What Makes a Good Executive Summary?

Whether you’re preparing your entry for the NewSpace Business Plan Competition, or getting an executive summary ready for investors, it’s important to understand what your audience is looking for so you can provide the right information, in the right format. But beyond ticking all the boxes and having all the right sections and numbers, your executive summary needs to capture and impress your audience.

Your executive summary is your first – and often, your only – opportunity to capture the attention of your audience. A typical VC will read 1,000 (or more) executive summaries in a year, and may only follow up with 100 companies (or less). But a few simple things can help you drastically improve your executive summary, and your chances of getting that follow-up call.

Once Upon a Time

First and foremost, your executive summary needs to tell a story. A compelling, interesting story. Your audience reads a lot of these documents, and has probably read several summaries for companies just like yours. Regurgitating market size numbers and describing technical intricacies of your product is not going to make that investor pick up the phone and call you. You need to tell a good story, and that story should be about a big problem that you know how to solve. Think about how you would explain your customer’s problem to a friend at a cocktail party. Tell a story about a real person with a real problem.

Size Matters

Be succinct – this is a ‘summary’ of your business plan, not the whole thing. Keep the document to 2-3 pages. In some instances, a one-page document may be requested, so have a short version available. Personally, I prefer the 2-pager. In my experience, this is just the right length to get into all the juicy bits of the business, but not so long as to be cumbersome. Plus, a 2-pager can be printed on the front and back of a single piece of paper, giving you awesome and cheap handouts for the next conference or investor event you attend.

Don’t Use that Tone with Me

Something that, unfortunately has to be said is: be professional in your language and tone. It doesn’t matter how casual, adventurous, or modern your company is, the investors reading your documents are conservative and professional. And they expect this document to be as well. Be mindful of grammar and sentence structure. If English is not your native language, have native-speaker edit it with you. Use bullets and numbered lists to keep information organized and easy to remember. Minimize the use of adjectives and superlatives, and whenever possible, avoid the use of contractions or slang.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

For most technical, scientific, and persuasive writers, there is a very clear and simple formula for constructing a document – slowly build an argument with a series of well developed points that crescendo into a final conclusion. In business, this is what we call, ‘burying the lead’ and it is exactly the opposite of how you write an Executive Summary. An Executive Summary, like most business communications, is written ‘upside down.’ You start with the most important points, or the conclusion, and then utilize the remainder of the document to backup that conclusion. This is counter intuitive for many writers, so just remember: ‘Lead with the best, follow with the rest.’

Customer, Schmustomer

So what should you lead with? What’s the most important part of your business? What’s the most exciting thing you’re doing? I’ll give you a hint – it’s not about YOU at all. It’s your customer. What is your customer’s problem? And how are you solving it? That’s it. That’s the most important thing about your business. It’s also the most exciting. It’s the reason you’re going to make a boatload of money for your investors. Effectively explaining your customer’s problem, and your solution to it, is the most important part of your executive summary. Lead with this problem/solution discussion, and then let the rest of the document explain the details of how you’re going to solve that problem, profitably.

Buzzword Bingo

Stay away from buzzwords, or generally from descriptors and adjectives that don’t have any real meaning. Don’t tell me that your company is disruptive (it better be, otherwise why are you starting a company?). Don’t talk about stealth mode, going viral, or being next-gen or cutting edge. This is not a game of buzzword bingo. Your executive summary should be in plain English, as they say. Give it to me straight. Your business model should be good enough to sell itself without you having to over-hype it.

Don’t Bend it Like Beckham

Don’t bend the truth. Not even a little bit. Don’t oversell, over promise, or otherwise over extended. Sprinkling a little bit of fantastical fairy dust on your financial projects, project timelines and hiring goals may seem like a good way to get people to peek under the hood, but it never works. Most of the time, potential investors (and BPC judges) can spot these problems right away. But if they do believe you at first, they’re sure to uncover your deception later on, leading to even more problems than a missed investment (i.e. lawsuits, irreversible damage to your brand, etc).

Happily Ever After

If you want to dig in to more of the specifics of executive summaries, click here to download our executive summary template. This lists specific sections we suggest including and has short descriptions of what to include in each section, as well as example text for our made up company, NewCo. Hopefully this blog and the example document can you help you write an executive summary that gets you noticed — and funded. Happy writing!

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