Donald IrionEntrepreneur, business developer and B2C marketer

30+ years developing enterprise software and marketing solutions for packaged goods brands, grocery chains, mass merchants and pharmacies. Marketing plans, segmentation, analytics, campaign development and measurement. 4 start-ups as well as executive leadership positions with Valassis/VRMS and Catalina Marketing.

Recent Answers

If the investor is a rich uncle who would do anything for you, pitch it today! :) Most people aren't that lucky so they prepare an elevator pitch (Think "Shark Tank") and business plan. Your pitch should describe your vision, the service, the potential value of your business, the amount of money you need and what you're offering early stage investors. Form an advisory committee to help you with your plan and find investors. While you work on your pitch and plan, start thinking about investors who might be interested. For example, investors/managers who understand the space and had success with a similar / related offering would give you a quick dose of reality about your service and your proposition to customers and investors. Angels with related experience and potential customers are good prospects too. One way to appeal to potential investors is with reviews / quotes from potential customers and former managers / owners of related / similar offerings. Test results with testimonials from the user/customer is the best proof. Let me know if you need help with your pitch, plan or start-up.

Build a PowerPoint presentation that describes a) your company and vision b) the problem your product solves or the opportunity it creates for the customer, c) a description of your product including pictures of a non-functional prototype d) the fee you plan to charge and additional / optional services you will provide and finally e) summarize the benefits / ROI for the customer. Should be about 20 minutes or so. When you schedule introductory meetings, leave an additional 20 minutes after your presentation for feedback and discussion. Present your deck to a few prospects, refining/improving after each meeting. After a few meetings, you'll have a much better idea of the size of your opportunity and, equally important, launch timing and/or sales cycle. Instead of a beta followed by X% of the market will yield Y revenue, build a two or three year launch plan that says you will add X customers the 1st month, Y the 2nd, etc. That will give you a better understanding of cash flow and the timing for adding product development, sales and marketing resources. Good luck. I'm available if you need help.

I'm glad I have one. Among other things, it gave me a head start in understanding organizations and how to work with people. When I was in graduate school, I thought the accounting, finance and economics courses would be most important to my future business career. After graduating and gaining more real world experience, I discovered how challenging it can be to reorganize or restructure as a business grows and changes. I wish I had taken more management and organization courses.

Let's start with the assumption that you know your business cold. If that's the case, go with your gut every time.

Here's why: Whether you're running a big or small business, you must know it inside and out - you know every business process and the needs and wants of your people, the strengths and weaknesses of your sales team and, most important, the sales and profit contribution of your key customers. You're in touch with those customers and know why sales went up or down before you see the numbers from your finance team, accountant and IT department. Month and quarter end numbers don't surprise you because you monitor KPIs on your executive dashboard daily. When you notice a questionable number on a dashboard or financial report, you dig deeper to ensure you understand it. Finally, you have a vision for where you want to take your business. If all that's true, you can make gut decisions without having to look at reams of numbers which you already understand and experienced first hand. If you don't trust your gut something's wrong. If that's the case, call a consultant like me to help you figure out why.

Sorry to see you haven't had any answers to date. Maybe mine will provoke thoughtful answers from others. I'll get started by saying that I've been in your boat. "Never been done before" and "radical new approach" create excitement for entrepreneurs but fear (e.g. "I'm not touching that!") for some investors. Nevertheless, my opinion (with little to go by) is to not let that stop you. Present your new concept in all its glory. Develop a powerful overview which will generate a big "WOW" from investors. Include practical examples that bring the concept to life from a client's perspective. Describe total start-up costs, delivery costs, customer benefits and a phased implementation to minimize the upfront investment. Your phased implementation plan will reduce the fear you created when you described the concept and the total investment required before the business generates cash. Example: Phase I: Convert the concept into a service and define a sales pitch approved by an advisory group. Phase II: Prove a key component on a small scale or limited scope test. Incorporate standard controls in your test design so investors trust the test results vs. existing methods. Phase III: Expand the test with additional components, an expanded scope and/or an additional client. Each phase should conclude with additional investment for the next phase. Whether there are 3, 4 or 5 phases in the schedule depend on what you have to prove before roll-out. Positive results after each phase will build investor confidence and gradually improve your chances for long term success. I would be happy to help you create the plan and overview.

So, you’re a start-up but you have a full suite of BI tools now. Since you can handle all BI needs, I assume a) you can work with a variety of warehouses and marts including structured, unstructured, location and raw data and b) offer ad hoc analysis, querying, reporting, data visualization and dashboards. You may have tools, or at least some experience, with mobile and real-time BI, data mining and predictive analytics. You’ll need two sales decks. The “long” deck must a) explain who you are and what you offer, b) describe how you implement and support your tools/services, c) prove you can do what you say and d) explain your fee structure and the benefits of your BI tools to your prospect. Your challenge is to convince skeptical prospects that you’ll generate a positive ROI with real world examples. The short deck is based on the long deck: it can be read in two minutes and gets you in the door for face to face meetings. A comparison of your BI tools vs. well known competitors should be included in some versions of the short and long decks. Your proof (c above) is a demonstration with case studies – they will garner most of the prospect’s attention in the face to face meetings. Devote most of these meeting to the case studies. You’ll need sales, operational and financial data, and perhaps industry data, from two or better yet three companies for the case studies. The data must be at scale. A sales demonstration based on sample data will not convince skeptical VPs of Technology that you can handle their data. Creating powerful case studies takes time but it’s doable. Approach previous employers, former clients, companies owned by one of your investors or companies that you know need BI tools. Offer free services in exchange for data if necessary. Offer to anonymize the data and only use it for sales purposes. Each case study in your sales presentation should include examples of how your BI tools identify top or bottom line improvement opportunities. The case studies must knock the prospect’s socks off. Your price (or pricing structure) should include a promise to deliver X times the price in top or bottom line improvements within Y period. I would be happy to help you create the sales deck, particularly the case studies which are so critical to your success, and a pricing strategy.

You're not the first entrepreneur in that position - its a common problem. I'm semi-retired (consulting / project work only), a former serial entrepreneur and I've been in similar circumstances. The good news is that investors will view the existence of one or more competitors as a positive because it validates market need. However, you'll have to explain your advantage(s) and why you'll succeed. Start with a clean sheet of paper and create three one page documents: a) a clear description of your planned offering including the customers it serves, the need it meets, the value it adds and your success factors b) a side by side comparison of your offering vs. your competitor's on the basis of features, functions, services, etc. from the customer's perspective and finally, c) the advantages and disadvantages of your offering vs. competitors. The answer as to your question about whether to enter the market should emerge from that evaluation. If you're offering is EXACTLY the same as your competitor's, the first mover has a BIG advantage. If that's the case, you'll have to modify your offering to create a clear advantage in some part of the market. I'd be happy to help you with the evaluation or the planning process.

I have first hand experience with that challenge having developed and sold applications and SaaS solutions for 30+ years and been approached by system integrators searching for partnerships many times. Application providers want answers to the following questions: "What does the integrator bring to the table other than custom development expertise? Does the integrator have experience implementing applications like mine? How can they improve my client's chances of success? Do they want to become a competitor?" My recommendation is to focus on one type of business challenge in one industry at a time, become knowledgeable about the unique requirements in each industry then develop tools that will accelerate implementation, lower administration costs and/or improve the effectiveness of the applications. For example, data curation is critical for most enterprise applications so curation tools must be purchased or developed. Your sales team must thoroughly understand the industry's requirements, demonstrate the tools and explain how you can enhance the application provider's business. My expertise is in developing and selling enterprise marketing applications but I am sure that I could move to the other side of the table and help you create long lasting, mutually beneficial partnerships that will grow your business. Happy to follow-up.

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