Yes, I hyphenate my last name – I want to prove to my ex-husband that I am, indeed, a woman of the ’90s. But I don’t want to think of that right now. I’m here to tell you that I’m looking for funding.
No, it’s not because the gap-toothed worrywart won’t pay alimony. And no, it’s not for my dot-com business, either. It is for my dot-companion adventure.
You see, I have this great big wall-to-wall National Geographic map of the United States in my living room with about 30 dots plotted on it. I am planning on going from dot to dot to dot one of these days when my dot-com stocks pay off.
I’m gonna buy me that 1981 Airstream down at Red’s Used RVs and travel about the countryside with my yappy-mouthed, curly-headed, white-haired poodle named Dixie, and of course, that lovable sweet-pea husband of mine can come, too. So I guess you could say I am looking for a couple of million dollars for my dot-com.
It is just too bad all the resources available to small business owners can’t help me, too. There is a company in Austin called Seedstage.com that helps get start-up businesses together with venture capital investors. They mentor you, give you advice on what investors are looking for, and allow you to do a dry run of your presentation, providing feedback and constructive criticism.
I sit in on some of these presentations. We have seen some real humdinger ideas, and some that you wouldn’t want to touch even dressed in one of those “X-Files” alien-searching outfits. Now, listen up, here’s my advice to you:
- Elevator speech. Your “elevator” speech must be perfect. Many times you will have only five minutes in front of investors, so your opening must be concise, succinct, to the point… you get the idea. Okay, five minutes is usually longer than an elevator ride, but you catch my drift. So memorize it. Be passionate about it. It is your baby, for heaven’s sake. Practice in front of the mirror every morning.
- Clearly defined business. What is your company/service/product? You’d be surprised at how many presentations I sit in on where I am still confused at the end of the presentation as to what the company does. If it is not clear up-front, your potential investor will spend the rest of the presentation tuning you out while he tries to figure out what you have just defined your business as.
- It is all about revenue. Let’s face it, capitalism made America great. Where is the revenue coming from? How much will it be? Over what time period? What are your expenses? Investors want to know how long it will take to make a profit. Is it the Dell hockey stick approach or the slow growth?
- Management team. Look for leaders in your industry.
- Competition. Who is in your space? Who is thinking about being in your space? What will that do to you? How will you position yourself in the market? What makes you unique? The ability to read tea leaves can really come in handy when it comes to scooping the competition. Believe it or not, investors expect you to foretell the future.
- Partnerships. Having these already formed helps tremendously.
- Marketing. If you’re a dot-com, this will become very important. As you know, most dot-coms aren’t making any money because most of that is being pumped back into marketing. Have a realistic idea of what it will take to market your business. If you don’t have a realistic idea, you probably also need an ad agency on your list of partners and business consultants.
The shop.org/BCG study (“State of Online Retailing 2.0,” July 1999) mentions that, among the business-to-consumer Internet companies studied, about 76 percent of their revenue is put back into the marketing and advertising budget. If you are forecasting millions in revenue, you will also need millions to promote.
I’ve been told that shopping your business plan around is the most humbling experience anyone can go through, so be prepared to be thrown to the lions. Serious investors will find your weaknesses, but don’t be discouraged. It takes a lot of no‘s to get to that yes. And along the way, you will probably learn enough to polish up your schtick. (I can’t tell you how many marriage proposals I turned down before I gave my former husband a yes. What a fool I was.)
I was talking with a client who has secured several million in a couple of rounds of funding, and who has been through the funding process numerous times. He said the whole process is mostly based on luck: the right time, the right place. So if you regularly rely on the proper alignment of the stars to see how your day will go, make sure you do it the day you meet with investors.
But it’s a lot more than luck; you have to have basics, too. A thorough business plan, validated revenue models, analysis of competitors, an understanding of how you will differentiate yourself in the market, some partners – and a crystal ball helps, too.
Well, I’m always available if you need a shoulder to cry on. If you’ve been up all night preparing for your investor presentation and want to drop me a line, I’ll keep the email door open for you.
In the meantime, I have resorted to looking under seat cushions and checking the coin drop of every pay phone and beverage machine I can to fund my dot-com adventure. As they say down here in Texas, “Buena suerte, amigos.”