Tag Archives: Software

How Do You Fund an Early Stage Venture? Four Suggestions

Situation: An early stage venture which focuses on a humanitarian mission needs funding. The founder is more interested in providing a peer-driven platform and service than in producing profits. She envisions most of the funding coming from donations rather than investors, at least near term.  How do you fund an early stage venture?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Given that the venture is focused on building a peer-driven software platform, it is possible that it may be of significant value if the venture was to be sold for its technology or audience. Facebook and similar platforms could have a distinct interest as the venture attracts a significant audience. Is this a potential conflict with the original vision? The answer to this question will impact funding choices going forward.
  • There are several resources available to assist in fund raising:
    • Look for local groups that assist with fund raising.
    • The Foundation Center (www.foundationcenter.org) specializes in helping organizations to secure funding for non-profit ventures from foundations. They have online facilities as well as locations in New York, Boston, San Francisco and other major cities. They also provide training in raising funds from foundations.
  • Us the founder’s network to find people with an interest and contacts in fundraising.
  • Connect with local churches and synagogues which also excel in fund raising. The congregations may be smaller than the mega-churches, but the members are often very connected. Because of the humanitarian nature of the new venture, churches and synagogues may be natural partners.

How Do You Choose Between Strategic Options? Four Points

Situation: The founding CEO of a technology company is considering options for the future. The company is doing well, with two options for future development either within or outside the company. How do you choose between strategic options?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Domain expertise is less important than business experience, P&L experience, and fund-raising success. A diversified background and successful experience as a CEO are as important as specialty industry experience.
    • Continue to pursue all options for the time being. See how the new opportunities mature before making final choices, and either split time between the options or assign good managers to oversee each.
    • Ownership agreements should be based on cash investment of the parties – not time and effort.
  • Option #1 – Focus on the primary company.
    • A challenge is that most of the Board members just see the numbers, not the dynamics of day-to-day operations. They don’t know the CEO’s contribution.
    • Assure that the Board understands the CEO’s contribution and is rewarding the CEO appropriately.
  • Option #2 – Focus on New Opportunity #1.
    • Is this option more like a product or a company?
    • Consider this option as a product incubator rather than a single product company – producing and spinning off a series of ideas for development.
    • This can be done either within the primary company or as an outside effort.
  • Option #3 – Focus on New Opportunity #2.
    • Software development can be self-funding. Compared with manufacturing, software is inexpensive to develop and requires little investment to scale and sell once the code is written.
    • The trick is to rigorously focus on market opportunity while minimizing cost.
    • Watch staffing commitments. Use scarce resources to lock up irreplaceable capabilities. Hire or offer equity only for significant contributions such as IP development. For labor, use consultants, independent contract arrangements, or look for what can be outsourced.
    • Like Option #2 this can be done either within the primary company or as an outside effort.

How Do You Improve Quote to Collections Flow? Four Tactics

Situation: A company is losing billings because individual billings are getting lost in their process flow. Requests for enhancements come from clients to Project Managers. Project Managers take on development of the enhancements but are sometimes too busy to keep track and don’t report their work to the billing department. How do you improve quote to collections flow?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • It appears that two processes are missing:
    • A formal trigger mechanism to assure that a PO is in place BEFORE Project Managers undertake enhancement work, and
    • Managers are incentivized to assure that the client is billed and revenue collected for the work performed.
  • Formalize the process and do not allow Project Mangers to initiate any work until a work request is logged in the billing system and a PO is received from the customer to cover the expense.
    • Develop a process to track customer requests, estimate development and transmission to billing, forwarding of estimates by billing to the customer with a request for a PO, and upon receipt of PO authorization by billing to initiate work.
    • This can all be tracked and managed by most accounting software packages.
    • This process will:
      • Facilitate tracking of actual expense vs. estimate;
      • Tracking of requests for which no POs are received, for client follow-up; and
      • Tracking of enhancement requests to guide future product development.
  • Compensate Account Managers to track and manage the process.
    • If an Account Manager receives a commission for enhancement work they will have an incentive to keep track of all ongoing work, both for timely delivery and to assure that the customer invoiced for the work.
    • Commissions paid to the Account Mangers will be a small percent of the extra revenue collected.
    • To improve process management, schedule regular meetings to review all enhancement and other work being done for clients. Review and assure that all work has accompanying POs, that the work is being completed on a timely basis and in line with original estimates, and that the company is invoicing and being paid for the work. Empower Account Managers to organize and conduct these meetings. Their incentive will be the commissions they will collect on payment for the work.
  • Build upgrades and a certain number of enhancements into the product price.
    • This enables to company to increase prices and to collect prepayment for enhancements and upgrades that may or may not be requested.
    • Use the process outlined above to track enhancements which are credited against the prepaid accounts, and to assure that enhancements above the prepaid limit are invoiced.

How Do You Replace Aging Talent? Four Options

Situation: A CEO is concerned that all her key personnel are over 50. This includes software engineers who are experts in languages which remain at the foundation of many customers’ databases, but which are no longer formally taught. How do you replace aging talent?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Look at which areas potentially limit the company’s growth. Is it technology and software expertise, or marketing and sales? Based on this assessment, rank the critical positions to be filled and start hiring staff who can grow into the most critical positions.
  • Take a cue from the Japanese. For years their aging workforce was predicted to limit the country’s growth. Instead, they chose to retain employees through their 70s and this has helped them to maintain both productivity and employment.
    • Many Baby Boomers are finding that they don’t have the savings to retire and are working well past the historic retirement age.
    • Other Baby Boomers retired but found themselves bored after a productive career and have returned to the labor pool.
    • These factors may delay the company’s need to replace aging talent.
  • The bigger question is what to do if a key player is lost. Focus on hiring back-ups to key personnel and allow several years for them to come up to full speed. Current employment trends suggest that numbers of experienced people are returning to the labor pool. Look for a few good people to add to the team.
  • What are the plans of the company’s key clients? Do they plan to stay with the company’s products and expertise, or to sunset these and replace them with new technology? Adjust operational objectives, as well as the exit strategy, to achieve desired growth given customers’ timeframes.

How Do You Market a Companion Application? Four Alternatives

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.

How Do You Hire Foreign Personnel? Four Observations

Situation: A rapidly growing US software company has an office in Europe. Prospects for key positions have been flown from Europe to the US for interviews. Two or three good prospects have withdrawn their applications before the company could make an offer, citing cultural incompatibility as their reason. How do you hire foreign personnel?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Cultural incompatibility can be an evasive non-response. It is important to dig deeper, perhaps with the assistance of a European-based consultant, to determine what the candidates perceived as the incompatibility. Do this with the candidates that have already rejected the company. Identifying the deeper reason will help to pre-screen future candidates before flying them to the US for interviews.
  • It is important to have a local leader. This appears to be the individual that the company is attempting to hire. The local leader will then do the hiring for the local office. Employees work for their managers and with their peers and will decide on whether to accept a position based on their feelings of compatibility with these individuals.
  • Given that the company is attempting to hire the leader of the European office, review and approval of the candidate by the CEO is important. Here are options to explore:
    • Spend some time studying the culture of the country in which the office is located (European countries vary according to local culture) and adapt the interview style so that it is more compatible with this culture.
    • Hire a European that the CEO trusts to do the recruiting, screening, interviewing and selection a final set of candidates. Ask this individual for their input on the best way of facilitating a meeting with the CEO. For example, instead of flying candidates to the US, once several candidates have been identified travel to Europe and instead of conducting formal interviews, have dinner with each of the candidates. This reduces the tension and makes the interview more congenial. Consider taking the head of HR with along and both of you having dinner with the candidates and their spouses. Again, this will reduce the tension in the meetings, and you will have two viewpoints on the candidates.
  • If, after trying the suggested alternatives, it continues to be difficult identifying a good European candidate, an alternative is hiring an American – someone with solid experience managing offices and operations in Europe – to oversee the European operation.

How Do You Evaluate a Potential Partnership? Five Factors

Situation: A software company is developing a new solution for their B2B market. The CEO has been in discussion with a potential partner to assist developing this solution. The question is whether this partner is the right partner. Is it smarter to complete development as a partnership, or on their own with the aid of subcontractors? How do you evaluate a potential partnership?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Is the potential partner also a competitor? If so, is the partnership arrangement on or off the core focus of the company’s business. Is there potential for future development in the partnership, or is this just a one-shot opportunity?
  • What would a new partnership look like? Ask the following questions:
    • What is the long-term vision for the company?
    • Does the partnership fit this vision, and under what terms?
    • Is the potential partnership “sticky”? Will it bring in business that can be nurtured and developed under the company’s shingle?
  • Until answers to these questions become clear, soft pedal the partnership opportunity and plan for the company’s future.
    • Take advantage of situations that the partner presents as they benefit you, but do not let these become a distraction to the company’s focus unless the partner is open to working with you as a partner rather than as a source of bodies and skills.
    • Put a deadline and milestones on the partnership relationship. If they don’t pan out, walk.
    • Don’t burn bridges, if the partner takes off, then jump back in more strongly, but on terms that benefit the company’s strategy.
  • For the immediate future and until the situation becomes clear don’t let people become idle. Unless something develops quickly be ready to redeploy them.
  • An alternative is to stick with the company’s current customers and expertise. This involves investing resources and focusing R&D on solutions for these customers. If the market remains substantial and current customers are the largest players, this has the greatest potential for growing the company’s business.

How Do You Expand Your Customer Base? Five Strategies

Situation: A web-based software solution company wants to expand their customer base. They have several large clients, and want to expand their presence both geographically and to additional sectors. How do you position the offering to appeal to a larger audience? How do you expand your customer base?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • In customer presentations, talk about out-tasking versus out-sourcing. This is less threatening to the customer’s existing IT and analyst infrastructure. It allows you to focus on your strength and to build a pitch that augments the customer’s current capabilities.
  • Is there a trade-off between customer depth and breadth of adoption?
    • Test doing both on a limited scale. Go deeper in four accounts, and simultaneously focus on one application that you can rapidly sell to 20 accounts.
    • This exercise will help you to find the right balance.
  • Look at customers with whom you have had early success. Those customers are proof cases. Look for similar prospects who will respect the experience of the early adopters.
    • Take a current client who has had success with your applications. Go to similar state and regional companies who will respect the first company’s experience. This will help you to create a national presence in a sector or industry.
  • Build strategic alliance partnerships.
    • For example, take a potential customer that wants to be an application service provider.
    • Look for other companies serving that customer who could benefit from an alliance with your company. Build an alliance to offer bundled services to the potential customer.
    • If you do not have someone in this important business development role, you need it.
    • The Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals is a great place to start strategic alliances.
  • Work more deeply with your current clients. Offer additional applications, subscriptions and offer combinations of services.

When is “Good Enough” Enough? Five Factors

Situation: A company is about to launch a Beta version of their web-based software. The CEO strives for perfection. What is sufficient for launch, and can the company tolerate imperfections in Beta version? When is “good enough” enough?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Many successful software companies – think Microsoft – have realized that finishing the last 10-20% of a new release can be as expensive and time consuming as the first 80-90%. The challenges are often greater and it’s difficult to prioritize the final pieces. So they release when the software is 80-90% complete, prioritize the final pieces based on user feedback, and focus on quick response to user feedback.
  • You really have no idea how users will experience a new web-based program until you hear it from them. They will tell you what does and does not need to be fixed. They may even be able to help you fix it! Craig’s list stinks from a pure GUI perspective, but is highly popular and successful.
  • Get the Beta program out ASAP. What you perceive as imperfections may not appear as problems to young Beta users, and may in a way add a quirky appeal to the user experience.
  • Find a customer or group of customers who will pay for the program. Only this proves its actual worth. There can be conditions for a Beta release and discounts, but if nobody is willing to pay, where is the value?
  • Consider releasing your Beta version in a college campus environment and invite both participation and feedback. College students are very web-savvy, more tolerant of Beta programs, and crave the opportunity to contribute.
    • As an additional bonus, when you are ready to launch, college students are great at helping you generate buzz and early adoption because they talk to so many of their friends from both college and high school.

Do You Continue a Difficult Partnership? Five Alternatives

Situation: A company has a key relationship with a major corporation. They recently completed work in Phase I of a multi-phase project which was fraught with difficulties. Now they are evaluating whether and how to proceed with Phase II. Do you continue a difficult partnership?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • What made Phase I difficult?
    • Initial work was done to original specs and on time. The partner then asked for additional work and a change to the original specs, but would not agree to pay for these changes. As a result, the company lost money on Phase I.
  • What alternatives exist?
    • In brief, you must fundamentally change the terms of engagement. You can convert everything to time and materials, so that when the partner makes changes or asks you to make changes, they pay as they go.
    • A second alternative is to reconstruct the project as a waterfall project with a fixed price up front. You agree to X iterations, at Y cost per iteration. Each iteration has a deadline and the work completed as of each deadline constitutes the final work on that iteration. You charge for additional iterations if the partner wants additional work after the final negotiated iteration.
    • A third alternative is to set a price that is 2x your estimated price, recognizing that there may be a need to change specifications during development. You will provide documentation of your time and effort. If at the agreed end of the project you have not used all of the funds budgeted, you refund the difference to the partner.
  • Adjust how you communicate with the partner as you renegotiate. Do not assume that silence constitutes agreement. Provide written documentation of your understanding at the close of each negotiation and invite them to correct any misunderstandings. Require that both sides sign this documentation to confirm agreement. Do not proceed until there is clear mutual understanding on all key points.
  • Purchase and use software to track any changes to requirements during the project. This will enable you to document both the changes requested and their waterfall effect on other portions of the project.