Do you have any ideas or thoughts on how to better run a business? This is the place for these blogs.

Global Online Trends

20170615_graph

I’m a self-confessed data junky. I love my numbers and if they can be plotted on a graph so I can see a trend then so much the better! Domain investors live and die by their numbers. If you ignore looking at the stats then you can miss out on some significant opportunities and take bullets rather than dodging them.

Escrow.com

Beyond the numbers and charts is understanding how to interpret them and how they may impact your business decisions. From a very high level there are a number of charts that I like to pay attention to and in this article, I’ll step you through them.

World-wide Growth in Internet Users

Ultimately underpinning every e-commerce transaction is a person wanting to buy, watch, click or doing anything. If the number of Internet users suddenly began decreasing then I can guarantee that it’s going to have a big impact on your business.

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Optus - An Incompetent Internet Provider

Optus - An Incompetent Internet Provider

It’s not often that I experience the level of incompetence that I have from Optus, my Internet Service provider. For those of you that don’t know, Optus is the second biggest ISP in Australia…so there one of the big boys on the block. My experience has sparked me to write this article and circulate it to as many people as possible as an example of bad customer service and hopefully warn other away. So what’s the story?

Escrow.com

I’ve been a good loyal Optus customer for about 15 years and I pay for the highest level of Internet possible. About five weeks ago I noticed that the speeds were getting slower and slower…..which is never good as I regularly do video conference calls etc.

After checking the speed with both the external and Optus Internet speed checks I found that I was getting about 20% of the rate that I expected. This clearly explained why many of my skype calls end up in either me or the other party speaking like a robot!

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Part 5 - How To Get New Customers

Part 5 - How To Get New Customers

Many readers are aware that I recently launched a new business and that I was having trouble enticing customers to the service. It just so happens the business is a new bird bath outside my study window and the customers are birds (the flying ones).

Escrow.com

Although there’s been a lot of funny anecdotes there has also been a serious thread of discussion about how to attract customers to a new business. Every new business has a vision of their ideal customer and a “full proof” plan on how to attract them. The problem is that years of experience has proved plans look great on paper and reality is something else entirely.

For example, I had a great vision of birds flocking to my wonderful bird bath and I would enjoy them singing away outside as they happily splashed away. My reality was a bird bath that was entirely ignored.

The one thing that a start-up has to their advantage is their ability to quickly change direction. If the plan isn’t working, then change the plan. Don’t burn more cash…..move!

In my case, I tried to entice the birds with bread. They loved the bread on the ground and completely ignored the bird bath. I then moved the bird bath. That still didn’t work so I moved it again. I constantly tweaked my “business” with the end goal of attracting my customers (ie. birds).

If a start-up is to succeed, then it must get customer feedback as fast as possible. There is no point in building the ultimate product that no one wants. For those people who tell you they love what you’re doing then ask them the same question with a charge attached.

I’ve seen so many businesses give their products/services away in the name of “market share” only to find that once they try to charge no one wants what they’ve built. A sale isn’t a sale unless ultimately there is a financial transaction attached. Anyone can give a service away…..it’s much harder to sell it.

So where am I at? As can be seen by the pictures I now have multiple different species of birds enjoying the bread and the bird bath. This is important as the different species indicate that I’ve now tapped into not just a single market but multiple different market segments.

Magpie

A start-up needs to quickly classify what customer segments are buying their products/services. This means really paying attention to what customers are buying versus the time wasters and then focusing your efforts to exploit the revenue opportunities.

I should say that my feathered customers are also paying customers. The other day, Roselyn and I woke up to a magpie warbling beautifully outside our bedroom window. That was payment enough for us both. For me, it was wonderful to know that I’d managed to successfully launch another little start-up business.

Battleframe

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Part 4 – Building a Business – Extending the Runway

Part 4 – Building a Business – Extending the Runway

In this article, I plan to pick up where I’d left off in the series on Building a Business. As you may have guessed from the title we will be exploring the importance of generating revenue and why it should be the fundamental goal for the vast majority of businesses. This may seem obvious, but so many entrepreneurs lose sight of the revenue in the quest for building a better widget.

Escrow.com

Revenue is the first part of the profit equation:

Profit = Revenue less Expenses

Many people look on this equation as being obvious without really understanding it in the context of a startup business. For a startup, the equation is all about runway. The less negative the profit is (ie. small the losses) the longer it will take a new business to run out of cash.

You can achieve this by hamstringing the business on the development side by reducing the expenses. This strategy often defeats the purpose of raising capital or being the first to market in a land grab. If you’re initially committed to your expense line, then the only other option is to generate revenue.

This then raises one of the largest challenges for a startup business. Short-term revenue versus long-term success. It’s often the leadership of the founder that empowers the business to achieve both.

For instance, should you go to the market with a half-baked product when you know customers won’t be enamored with the offering? If you launch into the market will competitors see what you’re doing and eventually eat your lunch? What is the PR implications of going to market now? These are just a few of the questions then plague founders.

On top of all this, focusing on revenue can be a complete distraction from the core objective. As a founder, you’ll suddenly find yourself managing a sales team (their often not that fun) who bring nasty things called clients that demand a level of quality from your half-built solution. This will then cause you to think about bringing onboard support staff. In the meantime, the core team wants to know where you are because you’ve been buried in all the noise.

So what gives first? I can tell you that it’s going to be your personal time which is quickly followed by waving good-bye to loved ones as you spend increasingly more time at work. On top of all this, the next board meeting with your investors will make you acutely aware of your shortcomings and the fact that you’re not hitting targets for what they invested in.

Does this sound like fun still? Remember the dreams you had in the bar with a few friends about building something great? Hang on to them and don’t let go as they are often the only way you’ll get through this patch.

What’s the solution to revenue? A number of years ago I watched an episode of the political drama “The West Wing” and the president of the USA was talking to one of his staff members.

President Josiah Bartlet: You got a best friend?
Staff Member: Yes, sir.
President Josiah Bartlet: Is he smarter than you?
Staff Member: Yes, sir.
President Josiah Bartlet: Would you trust him with your life?
Staff Member: Yes, sir.
President Josiah Bartlet: That's your chief of staff.

It’s a really good job interview for the conditions in building a team and most notably the crucial role of your second in command. Every successful business that I know has been built not by an individual but by a high-powered team.

As the founder of the start-up you can’t be expected to do everything. If you try to then you’ll fail. Get good people around you and delegate the revenue task as the focus of your second in charge. I’ve found that in most start-ups there is low hanging fruit that will unlock some revenue without distracting the core.

Remember, the purpose of doing this is to lower the business’s cash-burn and extend the runway so the core product/service can be released. The danger with this approach is if the founder gets distracted by the revenue and loses focus on the vision….so keep your vision firmly in sight.

In the next article I will continue the discussion on revenue.

Battleframe

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Part 3 – Building a Business – The Pitch

Part 3 – Building a Business – The Pitch

In Part 2 of this series you’ve expressed your passion to me about your new business idea. I’ve seen a prototype built out of bits of cardboard stuck together with glue and although it doesn’t do anything you’ve sold the vision. So what’s next?

Escrow.com

I love passion but passion combined with a plan leads to action. At this stage, I’m after a one page summary document. I want to see whether you have the wherewithal to be able to synthesize your entire business onto a single page.

Before you tell me that’s impossible, Rupert Murdoch, founder of billion-dollar global international company News Limited, receives a one page summary every day that summarises his businesses across the world. If Rupert can do it then I’m sure you can.

So what’s on this page?

  • The product/service in a maximum of two sentences.
  • What problem is it solving and for which target market?
  • How will you reach the target market?
  • Financial opportunity
  • What will it take to secure the opportunity?
  • Who is currently involved?

Assuming I’m still interested then I will next ask you to present a summary deck of slides which dive a little deeper into the opportunity. I will work under the assumption that the dozen or so slides are backed up with a rigorous analysis which can be quickly accessed in an appendix.

Amongst other things, I’m wanting to drill down into any existing financials you may have. If I see a great big liability in the balance sheet you can be sure that I’ll ask what it is so please don’t try and cover it up.

If it’s a loan to shareholders then don’t be surprised when I suggest that it be forgiven…..the reason why you are raising capital upon a certain valuation is because of that input. Either that or massively drop your valuation. The whole point of putting cash into a fledgling business is to help it grow, not to pay back debts!

So what’s going to be on the slides?

  1. What is your vision and value? What are you trying to achieve?
  2. What problem you are solving and why this is important?
  3. Who is your target market? You can describe this as John Smith who is struggling with….. Or do a full market analysis of the potential
  4. The solution you are bringing to the market to solve its problems.
  5. How are you going to make money from your offering? What is your position in the competitive landscape? Are you the high-price, high service offering or the low-cost mass market solution?
  6. Do you already have some existing sales or early adopters? Have you proven your offering and are looking for expansion investment/help or are you yet to launch?
  7. What is your marketing and sales strategy? What are the barriers to growth? How long will the sales cycle take? Do you have some winning solution that will beat customers compared to your competitors?
  8. Are there any competitors (there always are) and state why your solution is better. What is your position in the competitive landscape?
  9. The existing team – brief bio on each member
  10. Financial projections and existing sales (if any). It’s important to highlight any key assumptions here.
  11. What is the deal? You are wanting to raise $X for Y% of equity. Investors really would like to see the difference their investment will make to the business and where the investment will be spent.
  12. You may include here what the exit strategy will be? IPO, trade sale etc.

The entire deck should take a maximum of 20-30 minutes to present and each slide should be succinct and to the point. The rest of the meeting with me will be you fielding questions as I prod around the assumptions and come to grips with your product/service.

Remember, I’m not trying to be mean! I’m trying to work out whether putting time into your venture will be a higher return compared to other opportunities.

Other documents you will want to have on-hand.

  • Executive summary page
  • Any technical documentation on the product
  • Detailed financial modelling…..and I mean detailed.
  • Proper market research that describes your target market in detail and who else is playing in the space. A good rule of them is the SWOT Analysis (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats). Think of your venture in these terms.

Some people have pitched for me not to invest cash but my expertise and they’ve wanted me to participate as an advisor. If the business is interesting enough then this may be the first step we take together.

With any investment, whether it be time or money there is always a dating period before a marriage. We both need to more fully understand how we can work together and make the venture successful.

I hope you've found this article worthwhile and that it helps you pitch not just to me but to others that may be interested in investing in your new business.

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