Haiku Deck Rises From the Ashes of ‘Mix-N-Match with Sir Mix-A-Lot’

After Giant Thinkwell flopped with its initial efforts—a celebrity based social game starring Sir Mix-A-Lot and later a social video play—the Seattle startup was falling apart. For a while, co-founders Adam Tratt and Kevin Leneway were the only ones left.

“At that moment of darkness, we realized we needed to sort of start over,” Tratt said at Xconomy’s Mobile Madness Northwest forum last year. “That was sort of a difficult realization.”

Communicating the pivot away from social games to existing investors required a presentation, and the two former Microsofties labored through PowerPoint, as have millions before them. Like good entrepreneurs in search of problems that need solutions, they wondered why it’s so hard for someone who isn’t a designer—they had lost theirs in the disintegration—to create a good presentation using the conventional tool. It shouldn’t be, they concluded, particularly not in the age of Internet connected mobile devices. And that was the germ of Haiku Deck, an iPad App that has been downloaded more than 250,000 times since Labor Day and is now getting an update.

(Incidentally, Giant Thinkwell may be the ultimate anecdote supporting the idea that early-stage venture investors should bet on a team, rather than an idea, and expect it to adjust to the market. When I asked Tratt about this in an interview at the company’s new dorm room-like Fremont offices, he demurs at first, but acknowledges that the only remnant of the company that brought you “Mix-N-Match with Sir Mix-A-Lot” is the team. “I am humbled enough by our initial experience to know that it’s not the team alone,” he says. “It’s as much about luck.”)

With the initial release of Haiku Deck, the company scrapped 90 percent of PowerPoint’s features, focusing on the ones Tratt says people really care about, and forcing them into “best practices in presentation.” That means one idea per slide, reinforced with a powerful image, and consistent formatting throughout.

The new version adds some features back—charts and graphs, lists, text management, easier sharing of the decks—based on “that flywheel effect of customer feedback,” which Tratt calls “the hardest part of starting something new.”

“You don’t have customers in the beginning, so you don’t know if you’re building the right thing,” he says.

Haiku Decks are quick and easy to make on an iPad and can be shared on other platforms. Of course, Tratt says, you will eventually be able to make them on other devices, but he’s not talking about which ones or by when. The company targeted the iPad first because of its leading market share, and “users who pay money for things.”

Haiku Deck is free, with premium add-ons such as themes and fonts, which Tratt says people are buying, though he declines to disclose sales. (A main competitor is Apple’s own Keynote, the iPad version of which costs $9.99.)

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2 responses to “Haiku Deck Rises From the Ashes of ‘Mix-N-Match with Sir Mix-A-Lot’”

  1. Haiku Deck says:

    Great story, Ben. Thank you! Your impression of the office has motivated us to invest in the decor. We’ll aim for more of a “first apartment” look than “dorm room,” by the time you visit the next time. ;-)

  2. Good story, Ben. Adam and Kevin are smart, scrappy entrepreneurs and the Haiku Deck product continues to impress.

    Someone please post a pic of “jarring orange”.