A View to an Angel…Investor that is.

12 03 2015

Entrepreneurs.  Love ’em    At the Meet the Angels event in Irvine, CA last night I had the privilege to talk with many of the Entrepreneur170 would-be entrepreneurs in attendance.  I hosted about 25 of them in a separate breakout session to answer specific questions they had regarding the angel investment process and other activities surrounding building a start-up.

Many entrepreneurs, especially those just starting out, have an impression – or mis-impression of the angel investor.  Because of the hit show “Shark Tank” many people believe that angel investors sit around and make instant decisions and throw money at companies.     That is theater and entertainment.  Let’s also not minimize the fact that the “sharks” DO invest and many companies in which they invest become successful.  However, angel investing is a little more than having many

mini-shark tanks around the country where entrepreneurs come to champion their ideas.

During one of the panel discussions one entrepreneur asked “what do the investors want to hear during a pitch.”  On Shark Tank the investors seem to ask the same questions and want to hear answers particularly relating to current revenue and revenue growth.  So I thought I would compile two lists of what I heard- and what I also believe- are things we angle investors want to hear, and things we DON’T want to hear.

Things Angel Investors Want to Hear

  • How the background of the CEO/Founder relates to the opportunity
    • Does the CEO/Founder have experience in this industry and market?
  • Skills and competencies of the management and advisory team
    • Ideally, has that team been in place for 6 months or more or better yet has this same team been successful in the past on a previous venture?
    • Is the team virtual, distributed or in one place
  • Skin in the game from the founders and early executives
  • That the entrepreneur and team are “all-in” committed to make it work.
  • A team that can execute to plan
  • Commitment and passion of the Entrepreneur (see my previous blog on this subject https://streetsavvymarketing.wordpress.com/?s=passion+of+the+entrepreneur )
    • One entrepreneur I know developed a medical device for insulin delivery because he would be able to use it for himself and his background was in medical devices
  • Strong product concept
    • What is the concept and why is it a strong one?
    • Has it been tested with customers in some manner?
  • Extensibility of the product concept
    • Is this a one trick pony or does the product have legs to spawn new products or be applicable to other markets?
  • Solid go to market plan
  • Identification of the ideal customer
  • Reasonable valuations
  • Credible evidence that the market will accept the product and it is scalable in some manner
    • This could include trials, early betas, partnership agreements, letters of intent, earlier funding.

What Angels Don’t Want to Hear

  • We are going to be the next Google and have a market cap of over $100B in only 2 years.
    • Or our valuation today is $100M because we have a solid concept and a breadboard design.
  • Our product is unique and we are alone in this space
    • It might be and that would be great but help us understand that. You might be the next SNAPCHAT and we don’t want to miss that opportunity!!
  • We have IP and no one can copy that?
    • This might be true but if you tread on the grounds of a giant company do you really want to pursue IP litigation over the next 7 years at a 7 figure cost?
  • We have a lot of downloads and freemium users
    • That is a great start but can you tell us about your conversion plans to paid users?
  • We have no competition
    • There is always competition or alternatives to your solution. The issue is how you will market the differences to get people to use your product or service vs another option.
  • Trust me; we know what we are doing
    • I am very attached to my dollars (my little financial soldiers so to speak) so I trust only those that have proved themselves to me in the past.

Certainly every start-up and entrepreneur is different.  In the early stages of a market, the team and the ability to execute is more important than the product per se in terms of sustainability of the business.  Early on, the management i.e. the CEO should have a clear view on the product, the vision for the product and business and a plan they can execute because we investors will track that to see if you make your commitments.  There should be clarity on what the ideal customer looks like.   For proof of concept, the angels would like to see functionality, a 3D model, capabilities comparison, market research to the extent practicable, feedback from current users if there is a product or input from lead users suggesting that the product or service in question makes sense and they would be interested in buying it.

We would be glad to hear from entrepreneurs on their concepts and ideas.  TechCoastAngels is always looking for deal flow and we would be glad to entertain those ideas.  Feel free to submit an application on www.techcoastangels.com.    And I would glad to talk with entrepreneurs who actually do have the idea for the next Google or Facebook!!

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Customer Jujitsu: Leveraging Customer Needs for Strategic Imperatives

28 10 2014

I am a New York Yankees fan and grew up with Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, and the incomparable Yogi Berra.  Now, many people think that Yogi is known for his Aflac commercials, yet many don’t recognize that he is the holder of the record for a player who won the most World Series (10) and who has the most hits (71).  Yogi is also famous for his statements of the obvious.  The one that strikes a business cord is depicted in the following diagram.  Yogi said, “if you see a fork in the road, take it!!”

If youi see a fork in the road
Another business person very conscious of the competitive environment sees what the competitor offers and chases after solutions to outdo the competition.   After all, if a company can outdo the competition on items such as features, benefits, and technology, wouldn’t that company achieve share gains?   Maybe, although features and benefits and even pricing by themselves will not necessarily win customers or their loyalty.Normally, a business executive sets strategies in one of three directions, or combinations of the three.  These degrees of freedom include: competitor, competencies of the company, and customers.    Unfortunately, many business people, especially those who are driven by sales, “pivot” or change direction so rapidly as if they are taking Yogi’s advice literally.    It is not always advantageous to do so.  A new technology based on what R&D has discovered may be immediately thought of as the way to certain riches.  Remember that the greatest inventions have created some of the largest companies with rewards reaped by the business and executives.

A third, however, thinks about the customer and satisfying his/her needs.  This is a customer intimate or customer focused philosophy and if done right is the essence  of customer Jujitsu.   It may not work all the time for various reasons, yet I believe that there is a higher probability of success in sustaining profitable revenue growth by leveraging the knowledge and preference of the customers.   You engender trust and build relationships and isn’t that the fundamental platform of good business?

Over time, in these newsletters and blogs we will cover various aspects of technology and competition and how we can grow profitable revenue through each of these elements separately or in combination.   It all starts with the customer, however, and we want to share some tools to understand the customers’ needs and drivers which can be leveraged for developing strategic initiatives as well as tactical plans.   We call this attribute, Customer Jujitsu, because you, the business person, can leverage the understanding of the customers to refine and augment your business strategy.  It seems simple but the tools and discipline needed are keys to success.

Here are some of the tools ranging from simple to more complex.

  1. Pulse surveys. Normally for the B2B market, these are simple questions asked of the customer on a regular basis to find out how things are going?   This is different from a sales call and the agenda is strictly to understand how well your company is doing in various areas to help the customer succeed.  It results in building better communications and trust.  If you ask enough customers, you can get a good perspective on how well your company is doing.
  2. Bounce back cards/online surveys/follow-up calls. These are effective in understanding a specific transaction.   Through the data you gather, you can discern trends and issues that might arise.   You might be able to notice a trend but generally this information is not used to set the strategic agenda for the company.  As we say, it is necessary information but not sufficient.
  3. Customer surveys via tools such as Survey Monkey. This is a great, simple on-line tool and very inexpensive (or free) to ask questions to customers on a sampled and regular basis.  There is a wide variety of questions that can be posed and the output can be graphically displayed.  If the surveys are performed, say quarterly, companies can see trends in certain areas.  Those negative trends can be corrected via functional or business strategies and those positive trends can be highlighted in marketing and business material.
  4. Mystery shopping. This can be performed for both business companies but normally performed for consumer oriented companies.   Either a third party or the marketing department performs mystery shopping, acting as a real customer in buying your products.  These mystery shoppers can “shop” your stores (online or brick and mortar), your customer service, and operations departments to find out problem areas vs. your own standards or vs. the competition.
  5. Customer Satisfaction Studies. This is probably the most complicated way to get information from customers and it takes time to set up the right questions as part of a continual program.  Yet the information obtained is very valuable.  If done correctly, the business person can get a feel for items that are IMPORTANT to a customer as well as how well the company has PERFORMED.  Those areas in which the company has performed well and are important to the customer can be leveraged as part of the company’s brand.  Those areas which are important to the customer yet performance has been lacking, form the basis of a strategic initiative for the company.

Having gathered the information is part of the equation as they say.  The information must be shared and discussed – particularly at the executive ranks – to see if there is something missing in your strategy, your development work, your distribution, customer service, training, price plans, logistics and similar items.   The ultimate goals are twofold:  First, and most importantly, to find out the temperature of the customer (i.e. customer satisfaction), and whether the customer will buy your products or services again and whether the customer will refer you to a colleague or business acquaintance (the ultimate question).  Second, if customer satisfaction isn’t where management believes it should be and the company is underperforming in areas important to the customer,  then management’s responsibility is to determine what is required to improve satisfaction – and the most cost-effective means of getting there.  This could include the development of new products, or process improvements and even the potential for partnerships, mergers or acquisitions.





Marketing Secrets 101

27 12 2012

One of the members of the CMO Newtwork on LinkedIn asked the question “what is the biggest marketing secret you’ve discovered over the course of your career?

Needless to say there were lots of answers. What I found interesting was the wide variety of answers, some bordering on the tactical, others on the strategic, and others on the interpersonal.  Some focused on customers, some on the concept of samples and giving things away for “free trials,” while others suggested that organizational alignment was critical.  All the answers make sense.  Clearly everyone’s perspective is colored by their unique position in an organization as well as what has brought them success in the past.  As a CMO and C-level executive, I have my perspective.  Here are my three “secrets” which when you think about it, are nothing more than commonsense put in perspective of my company’s goals.

I always believed that the CMO is the linking pin from the outside (customer) world to the inside (production) world of the company.   This is a vital role.  Therefore my first secret is:  listen to your customer!!!! Make sure you understand what your customers want – and yes, even if they change their mind you will know it- and develop a product and product architecture to solve those needs.  Be visible with to your customers.

Second, surround yourself with energy- the energy and intelligence of others – in marketing or outside marketing- that can contribute to an innovation mindset.  Ideas are the lifeblood of marketing and you should continue to press for new ideas.  You don’t have to act on them all but you should at least catalog them and act on those with the highest priority.

The final marketing secret has to do with the real role of the senior marketing executive e.g. CMO, and in turn, other marketing colleagues.  That secret, which has to be continually on the mind of the CMO specifically, is to think strategically – be an alter ego to your CEO- and execute tactically.  That means thinking about EBITA as well as top line growth.  EBITA is the lifeblood of all companies from the largest to even the smallest.

In reviewing the dialog, I developed the following framework in which to think about marketing secrets.   The “secrets” can be catalogued into one of four quadrants and depending on the company, its goals and objectives, different secrets.

marketing quad

There are many more “secrets” to being a successful marketing exec but hopefully these will start stimulating discussion.We can use this framework to catalog the different secrets.    If you are finding    too many secrets in one area, then assume that you are missing something in an overall plan.  Again, the answer will vary based on the company, the context and to which marketing level you are speaking.

david