The agile approach to a one-page executive summary, part 1: Getting started (DRAFT)

Update, February 2: Final version posted on NWEN’s blog.

First in a series. Key takeaways:

  1. There are a lot of good reasons to write a one-page executive summary.
  2. The agile approach involves multiple iterations: make progress, get feedback, repeat.
  3. Rebecca Lovell’s The Art of the One-Page App and Garage Technology Ventures’ Writing a compelling executive summary are great resources.
  4. When you start, you’re likely to be blocked on some of the sections.  Don’t panic!  Put down something basic, or just leave them blank, and move on.

There were 32 early-bird registrations for this spring’s NWEN First Look Forum, up from 23 last fall.   And 25% are women, up from 17% last time, so while there’s till a long way to go, it’s nice to see continued progress.  I’ve also talked to several other entrepreneurs’ planning on entering, so we’re looking forward to a great event.  The deadline’s February 21, so there’s still plenty of time to sign up and email in an initial version of your one-page application.  Once you get feedback from the committee, you can revise and resubmit it, multiple times if you want, until the final deadline.

The first time you try to do an executive summary and try to boil your business down to a single page, it’s a daunting task.   So for all the people still thinking about applying, and for all the early-bird applicants who are revising, we’re kicking off a series of posts illustrating the process I use for creating refining a “one-pager”.  This isn’t the only way to  do it of course; if you’ve got suggestions or alternative, please leave them in the comments.

But first, an importnat question.


Whether or not your doing FLF, though, there are all kinds of reasons to spend time working on a one-pager.

  • To improve your understanding of and ability to express the business opportunity and your key competitive advantages
  • To involve potential advisors — and see if there’s a fit
  • It’s short enough that people will actually read it, so very useful for recruiting new employees,  discussions with strategic partners, a ‘friends and family’ round, or crowdsourced funding on Kickstarter
  • If you decide to go the angel route, you already have your executive summary in exactly the form angel investors expect to see

So if you can afford to invest some time in looking at the fundamentals of your startup business, it can be a great thing to do no matter what stage you’re in.

And of course if you are entering the First Look Forum, the one-pager is what we use to make our decisions about who should advance to the next round.   Did I mention that the $50 entrance fee includes Rebecca Lovell’s “Pitch like a pro!” workshop, and that the deadline is February 21?

The agile approach

Software engineers and project managers will recognize the approach I’m using here as very similar to agile development.  It’s pretty straightforward:

  • take a crack at it, realizing that some areas will be sketchy
  • set up a phone call, chat, or in-person meeting with somebody who will give good advice.  prepare well for it.  take good notes on their feedback.
  • refine thinking and repeat

So I started by downloading the application and stared at the empty page for a while and realized I had no clue what to say in the tag line or business summaries.  For me, those are the hardest sections to write.  So instead I skipped them for the time being and went on to something I was more comfortable with.   I had a pretty good feel for the problem I think I’m solving and the advantages are of the way I’m planning to solve it.  So I wrote a couple of paragraphs for each of those sections.  Progress!

Next I made a short list of questions I should think about and people I wanted to talk to, and reread Rebecca Lovell’s The Art of the One-Page App and Garage Technology Ventures’ Perfecting your pitch and Writing a compelling executive summary.  By this point it was pretty late at night, so I put it aside until the next day.

When I woke up I checked to see if the tag line and business summaries had written themselves over night.  Alas, no.  So to get myself I wrote something down for each of them.  Then I started looking for somebody to get feedback from.

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!