Written by Dave Lavinsky on Friday, October 15, 2010
Looking for money for your business?
Well, you may want to take some advice from an FBI hostage negotiator.
That's right. I recently came across an article detailing the chronicles of a former FBI hostage negotiator, and noticed several parallels between hostage negotiations and raising money.
Here are the key lessons and parallels:
1. Determine what is a negotiable situation and what is not
In the infamous 1993 Waco, TX negotiations, it was determined that leader David Koresh would not negotiate and that the only way to save lives was via raiding the compound.
When raising money, you'll learn that some investors are interested in your venture, and others aren't. You generally are going to have a really tough time changing the minds of investors who initially are not interested in you. So when this is the case, move on.
2. Everyone on your team who communicates to the other side is a negotiator
This is a really interesting point. If any FBI agent communicates with the other side (even if it's not the leader of the FBI team), it is treated by the other side as an official communication. As you can imagine, lots can go wrong here.
Likewise with raising money. If you have a team, investors will surely ask questions to the other team members. Make sure you are all on the same page and have the same vision and answers to key questions.
3. What the other side sees is key
In Waco, TX, the FBI agents said they wanted to peacefully negotiate. But when David Koresh looked out the window, he saw tanks. Clearly, this visual didn't match the message the FBI was trying to send him.
The same holds true when raising money, you need to match and support your claims. If you say that customers are going to love your solution, provide testimonials from prospective customers. If you say that you're going to progress your company week after week, then make sure to follow up with investors every week after your initial meeting to keep them aware of your progress (and actually make real progress).
4. Keep it Simple
Years ago, during an airplane hijacking, FBI agents were concerned about the fact that the hijacker was wearing a long coat. They guessed that a bomb was being hidden under it, and started thinking of complex solutions. Later the hijacker revealed "It was cold and it is the only coat I own." (pretty funny, huh)
Likewise, when raising money, keep it simple. Investors can't invest in what they don't understand. Lay down the key facts about your venture -- why it's unique and why it will make investors money. You don't need to get into all the tiny details unless they specifically ask about them.
5. Listen to the Other Side's Needs
In virtually all hostage situations, the 'bad guys' have specific needs. Maybe it's money. Maybe it's power. Maybe it's the release of a prisoner. Etc.
Likewise, all investors have needs. Venture capitalists are typically driven by an ROI need, or a need to get a high return on their investment. Angel investors also have other needs like ego and interest in helping an entrepreneur. And strategic investors may invest out of fear that their competitor invests in your company before them. And so on.
So, take the time to understand the needs of your prospective investors, and sell into them.
I trust that these lessons will help you raise money for your business. But realize, they'll only help you after you take the first steps....mainly getting in touch with potential investors and securing meetings.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Saturday, October 9, 2010
I predicted that Crowdfunding would be big, and I love to see that more and more new ventures are using it to quickly and easily raise funding.
My favorite recent example is Glif.
Glif's founders came up with an idea - a simple iPhone 4 accessory with two primary functions: mounting your iPhone to a standard tripod, and acting as a kickstand to prop your iPhone up at an angle.
Next, they created a prototype. But they had no money to actually build it and distribute it.
So, they turned to Crowdfunding. They posted their company on one of the several Crowdfunding platforms (Kickstarter). They set it up so that donators receive, among other things, a Glif when they are eventually manufactured (after the company has raised enough money to allow them to manufacture).
The result: within just 5 days, Glif raised over $80,000.
Now, before you rush to post your venture on Kickstarter, note that the vast majority of those that do so fail to raise any money.
Because there is a specific strategy you must follow in order to successfully raise money from Crowdfunding.
I have detailed the strategies in this video and in my Crowdfunding Formula.
Check it out.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Thursday, October 7, 2010
Now that summer is officially over, venture capital activity is picking up.
I just reviewed the many companies who recently raised venture capital with an eye towards those that are offering products and services that could benefit other entrepreneurs and business owners.
These following six companies fell into this category. Collectively these companies just raised $43.2 million.
Get Satisfaction Inc. (http://www.getsatisfaction.com) raised $6 million led by Azure Capital Partners. Previous investors O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures and First Round Capital also participated. Get Satisfaction has developed a private label social network platform for businesses to use to communicate with their customers, and to help customers communicate with each other. This helps companies bond with customers and provide customer service, and is a much easier and faster solution than building your own system.
Ixtens (http://www.ixtens.com/) raised $4.6 million led by Greycroft Partners and BV Capital. Ixtens offers a comprehensive ecommerce solution for businesses. It enables merchants to sell their products anywhere by syndicating goods to multiple marketplaces. It also provides the necessary infrastructure for a merchant to turn any online store into a marketplace, selling integrated third-party inventory from any supplier.
Rypple (http://www.rypple.com) raised $7 million in a financing round led by Bridgescale Partners. Additional investors included Edgestone Capital Ventures and Extreme Venture Partners, as well as angel investors Peter Thiel, Seymour Schulich, Roger Martin and Joe Sigelman. Rypple makes HR software that helps companies run better. It solicits feedback from employees, helps teams share information and accomplish goals, and allows managers to review and improve employee performance more easily. To me, it looks very similar to Basecamp, but focused on HR applications; it seems very cool.
TimeTrade Systems (http://www.timetrade.com) raised $5.6 million led by Ascent Venture Partners with participation by CommonAngels and other returning investors. TimeTrade, which I have used myself, is an online appointment scheduling solution. It allows prospects or customers to automatically schedule meeting times with you, governed by rules that you set. I find it very easy to use and worthwhile (and they offer a 30 day free trial).
uTest (http://www.utest.com/) raised $13 million led by Scale Venture Partners. Previous investors Longworth Venture Partners and Egan-Managed Capital also invested in this round. uTest is the world's largest software testing marketplace; it has created a community of 30,000 professional testers from more than 165 countries around the world. Startups to global software companies have used the uTest marketplace to get their web, desktop and mobile applications tested. This is the quickest and easiest way to test something.
Verve Wireless Inc. (http://www.vervewireless.com) raised $7 million from BlueRun Ventures and The Associated Press. Verve Wireless helps manage the mobile content platforms for over 750 leading media companies, and importantly allows businesses to do targeted mobile advertising on its network.
Key Tip: These companies did NOT raise venture capital by luck. Nor did they buy a list of venture capital firms and email their business plans to all of them. Rather, they followed a proven, methodical process. Check out my Venture Capital Pitch Formula for a proven process for you to follow to raise venture capital. This video explains more.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Monday, October 4, 2010
A few weeks ago I went to the doctor. My throat had been bothering me for a while and I figured it was time to get it checked out.
It turns out that I had strep throat, and after 10 days of antibiotics I was fine.
Now, before the doctor gave me the antibiotics, he asked me a bunch of questions and took at look at my throat. And he gave me a strep throat test to confirm his diagnosis.
And the doctor's experience along with his diagnosis allowed him to solve the problem.
Let's consider a scenario though where the doctor was too busy to diagnose my condition. Perhaps I walked into his office and he didn't let me say a word. Maybe he looked me up and down and said, "I know what the problem is. It's this, and so I'm going to give you a prescription for this." Now, if this happened, chances are that he wouldn't have properly diagnosed my condition, he wouldn't have prescribed the right solution, and I wouldn't have gotten better.
And in the medical profession, this clearly would be serious. Because in the medical profession, the formula D < C = M holds true. Specifically, the formula is Diagnosis before Consultation equals Malpractice. And if my doctor tried to diagnose my problem and give me a prescription before doing a consultation, he could have landed in pretty hot water. In fact, he could have gone to jail.
So what's my point here? Because I think we all know that doctors shouldn't offer a diagnosis before doing a consultation.
Well, the point is that too many entrepreneurs commit this error. They diagnose the needs of their market without doing a thorough consultation. Many times, their consultation is simply on their OWN needs. Perhaps, they think, "what I would really like is an Italian restaurant in my town." And they think that just because they want it, that everyone else wants it. This is a common flaw in both marketing and entrepreneurship.
Rather, the entrepreneur destined for success is one who spends time consulting with their target customers. First they identify a need. But then, they really assess it. They speak to prospective customers. And figure out their true needs. What are they doing or buying currently to solve the need? What do they like about the current solution? What do they dislike? And so on.
Importantly, note that asking your friends what they think about your idea also tends to lead to faulty results. First, your friends probably think very similarly to you, and may not represent a good sample of the general population who will consider buying your product or service. And, oftentimes friends will say they like something just to make you feel good, rather than really scrutinizing the idea.
So, don't commit entrepreneurial malpractice. Do your homework. Really research the needs of your customers and/or prospective customers. And only launch products and services that truly solve these needs.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, September 28, 2010
On Monday, President Obama signed the Small Business Jobs Bill. The bill provides $42 billion in loan incentives and tax cuts for entrepreneurs and small businesses.
Specifically, the Bill does a few important things:
1. The Bill increases the government guarantee on the SBA’s 7(a) loans to 90% through December 31.
Some explanation for some of you who are new to raising funding:
The SBA is the United States Small Business Administration. The SBA doesn’t lend money to entrepreneurs. Rather, local banks give out the loans, but the SBA guarantees a certain percentage of the loan amounts (so if the entrepreneur defaults on the loan, the SBA pays the bank 80% to 85% of the loan amount). With the new program, the guarantee is being raised to 90% which makes lending less risky to the banks.
The SBA’s 7(a) Loan Program is its primary program “to help start-up and existing small businesses obtain financing when they might not be eligible for business loans through normal lending channels.”
2. The Bill includes a new $30 billion lending fund that community banks can use to make loans to entrepreneurs and small businesses.
3. The Bill includes $12 billion in tax breaks for small businesses.
Overall, this is great news to entrepreneurs and small businesses who gain 1) more access to funding, 2) better funding terms, and 3) tax breaks.
This is also positive news for the US economy, as entrepreneurs and small business owners have historically created the majority of jobs and job growth in our country.
(Note: Want to tap into this new funding from the Small Business Jobs Bill? Growthink’s Step by Step Guide to Raising Capital From Banks and SBA Lenders will teach you how to quickly and easily get the right SBA and/or bank loan to fund your business.)
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, September 21, 2010
In my freshman year in college I took a very challenging Calculus class.
It turned out that my roommate was also in the class. Both of us had a hard time keeping up. And we were both nervous as the final exam approached.
We both studied hard for the exam.
And the results: He got a C+ on the exam. I got an A.
I don't think I was naturally any smarter than he was. And we both spent about the same amount of time studying for the exam.
So, why did I do much better?
Well, the one thing I did that he didn't was that I used Schaum's Outlines. Schaum's Outlines, which I had come across in high school, are study guides that complement what you learn in class and in textbooks. Importantly, each guide include hundreds of sample problems along with the answers.
And so, while my roommate was only studying from the course textbook, I also used Schaum's Outlines to review nearly every conceivable type of Calculus question that I could be asked, and how to answer it.
Interestingly, when my roommate saw me using the Schaum's book, he questioned it. He didn't think it was fair for me to use it because the teacher never specifically told us about it. I remember him even saying that it was like cheating.
Well, clearly using supplemental materials to improve your performance is not cheating (unless those "supplemental materials" are performance-enhancing drugs to become a better athlete). Rather, I consider it being proactive and creative in order to achieve your objectives.
The same principle holds true in business. For example, would you ever try to do pay-per-click advertising without first learning how to do it right? If not, you'd probably lose your shirt.
Or would you ever put a full page ad in a magazine without either using an advertising agency with great expertise and/or spending time learning about how to create effective ads?
That's why I started creating information products at Growthink a couple years back. My thinking was like this: why would someone ever want to go into a meeting with a venture capitalist without knowing the questions they would be asked? That's suicide. So that's why I created a program for raising venture capital. Or why would someone want to create a business plan from scratch, particularly if they weren't 100% sure regarding what should be included in their business plan? And that's why I created a simple business plan template.
The key point is that you must seek out knowledge from the best possible sources to succeed in business. In fact, later today I will be driving to Maryland to attend a meeting with some of the top internet marketers in the world. I will spend a lot of money and time to attend the meeting, but it will pay for itself over and over again as I use the knowledge to increase revenues and profits.
Think about what skills would help you accomplish your goals. And then go out and find the best resources to gain them.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Friday, September 17, 2010
Over the past several months, I've been helping an entrepreneur take his vision for a new consumer product to market.
During this time, he has made great strides; he now has product samples, a manufacturer lined up, his packaging designed and printed, etc.
The one thing he's lacking is proper funding.
So, he recently started looking for investors.
And so far, he's had one investor meeting and has scheduled one more for the coming days. The meeting he had was good. The investor showed interest. But wasn't quite ready to invest; he wants to see a bit more progress made.
And then I received an email from the entrepreneur that's all too familiar...
It went something like this:
Dave, I read about this guy who put up this website and made a ton of money. I think I can do the same thing. So what do you think of me doing that, making money, and using that money to fund my other venture?
To this, I replied, "I HATE IT!!!"
The issue, I told him, is that the new website idea is a completely different business from what he's doing. Could it work? Sure. But it would require ALL of his time and energy. And the odds were not in his favor of making it work. And then if it didn't work, he'd be sitting on two half-baked companies, neither of which had any real value.
Which led me to think of one of my favorite quotes from Thomas Edison -- "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."
This entrepreneur is really close to making his consumer product company a success. Sure he has a lot of work left to do, but he's already made tons of progress.
Like many other entrepreneurs, he's getting distracted by "shiny objects" - those cool things or ideas that catch your attention and get you off track. In my early days as an entrepreneur, I got distracted sometimes too. It's hard when you come across a new opportunity or idea that you think is great. You want to jump on it right away. But, in virtually every case, you need to stick with your current venture or project and see it to fruition. If not, you end up with a string of half-started companies that have no value.
Success in entrepreneurship requires dedication and hard work. And on the funding side, in most cases it's simply a numbers game. No matter how good your company or idea is, you can't expect to only meet with one or two investors and get funding. You need to increase your prospective investor pool, because if you speak to enough investors (and you present to them the right way), you WILL find investors.
And finally, to inspire you and to show you that one of the greatest entrepreneurs in history was also a strong proponent of hard work, focus and dedication, below are some more great quotes from Thomas Edison:
"Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits."
"Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration."
"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."
"I never did anything by accident, nor did any of my inventions come by accident; they came by work."
"I start where the last man left off."
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Thursday, September 16, 2010
I'm always on the lookout for know-how that will help entrepreneurs like you grow more successful businesses.
So, the other day, when I received an email from my friend Adam Toren about his new program, I took a look (Adam runs the popular entrepreneurship website YoungEntrepreneur.com). Specifically, Adam wrote to tell me that they just released a brand new blogging course called Blog Money Bootcamp.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Wednesday, September 15, 2010
I have a brief experiment I'd like to try out on you.
Please stand up, close your eyes, spin around twice, and then sit down.
Are you done?
Ok, how do you feel?
Actually, I'm not overly concerned with how you feel after doing the exercise, since that wasn't my point.
My point is this: the vast majority of you did NOT stand up, close your eyes, spin around twice, and then sit down. Maybe you visualized yourself doing it, but you didn't actually follow my directions.
Now, imagine you were reading a really good book. And within the first four chapters, the author gave you tons of valuable advice. And each time you followed it, you saw immediate benefits.
And then, at the beginning of chapter five, the author asked you to do the same thing - stand up, close your eyes, spin around twice, and then sit down.
In this scenario, there is a good chance you would have done it.
And finally, imagine you were in a face-to-face meeting with me and I made this request of you. In virtually every case, you would have stood up, closed your eyes, spun around twice, and then sat down.
OK, here's my point. The result of this experiment parallels the results you will get when developing a business plan and raising capital.
Let me explain...
The experimental request that I made at the very beginning of this post was like my Executive Summary, the first and most important page of your business plan. The idea of the author making the request in chapter 5, after he really has your attention and has built credibility, is like including the request in your business plan. And the idea of me making the request of you in a face-to-face setting is like an investor meeting.
Now here's the key: you can't expect the reader of your Executive Summary to jump through hoops. Nor can you expect them to take significant action. Because they won't. Rather, your goal is to convince them to take the next step which should be to read the full business plan or take a meeting with you.
Now, once your audience starts reading your full business plan things change a little. Before getting to your full plan, they have read the Executive Summary and become interested in your business (if they weren't interested, they would have stopped reading). So, in your business plan you have a little more latitude, and can get the reader to take a little more action and do what you request them to do.
And finally, in your meetings with investors, you have a ton of latitude. Because they are in your presence, you can be more forceful in getting them to truly understand the power of your business. You can get them to answer questions. You can get them to demo your product or service. Etc.
The most precious resource for most of us, and particularly investors, is time. As an entrepreneur seeking funding, you must figure out how to get as much time from the investor as possible.
The key to achieving this is to present a compelling Executive Summary that they can quickly read, and gets them excited/compels them to take the next step, which is most likely to read your business plan.
And your goal with the business plan is to compel them to take the next step, which is to spend an hour or more meeting face-to-face with you. For any investor, this is a real commitment of time. And there's no way they're investing their money without first investing their time.
Time is money. I know that getting investors to meet with you by itself doesn't put money in your bank account. But the more investor meetings you get, the much more likely you are to raise the money you need.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, September 14, 2010
In 1880, Thomas Edison introduced his light bulb as a way to light office buildings.
One hundred years later, in 1980, Ted Turner launched CNN.
Both entrepreneurs launched to the same sound, specifically critics saying "it's never going to work."
Critics told Edison that offices didn't need light bulbs and switches, and that they were fine with lamps and candles.
And to Turner critics said "who would possibly watch or need news 24 hours a day?"
Yet, both entrepreneurs achieved extreme levels of success.
So, how can you overcome all the naysayers? All the folks who are telling you that your idea or company is never going to work?
Here are my favorite ways:
1) Show how you fit in. Show how your solution "fits" into the days and lives of the customers you are serving. YouTube, for example, could have said that its customers are already spending a lot of time online, making video consumption online more accessible/convenient for them.
2) Leverage the success of other companies. By saying "we are like [insert well-known company] but we're different because [insert why you are different]," you leverage already established credibility. This makes it hard for naysayers to deny your potential.
3) Simply cite other success stories like Edison and Turner and how their naysayers were proved wrong. Explain how it's easy to see how naysayers were critical at the time, but looking back, those innovations clearly made a lot of sense. Ask the naysayer to pretend they are in the future looking back, and to view your company from that perspective.
4) Plan out your venture. Your ability to complete your business plan and show others a clear, comprehensive growth roadmap will squash many of their doubts. It's much easier to poke holes in a concept. But when that concept has been converted into a plan, it gains massive credibility.
5) Gain social proof. Once you have a lot of people who believe in your vision, it's easier to get more people to believe. By getting advisors, beta customers, contingent employees, etc., or even just fans on your Facebook page, you create social proof. You can show that others already believe in your vision. Few people want to be the first to like or support something since they risk failure and looking foolish. It's always much easier for naysayers to support a cause that they see lots of others supporting.
Everyone loves to look back and say that they supported and/or knew about a now-successful company in its infancy. But the reality is that during the early days, there are much fewer supporters. So use the five techniques above to turn naysayers into supporters, and grow a successful business.