Getting product in the market is only half the battle. see more
Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now - Alan Lakien
Without proper planning, a business is bound to fail. It becomes impossible to know if you are targeting the right audience, if the market is filled with similar solutions that you are offering or if you are way too early in the market. This is where the go-to-market strategy comes in. A go-to-market strategy is simply defined as how you bring your product to market. It includes target audience research, a marketing plan, and a sales strategy.
Eric Vest, a serial entrepreneur and M&A advisor, specializing in laboratory informatics shared his insights on the ways to bring your product into the market and how creating a go-to-market strategy can help immensely.
Let’s talk about go-to-market strategy in detail:
Go-to-market strategies anticipate the challenges of this competitive space by thoroughly identifying the target market, articulating the product’s value proposition, crafting a marketing plan, and developing a strategy for its sales and distribution channels. Some of the most common benefits of compiling an effective GTM strategy include:
● Gaining a comprehensive understanding of the marketplace, the target market, and the proposed product’s place in it.
● Keeping marketing costs down by identifying promotional channels with the highest return on investment (ROI).
● Troubleshooting product positioning and messaging before going to market.
● Concretely defining the logistics of distribution and sales channels before launch to ensure maximum market impact.
Go-to-market strategy benefits:
In addition to helping you launch a product successfully, compiling an effective GTM strategy can benefit your business in several ways, including:
Clarifies the business mission
Creating any sort of business strategy, including a GTM strategy, is a great opportunity to review your business’ mission and make sure your product efforts are in alignment. Why does this exist? What will it achieve for its employees and customers? What values drive this mission? How do new products support this mission?
Understanding the market
Compiling a GTM strategy involves gaining a comprehensive understanding of the marketplace, the target market, your competitors, and the proposed product’s place in it. With more insight into customers and the market conditions, your organization will have more tools to thrive in all areas of business, from product launches to introducing a new brand identity to the world.
With a solid GTM strategy, you can keep marketing costs down by identifying promotional channels with the highest return on investment (ROI) and developing marketing messaging and content that will resonate with your target market.
Reducing time to market
GTM strategies also help you launch products more quickly in the following ways:
● Prioritizing tasks that are essential for a product to enter the market
● Troubleshooting product positioning and messaging before going to market
● Concretely defining the logistics of distribution and sales channels before launch to ensure maximum market impact
Depending on the kind of product you are launching, you might consider the minimum viable product (MVP) approach: making sure the product has enough features to attract early adopters, validating the product, and learning what product updates or improvements could improve customer experience.
Building more brand awareness
With the launch and promotion of a new product, you have an opportunity to bring more attention to your brand as a whole, and even attract new niche markets, thereby expanding your customer base.
Increasing growth potential
Overall, a GTM strategy, when skillfully executed, can increase your organization’s growth potential. With access to new niche markets, organized market data, and an efficient process for launching products, you can seize growth opportunities more easily than without a GTM strategy.
How to create a go-to-market strategy:
A go-to-market strategy compiles several other strategies and marketing methods to ensure a product enters the market with the best possible chance of success.
To help you better understand what goes into compiling a GTM, the following guide includes key elements you should develop throughout the process.
Identifying target market.
The customer is the centerpiece of any marketing strategy.
As a result, whether you are bringing a new product to market or refreshing an existing one, it is imperative that you first research and identify the target market that will be most interested in purchasing it.
As you identify your target market, answer these questions:
● Is your product being sold to everyday consumers (B2C) or to other businesses (B2B)?
● Will you use demographic, psychographic, or other types of segmentation to define your target market?
● What are the pain points of your target market? What problem are you solving with your product?
Clarifying value proposition.
A product’s value proposition is the benefit it provides consumers and the problems it solves. In other words, your product’s value proposition articulates why the target market should purchase the product.
As you are preparing your go-to-market strategy, you should have a clear understanding of the value proposition that your product provides in order to direct your marketing efforts.
The exact value proposition that your product or service will provide is dependent on what it is and who its target market is. To define your product's value proposition, answer the following:
● What pain points does your product remedy?
● How does your product stand out from your competitors?
● What unique features or experience does your product or service provide potential customers?
Defining pricing strategy.
Price is an important factor for any product. You don’t want to sell a product for too much or too little. If you do, you’ll risk either not moving enough product or eating too much into your profit margin.
Now that you have an understanding of your target market and the value that your product offers, you have a better understanding of what price a consumer might be willing to pay for your product.
A good price is one that fits your business objectives, matches your customer profile, and makes you competitive in the marketplace.
Crafting promotion strategy.
Your promotion strategy is your action plan to promote your product to your target customers. Here, you should craft a marketing plan that outlines the exact steps you will take to reach your customer base.
The techniques you use to promote your product will depend entirely on the product or service you are selling. For instance, while one business might use a sales team to pitch its product to other businesses, another might instead focus on social media marketing to raise brand awareness and draw in potential customers organically.
Choosing sales and distribution channels.
Sales channels are where consumers can purchase your product, while distribution channels are the ways that your product actually gets to your customer.
Often, sales channels and distribution channels can be the same, such as when a consumer buys directly from a manufacturer. In other instances, distribution channels can be much more complex, such as when a producer sells to a wholesaler, who in turn sells to a retailer who then finally sells their product to a consumer.
Whether you decide to sell your product in-person or online, directly to a consumer or to a wholesaler, or some other variation, depends on the unique needs of your product. Whatever you pick, the buyer’s journey should be as seamless as possible to reduce friction and increase sales.
Setting metrics to monitor performance.
The success of your go-to-market strategy is completely dependent on the goals that you set. In setting these goals, you are also identifying the metrics you will use to measure your success.
As your GTM strategy goes from idea to reality, it is important to keep track of your metrics and to make any necessary adjustments as you go along. For example, if it turns out that you are paying more to acquire customers than they are paying for your product, then you will need to adjust your strategy to reach a better customer acquisition cost.
About the speaker:
Eric Vest is a strategic and M&A advisor, specializing in laboratory informatics and all technologies related to biotech, pharmaceuticals, clinical trials, public health, and healthcare. He works as an advisor or board member, mainly assisting private equity firms, their portfolio companies, and other growth-stage organizations who are trying to plan for an exit, raise capital, or make acquisitions.
Learn how applying the 80/20 rule can improve investment outcomes! see more
Ever heard of the 80/20 rule in business?
The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle, states that 80% of the results come from 20% of all causes (or inputs) to a given event. In business, one goal of the 80/20 rule is to identify and prioritize the inputs that are likely to be most productive. For example, once CEOs have identified the factors that are critical to their business success, they should focus their efforts primarily on those factors.
Park City Angels member Ted McAleer joined our Keiretsu Forum Northwest & Rockies Roadshow to discuss go-to-market strategies for helping emerging startups avoid failure. He believes that the failure of the entrepreneur is the failure of the investor, a risk that can be avoided by simply developing a well-thought-out strategy, with metrics and performance indicators at all stages.
Here are the 3 most common reasons for startup failures, according to CB Insights:
Product Market Fit – 35%
Ran out of Cash – 38%
Wrong Team – 20%
In addition to the first three reasons, we have an insightful blog from investor and entrepreneur Rob Neville where he dives into the many reasons why startups fail. Let's talk about reason number one.
- Identifying a good Product Market Fit
Product-market fit describes the degree to which a company's target customers buy, use, and tell others a reasonable amount of a company's product to sustain the growth and profitability of that product. So why is it so important to implement it? Why do so many angel investors need proof of product viability before investing in a company?
This is because an entrepreneur & their team can't focus on other strategic goals such as increasing or upselling existing users until they develop a product that people are willing to pay for. In fact, these initiatives can be seen as counterproductive, if they haven't determined that there is enough market for their product to sustain themselves and make a profit, it can backfire. When you work with entrepreneurs, whether they're in early stage, seed, or late stage, you need to do an audit with them. Ask them the following questions about their product or service: Is this idea a good idea? Is the business model viable? And how can it be scaled? Here are some more questions and tests you can use to ensure that the company you are interested in has a good product-market fit.
If they haven't done these three tests, you really don't know if the idea they're after is good. If the idea is good and they pass all three tests, then you move on to the business model viability. Entrepreneurs can often build products, but it's important to know if they understand the market and industry. It is also important to note that entrepreneurs often do not represent the entire competitive landscape. In fact, they should study it better and understand if the product or service is a niche product in a certain region, or if they really have the ability to scale it.
How does a good go-to-market strategy impact product market fit?
The challenge with go-to-market strategies is that the timing of entry depends on technology. The term "Minimum Viable Product" or MVP is a product with enough functionality to attract early customers and validate product ideas early in the product development cycle. In industries such as software, MVPs can help product teams gather user feedback as quickly as possible to iterate and improve products. So, you will see that the product has gone through different versions during the initial stages of its release, namely MVP v1, MVP v2, MVP v3, etc.
If an entrepreneur continues to build a minimum viable product without customer feedback, it is likely that the product will never be successfully launched. The bare minimum for a truly viable product is to get people to interact as betas, then strategize how to convert those betas into paying customers, and then expand those paying customers to what Ted calls non-discounted, full paying customers. By systematically executing this process and regularly providing customer feedback to the development team and improving the product or service, a company can gain confidence in its product-market fit.
- Managing the company’s cash flow
Another big thing you need to consider as an investor is that startups may run out of cash. When a startup has gone through the co-founder, family, and friends’ stage and is now coming to an angel investor, it is necessary to determine your role in the company, especially if the product or service is technology-based. It's also required to thoroughly research the company's financials to understand how much money is raised in each round and how the money is being spent. As you continue to work with entrepreneurs, make sure they understand what happens to the CAP table when the company structure changes.
- Creating the perfect team structure
Angel investors often feel that they do not want to be on the board of directors of the companies they invest in. This is because, you stand to undertake a lot of fiduciary responsibilities, and when you invest in many companies, having too many board memberships can take up a lot of your time! One thing all investors can agree on is that in a go-to-market strategy, having a solid advisory board is crucial. For example, if you are interested in a company, and you are in conversation with the co-founder that is raising a pre-seed round. It is important to know the background of the co-founders. Do they have expertise in customer development and product development? Because if they don't, they will fail. In recent years, there have been many entrepreneurs aged 21-30 without much leadership and management experience. This is where angel investors can join as advisory board members, developing policy recommendations and helping young entrepreneurs make the most impactful decisions.
If you are planning to invest in a startup and want to evaluate their workflow, or are a board member of a startup and want to improve their current process, here is a quick guide to the steps each department needs to follow to ensure a smooth process within the organization:
Sometimes you meet visionary entrepreneurs who are good at product or customer development but don't know how to build or lead a team. Building and leading teams effectively are what most seasoned investors have achieved in their day. Angel investors play an important role in a company's go-to-market strategy and overall company growth by counseling these young entrepreneurs. The advisory board or core team must have members with a thorough understanding of all of the company's business functions. Take note! Never add too many ‘leader of leaders’ to a company's advisory board. This means that almost every seasoned angel investor can be considered a leader of leaders, but when you put too many angels into a startup team, the hierarchy pyramid collapses. Organizational balance is key to its success, so how can this be achieved?
Achieving organizational alignment in a startup
This is another essential element of a go-to-market strategy. An entrepreneur and the core team must understand the importance of strategic planning. Here are a few KPIs suggested by Ted for each team, they can be further developed as the startup scales.
- Mission: Define why the company exists
- Vision: Aspirational outcome determines the description of long-term success
- Strategic Objectives: If achieved, results will lead to the realization of the vision
- KPIs: How to know if results are being delivered, it also forms the basis of the company and its partners' scorecards
- Strategic Initiatives: Short-Term Attack Plans and 14/30/90-day plans to achieve quarterly goals
- Structure: how the company uses its human resources and how we organize our partner resources
- Budget: How a company uses its financial resources
Here are also a few principles that startups can adopt:
Going back to the Pareto Principle, Ted noted that creating organizational alignment and a metrics-based strategy provides the 80/20 focus to the business. It supports a company's decision-making process, facilitates the performance of all business functions, and most importantly, enables smooth communication between internal and external stakeholders. As you go through multiple funding rounds, you may find that the company's metrics improve quarter-to-quarter. It's important for every part of the business to have at least one metric. To define metrics, make sure they are smart, specific, measurable, and achievable. Don't get overwhelmed in the process, take it step by step, making sure the entrepreneur and their team are in sync, it's a surefire way to achieve common goals and be successful.
About the Speaker
Ted McAleer has been working with Utah’s Startup community since 1999. He is currently the VP of Operations at Rebel Medicine and prior to this Ted was VP of business Development at Braveheart Wireless, an IoHT Medical Device startup. From 2015 to 2018, Ted was the first Managing Director of PandoLabs, a business incubator and accelerator based in Park City, Utah where he worked with over 100 Entrepreneurs and their companies and developed a methodology for scaling companies from 2 to 20 employees that he captured in PandoLabs Institute. From 2006 to 2014, Ted was the 1 st Executive Director of USTAR (Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative), the State of Utah’s signature technology - based economic development initiative. Prior to USTAR, McAleer spent 5 years in a variety of leadership roles with Campus Pipeline, a Utah - based venture - backed EdTech startup that raised $80+ million during the “dot com” era. Click here to watch his keynote.
Wondering how to use Term Sheets to your advantage? We show you how! see more
Mark Girouard, CEO and founder of Stage Right Ventures, and member of Keiretsu Forum Northwest & Rockies joins us as our keynote speaker as we wrap up our last March 2022 Forum session in Portland/Oregon. In his speech, he talks about what he likes and dislikes about Term Sheets, and how you can use them to your advantage.
Mark started his keynote by pointing out the importance of a balance sheet. He explained that the balance sheet is the financial basis for understanding capitalization and dilution. Cash is generated by issuing company stock. When debt is converted into equity (convertible bonds) or equity is issued, these events lead to new capitalization events and may dilute existing shareholders. He went on to stress the importance of capitalization tables. Mark says the CAP table is the history of every good or bad Term Sheet the company has written. It helps if the investors make an effort to analyze the reason why the company continues to raise money in the first place.
A Term Sheet is a document exchanged between two parties that contains the terms of their agreement. It is a summary of the main points of the agreement and clarifies any differences before finalizing any legal agreement. While the Term Sheet will not change the balance sheet or CAP table, the execution of the related agreements will. Mark sees the connection between the balance sheet, CAP table, ownership claims, and Term Sheet. They are usually offered by companies, but can also be offered first by investors.
According to Mark:
- A Term Sheet is a person's idea of a possible agreement that affects the terms of ownership. It starts negotiations and hides many potential points that investors and companies must ultimately agree on, either implicitly or explicitly.
- A Side Letter is a condition that a particular investor requires outside the scope of the Term Sheet. It is advisable to commit to an investment once you have understood all the components of the document.
Summary: When you look at a CAP table, Term Sheet, Balance Sheet, Ownership & Investment, you have a clear idea of the company's situation.
SO, WHAT ARE THE MAKINGS OF A TERM SHEET?
Mark explained that in his experience, there is no standard format for Term Sheets. Some are long, some are short, but they generally provide information related to funding, pricing, liquidation preferences, governance, cost, and timing. It also depends on the business, but the main parts of the Term Sheet are:
- Liquidation Preference
- Conversion into Common Stock
- Voting Rights
- Board Structure
- Drag Along Rights
CATEGORISING THE ‘TERMS’ IN A TERM SHEET
Mark noted that companies or investors can distribute Term Sheets to start negotiations, and often target terms that favor the author of the document. Each party can be either informed, foolish or nefarious and designed to encourage or deter behavior through the business process set out in the Term Sheet. Generally, the terms within a Term Sheets fall into the following categories:
Economic Terms: Price, Liquidation Preference, Pay-to-Play, Vesting, Exercise Period, Employee Pool, and Anti-dilution.
Control Terms: Board of Directors, Protective Provisions, Drag-Along Agreement, and Conversion.
Other Terms: Dividends, Redemption Rights, Conditions Precedent to Financing, Information Rights, Registration Rights, Right of First Refusal, Voting Rights, Restriction on Sales, Proprietary Information, and Inventions Agreement, Co-Sale Agreement, Founders’ Activities, IPO Shares Purchase, No-Shop Agreement, Indemnification, and Assignment.
HOW DO SIDE LETTERS IMPACT YOUR INVESTMENT?
A Side Letter contains clauses that supplement or in some cases modify the terms of the investment agreement and are usually contained in a letter approved by the parties. Side Letters are often used to grant special rights and privileges to lead investors. (Seed investors, strategic investors, individuals with large commitments, employees, friends, family members, or government-regulated individuals.) Bad Term Sheets or a complex set of unique investor needs may require side letters.
Side Letters cover the following areas:
- Information Rights
- Resale Exemption
- Pro-Rata Rights
- Most Favored Nation
- Board Observer Rights
- Attorneys’ Fees
- Any other contractual right, waiver, and an amendment to the Term Sheet or Investment Agreement
WHAT DO TERM SHEETS REFLECT ABOUT YOUR INVESTMENTS?
There are 3 main investment types to be aware of: Equity, Convertible Notes & Debt. All other investments like options and warrants are byproducts of these 3 basic types. A Term Sheet can contain one or all potential investment decisions. Mark goes on to say that a Term Sheet can lead to an investment agreement and a potential relationship of five to seven years or more. It is important to realize that for those looking for funding, the supply of Term Sheets is endless and must be chosen wisely before engaging in this type of relationship.
WHAT ISN’T A TERM SHEET?
The Term Sheet does not contain all the information needed to make an investment decision. It's mostly a depiction of the market and helps in starting a conversation between investors and companies. Ideally, Term Sheets allow for the creation of a "possible agreement" zone for the parties to reach an agreement in further discussions. Term Sheets are non-binding, brief, general, limiting, and should not be agreed upon without a deeper introspection and an assessment of the capabilities of the parties. Here are some of the key elements missing from the Term Sheet:
- Conversation with anyone in the company during happy hour or over coffee
- Prior Term Sheets
- Term Sheets sent to other investors
- Side Letters that have been signed or not yet signed
- Other agreements affecting the interests of other investors
- The Investor’s interests unless they created the Term Sheet
- A clear indication of who has their “Skin in the Game” in the past, present, or future
- The full agreement and understanding of all related parties
WHAT MARK LIKES WHEN IT COMES TO INVESTING
In general, Mark said, as an investor, he wants to have a clear view of the money he has invested in the company and the exit. He also wants to have a thorough understanding of what can be achieved, and a consensus between all parties to make that happen. Specifically, he is looking to be paid a return of his money and then a return on his money. He went on to say that if there is no prioritization or confusion on this process, then it is not an investment. Clear approval and compliance to hit milestones, not comfort or charity, is what he or other investors are looking for. It is important to strike a reasonable balance of performance to pay back regarding the right investment type, soft needs, and term types. In essence, it is important to note starve the company and also not to let them run wild.
Investment Type (Mechanism) Soft Needs (Non-economic) Term Types
- Debt backed by Cash Flows and milestones
- Equity once de-risked
- Royalty or Dividend Methods
- Recap Methods
- Regular Reporting
- Regular accountability with non-management oversight
- High Trust
- High Skin in the Game
- Performance Incentives aligned to Investors
- Preferences & Protections
- Control (in the event of a failure)
- Economic incentives (reward investors and the Founder is an investor)
WHAT MARK DOESN’T LIKE, WHEN IT COMES TO INVESTING
Mark outlines things he doesn't like about investing, such as bad deals, little accountability, and more. He also suggests some things to watch out for as an investor. Bad Deals have Bad Terms and Bad Communication and are surrounded by vultures every step of the way.
Bad Terms Bad Communication Vultures in the past, present, future
- No Information Rights.
- Later investors with excessive rights. Avoiding early investors.
- Management with too much control, too little oversight.
- New Terms are only communicated to interested parties, not all investors. Fiduciary duty.
- Moving the company HQ.
- What management is being paid in total?
- What cash any member of the CAP Table has put in.
- Advisory Agreements without a purpose, or too many shares.
- Misaligned boards.
- Speeding up the process unnecessarily such as “Please read the 150-page document in 1 day and please send a check”. The devil is in the details.
TYPES OF INVESTMENTS THAT MARK RARELY LOOKS AT
Mark follows Warren Buffett's two investing rules:
- Don't lose money
- Don't forget the first rule
He went on to say that he rarely considers any term or activity that doesn’t put investors first or create exit opportunities for investors. According to Mark, any Term Sheet that confuses this is not one to look at. He explained that people in the finance and funds industry love terminology and jargon, but if you start with enough bad terms, it's best to stay away from bad deals with no exit possibility. While it's nice to have a range of terms, it's more important to stay away from bad deals. Unless the terms are easy and take into account all parties, it can go a long way in achieving a realistic exit and be a nightmare to align interests.
Here are some examples:
- Events that never happen: It's nice to have clear rights, but more complex terms only come to play after certain events occur. It is important to understand the probability of such events
- Rights that don’t apply to me: Many of the “rights” have colloquial names that help investors close deals on the edge. Often these terms can be used to justify economics or control, which may not be a "right" at all. It is important to know which terms do not apply to you and which terms generally apply to others. Find out which rights affect your investment.
- Performance Exuberance: any term that includes an exuberant, illogical share price trigger based on performance that has never occurred
- Bad incentives: Incentives based on negative performance. Sometimes people use this word to see if you're listening.
MARK’S EXPERIENCES AS AN INVESTOR
A Term Sheet is a combination of what happened before, what worked, what didn't, and people's favorite terms. If a company messes up, there are fewer terms available, but usually seeks to pit one group against another. Here are some examples of important terms to be aware of:
- Invest now, I will send you the investment agreement later
- Penny warrants when only a few investors remain
- 50% discount for family members on IPO/exit
- Dividend and payroll liabilities on exit
- Excessive control terms for certain parties
- Excessive economic terms for certain parties
- Pricing triggers, valuation triggers, performance, and share issuance to management
- Any benefit/penalty to either party
- Over a period of time, the encouragements and discouragements for specific parties get outlandish in good and bad deals
AN EXAMPLE OF TERM SHEET NEGOTIATION
Balancing the interests of all key parties is critical to a successful Term Sheet. Excluding certain groups creates problems. The following parties are listed in order of importance:
- Previous Investors
- New investors
- Staff (to develop the business)
The table below is based on Mark’s personal experience. It is an example of leading the next down round, bringing consistency, and hitting milestones.
The Past The Event The future
- No Communication.
- Down Round from high overpricing.
- Poor performance and use of capital.
- Asked to lead a down round, almost walked away.
- Making promises with few options left.
- A never-ending supply of Employees and Advisors not contributing cash.
- COO negotiating the Term Sheet quits 6 months later.
- During covid, the company did surprisingly well.
- Clear consistent communication, required investor relations.
- Better management & team goals.
- Better investor coordination.
- Exit likely in 1-2 years.
TERM SHEETS AS A SCIENCE
In the end, Mark pointed out that every time you see a Term Sheet, it indicates something bigger and more comprehensive. Mark believes that Term Sheets are a science where you can play your cards and influence the value of your company in the future. He asked do you want to own 100% of a $1 million company or 1% of a $1 billion company? He went on to say that when valuations rise, ownership falls, and when investors' money is used efficiently, economic performance improves. Increasing the percentage of ownership of less valuable property and wasting cash is sure to lead to failure! Finally, Mark points out that every time you see a Term Sheet, it points to something bigger and more comprehensive.
ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Mark Girouard is the CEO and Founder of Stage Right Ventures, an Advisory, Investment, and Technology Firm focused on building high-quality companies with a successful divestment plan. His extensive background in corporate finance and transaction services uniquely positions him to provide expertise and advocacy for entrepreneurs and investors. His exclusive approach drives clients to build enterprise business value, robust financial models, integrated solutions, and profitable transactions. Click here to watch his keynote address.
Do not invest until you have an answer to all of them. see more
The investment process comes with many challenges and rewards. As an investor, it's up to you to overcome the challenges and reap the rewards, but how do you do it? One simple tactic that always helps is asking questions!
When it comes to investing, you don’t just need to ask questions, you need to ask the right questions. The questions that you ask during the due diligence process can give you an insight into the companies and teams that can help you make your final decision to invest in a company.
Norman Boone has compiled a list of questions every investor should ask themselves and entrepreneurs before investing. He is an experienced leader, entrepreneur, long-term angel investor, and member of the Keiretsu Forum NorCal region. He gave the keynote address at the Denver/Boulder chapter meeting at our May 2022 Roadshow.
Whether you're investing for the first time or have been investing for years, here are some key questions Norman asks himself and the entrepreneur during due diligence and before writing a check.
The most important Question Investors need to ask themselves! (With examples!)
Do you have space in your allocation?
If you plan to invest in a new business, it is important that you have sufficient funds allocated for the investment.
Do you love the product idea?
Does it appeal to you? Do you find it practical? If the answer to both of these questions is no, you need to reconsider your investment decision. Norman explained that Northern California-based Earth Grid is working on underground tunnels almost as large as roadways, and he thinks they will eventually work with power lines, water lines, and more. This is a global opportunity as their competitor in the region PG&E (power company) has had major problems with fires on overhead power lines. Investing in the company could be a great opportunity to create more beauty and less harm to the environment.
What is the quality of management and the board?
Most fledgling companies probably don't have a board of directors at this stage of their growth. Norman went on to say that if the company has a board of directors, you need to look at how involved they are. Also, the quality of the team such as management, entrepreneurs, and core decision-makers. Norman cites the company Epilogue Systems as an example. When he joined Epilogue Systems as part of the due diligence team, he appreciated CEO Mike Graham's ability to act on recommendations and his willingness to accept feedback.
Is there an exit plan?
No sane investor wants to lose money on an investment. Therefore, it is important to assess whether the company has a clear plan and path towards an exit.
Is the Term Sheet fair?
The Term Sheet is an essential document that contains all investment terms. As an investor, it is important to understand the details of the Term Sheet and the financial terms contained within. It is necessary to read the Term Sheet frequently to ensure that you are getting the best deal from your investment. To make money from a company, it is imperative to understand the Term Sheet.
Norman went on to ask, does the business model make sense for you? Can it be scaled? With the current business model, will the company deliver on its promises? Or do they need to change their operating structure as they grow? The more effective the business model, the more likely it is to succeed in the future.
Is the market ready for this innovation?
The market plays a significant role in the success of a company. As an investor, you want to know if this company is an attractive investment. You want to know if there is a large market for the product or service you are investing in and if that market is ready for innovation. Example: Turn Technologies is one of the companies that Norman believes has great technology and a way to connect gig workers with employers.
Competitive landscape analysis is a proactive way to understand how a company competes with its competitors. By leveraging on its strengths, the company can make up the ground between itself and its competitors.
Do the economics/financials make sense?
Understanding the numbers in a company's financial statements is a vital skill for investors. Meaningful interpretation and analysis of balance sheets, profit, and loss statements, and cash flow statements to identify a company's investment quality is fundamental to making informed decisions.
The impact of technology
A company's technology is critical to its success. Norman gives another example of Epilogue Systems. In his experience, their technology overwhelmed unicorn-sized competitors. He loves their management and their technology, what they do and how it makes them useful.
Here are Questions Investors Need to Ask Entrepreneurs
The infographic below summarizes 4 key areas where questions can be asked.
Questions Investors need to ask themselves before finally writing a check
Even if investors like a company, there are a few other factors to consider before closing a deal.
- Is there room in your allocation?
- Have your questions been answered in a way that makes you feel comfortable?
- Will it help you build diversity in assets?
- Are you passionate about this company and its people?
- Will this affect your decision to proceed and the investment amount?
Final advice for all investors
Norman recalls the advice given to him by Keiretsu Forum founder Randy Williams when he joined Keiretsu Forum.
- Don’t invest in your first year – use it to learn;
- Attend as many sessions and deep dives as you can;
- Do at least 1, preferably 2 due diligence projects;
- Seek insights from more experienced people in Keiretsu;
At the end of the day, what matters to Norman is the big picture, does the company have a real possibility of becoming successful? What are the obstacles and how do they get around them? Does the company have a clear vision of what it wants to achieve? As a longtime financial advisor, Norman explained that you can only invest in what you can afford to lose. As an investor, you need to be careful and ask the right questions every step of the way.
ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Norman Boone is an experienced leader and entrepreneur. He founded and successfully sold two companies - one a financial advisory firm and the other a software SaaS firm. He is a board member of many non-profit organizations, a university, and professional associations. He also authored a textbook for the financial services industry and a variety of articles and columns. He is currently retired and is focused on consumer fairness, scaling of successful non-profits, and consulting to non–profits, and is an active angel investor. Click here to watch his keynote address.
Understand the go-to-market strategy and product-market fit before investing. see more
What are the biggest challenges facing start-ups? In our blog "The Top Reasons Why Start-ups Fail," we discussed some of the main reasons start-ups fail. A common theme that caught our attention and was one of the main reasons for failure was the lack of a proper go-to-market (GTM) strategy and product-market fit.
Go-to-Market Strategy & Product-Market Fit are the two core components that investors should consider in order to reduce investment risk:
When framing a go-to-market strategy, it is important to assess whether a company is focusing on the right target group and entering the market at the right time and whether the market is saturated. The last thing you want to do is invest in a company launching an unprofitable product. Similarly, product-market fit describes how well a company's target customers buy, use, and tell others about a company's product in sufficient quantities to sustain the growth and profitability of that product. Achieving product-market fit is the key to a successful business. This means that there is a market demand for the product and people are willing to pay for it. Eric Vest delivered his keynote address at the May 2022 Keiretsu Forum Northwest & Rockies Roadshow, discussing the go-to-market strategy and scope of emerging start-ups. With over 25 years of entrepreneurial experience, the core theme of his presentation is understanding how to reduce risk in a portfolio through go-to-market strategies and product matching from an investor's perspective.
Simply put, a go-to-market (GTM) strategy is a step-by-step process of introducing new products and/or expanding existing products into new markets. Any good strategy should be able to answer the following questions: What are you selling? Who are you selling it to? What problem does it solve? How and where will you sell it? In which markets will you sell it? What are the needs? Who are your competitors? How did you get interested?
Bringing a product to market can be challenging, no matter how advanced the technology or how good the team is, developing a strategy that considers every possibility is the only way to ensure that you avoid mistakes and create a strong path to success for your company and investors.
Go-to-Market Strategy Framework
An efficient go-to-market strategy should include the following:
Defining the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)
As an entrepreneur, the first and most important step is to figure out your overall target market. You need to define who your target market is, what problem you are trying to solve and create the ideal customer profile (ICP). It is important to create a more specific target audience who will gain value from your product and will eventually become the driving force for company sales.
Once you have an idea of your target market, you need to dig deeper into your new market strategy and look at the competition and underserved parts of the market. When you do, you'll also begin to understand whom you can actually compete with and how to effectively differentiate yourself from them.
Develop your messaging
A good messaging strategy includes many key points that provide information about your business and the value you add to your customers' lives. Once you've identified your market, created the ideal customer profile, and researched your competitors, you need to develop a messaging strategy for your business. Your strategy should include your positioning, value proposition, and mainly should align with the company values and the strategic narrative you have decided upon. The company messaging while strongly related to your brand and product should be distinctive enough to be differentiated from your competitors.
Setting your targets
All good GTM strategies have clear models. You can build these models within the capacity/budget you have.
Choosing your tactics
To implement ICP, you need to use multiple strategies at the same time. This includes data, marketing strategy, content planning, and partnerships. These 4 components must be further developed according to your strategy.
Establish feedback processes across all marketing, sales, product development, and other core departments to ensure key learning outcomes are implemented into the GTM strategy. To create this cycle, you need to hold individuals in your organization accountable for different parts of the strategy. If these people report their progress in regular meetings, you can overcome stumbling blocks together.
Eric now says he sees start-ups from an investor's perspective, and he sees them very differently. He believes that good strategies come from experience. All components of an entrepreneurial strategy are mostly based on theory, and only an investor with experience in the field can judge whether the strategy is good or bad. Simply put, a GTM strategy is a roadmap that measures the viability of a solution's success and predicts its performance based on market research, past examples, and competitive data. Finally, he points out that good product-market fit plays an even more important role if investors want to reduce the risk of investment failure.
Eric explained that in his experience, it all boils down to the product being a good fit for the market. Whether it's a group of founders or young entrepreneurs, as an investor, you need to take a close look at their deck and examine many different areas to see if it makes sense. They need to assess whether the business model is good, whether the market is large enough, and whether they have a competitive advantage.
What is it?
Product-market fit happens when you successfully identify your target customers and offer them the right product. After the product-market fit is achieved, the next step is to scale by researching to find more customers in the target market. Establishing product-market fit is a critical task for a new start-up.
So where does this concept lie?
Entrepreneur and investor Marc Andreesen, who is often credited as the developer of the concept, believes that product-market fit means finding a good market for a product that can satisfy that market. See the pyramid below to see how product-market fit connects the two sides of a company.
How can an entrepreneur achieve a good product-market fit?
- Make sure the strategy is well thought out
A key element of a go-to-market strategy is that it must make sense as a whole. Eric explained that the distribution model plays an important role in the overall strategy, but it is a component that investors often overlook. Especially when it comes to selling, it is important to keep friction as low as possible
- Learn how to achieve product-market fit
Learn how a team or individual entrepreneur will achieve product-market fit. It doesn't guarantee overall success, but the right product-market fit can help reduce the risk for emerging businesses.
- Teams that focus on product-market fit are more likely to succeed
Achieving product-market fit and winning customers should be the goal of everyone in the company. Everyone from the CEO to the team that interacts with customers should work together to find the right product for the market, as this ensures a great chance of success.
ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Eric Vest is a strategic and M&A advisor, specializing in laboratory informatics and all technologies related to biotech, pharmaceuticals, clinical trials, public health, and healthcare. He has a unique skill set that combines deep domain expertise with:
1) 25+ years as an entrepreneur, operator, and board member with three verifiable exits.
2) Rich experience working with private equity and venture capital (buy-side and sell-side).
3) Many years of fundraising at seed, early-stage, and growth-stage levels
He works as an advisor or board member, mainly assisting private equity firms, their portfolio companies, and other growth-stage organizations who are trying to plan for an exit, raise capital, or make acquisitions. Click here to watch his keynote address.
How entrepreneurs can better structure their go-to-market strategies to attract investors. see more
What makes an investor decide to write a check? An impressive pitch deck? The company's go-to-market strategy? Market valuation? Is it the strength of the team or the passion of the CEO?
Investors typically evaluate hundreds of areas when planning to invest in a company. As an entrepreneur seeking funding, consider what needs to be done to attract them. What factors will make them invest in your business?
Roger Shanafelt has been on both the entrepreneurial and investor side of things. He joined our Keiretsu Forum Northwest and Rockies Forums in May and shared his views on a company's go-to-market strategy and scale. His approach is to focus on the customer and have a customer-centric mindset. He states that if you meet them where they are, and draw them into your product or solution, you are more likely to get them to engage with your offering.
Investors evaluate thousands of pitch decks over their lifetimes. If you want to secure funding, here’s what you need to spend a considerable amount of time perfecting:
A Go-to-Market Strategy for your product and/or service
Roger defines it as a tactical action plan that outlines the steps needed to succeed in a new market or with a new customer. Its purpose is:
- To help you articulate why you're bringing your product to market, who it's for, and how you're going to tackle the task of getting customers to engage and make a purchase.
- It forces you to think about all the problems your customers will face when presented with your product.
- It acts as a tool for coaching teams that is comprehensive enough to add value, yet flexible enough to be updated as feedback is received.
The main purpose of a GTM strategy is to help you (the entrepreneur) develop the reason why you launched your product in the first place! It helps you define whom it's for and keeps users engaged. It also forces you to think deeply about the issues your customers face when presented with your product. In turn, it helps to guide your team to successfully market and sell. Accepting feedback from users and your team is critical, as the feedback received will only help you refine your strategy. At this stage of your entrepreneurial journey, be sure to set expectations, meet them, and even exceed them.
So, what should be the core components of an entrepreneur’s pitch deck?
A well-explained product-market fit
It is very important to customize a product or service according to the needs of the customer. Your product should solve the problem they face. Start by digging deep into the "why" this product was developed, what are the real problems and what are the real benefits? How can you verify that the users want it?
Roger shared an example of his learnings with the company, DocuSign, where he recalled that they needed to connect the company to something bigger than just dealing with paper. The strategic solution they were looking to advance was the electronic signature market. They figured to solve this issue; they would need to strategize the use case first. So, they initially focused on getting into financial services, specifically the process of issuing home origination loans for refinancing or mortgages.
This is an example of industry-specific product-market fit. It is important to understand the use case and be able to translate it into a value proposition. Roger recalls a colleague saying that when you talk about your technology, if the first thing you talk about how different and unique it is, you miss the opportunity to adjust its positioning in the market, especially with the competition. Investors often look to see if entrepreneurs fully understand their position in the market, who they are and how they are different from everyone else.
Key questions for entrepreneurs:
- What problems does the product solve for people?
- How do you validate requirements?
- How do you know that your users want and need it?
- Have you tested and validated the idea with real people?
- Is there a clearly articulated value proposition(s)?
- Where does the product fit in the market?
- How is the product priced?
- What is the long-term thinking about strategic objectives?
A comprehensive target audience
It’s important to pay attention to what issues your problem will solve. As an entrepreneur, it is imperative that you have the ideal customer profile well thought out. You should have a solid understanding of attributes such as demographics, geography, industry, income, and number of employees. And if your product is a technology, do you understand the right tech stack to go after? Because you design the sales experience in the customer-buyer journey, you want to let everyone on the buyer journey understand your product and how the solution can make your customer's life easier. Investors commonly look for the maturity of that understanding in the entrepreneur when assessing their knowledge of who the target market is.
Key questions to consider:
- Who is experiencing the problem that the product solves?
- How much are users willing to pay for the solution?
- What pain points and frustrations does it alleviate?
- What is the ideal customer profile?
- Who are the buyer personas?
- Who is involved in the buyer's journey?
A plan to beat the competition and generate demand
Roger said that when he looks at the buyer’s journey, he usually sees in the deal flow that most early-stage companies divide the buyer’s journey into three categories: top of the funnel, middle of the funnel, and bottom of the funnel. He doesn’t see this approach as a very sophisticated model and prefers to see entrepreneurs think more about the “flywheel buyer journey” of marketing-sales partnerships. This approach helps customers at different stages, some in the beginning and some deep in the buying process. The flywheel buyer journey focuses on meeting users where they are, whether they are strangers, potential customers, or existing customers (hopefully promoters).
Effective distribution model
Roger explains that marketing and sales dynamics are the most important factors in understanding how you will enter the market early. When he wanted DocuSign to be a verb like Xerox was to copy, he set an example and wanted people to say DocuSign to e-signature and knew it would take a long time to develop it, so they focused on direct selling, going-to-market strategy, and promoting DocuSign's usage strategy for the benefits of electronic filing.
As an entrepreneur, you need to understand how it fits into your strategy and connect it to how you build sales and demand. He also places a strong emphasis on-demand generation. That means getting the attention of people in need, whether they're a potential client, to help them find our product or solution so we engage with them where they are.
Investors also should have a thorough understanding of the demand generation of the company. Where does it come from? And what are the channels? Does the entrepreneur understand the cost per lead and customer acquisition cost? Do you understand conversion rates? Is the process repeatable and scalable?
Key pointers to consider:
- Marketing vs Sales Dynamic
- Demand Generation
On the sales side of the equation, we're looking at what is the selling/staffing model. Is it self-serve, inside, field, channel, or a combination of all? This is where the buyer journey comes in, how many people, and whom do you need to talk to in your ideal customer profile to ensure that they will go through that buying journey. In a way that is ever increasingly enjoyable and the delivering trust as they go through the sales cycle. Are there any friction points, and if there are what are they doing to deal with them? Conducting pilot programs will also help you get access to data and that can affect and help improve your process. It is always good to have a good handle on your sale cycle and constantly review the numbers to ensure that they are improving over time. That will ensure the success of your company in the long run.
About the Speaker:
Roger Shanafelt has over 25 years of building high-performing sales teams with a broad range of marketing, business development, and engineering experience in a variety of leadership positions at software/SaaS organizations such as Home Network, Exodus, Loudcloud, Myrio, DocuSign, and Fullcast. His go-to-market approach applies his ability to rapidly identify patterns in the sales cycle of successful customer acquisitions, defining success metrics, instrumenting technology platforms to report on said metrics, then collaborating with cross-functional teams to build and continuously refine a repeatable and scalable sales process from lead to renewal. Click here to watch his keynote address.