Robert Ochtel’s Blog

An Experienced Approach to Venture Funding

Entrepreneurs, You Need to Get the Attention of Your Investors within the First Three Slides to Secure Funding

When meeting potential investors for the first time entrepreneurs need to quickly secure their attention.  Although, the standard thinking is that you have an hour, with 20 minutes to present and 40 minutes of questions, you really only have a few minutes to secure their attention and hold their interest. As such, if you do not secure your potential investors attention within the first three slides of your presentation, you will not secure funding.  Why, because like with any presentation, especially in the case of potential investors, if you do not secure their attention quickly, you risk the likely hood of turning them off completely to your investment opportunity.  So, as an entrepreneur looking to secure funding from third party investors, you only have three slides and a few minutes to secure their interest.  This includes, defining the opportunity, describing the problem and outlining your solution.  If done appropriately and succinctly, you will secure your potential investors’ attention for the next hour.  If not, your investors will turn off and move on to thinking about other potential investment opportunities.  So remember, you need to secure the full attention of your potential investors very quickly, or you risk the losing them and your ability to securing funding altogether.

Define the Opportunity

When presenting to investors, you first need to define the opportunity to be able to get your investors’ attention and their “buy-in” that your target customers will buy and use your technology, product or service offering.  This means you only have one to two minutes to sell the opportunity to your potential investors.  With the complexity of many product offerings, you need to focus on “tugging on the emotion” of your potential investors.  How would the customer use your technology, product or service offering?  This can often best be described with an example application.   This approach will get your investors attention, as they will be able to see how customers can use your technology, product or service offering.  As such, you are ultimately describing the end market application through the customers’ eyes.  This approach will allow your potential investors to empathize with the customer and better understand both the application and the opportunity that exists for your technology, product or service offering.  By creating the ability for your potential investors to understand investment opportunity through your end customers’ eyes, you quickly be able to create a lasting, positive impression in the minds of your investors, securing their interest to continue listening to your investment opportunity with intrigue and interest. 

Describe the Problem

Once you have defined the investment opportunity in the minds of your potential investors, you need to succinctly describe the problem. The “problem” is the opportunistic need you are solving with your technology, product or service offering. This problem description again needs to be clear in the minds of your potential investors. As such, they need to believe that you are serving an appropriate strategic opportunistic need in the market. So, take the time up front to properly describe the problem in terms that all potential investors can understand.  This will move these same third party investors one step closer to understanding the investment opportunity and again provide them one more time to see the investment opportunity from the “market needs” side of the equation and not from the technology, product or service “provider’s side” of the equation.  By being able to quickly and properly describe the problem from a “market needs” approach you will again be standing in the shoes of your potential investors and answering their questions – and at the same time allowing them to come to your conclusions on their own. This is the “best” way to approach investors from a “problem definition” point of view.  If they believe there exists a problem in the market, then they are more likely to believe in your solution.  Now, you are 80% there in securing their interest in you, your start-up company, and its technology, product or service offering.

Outline Your Solution

Finally, as an entrepreneur, describing your potential investment opportunity, you need to outline your solution to the problem you just portrayed.  This description needs to not only succinctly outline your solution, but it needs to outline the benefits of your solution in the market over any and all other solutions in the market.  Remember you are trying to quickly secure the interest in your technology, product or service offering from your potential investors, so they need to be able to quickly understand, in their minds, your solution and the competitive advantages it offers in the market.  So, as an entrepreneur you need to not only outline your solution, but you need to appropriately describe all of its competitive advantages and associated utility to the consumer or end user.  By doing this, you are making sure that your potential investors again come to the same conclusions that you have, and that they believe your start-up company offers a solution that provides a long term competitive advantage in the market.  So, properly outline your solution to your investors, as once you convince them that you offer “the solution” for the “problem” you are solving, all follow-on information provided during your presentation is now just back up support materials to justify the potential investment opportunity.

As an entrepreneur, typically you have an hour to present in front of sophisticated investors (e.g., venture capitalists).  This generally consists of a twenty minute entrepreneurial presentation and forty minutes of questions from these same potential investors. In reality, though, you only really have a few minutes to secure potential investors’ attention. To properly do so, you actually need to get their attention within the first three slides of your presentation by defining the opportunity, describing the problem, and outlining your solution.  If done properly and succinctly, you will secure their attention and the interest of your potential investors.  If not, your investors will “turn off” and move on to thinking about other investment opportunities.  So, as an entrepreneur, remember, you have need to secure the full attention of your investors quickly, or you risk the losing them and your ability to securing any funding from potential investors altogether.

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.

May 3, 2010 Posted by | Competition, Customers, Execution, start-up, Venture Capital, Venture Funding | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Military Contractors Looking to Move Their Products or Technologies into the Commercial Markets have a Lot to Learn

I have worked with many traditional military contractors that see the commercial markets as a panacea for their military-based products or technologies.  While there often exists an opportunity to take a military product or technology, commercialize it, and then address a broad range of commercial market applications, generally it is not a straight forward transfer of these same military products or technologies to the commercial markets.  This is something that traditional military contractor companies and their entrepreneurs have a hard time understanding.  Having only worked with customers that define their product needs through a “request for proposal” process, they need to step back and understand that the commercial market is much different.  As such, products or technologies that were necessarily developed for a given military application through the request for proposal process do not necessarily translate into products that are sellable in the commercial markets. This article outlines several items traditional military contractors need to consider before they jump into the commercial markets.

Military Products or Technologies do not Necessarily make Commercial Products

Military contractors traditionally developed products or technologies that address a focused military-based application. That is, the U.S. military is looking for a product or technology to solve an identified problem.  As such, they send out a request for proposal to a set of military contractors, which respond with an engineering services proposal to develop the products or technologies to solve the identified problem. Once completed, the military contractor usually ends up with a technology or a set of products and technologies that are to be used in a very specific military application. 

Some military products or technologies may have commercial value, but as defined by the U.S. military, more often than not, these products or technologies are not sellable as products in their current form in the commercial markets. This often means that the military product or technology as defined, is a not a complete product offering. That is, this product or technology will often require other technologies, products or services to make it a “product” for the commercial markets. So, as a military contractor, one should not expect that their military-focused product or technology is sellable in the commercial market in its current instantiation.  Yes, an existing military product or technology may have some commercial value, but often it will need to be substantially modified to be competitive in the commercial market space.

Military Price Points Do Not Cut it in the Commercial Markets

The price points defined for military products and technologies do not cut it in the commercial markets.  So often, an existing military-based product or technology will need to be cost reduced to make it viable in the commercial markets. This is something that needs to be realized by military contractors and addressed right away.  Trying to force fit a military-based product or technology into the commercial market, with a military price tag, is a losing proposition.  But, this is often the mentality of traditional military contractors and their entrepreneurs.  They often wrongly believe they have a “product” that is viable in the commercial markets and want to sell it “as is”.  What they really have is a product or technology with a price point that will not stand up to the competition of the commercial market place.  So, as a military contractor, realize the price points you are currently selling your products or technologies at, are not the price points that the commercial markets will support.

Military Products or Technologies Often Require Additional Investment

Military contractors typically want to sell their products or technologies “as is” in the commercial market.  They do not want to invest any additional monies to make their products or technologies commercially viable. This lack of desire to spend any of their own money comes from their military background where the government pays for all of their R&D, plus overhead, to secure a desired product or technology for a particular application. This is a “no risk” venture for the military contractor.  This is not the case in the commercial market.  The commercial market is a “risk” and “return” based opportunity.  So, as a military contractor and entrepreneur, you more often than not will have to invest some of your own money to develop a product that is targeted for the commercial markets. It may be a little bit of money, or in some cases, it may be a lot of money, but the capitalist-based commercial market requires one to take a “risk” by investing their own monies to properly commercialize a military-based product or technology offering.  If as a military contractor, you are not comfortable with this, then the commercial market is not for you and your products or technologies.  Remember, the commercial markets often require additional investment monies to make military products or technologies commercially viable.

Military contractors often want a piece of the commercial markets.  With the limited upside to their military contracts, they often have a desire to take their military-based products or technologies into the commercial markets and harvest the large financial rewards the commercial space has to offer.  What these same military contractors often do not understand is that their military products or technologies do not necessary translate into products that are sellable in the commercial markets.  In addition, these same military-based technologies or products usually have price points that are too high and at the same time usually require additional investment monies to make these same products or technologies a commercially competitive product offering. Therefore, traditional military contractors often have a lot to learn when moving their military products or technologies into the commercial markets.

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.

November 9, 2009 Posted by | Competition, Customers, Venture Capital, venture finance, Venture Funding | , , , | 1 Comment

Entrepreneurs, Self-Education the Key to Securing Funding

First time entrepreneurs often want to begin day one by writing their business plan and talking to potential venture investors about their “concept” or “idea”.  This is a big mistake.  As an uneducated participant in the start-up funding process, you have little chance of developing a compelling, investor focused business plan or securing venture funding.  This lack of preparation and self-education is pervasive among first time entrepreneurs and results in substantial frustration from both the investors as well as entrepreneurs.  As a result of this lack of self-education on the entrepreneurs’ part, investors always complain that they cannot find “good” deals and at the same time, entrepreneurs complain that there is no venture money available to fund their investment opportunities.  As with any story, the truth regarding this funding dilemma is often somewhere in between.  But, in this case, since entrepreneurs are the ones seeking investor money, the overall responsibility here lies with the entrepreneur.  They need to educate themselves so that they are properly prepared when talking to potential investors. This article discusses the importance the self-education of entrepreneurs and how this self-education is the key to securing funding for your start-up company and its technology, product or service offering.

Take the Time to Really Understand Your Own Investment Opportunity

It is never really good to “learn” about your business investment opportunity while you are talking to investors.  But, this is what many entrepreneurs do. Most entrepreneurs never really take the time to research all aspects of their investment opportunity from the market size, to their competitors’ positioning, to the details of their financials. As such, they go into their first venture capital investor’s meeting unprepared and get ripped apart by seasoned venture capitalists.  Not a fun experience.  There is an easy way around this scenario.  Take the time to really understand your own investment opportunity. This means, don’t start by writing your business plan on day one. Instead, do the opposite; take the time to research your own investment opportunity. This process usually takes about one to three months depending on your background, the number of markets you will be addressing and the breath of your product offering.

This research process is a valuable exercise.  It provides perspective and allows you as an entrepreneur to step back and evaluate which aspects of your investment opportunity that requires more work, before you begin writing your business plan.  Also, this research is a self-education process that ultimately provides you as an entrepreneur with the necessary knowledge and background to be prepared for the test –your first meeting with venture capital investors.  By having done your research on all aspects of your business investment opportunity you will be prepared and will then be able to answer the necessary questions investors ask to properly evaluate you as an entrepreneur and your associated investment opportunity. Remember, you need to be properly prepared to talk with investors about your business opportunity. The self-education process is the key to this preparation.

Understand the Investment Expectations of Venture Capital Investors

Most first time entrepreneurs falsely believe they are fundable, without really understanding the investment expectations of venture capital investors.  This false sense of entitlement is not based on any reality.  Instead it is based on an unrealistic premise – “if I have a “concept” or “idea” it must be fundable”.  Nothing is further from the truth.  Instead, investors have strict investment criteria and specific things they look for when considering potential investment opportunities. Remember, venture capital investors are “money managers” and have a board or directors to report to, so they necessarily have to be selective in the investment opportunities they consider as potential investments. So, as an entrepreneur, it is very important to educate yourself in understanding the expectations of venture capital investors. From the expected financial returns, to the requirement of strong team, to the necessity of creating a long-term sustainable competitive advantage in the market, it is necessarily important to develop a solid understanding of venture capital investors and their investment criteria. Therefore, take the time to read on the subject, attend seminars on venture funding, and go to business plan competitions. This will enlighten you as an entrepreneur with regard to the venture capitalist investor’s funding criteria and provide you with insight to what these same investors look for in potential investment opportunities.

Target Your Venture Capital Investors and Get a Warm Introduction

Most entrepreneurs believe they can send their start-up company’s executive summary to a venture capitalist they do not know and magically this same venture capitalist will read it and invite them to come in for a review session. This is not the case.  In fact, this rarely happens, if ever.  There are a couple reasons for this.  First, venture capitalists are very busy and rarely have time to review let alone read any business plans that come into their office “cold”.  Secondly, venture capitalists like anyone in business prefer to have investment opportunities introduced to them by people they know.  This is known as a “warm” introduction.  The reason for this is that if they know and respect the person that has introduced the potential investment opportunity to them; they know that this person’s reputation is on the line and they would not ask them to look at it unless it was a “quality” investment opportunity.  Remember, investors are always more comfortable in working with people they know and trust.  It is just human nature. Therefore, when looking to secure venture funding it is important to do two things. First, target venture capitalists that have a history of investing in similar start-up companies.  All venture capital firms have target investment criteria (target technologies, markets, investment amounts, etc.).  Spend the time to investigate and target those venture capital firms which meet your investment criteria.  This will provide you with a target list of potential investors. Second, work hard to get a “warm” introduction to these targeted venture capitalists. You can do this by:

  • Going to networking event in which a venture firm’s partner is a panelist,
  • Looking at the companies they have funded and determining if you know someone at these firms,
  • Working with a law firm that has connections to your target list of venture capitalists.

Remember, targeting specific venture capital firms and then working to get a warm introduction will get you a long way down the road to securing funding. 

As first time entrepreneur, you need to necessarily educate yourself.  This takes time, but in the end is the key to successfully securing funding from the venture capital community.  This self-education process includes understanding all aspects of your own business investment opportunity, having a realistic understanding of venture capitalists’ investment expectations, targeting specific venture capitalist firms and securing a warm introduction.  By doing your homework here, you will save yourself a lot of time and substantially increase your chances of securing funding.

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.

October 5, 2009 Posted by | Business Planning, Business Plans, Competition, concept, Idea, Venture Capital, venture finance, Venture Funding | Leave a comment

Entrepreneurs, A Breath of Markets Approach Will Lead You to the Right Conclusions

Having a business “idea” or “concept” does not necessarily provide the entrepreneur with much direction in getting started in developing a valuable and fundable business proposition.  This beginning point in the development of a start-up company often leaves first time entrepreneurs in the dark as to which direction to proceed forward with regard to their proposed technology, product or service offering.  They often ask themselves: “Where do I start?”  The best answer here is to begin by focusing on the markets.  Why, because it is the markets where you will sell your technology, product or service offering.  It also the markets that will determine the “problem” or “need” you will be solving.  This focus on the markets will also help you determine how to position your technology, product or service offering against your competitors.  In short, by focusing on a broad breath of markets and the possibility of potential opportunities they represent, you will come to the right conclusions as to where to take your initial “idea” or “concept”, how to develop a value added product offering, what your product offering will ultimately look like and it will in the end provide you with the ability to determine the best return on investment for your venture investors. This article addresses this breath of markets approach in determining how to take your product “idea” or “concept” into reality of a valuable business proposition.

Look at a Broad Breath of Markets

In the beginning of your product definition process, all markets look the same.  Why, because at this point you do not have any details on the size of the market, the growth of the market or the potential “market needs” you will be addressing for any particular market.  Therefore, you should look a broad breath of markets that can potentially be addressed by your technology, product or service offering.  Don’t pick a favorite market at this time.  All you need to do is to determine the baseline market characteristics (size and growth), and potential “needs” or “problem” you will be addressing for a given market.  This analysis will provide you with a high level overview of the market opportunity and at the same time give you the necessary background to determine if a particular market or a number of different markets may be of interest to you and your start-up company.  Remember, this is not the time to discount a given market.  Why, because you do not have enough information on the details that will make your product competitive in this space.  All you are trying to do is to determine, from all the markets you could address, which set of markets are of potential interest and why.  This preliminary market data will be useful in drawing your final conclusions as to which markets are of interest and how to prioritize these same market opportunities.

Review the Competitors for Each Market

Once you have a list of the targeted markets that are of interest, you should next look at the competitors in your potential target markets and review their positions and product offerings.  As such, the competitors for each market will most often be different and have unique product offerings to address the market needs and requirements for that specific market. Pay particular attention to the details of each competitor’s product offering by market. Why, because different markets will require different product features, functions and capabilities, and each given competitor’s product offering will provide you with the appropriate insight as to the necessary key differentiators that make their product offerings competitive for a particular market of interest. These key product differentiators are often unique to a particular market or they may be common across a number of potential markets.  This is something you need to pay attention to since you generally at this point are looking to address as many markets as possible with your product offering.  In addition, you are looking to determine the features, functions and capabilities that will give your start-up company’s product offering a competitive advantage over your competitors for a particular target market.  Here, it pays to be very detailed.  As it is these details that will ultimately lead you to the right conclusions in determining the competitive advantage of your start-up company’s technology, product or service offering.

Define the Product Requirements for Each Market

After you have had time to review the various competitor product offerings for each potential target market of interest, you need to spend time sweating the details on the necessary product requirements for each potential market of interest. Here, you need to develop a product feature, function and capability list for each potential target market. Why, because it is this product requirements list that will provide you with the necessary insight as to what it takes to not only be competitive in a target market of interest, but what it will also allow you determine what additional product capabilities are necessary to make your product a “complete” product offering.  This often requires you to add capabilities (e.g., software, hardware, services) to your start-up company’s “core” capabilities that are well beyond the scope of your company and will require you to secure these capabilities through a strategic partnership or by other means.  In the end, you will have a compelling and “complete” product offering that addresses the needs of each particular target market. This is your goal.  Finally, it is through this market driven product requirements process that you may determine that certain markets cannot be addressed by your start-up company or will necessarily need to be addressed in the future, with follow-on product offerings, once you first establish yourself in other markets. Therefore, defining the detailed product requirements, for each given market will give you the insight you need to not only determine the necessary feature and functional requirements, it will given you insight so setting your start-up company’s targeted market priorities.

Develop Focus for Your Targeted Markets

Once you have looked a breath of markets, reviewed your competitors’ product offerings and defined the product requirements for each potential market of interest, you need to focus in on your target markets.  Here, you need to first identify which markets you believe, based on the above information, you have a clear competitive advantage.  Then you need to identify which of these markets have the highest potential for return on investment for your potential investors.  That is, which markets are the largest and have the highest long term growth.  Finally, you need to prioritize these markets in terms of total financial investment requirements and associated risk.  Some, target markets may be attractive, but will require substantial up-front investment and result in much longer time-to-money and profitability. Alternatively, other target markets may not be as attractive, but are easier to penetrate and will allow you start-up company to generate early cash flow and at the same time provide higher potential near term returns while you establish your start-up company in these target markets.  The point here is to take a look at the whole breath of markets that are available to you and your start-up company and develop a focus for a given, limited number of target markets that make sense logically, strategically, financially and opportunistically. Doing so will provide your start-up company with the focus necessary to move forward with a targeted market driven plan and at the same time provide your start-up company with higher potential for success.

As a first time entrepreneur with a product “idea” or “concept” it is not always easy to see how to move forward to develop a compelling, value added business proposition.  To take this leap forward it is always necessary to start from the markets. This market focused approach requires the entrepreneur to identify a broad breath of markets that have the potential to use their start-up company’s technology, product or service offering to solve an unmet market “need” or “problem”.  Following this market opportunity analysis with a both a review of the competitors product offering and the development of listing of the product requirements for each potential targeted market will provide you with the necessary insight to determine which target market you will ultimately have a sustainable competitive advantage.  In addition, it will provide you with the ability to prioritize these same markets, based on market opportunity, investment requirements, potential risk, and projected overall return on investment.  So, take the time to use a breath of markets approach in the development of your start-up company’s “idea” or “concept”. It will lead you to the right conclusions and provide your start-up company with necessary focus to be successful in your final target markets of interest.

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.

September 21, 2009 Posted by | Business Planning, Competition, Competitive Analysis, concept, Customers, Target Markets, Venture Capital, venture finance, Venture Funding | 6 Comments

Six Things Venture Capital Investors Never Want to Hear from Entrepreneurs

Venture capitalists by their very nature are risk adverse and a very skittish bunch.  They do not like to hear things that do not ring true in their minds or underline the credibility of the entrepreneur. This is especially true for an entrepreneur when presenting their investment opportunity to venture capitalists or any venture investors for the first time.  More often than not these same potential investors do not know the entrepreneur, and while they are trying to understand the business opportunity being presented to them, at the same time they are making a realistic assessment of the CEO and the accompanying management team that will be running the start-up company. As such, there are six things that a venture capital investor does not want to hear from the entrepreneur during the start-up company’s first road show presentation.  These six items outlined here are not the only things that will get the entrepreneur off on the wrong foot with their potential investors. There are many other things that will get potential venture investors nervous regarding the potential investment opportunity.  But, in the whole scheme of things, the six items outlined here will often provide these same investors a reason to pause.  In addition, mentioning any one of these six items may also result in not receiving a follow-up call or sincere interest from these same investors.  This article addresses these six items and provides the entrepreneur the reasoning behind the investors’ concerns.

There is No Competition.

Many times entrepreneurs make the mistake of telling their potential investors that there is no competition for their technology, product or service offering in the market.  Investors never believe this statement. Why, because it is not a true statement.  There is always competition, whether it is established players, new entrants, or substitute products, etc.  As an entrepreneur you need to understand this and take it to heart.  Also, telling investors there is competition, undermines one of the underlying truths in capitalism, if there is money to be made, the competition will come. 

Claiming to your potential investors there is no competition in the market is an instant “red” flag for these same investors.  In addition, it is also an instant credibility killer.  This statement indicates to these same investors that the entrepreneur has not done their homework to understand the market and their position within this space. It also immediately informs these same investors that the entrepreneur is either naive or does not really understand the underlying difficulties, which face this same entrepreneur when bringing their product successfully to market.   So, as an entrepreneur, you need to know your competition when talking to potential investors. It will provide you with credibility and at the same time provide you with a realistic picture of challenges ahead for your start-up company and its technology, product or service offering.

I Need to Raise $1.0M to $3.0M in Funding.

Potential investors need to understand that you know exactly how much money is necessary to make your start-up company successful. Remember, investors always think it is going to take twice as long and two times the money to get your start-up company’s technology, product or service offering to market.  Therefore, if you provide them with a requested funding requirement of $1.0M to $3.0M, this immediately indicates to the potential investors that you have not done your homework on the funding needs of your start-up company and to not have a complete picture of what it will take to make your product successful in the market. 

It should be understood, that potential investors do not want to invest one more penny than they have to in order to get to a cash flow positive situation.  Why, because investing more money to make your start-up company successful substantially lowers their return on investment.  So your potential investors want to know that you, as an entrepreneur and CEO of your start-up company, have really studied your funding requirements and necessarily know where all of the invested monies are going to be allocated and in what associated timeframe.  Providing a range of funding requirements undermines your credibility as a sophisticated and fiscally responsible entrepreneur.  So, know your exact funding requirements.  As the fiduciary of your start-up company, this will provide you with the necessary credibility with your potential investors.

I Need to Be the CEO.

There is nothing more important to potential investors than to have a “first” rate team running their start-up company.  This is imperatively important to your investors and cannot be overstated.  As it is often said, investors would rather invest in an “A team and a B product than a B team and an A product”. Hence, they need to know that they can count on the start-up company’s management team both through thick and thin.  This is especially true for the CEO of the start-up company.  Therefore, never tell your investors that you necessarily need to be the CEO of the company. By doing so, you will immediately turn off your potential investors.  Why, because investors understand that the CEO who founded the start-up company is not necessarily the same person with the required skill set to guide it through the needed growth to make it a successful long term investment opportunity. Therefore, more often than not, potential investors necessarily believe going into an investment opportunity that they will have to replace the CEO at some point in time in the near future.  So, by telling your potential investors that you need to be the CEO, you are in effect tying your investor’s hands. This is something investors do not take too kindly to.  Remember it is the investor’s money and therefore they necessarily set the rules. So, be flexible, and look at the big picture.  As the founder of your start-up, you want the company to grow such that your equity position multiplies for both you and your investors.  This may require you to take another position within your company, but in the long run it will be beneficial to both you and your investors.

I’ll Have to Talk to the CFO About the Financials.

As the CEO of your start-up company you need to know and understand everything there is to know about your company.  This includes having a deep knowledge of your start-up company’s financials.  When presenting to investors, as an entrepreneur, you need to be aware that the first thing investors look at are the financials. Why, because potential investors are first and foremost, financial managers.  So, be aware, the financials are the first thing potential investors look at when considering a potential investment opportunity. If the underlying financial business model does not make sense to them, they will pass on the investment opportunity. Therefore, when presenting to potential investors you cannot tell these same investors that you will need to talk to the CFO regarding the details of your start-up company’s financial statements. This is a huge mistake and undermines your overall credibility as the CEO of your start-up company.  Hence, as the CEO of your start-up company, you need to intimately familiar with your financial statements from the income statement revenue projections, to the operational cash generation of the cash flow statements, to the accounts receivables of the balance sheet.  These are the details investors are interested in and will ask about to get an understanding of the underlying financial business model, as well as to get a better assessment as to the credibility of you as the CEO of the company.  So, as an entrepreneur familiarize yourself with the financial details of your start-up company.  It will serve you well when presenting to potential investors.

I Don’t Have a List of Significant Milestones.

Investors need to know that the money they are investing will be adding significant value to their start-up company.  Why, because investors know from experience, that there most likely are going to be multiple follow-on rounds of funding.  Hence, they want to be sure their initial investment will result the completion of significant milestones, enhance the underlying value of the start-up company, and in the end increase the stock price during these subsequent funding rounds. Therefore, as an entrepreneur, you need to be intimately familiar with the necessary significant milestones required to develop and bring your start-up company’s technology, product or service offering to market.  If you tell your investors you do not have a list of significant milestones that go along with your funding requirements, you will again lose instant credibility with your potential investors.  Remember, in the early stages of a start-up company it is the significant milestones define your company’s progress and are necessarily used a measurement tool by investors to ensure that the entrepreneur and its management team are meeting their defined objectives and goals to move the start-up company forward.  Therefore, know your significant milestones – they define the value of your company to your potential investors.

I Do Not Have A Go To Market Strategy.

More often than not, entrepreneurs solely focus on the development of their technology, product or service offering.  This, although extremely important to the success of your start-up company, is only half of the underlying problem facing these same entrepreneurs. The other half of the problem is securing market traction through the development of their target customers.  Therefore, investors necessarily want to know that you have a go to market strategy.  Why, because “time-to-revenue” is key to securing the return on investment necessary to meet the investor’s financial investment objectives. So, it is never good to tell potential investors that you do not have a go to market strategy or have not thought about it.  This again is a “red” flag, as the best technology, product or service offering in the world is no good unless your start-up company has the ability to secure paying customers.  Remember, investors are looking to mitigate their risks and at the same time ensure that you not only have a great product, but that you have a proven go to market strategy that will secure traction in the market. Therefore, spend the time to think through your start-up company’s go to market strategy, this will alleviate potential problems when talking with potential investors.

Presenting your start-up company and its associated road show to potential investors is always a difficult and trying task. In addition to being risk adverse, there are certain things investors consider deal breakers when reviewing potential investment opportunities for the first time.  As an entrepreneur, you need to be aware of these items and at the same time make certain you do not trip over things that raise “red” flags for your potential investors. This article has outlined six items that will make your investors pass on your start-up company and the associated investment opportunity.  You need to be cognizant of these same items and avoid them when presenting your start-up company to potential investors. This will provide you with a much smoother road ahead when looking to secure venture funding.

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.

August 31, 2009 Posted by | Competition, Customers, Finance, Funding Requirements, go to market strategy, Market Traction, Milestones, Venture Capital, venture finance, Venture Funding | 1 Comment

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

A Competitive Analysis Helps Position Your Company in the Market and with Your Investors

All business plans should contain a thorough competitive analysis of your start-up company and its technology, product or services offering.  This analysis is a key to positioning your company in the market.  It is also a key to convincing your investors that you have done your homework and have a product offering that provides a long term, sustainable competitive advantage.  Finally, a thorough competitive analysis provides a basis to inform these same investors that your company and its technology, product or service offering is something worth considering investing in with the potential for a substantial return on investment.  This article outlines various items to consider when developing your start-up company’s competitive analysis.

Never Tell Your Investor There is “No” Competition

One of the biggest mistakes a first time entrepreneur can make when developing their business plans is to not spend the appropriate amount of time developing a thorough competitive analysis. This is a huge mistake and will often come back to haunt you.  In addition, many times I have witnessed entrepreneurs trying to tell their potential investors that there are no competitors or no “direct” competitors for their technology, product or service offering. This again, is a big mistake with investors.  First, they will not believe you.  There are always competitors or potential competitors within the target markets for your start-up company’s technology, product or services offering.  Second, making this statement will cause you to lose your credibility with the same individuals you are trying to impress with your knowledge of the market. Therefore, as an entrepreneur, one must take the time to do their research and due diligence to identify their competitors, both large and small, and also at the same time identify those companies that have the capabilities to enter your market space with a compelling product offering.  One thing is for sure, if you are successful company and making money in a given market, the competitors will come.

Listen to Andy Grove

Andy Grove wrote a book entitled “Only the Paranoid Survive.”  In his book, Andy outlines his belief in the value of paranoia in business. Here, he rightfully claims the following: “Business success contains the seeds of its own destruction. The more successful you are, the more people want a chunk of your business and then another chunk and then another until there is nothing left. I believe that the prime responsibility of a manager is to guard constantly against other people’s attacks and to inculcate this guardian attitude in the people under his or her management.”

 This belief that “only the paranoid survive” must drive your start-up company when entering a market and developing a long term competitive position in this same market space with your new technology, product or service offering.  This basic understanding of business also underlines the value of developing a thorough competitive analysis for your start-up company.

Determine the Key Product Attributes

When reviewing the market and its competition, one must focus on what key technology, product or service offering attributes are important to your customer base.  This attribute list should include all the features, functions and capabilities that you believe are important to your customers.  The purpose of developing this key attribute list is to develop a list of identified and compelling features, functions and capabilities that the current competitors use to differentiate their products in the market. It should also be noted that these attributes should be verified with your customer base.  Often what you believe, as an entrepreneur, are important features, functions and capabilities are not necessarily that important to your customers.  So, spend the time talking and verifying key product attributes with your customer base.  This will go along way when presenting your competitive analysis to your investors.  This will also substantiate the credibility of your analysis. 

Present a Succinct Summary of Your Analysis to Your Investors

To present your competitive analysis to your investors in an easy and readable format, often it is best to summarize all of your due diligence and research on your competitors in a table format.  This table presentation is easy to read for your investors and can be used to present a substantial amount of important information in a succinct and compact format.  To develop this table lists all of your competitors, along with your start-up company, on the horizontal table axis.  On the vertical table axis list out the important and identified key features, functions and capabilities that differentiate the various product offerings to their customer base.  This table, as outlined, and if developed with the appropriate level of detail, will provide a clear view of the competition in the market.  It should also delineate, to your potential investors, how your company’s technology, product or service offering provides a clear, sustainable competitive advantage in the market.   

In addition to your table-based competitive analysis presentation, you should include a summary paragraph that outlines the conclusions of your competitive analysis table to your investors. These conclusions should emphasize to your investors the clear advantages of your company’s product offering in the market. By presenting your competitive analysis and due diligence in this format your investors will get a clear, concise summary picture of your start-up company and the competitive advantages of its technology, product or service offering in the market.

Position Your Company

Once you have developed your company’s competitive analysis and presented it in the appropriate table format, one should next use this same information to position your company and its product offering in the market.  This is best accomplished by developing a “perceptual map” – a two axis graphic which is based on the two key attributes that differentiate various successful product offerings in the market.  (As an example, two key attributes for the microprocessor market can include speed and power consumption.)  These two key attributes are then used to position your company and its product offering with regard to your competitors.  This “perceptual mapping” exercise is a key to developing an identified market position with regard to your start-up company and its product offering and the other various competitor product offerings in the market.  When determining your company’s product positioning one should consider the following:

  • Does your company’s product offering address the “high” end of the market according to these two key attributes?
  • Does your company’s product offering address the “low” end of the market according to these two key attributes?
  • Does your company’s product offering address the whole market?
  • Does your company’s product offering only address a clearly identified sub-segment of the market? 

The object here is to position your company and its product offering relative to your competitors.  This “perceptual mapping” positioning analysis will provide your customers and investors with clearly identified market position that differentiates your start-up company and its product offering from the competitors in the market.

As outlined, spending a significant amount of time and effort to develop a proper competitive analysis is required for your start-up company and its technology, product or service offering. This analysis is very important to both your potential investors as well as your potential customers.  Also, if done properly, this competitive analysis also provides you and your start-up with a differentiated market position that will be attractive to your customer base and allow your start-up company to secure market share from existing competitors in the market.  Finally, it also allows you to provide your investors with a clear picture of the long term and sustainable competitive advantages your start-up company and its technology, product or service offering provides the market.

For more information on developing a proper competitive analysis for your start-up company, along with a detailed discussion on “perceptual mapping” refer to my new book: “Business Planning, Business Plans and Venture Funding – A Definitive Reference Guide for Start-up Companies.” This book is available at http://www.Amazon.com.

May 11, 2009 Posted by | Business Planning, Business Plans, Competition, Competitive Analysis | Leave a comment