Creating good PowerPoint slides is hard. Creating company-complaint, visually pleasing slide decks is even harder. One has to be an expert to create professional, high-quality slide decks in a short amount of time. Tony Urban, a former McKinsey consultant, knows all about spending hours crafting decks that meet the standards of his organization. He created DeckRobot to save others the time he spent agonizing over every detail in his presentations. DeckRobot is an artificial intelligence add-on to Microsoft Office’s PowerPoint to allow a user to create approvable slide decks in one click. The San Francisco-based startup raised $1.5m in a recent seed round led by Alexander Nevinskiy and Matrix Capital, with participation from Charles Songhurst (former #2 Microsoft executive and an early investor in Affirm, Convoy, Formlabs and Classpass).
Frederick Daso: What causes office employees to sink ample amounts of time into slide decks or PowerPoint presentations?
Tony Urban: Slides are a significant communication vehicle for the office employees to communicate with the subordinates, get stakeholders’ decisions, pitch clients and investors, update the upper leadership. On the level of importance and usage, slides are among emails and text video calls and are used far more often than websites or videos.
PowerPoint is extraordinarily complex and sophisticated software for the slide making, same as Photoshop was for the graphic design. However, Microsoft is an absolute monopolist in this market. People got used to and accepted the pain of using PowerPoint.
Daso: How come PowerPoint users are unable to make company-compliant and visually appealing media?
Urban: Less than 1% of PowerPoint users are professional designers, and they’re perfectly capable of doing miracles with the slides. Unfortunately, most of the PowerPoint users don’t have the artistic skills to a great slide designer’s level. Frankly, they are not supposed to: if I’m working in biotech and developing a COVID-19 vaccine, why do I need to have PowerPoint skills as well?! In reality, we see that even the drug discovery teams have to present their findings in slides for their management, leave alone the investment bankers and consultants for whom PowerPoint is the bread and butter. Still, they’re hired for the analytical, not the visual skills.
PowerPoint addresses the general population’s broad market to be simplistic enough for the school kids and armored well for the consultants and designers. Thus, for most of the groups of users, PowerPoint lacks focus on their specific use-case. For the office employees having an ability to create brand-complaint slides is the killer feature PowerPoint generally lacks.
Daso: How fast and broad is the growth of the PowerPoint design tools market?
Urban: Gartner doesn’t cover our market niche yet, but you can get a pretty good idea of the dynamics if you look at the growth pace of our competitor Think Cell: for the last ten years, they grew tenfold and kept going well.
Microsoft Office division is growing around 6% YoY for the last 20 years. The Cloud office was an excellent boost for usage.
Daso: What about the customer’s need in this space made building a solution an attractive proposition?
Urban: Office employees spend around 30-60 min to design a new slide and 15-30 min for a basic clean up of one ready slide. Our users at large Enterprises make over twenty slides a month. That’s a colossal waste for hundreds of millions of PowerPoint users working in corporations worldwide!
Daso: How is the AI in DeckRobot trained to properly produce accurate templates of a company’s PowerPoint design and information presentation?
Urban: We used many thousands and thousands of real PowerPoint slides to train our AI general model. It’s capable of adapting to the style of every big customer we land.
Daso: I assume the AI’s complexity is in how it recognizes how information is formatted and portrayed in a company’s media. What were some of the strategies you developed to standardize the output regardless of the company’s distinct differences in style and format?
Urban: As our AI analyzed many different corporate presentation styles, we figured out a limited number of slides. Thus, we need just a limited number of data points to reproduce any particular type fully.
Daso: What’s the most significant advantage of having a global team for DeckRobot?
We have customers in the Americas, EU, Middle East, Africa, South East Asia, India, Japan, Australia. Thus, having a global team is almost a prerequisite to successfully serving clients all over the world. Even being in a close time zone for our customers is a great help. Try to have a call from San Francisco with a customer in India; it’s a nightmare.