The executive summary is often your initial face to a potential investor, so it’s critical that you create the right first impression. You have about 30 seconds to grab an investor’s interest. You want to be clear and compelling. You need to convey its essence, its energy. Remember: the job of the executive summary is to sell, not to describe.
Below are the ingredients that make up the secret sauce to wow investors with your executive summary:
1. The Grab
You should lead with the most compelling statement of why you have a really big idea. The first sentence (or two) sets the tone for the rest of the executive summary. Usually, this is a concise statement of the unique solution you have developed to a big problem. It should be direct and specific, not abstract and conceptual.
2. The Problem
You need to make it clear that there is a big, important problem (current or emerging) that you are going to solve, or opportunity you are going to exploit. Don’t confuse your statement of the problem with the size of the opportunity (see below).
3. The Solution
What specifically are you offering to whom? Software, hardware, service, combination? Use commonly used terms to state concretely what you have, or what you do, that solves the problem you’ve identified. You might need to clarify where you fit in the value chain or distribution channels—who do you work with in the ecosystem of your sector, and why will they be eager to work with you. If you have customers and revenues, make it clear. If not, tell the investor when you will.
4. The Opportunity
Spend a few more sentences providing the basic market segmentation, size, growth and dynamics—how many people or companies, how many dollars, how fast the growth, and what is driving the segment. You will be better off targeting a meaningful percentage of a smaller, well-defined, growing market than claiming a microscopic percentage of a huge, heterogeneous, mature market. Don’t claim you are addressing the $24 billion widget market, when you are really addressing the $85 million market for specialized arc-widgets used in the emerging wocket sector.
5. Your Competitive Advantage
No matter what you might think, you have competition. Understand what your real, sustainable competitive advantage is, and state it clearly. Here is where you can articulate your unique benefits and advantages. Believe it or not, in most cases, you should be able to make this point in one or two sentences.
6. The Model
How specifically are you going to generate revenues, and from whom? Why is your model leverageable and scaleable? Why will it be capital efficient? What are the critical metrics on which you will be evaluated—customers, licenses, units, revenues, margin? Whatever it is, what impressive levels will you reach within three to five years?
7. The Team
Why is your team uniquely qualified to win? Don’t just regurgitate a shortened form of each founder’s resume; explain why the background of each team member fits. If you can, state the names of brand name companies your team has worked for. Don’t drop a name if it’s an unknown name, and don’t drop a name if you aren’t happy to give the contact as a reference at a later date.
8. The Promise
When you are pitching to investors, your fundamental promise is that you are going to make them a boatload of money with the capital they would provide. Your Summary Financial Projections should clearly show that. You should show five years of revenues, expenses, losses/profits, cash and headcount. You should also show a key driver or two, such as number of customers and units shipped each year.
9. The Ask
This is the amount of funding you are asking for now. This should generally be the minimum amount of equity you need to reach the next major milestone. You can always take more if investors are willing to make more available, but it is hard to take less. If you expect to be raising another round of financing later, make that clear, and state the expected amount.
Venture investors are predisposed to like entrepreneurs. Many of us were entrepreneurs in our prior lives, and all of us enjoy the challenge and excitement of starting up companies. We are on your side. Good luck!