Prajakt Raut discusses how you can evaluate your competition and chart out your unique selling point.
Generally, the reason for raising funds at any stage is to be able to take the company to the next ‘phase’ of its evolution.
Most startups would go through the following phases in their journey:
- Concept stage – i.e. when the idea is not yet developed into a product or service, but the founders may have done a fair bit of thinking on the concept and understanding the business dynamics surrounding that idea. This is the stage where the business case is being evaluated and assumptions are made and validated – hopefully by understanding the market and speaking to customers, etc.
- Prototype development stage – when the concept – either a product or service – is ready for testing with a limited audience – the startup may have a few initial employees.
- Early-stage – when the product or service has started gaining some traction – there are a few early customers/consumers, the product and processes are being refined and fine-tuned and the building blocks for growth are being built – a small team is getting formed
- Growth stage – when the startup has started getting more customers, processes are getting developed, an organization structure is getting into place and the company is in an expansion mode – this is probably the time when most companies would start getting profitable
Pre-seed money would typically be raised at concept stage, and should ideally last a little beyond the prototype stage. In most cases, pre-seed stage money is used for the things that will prepare the company to attract seed capital from angel investors or from early-stage VCs i.e.
- Understanding the business case by validating assumptions
- In building the prototype or the first version of the product – what is called the MVP or Minimum Viable Product which will allow you to test your assumptions in the market i.e. check if your customers find the value proposition meaningful, if they feel that this product / service does fulfill their needs, etc.
At pre-seed funding stage, a startup should keep capital expenses very low – i.e. rent ACs, furniture, etc. rather than buying. Operating expenses should also be kept low – take lower salaries, work out of a shared office, multi-task, etc. This is also in your interest because the valuations are likely be very low at this stage, and hence the lower the amount you raise, the lesser your equity dilution at this stge.
You would have often heard VCs and experienced entrepreneurs say “Ideas don’t mean anything. It is the execution of that plan which makes a good business case.”. Hence, often VCs will be willing to invest in a simple concept with high-quality teams with great implementation plan, rather than weak teams even if they have a great plan.
Good execution and operations management is a lot about making sure that the many moving parts of the business are in sync with each other.
Most entrepreneurs underestimate the competencies and skill sets required for a venture to be implemented. They detail out the product/concept/service but do not spend adequate time in detailing out the operations plan. It is critical for the entrepreneurs, or the people planning the operations for the startup, identify, discuss and debate every single aspect that will need to be planned for good implementation.
|For example: A startup planning a chain of coffee shops across the country does not need just great coffee and snacks making skills. In fact, that may be the least of the worries in creating a great coffee shops chain.Creating a coffee shops chain will require the following competencies.
- Real estate management
- Brand identity
- Pricing strategy
- Supply chain
- HR, legal, finance
- Cash management
- ROI & capacity utilization
- Facilities management
- Org structure
Admittedly, startups are unlikely to have the full team to manage operations efficiently. However, planning does not require resources…. Investors invest, based on your PLANS for the future, whilst understanding that your current mode of operating is only due to resource constraints.
Especially for startups with a B2C concept, which could have rapid growth, it is important to plan for scale BEFORE the venture is ready for scale. It is almost always impossible to hack together the resources, processes, infrastructure and other elements to scale up quickly… these have to be built well in advance in most cases to be able to scale up smoothly.