Situation: The CEO of a start-up software company focuses on connecting potential parties to business opportunities. Early signs are that this offering has legs and potential parties have responded positively. The critical question for the CEO is how best to turn interest into revenue. How to you monetize your business model?
Advice from the CEOs:
The first step is to segment the audience and determine both the potential for each segment to both benefit from and fund the service that they receive.
Individual contributors may not have a lot of financial resources but may be interested in participating as employees or providers of expertise or services. They also may know others and can spread the word.
Collaborating organizations may be able to offer both funding and services to help build and sustain momentum.
Companies have funds to support the effort provided they see value to their bottom lines as a result.
Suggest a fee or contribution for services from companies who will benefit. Provide guidelines or a sliding scale of fees depending upon duration of services provided to the company. Make it clear that moneys earned will be reinvested to increase the range and depth of services offered.
Suggest a sliding fee scale for individual contributors based on the financial benefit that they receive.
For companies and collaborating organizations offer levels of membership or recognition for support based on benefit received.
For all segments – start with small, timed fees and increase these as the model proves its benefit to them.
A young company that focuses on personalized solutions needs to generate near-term
revenue to meet expenses. There are also options for debt or equity financing,
but the terms for each will equally depend on near-term revenue potential. How
do you generate near-term revenue?
from the CEOs:
in terms of the referenceability of early customers. As a new company, the first five customers
define the company to future customers.
core values of the company will help clarify how to make early choices.
just go for the easiest closes.
a chart of potential customer prospects:
potential prospects into groups.
is the deal model and key value proposition for each group?
a video and communications package to demonstrate the company’s benefit to each
are trade-offs between the different deals that the company will pursue:
fast deals are most likely to meet immediate cash flow needs.
biggest deals may involve the creation of LLCs. These will involve both more
time and additional legal fees.
sure that early deals align with the company’s core brand.
outsourcing to speed the provision of services to early clients. Build this
cost into your billings. Assure that the funds from early deals flow to or
through the company. This will improve the financial story to additional
serving special interest groups. Their potential value is that they work for
their passion more than for money. If the company chooses to work with one or
more of these groups, assure that customer selection aligns with company values.
current focus for near-term monetization is on merchandizing. As an alternative,
consider charging a separate fee for the use of company IP. This may give clients
additional incentive to utilize company technology to monetize their
Situation: A company is developing a companion application that simplifies the use a major company’s software. The CEO is considering how to show this application to the major company as well as at their user group conference. How do you market a companion application?
Advice from the CEOs:
This is an interesting situation. If the major company likes the companion application, the principal question is whether they will want to attach an additional license fee if the companion application is marketed through them. This presents three options:
Research other companies that have developed front end or access products for this company – what was their experience with the major company and did that company demand an additional license fee payment. If so, how did they handle this?
Be up-front with clients, and if an additional fee is required pass these through to the clients. It may be cheaper for clients to pay license fees through this route than to purchase and pay license fees for the major company product.
You may want to take a wait and see attitude while conducting your own research on the situation. See when and if the major company asks for a license fees, and if so, find out whether they are willing to negotiate.
Large companies are often focused on their own offering. Forget the idea that they will market another company’s companion application or front end. Instead focus on your own contacts within the industry and your client base and start talking to them about your application. Generate some experience and traction on your own.
Situation: A component company is struggling to set financial goals. Its sales are dependent upon purchases by large customers whose orders are influenced by the economy and demand for their products. How do you set goals in a volatile economy?
Advice from the CEOs:
What are the principal drivers that define the market? Have they changed? If so, how? Focusing on principal drivers creates more clarity in a volatile economy.
Rather than looking at the company as a producer of components, focus on the critical value add that the company’s products provide to customers. By focusing beyond the product, strive to become a key partner to customers. This can allow you to develop retainer contracts with key customers rather than working solely on a project basis.
The Holy Grail is predictable recurring revenue, for example on a service contract basis. The establishment of retainer contracts can help the company move in this direction.
The company’s customers have increasingly placed rush orders because they have been hesitant to commit to steady production. This, in turn, increases the costs to the company because they are being asked to alter their production schedule to accommodate rush orders. It’s fair to publicize and charge expedite fees for rush orders, just as delivery companies increase their charges for expedited delivery. Expedite fees will cover the cost of altering production schedules and can also add cushion to company profits.
A portion of the company’s business is supplying consumable parts that the OEM marks up and distributes to end users for their equipment.
As an alternative look at parts manufacturing/sourcing, storage and distribution direct to the customer as a separate business opportunity and take this over from the OEM – it may be a nit to the OEM that they would be willing to give up for a reliable service alternative.
Situation: A company has secured a significant new contract with a new, large customer. The customer sent over their standard, non-negotiable contract which includes the right to cancel orders anytime, even if the company has invested significant funds preparing product against those orders. How does the company respond? How do you negotiate contract terms?
Advice from the CEOs:
Before you sign the contract talk to the customer about restocking or cancellation fees in cases where you have already invested irrecoverable funds against the customer’s orders. See if they will adjust their purchase order clause or offer language to cover unrecoverable costs.
If the customer says that they cannot change the contract, ask for an addendum or side letter of understanding that will protect you from loss of sunk costs against cancelled orders.
If the customer will not bend on any contract language, you can go ahead and sign the contract and then take care of your needs as they submit purchase orders. Create a stamp that you can stamp on their purchase orders defining your protections. Each PO is a new contract that supersedes the general contract.
Situation: A company targets mid-sized clients with pricing that is similar to its competitors. They believe that their principal differentiation is their relationship with their clients. The problem is that this is also what all of their competitors claim. They are considering testing a new pricing concept – a monthly fixed fee that will provide a pre-negotiated set of services at a favorable discount, with a weekly presence in their clients’ offices. How to you test a new service delivery model?
Advice from the CEOs:
This looks like an appealing concept. With this arrangement there is no clock ticking and the client may view your various services as a more open menu of options available to them.
Another company has a similar relationship with their CPA firm and have both enjoyed this and are using more services from this firm.
Just a regular presence in the office is worth the retainer.
Another appeal is that this allows regular participation in management and Board meetings.
Another CEO offers a similar program for her professional service company’s clients and have found it successful.
Since there appears to be strong support for this model within the group, what is the best way to implement this new offer?
Negotiate an initial monthly rate for a set level of services as a retainer without a clock.
Agree to a periodic review and adjustment of services and pricing – perhaps quarterly – based on the time and services that have been provided during the preceding period.
How do you sell this program to those within your own company who are skeptical?
Try the program with three clients on a limited trial basis and measure it.
Situation: A CEO is doing benefit planning for next year. The company is small, with just under 100 full-time employees. They are growing, and anticipate reaching over 100 FTEs in the next 12 months, unless they consider either contract or less-than-full-time employees. The CEO is curious about what other companies are planning for employee benefits. What changes in benefits do you see for 2015?
Advice from the CEOs:
Including employer-paid social security and Medicare matches, CEOs in the group are seeing a range of from 12.5% to 30% in benefits. This does not include 401K matches or bonuses.
Over the last five years, there has been a big shift in benefits, in particular a move from traditional health coverage to high deductible HSA plans.
ACA requirements for businesses kick in during 2015/2016. In 2015 employers with more than 100 FTEs will need to provide coverage to at least 70% of full-time employees. Starting in 2016 employers with 50 or more FTEs will need to provide coverage to 95% of their full-time workforce.
Much depends upon your annual cost per employee is for health coverage as well as your philosophy on employee benefits.
Starting in 2015, if a business is supposed to insure its full-time workers but does not, they will have to make a $2,000 per uninsured employee payment on their year-end federal income taxes.
The fee is $3,000 if the employee gets health insurance subsidies through the Health Insurance Marketplace.
Some companies who currently pay more than this in annual premiums per-employee are considering boosting employee pay and having their employees self-insure through the Marketplace, or by purchasing the same policies available in the Marketplace directly from health insurers. The policy cost is no different, assuming that the employees will not qualify for subsidies, but policies purchased directly from insurers may provide a better network of physician providers.
Before you make any decisions, it is best to consult an outside HR professional who is knowledgeable in both health care alternatives and the ACA.
Situation: A company wants to add outside members to its Board. They seek individuals with industry knowledge, experience and contacts, among other things – members who can provide high level introductions to potential clients or key players within these organizations. The team is struggling to develop a list of candidates. How do you recruit an outside Board member?
Advice from the CEOs:
Your best bet is to hire a firm with a good track record of Board placements.
Given your other priorities, it is unlikely that you can devote the time required to develop a list of candidates on your own. Ask yourself whether this is how you should be spending your time, and what the value of that time spent would be.
What level of business do your expect from the contacts that the new Board member will provide for you? Calculate a fee that you would be willing to pay a recruiter as a percentage of future business. A fee of $25,000 or more for a good member is not out of line.
Network with significant players in your industry, and also look at who is serving on their Boards.
Investigate LinkedIn Groups – Groups that focus on Board members. These can be helpful in learning who might be available and connecting with them through mutual acquaintances. In addition, firms that specialize in Board placement frequent these sites. Also look at LinkSV.com which is more focused on Silicon Valley.
Determine what you will offer as both liability protection and compensation for new Board members. At a minimum you want to have a good directors and officers insurance policy, as well as stock and cash compensation that is competitive for your industry and company size.
Current Top Executives may be too busy to meet your needs. Consider individuals with deep experience who are nearing retirement or recently retired.