How did you calculate market potential? How do you determine industry sales and
It is all too common for entrepreneurs to include very large market potential figures
in their business plans and then indicate that they require only a miniscule fraction
(e.g. one percent) of the market to achieve their revenue projections. These figures
are often very suspect. If the company is capturing such a miniscule fraction of
the market, then what is so special about it? What is its real value and position
relative to the competition? INVESTORs typically prefer companies that are trying
to be the leader in a particular segment. Finally, market potential estimates should
be supported by independent research as well as bottom-up or top-down calculations.
What makes your business different or unique?
This question can have two wrong answers. That's because a business can be both
too common and too unique for a particular investor. If it's too common, the investor
will be concerned with the competition and the lifecycle of the business. If it's
too unique, the investor will be concerned with the time required to achieve critical
mass. Many truly revolutionary products require educating the marketplace, and that
can be an uncertain and lengthy undertaking.
Why would someone be "compelled" to purchase your product or service? What specific
needs does it address?
Investors look for businesses with products or services that address a demonstrable
market need or demand. Is your product something the buyer needs? Or is it simply
something that would just be nice to have? If it falls in the latter category, then
it is critical to demonstrate how your product will gain traction, that is, how
people will come to demand it based on market trends.
How do you know that your business has high growth potential?
Investors want to know how you "drew down" your revenue estimates from the market
potential figures (which hopefully include estimates from external sources). Ultimately,
they want to see a large growth opportunity that scales quickly, thereby allowing
them to realize the payoff on their investment as soon as possible. Be prepared
to explain in detail the process you used to estimate revenues from market potential.
What is it about your management team that makes them uniquely capable of executing
on this business plan?
You've probably heard that the three most important things in private equity investing
are management, management and management. More specifically, Investors are typically
looking for three things in management: Experience in building a business, experience
in the industry (or with the product) and strong character. What comprises the latter?
Investors look for managers who demonstrate high energy or passion, resourcefulness,
integrity, perseverance, risk-taking ability and mental horsepower. Also, a frequently
overlooked quality is that of humility -- for example, sometimes founders may need
to step aside and let someone with more experience lead the company.
What are the primary risks facing this opportunity?
Most people tend to think of "the competition" when people ask them about risks
facing their business opportunity. However, competition is only one risk. Other
risks include changes or shifts in technology, governmental and regulatory policies,
labor market conditions (availability to find qualified labor at a reasonable cost),
business climate changes, product liability, computer crime, etc. And, don't forget
financial risks. For example, what happens if your current capital doesn't allow
you to reach breakeven or your next financing event? A business risk assessment
of potential threats to your business can help you prepare for the scrutiny of investors.
Who are your competitors?
You've heard the warning "never say never." When answering the above question, the
warning might well be "never say none." There is more to this question than may
first be evident. Certainly investors are interested in learning about the extent
of competition your business will encounter and how you will distinguish your company.
But, they also might be assessing your maturity as a businessperson. The answer
"none" is typically incorrect because your business almost always has at least two
competitors. Potential buyers could simply continue to function without your product
(e.g. through the use a substitute, however less effective) or buyers could "do
nothing" (e.g. choose not to utilize the product or service). Furthermore, if the
investor is aware of competitors that you have not considered (as many have researched
particular segments independently), he or she will lose faith in your business assessment
skills -- so be prepared.
What gives your company a competitive advantage?
Investors want to know how you plan to outmaneuver the competition -- and this doesn't
just pertain to existing competitors. They want to see that you've given thought
to future market entrants and how you will stave them off. "First-mover advantage"
is rarely a sufficient response to this question. A more effective answer usually
depicts intellectual property barriers or the ability to reach the target market
in a manner that is more effective than the competition. What is unique about your
company that gives it an edge?
Does the company have proprietary intellectual property in the form of patents,
trademarks, copyrights, etc.?
What do you own? What can you protect? These are two critical questions. In some
industries (e.g. biotech), patents play a critical role in protecting the research
and development investments of the company and in helping to ensure that there is
a window of opportunity (usually before competitor offerings arrive) for the company
to realize a significant share of revenues for a particular category. Trademarks
and copyrights are critical to protecting the company's intellectual assets and
its "brand." Also, at some point, Investors will also want to ensure that you've
taken the proper steps (through non-disclosure agreements, non-competes and/or employment
agreements) to ensure that the company is protecting its intellectual capital.
When will your company break even in terms of profitability and cash flow?
Remember when you first became financially independent of your parents? Your income
exceeded your expenses, and you no longer required their support. Hopefully, they
didn't have to worry about you as much. The concept here is similar. Once you're
financially independent, you're also less of a liability to a investor. Of course,
the ultimate goal is to reach an exit scenario quickly. Profitable businesses are
more attractive to potential buyers and the public markets.
How do you plan to acquire customers?
A well-developed business plan includes marketing strategies that demonstrate an
understanding of market realities and customer behavior. Investors are looking for
much more than a list of your marketing initiatives. You can anticipate questions
like: What are your company's customer acquisition costs? Have you calculated average
and target revenue per customer? Do you know how many customers are required to
break even? Do you know the product sales cycle?
How do you plan to keep customers?
The most successful companies seem to have a plan for keeping customers -- even
before they acquire them. It is said that it costs five times as much to generate
business from new customers as it does from existing customers. Customer retention
is critical to the long-term success of most enterprises.
What drives customer satisfaction for this industry and for the product? And, how
do you know?
Have you conducted research in order to assess what is truly important to your customers?
Do you know what product features are critical vs. those that are ancillary? Once
you've acquired customers, you'll need processes to ensure their ongoing satisfaction
and your understanding of their changing needs. Have you considered how you're going
to support the product and the expenses associated with such support? Will existing
customers purchase your product or service again? Will they recommend it to others?
Regular and consistent customer feedback is essential in order to obtain the answers
to these types of questions.
Who is the end user of the product or service offering?
Is this a consumer-based business, or will you sell your product or service to other
businesses? What do you know about the demand for your product or service in that
target market? What do you know about the buying habits of your target market? Do
you anticipate any roadblocks? For example, will you have to educate the buyer?
Also, think about how you can leverage partners or resellers to reach your target
markets. Knowing the answers to these questions will be critical when you speak
to an investor about your opportunity.
What alliances or partnerships have you entered (e.g. joint ventures, marketing
alliances, licensing arrangements, selling/distribution agreements, channel partnerships,
software agreements, etc.)?
It is important to remember that alliances can be assets and liabilities. Investors
will want to know if any of your alliance agreements have comprised your intellectual
property claims and if the company has any outstanding obligations to third parties.
On the positive side, you'll want to demonstrate how alliances may have helped your
company lock-up certain distribution or sales channels for your products and services.
Do any of your alliances give you a competitive advantage? Do they create barriers
to entry? Do they help you reach customers more efficiently?
What is the anticipated lifecycle of your product or service offering? What are
your current and future plans for R&D investments?
All great things come to an end. Products mature, competitors offer substitutes
and customers demand change. Have you anticipated when the earnings power of your
product will run its course -- for first-time buyers as well as for follow-on sales
to existing customers (e.g. upgrades)? What are your plans for R&D investments
and how will you continue to generate revenues when existing products run their
How do you plan to expand your Team?
While the precise conditions of the recruitment ecosystem change, it is always a
challenge to find the best people. Investors will not only be interested in the
composition of your existing workforce, but also in how you plan to fill key positions
now and in the future. Have you used an executive search firm? Do you have qualified
candidates currently under review? How will you compensate people, so as attract,
motivate and retain employees while keeping labor costs under control?
What are the probable exit scenarios?
In a successful investment, the two most common exit scenarios are acquisition or
IPO, and recently there has been significantly less activity in both of these areas.
Investors need to know how they're going to monetize their investment, hopefully
at an ROI of 50 percent or more -- so the exit strategy is quite important. As an
entrepreneur, you should spend some time thinking about who could acquire your business
down the road. Be both realistic (particularly on timing and valuation) and creative
regarding M&A possibilities.
What is the planned "Use of Proceeds"?
Investors want to know that their money is being put to good use in order to directly
accelerate the business opportunity, so that they will receive their ROI in a timely
fashion. One "no no" is using investments to service existing debt obligations.
Be prepared to present a timeline of milestones. Include a breakdown of how the
money will be spent and what it will allow you to accomplish.