Every day I hear pitches from entrepreneurs about the great new product or company they are launching (or want to launch).
But unfortunately, more often than not, their ideas aren't that exciting.
Now, if you have great access to capital and are absolutely amazing at execution, then a "regular" idea is fine. In those cases, you simply go out and raise capital, launch your company, and then out-perform your competitors.
But, entrepreneurs who can do this are few and far between.
For the rest of us, we need an edge. Something that's different. Better than what's out there.
What I'm talking about is the kind of business idea that you look at and say, "That's really cool."
Now, these types of ideas typically feed off the wants and needs of consumers. That is, the entrepreneurs who conceive them have considered the true needs of the customer and modified existing products to satisfy those needs.
Importantly, in most cases, the customer hasn't even recognized the unmet need. But when they see the product or service, they realize its advantages and buy it.
I came across a couple examples of such "cool" products recently. The first was a pair of Reef brand sandals which has a bottle opener nestled in its sole making it "a mandatory accessory for a night out with the boys."
The second is Panasonic's BF-104 flashlight which operates with any combination of D-cell, AA OR AAA batteries. How cool is that...as long as you have 3 batteries, regardless of the type of each, it works (rather than all the time we've all spent searching for that last D-cell battery).
Neither of these innovations required years in the lab. Rather, they were both the result of the entrepreneurial mind coming up with creative solutions to the needs of their customers. (Note that the fact that these two innovations came out of corporations, rather than individual entrepreneurs, is even more impressive to me).
So, how can you maximize your creativity to come up with better ideas for your business?
Recently I created this video (http://www.growthink.com/content/breakthrough-business-idea-generator) that discusses one of my favorite brainstorming techniques called Assumption Reversal.
We have been using Assumption Reversal much more internally and coming up with some really neat ideas. I encourage you to watch the video and use Assumption Reversal for your business.
Finally, not long ago, I had the honor of interviewing Michael Michalko. Michael is the author of the book Thinkertoys which is known as one of the best books on creativity of all time. In fact, I learned about Assumption Reversal from this book.
I will be releasing more of Michalko's best creativity techniques in the coming months. In the meantime, try out the Assumption Reversal technique and keep brainstorming to come up with even better ideas.
Recently, I had the great fortune of interviewing Mark DiPaola, an extremely accomplished entrepreneur.
As the founder of Vantage Media Corp., Mark raised a $70 million Series A financing, which is still on record as one of the largest Series A raises in history. And in 2007, his company generated $68 million in revenues.
As president of D3 Ventures, Mark also functions as an investor.
As a person with such success on both sides of the table - investing in growing businesses, and actually founding and growing businesses himself, I couldn't wait to interview him about entrepreneurship and raising capital.
During the interview, Mark went into great detail as he recounted his own experiences on raising capital for Vantage Media. One thing he emphasized was how important it is to know your business inside and out, and how this knowledge impacts not only your ability to grow your business, but also to achieve sales breakthroughs and get the attention of investors.
Mark revealed one website for job postings which helped him assemble a 35 -person team that brought in $40 million/year in revenue -- and it's not the website you might think! We discussed hiring strategies, the number one factor to look for in job candidates, and when it's time to bring in a highly-experienced management team.
Regarding his role as an angel investor, Mark shared the qualities he looks for in a company before making an angel investment, and why it's important that entrepreneurs are referred to investors.
Growthink University members can listen to the interview here:
For those who have not yet joined, you can listen to the first five minutes by clicking the blue triangle below:
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.
Have you ever heard of ZipSkinny.com?
If you go to the homepage of their site, you'll see a box that asks you to "enter your zip code to see U.S. Census data and comparisons with neighboring ZIPs."
Unless you're one of those people who gets excited about miscellaneous facts and figures, at first glance this might seem like an uneventful site.
But for those of you who provide products or services to local customers, the information available is *invaluable* in conducting market research for your business.
Once you type in your zip code and press enter, you'll see tons of great data on your local market. Such as the percentage of local residents who have graduate degrees or who are married. And, you’ll see economic indicators such as household income, and demographic information on race, age, and gender.
As an example, I've just typed in 10549, the zip code of our office here in Mount Kisco, a suburban town just outside of NYC. One fact that stands out to me right away is that 62.3% of residents have lived in the same home for 5+ years. Another is that the median household income is $75,761. Put these two statistics together, and you can deduce that this town is a fertile location for a business where both an affluent demographic and high customer retention are essential, such as a landscaping or cleaning business.
Whether you're looking to conduct preliminary market research before delving into a business, or examining markets into which you can expand your current venture, ZipSkinny is one of many tools that can help you with the process.
And in our recent report, "How to Quickly, Easily, & Expertly Conduct ZERO-COST Market Research For Your Business" I lay out this and several other tools to help you conduct the market research online at a level that is comparable the way it's done by experts with decades of experience.
As you might recall, I released this report at a STEEPLY discounted rate of one cent for each year of my wife's age, in honor of her birthday in March. And that discount is about to disappear forever.
On Thursday at midnight, the price is going up more than 100x, so as the subject of this blog post suggests, this is your last chance to get the information of market research experts for literally pennies.
If you are a Growthink University member, you can click here to grab your free copy of the report if you haven't done so already.
Otherwise to order now, click here. Or for more information, you can watch the brief video below:
Yesterday I had the opportunity to interview Brad Feld, who is considered among the elite investors in privately held companies.
For those of you who are not familiar with Brad, his background includes starting and selling his own software company, investing as an angel in 40 to 50 companies, and founding or co-founding three venture capital firms: Intensity Ventures, Mobius Venture Capital and Foundry Group, where he currently serves as Managing Director.
While there were several invaluable points for entrepreneurs seeking capital in the interview, I found the following to be most interesting:
1. Your VC firm is your partner.
Many first-time entrepreneurs view VCs simply as providers of capital. In actuality, VCs are partners. They exert control over your company. They have experience in product development or scaling companies, or both, and can provide significant value beyond the money they infuse in companies.
Because VCs are partners that exert control, you need to assess them much like you would other partners. Mainly, you need to make sure that there is a really good fit.
2. Angel investors are the friend of the first-time entrepreneur.
First time entrepreneurs should strongly consider angel investments prior to venture capital. Angel investors often have financing experience which can help entrepreneurs navigate the VC waters when they are ready (there are a ton of terms and issues involved with venture capital that most first-time entrepreneurs don't know about).
Angel investors also tend to have relationships with VCs. Also, angels often have the operational experience to help grow the entrepreneur's company. And finally, the angels' funding can help the company grow to a point where it is more suitable for venture capital.
However, when structuring angel deals, it is imperative to keep the pricing/valuation fair and the deal terms as simple as possible. If not, raising subsequent venture capital rounds becomes more challenging.
3. Don't look for investors who are not a good fit
Brad mentioned the 80/20 or even the 99/1 rule. Essentially, entrepreneurs should spend a ton of time on the 1% of investors who are a great fit. And not waste their effort on the other investors.
Two key aspects that Brad mentioned for ensuring a good fit are 1) geography (many VCs will only invest in certain geographic regions) and 2) sector (Foundry Group simply doesn't invest in Clean Tech; no matter how exciting the company looks). I would also add "stage" to this list as many VCs focus on companies at specific stages (e.g., some only want post-revenue companies, etc.)
You can listen to the full 30-minute interview by clicking the blue triangle on the audio player below:
My recent interview with PR expert Richard Harris was enlightening. You may know that I owe a lot of Growthink's success to PR. A decade ago, I pitched the Los Angeles Times and they published a story on us. That day I received about a hundred phone calls, and at least that volume in emails. So, I focused the interview on figuring out how to replicate that success.
Richard serves as the founder and CEO of Momentum, which provides communications, strategy and placement agent services to private equity funds, investment banks, and selected early stage and non-profit companies. A 20+ year veteran of the public relations industry, Richard has not only an impressive client list (that includes The Girl Scouts of America, Polaris Venture Partners and Star Jones), but also a wealth of knowledge on this subject.
Some of the areas the Richard covered were:
And many, many other critical points that every entrepreneur needs to know about if they want publicity for their businesses.
The full interview is available for members of Growthink University.
For non-members, you can listen to the first five minutes of the interview by clicking on the blue triangle on the player below.
Great sales people understand which of these six motivators are most important to their prospects, and sell into them.
2. Spending time with your best sales performers.
Adam told us that too many business owners neglect their top sales performers. Rather, they tend to focus on improving their lowest performers.
There are two problems with this approach. First, working with and improving the performance of your best sales performers by only 10% may be easier and more beneficial than improving the performance of your lower sales performers by 25%. Secondly, your top sales performers are the ones that will be targeted by headhunters and other firms, and you can't afford to lose them.
A few of the other areas we covered were:
Yesterday I had the privilege of interviewing Matt Ocken, one of the founders of Kindred Partners.
Kindred Partners might be the best at recruiting executives for high-growth technology companies. In fact, some of the top venture capital firms continuously use Kindred to find executives for the companies they fund.
If that’s not enough, consider that Kindred was responsible for placing CEO Meg Whitman at eBay as well as key executives at Google, Amazon and Facebook.
So, Matt was obviously uniquely qualified to answer my questions about how to expertly build your company’s management team.
Matt started by going through the four tactics for building a great management team. Surprisingly, the first tactic was pretty simple and should be used by virtually all entrepreneurs.
The tactic? Figuring out who you already know that could be a good addition to your team. As Matt pointed out, there is a proven correlation between success and a team having worked together in the past. So, if you have successfully worked with someone in the past, your chances of successfully working together again are high. And investors know this and are keen to fund companies led by teams with history of successfully working together.
So, a first step is for the entrepreneur to do an audit of who they have worked with successfully in the past. You could have worked with them in school, at a job or at an organization. Create this list and then narrow it down to include the individuals you truly respect and would like to work with again in the future. Then, contact these individuals to see if they are interested in joining your team.
Note, Jay Turo, Growthink’s other co-founder, and I met at business school. We worked together successfully on a couple of projects during school and were friends. So, Jay was the first person I approached after I had the idea for Growthink. We’ve now run Growthink together for 10 years, so I can personally vouch to Matt’s approach!
Click here to download the interview as an MP3 file and the PDF transcript.
And here is a preview of the first few minutes of the interview (click the blue triangle to play):