Learnings from Shark Tank

Following the investor pitch, their outcome, and subsequent progress of those who receive funding on Shark Tank reiterates some fundamentals of entrepreneurship.

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I’ve been an avid follower of Shark Tank. Apart from its entertainment value, I’ve found Shark Tank to be instructive about some fundamentals of entrepreneurship, and of pitching to investors. The deal making and deal structuring also provides us a range of possibilities beyond just equity based venture capital funding for startups.

Here are some things I learnt from Shark Tank:’

Gimmicks and showmanship doesn’t impress investors: Passion, commitment and conviction does. 
 
Setting the context right is super important in helping investors appreciate that what you are doing has a strong market potential. Clarity of communicating what you do gets investor attention.
 
Having clarity on who you will target as customers (even if your product is relevant for everyone), how you will reach them, what your sales pitch  to them will be, how you will deliver the product/service and how you will provide after-sales support are as important, if not more important, than a good product or service 
 
Know your numbers: Entrepreneurs with a good understanding of market dynamics, and what their fully loaded costs will be and how the numbers stack up have a much better chance of getting investor attention…. and better valuation. 
 
Resourcefulness is about leveraging all your current resources to overcome current constraints. Get things done. Somehow. 
 
Apart from other learnings outlined above, one observation that stands out is that good sales numbers shuts everyone up. Else, everyone has an opinion on how you should go about your business.
 
Having an idea is not the same thing as having a plan. At Applyifi we urge entrepreneurs to develop a comprehensive business plan, and then execute it well.
 
If someone you know could benefit from what we do, please direct them to www.applyifi.com.

 

By Prajakt Raut – Founder Applyifi

Applyifi helps startups refine their business plans and investor pitch deck [www.applyifi.com].

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What makes a good mentor-mentee relationship

A good mentor-mentee relationship can be game-changing for a startup, and therefore it is important that both – mentor and mentee – understand how they can make the engagement meaningful, productive, rewarding and fulfilling.

A good mentor can make significant contribution in not just the success of a startup, but also in the personal and professional growth of an entrepreneur. And therefore, I advise entrepreneurs to not give the tag of a ‘mentor’ loosely to anyone whose advice you seek regularly.

Mentoring is way beyond business advice and expertise sharing, and hence entrepreneurs and experts should be very, very careful when initiating a mentor-mentee relationship.

Who is a good mentor for your venture? Continue reading “What makes a good mentor-mentee relationship”

Starting Your Entrepreneurial Journey – Some Food For Thought

In my view, easier availability of early-stage capital than ever before, public celebration & adulation of entrepreneurial heroes, a well-deserved respect for entrepreneurism and also society’s willingness to accept failures in entrepreneurial ventures make it easier for younger people to consider entrepreneurship as a career.

I share below some observations that will hopefully provide some food for thought before you embark on your entrepreneurial journey.

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A great idea of concept is not the same thing as a great business. Once you identify aconcept that has a meaningful value proposition to your potential customers, you have to think of how you can build a strong, sustainable business around that conceptThink hard about concepts like revenue streams, business model, go-to-market strategy, resource requirements, etc.

Don’t ignore challenges. Think hard about all possible challenges and then find a way to mitigate themEntrepreneurs tend to overlook the challenges when they are driven either by a desire to be an entrepreneur or when a concept stokes their interest.

Write a business plan. It is YOUR plan for YOUR business. Often, entrepreneurs assume that a business plan is to be written only when you seek venture capital or debt. However, a business plan is nothing but your plan for your business. Create a document that will help you think through the steps you need to take in your entrepreneurial journey. And that’s your business plan.

Do not bother about teamplates. A business plan is not about templates or formats. It is an articulation of your story about how you plan to go from point A to point B and then onward to points C and D in your journey. And as you think through various aspects, including costs and revenues, the plan will start getting more robust.

Don’t focus on the excel sheet. Focus on the business model. A 5-year excel sheet projection is just that – an excel sheet exercise. It is neither a reflection of the potential nor a reflection of your ability to meet that milestone. However, an excel sheet exercise provides you a reference point to consider different possibilities of scale and help you plan the intermediate steps in reaching those milestones. I.e. it is not important to detail the calculation for a Rs.98.74 cr revenue by 2012 as it is important to be able to state “We believe we can be around a Rs.75 cr to a Rs.100 cr. enterprise by the 3rd year of operation and here is how we plan to go towards those milestones”.

It is ideal to gain experience about building and managing businesses before you create your own enterprise. Most successful entrepreneurs have built businesses after gaining significant experience across functions in different organizations. Though often celebrated, entrepreneurial successes of people with no prior work experience are a rarity.

Think big if the opprtunity exists. Your ability to scale should be restricted only by your aspiration and not by capital. In today’s environment, it is far easier to raise early-stage capital than ever before. If your concept is right, if the market potential is large and if you have the capacity and capabilities to deliver on that potential, you will find the capital to fund your dream.

One of the most common observations of investors, both domestic and foreign, is that entrepreneurs (especially in India) are afraid of thinking big. Entrepreneurs tend to think that it is prudent to be very conservative in your projections, especially if you have no past record to prove your scaling-up capabilities. However, unless you are keen on creating a business that is small, it will be important to provide a view of the potential and your aspirations, especially if you are seeking venture capital. Of course, the aspiration to scale has to be based on a validated assessment of the potential and backed by a strong, sustainable plan to deliver on that potential.

Make your own decisions but listen to what more experienced voices have to say. If a number of investors reject your proposal, it should be a signal for you to consider what aspects of the model seem to worry investors – relevance of value proposition, market potential, business model or your ability to deliver on the potential. Once you have identified the issue or issues, you need to revisit that in your plan and see what changes you may want to make in order to address any flaws in your plan.

Just because you do not get funded does not mean it is a bad idea or your plan is wrong. Often, especially with new concept, it is difficult for investors to take a bold step. Often entreprenerus are able to create new markets based on their insights and conviction about the opportunity. Others may not be able to see the vision as the entrepreneur is imaging it. Hence, just because others reject your idea does not necessarily mean that this is not worth pursuing. But do also consider the points of skepticism as it will only help you iron out issues that you may not have thought about.

If you still do not get funded and do believe it is a concept worth fighting for, you need to find innovative ways of building a proof of concept.

Find mentors and investors with belief in your concept. It is also important for you to find investors who have a strong belief in the domain that you wish to be in and convince them about your ability to deliver on that potential.

Importantly, don’t be a lone ranger. Connect with other entrepreneurs. Seek guidance. Ask those ahead in the entrepreneurial journey to share their experiences. Network and seek mentoring from accomplished and successful entrepreneurs.

To end, I would like to clarify that entrepreneurship to my mind is not just about starting or owning an enterprise. It is about an entrepreneurial spirit that inspires individuals to take ownership of an assignment of area of responsibility. It does not matter whether it is in your own enterprise or whether in an organization where you work or whether the organization is a commercial enterprise or a not-for-profit entity. Do well in whatever you choose to do. Do it diligently, honestly, ethically and with enthusiasm and commitment.

And THINK BIG.

As the advertisement of a spirits brand said ‘Its your life, make it large’.

This article was originally published in Inc42. Read the article here.

Image Courtesy.

 

 

 

Life Is Short. Get Set. Startup.

I have often heard senior professionals tell entrepreneurs that they wish they had the guts to leave their jobs and startup on their own. But I have yet to hear an entrepreneur, irrespective of whether their venture is doing well or struggling, tell any professional,

I wish I had your job.

The reason is easy to understand. Entrepreneurs start ventures largely in their areas of interest or passion or competence. It’s always a great feeling when your work is also what you love to do. A job may or may not provide that option. Entrepreneurship does.

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But just doing what you are passionate about is not the only reason why entrepreneurs are generally more excited about their work. In some cases, rare though, you may get to do what you really are passionate about in a job too. The big difference however is that while in a job you are living either someone else’s dream or a company’s objectives, in your own startup, you are driving your own vision, goals, dreams and aspirations. Every small step in an entrepreneurial journey feels like an accomplishment and gives you the satisfaction of having reached a new milestone.

Continue reading “Life Is Short. Get Set. Startup.”

If no business plan works out as planned, why do investors insist on a business plan?

A business plan is nothing but a plan for your business. It is an articulation of your vision on how the future will play out.

A business plan also articulates how the startup proposes to go from point A to point B, and by when. It also outlines the milestones and other dynamics (costs, resources, revenues, etc.) on the way from point A to point B. I.e. It is a plan of how the concept of your startup will alter the market, and how you intend to implement that disruption.

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But at startup stage, there is no past data that can be used to make reasonably dependable predictions. Hence the vision of what might happen in the market with your concept is based on assumptions that you have made based on your conviction and your insights. Even in more established companies, there is only so much predictability you can bring into a business plan based on past data. How in-market dynamics may change is an unknown, and business plans even of larger, established companies can and often do get disrupted.

Some of the assumptions you have made will play out as assumed, others will not. Nothing surprising about that. Why then is it important to make a business plan knowing that what happens in the market is most likely to be very different from what you planned for?

Continue reading “If no business plan works out as planned, why do investors insist on a business plan?”

We need to think of entrepreneurship beyond VC-fundable ventures

The startup ecosystem in India is progressing at a very stable pace. The percentage of young individuals as well as experienced professionals thinking of entrepreneurship as a career option is growing due to a number of reasons:

  • There is an enabling environment for entrepreneurs. Boot camps, accelerators, and incubators guide first-time entrepreneurs about converting concepts into ventures. The number of funding options is increasing, including venture debt.
  • The emergence of some media houses that cover the startup eco-system, as well as mainstream media that gives some space/time for startups is creating a better understanding of startups, and entrepreneurship as a career option.
  • The words startups and entrepreneurship have entered the vocabulary of the government and there is an expectation of policy and resources that will turbo-charge entrepreneurship.
  • Parents are now a lot more willing to let their children give up lucrative job offers and pursue an entrepreneurial dream thanks to what they have seen and heard in the media. There is now a critical mass for startups and entrepreneurs to not be considered an oddity, but one of the top career choices, at the beginning or in the middle of a professional journey.
  • Also, as a society, we have started becoming more accepting of failures, and have come to recognise that entrepreneurship is a set of experiments, some of which succeed and some fail. Till a few years ago, we used to say that in the Silicon Valley, failed entrepreneurs have a higher chance of getting funded because they have learned what does not work. Glad to notice that the same is happening in India too.

Overall, it is a great time to become an entrepreneur in India.

However, the entire entrepreneurial community, as we think of it today, is  minuscule in comparison to the much larger number of aspiring entrepreneurs in the country.

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Continue reading “We need to think of entrepreneurship beyond VC-fundable ventures”

Startup Showcase – Meedo

Here’s the story of Meedo – One stop solution for Customised Lifestyle products like T-shirts, Bags, Jewellery, Perfumes…

Catch them on –http://www.meedo.in/

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In conversation with Vinoth Kumar of Meedo – 

Tell us about the story of your startup – Why did you start this, how did you start, when did you start?

I used to run a retail outlet for the last 4 years, the idea of customised stuff struck when I was running the retail outlet in a very small place to validate the market in that particular locality. In our first year of operation, we missed sales because customers want a lot of options, but as a retailer it is very difficult to stock each and everything. For a business like mine, there isn’t any window shopping, rather business happens with regular & loyal customers. So we identified that there is some real problem to be addressed. We also did a small market survey among the retail owners and majority of them showed interest in launching customised service in their outlets. Thus, we decided to go with it. And, to take one thing at a time, we selected tees.

Continue reading “Startup Showcase – Meedo”

India needs 10,000 more angel investors to build a thriving startup ecosystem

Only a very few aspiring entrepreneurs from among 1000s are able to convert their ideas into a business.  And one of the key reasons for this is the lack of access to capital that is required to start something new.

Out of 1000s of investment-worthy startups, less than 300 are able to get initial capital in India.

The present environment is very conducive for people to think of entrepreneurship as a career option. Entrepreneurship cells, incubation centres in colleges, boot-camps, hackathons, and other forums for entrepreneurship promotion, as well as a vibrant media for startups – all have inspired very few to become entrepreneurs.

Angel investor groups, accelerators, and incubators get over 5,000 applications every year. Nearly 10,000 startups send their profiles to media houses every year. While quite of few of these large numbers may not be serious contenders, there is a significant number of aspiring entrepreneurs with the competence, commitment and concepts that can become strong businesses. And quite a few of these can become profitable investments for angel investors.

Yet, only about 300 or so of these aspirants are able to get initial capital to get started. And mostly those, who require capital between Rs 2 to Rs 5 crore range. That’s the declared ‘sweet spot’ of most angel investor groups and VCs who participate in early-stage deals.

Why are there less than 300 early-stage investments in India?

VCs and Angel investor groups are unable to do smaller deals because their members do not want to write smaller cheques, and the efforts required to review, process and close a Rs 50 lakh deal is as much as it takes to close a Rs 5 crore deal. The largest angel investor network in the country does less than 20 transactions in a year.

The number of startups whose funding requirements are less Rs 50 lakh is significantly higher than the number of startups requiring Rs 2 to Rs 5 crore. In fact, many a businesses can get going with just Rs 25 lakh.

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Significantly, If we don’t find a way of funding 1000s of deserving entrepreneurs, we would end up frustrating that segment.

Continue reading “India needs 10,000 more angel investors to build a thriving startup ecosystem”

Guest Post – Team, the most important ingredient in a startup

Ask any investor or successful entrepreneur, and they will reiterate that the most important factor in a start-up is the quality of its founding team. A team is more important than the idea or the size of the market or the technology or the business case, or indeed any other factor that investors will review to check the investment-worthiness of a venture.

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Even if  – the product is great; the technology is cutting-edge; the market is large and the company has a strong chance to be a dominant player in that large market – investors will hesitate to invest in the venture if they do not get the confidence that the founding team can deliver in the market.

What investors seek is a team that is passionate about the subject, is enthusiastic about the opportunity, has a good grasp on the dynamics of ‘business’ and not just the product/service, and who can demonstrate commitment to fight it out in the market.

While it is good to have experience in the domain, that is not a must, as that will exclude a number of bright people who either do not have work experience or are from a different domain than the concept they are pursuing. However, what is important is that even without experience in the sector, the team should have studied the sector enough to understand it very well. In fact, that is also why passion and interest in the sector is critical, because that makes it easier for a person to study the sector well.

Continue reading “Guest Post – Team, the most important ingredient in a startup”

Startup Next, the global and top pre-accelerator program comes to Delhi.

Startup Next, the global and top pre-accelerator program – backed by the likes of Techstars, Google for Entrepreneurs, Global Accelerator Network and Startup Weekend – is coming to New Delhi !

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The Startup Next program is designed for startups who plan to apply to accelerators or are pitching to investors for funding.

Startup Next is an intense mentorship program consisting of weekly sessions (one session in a week lasting three hours) for five weeks. The program has a structured curriculum and in-depth engagement with one-on-one mentoring, designed to help startups build the foundation of scalable ventures.

Continue reading “Startup Next, the global and top pre-accelerator program comes to Delhi.”

The 4 P’s of Entrepreneurship – Patience, Persistence, Perseverance, and Passion

Entrepreneurship teaches you a number of things about life, in general. It is an immensely satisfying journey, even if you do not reach your intended destination. However, the journey is often very challenging and it takes a lot of patience, persistence and perseverance to succeed. And unless you have the passion for what you are doing, finding the other 3 Ps within you becomes challenging.

Patience1I advice aspiring entrepreneurs to not get taken up by stories of instant success. Those are rare. Instead look at the 1000s of others whose ventures did not succeed. Or did not succeed as aspired.

Even those who succeed, often a lot longer than they had planned for, and it is often tougher than they had imagined. What sets the successful apart from the ones that gave up are the 3 Ps that I outlined above.

Continue reading “The 4 P’s of Entrepreneurship – Patience, Persistence, Perseverance, and Passion”

Guest Post – Why less than 1% of incubated start-ups get VC funding

Over the last 5 years or so, India has seen the emergence of a number of private and government-supported accelerators and incubators. Many of them have run a few cycles and have now fine-tuned their models and programs. Quite a few of them have very good and solid programs.

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Yet, if we were to measure the success of start-ups from all these programs in terms of them raising growth-capital, the report card is not very encouraging. If some industry numbers are to be believed, less than 1 per cent of start-ups that go through various incubation and accelerator programs in the country receive institutional funding. This number probably includes incubators in academic institutions, most of which have not been able to run meaningful programs to help entrepreneurs build fundable ventures.

Why is this number so low? Why the start-ups who join accelerator or incubator program with the hope of getting mentored for accelerating their journey towards growth are not able to get growth-capital? Continue reading “Guest Post – Why less than 1% of incubated start-ups get VC funding”

The Importance of Market Research

“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. ”

Zora Neale Hurston, American author

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Scene 1 : A couple of years ago

You or your visionary team have a great idea for a new product!! It ‘feels’ like the answer to everyone’s problems! It will definitely be a big hit! So you get your creative heads, product designers, technical staff and experts all into a tizzy! The product must be ready in next 6 months! After hours and hours of hard work, there it is – to take the consumers by storm. You launch it with big fanfare!!

Scene 2 : Cut to the present

The ‘great’ and promising product was ‘great’ only on the drawing board! Your negative inventory is piling up; there are just not enough takers!

What went wrong?

The consumers just didn’t connect with the product or the price point was wrong or the brand personality did not appeal or the communication was not clear or the distribution was poor or the value-proposition was not meaningful!! There are a number of things that can have a very different response in the market, than you had imagined it. Continue reading “The Importance of Market Research”

What should you think about before starting a new venture (especially an e-commerce venture).

But when you are starting a new venture, you need to assess various risks. I have listed some below, but each business and each person’s circumstances will throw up different aspects that you would need to consider.

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Concept risk: Is the value proposition relevant for the intended target audience? (To assess this, you first need to clearly articulate what your value proposition is. ‘What you do’ is NOT the value proposition. What the users/buyers will get out of what you do is the value proposition. Check with your intended target audience if they feel that this is meaningful for them. If it is not, then evaluate if you need to adjust your value proposition (and therefore sometimes your product/service/concept itself) or you need to check if the value proposition is relevant to a different set of audiences (perhaps different age or income bracket or in a different geography or people  in different circumstances than originally intended).

Revenue streams, business model and business case: You have to evaluate if your revenue streams and business model makes a business case that makes the venture worth your while. This is a critical process  in your entrepreneurial journey and you need to take a realistic view of the costs and potential revenues.

In e-commerce businesses, you often have a disproportionately higher spend in acquiring the customer and you make monies on that customer only after a number of repeat purchases (or visits if the customer is not going to pay for services and you have alternate ways of making money – e.g. advertising or referrals)

Operational aspects: Evaluate the challenges around procurement, warehousing, logistics, etc. that you will have to deal with, and evaluate whether it is practical for you to overcome those challenges given your resources and circumstances.

People resources: Hiring people in startups is a challenge. You need to have some thoughts on how you are going to assemble your core team and your initial employees. Evaluate whether you will have some of the important functions in-house or outsource or use existing platforms (e.g. technology)

Marketing and customer acquisition costs: Quite often entrepreneurs do not spend enough time to understand the dynamics of customer acquisition. Especially in e-commerce ventures, you need to be able to get a clear sense of what activities you would do, how much they would cost and what conversions you could expect…. and therefore how much it will cost you to acquire customers.

And remember, the cost of customer acquisition is NOT just the cost of marketing. But the cost of all the direct resources that are involved in the marketing process + cost of marketing itself + a portion of cost of the central office and operations.

Understand the ‘unit economics’ and Capital required: While the ‘business as a whole may not be profitable’ for a while due to the overheads of managing the operations (and that is perfectly OK in most cases), you need to evaluate if your per unit economics are healthy. Are you going to make money on each sale. And how much will you make. And therefore, how many units do you need to sell to cover the cost of operations. And how much time will it take for you to ramp up to that scale. Is that possible? And is it possible within your given resources?

E.g. if your ‘central office’ costs (founders salaries, salaries of central office staff, rent, electricity, etc.) is USD 10,000 per month (using simplistic assumptions for easy of discussion). And your revenue per unit (product or service) is USD 20. And your gross margin is 40%. In this case, you are making USD 8 on each order.

Assume that your cost of customer acquisition was USD 50, and that each customer is likely to buy 4 times in a year (when you assume your numbers, make sure you have it validated with some research or understanding of the market… and is not a random number that is assumed based on your own expectations on how the market will behave), in which case your cost of customer acquisition itself is going to be recovered when the customer buys 6 – 7 times from you.

Now, given your view of the numbers you could ramp up this business to, you need to work out whether the USD 8 that you make from each order is sufficient to sustain you through your initial phase when the costs of USD 10,000 will be there every month + you will have to invest in marketing. (In many cases, the low ticket size of the product/service makes the business unviable. If you are going to make a few dollars from each customer, you need a LOT of customers to make the business case meaningful.).

Evaluate how much money you are going to require to startup. In estimating capital required, I urge you to overestimate costs and underestimate revenues. Do not let your enthusiasm guide your excel sheets. Do not assume that you wil multi-task and therefore save costs. (Even if that is possible for you, it cannot be sustained as you scale up when you need to move from ‘doing’ to ‘managing’). Also, many entrepreneurs make the mistake of assuming that they are smarter than others and therefore would be able to do it for a lesser investment than others before them have attempted (and even if that is true, keep that as a buffer rather than assuming that your smartness will be THE reason for you to do it better, faster, cheaper than others).

When you have a view of what kind of capital is required, evaluate different funding options. (Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of assuming that VCs are the first choice of funding for startups. And that need not be so. Understand what parameters VCs use for evaluating deals they invest in. See if you are ready for VC funding. Most likely, you may not be. In which case evaluate alternate ways of funding – boot strapping, family & friends round, advances from customers, debt, etc.).

 

 

How to judge whether your business idea is worth implementing?

Whether you should implement an idea should depend on whether that idea has the potential to meet what YOUR objectives are. If your goal is wealth creation, you will have to check if the business case is strong and if this is what will create wealth for you. If not, you will evaluate other opportunities.

On the other hand, if your goal is NOT wealth creation but ‘social impact’, then you will evaluate if this idea is providing the scale of impact that you wish to create.

And if your goal is to ‘enjoy what I do’, then you have to evaluate if this idea is what will give you the greatest joy.

If your goal is wealth creation, you will have to evaluate things like what is the scale of the opportunity, what is the competitive environment, why do I have an opportunity to be a dominant player, what is the scale that I can reach with this venture, what are the resources that I will need and can I gather the, what are the competencies that I will need and do I have them or do I have the ability to engage others who have those competencies, what are my exit options, etc.

 

How do we know that we are ready to launch a start up with a product or service?

There is a saying “If you have 10 hours to cut a tree, spend 8 hours sharpening the axe”.

Similarly, launch when you know you have all the competencies and the resources required to run the business. I.e. when you have worked out your business plan, evaluated the business case, spoken to customers and are convinced that the value proposition makes sense to them, when you have tested the product, when you have understood the dynamics of marketing & sales, when you have evaluated the cost of acquiring customers, when you have identified – and some what validated – all the assumptions that you have used in your business plan…. that is the time when you are ready to launch. And of course, you need to ensure that you have the required capital to sustain the business till you either (a) hope to become self-sustaining of (b) when you hope to raise external capital – whether as a loan from banks/family/friends or as risk capital from angel investments/ VC/family & friends.

HOWEVER… despite all this, and even after you are ready, you will have to evaluate what is the best time to launch. E.g. if you are selling something to schools which they will use in their classrooms, launching in the middle of a school term may not be prudent.

 

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