Why your business plan should fit on a napkin

One of my favorite quotes comes from Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who was asked if he did customer research. His answer was "It's not the customer's job to know what they want."

Why is it that truly great leaders seem to get right to the point? Bold clarity does not take more than a few words.


The Power of the Napkin

Why do so many business plans for new ventures turn into dozens, or even hundreds of pages? My return challenge is always the same: “Send me your idea on a napkin.”

If you have a great idea, you can capture the vision for it in a sentence. Encapsulate the strategy in a few bullet points. Projections in a couple of numbers. And wouldn’t an actual picture of the customer be nice, instead of a table of demographic data?

Okay, if you need tons of data to sell some uptight financial analyst who can’t form an opinion without of mountain of detail, fine. But you should certainly attach the napkin to the top of the package. And since some of my best ventures started over a long lunch with the founder, the napkin approach will fit right in where some of the best ideas take form.


Do You Have a Valid Dream, or an Unrealistic Fantasy?

The longer the business plan, the greater the fantasy that the idea will become a viable commercial success. Dreams drive entrepreneurs and are good things. Long plans support fantasy, and rarely seem to lead anywhere. To make sure your dream doesn’t stall out, ask yourself:

What action can I take today? Do you have that business plan already written out? How about an elevator pitch? If so, it’s time to test your idea. Make it fit on a napkin. GO.

What is my 5-day plan? So, 5-year plans can be important for helping you understand in what direction you want to drive your business, but most successful entrepreneurs focus on their 5-day plans. What can you accomplish in the next week that will get you closer to your 5-year goal.

Who can I talk to? Advice about your business plan is always helpful…unless it’s coming from a biased party. It’s time to start talking to those fellow entrepreneurs who are further down pipeline. How did they kick-start their ideas? And how are they accomplishing their goals?

Why should I never throw away my napkins? Okay, you’ve got your business plan down on your napkin but suddenly it’s not looking so great. Don’t chuck it. All it takes is a tiny kernel to sprout a fruitful idea. It may just need some time to grow.


I wonder, did the plan for the initial version of the iPod fit on a napkin? You know the answer.


Check out Toptal's breakdown of the key skills and attributes you'd want in a business plan consultant here