Archive for the ‘emtrepreneurs’ Category

What Investors Expect in Milestones

By Eleanor Haas

A company’s milestones are turning points in a company’s development that mark stages of growth and wash out a measure of the risk of failure.  Investor criteria for these are excellent metrics for shareholder value.  Investors think about six major milestones for an emerging  B-to-B technology company –  they look for this road map:

  1. Product Market Fit

You know it’s happening when your non- or little-paying beta customers stay with you and tell their colleagues about you. Retention above 90 percent.  High word-of-mouth growth.  It’s proof you’ve met a need – at least for the moment – but you’re far from home free.  You can lose product market fit at any time.  Customers discover alternatives you had overlooked, your performance slips or something new and better pops up – and you’re back to Square 1.

  1. Paying Customers

Once you get, say, five customers to make the leap from free or token payment to paid, you know you’ve started creating value for your business as well as your customers.  You won’t have much market penetration, and that’s your next goal.  If you could get five, you can get 50!  Sell-sell-sell!

  1. Statistical Viability

The next bottom-up goal is sufficient recurring revenue to achieve something like an annual run rate of $1 million – i.e., $83,000 per month.  For this, you’ll need solid pricing and market segment data to achieve a reasonably accurate estimate of market size – plus the marketing, sales, customer support and technology to make it happen.

What’s the return per customer?  How many customers do you need per month?  Per day?  Are there enough customers in your segment for you to land that many?  Do you have a market segment than can support your pricing?  No?  Then, what segment should you target?  What would it take to hit the run rate in a year?

  1. Cash Flow Positive

When:  12-18 months from startup for a technology business

Net income is still negative but your cash balance seems to keep pace with expenses.  This is a major coup – proof of economic viability and an investor requirement for further investment.  It’s a precarious time because the balance shifts dynamically.  You have to keep selling, closing deals making deposits, with just enough of a cash cushion for protection when the balance shifts downward.  Profitability still lies in the future

  1. Capital-Efficient Growth

Once you’re generating $3 million to $6 million in revenue and see that you can sustain positive cash flow, you know you’ve reached capital efficiency.  Investors like this a lot because they can expect you to generate $1 million in recurring revenue for every $1 million they invest.  Of course, your growth still depends on outside capital.

You may well  choose to stay at this stage for a long time – selling equity for cash in order to grow aggressively In a competitive market, you could do this through $100 million in revenue or even more.

  1. Profitable

When: typically, 3-5 years from startup for a growth business

Nirvana!  Net income at long last is positive.  Cash balance keeps growing.  Revenue from existing clients is sufficient to maintain it.  The net income is from new business, and it frees you from needing either investment or loans.  Right on!


How Fred Wilson Sees the Next Ten Years

By Eleanor Haas

Just yesterday, at the LeWeb conference in Paris, VC, blogger and thought leader Fred Wilson identified three megatrends that his VC firm uses as a framework for investing and four areas they’re watching. Things like mobile and big data are technologies that represent too small a lens when it comes to envisioning the big opportunities to come, he said. For him and his colleagues, it’s about adopting a behavioral and societal point of view.
The three trends are networks, unbundling and smartphones, and the four areas are Bitcoin, wellness, data leakage and trust/identity.

1. Networks
We’re very early in the transition from slow bureaucratic hierarchies to technology-driven networks. The hierarchies were solutions of the industrial world, but today they’re obsolete – just plain inefficient. Examples? Twitter replaces the slow-moving bureaucratic news organization that sits behind every newspaper. With Twitter, the crowd determines what’s news, and we get it instantly. YouTube replaces traditional video production. Again, the crowd determines what’s important – and quality rises to the top. SoundCloud disintermediates the music industry by enabling music creators to upload, record, promote and share their sounds to be found by the crowd.
We saw this happen first in media and entertainment, but now it’s happening with hotels (Airbnb), creative services (Kickstarter) and learning (Codecademy).

2. Unbundling.
Cost factors made it desirable to package and deliver products and services in bundles. Now technology makes it cost-effective to deliver focused services a la carte. Examples? Getting sports news from a different source than business news or classified ads. Finding free-standing services once bundled by banks – Lending Club and Funding Circle – asset management, education – where online classes are disrupting the traditional four-year university model – research – where technology enables researchers to collaborate freely as a network – and entertainment – where Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and VHX let us buy shows a la carte instead of having to subscribe to cable.

3. Smartphones
By carrying smartphone, we become always-on nodes in a network. Examples? Uber and Halo are disrupting taxi and limo services, rental cars and delivery businesses. Payment platforms, such as Venmo, Dwalla and Square are phone apps. Tinder is a dating app that leverages location as well as the phone.

Four Areas to Watch

Bitcoin, says Fred, is important as the transactional protocol for the Internet, not as currency. It provides a global peer-to-peer ledger and a technology-based architecture that entrepreneurs can and will build on so that payments, in time, will flow on the Internet like content and images, not controlled by any company.

Health and wellness platforms and tools, not healthcare, will be increasingly important ways to help people avoid the need for healthcare. Examples? Wearing devices that report physical activity and vital signs, a phone device that provides fertility information for women, gamified weight loss initiatives.

Data leakage is Fred’s term for how we allow our own personal data to be open for spying by Google, Facebook and the government while we ourselves have no control over it.

Trust/identity, both of which are closely allied to the data leakage area are currently managed by Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter. We give them access to all that we do online. In time, he predicts, there will be a protocol, just like http, that allows us to control our identity, trust and data.

So what areas are you watching? What mega trends seem to you to be significant indicators of what lies ahead?
(You can see the video of Fred’s keynote here. )

The Future is Internet Access. not Devices

Frugal innovation that’s just good enough to enable free mobile Internet access in order to supports a focus on education for billions of low-income people. That’s both the personal and business mission of Suneet Singh Tuli, CEO, Datawind. The outcome? The first $40 tablet computer – the Aakash – launched first by the president of India, then by the UN Secretary General and today in use by thousands of students in India.

Suneet’s business goal is to create a low-price product that impacts people’s lives and, yes, make money from it. “I am not a charity,” he declaims. The Datawind business model is to forgo most of the company’s hardware margins and to focus instead on recurring revenue from content and apps in order to go after and, in time, own the price-sensitive consumer.

He believes everyone should focus on education. Education corrects everything, he says. No, the low-cost computer is not intended to replace teachers but to supplement what they can do. His sons get answers to all the questions they have after school from YouTube! And Forbes International recently recognized Suneet in its annual impact 15 list of education innovators.

Lesson No. 1 for US entrepreneurs: “just good enough” should be part of innovation. It’s not disruptive technology that wins; it’s the one the gorilla ignores – as we learned from Clayton Christiansen. Large companies, such as Apple and Samsung, could own the low-cost tablet market but it would dilute their brands to say nothing of their margins. Their business model is based on creating and producing high-quality, highly profitable hardware. Suneet’s, on the other hand, is to use hardware as a customer acquisition tool.

Lesson No. 2: the future is Internet access, not devices, in Suneet’s view – with money coming not from devices but from content, apps and advertising. In fact, Suneet’s next goal, in addition to bringing the cost of the Aakash down to $25, is to spark a global ecosystem of socially positive apps that empower women.