“I know plenty of VCs that behave the way I do and plenty that don’t.”

Brad Feld, on keeping decks to himself

Summary: A deck can help you get a meeting but it can also get in the hands of the competition. Whether you send a deck depends on who wants the meeting most. If you want the meeting more than they do, provide what they want. If they want the meeting more than you do, provide what you want. Finally, keep your secrets secret.

In What should I send investors?, we suggested sending investors a deck that describes your business plan. A reader subsequently emailed us and asked:

“Do I really want my business plan floating out there in venture land? What if it gets to my competitors? Is it safe to send my deck to investors?”

First, focus on executing your idea so you can make it public instead of focusing on how to keep it private. Second…

There are pros and cons to sending a deck.

We can’t tell you whether you should send a deck. At times, we have sent decks and, at other times, we have avoided sending decks. There is no right answer but there are pros and cons that you can consider as you make your decision.

The pro is it might help you get a meeting.

The first con is it can lower the effectiveness of your electronic pitch. Sometimes less is more. If you’ve got a great elevator pitch and introduction, do you need to send a relatively long document filled with arguments that are better delivered in person?

The second con is…

Your deck can get in the hands of the competition.

In Spice Girls VC, Rich Skrenta writes:

“So one day a few years ago I’m sitting in a VC’s office having a chat. I had a few ideas rattling around in my head but the VC had his eyes on a then-current space which was hot. He tossed a business plan for one of the leading startups into my lap.

“Where’d you get this?” I asked.

“They gave it to me.”

“He went on to talk about how he wanted to launch a company into the space as well…”

Your deck probably won’t get in the hands of the competition, but you should assume it will.

An investor’s handwritten notes can also get in the hands of the competition. And if an “evil” investor cares enough about your company to email your deck to the competition, he cares enough about your company to schedule a meeting and take notes.

Send a deck if you want the meeting more than they do.

Whether you send a deck depends on who wants the meeting most. Use this simple test:

If you want the meeting more than they do, provide what they want.

If they want the meeting more than you do, provide what you want.

It all comes down to who has the most leverage—that’s it. And leverage comes from traction. Traction speaks louder than plans.

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Keep confidential things confidential.

If you do send a deck, keep confidential things to yourself. In What should I send investors?, we wrote:

“Write “Proprietary and Confidential. Please do not distribute. Prepared for Blue Shirt Capital,” on the cover of your deck (some companies write it on every page). Investors are less likely to forward it if their name is on it. And ask any recipients, in writing, via email, to kindly not distribute the deck outside their firm.

“And if you must keep something absolutely confidential, don’t email it to investors and don’t mention it in person. Investors often look at several similar companies at once. Your plans probably won’t get to your competitors, but you should assume they will.”

Finally, you might want to try the private sharing feature on SlideShare. Please leave a comment if you do, we haven’t tried it yet.

Related: Are Watermarks on Presentations Useful?

Topics Decks · NDA · Pitching

6 comments · Show

  • Ted Rheingold

    Don’t forget to convert it to PDF or another read-only format to avoid any funny stuff once it has left your hands.

    And make sure the date is the day or month you sent it, as it then stands as a point-in-time snapshot which is likely out-of-date by the next quarter (in case the slides end up floating around inboxes month later)

    I like the idea of posting the recipients name on each page so it’s clear who leaked it if they do want to pass along.

    I also thinking striping out any slides you think reveal too much is a good compromise. (Ask a trusted person to be the judge of what is too revealing, company founders tend to over value their own IP)

    Not sure why this entry moved me to comment after reading scores of them. But thanks for all those entries nonetheless.

  • On Sending Decks at Bilgistic

    [...] hacks has a great post on when you should or shouldn’t send a presentation deck to an interested party.  Personally, I know of two VCs who I presented to who weren’t acting [...]

  • nabeel hyatt

    Not worth it. Not because your deck has some amazing information, it probably is pretty high level and isn’t as unique as you wish it was, but because it kills the point of the presentation. What if Steve Jobs posted his Keynote presentation the day before Macworld and then gave his presentation the next day — how much harder would it be for him to get any sense of drama, intrigue, and frankly keep people awake?

    You should send them *something* to entice their interest, but whatever it is, expect it to be widely circulated, and think of it as just a teaser to get the meeting. You should be the main event, not your PDF.

  • Jonathan Boutelle

    One safe way to share a PowerPoint deck with potential investors: upload it to SlideShare as private. Share it only with the investor. After 48 hours (or whenever they’ve had time to check out the presentation) simply remove it from slideshare.

    You could also share via a “secret” URL: but that URL could potentially be forwarded to other parties so it’s not a good way to share files with people you don’t trust (which seems to be the challenge we’re speaking of here). Still, you could take the file down after 48 hours, and this approach wouldn’t require the other party to have a login on slideshare. So it might be the more practical option.

    Convenience? Or security? It’s always a tradeoff, but it’s nice to at least have options!

  • Mark Hammitt

    Has anybody tried Adobe Document Center? I think you can use this to effectively make a distributed document go “poof” after a few days (without the smoke and sparks and stuff… although that would be pretty cool).

    My concerns are (1) it’s a bit of a hassle because the recipient gets directed to set up an Adobe id, if they don’t already have one; (2) they have to authenticate themselves (again, this is my impression) when they want to read it, adding to the hassle factor; and (3) all of this wouldn’t, it seems, prevent a real slimeball from grabbing screenshots of the IP.