Getting Started: Preparing for the world of entrepreneurial adventure (Attitude)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

Although you’ve completed years of education and gained some experience, cialis there is still much to learn.  Whether this reality hits you as daunting, exciting, or somewhere in between, you probably don’t realize just how much your attitude matters when facing future learning.  Many of us were raised with reminders to “think positive”, but probably didn’t realize just how important this is when facing something new.  This concept is particularly relevant in the startup world.

Generating success isn’t just about getting something new to “work”; but rather, in the case of startup companies that require assistance and investment from others, it’s more about what comes along with the quest for capital.  Investors tend to have many choices where they can put their money, and there are often far more options than what can be financed.  For this reason, those with capital have the latitude to select the opportunities that represent the best “fit”, in terms of returns and the ease of getting there.  A big part of this has to do with attitude.

Why it Matters

One of the “screens” that early stage investors tend to use to evaluate investment opportunities is the attitude of a company’s leadership, particularly in terms of responsiveness to advice.  For all that is known, there is much more to learn, and investors typically bring a host of knowledge that is critical to moving a young company forward.  Although they might not understand all of the intricacies of a startup’s technology platform, investors understand enough to generate success, as well as many other things that entrepreneurs typically don’t have the depth of experience to appreciate.

What is powerful is when experience and emerging ideas come together to build something that is both competitively advantageous and soundly executed.  In order to do so, startups need to be receptive to good advice and demonstrate an ability to work well with those who have more experience than they do.  What many startups don’t realize is that investors have better things to do than fight with entrepreneurs who will never see the light, and, as a result, will bypass these situations for more productive opportunities.  Don’t let this happen to your business!

Get Started

Experienced investors know that smart entrepreneurs will do whatever they can to reduce the risk of rejection.  Since grace in times of what could be a hearty dose of reality isn’t a given, take the opportunity to get some practice; here’s how:

  • Learn how to focus on “breathing”: If you’re not in the routine of receiving constructive criticism, it’s time to get used to it.  When facing times of difficult questions or advice, learn how to respond.  Practicing how to reflect on the question, “count to 10”, or give all ideas a “positive life” for a period of time can help.
  • Reflect on what you don’t know: Step 1: Accept the fact that you don’t know everything.  Step 2:  Accept the fact that there are things that you will be wrong about.  Step 3:  Make an active effort to learn about what you don’t know.  Step 4:  Reconcile the first three steps and move forward with a positive attitude, not grudgingly or with resentment.
  • Refresh research skills: Although it might be easy to find information online and think that this alone addresses the question or combats the advice, this is only half the battle.  Investors know that understanding what to do with the information is what really matters.  Think about it.
  • Practice developing responses: Startups seeking capital will be asked a lot of questions and face a great deal of advice.  Make the most of these opportunities (yes, these are opportunities!) by learning how to address inquiries directly with responses that are thorough and relevant, yet concise, and then utilize “smart advice” for all it’s worth!

There are lots of entrepreneurs who take the position that pushing forward with reckless abandon is what matters; be difficult, be original, never surrender.  The reality is that when investment capital from others is needed, this type of approach just doesn’t cut it, and although some things might be worth fighting for, the list should be short.  Failing to do so can result in alienating the audience that startups have such a critical need to engage in order to move forward; one that’s counting on your positive attitude.

EVENT: CVCA Insights, Data Release Roadshow (Apr 6th, Halifax)

Pleased to be co-sponsoring this event with innovacorp!

Join us for a morning of networking to mark another great year in the private capital industry.  The CVCA‘s Chief Executive Officer, Mike Woollatt, will discuss the 2015 Market Overview, including transaction and fundraising data, most active Venture Capital and Private Equity investors, top firms, rising investment sectors, and other insights.

Registration is required by March 30, 2016 and seating is limited.  Reserve your place today!

Accounting for Business Growth and Transition Course Now Available!

I’m pleased to announce that my new course, Accounting for Business Growth and Transition, is now available!

Growing companies are dynamic places and there are a number of specialized issues that could arise during the lifecycle of a business. These include the complexities related to expanded operations, entering new markets, and undertaking business transactions.  It’s critical to understand these areas proactively, as well as how to add value to the company during the process.

Too many companies barely manage to do the minimum; resulting in the accounting function being little more than a place where transactions are recorded and reports are filed away.  The opportunity to learn how to develop and manage an accounting function that not only helps to improve operations on a day-to-day basis, but also provides a valuable support in times of transition is a powerful one!

This course addresses a range of areas that might be encountered during the evolution and growth of a company. Topics include organizational structures, consolidated financial statements, foreign exchange, due diligence requirements, and understanding approaches for structuring a business transaction.  Those who work in the accounting function will gain an understanding of how to take a leadership role in creating a value centered department that can play a key role in not only a company’s current operations, but also in whatever the future might hold.  Register today!

 

 

Getting Started: Preparing for the world of entrepreneurial adventure (Early Stage Financing)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

One thing that most start up companies have in common is a lack of resources, search including people, order capital, and “stuff”. The root of this shortfall (or the thing that can resolve it) is money, something that can be hard to come by in the startup world.  Once entrepreneurs have exhausted their own funds, and often that of friends, family, and anyone else they can convince, the only remaining option is to find an investor.  This is a big step for many young companies, as it represents the first time that the money ask goes outside of “the circle”.

There’s another important reason why approaching an investor is such a significant step, and it is simply this: most entrepreneurs have no idea what investors need to know in order to make an investment decision. Put another way, investors, be they experienced angels or institutional funds (such as venture capitalists) have very specific expectations in terms of the information they require.  This includes content and format, as well as fitting within the investor’s particular mandate.  While it might sound simple, it’s anything but, and most of what investors receive doesn’t meet their needs at all.

Life in a corporate job usually doesn’t involve spending time in this area, especially in terms of just how critical it is to success. Financing matters are typically handled by others, and access to this type of external party is limited.  In this series, our focus is on understanding the significant differences between a startup environment and the corporate world so that you can place a greater amount of emphasis on developing some of the skills that will serve you well in advance of when they’re actually needed.   So far, areas we’ve considered include risk, rejection, and money.  Understanding the expectations of early stage investors couldn’t be more important!

Why it Matters

Entrepreneurs tend to show a lot of confidence when discussing the topic of investors. They’re excited about the product/service they’ve developed, and generally expect that others will be equally impressed.  Comments like “so-and-so wants to invest” or “is ready to cut a cheque” are often heard, but as the process moves forward, these seemingly slam-dunk situations tend to fade.  Impressed or not, entrepreneurs are often left to wonder where the money went.

A big part of the reason for this is that young companies lack the ability to package an investment opportunity in a manner that meets the needs of investors. Be it the business plan that lacks context, too much emphasis on the product, or a financial forecast with questionable assumptions (or none at all; startups can’t forecast!), investors aren’t buying.  Entrepreneurs tend to respond by offering up information that is used to run the business, or even worse, more technical information, in the hopes that the tide will turn.  No such luck.

Get Started

Not understanding the needs of early stage investors is a very common problem in the start up world. Rise above it by taking the time to understand what investors want to know, well in advance of when the bank account is empty:

  • Research the topic of early stage financing: Venture capital and angel investing are specialized areas that are not understood well, and reading about it in a text book isn’t sufficient. Tap into resources produced by investor networks, associations, and similar sources to understand how it works and the preparation that is required.
  • Recognize that investors have specific needs: Many entrepreneurs simply do not do this. They believe that all they have to do is provide “what they have” and the investor will adapt. In a world where deal opportunities vastly outnumber the supply of capital, this isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.
  • Learn how to write a business plan: Bypass the folklore that “investors don’t read business plans”; they do. In addition, they challenge entrepreneurs on their business model, target markets, and the financial outcome of implementing the plan. All of these areas are very difficult to address well in the absence of having developed an investor ready business plan.
  • Network with experienced advisors: Those who specialize in the area of early stage financing have a clear understanding what is needed to raise the likelihood of getting to yes. Although there are no guarantees in life, their expertise can be invaluable. Look for those with a demonstrated early stage financing background, such as a former venture capitalist.
  • Practice accepting rejection gracefully: As simple as it sounds, doing this well can be the difference between ultimately receiving capital and burning your bridges. Chances are, you won’t raise money on the first (or even on the tenth!) try, so learn how to make the most of these interactions by asking questions, seeking out network contacts, and leaving a professional impression. Too many entrepreneurs do the opposite.

Thinking that your product or service is so great that investors will line up to put money in is a path to failure. If there is a scenario out there where all of the stars will line up to secure easy capital, chances are, it won’t be your company.  These are rough lessons that are best learned before they happen, so take the time to understand the complex world of early stage investing and prepare for it.

The Succession Conundrum: Business leaders, the weak link to successors, and the companies who try to finance them (Part 2)

Published by the Canadian Venture Capital Association in Private Capital

If succession planning is a challenge for business leaders, find potential successors might describe the process as mysterious.  While a business leader or founder has typically been at the helm of a company for some time (if not a prolonged period of time, viagra 60mg in many cases), potential successors are often just trying to find a way to get to the table.  One day, the founder is keen to “step back” from the company, while the next day, “retirement” seems vague and far in the future.  For someone wanting to aspire to a leadership (and ownership) role, this type of situation can be a difficult to deal with on an ongoing basis.

Whether a potential successor is a longstanding “2-IC” (2nd in Command), management team group, or family member, their vantage point might provide relatively little information in terms of how the company actually operates, the business leader’s true expectations around succession, and what it would actually take for a transaction to occur.  Add in the mixed messages that can be so common with the issue of succession and it might be enough to cause a potential successor to scramble for the door, vowing to create an opportunity all their own (and on their own terms).

This reality should be sufficient to get the attention of business leaders who are contemplating succession, if not outright relying on it as a means to monetize their ownership position.  Given that a recent survey conducted by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (1) found that the top barrier to succession planning is finding a buyer/suitable successor (56%), those seeking to exit their business should recognize that finding (and keeping) a potential successor is not to be taken lightly.  Unfortunately, too many potential successors find just the opposite to be the case.

The Successor Perspective

Something that many potential successors have in common is that they are keen; to implement their ideas, take the company in a new direction, and just “get started”.  Many have a reasonable expectation that succession will occur at some point in time, either by virtue of previous conversations on the topic, or perhaps, in the case of a family business, where succession is “expected”.  Call it an informal succession plan.

As a result, potential successors want to better understand how and when a transaction might occur.

This is particularly true in the case of individuals who have invested a number of years working in a company, learning how it operates and directly contributing to building its wealth.  They reach a certain age or point in their careers when they truly need to know: (i) if a succession opportunity actually exists; (ii) when it would occur; and (iii) what the financial implications would be, particularly in terms of the cost to undertake the transaction.  In the absence of this information, a successor’s next best alternative is to move on to other opportunities, and given the effort they have invested in building the company (often, to the direct benefit of a shareholder group in which they are not included), this is understandable.

The Opportunity

Identifying a qualified and willing successor is only the beginning of the succession process, as there is often still plenty of learning to do in order to fully assume and conduct the leadership role.  But even before this can happen, the parties need to be able to arrive at an agreeable value and the successor has to have the ability to pay, either by way of their own funds or through securing financing (in the absence of either of these options, it often comes down to the departing business leader to agree to be paid over time).  Since the  Canadian Federation of Independent Business survey found that valuing the business (54%) and securing financing for the successor (48%) are the second and third highest reported barriers to succession planning, all involved in the process need to take note.

For potential successors to chart their course, there are a number of things that can be done on a proactive basis to better understand the particulars of the opportunity, as well as getting a plan into place.  Seeking advice from those who have undertaken or financed business transactions can help to bring context to the situation, in terms of its appeal and how to help move the process forward.  Here’s how:

Look in the mirror. The truth is, not everyone is cut out for a leadership role. Leading a company, in terms of both the role and ownership aspects, can be significantly different from the experiences of a potential successor thus far, including the scope of responsibility, level of risk, and degree of commitment.  As an example, in the event of insufficient cash flow, owners typically bear the responsibility to inject additional funds or decrease their own compensation to cover shortfalls.  This type of uncertainty might fall outside of a potential successor’s risk tolerance level.

Potential successors need to take a hard look at all aspects of assuming a leadership role, objectively balancing both the risks and rewards of ownership.  Advisors can help by providing independent feedback or helping successors to undertake a self assessment to better understand the types of roles in which they fit best, before proceeding any further.

Assess the situation objectively. Due to the inherent uncertainty that often clouds the succession process, potential successors need to be able to get to the heart of the situation, to first understand whether or not an opportunity actually exists.  This uncertainty is a relatively common frustration, and the reality is that succession is only going to happen if a business leader is committed to undertaking the process.

Advisors can help potential successors to see the situation for what it is, as well as suggest approaches to further discussions with the business leader or how succession could occur.  In addition, successors might need to take action to put the situation in context, by identifying other possible succession opportunities as a comparison.  Although business leaders might not like this very much, the reality is that there are situations where succession simply will not occur, no matter how much a founder might indicate otherwise.

Communicate.  Given that succession can be a sensitive topic, it’s not uncommon for the parties to have difficulty having meaningful conversations around the issue; this can be particularly true in family businesses.  Since succession represents a complex business transaction with numerous details to be considered and negotiated, it won’t just magically happen.  Given the sensitivities, these conversations tend to get deferred and delayed, making succession seem less likely as each day passes.

Starting the succession dialogue between the parties is critical, to map out an agreeable approach, but to also identify situations where an arrangement might not be possible, allowing both sides to pursue other opportunities.  Advisors can help to start the conversation in a non-confrontation manner, in an attempt to find common ground, where it exists, and cover off areas that need to be addressed.  This approach can also help to fill in knowledge and experience gaps that are common in the case of potential successors.

Financial implications. Discussing money is often tough, not just because of the calculations and various financing structures, but simply because the parties might find it difficult on a personal level.  In the case of family businesses, parents might be sensitive to the financial situation of their children, while the next generation might be concerned about not “offering enough” as compensation for all of the work that has been put in to building the company.  Couple this with a founder’s understandable desire to receive fair compensation to finance the retirement they have been dreaming of and negotiations can stall.

Potential successors often do not have a lot of experience in this area, and financial partners can be helpful in terms of transferring knowledge and suggesting approaches that could meet the needs of all parties.  Regardless, those who are serious about taking on a leadership and ownership role at some point in the future need to ensure that their professional development program includes business financing, sooner rather than later.

Although it’s true that good successors are in short supply, all potential successors need to take a hard look at not only what is required of them, but also whether or not the opportunity at hand is viable.  In times of investment (and that’s what succession is), bringing a professional approach to the table is a must to ensure that the right deal gets done.

Source:

Passing on the Business to the Next Generation, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, 2012

The Succession Conundrum: Business leaders, the weak link to successors, and the companies who try to finance them (Part 1)

Published by the Canadian Venture Capital Association in Private Capital

Business succession planning is tricky; part old, medications part new, part money, part emotion; it’s no wonder that so many business leaders put it off.  The reality is that an abundance of Canada’s small to medium sized businesses (more than half, according to a survey conducted by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business) don’t have a succession plan at all.  Since companies in this category are responsible for generating approximately one half of the Canadian economy, there is undoubtedly cause for concern.

Consider some of the key survey findings (1):

  • 51% of business leaders surveyed indicated that they don’t have a business succession plan.  Of the 49% that have a plan, only 9% have a formal, written plan
  • Approximately 48% of business leaders plan to exit their company within the next five years
  • 48% plan to exit their business by selling to buyers unrelated to their family, while approximately 37% plan to sell or transfer the business to family members
  • The top barriers to succession planning include finding a buyer/suitable successor (56%), valuing the business (54%), and securing financing for the successor (48%)

Those who have even a moderate interest in the issue of business succession likely realize that various surveys and sources of information have yielded similar results.  Delving beneath the surface, however, reveals interesting implications for business leaders, their potential successors, and those who seek to finance the transition, some of which should be sufficient to kick-start those seeking an exit anytime soon into action.

The Business Leader Perspective

Since over 85% of business leaders surveyed identified retirement as their reason for exit, it stands to reason that many have invested a considerable amount of time and effort into building their company.  As a result, a transfer of ownership represents the primary opportunity to monetize value that has appreciated over what could be a lengthy period of time.  Although this increase might be significant as compared to that of inception, business leaders are often dissatisfied with the offers they receive, which reinforces the need for thorough, early, and practical succession planning to maximize value wherever possible.

What’s even more compelling is how dependent a business leader’s ability to cash out at what they consider to be an acceptable value actually is upon the ability to identify a potential successor who has the: (i) skills to lead the business; (ii) interest in doing so; and (iii) ability to secure financing.  This is a tall order, since many successor candidates might only meet one or two of these requirements.  Couple this with a lack of experience in terms of developing a business plan to take a company forward in a manner that provides the necessary level of comfort to secure enough financing to close the deal.  In the absence of third party financing, business leaders are left with the gamble of whether or not the company, under new leadership, will be able to generate a sufficient amount of cash over time to pay what could be a significant portion of the proceeds related to the transfer of ownership, a scenario that doesn’t end well far too often.

The Opportunity

Business leaders and those in the financing field both have a vested interest in terms of how Canada’s succession planning future plays out; the former wants to cash out and the latter wants to roll cash back in.  In order to avoid a time-consuming stalemate in a situation where time is of the essence, an opportunity exists to help potential successors become real successors, by providing the tools to take companies forward; the right skills, plan, and leadership ability (and a bit of extra effort to help get the deal past the goal line wouldn’t hurt!).  Here’s how:

Business leader skills. Many potential successors have played a second tier role in their careers, without having had the opportunity to ascend to the CEO level. Since the top job can be quite different from what has been the experience thus far, potential successors need a transfer of knowledge, mentoring, and practice in abundance, prior to formally assuming the CEO role.

Existing business leaders can help by creating professional development plans, delegating areas of responsibility in a meaningful way, and taking the time to provide practical mentorship.  Potential successors often complain that leaders don’t take the time to provide meaningful coaching; sadly, this is too often the case.  Doing so can be the difference between a well prepared leader and one who stumbles out of the gate.

Investor ready business planning. Many potential successors don’t have experience with developing a business plan that is sufficient to secure financing, let alone the process of raising capital.  Business leaders who have lost interest in the company, not stepped up internal planning and control processes, or haven’t had the need to seek financing for long periods of time don’t help the process, resulting in a lack of information and competitive positioning to develop a compelling business plan.

Business leaders can make sound business planning a reality by ensuring that the right systems and information are in place within the company to support successors in putting together a plan that can be financed.  Making the effort to critique existing business models, consider new markets, and understand important industry developments can help to identify opportunities for the company well into the future, all of which bodes well with financial partners, and, in turn, benefits those who are seeking to exit.

Leadership ability. Those who have spent years at the helm of a company understand the importance of leadership skills, particularly in terms of the impact to the business as a whole.  Being a good manager doesn’t ensure that a company will be well led, a reality that is too often overlooked when passing the torch.

Recognizing the value of practical leadership development programs and forums and encouraging involvement can help to groom the business leaders of tomorrow.  Starting well in advance and providing practical opportunities to put learning into practice are not only a powerful combination for success, this approach can also identify situations where an individual is not a good fit for a leadership role.  Business leaders that do not encourage this type of development are effectively “boxing themselves in”, in terms of viable succession options.

Facilitating the exit. Financial partners can work with companies approaching (or well past) the need for succession by bringing options to the table, in terms of acquisitions, mergers, successor candidates, and other types of transactions.  In the case where financial partners identify “to do” items to improve a company or go-forward plan to the point where a succession transaction could be financed, facilitating the introduction to advisors who can help makes all the difference, as the complexities of the succession and financing processes make it difficult for business leaders and potential successors to identify the right advisory resources.

The reality is that business leaders have to “help potential successors to help them”; the same is true for financial partners.  In the absence of this approach, it might be difficult to affect a successful transfer of ownership in many cases.  Seasoned business leaders know that a big part of their role is to create an environment that will make those around them successful; addressing the issue of succession really isn’t any different, in this regard.

Where does this leave potential successors?  This topic will be considered in the next installment of The Succession Conundrum.

Source:

(1)  Passing on the Business to the Next Generation, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, 2012

Go Big or Go Home: What does it take to build a great company?

Published by the Canadian Venture Capital Association in Private Capital

If early stage companies know little about the expectations of venture capitalists (see Bridging the Gap, malady Spring 2011 edition of Private Capital), they probably know even less about the working relationship between the two parties post-investment.  While VC’s might see the next steps as obvious (“let’s go and build a great company!”), early stage companies may be exhausted and overwhelmed from the due diligence and closing process and may simply be wishing for things to return to normal; but will their world ever be “normal” again?  Most VC’s certainly hope not.

If the devil is in the details, the challenge is in the goal: taking a largely unproven, early stage business and building it into a great company.  To a VC, this means the elusive “big win”; the company that grows from mere obscurity to sales of $50 million, $75 million, or more.  Beyond the cash that is generated, these winning companies are leaders in their markets, innovators in their industry, and perhaps, most importantly, they share in this powerful vision of top tier growth.  They too want to build a great company, and will take whatever assistance and valuable insight they can find in order to get there.

If a journey begins with a single step, where do you start?  Surprisingly, there may not be a lot of magic in terms of starting the relationship with a new portfolio company off on the right path.  As with the preparation for raising early stage capital, the fundamentals also matter when building a business.  Although strategy is important, what can be even more critical is successful implementation (i.e., getting it done!), while being in tune with the industry and market to know when to shift gears and make the necessary changes.

Investee companies need to take the necessary steps to build the business to support future growth, and not get caught up in the status quo.  And while distractions often arise, it is critical to focus on the fundamentals and the ultimate goal, a discipline that can be difficult for young companies.

As part of this process, a number of key areas require careful and consistent attention, including:

Fundamental Area Critical Success Factors
Aligned Objectives Management buy-in to the short term and long term objectives, as well as the exit strategy.  Willingness to use experienced resources/advice to grow the company.  Consistent focus on what is in the best interest of the business
Product Focus on sustainable competitive advantage. Strong understanding of industry and market developments to guide future product development efforts.  Ability to deliver new products and product enhancements on a timely basis
Market Demonstrated ability to reach and penetrate target market(s) through an appropriate strategy (i.e., pricing, advertising, promotion, distribution, etc.).  Strong focus on competitive landscape and market developments, making necessary adjustments to grow market position
Management Management team includes those with aligned objectives, the right skills and expertise, and strong implementation skills.  Problem areas are addressed on a timely basis
Financial Results & Capital Requirements Timely and accurate financial information that is used to track progress and make adjustments where needed.  Established short term budgets and long term financial targets, as well as the necessary capital to achieve results
Exit Strategy Well developed strategy, including estimated timeline, key milestones, and exit approach.  Should consider market and industry trends and outlook

Given the importance of building the business to support future growth, management may lack the experience to do so, but can gain valuable assistance from the expertise that VC’s bring to the table.  In order to raise the likelihood of success: (i) management needs to be receptive of this type of assistance; and (ii) VC’s need to take an active role in providing it.  Although it is a given that VC’s don’t run companies, this process can mean that early stage investors might have to roll up their sleeves more than they would like, particularly when difficulties arise.  Failing to do so could result in a company that never really reaches its potential, falling well short of “great”.

Beyond providing assistance with the fundamentals, important problem areas for VC’s to play an active role in resolving include the following types of situations:

When the founder flounders Just because a CEO has what it takes to start a business and manage it in the early days does not mean that they have the skillset and desire to build a company.  It’s been said that many high growth companies have at least three CEO’s during the course of their history: one to start the business, one to grow the business, and one to position the company for exit.  All of these situations have a different focus and require different skillsets.  Chances are that all of these skillsets do not reside within a single CEO, so a change in leadership as part of the strategy should not be surprising.  It can, in fact, represent an opportunity to drive growth in each stage of development.

Where the issue can become really problematic, however, is with a CEO who is truly out of their element.  This situation can be typical with early stage companies, where: (i) one of the founders was arbitrarily put in the CEO position, but clearly lacks the necessary skillset; or (ii) the investee company hired the best CEO they could afford, on a very limited or part time budget, and got what they paid for.

In any event, VC’s need to recognize situations where the “CEO has to go” and take swift action.   Weaknesses at the top normally don’t turn around, and sub-par performance results in opportunity that is forever lost.  Although CEO recruitment is often a time consuming process, leadership is beyond important and maintaining a poor CEO and hoping for improvement does not represent a strategy for resolving the problem or for generating solid financial results.

When financial management gets no respect Many young companies underestimate the importance of the finance function, including the critical nature of timely financial information as a management tool, as well as in terms of attracting capital.  Companies with a significant technical or intellectual property component, in particular, tend to put the majority of their resources into technology or product related areas, while downplaying the need to hire a qualified Controller or CFO.

It is often up to the VC to drive change in this area, as they truly recognize just how much a good CFO can do for a company, especially when there is more capital to raise.  VC’s need to ensure that companies build a finance function that can support future growth and create the necessary level of confidence to attract future investors.  The bottom line is that sound financial management is always critical, and you simply won’t build a great company without the right resources and systems in the finance function.

When the culture isn’t a learning one Building an early stage business can be an isolating process and the founders and their team can become overly focused on internal activities.  Growing a business requires a more balanced approach, with sufficient focus being paid to customers, competitors, and market developments, as well as to internal matters.  CEO’s who tend to rest on their laurels and what they already know, without upping the knowledge ante, can be a problem, as well as a sure fire way to get stuck in the status quo.  Successful businesses are always learning, from the CEO’s office throughout the ranks, and building for growth requires new knowledge and skills.

VC’s can be an important catalyst in this regard, setting expectations for CEO’s to actively network and stress the importance of continuous learning throughout the company, as well as seeking out collaborative relationships, perhaps with other investees.  VC’s have almost constant access to industry events and professional development opportunities crossing their desk, and taking a moment to invite portfolio companies along can help to set these important expectations and fuel growth.

When the company needs more help than a VC can provide Early stage companies often lack the experience to address issues that arise, while maintaining forward motion.  This is often the case in “business as usual” situations, so imagine how much of a skill and knowledge shortfall could occur when building a company to support significant growth.  Assisting an investee company in this area could become a full time job for a VC, and that’s just not workable for the long term, given that there is an entire portfolio to manage.

Hands on advisors can be a real help in this type of situation, and VC’s should play an active role in making it happen.  Early stage companies may lack the experience to fully understand the type of resources they need to assist with a particular situation, and as a result, are often not well equipped to identify the type of assistance they require.  VC’s, on the other hand, have typically seen the same situations many times, understand what is needed to support growth, and can be in the best position to diagnose the problem and suggest a handful of qualified advisors who can help; they just need to make the effort to do so.

Helping portfolio companies go from good to great is not just about the big moments; it’s also about paying careful attention to the fundamentals and taking timely corrective action when needed.  Setting expectations of disciplined implementation, seeking out the right resources for assistance when needed, and not tolerating sub-par performance can help to make the most of investment opportunities.  It could be the difference between a breakout company and those that just plod along.

Bridging the Gap between VC’s and Entrepreneurs: A fresh look can be well worth the effort

Published by the Canadian Venture Capital Association in Private Capital

There has been plenty of talk about the state of Canada’s venture capital industry over the last few years; Are returns improving? When will fundraising levels increase? Are more deals getting done?  Although the industry, find like many others, medicine moves in cycles, there are some things that seem constant: the gap between the expectations of venture capitalists and how entrepreneurs approach fulfilling these requirements is a good example.

In times of limited capital, bridging this gap to establish the necessary common ground for an investment to occur is critical, particularly for entrepreneurs.  The great divide may be as simple as this: entrepreneurs often focus on building technologies, while VC’s focus on building companies.  Although both aspects of the equation are required in order to capitalize on a market opportunity, why is it so often a zero sum game?

While entrepreneurs are busy perfecting existing technologies, developing new ones, and perhaps focusing on securing support for ongoing research and development, venture capitalists are focused on assessing investment opportunities in terms of key business fundamentals: Product, Market, Management, Financial Requirements and Potential, and Exit Strategy.  VC’s focus on all of these areas, as each one is integral to building a business to capitalize on a market opportunity and generate growth to the point where a successful exit can be achieved.  Many entrepreneurs, however, concentrate their efforts on one or two of these areas, most often the Product category.  Is it any wonder that so many transactions fail to occur?

The very fact that this gap still exists makes it worthy of a fresh look.  The crux of the issue is the opportunity that is lost when an investor and entrepreneur simply are not on the same page, each having different expectations and requirements in order for a transaction to occur.  How often have venture capitalists mused “great product; but they just don’t have a clue about business…”?  In cases like this, they might as well be speaking different languages (and, in fact, they probably are).

Entrepreneurs need to do their part; by taking the time to increase their level of business and financing knowledge and to actively listen to what a VC requires in order to move forward.  Expecting the process to change and balking at the requirements is not realistic or constructive; not as long as VC’s have the money.  Entrepreneurs need to make a conscious decision in terms of whether or not they are truly committed to fulfilling the requirements of the financing process and stick to it.

Venture capitalists, on the other hand, may not have the time or resources to address the areas of development within a potential investee company; and it is not typically their role to do so.  However, there is much that a VC can do to positively influence and expedite this process.

Recognize the language gap:  Venture capital is a complex business, and it does not take much to confuse those who do not work in the industry.  Given that many entrepreneurs lack knowledge of the financing process, they can quickly become “lost” in discussions with potential financial partners.  A VC might think they have been clear in their expectations with an entrepreneur and may be surprised to learn that only a small percentage of their message was actually heard.  Although it may sound simplistic, making a conscious effort to communicate expectations in a plain and straightforward manner increases the likelihood that the message will be both heard and understood.

Demonstrate the fundamentals:  Many entrepreneurs wonder what it is exactly that venture capitalists are looking for in an investment opportunity.  Although the final analysis may be in the eye of the beholder, as much as things change, the fundamentals stay the same.  Articulating the fundamentals in a clear and concise manner is much easier for an entrepreneur to absorb and fulfill.  A simple table, such as the one shown here, not only can help an entrepreneur to better understand the requirements, but also to identify the areas where assistance is needed.

Fundamental Area Items to Address
Product Proprietary technology (i.e., patents, etc.); stage of completion (i.e., market readiness); sustainable competitive advantage; future product development opportunities and capability
Market Demonstrated market need for the product; identification of primary and secondary markets; competitive landscape; strategy to get the product to market (i.e., pricing, advertising, promotion, distribution)
Management Management team members; qualifications; roles and responsibilities; gaps in management team and how they will be addressed; board of directors/advisory board members; advisors under contract
Financial Requirements & Potential Current and projected financial results (including Income Statement, Balance Sheet, and Cash Flow); schedules and key assumptions; sensitivity analysis; estimated valuation; amount of financing required and use of funds
Exit Strategy Industry life cycle/outlook; timeline; key milestones; and exit approach

 

Provide clear action items:  After meeting with a VC, an entrepreneur might walk away with the basic understanding that they “need to improve their business plan” in order for an investor to take the next step.  In practical terms, what does this mean?  Although the VC might have made reference to particular areas, the entrepreneur may simply be at a loss in terms of what they need to do to fulfill the requirement (or simply, how to start).  Providing clear action items (i.e., “develop a table that summarizes competitors in the following categories”, etc.) can help create the “to do” list for an entrepreneur to fulfill what is being asked of them.  Examples can be particularly helpful.

Suggest practical, hands on assistance:  At the end of the day, some entrepreneurs lack the experience and focus to address the needs of a venture capitalist.  Utilizing an experienced business advisor who understands both the early stage financing process and building a business can be an effective way to bridge the gap and a valuable resource when the going gets tough.  An advisor with this type of experience understands both sides of the coin; in terms of where the business needs to “get to” in order to meet the expectations of the VC, and how to work with an entrepreneur to get the job done.  This role can also be the translator between those who speak the language of venture capital and those who do not.

Is it worth the effort?  Sure it is.  Aren’t we all looking for that one great deal?