How to get your CEO to fund your new project

Years ago, my job required pitching new ideas to the Board to win Research, Development, or Commercialization funding. For months, despite in-depth analysis by expensive big brand consultants, several recommendations for funding were rejected. Dejected, I asked for advice from a senior executive. Here’s what I learned…

There are 3 questions a CEO needs answered before she funds your project. The questions seem embarrassingly simple. That’s so deceptive – the questions are really simple. The problem is that the answers are complex.

The 3 questions are: WHY THIS? WHY NOW? WHY US? That’s it you say? That’s the big news? Well, they do seem so simple, don’t they? Like they can be answered so easily. Let’s look at each, shall we?


question 1: WHY THIS?

A CEO is presented with lots of ideas. Most need funding. But there isn’t enough money, even in the biggest companies, to fund everything. So she needs to know why your project is better than some of the others she is asked to fund. The problem is that you don’t know all the other projects she has been pitched…so how can you explain why your project is better than the others? WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT HOW TO TACKLE question 1?


question 2: WHY NOW?

Many projects are too early (investing in cars before there are roads to drive on) or too late (investing in horse carriages when people are mostly buying cars). But how can you explain that your timing is spot on? That this is a critical inflection point in the development of the car industry? That if you don’t get in now, someone else will gain a big lead that will make catching up later difficult? The problem is that in the short time you have for the CEO pitch, you can’t answer this question completely. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT HOW TO TACKLE question 2?


question 3: WHY US?

The CEO has invested in projects only to be beaten by a competitor who has a competitive advantage. This may take the form of privileged access to a key resource or countless other factors that were difficult to see when the investment was made. How can you explain that you have done your homework analyzing the competition, assessing your competencies versus theirs? That you have been dispassionate in your analysis and not underestimated the competition or overestimated your company’s strengths? WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT HOW TO TACKLE question 3?

The 3 questions are meant to make us think. Someone once said, “there is nothing so illuminating as a blinding flash of the obvious”. I feel these three CEO questions are a blinding flash of the obvious – after all, would you invest in a new idea without having clear eyed confidence in the answers?

It would be interesting for readers to engage in a discussion about what you think of these 3 CEO questions. And how to tackle them in a way that is compelling and honest. So consider posting a comment, and let’s what others think about what you think…