Most entrepreneurs fail to raise
venture capital because they
make a really BIG mistake when
approaching investors. And on
the other hand, the entrepreneurs
who get funding all have one thing
in common. What makes the difference?
"There are always two choices. Two paths to take. One is easy. And its only reward is that it's easy." - Author unknown
By definition, as entrepreneurs, we try to achieve a lot of tasks with limited resources. And as a result, it is often imperative that we seek the easiest ways to achieve these tasks.
Is that so bad? As the quote implies, it would be. However, a critical distinction must be made between the words "easy" and "easier."
In general, "easy" is not good. If something is easy, than anyone can do it (including your competitors) and you gain no competitive advantage. Unless, that is, there is an advantage to doing something first. Or, if you don't need competitive advantage in that area (e.g., using a website that makes it easy to find a local cleaning company for your business would be an example of this).
On the other hand, accomplishing something in a way that is "easier" than your competitors does give you a real advantage.
And there are three core ways you can accomplish tasks easier:
1) Planning. When entrepreneurs rush to accomplish tasks, they often make mistakes, don't perform as well, and take longer to achieve the desired outcomes. Conversely, with a bit of planning before starting key tasks, you will complete them faster and with better results.
For example, if you were driving somewhere for the first time, spending 5 minutes planning the trip (printing out directions for example) would clearly save you multiples of that 5 minutes in driving time had you not done it. Or preparing a grocery list before going shopping always saves you time and ensures that you get all the items you need. The same is true for virtually ever business project you undertake.
2) Getting better information. By getting expert information, you leverage the wisdom of others who have already accomplished what you seek to do. For example, if your goal is to drive one million visitors to your website, clearly you could achieve this better and faster by following the blueprint of someone who has done this before.
This is why I have created so many information products. For example, if you're trying to raise venture capital for the first time with limited knowledge of how to raise venture capital, your chances of success are pretty much zero.
Now, if you follow my Venture Capital Pitch Formula, are your chances of success 100%? Definitely not. But this product gives you all the lessons and steps gained from my expertise raising venture capital for numerous clients. So, not only do your chances of success skyrocket, but you save countless hours and avoid embarrassing mistakes.
So, always seek out the best expert information before embarking on a key project.
3) Using the right tools. I often get frustrated when doing home improvement projects without the proper tools. It always takes much longer and the results are never as good. The same is true in our businesses. The right tools allow you to boost your productivity and achieve more results in less time. For example, I use Basecamp to better communicate and share information with my team. And we use QuickBooks to streamline our accounting. And so on.
Particularly with tasks that need to be completed on an ongoing basis (e.g., invoicing clients), it's always a good investment to find and use the best tools.
It's your willingness and ability to accomplish the hard that makes you a successful entrepreneur. Never take the easy road. But when you're on the challenging entrepreneurial path, constantly seek to find the easier ways to accomplish tasks. For this will allow you to accomplish tasks faster and with less resources, and gain lasting competitive advantage.
And remember, success isn't easy, but it can be made easier, and it's worth it.
If you're even considering selling your midsize company in the next couple years, here's the bottom line: you should start the process now.
That does not mean you should officially list your business for sale. It means you as the business owner should start some of the "behind the scenes" efforts (that is, preparation) that will enable you to maximize the value of your company during a sale and enhance the terms you'll negotiate as early as possible.
We certainly understand: you've been growing and leading your company for years, not working to sell it. You've been building it to last, not flip. The principals at Growthink have been in your shoes. We've started and grown businesses ourselves. And we've sold them too. We've learned lot of lessons along the way during our collective 100 plus years of start-up and business advisory experience.
But only about one of every three or four businesses successfully reaches a closing after they are listed for sale.
That's a discouraging statistic, but one that can be overcome. And consider, too, that various sources note that up to 75% of all business owners are planning to sell their businesses within five to ten years, creating a massive inventory of available businesses competing with you for buyers' attention.
Why should you care?
What's one of the key differences between those business owners who execute a successful sale of their company on good terms and those who fail to close?
Simply knowing the process well in advance, focusing on a few essential actions as early as possible, and taking a comprehensive approach that is integrated into your overall business management and planning process.
Growthink's approach is unique and designed specifically for business owners. Unlike accountants, lawyers, business brokers and other intermediaries, we believe in a comprehensive approach to optimizing the chances of selling a business for the highest price and on the best terms for the owner.
We recommend you focus on three distinct initiatives months (or years) before you officially offer the company for sale:
1. Enhancing Your Business Plan to Increase Your Value - and Sales Price. Since 1999, we've helped 2,000 clients build their business plans and strategies. We'll show you how to achieve a value for your firm that includes its future growth opportunities, not only its past performance. Consider why the stocks of some public companies in a certain sector command a premium price to others in the sector - it's because investors believe in the future prospects of that company compared to the others. You should work on developing that premium value for your company through maximizing your business strategy - a process you're probably already doing anyway.
2. A Complete Process. These include all the steps involved in selling your business, from beginning to end (and even after the close). Steps include improving your financial statements and records and thinking about future capital gains, estate and other tax issues as early as possible.
3. Creative Financing and Transactions. You don't have to sell your business to your first bidder through a straight asset or stock sale. We'll teach you a variety of structures to choose from, including tax efficient sales to your existing partners, recapitalizing the company so you keep a continued role, and selling to another company in your industry, among others. All options offer advantages and disadvantages. You'll learn why and what type of approach might be right for you.
Experience has shown that only a relative few midsize businesses start the sales process early and focus on a comprehensive approach. Quite frankly, these business owners have a better chance of a successful outcome that those who don't plan.
We encourage you to learn the basics - whenever you think you'll sell your business.
Online Seminar - Thursday, January 7th at 1 PM PDT/4 PM EST
Join the expert Growthink team businesses for 45 minutes, and learn key lessons that will benefit you whenever you decide to sell your firm. The official Growthink "Bottom Line Guide to Selling Your Business" will be provided to seminar attendees.
Thursday, January 7th at 1 PM PDT/4 PM EST
During the online seminar, we'll also disclose the top mistakes owners make when selling their businesses (the land mines to avoid), as well as government actions that may be coming soon and affect your sales process (yup, think capital gains taxes).
Join the expert Growthink team and two entrepreneurs who recently sold their businesses for 45 minutes, and learn key lessons that will benefit you whenever you decide to sell your firm. The official Growthink "Bottom Line Guide to Selling Your Business" will be provided to seminar attendees.
Seminar Fee Waived for this Program. Strictly First Come, First Serve
Since our webinar system is limited to 200 registrants, sign up right away to attend via the link below.
One of the absolute keys to a successful business plan is to create the right business plan milestones. Doing so is essential to securing investors and making real progress towards achieving your goals.
The story below illustrates the importance of business plan milestones, after which is some guidance regarding how you can create the right business plan milestones for your company.
There are lots of things that all of us do, and do as well as we have to, without thinking.
Like pumping gas.
I just pumped gas this morning. And thought nothing of it. Until now.
The fact is that I didn't just pump gas. Sure, the entire process of what I did was called pumping gas. But I did a lot of things that made up that process.
1. I pulled into the gas station.
2. I pulled next to a pump.
3. I put the car in park.
4. I turned off my engine.
5. I got out of the car.
6. I popped open the gas flap.
7. I swiped my credit card into the machine.
8. I typed in my zip code.
9. I pressed the button for the type of gas I wanted.
10. I unscrewed the gas cap.
11. I took the gas nozzle out of the machine and stuck it into my gas tank.
12. I squeezed the lever.
13. I waited while the tank filled up.
14. I put the gas nozzle back into the machine.
15. I pressed "no" I don't want a receipt.
16. I screwed my gas cap back on.
17. I shut the gas flap.
18. I got back in my car.
19. I turned on the engine.
20. I put the car in drive.
21. I drove off.
Wow. I did 21 things just to pump gas?
So who cares? Well, investors care. And partners care. And the success of your business cares.
Let me explain.
Your business is currently at point A. Where you want to go is to point B. Now getting from point A to point B requires you to complete milestones.
And the most important milestones are what I call "risk mitigating milestones." These are the milestones the help eliminate the risk of your company failing.
Let me give you some examples. For Google in its early days, risk milestones included completing their initial result ranking algorithms, getting customer to start using its search engine, and generating revenues.
Obviously once Google was generating a lot of revenues, it was not a very risky investment. But before customers starting using Google.com, it was very risky. And before its initial algorithms were developed, it was even riskier.
Every business has risk mitigating milestones. Investors obviously prefer to back businesses where more risk milestones have been removed. I know I do.
Would you prefer to back a restauranteur who just has a vision for a new restaurant; or would you rather back that same restauranteur after the ideal location has been determined, the restaurant has been built, the staff has been hired and trained, the local newspapers have given it a great review, and the restaurant now has 250 loyal patrons and is booming every night?
It is your job as an entrepreneur to identify your risk mitigating milestones. And not only do you have to identify them, but you need to prioritize them. So that every day you are spending quality time working to accomplish them (and not spending time doing things like replying to emails that seem to be adding value; but which don't actually put you closer to accomplishing your risk milestones).
But, actually, you can't work on completing your risk mitigating milestones each day until you break up each of these milestones into much smaller projects. For example, Google creating its initial algorithm and a restauranteur finding an ideal location are great milestones, but way too large to accomplish on a daily basis.
Each milestone needs to be broken down into numerous chunks; chunks that can be completed every day, and progress made. It's like writing a book. If you write one page every day, by the end of the year, you'll have a 365 page book.
And it's like pumping gas. You need to do a ton of smaller things in order to accomplish the big thing. And like with pumping gas, when you spend the time breaking the task into pieces, you often see how easy each piece is to accomplish.
Developing risk mitigating milestones is an absolutely essential component of your business plan, and belongs in your Operations Plan section. Investors need to understand these milestones and your projected timeline for accomplishing them. You need to understand them to prioritize your time and hire the right people at the right time.
If you still need to complete your business plan, let me send you my CD with seven more essential business plan secrets. I explain why I'm doing this and how you can get it now, on this page right here: http://www.growthink.com/seven-secrets
Here is a video that explains precisely why raising capital is so important to your business.
And, importantly, it includes details regarding why it’s critical that you understand how to raise capital from multiple sources, even if you currently are only seeking one particular type of capital...
Near the end, I reveal a fantastic (and perhaps my favorite) tip, which is the single most controllable factor that you have to improve your success in both fundraising and successfully growing you business.
Many entrepreneurs and investors have been capitalizing on developing internet capabilities and the increased usage of social networks around the world by creating a new wave of social networks and Web 2.0 websites. Over the last few years, the Web 2.0 sector has seen a number of acquisitions for companies including Bebo, Blogger, Cork’d, Del.icio.us, Flickr, Jaiku, Last.fm, Picasa, Rojo, Skype, Sphere, StumbleUpon, and Webshots. Entrepreneurs have been encouraged by large scale transactions including YouTube selling for $1.7 billion, Facebook’s valuation at $15 billion based on Microsoft’s recent investment, and MySpace’s sale for $580 million.
A great Web 2.0 website can be built on a shoestring budget with a few smart developers and an innovative concept driving the growth of the business. Web 2.0 companies have the potential to experience overnight notoriety through a few press mentions and can grow exponentially thereafter. Thus, venture capital firms do expect to see a great deal of traction in the marketplace before seriously considering funding your social network. Due to market conditions, VCs today are seeking to fund companies that are already well on their way to success, rather than higher risk and earlier stage deals that they might have previously considered. As a social network, the right time to contact a VC is when your site has a solid user base and viral growth through an innovative guerilla marketing strategy, not at the idea stage. For example, just today Glubble BV (www.glubble.com), a niche Amsterdam based social networking website for families with children under the age of 12, announced that they raised $1 million in Series B funding. Glubble was launched in 2007 and counts 300,000 family pages on its service to-date.
Due to the large number of social networking sites that were funded in the last three years, VCs are getting increasingly skeptical of these concepts. Kleiner Perkins, one of the largest VCs, has publicly stated that they are no longer investing or even looking at Web 2.0 companies. I’m not suggesting that you get discouraged by this or that the opportunities for new web 2.0 or social networks have passed, but realize that the competition is great and you must differentiate yourself both in your market and when pitching to venture capital firms. Stand out by targeting niche users, such as senior citizens, travelers, specific cultures, or countries. Find a niche that has not been already conquered, but that has enormous value, and do not promote your business as the next MySpace or Facebook. These networks have generated enormous and loyal user bases and it will be extremely challenging if not impossible to replace them.
Growthink has worked with nearly 100 web 2.0 businesses over the last few years and has developed strong expertise in the sector. We can help you to strategically think through your business model and create a compelling business plan that will help your Web 2.0 company stand out among the throngs of competitors. We can also advise you on how to improve your viral marketing strategy to optimize your valuation before bringing your company to a VC firm.
If you are an existing website, we can also help provide you with strategic recommendations based on a complimentary website audit. Please follow this link for more information:
It is common knowledge that companies need business plans.
Business plans are critical for setting goals and mapping out your plan to achieve those goals. They are also critical in order to raise capital. Whether you are seeking a bank loan, or capital from angel investors, venture capitalists or corporate investors, a formal business plan is simply a requirement.
However, there are some investors that say they don’t need a business plan. Rather, they just want to see a company slide presentation and/or a 1-3 page Executive Summary.
So, at this point you are probably asking yourself, “So, do I, or do I not, need a business plan?”
The answer is a resounding “YES.” Let me explain.
To begin, the types of investors that typically do not want to see a formal business plan are an extremely unique bunch. They are typically the top 1% of angel investors or venture capitalists. These are the investors that see so many deals that they don’t have the time to read through business plans.
Perhaps more importantly, these are the investors that focus on investments that could be worth billions of dollars within a few short years.
They invest in companies like Facebook or Twitter; companies that have massive potential but which may not even have a real revenue model in place yet. For companies like these, that are potential “game-changers,” creating financial projections or analyzing the current marketplace are much less important than for other businesses. As such, formal business plans with this information is less important.
Another key reason for creating a formal business plan is the knowledge that comes out of it. Specifically, the business plan process forces you to make a lot of key decisions about your business. For instance, writing down your marketing plan forces you to determine the marketing tactics you will employ.
Likewise, the business plan development process forces you to assess your market, identify customer segments and customer needs, and determine the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors. This is all critical information that you need to successfully operate your business.
The U.S. Small Business Administration, in a study called “The Small Business Economy,” found a direct correlation between a business’ success and its creation of a formal business plan. That’s because the business plan development process forces you to really think through the business and make informed decisions.
Likewise, the business plan development process gives you the information that you need to include in your investor slide presentation and Executive Summary. For example, one slide needs to include your financial projections and uses of funding. Another slide must talk about your marketing plan. All of this information comes directly from your business plan.
And what about information that is in your business plan, but which you omit from your slide presentation -- is that wasted information? NO. Before they invest, investors will bombard you with questions about your business, your market, your customers, your competition and so on.
Having completed, read and re-read your business plan, you will be able to quickly and correctly answer all of these questions.
So, when investors say they don’t need a business plan, they are NOT saying that they don’t want you to create a formal business plan. Rather, they are saying that the way they want you to communicate your vision and concept to them is not through a long written document, but via another format, mainly a slide presentation and/or 1-3 page Executive Summary.
So, learn the format of business plan and complete your formal business plan. It will give you the information you need to create a winning business strategy and attract investors. And, in addition to your full business plan, create an Executive Summary (which should be the first section of your full business plan anyway) and a slide presentation, since these documents will be required in the capital-raising process.
Just for a moment, consider the following press release headlines:
"Company X Receives Top Marks in Bloomberg Article..."
"Company X Ranked #1 Global Provider...Second Year Running"
"Company X Acquires Leading Provider of..."
"Company X Launches Philippines Operations"
"Company X Names Industry Veteran as Vice President..."
Now imagine what it would feel like to be the founder of Company X. For one Growthink client, Liam Brown, this isn't a dream - it's a reality.
A few years ago, Liam had the vision to come to Growthink for assistance with a business plan for his vision - a company named Integreon. Liam, with a solid business plan, turned his vision into a business, raised capital, and attracted a highly motivated work force. Today, Integreon is a leading business process outsourcing (BPO) service firm that employs over 2000 people, with offices ranging from Mumbai to Fargo and New Delhi to midtown Manhattan.
Even with an amazing business plan, heights and milestones like the ones listed above cannot be achieved without vision. Simply put, you must have a vision of where you want your business to be in the future. You must be able to communicate your vision in an exciting manner to employees and investors, so that they too share your vision and are motivated to help you achieve it.
Unlike your business plan, your vision doesn't provide a specific roadmap for your business. Rather, your vision paints a picture of what the your business strives to become in the future. A leader with a strong vision motivates his or her team to achieve this picture, regardless of the action plan that will be employed.
Vision provides motivation to both the leader and employees. It gives employees something that they can believe in and rally around. While it doesn't tell the employees exactly what to do to achieve it, having vision instilled in them helps positively mold their decision-making when problems must be solved that don't have clear answers.
A strong vision combined with a strong business plan is critical to the success of a growing venture. The vision motivates everyone to achieve success, while the plan guides them to where they need to go. In addition, the plan is significant in that it documents the vision. By "cementing" the vision on paper, the team gains more confidence that the vision will not be easily changed and that the organization is truly committed to achieving it.
In my previous post, I explained how getting an outside perspective improves your chances of raising capital.
There is a second, equally important, benefit of retaining a business planning consultant to develop your business plan: it improves your business strategy.
Let's start with some facts...
Fact #1: There are 24 million businesses in the United States alone.
Fact #2: History tends to repeat itself.
What I mean is, if you have an idea, whether it's a marketing idea, operations idea -- anything really -- chances are it's been tried before. Chances are also that if it failed the first time, it will most likely fail again.
That's not to be discouraging, because there's a decent chance that it wasn't executed properly the first time, or lacked the nuances you bring to the idea. Regardless -- if your idea has been tested before, I bet you want to know about it.
When you are aware of the earlier attempts of an idea, you can quickly learn from them and either 1) Determine that it won't work (and cut your losses) or 2) refine the strategy and make it work. But, if you never know about those other attempts, your chances of failure are increased.
A competent business plan advisor can provide a lot of value during this research and discovery phase. Reputable business plan consultants not only perform market research, they leverage their existing knowledge and experiences regarding their own businesses and the businesses of their colleagues. This positions them to point out those potential pitfalls and strategies which have failed in the past, as well as strategies that have been proven to work.
This is very important, because unrealistic assumptions can kill a business.
To explore this, let's take an example from a company I just spoke with yesterday. This firm is about to launch a new division offering BPO (business process outsourcing) services. When I asked about their expected sales cycle (the time it takes from when they contact a prospective customer to when they secure the client) they answered 3 to 6 months.
Well, 3 to 6 months is a reasonable sales cycle in this industry. But what if they told me 3 to 6 weeks? Worse yet, what if they went out and succeeded in raising financing -- expecting revenues to come in within a 3 to 6 week period?
Most likely, they would have raised too little money and gone bankrupt while anxiously waiting for prospects to become customers.
There's another piece to business strategy consulting, which involves taking interesting (or even seemingly mundane) ideas from other industries and finding creative ways to adapt them to your business. These types of insights are frequently offered by outside advisors and have been known to result in breakthroughs responsible for transforming entire industries.
Consider roll-on deodorant. The "roll-on" part was inspired by the ball-point pen. Before that, deodorant was packaged in cream form. Or, consider Fred Smith's Fedex. Smith applied the banking industry's method of clearing overnight checks to the overnight delivery of packages. Each of these cross-industry breakthroughs resulted in billion dollar industries.
I'll admit it... As a kid, I hated history class. I couldn't imagine information less relevant to my life than what happened in Europe 600 years ago. But you can't be ignorant about what has happened in the past or what is happening around you -- even half-way across the globe -- because it does affect you. Knowing what other companies are doing, what's working and what's failed -- that's the information that will prevent you from repeating failures and allow you to replicate success.
Who knows? A well-researched busines strategy might just result in a breakthrough that establishes your place in business history.
Yesterday I was looking at an online forum that deals with all aspects of entrepreneurship. I quickly found the capital-raising section and started reading a post from someone who was considering outsourcing the development of their business plan to an outside firm.
Shortly thereafter, I saw a comment from an entrepreneur named Joe, who said, "How could you even consider outsourcing your business plan? Only you know your business well enough to write it."
Well, I'm probably pretty biased on this topic, since Growthink has been developing business plans for clients for a decade. I want to put that bias aside for a minute, though, because I'd like to explain the value of letting nearly anyone outside your company help with the development of your business plan.
Here's my stance: Only outside viewpoints can ensure that your business plan includes both a solid Business Strategy and Communications Strategy. Right now, I want to talk about Communications Strategy - I'll touch on Business Strategy in an upcoming blog post.
Before we go any further, however, I want to dispel the biggest myth about business plans.
Most people think that the goal of a business plan is to provide an in-depth analysis of your business. If you have any aspirations of presenting your plan to outside investors, then this thinking is incomplete. But most entrepreneurs are looking for a business plan to raise capital to market your company to investors.
Yes, your business plan is a marketing document.
Would you buy toothpaste whose packaging states, in huge letters, "Sodium Fluoride," "Tetra Potassium Pyrophosphate," and "Titanium Dioxide?"
We all purchase toothpaste whose packaging promotes the BENEFITS such as "freshens breath," "whitens teeth" and "prevents cavities."
The same is true with business plans. You should never -- particularly at the beginning -- pile on information about the details of your business. Rather, you need to focus on the benefits that investors will care about: the size of the addressable market, the milestones you've achieved to-date, what you have that your competitors don't -- and, importantly, how you expect them to get a return on their dollars.
A great communications strategy, in business planning, or in anything else, starts with figuring out what your audience wants to, needs to, and/or is willing to hear. Then, of course, you have to give it to them. You must put yourself in your audience's shoes and figure out the most compelling way to convey the benefits of your business to them.
Back to Joe's quote, "Only you know your business well enough..." Following his logic, there would be no advertising agencies or public relations firms.
Actually, imagine if all of your competitors decided to do all of their advertising and PR in-house, and you were the only one to seek outside, professional assistance. Your marketing would likely dominate your competitors'.
In the same way, when your business plan brilliantly communicates the benefits of your business to investors, you give yourself an immeasurable competitive advantage over the thousands and thousands of other businesses out there competing for capital.
It's no wonder that only a very small percentage of companies seeking venture capital successfully raise it. Yes, the majority of contenders may "know their business well enough," but sadly, not well enough to convince others to invest.