Do this. Then go on your holiday break

A step-by-step guide to crafting your startup’s year-end investor and partner letter

[The following post was originally published in December 2020, thus some date examples may no longer be relevant.]

We’re SOOOO close to the end of perhaps the longest/weirdest/hardest year ever. But who is counting, right? ALL of us.

Before turning off the lights and locking up your home office and changing from your work sweatpants to your vacationing-at-home sweatpants for a well-deserved holiday break, there’s one final email you need to send. With a little help, you should be able to get it wrapped up quicker than it takes to bake a Mrs. Smith’s Dutch Apple Pie (pssst… that’s about one hour).

I’m talking about the End-Of-Year Investor and Partner Letter.

Chances are, you’ve seen less of your startup’s closest stakeholders this year, whether they be investors, partners, customers, even friends and family that helped you get your start. Which makes an end-of-year update all the more important; especially in a year as tumultuous and bizarre as 2021.

To keep it simple, we’ve put together a recipe to follow (and for visual learners, see a sample newsletter at the end of this post):

  1. Introduction
  2. Company Highlights
  3. Look Ahead to 2022
  4. Call-to-Action (an “ask”)
  5. Gratitude/Giving Thanks

That’s all you need! Here are the step-by-step directions:

Introduction (2-3 sentences)
Start with a warm, personal greeting. This is an email from YOU, not a company. Let them know you appreciate the opportunity to provide them a brief update and then quickly get to the meat of the letter. Include an image here of you being you. Authenticity counts. Formatting might look something like this (note: I built this example in MailChimp):

2021 Company Highlights (2-3 paragraphs, 75 words or less for each)
Identify and stack rank the most important and impactful company developments in 2021. Bonus points for those that occurred in Q4 as they benefit from the added element of “newness.”

Craft brief articles (3-5 sentences) for the top 2-3 highlights, then put the remaining as brief bullet points. Link to news coverage, a blog post or your website for additional details.

Topics to address could include:

  • Key new hires
  • Closing a funding round or securing a major grant
  • Launching a new product/beta
  • Releasing a key new feature
  • Publishing a major scientific paper
  • Securing an important new partner
  • Debuting a new website

This section might look something like this:

2022 Preview (2 paragraphs, 75 words each)
What milestones are you planning for in 2022? How will you be advancing your technology or reaching new audiences? Are there events where you will be speaking or showcasing your technology? Share how you plan to advance your strategic direction and focus on realistic goals that are more within your control. Despite the promises of a vaccine, 2022 will still deliver its share of surprises and residual challenges. You want to illustrate resilience and demonstrate you’ve thought through alternative paths and back-up plans. A couple of brief “previews” will suffice here. Let them know you look forward to keeping them updated as the year unfolds.

Call-to-Action (1 short paragraph, 50 words or less)
You have their attention, now how can they help? Are you looking for their feedback on a top-secret product idea or new customer vertical? Would you like them to introduce you to potential investors, mentors or partners (hint: the answer here should always be YES). They’re on your team and want you to succeed. Let them know how they can help.

Closing Thoughts (1 short paragraph, 50 words or less)
End with gratitude. You made it through 2021 (YAY for you!!) and your investors, partners, customers, friends and family are a big part of getting you to where you are today. Plus, it’s the holiday season. Spread the love and let them know how much you appreciate all they’ve done to get you to where you are.

This last section might look something like this:

Bonus points for photos, graphics or other images. Adding 2-3 images will spice things up and increase engagement. Finally conduct a quick word count. If you’ve more than 500 words, go back and slice and dice until that word count is below 500. Now you’re ready to send and finally switch sweatpants.

That’s it. Chances are, you can have your year-end stakeholder letter finished in 45-60 minutes. But the benefit of the communication will have much longer-lasting value. Just make sure to check on the pie so the crust doesn’t burn.

Cheers from the s2s PR team!

(Sample format from 2020 to follow is below)