News Column

Slideshow App Targets Business Users

March 18, 2013

Sarah Elson

Adam Tratt has been on the sending and receiving end of numerous bullet-point-riddled slideshows that he found bland and boring.

So Tratt, founder and CEO of Seattle-based Haiku Deck, set out to create an iPad app that streamlines and simplifies slideshow production so it's impossible to screw up.

After more than 300,000 downloads since the app's September launch, Haiku Deck rolled out a new version of the app this month focused on attracting business users.

Tratt hopes to build the emerging popularity of his Haiku Deck iPad appinto a sustainable business. He brings to this effort a track record that includes positions at Microsoft and Cranium. In 2011 he participated in TechStars, a competitive program that teaches teams how to create startups and culminates in pitches to potential investors.

Tratt's team caught the attention of Madrona Venture Group, one of the Puget Sound area's leading venture-capital firms, and Founder's Co-op, an angel investment fund. They invested $900,000 in the venture and kept faith through two failed social-media game concepts.

Last year, the team shifted its focus to iPad apps. They pitched Haiku Deck to the investors and received additional funding to get the project going.

"One thing you have to be careful of is teams who are so focused on what they originally intended to do that they can't see the bigger trends," said Scott Jacobson, Madrona Group's managing director, who led the company's investment in Haiku Deck. "When they came to me with this new idea, I thought it was interesting and exciting, so we gave them more money to execute again."

Haiku Deck, which has five employees, is targeting business users partly because professionals are more likely to buy content and services, which are the two main sources of revenue for companies that create free apps.

"There's a whole set of things that companies would want to use," Jacobson said. "Things like storage, so they can keep their presentations in one place, and branding if they want the presentation to have their logo on every slide -- things that aren't featured in the product today, but could be."

The app's simple formatting has attracted thousands of users, but it's so straightforward that many business users find it constraining. In response, Haiku Deck's new version has features that make the app more appealing to those making professional presentations.

Using the app is easy. Type a few keywords of text onto a slide, and the app pulls options from more than 35?million Creative Commons-licensed images that match your subject. After you pick a background image, your text is automatically formatted to fit the screen. Then you choose from several theme options that apply a filter, font and color scheme to the presentation.

That's it. No bullet points, no graphs and no more than two lines of text per slide.

Presentations have to be created on an iPad, but they also can be viewed on a mobile device or PC and exported to Microsoft's PowerPoint or Apple's Keynote.

Tablets started out as a way to consume media, but Tratt said he believes they are becoming important professional tools.

"(Tablets) are going to change the way people work, and Haiku Deck has an opportunity to lead," Tratt said.

He says forcing users to keep their presentations simple helps them focus on a single idea and powerful imagery, but he admits it's a little constraining.

"Basically, what we heard back from users was, this is nifty -- but not everyone could deal with two lines of text," Tratt said.

The new version loosens up the rules and lets users include bulleted or numbered lists of up to five items. It also adds the ability to create pie charts, bar graphs and stat charts while maintaining the app's keep-it-simple credo. Adding these features is what many business users asked for.

Michelle Mazur, a speech coach and presentation-skills trainer, says she uses Haiku Deck for professional presentations and her personal blog. She started using the app about six months ago and recently tweeted at Haiku Deck, requesting it add a way to include data.

"It's great for text- and image-based presentations, but it would be really neat if they could incorporate data for people who want to do business presentations," Mazur said.

Tratt considers Microsoft's PowerPoint, Apple's Keynote and Prezi to be competitors, but says Haiku Deck has a different approach.

"Most presentation tools are bunched up on one end of the spectrum where they are competing on features," Tratt said. "Our approach isn't that the world needs more features, it's that the world needs a framework."

Tratt and his team plan on creating new templates and making premium images available for users to purchase, but first they want to focus on getting more people to use the app.

"The experiment we're running is: 'Can we get millions and millions of users based on what we're doing right now?'?" Tratt said.



Source: (c)2013 The Seattle Times Distributed by MCT Information Services


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