Founder Ravi Mehta Helps You Cut The Stress And Ace Your Presentations With Slidevana
Speaking in front of crowds, for most people, is almost as scary as death. Really. Slidevana wants to make sure you have all the right tools for your next presentation so that you don’t… well… keel over. We caught up with founder Ravi Mehta to talk starting up for $500, bootstrapping, adult ice cream clubs, and how to outsource… just about everything.
How’d you come up with the name for your company?
If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re likely familiar with the state I call “presentation purgatory.” It’s that frustrating state of endlessly pushing pixels in PowerPoint or Keynote while the minutes tick away to your next investor pitch or board meeting. Our company’s mission is to make presentation authoring blissful by comparison — hence the name Slidevana (Slide + Nirvana). As a companion to the name Slidevana, we chose the tagline “Enlighten your presentations” which dovetails nicely with the concept of Nirvana.
What’s the very first thing you do at work everyday?
The very first thing I do everyday is check to see if there are any messages from customers. Creating presentations can be stressful and the last thing we want to do is add more stress by having a customer’s questions go unanswered. For that reason, we respond to nearly every request same day and often within only a few hours.
We’re small enough that we can treat every request as if it’s from a close colleague. We do everything we can to help out — we’ve provided hands-on presentation design help for many customers and we’ve even introduced a couple to potential investors.
Remember the early days starting up? Maybe you can share one anecdote that describe the struggle you went through?
Like many startups, we were hit with a case of the post-launch blues. We worked intensely to get the first version of our product done and we released it with great anticipation. And like many startups, all we heard was crickets in the days after launch.
We knew our product wasn’t going to market itself. So, prior to launch, we spent days personally reaching out to over a hundred experts that we had identified in the presentation space. We got little response — we were hit with a double whammy:
- Our initial product was designed for Keynote, and nearly all of the presentation experts we reached out to use PowerPoint
- Many presentation experts are really public speaking experts and don’t do a lot with slides or visual aids.
We went back to the drawing board and put together a new target list focused on Mac and iPad bloggers who we knew would be interested in a product designed for Keynote (Slidevana is now available for both Keynote and PowerPoint). We got a fantastic response, and got coverage in some top tier outlets like TUAW.
That coverage put us on the map, but, more importantly, it helped us make it through that post-launch valley and fueled our passion for the business. Every struggle has been easier knowing that we’ve had some successes under our belt and that we can always regroup if a particular tactic isn’t working well.
How do you handle frustration? When/how was the last time you dealt with frustration?
If an entrepreneur is really passionate about and connected to the business they are building, then frustration is a fact of life. I still flinch a bit every time I hear something negative about Slidevana — whether it’s a comment in a review, an upset customer, or a spurious tweet.
Rationally, I know there are hundreds of happy customers for every one that vocalizes something negative, but this doesn’t quite take away the sting. I deal with the frustration by internalizing the fact that this sort of feedback is both inevitable and a great signal that we’re doing something that is getting noticed. And, in some cases, its even possible to spin criticism into constructive ideas for improving the product.
How do you picture Slidevana in 5 years?
Our goal is to be a company that people turn to when they want to create compelling visual content that wows their audience and nails their message. There has been a revolution in content creation tools for consumers with things like Instagram, Viddy, and GarageBand, but content creation tools for businesses have remained relatively static. We hope to be one of the companies changing that.
Who or what inspires You?
From an entrepreneurial standpoint, my biggest inspirations are successful bootstrapped entrepreneurs, like Peldi Guilizzoni who built Balsamiq into a multi-million dollar company as a solo founder. Even if you’ve got funding, there’s something inspirational about the raw passion and perseverance that bootstrapped entrepreneurs bring to their endeavors.
I’m also inspired by successful technologists that take the time to give back. A friend of mine, Vicky Wu, runs a program called YouthCITIES that provides kids from a wide variety of socio-economic backgrounds with a 12-week bootcamp in entrepreneurship. The program is taught by successful entrepreneurs and investors. As entrepreneurs, teaching a kid from an underprivileged background how to create opportunity for themselves and their community is one of the most important things we can do.
How’d you fund this venture?
Slidevana is 100% self-funded. Besides the time spent building the product, we spent just $500 to launch the business soup-to-nuts including all hosting, marketing, PR, and infrastructure. We were profitable in our first month and hit our first six figures in revenue in our first six months.
I’ve raised a lot of venture capital in my career, and raising VC is the right strategy for a lot of businesses. That said, most entrepreneurs would get a better ROI on their time by spending their first 12 months building a business rather than raising VC. Instead of spending hundreds of hours closing a seed round of funding, spend all that time sourcing and closing a big marketing deal. Your cash flow will be in better shape and VCs will be coming after you, rather than the other way around.
Got any great bootstrapping tips for the lean startups out there?
I love this topic… there has never been a better time to bootstrap a business. You can outsource nearly every aspect of your business — and you can do it almost entirely for free.
- Need a business infrastructure? Google Apps provides mail, calendaring, and document collaboration for free for companies with less than 10 employees.
- Need software? Microsoft provides free access to almost the entire suit of Microsoft software via their BizSpark program.
- Need a website? Check out SnapPages which provides a corporate website, blog, social media integration, email campaign management, analytics, and SEO management all for $8 a month.
- Need a phone line? Google Voice provides a business phone number entirely for free. You can even get your voicemail through Gmail.
- Need web analytics? Google Analytics is completely free and on par with some of the best solutions out there.
- Need great marketing content? Scripted provides professional blog writing for just $49 a post.
This is just the beginning. For more business solutions that are free or nearly free to setup, check out MailChimp (Email), Pulley (Paid Digital Downloads), Square (Payments), Stripe (Payments), Postmark (Transaction Email), Buffer (Social Media Management), Highrise (Sales CRM), Tender (Customer Support), BannerSnack (Display Ad Creation), Pingdom (Uptime Monitoring), and PRWeb (Press Releases)
What would you be doing if you had one year off and $500,000 to spend?
Picture this… not just another ice cream shop, but an urban ice cream boutique. By day, it’s a family themed ice cream parlor with all the flavors that kids would make if their parents didn’t get in the way (M&M and pretzel, anyone?). By night, it turns into a dessert-themed night club where every ice cream creation has a healthy dose of alcohol (i.e., White Russians with actual coffee ice cream). Even its name would change: “Cream” by day and “Ice” at night.
Do you consider yourself a successful entrepreneur right now? If not, what’s it gonna take to make you feel successful?
My measure of success is whether or not I’m working on something that I really love and am proud of the work I’m doing. By that measure, I consider myself successful. I’ve started companies, raised funding, and even had an exit, but, to me, all of that is irrelevant if the day-to-day work isn’t fulfilling.
Mobile App you’re in love with and why?
I love Noteshelf. In a sea of mediocre note-taking apps, its the only one that feels like it could have come straight out of Apple. It’s beautiful, simple, functional, and has almost totally replaced paper note taking for me.
What’s the greatest thing about Slidevana?
The greatest thing about our company is that it’s based on the idea that every person in the world should care about great visual design and is capable of creating beautiful, functional visual content.
What’s your advice for other entrepreneur?
My advice? Start a micro-business. Even if you’re already at a startup, there is a massive amount that you can learn by quickly building a launching a business that you have near total control over. That business can be a petri dish to help you master skills in areas you don’t get a lot of exposure to today.
The secret of a micro-business is to solve a real problem (its easiest to solve a problem that you currently have) and launch that solution quickly (timebox pre-launch work to something less than a month). Once launched, you’ll have the perfect vehicle to master a range of skills including inbound marketing, revenue optimization, social media management, customer support, and business development.
In the very worst case, your micro-business will help you become a better entrepreneur and stoke your passion to take on larger projects. In the best case, you’ll gain valuable resources (like customer lists) and capital that can help you execute your dream idea.
Where can our readers reach out to you?
Thanks, Ravi Mehta! I love your idea for the urban ice cream boutique; I would certainly be a happy, dancing, ice cream drinking patron.
Oh yes, and for all your presentation making needs, make sure to check out Slidevana.