by Christine Comaford-Lynch
illustration by Barbara Hranilovich
You’ve got the idea, now package it well. The way you present your company and vision determines whether you get the right financial partners and the right deal.
Life is marketing. Marketing ourselves personally and professionally, marketing our products, marketing our ideas. Every day we are constantly marketing or being marketed to.
What constantly amazes me, is that knowing this, so few early-stage entrepreneurs market their start-up effectively. The business plan, executive summary, and financing pitch are the ultimate marketing tools. Marketing your start-up successfully results in getting optimal investors, more favorable financing terms, outstanding executives, committed customers … basically a shot at success in today’s extremely competitive market.
Let’s start with the love-hate relationship we have with business plans. As a former entrepreneur, and a start-up consultant today, I’ve certainly seen more business plans than I care to remember. Of the 30,000+ high-tech business plans submitted to venture capitalists last year, less than 3% were funded. Why? The plans were either for products or services no one truly needed, or the plans were for great ideas that were not presented well. I see far too many of the latter. What a shame to have a brilliant idea, and the right process of executing it, only to communicate the idea without being concise, compelling, and complete.
A concise plan provides a simple explanation for why the business is a great idea, as well as how it will be executed. The optimal length is 20 pages, but 30 is acceptable. This includes the 3-5 pages for the executive summary, but does not include the appendices (only include relevant info here to support claims made in the plan). Few of the investors will read the plan in its entirety. The goal of the business plan is for the entrepreneur to explain the company they want to build so they will a) be able to condense it and render an executive summary (that the investors will read) and b) have a basic execution plan for the company.
A compelling opportunity is optimized by the right deal, with the right price, at the right time, with the right product/service and the right team. Compelling deals always get financed with favorable terms. The goal is to make your company appear to be deeply compelling. More on this below.
You must have a trusted third party review your plan to ensure it addresses all possible issues an investor may have. An incomplete plan, such as one that lacks three years’ worth of financials, or lacks a marketing or sales strategy, or a section describing the first few releases of a product and the high-level technology strategy, makes it look like the entrepreneur hasn’t thoroughly thought out their business. This makes them look either unprofessional, fly-by-night, or both. Be complete—it will help you gain the trust of all who read your plan.
Here’s a sample paragraph from an executive summary I read a while ago. “Freight trucks in America travel 30 billion miles empty each year. This inefficiency costs distributors hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessary freight handling costs, such as scheduling one-way trips and paying for last-minute loads. Our browser-based software matches empty containers with loads that need to be moved nationwide. By using our software, distributors and manufacturers can save millions of dollars in the first year of use alone. The distributors and manufacturers are under extreme pressure from their executive management to reduce their inefficient freight costs by 10% annually for the next three years. Our team of seasoned freight, distribution, and manufacturing executives think we can capture a minimum of 1% of the market over the next three years. This would result in profitability six months into year two, growth of over 100% per year, and based on industry-standard P/E ratios, a valuation of over $200 million at the end of year three.”
Wow! Huge pain, customers empowered to remove it, the right team to make it happen, and the potential for a glorious exit. Concise? Yes! Compelling? Yes! What’s not to like? The entrepreneurs missed the “complete” part. The plan that backed up this fantastic opportunity lacked execution detail and thus has yet to be funded … after two years of seeking capital. I hate stories like this!
How to Do It
So, now you’re ready to create a killer business plan, which will yield a killer executive summary and a killer financing pitch. You’ll want to leverage your plan by using the content later for sales presentations, marketing collateral and white papers, recruiting pitches and Web site content.
Here’s how to do it. Do not use a business plan package. These render “fill in the blanks” business plans that make the entrepreneur look inexperienced, unsavvy, and basically out to lunch. Don’t let yourself be branded this way. The key risks investors worry about are: people, technology, market, and financial. Financial risk is hard to remove. Focus on showing how solid your people are, how robust and extensible your technology is, and how huge the market you’re going after is. You must explain the barriers to entry too, in honest, realistic terms.
You’ll also need a financial model. Be sure to make it interactive, and not static. An interactive model is formula-based and takes longer to create than a basic static model. But trust me, you will definitely change your financial projections, so provide for flexibility from the get-go. An interactive model will also enable “what if” scenarios. Chances are good potential investors will slash your first-year revenue projections in half. What repercussions will this have? Run it through the model and find out.
Life is marketing. Marketing your start-up properly will result in a wild ride with life-enhancing results. Go for it!
Christine Comaford-Lynch is CEO of Mighty Ventures , an innovation accelerator which helps businesses to massively increase sales, product offerings, and company value. She has built and sold five of her own businesses with an average 700% return on investment, served as a board director or in-the-trenches advisor to 36 start-ups, and has invested in over 200 start-ups as a venture capitalist or angel investor. Christine has consulted to the White House (Clinton and Bush), 700 of the Fortune 1000, and hundreds of small businesses. For four free business-boosting podcasts, visit www.mightyventures.com/gift.