7 Keys to a Compelling Executive Summary That Wins Over Investors
Few investors these days have the time or patience to read a full business plan, so a better way to catch their eye is with a tightly written and well formatted two-page executive summary. As a model, think high-quality marketing collateral, with text and graphics in columns and sidebars, but focused on the value of your business, rather than selling your product.
Once you have their attention, content is key. I see too many executive summaries that are simply heavy-duty customer pitches, or lightweight visions of the future. As an angel investor, what I’m looking for is key data from your business plan, including financial projections, how much money you are looking for and a quantification of my potential return.
Skip the fuzzy marketing terms, such as "easier to use," "lower cost" and "disruptive technology." Investors want to buy into an entrepreneur with a startup that can provide evidence of an ability to double customer productivity, at half the cost, with patented technology. The summary must cover all the key topics in a full business plan, including the following, in this order:
1. Lead with a painful customer problem and how you solve it.
This is your elevator pitch and customer value proposition, and is your key to getting an investor to read even the remainder of the summary. Skip any history lesson and your vision to change the world. Nice-to-have solutions and customers with no money are not compelling.
2. Show you have a large and growing market opportunity.
Investors expect to see credible third-party evidence that you are targeting a billion-dollar opportunity, with double-digit growth. Your passion is necessary but not sufficient to prove a market. Focus on a specific market segment to match your solution.
3. Include your sustainable competitive advantage.
Patents or other intellectual property are a real competitive advantage for a startup, but first to market and working harder are not sustainable. Don’t kill your credibility by asserting that you have no direct competition, since to investors that means you have not looked or there is no market.
4. Clearly define your business model.
If you sell for half the price of a competitor, but you lose money on each item, it’s hard to make it up in volume. Remember you are talking to investors, so they don’t associate free with providing any financial returns. Quantify all the key elements of the equation, including price, margin and volume.
5. Highlight why your team is the best for this challenge.
Make sure you name your key players and advisors, and include any prior startup experience and prior experience in the relevant business domain. Current and past titles don’t convey this information. Professional investors look for the right people more than the right product.
6. Project revenues, costs and investment expectations.
If you are not willing to set targets for yourself, don’t expect investors to commit their funds. Major milestones along the way should also be outlined. When sizing your funding request, be aware of the value of your startup today, since most investors expect an equity share for their contributions.
7. Outline the potential investor return, and payback process.
The best way to do this is to highlight a recent similar company payback to investors, via going public or acquisition exit. Angel investors look for high-growth potential companies who can double revenues yearly, and sell for a high multiplier, providing a 10-time return.
You may think it’s impossible to get all this information into two pages and still have room for graphics, but the best entrepreneurs do it every day, and they get the funding that more wordy marketing pitches don’t win. This outline is not a magic formula, but when key points are skipped, investors see these as red flags, which can push your request to the bottom of the pile.
Most important of all, don’t forget to ask for the order or ask for an opportunity to meet and review your investor presentation and answer questions. Attracting an investor requires building a relationship, not a one-night stand. A great executive summary shows the true depth of your character and your plan.
Martin Zwilling is the founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, a company that provides products and services to startup founders and small business owners. The author of Do You Have What It Takes to Be an Entrepreneur? and Attracting an Angel, he writes a daily blog for entrepreneurs and dispenses advice on the subject of startups.