I recently had the opportunity to be a mentor, deal screener and speaker for the 4th annual Angle Capital Summit
. Although there were specific things to look for as a deal screener on behalf of the investors, I couldn’t help but to reflect on an article I recently wrote about G.U.P, as well as some of the material in my book Show Me The Money
Many of the applicants at the Summit looking for funding had very little training in how to prepare a presentation for investors. Most had some type of business plan to start with, but some did not even have an executive summary. If you’re serious about your business, you must be prepared.
So what does an investor look for? Although I acted as a deal screener, I don’t necessarily have any interest in investing in a company I work with, but I do certainly have an interest in seeing that company succeed. As I’ve worked with clients over the years, there are many things we purposely put in place. Owners have to create a win-win situation for themselves and investors. You, as the owner, as well as the investors, are taking a risk on your ideas.
Here are twelve common mistakes to avoid as you prepare your investor presentation:
- Having no clear business model. Only one out of ten deals I reviewed had a solid business model. There are three components of a business model: 1) Owner’s passion and business purpose; ideally equaling what the customer is willing to pay you. 2) Core competency of key processes and key resources. 3) Economic engine or profit formula, which includes a plan for diversifying revenue sources.
- Not the right time to introduce your idea to the market. Some ideas I saw at the Summit were frankly out of date. If you want to introduce an old idea, make sure to innovate or create a mash-up compelling enough to repackage the idea for presentation.
- Not the right place to introduce your idea to the market. Did you do enough market research to present your case? How credible is your source of market research?
- Not having the right team of people to implement your idea. Most companies I reviewed are weak on implementation, meaning they were short on resources to implement their ideas. Resources include vendors, and most likely a team of other professionals. Identify them properly.
- Not planning to work in and run the business. I’ve seen, over the years, that some people just want the title without the work of the start-up. Well, that’s a good strategy for an exit plan, but at least at the beginning, you must be an integral part of your business, which will help you in the future to know how to react quickly to market changes.
- Entering without 10,000 hours of industry experience. Most of the deals I explored at the Summit were from people who did not have actual industry experience. According to research reported in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers,” you need about 10,000 hours of experience in the industry of your business idea. If you personally don’t have it, have someone on your team who does.
- Not willing to put your own money into this business. Instead, you only seek ways to use other people’s money. You must invest some of your own “skins” in the game. You can’t expect only to use other people’s hard earned money.
- Having no specific go-to-market plan and not considering pull marketing strategy. I consistently see this as a huge problem in investor/business deals. Most people talk about their plan, but fail to be specific on how they will take their products or services into the market. I have seen very few businesses looking for an investor who talk about pull marketing strategy. Both your investors and you need to know how are you going to introduce your products or services into your market.
- Having no specific profit formula and no predictable profits in the next twelve to eighteen months. One of the deals I screened had a nice projection of the next twelve months, which was detailed to the point of showing the return on investment for their investors. Although it’s just a projection, you should know your goals before you start. Otherwise, you may find yourself everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
- Having no plan for the key management team. Obviously, most owners think that they are the key management team. But one of the most important business value drivers indicates you must have a key management team in place so that the company will function with you, the owner, in it. You may not need it today, but have a plan to use in the future.
- Having no plan to capture and maximize your intellectual property. How do you capture your ideas? For the most part, owners think it’s about trademark registration or copyrighting. Those steps are a part, but it is also your processes that must be documented. Your processes make a huge difference and give you a competitive advantage, so plan to capture them and create even more value in your business.
- Not telling the investors how they will capitalize on an investment in your company. For the most part, when you ask for funding, it is about selling them your idea. So let your investors know “what’s it in for them.” Share with investors how are you going to make money for them.
Not everything has to be perfect in order to find funding, but nevertheless, put your best effort forward to show you are serious about making your business idea work. No one will know you are serious about succeeding until you have a complete plan. The amount of work, research, and thought you put into an entire business plan will speak louder than just a one page executive summary.
Reclaiming the Co-creation Process from the Public Sector
Public sector innovation is a necessity, if we are to reduce public spending and address changing demographics. The public sector is lagging behind the private sector in transforming ideas into innovation, which made me question whether we are pursuing the wrong approach. This is not to say that I am questioning the abilities of people working in the public sector, but merely provoking a dialogue with the reader. You are all invited to join in!
News headlines are often based on statements made by politicians about the need for public sector innovation if we are to reduce public spending, improve public services and/or transform our welfare societies to address changing demographics. The same media also publish articles and reports highlighting that the public sector is lagging behind the private sector in terms of transforming ideas into innovations. This apparent divide in the mindset towards innovation between the public and the private sectors raises the question of whether we are pursuing the wrong path. Are we right to assume that a sector subject to the influence of politicians and thus popular opinion, can foster a culture that is truly innovative?
I do not question the abilities of the people working in the public sector; I want only to spark debate among the readers of InnovationManagement about what we might expect if the current innovation context remains unchanged, or what could or should be expected were the innovation context to change.
Innovation leadership lacks vision and clear objectives
I attended a recent conference on user-driven innovation in the public sector; a cross-border initiative of the Nordic countries. The conference agenda revolved around showcasing of success stories from Denmark, Sweden and Norway.
One takeaway from the conference was that in spite of presenting a success story, the innovation objective of the project was still unclear based on the presentations formulated to meet some political objective. How can creative, enthusiastic people – read public sector employees – sustain their enthusiasm and creativity levels if the innovation objective is primarily serving a political aim? Let me be more specific.
During the current financial crisis many countries experienced massive layoffs and spiralling unemployment rates. This made it political suicide publicly to pursue, sponsor and implement innovations (e.g. new processes) aimed at reducing public sector employment. Contrast this with the fact that the same countries are experiencing dramatic shifts in their demographics, and within the next decade at most, this will radically reduce the size of the total workforce threatening the public fiscal budget and tax revenues. This gloomy situation requires political attention today, if the transition period as people leave the job market, is to be smooth and gradual from a society perspective.
From a societal perspective only the addressing long-term challenges makes sense as an innovation objective, whereas the cyclical hiccups are likely to be resolved through market forces as the global economy picks up. The shift in demographics is a perfect platform for a visionary politician to launch a programme of reform for the public sector; however, if budget allocations are based upon popular opinion, which changes as the news media changes focus, the cyclical issues are likely to receive proportionally larger funding than the latter, which will be difficult to promote political momentum.
Innovation management within a culture of ‘no mistakes allowed’
One hallmark of most Danish public sector institutions is the commitment to a culture of no mistakes allowed, nulfejlskultur in Danish, which essentially wipes out the incentives for civil servants to experiment. During a conference held in 2008, this culture is seen as one of the four barriers to public sector innovation in a conference, the other three being knowledge management and dissemination, lack of cross-sector collaboration, and lack of competencies.
Readers of InnovationManagement will know that innovation involves experimentation and making mistakes. The trick is demonstrate rapid learning from these mistakes. If a ‘no mistakes allowed’ culture predominates, then there can be no experimentation without putting one’s career at risk. And if knowledge management and dissemination or lack thereof is a barrier to innovation within the sector, how can mistakes be turned into learning, and then value?
When ideas management begins to resemble budgeting
The writer has participated in an innovation management process in a public sector institution, aimed originally at collecting and qualifying ideas from all parts of the organisation, but which developed into a study on how to instil trust and create transparency about the organization of a new ideas management process designed to reduce the internal politics governing departments that perceived ideas management as being similar to the annual budgeting process. The root cause of this lies usually in the way that most public institutions are organised into ministries, departments and institutions, each responsible for only a small part of the puzzle, but publicly liable for the finished puzzle. The second barrier identified above, of lack of cross sector collaboration.
If the ideas management process lacks transparency and trust, it can hardly be expected that the innovation management process will be embraced and used? Most companies have mechanisms for proposing new ideas and seeing their progression to maturity; however this does not apply to most of the public sector. Studies show that people are motivated by intrinsic factors, such as seeing one’s ideas taken up and developed. If the innovation management process is fragmented and lacks transparency, then it cannot be expected that ideas will flow within the sector: they are more likely to be buried or spun off as a private sector company.
For example, was talking to the CEO of a UK-based consultancy firm which assists public healthcare administrators collect and patent ideas conceived on healthcare premises. The biggest problem for this company is the lack of incentive for healthcare personnel to present their ideas to the administration rather than developing them externally – and selling them back to the healthcare system.
Taking control of the user-driven innovation process
In Denmark, and most Nordic countries, public sector innovation is frequently based on user-driven innovation projects. The object often is the beneficiary of the public services, e.g. the elderly. If the four barriers to public sector innovation are so strong and so difficult to break down in the near term, could a reversal of the user-driven innovation project be the solution? Should we be trying to apply anthropological methodologies to understanding how the sector works, and presenting our insights as the basis for public sector innovation? Should we be trying to take charge of the co-creation process, but from a civic perspective? Tell me what you think!
By Frode Lundsten, Contributing Editor, Denmark
Through the years many entrepreneurs and other business people have requested patent protection through my office. However, many of them have never actually seen a United States patent or patent application, much less understood the requirements of its parts. This article will review the application and why each section is important. Unless otherwise noted, the corresponding sections of the application and patent are identical.
The Background describes the invention’s industry and problems in this industry that the inventor intends to solve. It should also describe previous inventions and why they did not solve these problems. The Background concludes with a short discussion of why the pending invention of the application overcomes these problems. The Summary of the Invention describes the invention in an abbreviated matter without reference numerals or references to drawings or figures. It should also designate the goals of the invention and describe features that the applicant considers the most innovative components. The Abstract describes the innovative features of the invention in two to three sentences.
The “Brief Description of the Drawings” describes, in single sentences, illustrations of physical features of the invention and the view thereof as depicted in a corresponding drawing (i.e., Figure) appended to the application text. The Detailed Description, or perhaps Detailed Description of Preferred Embodiments and Best Mode or similar titles, is the most comprehensive portion of the application or patent. For example, this section includes key mathematical formulas as well as reference numerals. The structures corresponding to reference numerals in the text are explained in detail and correspond to each appropriate drawing with an overall figure number(s) from the Brief Description of the Drawings.
The Claims comprise long sentences that designate the innovation of the invention. For example, if there are three innovative features, then the claims should address all of them (with exceptions). The shorter and more general the patent scrivener drafts these sentences, the broader the protection that your invention will receive. The term “Specification” designates the total of: title of invention; background summary; description of the drawings; detailed description; claims and abstract. Other information is included in the specification, depending upon the nature and funding of the invention.
An illustration from my own practice for an adjustable exercise device made of piping, connectors, basketball hoops and speed bags is helpful: U.S. Patent No. US 6,976,945 B1(Lim) at uspto.gov [hereinafter referred to as ‘Lim,’ the inventor]. This entire exercise device can be quickly disassembled and carried in a bag. The Background describes previous exercise devices and their drawbacks. It also explains why the Lim exercise device is a significant improvement over previous devices for convalescing individuals with muscle strengthening requirements. The Summary specifies the muscles that are strengthened by and most benefit from use of the new exercise device, as well as the goals of the device that improve it over prior devices.
The Summary also specifies what is designated as the ‘preferred embodiment.’ This embodiment is the prototype or variety of the invention that is most superior to prior existing devices. For Lim, the preferred model contains a central speed bag with rigid a disc and this speed bag are positioned between two additional speed bags. However, other embodiments are also described in the event that one was found to be patentable but not others.
Richard Branson on Managing Change
Virgin Group’s founder shares advice on leading a team through a restructuring or merger.
Restructuring can be a difficult process. Even if you’ve done everything right, sometimes the company needs a new direction because circumstances and opportunities have changed. It is well known that over the years we have closed down or sold a number of the 400 or so Virgin companies we have created. Companies are tools designed to fulfill a particular purpose. If they are superseded or no longer needed, our group will sell or shut them down. We try our best not to lose people or know-how, but we do not allow ourselves to get nostalgic about the concepts of the companies. When Virgin renews itself, the critics who tut-tut about all the leaves falling to the ground have failed to spot the tree.
To lead your company through a restructuring, you need to take a cold, hard look at the business. Will you be able to empower your staff to do what needs to be done? It can be superhumanly difficult to change a company’s existing culture. This is also something you should consider if you’re leading a team that’s contemplating a business acquisition — so many of which end up being disasters because the executives fail to understand the real challenges of getting different types of employees to work together and share the same goals.
We found ourselves grappling with a challenging situation in February 2007, when we relaunched the combined company of NTL, Telewest and Virgin Mobile as Virgin Media, creating the largest Virgin company in the world, with 10 million customers and 13,000 employees across the U.K. Until then I’d always followed a “small is beautiful” business plan. In Virgin’s early days, whenever one of our companies topped 100 employees, I would ask to see the deputy managing director, the deputy sales manager and the deputy marketing director. I would say to them: “You are now the managing director, the sales manager and the marketing director of a new company.” Then we would split the company in two.
But Virgin Media was neither small nor beautiful. The NTL part of our business, in particular, was in a sorry state. We needed drastic changes in customer service. For one thing, the people dealing with complaints didn’t seem interested in helping customers. It turned out they were reading from scripts all day.
This brings me to my next bit of advice: executives and managers overseeing any restructuring or merger should find ways to inspire all employees to think like entrepreneurs. A person’s own conscience is the hardest taskmaster of all, so the more responsibility you give people, the better they will perform.
In Virgin Media’s case, the scripts went straight into the garbage. We told our call-center employees to solve problems within one call if possible, and we reallocated resources to the front line. There was skepticism at first among former NTL staff. What would happen if one of our customer-service people overstepped the mark and offered customers too many perks? My response: “Live and learn.” I didn’t think anyone should be criticized for being overly generous when handling a disgruntled customer. If one or two of our people got themselves into a tangle, they’d do better next time.
The lesson I have learned from difficult restructurings is: avoid taking on someone else’s legacy. If the people you’re responsible for no longer have the enthusiasm and determination needed to relaunch the company, you’re better off finding a new team to launch your business.
What if that’s not an option? There is an alternative, one of the hardest tricks in the book: restructure your company so that it’s very small, very specialized and very expensive. This is an innovation of the highest caliber. Take a large operation and find ways to scale it down, retarget it and remarket it, all the while adding value that justifies the hike in price. If you’re able to pull off the small-and-specialized restructuring, your staff may be in charge of a smaller company, but each contributor will have more clout. They will be able to take pride in their successes, and learn quickly and well from their failures.
What’s more, you’ll be gathering people together so they will bounce ideas off each other, befriend and take care of each other, and eventually start coming to you with solutions and great ideas again. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the new company you create is full of motivated, caring, creative people? Think of what you could achieve.
by Jeffrey Phillips
I’ve been working in the “innovation field” for over seven years as a consultant, and I did regular “innovation” work for a number of years previously, so it is with a bit of chagrin that I come clean on the fact that it finally occurred to me why innovation makes many executives uncomfortable. I think if you are constantly reinforcing a belief system (innovation is good!) that it can be very hard to get a different perspective, and even understand why that other perspective exists. So for years I have labored under the assumption that others saw innovation as a valuable capability and commodity, just as I did.
Over the last few months I’ve been disabused of that notion, by working with executives and others who helped me understand why innovation makes them uncomfortable. And let me say my conclusions about why innovation makes executives uncomfortable surprised me a bit as well.
I’ve struggled with this, because I’d like to create a nice, neat taxonomy about the barriers for innovation. So far I have three categories or typologies, but as you read this, feel free to contribute your own in the comments section. I’d be interested to hear what you think. Recognizing there are several different kinds of reasons that innovation makes executives uncomfortable may help you become better at answering their questions and resolving the constraints on innovation in your business.
The first typology is based on the belief that innovation requires skills that the business doesn’t have or reinforce. On the surface, this may seem obvious. Innovation seems to be about incredible breakthroughs in research, or insightful observations about customer needs and wants in the future. But when you really break it down, innovation requires a different set of skills from those we inculcated in our organizations. Here’s a simple dicotomy:
- Innovation requires ART not SCIENCE
- Innovation requires QUALITATIVE insights not QUANTITATIVE statistics
- Innovation requires HUNCHES not FACTS
- Innovation requires RISKS not CERTAINTIES
In other words, we already have all the skills we need in order to innovate, we just don’t emphasize or rewards those skills. Innovation is still much more of a craft than a science, more artisan than automaton.
However, many of our executives were bred in the scientific management school of thought, which requires breaking down actions and phases of work into minute detail and describing and optimizing the action. As Brownian motion fans can attest, you can be certain of the location, or speed, of a particle, but not both. The same is true of these innovation skills – they are important, but can’t be scientifically managed.
The analogy would be a kindergarten taught by quant jocks. The kids wouldn’t have any fun, being forced into doing very specific and rigid tasks, and the quant jocks wouldn’t like the freeform play and idea creation of the kids.
The second typology is based on the fact that innovation is fairly unpredictable. This is increasingly true as the amount of disruption possibility increases. Again, we have executives who have been taught to believe, and their compensation reinforces, that businesses are organizations which produce regular, steady outcomes in the face of any environmental uncertainty or economic chaos. Innovation doesn’t work to our clocks or schedules, ideas and needs arise as customers preferences and situations change. Few executives are interested in the change inherent in really disruptive ideas, even if they have a substantial increase to the top or bottom line, because of the amount of change those ideas may introduce, and the ancillary effects of those changes. Most executives would happily trade regular, consistent growth in the low single digits to wild swings in growth based on occasional disruptive ideas.
The analogy in this instance is to a baseball player. Most managers would prefer a hitter with a .300 batting average who hits singles and doubles, over a .275 hitter who hits homers or strikes out.
The third typology is based on the fact that innovation ultimately places someone else in control. Many senior executives kid themselves that they are responsible for the success of their businesses. We are guilty of admiring people who make the cover of Fortune or Forbes, only in hindsight to wonder what we were thinking. Anyone remember Chainsaw Al for example? It is their insight, strategies and leadership that makes all the difference. In a fast paced, ever changing world, executives who create a vision and then engage the best in their people will be successful, but they must abdicate some of the decisions to those people. Innovation is rarely the provenance of one individual. Apple is probably the exception that proves the rule that most organizations have tens, if not hundreds of individuals actively involved in innovation. Yet the more innovation that happens in an organization, the less control the CEO has about products, and strategy, and direction. Unless, again like Apple, everyone understands with great clarity the strategy and goals and direction, and innovation is completely governed by that vision. Since most organizations lack that central clarity, innovation becomes rapidly dispersed throughout the organization, and the senior executives have little control. Therefore innovation is tightly controlled if allowed at all, since too much innovation may mean the loss of control.
So, to recap, I’ve found that innovation makes executives uncomfortable for at least three reasons:
- A different set of skills are required than are supported or reinforced
- Executives prefer humdrum predictability to wild swings in revenue and profits
- The more innovation, the more likely the executive team is to lose control of the business
Now, note that I didn’t incorporate some of the “easy” reasons why innovation makes executives uncomfortable, like:
- Innovation costs money
- Innovation takes resources
Those two arguments are specious at best. Every new product, new acquisition, new initiative requires money and resources, so at the heart of the matter, these aren’t arguments against innovation. There’s something more relevant under the surface when these arguments are used.
Additionally, I didn’t use one I know to be true: in this environment, there’s much more to be gained in cost cutting and right sizing than in innovation, since cost cutting has an almost immediate return to the bottom line, whereas innovation has at best a possible return down the road.
The reason I didn’t include that alternative is that while it is true, it can only be true for so long. A firm that cuts 5% of its cost base every year will shrink to nothing in less than 15 years. Eventually, every firm needs new product, services and offerings to grow. So this is only a temporary reason not to innovate.
So, that’s my typology. I’d be interested in your thoughts. Also note that once you can get past the “we don’t have enough time” or “we don’t have enough money” arguments, understanding which of the other reasons actually block innovation will give you an opportunity to create evidence to reduce the concerns for each of the three typologies, which you’ll have to produce in order to innovate.
Jeffrey Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed organizations to build innovation teams, processes and capabilities. Jeffrey is the author of “Make us more Innovative”, and innovateonpurpose.blogspot.com.
Most leaders are interested in growing their businesses through innovation, but it’s risky business: most innovation efforts fail. After years of helping to make innovation happen as chief communications officer at Steelcase and as a consultant, I have a point of view that I’m willing to bet on. Innovative ideas, initiatives, products, culture transformations, you name it, have little chance to succeed if they aren’t enabled by smart communications. This includes communication within the core team, broadly in your organization, and with key stakeholders outside the organization, including your distribution channel partners, suppliers, journalists, investors and of course, existing and potential customers.
Here are eight traps to avoid as you innovate.
- Don’t break ground in the wrong direction. If your organization hasn’t explicitly communicated your core reason for being, you’ll need to start here. Overall performance is compromised when your people don’t understand the deeper meaning behind why they come to work everyday. Innovation takes time and costs money so projects that aren’t clearly linked to your “why” are especially vulnerable to fail. Your innovation teams need this level of clarity to guide their efforts and thinking and your leaders need it to inform decision-making related to innovation and how it contributes to your future growth.
Don’t lose sight of the horizon. The complexity and uncertainty of forging new ground makes it easy to get lost. Make thinking visible to help teams stay on track and reinforce their goals. Post project charters and preliminary objectives, display important research findings that keep user insights front and center, leave every version of your prototyping efforts in view so that the iterations can be better evaluated. This type of digital and analog “information persistence” may appear chaotic, but it increases your chances for successful innovation. A designated project space displaying these results at key milestones in the process will augment the creativity and decision-making power of your team and will serve as a crash course for stakeholders who need to be brought up to speed.
Media:scape project room photograph courtesy of Steelcase Inc.
Don’t make the process a mystery. Successful initiatives are supported by a well-defined process, which should become the foundation for successful internal communication. Although many aspects of innovation efforts need to be kept confidential and have sensitive timing issues, the process should not be a secret. Share it broadly in the organization and celebrate progress against it often. This helps people understand where you are in the journey and the connections between immediate and future decisions and their consequences to the project.
Don’t under-communicate. For it to be successfully implemented, your development project needs to be accepted into the operations side of the business. This hand-off is a time of high risk and often fails because general management, human resources, marketing, communications, and sales teams haven’t been informed along the way. There is no such thing as over-communication when it comes to preparing these important stakeholders for taking your innovation to market or integrating it into the corporate culture. Spend time to bring them into the discovery process, give them a deep understanding of the opportunities, and excite them with your approach and novel solutions.
Don’t let cynicism undermine the process. Taking your company into new territory of any kind never comes without some healthy skepticism from your positive team players and cynicism from your naysayers. Allow them to internalize and feel positive about change by bringing the future to life. Tell stories and create experiences that put them in the role of the customer, where they can touch and feel a prototype of the new product or service. Use skits, storyboards, and films to develop customer personas and scenarios. These approaches will help them see the potential in the project and better understand how the new solutions will meet and exceed customer needs.
Don’t let key insights hide in a binder. The best ideas are born out of a discovery process that unveils insights into the behavior patterns of people. These learnings result in a deeper understanding of needs and desires and the ability to create positive solutions. But they’re not just useful for your development team — they become your strongest communications tools and great fodder for marketing as well. Use them as the basis for storytelling that inspires and educates all the groups in the organization that are responsible for developing to-market strategies or interaction with customers no matter where they influence the customer experience. This deeper understanding will enable them to make stronger connections and to forge customer relationships that stick.
Don’t let jargon hide the truth. In most organizations different functional groups use their own languages. Recognize the power of words in getting the development team aligned and achieving the positive results you hope for. Your finance person calls it financial modeling, your design person calls it rapid prototyping, yet they are both undertaking a similar and necessary discipline of exploring opportunities as they work to fine tune a solution. Challenge your team to build a common language and to be explicit about using terminology that resonates with everyone in the organization.
If it’s off-brand, don’t do it. There should be a strong connection between your growth initiatives and your brand strategy. The two should inform and sustain each other. Be sure to consistently communicate the benefits and attributes of your brand with development teams to ensure they are embodied in the solutions they create. Develop a brand audit tool and use it early in your process. This will guide decision-making and only allow initiatives that meet certain brand criteria to be approved for further development. Any solution that isn’t credible and compelling for your brand will be a threat to its strength and unlikely to succeed in the market.