Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Get prepared to get funding.

The future doesn’t always come as quickly as people think it will. To use an old example, integrated CAD/CAM software, which married together three-dimensional engineering design capability with fully automated machine control, finally arrived ten years after futurists predicted it was just around the corner. Jabra started making headsets for phones before phones had someplace to plug them in. Then it sat on the edge of the bubble, waiting for its time to come, waiting for enabling opportunities to arrive - which they eventually did.

When you set out to find funding for your business, don’t be surprised if you’re no longer viewed as your old professional self. Your past reputation is likely to be overshadowed by your identification with a small company that no one’s ever heard of before. So, it’s essential be able to articulate the ideas behind the business concisely and accurately. Start by developing an “elevator pitch” that gets your central business premise across very quickly and practice until you’re able to repeat it flawlessly every time. Use it to keep customers and investors focused on the benefits of your products and services. Tell your story over and over. Part of the sales process is to be very good at telling your story. Have a 30-second elevator pitch and a 15- to 30-minute presentation. “Bumper-sticker” your mission in 15 words or less plus a visual. At each presentation, tell people, “This is where we’re going to be the next time you meet us.” Build credibility by always being where you said you’d be.

Preparing a written business plan is a necessary discipline for any startup. As someone said, writing is God's way of showing us how sloppy our thinking is. When packaging a business plan, aim for the convenience of the reader. Begin with an outline, then evolve it into a table of contents that’s detailed enough to find answers.

Ken Olson, currently CEO of Santrio Inc., is a very experienced and successful San Diego investor and a member at Tech Coast Angels. He says, "Plan to put in at least 100-hours in preparing your business plan. You’ll understand your business much better when you’re done. Don’t farm it out - do it yourself so you understand it and can state its underlying assumptions.” (I'll share Ken's advice for preparing a business plan tomorrow).

When preparing a business plan, don’t try to entertain the reader. Investors today are too jaded to appreciate it. They sort submissions by attractiveness of presentation and layout but the single most important factor is “where the submission came from.” Investing is mainly a referral business based on references from people the investor knows and trusts. Get those who invested in you first to work on your behalf drawing in others. To really stand out, get a referral from a CEO or VP that the people you want money from have already backed. And don’t just go after any kind of money - smart money that’ll be there when the going gets rough is best and it’s worth paying more for. It’s better to get a little money from a good investor than a lot of money from a bad investor.

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