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Thursday, October 15th, 2009

The seatback rule for business documents

in: Communicate, Funding, Standing out

Investors and partners have short attention spans. If you have something to communicate, Guy Kawasaki suggests you keep it to one idea and five sentences. I followed those suggestions when I asked him to write a sidebar for Complete Web Monitoring, and it worked.

2436838012_86d2fdc64fBut what if you have something more complex to say — a business plan, for example? What if you’re giving a colleague a competitive analysis? Or proposing a new product? How long should that document be?

In my experience, you should follow the seatback rule. This is the time between when a pilot asks passengers to put their seatbacks up and tray tables away, and the time when it’s safe to use portable electronic devices.

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Friday, October 9th, 2009

Explaining what you do in five minutes

in: Communicate, Funding, Startups

SUCMTL5Next week, the ever-energetic Phil Telio is organizing the fifth Startupcamp in Montreal. He’s assembled five excellent new ventures from a long list of submissions, and both Tara Hunt and Chris Shipley will be attending the event.

I’m helping to judge and counsel the participants, and in doing so I’m remembering just how hard it can be to explain what you do from within your own company.

  • You can’t hone your pitch: At an event like this, you’re speaking to investors, employees, competitors, and advisors.
  • You want to explain it all: You’re convinced that you have to offer a tour of your whole product or service, which makes you rush.
  • You’ve got the curse of knowledge, something Made To Stick talks about a great deal. Basically, you know your own product so well, you forget that others don’t know anything about your market or technology.

In a pinch, here’s what I usually advise people to do if they have no idea how it’ll go. You can break a presentation up into five chunks of a minute each, and use 2-4 slides for each minute, to get your point across.
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Monday, October 20th, 2008

The other reason startups need to tighten their belt

in: Exit strategy, Funding, Startups

By now, you’ve probably heard about the grim tidings from VC meetings this month. If you haven’t, well, let’s just say your investors would like a word.

In the wake of economic collapse, founders and CEOs are being told to reel in spending and prepare for the worst. There are two obvious reasons to do this: Less funding and lower revenues. But it’s the third, less talked-about reason that should really make you worry.

Update: Stacey at GigaOm has a great piece on this, looking at some hard numbers.

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Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

The opposite of startup: Observations from a remarkable week in New York

in: Anticipate, Create, Funding, Startups

I was in New York for an historic week. While in the city for three conferences and a weekend of R&R, I saw firsthand some of the changes that are happening to the financial markets. It’s no hyperbole to say that the past few days will shape the next century for much of the Western world, and they are the result of a free-market experiment gone horribly wrong.

Normally, I try to keep this blog focused on startups. But I wanted to share some of what I saw while there; I believe it holds some important lessons for entrepreneurs as well as a few guidelines for how to run your businesses in the coming drought.

On my arrival last week, I walked past Lehman Brothers mid-meltdown. Town cars were parked three deep, and suited executives with confidence-inspiring grey hair fled the guarded doors into the safe embrace of stretch Lincolns.

Towncars outside Lehman Brothers on September 16

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Thursday, June 19th, 2008

The penny machine

in: Communicate, Funding

An entrepreneur walks into the maple-paneled boardroom, glances around the table at the well-groomed investors gathered there, and reaches into a large leather bag. He pulls out a strange machine, roughly two feet high by one foot wide, sets it carefully on the table, and plugs it in.

The room is expectantly quiet.

“Does anyone have a penny on them?” asks the entrepreneur. The general partner raises an eyebrow as one of the junior staff hands over a faded copper piece.

“Now watch.”

The entrepreneur inserts the coin into the top of the machine, and pulls a small lever. There is a low-pitched whirring, a pause, and then a shiny new nickel tumbles into the small shelf at the bottom of the machine.

The only sound in the room is the ventilation system, cooling the warm Palo Alto air.

“That’s a neat trick,” says the silver-haired general partner, straightening up in his seat and grinding his brown Mephistos into the new rug beneath him. “Do it again.”

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Saturday, June 14th, 2008

The purpose of your first slide

in: Communicate, Funding, Standing out

I was talking with the CEO of a startup last week and we were going over funding slides.

There’s always an overview slide up front. According to common wisdom, this is supposed to “tell them what you’re going to tell them.” But I have a slightly different take on it.

Sure, you have to say what industry you’re in, how much you’ll make, how you’ll make it, and why you’re the one to make it happen. And do all that in a couple of sentences. But your first slide has a different, more important purpose.

The purpose of the first slide is to change their mindset from “I have to sit through this” to “I get to sit through this.”

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