Leadership at Startups

Be yourself, be authentic. It is hard to copy someone else and be a great leader.

All great leaders do three things exceptionally well:

  1. Think and communicate clearly
  2. Show great judgement about people. Develop intuition about people
  3. Have exceptional personal integrity and commitment

Take time every day or every other day to think. An hour of thinking immensely helps.

Trust is a leader’s most important success metric. In a 360 degrees sense. In all that you do, optimize for trust.

Words of Wisdom – My collection

“Make yourself redundant. The best way to grow is by hiring talented people, mentoring them to do your job and moving on to bigger and better jobs.” – Prof. Mohanbir Sawhney, Kellogg School of Management

“The most important thing is to be customer obsessed,” – Jeff Bezos, Amazon

Fund Raising Tips

Focus on explaining the problem. Investor has to recognize it is a problem worth solving. Explain with an analogy/anecdote. Understand at what level the person you are talking to understands your space. Solution is less important. “Communicate clearly and adjust depending on the situation”

Investors love to hear about your background and how you evolved to become a founder. They look for the chemistry between founders.

Create a process – who to speak to, when, why, etc. Dedicate yourself to it. Create a spreadsheet with schedule and probability of success. Track conversations/results. Find balance between a hyper-critical investor and an all-is-well investor.

Raising too much too fast will hurt the company. Identify the milestones and the runway you need to meet them and go from there.

Find what GREAT is and means. Investors love to see you rub shoulders with other successful founders/investors/leaders. Personal connections and network matters. Find a sparring partner and not a best friend who doesn’t challenge you enough.

Avoid investors who are too involved and those that are not involved at all. Do not take office space in your investor’s building. You need room to grow and not someone overseeing you.

Can you take a big hairy problem and break it down into simple smaller problems? Condensing is a skill.

Tip 1: Lead Investor

Investors care more about who else is investing than the business plan and team. So, don’t go broad until you have a lead investor lined up.

Tip 2: Set a deadline

Deadline keeps the momentum going and keeps you running towards closing the fund raise.

Tip 3:

Resources:

How to raise Money? http://paulgraham.com/fr.html

https://www.sequoiacap.com/article/writing-a-business-plan/

Value Proposition Statements from Startups

Following below is a collection of value proposition statements that the startups used in their pitch deck when raising capital. Note that some of these may not be verbatim from their deck, but paraphrased without losing the key message.

Please add a comment with your favorite ones that are missing here and I shall include it.

Adpushup allows companies to maximize ad revenues through advanced A/B testing. 

Airbnb is a platform that allows people to list, find, and rent lodging.

AppVirality allows app developers to identify and implement the right growth techniques, within minutes. No coding required.

Bliss provides code quality metrics for engineering managers and allows them to collaborate easily.

Buffer is a social media scheduling platform that helps you schedule content to Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Pinterest.

Castle app lets rental owner put their properties on autopilot.

Canvas replaces paper-based processes with affordable and easy-to-use mobile apps and forms.

Crew (formerly Ooomf & then PickCrew) is a premium marketplace of the best mobile and web talent where the talent picks the work.

Cubeit is a mobile application that allows users to aggregate content from anywhere.

Dwolla allows anything connected to the internet to move money quickly, safely, and at low cost. It is a payment solution that allows users to send, receive, and request funds from other users.

Facebook: thefacebook.com is an expanding online directory that connects students, alumni, faculty and staff through social networks at colleges and universities.

Fittr is a platform that designs custom workouts tailored to equipment, access, time management, and goals. Lumosity meets Fitness.

Flowtab is a mobile ordering, payments, and loyalty platform for bars and nightclubs. It allows people to order drinks quickly at a crowded bar.

Foursquare is a mobile platform that helps you find the best places to go in your area.

Gusto (previously ZenPayroll) is a cloud-based solution tool for small businesses to pay employees.

LaunchRock allows users to create landing pages and quickly get their startups known through social media, even before the launch of their full site.

Manpacks is a platform that delivers men’s essentials such as underwear, razors, grooming and other products.

MapMe allows users to create universally accessible (i.e. on smartphones, tablets, and computers) maps of anywhere they want with no coding required.

MapMe – platform that empowers passionate people to build, launch, and grow Community Maps.

Mint is a personal financial services tool that helps people track their spending and find ways to save money.

Mixpanel is an advanced analytics platform for product and marketing.

Square is a company that allows merchants to accept mobile credit card payments via a dongle.

SteadyBudget is budget management software that helps PPC analysts manage various budgets across different channels.

Swipes is a task manager app to help its users increase their productivity.

Wealthsimple is Canada’s fastest growing online investment manager. We make smart investing easy, low-cost, and transparent.

How to prepare an Investor Pitch Deck?

One of the most frequently asked question by any founder is how to prepare a pitch deck? It can be very painful process and experience to create a winning pitch deck, especially if you are raising an investment for the first time. A lot can however be learned from pitch decks from startups that successfully raised and grew their companies, some that went IPO. Following below are few valuable recommendations that can help you cut the time in research and spend more time in putting together the slides. Since the goal is to pitch an investor, the focus here is on content and not the graphics. Graphics may be a necessity for a public presentation like a demo day presentation, but do not matter for an investor meeting.

The style and content of a pitch deck depends on the goal – meeting an investor, presenting to large audience, etc. The purpose of the deck could be to introduce and showcase your business, demonstrate your product, sell your vision and business model. The delivery method – presenting on stage, in a room, or emailing will also factor into the style and type of content to include.

While the investors normally fall under different categories, depending on their investment size, criteria, goals, etc., there is still a common expectation from most investors when they read your deck. This article covers some of the salient points to keep in mind when preparing an investment pitch deck.

  1. Start with the Purpose: The pitch deck should aim at grabbing the investor’s interest by giving enough information to open their minds to your vision and excite them to know more. Avoid giving over-information as it complicates your story and investors lose attention. Make sure your presentation is self explanatory, i.e. one can go through it in your absence and still be able to follow and understand it.
  2. Keep it concise: Not more than 10-13 slides. Guy Kawasaki has a 10/20/30 Rule that can help you in this context. Never include too many details on your product/marketing/finance.
  3. Make good Assumptions: You should be able to justify your assumptions and defend them, but that doesn’t mean you can include irrational assumptions.
  4. Acknowledge Competitors: Competitors success should be credited. Avoid overreaching arguments against their success.

After reviewing tens of pitch decks that are publicly available, I noticed the following slides to be the common ones across 90% of the decks:

  1. Purpose – The hook, elevator pitch
  2. Market Opportunity – market size (TAM and SAM), your customer base
  3. Problem & Current Solutions – market gap
  4. Your Solution – your offering
  5. Why Now – why hasn’t your solution been built before now?
  6. Traction – any numbers, momentum, expertise
  7. Marketing Plan: Strategy and Tactics
  8. Competition
  9. Business Model: Key revenue streams
  10. Financials – focus on key metrics
  11. Investment – your need, usage, past investments raised if any
  12. Team – your team, investors, advisers

Some of the not so common slides that can be added to the appendix are:

  1. Product/Service Features
  2. Product/Service Demo
  3. Existing Sales/Clients
  4. Partnership Agreements
  5. Risk Factors
  6. Value Chain/Food Chain
  7. Competitive Advantages
  8. Case Studies – clients, user engagement,
  9. Product/Service road map
  10. Competitive Advantage
  11. Milestones
  12. Use Cases
  13. Testimonials
  14. Key Differentiators
  15. Exit Strategy

Helpful notes while working on these slides :

Purpose/Elevator pitch – Define your company in a quick one-liner summary that combines your vision/product and the mission of your company. Keep it short and memorable.

Traction – Show your timeline and milestones to date. Growth metrics are key at early stage. Highlight press, partnerships, accolades. Customer success stories and/or testimonials.

Market Opportunity – Define Your Market: What business/space you are in. Total Market Size (Dollar Size, Your Place/Niche). Customers (Clearly define exactly who you serve). Macro Trends & Insights. Invent your own markets if that is possible. TAM (top down), SAM (bottoms up) and SOM.

Why Now? – Describe historical evolution of your market space and category. Highlight the macro and micro trends that make your solution possible.

Problem – Describe the real problem/need you’re solving, and for who. Who else is already doing this, and how are they going about it and what are the shortcomings to current solutions?

Solution – Why is your value proposition unique and compelling? How does it solve the problem? Why will it endure? And where does it go from here?

Product/Service – Tell the story of your customer and how customers use/value your product or service. Images and visuals are better than lots of text: show don’t tell.

Business Model – Who is your primary customer & how do you make money. What is the pricing / model. Revenue and # of customers to date. Show basic math on revenues and conversion rates. Life-time value of an average Customer (How many months, how many dollars?). How do you intend to thrive? Sales and distribution model. Customer/pipeline.

Marketing – Where are your customers looking today and finding help? Where will you get in front of them? How will you achieve your target growth rates? What are the most important and unique channels and methods you will use to find and win customers? How are you doing it differently than others in the space?

Team – Highlight key team members and their prior positions, successes, domain expertise. Demonstrate relevant experience. Which roles are the keys to success in your company/space?

Financials – Include 3-5 years of financial projections. Mention key & critical assumptions in your model of expenses, customer conversion, market penetration %. Highlight each of these Yearly for at least 3 years: Total Customers , Total Revenue, Total Expense, EBITDA. Sources: P&L, Balance Sheet, Cash Flow Statements. Show cap table if you have one.

Competition – Where do you exist in the larger overall Market Space? What are your Advantages? How is your place in the market unique to you, and the right one for your company growth and customers? Who are the competitors, why have they succeeded, and how do you truly differentiate from them? Who are your direct and indirect competitors. What is your plan to win?

Investment – State how much Capital you are raising, and with what general Terms: Equity, Debt, Convertible Note. What is the timing of your Capital raise? Who are your existing & notable investors, if any? What are your key Use of Proceeds (as % of total raise) : Founder salaries, Sales & Marketing, New hires, Technology / Product or Service development, Capital expenses / equipment.

References:

https://www.sequoiacap.com/article/writing-a-business-plan/

https://piktochart.com/blog/startup-pitch-decks-what-you-can-learn/

How to download financial data of a company?

Performing a company analysis will almost always include it’s financial analysis. Access to financial data is of course needed in order to do so. But how can one get the data, especially in a format such as excel, for performing the analysis? All publicly trading companies file their information to SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) in order to be compliant to the company laws and be on good standing. Private companies rarely share any detailed financial information, some don’t share any. It is therefore relatively easy to do a financial analysis on publicly traded companies than to do so on a private company.

There are a lot of financial institutions that maintain and archive financial data for companies, but SEC is the best source to access such data at no cost. Following below are a few steps to download the data:

  1. Go to www.sec.gov

2. Click on Company Filings, below the search bar.

SEC Website – Homepage

3. Search for the company that you are interested in downloading the financial data for. Select the company from the search results if you see a list of companies that matched your search term. To avoid confusion, it is better to search by the company’s trading ticker.

4. You should now see all the information that the company filed with SEC.

5. The financial information in excel format can be found in the 10-K filings

SEC Filing – 10K

6. By clicking on Documents you can access all documents online and read the filing report, but if you click on the Interactive Data you will see option to view in excel document form.

SEC Filing Documents – (10-K)

7. When you click on the Excel document you will get an option to save file on your local computer/laptop.


SEC Filing Interactive Data (10-K )

If you are a paid customer of companies such as Morgan Stanley, Charles Schwabb, Morning Star, etc., you can get a more detailed analysis done by the analysts on such statements.

SMB Marketing Strategy Tips you can’t Ignore

Marketing Strategy is one of the critical success factor in any business, profit or not-for-profit. After you get you identify your product and market, you have to start putting together the strategy.

I am enlisting some tips below that are geared towards SMBs (Small to Medium sized Businesses):

  1. Branding – Define your brand clearly so that your customers can instantly relate and understand what you stand for and what you offer. Often this includes your business logo, a messaging statement, tag line, brand colors, and images representing the brand.
  2. Customers – Choose your target segment wisely as your marketing, sales, and success depends on it. Find out the demographic information if possible. Describe your customers using personas.
  3. Website – Build a website and make sure you represent your brand well and communicate with your target customers. Verify the page with search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, Bing, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Apple Maps, etc.
  4. Online Presence – Make sure you create the fan pages and product/service pages on various online channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, Google Business, Yelp, LinkedIn,
  5. Advertising – Google, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn are a few channels to advertise online to get great results as these channels help you reach your customers by leveraging the demographic information or other data (name, address , email, phone number) that you may have acquired.
  6. SEO – Never overlook this organic method to build traffic to your website, which creates an opportunity for a sale. It is time consuming task and needs to be well organized and executed. You will not see good business unless your website doesn’t show up in first page of internet search results.
  7. Email/Text Campaigns – Results for these campaigns can vary dramatically and depend on content relevancy and the target customers you sent these campaigns to.

This article will be updated on regular basis to add more strategies and details to already listed ones.

Startup Tools

Google Slides –  for pitch deck, collaboration

Canva – free suite of design tools for creating social media ads, PPC ads, infographics, beautiful slides, magazines, and a lot more. Plenty of stock photography built in. Create custom and consistent filters for your brand images.

Trello – Free project management tool. To-do lists, delegation tools, and collaboration for remote teams.Google Trends – To figure out what’s hot and in demand. Helps SEO campaigns.

Mailchimp – List building and automated follow up, for free. Web forms, popups, and basic landing page builder. Integrates virtually everything for free. Allows to export your contact list to a new service. Alternatives – Getresponse, AWeber, Infusionsoft.

Google Analytics – Overview or deep dive into customer analytics.

Boomerang – Works with gmail. Enables to schedule emails for later. This is perfect for giving yourself time to think before your response goes out, to time landing pitch emails to investors, and to target marketing messages to land at just the right time for your prospects. The Respondable feature aims to help you write better emails too. It does this by ranking your message on a variety of factors, including reading level, length, positivity level and staying on subject.

LinkedIn – Build audience, target recruiting, networking, and gaining direct access to angel investors. Polish your profile and publish to your feed regularly. Premium experience gives access to message people outside your network.

PayPal – No cost bank account, merchant account, and credit card processor – allows to instantly and quickly take payments and give refunds. Offers variety of POS tools as well as small business loans and lines of credit.

WordPress – Easiest free tool, comes with an enormous amount of plugins.

Medium – Free blogging platform. Publish clean content, get word out about your startup, update investors on your progress, and attract more customers.

Skype – Make free calls, record podcasts, host meetings, and conduct video sessions. Plenty of plug ins.

AngelList – Find a job, post a job, network with investors, see who is investing in what, and to invest in startups as well.

Upwork – Post job openings for free, screen for best experts. Get just the work you need on-demand without taking on hefty overhead or salaries.

Calendly – Schedule appointments, calls and investor meetings with ease. Integrates with Wix and Google Calendar.

Pictures- https://pixabay.com

How to Position a Technology Product/Service?

POSITIONING

Messaging is a critical factor in a business success, but often is overlooked. This results in weak brand awareness of the company’s product or service in the market as buyers are either confused or do not appreciate the value created. The foundation for messaging is obviously the “positioning statement” of any product or service.

A positioning statement, especially a differentiated one, provides the context for all the marketing activities and sales in a company. It succinctly states how a business need for a target buyer is met in differentiated way in a competitive environment. The business needs and wants of the identified buyer are met by creating value through the company’s product and services. Technology companies frequently struggle to identify technical benefits and business values for products and services, resulting in missed differentiation in both areas and subsequent failure to reach buyers. This could mean that the message may not reach the intended audience – if targeted towards non-technology buyers.

FEATURES TO VALUES – THREE STEP PROCESS

One solution to solving this problem is to create a map that connects the technical features to the business values. Gartner’s three steps process to reach both technical and business buyers effectively is a great approach that helps in coming up with such a map. The three steps are:

  1. Identify differentiable features (product, delivery and so forth) when they exist, and describe their value relative to competing or alternative methods.
  2. Identify business needs addressed by those features, and describe the value they provide.
  3. Connect the technical and business elements to create content (descriptions, use cases,stories, product-marketing vehicles) that takes customers from differentiable features to statements of value for their businesses.

Although these three steps, shown below in a process flow, look simple it is a complex task to complete.

Feature to Value

To start with, focus on meaningful features. “Meaningful” here refers to the features’  ability to be used as either technical differentiators or their ability to deliver differentiable business value. Attribute specific benefitsto these capabilities (features) that will link to statements of differentiation.

Technical Value Vs. Business Value

For example, the presence of the data transformation and visualization features can enable contextual analysis and visualization of outcomes more effectively than competitors’ products without them. While not overtly stated there, one could then create differentiated messaging to denote the superior speed of resulting analysis, the importance of contextual
visualization relative to standard charting, or other technical differentiations. The elements of differentiation that suggest describing how the technical features are provisioned and delivered. Some of these could be: revolutionary pricing models, delivery methods, ecosystem partnerships, support programs or other means to differentiate over and above the technology itself.

The flow chart below assists in identifying the technical values, which is normally the benefits.

BUSINESS VALUES IN TWO LAYERS

Identifying business needs and translating them to value obviously requires at least some vertical knowledge – understand market segmentation. When this is properly done, it will help prospects find themselves and their needs relative to the provider’s products or services.

It is recommended to create two layers of depth relative to business value. The bottom layer offers high-level value statements that should be used in concert with the technical benefits previously noted. The top layer would be used the same way, but it represents a more in-depth understanding of the pain points — or business moments — that exist in the given vertical markets.

CONNECTING BUSINESS VALUES TO TECHNICAL FEATURES

The three steps when completed should yield a connected picture between product/service features to the vertical or business values.


Vertical/Business Value connected to Product/Service features

CONCLUSION

While technical value and business value are obviously two critical factors or providers to convey (that is, how customers can obtain value), they must also help customers understand when they obtain value. This is the “time to value.” Buyers tell us that provider information such as value assessment models and implementation plans are key elements that help them reach buying decisions. Together, technology, business and time to value make up a triumvirate of value elements that providers must relate to buyers.

References:

Tech Go-to-Market: Creating the Path From Features to Value                            – David Yockelson