Situation: A CEO has been the principal source of financing for her company. She is looking for Round #1 financing of $800K to $1 million to take the company through the next two years, followed by an additional two rounds of financing to take the company to profitability. What are the best options to obtain financing?
Advice from the CEOs:
Given the company’s size, it’s too risky to put all eggs in one basket. Also, it is difficult to simultaneously pursue all options. List and rank all financing options, and limit efforts to the top 3-5 options, forgetting the rest for now. The company is more likely to be successful with a limited number of targets.
The big question is which avenues to pursue? Current preferences are:
Sell what the company can sell now – focus on collaborators and bootstrap the company as much as possible.
Angel funding, if the company can find the right angel.
Avoid venture capital unless there are no other options.
Given these, where does the company have live contacts? What conversations can be pursued to a successful conclusion in the next 1-2 months?
For the Angel option, the company’s model is easy to explain and has appeal. Which potential Angels could be approached in the next 1-2 months?
An option is to bring an Angel in slowly – creative input, perhaps a Board seat.
Once the Angel is on-board, put together a list of your funding priorities and a list of 4-5 top prospects in a Board discussion. Ask this individual’s advice and assistance contacting some of the prospects. He may ask at that meeting or later why he hasn’t been asked.
For the first $1million – consider an SBA loan.
Under new guidelines, the application fee has been reduced.
Approval cycle – 30 days or less.
The trade-off between bootstrap and Angel funding and SBA is personal risk. Look at this as a fallback option.
VC funding is very time consuming. Also, VCs prefer that their clients are somewhat desperate, so that they will receive a larger piece of the company for their money.
Situation: The CEO of a software company has been presented with two opportunities by a large customer – international expansion to support their sales and creation of a data warehouse facility. The company has the option of pursuing either or both. The customer is not offering up-front cash to support either opportunity. Should they pursue either or both? How do you choose between opportunities?
Advice from the CEOs:
Keep pursuing both opportunities and establish a series of decision points which will yield either a Go or No-Go decision on each. The big question is to determine how either will support company growth.
The customer is interested in both opportunities so ask them for assistance such as: removing barriers, client referrals, or some form of cash or investment.
For either opportunity to succeed requires a high level of internal buy-in and support from the customer.
If the company can afford to be aggressive now, this is a great time to move.
Look carefully at the ROI on each opportunity under different scenarios.
Do background work with potential clients to validate each market opportunity.
Specifically to International Expansion
Buy-in from the customer’s head of international sales is essential – without this it will be difficult to establish a solid relationship with the international sales team. Lack of this support will be a No-Go sign.
Can the customer provide office space, access to their infrastructure, administrative support, assistance in gaining necessary licenses to do business, etc. during start-up?
Could this venture be undertaken through a joint venture with an established international company? This would save start-up costs and allow validation of the opportunity before risking the company’s investment.
Execution will require a large-scale effort – both time and money. Include both in the Go/No-Go calculation.
Specifically to the Data Warehouse Facility
A competitor’s right of first refusal on this business is a barrier. However, the opportunity may be viewed as too small for the competitor. Is it possible to buy rights from this competitor?
Ask the customer to transition their customers to your company and its product.
A CEO is concerned that her company does not have enough new prospects or
business on the horizon. New business opportunities appear sporadically but not
predictably. She asks how others schedule their time and effort to bring in new
clients. How do you maintain a robust pipeline?
from the CEOs:
Devote a regular amount of time to business and relationship development. Even when business is busy it is important to have the discipline to devote 4 to 6 hours per week to new business development. Schedule this time and fill it with activity. Occasional networking doesn’t work.
What differentiates a company is its brand. If new business comes from referrals, turbo-charge this by becoming the information hub for the referral group. Make it easy for others to make referrals.
There is a hierarchy of things to do.
Stay on potential referrers’ radar screens – monthly or quarterly awareness marketing to referral sources.
Spread awareness of best practices in areas where the company has expertise.
Make best practices relevant with situational stories.
Think in terms of a target.
Where do most referrals come from? This is the center of the bull’s eye
2nd Ring – 2nd level of referrals
3rd Ring – 3rd level of referrals
Network more with contacts at the center of the target – they know clients in need of help.
There is a lot of information in the cloud that is relevant to the business – personnel moves, hiring, firing, etc. If you it is possible to track this, it can help.
LinkedIn can help. Look for 1st and 2nd degree links to individuals of interest. For example, you want to meet a CEO who on LinkedIn is a 2nd degree link. Request a warm introduction from a 1st degree link between you and the CEO.
Think of LinkedIn in terms of rifle shots, not a shotgun approach. This makes it both more manageable and more valuable.
Situation: Revenue for a product and craft business has been slipping. At the same time, their competition has been disappearing. It is clear to the CEO that demand is and will continue to be present because of the market that the company serves. The question is how to maintain the profitability to survive long-term. How do you build in a declining market?
Advice from the CEOs:
The keys to recovery in a business like this will be in two areas: improving sales and increasing margins.
To increase sales the choices are more aggressive marketing and selling to existing customers or creating new markets like previous generations did when they started the business. Consider services that you could bundle with your products to augment the ways that customers use them. It will be the responsibility of your sales and marketing teams to demonstrate these product/service bundles to increase sales both to new and existing customers. This will help to solve the revenue slippage.
The other side is ongoing efforts to reduce cost which will, in turn, improve your margins. Costs can be reduced in creative ways that are not obvious. These include improvements in purchasing, reduction of waste, recycling of component materials, and inventory controls. It will be the responsibility of your production, purchasing and inventory management teams to develop these solutions. Assure that these teams are recognized and rewarded for their solutions.
Look at the segments of your product offering. Are they declining at the same rate or are there differences? This will help you to focus your efforts, as a company, to grow market share even if the overall market is declining.
Other suggestions for increasing sales:
Take advantage of the craft trends. Do this with NEW talent – not tired talent.
Consider partnerships and collaborations.
Set up contests and craft classes.
Look at how other industries promote to the craft industry and follow their lead.
Situation: A CEO is renegotiating the company’s agreement with a sales person. The sales person wants a declining residual commission on sales from past customers, regardless of who is servicing the account. A consultant who knows the industry advises the CEO to focus on new sales. What are the implications of each choice? How do you manage residual commissions?
Advice from the CEOs:
There are two types of salespeople: Hunters and Farmers.
Hunters focus on new business and generally get paid first year, then in later years only on sales that come specifically through their efforts.
Farmers focus on ongoing relationships with existing customers and are the service people for those customers. If they are paid commissions, they get paid on the ongoing sales that result directly from their efforts.
It is rare to find a salesperson who can manage both of these roles well, so companies often divide responsibilities, and any commissions paid, according to responsibility.
Decide what behavior you want from your sales person and pay for this – make the distinction between hunting and farming. Then ask the sales person which they want to be. If they say “both,” challenge this and let them know that they need to make a choice.
Situation: A company’s reputation is based on quality of work. The CEO notes that occasionally they have mishaps due to suboptimal documentation. They are considering a concerted quality effort. Based on your experience, would you do this whether or not you were bound by ISO requirements? If so, would you hire an outside consultant to guide your efforts? How do you optimize quality improvement?
Advice from the CEOs:
Some companies have successfully used ISO to force documentation. ISO provides a structure to enforce keeping the company and employees diligent and honest.
Other companies have used standard operating procedures (SOPs) for field as well as internal functions to speed completion of documentation and accelerate invoicing. These companies may or may not have ISO requirements.
One company tried to go cheap – implementing process improvement without a qualified consultant. While the effort was eventually successful, it took way too much time and money. From this experience, they recommend hiring someone who is experienced and who already has a template to guide the process.
To test the experience of an outside consultant, start with a small project to get the company accustomed to the process and to evaluate the consultant’s efficacy.
If the choice is to work on this yourself with your employees, start by documenting what happens correctly. Once you have done this, work on improvements to address problem areas.
This is not a simple exercise – plan for it and use the right inside or outside person to guide the process.
Situation: A CEO is concerned that his company’s sales and marketing efforts are not effective. Too often the sales team finds a good prospect, but fails to convert them to the company’s offering. How can the company improve its sales conversion rate? How do you optimize your buy/sell funnels?
Advice from the CEOs:
To improve both your marketing and sales functions, it is essential to move the company’s perspective from the Sales side of the Seller’s Funnel to the Marketing side of the Buyer’s Funnel. Only by understanding your customers can you:
Create awareness of their needs,
Acknowledge interest in a solution to their needs,
Consider options and develop preferences among the possible solutions, and
Determine how to effectively communicate with them through your marketing and sales efforts.
In today’s world, a quality web site is essential to your business. The objective of the web site is to convince the customer that they want to talk to or do business with you. Your web site must tell them:
Who you are.
What your values are.
Why you are special.
And it must include a “call to action” – a convincing reason for them to call you.
To better qualify your prospective clients:
Develop a scripted telephone interview that can be conducted by your sales people or less expensive inside sales/marketing people to qualify prospects before you spend the time and effort for an in-person sales call.
Use targeted marketing programs to leverage references to prospective customers.
Have lots of conversations with potential customers to understand their needs. Tailor your value creation process to address these needs.
Special Thanks to Craig Olson of MXL Partners for his contribution to this discussion.
Situation: A company has been presented with a new business opportunity. The opportunity is compatible with the company’s current business, but also involves skills and markets with which the company is not familiar. How do you evaluate a new business opportunity?
Advice from the CEOs:
There are at least four critical questions to assess as you evaluate any new businesses opportunity:
What is the total available market, and what is the immediately convertible market for the product or service?
Can you acquire expertise in the new markets that this will open to you?
Do you have a track record starting and nurturing new business within your company?
Is there sufficient seed money available – through company funds or outside investment – to keep the effort going for at least a couple of years as you develop the core team that will operate this business and gain traction?
If there is an offer of outside investment, consider how many months this funding will support the salaries of the team that will build this business, plus operating and overhead costs. You want to be sure to give yourself an adequate runway.
New business development opportunities typically require huge energy, creativity and focus for the first few years. Key management will have to devote all of their effort during the start-up period. Can the company afford to lose the services of key personnel for the time that you estimate this effort will take?
Before deciding to pursue this opportunity, take the time to investigate the market for this opportunity.
In particular, look for other companies that have tried to enter this market, and learn from their experience.
Develop a network of advisors who understand this market and can help you understand both the workings of the market and why companies may have struggled trying to enter the market.