From Midjourney. Prompt: “a million tomes stacked to the sky”

Storytelling at the Cost of Zero

Why Lightspeed is leading a $43M Series B in Tome

Michael Mignano
8 min readFeb 22, 2023

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Today, Lightspeed is announcing that we’re leading a $43M Series B in Tome, the AI-powered storytelling format and the fastest-growing productivity company to reach 1M users. It’s been thrilling to watch just how fast Tome has ascended and become beloved by so many people, so quickly. But why is this happening? The answer is surprisingly simple, and follows a common pattern among software, technology, and creativity. Note: you can also view the below essay as a tome.

The democratization of creativity

As I wrote in my recent essay, The Creativity Supply Chain, “the history of computing has proven time and time again that all forms of creativity eventually become democratized by technology.” As humans, we seek products that enable us to reduce the friction between idea and execution, helping us become more productive, creative, and expressive. While this trend certainly did not begin as a result of computers and high speed bandwidth, it has greatly accelerated in recent decades.

In some cases, the democratization of creativity happens purely through a better, faster, cheaper, or more powerful creative tool. For example: early Internet standouts like Wordpress and Blogger enabled millions of people to publish free form writing with ease and break out of the traditional publishing process. The iPhone camera made it possible for anyone to take and share high quality images quickly and easily, no longer requiring them to carry clunky cameras that had no Internet connectivity. The company I co-founded with Nir Zicherman, Anchor, enabled millions to easily publish podcasts directly from their smartphones, whereas legacy workflows required creators to be tethered to desktop computers, bulky microphones, and challenging editing software. All of these examples led to titanic breakthroughs in creativity and generated billions of dollars in aggregate economic value.

However, in many of the most successful cases of the democratization of creativity, the phenomenon happens through a combination of tools that are easier to use which also invent a brand new format.

This new format both solves an existing, ubiquitous pain point while establishing something more innovative, more beloved by people, and much more valuable, all at once. As mentioned in the examples above, Wordpress and Blogger made it easier to publish traditional longform writing. However, it was Twitter and Facebook which created more accessible short-form writing formats that generated tremendous value for both creators and the platforms which created them. And while a number of tools made video creation more accessible, TikTok’s highly creative and entertaining format revolutionized the way we all share and consume it.

In each of these cases, creators were able to more easily express their creativity through reduced friction and vast distribution, while the platforms (Twitter, Facebook, TikTok) captured tremendous economic value in parallel through unique, ownable formats.

Through this lens, it’s easy to see that when products reduce friction between idea and execution while also establishing innovative new formats, generational companies are built.

Inertia kills innovation

For the past 25 years or so, knowledge workers have been sharing information, strategies, and stories in the workplace through presentations, often referred to as slide decks (or just “decks”). The format has become ubiquitous; in any given month, hundreds of millions of people create tens of millions of presentations on a daily basis. Given the scale of adoption, in a sense, the presentation format has become standardized.

While this has no doubt accelerated the rise of the presentations, it’s also led to an innovation stalemate. As I wrote in the Standards Innovation Paradox, when standards-based products reach a critical mass of adoption, “the pace of innovation ultimately flatlines due to market inertia and consensus.”

A perfect example: to create these presentations today, creators use tools that are outdated and hard to maneuver, spending countless hours tinkering with the sizing of tables or in many cases paying thousands of dollars to consultants simply to make their presentations look marginally nicer. Meanwhile, once they finalize their presentation, the output inevitably disappoints both creator and consumer. It is fixed to a rigid, 16x9 grid that’s nearly impossible to view on a smartphone or tablet. Its content is flat and static as a result of the limited web technology that existed when the format was created. It gets passed around through email as a large file that often must be downloaded to experience the full presentation, given the lack of cloud infrastructure that existed when the format was created. The benefit is that everyone knows what a presentation is. The downside is that presentations never get any better; there’s a ceiling to how compelling they can be. The format is a relic of an ancient era of the internet and it only still exists for one simple reason: inertia.

And this is where Tome comes in.

Empowering anyone to tell a compelling story

Tome’s mission is to help anyone tell a compelling story. As a company, they believe that if the gaps between idea and presentation are removed, society will be more likely to act on its best ideas. To that end, the Tome team has spent the past 2 years building a new type of presentation product through a combination of 1) beautiful, modern creation tools that are both powerful and easy-to-use for anyone and 2) a new, flexible, responsive, and cloud-native presentation format that was built for the web of today, not the static file-driven world of the 1990s.

Tome product snapshot

Tools

On the creative tools side, Tome just works. Creators can quickly and easily drag in an array of useful, beautiful, and modern tools. Text looks great instantly; no need to spend time endlessly searching for the perfect font or adjusting letter spacing or shadows. Tables are simple, useful, and powerful.

Modern products like Figma, Airtable, Framer, Miro, and Looker integrate seamlessly to enable creators to share designs and connect external sources of data without needing to be a spreadsheets wizard. And content from videos, images, websites, and even tweets display perfectly from the moment a creator places them on the canvas; no need to tediously recreate oft-used design elements. Tome’s tools make it so that anyone (not only professionals and/or management consultants) can tell a compelling story (a “tome”) in minutes (not hours, days, or thousands of dollars spent on professional deck design).

Format

And Tome’s format makes it just as compelling to consume as it is to create. It all starts with the fact that tomes are cloud-native, which means all data is presented live — not frozen in time — and presentations no longer need to be sent as static, bloated .ppt or .pdf files to be downloaded on local devices.

Instead, tomes can be instantly consumed on any device — desktop, table, or smartphone — something classic presentations still can’t do well to this very day. If you’ve ever tried viewing a 30 page deck five minutes before an important meeting, you’ve no doubt experienced first hand just how frustrating this process can be.

Tome’s responsive grid system (which is only now possible through modern web technologies that didn’t exist at the dawn of legacy presentation software) ensures the experience of consuming a Tome is just as native to smartphones as is viewing a TikTok video.

One more thing: AI

This combination of a powerful, yet easy-to-use creation tool and an innovative, new presentation format had already put Tome on a path to disrupting the massive, workplace storytelling market. But then, the Tome team took things a big step further: they turbo charged creation through AI and took the cost of storytelling to zero.

Generative storytelling in Tome

Now, the limitations of Tome are only bound by a creator’s imagination. Tome’s prompt bar enables users to simply ask Tome to create whatever they want — literally — and the product just magically delivers. It can do this based on an existing long-form doc, a simple outline, or even a single sentence. But it does a lot more than that. It also auto-creates images and visuals that match written content, ensuring output is aesthetically beautiful and thematically appropriate. It suggests re-wording copy and re-titling pages.

And soon, Tome will proactively offer high quality suggestions about any and all content, automatically insert citations, and magically add content that exists in other connected data sources, such as your team’s KPI progress (from your metrics dashboard) or information about teammates (from your website’s About page or HR platform).

Remember the first time you went from doing freehand math to using a calculator? It feels like that level of magic.

Tome’s magical, AI-powered rewrite feature

Through these AI superpowers, Tome’s powerful tools, and an innovative new format, anyone can tell a great story. You don’t need to be a native speaker to find the right words. You don’t need design chops to find the perfect image for your point. And you don’t need to be a slide wizard to craft a compelling narrative flow. You just need Tome.

That’s why creators of all types — including designers, product managers, founders, students, marketers, engineers, and a lot more — are already sharing their stories with Tome, making it the fastest-ever productivity company to reach 1M users. And Tome’s format is making it compelling for people to make more than just presentations; Tome is also being used to create design portfolios, lesson plans, microsites, moodboards, children’s stories, travel itineraries, and a lot more.

Team Tome

While the strategy, product, and future potential alone made an investment in Tome obvious for us at Lightspeed, the strength of the team building this exact product made it a no brainer. Tome’s founders Keith Peiris and Henri Liriani — alongside the exceptional group of highly creative, mission driven teammates they’ve assembled — are the perfect people to be building this company. Keith and Henri’s careers are rooted in building creative tools for hundreds of millions of people through their collective work at Instagram and Messenger. They’ve already mastered the art and science of packaging up world-changing technology and delivering it in a form that enables anyone — regardless of natural talent, access to technology, or economic status — to be creative. You couldn’t write a better resume for a team building this product.

Tome founders Keith Peiris (left) and Henri Liriani (right)

Plus, they’ve been supported by incredible investors and builders along the way, such as Reid Hoffman (partner at Greylock and founder of LinkedIn) and Dan Rose (partner at Coatue and one of Facebook’s and Amazon’s earliest leaders). We at Lightspeed are excited to join such an amazing team, and to share what I’ve learned building creative tools and media platforms for hundreds of millions of people during my time at Anchor, Spotify, Aviary, and Adobe.

The future is now

AI is clearly turning the internet — and possibly the world as we know it — upside down. Over the coming years, AI will enable everyone to instantly eliminate the gap that exists between their ideas and the manifestations of their creativity. It will fundamentally change how we all live, work, communicate, and express ourselves.

But to build a generational company leveraging AI will require more than simply bolting a large language model onto an existing product. It will take a strategy like Tome’s — a highly innovative approach to creativity alongside a unique innovative format, backed by the perfect team building in the perfect space at the perfect time. That will change the world. We can’t wait to see what that world looks like.

Want to learn more about Tome? Shoot me an email or reach out to me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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Michael Mignano
Lightspeed Venture Partners

Partner, Lightspeed. Co-Founder, Anchor. Angel investor to 50+ startups. Former head of talk audio at Spotify.