Deck, A Cloud-Based Presentation App From India, Raises $600K From Qualcomm, Hotmail Co-Founder

Deck, a mobile-first app that lets users create presentations on the go, has raised a $600,000 seed round from Qualcomm Ventures and angel investors led by Sabeer Bhatia, the Hotmail co-founder. The Bangalore-based startup of the same name says it will be using the funds to hire people — it’s recently picked up designers whose teeth were cut working on Avatar — and to expand internationally.

Deck is coming into the market at an opportune moment. It’s amazing how much room for innovation has been left unaddressed by PowerPoint to allow more startups launch in the online presentation space. We have seen how Prezi has been growing its user base, and hiring aggressively to reach 36 million users by the end of this year.

Last year, Deck also received $100,000 from Qualcomm Ventures’ QPrize in prize money, the startup’s founder Sumanth Raghavendra tells me. Deck is available as an app on Android and iOS. The app has already seen around 300k downloads since its beta version was launched in March this year.

Bhatia, who is backing Sumanth for the second time (he put seed money in Sumanth’s last venture called InstaColl, which has closed), says that while the idea may not be particularly new, what Deck brings is an ease of use that speaks to where many users, particularly in countries like India, are going online today — on hand-held devices.

Specifically, while these may still be mainly used for consumption of content, we are starting to see a wave of applications that are helping people use smartphones and tablets also to create dynamic content — beyond simple status updates or selfies for their social networks of choice.

“Deck really allows a novice user to express his/her creativity in a way that was not possible before,” Bhatia says. (Other new apps that are taking this route include Bret Taylor’s Quip word processing app).

“To enable this, we have removed all design distractions and formatting decisions from the user’s purview. Each theme is unique and guaranteed to support your story with great graphics, animation and typography,” says Raghavendra.

It’s tough to build a software product anywhere in the world, and even tougher in India because of lack of talent in the area of user experience (UX), according to Bhatia.

“Over the years, I have seen some pretty good quality software developed by them. It is unfortunate that their previous products were not positioned or marketed correctly,” says Bhatia.

For its part, Deck is addressing this by hiring more designers from Hollywood design studios behind creating movies such as Avatar. For now, Raghavendra declined to share the names of these designers so he could poach more quietly.

“The designers that we have on board are folks who used to previously create visual effects for Hollywood blockbusters and big-budget advertisements but are now using the same skills to create presentation templates for Deck,” he says.

So how does Deck compare with Prezi?

I used Deck to create a presentation on iPad and iPhone, and the experience was quite smooth. The app lets you pick from around 60 templates without getting involved with any design or formatting. For users who only want to focus on content and may be creating their presentations on mobile or tablet devices, Deck is a good choice. But if you are looking to add your own audio or video clippings, you will be disappointed. Deck is primarily suited for live presentations.

You can also publish a Deck presentation on Slideshare and share with other users.

Raghavendra says Prezi is more suited for users who have certain design sense and are somewhat skilled presenters.

“Deck is targeted at people who don’t have the time, inclination or ability to spend hours creating a beautiful presentation. So in a sense, deck is like a combination of a notepad and Prezi – the editor is similar to a simple note-taking app but the final output is as compelling and memorable as a Prezi,” says Raghavendra.

Karthee Madasamy, managing director for Qualcomm Ventures’ India and Israel, adds that Deck’s mobile and tablet-first strategy is helping it gain traction even in the developed markets of U.S. and Western Europe.

It’s always nice to see entrepreneurs who have failed in their earlier ventures, try again and not give up. But Deck will need more than just goodwill to succeed, including high user acceptance from the fast growing markets of India and other developing countries, where most of the first time Internet users are on mobile.