As always, feel free to forward this to anyone you think would find it useful. Subscribe if you haven’t, and get in touch by hitting reply or emailing me at email@example.com