Starting the feedback loop: part 2 of “The agile one-pager” (DRAFT)

Draft! Revised version with better takeaways posted on NWEN’s blog.

In part 1 of the series, we looked at reasons to write an executive summary, highlighted resources like Rebecca Lovell’s The Art of the One-Page App and Garage Technology Ventures’ Writing a compelling executive summary, and introduced the agile approach to writing an executive summary: make progress, get feedback, iterate.  Here’s the key takeaways for part 2:

  1. Don’t be afraid to write down something aspirational or funny.  you can always go back and edit it later.
  2. Start by getting quick feedback on individual sections even before you’ve got a draft of the whole document
  3. Spend a few minutes preparing before any discusison with a potential advisor, even if it’s just a phone call or IM

Read on for more!

The First Look Forum committee has been reviewing the initial versions of the executive summaries from the participants who got them in by the early bird deadline, and both of the ones I’ve looked did a good job of presenting information concisely (about a page and a half long, which isn’t bad at this stage).  They also had a vivid description of the opportunity and problem they were trying to solve.  It’s not uncommon for these to be the strongest sections at first … and with good reason: spotting an opportunity and understanding the problem are key to a successful business.

At the end of part 1, I felt like I had a decent start at the problem and competitive advantage sections.  In the morning, I realized that I had an idea about how to describe the opportunity, so I wrote down a business summary:

If it works, we’ll be the next Google.

And then I almost deleted it.   It’s such a cliche … and why would anybody believe that this idea that I’m just getting started on could turn into the next Google?   But then I thought to myself, well, it’s better than nothing, and at this point I’m not actually sharing the document with anybody.   So I left it for the time being, and highlighted it in yellow in my Word document to make sure I changed it before sending it out.

NWEN executive director Rebecca Lovell tells me this is a technique she uses as well: when she’s blocked on something, she puts down something aspirational and/or funny and move on.  There’s plenty of time to come back to it.

Now it was time to get some feedback.  I noticed that friend Gayle was on Facebook.  Gayle’s somebody who I’ve been thinking about as a potential advisor for my new startup, but I hadn’t yet mentioned the idea to her.  No time like the present!

Before chatting with her, though, I paused for a few moments to think about what I wanted to learn and how I wanted to approach her.  Since she used to be at Google, I decided to see if what I was thinking about competitive advantage made sense.  So after saying hi and seeing what was up with her, I asked if she had a minute to talk about an idea I was working on, sketched it out very briefly, and then got to what I saw as the crux of a competitive advantage:

diversity interests are underserved by one-size-fits all algorithmic search, which is the basis of MS’s and Google’s strength

To which she responded

What do you mean by diversity interests?

Hmm, good question.

Once again this is something that happens a lot; when you getting so deeply into the problem , it’s easy to use terms that most people don’t understand.   So I took a stab at answering it in chat, we discussed it for a few minutes, and I closed by asking if she’d be willing to have a look at the one-pager once I was ready to share.   Sure, she said.  We said our goodbyes, and then I updated the document and write down a note to myself to follow up with her.

A couple of important points here: even though Gayle’s a friend of mine, and we were just IM’ing, I approached it as seriously as I would a quick phone call with any other potential advisor: preparing by thinking about what questions would make good use of her time and how I wanted the conversation would go, being respectful of her time, taking down action items.  I find that doing this regularly helps me make the best use of my time.

The discussion with Gayle had sparked a few more ideas so I went back and filled out a couple more sections of the one-pager.  Then I repeated the process with a couple more friends: brief discussions of individual sections, followed by some refinement.  By this point most of the sections on the one-pager were filled out so I sent an email to another friend asking if she’d have time to talk.  We settled on Friday morning at 10 a.m. and I told her I’d get her a draft of the current one-pager as of Thursday night.

To be continued …


If you’ve launched an innovative business with growth potential, you’re looking for expert coaching and some exposure to the investment community and you have not yet presented your plan to an angel group membership or VC partnership, then NWEN’s First Look Forum could be the perfect opportunity for you! And if you’re one of those early birds who have already registered, remember there’s a reception this afternoon — thanks to Davis Wright Tremaine for hosting!