Keith Peiris became the CEO of his first company at a very young age. His latest venture has already raised $81M on its mission to help us communicate and understand each other better.
On the Dealmakers Show, Peiris talked about getting started in tech early, working at Facebook, incubating your business ideas, fundraising and finding the right investors – plus, the future of communicating with AI.
The Ultimate Guide To Pitch Decks
Keith Peiris was born in Ontario, Canada. His parents had immigrated there in the 80s, during the civil war in their home country of Sri Lanka.
He picked up playing ice hockey, though not being the biggest kid on the ice, he soon gravitated to spending more time on computers.
Keith’s father went from getting a job delivering pizzas when he first arrived in Canada to managing sales at an IT company. That meant he was able to bring home computers, when PCs still cost thousands of dollars.
When he was eight years old, his father brought home a new computer and a book on how to use Adobe Photoshop, which was really the event which set him on the trajectory he has ridden through to today.
He would come home after school and play around with editing images and making websites. He began engaging in different online forums, which is where he started receiving his first requests to build things for others. He opened a PayPal account and started charging customers just enough to pay for video games and toys.
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Starting His First Company At 11 Years
One day his dad came home and wanted to know what in the world he was up to. Once his father took a moment to look into it, he decided Keith should really be charging a lot more for his work and that he was onto something.
His dad decided that Keith should be CEO, and his father would run sales and marketing. So, they renovated the basement to become their office, brought in more computers, and Keith was heading up his own company at just 11 years old.
This first business experience taught him a lot about sales and pitching, like how to not try and win on price and the race to the bottom. Instead, he learned how to wow and dazzle prospects with his pitch in 30 minutes, and hook them.
Together they leveraged the novelty of Keith’s age to generate some buzz and visibility,using press releases to get out in the media and get noticed – all tactics he says that he still uses in his business today.
The Pros & Cons Of Working At Facebook
Eventually, Peiris grew frustrated with the lack of speed and computing power available to him as a small business. He decided he needed to go learn about silicon and semiconductors, so that he could do more, faster.
After graduating with a degree in nanotechnology engineering from the University of Waterloo, he looked for internships and roles at tech companies. Because he had always been consumed with working on side projects during school he didn’t end up with the best grades. While that meant Microsoft and Google turned him down, Facebook was still young and growing fast, and brought him in. They just cared that he had the ability to solve the problems that they were working on.
There, he saw how things worked at an incredible scale. On one hand, anything Facebook did worked. When you have a network of a billion people, some of them are going to buy whatever you put out there. Whether it was a dating app, tools to discover local restaurants, or a new marketplace, there were always buyers.
The downside of that, he says, was that it can make you a little lazy. When everything works, you aren’t as driven to dive deep into what people care about the most.
He ended up working on Instagram as Facebook began reinventing it, and they were trying to fend off the migration of their younger users to Snapchat.
There, he learned a lot about how people communicate, namely, that we all communicate differently, and rarely in the way we expect or want them to.
His big takeaway was that the tools that are the most flexible, the highest fidelity, and most expressive, end up being the ones that survive. That got him thinking about building a really powerful, open-ended communication tool for ideas.
Incubating Startup Ideas
Looking for a change and chance to experience a smaller startup environment again, Keith packed his bags and moved to NY.
While working at another startup, he continued to think about his own product ideas, and saw the challenges of making a business profitable. Then, COVID lockdowns happened, and vividly underscored the challenge of communicating complex ideas with others. The pandemic thrust this gap into focus.
On one hand, there was the vast social media bubble, which people were locked into. But the formats used for idea sharing were all falling short. Long-form white papers were too long to read. Yet, tweets and Stories were too limited and short.
Keith ended up joining a friend working at VC firm Greylock while working from Johnny Depp’s old apartment. There, he began conversing with his former Facebook teammate Seth Rosenberg and Greylock General Partner Reid Hoffman about his ideas. During this time, he also connected with his cofounder Henri, who was also from Facebook, and they started concepting.
Eventually Reid advised them to stop just thinking about this new format for ideas, and go build it. Since officially starting their company in 2020, the cofounders have raised $81M to fuel the venture and hire industry-leading developers, AI experts, and designers.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Keith Peiris was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) where the most critical slides are highlighted.
Remember to unlock the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
Their startup is Tome. an AI-powered storytelling format for work and ideas that makes great looking narratives and pitches. Tome has invented a new format for idea expression that is live, interactive, mobile responsive, and supercharged with AI.
Since launching publicly in September 2022, the company has set new growth records for productivity tools and has more than 6 million users worldwide. The company has a deep and very ambitious product roadmap, as well as some of the best machine learning scientists and design minds in Silicon Valley to see it through.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- Differentiating between co-founders and team members in the hiring process.
- Presenting your business idea to potential investors.
- Establishing shared goals and values with your financial partners.
- Utilizing AI technology to enhance pitch presentations and exchange of ideas.