The Ideal Email Deck

500 Startups Vietnam

October 23, 2017

Since I wrote a post on how you’ll need multiple pitch decks, I’ve gotten a number of questions around what should go into them.

Today I want to spell out the ideal email deck – at least, ideal if you’re sending it to me. 🙂

Short & sweet
~5 slides is sufficient
Should be skimmable in 10-30 seconds; E.g.
Fonts/colors that are easy to read
Not too much text/content
Include your contact info

The purpose of your email deck is just to get a meeting. It’s not to try to convince me that I should invest. That comes later.

What should go into your 5 slides?

Your email deck should cover the basics. There isn’t a hard-and-fast rule around what “the basics” means. But, for most companies, it will cover something like this (not necessarily in this order):

  • Problem
  • Solution / Your Product
  • Traction / Your Unit Metrics
  • Team
  • Market

Problem – Interestingly, most people glance over this slide. But of all the slides, this is the one that is probably the most important to address and spend the most time on.

How you articulate the problem accomplishes a few things:

  • It gets me excited about your opportunity
  • It gives me a sense of how much you’ve thought about the problem / know what you’re talking about
  • It gives me a sense of your communication skills – your ability to articulate something complex into just 1-2 simple sentences

For example, one of 500 Startups’ portfolio companies called EnvoyNow does on-demand food delivery to the college market. Just when you thought you could not possibly invest in yet another on-demand food delivery company, they were convincing in articulating the problem. Simply: College students order a LOT of food, but existing on-demand delivery companies cannot locate and/or access on-campus locations including dormitories and specific buildings.

Their articulation of the problem not only is very specific and easy-to-grasp, but it also addresses the elephant in the room: there are so many existing on-demand food delivery companies – why would you need another one?

Solution – I see too many companies attempt to address all their features with this slide. Just make it simple. Follow the user experience. Step 1, step 2, step 3, voila!

Traction – Most companies who send me decks don’t include a traction slide. I think it’s because people are embarrassed that they are not very far along or they actually haven’t yet tested the waters.

First off, there’s nothing to be embarrassed by. I’m a seed investor – what would I expect? Any investor who is investing at the seed stage needs to be comfortable with the fact that there’s really not a whole lot of data at this stage, and if seed investors are not cool with this, they really should not be playing at this level.

Secondly, I think it’s important to understand what investors are looking for in this slide. I’m not looking for traction for traction-sake. Every company at this stage – regardless of whether they made $1k last month or $100k last month – is early and far far far away from being a billion dollar business. So, what I want to understand are your customer learnings.

If you are super duper early and don’t have meaningful revenue, show me what you’ve learned by testing the market. This is something that EVERY company should be able to do quickly even without a product.

What customer acquisition channels did you test?
What was the cost to

  • Get a signup?
  • Get a free user?
  • Get a paying user?

What has the retention been so far (if you know)?
What is the engagement?
Are people coming back everyday?
For how long?

If you don’t have a lot of information, at a minimum, you can tell me about your unit economics. I.e. What is happening w/ the few customers / signups you do have? What do those numbers look like right now?

At a bare bare bare minimum, everyone can create a coming-soon landing page and drive traffic to it and articulate the results for that. The traction slide needs to give me some idea that this is a product that people want and more importantly how badly.

If you are a post-seed company and you have quite a bit of data, graph your revenue (or users if you’re a pure-consumer company).

Note: please don’t graph cumulative revenue – this is a noob mistake! I understand that your numbers may not go up every month. In some cases, the time period of “months” may not make sense and you should slice and dice your data differently. For example, if you’re an adtech company, perhaps it might make sense to graph your results by quarter since budgets are on a quarterly basis for most ad buyers.

Tl;dr – tout your unit metrics. If you’re a post-seed company, I also want to see your data over time.

Team – You don’t need to list your whole team. Just the founders is sufficient. List only your notable advisors. If you/your co-founders have domain experience, definitely mention this on this slide. Also list out key accomplishments. This slide is fairly straightforward.

Market – For your market slide, you don’t need to do a crazy analysis on this slide. In fact, I would be ok with a slide with just one big number in the middle in size 108 font. E.g. “$5B market”. For me, I also don’t need it to be a $$$ number per se. It could be something like, “2B people suffer from X”. I just need to get a sense that this could be worth a lot AND GET CONVICTION.

If you are finding that investors do not have conviction about your market and are not open to meeting, you may need to re-position the problem (hence why that problem slide is so important) or find different investors to approach.

Lastly, in addition to these 5 slides, you’ll also want to make sure your contact information is on the slides. Decks do get forwarded around. For example, if let’s say someone sends me a deck for a fintech deal, I’m going to defer to one of my colleagues who specializes in that. You’ll want to make sure there’s a way for him to get in touch with you.

Fundraising is a nebulous process that I aim to make more transparent. To learn more secrets and tips, subscribe to my newsletter.

Read the original article by Elizabeth Yin here. Click on “Tiếng Việt” on the menu for the Vietnamese translation provided by 500 Startups Vietnam.

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