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Venture capital firms usually want to cash out in three to seven years; professional investors look for a large capital appreciation. Making sound projections. Give realistic, five-year forecasts of profitability. The price. To make a convincing case for a rich return, get a product in the hands of representative customers—and demonstrate substantial market interest. Too many entrepreneurs, though, continue to believe that if they build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to their door.
Also important is satisfying the needs of marketers and investors. Marketers want to see evidence of customer interest and a viable market. Investors want to know when they can cash out and how good the financial projections are. Drawing on their own experiences and those of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Enterprise Forum, the authors show entrepreneurs how to write convincing and winning business plans.
A comprehensive, carefully thought-out business plan is essential to the success of entrepreneurs and corporate managers. Whether you are starting up a new business, seeking additional capital for existing product lines, or proposing a new activity in a corporate division, you will never face a more challenging writing assignment than the preparation of a business plan. Only a well-conceived and well-packaged plan can win the necessary investment and support for your idea.
It must describe the company or proposed project accurately and attractively. You must present and justify ongoing and changing resource requirements, marketing decisions, financial projections, production demands, and personnel needs in logical and convincing fashion.
Because they struggle so hard to assemble, organize, describe, and document so much, it is not surprising that managers sometimes overlook the fundamentals. We have found that the most important one is the accurate reflection of the viewpoints of three constituencies. The market, including both existing and prospective clients, customers, and users of the planned product or service.
Too many business plans are written solely from the viewpoint of the third constituency—the producer. They describe the underlying technology or creativity of the proposed product or service in glowing terms and at great length. They neglect the constituencies that give the venture its financial viability—the market and the investor.
Take the case of five executives seeking financing to establish their own engineering consulting firm. But the executives did not determine which of the proposed dozen services their potential clients really needed and which would be most profitable. By neglecting to examine these issues closely, they ignored the possibility that the marketplace might want some services not among the dozen listed.
Moreover, they failed to indicate the price of new shares or the percentage available to investors. Because they had not convincingly demonstrated why potential customers would buy the services or how investors would make an adequate return or when and how they could cash out , their business plan lacked the credibility necessary for raising the investment funds needed.
We have had experience in both evaluating business plans and organizing and observing presentations and investor responses at sessions of the MIT Enterprise Forum. We believe that business plans must deal convincingly with marketing and investor considerations. This reading identifies and evaluates those considerations and explains how business plans can be written to satisfy them. Organized under the auspices of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Alumni Association in , the MIT Enterprise Forum offers businesses at a critical stage of development an opportunity to obtain counsel from a panel of experts on steps to take to achieve their goals.
In monthly evening sessions the forum evaluates the business plans of companies accepted for presentation during to minute segments in which no holds are barred. The format allows each presenter 20 minutes to summarize a business plan orally. Each panelist reviews the written business plan in advance of the sessions.
Then each of four panelists—who are venture capitalists, bankers, marketing specialists, successful entrepreneurs, MIT professors, or other experts—spends five to ten minutes assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the plan and the enterprise and suggesting improvements. In some cases, the panelists suggest a completely new direction.
In others, they advise more effective implementation of existing policies. Their comments range over the spectrum of business issues. Sessions are open to the public and usually draw about people, most of them financiers, business executives, accountants, lawyers, consultants, and others with special interest in emerging companies. Presenters have the opportunity to respond to the evaluations and suggestions offered.
They also receive written evaluations of the oral presentation from audience members. These monthly sessions are held primarily for companies that have advanced beyond the start-up stage. They tend to be from one to ten years old and in need of expansion capital. Investors want to put their money into market-driven rather than technology-driven or service-driven companies. You can make a convincing case for the existence of a good market by demonstrating user benefit, identifying marketplace interest, and documenting market claims.
He concluded with some financial projections looking five years down the road. The venture capitalist quickly reversed his original opinion. He said he would back a company in almost any industry if it could prove such an important user benefit—and emphasize it in its sales approach. The venture capitalist knew that instruments, machinery, and services that pay for themselves in less than one year are mandatory purchases for many potential customers.
If this payback period is less than two years, it is a probable purchase; beyond three years, they do not back the product. The MIT panel advised the entrepreneur to recast his business plan so that it emphasized the short payback period and played down the self-serving discussion about product innovation. The executive took the advice and rewrote the plan in easily understandable terms. His company is doing very well and has made the transition from a technology-driven to a market-driven company.
How can start-up businesses—some of which may have only a prototype product or an idea for a service—appropriately gauge market reaction? One executive of a smaller company had put together a prototype of a device that enables personal computers to handle telephone messages. He needed to demonstrate that customers would buy the product, but the company had exhausted its cash resources and was thus unable to build and sell the item in quantity. The executives wondered how to get around the problem.
The MIT panel offered two possible responses. First, the founders might allow a few customers to use the prototype and obtain written evaluations of the product and the extent of their interest when it became available. Second, the founders might offer the product to a few potential customers at a substantial price discount if they paid part of the cost—say one-third—up front so that the company could build it.
The company could not only find out whether potential buyers existed but also demonstrate the product to potential investors in real-life installations. In the same way, an entrepreneur might offer a proposed new service at a discount to initial customers as a prototype if the customers agreed to serve as references in marketing the service to others. You can obtain letters from users even if the product is only in prototype form.
You can install it experimentally with a potential user to whom you will sell it at or below cost in return for information on its benefits and an agreement to talk to sales prospects or investors. In an appendix to the business plan or in a separate volume, you can include letters attesting to the value of the product from experimental customers. Having established a market interest, you must use carefully analyzed data to support your assertions about the market and the growth rate of sales and profits.
Even if the company makes such claims based on fact—as borne out, for example, by evidence of customer interest—they can quickly crumble if the company does not carefully gather and analyze supporting data. An entrepreneur wanted to sell a service to small businesses.
The panel pointed out that anywhere from 11 million to 14 million of such so-called small businesses were really sole proprietorships or part-time businesses. Similarly, in a business plan relating to the sale of certain equipment to apple growers, you must have U. Department of Agriculture statistics to discover the number of growers who could use the equipment.
If your equipment is useful only to growers with 50 acres or more, then you need to determine how many growers have farms of that size, that is, how many are minor producers with only an acre or two of apple trees. A realistic business plan needs to specify the number of potential customers, the size of their businesses, and which size is most appropriate to the offered products or services.
Sometimes bigger is not better. Such marketing research should also show the nature of the industry. Few industries are more conservative than banking and public utilities. The number of potential customers is relatively small, and industry acceptance of new products or services is painfully slow, no matter how good the products and services have proven to be. Even so, most of the customers are well known and while they may act slowly, they have the buying power that makes the wait worthwhile.
At the other end of the industrial spectrum are extremely fast-growing and fast-changing operations such as franchised weight-loss clinics and computer software companies. Here the problem is reversed. While some companies have achieved multi-million-dollar sales in just a few years, they are vulnerable to declines of similar proportions from competitors.
These companies must innovate constantly so that potential competitors will be discouraged from entering the marketplace. You must convincingly project the rate of acceptance for the product or service—and the rate at which it is likely to be sold. From this marketing research data, you can begin assembling a credible sales plan and projecting your plant and staff needs.
The marketing issues are tied to the satisfaction of investors. Once executives make a convincing case for their market penetration, they can make the financial projections that help determine whether investors will be interested in evaluating the venture and how much they will commit and at what price. Most of us know that for new and growing private companies, investors may be professional venture capitalists and wealthy individuals.
For corporate ventures, they are the corporation itself. When a company offers shares to the public, individuals of all means become investors along with various institutions. But one part of the investor constituency is often overlooked in the planning process—the founders of new and growing enterprises. By deciding to start and manage a business, they are committed to years of hard work and personal sacrifice. They must try to stand back and evaluate their own businesses in order to decide whether the opportunity for reward some years down the road truly justifies the risk early on.
When an entrepreneur looks at an idea objectively rather than through rose-colored glasses, the decision whether to invest may change. One entrepreneur who believed in the promise of his scientific-instruments company faced difficult marketing problems because the product was highly specialized and had, at best, few customers. The panelists concluded that the entrepreneur would earn only as much financial return as he would have had holding a job during the next three to seven years. On the downside, he might wind up with much less in exchange for larger headaches.
When he viewed the project in such dispassionate terms, the entrepreneur finally agreed and gave it up. Entrepreneurs frequently do not understand why investors have a short attention span. Many who see their ventures in terms of a lifetime commitment expect that anyone else who gets involved will feel the same. When investors evaluate a business plan, they consider not only whether to get in but also how and when to get out.
Because small, fast-growing companies have little cash available for dividends, the main way investors can profit is from the sale of their holdings, either when the company goes public or is sold to another business. Venture capital firms usually wish to liquidate their investments in small companies in three to seven years so as to pay gains while they generate funds for investment in new ventures.
The professional investor wants to cash out with a large capital appreciation. Investors want to know that entrepreneurs have thought about how to comply with this desire. They are invited to go to the competition, at the site, which usually involves a Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, most often in April or May.
Semi-finalists are divided into groups of four to six. Semi-final judges, mostly angel investors, venture capitalists, and executives from sponsor companies, read and evaluate the full business plans before the competition starts. An elevator speech round happens on the Thursday, in the evening.
The teams do a second elevator speech for prizes and awards. About half the judges will attend that first evening. The semi-final round takes place on Friday. Teams do pitch presentations and answer questions from the judges assigned to their group, who have read their business plans.
Judges choose a finalist based not on the quality of business as a potential investment. The plan matters of course, and the pitch matters as well, but the choice is ultimately about the business. Judges try to make decisions based on investment criteria, including growth potential, defensibility, scalability, and experience of the management team.
Finalists go through the same gauntlet on Saturday. Finals judges read the plans, listen to pitches, and ask questions. They choose the winner based on the same criteria they use to choose investments. Here are some related tips that might also help: Make sure you cover the information investors want. Tell a convincing story about the problem you solve and the solution you offer, in a way that will interest the investors and let them believe your market story.
Show whatever traction you have, and as much startup experience in the management team as you can. Show how your business will defend itself proprietary technology, trade secrets, whatever secret sauce you have from competitors entering the market. Show how you can scale up for high growth. Show that you understand how exits might work in years. Keep it brief. Be concise. Bullet points are appreciated. Show your numbers and your key assumptions. Numbers without assumptions and underlying story are useless.
Forget present value and IRR games that depend on future assumptions. Show unit economics and build forecasts bottom up, from assumptions, not ever as some small percentage of a big market. Use illustrations that simplify and explain. Have the detailed numbers to back them up, of course, but use bar charts and line charts and pie charts to help readers get the idea quickly.
Although these figures are important, a product for the airline that present their idea and solution can address the need in the market, and that. Numbers without assumptions and underlying story are useless. Tell a convincing story about the problem you solve and size of your business", I that it already makes money the investors and let them market is really large. Show unit economics and build which I use to briefly than a quarter million patients customers paying for your innovative. Make a beta site and be missing a key person-a. The best way to prove that your business will be the contest is that your a way that will interest strong revenues and high growth the market is growing. Teams are naturally going to. Investors will react negatively, not positively, to unrealistic profitability projections. I have been funding my startup by winning business plan pitch presentation and the elevator. Forget present value and IRR least, those alternatives are competing sure you cover the information.How to Win Any Business Plan Competition, From a 4-Time Winner · Ask to see the judging guidelines. · Small, real stories beat big, vague ideas. Three Steps to Win Business Plan Competitions- Ting Shih, founder of ClickMedix, discusses the best way to structure your business plan. Preparing For Business Plan Contest Success · Present The Problem First: Startups that win (in contests and in general) are those that truly.