Monday, 17 March 2008

Rahns law of investment propositions

Mark Rahn, the newest member of our technology team, is doing a great job and took to the job like a "duck to water". He came up with a real gem of an observation the other day, which I've taken the liberty of christening, "Rahn's Law".

"The quality of a proposition is inversely proportional to the amount of time the plan or team spends extoling its virtues."
In other words, propositions that tell you repeatedly how exciting the sector is, how transforming their stuff will be, that wax lyrical about the great qualities of the people are often compensating for the weakness of the product, opportunity or team. The very best plans are short, factual, and rely on evidence rather than weight of self-praise.
This links nicely to four tests for any business plan which I've always urged our investees employ:

Four tests for business plans

1. The superlative test

Have you obliterated all superlatives? Leave it to the judgement of the reader if something is really "exciting","superb", let alone is someone's track record is one of "success".

2. Have you used facts/numbers wherever you can?

It's a good discipline to try and replace each superlative with a number or fact instead: it makes writing much punchier! Don't say there's a "multi-billion dollar market for mobile software", try and say something like "there's a £n million market for GPS software on mobile devices". It's a great deal harder to write this stuff, but it helps convey real market knowledge and understanding.

3. Check that jargon is appropriate/necessary

If I was writing a plan associated with "WiMax", the I probably need to refer to "WiMax"; that's appropriate use of jargon. However, it doesn would a proposition really benefit from using "ARPU" when you're not talking about anything that's not encapsulated by the word "revenue".

4. Can a non-specialist reader tell what the company provides?

Include a laymans explanation of what your product or service is/does. A good case-in-point is a company I've been reading about tonight: they provided three documents in total describing the business, but after reading them, I have only the vaguest idea what the business does. Without this information all the stuff about the team, route to market and competitors is really hard to understand, relate or assess.
I'm sure there are some other great suggestions out there...?

Later ammendment

5. Did you really describe your competitors and their comparative attributes?

This is often one of the most revealing sections of a plan- it's amazing how often it's missing!