In the last couple of days, I have had three first time CEO entrepreneurs present me with their initial draft of an executive summary that they planned to give to potential investors. I know the companies, and that they have compelling value propositions, but in each case they failed to address some of the critical elements that one would expect to see covered. And in each case, those missing elements may have been sufficient to make an investor pass on taking it any further or inviting the entrepreneurs for a meeting.
Although this posting might appear sublime to the seasoned entrepreneur, I believe it to be sufficiently important to address, since the life blood of a startup is the infusion of capital, and obtaining capital begins with presenting a potential investor something that will hopefully make them “want a piece of what the entrepreneur is offering.”
Remember that an executive summary is usually just a two page document, designed to whet the appetite, so that the potential investor wants to hear and learn more. A summary is, by definition, incomplete, and can’t cover everything, and although there are no hard and fast rules as to its structure, there are certain topics that virtually every investor expects to see covered. Remember that you often only have one opportunity to make an indelible impression, and the following are the key elements that should be clearly and concisely addressed in the executive summary:
Introduction: Include one or two sentences that communicate your compelling, unique value proposition to a really big problem. If you lose the potential investor here, they probably won’t make it any further into the summary. Think of your elevator pitch, and distil it into a sentence or two that makes the reader want to read more.
What is the pain in the market that you are addressing and why will customers pay for your solution? Generally, little pains don’t result in large companies, and investors generally don’t want to invest in companies that don’t have significant upside potential. So, you have to clearly articulate the current or currently emerging problem or need that your product is going to address, and ultimately solve. By addressing your solution, which will solve the significant problem or pain to come, by making things quicker, faster, cheaper, more efficient, etc., you are building the case for a compelling value proposition.
What is your solution to the pain? What is your product that you are developing to address the pain, and how will it in fact solve the problem that you have identified? Is the product disruptive and unique? If it doesn’t require significant behavioral change on the part of the target customer, be sure to convey this, as this will underscore that there may be early and widespread adoption of your product or service. Where are you in the life cycle of development? If you are post prototype and ready for commercial launch, let the investor know, because the risk profile of the investment may be significantly diminished and make yours a more attractive investment.
How does/will your company make money? If you have customers, and are generating revenue–tell the investor. The investment proposition is different if you have started to gain some traction in the market, and are just looking for scale money, as opposed to the alternative. The risk profile is obviously diminished if the dogs have already shown that they will eat the dog food! If you are pre-revenue, you have to clearly articulate the way in which you are going to generate revenue from your product, and in so doing, articulate that yours is or will become, a scalable, predictable business model.
Addressable Market. If the market you are going after is small, you will probably not generate any interest from investors. Even if you can demonstrate that you can capture 50% of a really small market, the upside potential for investors will make this an unattractive investment opportunity. Demonstrate a deep understanding of the size and growth of the overall market, and articulate the size of the market segment or vertical (the low hanging fruit) that you initially intend to address.
What is your unfair advantage? In other words, what is your competitive advantage, and is it a sustainable competitive advantage. Is your competitive advantage based solely on the fact that you have the first mover advantage? Or do you have an IP portfolio/patent strategy that has or has the potential to result in an impregnable wall around your solution? If you are playing in a space, where it is simply a case of first to market wins, your targeted investors will be different to those where you have a sustainable competitive advantage. There are many investors that won’t invest in that race, or a race to get eyeballs, notwithstanding the recent frothiness of the market in the Valley.
What is the competitive landscape? It is imperative that you should have a deep understanding of the competitive landscape, as this really goes to the heart of your ability to achieve success. Avoiding current or potential competitors, or demonstrating a fundamental lack of awareness of your actual or potential competition will, in all probability lead to an instant loss of your credibility. If there are actual or potential competitors, clearly convey why yours is or is going to be the alternative of choice. Even if there are no competitors, and you are creating a paradigm shift, the competition is the status quo, and how and why will you overcome it?
Who makes up the team? In virtually every communication to investors that I reach out to on behalf of clients, I lead off by opening with the stellar team that has been assembled by the founder? Why? Because every investor tells the same story–they back the jockey and not the horse. A weak to mediocre team with a stellar product may get funded, but I have seen, many times, serial entrepreneurs with half baked plans get funded almost immediately after an exit and the startup of a new venture. To that end, provide a brief synopsis of the team (or virtual team that will become the real team upon funding), to clearly articulate and demonstrate deep industry expertise, core competencies, and past experiences that are relevant. An investor should feel that your team has the depth and breadth of knowledge in the space you are in, and feel that, given the past experiences of the team, it is surely one that can execute to plan.
Funding to date and the amount you are currently seeking. Describe how much money you have raised to date. This can, indirectly, be a great indication as to your innate abilities and ability to execute on future plans. If you have bootstrapped or achieved significant milestones on a meager or reasonable amount, this should provide an investor confidence in your ability to stretch the dollar and therefore maximize his or her return on the currently contemplated investment. How much are you looking for, and where will the company be once you have burned through the investor’s investment? Will it take you to product launch, or will it take you to break even? If projected to take you to break even, be sure to include this. Again, anything that you can describe that has the effect of diminishing the risk profile may make yours a more attractive investment. No investor is looking to help you build a bridge to nowhere, so be sure that the amount of funding that you are looking to raise will take you to some endpoint, whether its customers, break even or some meaningful value inflection point where you will do a follow on.
Exit Strategy. You may or may not want to include an exit strategy. For the most part–its always the same. M&A or IPO, and investors know the drill. However, if you have identified potential acquirors, where your solution might be a natural/accretive event, then I would advise that you include it. Also, if you have clearly identified companies in a particular industry/vertical that would benefit immensely from an acquisition of your technology, definitely include it. You should not convey a desire to build and flip, but demonstrate a thoughtfulness as to who the acquirors might be and why. If any competitors of these acquirors have made acquisitions of your competitors with an inferior solution for hundreds of millions of dollars, this too is sure to whet the appetite of any investor.