I get questions from startup founders about executive summaries all the time. They range from “what should I include?” to “how long should it be?” to “where can I get help writing one?” I answered some of those questions in a previous post, Crafting Your Executive Summary, so I won’t rehash them here. But I do want to highlight 5 things that are guaranteed to make you stand out — and not in a good way.
Here’s what not to do when crafting your executive summary
Don’t outsource the job
While it may be tempting, with everything that you have to do, to try to find someone else to write your executive summary, you really need to do this yourself. An executive summary needs to be a compelling statement of why investors should invest in you and your startup. Doing it yourself will force you to think through your value proposition, choosing the most salient points to highlight. It’ll also help you to hone your selling skills…which you’ll need to draw on heavily to be successful at raising funds.
Don’t skip formalities
You are attempting to interest readers aka potential investors, get them engaged enough to want to hear more of your story, and ultimately to invest. They won’t do that if they are faced with a poorly written, lengthy, and vague document.
Don’t inflate your credentials
Do not make the mistake of overselling your team’s credentials, or imply that you have ties to, support from, or relationships with big name advisors, investors, or talent when the reality is that you spoke briefly at a startup event once. Claims like these are so easy to check out! You’ll lose all credibility and find you have a lot more to worry about than whether your executive summary can pass muster.
Don’t dive too deeply into the nitty gritty of your proprietary technology
If potential investors want to know more about your solution, they’ll ask. Use your executive summary to give them a high level overview of what your product/software is and how it works; with appropriate analogies to make things more tangible for them. Once you actually meet with investors, product demos are a really effective way of explaining the user experience and generating enthusiasm.
Don’t raise questions that your business plan doesn’t answer
Your summary is intended to lay out what you’ll cover in more depth in your pitch deck and your business plan. It’s not meant to ponder how the world works. Keep your focus on the customer problem (s) you’re trying to solve and why you, your team, and your product (s) are the best place to solve it (or them) now.
Lastly, what’s the first step toward putting together your executive summary? Doing the work at the outset to create a thoughtful and well-researched startup business plan. The exercise of developing your business plan — including validating your assumptions, identifying stumbling blocks, and building your financial model — will help you clarify your goals and give you a roadmap to guide you. It will also provide the crucial supporting reference to your executive summary.
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