Robert Ochtel’s Blog

An Experienced Approach to Venture Funding

Entrepreneurs, Don’t Ignore the “800 Pound Gorillas”

Many times, first time entrepreneurs are enamored by their start-up company’s technology, product or service offerings.  As such, they often ignore the large established players or the “800 pound gorillas” in the market. Instead, they believe that their product offering alone will provide them with the long term competitive advantage that will allow them to gain market share as well as to outpace and out maneuver their competitors. What these same entrepreneurs often forget, or choose to ignore, is that these same 800 pound gorillas have access to deep pockets, a multitude of technologies and resources, and well established sales channels that individually or together can immediately provide them with a strong market position, instantly change the competitive landscape, and in some cases, crush these same early stage start-up companies, by either substantially diminishing their positions in the market or forcing them out of the market all together.  This article outlines some of the reasons why these same entrepreneurs and their start-up companies should not ignore these established market players, or 800 pound gorillas.  It also provides two relevant examples of large market players, Microsoft and Intel, using their vast resources to establish their presence in burgeoning markets, even when they were late to market

Established Players Often Wait to Address Burgeoning Markets

Burgeoning markets, especially those related to technology, often take years to first get established and then grow to a level that will make these same markets of interest to large, established players.  On the other hand, start-up companies often stake their existence on these same burgeoning markets, hoping that they develop rapidly, and at the same time that their technology, product or service offering is not only first to market, but has the ability to secure significant market share within these same burgeoning market spaces.  This all or nothing strategy may be good for a start-up company, but the amount of risk associated with entering a burgeoning market too early, is often much too high for established companies to incur.  As such, many of these same large, established market players, or 800 pound gorillas, often wait until the market develops and then use their market muscle, deep pockets and broad technology bases to first establish and then create their positions in these markets. This wait to play strategy is a low risk approach to determining if a burgeoning market is attractive enough to provide these same large companies with associated return that is in line with the internal hurdle rates established within large corporations. 

Just Because They’re Not Players in the Market Don’t Ignore Them

One of the biggest mistakes that start-up companies make is that they believe that they have the only technology, product or service offering that will be successful in their targeted market(s).  More often than not, they forget about alternative products or substitute product offerings.  In addition, just because large, established companies have not entered their target market space does not mean that these same start-up companies should ignore them.  These same large players have the vast resources and established sales channels to immediately make an impact on an attractive market opportunity. Believe me, if there is a high growth market in which they can make money, these large established competitors will move into this market space and make their presence known, and quickly.  They not only have the resources to make their presence known, in some instances these same large, established companies have crushed their start-up counterparts, even with inferior technology, product or service offerings.  Therefore, it is naïve for entrepreneurs to believe that attractive market opportunities will be theirs for the taking.  In fact, the opposite is true, if the market is ripe for making money, and is large enough to support a number of competitors, the large, established competitors will come, and they will not take mercy on their smaller, resource limited counterparts. These are the rules of a capitalistic market.  So, just because you cannot see these large established players in your immediate rearview mirror, they are there and are often “closer than they appear”. Therefore, as Andy Groove has often said, “only the paranoid survive”, this is not only true for Intel, it is especially true for start-up companies and their technology, product or service offerings.  Be aware, the 800 pound gorillas are just around the corner.

The following are two examples of large established players making their presence known within burgeoning growth markets, even after being late to market in these same market spaces.  

Microsoft and the Emergence of the Internet Browser and the World Wide Web

In the early 1990s, a small start-up named Netscape, founded by a college student at the University of Illinois, had established a strong presence in a new, emerging market called the Internet, or World Wide Web. This technology, developed by the U.S. military in the 1960s, was originally called ARPANET[1] and used only by the academic community as a way to communicate using the existing worldwide computer infrastructure. The limited use was primarily based on the fact that there was no easy way to communicate information using the Internet without using a difficult computer programming language. Netscape, developed a programming language called Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML), which allowed for ease of communication and ability to post information such that it was easily read and readily available to the end user. Now, computer-based communications via packet switching and worldwide computer infrastructure using an Internet browser was viable, and it would allow for businesses to post their technology, product, or service offering information to their customer bases in a usable manner. The Internet explosion began, and Netscape was the market leader.

Sometime later, Microsoft realized it had missed this huge market opportunity defined as the Internet and the HTML-based browser technology that would provide them access to hundreds of millions of customers. Microsoft then set out to establish itself in this market, and at the same time, crush Netscape. This was played out in the press. With its massive amount of resources, market presence, and well-established name, Microsoft started bundling its own browser technology with its Microsoft Windows operating system at the exclusion of Netscape and its browser technology. This put Netscape at a serious competitive disadvantage in the market, since Microsoft would now have its new browser technology installed in every new personal computer in the market. Netscape went to court and the court ruled that Microsoft could not bundle its browser technology and, at the same time, exclude Netscape. But, the damage had already been done. Netscape did not have the resources to compete with Microsoft and was eventually sold to America Online. Microsoft, even though it was late to market, had crushed the competition and established itself in the Internet browser market, with its sheer marketing muscle and ownership of the market channels.

Intel and the 802.11 Wireless Fidelity (WiFi) Market

Intel, the dominate player in personal computer-based microprocessor chips, is a well-known company with a massive amount of resources to compete in emerging markets. In the late 1990s, a start-up company named Atheros had developed a new chipset to address the emerging, short-range wireless technology market called 802.11 or wireless fidelity (WiFi). Originally targeted at 5.0 GHz, Atheros, a Stanford University spin-off, had developed a new disruptive approach of using CMOS silicon technology for their radio frequency (RF) chips. Armed with a strong patent portfolio, Atheros was out to change the wireless market by using standard CMOS fabrication technology to develop their WiFi RF chips, an area that traditionally used the much more expensive BiCMOS technology due to the performance requirements of RF chips. Atheros entered the WiFi market with their leading-edge technology solution and took a strong, market-leading position. Aimed at the growing laptop computer market, Atheros at the time was the clear leader in the emerging WiFi (802.11) market.

Intel, recognizing it was late to market, needed a WiFi chipset solution themselves. Being too late to develop their own WiFi chipset, Intel licensed their original WiFi chipset offering from a third-party chip company, and offered it as part of their product offering for laptops, branding the product offering as “Centrino” in the market place. Because Intel owned the PC market and had the ability to create its own brand name in the market, most consumers believed that Intel had the most technologically advanced and most cost-effective WiFi chipset solution in the market. This was far from the truth; in fact, at the time Intel WiFi chipset was several generations behind the Atheros WiFi chipset solution. This fact did not stop Intel from dominating the laptop computer portion of the WiFi market, putting them in the market leadership position. Atheros eventually went public and did very well, but Intel continues to be the dominate player in the WiFi market due to their strong position in the personal computer microprocessor market.

There are hundreds of examples of large, established companies being late to market or not offering the most compelling, technologically advanced solution in the market and still being a success. What one should remember, as an entrepreneur of a start-up company is that large, established companies have many different ways to enter into and then dominating a new market. In many instances, early entry or a compelling technology, product or service offering are not necessarily the paths forward to success, for these large, established companies. In addition, these same large companies should not be counted out as competitors, even if their market entry point to addressing a given market is not obvious. As has been shown, more often than not, it is these same large, established companies that can immediately change the dynamics of the market due to their market presence, channel ownership, established name, and the massive amount of discretionary resources available to them.  So entrepreneurs be aware, do not ignore the “800 pound gorillas” they can and will change the competitive landscape of burgeoning markets, more often than not, to the detriment of your start-up company.

 This information was taken from Robert’s new book: “Business Planning, Business Plans and Venture Funding – A Definitive Reference Guide for Start-up Companies”.  Available at www.amazon.com.  For more information on the book go to http://www.carlsbadpublishing.com


[1] ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) developed by DARPA of the United States Department of Defense, was the world’s first operational packet switching network, and the predecessor of the global Internet.

July 27, 2009 Posted by | Business Development, Business Planning, Competition, Large Established Companies, Market Traction, start-up, Venture Capital, venture finance, Venture Funding | 1 Comment

A Successful Start-up Company uses its Business Plan to Provide it with Flexibility and Adaptability

Today, many entrepreneurs fail to see the real value of a business plan.  More often than not, their biggest concern is whether potential investors read their business plan and fully digest it.  This should not be of primary concern to an entrepreneur.  From an investor’s point of view, a business plan is generally considered a check-off point, to be used as a reference document, which is usually thoroughly reviewed during the due diligence process.  From the entrepreneur’s point of view, a successful business plan is to be used as a jumping off point.  It should be seen as document that memorializes the status of your start-up company, the markets, the competition, etc., as you begin to enter the market to roll out your technology, product or service offering to the market.  Additionally, your start-up company’s business plan should be viewed as a reference document, which, if written properly, provides your start-up with a strong basis in which to move forward, and at the same time provides the appropriate amount of flexibility and adaptability to transform with changes in the market.  This article outlines some of the reasons why both flexibility and adaptability are essential for a successful start-up company.

A Complete Business Plan Provides a Basis for Your Start-up to Move Forward

Developing an investor focused business plan takes a significant amount of effort on the part of the entrepreneur.  Having gone through all of the market research, due diligence and planning, your start-up company’s business plan should provide your investors with the best representation of your start-up company, the market, the completion, and your financial projections, etc. This document, as developed, provides a basis for your start-up company to move forward to address the following activities:

  • Raise venture capital,
  • Develop your technology, product or service offering,
  • Develop your sales channels,
  • Roll out your product to market,
  •  Secure customers,
  • Meet your financial pro forma projections.

 Your start-up company’s business plan should memorialize all of your research and knowledge into a single document and is to be used as your reference point in which to move forward for the next projected period of time, usually 3 to 5 years.  Being a forward looking document, your start-up company’s business plan represents your best estimates of the markets, and the associated competitive landscape in which you are venturing forward to roll out your technology product or service offering to the market.  As such, your business plan provides your start-up company with a strong basis and also provides a jumping off point in which to move forward and attack the market.

Business Plans are Out of Date the Day they are Completed

One thing that I have learned over the years is that business plans that are generated only reflect a “point-in-time”. Business plans are much like financial balance sheets; they represent the world as it exists at that point in time.  That being said, business plans are outdated the day they are put on paper. This may be hard for some first time entrepreneurs to realize or want to digest. The fact is that the market changes on a daily basis. There are new technologies and competitors, the emergence of new markets, as well as constant price and gross margin pressure. These constant changes in the market dynamics necessarily outdate your business plan the day it is completed. Many times these changes do not happen overnight, but rest assured, they do happen, and your business plan must evolve with these anticipated changes.  This is why many corporations, both large and small, institute annual business planning cycles.

As an entrepreneur, it is important to realize that your start-up company’s business plan is a “living document”. This means that changes in the market need to be reflected in your business planning process and ultimate business plan. Accordingly, not all changes will really affect your day-to-day business plan or planning activities. Generally, most changes in the market are evolutionary and if your did your homework from the beginning, your business planning and resultant business plan has taken care of this, as it is already necessarily a forward-looking document. It is the major changes in the market that may affect your company’s business planning process or business plan. These things can include a new competitor with disruptive technology, significant changes in the project market growth, substantial changes in the average selling price in the market, etc. These items may cause you to reconsider your business planning process and ultimate business plan. 

Always remember your start-up company’s business plan represents a reference “point-in-time” in which to move forward from. If done correctly, it will provide a solid basis in which to move forward and make the necessary changes required in the fast-changing dynamics of the market.

A Successful Business Plan Allows for Market Adaptability

Because the market constantly changes, a successful business plan will predict and allow for a given amount of flexibility.  At the 30,000 foot level, your business plan should anticipate the high-level macro-economic trends in the market.  These trends will affect your company to a certain extent, and as things change your start-up company will be able adapt to these long-term changes in the market. 

At the 100 foot level, your business plan should also reflect the anticipated competitive threats in the market and also provide your start-up company with the ability to also adapt to these changes in the market. Your business plan, being a complete document will more often than not, anticipate these changes and provide you a strong basis in which to move forward in a constantly changing and challenging market.

While most high-level and lower-level market and competitor changes will be anticipated in your business plan, often, even with all of the business planning in the world, there will be changes that cannot be anticipated or predicted. In these cases, your business plan can easily be modified to reflect these more extreme changes in the market.  This type of adaptability may be reflected in:

  • A significant price reduction,
  • A new competitor,
  • A significant reduction in anticipated market growth,
  • The emergence of a new market opportunity,
  • Etc.

All of these items can be integrated into your business plan, and as such it can be modified and adapted to reflect these changes in the market.  Therefore, the key to a successful start-up company is to develop a complete business plan that adequately and accurately reflects the market and at the same time is adaptable enough to roll with both the anticipated and unanticipated changes in the market.

A Product Road Map Supports Market and Customer Flexibility

Most often, the entrepreneur of a new start-up company has an idea on the appropriate technology, product or service offering in which to bring to market. At the same time, the ability of this same entrepreneur to accurately predict all of the appropriate and necessary features, functions and capabilities of their same product offering is virtually impossible. Therefore, as a start-up company you need to remain flexible and work closely with your customer base to develop the targeted features functions and capabilities for your initial and follow-on product offerings.  One of the best ways to integrate this flexibility into your business plan is to develop a product road map.  By developing and integrating a product road map into to your business plan you will be anticipating the evolution of your technology, product or service offering and its associated features, functions and capabilities as desired by the market and your customer base.  Then, as you engage with customers, you will have the flexibility to modify your product road map and the various generations of product offerings, with features, functions and capabilities that more accurately reflect the evolution of the market and your customers’ end market product offerings. Therefore, having previously anticipated the market evolution through the development of a product road map, the details of your business plan can then be easily modified and at the same time remain flexible enough to accurately reflect the market and customer requirements.

As discussed, developing a complete business plan is important to the success of any start-up company.  Doing so provides a strong basis in which to move in the market. That being said, your business plan only reflects a “point-in-time” and is necessarily out dated the day it is completed. Therefore, as an entrepreneur, your business plan needs to remain adaptable and flexible to address both changes in the market and the needs of your customer base.  If you do this you will have a much higher probability of success in the market.

This information was taken from Robert’s new book: “Business Planning, Business Plans and Venture Funding – A Definitive Reference Guide for Start-up Companies”.  Available at www.amazon.com.  For more information on the book go to http://www.carlsbadpublishing.com

July 20, 2009 Posted by | Business Development, Business Planning, Business Plans, Competition, Customers, Venture Capital, venture finance, Venture Funding | 2 Comments

Entrepreneurs, When Developing Your Business Plan – Sweat the Details

Most business plans, developed by first time entrepreneurs, are light on substance.  That is, they generally lack the details required to make this document an investor focused business plan, or provide any real value to themselves or their investors.  On the other hand, it is the details of a business plan that will help these same entrepreneurs through the funding process and at the same time provide their start-up company with the proper background information to make sure that they are ultimately successful in the market.  So, when developing your start-up company’s business plan, make sure that you sweat the details. This will serve you well in the short term during your fund raising activities and in the long term to insure your start-up company and its technology, product or service offering remain competitive in the market. This article addresses some of the reasons you need to sweat the details in developing your start-up company’s business plan.

Developing a Investor Focused Business Plan Takes Time

Most entrepreneurs want to start out day one writing their business plan.  While this may seem like the most appropriate logical first step, in reality, you need to begin developing your business plan by doing business planning.  Doing the appropriate business planning upfront, will ultimately save you time in the long run.  Much like an architect that develops an appropriate plan to build a quality house, you need to do the appropriate amount of due diligence and planning to develop an investor quality business plan.  

Developing a business plan ultimately takes time, a lot of time.  This is the reason many entrepreneurs want to skip this activity.  On average, it takes about 300 hours to develop an investor quality business plan, but by doing so you will ultimately learn more about your business proposition and your start-up company than you ever could by not developing an investor focused business plan. The business planning and the business plan development process will allow you to identify road blocks, target the appropriate markets, and ultimately uniquely position your company in the market.  The value that you receive by going through the due diligence process, doing business planning, and finally writing your business plan will pay you back, ten times over when you begin to present your start-up company to potential investors. So take the time to develop an investor focused business plan. It is definitely worth your effort.

Developing a Quality Business Plan Requires the Details

A quality business plan requires details. From the market size (in units), to the cost of goods sold, to competitor positioning, ultimately, a quality business plan will have the appropriate amount of details to address all of the issues facing your start-up company.  On the other hand, the lack of details can hurt you both in the short term and long term.  In the short term, a business plan, being thin on details, will not serve you will when securing funding from your potential investors.  Not knowing your markets, your competitors, or financial pro forma projections, will raise a definite red flag with your investors.  They will question whether you really know your target markets and if ultimately you are the one that can lead a start-up company to success in the market. In the long term, by not having developed the appropriate amount of details in your business plan, you will not have a strong base in which to move forward in the market.  This can cause serious problems in the future for your start-up company and its technology, product or service offering, as unforeseen road blocks can result in serious issues in the market. Also, not having developed a quality business plan with the appropriate amount of details, will not allow you address new competitors in the market and uniquely position your company with a long-term competitive advantage in the market.  Finally, by not knowing the details and not having memorialized them in your business plan you will ultimately not have a jumping off point in which to move forward, as the market and competitive landscape changes and you need to address new unforeseen issues.  Therefore, if you are going to spend the time to develop a business plan, and you should, sweat the details.  This will benefit you in the short and the long terms.

 Details will Provide Your Start-up Company with Direction

More often than not, when a first time entrepreneur develops a business idea or concept they do not really know all of the required details involved in both developing their technology, product or services offering and bringing the start-up company successfully to the market.  By going through the business planning process and ultimately developing the details of your business plan, you learn what direction to take your start-up company and how to roll out your start-up company’s technology, product or service offering to the market.  This can include:

  • What markets to address?
  • Which product features and functions to introduce first?
  • How to position your start-up company against your competitors?
  • What the “value” of your technology, product or service offering is to your customers?
  • What market channels will be best for your start-up company?
  • What is unique about your start-up company’s business model?

 All of these items will provide your company with direction and will be uniquely addressed when developing the details of your start-up company’s business plan. Ultimately, the final direction in which to move your start-up company and its technology, product or service offering will be a combination of the details of all of the above and more.  Also, in many cases, by developing the details of your business plan, you will often take a new direction, not originally contemplated when you developed your business idea or concept. This will usually serve you and your start-up company well, as by developing the details, you now know with certainty and conviction which direction to take your start-up company.  This will provide you with the highest probability of success in the market.

 Details will Provide You with Confidence in Front of Potential Investors

When presenting in front of sophisticated investor, you will be barraged by many questions.  Having developed a detailed business plan will provide you with the necessary confidence in which to address these same questions.  On the other hand, if you have not developed a detailed business plan, many of the questions you will receive from potential investors will result in your stumbling and stammering searching for an appropriate response. With the details of your business plan in tow, you will, more often than not, be able to answer all of the questions of these same sophisticated investors.  This will not only provide you with confidence, but it will give these same investors the confidence that you know what you are talking about and that you are an expert in the field you are addressing with your technology, product or service offering.  This perceived expertise and confidence goes a long way with potential investors. They need to know that they can count on you to know what you are doing and why you are doing it.  Having developed a detail business plan facilitates you and your start-up company with your potential investors.

Sophisticated Investors will Expect you to Know the Details

From the details of the market growth projections, to the gross margins of the financial projections of your start-up company, sophisticated investors will expect you to know all of the details of your business plan.  This is a daunting responsibility, but having already developed a detailed business plan, you have a firm basis in which to move forward.  The trick here is to be able to recall all of this detailed information while you are on your feet presenting to these same investors.

Today, more often than not, potential investors will not have read your business plan.  Therefore, they do not know the details of your business plan nor do they have any impression of you or your start-up company.  This is where knowing the details of your business plan, and being able to recall this information, in a sometime hostile environment, will provide you with instant credibility with your potential investor base.  The more you know about the details of your business, the more you will impress these same investors with your knowledge, and expertise in your field.   Also, from an investor’s point of view, they will expect you to know all of these details. After all, they are counting on you to develop and run a successful company, and therefore, you need to know all of the details when presenting your business plan in front of potential investors.   

As discussed, when developing your business plan, you need to sweat the details. By doing so, you will not only learn a lot about your start-up company and the business you will be addressing, you will also develop a level of confidence, not available without sweating the details of an investor focused business plan.  In addition, often by developing a detailed, investor focused business plan, you will create a new direction in which to take your start-up company which can facilitate your ultimate success in the market.  Finally, by having put in the time and effort required to develop a detailed business plan, you will substantially increase your knowledge base and at the same time become an expert in the market. This will not only provide you with confidence in front of your potential investors, it will provide you a solid basis in which to recall detailed business plan information while presenting to these same investors.  So, when developing your business plan, sweat the details, it will serve you well in the long run.

This information was taken from Robert’s new book: “Business Planning, Business Plans and Venture Funding – A Definitive Reference Guide for Start-up Companies”.  Available at www.amazon.com.  For more information on the book go to http://www.carlsbadpublishing.com

July 13, 2009 Posted by | Business Development, Business Planning, Business Plans, Venture Capital, venture finance, Venture Funding | 2 Comments

ROI versus Market Traction – Which is the Real Differentiator to Potential Investors?

Most entrepreneurs realize that their potential investors require a substantial return on investment (ROI) for the money they put at risk by investing in their start-up company. This is a given, and even to the most naive entrepreneur this makes sense.  On the other hand, what these same entrepreneurs do not often realize that it is market traction and not ROI that is the real differentiator for potential investors.  Gaining market traction early can definitively make the difference between a successful start-up company and one that languishes on and on, continuing to spend investor’s monies, with no real return in sight.  This article addresses some of the reasons why market traction is the real differentiator for your potential investors.

Is Developing a ROI for Your Company’s Sufficient to Secure Funding?

As part of promoting your start-up company to prospective investors, you need to determine what the potential financial return on investment is for these same investors.  This concept, although not foreign to most potential entrepreneurs, does cause pause for most first time entrepreneurs, as they rarely understand corporate financials and often leave this task for last, expending little effort to develop representative, defendable financial statements.   In general, it is well understood that to get the attention of potential venture investors it is necessary to present a return on investment opportunity that provides at least 5 to 10 times return on their invested capital in a 3 to 5 year period, respectively.  These numbers reflect expected venture-based financial returns and should be only used as a reference point, as venture investors seldom receive these types of returns on their investments. Some venture investors expect more, some will take less, but the key here is to develop financial pro forma statements that necessarily meet the expected returns of potential investors and at the same time are defendable.  Therefore, developing a ROI that represents these traditional industry accepted investment return norms is necessary for any entrepreneur expecting to get the attention of potential investors, but on the other hand your start-up company’s ROI may not be sufficient to secure an investment from these same investors. The reason for this is that these expected financial returns are only one baseline component for opening the door to secure investors attention and in general are not considered a real differentiator when considering the various investment opportunities that are available to your potential investors.

 ROI Projections May Not Stand-up to Financial Due Diligence?

As stated, ROI projections are expected by all potential investors when considering any start-up company as an investment opportunity.  Depending on the entrepreneur’s research and diligence in putting together their ROI projections, many times these same financial pro forma statements will not stand up to the scrutiny of a sophisticated investor.  Too often the financial projections, put together by inexperienced entrepreneurs, are unrealistic in their market penetration objectives, too optimistic in their gross margin projections, and more often than not, do not represent typical industry standards when compared to the market leaders in the same given market space. As an entrepreneur, you must realize, as a matter of first priority, by potential investors, that your financial pro forma statements will be subjected to a significant amount of financial scrutiny by these same sophisticated venture investors.  This should cause you to pause, as by not passing this initial financial review bar can make the difference between receiving a pass from potential investors or receiving an invitation for an initial meeting.

 It should be also noted that during their financial due diligence process most investors discount an entrepreneur’s start-up company financial projections by at least 40%, from the presented projected returns.  This discounting reflects their expected financial risk, the market risk, development risk, etc.  Therefore, your financial pro forma statements, as presented, are often deemed “rudimentary projections” by these same investors, and they will rely on their own financial management expertise and financial models to determine the potential expected returns for your start-up company. This financial due diligence analysis may cause your pro forma statement to not pass the smell test for these same investors. Therefore, again ROI statements are only used as one component in considering your start-up company as a potential investment opportunity, and more often than not are not a true differentiator.

Market Traction is a Key Differentiator for Potential Investors

Unlike financial projections that are based on an underlying set of assumptions that can be arguably acceptable or unacceptable to your potential investors, securing market traction with a customer base is one item that gets investors attention.  The fact that you have secured a paying customer or multiple paying customers gives investors some hard evidence, based on the realities of the market, in which to make an investment decision.  On the other hand, only relying on financial projections, based on a given set of assumptions, requires these same potential investors to take a leap of faith in the investment decision making process.  By securing customers early on, this gives your potential investors much more assurance that there is demand for your technology, product or service offering in the market and substantially reduces the investment risk, if only in their minds.  Therefore, as an entrepreneur, looking to secure funding for your start-up company, the one key differentiator that will set you apart from the competition is securing a customer or multiple customers early on in the funding process.    

 Market Traction Proves You Know the Market

Securing market traction early proves one thing to your potential investors – that you know the market.  Unlike financial ROI projections, securing paying customers is not based on assumptions, it is based on real interaction with your target customer base and can be used as a lynch pin to secure funding from venture investors.  This shows your investors that there is “perceived” value for your start-up company’s technology, product or service offering in the market.  By securing paying customers early, you have proved to these same investors, at a first level due diligence that you have at least indentified a market “need” and/or solved a “problem” in the market, and at the same time, customers are willing to purchase your start-up company’s same product offering. Determining the long term market trends and whether your technology, product or service offering provides a sustainable competitive advantage in the market must still be reviewed by your investors, but by securing customers early you have proven that your technology, product or service offering, as a minimum addresses a market need and can then be used as basis to secure additional market traction and expand your customer base.

Market Traction Necessarily Facilitates Your Start-up Company’s ROI

Securing market traction also necessarily facilitates your start-up company’s return on investment projections.  More often than not, start-up companies are unable to secure paying customers as early on as originally projected in their financial pro forma statements.  Given that ROI projections are all about generating revenue early in time, by securing market traction with your technology, product or service offering you are necessarily facilitating your start-up company’s ROI projections.  This is essential and a true differentiator, as having the ability to sustain your start-up company’s projected financial returns, in a timely manner, is the most important risk consideration for your potential investors.  Too often start-up companies get caught in the “Catch 22” in which they need to secure customers, but the market has not developed – both of which will have a detrimental effect on their financial projections.  Therefore, by securing customers early you can gain the necessary market traction in which to validate your start-up company’s projected financial returns and secure funding from investors. This is a true differentiator for your potential investors and substantially reduces investment risk.

As discussed, developing ROI financial pro forma statements are necessary to present your start-up company to potential venture investors.  But, due to the nature of financial pro forma statements, they may not sufficient to secure funding from these same venture investors.  On the other hand, securing paying customers early and proving you can gain market traction is a key differentiator for investors as it validates to these same investors that you know the market.  At the same time, securing customers facilitates your start-up company’s projected ROI and substantially reduces the investment risk for your potential investors. Therefore, if you want to get the attention of venture investors and differentiate your start-up company from the crowd, prove you can get early market traction with your customer base.

This information was taken from Robert’s new book: “Business Planning, Business Plans and Venture Funding – A Definitive Reference Guide for Start-up Companies”.  Available at www.amazon.com.  For more information on the book go to http://www.carlsbadpublishing.com

July 6, 2009 Posted by | Customers, Market Traction, Venture Capital, venture finance, Venture Funding | , , , , , | 2 Comments