Robert Ochtel’s Blog

An Experienced Approach to Venture Funding

Entrepreneurs, Legacy Costs Can Hurt Your Start-up Company’s Fund Raising Efforts

Start-up companies, by definition, need to be nimble and have the ability to change direction as the market changes.  Often with the development and maturation of a start-up company, things can change significantly from the original direction, mission and focus of the company.  This is especially true, if this same start-up company has been through multiple incarnations to develop a differentiated and long-term sustainable competitive position in the market.  These changes in direction do not come without costs to the start-up company itself.  And, often these costs can hurt your start-up company’s fund raising efforts.  Therefore, as you move forward and your start-up company changes direction, strategy, and its market entry tactics, you need to step back and understand what legacy costs need to be let go or changed to successfully move your start-up company forward in your fund raising efforts.  This can include replacing old executive team members, restructuring the company’s capitalization, and shedding old, irrelevant contracts, as all of these things if not appropriately addressed will hurt your start-up company’s fund raising efforts. 

A Change in Direction May Require a New Executive Team

Significant changes in direction for a start-up company may result in requiring new executive team members to move your start-up company forward.  Often these changes in direction come with a new CEO.  As such, the executive team members that were relevant for the old company and its original focus are not appropriate for the new company and therefore this often requires the new CEO to clean house and secure a completely new executive team.  This significant level of change within the executive management team of a start-up company can be very traumatic and should not be made over night. If there are some team members that have relevant capabilities and skills that add significant value to the new direction of your start-up company, then they should be given a chance to move forward with new direction of the company. On the other hand, if there are executive team members that lack the proper motivation and appropriate skill sets to add any value moving forward, then they will need to be let go and replaced with new executive team members that have the skill sets, motivation, and ability to move your start-up company forward.  Nothing is worse for a start-up company than to have legacy executive team members hanging around that add no value to your start-up company and its current direction. So, make the decision to bring on new executive team members and let go the legacy executive team members that do not any value regarding the new direction of your start-up company.  This will clean the slate and provide for a better path forward for securing funding.   

A Legacy Capitalization Structure Often Needs to be Changed

One thing that will immediately diminish the interest of potential investors is a legacy capitalization structure that does not support your required funding efforts. This legacy capitalization structure can take many forms and can include the following:

  • Too many small investors with tiny equity positions,
  •  Too much debt,
  • Too much equity for legacy team members,
  • Too much of a “hangover” in the stock option pool,
  • Not enough equity for multiple investor rounds,
  • Other.

These legacy capitalization structure issues need to be addressed before you talk with investors.  If you do not do this, you may risk losing potential investors.  So, take a look at your legacy capitalization structure before you engage with your investors.  If you do not know what makes an attractive capitalization structure which will facilitate the venture funding of your start-up company, find a financial consultant that has worked with venture capitalists. They will be able to provide you with the appropriate advice regarding recapitalization of your start-up company to make it more attractive to investors. 

Old Contracts May be Inappropriate or Irrelevant

Often with significant changes in direction, start-up companies should take the time to review old contracts and strategic relationships.  Contracts that were once important to your start-up company may be inappropriate or irrelevant to your start-up at its current point in time.  So, make sure that you clean up old contracts and relationships before you engage with your investors. This can include:

  • Discontinuing certain strategic relationships,
  • Cancelling old irrelevant contracts,
  • Reviewing and modifying existing contracts,
  • Other.

As an entrepreneur of a start-up company you must take the necessary steps to eliminate any risks moving forward. This includes reviewing all of your outstanding contracts and strategic relationships.  By doing so, you will facilitate third party angel or venture capital funding.

Often start-up companies go through multiple incarnations to develop a differentiated and long-term sustainable competitive position in the market.  These changes in direction do not come without costs to the start-up company itself and often require this same start-up company to shed some of its legacy costs to move forward in its fund raising efforts. To do this, an entrepreneur must often secure a new executive team, change its capitalization structure and cancel old, irrelevant contracts.  This is often necessary, as in doing so, you will be putting your start-up company in a much better position to secure venture funding from angel investors or venture capitalists.

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 www.carlsbadpublishing.com.

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March 29, 2010 Posted by | Venture Capital | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Entrepreneurs, Heart, Brains and Courage Do Not Come from Your Investors and the “Land of Oz”

Many entrepreneurs expect investors to solve their problems. They firmly believe that investors with their investment funds will provide them with the necessary heart, brains and courage to develop a successful start-up company.  In addition, more often than not, these same entrepreneurs believe that securing funding from investors is like the “Land of Oz” – anything is fundable and all you need to take the journey and in the end, the investors (or the “Wizard”), will solve all of your problems by providing your start-up company with the necessary funding that you require to be successful.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  In fact, once you receive funding that can be your worst day as an entrepreneur of a start-up company, as third party funding money comes with demands, rules, and expectations. So, don’t approach investors expecting that their investment monies will provide you with the necessary heart, brains and courage to develop a successful start-up company.  If you did not have these characteristics before you approach investors, any amount of funding in the world will not provide you with these same characteristics.  Therefore, before you approach investors, you need to step out of the “Land of Oz” and first convince yourself that you have the necessary characteristics to be a successful entrepreneur. This includes having the “heart” to follow your vision, the “brains” to properly develop the investment opportunity, and the “courage” to cold call your customers and execute your plan. If you do, you will ultimately be a successful entrepreneur, and that securing funding from third party investors is just a bonus on the road to creating a successful start-up company.

You Must Have the Heart to Follow Your Vision

Most opportunities do not create themselves, as they are often a result of an entrepreneur having a “vision” based on experience and a set of market truths.  More often than not, at the beginning this vision is not very clear, but with time and effort, an entrepreneur can develop their “concept” or “idea” into a clear vision that addresses an underlying strategic opportunistic need in the market.  Hence, as an entrepreneur, you need to follow this vision with all of your heart.  And often along the road you will have many “naysayers” telling you that you cannot accomplish your goals or that you that there is not use in trying as other, larger competitors will crush your start-up company.  This is exactly the time when you need to believe in yourself and have the heart to follow your vision, as more often than not this is what will drive you to success. And often as things evolve your vision will allow you to create a technology, product or service offering that is truly differentiated from your competitors and provides your start-up company with a long-term, sustainable competitive advantage in the market.  So, as an entrepreneur you need to have the heart to follow your vision, as no investor with all the money in the world can provide you with this.    

You Must have the Brains to Develop the Proper Investment Opportunity

One thing is for sure, most investors are generally “smart guys”.  Whether they have been through the school of hard knocks or are Ivy League educated MBAs, they often have the necessary insight to properly evaluate and quickly discern an appropriate investment.  So, as an entrepreneur, you need to have the “brains” to put together a “cogent” plan that creates a necessarily attractive investment opportunity for these same investors.  This means that you need to do the hard work and use your brains to do the research to develop a well thought out plan that makes both logical and financial sense from an investors’ point of view.  In the “Land of Oz” too often, entrepreneurs believe that anything is fundable and that their investors will not only provide the money, but the “brains” to help them create a successful start-up company. Nothing can be further from the truth. With only three percent of all start-up companies receiving outside investor funding on an annual basis, it does take a fair amount of “intellectual” savvy to develop a well thought through plan that is fundable form and investors’ point of view. So, take the time and use your brains to develop a well develop business investment opportunity.  Investors will not help you with this.  You need to develop this investor appropriate investment opportunity on your own.

You Must have the Courage to Cold Call Your Customers

Many entrepreneurs have all both the “heart” and “brains” to develop attractive investment opportunity, but lack the “courage” to cold call their customers and as such, they will not be successful in the market or have the ability to execute their plan. Cold calling customers is often the hardest thing to do for entrepreneurs. Why, because this is where thinking and planning hits the pavement and there is the always the potential for rejection.  Hence, cold calling often paralyzes these same entrepreneurs.  Even if you have a great plan, you need to be able to execute this plan and in a definitive time frame.  So, as an entrepreneur you need to have the “courage” to cold all your customers and generally do what it takes to “press the flesh” to close the necessary number of deals to develop a successful start-up company. Remember, as an entrepreneur you are in business to secure customers and not to develop a cool technology, product or service offering.  So, buck up and have the courage cold call your customers and execute your plan. Nobody else will do it for you; especially your investors and all the money in the world will not help you with this task.

Many entrepreneurs expect investors to solve their problems.  They firmly believe that investors with their investment funds will provide them with the necessary heart, brains and courage to develop a successful start-up company.  This is not the case, as securing funding does not necessarily result in success in the market.  Therefore, as an entrepreneur you need to step out of the “Land of Oz” and decide that only you have control over the ultimate success of your start-up company, not investors and their funding sources.  To do this you need to have the “heart” to follow your vision, the “brains” to properly develop the investment opportunity, and the “courage” to cold call your customers and execute your plan.  If you take these steps you will go a long way toward ultimately securing funding and developing a successful a 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 www.carlsbadpublishing.com.

March 22, 2010 Posted by | Venture Capital | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Entrepreneurs, Get Your House in Order Before You Present to Investors

Many start-up companies go through one or more incarnations before they are ready to engage with potential investors.  As such, more often than not, a tremendous amount of history exists that may have detrimental effects on your start-up company and its ability to secure funding from these same investors. Often, with changes in corporate vision and strategy, redirection in product focus and new executive teams along the way, there exist significant amounts of baggage that can have an adverse affect on how potential investors view your start-up company.  In order to make sure you put your best foot forward, you need to make sure that you have your house in order before you engage with investors. To accomplish this, you should review all of your start-up company’s outstanding contracts, update your capitalization structure, and secure a committed team.   If you do this, you can avoid any potential missteps with your investors and at the same time increase your chances of receiving funding.

Review Your Contracts

If your start-up has been through one or more incarnations, more often than not there exist old contracts that need to be reviewed and then determined if they are still applicable to your start-up company, its vision and product offerings.  Often, old contracts were based on completely different sets of assumptions and circumstances and must be voided or dissolved appropriately. If not disposed of properly, these outstanding contracts can have a detrimental effect on your company moving forward.  In some cases, these same contracts need to be renegotiated, since at the present time, your start-up company may have a completely new business model that significantly changes the role or importance of a contractor and their technology, product or service offerings.  Accordingly, many times, going back and renegotiating a contract can be a difficult and time consuming task.  So, before you open up a can of worms, you should spend the time to thoroughly review the contract to see if you can live with it as originally structured. If you can, keep the contract as is.  If you cannot, you need to go back and properly explain to the contracted party, that there have been significant changes in the direction of the company and you need to either renegotiate the contract.  If they are not willing to renegotiate, you need to find other sources for their technology, product or service offerings and immediately cancel the contract.  It should be noted that often when you try to renegotiate a contract, the contractor will have decided that the original contract was not fair to them and try to get a much better deal.  If this is the case, you need to understand if you can live with the updated demands.  If you cannot, then cancel the contract and move on.  Remember, you investors will want to review all of your contracts and old contracts that could have an adverse effect on your start-up company and have not been updated or voided will be an issue with your potential investors.

Update Your Capitalization Structure

Many times a start-up company that has been through several incarnations will need to be recapitalized to properly reflect the new debt and equity structure of the company and its present executive team.  Often old, executive team members and corporate structures will need to be modified, in order to move your start-up company forward. This is one of the most difficult tasks to accomplish, as old executive team members will want to retain their equity ownership and new executive team members will want their “fair” share of equity for their anticipated future contributions to the company.  So, you need to take a look at the whole picture, including previous contributions by old executive team members and their importance to your start-up company at the present point in time, and then come up with a new capitalization structure that works for all parties involved.  Many times, this includes changing the equity ownership of old team members.  In addition, you need to address any debt on the books and determine, if this debt is associated with any significant and present aspect(s) of your start-up company’s business moving forward.  If so, you will have to live with it, and if not you need to try to get this debt off the books through negotiations and/or voiding of any associated contracts. Remember, investors do not invest in your start-up company to pay off old debts.  So, if you can remove any old debt, do so, as it will help your start-up company moving forward.  Finally, in some instances, a start-up company with a long history, minor changes in the capitalization structure will not improve the situation.  In this case it is better to take your start-up company into bankruptcy and restart the company with a new capitalization structure.  Although not recommended, sometimes this is unavoidable. 

Secure a Committed Team

As often stated, investors invest in the “team” and not the “product”.  As such, for a start-up company with a history of several incarnations, often original team members, at the present time, do not add any significant value to your start-up company.  As such, these team members need to be removed and replace with new committed team members that will add significant value to the new direction of your start-up company. If you do not do this, you will end up with a bloated team and several non-contributing team members. This will de-motivate your contributing executive team members and bring the performance level of your start-up down.  Remember, it is better to clean up your start-up company’s executive team before you engage with investors. Many times these conversations are difficult, but necessary.  Accordingly, you need to have the best executive team you can possibly have and get their commitment to move your start-up company forward to success in the market before you talk to investors.  If you do not, you will not be successful in securing funding from potential investors.

A start-up company that goes through several incarnations often has a significant amount of history that can adversely affect the company moving forward.  To avoid this, and before you begin talking to potential investors, you much get your house in order. This includes reviewing your contracts, updating your capitalization structure and having a committed team.  If you do this before you engage with investors you will greatly improve your chances of securing funding from these same investors.

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 www.carlsbadpublishing.com.

March 15, 2010 Posted by | Venture Capital | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Investors Don’t Fund Your Start-up Only to Have You to Figure Out What to do Next

Most entrepreneurs come to investors with an “idea” or “concept”, looking to receive investor’s monies only to allow them to figure out what to do next.    This is a very misplaced approach and is guaranteed to turn investors off.  With this approach, more often than not, you will get an immediate rejection with no explanation. Why? Because, investors are very busy and only interested in only the most well developed and presented investment opportunities. Something that is not well thought through and or properly presented will not get their attention or their monies.  This should be understood by all entrepreneurs that approach angel investors or venture capitalists. As such, investors don’t fund start-up companies only to have you figure out what to do next.  They fund you to execute a well thought through plan.  To accomplish this, you need to do your planning, develop a business plan and be ready to execute.  If you do this, you will greatly improve your potential for not only getting potential investor’s attention, and you will also increase your chances of receiving funding from these same investors.

Do Your Planning

Doing planning is the most important and time consuming, arduous task an entrepreneur needs to take on.  This is something you need to do early, as waiting to do your appropriate planning will only send your start-up company in the wrong direction and require you start over, causing you to lose valuable time.  Planning is difficult for most entrepreneurs, as more often than not they want to start writing their business plan day one.  This is a huge mistake, because if you do not have the appropriate information, at your disposal, you will not come to the right conclusions regarding how, and in what direction to move your start-up company and its technology, product or service offering forward. Therefore, take up to two months to properly research and secure the appropriate information that will help you develop a well thought through business plan.  This includes:

  • Determining your proprietary technology, product or service offering,
  • Identifying the general trends and strategic opportunistic needs of the market,
  • Identifying a set of target markets and their growth projections,
  • Analyzing the competitors within your targeted markets,
  • Developing basic market entry strategy and tactics, and
  • Understanding the basic financial model of the targeted markets.

By spending the appropriate amount of time doing your planning up front, you will develop a vision, focus, and direction for your start-up company. On the other hand, if you expect potential investors to fund you to do this early planning work, you will be sadly disappointed.

Develop a Business Plan

After you have spent the time to appropriately plan the early stages of your start-up company, you need to put together a well thought through business plan that takes in all of this planning information. This plan will be much easier to write at this point because you have taken the time to secure the necessary information.  Now, you just need to take the necessary time to put it on paper.  This is also a very big task, and it again will take a significant amount of time and effort. But, if and until, you put your business plan on paper, your start-up company will remain “in the ether”.  As, it is only when you begin to put your business plan on paper do you have the ability to identify issues, holes and other items that need to be addressed to complete your business plan. So, take the necessary time to develop a will presented and thought through business plan, you will learn a lot in the process and many times provide yourself will essential insights on how and in which direction to move your start-up company forward.  Finally, ignore those individuals that tell you that today investors do not read business plans.  While, in some cases, this may be true, it should be remembered the writing and development of a well thought thorough business plan will again provide you with the necessary insights that will provide your start-up company with significant advantages when you finally go to market.  Remember, take the time to develop a well thought through business plan it will serve you well when you go to secure funding from potential investors.

Be Ready To Execute

By the time you begin to talk with investors, you should be ready to execute your business plan. To be ready for this, you need to have:

  • Identified and talked with your target customers,
  • Secured a well seasoned “A- level” executive team,
  • Secured relationships with any necessary strategic partners, and
  • Developed a well thought through and developed go to market strategy and associated tactics.

By doing this you will have identified many, if not most of the issues that could possibly cause your start-up company to stumble out of the gate.  You will also have put your start-up company in a strong competitive position which will allow you to execute and rapidly secure customers and revenue. This will impress your potential investors and get their attention.  Remember, investors do not fund you to figure things out, they fund you to execute.

Most entrepreneurs come to investors with an “idea” or “concept”, only looking to receive investor’s monies to allow them to figure out what to do next.    This is a very misplaced approach and is guaranteed to turn investors off.  By taking the time up front and putting the effort to do your planning, develop a business plan, and being ready to execute you will impress your investors and more than likely get their attention.  In addition, by doing so, you are not expecting investors to fund you to figure things out, but putting your start-up company in the best position to receive funding from potential investors.  So, get in there and do the necessary work up front, it will serve you well when you begin talking with potential investors.

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 www.carlsbadpublishing.com.

March 8, 2010 Posted by | Venture Capital | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Creating Confidence will Carry the Day with Potential Investors

Many times entrepreneurs are ill prepared when presenting their technology, product or service offering to potential investors.  Even if you have created a business proposition that is unique, provides a long term sustainable competitive advantage in the market, and at the same time supports a scalable business model that provides superior returns on invested capital, you still need to convince your potential investors that you can execute and secure near term revenue with your target customer base.  In addition, you also have to prove to them that you can do this in an expedited time frame.  To accomplish this, you need to know your financials, have customer references and develop a strong go to market strategy.  By doing so, you will create a level of confidence that will carry the day with your potential investors and allow you to move to the next level of due diligence discussions.

Know Your Financials

Many entrepreneurs are not financial experts and often rely on third parties to help them develop their financial models.  This is fine, but even so, you need to spend the time to learn the details of your start-up company’s financials.  This is important, as most potential investors are financial experts that will immediately go to your financial statements to identify holes in your financial model. So, you need to “know your financials” to the level of detail that will gain the confidence of your potential investors.  Telling them “I don’t know” or “I need to ask my CFO” will not provide your potential investors with the level of confidence that they require to understand that you know your business.  On the other hand, if you are able to answer all initial financial and business model questions with ease and confidence you will impress your investor and more than likely get them to move to the next level of due diligence. 

Have Customer References

Potential investors need to know that your business plan is solid and has been vetted with potential customers.  One of the best things to do when presenting to investors is to mention the customers you have talked and/or met with that have expressed an interest in you technology, product or service offering.  Provide them with real customer feedback on your technology, product or service offering.  More often than not, many entrepreneurs have not talked with their target customers and do not have any reference discussions or customers they can introduce their potential investors to, so that they can call them and ask about their potential interest in your technology, product or service offering.  Having customer references that are interested in your technology will not only tell your investors that you have the motivation to get in front of customers and determine their interest and desires, but you have developed a base of interested customers that are willing to be potential beta customers once your technology, product or service offering is available. In addition, the fact that you have vetted you business proposition with your potential customer base is always a strong confidence builder with potential investors.  Now, they know that you have customers that are interested in your technology, product or services offering. This will again help create confidence with your potential investors.

Develop a Strong Go to Market Plan

Having developed a strong go to market plan is one of the best recipes for building investor confidence.  This is often “the differentiator” that will carry the day for investors.  One of the most nagging questions a potential investor’s mind is a concern regarding the ability for a start-up company to create initial traction in the market.  If there is not clear path for attacking the market and securing early customers and revenue, potential investors will more often than not walk away.  These same potential investors need to be assured that once they invest, there will be near term revenue and that it can scale appropriately.  This increases their potential return on investment and at the same time provides them with confidence that they need to make that “jump-of-faith” to invest.  Therefore, as an entrepreneur you need to develop a strong go to market plan the will instill confidence with your potential investors. This will provide you with the necessary basis for investors to move forward to the next level in their due diligence process.

Entrepreneurs that are ill prepared to present in front of their potential investors will not carry the day with these same investors.  On the other hand, those entrepreneurs that have created a business proposition that is unique and provides a long term sustainable competitive advantage in the market, and at the same time are prepared to create confidence in their investors will. To do this, these same entrepreneurs need to know their financial statements, have customer references and develop a strong go to market plan.  This will provide the entrepreneur with confidence and at the same time instill this same confidence with their potential investors. By doing so, these entrepreneurs will more often than not move to the next level of due diligence with these same potential investors.

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 www.carlsbadpublishing.com.

March 1, 2010 Posted by | Venture Capital | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment