Are you an office thinker? Do you enjoy the challenge of researching interesting data that supports your idea? Is the thought of pulling together your thoughts, ideas, and disparate data into a concise and perfectly organized document your idea of a virtual Caribbean vacation?

I spent 15 years in the mapping/travel business with MapQuest and Rand McNally and our research identified a number of travel personalities. I always loved the type of traveler who got just as much or even more enjoyment out of planning a trip than from the trip itself. This personality feels the same as the startup founder who spends his or her time writing a business plan before even venturing out to talk to anyone.

Don't let this be you.

There are any number of great Steve Blank quotes, and I have referenced a number of them in my Inc. articles. Today, I'm going to highlight this one: "No business plan survives its first exposure to a customer." Add investor, partner, and co-founder to that list.

I have played every role you can imagine in the startup ecosystem, and I can definitively say that the business plan is dead as a tool for disseminating your idea. Do I have your attention now? Notice how I qualified the statement with the add-on "your idea"? There are times when you have to create a formal document that represents detailed plans and assumptions about your business. The idea stage is not one of those times.

At the idea stage, you have one task and one task only--to determine the viability of your idea. The only way to do that is to get out and talk to people who may have a role to play in its evolution.

The idea of a 30-page document that represents all of your thinking, including spreadsheets of a monthly income statement five years from now, is ludicrous. I promise you that no seed investor will ask for it.

What do you need?

Pull your thoughts into a 15-page (max.) PowerPoint deck that outlines the key elements of your thesis. This deck will morph as you tell your story to more and more players. That is OK. In fact, it is expected. The beauty of this format is that it is very easy to make changes as your idea crystallizes. Embrace that feeling--don't fight it. No one expects you to have all or even most of the answers. The idea stage is about discovery, so develop the tools that support your early journey.

Published on: Feb 27, 2015