Investors often talk about a "one-pager" and by that, they mean your executive summary. The executive summary is an at-a-glance fact sheet summarizing everything important about your business. Although it may be a hassle to create, it is vitally important.

What is the purpose of an executive summary?
An executive summary serves several purposes:

  1. It provides a condensed quick reference guide to your business in a format the typical reader (an investor) is going to find familiar.
  2. It is a chance to demonstrate the clarity of your thinking and your communication skills.
  3. It is a piece of "collateral" that an investor can use to discuss your company with other investors and solicit their input--it reduces friction by saving investors the trouble of having to re-summarize the company themselves, keeping your description intact.
  4. It gives visual learners an easy way to quickly absorb your business vs. having to read many pages of documentation.

How much weight do investors give the one pager?
They count for a lot. Executive summaries are the basic currency of the startup investing world. They are often the only material a potential investor will read before deciding whether to engage further. Nothing beats a face-to-face meeting if you can get one, and the executive summary is often the ticket to that meeting. And it can create investor-to-investor traction because it is the tool investor's use to pass the opportunity along and seek input.

Can I get by with just a slide deck?
No. You absolutely need a one pager, and you also need a slide deck. You need them both for one important reason: the process and discipline of preparing a very good one page executive summary will really clarify and tighten your thinking. The process of writing it will make you far more cogent in talking about your business--both in person and when using your presentation deck.

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 sloppy or bad executive summary is a big red flag. And justifiably so. You have all the time in the world to prepare your executive summary. You've had access to mentoring and advice received through networking. If after all that, you cannot pull together a good one pager it raises questions. Investors will wonder--Do you care enough about this project to bother? Were you unable to network or do the needed research or be bothered to find help? Are you un-coachable? Are you a poor communicator? The list of potential negative inferences is long (and there are pretty much no positive inferences). Good investors worth having in your company see a lot of executive summaries and plans every month. The sheer volume teaches them to look for signals to help figure out where to most efficiently spend their time. A low quality summary is a strong signal to focus elsewhere.

What needs to be in this thing?
The executive summary should include most of the same topics from a basic slide deck (which I will cover in my next column), but the details are tightly packaged and sparingly worded to fit on one page, or at most, the front and back of a single sheet. The typical format includes a box on the right with the company name, logo, URL, number of employees, key players and advisors and important investors. Along the bottom of the page a short, wide box shows at-a-glance financials: gross revenues, expenditures and net for the current year and the next 3-4 years. The middle of the page includes short 200-400 character paragraphs on the following topics:

  • One Line Pitch
  • Business Summary
  • Management Team
  • Customer Problem
  • Product/Service
  • Target Market
  • Customers
  • Sales/Marketing Strategy
  • Business/Revenue Model
  • Competitors
  • Competitive Advantage

The one-page executive summary isn't easy. In fact you may get incredibly frustrated trying to boil down your big idea into only one-page. But taking the time to do it well is one of the most important things you can do. Remember, it just might be the one thing an investor reads right before deciding whether to move on, or to spend some time with you.