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First, Pitch wants to beat PowerPoint. Then it has bigger plans.

Pitch wants to make it easy to create presentations, and then it wants to redefine what a presentation is in the first place.

Pitch screenshot

Pitch tries to make creating a slide deck simpler, faster and more collaborative.

Image: Pitch

Christian Reber's latest product, Pitch, has been in beta for more than a year. It's a big beta, to be fair: More than 25,000 teams are already using Pitch, which aims to make it easier, faster and more fun to make slide decks. Reber and his team have liked the state of the product for months, but they've kept polishing, kept tweaking, kept making sure everything worked and scaled and made sense. Because it's like they say: You come at the king, you best not miss. PowerPoint is the king, and Reber's been lining up his shot for a long time. Now it's launching publicly, and the former Wunderlist founder think it's ready.

The initial Pitch pitch goes like this: Slide decks are a great, wonderful, powerful thing, no matter what some people might say, but making them is a nightmare. "We always had this idea of, basically, building a tool for non-designers to build beautiful decks." Pitch uses a huge template library to give people a better place to start from, built-in video collaboration for making decks as a team, integrations with Google Sheets and Google Analytics, and more. "We wanted to build an interface that's delightful, and most importantly fun, to use." Pitch is meant to be faster, simpler, all-around more enjoyable to spend your days inside than PowerPoint.

Even Pitch's list of investors telegraphs its intentions for the space. The company has already raised more than $50 million, and some of its most visible backers are lions of the best-of-breed industry. The Slack Fund invested; so did Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger; so did Zoom's Eric Yuan. The implication, and indeed Pitch's plan, is that Pitch believes that the world needs a truly great way to make slide decks, and that there's a big business in doing so.

Edging into a market dominated by giants — not just PowerPoint but also Google Slides and Apple Keynote — won't be easy. And Reber said he's still perfecting his explanation. "It's tough to tell anyone what exactly makes the product different, because it's a collection of things." Like Zoom with video, it's just supposed to work better. He said that teams who try Pitch tend to pick up on that feeling pretty quickly, and as the company launches publicly, he hopes that continues.

Pitch dashboard Pitch's design-y take on decks could make it easier for anyone to create nice slides.Image: Pitch

In the long run, Reber said, the process of "building a deck" should mostly go away. "We have a very clear idea that you should basically be able to write an outline of your presentation, you should pitch a design, and then you just merge your outline with the design and boom, you have the presentation ready for you." That involves a lot of time and a lot of machine learning, he said. "I think it will probably take 12 months or so just to see the first glimpse of that kind of AI for presentations."

AI-generated decks aren't even the wildest part of Pitch's plan, either. The company wants to redefine the whole notion of a deck. What if a deck was a shareable, interactive document, Reber wondered, with analytics and comments? Basically, what would Instagram For Presentations look like? That's next on Pitch's roadmap: building an open platform of decks and templates anyone can share and see.

After that, what if people didn't have to update their sales decks every quarter, because the deck did the work for them? Integrations, Reber said, are crucial to the future of Pitch. "We're actually learning from our customers, which integrations would they like to have next? Is it a Stripe integration, a Typeform integration, a MailChimp integration to pull in live subscribers from newsletters?" In Reber's mind, a presentation becomes a living document, more like a website than a .ppt file. "Every presentation is just pure HTML," Reber said. "If you build interactive websites with live data, you really change what presentations are. You can present in the form of a website."

Pitch even has ideas about changing the way people present their decks, though here Reber is cagey about his plans. "Presenting decks asynchronously and synchronously" are important to get right, he said, "and we need to help people distribute decks." That's where the Instagram for Presentations comes in, but there's more. "I think audio and video play a huge role in that," Reber said, before stopping himself — though he did mention that Tomaž Štolfa, the former founder of communications startup Layer, is working on lots of cool things in that space.

Pitch is one of the better-funded companies on this path, but certainly not the only one. The app Mmhmm recently captured people's imagination by turning decks into performances, recordable and editable and interactive. WeTransfer's Paste has similarly interactive, embeddable ideas about the future of decks. "When you think about the office world, the document suites, they're really still immersed in these print-document-centric views," WeTransfer's Georg Petschnigg told me earlier this year. The rest of the internet doesn't work that way, he pointed out: "When you look at how many online tools we're using now, the Figmas, the Google Docs, something like Paste is designed for that." Pitch is very much the same.

In talking about the vision for Pitch, Reber has to continually bring himself back to the present, force himself not to get too tied up in the big vision. He's been having to do that for two years, making sure Pitch gets the fundamentals right before worrying about the wholesale reinvention of everything forever. None of the next stuff matters, he knows, if he can't build a tool that does PowerPoint things better than PowerPoint. If Pitch can get there, it earns the right to do everything else.

People

Google’s trying to build a more inclusive, less chaotic future of work

Javier Soltero, the VP of Workspace at Google, said time management is everything.

With everyone working in new places, Google believes time management is everything.

Image: Google

Javier Soltero was still pretty new to the G Suite team when the pandemic hit. Pretty quickly, everything about Google's hugely popular suite of work tools seemed to change. (It's not even called G Suite anymore, but rather Workspace.) And Soltero had to both guide his team through a new way of working and help them build the tools to guide billions of Workspace users.

This week, Soltero and his team announced a number of new Workspace features designed to help people manage their time, collaborate and get stuff done more effectively. It offered new tools for frontline workers to communicate better, more hardware for hybrid meetings, lots of Assistant and Calendar features to make planning easier and a picture-in-picture mode so people could be on Meet calls without really having to pay attention.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Sponsored Content

The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
People

WhatsApp thinks business chat is the future — but it won't be easy

From privacy policy screw-ups to UI questions, can WhatsApp crack the super-app riddle?

WhatsApp Business is trying to wrap shopping around messaging. It's not always easy.

Image: WhatsApp

At some point, WhatsApp was always going to have to make some money. Facebook paid $21.8 billion for the company in 2014, and since then, WhatsApp has grown to more than 2 billion users in more than 180 countries. And while, yes, Facebook's acquisition was in part simply a way to neutralize a competitor, it also knows how to monetize an audience.

The trick, though, would be figuring out how to do that without putting ads into the app. Nobody at WhatsApp ever wanted to do that, including co-founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton, who reportedly left Facebook after disagreements over ads. More recently, even Mark Zuckerberg has slowed the WhatsApp ad train, with The Information reporting that ads in WhatsApp likely won't come while the company's under so much regulatory scrutiny. So: $21.8 billion, no ads. What to do?

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

People

Citizen’s plan to keep people safe (and beat COVID-19) with an app

Citizen CEO Andrew Frame talks privacy, safety, coronavirus and the future of the neighborhood watch.

Citizen added COVID-19 tracking to its app over the summer — but its bigger plans got derailed.

Photo: Citizen

Citizen is an app built on the idea that transparency is a good thing. It's the place users — more than 7 million of them, in 28 cities with many more to come soon — can find out when there's a crime, a protest or an incident of any kind nearby. (Just yesterday, it alerted me, along with 17,900 residents of Washington, D.C., that it was about to get very windy. It did indeed get windy.) Users can stream or upload video of what's going on, locals can chat about the latest incidents and everyone's a little safer at the end of the day knowing what's happening in their city.

At least, that's how CEO Andrew Frame sees it. Critics of Citizen say the app is creating hordes of voyeurs, incentivizing people to run into dangerous situations just to grab a video, and encouraging racial profiling and other problematic behaviors all under the guise of whatever "safety" means. They say the app promotes paranoia, alerting users to things that they don't actually need to know about. (That the app was originally called "Vigilante" doesn't help its case.)

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

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