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Pitch | The Next Frontier of Online Content (2/2)
Could Pitch be the next YouTube?
Hey, I’m Jacob ✌️ Welcome to all of the product people who subscribed since last time! If you’re not a subscriber yet, I hope you’ll consider joining this band of like-minded folks who are all learning how to build better products. Questions or feedback? Drop ‘em here.
I have a theory. I think Pitch has an opportunity to turn presentations into the next frontier of online content.
I know, I know. The first time I had that idea, I thought I was crazy too.
But keep reading and… well, maybe you’ll be surprised :)
This article is Part II of a 2-part series on Pitch. Part I was an interview with Pitch’s CTO and co-founder, Adam Renklint.
The Holy Grail
The holy grail of an efficient business is vertical integration - consolidating multiple phases of the value chain under one company.
Apple owning the operating system AND the SoC (system on a chip) instead of outsourcing to Intel.
Amazon owning the online store front AND the shipping fleet instead of outsourcing to FedEx.
SpaceX owning the Starlink satellites AND the launch vehicles instead of outsourcing to NASA.
This consolidation brings countless advantages including eliminated transaction costs, tighter technological integrations, better communication and collaboration, and reduced risk.
And for a subset of internet products - creator tools - there are two key pieces of the value chain that can have outsized returns when consolidated under one umbrella.
The Means of Creation
The Means of Distribution
These two pieces, when working in concert, create the Vertical Integration Flywheel whereby a user creates a thing and shares it with other people who then adopt the product to create more things.
We can see a fantastic example of this with Figma.
Prior to Figma, the best way to design a product interface was with Sketch. But distribution was complicated. Sketch files would be uploaded to tools like Zeplin or InVision for developer handoff. Figma brought creation and distribution together on the web allowing you to design, prototype and share your files with a simple link.
Anchor did this for podcasts.
Twitch did this for live streams.
And Pitch did this for presentations.
Before Pitch, the two mainstream options for presentations were:
Use PowerPoint to create the presentation and Dropbox or OneDrive to share it.
Use Google Slides to create and share the presentation via a link.
And let's be honest, no one loves either option. Even though Google Slides is the easiest of the two, the presentation creation experience is riddled with painful quirks like text not aligning with objects, measurements in inches instead of pixels and weird bullet point spacing.
If you want a good laugh, you can find a whole list of Google Slides oddities in this fantastic article entitled, Google Slides is Actually Hilarious.
So Pitch comes along and they build a better Means of Creation. Text aligns beautifully, objects move as you would expect them to and measurements are in pixels, not inches, thank the good Lord. But remember, The Means of Creation is only half of the equation. To complete the Vertical Integration Flywheel, Pitch also needs to nail distribution. Since presentations are inherently shareable things, this will be key to their growth.
Adam, Pitch's co-founder and CTO, graciously gave us a peek behind the curtain into Pitch's product vision.
Based on that conversation, I’ve pieced together a few ideas of my own where I think Pitch could win big.
These ideas aren’t confirmed, sanctioned or promoted by Pitch. I’ve simply identified some opportunities in the market that, if executed on well, could shape the future of the Attention Economy as we know it.
Imagine “the Mr. Beast of presentations.”
You ready? Let's get into it.
Part I: The Means of Creation 🎨
The big challenge with competing against Microsoft and Google is that you’re going up against companies who own the enterprise OS (Windows) and consumer browser (Chrome) markets respectively. Not to mention, most people probably think a "PowerPoint" is the same thing as a "presentation." So getting users to switch to a relatively unknown presentation tool comes at a high cost.
To outweigh those switching costs, Pitch would have to create a product that was a 10x better presentation creation experience.
Their first thought was to take a "re-invent the wheel" approach and try to rethink the slide canvas itself, but after much internal debate, the team realized that to get people to switch products, it had to feel familiar.
Ultimately, the real problem wasn’t the canvas. The real problem was that creating beautiful presentations is kinda hard if you’re not a designer. Even with a powerful suite of tools at their disposal, most presentations end up with uneven margins, inconsistent fonts, clipart graphics and mismatched colors.
This was a problem they could solve.
Pitch built a powerful template and theme editor that allows users to customize a theme to their liking and then apply that theme to a whole host of professionally designed templates. The templates were like cheat sheets. Users could borrow entire presentations, individual slides or even take inspiration from specific elements they found. And changing the fonts, colors and spacing was a simple as applying a theme.
Part II: The Means of Distribution 💻
The Means of Creation might have been difficult technically, but the next phase - The Means of Distribution - is difficult psychologically. Because in order for their users to lean into Pitch's native sharing tools instead of exporting out to Dropbox, it would require a lot of things to work just right. Sharing links, permissions, the viewing experience etc.
But once again, to do this right, the viewing experience must be 10x better than the best ubiquitous solution which, right now, is a Google Slides link.
A Google Slides link is great because it's simple. But it's not powerful. This is where Pitch has a chance to get a leg up if they can create a powerful sharing experience, both for the creator and the viewer.
They started with the basics. A simple link that you could copy and paste right from your browser's URL bar would allow you to share your presentation as easily as a Google Slides presentation, complete with individual, team and public permissions. And in typical Pitch fashion, they imbued their sharing experience with some superpowers like the option to "link to current slide."
Introducing: Recordings 🎥
So they got the basics down. Nice. But the team got to thinking about what would take the viewing experience to the next level and they came up with "recordings."
You see, presentations are typically used in one of two ways:
A live presentation where the speaker is talking and using slides as a visual aid
A slide deck that is sent to someone for silent, solo viewing by the recipient
And if you wanted to combine the two - a shareable deck that is accompanied by the sender's commentary - you'd have to use something like Loom to record yourself talking as you advanced through the slides.
But you see, that kind of breaks the Vertical Integration Flywheel. Now, the link you're sending is no longer the Pitch link but rather the Loom link. If you decided to tweak the slides because you misspelled something or you wanted to update the numbers in your deck, you'd have to change them in Pitch, then re-record your Loom video and send out the new link to the recipients. In the end, it's no better than uploading a PowerPoint to Dropbox.
So Pitch built "recordings" which allows you to record yourself presenting in a little bubble on the screen. Any updates made to your slides or your recording continue to live on the same shareable link so your recipients always have access to the most up-to-date version of your presentation.
As they continue to evolve their viewer experience, I could see them building out audience reactions and comments (like Loom), "talking head" controls (like mmhmm), closed captions, or even presentation playlists (like YouTube).
Which brings me to the (secret) third leg of the Vertical Integration Flywheel...
Part III: The Means of Attention 👀
In case you haven't noticed, we live in an attention-economy. The fact that you're reading this right now means I've managed to keep your attention this far. How very meta. And it's up to me to keep your attention by producing high-quality, interesting content because at any moment, there are a million other things on the internet happy to steal your attention.
YouTubers optimize for retention
Podcasters optimize for retention
Substack writers optimize for retention (still with me? 👀)
Mr. Beast has dominated YouTube because he has obsessively focused on retention. For years, he spent every waking moment studying YouTube videos, breaking them down frame by frame to understand exactly what works. He's so obsessed, he even knows that a pee joke will hurt retention (watch this clip for 20 seconds).
His number one rule is that attention-grabbing titles and thumbnails are okay IF the video delivers on the promise and he spends millions of dollars every month making the most outrageous, most unbelievable, most addictive YouTube videos on the planet to do exactly that.
With all of this effort being spent on capturing and keeping your attention, isn't it odd that presentations haven't received that same level of obsessive focus?
In my personal experience, presentations are rarely optimized for retention and, in fact, are often built in such a way that the audience loses interest or churns entirely within minutes. But if Pitch controls the Means of Creation and Distribution, they have a unique ability to return value back to the creator, once again giving them superpowers.
Pitch released Presentation Analytics, adding a third (and important) piece to the flywheel - The Means of Attention - which helps creators improve retention and, as a byproduct, helps Pitch improve customer acquisition.
The CTO of HubSpot, Dharmesh, told a story on the My First Million podcast about how he read a book on comedy, realized that laughter was an important measure of audience attention, and subsequently wrote a Python script to analyze the audio from his presentation and measure the amount of laughs he got per minute.
Now obviously, that's a super-nerd thing to do. Most people aren't going to go through that amount of effort to nail their presentation.
…what if you could? What if it was easy to see exactly where your audience was losing interest or exactly where your audience was most engaged?
That's what Pitch is trying to do.
Imagine if slides with low engagement were flagged in Pitch so you knew exactly where you should improve.
Imagine if there was an AI assistant in Pitch that would analyze the slides and make smart suggestions on how to improve it?
Imagine a world where content creators give a similar level of obsessive focus to presentations as they would a YouTube video…
…where presentations have a similar level of entertainment and educational value as a YouTube video…
…where Pitch's "Presentation Gallery" overtakes SlideShare as a destination for presentations and even allows you to search it, like YouTube…
…where an entirely new generation of creators get famous and even ridiculously rich by creating presentations.
To me, this is Pitch's secret sauce.
Do I think presentations will ever be as popular as video? Definitely not. But do I believe Pitch can create the YouTube of presentations? Absolutely. They've already laid the foundation for the Means of Creation and the Means of Distribution.
I believe the next phase of Pitch's evolution lies in their ability to build a powerful Means of Attention and give creators the superpowers they need to make presentations the next frontier of online content.
What do you think? Drop a comment below!
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