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Posted: October 19, 2012

You’ve got one minute to impress me

Can you describe your business in three sentences?

Brad Feld

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 (which I get between 25 and 100 a 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.

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 BP4B until about 10 p.m. doing 15-minute meetings with each of the teams. I did my typical 15 minute “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 10 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 teams in TechStars Seattle that I’m a lead mentor for. 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
  • I hate doing 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.

Brad has been an early stage investor and entrepreneur for more than 20 years. Prior to co-founding the Boulder-based Foundry Group, he co-founded Mobius Venture Capital and Intensity Ventures, a company that helped launch and operate software companies. Brad is a nationally recognized speaker on the topics of venture capital investing and entrepreneurship and writes widely read and well respected blogs at www.feld.com and www.askthevc.com. He holds bachelor's and master's of science degrees from from MIT. Contact him at brad@feld.com

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Readers Respond

I agree with this sentiment, although obviously a founder (or any CEO for that matter) has to be able to focus their attention on matters for more than a minute or two and be able to conduct business in a mutually-respectful manner. I think many CEO and founders can come across in a manner they don't wish to necessarily, although the patented "elevator pitch" is certainly more relevant today than ever before. What does your business do? What sets it apart from competitors or makes it unique and how do we make money if we work together? Big questions that need to be rehearsed, researched repeatedly and refined, and easy to articulate. By David on 2012 10 20
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