See the early pitch decks of 21 unicorn companies (and exited unicorns), including LinkedIn (before it had a dime of revenue) and Airbnb (when it was AirBed&Breakfast).
Notching a billion-dollar valuation as a private tech company is hard, exiting at one is even harder. For nearly all the most valuable investor-backed companies in tech, nailing a pitch to early potential investors, recruits, and customers was a step on the journey. As Founders Fund principal Delian Asparouhov notes:
“In order to build conviction, we rely on founders to tell us a compelling story, almost always in the form of slides. We’ve funded companies almost entirely because of the quality of their seed decks. Poor deck? We’ll likely pass on the opportunity.”
So we compiled the early decks of some private or exited companies valued in the billions of dollars. These include the decks of pre-revenue LinkedIn and a then-smallish-site named Buzzfeed, when it was registering just 2.5M monthly page views. Would you have invested in the vision they were pitching?
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Current valuation: $18B
In its early pitch deck, Airbnb named Couchsurfing, Craigslist, Hostels.com, and Hotels.com as competitors. Its valuation catapulted to as high as $35B in 2019, greater than the public market capitalizations of Expedia, Wyndham, and Hyatt Hotels combined. However, the home rental startup was hit hard as the Covid-19 pandemic shut down worldwide travel, and it raised a Series G in April that nearly halved its valuation. Airbnb reportedly still plans to IPO before the end of 2020.
Valuation at acquisition: $1.6B to $2B
First Round Capital shared this seed deck used by AppNexus, then a platform that would let companies run applications in the cloud. Seven months after its 2007 Series A round, it pivoted to focus entirely on ad tech and now runs one of the largest digital ad exchanges. It was acquired by AT&T in June 2018 in a deal reportedly worth between $1.6B to $2B and was folded into AT&T’s ad tech unit, Xandr. As of September 2020, AT&T is reportedly looking to sell the unit as it has struggled to reach a substantial profit.
Corporate card startup Brex has raised $765M to date. Its 2018 pitch deck, which cites CB Insights data on startups’ monthly spends, helped the company raise its Series C — which vaulted it into the unicorn club. Brex’s latest valuation puts it at $3B. The company had to lay off 62 employees amid the pandemic, as its customer base of high-spending startups shrank.
Current valuation: $1.7B
Buzzfeed’s 2008 pitch deck cited 2.5M page views per month. In March 2020, the website claimed more than 1.2B unique page views across its websites for the month and saw a 41% year-over-year (YoY) jump in unique visitors, though it had to institute pay cuts and laid off nearly 6% of its US staff following the pandemic. Buzzfeed has raised nearly $500M to date, with NBC Universal contributing $400M over 2 rounds that valued Buzzfeed at $1.7B.
Current valuation: $8B
This is Coinbase’s seed round pitch deck from 2012. The company raised $600K from angel investors and FundersClub, and it has gone on to raise an additional $538M. The short, 12-slide deck highlights the rising popularity of digital currency bitcoin.
Valuation at IPO: $12.6B
Sequoia Capital shared Dropbox’s pitch deck which helped the company raise its $1.2M seed round in 2007. It gives a glimpse into the company’s freemium business model and the bottom-up customer acquisition approach. Dropbox went public in March 2018 at a valuation above $12B.
Current valuation: $1.1B
Foursquare’s 2009 pitch deck outlined a vision of its app being a “part friend-finder, part social city-guide, part social-game,” but it has since evolved into a location data company with 13B+ data points regarding where people spend their time and money. The company reportedly raked in more than $100M in revenue in 2019 and has transformed drastically since then, splitting into 2 apps and merging with Factual, another location data company, in April 2020.
Current valuation: $1.3B
Intercom’s then-CEO Eoghan McCabe shared the company’s first pitch deck from 2011, adding that raising $600K was a “monumental task” for the team back then. The short, 8-slide pitch deck describes Intercom’s vision to build a CRM and messaging tool for SaaS providers. In March 2018, the customer chat software company raised a $125M Series D round at a unicorn valuation of $1.28B — and the company is reportedly looking at an IPO as early as 2022.
Valuation at acquisition: $26.2B
Greylock Partners dug up LinkedIn’s Series B pitch deck from August 2004. The deck billed LinkedIn as “professional people search 2.0.” LinkedIn had yet to generate a dime of revenue — but the deck highlights revenue as a high priority and identifies clear streams to achieve it. The company raised $103M before it went public in 2011, and it was acquired by Microsoft for $26.2B in 2016.
Current valuation: $1.6B
UK-based digital bank Monzo saw its valuation cut by 40% to $1.6B in June 2020 from $2.5B last year. Its 2017 pitch deck outlines its vision for international expansion and showed it had just 120,000 users; today, the company boasts 4.5M+ users and has launched in the US. In March 2020, it expanded into business banking.
Valuation at acquisition: $1B
Open source database MySQL raised $38M before being acquired in 2008 by computer maker Sun Microsystems, which was later snapped up by Oracle for $7.4B. This deck from MySQL’s 2003 Series B comes to us courtesy of MySQL’s former CEO. Weighing in at a whopping 186 slides, it is relentlessly detailed and spends 10 slides on the market opportunity alone.
Current valuation: $3.5B
Mobile banking company N26 aims to build a global mobile bank. Founded in 2013, the Berlin-based fintech was featured as one of the most promising fintech startups globally in our 2020 Fintech 250. This 2016 pitch deck helped it raise its Series B. N26 has since raised more than $780M, with its most recent round being a Series D tranche in May 2020.
Valuation at IPO: $2.2B
Founded in 2009, cloud computing company Nutanix went public in 2016 in one of the most successful IPOs of the year — its stock price soared 130% in its debut. With its pitch deck, the company demonstrated its understanding that sometimes less is more. Coming in at a lean 15 pages, the deck spends most of that time explaining Nutanix’s unique offering and strengths, without lapsing into too much technical detail. The deck ends with a succinct and memorable line: “The fastest growing infrastructure company of the last decade.”
Current valuation: $2.6B
Digital health company Oscar offers health insurance to consumers via its online platform. This early pitch deck shared by the company in 2014 highlights its focus on customer experience. Its latest valuation put it at approximately $2.6B. In June 2020, Oscar raised a $225M Series E with investors including Khosla Ventures, General Catalyst, and Thrive Capital, and it announced that it had more than 420,000 members across its products.
Current valuation: $1B
North Carolina-based cloud software provider Pendo last raised $100M in its Series E in October 2019. Founded in 2013, the company helps customers analyze product experiences (e.g. user behavior and feedback) and focuses on B2B web-based businesses. This pitch deck saw Pendo looking for a $15M Series B; it has since raised $209M as of September 2020.
Current valuation: $5.5B
London-based challenger bank Revolut offers a mobile-first bank alternative. In its pitch deck, the fintech company says it gained 4,800 pre-product subscribers within a month and asks for £1.5M ($1.9M). Now, it boasts more than 12M personal customers and 500,000 business customers, and it has garnered $916M in funding to date. Revolut was also selected as one of the most promising fintech startups in the world in our Fintech 250 list. For a more detailed breakdown, we profile its business model in this client-only brief.
Current valuation: $3B
Dating app Tinder was founded in 2012 as Match Box, and it has kept many of the original features it envisioned in its pitch deck: hyper-location, mutual liking, and common friends and interests. Users would have 2 free matches, but they would have to pay $1 to see new matches thereafter and pay to send virtual gifts or show up higher in someone else’s list.
Valuation at IPO: $75B
Uber’s co-founder Garrett Camp shared the company’s first pitch deck from 2008. Back then, the ride-hailing startup estimated the total addressable market for cabs was “$4.2B annually and growing.” Uber now has a market cap of approximately $65B.
Current valuation: $8B
WeWork had a tumultuous 2019, which saw its $47B valuation slashed to just $8B after its S-1 revealed intense unprofitability, drama surrounding its co-founder and CEO Adam Neumann, and subsequent mass layoffs. Its 2014 pitch deck outlines visions of rapid growth and highlighted its high CAGR — jumping from 5,300 members to 16,300 YoY.
Valuation at acquisition: $1.2B
Enterprise social networking platform Yammer was acquired by Microsoft in 2012. Yammer’s deck jumps right into the ways the modern workplace is changing and how it addresses these issues. It devotes a few of its 31 slides to accolades, awards, and testimonials from happy users, plus a little bullet point about having already raised money from top-tier VCs.
Valuation at acquisition: $1.7B
In YouTube’s initial pitch deck (page 30 in the document below), the online video platform counted under 10,000 users and 100,000 video views per day but had rapid growth. YouTube now boasts 2B+ users and 1B+ hours of video watched every day. The deck, which includes Sequoia Capital’s investment memo by partner Roelof Botha, was dug up by Thrive Capital’s Miles Grimshaw.
This report was created with data from CB Insights’ emerging technology insights platform, which offers clarity into emerging tech and new business strategies through tools like:
- Earnings Transcripts Search Engine & Analytics to get an information edge on competitors’ and incumbents’ strategies
- Patent Analytics to see where innovation is happening next
- Company Mosaic Scores to evaluate startup health, based on our National Science Foundation-backed algorithm
- Business Relationships to quickly see a company’s competitors, partners, and more
- Market Sizing Tools to visualize market growth and spot the next big opportunity