Writing an Executive Summary

by Feb 23, 2022

An executive summary is a short, formal, written overview of your company. Investors and others will often ask to see your executive summary. It’s one of the most important communication pieces you’ll need.

It may help to understand the difference between a business plan, an executive summary, and a pitch deck.

  • A business plan is a largely an internal operational document. It’s roadmap to help you articulate and execute how you will succeed.
  • An executive summary is an external professional document. It’s an overview of your business purpose, your market, your success to date, your goals, and your team. It’s also often included as the first piece in a comprehensive business plan.
  • A pitch deck is an external slide presentation that tells a compelling story about your startup.

Accelerator programs and pitch competitions often require startups to submit one or more of these pieces to evaluate applications. Start making them now, and keep improving them. The critical thinking required to make these tools will improve your business even if no one ever sees them. But rest assured, you will be asked for them!

Elements of an Executive Summary

Your executive summary should be no longer than 2 pages. The goal is to provide a brief overview of your venture. Your first draft might be longer, but cut it down. Less truly is more.

If you completed the instant business plan in our last post in the startup help series, use that to jumpstart the writing process. Your executive summary will include the following elements (use these terms as headers): 

  • Problem — A brief description of the customer need that your product or service will solve
  • Solution — A brief description of your product or service
  • Market Size — A brief description of what the market opportunity is, and which part of the market you’re going after
  • Competition — A brief description of the other players in the space (even if you don’t find another business or product in the space, there is always competition)
  • Business Model/Revenue Model — A brief description about how you make money
  • Marketing/Sales — A brief description about how you’ll get your product or business out into the world.
  • Traction — Put simply, traction means how many products or services you’ve already sold and any partnerships or deals you’ve already signed. If you haven’t sold anything yet, provide a brief description about how much you believe you could sell and any potential partnerships you can foresee.
  • Future Milestones — A brief description about where you see your business in 3 months, 6 months, a year, etc.
  • Team — Typically, this is where you list your co-founders and any other important team members. Since you may not have a full list, provide a brief description of team members you’d like to recruit to fill any gaps you’ve identified.

One last thing: make sure your executive summary looks clean and polished. Use a service like Grammarly, have someone else proofread it, and ask that person whether anything seemed unclear. Save the final version as a PDF.

In our next post, we’ll tell you how to build a compelling pitch deck.