Pitch Deck Teardown: Buffer
This deck raised $330k in Seed financing for a startup that chose an unusual yet successful path.
Buffer’s story is a fascinating one in the tech world, not only due to their success and impressive achievements but also to the unconventional path they chose to follow.
Second, and contrary to many startups, Buffer always prioritized profitability above growth and was able to turn monthly profits during most of its history. This decision cost Joel his co-founder and CTO at the time and forced him to rethink his relationships with his investors.
In 2017, Buffer did something highly unusual for a VC-backed startup: they bought back their VC investors (~68% of their Series-A shares), stepping out of the traditional Series-x rounds to IPO/acquisition route.
Since then, the company has continued to grow organically, without ever needing more than its original financing. Common shareholders still hold more than 80% of a company that would easily be valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
I invite you to read the CEO’s blog post on this share buyback, the history that led to it, and his reasoning behind it. It’s worth your time!
Buffer had amazing traction and paying customers from day one (actually day 4). Their deck exudes confidence and trust in their vision and execution, much like Coinbase’s.
Let’s dive into it!
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1. Title slide
The title slide is visually pleasing, and the branding on it is strong. It lacks 2 of the essential elements of a title slide:
- It displays the logo and brand name prominently; but
- It does not show a tagline explaining the value proposition; and
- It does not state the purpose of the deck.
At this point, Buffer had already received $120k in pre-seed funding from AngelPad, and this deck was used to raise an additional $330k Seed following their accelerator programme.
Their great results and traction nonetheless, I would have included the other elements on the slide. A catchy tagline would have reinforced the brand and a purpose never hurt the reader.
2. Global trend
Here, Buffer decides to start with a slide outlining the ever-increasing exponential growth in social sharing.
The quote by Mark Zuckerberg (this was 6 months before Facebook’s IPO and 5 months before they acquired Instagram) must have had a strong impact on the readers who were witnessing an explosion in social media.
Remember, in 2011 Instagram went from being born to 10M users.
The growth rate displayed on the slide (doubling every year) conveys a sense of enormous scale and immediately gets the point across that whatever Buffer is doing, they’re doing it in a market segment that is hot and exciting!
To put it in perspective, starting at 0.01 and doubling every year, it takes you 8 days to reach 1, and seven more days to reach 100. A true hockey-stick.
3. Question / Problem
The way Buffer frames the problem here is brilliant.
We have said in the previous slide that social media is exploding and that people are sharing always more content online.
Companies will want to join the gold rush and capitalise on the trend. How would they do that? By using social media to increase brand awareness and to drive traffic to their own website.
Buffer doesn’t merely say they will help people share better (this in itself has very limited commercial value), Buffer says it will help drive traffic and, in turn, drive revenues.
You can either help increase the top line, or help reduce the costs and improve the bottom line.
Buffer is doing the former and will make money helping others make money.
That’s a strong value proposition clients love. Surprisingly investors love it too.
Their solution is simple and elegant, queue your updates and Buffer will automatically define the date and time of distribution that maximises reach and click through rate (I extrapolate, knowing the service; all this information isn’t obviously clear from the slide itself).
Using a screenshot of the existing product is good. Perhaps a more interactive demo like a gif or video might have made the solution clearer and the audience even more engaged.
At such an early stage, this is the killer slide.
Buffer officially launched its app in January 2011. This deck was used less than one year after launch.
In such a timespan, they had already acquired 55'000 user, 800 of which paying, and were already on a $150k annual run rate.
This slide is amazing because the numbers are amazing.
To a certain extent, having this kind of traction dispenses the need of a formal deck with thorough explanations. The traction explains it all.
This is another great slide.
First, it re-emphasises the performance to-date and the incredible numbers achieved by the team in less than 1 year.
Second, it sets a clear strategic plan ahead with objective, numerical targets. This is a commitment made by Buffer to prospective investors, and a strong one at that.
Seeing the first point will make investors trust the ability of the team. This will help them trust the second point and think “these milestones are amazing AND achievable.”
7. Business Model
Simple, effective slide.
As I have already said: even if you contemplate further revenue channels down the line, at an early stage, focus on your core business model and unit economics. You don’t need more information on the slide than this.
Your core business should be profitable and you should understand it perfectly.
Here, Buffer demonstrates a clear understanding of their funnel, their economics, their marketing capabilities, and hints at a bright, attainable future.
Great slide after great slide!
8. Landscape, aka Market Size
Talking about market size per se wouldn’t mean much in the case of Buffer. Everybody’s a potential social media user, companies and people alike.
You can also make a case that early-stage investors don’t care that much about how you calculate your TAM (Total Addressable Market). Most calculations are kind of wacky anyways.
What they want to see is that you operate in a market that is trending, growing, and dynamic.
This is what Buffer demonstrates here.
9. Effects, aka Testimonials
I like this slide because it is a nice validation to the question asked on slide 3 “how do you use social media to drive traffic?”
Easy, you use Buffer and increase your clicks by 200%!
Plus, it comes from a trusted third-party source that readers will know and respect. This has much more impact than a testimonial from cousin Marty.
10. Standard, aka LT Strategy
Here, Buffer presents its long-term strategic goal: becoming “the default sharing standard in any app.”
Going the integration way is a key element of the strategy.
It allows Buffer to freeride on the use of other apps and increases their user-friendliness and availability.
By demonstrating they’ve already completed 6 integrations and have three more in the making, their claim of becoming a standard is reinforced and made credible.
11. Competitive landscape
I’m torn on this slide.
On the one hand, I like how they structured it. Social media companies in the centre (ah, good old G+), and all the ecosystems around them clustered by value proposition.
It demonstrates the dynamism of the segment and the credibility of the offer.
On the other hand, this slide does nothing to compare Buffer with its competitor and highlight its USPs. In that regard, a table highlighting the key differences between Buffer and its direct competitors would be more suited.
So, here we finally are: the team slide.
If you’ve read my other teardowns, you’ll know that I am a strong advocate of starting your deck with your team slide at an early stage.
Now, in the case of Buffer, I think it was smart not to do it (a little contradiction here and there never hurt anyone, did it?) for 2 reasons.
First, the founders’ main achievements are related to Buffer. They don’t showcase anything else, which would demonstrate that Buffer is their first venture/job.
Second, they’ve done amazing so far and clearly, while Buffer is their only achievement, it’s a major one.
Had they started their deck with the team slide, people might have not taken them too seriously.
Starting with the metrics sets the stage and allows the founders to assert: “Yes, we’ve only built Buffer. But we did it right and we’re making money.”
13. End slide
To the point.
This deck does two things I would not advise early-stage companies to do (unless they have Buffer’s traction):
- It does not start with the team slide;
- It does not contain a financial proposition slide.
However, in this specific case, both are understandable and can be explained by the amazing numbers Buffer had reached on its own.
Seeing how much dilution Buffer took on its seed round (around 12% for $450k), it’s clear that they were able to defend their valuation well and didn’t really need external investors.
With their numbers, they could have bootstrapped. This deck exudes this confidence.
I haven’t used Buffer’s tools for years, but reading about them to write this piece really fascinated me. It’s a startup like few others out there, and strongly recommend you read more about them and their business strategy!