• Snehal Mishra posted an article

    How To Go Beyond Due Diligence Basics And Propel Startup Success

    Key focus areas that drive good due diligence see more

    Angel investing is not for the faint-hearted. It is also not as swift and glamorous as reality shows like Shark Tank would have us believe. In fact, angels often spare few efforts to ensure their time and resources create lasting value for themselves and the market. Much of this effort goes into due diligence — a term that makes startup founders queasy and remains a daunting prospect for angels themselves. How much due diligence is too much? 

    Angel investor and entrepreneur Rob Neville shed light on this topic in his Keiretsu Forum keynote. As MD of Springbok Ventures, a firm that backs early-stage startups, Rob has worked with countless founders, refining their business plans and ensuring they are well-equipped for growth. Let’s dive into the key diligence insights he brought to the table.


    An Active Relationship 

    Rob’s due diligence philosophy goes beyond creating checklists and confirming facts. A company’s claims aren’t simply verified. Instead, his method is a lot more collaborative. It involves taking an active role in guiding the company, getting to know the team, and judging the team’s ability to execute the plan.

    “We don't see that diligence ends when you're done with the diligence report. [It is] an opportunity to shape the company into a viable and investable entity,” says Rob in his keynote address. In other words, the process is a lot more immersive and symbiotic. Angel involvement can also mean making tweaks to the business model or the pitch to ensure the company is better placed to succeed. According to Rob, understanding why startups fail underpins a high-level diligence process. He narrows down 3 ways in which early-stage firms crash: 

    Poor capitalization: Failure to raise enough funds

    Bad product fit: Flawed business model or getting outcompeted

    Inefficient team: Lack of credibility; disharmony with board

    Let’s look at Rob’s advice on making interventions in each of these cases.



    Startups often fail because they do not raise the money they need to take off or sustain operations. And nothing puts investors off quite like the lack of a good story. When the story does not live up to the product, Rob suggests working tirelessly to shape the CEO into a great storyteller. This is done to ensure investors can also believe in the founder’s (well-defined) vision and pledge their dollars. Primary risks need to be addressed early as well. His team helps companies by going through their GANTT charts along with their use of financials and proceeds to ensure they line up. It takes multiple rounds of vetting to refine a financial model. It doesn’t hurt for investors to even reach out to vendors and verify that the company will be able to scale and fulfill its promises.

    Last but not least is refining the terms of security or collateral to manage the risk undertaken by angel investors. Rob summarizes his view, “We want to make sure the company is raising the right amount of money for the right security and that they're going to be able to get to where they need to get to with that money.”

    Product-Market Fit

    Investors must confirm whether the startup’s product will serve the market’s needs. To this end, every single claim the company makes has to be tested against a credible source. For example, if a med-tech founder says that 20 million patients across America are diagnosed with a certain illness each year, Rob might ask for a peer-reviewed article that verifies the facts. His team also creates its own Total Available Market, Serviceable Available Market, and Serviceable Obtainable Market (TAM, SAM & SOM) reports, vetting them from various perspectives. Realistic assumptions guide these forecasts — sometimes leading to adjustments in the business model.

    While validating a product is easier when it is in the market, there are ways to do this with products yet to be launched. Building surveys and doing on-ground research helps pinpoint the ideal customer persona and their thinking process. Lastly, rigorous competitor analysis is a more obvious stage of the process — one that can involve communication with competitors themselves.

    Team Dynamics & Personality

    Hundreds of business plans delivered to Silicon Valley VCs don’t see the light of day because the people pitching them don’t appear credible or warm enough. So how does one build a good level of credibility and connection? Angel investors need to spend considerable time with the founders and the team to forge a human connection. This can take many forms. Rob often takes CEOs and their wives to dinner and recalls how he even found a running partner in one founder!

    Rob also advises conducting second-degree reference checks to make sure a founder with a dubious history does not take the investors for a ride. Commitment to the team also needs to be gauged and any wild claims made by the company is always good reason to raise doubts.

    The angel investor life cycle is one of continuous research, judgment and instinct. A high-level due diligence process asks the right questions and takes active steps to shape the answers as best as possible. Drawing from valuable years of experience, Rob Neville has laid bare the intricacies that lie behind the veil of efficient angel investing, suggesting that due diligence is more than just ticking all the boxes. In the end, it’s about nurturing a relationship and going that extra mile to remove as many uncertainties as one can before the cheque is signed. 


    About the speaker

    Rob Neville is an angel investor, serial entrepreneur, and member of Keiretsu Forum. Currently, he serves as Managing Director of Springbok Ventures and is also the President and CEO of non-profit employment generator Goodwill Central Texas. As a repeat judge and past winner of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, he has analyzed hundreds of successful companies.

    To watch his entire keynote address click here: https://keiretsuforum.tv/three-key-focus-area-while-conducting-due-diligence-before-writing-a-check/

     November 07, 2023
  • Snehal Mishra posted an article

    Going From Patents to Profits: A Guide to IPs for Investors and Founders

    Find out how the realm of early-stage IP goes beyond patents see more

    Early-stage investors performing due diligence can often find themselves lost in the world of patents. While patents are undeniably crucial to intellectual property (IP), they come with distinct challenges. Patents can be costly, time-consuming, and challenging to enforce or assert. However, investors and founders can extract themselves from the web of patents and examine quicker and less expensive forms of IP as part of their due diligence,­­­­

    Brad Frazer is a Partner at Hawley Troxell Ennis & Hawley and serves as the Chair of the Intellectual Property & Internet practice group. With over 3 decades of experience in Internet law, Intellectual Property law, and Information Technology law, he works with clients in transactional matters and legal disputes. Here’s what we learned from his Keiretsu Forum Keynote on going beyond patents.


    Intellectual Property for Startups

    Preparations for a strong IP portfolio should be made well in advance, up to six months before a company's launch and ideally at the time of inception. IP isn't just about protecting inventions; it's also about fortifying brand identity. IP is a way to tackle the unauthorized replication of creative works or business solutions. It helps ensure that competitors can challenge your company fairly. As Brad says time and again, IP is not limited to patents.

    Let’s take a look at different types of IPs investors and entrepreneurs can consider:

    1. Patents grant a lawful monopoly to the owner for new, useful, and non-obvious inventions, allowing exclusive rights to sell the innovation for a defined period. However, patents only become effective when issued; a process that can take years.

    2. Copyright is when a creative idea is translated into a tangible medium. The photographs on your phone, for instance, are items you have copyrights to. Computer code, website content, user manuals, novels, and other creative works are accompanied by copyright ownership.

    3. Trademark is a commercial source identifier. Notable examples of trademarks are the Golden Arches of McDonald's and the MGM Lion Roar. A word, phrase, design, or symbol can all be registered as trademarks.

    4. Trade secrets derive their value from the very fact that they are confidential in nature. They encompass an extensive range of proprietary information that is not yet protected by patent law.

    When a client tells Brad that they have no IP whatsoever, they often mean they don’t have a patent (or even a patent application). But in many instances, especially in the 21st century, IP value doesn't come solely from patents but also from brands, copyrights, and trade secrets – often in that order.

    Employing the "bucket metaphor" is useful for identifying IP assets. A thorough analysis of a company’s website, inventions, and documents is the first step in the process. Once this is done, the Patent bucket can be populated with things like know-how, inventions, filed applications, and issued patents. Next, the Copyrights bucket can include marketing material, data or graphics. The Trademarks and Social Media bucket might contain any symbols, logos, or other brand identifiers, while the Trade Secrets bucket contains any advantages the company possesses over competitors.



    To IP or not to IP

    “I always like to tell clients that if they build a robust IP portfolio considering all forms of IP.. they can add a zero to their exit,” says Brad. Crafting a robust IP portfolio builds asset value and adds wings to the brand. As an investor, if your target company boasts such a  portfolio, you are effectively purchasing a lawful monopoly, enabling you to assert IP rights against competitors. So, what strategies should investors contemplate during the due diligence process?

    1. Identify Your IP: Thorough due diligence means verifying that the target company has identified all its IP assets, not merely patents.

    2. Own Your IP: Ownership constructs in IP law are anything but straightforward. It is essential to ensure that companies genuinely own the intellectual property they claim to own.

    Brad adds, “One of my favorite exercises is to ask clients who have a SaaS application or software if they own the code and invariably they say, ‘Sure we do, we have paid for it.’ That, of course, is legally incorrect. Payment has nothing to do with ownership of IP.”

    3. File Patents Early and Often: Initiating patent applications early is advisable; so is achieving the ‘patent pending’ status.

    4. Choose Strong Brands/Trademarks: Craft a distinctive brand presence and choose powerful trademarks to establish your identity.

    5. Register Copyrights Timely: Much like filing patents, timely copyright registration is helpful and essential.

    6. Use NDAs for Trade Secrets: Until an issued patent is secured, all information is considered a trade secret. Robust and enforceable Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) are vital to safeguard proprietary information.

    In 2023, owning an iconic ‘brand’ or domain name is a guaranteed path to IP excellence, followed closely by a strong portfolio of copyrights, trade secrets, and patents. A myopic focus on patents will prove insufficient. Instead, a comprehensive evaluation of all IP forms is critical for early-stage angel investors and entrepreneurs.

    IP is an extensive and valuable facet of the business landscape. For investors, a holistic exploration of IP during due diligence can potentially elevate asset value, strengthen branding, and provide remedies against unfair competition. To maximize brand potential, it is crucial to broaden one’s perspective beyond patents and consider the diversity in intellectual property. When presented with early-stage investment opportunities, it is incumbent upon investors to recognize and monetize their target’s IP assets. Intellectual property, in its many forms, can wield significant influence over the value and prosperity of an early-stage business.


    About the Speaker

    Brad Frazer is a Partner with Hawley Troxell Ennis & Hawley and is Chair of the firm’s Intellectual Property & Internet practice group. In addition to emphasizing and focusing on all facets of Internet law, Intellectual Property law, and Information Technology law, he also helps clients with related transactional work and litigation.

    A Boise native, Brad began his legal career in 1989 as an intellectual property attorney and commercial litigator at a Boise-based law firm. In 1997 he accepted an in-house position as Senior Intellectual Property Counsel with Fortune 1000 company, Micron Electronics, Inc., and remained there through the company’s merger with Interland, Inc. (now Web.com), then the nation’s largest Web hosting company. He eventually became Deputy General Counsel for Micron Electronics, Inc., and Interland, Inc. From June 2003 to February 2006, Mr. Frazer served as Deputy General Counsel to MPC Computers, LLC, in Nampa, Idaho.


    To watch Brad’s entire keynote on Keiretsu Forum TV, visit: https://keiretsuforum.tv/intellectual-property-strategies-for-businesses/

     October 25, 2023