What is a poor one?, freshly minted developer to do when they run out of coding bootcamp but lack real experience? You step into the world of simulation. That is the premise of what Wilco offers. Last week I covered the $7 million seed funding round for the company, and the company’s CEO, On Freund, was kind enough to let me use the deck the company created to close that round for my Pitch Deck Teardown series.
One of the things I love, love, about the deck is that – much like the company’s overall design style – it uses the Sierra-era gaming look. In particular, it harks back to the old Space Quest games from the 80s and 90s, and the company itself, Wilco, is apparently named after Main character of Space Quest, Roger Wilco†
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It’s a particularly fitting name, given that, in the Space Quest series, Roger is an unlucky but well-meaning “sanitary engineer” (i.e. janitor) who, more or less accidentally, saves the world time and time again. If you really want to dive deep down the rabbit hole in retro flavour, check out the excellent Space Quest Historian podcast. Because naturally there is a podcast about the history of space quest.
Aaaanyway – sorry my 8 bit nerd shows, and nostalgia gets the better of me now and then. Where were we? Oh yes, pitch decks and breaking them down.
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Slides in this deck
Wilco’s seed deck is a 19-slide deck that ticks all the boxes. The ink on the investment round article isn’t even dry yet, so the raw deck would be full of a lot of company sensitive information; the Wilco team pointed out that it has made a few redactions so they can comfortably share the deck. I’ve noted them in the list of slides below.
- cover slip
- team slide
- problem slide
- “What’s Happening Today?” — Problem Context Slide
- mission slide
- “Who are we” — Value Proposition Slide
- Solution dia
- “Wilco’s solution is adaptable and adaptable and connects to commonly used tools” — Product slide
- “Scale vs. customization” – Beachhead go-to-market slide
- “The Wilco Effect” – Slide with Product Benefits
- “Product Experience” – Product screenshot (and possibly demo?)
- Go-to-market slide
- Traction Slider — Redacted: monthly active users (graph of users over time)
- Traction Slider — Edited: customer logos removed
- Traction Slider — Edited: content partner/customer logos removed
- “What customers say about us” — Testimonial slide
- match slide
- The question slide — Edited: removed some songs
- “Let’s talk!” — Slide with contact details
Three things to love
I’ve already googled about Wilco’s talent for graphics, but it seems the company’s talent runs deeper than that. The deck uses great storytelling craftsmanship. Here are a few highlights:
Benefits over features
Many startups, especially those with tech founders, fall into the trap of focusing too much on a product’s features rather than its benefits. You see that in all kinds of places, but here’s an example: nobody cares if a car has 400 miles of range; that’s just a number. Consumers (and yes, investors too) care how far you can go. In other words, the car can take you from Los Angeles to San Francisco without stopping to load or refuel. That’s benefit-based storytelling, and it connects with your audience much better than whether a car has 380 or 420 miles of range.
On slide 10 Wilco does this unbelievably; they call it ‘the Wilco effect’, but realistically they are benefits. Junior engineers gain hands-on experience, senior engineers gain more time back, management gains insight into human resource development and better control over training, and the wider community benefits in a number of ways.
The “how” will be important, but risks the temptation to go into more detail than what is important for a pitch deck. The “what” is too tactical; for this part of the story, it doesn’t really matter what users have to do to take advantage of these benefits. Focusing on the “why” is why this slide is so powerful; it opens the door to more in-depth conversations if needed, but the basics are there. I wish more startups got this right!
A beautifully sharp ask
It’s painfully rare to find a question slide that actually does what it’s supposed to do. When I saw this – despite the redactions – I knew I had to show Wilco because it’s such a great example of how to ask a good question.
That’s the company’s promise to its investors: give us $6 million, and we’ll make it happen.
In the first box, the company talks about releasing a “community edition” that enables (not “allows”, but I probably care more about that than I should) developers to play and create quests. It doesn’t specify anywhere in the deck what the feature set is here, so I would expect there to be an appendix slide showing some sort of product roadmap. Yet it is a clear goal.
In the second box, the company outlines its recruitment plan. Of course ‘strong team’ is a bit vague; I would have liked to see some numbers here, but it works.
In the third box, Wilco gets things very well. “Go to X WAUs and Y played weekly quests” is a super clear SMART goal: It is specific and measurable; there is no doubt whether the target has been hit or not. The numbers are covered, so I don’t know if it’s feasible, but that’s the promise the company makes to its investors: give us $6 million, and we’ll make it happen. It’s relevant: reaching that goal will unlock the next round of funding. And it’s time-bound, presumably “in the next 18 months” — more on that in a moment. Brilliant. In bold. Yes. More on this: Specific, clear, credible goals for what you’ll achieve with your investments will go a long way in building confidence in how your company will fare between this fundraising round and the next.
In the fourth box, the company sets some specific goals around its growth trajectory, with a number of partnerships it must establish to enable future growth, expressed as a SMART goal.
I have a small point that I would have liked to see differently here. I don’t know how many months of runway the company is collecting here, but I’m willing to bet that the red box covers the number 18. Why? Well, that’s pretty much the standard for a fundraiser these days: you fundraise for 18 months and resume fundraising when you have six months of runway left.
Much less than 18 months and you don’t have enough time to get meaningful work done. Much more than that and you’re trying clairvoyance in a timeline that’s a bit unrealistic. Besides, many startups aim for 18 months but then go to hell for leather to try to reach the milestones sooner.
In a nutshell, you’re not raising money because you’re running out of money as planned. You are raising money because you have successfully completed the milestones and you need more money to go beyond your next set of milestones. In short: don’t worry about the amount of time you put on your slide deck; it’s not helpful and it will show up anyway as part of your business and financial plans.
Clearly framed problem
I usually only share one slide here, but slides three and four go together, so here’s a twofer for you:
Did I mention that people are tempted to get too technical and too nuanced about the product in their slide decks? Yes, yes I did, in the first part of this teardown. Well, here’s another example of how Wilco dialed in perfectly. Slides three and four allow the company to explain the problem in a concise and clear manner. The company points out the shortcomings of theoretical education and explains what the consequences are for the entire company. In a world where developers have some of the most expensive human resources, any increase in efficiency is a problem. Investors know this more than most; they see the budgets in their wallets.
Even for someone unfamiliar with the ins and outs of running a development-oriented organization, Wilco’s value proposition is clear and easy to understand. Super impressive, considering the number of ways the company could have done this horribly wrong.
In the rest of this teardown, we’ll take a look at three things Wilco could have improved or done differently, along with the full pitch deck!