A mockup is worth a thousand PowerPoint slides (or How to get angels to invest by making mocks)

If you read my piece on “How to give a great presentation,” you already know that great founders “show don’t tell.”

This applies to raising money as well. Angel investors are looking for ways to determine who to give seed money to in a world filled with a never ending stream of similar ideas. Yes, yes I know you think your idea is a unique and wonderful snowflake.

You’re right, your idea is a unique and wonderful snowflake.

In a blizzard.

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Most of us have no design skill, so when we want to raise money we do the natural thing and we write emails, business plans, and PowerPoint decks. Or Keynote. Whatever.

These decks, filled with charts and who you are, are a long-standing tradition because, well, so few of us are exceptional designers. The decks have no relation, or correlation, to how well you’re going to build a product, and they generally tell the same story: this market is huge, we are uniquely qualified to take it, and our product roadmap is well thought out.

Decks are death.

By sending a deck to an investor you are the snowflake in the blizzard.

Now, if you take the time and you make a mockup of your idea? Well, now you’ve separated yourself from 9 out of 10 pitches an angel gets.

With mockups you not only eliminate hours of meeting time, you actually start the discussion where the Powerpoint folks rarely get to: how long and how much will it cost to launch this?

Also, by making mockups you’re taking the investor out of the blizzard and into your warm home where you have 100% of their attention: “yes, yes … I know you’ve been pitched this idea 100x. Sit right down by the fire and enjoy this cocoa while I SHOW YOU how we are actually going to take this idea and make it into a huge business.”

How to make great mockups in about 30 days:

  1. Great mockups by a freelance designer will cost between $2,500 and $10,000 in my experience. Designers charge $50 to $200 per hour and most Apps or web pages will take between 4 to 10 hours to design. That puts a single screen at $200 to $2,000, again, depending on the level of the designer.
  1. Great mockups will cost $10,000 to $50,000 if you use a large firm. They will charge $150-250 per hour for a designer and take 10 hours per screen. Plus they will put in a bunch of other costs (say UX design, meetings, etc.), in order to pay for their office space and overhead.
  1. If you are early stage, use a freelance designer. If you are later stage (have venture funding) use a high-end freelancer or a firm ($20-50k isn’t a big deal to spend on design if you’ve raised $2-10m). Some startups should spend $10k on an outside designer/firm every year even if they have an amazing in-house design team, just so they can get “fresh eyes” on a product.
  1. To understand great design, simply go to Dribbble.com or Behance.net and search for projects with the most kudos/stars in your category.
  1. Search the trade magazines to find out which products have great design. Find out who designed those products. Hire those folks.
  1. Remember, most startups can’t afford to hire a world-class designer. Most are going to have to settle for a good designer who can work on being great, while you get outside help on some aspects of your product.
  1. Use InVision to share prototypes with your potential angel investors. I’m a huge fan of this product, as it lets you send someone a link to build a mock up on their phone that lets them actually click around. It’s awesome (they have since become a sponsor of This Week in Startups — months after I started using their product).

What tips do you have for great design?

best @jason

PS – Got done in 700 words … so getting better at keeping it to 600 words. Six days down, 359 to go! What should I write about … please help me find topics.

PPS – Going on CNBC to talk about my Yahoo piece on Thursday at around 11AM EST. Debated if I wanted to go on air and talk about another person’s company/job, but I think in this case it’s an important topic (i.e., the NY Times doing a sexist, link-baiting hit piece). We’ll see. I’m guessing they are going to try and get me to comment on Uber as well. Also, should I wear my standard black t-shirt or put on a jacket and shirt? Important decision.

PPPS – In related Yahoo fallout, the PR person for Katie Couric called me to try and correct my misconception that she’s not awesome and crushing it. It was a little bit awkward. OK, it was very awkward. I told the guy, “dude, I’m just making the point that I think Yahoo should go with the web native folks who bring their own traffic as opposed to the old-media folks.” Ouch, I think I made it worse — which is why I should never get on the phone with PR people.

PPPPS – We are in Week 5 of my LAUNCH Incubator: 7 companies, 12 weeks of education, and a launch at the LAUNCH Festival on March 2nd. We released 2 of the speaker videos from the event so far: Jared Fliesler (Matrix Partners, ex- Square, Slide & Google) & Josh Elman (Greylock Partners, ex- Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook Connect.) They’re exceptional.


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