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How to impress an investor @ Inc


How To Impress A Business Angel / Business Investor

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If you're an entrepreneur with a stonking good idea, the chances are you'll fail. Most new businesses owned and run entirely by the entrepreneur fail in their first year. If I recall correctly, the figure is over 90%.

However, startups where an angel investor is involved are six times more likely to succeed. SIX times! Why?

The typical entrepreneur is better at having ideas than in the execution that converts them into well-oiled, profit making machines. In fact, he is pathetic at the business side of things. He may be a creative person with immense drive, enthusiasm and specialist skills, say in programming or marketing, but lacks wider business exposure and certainly lacks hands on with the special needs of startups. He believes that the "awesomeness" of the idea is sufficient to drive the project into profitability and make him hugely rich. He is an optimist who papers over the cracks - "this time next year I'll be a millionaire!"

Business angels are experienced business professionals who bring not only capital but experience, knowledge and contacts. Unlike VCs who're looking for big investment opportunities, the typical angel generally invests smaller amounts - like $30K to $100K. Before she invests in a business she'll examine the idea carefully and needs to be convinced on several scores. It pays her to be pessimistic, and rather than paper over cracks she'll look at the best ways of filling them. She'll also bring experience with running businesses - dealing with lawyers, accountants etc., negotiating contracts, getting licences, securing intellectual property, managing finances, hiring personnel and all the other nitty gritty that underpins a good business. Her contacts could also prove useful. Her network of contacts often makes the difference between success and failure of the venture.

Convince the right business angel to invest in your business and you're fairly certain to succeed. Even if you can self raise the finance and retain 100% of equity, it could make sense to get an angel involved! Would you rather own 100% of a $100K company or 50% of a $500K company?

So what impresses angels?

1. Let your enthusiasm show: It's not "all" about how eager you are (more later), but an entrepreneur who's all fired up is a good sign and incentivises the investor to tune in and hear the full pitch. Do bear in mind that the investor is not, repeat NOT, as excited about your idea as you are. Leave sob stories about your personal life at the door. He doesn't care about your background at this point. Failed to get funding from your relatives and the local bank? Tough, but don't mention it or you'll be biasing the investor against you. He wants to invest not because you're a nice chap, because you can't get funding elsewhere or because your new company will really help the environment / save the whales. He wants to invest to make a profit.

2. Sell the facts, not the dream: However excited you are about the project and its potential, investors want to see hard facts. For example, have you studied the market? "I'm sure the product will be very popular" won't cut it. Demonstrate why you believe the product will be popular. Show the size of the market. Prove the extent of competition. Produce market research. Show survey results. Quote stats from reputable sources.

3. Invest in the dream yourself: Do you really believe this will be successful? If you've given up your job and re-mortgaged your house to the hilt (or tried to), that's commitment. The investor is more likely to take a chance on you if you're taking a chance on yourself. If you're hedging your bets - keeping a full time job elsewhere, not exploiting all the sources available to you to raise funds in your own name first etc., - you don't inspire confidence. You come across as someone who doesn't want to take risks with his own money, but wants to take it with someone else's! This says more about you and the likely outcome of the project than all the hype and enthusiasm you may convey in your pitch. Investors will want to see that you've made a bold leap. It reassures them that you'll stay the course even when things get rough. They want to see you in a position where you have no option but to stay the course should there be sticky patches ahead!

4. Build yourself up: Once the investor is convinced you have a good idea, have your facts right and have invested commitment yourself, he needs reassurance that you're the right person to drive the project forward and create a solid business out of it. He'll provide some of the skills and advice, but you'll need to have the core skills relevant to the project - past experience in the industry, qualifications or training in the fields relevant to the start-up's products/services etc. If you don't have any of that, do you have a track record showing you've taken other ideas from drawing board to successful business? Do you have experience managing/running a business whether yours or anybody else's? The angel needs to like you, trust you AND believe in you. Be prepared for him to research you. What's the worst he can see in your Facebook profile? Have you had any criminal convictions? What's your credit report like? Have you ever been banned from being a company director?

5. Make the business case: This is the important bit. Too often entrepreneurs think they don't need a business plan, or that they've got the plan all in their heads. That won't wash! When it's in writing it's a clear indication of your thoughts and it provides goals and timeframes that the investor can hold you to. Show the USP (unique selling point), the size of the market, the cost of production, the intellectual property being developed and how that will be protected, what barriers there are to competition etc. Talk pricing structure, detailed production plans, delivery channels. Cover the good as well as the bad - explain the potential downsides as well and how you'd deal with them. Tip: Angels like startups that could benefit from the angel's own specific skills and contacts. It wouldn't hurt to research your angel before pitching to him.

6. Be realistic: Whether it's about your own skills, the amount of profit the company can make or anything else - keep it real. Exaggeration and hype are your enemies. If you come from a marketing background, trust me, what you see as the line between fact and hype isn't what the investor sees. Get a neutral third party to vet your pitch before you give it live. Use someone who'd be good at picking holes in your case and who won't be coy about pointing them out to you. Don't use too much of jargon, don't assume that the investor understands terms that are exclusive to the industry you're in. You want him to understand the business, not get confused. Again, the neutral friend helping you with the pitch should be able to point out where you can make the explanation clearer. If the angel suspects the plan isn't realistic his first thought is that there's a high chance you'll need additional funding at some point - extra funding that's going to fall on his shoulders!

7. Commit to delivering: More important than everything else - commit to when and how you will make money. Create profit projections. Credible profit projections. Credible profit projections that you "guarantee". It's unlikely you'll miss the goals, isn't it? You're very sure the company will be making at least $xK of profit in year three, aren't you? 100% sure? Are you so sure that you'll be willing to give up x% of your equity if you can't / don't deliver on your performance promises? Talk is cheap. Are you willing to take actions that back up the claims?

8. Plan the exit: VCs are very keen on knowing how and when they can get out. They want to invest, have the company grow very quickly and then sell their stake. When pitching to a venture capital fund you'd explain, for example, how you'd have the size, market share and finances to go public in x years i.e. have an IPO (Initial Public Offering - selling shares to the public). An IPO allows the VC to sell all his shares and exit his involvement with your company. Business angels aren't so focused on exit plans. Most of the business they invest in aren't likely to get big enough to go public. But it would still be advantageous to show him now a likely path out once the business has achieved the success you promise.