Situation: A company is transitioning from a service model to a product model. A major challenge is meeting funding needs during the transition. Funding sources perceive the current service model as heavy on cost of sales vs. implementation and this hinders acquisition of funds. The CEO sees this as a short-term problem as the company will quickly start to generate more cash through the product model. How do you transition from service to product?
Advice from the CEOs:
In a competitive funding environment, it is important that the offering be credible. While others may be offering similar solutions, believability will prove to be a strong differentiator.
Where to focus over the short term?
Create a hybrid model as a transition between the current service offering and the planned product offering. Demonstrate that current customers have responded favorably to the product/hybrid opportunity.
Test this concept with an investor. The story is that the company needs funding to get to a saleable product model.
What is the message to investors?
Helping the company to achieve a short-term and very feasible objective gives the investor the following advantages: purchasing at a lower valuation, getting a larger share of the company for less, and at a low risk.
As the valuation of the company increases, the earliest investors will get the best deal!
During meetings with investors, ask them for advice on the current and following rounds and financing, and what they will find most appealing.
How do you mitigate the risk to the first investor?
Have a solid business plan and projections that have been vetted by others.
Have a list of referenceable clients.
Utilize the current service model and demonstrate the product/hybrid Package. Build a case on the advantages of the hybrid model including the financial case. The company is always there to provide back-up assistance to meet customer needs in the hybrid model.
Demonstrate flexibility – the customer can always choose the service model or convert to this if they wish.
A Key Point: You are selling yourself as the trustable resource, not the product or service.
Reference previous investment including founders’ investments. The founders did not invest to fail!
Situation: A company is drafting a pitch for their next round of funding. They want to reach both current and a new set of investors and highlight the improvements that they’ve made since their last round of funding. How do you optimize a financing pitch?
Advice from the CEOs:
Work on a quick demo of the site. This is critical for a software company. The site must clearly and quickly show what differentiates you.
When you sit down with potential investors, start your pitch with a catchy statement, e.g., “We’ve all heard about ‘pay it forwards’. I want to talk to you about ‘Job-It Forward’.”
Start the presentation with an overview and a simple illustrative explanation so that the audience instantly gets what you are doing. For example, “we’re about generating social capital and here’s an example of how we do this.”
Be careful not to drown your audience in detail. Limit yourself to 3 bullets per page. Use graphics rather than words as much as possible. Most people can only absorb a limited amount of verbal information, but they remember pictures.
If you’ve already started talking to potential investors, what are your results? What feedback have you received to date? Analyze this and adjust your presentation and pitch accordingly.
Can you show a potential funder ROI? For example, if you give us $X, we will generate $Y in terms of return. You want to demonstrate IMPACT! Those who will support you want to see the advantage of investing in you vs. other options available to them.
Include a slide showing sources and uses of money spent to date. Show how you will use the money that you wish to raise.
Situation: Early stage companies often find it difficult to raise funds from traditional sources. An experienced CEO wants to help certain new companies of which she is aware in two ways – assisting them in receiving funding, and then helping to assure that they reach key milestones. What is the best way to profitably address this ambition? How do you fund a start-up?
Advice from the CEOs:
Build relationships with a few select sets of local investors – venture capitalists, angels, and private investors – with whom you have strong credibility. For a retainer or fee, agree to bring them a number of new pre-vetted companies in the next year, and post-finding, help the companies to succeed and hit milestones. From the companies that you bring to funders, ask for equity in return for securing funding and providing guidance.
Put yourself in the shoes of the person who will pay you – what do they want and how do you deliver this for them? Develop statistics from your past successes that highlight your capabilities. Don’t be shy about your accomplishments.
What are you passionate about? If the answer is development – linking technology entrepreneurs to strategic partners and then being an accountability partner to assure that milestones are met – this will be your focus and your pitch to both funders and tech companies.
Your value is linking the entrepreneur to the funding source and being an accountability partner.
Interview with Henry Chen, PhD, Founder & CEO, Cynovo
Situation: A company in a maturing market needs to gain customer feedback to guide product development. They want to optimize Alpha testing prior to investing in tooling. How do you assess product viability on a limited budget?
Advice from Henry Chen:
As the market for tablet devices matures, it is increasingly important to test mass market response to new product design prior to freezing product specs and investing in tooling. Our approach to vertically designed enterprise solutions focuses on four areas: going to the experts for guidance; monitoring the competition and market direction, investing heavily in prototypes, and leveraging speed to market.
Go to the experts; leverage their knowledge and understanding of the market to speed your own development efforts.
Get to know the market gurus who stay on top of the market and are knowledgeable about market direction. These are the influencers who blog, write and publicize new market innovations.
As a smaller company, the route to market in often through alliances. Senior staff at large companies are a valuable resource. One option is to work through large companies’ sales teams to identify senior product people and connect with them.
A good place to monitor market developments is at major trade shows. Events like the Consumer Electronics Show allow you to interact with a large number of experts and to monitor both what the large companies are introducing and their product direction.
Trade shows are unique situations because many experts attend. Some are speakers, and others simply attend to keep up to date with latest developments.
Use trade shows as an opportunity to gather a panel of experts to give you feedback on your design concepts. Experts like to be on top of the market and new developments and appreciate the opportunity to provide input on new products.
Leverage the opinion of younger leaders and experts. In the US and in China, the average entrepreneurial founder is young – often in their low 20s. They are not as cautious as older people who worry about failure. Successful young entrepreneurs are also potential investors.
Give experts time to think about your product. It may take a few hours or even days for them to “get” your new concept.
Invest in prototypes which have a similar look and feel as actual products, though they may lack full functionality. People like to hold a product, gauge the weight, look and feel of the controls, and to contrast different model options.
Large companies are often hindered by internal confidentiality rules. Smaller, more nimble companies may rely on speed to market to allay confidentiality concerns. This gives them the ability to gather more feedback prior to finalizing product design.
Interview with Chuck Gershman, Founder and Former CEO, Bay Microsystems
Situation: Following a consolidation of equipment suppliers, the broadband network market has matured with a few large players. This potentially reduces diversity and creativity because barriers to entry are now enormous. How do you fund a new venture in a mature market?
Chuck Gershman’s Advice:
If you can get the venture off the ground, the opportunity is tremendous because competition for new approaches in a mature market is limited. Large players don’t move quickly. Their incentive is to change slowly to lengthen product life cycles.
The downside is fewer financiers interested in the space because of the barriers to entry, and because the likely exit is an M&A play at low multiples.
Given this, how do you attract investors?
In the hardware space, you must demonstrate a convincing go-to-market strategy with modest investment and a moderate cost of market penetration. If the cost of success is high, it requires too much investment and risk before you can accurately assess the possibility of success.
You must be able to show a substantial total available market.
You must be able to show that your capability meets the needs of the market.
You must be able to show that the customer base will respond en masse. This is critical!
With fewer investors willing to look at your product and technology, it takes more time and work to find interested investors.
Investors invest on perceived risk, so the task is to show that the risk is manageable.
In the past, investors were convinced by a committed strategic customer that would finance bringing the product to market.
In the current market, an effective strategy is to develop an early customer who is a strategic investor in your company from Day 1. This raises the likelihood of an exit, and appeal to investors, but reduces downstream options and ROI.
Another strategy is to pursue a creative IPO exit. For example, launching the IPO on a smaller foreign exchange. This reduces the long-term payout to founders, but may increase appeal to investors who prefer an IPO to an M&A exit.