Interview with OneDeck Co-founder, Will Neill
Tell us about OneDeck, what is the elevator pitch and how did it get started?
I love this question. The elevator question is so wonderfully simple, yet hard to do well.
OneDeck is a platform to simplify the fundraising process for companies and investors by focusing on the right amount of information at the right time. Our strapline is, “communicate, beautifully”, which sums up quite a few exciting avenues we’re pursuing to refine outdated fundraising process and encourage more transparency where there’s often a lot of grey area.
OneDeck began, as many projects seem to, over coffee. Lex Deak (co-founder) and I were chatting about our experience writing and delivering investment pitches, and also being the recipients of pitches from others. We lamented the inefficiency of spending 100+ hours to create a refined pitch deck, only to have an investor spend 3 minutes skimming it. Likewise, there are similar time asymmetries for VCs who employ smart MBA graduates to essentially write one-page investment summaries from the incoming deals they receive. Hence the hypothesis that helping companies present their funding round in a concise format that appealed to investors would be a useful thing.
Along the way we’ve poured a huge amount of time and energy into testing, reworking, and refining how we execute on that hypothesis. It turns out making a tool for one-page summaries that’s fairly universal is a tough challenge — especially from a design perspective. We learned a lot from our Alpha version of OneDeck last year, and with the recent launch of our Beta, I’m super excited to see the feedback from our users to inform our next iterations.
What made you want to redefine the pitch process?
OneDeck exists at an interesting point in the funding journey. Our purpose isn’t to reinvent the traditional 12 slide “pitch deck” per se — in fact, we’ve designed OneDeck so that companies can attach documents like this to their Deck. Instead, I think of OneDeck like mission control for companies from pre-launch to closing a funding round. Our aim is to build tools for companies that increase speed, transparency, and communication during the fundraising process.
Investors are an equally important customer for us. When you look at investor software for Angels, VCs and Family Offices, it’s pretty basic with a lot of missed opportunity for efficiency and insights. In fact, many investors take pitches via email, which works in small volumes but can get messy very quickly as things scale. So with OneDeck, our aim is to build tools that help investors streamline and organise their deal flow in a familiar format on any device, and discover some new sources of industry insights to catch the next wave.
If you could give founders one piece of fundraising advice, what would it be?
Hmm, there are so many things. Regardless of your fundraising stage, being well prepared before ‘starting’ a round goes a long way. Too many companies decide to start raising capital without understanding the process, time commitments (which are very high), and the information requirements. A pitch deck is only a very small part of fundraising.
If you’ll give me a lot of creative license here, maybe a metaphor explains a bit of this.
Fundraising is a lot like organising a really good house party. You need to prepare early and socialise the idea to make sure there’s appetite. Once you’ve got an optimal time and day picked out, you’ll want to enlist the help of reliable people who can help you prepare and get supplies, clean the house, and spread the word (to the right mix of people for your party, of course). For example, if it’s a costume party then make sure everyone knows well in advance.
When people start arriving you want to set the right atmosphere. Get people talking, and introduce them to each other. Make sure people know where stuff is, like drinks and food (aka in funding terms I mean documents). As more people arrive, keep the momentum going. Some people may leave early — that’s fine, they’re out (you can catch up with them another time). Keep a positive, wholesome vibe going and everyone will have a good time. It’s about being the host with the most — you need to interact, engage, and keep up with the flow.
As the party winds up and people start to leave, thank each person for coming. They made an effort, and if they’ve had a great time they’ll tell you. Don’t forget to thank those who helped you prepare. Before taking your exhausted self off to sleep, make a note of key moments of the party so you can follow up in the next few days and thank your friends for coming.
It also looks like you’ve started a blog for founders to get advice from, how do you see your advisory services growing over time?
We’re having a lot of fun with the blog, but there’s no plan to grow this as an advisory service. There are so many people out there building advisory services for startups — the market is saturated. What’s missing is the platform to help founders, investors, and advisors connect.
Lex, Ben, and myself (co-founders at OneDeck) have spent a considerable amount of time in the startup space as founders, advisors, and in some cases investors. So OneDeck as a product is a refreshing place to be, and the blog is a way of giving something back to the community from our combined grey matter. If it’s useful, that’s awesome!
What, if anything, can you share about the future of OneDeck?
Everything comes back to the feedback we receive from users, new and potential partners, and our own investors. There are lots of exciting things we’re considering, and it’s fantastic to have such a supportive group of early users. Perhaps that’s just a reflection of the startup community, but they really are great at giving constructive feedback.
Our next major milestone for the product is a Release Candidate. For this, we’ve got some fresh design work that will rethink some of the layout and flow of OneDeck. From internal testing, this will be a big improvement to usability across devices, simplify the navigation, and give us scope for some premium features later this year.
Also in the pipeline for the Release Candidate are improvements to the Deck creator tooling to make this even more streamlined and intuitive. We also have some exciting partnerships to announce in a few weeks that will provide companies with a range of support alongside the process of building a Deck.
Another big part of the next release will be our tools for investors. Particularly, helping investors to organise their incoming deal flow and make that a delightful process. I’m hoping we’ll be able to release some pretty smart workflows with this that will benefit Angels, VCs, and Family Offices in particular.
OneDeck, beyond the one-page investment summaries, seems like a platform for connecting innovators to investors. Do you see it as a network that could replace LinkedIn, Crunchbase, etc. for the investment community?
My hypothesis is we’re not looking to build a social network. I may be proven wrong. Positioning wise, our users are typically at a much earlier stage of their journey than those on Crunchbase and Angellist. Compared to these tools, our aim is to help companies present themselves to their existing network of investors (i.e. warm introductions only), rather than broadcast to a bunch of cold leads. The future jury is out on the network piece, but for now, our focus is building a robust place for companies to manage their fundraise, and for investors to streamline their workflows.
What’s one unique thing about OneDeck the company?
We’re a distributed team, working from London, Czech Republic, and Croatia. I’m a big fan of how teams like Bohemian who make the Sketch app are remote. So long as our culture, tools, and process support it, it’s a great way to work.
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