The home stretch: part 6 of “The Agile One-pager” (DRAFT)

Draft! Revised version on NWEN’s blog.

The first four parts of the series (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) have gotten us close.  Now it’s time for the final push.  For impatient readers, here are the tips

  • Go back over the section descriptions in the application form and double-check that you’re addressing the right questions in the right places.
  • Do a section-by-section, line-by-line review
  • Formatting and wording changes can often save you a half-dozen valuable lines, but don’t remove all the white space or emotion
  • Make it look great.  Have you included a logo?
  • It won’t be perfect.  Relax.  Nobody else’s is either.

Read on for more …

The First Look Forum’s February 21 deadline is Monday.  Last night at the ‘speed one-liner’ event I joined 7 pariticipants who made progress on the one-line pitch.   Now it’s time for the final polish!

For me this is one of the toughest times during the process.  I’ve gotten a ton of feedback (some of which is contradictory) and my planning’s evolved a lot.   now I’ve got to get it down to a single page, and make it look good in the process! As a friend of mine with a marketing backround says, now’s the time to shift out of the “fill in the form” mindset and into “presentation mode”.

First though I need to get the form filled in and do it well.  So my next step was to go back to the application and see how well my current version responds to the questions in each section.  To make it easier, I borrowed a technique from one of this year’s participants and included the questions as part of my optimistically-titled “near final draft”.

Sigh.  It was almost two pages long, and some of the sections are just raw notes.  So there’s a long ways to go.

But you know what?  Everybody else is in the same boat.   At the risk of repeating myself from last time, the great thing about the First Look Forum (as opposed to sending the one-pager to the investor) is that it doesn’t have to be perfect.  So I’m just going to relax, go through section by section, and take my best crack at it.

As part of this, I look at every sentence.  Is it needed?  Can I tighten it up or combined with something else?  Are there buzzwords I can get rid of?  Does it duplicate information elsewhere in the one-pager?  And once again I get feedback, a paragraph at a time.  I’ve cleverly avoided sharing it yet with a couple of friends who are very good at this kind of reading, so I still have some fresh pairs of eyes — and people I haven’t burned out yet by asking for favors 🙂

Here was the “solution” section before I showed it to a friend

By prioritizing diversity, taking a human-centered approach to designing our software, and welcoming writers, small businesses, activists, and non-profits, qw3ries will provide significantly better information than other Q&A sites. By combining a great experience searching the web as a whole with high-quality Q&A information, qw3ries will provide the best of both worlds, leading to higher-quality and more spam-resistant search results.   And by viewing emotion, accessibility, privacy, and the user experience as just as important as algorithms and data structures, we’ll build software that people will love.

Her reaction was that it seemed a little touchy-feely, and when we talked about why, one of the things she didn’t like was the term “human-centered”.  This is actually a term of art in the design world … but y’know, most of the people reading this won’t be familiar with it.  I don’t need it to make my point, so I’ll get rid of it.  She also had a good question: “why do I care that you’re welcoming writers et. al.?”  Good question.   She had other feedback too.  And so did a lot of others.  When I was done incorporating it, this is what I wound up with

By prioritizing diversity, and giving writers, small businesses, and non-profits incentives to answer questions, qw3ries will provide significantly better information than other Q&A sites. Combining this with traditional “algorithmic search” gives the best of both worlds: higher-quality and more spam-resistant results. And by viewing community, privacy, accessibility, and a great user experience as just as important as algorithms and data structures, we’ll build software that people will love.

Clearer — and shorter, too; in the Word document, it went from seven lines to five.

Of course it’s easy to go overboard and edit out things that you then decide are important, so make sure to keep interim versions.  And resist the tendency to edit out all the emotion and personality!

Try to save a little time to make it look good.  It always helps to be memorable!  It also helps let the judges know that you understand the importance of visual design skills to any startup.  It doesn’t have to be polished, but try to get some color in there: your logo if you have one, a small chart like I used in part 4, even a picture of the founders.

For the final stage you can usually squeeze out at least a few lines of text by playing tricks like shrinking the size of the box on the right, tweaking wording choices to shorten sections by a line, and (if your one-line pitch is short enough) moving it to the top of the page and centering it.  Avoid the urge to shrink the margins too much, or to go to anything smaller than 9 point font.  And once you think you’re done, get a final round of review and proofreading from several people.

Yeah, it’s a lot.  And it can be like pulling teeth to cut those last few lines.  As I write this, I’m still at 1 1/2 pages and every single word is important!!!!!!!! I have no idea how I’ll get it down to a single page and if you’re reading this you may well be in the same boat.  But hey, there’s still several days left, so I’m sure we’ll find a way!

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!