What is a whitepaper, what should it contain, and how stylised should it be? As experts in the blockchain space, we here at Vanbex have reviewed hundreds of whitepapers and spoken with countless clients and peers in the industry. We frequently get asked how many illustrations to include, what style to adopt, and more. Here are some basic definitions and guidelines.
Whitepapers are documents that offer a vision for a new technology or service, and of what the relevant business sector would look like after this technology is launched. A good whitepaper will detail steps required to get from the present day to that launch point. Functionality of the product itself should be sufficiently developed by the time a whitepaper is provided to give the reader a clear sense of what a user experience (UX) might be like.
There is a fair amount of flexibility with regards to style, layout, structure, illustrations, and length for whitepapers. Bitcoin’s “whitepaper”, released in 2008, was a mere nine pages, contained several minimalist illustrations, some equations, several lines of C code, and ended with a list a references; it reads like an academic paper. We’ve also seen more recent examples of successful whitepapers for the ICO space that were likewise streamlined and provide content in an efficient manner without a lot of figures. Some companies decide to issue “yellow” papers, which contain the more dense content you might find in a technical paper, such as a specification document.
More often than not, modern whitepapers incorporate beautiful illustrations meant to help readers quickly understand conceptual and/or technical concepts. For this reason, many new innovators feel compelled to produce ever-more-visually polished whitepapers, especially in the super competitive field of blockchain.
The whitepaper shouldn’t require navigation through a labyrinth to understand core workflows and use cases, both of which should be featured prominently in the table of contents, the paper’s guiding hierarchy. The objective of a whitepaper is to make a business case for a solution. In the process, the whitepaper should generate sales leads, establish channel partners, attract the attention of journalists, analysts, or investors. You could be talking about microchips, medical tech, a protocol, or blockchain itself.
Examples of project whitepapers in the blockchain space:
One thing we tell our clients is that they shouldn’t try to solve every problem in the larger business environment, and to instead focus on an ecosystem. Keep it simple. If you can, keep the length to under 40 pages. Timelines are a must in whitepapers, but it’s more important that the timeline be realistic than impressive. Make it real, just as with other content you provide.
If you want your business to stand out, present a well-organized assessment of the business environment and a clear description of how your solution will be implemented. Rather than dwell on how a theoretical construct will disrupt business as usual, provide some concrete, convincing evidence on why adoption of your technology is expected: include information on an existing product for, example.
This all means having a solid business plan before you begin the rigorous process of authoring and laying out a whitepaper. Developing a business model means identifying the value of the market you wish to dominate. Analyse likely outcomes, from best case to worst and in between. Include micro- as well as macro-scale factors, just as readers and potential investors are likely to do.
A well thought out business strategy, with a whitepaper to show for it, is an attractive asset, not just for the next crowdsale, but to any participant, including perhaps a potential partner.
These days, investors are looking for solid documents rather than all the bells and whistles. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have figures that grab a reader’s attention, but they can only have a meaningful impact if they start with a strong business strategy and provide practical, functional information about the product or service.
Having a strong whitepaper is one of the most important aspects of launching a new product, especially in the tech space, but that’s largely because of the thinking that goes into it.
A whitepaper is ultimately only important because of the strong business proposition it represents. Lay out that position in an equally strong voice, with a strong visual representation, and in the long haul your company will be much stronger for it.