Read an Excerpt
The Birth of an Idea
In the mid-1980s, when I was a thirty-seven-year-old businessman, Adrian Khashoggi, one of the richest men in the world, invited me to Monte Carlo to join him aboard his yacht. We were to discuss a business proposition my company had presented to him a few months earlier. I had met Khashoggi some time before at the Mount Kenya Safari Club, where we were introduced by a mutual friend. Khashoggi is a uniquely personable and gracious man. I enjoyed his company immensely and admired his obvious success in international business. I was looking forward to doing business with him. But here in Monaco two years later, getting around to business took a while. I was his guest at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco for nearly a week as I awaited my turn in his schedule. Khashoggi was a great host to me and his numerous guests, ranging from the King of Jordan to the actress Brooke Shields. He sent me to spend my days at Cap d'Antibes, swimming and boating along the French Riviera. This was the kind of waiting I could get used to.
Finally it was time for our business meeting ... at one o'clock in the morning. We met aboard his yacht in the Monte Carlo harbor. I was prepared for an in-depth discussion of the elaborate business plan my brother and I had sent to him a few months earlier concerning our company's activities in the Horn of Africa. I was prepared for detailed questions about the intricacies of our proposal, which concerned an equipment dealership I wanted to develop as a joint venture. Khashoggi had other ideas. "I asked for this meeting," he said, "because I wanted to teach you something very important to me,that could be very important to you -- how to write a one-page business proposal."
Those few words put me on alert: obviously I had made some kind of mistake with my business plan. At first I was shocked. Like most businessmen, I was trained to be thorough, meticulous, and detailed in my presentations. I hadn't expected that my fifty-page proposal could possibly have been considered too lengthy, but obviously it was. I wondered, was this my cue to thank him for his time and leave?
Apparently not. Not only was Khashoggi not pushing me out the door, he couldn't have been more friendly, and it was apparent that he was in earnest: he really wanted me to understand what he was trying to say. I listened intently as Khashoggi continued. "The one-page proposal has been one of the keys to my business success, and it can be invaluable to you, too. Few decision-makers can ever afford to read more than one page when deciding if they are interested in a deal or not. This is even more true for people of a different culture or language."
The message was gracefully delivered and clear: the proposal I had prepared was not suited for a man like Khashoggi -- not because it lacked thoroughness but because it lacked brevity! Following common practice, our original proposal was divided into sections -- Company, Business, Risk Factors, Markets, Capitalization, Financial, Management, Recent Events, Legal, and References -- and included dozens of diagrams, charts, and maps. But in preparing it, I quickly realized, we had failed to recognize an important fact about our target audience -- Khashoggi simply couldn't take the time to digest our exhaustive proposal and make a decision. His days were measured in minutes, not hours. Even fifty pages -- short by conventional business-plan standards -- would take too long to read for a man who bought and sold businesses and moved capital all around the world before breakfast.
Khashoggi explained that he was motivated to help us for several reasons: he already had business dealings in the region, he liked us and our general idea, and, of course, he had the money. (According to his biographer, at that time Khashoggi had direct investments in fifteen hundred enterprises and was earning two hundred thousand dollars a day in interest from his uninvested capital.) He had been enthusiastic and ready to move forward -- until our elaborate, overwrought proposal gave him second thoughts and frustrated his ability to make a decision. By the time I met with him, he had gotten the proposal off his desk, passing it along to lower-level advisers for evaluation.
The more subtle implication of Khashoggi's advice was that in the international arena, key decision-makers may evaluate proposals differently from their American counterparts. A complete business plan might frustrate them because their language skills are not fluent or because American-style charts, graphs, and technical detail are simply not an everyday part of their business culture. Logically such a person would refer more demanding proposals to subordinates, as Khashoggi had done -- taking the proposal off the front burner, perhaps for good.
Adnan Khashoggi, having grown tired of passing on potentially good ideas, took the time to advise me on how to improve my chances. And so that night, aboard the most beautiful yacht in the world, one of the world's wealthiest men carefully laid out for me the essence of writing a business proposal that a businessperson like him could read, digest, and act on immediately. For him the answer was a one-page proposal that described simply and clearly the structure of the deal and what he as a venture capitalist was being asked to do. Khashoggi knew what he was talking about, for he himself had successfully made similar proposals to kings, presidents, and the CEOs of the largest multinational corporations on earth. In two hours he became a teacher and a friend. I left his company at about 3 A.m. and returned home to San Francisco with a newfound prescription for success.
The secret I learned from Khashoggi has since brought me revenues of over ten million dollars. I have used the principle he suggested to advance my business interests ...The One-Page Proposal. Copyright © by Patrick Riley. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.