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Choosing Between American and Chinese Investors

Choosing Between American and Chinese Investors

For tech startups in the United States (U.S.) and China, they enjoy rather large and often, rapidly growing domestic markets. However, as they continue to grow into later stages, it may become necessary for them to expand internationally in order to increase their TAM (total addressable market) and raise their company profile. This entails gaining the attention of foreign venture capital (VC) investors. In gaining their attention, it gives them an additional path towards a long-run profit and lends them an edge over their domestic competitors. Additionally, getting the backing of prominent foreign VC investors can serve as a litmus test for the long-term health of any given tech industry.

American AI company Magic Leap raised from both and this was their difficulty in the Chinese market. The company believed that tapping into the Chinese market would be of great benefit to them. This proposition was well-founded, as AI and many other tech industries have undergone rapid growth in China. The first round of funding that Chinese VC giant Alibaba participated in was a Series C round worth $793.5 million USD, the largest Series C deal completed in 2016. It was also the first VC funding for the company since October 2014. The following year, Alibaba participated in a Series D round worth $502 million USD, smaller than the Series C round from the previous year. Unfortunately for Magic Leap, this was the last round of funding Alibaba would participate in. The timeline of Magic Leap would serve as a rather poor indicator for the AI industry, particularly augmented reality (AR). Even with $2.3 billion in VC funding and the backing of VC giants like Alibaba, Magic Leap was unable to deliver on its initial hype and as a result, burned through much of the funding they got with little to show for it.

Despite the multitude of benefits associated with cross-border investments for founders and investors alike, some risks exist as well. This is due to differences that exist in the VC landscape in each country due to differing political, economic, and regulatory environments each country faces. Some major examples of these differences include ownership and operation of VC funds, sources of deal flow for investors, and differing rules in the provisions of VC deals.

Market Overview

Venture Capital Flow Between the U.S. and China in 2018 (Source: Crunchbase News)

In the global VC market, the United States has long been the leader across the board. Since the end of the 20th century, however, China’s VC market has grown at an exorbitantly fast rate and its presence now rivals the U.S. In just three decades, the Chinese VC market grew into the world’s second-largest, with 29.4% of global VC going toward Chinese startups this past year. Additionally, the U.S. and China have become each other’s biggest partner in cross-border investments. Last year, venture capital flow between the two companies amounted to $22 billion USD and hundreds of deals were completed. According to Crunchbase, there were 355 deals between American investors and Chinese companies and 198 deals between Chinese investors and American companies.

In some regards, the current VC landscape looks quite similar in the two countries. Like American investors, Chinese investors desire a strong deal flow and believe that the founders and their vision are among the most important criterion for deciding whether the firm should invest in a startup or not. Additionally, some of the largest areas of investment in both countries are software (AI, IT, FinTech, IoT, Cybersecurity, etc.), hardware, biotech, pharmaceuticals, and healthcare. However, unlike the U.S., where government involvement in the VC market is quite limited, China’s government plays a significant role in its VC market and strictly regulates it. This results in some major differences between the landscapes of the VC market in each country. Here are three key factors to consider when choosing between funding by American and Chinese investors.

1) Ownership and Operation of Funds

Through the end of 2017, domestic investment accounted for 75% of all VC activity in China, with government-led guidance funds playing a huge role in the Chinese VC market (Source: VentureBeat)

Across the globe, the vast majority of VC firms and their funds tend to be privately owned and operated. The U.S. is no exception. Almost all American VC firms and their funds are privately owned and controlled. Only in rare cases do American VC firms go public like GSV Capital did in 2011. Besides that, the majority of the remaining VC firms in the U.S. and their funds remain privately owned and operated. Of course it makes sense that many firms and their funds choose to remain private, as the VC industry is all about the long-run whereas public markets worry more about short-term fluctuations, something VC firms tend not to focus on. Additionally, remaining private allows them to not share information generally considered proprietary (such as investment valuations and internal fee structures).

In China, there is more of a mixture of public vs. private ownership of funds. There are 3,500 VC firms with an estimated $4.4 trillion in funds in the pipeline for the next decade, according to a report by the Zero2IPO group. However, these firms are not the only ones making investments domestically. The Chinese government has its own set of funds amounting to $1.8 trillion USD. These government funds, colloquially known as guidance funds, are invested in a wide variety of domestic startups with the goal of developing the Chinese economy in mind. Unlike many VC funds, which can be invested in a wide range of companies across many industries, the existence of this $1.8 trillion government-run fund is specifically for Chinese companies created for internal economic development. These funds are often allocated by industry and the amount flowing into different industries varies by province. While some American investors operate funds for specific industries, none of them are operated by the American government nor are there funds designed specifically for domestic development like there are in China.

“State-controlled ‘guidance funds’ have failed to spend much of the promised money and overlapping investment strategies may result in overcapacity in some technology sectors, according to a Gavekal Drageonomics report” — Emily Feng, Financial Times

These government-backed guidance funds have received mixed reviews in terms of its effectiveness. While some argue that these funds have been crucial to the development of the domestic economy, others argue that these government funds have not lived up to expectations. According to Qinke Private Equity, there are serious issues with allocating these funds properly. Their report included three key findings regarding the allocation of funds. The first finding is that “since 2008, only 882 out of 2,065 guidance funds have made investments”. The second finding is that “73.51% of all money from guidance funds winds up in companies that are either expanding rapidly or are already mature.” The third finding is that “only 6.41% of the money is invested in seed stage companies”. The issues regarding the allocation of government-backed funds demonstrates the challenges of having heavy government involvement in the VC market. Because the Chinese government is very large and has numerous layers of bureaucracy, there are many chances for mismanagement or misallocation of VC funds. As a result of just how complicated it can be running funds through the government, it is very uncommon to see VCs or VC funds owned or operated by a national government of large countries, the U.S. included.

2) Sources of Deal Flow and Geographic Diversity of Deals and Sources

In the U.S., deal sourcing takes place all across the country, whereas in China, there’s more of a regional divide (Source: Pitchbook)

“The most fruitful sources of deal flow for me are earlier-stage funds (microfunds, accelerators, partner networks etc.) that I have worked with in the past and have built a meaningful relationship with. Over time, these funds develop an understanding of the type of deals I am looking for and the result is a symbiotic relationship where everyone wins.” — Andy Cloyd, Cultivation Capital

One of the biggest desires of every investor is to have a strong deal flow. They believe that the best way to find the right opportunities is to come across as many potential deals as possible. Without a strong deal flow, investors are likely to miss out on some potentially great deals with strong, fast-growing startups. Investors in both countries source their deals through a wide variety of individuals and institutions. The primary sources of potential deals for both countries’ investors tend to be personal connections, primarily other investors they have worked with in the past. They also get sourcing from local and regional accelerators and incubators, although this particular ecosystem is a lot bigger in the U.S. than in China.

“That’s the thing about doing business in China. It’s the Wild, Wild West, but we’re exploring new ground all the time. What was very useful to me was that I’d already gone through the red tape, the bureaucracy, the difficulty of hiring from multinationals for jobs in China. So the ability to talk to the government and understand what is happening in their world makes a huge difference.” — Nisa Leung, Qiming Venture Partners

Both Leung and Cloyd mentioned the importance of forming relationships with those you work with, as those in your professional ecosystem can serve as sources of deals later on. The more people you connect with, the stronger your deal flow will be. However, in Leung’s case, she has an additional set of people she needs to get to know very well. That would be state-owned enterprises (SOEs) as well as the Chinese government. In China, SOEs and the government serve as major deal sources for investors. According to Garry Bruton, “VCs in China have to build relationship with the government and large state-owned enterprises (SOEs), in order to find good investment opportunities instead of rely on the investigation of the proposals”. As a result, Chinese investors often need to spend a fair amount of time and effort building connections with local government officials in order to gain access to better deal flow.

The Chinese government’s involvement in sourcing deals has an effect on the Chinese VC market not seen in the U.S. market: significantly less geographic diversity in domestic investments. In the U.S., deals are sourced and made across the country. Investors in New England, New York, and Silicon Valley often seek out deals in each other’s territory and consequently end up with fairly geographically diverse portfolios. In China, that tends not to be the case. Bruton notes that “the structure of the Chinese government is very decentralized, meaning a lot of regulatory decisions are made by provincial governments.” So if investors would like to make deals in other provinces of the country, they need to fully know and understand the regulations imposed by each of the provincial governments. However, the laws are often quite complex and differ greatly from province to province. As a result, it tends to make more sense for domestic investors to focus on in-province startups. Because of this, American investors tend to have a more geographically diverse portfolio than their Chinese counterparts.

3) Differing Rules and Regulations Regarding VC Provisions

Term sheet for Uber’s Series C funding. In the U.S., the founders are not subject to quite as stringent provisions as their Chinese counterparts are (Source: Pitchbook)

Another thing that sets the landscape of the VC market in the two countries apart are the differences surrounding the provisions of VC deals. These provisions outline the rights investors have and the obligations founders and their companies face. In general, the provisions of VC deals in China lend significantly more leverage towards investors and founders have significantly less leeway in negotiating the provisions. In addition, the rights given to investors as well as their scope are markedly broader in China than in the U.S.

Some of the most notable differences in provisions are in liquidation preference, right of redemption obligations, and veto rights.

  • Liquidation preferences: In the United States, in the event of liquidation, preferred stockholders (investors) are limited in their right to participate in the distribution of remaining assets. In China, participation is considered an essential right of investors.
  • Right of redemption: American startups tend to be responsible for this obligation whereas founders of Chinese companies tend to be personally liable for this.
  • Veto rights: The scope of veto rights offered to investors is significantly broader in China whereas American investors’ veto power generally focus on things that directly impact them, such as revisions to their rights and interests. Chinese investors also generally get veto rights on any future financing activities of a given company. Due to the broader scope of veto rights, Chinese investors also tend to get a say in operational matters of their portfolio companies, such as budgeting, intellectual property, and appointing people to senior positions.

Zhou Min of PacGate Law Group notes these differences, recognizing that “cross-border investors inevitably encounter legal provisions that are different from what they are used to back in their home country.” Min attributes these provisional differences to two factors.

  • The very different legal environments in which each country’s VC market operates. China’s market is significantly more regulated than in the U.S. and laws on the books generally prohibit companies from bearing certain obligations, such as redemption rights. This means that founders are the only ones who can legally handle these obligations.
  • Since VC is much newer in China compared to the U.S., investors generally hold stronger positions over founders. Additionally, Chinese founders tend to be less sensitive to stricter provisions than American founders. This means American founders are more likely to resist certain provisions, especially if they requires the founders bear personal liabilities or special restrictions are placed on their rights.

As a result of the vast differences in provisions abroad, namely the narrower scope of rights for investors, Chinese investors in particular tend to express a bit of caution when doing cross-border investments. However, since part of foreign investment includes researching the landscape of the VC market in the country you plan to invest in, many Chinese investors come fully prepared to negotiate with American founders and vice versa. This is very clear given the fact that hundreds of cross-border investments took place in 2018 alone.

Conclusion

While there was a slight decline in deal count, capital investment in the U.S. VC market hit an all-time high in 2018 at $130.9 billion USD (Source: Pitchbook)

Despite the many similarities between the two markets, some significant differences in the VC landscapes exist due to the significantly differing roles the two governments play in the domestic VC market. Heavier government regulation of the VC industry seen in China has posed some challenges for investors, namely limiting investment and exit opportunities in China, particularly in later stages. It has also caused fewer opportunities in other provinces of the country for domestic investors due to significant differences in provincial regulations.

While both countries still remain the top VC markets in the world, a couple trends have worried analysts and investors alike for the last couple years, such as a decelerating Chinese economy and the U.S.-China trade war. Despite the lingering potential for a slowdown or decline, both countries remain at the forefront of the global VC market and remain each other’s biggest partner in cross-border investments. This may well continue to be the case so long as there is a steady stream of new tech startups seeking investment in both countries. Are you a startup seeking funding during Seed or Series A? Check us out here!

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VenturX is a web platform that helps entrepreneurs through their journey from idea to launch and beyond. VenturX uses data-driven analytics to score and connect startups and investors at Seed and Series A financing.

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3 Most Common Legal Mistakes When Building a Startup

3 Most Common Legal Mistakes When Building a Startup

Launching a Startup

Launching a startup can be a very exciting yet hectic venture. While enthralled in building your company and generating ideas for a product, it’s easy to forget one of the most challenging components of the entire process: the legal side. This is often the trickiest part for entrepreneurs because navigating the multitude of complex laws and corresponding paperwork involved in starting and building your company can be quite difficult and time-consuming. As a result, it’s very easy for entrepreneurs to get caught in the middle of a heated lawsuit over a simple mistake, the consequences for which are often very severe. Here are three of the most common legal mistakes entrepreneurs make when building a startup.

1) Picking an Unoriginal or Semi-Original Name for Your Company

Who’s Here

When creating a startup, it’s important to carefully choose the name of your company and consider its potential legal ramifications. Every entrepreneur knows that your company’s name needs to capture the purpose or function of your product so that potential consumers will know what your company is about. It’s also well known among entrepreneurs that what kind of entity you choose for your business must be factored into your company’s name. This matters because it affects how much personal responsibility you bear for your company and its financial obligations, such as unpaid debt and taxes. But there’s another component to naming your business: ensuring that your chosen name is entirely original. This part of the naming process is where many startups who find themselves in trouble regarding their chosen name go wrong. Entrepreneurs want the name of their company and product to be as catchy, clever, and intriguing as possible. However, if you do not do your research to confirm that your company and product’s names are completely original, larger incumbents may notice and drag you to court. Unfortunately for you as an entrepreneur, they are very likely to win simply because they are much larger and have better legal teams, even if they do not have a particularly strong case.

In 2010, Brian Hamachek developed an app called Who’s Near Me Live, which enables users to chat and call others based on their current location. However, Stephen Smith and his company, myRete, who developed Who’s Here back in 2008, did not like the name of Hamachek’s new app and made it known to him. In order to avoid a lawsuit, Hamachek decided to change the app’s name to WNM and make sure all references to his app called it WNM. This appeared to resolve things for about a year, until Smith filed a federal lawsuit against Hamachek for trademark infringement. He then gave Hamachek a choice: either shut down WNM or hand over all of your assets. Hamachek refused and litigation continued for several years while Hamachek continued to make offers to Smith in order to reach a settlement.

Although WNM was ultimately able to survive the lawsuit, Hamachek felt the heat of the entire ordeal. He lost out on tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, which he otherwise could have put towards his product. Additionally, due to the length of the litigation surrounding trademark infringement, Hamachek had to spend hours on end every day for several months dealing with the lawsuit instead of spending it on further developing and improving the app. It is also worth noting that Hamachek consulted with Smith when developing Who’s Near Me Live to ensure that his app’s name was distinct and he still wound up in legal trouble. Therefore, when it comes to naming, complete originality is a must.

2) Not Being Fully Transparent with Investors and Shareholders

Closed financial records

When starting a business, entrepreneurs often will set goals in terms of sales (in units and/or dollars), revenues, profits, and annual growth. Some startups find that sales are slower than expected, they have a serious cash flow problem, or maybe they just want to keep more of the revenue they earned. Many entrepreneurs who engage in this behavior did so under the belief that they and their company would be able to benefit by hiding certain information from third parties, such as investors and shareholders. However, more often than not, their lack of transparency catches up to them later on in the process. As hard it can be to admit you have a money problem, it is crucial that you are upfront with investors and shareholders about where your company stands because the consequences of withholding pertinent information are much more severe than being transparent about your money problem.

In 2016, Domo, Inc., a fast-growing computer software startup based in Utah, found themselves in hot water when Jay Biederman, a company shareholder from Delaware, requested financial documents in order to determine how much his shares of the company were worth. Domo was able to remain a private company and thus avoid mandatory disclosures. It looked like a lost cause for Biederman, until he found out that Delaware state law required full financial disclosure if the plaintiff could prove that they owned shares of the company. Since Biederman had proof he owned 64,000 shares, Domo was forced to open its books. Financial records revealed that after a $200 million investment by a private equity firm, the company was valued at $2 billion and the shares Biederman bought earlier for 32 cents each were now valued at $8.43 per share. Afterwards, Domo had to cough up the amount they had cheated Biederman out of when they withheld financial documents.

As the Biederman vs. Domo, Inc. case demonstrates, attempting to hide financial records and mislead shareholders and investors, either intentionally or unintentionally, is something to avoid at all costs, particularly as you seek a new round of funding. Having a pending lawsuit under your company’s belt serves as a giant red flag for potential investors. This is particularly true if the case involves a lack of transparency, as this may permanently destroy investors’ ability to trust you. Losing the trust of investors may also mean losing your ability to receive additional outside funding, which could prove fatal for your startup.

3) Copyright, Patent, and Trademark Infringement

Trademark infringement

When starting a business, you need to take the necessary steps to protect yourself from unfair and/or predatory competition as well as infringement. To do this, your company will require legal protection, such as copyrights and patents for your products or trademarks for your brand (logos, slogans, etc.). Securing legal protection for your company and its products can take months or even years to obtain and is quite expensive, especially for patents, which can cost as much as $15,000. On the other hand, it is very easy to unintentionally infringe upon a name or product already legally protected. Therefore, you need to ensure that all your company’s products as well as slogans, logos, and content on your company’s products and website are entirely original in order to avoid copyright or trademark infringement. If anything of yours is too similar to copyrighted, trademarked, or patented content, even just a couple phrases on your company’s website, you may quickly find yourself in the middle of an infringement lawsuit.

Michael Glanz, founder of HireAHelper, Inc. knows this to be the case. In 2008, U-Haul sued Glanz and his company, alleging trademark infringement. U-Haul pointed to two phrases used on HireAHelper’s website, “moving help” and “moving helpers” and claimed they were too similar to two registered trademarks of U-Haul. Despite Glanz’s attempts to settle with U-Haul, they refused and brought him to court. After three years, U-Haul finally agreed to settle the case for an undisclosed amount, though Glanz claims the terms were almost identical to the ones he proposed at the start of the ordeal. While HireAHelper was able to survive and later continue to grow, significant financial damage was inflicted upon Glanz and his family as well as co-founder Pete Johnson.

When all was said and done, Glanz owed $250,000 in legal fees, Johnson had to sell his home and move in with Glanz and his family, and Glanz’s parents had to push their retirement back by an entire decade. As damaging as the consequences were for Glanz, they could’ve been far worse. Had U-Haul taken them to court and won, Glanz and his family could have had their personal earnings wiped out, which would have resulted in Glanz losing his home just after having a newborn and would have all but certainly been the nail in the coffin for HireAHelper. Due to U-Haul’s size compared to HireAHelper’s, the former would almost certainly have won the case had a settlement not been reached.

Conclusion

Startup growth

When you’re creating a startup, the legal side will likely be the most challenging part to deal with. The three cases discussed in this post demonstrate just how perplexing business law can be, but also how easy it is to run afoul of it. In all three cases, the end results were heavily damaging for the entrepreneurs involved and a settlement of some sort was the only thing standing between the legal system and their entire business. Taking the time upfront to ensure that you know and understand all relevant business laws and that you and your company are in compliance with all of them is a necessity in order to avoid these expensive but preventable legal pitfalls. Avoiding these mistakes will allow you to focus your time and attention on the health of your business and will increase the likelihood of success and stability of your business in the long run. Are you a startup seeking funding during Seed or Series A? Check us out here!

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VenturX is a web platform that helps entrepreneurs through their journey from idea to launch and beyond. VenturX uses data-driven analytics to score and connect startups and investors at Seed and Series A financing.

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The Role of Due Diligence 

Why is Due Diligence Necessary?

Due Diligence

“Due diligence is both an art and a science.” According to Investopedia, Due diligence is an investigation or audit of a potential investment or product to confirm all facts, that might include the review of financial records. Due diligence refers to the research done before entering into an agreement or a financial transaction with another party.

Because of the due diligence, your investors may come to a different or more nuanced understanding of the opportunity and seek to renegotiate the initially agreed terms or even decide to decline the investment.

Types of Due Diligence

Due Diligence

There are various types of due diligence given that every circumstance is different and there’s no formula for it. Mainly, there are four basic types of due diligence which include commercial, financial, tax and legal due diligence.

Commercial Due Diligence reports analyses company performance, the likelihood that the business will meet its targets, and highlights potential problems that may occur as a result of an acquisition. This report provides the potential buyer with in-depth knowledge of the target company and the market in which it is positioned. It is designed to enable the prospective buyer to make an informed decision, and highlight any potential risks associated with the target business.

Financial Due Diligence typically, the scope would include an analysis of the historical quality of earnings, quality of net assets, working capital requirements, capital expenditure requirements, financial debt and liabilities, and forecasted financial results. In short, it focuses solely on the financial health of the company.

Tax Due Diligence is a comprehensive examination of the different types of taxes that may be imposed upon a particular business, as well as the various taxing jurisdictions. To put it simply, it could be viewed as an extension of the financial due diligence, where the focus is on identifying potential additional tax liabilities arising from non-compliance or errors.

Legal Due Diligence covers a wide scope of legal matters, including proper incorporation and ownership, contractual obligations, ownership of assets, compliance, and litigation. It aims to confirm the validity of the rights being acquired by your investors and the absence of legal risks which could undermine the value of the investment.

How Long Does Due Diligence Take?

Duration

According to David Braun, CEO of a Capstone (they specialize in M&A) generally, on average due diligence should take between 30 and 60 days to complete. It is the optimal time to complete a thorough evaluation of the business without letting the process drag on. Why is this such a long process? Read on!

Due Diligence Process

Process

Before the Due Diligence, gather your internal and external team of lawyers, accountants, advisors, and investors. The internal and external team will come together to discuss an opportunity, and terms of investment. Key terms discussed are usually laid out in a non-binding document such as a Term Sheet or a Cap Table. These usually are discussed through a virtual data room whereby information is typically secured hence ensuring only approved viewers get to access the confidential documents. Virtual data rooms can be created virtually and many firms provide them. Datarooms.com, Drooms, etc. are just some of the few that provide safe due diligence with information like this. Need help in generating a Cap Table? Or don’t know what to include in your Term Sheet? We got you covered!

During the Due Diligence, there is a lot, when I say a lot, I meant a lot of information requesting and receiving. So be prepared for that! That aside, there will be on-site visits at the target business by the due diligence team. During the onsite visit, the due diligence team gets to interview with various management team members from various functions; they will discuss the findings as well as draft out a report on the findings. The report is then sent to your investors and further negotiation on changes to the term could take place. Overall, since it is not a one-man show; it involves various stakeholders and hence there is no doubt due diligence process is such a long process.

Conclusion

Process

To ensure a smooth due diligence process, I would advise every business to do a lot of research and do your own due diligence first, so you can answer all the questions raised by your internal and external team. Usually, a framework or checklist would come in handy when you want to do your own due diligence and they can be found here. It goes beyond the basic checks you would normally make and it’s safe to say that if you find it to be relatively straightforward, you probably didn’t do it right. On top of the checklist, follow this article on Due Diligence in 10 Easy Steps. Check out our article on What to include in an Investment Package, it will come in very handy when you do your own due diligence.

According to our experiences, some potential red flags that you should look out for when doing your own due diligence are and not limited to the following — Make sure your business’ contracts are fully disclosed, your business is not in the middle of any litigation case, and check the local laws to make sure there aren’t any violations. You should always try to overcome the red flags or the difficulties faced before the actual due diligence.

No matter what, always remember that due diligence is your best opportunity for investors to understand the risks involved in your business before signing a long term relationship hence, be prepared to do everything to minimize the risk. Are you a startup seeking funding during Seed or Series A? Check us out here!

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VenturX is a web platform that helps entrepreneurs through their journey from idea to launch and beyond. VenturX uses data-driven analytics to score and connect startups and investors at Seed and Series A financing.

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Top 10 Questions from Investors 

Top 10 Questions from Investors 

questions from investors

questions from investors

If you’re raising money for your company and wanting to pitch to angel investors and venture capitalists, then it is essential for you to know and expect what questions will be asked and how you should approach these questions. More often than not, they will ask you the same questions over and over again which will help determine why they should choose you. Make sure you are taking notes on the questions from investors so that you can score during future meetings.

For the past 2 years, VenturX has been actively participating in pitching to investors and of course, we have compiled the top 10 questions your investor will ask you and how you should approach these questions.

Top 10 Questions and How to Approach Them

Q&A

1) Where do you see the sales trend over the next 1–2 years?

This is an open-ended question. To approach this question, you must give a broad response and even touch on a variety of issues that could prove valuable to the investor’s decision-making process. The time frame will give the investor a good gauge of the opportunities as well as the risks involved over a short term. You need to provide as much proof that your answer is not full of just speculations (ie. we have 5 signed letters of intent for the next 4 months, we already have $100,000 in purchase orders that we just need to fulfill, etc.)

2) Who are the competitors in the industry?

The investors want to know who the potential competitors in the market and they expect you to know them in detail. They would also want to be alerted with any new products or services that may appear in the market which could impact your company. You should already have a concrete plan on how to deal with these competitors and focus on what makes you so special over them before your pitch.

“If an entrepreneur tells me that they don’t have ANY competitors, that is a red flag! They didn’t do their homework!” — Marvin Liao, Partner at 500 Startups, San Francisco. 

3) What obstacles are you currently facing?

No doubt every business is prone to failures and weaknesses, they are part of the equation of growth and they are often where all of the great learnings come from. The investors want to know what are the vulnerabilities in your company. However, keep in mind that identifying the problem is only answering part of the question. It is more vital to convince them how are you going to overcome these problems in both short and long term and convince the investors you have what it takes to overcome any potential obstacles.

4) How is your business performing?

Your investors are interested in how your business is performing. You should give them an introduction to Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and other non-financial metrics that are going to affect the company’s growth. For software companies like us, KPIs include the lifetime value of a customer, customer acquisition cost, and monthly recurring revenue. Whatever your key metric is, it’s usually unique to your specific business. For more info, check out one of my favourite books “Lean Analytics” — by Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz

5) How do you track trends in your market?

Due to the nature of start-ups, especially tech-based start-ups, things change very quickly. Investors would like to know if you are aware of your industry, as well as how you find data to stay on top of industry trends. Before pitching, be prepared to share how you find data about your customers and industry, as well as how you can leverage this information to improve your business to stay on top of the game.

6) Can you tell me a story about a customer using your product?

This should not be a surprise as it should already be included in your pitch. According to our experiences, the best pitch usually is the ones that open with a story about how your products and services are helping customers. We would advise using real names to be as specific as possible to describe how your services have transformed your customers and get rid of their “pain.” Hence, be sure to craft an excellent story on your customer and let that tell a story for you!

7) How can I connect with some of your customers who have used your product or service?

If your investors ask this question, you are on the right track! They find your pitch interesting and begin what’s called the due diligence process. During due diligence, they want to know a lot more about your target market/customers. Some insights you should provide to your investors are: who they are, how you know who they are, how did you find them, what do they think about your product or service, how often are they using it, on what scale, how you interact with them, etc. This would be a good place to use metrics that we guide our startups with such as Conversion and Engagement.

8) How would you predict your market will be like in five years as a result of using your product and service?

This is a great opportunity to tell a story on the growth of your company. Predict or picture how your customers’ future as a result of using your product or service in five years’ time. Prove to your investors that you are able to envision and think critically about your product and how your customer will evolve over the next 5 years.

9) What if five years down the road we think you’re not the right person to continue running this company-how will you address that?

Don’t be surprised when they ask you this question. Yes, it is rude and odd but often times, particularly with high growth start-ups, funding CEO does not remain the CEO who scales the company beyond the start-ups’ phase. This is the part where you convince the investors what kind of entrepreneur you are. The reason they asked this question is that more often than not, many founders’ ego get into the way of a company’s growth and they refuse to step down for the good of the company. It is important to address this issue and prove to the investors you do not have such “quality.”

10) How much equity are you offering?

This question usually comes at the end and if it does, it should tell you that you are on the right track and your investors are interested in the deal. The investors would like to know how their shares will be allocated and how it will be diluted assuming there are future rounds of funding such as Series rounds or even IPO when your company has matured enough. A good way to answer this would be to provide data such as generating a Capitalization Table and show them how much shares and how will that change down the road. If you need help generating a Simple Capitalization Table for your pitch, fear not, check out our article on Cap Table 101.

Pitch

That should be the top 10 questions you should expect your investors to ask during your pitch. It should have covered all grounds, if not I’d love to hear from you any types of questions that aren’t covered in this article — please post them in the comments down below and don’t forget to give us a clap if you enjoy reading this article. Interested in knowing how will VC invest in 2019? Our article got you covered! Are you a startup seeking funding during Seed or Series A? Check us out here!

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VenturX is a web platform that helps entrepreneurs through their journey from idea to launch and beyond. VenturX uses data-driven analytics to score and connect startups and investors at Seed and Series A financing.

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How to Get on the Radar of an Investor

How to Get on the Radar of an Investor

“Before you walk in the room to pitch, I should have heard about you 10 times already!” — Investor, Montreal, CA

1. Personal Connections

Just like in other industries, getting a personal recommendation from a trusted source is ideal to meet people. Historically, word of mouth is still the oldest form of marketing because there is an element of trust.

People

What can I do?

There are a few steps that you can take today to plant that seed:

  1. Let people in your network (ie. brother, colleagues, startup friends, strangers you met at networking events, etc..) know that you are working on your business and currently seeking funding. People do not know you have a need unless you let them in on what’s going on. Depending on your relationship with the other person, you are not necessarily asking for something, you are just telling them what’s going on and where you are at.
  2. Show passion for your idea. Passion is contagious and it can motivate people to help you get to that next milestone
  3. Don’t assume. You never really know who people in your network know and don’t know. During my time working with hundreds of startups, we found that many unsuccessful ones make a lot of pessimistic assumptions. They assume they don’t know anyone who can help with funding. They assume the answer to any question will be no. Just remember that if you live to 80 years old, the average person will meet 80,000 people in their lifetime.

2. Pitch Competitions

If you live in a startup-friendly place like Montreal, then you are aware of the same startups who pitch at every competition hoping to win. They may not necessarily win any competition but they are marketing themselves to the room. The mere-exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon by which people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them. To get on the radar and have them like you, you have to first exist in the investor’s minds.

pitch competition

What can I do?

  1. Brand new 2019 kickoff, enter at least 2–5 competitions. The business will likely change over that time but if you sign up, you are more likely to force yourself to be marketed to the investors who don’t know you.
  2. The other benefit is that you likely get asked questions from judges so investors will see how you are answering them during the Q+A portion of the pitch. It can really help you stand out.

3. Meet at Networking Events

When you go to events with speakers, booth exhibitions or casual meet and greet events, sometimes you will see who the sponsors or speakers are directly in the event description. You can see beforehand who the investors are. See the example below.

Sample Eventbrite Ticket

What can I do?

What I trained my interns to do last summer was add every single person on LinkedIn 24–48 hours before. (You don’t want to do it too early in case both parties forget.) Then, take note of the most relevant people who we should meet. Because some events might be hard to navigate with lots of activities and presentations, you want to target only 5–8 key people who are most relevant for you.

3. Execute Good Content

Online presence is also relevant. Showing yourself as a thought leader and innovator in the space will trigger the interest of the investors you are trying to attract because it shows you know your stuff.

Content

What can I do?

  1. Find out who your favorite investors are following. Find out the topics they engage with and why that is relevant for your business/space.
  2. Imitation is the highest form of flattery. Upon completing the first tip above, you will find yourself researching more and more about what interests these investors and imitate those influencers or innovators they also respect in order to get inspiration for content.
  3. Find out how they wish to consume content so you are using the right vehicles too. For example, is it written on Word, Medium or LinkedIn? Is it a video on Youtube?

4. PR / Podcasts

A great way to get some exposure to investors, partners, and clients alike is podcasts, publications, etc.. It does depend on how comfortable you are at writing, being on video, doing podcasts, etc.. VenturX has all these channels and you can see on our Youtube and Twitter/ Facebook that every single podcast we guest star in, we also repurpose the content and repost to keep engagement high. The other thing is that the more you put your brand out there, the more opportunities will come knocking on your door. In 2018, we got a call from Brahm, who was following my content and had an interest in our innovative technology. In no time, VenturX is now going to be featured in the book “Innovate Montreal.” This book will be published in 2019 and it highlights the top innovators in the major cities around the world.

Podcast

What can I do?

  1. What are the top publications and podcasters that are relevant to your industry? Reach out to them and ask how you can get on their podcast? After doing a great podcast, you may get a positive recommendation to another…and then another…

2. Create a media kit in order to save all content in one place. You can share the link to publications who ask for it, you can also use it to collect past publications you have been featured in.

3. Create a newsletter for your potential investors and partners to keep them updated about the momentum you are building and whose show you will be featured next.

5. Engage with Investors on Social Media

Social media is a powerful tool to connect with people who may not be directly in your network. You can find out which investors engaged with your posts and why. When I posted my most powerful post yet, I was surprised by the amount of positive support and engagement from investors who I met at events. The post was called “The Time I Was Threatened By a Client.” It was authentic, honest and it reached people on a human level.

Social Media

What can I do?

  1. Find out who is following you and on which mediums? (ie. Product Hunt followers, Twitter followers, Medium claps, LinkedIn comments, etc.) Then if they are an investor who you want to engage with but do not know them, add them on LinkedIn and thank them for following. Start a conversation…
  2. This method only works if you are both putting out content and engaging on social media in the first place.

6. Ask for Referrals When Rejection

Turn those “not a good fit for us” into warm introductions. Of course, this depends on the investors you are talking to.

Referrals

What can I do?

If you get an answer to your unsuccessful pitch, you can ask for feedback and if they can refer you to someone who would invest in that space or industry where it could be a better fit. If it helps, you can have an “introduction template” to send them so it makes to easier for them to introduce your company that is most representative.

7. Awards, Grants, Recognition

Investors are always looking for signs that a startup will be successful. Some startup founders may not know which things are signs of success/ momentum and how to present them.

Winners

What can I do?

  1. Advertise the awards, grants, and recognition on your website. You can create a News Page like this. This will help attract traffic to your site as well if you won a major award that others may be searching for.
  2. Keep them updated by mentioning it in your newsletter. You can also link back to the same New Page so they can see more information.
  3. Write this at your email signature that you are an award or notable grant recipient. Not enough people utilize their email signatures but you should see it as your business card.
  4. If you were a speaker at an event, it should be your LinkedIn profile cover page/facebook cover page. It should show you on stage with a microphone and the name of the conference in the background. The same goes for any pitch competition won.

8. Key Advisors on Your Board

Some startups have certain key advisors on their board in order to get attention from their specialized industries. These names hold weight and get attention. If these advisors are very invested in the startups and hold advisory shares, they have the incentive to mention them to their network/ when they go on stage for speaking engagements, etc.

Advisor

What can I do?

  1. List key advisors who would be your dream advisors to be on your board
  2. Find out which boards they currently serve on and what motivates them
  3. Reach out to them and see if some will want to work with you and bring on industry expertise and networking opportunities

9. Associate with Communities

If your startup went through an accelerator or incubator that has a strong community such as Y-Combinator and Techstar, then these communities are also good sourcing of referrals for funding. From the past years, there are also investors we have met who explained that they limit their scouting pool to only certain incubators and fund graduates from those directly for the past years. They believe in those communities or have graduated from them in the past.

techstars, y-combinator, 500 startups

What can I do?

  1. Join those accelerators if you have time and accessibility (some might require you to travel)
  2. If you do not have time, they sometimes have short 1-week boot camps or online programs you can join to also get better acquainted with their communities and offerings
  3. Find out where they hold public open events to network with those funded founders and mentors and start making connections and seeing where you fit

10. Rinse and Repeat!

Staying stuck behind a screen will not get you better acquainted with investors you are trying to familiarize yourself with. Keep repeating these steps at every opportunity and get yourself out there to set up meetings and coffees. Take advice and feedback and really listen to what they are expecting from you. Be sure to have your data room files ready (see an example HERE!)

Investors Package

We keep reminding our startup clients it is very hard to be heard through all this noise. They do not have to worry about being overly flamboyant when marketing. Startups do not have the budget to market themselves to any extreme. Even when you think you are over-doing it, that person may believe to only have heard of you once. It takes more to be remembered in someone’s mind.

Good luck!

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VenturX is a web platform that helps entrepreneurs through their journey from idea to launch and beyond. VenturX uses data-driven analytics to score and connect startups and investors at Seed and Series A financing.

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Entrepreneurship: Be the Boss You Wish You Had

As we go through our entrepreneurship journey, we are so focused on our day to day tasks, that next funding round, and the next milestone. When reflecting on the big picture about making a difference, we often forget how much we as people factor into each other’s lives. On average, people spend 35–40% of their entire lives at work; that is 90,000 hours. When we go back to reflect on the people we have worked for and how it influenced us in a positive and negative way, it does show up when we dive into entrepreneurship and become leaders and bosses ourselves. Because we have the ability to make great impact on those partners, employees, and colleagues we spend so much time with, we should be strongly considering being the boss we always wish we had.

Everyone’s revelations about this topic would be different. For me, I had a series of great corporate supervisors who were supportive and knowledgeable. However, it was my experience at a small consulting firm that impacted what kind of leader I wanted to be or not. Here is what I learned from my former bosses.

Bosses VS Leaders

1. Do Not Oversell a Solution to Clients And Make Your Team to Under Perform

As a new CEO who is starting out, there is a lot of pressure to sell in order to pay the bills. However, if you sell 20 hours worth of work for only 11 hours because you are a terrible negotiator, then read this article about not giving into discounts: https://medium.com/@VenturX_team/why-startups-should-never-give-discounts-8c291ad93167 and find better clients. If your team works on a billable time basis, and you train your team to work the 20 hours, then 20 hours will still be billed and get mixed up in the finance department. The clients would file complaints against the employee or the company. The other scenario that happened is that you force some of your employees to be assigned to the bad clients and your employees are overworked and force to under-bill the clients. Your startup company would then be making less money and your employees would be constantly frustrated because they will never reach their target. They say that entrepreneurs have to learn at warp speed to succeed in business. This is a prime example as to the notable effects of an entrepreneur’s lack of negotiation and prospecting skills.

Oversell and Under Deliver

2. After the Job Offer, Do Not Propose a Lowered Salary

After accepting the job, a got a call from my future employer who suggested to go on a lower salary with an unlikely bonus system. As an employee it was my first time seeing red flags of mistrust from any employer. He did that after I turned down my other job offers in order to take this job. Entrepreneurs should never do that because it breaks trust and you get off on the wrong foot.

I have come to learn how important trust is in your team and when you get off on the wrong foot, you already tainted your own reputation.

Trust

3. Signing an Awkward Contract

When I was young and working for this firm, I did not know I could question contracts. To this day, I am not sure it was 100% legal in Quebec to make someone go on a 50% salary cut for a probation period and force them to disclose all their personal activities such as volunteering, health and wellness problems, religious activities, etc.. This was stated in our contract that I was afraid to question when signing.

What I do now, is allow all levels of employees to ask questions and even follow up if I have not heard from them. My goal is to train someone for the duration of their contract and ensure they are fulfilled and happy. I respect their personal life and I do not make them disclose details because I do not want to make them feel as uncomfortable as I felt with this previous employment. I did have one intern who requested for us to know each other more so we made it happen; Otherwise, I respect their privacy rights. I cannot guess what will make them happy, I just have to ask. I learned another great lesson that I shared on Jeremy Ryan Slate’s podcast which covers “Grown ups don’t know everything.” You can listen to it here: https://www.jeremyryanslate.com/450-growth-secrets-networking-secrets-intentional-founder-sydney-wong/

Contract

4. Do Not Change the Work Expense Policy After the Trip

On my first trip to Boston, it was clearly written that the meals for the day was $75 CAD daily. After I came back from the trip and spent a little under $75, the CFO co-founder pulled me aside to say that the change was that the meals would be now broken down to $25 per meal for a total of $75. I did not misread because that was not written in the policy they gave before the trip. Overall, this employee lost money in order to go to a mandatory work trip (to generate billable hours for this company).

What I would have done is to absorb that one time expense since the employee followed policy meticulously. Changing an important policy like that would have been announced publicly instead of being pulled aside to be shaken-down by a cofounder of the starting company.

Employer

5. Changing the Year End Bonus Structure

When the bonus structure changes as employees are getting close to the achievement mark, it is very demotivating. The original one was based on billable hours and the new one was imposed near the year end, making all my past achievements obsolete and disregarded. There was no point in starting from scratch. It seemed that the new one was put in place in order to not pay out any bonuses that year.

Today, new entrepreneurs are taught to underpromise and over deliver. When it comes to employees, it should remain the same. This rule of thumb is another element that makes or breaks trust between the parties.

6. Don’t Point Out How You Wish You Didn’t Pay Salaries to Your Employees

At the end of the year, the CFO presented our overall revenue and expenses. The awkward thing that happened was he point out the revenue was higher than he expected so “it makes [him] happy.” He also pointed out the expenses (mostly salaries) were also higher than he expected so “it makes [him] less happy and this should be lowered.” If it sounds like this cofounder is implying people should get fired, then you are right…

One good part of that presentation was that they did show the revenue for the year which makes employees feel that they were contributing to a bigger picture. It was a good graphical way to show it. Overall, I cannot see how a founder can put a chart on the big screen and tell a room of people who were overworked that he feels he has overpaid would be motivating.

Revenues and Expenses

Overall, there is a difference between bosses and leaders. Everyone makes mistakes. We can learn from the mistakes of our former bosses and try to impact others in a more positive way. As entrepreneurs, we are our own brand and we have to learn the optimal ways of conducting our businesses, ourselves, and our team as fast as possible.

Warren Buffet
 

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VenturX is a web platform that helps entrepreneurs through their journey from idea to launch and beyond. VenturX uses data-driven analytics to score and connect startups and investors at Seed and Series A financing.

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How to Build Traction Starting from an MVP

How to Build Traction Starting from an MVP

A vision without traction is merely a hallucination. Cultivating and creating a successful startup is more than just offering a product or service, it’s a consistent effort of building, measuring, and learning. However, one of the most important factors to venture capitalists (VCs) is traction and measuring the potential success of your product. In regard to measuring traction for your startup, below is a list of what potential investors will value when looking for investments.

Minimal Viable Product

Let’s begin off with an MVP (Minimum Viable Product). This is not a beta or prototype you are launching it’s rather a product or service you make to see if there is a market for it. You are trying to learn what your users want and don’t want and minimize the amount of time you spend on creating features or aspects of the product which is not valuable. Believe it or not, many big companies we know today originated from an MVP.

Dropbox

A good example to represent this is cloud database company called “DropBox.” Their MVP product was essentially a video which showed what they wanted to do and a signup form for people who were interested in the idea and wanted to be early adopters. Almost overnight, there were over 75,000 signups all with only a 3-minute video of Dropbox and not even an actual product of the software. If you are very early in your startup, make sure there is indeed a market for your product or service using an MVP. This is a valuable aspect to present to investors if you haven’t created real customer data points yet.

Below is a list of more MVP’s which you may find very interesting and see how the actual product which has derived from this has changed.

1. Airbnb

Airbnb

Co-founders of Airbnb needed help paying their rent in San Francisco. They also noticed lots of business conferences around; hotels were very expensive in their area. They wondered if strangers would pay to live in someone else’s house for a night. They provided all the facilities and tested out their product assumption using the interface you see above. Creating a website like this especially in the type of technology we have right now would cost you couple hundred dollars max.. If you have no idea about coding then check out ShareTribe, it is great place to create a peer to peer marketplace website and they take of everything for you. You get to focus on building your customer base and they take care of everything that’s technical. Base plans start at $100 a month and this is definitely a great way to see your your product has a market fit without spending tens of thousands of dollars into something that hasn’t been validated yet. In addition to this, hiring university students in computer science is also a great cheap alternative as well.

(MVP is estimated to be $100/ month and 2–3 weeks of coding)

2.Groupon

the point

They first started off creating “the point” which was a platform for bringing people together for fundraising or boycotting a retailer. This platform failed and from this they created Groupon. They used a customized wordpress blog and didn’t invest any time in developing a coupon system or designing a new website. They just took whatever resources they had and made a MVP out of it. It definitely was not scalable but it did answer Groupon’s questions for them. To recreate this type of MVP a simple subscription to “WordPress” will work as well. Relaying information on your own customizable wordpress website is great and more importantly relatively cheap compared to investing in a dedicated server and a team maintaining the site.

3.Buffer

Buffer

What Buffer did for their MVP was create a landing page where they showed what it would do for potential users; if you were interested, you could sign up as a paying customer. If you still weren’t sure as to why you wouldn’t join, it you could still sign up for their email alerts and executives would reach out to to find out why you weren’t convinced to use the platform. Hundreds of people responded and the demand for Buffer was evident. This strategy helped give valuable feedback and find out what users really wanted out of the service. In today’s day and age creating a landing page to show potential users is very simple. The only real aspect of what is being invested is essentially your time to review and analyse what users are saying about your potential product or service.

You can use WordPress for $10–33 dollars a month and creating the static landing page will take a few days.

4.Zappos

Zappos

The founder began off by posting photos from the local shoe store and uploaded them to this website. He then checked if anyone was interested and if there was he would go to the store and buy the shoe and then sell it to the customer. Doing this overtime he found out there was indeed a need for this type of service and answered his question if his product would be accepted into the market. Only after that, he invested into infrastructure and inventory. Reselling is becoming very common in the 21st century and online commerce is almost everywhere around the world. To recreate this type of MVP it is very cheap, quick and easy. For example you can get a subscription on “Wix” for $5–10 dollars a month and use a premade template to upload photos onto your site. This process can take as little as a day. There are multiple website builders such as Wix, Shopify and SquareSpace and all with free and paid options as suited to your individual needs.

You can get this website running in 1 day and $5-$10/month on Wix

5.Twitter

Twttr

It was first used as an internal messaging system for Odeo employees and it picked up so much that the monthly bill for the messaging system went into the hundreds of dollars. They noticed the demand and prepared to take Twitter large scale and release Twitter publicly. Creating an MVP like this is more expensive than the other options available. Creating a whole messaging system for internal use requires some capital equipment which many startups may not be able to afford. However if you do have a reasonable number of assets and capital equipment then you should consider creating something for a specific group of people then expanding once you see the validation. Another way to overcome this issue is getting a developer on your team who can use today’s available tools to create a messaging system more efficiently and cheaply.

6.Zynga

Zynga

Zynga uses landing pages and adword MVP tests to direct available resources into developing projects. What this means is that they launch ads for games in existing games and if the user clicks on it and seems interested in the new game, then they would continue developing the new game and put more attention towards it. Farmville, Yoville, etc. are all games that were developed this way and based of users interests. This type of MVP is essentially placing ads whiles users are playing games or browsing through Zynga. Sending ads to your own users are virtually free but placing ads through the Google Search Engine costs about $0.58 per CPC.

Creating and launching your own ads take a few days.

7.Foursquare

Foursquare

Foursquare began with a single featured MVP which is essentially a version of the product where design and features were minimal. They started off with user check in and offering gamification rewards. Once they realized users like this they added more features and then tested those out. It was a very repetitive process but in the end it creates a product completely sculpted by users. Although it is still very pricey to outsource work in the creation of making an app as an MVP (50,000–1,000,0000) it is strongly advisable to have a experienced coder who has coded apps before. This saves on a lot of money and you make it completely customizable towards your needs. The whole app making process however takes a number of months. If you are still insistent on hiring a company to create your apps there are few who are great at that (247 Labs, Openxcell, etc.)

This MVP takes 3–4 months to build.

8.Pebble

Pebble

Pebble actually was actually able to get money from investors; however, over time, the money ran out and they needed funding to showcase their research in E Ink displays in watches. They really wanted to find out if people would be interested in a smartwatch that had an exceptional battery and could connect to your phone. They started a kickstarter which had a video explainer describing the product and reached their goal of $100,000 in 2 hours. At the end of the fundraising they had raised 10.2 million for the project and then finally they went to manufacture the product after the evident market demand. Kickstarter is a great way to really see if your product has a market fit without starting to mass produce the product. It’s free to launch on Kickstarter but there is one catch. You need to get all the funding you submitted for, if not you lose the funding you raised. In addition to this there will be a certain percentage kickstarter will take away from each successful fundraising effort. Furthermore, you need to have pictures and a live demonstration of your product in order for you to be valid for kickstarter. This whole process will take a number of days and it will be for. More specifically the Kickstarter team spends 30 hours reviewing your submission and will reply back in 2–3 business days.

If accepted, this costs $0 and 1–10 days to make the graphics/ video. (This does not include promotional campaigns.)

9.Spotify

Spotify

Spotify has a 4 step cycle when it comes to creating and testing out its MVP. “Think it, Build It, Ship it, Tweak it.” Spotify is made up of many small teams and they have many ideas, the way they get this idea validated is by first creating the MVP based off their idea. Then they release it to users very slowly and take in a mass amount of reviews from their MVP. After, they tweak the MVP based off the reviews and users’ thoughts. They used this very process to scale from bottom up. While Spotify’s MVP product was very expensive because of its strong software background, Spotify was still able to minimize costs by creating a complete roadmap of early and cheap prototypes. They only completely launched when baseline of quantity was met.

The next sign of traction I would like to focus upon is customer acquisition. How are you going to reach out to customers? What’s the cheapest way to reach them? How much customer growth have you had? Different traction channels works for a variety of startups and can cause a chain of explosive growth for your venture. A few examples of channels for traction is through targeting blogs and search engine marketing.

A) Targeting blogs is one of the most effective ways to reach out to your first wave of customers and create your presence.

  1. The first step is to find a blog which is in the similar field as your product or service and ensure there are an appropriate number of followers on that blog suited to your needs.
  2. Secondly, reach out and offer your product or service to its readership to develop and build traction. Popular startups such as Code Academy , Mint and Reddit all got their start by targeting blogs. Mint actually gained initial traction by reaching out to mid sized blogs and ensured the bloggers were a good fit for their service. The famous bloggers used to exemplify the service and showcase it while Mint gave them VIP service in return through the service. This essentially grew the customer database.
Search Engine Marketing

B) Another channel to gain traction is through “Search Engine Marketing.” This term refers to placing ads on search engines such as Google and Bing and because SEO is so broad it will be applicable to any startup. This whole SEM process works by finding high-potential keywords which leads to your website or business online. The page that a potential customer lands on is called a landing page, and this is one the most important pages on your website. Key SEM metrics to reflect upon are CTR and the CPC. CTR (Click-Through Rate) is the percentage of people who clicked on your ads compared to the amount of people who actually saw your ads. The CPC (Cost per Click) on the other hand is the amount it costs to buy a click on an advertisement. What this means is how much are you willing to pay to get a potential customer on your website.

www.ancestry.com

A good example of a company that used this method to generate traction is Inflection, this is the company behind Archives.com which was soon to be acquired by Ancestry. They spent over $100,000 a month and dedicated several employees to customer acquisition through this method. Obviously very early startups don’t have this type of resources, but Monahan’s input on SEO is that “even if you decide to send less than 5,000, do it, because you get to have an early base of customers and users and it will create a whole bunch of things that are important in terms of regular metrics.”

The harsh reality is that majority of startups fail, and investors know that, that’s why traction is very important to them and making sure there is a market for that product or service. A MVP (Minimum Viable Product is a great way to see whether or not a business opportunity exists and ensures your long run potential. There are many ways to gain traction and I have showed many examples of it from successful startups who have all taken very different routes. Ensure there is a product market fit and traction will follow. The more traction you have, the greater the chance to catch an eye of an investor and finding external investment. “Almost every failed startup has a product. What failed startups don’t have are enough customers”- Gabriel Weinberg (CEO/Founder of DuckDuckGo)

To learn more about examples of traction feel free to head on over to the article written by us on how letters of intent can increase your startup’s funding success.

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About VenturX

VenturX is a web platform that helps entrepreneurs through their journey from idea to launch and beyond. VenturX uses data-driven analytics to score and connect startups and investors at Seed and Series A financing.

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Do Networking Events Contribute to Your Business Goals?

Do Networking Events Contribute to Your Business Goals?

Networking

Networking

People always say that a plan without a goal is just a dream. Networking events should be part of your overall plan to ensure you get the most out of your valuable time. If there is no connection between your strategy and your actions, there is a problem.

During my first year of business, I personally wasted a lot of time going to startup networking events because I thought I had to. It could easily become a norm or hype to go without reflecting on how it was affecting your overall business strategy. Some people go just to be seen; some stay for 20 mins to take a picture for social media. That could be their overall goal but at least it means they are aware of their goals and understand how networking events fit into those.

Success

Success

Why are goals important?

Goals should be tied to the different tactics of your business. Each thing that requires any piece of your precious 24 hours in a given day should have a goal. Without goals, we have no purpose and no way of measuring the success of our actions.

Networking Event

Networking Event

There are different types of networking event goals:

1. Meeting prospective clients (to generate new leads)

2. Giving a presentation at that event (as a guest speaker or panelist) to boost brand awareness

3. Blowing off steam (that is personal goal but it may have no affect on your business)

4. Boost LinkedIn numbers

5. Find UX testers

6. Meet investors

7. Nurture relationship with particular person you know is attending that event (as part of lead nurturing tactic)

8. Find startups who need help with getting funding of $25,000-$1,000,000+ (which is our goal)

For each networking event, have a goal. As long as we know why we are going and what we are hoping to expect from the opportunity, our business strategy will look more and more clear every day.

Check out our upcoming events on https://www.venturx.ca/events and Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram LIVE!

 

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About VenturX

VenturX is a web platform that helps entrepreneurs through their journey from idea to launch and beyond. VenturX uses data-driven analytics to score and connect startups and investors at Seed and Series A financing.

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3 Erreurs commises par les Startups: Sur quoi se concentrent les jeunes startups à part leurs Métriques?

Les startups en phase de démarrage ont énormément de choses à faire. Au fil de leur progression, leurs jours semblent de plus en plus courts. J’ai trouvé que beaucoup d’entre elles consacraient beaucoup de temps dans des choses à moyen et long terme plutôt que de se concentrer sur le présent. Lorsque je leur demande quelles sont les métriques sur lesquelles elles se concentrent, ce qui est important pour elles, etc… la variété de réponses obtenues est surprenante.

Cet article passe en revue les 3 erreurs les plus commises par les startups et explique comment un recentrage sur ses métriques remet les choses en perspective. Gardez à l’esprit que nous nous concentrons sur les startups en phase de démarrage et qui viennent seulement de créer leur entreprise.

1) Pas assez d’ACTION!

Les gens vous recommanderont toujours de lire ce dernier livre sur les startups ou bien les dernières tactiques de marketing pour atteindre des sommets.

Ce n’est pas pour vous décourager d’apprendre mais l’expérience de vos actions déterminera davantage ce que vous aurez appris que vos lectures. La stratégie marketing de quelqu’un d’autre, les canaux de distribution et la négociation commerciale ne sont peut-être pas adaptés à vous. Puisque chaque entreprise est si unique, vous ne saurez jamais quelles sont les meilleures pratiques à moins que vous sortiez et expérimentiez votre activité.

« L’ambition repose sur vos actions » — Gary Vaynerchuk, Entrepreneur, Animateur du AskGaryVee Show

POINT D’ACTION: Réservez-vous un ou deux jours dédiés à la lecture, la recherche, etc. Et consacrez les autres jours à la mise en pratique. (Je peux vous dire, par expérience, que si vous lisez un livre sur les startups, vous n’avez pas besoin de le terminer pour vous entraîner).

J’aime personnellement m’informer sur le marketing des réseaux sociaux car c’est un complément à ma formation de marketing en ligne. Je consacre généralement mon Samedi à apprendre de nouvelles choses. Pour atteindre mon public cible composé de startups, j’essaye tous les réseaux sociaux afin de voir où ma clientèle cible est la plus active et engagée. Je réalise des vidéos éducatives, des retransmissions en direct et des blogs sur Youtube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter et Medium. Je cherche quotidiennement les canaux de communication qui fonctionnent les mieux afin de décider quels seront mes futurs investissements en marketing.

2) Se projeter trop loin dans le temps

Les fondateurs sont tiraillés dans tous les sens à cause des nombreuses sources d’influence qui les entourent, que ça soit l’effervescence des évènements de startups, des retours d’amis ou de la famille, des recommandations de partenariats potentiels ou encore des « tu sais à qui tu devrais parler? ». Je suis sur que vous avez des exemples en tête!

Il est peu judicieux de concentrer son énergie sur des partenariats à moyen et long terme, plutôt que de se concentrer sur le prochain essai ou projet pilote.

Exemple: N’attendez pas pour embaucher la personne parfaite qui vous aidera à mettre en place votre projet pilote ou votre test bêta plutôt que de le faire vous-même.

Je l’admets, je suis parfois tombé dans le piège mais une chose m’a encouragée à me concentrer sur les partenariats à établir maintenant, les recommandations à suivre ou bien où allouer mes précieuses 24 heures, l’analyse de mes métriques en temps-réel! (Voir diagramme ci-dessous).

POINT D’ACTION: Marquez vos futures tâches sur une durée de 1 à 3 mois. Si vous pouvez rapidement identifier les missions ou les partenariats possibles à exécuter en un mois, alors inscrivez-les dans votre calendrier sur un délai d’un mois à compter d’aujourd’hui. Vous n’avez pas besoin de tout faire d’un coup et être dépassé par la quantité de choses à faire. Quand tout cela commence à s’empiler, un tas d’opportunités peut facilement devenir un tas de distractions. Une chose pratique à faire est de trouver un rythme. S’il y a une nouvelle ressource ou un nouveau canal à explorer, mettez-le de côté jusqu’à ce que vous ayez complété ce qui est important pour le moment comme faire de votre premier projet pilote un succès!

3) Éviter ses Clients

« La vente est le remède de tous les maux » — Mark Cuban, Shark Tank de ABC, Investisseur, Entrepreneur

Comment les startups peuvent avoir ce remède si leurs clients ne sont pas le centre de leur attention?

Éviter ses clients peut être expliqué de deux façons:

a) Découverte Client: Certains entrepreneurs en phase de démarrage connaissent des cycles de procrastination avant de faire quelconque étude de marché ou enquête sur leur Product Market Fit.

POINT D’ACTION: Pour apprendre à enquêter sur votre Product Market Fit en 24 heures, référez-vous à cet article: https://medium.com/@VenturX_team/comment-trouver-son-product-market-fit-en-24-heures-c00d07c77820

(Il va vous guider à travers les différentes étapes avec des exemples concrets). Si vous voulez un modèle de questionnaire, envoyez-moi un courriel, et je vous en enverrai un!

b) Ignorer les retours de nouveaux clients et réitérer

En tant qu’être humain, nous faisons ce que nous voulons faire et non pas ce que nous devrions faire. Si c’est plus simple pour certains de travailler sur la création d’un beau site internet plutôt que de récolter des retours clients, vous pouvez être sur qu’ils concentreront leurs efforts dans l’option #1.

POINT D’ACTION: Planifiez des rendez-vous avec vos clients pour avoir leurs retours de façon régulière. Essayez de les programmer en avance. Même si vous avez de nouvelles distractions telles que des évènements de startups, embaucher des nouveaux membres dans votre équipe, etc. ces rencontres régulières vont vous assurer de rester au contact de vos clients et montrer que vous ne les évitez pas.

Afin d’avoir des retours pour le lancement du produit VenturX, je programme des appels Skype toutes les 3 semaines avec des amis en startup pour leur montrer la refonte du site et avoir leurs retours. Je contacte aussi une startup, tous les après-midis entre 14H et 16H, pour lui parler de ses Métriques VenturX. Il m’a dit qu’il préférait les notifications SMS. Pour lui montrer ma gratitude, je lui envoie ces rapports individuels journaliers depuis mon téléphone.

Sur quelles Métriques devrais-je me concentrer?

C’est une très bonne question. Une question bien détaillée dans ce livre:

« Lean Analytics: Use Data to Build a Better Startup Faster » — Alistair Croll et Benjamin Yoskovitz

Ils expliquent que les startups devraient se concentrer sur une métrique à la fois, et que cela dépend du type d’industrie et de leur phase de développement. Voici un diagramme détaillé provenant du livre:

Avez-vous découvert dans quelle phase vous vous positionnez?

Génial!

Pouvez-vous déterminer quelle métrique est la plus importante?

Excellent travail!

Maintenant vous pouvez inverser la formule pour vous débarrasser de ces 3 erreurs commises par les startups en phase de démarrage!

Gardez en tête que même si ces informations proviennent principalement de nos observations de startups en phase de démarrage et de jeunes entrepreneurs, de nouvelles informations sont amenées à venir!

Il pourrait y avoir plus qu’une métrique que vous allez pointer du doigt comme un faible Product Market Fit ou des finances trop basses.

En tant que chercheuse dans le monde des startups, je souhaitais vous partager mes observations sur cette industrie fascinante. J’espère qu’avec ce simple guide, les débuts de votre entreprise seront sans heurt! Si vous avez des questions concernant vos métriques, envoyez-moi un courriel à l’adresse sydney.wong@venturx.ca et nous jetterons un coup d’œil ensemble!

 

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About VenturX

VenturX is a web platform that helps entrepreneurs through their journey from idea to launch and beyond. VenturX uses data-driven analytics to score and connect startups and investors at Seed and Series A financing.

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From Zero to Thirty Clients in Less Than 3 Months

The journey of how a solo tech founder, Arvind, cracked sales and grew his client base at Infosec Future.

 

India is world’s fastest growing startup ecosystem where 3–4 new firms are born every day. We have grown significantly in the past five years and are expected to grow 10–12% YOY for the next five years till 2020.

This boom has also led to the evolution of many service-based companies catering to the requirements of the startups.

There are around 9k Indian companies on AngelList with the “Service” tag.(Its shocking right?)

 

Angel List

Angel List

Credits: AngelList

On top of this, you will find every second person calling him a freelancer these days. (The power of social media)

It has become very difficult for a company to differentiate and standout in this highly competitive marketplace.

Read through this interview to know:

“How Arvind found his niche, differentiated in the marketplace and cracked sales being from a technical background.”

This is the second interview of the series “PushInterview: Interviews that helps you Pushstart” powered by Pushstart.

Check out our first interview “How I built one of the most active startup community of India” if you missed it out.

Who are you?

My name is Dr. Arvind K. Singh, and I am an information security researcher, speaker, and consultant.

I did masters in Computer Science from IIT-Patna and pursued Ph.D. in Information Assurance and Security from Colorado Technical University-USA.

From the past 3 months, I have been working on building Infosec Future Pvt Ltd — a company providing complete cybersecurity services specifically designed for startups and SMEs.

Since our launch in August 2017, we’ve grown our client base from zero to thirty.

2. What’s the deal with Infosec Future?

Well, the deal is in its name. The most valuable asset at present is “Information”. It is the information, which holds our future.

Information stored in digital form, is accessible from anywhere in this world just by the click of a button. It is its security which matters the most to secure our future.

We, at Infosec Future, are trying to secure the future of our society, by securing information.

Our services include annual security audits, penetration testing, threat modeling, readiness awareness, application testing, software development life cycle security integration, security code review, and more.

3. What motivated you to start Infosec Future?

When I came back to India in March 2017, I was astonished by the scale at which data and processes were getting digitized. Digital India, a mission started in the year 2015, had turned into a revolution.

But no one was aware of the threat it possessed. The threat to information security.

A few months back, Aadhar card (unique and universal identity card for the citizens of India) data was hacked by a person in less than 6 hours.

Our whole economy can be shutdown, just at the click of a button, from practically anywhere in this world.

Two factors which play a vital role:

  1. Lack of awareness and resources.
  2. The high cost of security.

Being an entrepreneur myself, (I started a company called CyberInjection in the USA in Nov-2014, which was later acquired by Federal Government in mid-2016), I knew that startups are always tight on their budget.

With this domain being untouched by the leaders in cyber security, I saw an opportunity here to provide affordable cyber security. And this is how, the journey of Infosec Future Began.

4. What all went into building the MVP?

“Idea validation is the most important step in a service-based startup where MVP is the founder.”

For the month of May and June, I was out there meeting entrepreneurs, discussing about their startups, trying to figure out:

  1. What challenges are they facing in terms of information security?
  2. How are they handling it currently?
  3. What are their future plans?

I would tell them about my idea and offer my experience and expertise. I personally went to 13 meet-ups, in 7 cities, and met hundreds of Entrepreneurs.

Meeting and interacting with entrepreneurs greatly helped me identify the core problem and develop an enormous amount of market insights. Some of them were:

  1. Almost one-tenth of the entrepreneurs I met, had already faced attacks or have been a victim of hacking in the past.
  2. Half of them were completely aware of the risk but couldn’t proceed due to the high cost.
  3. While rest of them were not even aware.

After processing the insights and doing my homework, it was time to validate my idea. So, I reached out to people, on LinkedIn and Facebook (I personally don’t use any other Social media platform except these two), and introduced them to my idea.

As I knew that startups are always tight on their budget and security is an ongoing process, I kept the offering to be low-cost subscription based.

I got such an overwhelming response from the community that I instantly registered Infosec Future. Getting Startup India recognition within 72 hours of registration further bolstered my belief.

This was when, I realized that we have built our MVP, and it was time to go live, go practical, and go after securing the startup ecosystem.

5. How did you get your initial clients and how did it grow?

I am a complete techie and I had no idea about sales and marketing when I was starting out. So, I took the most logical step of feeding on social channels to get the initial clients.

There are tons of startup communities out there on Facebook. Become part of them and connect with your target audience.

would start the conversation by talking about their startup and giving ample amount of time to express themselves.

“People like talking about themselves, it is human psychology. Just give them what they like.”

And then, it was always the other person who would ask about me and my startup. Since I had patiently listened to their idea, they would happily give me time, and thus, none of my conversations went into vain.

We either ended up signing a MoU or becoming friends. Either way, my network was increasing day by day. I got the first few clients even when I didn’t have a proper website.

In September, when we started our operations as a team, this cold-reach out helped us get 10 clients in the very first month. By mid-October, we had on-boarded 20 clients.

The thing which has helped us grow rapidly is our unconventional approach of starting a two-way interaction and genuine conversations rather than up-selling.

The strategy we implemented was simple yet effective :

  1. Start the conversation by talking about their idea.
  2. Listen to them patiently and provide your valuable feedback. Tell them what you like about their initiative.
  3. Try to figure out the core problems that they are facing currently.
  4. Never sell directly, rather try educating them about the depth of the problem.
  5. And then offer your experience and expertise as the solution.

Some screenshots to make things more understandable:

How I usually start a conversation:

How I usually start a conversation

How I usually break the first barrier to a fruitful introduction:

How I usually break the first barrier of a fruitful introduction

Do note that this strategy worked well for us because our product was unique, affordable and solved a core problem.”

6. What is your business model and how have you grown your revenue?

Our business model is similar to any other company catering in the service industry which is to deliver satisfactory services to the client in return for a monthly or annual fee.

We provide an annual subscription for our security packages targeting different segments in various industries.

Our package starts with securing a single website to a whole network of websites, which grants us the opportunity to work with a startup throughout their growth journey.

Growth in revenue till now has been largely dependent upon the growth in our client base.

“Our unique and affordable offering, core-problem solving service, and an unconventional approach to on-boarding clients have helped us in growing our client base and thus the revenue.”

How our revenue has grown in the last 3 months:

August: Rs 9000

September: Rs 27000

October: Rs 84000

7. What are your future goals and how do you plan to achieve them?

Our long-term goal is to secure data of every startup and SME of India and capture 50% of the market share in the next 5 years.

The immediate short-term goal is to secure data of 2000 Indian startups and SMEs by the end of 2018.

We have opted for balanced outbound and inbound strategy with upfront value to the market by quality content and free reports to achieve this.

Further on the product front, we are in the process of automating the complete process of the security audit, job allocation to teams, and report generation for various tests. Currently, this is in its prototype stage and will hopefully launch in the first quarter of 2018.

We are also building a free security audit tool, which will be embedded on our website, so that people can check the basic security details of their website, without even interacting with us. This will help us in capturing precise leads at scale.

Growing average revenue per client is also one of our major goals.

“For growing revenue especially in the service industry: It is all about maintaining healthy retention, as acquiring a new customer is comparatively costlier than retaining the current one.”

Therefore, to grow retention for Infosec Future, we have laid down a separate client servicing strategy which even includes remembering our clients’ birthday and we soon will be hiring relationship managers for the same.

8. The biggest challenges you have faced till now and how did you cope with them?

The first challenge I faced was to get a decent website developed for Infosec Future. I worked with two freelancers and an agency for three months, but nothing really kicked-off. I was not at all satisfied with their work.

In the end, I decided to work on my website. I designed a good looking website in just 2 days with the help of WordPress.

“If you can’t find a person with the required skill, learn that skill and become that person.”

The biggest challenge I have faced till now is to onboard quality like-minded folks in my team. Sadly, the first three people I employed, left within the first month of joining. I coped with this challenge by hiring interns for every function of my company.

My background and profile have helped me in hiring interns from some of the top Business Schools in India. You will be shocked to know that I am currently working with 27 interns and it is somehow working out for me.

Team @ Infosec Future:

Team @ Infosec Future

9. What is your advice to Pushstarters starting out?

“Focus on giving rather than taking. Give all you have to offer to your clients, without expecting anything in return. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.”

Don’t go around hunting for clients, rather build a strong network of friends.

Innovation is about “How you do things rather than What you do”. Being an entrepreneur, you are the biggest innovation. Believe in yourself, things will fall into place eventually.

10. How can we reach out to you?

You can visit infosecfuture.com to learn more about us.

Connect with guest blogger on LinkedInFacebookEmail or Skype if you want to geek out about startups.

 

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About VenturX

VenturX is a web platform that helps entrepreneurs through their journey from idea to launch and beyond. VenturX uses data-driven analytics to score and connect startups and investors at Seed and Series A financing.

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