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Venture Capital Criteria

Most venture capital firms concentrate primarily on the competence and character of the proposing firm’s management. They feel that even mediocre products can be successfully manufactured, promoted, and distributed by an experienced, energetic management group. They know that even excellent products can be ruined by poor management.

Next in importance to the excellence of the proposing firm’s management group, most venture capital firms seek a distinctive element in the strategy or product/market/process combination of the firm. This distinctive element may be a new feature of the product or process or a particular skill or technical competence of the management. But it must exist. It must provide a competitive advantage.

After the exhaustive investigation and analysis, if the venture capital firm decides to invest in a company, they will prepare an equity financing proposal. This details the amount of money to be provided, the percentage of common stock to be surrendered in exchange for these funds, the interim financing method to be used, and the protective covenants to be included.

The final financing agreement will be negotiated and generally represents a compromise between the management of the company and the partners or senior executives of the venture capital firm. The important elements of this compromise are ownership and control.

Ownership

Venture capital financing is not inexpensive for the owners of a small business. The venture firm receives a portion of the business’s equity in exchange for their investment.

This percentage of equity varies, of course, and depends upon the amount of money provided, the success and worth of the business, and the anticipated investment return. It can range from perhaps 10% in the case of an established, profitable company to as much as 80% or 90% for beginning or financially troubled firms. Most venture firms, at least initially, don’t want a position of more than 30% to 40% because they want the owner to have the incentive to keep building the business.

Most venture firms determine the ratio of funds provided to equity requested by a comparison of the present financial worth of the contributions made by each of the parties to the agreement. The present value of the contribution by the owner of a starting or financially troubled company is obviously rated low. Often it is estimated as just the existing value of his or her idea and the competitive costs of the owner’s time. The contribution by the owners of a thriving business is valued much higher. Generally, it is capitalized at a multiple of the current earnings and/or net worth.

Financial valuation is not an exact science. The compromise on owner contribution’s worth in the equity financing agreement is likely to be lower than the owner thinks it should be and higher than the partners of the capital firm think it might be. Ideally, the two parties to the agreement are able to do together what neither could do separately:

1. grow the company faster with the additional funds to more than overcome the owner’s loss of equity, and

2. grow the investment at a sufficient rate to compensate the venture capitalists for assuming the risk.

An equity financing agreement with an outcome in five to seven years which pleases both parties is ideal. Since the parties can’t see this outcome in the present, neither will be perfectly satisfied with the compromise reached. The business owner should carefully consider the impact of the ratio of funds invested to the ownership given up, not only for the present, but for the years to come.

Control

The partners of a venture firm generally have little interest in assuming control of the business. They have neither the technical expertise nor the managerial personnel to run a number of small companies in diverse industries. They much prefer to leave operating control to the existing management.

The venture capital firm does, however, want to participate in any strategic decisions that might change the basic product/market character of the company and in any major investment decisions that might divert or deplete the financial resources of the company.

Venture capital firms also want to be able to assume control and attempt to rescue their investments, if severe financial, operating, or marketing problems develop. Thus, they will usually include protective covenants in their equity financing agreements to permit them to take control and appoint new officers if financial performance is very poor.

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site jbv.com and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.

Approaching the Venture Capital Market

Many of today’s new ventures, particularly Internet startups with their enormous cash requirements, high risk, and high potential return, require approaching the venture capital marketplace.

What Venture Capital Firms Look For

One way of explaining the different ways in which banks and venture capital firms evaluate a small business seeking funds, is expressed by LaRue Hosmer as: “Banks look at its immediate future, but are most heavily influenced by its past. Venture capitalists look to its longer run future.”

Venture capital firms and individuals are interested in many of the same factors that influence bankers in their analysis of loan applications from smaller companies. All financial people want to know the results and ratios of past operations, the amount and intended use of the needed funds, and the earnings and financial condition of future projections.

Banks are creditors. They look for assurance that the business service or product can provide steady sales and generate sufficient cash flow to repay a loan. Venture capital firms are owners. They hold stock in the company, investing only in firms they believe can rapidly increase sales and generate substantial profits.

Venture capital is a risky business, because it’s difficult to judge the worth of early stage companies. So most venture capital firms set rigorous policies for venture proposal size, maturity of the seeking company, requirements and evaluation procedures to reduce risks, since their investments are unprotected in the event of failure.

Size of the Venture Proposal

Few venture capital firms are interested in investment projects of less than $1,000,000, and this threshold is even higher for the major firms. Projects requiring less are of limited interest because of the high cost of investigation and administration.

The typical VC firm will quickly reject on the order of 90% of the proposals received, because they don’t fit the established geographical, technical, or market area policies of the firm, or because they have been poorly prepared. The remaining plans are investigated with care. These investigations are costly, and generally reduce the candidate pool even further.

Maturity of the Firm Making the Proposal.

Most venture capital firms’ investment interest is limited to projects proposed by companies with some operating history, even though they may not yet have shown a profit. Companies that can expand into a new product line or a new market with additional funds are particularly interesting.

Companies that are just starting or that have serious financial difficulties may interest some venture capitalists, if the potential for significant gain over the long run can be identified and assessed. If the venture firm already has a large risk concentration, they may be reluctant to invest in these areas.

A small number of venture firms specialize in “start-up” financing. The small firm that has a well thought-out plan and can demonstrate that its management group has an outstanding record (even if it is with other companies) has a decided edge in acquiring this kind of seed capital.

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site jbv.com and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.

Applying for a Loan

In making loan requests, entrepreneurs tend to be confident that they will meet or exceed what they consider conservative financial projections. They then have trouble understanding when they receive a less than enthusiastic response. To complete the picture, however, we need to look at the process from the banker’s perspective.

“What bankers view as a good loan application is at times different from what applicants think,” says Ray Fincken, vice president of HSBC Bank USA in New York. “Applicants know the bank needs information about their company to process the loan. So in the first interview they often describe all the good things happening within their company — focusing mainly on marketing and sales.

“However, bankers are usually more interested in assessing risk and consequently learning that the company has a good core foundation. Does the company have experienced management? Do these managers have various talents and experiences to guide the company through good times and bad?”

Given confidence in the management team, the bank must look at the elements of the business plan from a more objective standpoint than the entrepreneur ever can. The critical consideration is whether the company’s major products or services provide sufficient profitability and cash flow to meet all its financial obligations, particularly payments to service the debt under consideration.

If the company is a startup, the best indicators are often the norms for the business in which the company will be competing. Are projected margins and ratios in line with others in their industry? The bank will also look at credit reports and tax returns on the key individuals involved in the startup.

If the company has some financial and credit history, the bank will check corporate tax returns and financial statements, individual financial statements, liens, litigation, agency reports such as Dun and Bradstreet, etc. To ensure finances are in order, Ray recommends receiving your personal and business credit reports prior to seeking a loan to make sure the information is correct before going through this process. Misinformation or old loans and liens may erroneously still be on the report. Taking care of these errors prior to applying for a loan can streamline the process.

Fincken says: “We look for consistent, sound cash flow from operations and good, quality assets. We look at these because they are the primary sources of repayment. We then analyze this information and compare it to other similar businesses as a guide.”

Once the records are in order, the next step is the bank’s formal application process. “Planning ahead will help you increase your chances of receiving a loan as well as streamline the loan timeline,” Fincken advises. “Put together a business plan and description of why you need financing; include three years of financial statements or projections.”

Expect to be asked, and prepare your answers to the following questions:

• How much money is needed?

• What is the purpose of the loan?

• How long do you anticipate using the money?

• How will the company be able to pay back the loan?

• How will the bank get paid if something goes wrong?

Here is a list of the most common reasons for loan denials:

• The company is deemed unable to repay the loan

• There is inadequate financial information

• The financial statements are unprofessionally prepared

• There are perceived critical weaknesses in management

• Applicants fail to demonstrate their ability to implement sound accounting and management information systems.

You would certainly be reluctant to extend credit to a prospective customer where you had significant doubt of their ability to pay. Remember that the bank’s business is to lend money, and that they must apply the same discretion to your request.

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site jbv.com and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.

Taking Stock

Back when I owned an inventory-based business, one of my better customers had a clever barb in his repertoire. If we were out of anything he needed in his order, he would say “You know, this would be a great place to open a supply house.”

But supply, we did for 20 years on my watch. We were in a smaller market, handling about 10,000 separate items, so we enjoyed few economies of scale. We competed with some large distributors and did very well largely due to our focus on inventory control.

At the time we used integrated management software that included an inventory control (IC) module. What made our system work so well was our commitment to keeping accurate inventory on a real-time basis, which necessitated “cycle counting.”

Wikipedia.org defines a cycle count as “an inventory management procedure where a small subset of inventory is counted on any given day.” In our case, this meant that, instead of taking a physical inventory once a year, we counted 2% (one-fiftieth) of our inventory each week up to the fiftieth week of the year. Using this method errors are caught more quickly, and extra counts can be performed on error-prone items.

With that introduction, let’s talk about the steps you can take to get your inventory under control:
Evaluate your IC “infrastructure.” Are you ready to automate IC? If you are using a management software package, is the IC module adequate for your needs?

Is your inventory layout conducive to administering a “real-time” IC? Can your staff take on the extra duties involved? While getting such a system going can require a lot of initial attention, IC systems save time, by allowing you to know what’s in stock without having to go to the warehouse, by quickly detecting any possible theft, and by lowering rates of stockout (lost sales) and overstock.

Set a target for customer service level. Measures can include percent of orders filled completely, or percent of items delivered to items ordered. The primary constraint on reducing inventory is, of course, customer service level. What’s an acceptable service level for you? 95%? 99.5%? IC software generally uses such a figure to determine how much “safety stock” you need to meet this objective.

Learn industry norms to aid perspective. While it should seldom affect your behavior, it is “nice to know” what the industry norms are for businesses of your size. You can probably get these from your trade association, or go to the “Annual Statement Studies” by the Risk Management Association, or “Industry Norms and Key Business Ratios” by Dun & Bradstreet.
What if the industry norms are 90 days of inventory on-hand, and you only keep 45 days’ worth? What if you keep 120 days’ worth? No action may be necessary, but this gives you a greater context and perspective as you fine-tune your system.

Use “best practices.” Minimum overall inventory is not the end of the story. Ascertain whether a reduction is advisable. Even at a good overall level of stock you may still have many items out of balance, over or under. So our efforts should be about “best practices” that minimize quantities required, while raising the quality of your inventory.
Clean house! In my most recent turnaround consulting appointment, a plumbing wholesaler, we started by identifying all the items that our IC system identified as overstock. We went from thinking we needed more warehouse space to having about a third of existing space available.

Of course, much of it went straight to the trash heap, but some was recent enough to send back to the manufacturer. In between, we sold some at two garage sales we held, and donated the rest to a local housing agency.

Implement “Just-in-Time. “ JIT includes a set of actions that work together to squeeze slack out of your processes. Do you enter received material as soon as it arrives? Can your key suppliers commit to shorter lead times?

Zero-base SKUs. Take a hard look at the realistic contribution of every item in inventory. You may need to keep some losers as “service items,” but you will be amazed at how many of your items are break-even or worse.

Partner strategically. Can you narrow your number of suppliers by getting more items from the “majors?” You may currently split up orders to save a penny here and there, but the vendor left standing would probably meet or beat the other’s prices for a greater share of your business. More from each vendor means more frequent replenishment, and more opportunities for JIT.
These are a few actions that should apply to continuous improvement programs at most inventory-based businesses. As they say, “your mileage may vary.”

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site jbv.com and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.

Market Research Plan Consultant

Market Research Plan Consultant

From an ad for Ground Floor Partners (https://groundfloorpartners.com/market-research/ )

Accurate market research is the foundation for every business or marketing plan (https://groundfloorpartners.com/marketing-plans/) Ground Floor Partners can help you gain a much deeper understanding of:

• market opportunities

• existing customers

• prospects

• competitors

• employees

• industry trends

• environmental or regulatory risks

We Help You Focus

Large market research firms research specific industries and generate standardized industry reports. The problem for most small businesses is that very few of them fit neatly into these industry categories. That’s where we come in. Instead of generating canned industry reports, everything we do is customized for each client.

• Effective marketing is all about targeting and focus. Better targeting means less waste, lower expenses, and higher profits. Some more examples of the kinds of market research we do for our clients:

• Conduct a comprehensive market opportunity assessment – Assess your markets and current market positions (market size and share of market, channels, growth trends, threats, and opportunities)

• Identify customer needs and determine which market segments hold the most, and least, attractive profit potential.

• Find out what customers and prospects think about your new customer service procedures, your sign-up process, your newest product, your new tag-line, your invoicing process, etc.

• Identify regulatory, political, and demographic trends that could create problems – and opportunities – for your business.

• Develop a thorough understanding of competitors – Who leads and who follows in this space? How much market share does each player have? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How do they differentiate themselves? How does their pricing strategy compare with yours? How do they market their products and services? How does their brand equity compare to yours?

• Identify opportunities to use your strengths and exploit competitor weaknesses.

Competitive Edge

In his book, The Road Ahead, Bill Gates of Microsoft writes of “friction-free capitalism” made possible by developments in communications, chief among them the Internet and its World Wide Web. In this context, “friction” is everything that keeps markets from functioning as the “perfect competition” of economics textbooks. This friction can be a function of distance between buyer and seller, costs of overcoming this distance, and incomplete or incorrect information.

Friction manifests itself by causing barriers to entry for new competitors, limiting the number of outlets from which the consumer has to choose. Large companies, with multiple sales outlets, and economies of scale, have greater power to direct the marketplace.

The degree of friction in the developed world has been decreasing for some years now. Affordable air travel, overnight delivery, improved telephone and fax communications have shortened distances. Credit cards and toll-free numbers have spawned at-home shopping from sources across the country.

The Web has taken the friction in our economy down another notch. In principle, we can sell products and services to a worldwide audience as easily and effectively as our largest multi-national competitor. In principle, we can sell products and services to a worldwide audience as easily and effectively as our largest multi-national competitor. In the friction-less economy, the challenge of differentiating ourselves from the competition becomes even greater.

In the friction-less economy, the challenge of differentiating ourselves from the competition becomes even greater. Successful small businesses tend to be those who can find some competitive edge, even when their product or service is similar to those around them.

Marketing professionals often call a business’ competitive edge their “unique selling proposition”, or USP. Pinpointing and refining one’s USP, however, is not a simple matter. An approach is unique only in the context of our competitors’ marketing messages.

Some marketing messages go beyond product and service characteristics. For example, Charles Revson, founder of Revlon, insisted that he sold hope, not makeup. Similarly, United Airlines sells “friendly skies”, and Wal-Mart sells “always” the low price. Do these slogans convey how each company views their customers? Does their selling proposition appeal to your preferences?

Sharpen your USP:

  • Put yourself in your customer’s shoes; satisfy their needs, not yours.
  • Know what motivates behavior and buying decisions.
  • Find the real reasons people would buy your product instead of a competitor’s. Ask them!
  • “Shop” the competition, be open-minded about your product, and never stop looking for ways to make your product stand out.
  • Try now to recast your business idea in terms of its competitive advantage. Prepare an industry analysis (size, customers, trends, and competitiveness). Identify what you see as your specific market, and estimate the share you think you can capture.

    The Web can be a powerful research assistant. Virtually every major business puts product and service information on the Web, including business directory services and magazines.

    Search engines can help in improving your understanding of your industry, and the key success factors. Test the resources available on the Web. Visit sites of major companies in the industry, where appropriate. Search the archives of business magazines for articles that give background and statistics.

    John B. Vinturella, Ph.D. has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site www.jbv.com and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.

    Mining Market Data

    With a heightened awareness of opportunity, ideas can often be generated by market research. The National Women’s Business Center (NWBC) defines market research as “a systematic, objective collection and analysis of data about your target market, competition, and/or environment with the goal being increased understanding. Through the market research process, you can take data–a variety of related or non-related facts–and create useful information to guide your business decisions.

    For example, in recent years data has indicated the shift of the U.S. to a service economy and away from manufacturing. Service industry growth is good news for prospective entrepreneurs. Service businesses are relatively easy to start, and economies of scale are not generally sufficient to give larger companies a significant competitive edge.

    For an indication of the products and services that people will need in the near future, we can look at projections of those industries which are expected to produce the most new jobs in upcoming years. The U.S. Department of Labor projects that eating and drinking places will create the most new jobs in the early 21st century, followed by health care, construction, and personnel and supply services.

    More specific ideas are often suggested in the business and entrepreneurship literature. Food and recreation opportunities could include family entertainment centers, tea salons, and brewpubs. Services you might offer could include children’s learning centers, unique travel experiences and specialized staffing agencies.

    Other useful sources of ideas include the business section of the local newspaper and the local business weekly. Broad trends can be tracked merely by being a reasonably well-informed observer of the popular culture.

    Are opportunity listings useful? Some believe that it is already too late to enter a business by the time it is publicly acknowledged to be an opportunity. Many suggest that it is better to wait for the “first movers” to clarify exactly what services consumers want, and then to enter with a more focused product.

    We also have the choice of moving into “hot” new businesses, or developing better approaches to well-established industries. While leading edge ventures are generally more exciting, more fortunes have probably been made with well run versions of fairly common businesses.

    Scan the current literature for opportunities that fit your strengths and interests. Describe a specific business that would take advantage of one of these opportunities. Identify how your strengths and expertise would contribute to the success of such a business. Visualize yourself as the owner/manager, and project how you would get the venture off the ground.

    For example, a coffee shop fits within the fastest growing industry, eating and drinking places, though in competition with national franchises. Is it in competition only with other coffeehouses, or with other casual dining or snack-food places?

    Many services are highly localized. Is national data useful to consideration of a neighborhood coffee shop? Can we acquire meaningful data on just our market area, the northeast corner of a metropolitan area, serving 18% of its population? This would almost certainly require gathering primary data, that is data that we gather or commission specifically for this purpose, rather than secondary or published data.

    The NWBC stresses that information gained through marketing research isn’t just “nice to know.” It is solid information that can guide your most important strategic business decisions.