The Toughest Sale an Entrepreneur Can Make….Investment Capital to Grow

 

I enjoy sales, I really do. I see sales as the ultimate example of serving others. You connect with people in your market that may have problems your product or service can solve, and you help them solve their problems. For me it’s the ultimate rush helping clients solve problems they have struggled with and felt they must learn to live with. However there is another sale entrepreneurs have to make that is not nearly as fun and can be emotionally and physically taxing if you do not know what you are doing…raising investment capital.

Typically the companies I serve have the capital and or are self funding and I am asked to create a repeatable sales process, based on how their buyers want to buy. Then I train their team how and when to use the sales tools we create for each step of the new sales process. In one instance however, a company I was asked to turn around lacked adequate access to capital to truly scale the business. So I approached raising investment capital as I would any market with various buyer personas , but in this case what I was selling was the viability of the business and future potential. I found there are basically five ways to fund your growth and each has its own characteristics, requirements, needs and challenges. Over a three month period while out making sales calls with customers, I met with as many “potential buyers” for funding as I could to understand  shape and I even named my buyers, my ways to raise funds.( I had way to much car time, so stick with me)

Self Fund through sales revenue – “Willy Lowman”

 

State and Government Grants – “Annette to detail”

 

Friends and Family- “Have-I” , as in have -I got a deal for you

 

Angel Investors- “Michael”, like the archangel

 

Venture Capital –”Barbra”, from the show shark tank

 

The first I called “Willy Lowman” from Death of a Salesman. You are out chasing revenue, cold calling, following up on every potential lead, and networking like crazy. You bootstrap your way, working 12-14 hours a day meeting with clients who could provide that next big order. At night you stuff envelopes with letters and brochures, and scour the internet using social media tools searching for the right contact to speak with at your future targeted accounts.

Characteristics– You often find yourself bunking on friends couches and driving great distances simply because the meetings need to occur but you lack the capital to afford air flights and hotel rooms. You have a passionate connection to your product and you have the ability to sell convincing presentations that drive early orders. You may hire independent sales representatives to sell your product on straight commission, but quickly find they too require time, your most precious asset at this point.

Requirements – You have to be skilled at taking inventory of what you have to work with and leveraging it to the best of your ability while always being cognizant of the businesses cash requirements, cash flow. You personally will do without.  You need tenacity, good old fashioned (excuse the expression)… “piss and vinegar”. You will have many doors slammed in your face and you will need the ability to press on in the face of adversity. You know the “right” way to get orders, but you lack the capital today, so you do what you need to do. I have 50 other ugly truths in my eBook you can download off my blog. You have to possess the ability to create learning’s through each transaction and adapt quickly.

Need – samples, sell sheets and a clear understanding of the problem you solve, and who potentially has that problem. With some of the software out there today and help from friends in your network you can create some professional presentations and sell sheets. You must have a web site.

 

Caution – it’s not unusual to start a business this way trying to sell your way to success, however know that it is not for the faint of heart, and if you do it for too long you too run the risk of going nuts like our buddy Willy. If whatever you are launching cannot gain traction and begin to result in predictable sales revenues within 12-18 months, cut bait! Chances are you are pushing mud uphill and you have not answered one of the four questions with a yes.

So how about you…have you launched a business on shear tenacity? How did it turn out?

 

As you look back, how long were you in the bootstrap mode? (Or are you still in it?)

 

What did you find the hardest part of this phase?

 

What advice would you give someone who has desperately tried to scale their business, their dream for 18 months with no success?

The key to funding I have learned over time is to truly understand where your company is on the business growth continuum. Is your business pre-cash, do you have a few customers, some revenue… but needing capital to scale, ….?

Once you clearly understand where your business is, you can connect to the right kind of funding. As you move from self funding / friends and family to Government Grants to Angel investors to Venture Capital, you must clearly understand where you are at and what your buyer (investor) requires.

What I have experienced is friends and families are investing more in you and your abilities than the business. They are looking at your past success and your personal abilities. They have a personal relationship with you.

Government Grants/ other Grants are focused on answering a specific issue. You must be skilled at writing grant applications and clearly answering how your product falls into their grant offering.

Angels fund from small $20k investments up to $2 million from larger angel funds. Angel funds are groups of angel investors who pool their monies and invest in companies. Sometimes members of the fund may also wish to make “side car” investments in addition to the fund investment. Angels focus on;

  • proprietary product and or technology
  • leaders ability to lead organization, monetize opportunity
  • the market and your product solution’s potential
  • your team and its ability to execute
  • your exit plan, who would be potential buyers, or do you plan to go public

Venture Capital traditionally invests in opportunities over $2 million. They are industry specific and the cost of their funds in terms of equity in your business is often much greater. They are focused on return on their investment. They have specific business valuation models and your engagement with them will feel more like a business transaction than a relationship. VC’s will receive 1,000’s of pitches each year and only work with a select few companies that match their criteria. I recommend you watch the show Shark Tank and pay attention to the discussions, the interaction as it will prepare you for possible discussions you may be having should you pursue VC funding.

If you are an entrepreneur and feel the next step to truly scale your company is funding, make sure you understand where your company is at, and what type of funding source best matches your needs. If you are like me, you will find it the most challenging sales process you have ever experienced!

Attention Entrepreneurs; You Can’t “Manage Fruit Ripe"

 

 

 

They say that which makes us strong can also be our biggest weakness. Entrepreneurs are no exception to this rule as our driven, confident, and focused nature can often inhibit new product success. Entrepreneurs often have such confidence in their personal abilities based on past success they take shortcuts in launching new products and when sales fail to meet plan they believe they can “manage fruit ripe.”

“When it comes to new product sales; you can not manage fruit ripe”

 

After my last post I had a number of people reach out to me saying: “ Ok we get it, we should do research prior to launch …but what should we do if we are in a launch that is not hitting plan?” As I have shared in past posts…I have made a number of mistakes over the years.I have kicked off new products and then had to figure out how to make it work; “make it happen ” on the fly.  So I thought I would do a follow-up post and share what I said to those who contacted me directly.

Entrepreneurs who launch on gut and not market truth often start trying to “manage fruit ripe”. They are so tied to their  plan their failure to achieve goals has to be a sales problem. Based on my experience, over 90% of new product sales falling short of plan are not the result of “poor sales execution” but the result of not having good current data  and or understanding of your market, and is actually a marketing problem. Without current accurate market data one if not all of your four P’s of markting are probably wrong. Entreprenuers are smart people. If given good information they make decisions that grow businesses profitably. If given old or wrong market data one or more of your four P’s will be wrong.

As the owner, leader,you are the boss… so if you want to try to manage the fruit (sales) of your new products ripe… go for it. I have seen many try ( heck, I have tried) and I have yet to see this approach correct new product sales below plan and create sales velocity. 

If you find yourself in a launch based on gut and old or poor data, what should you do?

 

  1. Assess what you have learned ( experienced) during launch so far
  2. Conduct win loss interviews
  3. Identify common roadblocks to sales and bust through them with new sales tools
  4. List what you still need to know and assign priority and timelines
  5. Adjust your strategy based on the current market data you gather
  6. Test new strategies before you scale them
  7. Repeat what works
  8. keep asking questions, determine why customers are buying and not buying
  9. Challenge your four P’s of Marketing ( at least one is off)

 

( or put another way; get the data to answer the four yes’s …as quick as possible)

 

 

So how about you…have you launched a product without having four yes’s first?

 

What did you experience ?

 

What corrective action did your team take?

 

Does it take longer to do research on the front end? Or fix roadblocks during launch?

“Pushing Mud Uphill” …Launching a New Product or Service Without Four Clear “Yes’s”

launch new products like pushing mud uphill

One of the most exciting things you can do in business is launch a new product, service, or entire business for that matter. As high as six out of ten US adult consumers are thinking about launching a business at any given time. If you chose to take the leap yourself, you will experience what I refer to as the “50 ugly truths…” but in so doing you will become stronger, and if you survive you will ultimately help people solve problems.

I can’t imagine anything more rewarding than helping someone solve a problem they thought there was no solution for. If this is true, then why do over 70% of new products (businesses) fail?

They fail because they failed to answer “yes” to four simple but key questions.

Question 1

Do you clearly understand the problem you are trying to solve and does your product (service) solve that problem completely? (if you have already said “no” stop, gather more data)

Question 2

Are there enough people, a market of people, with this problem to meet your desired ROA? ( if your answer is “I think so” stop and validate)

Question 3

Do the members of the market you validated as big enough have the ability to pay to solve their problem? (there are all kinds of problems we all have, but we are not willing to pay to fix)

Question 4

Are the members of the market you validated that is big enough, with the problem you solve, and ability to pay, “willing” to pay now? (there are many problems we have, and we have the ability to pay for, but not the willingness to pay for)

If you answered “Yes” with current market data (not data from three years ago when you first came up with this idea) go for it!

But remember; An Idea is not a product and it’s definitely not a Business.

Where most entrepreneurs blow it …as Jim Collins refers to it is; Hubris. They believe because they have launched products in the past and they were very successful they trust their gut and intuition that there new endeavor will also be a huge success.


So what happens if you launch based on emotion and Hubris?….

Your sales may come, but slowly

You will miss ROA targets

Need to add investment, instead of cutting bait

Your sales team (who trusted you) will push mud uphill each day…the good ones will leave due to frustration

You strain your entire organization (who is probably already multi tasking) morale suffers

You demonstrate to your market you do not know them

Personally you will become frustrated, aggravated, distracted, and you will loose focus

How can I rattle the above off so quickly?…Because I have done it. I have experienced the rush of growing companies by launching new products and or new divisions and when I find what feels like a huge unsolved problem in a market ….I get excited (emotional).

Instead of gathering current market date, I used to move into; validate my gut mode.

Instead of admitting what I did not know… and finding answers…I relied on past experiences to get me through the unforeseen roadblocks.

I have felt the emotion that builds, and heard that little voice in your head that says; “I don’t care what engineering, marketing, operations, and sales thinks we should do, or the more information they want to gather…we need to launch before someone else beats us to market”

What I lacked back then was a filter…simple filter that quickly cuts through the emotions and feelings and quickly lets you know if you have an “idea” or a “business”. The above four questions are the filter I recommend everyone use PRIOR to launching your new product, service, or business.

How about your company….

Have you ever had to push mud uphill?

While your team loyally pushes mud uphill, what is the opportunity cost of their time?

Do you have other questions to add to the filter to insure the products you launch do not fall into the 70% of those that are an expense without a ROA?

Again, having launched products, services, even new businesses in my career I understand that inner rush of adrenaline that makes your creative juices fire on all cylinders…I do. Maybe it’s an age thing…but I now highly recommend a pause, a strategic pause, before you launch and ask yourself the above questions.

To insure you maximize your percent of wins and your ROA for new products, make sure you use a filter, get the four “yes’s” prior to launch.

If you do not use mine above, I have also used the economic value added model back in the day. This model helps insure decisions are not made of Hubris.

Whatever you do, do not rely just on your gut, and or your key accounts, friends, and family members saying “go for it”.

If you would like to read more about this topic, I recommend you read;

Tuned In

How the Mighty Fall

Delivering Happiness

Delivering Happiness; Proof …the “Golden Rule” is Profitable !

  

 Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose

Does your business (do you) solve your customers’ unresolved problems? Does your team’s culture promote serving your internal and external customers to ultimately deliver happiness in their lives? Or, are you like the 90% of businesses out their hunkered down, focused on your numbers…driving costs out of your business…achieving your objectives…striving to hit your bottom line?

Businesses who passionately deliver happiness through solving their customers’ unresolved problems grow rapidly and are significantly more profitable than those with an inward focus.

 

Market leaders passionately serve their market’s needs and experience greater shareholder value than those inwardly focused.

 

If you read my blog, you know I enjoy reading. Some time ago one of my mentors said “leaders are readers” and this gave me a ravenous appetite to read and learn. I just finished: Delivering Happiness ;A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony  Hsieh the founder of Zappos. The book is a quick read as it is written in a conversational tone that makes its overall message and stories connect. What I enjoyed most is you cannot argue with Zappos success having just recently been acquired by Amazon for $ 1 billion.

We know the “Golden Rule” is something we should all live by….” Do onto others as you would have others do onto you”, however many business leaders are afraid of weaving this into the very culture of their businesses due to fear. The first fear usually comes from the CFO types out there…are you crazy, do you know how much that will cost us? (they are quickly won over when sales and profits grow exponentially)

Then there’s the hard-driving, what DISC would say is a “Driven” personality types, who says…serve my market? I want to drive results through my market.” (they can be convinced)

Lastly we also have the old school (market loser) mentality that says; I win you loose and the delivery of goods and services is about their personal needs and is not in any way connected to their customer’s needs or problems. They look at each day as a competition to sell their product or service, to overcome the buyer’s objections, and create a need for their product in their market. (they rarely change their beliefs and are often removed due to poor overall team performance)

The first two examples, the concerned CFO and the Driven leader can be convinced, however the business leader who is out for his own personal goals …well he or she will take a great deal of convincing and may never see the light based on my experience. The sad reality is this last type often looses what they are working so hard to create since they are focused on the wrong self-serving outcome.

I enjoyed this book as it truly captures the thoughts and emotions involved in the minds of entrepreneurs in the start-up phase of the business. Tony shares those bleeding edge of decision moments that brought me back to a number of personal experiences I have experienced. If you have launched a business or even a new product to some degree, you may have experienced;

Will we have enough cash?

 

Will that promised big order come in?

 

I now know what we need to do but can we truly afford to do it?

 

Will that big receivable we have been waiting on arrive in time for us to make payroll?

 

Should I continue to personally invest in this business or cut bait?

Can we find the funding we need in time?

 

I particularly enjoyed Tony’s account of the roadblocks and the corresponding emotions we all face in launching anything new. In the past 26 years of launching new products, new businesses, I cannot recall one that we did not encounter unforeseen roadblocks. What we must quickly do is identify the issue with unfiltered data, focus on the solution, the objective we plan to achieve, and take action.

Businesses that face roadblocks like the proverbial deer in the headlights get run over.

 

What stands out most is how Zappos is a current example of a business that intentionally has woven the golden rule through their culture and their brand. Far too many organizations launch with an unintentional disconnect between what they say in their mission and value statements and what they actually do. This disconnect is felt internally as well as in their market and in both cases violates trust.

Establishing trust is the most critical foundation in building win-win relationships with your internal and external customers.

 

Zappos intentionally set out to create their culture and clearly defined their culture in terms of 10 core values;

  1. Deliver WOW through service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and a Little weirdness
  4. Be adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do more with less
  9. Be passionate and Determined
  10. Be humble

 

Tony goes on to say; “many companies have core values, but they don’t really commit to them. They usually sound more like something you’d read in a press release….We believe that it’s really important to come up with core values that you can commit to.”

 

So how about your company….

 

Do you have core values? Can everyone on your team rattle them off…or just HR?

 

Are your core values intentionally woven into how you serve your market…or are there exceptions to the rule?

 

Have you intentionally set out to build trust with your internal and external customers?

 

Does your team authentically live the core values of your organization in all they do…or are their very actions breaking trust with your internal and external customers?

 

Do your team members have the freedom (and sense of safety) to boldly challenge practices not in align with your core values?….even if one of your senior leaders is violating them?

 

As I mentioned in a blog that discussed Delivering Happiness, this is not just a book…

 

Delivering Happiness is more than a business model …it’s a Movement

 

So I ask you again;

Is your business, (you), your team, delivering happiness to your internal and external customers?

What is the cost to your bottom line if one of your competitors intentionally sets out to serve their market when you continue your inward focus on your goals and your bottom line?

How Can Marketing Make Your Company Wealthy?

Go to "Energize Growth NOW: The Marketing Guide to a Wealthy Company" page

 

Being diagnosed as an entrepreneur does not have to be terminal. Far too many entrepreneurs launch with unrealistic expectations, and if they are members of the 1/3 of companies that do survive more than 18 months, they fall prey to “the entrepreneurs’ dilemma”.

As an entrepreneur you probably were working for someone else and found a market opportunity, a need, and a problem that needed to be solved. Chances are you brought the opportunity to your company and they quickly dismissed your idea. So what are you to do? Do you keep trying to convince your “hippos” the size of this opportunity or do you break out on your own on a quest to solve this problem so obvious to you?

If you are wired to be an entrepreneur you set out to solve the problem, and if you truly understood the problem and designed something that solved it completely, you start experiencing sales. This is a fun time because if you did your research before launch, your marketing message clearly explains what your product or service does and buyers instantly get it.

At first your biggest challenge is how to make more…quicker. The next thing you know you are hiring others and you now have a “team”. You now have a CFO instead of your wife paying the bills. You are hiring others from the industry and training them to meet with the customers you once served personally.

Then it happens one evening, usually after 7:00 pm on the drive home (late for dinner again) you do a gut check; “Am I having fun anymore?” If you are honest with yourself the answer is often “no” as you is now “running “a company. Your days of meeting with customers and potential customers are replaced with meetings, planning, and holding your team members accountable. (You became a hippo) You begin noticing a decrease in the incremental sales growth per new employee hired.

The days of you jumping out of bed at 4:30 am long before your alarm goes off are replaced with the ring of an alarm at 6:30 a.m. and …dread, another day of work. If it sounds like I have been there I have…”been there… done that….have the t-shirt”.

The good news is being an entrepreneur does not have to be terminal. There is a great book I finished not long ago titled: Energize Growth Now, the marketing guide to a wealthy company by Lisa Nirell. If you find yourself in the entrepreneurs’ dilemma or want to avoid it, I recommend you buy this book for yourself and all your leaders within your organization.

I found the book provided high level strategies for plugging back into your market as well as tools and rules that are applicable the day after you read this book.

It is not too late to energize growth in your company.

I particularly liked her chapter on increasing your company’s wealth quotient and seven principles to position your company for higher valuation.

It is time we rethink how we “do “business and break the entrepreneur’s dilemma. This book reminds us how critical it is to stay focused on creating value for your buyers and market , and in so doing your wealth quotient as an organization will continue to climb.

Are you in the beginning to experience the entrepreneur’s dilemma?

Do you find yourself needing the alarm in the morning, longing for the days you did not need an alarm?

Are you looking for a road map on how to increase your organizations’ wealth quotient?

I highly recommend Energize Growth Now.

Start-up’s….Like Wiring a House With The Power On…and getting zapped

The start-up phase is often one of the most difficult phases for entrepreneur as they often try to gain market knowledge while trying to meet sales goals. You know you should gather market data, but you often have limited cash, you are the chief cook and bottle washer, and you need to make sales to fund your future growth.

Start-up leaders need a strong emotional intelligence as many days you feel like you are; wiring a house with the power on and you keep getting emotionally zapped.

 

A number of years ago my wife was redesigning our upstairs bathroom and asked I change the electrical outlets from a cream color to a solid white. So we turned the lights on in the bathroom and I went to the fuse box and flipped switches until the bathroom light went out. I started to remove the outlet and saw a small spark. I thought to myself…”That’s odd as I know the electric power was off…” (My perceived truth) so I continued removing the old outlet. Zap! Next thing I knew I received a shock that sent me up against the wall and I fell into the bathtub. I latter found a new truth…the lights were on a separate circuit than the outlets so I was trying to change the outlet with the power on.

One of the most exhilarating as well as frustrating things you can do is launch a start-up company. Like I discussed in a previous post you feel like a plate spinner with more to-do’s than hours in a day. I go on to discuss how we can’t let the most important plates drop. I have discussed in earlier blogs how 2/3 of start-ups fail within 18 months. The main reasons we are all aware of for start-up failure include;

  • run out of cash
  • lack of a market driven plan
  • if you have a plan, your sales expectation is too high, too soon
  • if you have a plan, you have an unrealistic understanding of the buying process and cycle
  • trying to sell the need for a product you launched because you could and not because you should
  • market is not large enough
  • customers do not want to pay to solve the problem you solve
  • stress

 

Assuming your product and or service solves an unmet need, and you have a large enough market who are willing to pay you to solve their problem, the real danger for entrepreneurs is getting zapped by stress during the start-up season of your business..

To keep you from getting emotionally zapped from stress during the often hectic start-up phase, there are five key Biblical lessons I learned from a sermon recently.

1. Don’t wear yourself out – build the discipline to determine what is important, urgent, and focus on what is :urgent and important

2. Don’t shut out others – the reality is you can’t do it alone. Now more than ever you need your network, family, and friends

3. Don’t just focus on Negatives – that’s what market losers do. Keep your eyes on the prize and look for bright lights of opportunity as you launch.

4. Focus on your physical and Spiritual health – far too often those mounting to-do’s make us drop or delay other key areas of our lives. If necessary put time on your calendar for your fitness and faith.

5. Anxiety and fear are the product of looking back or too far into the future , focus on what is in front of you now, and leverage what you have. The quickest way to stop creatively solving roadblocks is to become fearful.

 

 

What about you? Have you experienced stress during the start-up phase?
What advice do you recommend to entrepreneurs in the start-up phase of their business?
What zapped you most in your start-up?