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Answers to Key Sample Business Plan Questions
1. Why is utilizing an example business plan a good idea?
Sample business plans can help you quickly and easily write a business plan for your own business. Business plans are an important tool for any business, but they can be challenging to create. Sample business plan will help you understand business plan format, how to utilize a business plan template, and more.
Sample business plans may even help you with the different sections of a plan, including market analysis, company description, cash flow statements/business financial statements, and more. Business plans can also show you how a quality plan in your exact business plan category is organized and shows you the appropriate business communications style to use when writing your business plan.
2. Who would benefit from using an example business plan?
Any entrepreneur or business owner who has never written a business plan before can benefit from an example or sample plan. New business owners often start with business plan templates, which are helpful but are sometimes more useful after reviewing other full business plans.
A good sample plan can be a step-by-step guide as you work on your business planning and business idea. Once you have a sense for the flow, specs, and details, etc. that business plans have, utilizing a business plan template will help you pull everything together, helping you create a plan investors and other stakeholders will value. A solid plan will also help you if you need a bank loan, which may require a startup business plan.
3. How do you get started with a sample business plan and maximize its benefit?
First you should read the business plan thoroughly. Study both the type of information provided in key sections like the executive summary, target market analysis, summary, etc., as well as the format and style of the plan. As you read, you may find yourself thinking through things such as improving or evaluating your business planning process, your business idea, or reconsidering who you want to write your business plan for. This is OK and part of the process. In fact, when you start writing a business plan for the first time, it will be much easier because you’ve gone through this process.
After this initial read, outline your business plan and copy in from the sample plan sections that apply to your business. For instance, if the sample plan included public relations in their marketing and sales plan, and you will also use this tactic, you can copy it into your plan and edit it as appropriate. Finally, answer the other questions answered in the sample plan in ways that reflect your unique business.
Writing a business plan can seem daunting. Starting your business plan writing process by reviewing a plan that’s already been created can remove a lot of mental and emotional barriers while helping you craft the best plan you can.
4. When should you not use a sample business plan?
If your business is unlike any other, using a sample business plan will not be as effective. In this situation, writing a business plan from scratch utilizing a business plan template is probably your best path forward.
As an example, Facebook’s early business plan was unlike others since it was paving a new path and way of doing business. But, groundbreaking new businesses like Facebook are not the norm, and the vast majority of companies will benefit from utilizing sample business plans.
Shoutmouth Business Plan Example
The business plan example below is for Shoutmouth, a company that enjoyed much success in the early 2000’s and which was able to raise funding. While the plan’s premise (social networking) is not as unique now as it was then, the format and structure of this business plan still holds.
I. Executive Summary
Launched in late February 2007, Shoutmouth.com is the most comprehensive music news website on the Internet.
Music is one of the most searched and accessed interests on the Internet. Top music artists like Akon receive over 3 million searches each month. In addition, over 500 music artists each receive over 25,000 searches a month.
However, music fans are largely unsatisfied when it comes to the news and information they seek on the artists they love. This is because most music websites (e.g., RollingStone.com, MTV.com, Billboard.com, etc.) cover only the top eight to ten music stories each day – the stories with mass appeal. This type of generic coverage does not satisfy the needs of serious music fans. Music fans generally listen to many different artists and genres of music. By publishing over 100 music stories each day, Shoutmouth enables these fans to read news on all their favorite artists.
In addition to publishing comprehensive music news on over 1200 music artists, Shoutmouth is a social network that allows fans to meet and communicate with other fans about music, and allows them to:
- Create personal profiles
- Interact with other members
- Provide comments on news stories and music videos
- Submit news stories and videos
- Recommend new music artists to add to the community
- Receive customized news and email alerts on their favorite artists
Shoutmouth is uniquely qualified to succeed due to the following reasons:
- Entrepreneurial track record: Shoutmouth’s CEO and team have helped launch numerous successful ventures.
- Affiliate marketing track record: Online affiliate marketing expertise has been cited as one of MySpace’s key success factors. Over the past two years, Shoutmouth’s founders have run one of the most successful online affiliate marketing programs, having sold products to over 500,000 music customers online.
- Key milestones completed: Shoutmouth’s founders have invested $500,000 to-date to staff the company (we currently have an 11-person full-time team), build the core technology, and launch the site. We have succeeded in gaining initial customer traction with 50,000 unique visitors in March, 100,000 unique visitors in April, and 200,000 unique visitors in May 2007.
Unique Investment Metrics
The Shoutmouth investment opportunity is very exciting due to the metrics of the business.
To begin, over the past two years, over twenty social networks have been acquired. The value in these networks is their relationships with large numbers of customers, which allow acquirers to effectively sell to this audience.
The sales price of these social networks has ranged from $25 to $137 per member. Shoutmouth has the ability to enroll members at less than $1 each, thus providing an extraordinary return on marketing expenditures. In fact, during an April 2007 test, we were able to sign-up 2,000 members to artist-specific Shoutmouth newsletters at a cost of only 43 cents per member.
While we are building Shoutmouth to last, potential acquirers include many types of companies that seek relationships with music fans such as music media/publishing (e.g., MTV, Rolling Stone), ticketing (e.g., Ticketmaster, LiveNation) and digital music sales firms (e.g., iTunes, The Orchard).
Financial Strategy, Needs and Exit Strategy
While Shoutmouth’s technological, marketing and operational infrastructure has been developed, we currently require $3 million to execute on our marketing and technology plan over the next 24 months until we hit profitability.
Shoutmouth will primarily generate revenues from selling advertising space. As technologies evolve that allow us to seamlessly integrate music sampling and purchasing on our site, sales of downloadable music are also expected to become a significant revenue source. To a lesser extent, we may sell other music-related items such as ringtones, concert tickets, and apparel.
Topline projections over the next three years are as follows:
|Total Page Views (Millions)||20.7||273.5||781.0|
II. Shoutmouth Overview
What is Shoutmouth?
Shoutmouth is an operating company of The Kisco Group Inc. (TKG). Since 2003, TKG has capitalized on web-based marketing opportunities via launching targeted websites and generating web-based leads. TKG revenues in 2005 exceeded $1.3 million and grew to $3.5 million in 2006. Shoutmouth is currently the sole focus of TKG; all other TKG business units have been divested.
Development of Shoutmouth began in August 2006 and the site officially launched on February 21, 2007. Shoutmouth (located at www.shoutmouth.com) is the most comprehensive music news community on the Internet. The website covers 1,200 popular bands and music artists and offers more than 100 new music articles each day. In addition to providing news, Shoutmouth is a web community. That is, Shoutmouth members can actively participate on the site, by doing things such as commenting on news stories and submitting their own stories.
The Market Size and Need for Shoutmouth
The music market is clearly vast. According to IFPI, which represents the recording industry worldwide, global music sales were $33.5 billion in 2005, with the U.S. accounting for $12.3 billion of that amount. Importantly, digitally music sales are seeing substantial growth, with IFPI reporting sales of $400 million in 2004, $1.1 billion in 2005 and $2 billion in 2006.
Online, music is the one of the most frequently searched and accessed interests. For example, according to Wordtracker, the music artist Eminem received over 1.7 million web searches in December 2006, while band Green Day received 534,000 searches.
To put these figures in perspective, top celebrities in other entertainment fields receive but a fraction of this search volume. For example, December 2006 search volumes for select sports stars and actors were as follows: Kobe Bryant, 122K; Tiger Woods, 88K; Cameron Diaz, 332K; and Tom Cruise, 82K.
Conversely, 225 music artists received over 100,000 searches in December 2006, and over 500 music artists received over 25,000 searches.
This data is corroborated by Nielsen BuzzMetrics which plots the most popular topics bloggers are posting about. The chart to the right plots September 25, 2006 to March 25, 2007 and shows how music dominates other entertainment sectors online.
When searching for music artists online, fans, which are primarily between the ages of 13 and 35, are looking for news, pictures, lyrics, videos and audio files. In addition, fans enjoy publicly voicing their opinions about music and interacting with other fans.
There is currently no website besides Shoutmouth that provides comprehensive music news. Currently, to get the latest news on their favorite artists, fans must visit the official websites or fan websites of each of the artists they like. Even then, it is unlikely that the fan will get all the news that has occurred. To solve this problem, Shoutmouth scours the web and uncovers news from thousands of web sites.
What Shoutmouth Does and Will Offer
As of May 2007, the site covers the 1,200 most popular music artists (popularity primarily based on the number of web searches over the past 12 months for each artist).
Shoutmouth currently offers members the ability to:
- Read over 500 new music articles each week
- Read special features such as album reviews, interviews, new album release dates, top quotes of the week and other special reports
- Watch and rate music videos
- Listen to select music audio clips
- Comment on news stories and music videos
- Submit news stories that they see/hear of elsewhere
- Suggest new music artists to add to the site
- View articles by music artist or by genre (current genres include Rock, Pop, Rap, R&B, Country, and Electronic)
- Create a user profile that includes their favorite music artists, Shoutmouth friends, news stories submitted to Shoutmouth, and comments made. Members have the ability to find other members based on their favorite artists and via our search functions.
- Receive customized news and email alerts. Members can customize their “My News” page to include only artists they specify. Likewise, they can choose to receive email alerts whenever there is a new story on one of their favorite artists.
While establishing itself as the premier music news community, Shoutmouth will embark on the more aggressive goal of becoming the premier music community online. To accomplish this, Shoutmouth will begin to offer additional content (more videos, audio, pictures, lyrics, etc.) and additional functionality (music compatibility testing (e.g., if you like this, you’ll like this), voting capabilities, member-to-member messaging, etc.). We have already begun mapping out our content and technology growths plans to achieve this goal upon financing.
Importantly, Shoutmouth expects to be able to add massive amounts of relevant content (e.g., lyrics, reviews, pictures, video files, audio files, etc.) via member submissions and moderation. This is the same way that YouTube has been able to quickly add millions of videos and Wikipedia has been able to add millions of articles. Importantly, since established music websites (e.g., MTV, RollingStone.com, Billboard.com, etc.) are not community based, they would have to hire thousands of staff members to rival the content that Shoutmouth will have.
How We Get and Publish Our News
Currently, news stories that appear on Shoutmouth are gathered from numerous online sources. Shoutmouth’s staff writers find these stories by using RSS and News feeds that cover thousands of websites. In addition, Shoutmouth community members have the ability to submit stories they find elsewhere.
Typical stories include factual information plus the insight of the author. Shoutmouth editors ensure that all stories are properly classified by artist and genre, and that duplicate articles are filtered out.
Over the past three months, Shoutmouth has developed a solid infrastructure, which we consider a core competitive advantage, that that allows us to provide comprehensive music news. This infrastructure includes:
- Setting up hundreds of RSS feeds based on comprehensive research regarding sites from which to receive feeds
- Training our editorial team regarding identifying a story and weeding out duplicates
- Assigning music artists among our five-person editorial team to better manage work flow and avoid duplicate articles
We are working on a system to ensure that member-submitted articles are automatically routed to the appropriate member of Shoutmouth’s editorial team to improve our efficiencies further.
Shoutmouth’s Goal to Break News First
The majority (approximately 90%) of Shoutmouth’s articles are currently developed by our in-house editorial team, while the balance is submitted by members. In addition, virtually all of our articles are based on information gleaned from other websites. As such, we are generally not the first to publish news; however we are the first and only site to publish all the news in one easily-accessible place. The one current exception is news which is published on bands’ official MySpace pages; Shoutmouth generally publishes articles on this news 24 to 48 hours before it is reported by other news or music sites (due to our efficiencies in finding news).
Shoutmouth realizes that it will gain a key competitive advantage, and will generate significant market buzz, if it is able to report on music news stories before other media sources. To accomplish this, we have begun contacting publicity departments at record labels to gain direct access to music news. We expect these contacts to enable us to gain immediate and sometimes exclusive access to news which will help further establish Shoutmouth as the canonical source for music news. We also plan to more aggressively solicit member submissions of new, buzzworthy news events and will consider offering rewards for unique substantiated news (much the way paparazzi are compensated).
III. Competition in the Online Music Market
This section of the business plan provides an overview of the competitive landscape, discusses both indirect and direct competitors and then details Shoutmouth’s competitive advantages.
Because consumer demand for music on the Internet is so great, there are a vast number of music websites. In summary, we consider most sectors of the online music market (which are discussed below) to be indirect competitors and potentially partners, rather than direct competitors, because none of them focus on music news.
The reason we believe that no one focuses on music news is that it is very difficult to do. Because news is very important to music fans, most music websites offer news. However, they primarily get their news from organizations such as CNN, Reuters, the Associated Press and BBC. These large organizations only write about the music stories that have mass appeal, which traditionally amounts to 8-10 music news stories per day. However, since music fans are often zealots when it comes to their favorite artists, they are not merely interested in cover stories. For instance, a U2 fan cares about any U2 news, particularly news that a non-U2 fan might consider insignificant.
In fact, because Shoutmouth is the sole one-stop shop for getting comprehensive music news, there might be an opportunity to license our content to other music websites.
Sectors of the Online Music Market
Shoutmouth specifically comPs in the community-based music news market. While players in this market represent direct competitors, Shoutmouth faces indirect competitors in the following markets:
- Community-Based Sites
- Community-Based News Sites
- Community-Based Music Sites
- Traditional Music Websites
- Official Artist and Fan Sites
Each of these markets is described below.
A. Community-Based Sites
Community-based sites, also known as social networking sites, are websites in which members can create profiles, leave comments throughout the site, and communicate with other members among other features.
A June 2006 report by Piper Jaffray entitled “Silk Road: Social Networking is Here to Stay” effectively sums up the power and longevity of social networking:
“We believe social networking sites have become a permanent part of the fabric of web applications and are rapidly becoming one of the most popular activities online, potentially impacting how other popular services such as email, IM, and maybe even search are accessed.
As a clear indication of the growth rate and scale of social networking, consider this: MySpace monthly page views have now surpassed MSN or AOL in the U.S. and are nearly 75% of the size of Yahoo!. Social networking has filled a gap that was left by all the existing portals and web services and it is fulfilling a very important and basic function for millions of users: allowing them to express themselves and connect with their friends, with the two functions tightly integrated.
The leading sites such as MySpace (News Corp), Facebook, and others are amassing significant power in the new landscape of the Internet and the existing Internet companies are likely to have to work with these newcomers as they may yield material control on the flow of traffic to other applications.”
Social networking sites such as MySpace.com, Facebook.com, Tagged.com, and TagWorld.com have educated consumers regarding the value of these sites and how to use them. Their success has spurred genre-specific social networks such as community-based/social networking news sites and music sites, which are discussed below.
Shoutmouth doesn’t view established social networking sites as competitors since these sites have a general focus. That is, members talk about all aspects of life, from dating to music to movies, etc. Conversely, Shoutmouth is solely focused on music.
B. Community-Based News Sites
Community-based news sites are sites in which members decide what’s newsworthy and what’s not. For instance, on Digg.com, the most prominent community-based news site, members “Digg” stories that they feel are most newsworthy. The stories that the community feels are most important rise to Digg’s homepage, while less important stories get little attention.
Digg’s one million members can submit stories, “digg” stories, and comment on stories. Digg focuses on general news with a slant towards technology, gaming and unique/sensational news. While Digg does have a Music area within its Entertainment section, this receives little focus. In fact, at the time of the writing of this plan, Digg’s music home page only includes one article submitted within the past 48 hours. Furthermore, Digg doesn’t pare down the music category into sub-categories such as Rock and individual music artists. Conversely, these sub-categories are the entire focus of Shoutmouth.
Other sites that are similar to Digg include Newsvine.com, Spotback.com and Gabbr.com. Of most relevance is the Digg-like site for music, Noisetap.com, which was launched by Ticketmaster in January 2007.
Like Digg, Noisetap.com allows members to submit and vote for music stories. Noisetap.com is organized by music genre and not by music artist. This most likely will not satisfy the needs of many music fans since they don’t have the ability to find news on the specific artists they care most about. Likewise, without a full-time staff actively researching and publishing news stories at the artist-level, Noisetap.com will never be able to offer the comprehensive news that Shoutmouth does.
While Shoutmouth is currently similar to community-based news sites in that members can submit stories and comment on the news they find most interesting, no established player in the market provides a comprehensive focus on music. In addition, Shoutmouth sees these sites as marketing partners as we have and will continue to submit our stories on them to increase our readership.
C. Community-Based Music Sites
There are many community-based music websites, although none focuses on music news such as Shoutmouth. Conversely, these sites generally give members the ability to create and listen to song play lists. The community acts to help individual members find new music and new friends based on similarities in their music tastes. Prominent sites in this genre include Last.fm, Finetune, Pandora, RadioBlogClub, MyStrands, iLike and iJigg.
Last.fm is the most prominent community-based music site and is a good model with which to compare Shoutmouth. Likewise, we will benchmark our performance against Last.fm as we reach of goal of becoming the premier music news community and focus on becoming the premier music community.
According to Alexa, Last.fm is the 359th most visited site on the Internet. While Last.fm focuses on allowing members to create customized Internet stations based on their music tastes, the site has much additional content and social networking features. For instance, for each artist, Last.fm includes pictures, a bio, concert dates, discography, fans on Last.fm, and similar artists. Fans are also able to create journals and communicate with other fans. Key features that Last.fm doesn’t currently focus on include news and video.
D. Traditional Music Websites
Traditional music websites such as MTV.com, RollingStone.com, Billboard.com, NME.com, AOL Music, and Yahoo! Music tend to have many features such as news, reviews, pictures, videos and audio. While these sites are generally very well done and extremely popular, they are under-serving visitors in two core areas: music news and community.
These sites’ lack of music news stems from the difficulty in creating this news, specifically that it requires filtering through thousands of articles and websites to find relevant stories. Likewise, as discussed, these firms might wish to license our news content in the future.
Regarding community, none of the top music sites are thriving communities. Rather, either these sites offer no community features or they recently began offering select features (e.g., submitting reviews or commenting on articles). Even when available, the community features on these sites are afterthoughts and are not engrained within the core fabric of the sites.
While they haven’t been able to transform their current sites into communities, top music websites clearly understand the power of online music communities and have an appetite for them. For example, in January 2007, MTV invested in social networking website TagWorld. MTV also acquired RateMyProfessors.com and Quizilla.com (teen social network) in January 2007 and October 2006 respectively.
As mentioned previously, our vision is to build and incorporate additional technologies, and use our “army” of members to publish vast amounts of music content on Shoutmouth, in order to fully satisfy music fans and leapfrog traditional music sites in terms of their music content.
E. Official Artist and Fan Sites
Shoutmouth com’s with official music artist websites and fan websites. These sites often include news about the specific artist as well as pictures, videos and other relevant information.
On one hand, official music artist and fan websites are direct competitors to Shoutmouth. This is because some of these sites offer comprehensive news on the specific artist they cover. In addition, many offer forums, discussion boards or other ways to communicate with other fans.
However, two factors separate Shoutmouth from these types of sites: 1) breadth and 2) sophistication.
- Breadth: Most music fans love more than one artist. As such, in order to get the news they want, they would have to visit/join multiple fan or artist websites rather than getting all of their news from Shoutmouth.
- Sophistication: While some official music artist websites are technologically sophisticated, offering forums, networking and other worthwhile features, the majority of artist and fan websites have limited usability, functionality and networking ability. In fact, this deficiency has lead to the success of MusicToday, which provides front and back-end technology to power artist websites.
Specifically, MusicToday offers web design and hosting, develops sophisticated online stores, builds online fan clubs and offers web ticketing among other services to select top music artists such as Dave Matthews Band, Christina Aguilera, Kenny Chesney, Britney Spears and Usher. While offering sophisticated tools for select music artist websites, MusicToday offers little to no music news nor advanced social networking functions. For instance, the official Dave Matthews Band website offers less than one news story per month.
F. Direct Competitors: Community-Based Music News Sites
Shoutmouth’s direct competitors are other music news websites that have social or community features that allow users to join the site, submit articles, comment on articles, create public profiles and/or communicate with other members. Shoutmouth has identified one significant player who offers this service, AbsolutePunk.net.
AbsolutePunk.net has done a good job of building a user base (the site claims 125,000+ registered members and nearly 500,000 un-registered members). In addition, the user base is very active — the average story on their site receives approximately 20 comments. AbsolutePunk.net offers music news, reviews, pictures and interviews among other features.
On the negative side, AbsolutePunk.net’s articles are generally posted by one staff writer (as opposed to Shoutmouth’s five writers), most articles are simply one sentence posts rather than full articles, and no attempt seems to have been made to cover all news stories. In addition, the site only covers the punk music genre. Although “punk” is broadly defined on the site, the site doesn’t cater to genres such as R&B, rap and country among others, failing to satisfy the broader market.
AbsolutePunk.net is owned by Indieclick, a Los Angeles-based media company. According to the AbsolutePunk.net website, the site:
- Has developed a loyal (72% return rate) reader base
- Has the following site statistics as of February 24, 2007:
- 5,182,147 Posts
- 163,535 Threads
- 126,448 Members
- 1,711 Artist Profiles
- 20,774 Multimedia Files
- Approx 76,000 visits per day.
- Approx 276,000 pageviews per day.
Shoutmouth’s Competitive Advantage
In addition to being the first to fill the untapped market void for comprehensive music news, Shoutmouth’s competitive advantage in the market primarily includes the following:
- Online Marketing Sophistication
- Content Development Experience and Expertise
Online Marketing Sophistication
Shoutmouth’s team, primarily team members DL and PF, has operated an affiliate marketing business focusing on music for the past four years. Affiliate marketing is defined as a system of revenue sharing between one site (the affiliate) which features an ad or content designed to drive traffic to another site (the merchant). The affiliate receives a fee based on traffic to the merchant which converts to sales.
Our affiliate business has focused on connecting music fans, primarily aged 13 to 30, with music offers such as iPods and ringtones. Over the past two years, we have successful sold affiliated offers to over 500,000 customers. We have become a significant online advertiser, receiving Google’s “over 1 million leads” award, and are recognized as a major player among the top affiliate networks.
It is important to note that affiliate marketing success has been credited with part of MySpace’s success. This is because effective affiliate marketers understand how to drive and convert on Internet traffic.
Shoutmouth will employ its affiliate marketing techniques to drive traffic to Shoutmouth.com and enroll members. We will utilize technologies and proprietary techniques that allow us to monitor multiple metrics such as the cost per visitor, cost per member sign-up, etc., so that we can set and maintain profitable metrics.
Content Development Experience and Expertise
Another venture that Shoutmouth team members, primarily PK and DL, launched was the development of over 3,000 niche websites. To create the content for these websites, we employed a virtual work force of over 90 researchers in India and 30 writers and editors in the US.
This experience taught us how to manage a large workforce, train writers to improve content quality and motivate a large group of people. These skill sets will be critical in allowing Shoutmouth to grow the content of the site, as developed by both staff and members, while maintaining quality standards.
IV. Marketing Plan
Shoutmouth’s marketing plan includes the following:
Online Advertising: Shoutmouth will initiate pay-per-click advertising campaigns on Google and Yahoo! in order to inexpensively drive traffic to the site. Specifically, Shoutmouth believes it can drive qualified traffic to the site for 20 cents per visitor and achieve a 20% member conversion rate, thus generating members at a cost of $1.00 per member.
Keys to Shoutmouth’s success in achieving this metric include:
- Driving targeted traffic inexpensively to Shoutmouth by:
- Conducting thorough keyword research and advertising on appropriate keywords and keyword groups
- Creating advertising text that maximizes click through rates
- Creating landing pages that maximize conversions while maintaining the highest Google AdWords quality score possible
- Closely monitoring conversions to quickly stop and/or modify unprofitable campaigns
- Utilizing a two-step enrollment process. People often hesitate to join a new website due to lack of time, skepticism, etc. To overcome this, we will initiate a two-step process as follows:
- Newsletter sign-up: Shoutmouth has developed a system for automatically sending daily emails to individuals who sign up for artist-specific newsletters. That is, when an individual signs up for the newsletter of their favorite artist, they automatically receive an email each day when there is news on that artist.
- Getting individuals to enter their email address to join the newsletter is much easier than getting them to join a site where they have to create a username, select a password, etc. As such, step one will be to get visitors to sign up for artist-specific newsletters.
- Once on the newsletter distribution list, members will constantly receive messages (embedded in their daily newsletter) regarding the benefits of participating more on Shoutmouth.
- Active Shoutmouth Membership: the constant reminders regarding Shoutmouth’s value proposition in the daily newsletters will influence members to participate more actively on the site (e.g., customize their profile, visit the site more often, etc.).
- Newsletter sign-up: Shoutmouth has developed a system for automatically sending daily emails to individuals who sign up for artist-specific newsletters. That is, when an individual signs up for the newsletter of their favorite artist, they automatically receive an email each day when there is news on that artist.
Invite-A-Friend: Shoutmouth is in the process of creating an aggressive invite-a-friend/member referral program. In doing so, we are following the lead of social movie community, Flixster, which grew to 5 million members within 10 months. It did this by encouraging members, during their initial registration process, to upload and send an invitation to multiple contacts in their email address books. The technology to develop this process is fairly complex and we expect to be completed with and to rollout this program in June 2007.
Direct Email Marketing: Shoutmouth will directly contact bloggers and prominent music fans we find online to tell them about Shoutmouth, encourage them to join, and encourage them to write about Shoutmouth on their blogs and online journals.
Creating/Distributing Buzzworthy/Viral Content: Shoutmouth plans to have several buzzworthy/viral articles (i.e., content that people would want to email to their friends since it is funny, interesting, etc.) on the site each day. With a single click, visitors will be able to send these articles to social bookmarking sites such as Digg.com or Fark.com, where these articles could receive widespread attention. In addition to our traditional news stories, Shoutmouth will also periodically create special reports/features in order to satisfy our members and visitors and to try to get widespread exposure.
An example of the power of such buzzworthy content, Shoutmouth has already succeeded in having two stories accepted by Fark and Digg, which have brought in over 50,000 unique visitors.
Super Fans/Street Team Development: Shoutmouth also plans to recruit “super fans.” Super fans are individuals who are passionate about a certain music artist/band and actively contribute articles and/or comments on Shoutmouth. We will recruit these fans, reward them with status (e.g., adding a gold Shoutmouth headphones image to their profile page) and encourage them to more aggressively promote the site by:
- Submitting more news to Shoutmouth
- Commenting on more articles on Shoutmouth
- Growing the Shoutmouth community around their favorite artist(s) by actively recruiting new members to join the site (such as actively posting Shoutmouth-related comments on their MySpace pages, on other music forums, etc.)
Public Relations: Upon financing, Shoutmouth will hire a public relations firm to help us get mentions in media sources ranging from magazines, newspapers, radio, television and blogs. To date, we have developed and issued press releases via Billboard Publicity Wire which have been syndicated throughout the web. An effective PR firm will enable Shoutmouth to quickly reach a wide audience.
Widgets: Shoutmouth will create artist-specific and genre-specific music news widgets. For example, our U2 widget (see example on right) would include all of the recent U2 articles published on Shoutmouth. The widget can easily be placed on MySpace pages, blogs, etc. Each story title in the widget links to the full article on Shoutmouth.
Shoutmouth has great expectations for our widget. To begin, no such widget currently exists as there is no one place to get comprehensive news for specific music artists. Secondly, each time someone places a Shoutmouth widget on their blog or social networking page, it will effectively market Shoutmouth to a wide audience at zero cost to us.
V. Technology/Site Development Plan
This section provides a brief roadmap of the initial and future functionality of Shoutmouth.
Initial Site Functionality
The initial Shoutmouth website will include the following features:
- Member Functionality
- Ability to submit and comment on news stories
- Ability to suggest new music artists to add to the site
- Ability to create user profiles
- Ability to receive customized news and email alerts
- Site Content
- Articles categorized by artist and core genre (e.g., Rock, Rap, Pop, etc.)
- Music artist sections which includes News, Bio and Fans
Future Site Functionality
Shoutmouth will use news and basic functionality as the platform though which we will build a thriving music community. After initial launch, the Shoutmouth technology team will work on incorporating additional features such as:
- Member Functionality
- Ability to message other members via the site (e.g., members will have an Inbox on the site)
- Event calendars: members will receive online calendars. With the click of a button, the member will be able to add tour dates of their favorite artists/bands to their calendar.
- Site Content
- Articles also categorized by sub-genre (e.g., Alternative Rock, West Coast Rap, etc.)
- Music artist sections to also include videos, audio files, photo galleries, reviews and event calendars to which members can upload files and vote on top content.
- Forums and member blogs
- Music compatibility testing (suggestions on song/artists members might like)
- Trivia quizzes
- Music playlists
VI. Financial Plan
During the first six months, Shoutmouth will not generate any revenues as it will not sell advertising space nor offer products for sale. This decision has been made to spur the growth of the Shoutmouth community. By initially positioning Shoutmouth more as a non-profit, for-the-people-by-the-people venture, members will be more prone to promote the site and invite their friends than if the site looks too commercial.
Starting in September 2007, Shoutmouth will primarily generate revenues from selling advertising space. As technologies (such as the Snocap music widget) evolve that allow us to seamlessly integrate music sampling and purchasing on our site, sales of downloadable music are also expected to be a significant revenue source. To a lesser extent, we may sell other music-related items such as ringtones, concert tickets, and apparel.
Funding To Date
To date, Shoutmouth’s founders have invested $500,000 in Shoutmouth, with which we have accomplished the following:
- Built the site’s core technology
- Hired and trained our core staff (we currently maintain an 11-person full-time team)
- Populated the website with content (over 10,000 articles and 1,200 artist bios)
- Generated brand awareness among music fans, including driving 50,000 unique visitors in March, 100,000 unique visitors in April, and 200,000 unique visitors in May 2007.
Funding Requirements/Use of Funds
Shoutmouth is currently seeking $3 million to provide funding for the next 24 months. At this point, the site will be profitable and can grow organically, or additional capital may be sought to more aggressively expand our member base.
The capital will be used as follows:
- Execution of Marketing plan: in order for Shoutmouth to grow its visitor and member base, we need to invest dollars in online advertising and public relations. With regards to online advertising, we are confident that we can enroll members at a cost of $1 per member, which is a fraction of the value of the members to an acquirer (minimum $25 per member), thus providing a significant return on our marketing investments.
- Execution of Technology plan: in order to build a thriving community, Shoutmouth needs to offer its visitors a “stickier” website and enhanced features. We currently maintain a vast “wish list” of features, such as members uploading and rating pictures and videos, trivia quizzes, and member-to-member messaging, that will significantly improve the site’s functionality and value proposition.
- Staffing: In order to reach our goals, we will have to hire additional technical and operations personnel.
Below is an overview of Shoutmouth’s Financial Projections for the next three years. Please see the Appendix for the full financial projections and key assumptions.
|Total Page Views (Millions)||20.7||273.5||781.0|
Exit Strategy / Valuation Metric
Shoutmouth’s most likely exit strategy is to be acquired by a traditional music website or property (e.g., Viacom/MTV, Ticketmaster, Rolling Stone), an entertainment/media conglomerate (e.g., Yahoo!, IAC/InterActiveCorp, NBC), or a large social networking site (e.g., News Corp/MySpace).
This strategy is supported by the significant M&A activity in the social networking market, which includes the following transactions over the past 24 months:
|Del.icio.us||social bookmarking||12/05||$30-$35 million||Yahoo!|
|eCrush Inc.||teen social network||01/07||Undisclosed||Hearst Magazines Digital Media|
|FanNation||sports social networking||01/07||$20+ million||Sports Illustrated|
|Five Across Inc.||social networking||02/07||Undisclosed||Cisco Systems Inc.|
|Flickr||photo uploading and sharing community||03/05||$15-35 million (rumored)||Yahoo!|
|Grouper||video creating, uploading and sharing community||08/06||$65 million||Sony Pictures|
|Jumpcut||video creating, uploading and sharing community||09/06||$15 million (rumored)||Yahoo!|
|KiwiBox.com||teen social network||02/07||Undisclosed||Magnitude Information Systems, Inc.|
|MyBlogLog||blog community tool||01/07||$10 million (rumored)||Yahoo!|
|MySpace||social networking||07/05||$580 million||News Corp.|
|Quizilla.com||teen social network||10/06||Undisclosed||Viacom/MTV Networks|
|RateMyProfessors.com||community focused on rating college professors||01/07||Undisclosed||Viacom/MTV Networks|
|social news site||10/06||Undisclosed||Conde Nast/ Wired Digital|
|Sconex.com||social network for high school students||03/06||$6.1 million||Alloy Inc.|
|TelevisionWithoutPity.com||TV fan site||03/07||Undisclosed||Bravo|
|Weblogs Inc.||blogging network||10/05||$25 million (rumored)||AOL|
|YouTube||video community||10/06||$1.65 billion||Google Inc.|
Regarding valuation, below are the estimated valuations of social networking companies on a per member basis upon exit:
- Del.icio.us: $50 – $100 per member
- MySpace: $25 per member
- Xing (business social network): $137 per member at IPO in 10/06
- Flickr: $56 – $130 per member
- Grouper: $130 per member
Based on this data, not only are social networking sites a promising investment, but sites that can acquire members for less than $25 each (a conservative valuation estimate based on the figures above), should earn a solid return on investment. As discussed above, Shoutmouth’s goal is to acquire members for no more than $1 each.
In addition, per the membership projections above, Shoutmouth’s valuation at the end of 2009, at a $25 valuation per member, is expected to be $239 million. A more conservative, using a 24.4 time EBITDA multiple (the average multiple of tech M&A deals in 2006 according to The M&A Advisor), yields a $121 million valuation in 2009.
Shoutmouth’s founding team includes entrepreneurs and managers with a track record of success and a history of successfully working together.
DL, Co-Founder and CEO
D has a history of successfully launching and growing businesses of all sizes. As president and co-founder of an entrepreneurial services firm., D has personally assisted in the launch and development of over 100 ventures.
Over the past three years, D founded and has managed The Kisco Group which includes an affiliate marketing division (2006 revenues exceeded $3 million), a search engine optimization business which includes a network of 3,000 websites (2006 revenues exceeded $500,000) and an e-commerce business (which includes TopPayingKeywords.com and ShowerHeadsEtc.com).
D earned his Bachelors degree from the University of South Carolina.
PK, Co-Founder and Vice President of Operations
For the past two years, P has managed The Kisco Group’s search engine optimization business where he hired, trained and managed nearly 100 employees and a dozen outside firms. During this time, P has honed his management skills with regards to content development, marketing and operations.
P has had a passion for music since childhood and has been a semi-professional drummer for the past 15 years.
P earned his Bachelors of Arts degree, magna cum laude, from Clemson University.
PF, Co-Founder and Vice President of Technology
For the past year, P has managed The Kisco Group’s affiliate marketing business. In addition to setting up and managing widespread marketing campaigns, P has developed sophisticated analytic techniques to precisely analyze web traffic in order to optimize profitability.
Since August 2006, P has shifted his efforts and leveraged his technology skills in developing the Shoutmouth website. P has been instrumental in selecting the Content Management Platform upon which Shoutmouth is built, and finding and managing the technology team.
P earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Swarthmore College.
AB, Marketing Manager
A’s background in music includes being a singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer. He has also worked on the marketing side of music, having marketed Veritas Records through the development and distribution of promotional materials.
A’s career also includes psychological research and administration, having served as a Research Assistant with the Interpersonal Perception And Communication Laboratory in Cambridge, MA.
A earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Ohio State University.
M, Lead Technology Developer
M is an experienced web programmer with expertise in web design, application development and database development among others.
M’s work experience includes serving as a Senior Developer at Spheres. M has also engaged in multiple, long term freelance projects including serving as a Database Developer Consultant with The Penn Group and a Web Developer Consultant with Volution Media Group and Allied Online Consulting Group.
M earned his Bachelors degree in Computer Science with a minor in Cognitive Science from Rutgers University.
Content Development Team
Shoutmouth’s writing team, managed by PK, includes the following members:
- JS, Editorial Manager: former content manager and copywriter for Scholastic Inc. and Promotions.com.
- TZ: former music intern (Virgin Records and WRRV) and author of the blog, The Tom Z Show.
- ML: former assistant editor for Adventure Publishing; author of the blog Certified Gangsta; and former editor-in-chief of Fordham University’s newspaper The Paper.
- SB: former staff writer for Paste Magazine, The Clarion Ledger, and Nightclub and Bar Magazine among others.
- CSJ: former editorial intern for Rolling Stone and Editorial Assistant for Psychology Today.
Outsourced Technology Team
Shoutmouth works very closely with 2skies, a technology firm based in Australia with staff in Australia and the United States. 2skies is run by JDN, one of the co-founding developers of XE, the platform upon which Shoutmouth is built.
XE is an extensible, Open Source web application framework written in PHP and licensed under the GNU General Public License. XE delivers the requisite infrastructure and tools to create custom web applications that include fully dynamic multi-platform Content Management Solutions (CMS).
VIII. Appendix: Shoutmouth Financial Projections
3-Year Income Statement
|Total Page Views (MILLIONS)||20.7||273.5||781.0|
|Other Marketing/Public Relations||$72,000||$120,000||$150,000|
|Total Operating Expenses||$1,407,958||$2,591,978||$2,838,423|
|Income Taxes @ (40%)||($497,651)||($54,020)||$1,986,452|
|Income Taxes Paid||$0||$0||$1,434,781|
|Income Tax Credit||($497,651)||($551,671)||$0|
3-Year Balance Sheet
As of December 31
|Accounts Receivable (30 days)||$13,597||$202,284||$641,947|
|Equipment (Computer systems, office equipment, etc.)||$16,000||$26,000||$32,000|
|Total Long-Term Assets||$14,400||$20,200||$20,400|
|Accounts Payable (30 days)||$117,330||$215,998||$236,535|
|Total Current Liabilities||$117,330||$215,998||$236,535|
|Long Term Debt||$0||$0||$0|
|Paid In Capital||$3,000,000||$3,000,000||$3,000,000|
|Total Equity + Liabilities||$1,873,203||$1,836,820||$5,388,707|
3-Year Cash Flow Statement
As of December 31
|Cash flows from Operating Activities|
|Minus Increase in Accounts Receivable||($13,597)||($188,687)||($439,663)|
|Plus Change in Current Liabilities||$117,330||$98,668||$20,537|
|Net Cash Flow from Operating||($1,138,794)||($220,870)||$3,118,024|
|Cash Flows from Investing Activities|
|Purchases of Property & Equipment||($16,000)||($10,000)||($6,000)|
|Net Cash Flow from Investing||($16,000)||($10,000)||($6,000)|
|Cash Flows from Financing Activities|
|Cash Received from Investors||$3,000,000||$0||$0|
|Net Cash Flow from Financing||$3,000,000||$0||$0|
|Net Cash Flow||$1,845,206||($230,870)||$3,112,024|
|Net Cumulative Cash Flow||$1,845,206||$1,614,336||$4,726,360|