Deck review: Humanly

Humanly's founders communicated a big opportunity on a level investors could easily understand

Venture scale = Human(ly) scale

One of the artifacts of the pitch deck format is a tension between visual aesthetics and information density. If you're pitching to the deck live, you might bias to visuals like graphs, diagrams, or full-bleed images; you know you'll be there to fill in details and resolve ambiguity. On the other hand, if a deck is meant to be read by a potential investor, you might default to text-heavy slides, bullet points, or even spreadsheets in an effort to answers as many questions as possible upfront.

The tension becomes obvious when you see the reality: a modern startup pitch deck is meant to be read AND meant to be discussed or talked through in a quasi-linear way. Yet many decks end up on one of these two extremes (or even swing back and forth from slide to slide).

The way to resolve that tension is to put yourself in an investor's mindset and reframe your goal around that. Most investors are going to spend just a few minutes with your pitch before they decide if they want to learn more. Your end goal isn't to give them information for the sake of it. Your goal is to make them want to learn more. Given that goal, you can follow a simple principle to guide pitch deck design and writing:

The goal of any one slide is to communicate (or help communicate) one idea.

Not two ideas. Not one big idea and one little idea. One idea. That's about the maximum one person can process at a time. Whatever combination of visuals and text you use, it has to sum to one idea.


Humanly.io graciously allowed me to write about their pitch deck (updated in May) after they graduated from YC and raised a seed round. How can a deck that repeatedly uses multiple bullet points or visual elements in a slide still limit itself to one idea at a time? By refusing to let those bullets or visuals be ideas on their own. Every single one is in service to a larger core message.

Start with the Problem slide.

It uses two attention-grabbing numbers to communicate the scale of labor intensity in the hiring process and the impact of the ensuing impersonality of the process. Without explicitly naming the problem, it communicates a specific scope and sets groundwork for how we're going to measure a successful solution.

In this recently-added slide, the headline spells out the message: This problem just got worse.

This Solution slide does not stand alone. And that's okay. This is like a table of contents that further primes investors to expect certain things in their product.

If I rewrote this slide, I would frame it as "A successful solution would..." and then set up these pins for the founders to knock down in the following slides.

And if I have one big criticism of this deck, it's that not every pin gets knocked down.

Automated screening and scheduling: Check

24/7 candidate Q&A: Check

Re-engagement and integrations aren't explicitly demonstrated here, but knowing what the team has built, I'm confident that was handled in live demos or customer calls.

Speaking of customers...

The money slide. Here is the purest expression of the theme we're exploring here. I’ve redacted more than a dozen logos, but if they were there, you’d see a slide full of disparate visual elements, none of which stand on their own. But they come together to tacitly deliver one big message: "We are knocking it out of the park."

And as much as I love great headlines, saying that about yourself is just tacky.


There are two more lessons I want to draw from Humanly's deck.

Your business model is not your financial model.

Previous versions of this slide were more complicated and included tables.

From January 2019:

From March 2020:

Remember what I said about the tension between information density and aesthetics? Slides on financials and business models are where founders most often bias for density. But by trying to answer every question, most founders undermine their credibility: Investors are confused and unsure where their attention should be.

Ultimately, good businesses are pretty easy to explain. Treat slides about business models or financial projections accordingly. (You'll share the more in-depth stuff during due diligence anyway.) Once you make the business simple to understand, investors get to make a much tougher call: whether or not you can execute. And that's something you can't communicate in a deck.

Don't follow the crowd on market sizing.

I don't like that this market sizing slide is primarily top-down, but the funny thing about bottom-up market sizing is that you can demonstrate it somewhere else: in your traction. In Humanly's case, I can tell you that the logo list I redacted from their traction slide hits all of their target sectors, organizations of all sizes, and businesses where recruiting is the core function.

What I love about this slide is that it ignores the old "TAM/SAM/SOM" convention. Or, rather, it only includes the parts it needs. That convention encourages founders to bury useful insights and go-to-market strategies beneath arbitrary numbers that are rarely rooted in practice (or even facts) and distract everyone from the meatiest parts of the conversation.

Humanly plays the game to the extent they need to play it. That opportunity plus their (inherently bottoms-up) traction was all the evidence investors needed to believe that Humanly can make a venture-scale dent in a $20B+ market.


That’s all for now. You can find me on Twitter. And you can share this post or subscribe to The Labyrinth right here.

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