Entrepreneur

If you can’t explain what you do in one paragraph, you’ve got a problem

Here’s an email exchange that I had in the past 24 hours with an entrepreneur. Remember, I try to answer all of my emails and be responsive to any inquiry. This was a random one (of which I get between 25 and 100 each day).

Entrepreneur: I just wanted to touch base with you and see if you are taking on new startups right now.

Me: Can you send me a paragraph and I’ll tell you if it’s something we’d be interested in. Everyone else to bcc:

Entrepreneur: It’s difficult to accurately describe the company, myself, and everything else in a single paragraph. To write something so small but somehow include every important aspect is near impossible, if not impossible. My company is too complex to be described in a single paragraph.

I responded politely that I didn’t think this was something I’d be interested in exploring. I did skim his longer description and took a look at the website (which was a landing page with some a vague description of the business.) I could determine from this that it’s not something we’d be interested in (it’s outside of our themes), but this entrepreneur also missed his chance to engage me more deeply since he couldn’t articulate what he was doing.

I was in Oklahoma City earlier this week with the entrepreneurs at the Blueprint for Business accelerator (it’s a member of the Global Accelerator Network). There were five companies there, and in addition to the various talks I did around Startup Communities I stayed at Blueprint for Business until about 10 p.m. doing 15-minute meetings with each of the teams.

I did my typical “top of mind drill” where I start by saying, “Tell me about yourself as quickly as you can, and then let’s spend most of the time talking about whatever is on the top of your mind.” Several of the teams explained themselves in a minute or less and then had 14 minutes to ask me questions; several of the teams took five to ten minutes to explain themselves leaving less time for questions.

I strongly believe that a founder should be able to explain what they do in one paragraph. I’m not a believer in the “one sentence mashup approach” (e.g. “We are like Pinterest + Groupon + Facebook for dogs”). Rather, I like three sentences: (1) what we do, (2) who we do it to, and (3) why you should care. Sometimes this can be two sentences, sometimes four, but never more than a paragraph.

Yesterday, I spent 30 minutes with one of the TechStars Seattle teams for whom I’m a lead mentor. They are a month away from Demo Day and wanted to practice the very rough version of the demo day presentation. I gave them a bunch of feedback — some specific, some general — including:

  • Show, don’t tell.
  • Don’t do the overview/bios at the beginning.
  • You wasted the first 60 seconds
  • Weak explanation of what you are actually doing and why I care.
  • Still don’t really know what you do.

If you are an entrepreneur, you have less than 60 seconds to get an investors attention. Don’t waste it.

This story initially appeared on Brad Feld’s own blog, Feld Thoughts.

Brad Feld is a managing director at Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colo. He invests in software and Internet companies around the US, runs marathons, and reads a lot.

Top image courtesy of Minerva Studio, Shutterstock


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