Monday, March 16, 2009

The One Pager

A business plan, an elevator pitch, a pitch deck -- the number of different things you have to have to successfully pitch your company is amazing. Now add in the one pager. Whether you call it that or an executive summary or a company overview, it's an essential part of the whole story. Like the one-page resume, you want a single, concise one-page document that you can hand to potential investors and business partners. There are lots of advantages to having it be a single page, but I'm only going to mention the most important one -- investors expect it.

To create my one pager, I started with my five-page business plan. I went through and highlighted all the most important stuff, then consolidated that in a new document which ended up about two pages long. Then I started looking for things to trim. I was pretty close to finished when I decided that I should make sure what I was doing was consistent with what I needed to submit to another competition, the Willamette Angel Conference (although I'll be at a disadvantage because Groupthink isn't an Oregon company, I figure the extra connections will be worth it). It was at that point that I realized I'd made a mistake. The Willamette Angel Conference uses Angelsoft, and the whole way it works is different -- your one pager gets created by filling in a form on the site. Here are the items you're asked for:

  • One line pitch
  • Summarize your business
  • What specifically makes your management team most qualified to build this business?
  • Define customer problem
  • Describe the solution you sell
  • Define your market
  • List your current or potential customers
  • Sales and marketing strategy
  • Describe your business model
  • Describe the competitive landscape and list your competitors
  • Define your competitive advantage and list barriers to entry
Each of these items also has a longer explanation you see as you're filling out the form. For example, the explanation for "Define customer problem" reads: Investors fund pain killers, not vitamin pills. What critical customer need does your company address? If you are a web company, you may need to make a hard decision here on whether to talk about your audience or the people who will ultimately pay you (like your advertisers). You only get 210 characters to answer that one. When you're done, Angelsoft turns your information into a one page summary that looks like this sample:

At first, I was thrown for a loop, but then I realized that this was a much better way to do it. After all, investors looking at your one pager have a bunch of questions in their head that the'll use to decide if they want to read anymore. If you don't answer those questions, it's over. So the number one task really should be to make sure you answer those questions!

In the process of answering the questions, I managed to get in every one of my key points and pretty much nothing extraneous, but the document wasn't exactly what I wanted to best represent the company. For Angelsoft applications, I have to take what I get, but that's not true for NWEN or other investors. So, after I finished up the Angelsoft process, I took all the information and created a new document that I could edit. Then I made a few changes:
  • Combined the one line pitch, business summary, and customer problem into a new opening section which read better than the three individual sections.
  • Combined target market and customers sections.
  • Combined competitors and competitive advantage sections.
  • Added a little bit of additional detail in a few places where I'd been constrained by Angelsoft's character limits.
  • Added a (small) illustration to help explain the product.
In each of the cases, I made the change to improve readability or punch. But, overall, it's a lot like the one pager from Angelsoft. You don't have to do your one pager like I did and your executive summary might be longer. recommends two to three pages in this excellent article. But, whatever you do, keep these things in mind:
  • The purpose is to sell your company to investors, not tell them everything about it
  • You want to convey the excitement and the energy behind your business
  • To the extent that you can, answer the questions potential investors will have before they ask them


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