AA 025: Should you watermark your pitch deck when sending your presentation to investors?

Tl;dr: Don’t watermark your pitch deck. The more likely scenario is that you accidentally send your watermarked pitch deck to an investor you are pitching and look like a dumb ass! You can’t keep your pitch deck confidential. The same goes for a confidentiality statement for presentations.

Welcome to the 25th podcast of the Ask Alex show! Today the question is “Should you watermark your pitch deck when sending your presentation to investors?

In this podcast, we get into whether you should try protect your pitch deck with a watermark:pitch deck

  • Why you should watermark your pitch deck
  • autWhy you should not watermark your pitch deck
  • What you actually should watermark (Meaning not share!)

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Transcript

Here are three lies and a truth. Guess which one:

  1. Your idea is unique. You think it is special.
  2. Execution is not as important as your idea
  3. You don’t want to send your deck to investors only for them to send it to a competitor?
  4. You share great ideas that they then tell a competitor that they actually invest in  (and pass on you).

Of course, if you picked number 4, you are smart to be cautious. But not overly.

One and two are a joke. Your idea is not unique and it is not special.

Three makes sense prima faces, but it is fallacious. I’ll explain why in the next section.

Execution is all that matters. It’s the only (real) think that is going to make your startup the monster that venture capitalists want to invest in. You want to be in a place where you can post your plan and your competitors still can’t beat you.

Let’s be clear, VCs are not in the game of copying your idea themselves. They invest. But… they look at lots of sectors and likely want to place a bet in yours. Chances are, whilst you pitch 100 investors, 99 are going to pass and one of them are going to invest in a competitor.

That’s logical, if you are playing in a hot space.

Why you SHOULD watermark your pitch deck

Let’s not waste time here. There really aren’t compelling reasons.

The strongest thesis is that it will prevent investors sending your deck to a competitor (point 3).

Ok.

But no.

Look, if your investor is a bit shady and shares information from all the 1000 of founders that pitch them a year, then:

  1. They aren’t that concerned about getting caught and prob won’t be around long. So why are you pitching these guys who aren’t well known?
  2. Is a watermark really going to stop them? The investor has a relationship with the ‘type of founder’ they invest in. Is that founder going to pass it on again? Maybe
  3. How the hell are you EVER going to find out. What, your competitor is going to email you and laugh and say ‘ha my investor sent me your deck!’ Or they are going to post it on SlideShare. Not going to happen. You will never know

So basically, if you send your deck to an investor who will share it, you will never actually know. Bear shitting in the woods. Are you in the woods much? Nah, me either.

Even if the investor doesn’t share your actual pitch deck…

  1. They can show it to other people
  2. They can share the actual good ideas!

watermark your pitch deck

Why you should NOT watermark your pitch deck

You’re a dumb ass! Well, I don’t mean that personally. Everyone does dumb shit when they are tired and working hard. Fundraising is boring and you are pitching a 100 investors…

You ARE going to mess up one email. You will send the wrong attachment and if you watermark your pitch deck there are concequences. That attachment may be watermarked for another investor (#fail).

I did this twice:

  • On my application to JP Morgan (to Morgan Stanley)
  • To a potential acquirer in M&A (In the headline I forgot to change the name of the addressee… mega fail!)

I am fricking paranoid about email now. You probably haven’t fecked up enough to relate to the shame. So you will at some point. It’s going to happen. But you have to learn your own lessons…

Then there are the other reasons like:

  • It makes your deck ugly
  • It takes time to watermark in Acrobat… and you need to do it 100 times. FML, so boring
  • You are going to forget to do it occasionally, so what is the point?
  • Investors don’t need your deck need to share ideas (Think TED – Ideas worth spreading)
  • They can show the deck and not send it
  • Your deck is probably boring and uninformative anyway. If a competitor gets your deck then they are probably just aware of you. You should be more concerned they haven’t heard of you yet… (No, there are very few cases where I believe stealth makes sense- but there are reasons, just not many! Your employer not finding our before you quit is the strongest one)
  • etc…

Another point. You DO NOT need to send a book to investors! You can send a teaser. You can send a cheeky 10 pages with a lot of images (so long as it generates interest). You do not need to share everything about your startup.

As David Cowan of Bessemer Venture Partners writes:

“Nothing slows down a VC as much as a comprehensive business plan.”

It’s actually against your interest to share too much. If you get to the point you are over sharing, you have shared too much already (at the early stages).

Ultimately, just choose who you want to marry. You are figuratively marrying your investor; you can’t divorce them (nor kill them, in most countries). So if you are concerned about watermarking, why are you even spending a money emailing them? Stick to the guys you want to should trust.

Ultimately, this is the same question about asking investors to sign an NDA (though a n00b alarm doesn’t go off in the same manner).

WHAT you actually should watermark (Meaning not share!)

What you are really worried about is sharing your great tactics, insights, strategies, joint venture partners etc. Your special sauce.

That is what you don’t want your competitors knowing, right?

So there is a much simpler, smarter thing to do.

Don’t share your special sauce.

Don’t share your amazeball ideas until you at least have a term sheet and are comfortable with the investor!

You must have enough compelling things to chat about (team, market size, revenue model…) to get investors interested and have a third meeting, right? If you don’t, trust me, your special sauce is not enough to get you across the line.

Here are two articles on the most important factors:

  • Team – the real reason investors pass but won’t tell you
  • Market size – the real reason you won’t get passed a second meeting

There are of course a number of other factors or why you should not watermark your pitch deck, but those are pretty key!

So ‘watermark your ideas!’ I just made that up. I don’t know if that actually makes sense, but if it does, quote me 😉

Don’t share your ideas.

Venture Hacks wrote:

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.

Will investors be offended?

No.

Your deck just looks a little ugly and harder to read. So up to you

Any questions? Hit me up in the comments. I respond to every single one of them. Gary V taught me well.

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