Thursday, March 24, 2011

Who reads your business plan?

So much is written about writing the business plan, what to include, how much of this and which specifics of that, that we often forget about one of the most important considerations of the business plan, who will read it. For you as the entrepreneur, we also have to remember that the - Who will read it question is really crucial.

The saying goes that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that is as true here as anywhere else. What is the reader looking for, what do the they notice and what does not really matter? At a recent business plan competition where a number of the judges were not from a business finance background, I was astounded at what they were looking at and seeing as important. Points of view were often very different and what one appreciated as a job well done, others over looked completely in favor of something else.

Nine times out of ten when I’m looking at a new business plan I’m rushed and my aim is to quickly work out whether it makes sense to meet the company behind the plan or whether we should politely let them know we are not interested, with a brief explanation as to why. As you would expect, we review many more business plans than we take meetings – I have never run the numbers but a back of the envelope estimate suggests that excluding plans from entrepreneurs who are well known to us the ratio of meetings to business plans received is in the region of 1:10, and lower still from entrepreneurs we have no connection with. With these sorts of ratios it is important for our productivity that we get to a decision quickly.

From the entrepreneur’s perspective situation is very different. The business plan and accompanying email is an important document, the one shot to impress a potential investor and try to get a meeting. Hence a lot of work goes into the business plan, and a lot of hope can be invested in it.

Clearly there is an undesirable asymmetry here – entrepreneur spends a long time creating the business plan, investor reads it quickly. I am writing this post to address that issue.

I am not anti-writing business plans by any means, and I think they serve important purposes beyond getting a first meeting with investors:

* writing a business plan typically helps to clarify and enhance thoughts and plans about the business
* investors will look to the business plan for information at later points in the process (hopefully including a more thorough read prior to the first meeting, assuming there is one)

However, I thought it might be helpful to highlight the parts of business plans I zoom in on when deciding whether to go for that first meeting:

* Summary of product
* Evidence of momentum – e.g. user traction or customers
* Summary financials
* Evidence of ambition
* Maybe a description of the market dynamics (often I feel comfortable enough with the market already)

The astute amongst may have noticed that despite the fact VCs always harp on about the importance of ‘team’ it isn’t on this list. That’s because we form our opinion on people from meeting them much more than from reading about their history.

The key issues is to perhaps include the most important elements of your plan in both he Executive summary, boude and conclusion for the reader not to overlook it.

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