Making good use of a phone call: part 3 of “The Agile One-pager” (DRAFT)

Draft! Revised version to appear on NWEN’s blog.

In the first two parts of the series (1, 2) we looked at the reasons to do a one-page executive summary and made some initial progress — enough to get to the point where we could get some useful feedback.  Now we’re in the heart of the iteration loop, steadily improving it.  For impatient readers, here’s the tips:

  • Advisor time is a scarce resource, so make good use of it. Let them know where you want help: which questions are open, what sections you want to concentrate on.
  • Think about your goals and a rough agenda for each meeting to make sure you use your time well. Try to give people enough time to read the document before the meeting.
  • Be yourself, tell a story, and try to write the way you speak.  Try verbally explaining why your idea is so great and ask what resonates, then incorporate that language into your one-pager.

At the end of part 2, I had set up a phone meeting with somebody I’ll call “Rebecca” to give me feedback on my one-page executive summary.  I still had a lot of holes in the document, so I took another pass through it and put in something for every section except the financial projections.  As usual it took longer than I expected so before I realized it, it was almost 6 p.m.   Yikes!

Before mailing to to her, I spent a few minutes thinking about my goals and a potential agenda for the call.  For example, I wasn’t sure how much she knew about the space, so I made sure to leave 5 minutes or so for me to give her an overview.  When you’re deeply involved in an area, it’s easy to assume everybody else also knows all the details … but they almost certainly don’t.   Then I wrote up some cover mail that also gave her some calibration about where I though the document currently was (“verrrrry preliminary”) and sent it off.

Here’s the version I sent her.  (link coming soon)

This meeting starts in 1 minute

Even though I’ve done this a lot, I was nervous going into the meeting — there were sooooo many holes in the document, and I didn’t want “Rebecca” to think I was a doofus.   And when we started, she told me that she had an event the night before so only had time to briefly skim the document.  I kicked myself for making such a basic mistake: I should have sent it out earlier in the day to give her more time to read it.  But oh well, what can you do.

I started the meeting by checking to see how much time she had; she told me she had a hard stop at 10:30.  We had some other topics we needed to discuss, so it was 10:15 by the time we got to my startup idea.  For the first five minutes, she dissected the business summary and product/solution sections.  She had lots of great observations, including “right now it becomes clearer what you do in the problem solution paragraph, can you move it earlier?”  and “You produce Q&A for people.  Which people?  I’m a person on the planet, in your target market, what engages me?”  Great stuff.  I took notes frantically.

Then we took a step back and I gave her the pitch verbally.  As I had suspected, she didn’t know the space in any detail, so I took a couple of minutes and sketched out how Naver’s a role model, Blekko and DDG are moving the ball forward, and Demand Media’s business model has been upended by Google’s algorithmic changes.  Then I described why my new idea was different and better …

And she loved it!

Like many people,  I’m much better at talking than writing.  So the language I used was a lot more vibrant and clearer.  For eample, I said that combining Q&A systems with algorithmic search led to “the best of both worlds” and “gives you better results in a world where Google results are declining.”  It’s a great summary of the problem and solution — much clearer than the language I had written down.

NWEN Executive Director Rebecca Lovell tells me she regularly meets passionate people who are captivating when they describe their idea, but “something happens to them when they sit down at a computer and try to put it into this executive summary format.  It’s a serious case of Lost in Translation!  Engaging vernacular somehow gives way to formal, academic, polysyllabic, and/or generic language.”  Indeed.   So exercises like the one I did on the phone call, talking about your idea to somebody and seeing what resonates with them, are a good way to get more of your authentic voice into the one-pager.

By now it was 10:27 so we quickly wrapped up.  I went over the top-level items of her feedback to make sure I had it right, asked her if she was willing to take another look after I had done a few more iterations (she was), and we said our goodbyes.  I quickly wrote done some additional notes while the meeting was still fresh in my mind … and then I relaxed.  It had gone a lot better than I had feared.

Over the weekend, I did a few hours of editing to incorporate her feedback, and then on Monday had some quick chat and email exchanges with friends on individual sections.  By the time Monday night rolled around, here’s what I had — and if I had been entering FLF, it’s what I would have submitted for the early-bird deadline.

To be continued …


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