Does It Tell A Story?

The Gotham Gal and I were having breakfast today and talking about a pitch deck one of her portfolio companies had sent her for a critical review before going out on the road to raise money. She told me that she made a bunch of suggested changes because it “needed to tell a story.”

Her point was, and is, that a pitch deck is like any other marketing document, it has to have a narrative and a storyline. The receiver needs to be drawn into the story and enjoy it and be moved by the ending.

Too many decks (and pitches) are full of facts and figures but lack a cohesive narrative that makes them compelling. Dressing the deck up with beautiful visuals can help, but even if you do that and you don’t “tell a story” you are not putting your best foot forward.

So when constructing your pitch and deck think about the story you want to tell. It’s probably not your personal history although that can be part of the story. It’s more likely the story of a problem and a market that you have an idea of how to change. Walk the reader up that mountain and show them the promised land on the other side. That story, when told well, generally does the trick most times.


Comments (Archived):

  1. awaldstein

    I’ve used your line about walking with someone to the top of a mountain to see a changed world with your company as a change agent many times.I told it to myself an hour ago, as it’s 5.30am in NYC and I”m writing a deck at this moment.Enjoy Vienna. Drink some Gruner from Nikolaihof or Ott. Can’t go wrong with either.

    1. fredwilson

      we left Vienna this morning and are in Ljubliana Slovenia for a day, then Paris tomorrow afternoonwe drank a Gruner with dinner on mon night that was lovely and yesterday we tried a roter veltliner that was also really nice. i really like the austrian whites. they are crisp and flavorful at the same time, something the french struggle with to be honest. i think the italians and spanish also do whites nicely

      1. awaldstein

        You and I both Fred.Slovinia does some of the most interesting skin contact whites as you know. Buddy of mine in Carso, Friuli, has his vineyard on the border of Italy and Slovinia and always find it interesting to walk from one place to another in the vineyard itself.As a tip, when I’m in Paris I always drink from the east as they get so much more small producer wine from Croatia, Slovinia, Bugaria, Rep of Georgia then we do in NY.Safe travels.

        1. Dave Pinsen

          What does “skin contact” mean in this context?

          1. awaldstein

            So called “Orange Wine”, white wine made like red, fermenting for some period of time with the skins.

          2. sigmaalgebra

            Red grapes or white?To be clear — in Europe, the grape juiceis always white. For red wine, start withred grapes. Get white juice. Let fermentwith the skins. Then the alcohol dissolvessome of the red from the skins and yieldsred wine.Even if start with red grapes, if take theskins out before fermentation, then getwhite wine. E.g., a lot of genuine Frenchwhite Champaign is from red Pinot Noir,the red grape that makes the famous red wines from the Côte-d’Or,Chambertin, Pommard, Corton, Nuit St. George, Vosne Romanée, La Tâche, Les Richebourgs, Romanée Saint-Vivant, Echezeaux, Grands-Echezeaux. Beaune,Alex Corton, Morey St Denis, etc.Thank you Frank Schoonmaker!

          3. awaldstein

            Not sure what you are saying here about grape juice.

          4. sigmaalgebra

            grape juice Go to a vineyard in the fall. Pick abunch of grapes. Squeeze the grapes.Will get out a liquid, with a lot ofsugar. That’s grape juice. It’salways clear, that is white.Of course, to make this true, have tosqueezing native European grapes, that isvinifera, that is, Portugal, Spain,Italy, Georgia, …, Germany, France.For the native American grape Concord,it’s red and so is its juice, jelly, withpeanut butter, etc.So, with red vinifera grapes, e.g., PinotNoir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, etc.,all the red color is just in the skins,and to get red wine need to leave theskins in the fermentation long enough forsome alcohol to be generated and dissolvethe red color from the skins.But with red grapes, if take the skins outearly on, then get white wine, e.g., fromPinot Noir, Champaign.So says Frank Schoonmaker.

          5. awaldstein

            I guess.Literally correct but has little to do with an understanding of how wine is made and how you create it connects you to the place, people that it came from and what you experience when you drink it.That is all that matters.The rest is irrelevant.

          6. sigmaalgebra

            I was just responding to your: So called “Orange Wine”,white wine made like red, fermenting forsome period of time with the skins.and asked only Red grapes or white?in an attempt to clarify if they werestarting with red or white grapes.

          7. awaldstein

            ahh got it.I’ve drunk a number of white wine made from red grapes. Invariably unsatisfying.The skins is where the bouquet, the tanins, the earth really lives.Adding it is interesting. Taking it away silly.

      2. William Mougayar

        “Crisp and flavorful” – what you described is most probably related to good acidity and low alcohol content. These 2 characteristics are particular to cooler climates regions (eg Austria, Germany, Northern France).Next time, check the alcohol content on a wine you like, as it’s another parameter that enters the taste equation. Lately, California wineries have been increasing their alcohol contents whereas the French have generally have resisted and keeping to a lower alcohol content. Overall, from 1984 and 2008, the mean alcohol content of red wines rose from 12.4 percent to 14.4 percent, while white wines saw an increase from 12.2 percent to 13.2 percent – leveling off at 12.9 percent.

        1. awaldstein

          You sure you want that statement to go down as gospel my friend;)Read this: Alcohol rising… alcohol content for the fat middle and the lower dreck market are rising. A product of manufactured taste and rising temperatures on the planet. They are selling flavored alcohol.Generally alcohol content on the very best wines, small producers, produced more naturally are going down not up. The alcohol content is impacted of course by hang time, climate, grape type and more.But invariably the alcohol content of California small producer wines in going down, not up and related to what is going on in the soil and the intent of the winemakers themselves.Two things more since you are giving me the opp to relay info from my vast storehouse of useless knowledge:Northern climate is less important than altitude and facing direction of the slope.And in a recently lost argument with a MW friend, indeed a well balanced wine with higher alcohol content can be crisp and acid forward but it is tough, I agree, to do.

          1. William Mougayar

            I didn’t want to start talking about climate warming as it’s def. a factor. Agreed that the small wineries will tend to want to end with lower alcohol content, as that better expresses their artisanship.To counter the warming effects, some producers are going to higher altitudes if they can, or are forced to harvest earlier because the grapes are ready earlier (which presents other challenges).Like you said in your post, I’ve been looking at the alcohol content always as a form of study and learning, and to try and understand the variations encountered.But I’ll say that northern european climates are cooler regardless of altitude, and that’s a factor in alcohol content (notwithstanding the wine method). If you’re in Southern Italy or Lebanon, then higher altitudes will enter the equation, as in Lebanon for e.g. no grape wines are grown under 700-900 m altitude at least.

          2. awaldstein

            True enough.I want to be clear that alpine as a designation is more determining than location in my experience.I have very little tolerance for high alcohol content wine generally and try to drink under 12 when I can.I agree it impacts the structure. I also just prefer not being zonked. At business dinners, I never drink over13%. I invariably get to choose the wine so this is easy to control.As an aside as I love this discussion, take a look at the work of Ambyth Estates in Pasa Robles. He is making incredible wines with no irrigation in this semi arid environment. Tiny yields, amazing naturally canopies from the vines and all around, great stuff.

          3. William Mougayar

            Agreed on alcohol content. I’m OK with 13.5% as a threshold to keep in check, but it makes it harder to find. Of course, chilling the bottle a bit helps to take the heat off the palate. Just like chilling vodka lets you drink it more easily 😉

          4. awaldstein

            Yup but if that is what I need to do invariably the wine itself is out of balance.

          5. William Mougayar

            I will argue that there are wines at 15% that are well balanced too, like some well known Bordeaux’s for e.g.

          6. awaldstein

            And you would be right.We re talking about our preferences in taste and about balance. They don’t have to be inclusive.

        2. awaldstein

          All general stats for the wine industry are somewhat spurious as there is no one wine industry. There are many and the bulk low end brand producers where the volumes are have nothing to do with what is happening at the top 20%.In the wine industry, data is notorious bad and invariably wrong.

          1. LE

            With regard to pricing, yesterday in the :…Wine industry needs (I assume this doesn’t exist) a “Rap Report” which is used as the bible in the diamond business:…Having a “rap report” for wholesale wine price would allow (if I understand this article) a restaurant that bought a wine 10 years ago to price it as if it was purchased last week.That way the end consumer would have more confidence (if pricing were roughly equivalent everywhere) vs. what appears to be arbitrary pulled out of a hat pricing or pricing where the same exact wine costs vastly different pricing at different restaurants. Plus restaurants would be able to maximize their bottle prices knowing exactly when they should and could charge more for a bottle.Note: I don’t buy wine in restaurants and know almost nothing about wine but this article made me think of the rap report.

          2. awaldstein

            Can’t think of any reason this is useful honestly LE.It’s a market driven perishable scarce commodity.

      3. JimHirshfield

        Say hi to the zem guys from me.

        1. fredwilson

          Will do

      4. sigmaalgebra

        > whites … crisp and flavorfulRight.Near Macon.

    2. scottythebody

      Next time you’re in Austria, give some of Dockner’s wines from Kremstal a try. Sepp is doing some good work there, and he even has a giant panoramic photo that shows you each hill and exactly where the grapes you’re tasting came from.

      1. awaldstein

        will do and will refer this on to friends there who are in the trade.

        1. scottythebody

          There are, literally, hundreds of producers I haven’t tried, some so tiny you basically have to know the person. My banker even makes wine (Grueners) only for his friends, family, and clients. Gager from Burgenland makes some of my favorite reds. Their Blaufraenkish – Cabernet blend rocks my world when I can get my hands on it. Dang, I need to get busy 🙂

    3. JLM

      .Great analogy.Stories are told through people, settings, dialogue, conflict. They are journeys and at the end you arrive somewhere with the people changed and the conflict resolved.Well played.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  2. Twain Twain

    “Show that tells…even in slides” is how I’ve learnt to approach it.

    1. Twain Twain

      This single slide earned an invite to one of Europe’s leading investor events:* http://www.capitalonstage.c

      1. sigmaalgebra

        To my eye, you’ve got some goodcontributions to I can suggest an improvement:Some days ago you went on about how forsome important purpose “statistics” didn’twork.Really, no: Statistics is a box of tools,of applied math, really, backed up withsome fully carefully done theorems andproofs.Like any tools, statistics is good forsome things, not good for others, andoften good or not depending on the user ofthe tools.Net, as applied math, statistics is rocksolid stuff — beyond fault. What can bedone with it is open to question anddepends heavily on the person using thetools.To be more clear, such applied math (1)looks at the real world, (2) sees a realquestion in the real world, (3) wants areal answer, (4) sees some attributes ofthe real world, (5) converts thoseattributes into mathematical assumptions,e.g., for statistics, commonly randomvariables independent and identicallydistributed, (6) uses the mathematicalassumptions and theorems, e.g., those instatistics, to get some mathematicalresults, (7) usually manipulates some dataas specified by the math and gets someresults from the data, (8) converts theresults from the data to answers in thereal world.The theorems and proofs and the computingmake their parts of this logicalchain (1)-(8) fully reliable and,hopefully, the whole chain quite reliable.Really, get to argue about the conversionbetween the real world and the math atboth the beginning and the end.The person doing the application gets toselect the random variables, justify theassumptions, select the statistical tools,etc.If the effort flops, then that should beobvious during the logical chain — e.g.,just can’t get enough assumptions or datato give useful answers. Even then, can’tfault the theorems and proofs ofstatistics.

        1. Twain Twain

          Thanks, :*).I know Prob & Stats have their utility so let me be specific on where they’re inadequate as tools.According to W3C and Word2Vec/Sentence2Vec frameworks, the probability & statistical classification for emotion expressions in our language is: <category name=”sadness” value=”0.3″/> <category name=”anger” value=”0.8″/> <category name=”fear” value=”0.3″/> <category name=”bored” confidence=”0.1″/> <dimension name=”intensity” value=”0.1″ confidence=”0.8″/>This is WOEFULLY INADEQUATE at best and fundamentally wrong as a standard at worst.Because of this I invented System #1 for Human+Machine Intelligence (patent-published).Now, I’m inventing System #2 which is also about solving so SIGNAL >>> noise like System #1 — albeit Sys#2 is Internet of Things with hardware+software.

          1. sigmaalgebra

            Okay, I looked up the idea ofword to vector. Right, itdoes not promise to be veryaccurate at all.Even if make careful statisticsout of that, the results stillwon’t be very accurate.Could ask for the relationshipbetween the weight of a bird andthe color of its feathers, andagain wouldn’t get much accuracy– given one of those two, theprediction of the other will benext to junk.This result is not in any way afault of statistics,probability, or pure/appliedmath. Instead, we just learnthe truth: For birds, weightand feather color don’t havemuch to do with each other.Of course, if you want topredict, say, feather color,then, sure, first cut, likelyneed more data. So, maybe havebird age, sex, and weight. Thenone species at a time make theprediction. Basically will beexploiting the rough situationthat with age, sex, and weightgiven, the species and, hence,the feather color are nearlyspecified.For words to vectors, can startwith big data if youwant, say, billions of words oftext, and still won’t be able tosay that Paris andRome are close in meaningand for a good reason — theyaren’t close in meaning.All this is an example of alarger struggle: Gettingmeaning from naturallanguage, even typed in words,is beyond what we really knowhow to do. Children of five cando it, but programmers can’tprogram computers to do it.There are some ways toapproximate meaning, butso far directly understandingnatural language is not one ofthem.In no way are these situationsfaults of statistics, etc.Instead, the programmers justhaven’t yet figured out how toprocess natural language. Whenthey do, likely they will makesome good applications ofstatistics, probability, andpure/applied math.That some person is not able touse arithmetic to do a grocerybudget is not a fault ofarithmetic, either. Some peoplecan use arithmetic to say withinminutes when the next solareclipse is while other peopleare struggling to develop agrocery budget. Same forapplications of statistics.Broadly, much of what is goingon now in programming andcomputer science is some appliedmath by some people who (1)never took nearly enough math inschool and (2) just willnot reinvent or learnthat material on their own.There are chaired professors ofcomputer science at famousresearch universities who,sadly, don’t know even how towrite math but try to andpretend to. So, what they writeis a mess.For such people to make goodapplications of anything inpure/applied math is justhopeless.If they will take a good passthrough, say, Kelley, GeneralTopology, then maybe I willlisten to them again. I willgrade some of their exercisesolutions.Shorter: Just show me a goodproof that there are nocountably infinite sigmaalgebras.Yet again, once again, overagain, once more, one more time,necessarily much of the sourceof progress in computing will bebased on good work in relativelyadvanced, sometimes original,pure/applied math. Peoplewithout the background andtalent will make messes but noprogress.

  3. pointsnfigures

    Agree on the pitch deck. The actual financial numbers are important. The numbers illustrating where the company is projected to go less so. I think Simon Sinek in his video, “Selling the Why” says it best. Don’t tell people what you do, tell people why you do what you do. As much as investing is based on numbers, motivating the emotion around investing is more important. Martin Luther King didn’t say “the laws on the books are unjust”-he said “I have a dream”. Makes all the difference.

    1. awaldstein

      Every smart investor says the same that core value, understanding the segment are more important that projections.Of course that is correctBut every smart investor when looking at a company with a shipping product looks at burn and cash flow–and the idea of cost without the details of revenue is simply a valid one.

      1. pointsnfigures

        I meant that every startup’s financial projection into the future looks like a global warming graph-and they never are correct. Your point about burn rate is well taken though-knowing projected burn rates and estimating them correctly is a lot more important than knowing what an income statement looks like 5 years from now.

        1. awaldstein

          Ignoring ‘global warning’ jibe with a smile.All charts go up and to the right. As true as taxes and mortality.The depth of understanding in how you build them and the honestly in talking about what is not known is key.

  4. William Mougayar

    Yup, a pitch deck is almost like a resume, as it needs to get you to the interview primarily.To get to that story-like flow, another thing that many early startups struggle with is the order in which they communicate their information. There is a certain messaging architecture that needs to be followed to make it compelling & easily comprehensible.In giving feedback on pitchdecks (which I do a lot lately), there’s almost always a part where I suggest a re-ordering of the flow. I also suggest they start with just bullets that say what they want to say. Then build the pitch deck.

    1. JLM

      .The “call to action” is one of the most important considerations when making a pitch deck.”So, the viewer looks at our deck, right? What do we want him to do next?”The answer to that question is the “call to action.” Lots of entrepreneurs miss that practical consideration.Fundraising is a multi-touch process. Usually takes 5-7 touches.Each touch has to be planned with a careful assessment of the required call to action.”If this goes perfectly, what do we want to happen next?”JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  5. Twain Twain

    Compare and contrast how to tell a financial story…The table tells investor almost nothing about HOW startup is going to get to XYZ.

    1. JLM

      .You are showing, not telling.Showing is better than telling.Well played!JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

      1. Chimpwithcans

        This “showing vs. telling” component of good story telling is most obvious in movies and novels. It is very frustrating when we are spoon-fed and “over-told” a story or a character trait or an important symbol, versus shown the same through subtlety and art. This is the true art of a good story I believe.

      2. ShanaC

        You’re showing a story. You still need a cohesive storyline to pull what you show together

    2. laurie kalmanson

      every picture tells a storyi’ve been helping with data visualization: what question do you want the answer to?

  6. Val Tsanev

    Also the story needs to be authentic, it needs to relate to your personal history, what were the events in your personal life that led you to start that company? Why you discovered that problem? Why you are the right person to solve it? Lastly, why now?

  7. Twain Twain

    At an IBM Design Thinking and Extreme Programming masterclass and saw this great way to tell a story which also aligns with Lean.Team wants to get to making a wedding cake.First, they need to DELIVER a cupcake.Not get detoured into making a spoon.

    1. JLM

      .Crawl, walk, run — how the Army was training combat units fifty years ago. Like a lot of things, just discovered.Well played.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    2. timraleigh

      Excellent. Thanks.

    3. laurie kalmanson

      not to start an agile flame war, but you need to be able to see the wedding cake while you’re still working on the cupcake

      1. Twain Twain

        Ha, Laurie!So the cupcake is a ratings widget that replaces 5-star.The cake is a surveying system to replace SurveyMonkey, Google Consumer Surveys, Gallup et al.The wedding cake is the most coherent data classifier possible — one that not even Turing was able to imagine and will solve Nat Lang understanding in ways the big techcos haven’t been able to do.And I baked all three of them AT THE SAME TIME because …If we wait for male developers and investors to know how to bake (aka design, architect and code) the types of cake only women can imagine and make, we would all DIE from cake starvation!Lol.

        1. laurie kalmanson


          1. Twain Twain

            #becauseworldneedswomeninventorsImages show Mothers of Computer Programming, Wi-Fi and mobile tablets who worked well with the Fathers (Charles Babbage, George Antheil and Alan Kay of Apple fame, respectively).Naturally, the only way Machine Intelligence will be (and has any hope of being) intelligent is when there are MOTHERS OF AI.That’s why investors and SV need to invest in women…History has shown and told that story.WOMEN ARE THE KEYS TO THE GREATEST & MOST VALUABLE BREAKTHROUGHS IN TECH.:*)

  8. Jordan Thaeler

    Meh only slide that matters: financials with growth rate. VCs will invest in anything that meets low risk, high growth criteria

    1. fredwilson

      Not all VCs. I am one by the way

      1. Jordan Thaeler

        I can’t tell if you’re stating that you’re a VC or that you’ve done deals that aren’t based on maximizing risk/growth. A VC who has done risky things? Suster, via uBeam, which is the kinda stuff I love seeing.

        1. sigmaalgebra

          From all I’ve been able to tellabout VC investments, sayingthat telling a good story”generally does the trick” islike saying that a Maraschinocherry makes a good desert.Indeed, a Maraschino cherry doesmake a good desert when havethree scoops of ice cream, withchocolate fudge sauce, withnuts, with whipped cream on top,with the cherry on top of that.Right: Good desert from oneMaraschino cherry.And one peanut also makes a goodbeer when it comes with an icecold, long neck, Bud.In particular, VC funding seemsto make a Markov stochasticprocess assumption: Everythingabout (A) the past of theproject and (B) the futurefinancial success of the projectare conditionally independentgiven (C) the currenttraction and its rate ofgrowth.In particular, at the present,nothing, not plans, nottechnical accomplishments, notsoftware, not observations aboutthe market, not the problemmakes any difference at all –traction is all that matters.If VCs had been allocating fundsduring WWII, then they wouldhave asked that universities,individuals, etc. have developedthe B-17, P-38, P-47, P-51,proximity fuse, B-29, and theA-bomb and, then, after theTrinity test, offered to fundthe gasoline for the Enola Gay.Instead, as in Richard Rhodes,the Manhattan Project cost about$3 billion but saved about 1million US casualties, that is,cost about $3000 per casualtysaved — fantastic ROI. Also,low risk — there wasn’t muchdoubt in Oppenheimer’s mind, orthe minds of any of…But, the world is changing: InThe Happy Demise of the 10XEngineer by Sam Gerstenzangat…is in part: This is the newnormal: fewer engineers anddollars to ship code to moreusers than ever before. Thepotential impact of the lonesoftware engineer is soaring.How long before we have abillion-dollar acquisition offerfor a one-engineer startup?Or, if a project, say, a Website, has the qualifyingtraction, say, with aserver computer and routercosting $3000, has an Internetconnection with a static IPaddress and 25 Mbps uploadbandwidth for $80 a month, sendsWeb pages for 400,000 bits perpage, sends on average 24 x 7 8pages a second with a peak ratetwice that, sends an average of5 ads per page, from some M.Meeker data gets paid $2 per1000 ads displayed, then thepeak upload bandwidth would be400,000 * 8 * 2 = 6,400,000bits per second, that is, 6.4Mbps, trivial for 25 Mbps, andthe monthly revenue would be2 * 5 * 8 * 3600 * 24 * 30 /1000 = 207,360dollars. The capex is about$3000; the opex is less than$200 a month plus the salary forthe one guy. So, we’re talkingballpark $200,000 a month inpre-tax earnings, soleproprietorship, Sub-chapter S orLLC.So, in five months, that’s $1million free and clear forcurrent expenses and $100,000 ayear or so in pre-tax capex togrow, that is, not just a Seedround but a good Series A.Lesson: Now $3000 can buy oneheck of a server — processorwith 8 cores and a 4.0 GHzclock, 32 GB of ECC main memory,a few TB of SSD space, many moreTB of hard disk space, and 1GbE. From the MicrosoftBizSpark program, high endcopies of Windows Server, IIS,and SQL Server, for free for,ballpark three years.Any entrepreneur has to plansuch things and be sure theplans are solid, but VCs ignoresuch plans.We’re back to just Mother Gooseand The Little Red Henwhere she saw the potential inthat grain of wheat but no oneelse wanted anything to do withher until she had hot fragrantloaves of bread fresh from theoven with hungry, eagercustomers with money lining upto buy. Then she didn’t needany help.Net, for a solo founder with aproject where traction resultsin revenue, by the time there istraction enough for equityfunding, there will be revenueenough that the solo founder nolonger needs equity funding –the train will have left thestation, the plane will alreadybe off the ground, the elevatorwill be way above the groundfloor.Thankfully for US nationalsecurity, the US DoD is ready,willing, and able to considerprojects, including world-classambitious projects, just onpaper and, if the reviews of thepaper are good, fund theprojects and, then, do amazingthings for US national securityand have low risk with highpayoff with much better battingaverage than VCs.In the words in the movieMoneyball, VC decisionmaking is “medieval”; projectsare funded or not funded basedon a long list of nearlyirrelevant criteria; and solidplans on paper are nearlyignored.One of the reasons for thedifference is the technicalqualifications of the peoplereviewing the projects: The USDoD can review, or obtaincompetent reviews of,essentially any STEM project, nomatter how advanced. Nearly noVCs have the qualifications todo so or can.

          1. Jordan Thaeler

            I think I’d enjoy a beer or two with you.

  9. Bruce Warila

    Related video with Ira Glass (This American Life) talking about great storytelling..

    1. Bruce Warila

      For pitching, I found this post by Tyler Crowley really useful – “Pitching Hack: It’s Not What You Said, It’s How You Made Them Feel”

    2. karen_e

      Very helpful framework. Thanks, Bruce.

  10. creative group

    Interesting to read the intricacies of wine with our resident connoisseurs.We (I) never tasted an alcoholic beverage but have been asked what have we had (alcoholic beverage) when commanding a room socially. Always been comfortable in any setting with humans. I find many people require alcoholic beverages for several reasons..1. Heredity 2. Taste 3. Addiction4. Culture 5. Social anxietyAlways have been amused how people seek alcoholic beverages when in a unfamiliar setting.Especially women.(Based upon my observations)

    1. JLM

      .In one’s life, when you have been doing hard, sweaty, nasty work there comes a moment.You receive an ice cold beer — must be ice cold — you roll it along your forehead, you open it, you bring it to your lips, you tip it and you pour it down your throat — finishing it in two swallows.That was what got Adam kicked out of the freakin’ Garden of Eden. He took Eve with him because she had supplied the beer.At that moment, you will be as close to understanding the Holy Trinity as it is possible to be.One is cautioned against opining on the merits of drinking until they have flirted with Eve and a beer. Get a couple of beers into Eve and, well, . . . . not today.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

      1. creative group

        JLM:have embraced the joys and trials of life and halfway in this journey very content with the path written. No desire to change my affair with happiness. Enjoy life naturally, high on the beauty in living and loving life without sltimulants. Those who find joy in spirits and refrain from harming anyone during the process who am I to judge what makes them happy and fulfilled.

        1. JLM

          .Fair play to you, my friend.Drinking is way over rated and I do admit to enjoying not drinking and letting everyone else let me peek into their innards. It is fun.Then, of course, there is bourbon and Blenheim. If you have ever been to South Carolina or Georgia and gotten into some Blenheim ginger ale and let it play with a good bourbon — well, you may start talking in tongues.Then, there is Deep Eddy Vodka, owned by one of my neighbors.http://themusingsofthebigre…Still, I applaud you and appreciate you.I used to feel the same way about sex but I was only ten.JKJLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          1. creative group

            JLM:”I used to feel the same way about sex but I was only ten.” JKSince the age of 15 being introduced to the opposite gender has been a consistent pleasure.When you become an adult you act and think like one.Lead the herd don’t follow one because the destination becomes unknown. (One of our many quotes)

      2. LE

        The experience of something that you have learned to enjoy goes way beyond the actual experience of consuming it. What you wrote above “you receive an ice cold beer” clearly shows how the mere thought of getting that beer creates a great bit of pleasure prior to ever “pour(ing) it down your throat”.Reminds me of when I worked out west and during the week I would be checking the weather conditions and getting excited about the weekend drive through the donner pass to get to Tahoe skiing. So it was quite a bit more than just going down the slope. It was the anticipation which sometimes is better than the reality. (Porn industry certainly proves this point..)

    2. Chimpwithcans

      Next step is to taste an alcoholic beverage, then tell your story again. It will be pretty different I bet. 🙂

      1. creative group

        The story would be compromised by mind altering substance.Back to the vacation experience.What is the best vacation/ business trip anyone has ever had.

    3. LE

      I didn’t drink at all in college and not much after that. One day I discovered that if I had a drink in a social setting it made it more palatable and less aggravating. So I have a drink and all the sudden the noise and the annoyances go away.My dad never drank at home (may during religious holidays) but quite frankly I wish he had a drink when he came home as it would have taken the edge off.

      1. creative group

        There are positives and negatives in mostly everything. The balance with moderation or complete abstinence is usually best when negatives can ruin a person. Rarely will an alcoholic acknowledge they are an alcoholic.

    4. sigmaalgebra

      With wine, the French do it best. Thenthe Italians. Have a really good dinner,I’m talking some of the best stuff, wherethe wines were carefully selected, then will see that of the collection of fantasticflavors, the wines are some of the bestand, in addition, go well with the food.The alcohol? For such a dinner, basicallyit’s an unwelcome side effect becausehistorically it was there just naturally fromtrying to store grapes or grape juice. Alsofor some flavors, e.g., vanilla, alcoholis a good flavor preservative — there maysuch an effect for wine flavors.At a good dinner, say, roast goose with Chambertin and some of the Chambertinwith some fantastic cheese, the wine isa big part of the glory, and there are muchcheaper sources of alcohol.No one pays high end Burgundy prices forthe alcohol. Or, go west for the Clarets,in the Haut Medoc where since1855 some of the prices would set you back;there the alcohol can be nearly as low as beer.

  11. creative group

    The jewels (Uptown Harlem vernacular) presented regularly by contributors on this blog are immeasurably and can’t be quantified.

  12. JimHirshfield

    Slides: the fewer, the better. And it shouldn’t be something left behind. If they like the pitch and want more info, don’t fall for the line, “send me your deck”. That’s usually a false sense that there’s a next step in place. More info can be found on the website, the product itself, or in a follow up meeting if interest is genuine.

    1. Twain Twain

      Thanks, great tips, Jim.The “send me your deck” lesson is super-important. Put as much into product as possible.

    2. Matt A. Myers

      That’s sounds like a good way to save time and vet. Isn’t that what platforms like Angellist help facilitate – getting access to some information first? Though knowing if they actually took a deeper look because of deeper interest would be important. Perhaps asking questions to potentials – a test – what part they like most about the website or product, etc..

  13. Tom Labus

    Many times slides are ” Lost in Translation”.If you don’t know the story who does then

  14. JLM

    .Every great story has a narrative hook that captures your attention from the onset and draws you into the story. This is the hypothesis or pain point that a founder seeks to deliver on.In my writing endeavors, I am reminded again and again how important it is to tell a story that people are drawn into. If you were trying to write a “big” story and you asked successful writers for advice, they would say the following:1. Create memorable, sympathetic characters (founders)2. Use a unique, clear voice (no jargon)3. See the setting (problem) through new, fresh eyes4. Create a catchy opening (narrative hook)5. Make the ending unexpected, but right (solve the problem)6. Use the perfect choice of words, crafted with economy and elegance (slides)7. Create an “I learned something” momentThis could be as true for a pitch as it is for a winning novel. What is interesting is that the above is the distillation from thousands of successful, published authors.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  15. Victor

    That’s what I liked about the recent a16z mobile deck. You could click through and just read the titles of the slides and understand the story…

  16. Twain Twain

    Here’s how Fred’s post resonates as a story, according to IBM Personality Insights.The language he uses scores 100% on closeness and 98% on openness.Founders can use a myriad of Machine Intelligence and viz tools to shape their pitch/story.Fred pitches himself as a VC to founders every day too.It’s a 2-way narrative between founders and investors and it’s important to remember that.

    1. Kirsten Lambertsen

      Is the tool you used to generate this available publicly? Super interesting!

      1. Twain Twain

        Enjoy! It’s IBM Watson’s approach to Natural Language Processing:* https://watson-pi-demo.mybl…IBM doesn’t necessarily have the right psychometric model to base Natural Language understanding on — ditto Google, FB, Baidu, Qualcomm, Stanford / MIT / Harvard et al (*).Still, it’s an incremental improvement on previous approaches like Myers-Briggs and psychographics of that category.(*) This is partly why I invented System 1.

        1. Kirsten Lambertsen

          Thanks for this!

        2. LE

          So has this ever been correlated with real life events in a study?I study language very closely in deal making and have noted strong correlation with future events depending on language that I have perceived to flow one way or another. Essentially gut instinct developed over time. I am curious about any research that ties this in and correlates it to actual outcomes.

          1. Twain Twain

            Useful materials on the origins of Cognitive Psychology in 1940s/50s which helps trace subsequent frameworks in Neurolinguistic Programming and Natural Language Programming which have resulted in tools such as IBM’s:* http://www.simplypsychology

          2. Twain Twain

            100 years after John Von Neumann’s Game Theory in 1920s, machines like IBM’s and the other big techco’s may soon be telling the stories and making the deals.

        3. Forward Push

          Thank you for sharing this tool. I’ve been plugging in some of our own articles and it’s sparked some lively debates among the writers.

          1. Twain Twain

            Great, it’s important we all examine whether the machines are measuring us in the ways we consider to be accurate / true reflections / appropriate.This tool from IBM is an attempt for the machines to be objective about our subjective traits. It has taken IBM 30+ years to have the data corpus they train and test Natural Language tools like this on.Imagine how the machines might do marketing and advertising based on automated personality insights in the future.Not just what we click on (as Google does for links). Not just what we have already bought (as Amazon does). Not just what we’ve tweeted (per Twitter).Can we trust and rely on automated personality assessments like this?How can we make it better?Human+Machine Intelligence is one of my areas of focus.

          2. laurie kalmanson

            the machines are us/ing us

    2. Matt A. Myers

      Unrelated but do you know anywhere online to generate a beautiful looking spider/radar chart? I’ve tried looking and they all look terrible.

      1. Sam

        I find spider charts very difficult tools for clean, concise communication. I would humbly suggest that maybe you find they all look terrible because “reading around a wheel” is an unnatural act. I know it is for me.

        1. Matt A. Myers

          Was more related as a talking point for me or just internal view to gauge where we’re at with different segments and features we have on roadmap.

    3. creative group

      Excellent post my dear Watson.Find it amazing how an investor can actually leverage his/her financial funding to include a founders title when they were not intricate in the founding of the idea, concept or time in getting the product or service to function.

      1. Twain Twain

        Thanks.Investors can qualify as founders IF:(1.) With their investment, the first WORKING prototype of the product gets made and launched (on browser, on desktop or as mobile app).By prototype I don’t mean some clickable wireframes or some slick design video. I mean there is coding involved (i.e., iOS/Swift, Python, Ruby, PHP, JS, CSS plus some Data Science and Database work).(2.) They’ve written a significant % of the business plan that gets the product to work for the market and/or they actually bring paying users and strategic partners to make the product successful.Some founders make the mistake of not valuing what their investors contribute, and vice versa.A LOT OF HARD, HANDS-ON WORK is involved in founding a startup so whoever puts in the hard, hands-on work that makes the startup move forward, take off and succeed…They’re the ones proving their value contribution and earning their equity.

  17. Kirsten Lambertsen

    Oh my goodness, pitch decks. Sometimes I think it’s the hardest thing a startup founder has to do!There are tons of resources out there now with great advice and frameworks for crafting a pitch deck. It can get a little overwhelming, while helpful.Not sure I ever mastered making a deck. But I sure fell into all the traps. And your point is where everyone should start. What is the story? Why must this exist in the world? Hang everything off of that and then take only what you need from all the advice out there.It does seem like startups fall into two very basic buckets: the painkiller or the vitamin. It can help a lot to figure out if your product cures pain or makes people feel good. That way you know if your story is either, basically, “Oh the pain! It’s horrible! Product X saves the day!” or “Once upon a time, a great adventure!”One of the directors at the accelerator I went through in 2012 shared this great video of Kurt Vonnegut explaining (wonderfully!) the three story structures that make up all stories. Moral: keep it simple.

    1. karen_e

      What a great video. Thanks, Kirsten!

    2. JLM

      .That really is all there is, isn’t it?JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

      1. Kirsten Lambertsen

        It’s absolute truth 🙂 But of course, the devil’s in the details.

          1. Kirsten Lambertsen

            Dude. You’re wrecking my buzz.

    3. Amar

      That was EPIC! 🙂 I think I will hold on to that one for a while. Thank you

  18. Jan Schultink

    I am a professional presentation designer, and my clients are often surprised when I suggest to use the “business school style” standard table of contents of a pitch presentation as an aide memoire rather than the structure on which to build the pitch.

    1. Richard

      Which school 🙂

      1. Vasudev Ram

        I think Jan means MBA schools.

  19. Richard

    “You had me at hello”No doubt that a good story Helps, but often times the folks who need it are the wrong investors.

  20. BillMcNeely

    Last night I went to a RealTech event for real estate startups here in Dallas. The morning after the only pitch I remember was the one that told a story @SkyRiseApp

    1. Richard

      What was the story?

    2. JLM

      .Hey, Bill, can you send me a link? Or am I going to have to get off my ass and Google it?JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

        1. JLM

          .Thx, warrior chieftain.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          1. BillMcNeely

            Here is one of the founders, Bradley Joyce…Bradley is a super experienced founder.What was unique about it was his co founder gave the pitch whom I have never met before Andrew Zusman

        2. Drew Meyers

          I believe there is an opportunity sitting there. I’ve spoken to about two founders over the past year or two thinking about that space, but haven’t seen anything impressive yet.

    3. Drew Meyers

      Is there a real estate tech scene in Dallas?I run In seattle, there are quite a few startups in the vertical, but can’t say I’ve ever heard or spoken to a real estate tech founder in dallas.

      1. BillMcNeely

        Over the last 12 months there has become one. Our first real estate accelerator Motive starts in 10 weeks with John Backes running it

        1. Drew Meyers

          I’m not familar with who John Backes is?Metaprop in NYC is starting this fall too:

          1. Drew Meyers

            I hate reg walls…I can’t read it without subscribing.

  21. kevando

    You just need to engage your audience.. One of the best “story” pitches I saw was from Flight Car. Founder was 17 and killed it.

  22. Brian Manning

    Good post. People buy with their heart and justify it with their mind. Lead with a compelling and engaging story. The numbers come later.

  23. karen_e

    Better yet, throw away the deck. If you got yourself a meeting with actual people, then congratulations! And get rid of most of the media that serves to “mediate” between two people! One or two diagrams or images might be all that you need.

    1. BillMcNeely

      Sometimes being able to talk a Lean Startup Canvas is what needed in my limited experience

      1. karen_e

        I didn’t exactly know what you meant by lean startup canvas, so I found this link:…. Now that is a good little template!

      2. awaldstein

        I am honestly not a fan of this overriding approach.In pieces it is brilliant but there is very much a downside to squeezing yourself and being capital poor.

        1. BillMcNeely

          You need a deck no doubt but when you are meeting someone cold a canvas is an easy way for the conversation to flow

    2. JLM

      .I agree with you more than you agree with yourself.A single graphic showing your business engine canvas is more than enough.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    3. Kirsten Lambertsen

      Fred has certainly expressed a preference for this :)The only thing I’ll say for making a deck is that the exercise, itself, is useful for clarifying thinking and crystalizing what your “takeaways” are.

    4. awaldstein

      I’ve been using a one sheeter and a bunch of spread sheets with slides as needed.One on one fundraising if always the best.But–we all need to build a deck

      1. karen_e

        I have been part of many slide-deck-building exercises that hit 120 slides or more, and I’m sure you have, too, Arnold. The best presentations have a final number of slides that is much, much, smaller than where they started. Your editor is your friend. And I’m available for hire 😉

      2. Matt A. Myers

        What’s on your one sheeter? The problem? The solution? Both? Something to catch attention?

        1. awaldstein

          Hopefully the story in a nutshell!It gets them to a sit down with me!

          1. Matt A. Myers

            Too vague – included picture of a nutshell.

    5. Raquel Miller

      I don’t agree; I think the story-telling deck is a great idea. In the end, you must know how to sell, how to captivate your audience, so they pay attention to you, and a deck that is too long may show that you are not nimble enough to handle a presentation, but keep the deck. Give your audience some colors.

      1. karen_e

        Are you selling? ‘Cause I’m buying. On one condition. Six words per slide. 🙂

        1. Raquel Miller


  24. Matt A. Myers

    First look, eyes lock, smiles, opening your heart with a story and then tease you with some numbers so you ask for all of my numbers. Sexy.

  25. Stuart Willson

    There is great insight in Reid Hoffman’s breakdown / post-mortem of the LNKD Series B deck. Related:”A great deck needs to address all important concerns and tell your story effectively. Sometimes, that means setting up a narrative over several slides.”…

  26. Sam

    Two things come to mind…1. Pitch decks have to tell a story for the people NOT in the room. The people in the room can be wowed by the confidence and conviction in your delivery. The people in the room can be wowed by the words you speak. That’s probably 90% of your impact, and it has very little to do with the words on the page. But there are going to be decision-makers and influencers who aren’t there. Maybe Fred wants to consult with an industry contact to get another perspective, and she replies, “Send me the pitch deck.” Those are the people your deck has to tell a story to.2. Let your titles tell your story. Don’t give me “Market Overview.” Give me a leading conclusion in your title: “The Market Is Large and Growing” or the maybe something a bit provocative “The Market Is Ripe for the Taking.” Don’t give me “Leadership Team.” Give me “The Founders Were Built for This Opportunity.” Get your titles right, and the audience will interpret the content on the page with the right context, with your context. It’s a simple tip, and remarkably few people do it well. When you’re done with your first draft, if you look at the pitch in slide sorter mode (small tiles) and shrink it down so you can only read the titles, does it tell the story? If not, go back and revise the story flow.

  27. Dasher

    In your experience as a VC looking back do you remember funding or rejecting startups with horrible decks/presentations that went on to become wildly successful companies? I can imagine many brilliant tech founders with no skill telling a story at least when they are starting out. Do you have any interesting anecdotes that come to your mind?

  28. Raquel Miller

    Fred, I have just read your book, a AVC Business School for Startups. I am going to have to re-read it. I am a non-techy techy. I have envisioned a tech product that tells (and sells) the story of how companies can connect with their customers, and I believe it is a story you would very much want to hear … so I intend to present it to you. I like the idea of the pitch deck as a presentation technique, and being a creative writer, I will weave a great story into it. Ahh, the world is such an exciting place to be; nowhere else matters (all puns intended).

    1. fredwilson

      i did not write that book. i suspect someone took a bunch of my posts and put them into a book. which is cool with me

      1. LE

        which is cool with meI don’t think you realize what is going on here. This book clearly looks like you wrote it as opposed to attributed to you. To me this is clearly a problem and not what you intended to do by open sourcing things. It looks like you published this book not that someone took your posts and put them in a book.…Also, note that this it says “Fred Wilson’s Guide” and clearly implies that you have a book:…I am not a fan of many things in trademark law (or what ip lawyers often do) but this is clearly a case of the wrong thing happening.If I read I know everything was written by you. How do I know that this book contains things that you have said if it didn’t come from you?Plus you have clearly stated you are not writing a book. The fact that this book exists makes you seem as if you are a bit wishy washy and not consistent.

      2. Raquel Miller

        Yikes! That smacks of plagiarism.

  29. sigmaalgebra

    So when constructing yourpitch and deck think about the story youwant to tell. It’s probably not yourpersonal history although that can be partof the story. It’s more likely the storyof a problem and a market that you have anidea of how to change. Walk the reader upthat mountain and show them the promisedland on the other side. That story, whentold well, generally does the trick mosttimes. Good to hear. So, maybe the longstanding, nearly universal situation haschanged.The part with … the story of a problemand a market that you have an idea of howto change. that places some value on an “idea” isinteresting since one of the standardrules is that “ideas are easy andplentiful and execution is hard andeverything” and another of the standardrules is that venture funding is not to beused for product development starting withjust an idea.But, if the situation has not changed,then maybe more likely what “does thetrick” is a product/service that(1) has traction significant andgrowing rapidly,(2) is scalable, fairly easily,(3) is obviously for a huge, existingmarket,(4) stands to be a company worth $1+billion in 2-3 years,(5) is fairly easy to monetize,(6) has little or no revenue yet,(7) needs cash for head count and otherexpenses,(8) is eager for some equity funding,(9) has a nice graph of the growth intraction, and(10) is told with a good story, in a fewwords in a deck with a few foils.

  30. brendalaris

    The receiver needs to be drawn into the story and enjoy it and be moved by the ending.

  31. CJ

    “If the beat is time, flow is what we do with that time, how we live through it. The beat is everywhere, but every life has to find its own flow.”― Jay-Z, DecodedThat’s how I approach everything I do. Find the beat that you’re using, that’s your problem, your main event, your plot, and then flow to it to tell the story. That’s your solution, your narrative, your story. Everything is about flow, or as your post elucidates, everything is about story.

  32. Donna Brewington White

    I’ve learned in recruiting that telling a good story makes a huge difference in the ability to engage people and get desired results. Guess I’m pitching daily.

  33. LE

    I used to trade the mess sergeant captured weapons for garbage cans full of ice cold beer.Will read the rest of your comment later but remember my Dad telling someone that when he was working in the OSS after being liberated the currency of choice was chocolate. [1][1] Had something to do with women.

  34. Jordan Thaeler

    Yeaaaaa these investment theses are usually pretty crap and not market-leading. Entrepreneurs are the ones rewriting the rules and it’s a question of how long it takes VCs to catch up. I’d love to be proven wrong with some on-demand economy articles by VCs years prior to Airbnb and Uber or similar analogues. Generalities like “software is eating the world” is no more helpful than “the sun puts out energy”.