I’ve written about the importance of keeping a pitch deck lean, and about the importance of practicing your delivery, about what it should contain and about how to give it the required flow. But a recent exchange with my friend Pete McDonald at Silicon Valley Bank reminded me I haven’t spent a lot of time on another critically important document, the executive summary. It’s time the executive summary got its due. Pete hit me up with a few questions on how he should advise entertrepreneurs on executive summaries and here is what I told him.
What is an Executive Summary?
It is a one page fact-sheet that tells someone everything they need to know about your business at a 36,000 foot level. It is pretty heavily formatted and densely packed to fit it all in.
What is the purpose of an Executive Summary?
Executive summaries serve several purposes (some of which can be as well served by a slide deck).
- They give someone a fast, condensed quick reference guide to your business in a format the typical reader (an investor) is going to be familiar and comfortable with.
- They are a chance to demonstrate the clarity of your thinking as well as your communication skills.
- They are a simple short piece of “collateral” that an investor can use to share your company with other investors to solicit their input – it reduces friction by saving investors the trouble of having to re-summarize the company themselves – they can use your words instead.
- They give the visual learner something easily absorbed. Some people are auditory learners and would rather speak to you but many are not and they want to see it written down. In this regard, one-page summaries can be good, but illustrated slide decks are particularly powerful for really visual learners because you can lay it all out and even use powerful illustrations to convey complex things.
How important are these things? How much do they count for the investor?
Fact: they count a lot. Executive summaries are kind of the basic currency of the investing world. They are often the only thing a potential investor will read before deciding whether to engage with you. Sure, it is true that nothing beats a face to face meeting if you can get one to happen. And if a really trusted referral source sends a short summary paragraph in their own words really enthusiastically recommending a company, and deck or exec summary is not absolutely necessary, but it takes friction out. And besides, without it, how is that investor going to pass the opportunity along if they are feeling the love?
Do I really need one, or can I get by with just a slide deck?
You absolutely need one and cannot get by with just the deck. You really need both. For the reasons above, but also for another important reason: namely, that the process and discipline of preparing a very good one page executive summary will really clarify and tighten your thinking. Even if you don’t show it to someone, you will be far more cogent in talking about your business for having written it.
If the quality isn’t great, does it mean I don’t get a meeting?
Yep, pretty much. A really strong endorsement can *sometimes* save you, but a bad executive summary is a big red flag. And justifiably so: is not like you are expected to sit down a write a perfect one from scratch out of the blue with someone holding a stopwatch. You have had all the time in the world to prepare yours and had access to all the mentoring and advice under the sun that your networking skills could get you. If after all that, you cannot pull a good one together, what *can* be inferred? What *should* be inferred? That you don’t care enough about this project to bother? That you cannot network or research or be bothered to find help? That you are un-coachable? That you cannot write? That you cannot tell an ugly, ineffective deck from a good one? That you cannot boil it down and think and write clearly? The list of potential negative inferences goes on and on. And there are pretty much no positive inferences. Good investors worth having in your company will get a lot of plans. They look for signals to help them figure out where to most efficiently spend their time. A low quality summary or deck is a strong signal to focus elsewhere.
What needs to be in this thing?
A lot of the same topics in the basic slide deck, but jammed into a tight package, sparingly worded. Rather than describe it in a lot of detail, let me show you a picture:
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If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy my other posts on Angel Investing, Business, Communication, Entrepreneurship, Video Interview Series, or my recent curated links you might have missed on: Investing & Entrepreneurship.
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