On Tuesday, I covered Arkive’s $9.7 million funding round, a startup that is trying to answer the question: “What if the Smithsonian was owned and curated by the internet?”
The company’s founder and CEO Tom McLeod was gracious enough to let me take a closer look at the pitch deck he used to raise their seed round for our pitch deck teardown series here on Nob6+. Let’s get to it!
We’re looking for more unique pitch decks to tear down, so if you want to submit your own, here’s how you can do that.
Slides in this deck
Arkive’s deck is a hard-hitting, to-the-point deck that crams a lot of details into just 12 slides:
- Cover slide
- Mission slide
- Problem slide
- Solution slide
- Business model slide
- Value proposition slide
- Roadmap slide
- Market context slide
- Market size slide
- Milestones and What’s Next slide
- Team slide
- Closing slide
The deck has a small number of redactions; the team reports it removed the following information:
- Amount of money needed and valuation.
- Specific timeline of product features.
Three things to love
Right off the bat, this slide deck shouts both “good storytelling” and “experienced entrepreneur.” The former because the narrative flows effortlessly and clearly from one slide to the next. Very few of the slides are, as many founders choose to do for clarity, labeled as “product” or “roadmap.” Both the content and design make sure you know exactly which part of the story you’re looking at.
Here’s a few things I think Arkive did particularly well:
Planting the seed of a dream
Early-stage startups can only share so much about their traction. If you have customers, they may not be fully representative of your eventual customers. If you have a beta product, it will evolve as you learn more about the problem space you’re in and the customers’ needs and desires.
So what’s left? You sell the dream — and my goodness, did Arkive knock that particular ball out of the park.
Love or loathe the idea, “What if the Smithsonian was owned and curated by the internet?” is a hell of a conversation starter. It also serves a more subtle purpose — for some subset of potential investors, this slide will make them nope the hell out of the deal right away.
Make it easier for investors to paint your dream in numbers — it makes it far easier to give an enthusiastic “yes!” to backing your company.
That can be an advantage, as it’s nearly impossible to convince people who’ve made up their minds about crypto, blockchain, museum curation or fractal ownership to get excited about Arkive. The corollary is that investors who are excited about this space are invited to elevate their excitement with a very simple slide.
The slide hints at the market, it suggests the solution Arkive is building, and it communicates the company’s goals and missions. It’s simple, effective and demonstrates a clarity of vision that I rarely see in founders in this context.
There’s one lesson you can take away from this: If you’re struggling to come up with a vision that’s as clear as this, ask yourself if you fully understand your market, the problem you are solving and the solutions you are proposing.
It was that, now it is this
As a founder, you have to truly, completely believe that you’re going to change the world or something important within it. If that isn’t true, I’d question why you’re doing what you are doing in the first place. If you’re smart and persistent enough to think you’re going to start a company, why would you waste that talent on something trivial?
Few founders pause for long enough to consider that investors are pretty similar in their motivations. Yes, they’re trying to create an outsized return for their LPs, but to many VCs, that’s the “what” and maybe the “how,” but not the “why.”
I love this slide because it plants a bold stake in the ground, striking a stark contrast between the old (traditional musea) and the new (Arkive). It uses the buzzwords of crowd-sourcing, equality and speaking democratic truth to a traditionally elitist group of curators.
For investors who care about diversity, inclusion and social justice, the message is spot on — will this be the first time there will be true representation in art and artifact curation? And on the other end, for investors who couldn’t wring out a singular copulation about making the world a better place, the slide does something else: It highlights a market that is staggeringly low on innovation and may turn out to be ripe for financial disruption.
I wish the slide had fewer words in it (perhaps Arkive could have made a deck with fewer words for presentation purposes), but that tiny niggle aside, I think it is very close to being perfect. It draws out the contrasts and sets out the playing field effectively while leaving enough space to have fruitful and interesting discussions about Arkive’s visions for the future.
Let’s talk business model
A startup’s business model should be like a flywheel that builds momentum as the company grows and evolves.
This slide outlines two important parts of that business model. For one, it outlines the user acquisition path and explains how the company is planning to take care of part of its marketing. It also explains the “How will this thing make money?” question without going into too much irrelevant detail.
This slide, in particular, helped me realize that the founding team is particularly experienced. Instead of only looking at one part of the puzzle in isolation, they have instead identified and articulated how all of the pieces come together while focusing on the user acquisition aspect of the business model.
The effect is simple but powerful. Just with the slide, I can deduce what I would have said to pitch it, but I’ve interviewed McLeod, the company’s co-founder, so I know he is a good presenter and can speak about his vision with great passion. Each of the four boxes on this slide is a slightly ajar door inviting you to have a conversation.
In the rest of this teardown, we’ll take a look at three things Arkive could have improved or done differently, along with its full pitch deck!