I am looking to start a business, however I have no capitol of my own, no prospects of friends or colleagues to help with financing and no idea how to find investors.
My plan is to focus on my business plan and try to have meetings with various potential investors to try and sell them on the idea, and hopefully find a partner.
The things I am unsure to address in my plan are:
Should I still mention them as
competition, or just ignore them?
No one writes business plans for investors anymore. That's how it used to work with the first dot-com bubble, in 2000. Don't follow any advice online that relates to that period.
It is useful for you to find the answers to those questions (financial projections, corporate structure, etc.). That's step 1: you need to know which way to go.
Step 2 is to start implementing something: a prototype, a mockup, whatever it takes to show progress.
You'll be amazed how far step 2 can stretch. Investors and money will show up, hopefully, once step 2 is well on its way.
If you are just an idea -- and have no personal financial capacity to launch the business, prototyping, alpha, proof-of-concept or anything you are in an extraordinarily challenging position.
What do you do?
Step one: Re-asses whether you really don't have any direct or indirect resources to develop any type of proof of concept. It will make the world of difference if you can.
Step two: Develop the executive summary (2-4 pages) of a business plan -- supported by a "white paper on the technical solution" the white paper should address the value to the customer and how it is done technically. The executive summary of the business plan should emphasize a staged approach where an true angle will cover their risk by puting money in benchmarked against specific deliverables which validate the technology behind the whitepaper, and then the assumptions about market demand.
There are lots of resources to help you do that executive summary and white paper. Your local SCORE chapter, the local business school, or even the government-supported Start-up America Partnership might provide you connections with the direct resources you need. (Of course this board will be a good source to specific questions as well)
In specific answer to your five specific questions:
My product is quite technical. I feelA supporting technical whitepaper that explains it in technical terms and can be used as a support addendum will address this issue. For the prospective investor you will need to be able to explain it in one sentence. As the inventor you will feel like this is bastardizing your idea. It is. Get over it. One way people do this is to anchor the new against something know -- like "It is Groupon meets Dairy Queen delivered like Red Box"
when I dumb it down, it becomes
indistinguishable from other products
on the market, when in fact it is
quite unique. How technical should it
be, and how can I separate my product
as revolutionary without going into
Lack of competition. . . . .Every product has competition. Period. Stop thinking about it from the perspective of the product-- and think about it from the perspective of the customer. How does the customer address the need your problem addresses now.
Should I still mention them as
competition, or just ignore them?
People are very reluctant to invest in product/services that address unknown or not-felt needs. You may know why you are going to "kick-their-tail" and differentiate yourself from them-- but include the closest competitors you can think of no matter what. It proves market opportunity.
The person pitching the first car had no "product competitors" -- but their competitors were all the people selling other modes of transportation -- like horses. The B2B sales person that was first pitching a computer based spreadsheet could say they had no competitors -- except that people were meeting their accounting needs somehow -- with green ledger paper. If people are not trying to meet the need your product solves -- when then you will need to have significant support for the idea that they will want to.
Financial projections..... Should I just keep numbersI would propose you are not ready for company financials. When you are further along you will have more. A prospective investor will simply need the size of the market to gauge a relative business opportunity. And then a phased use of funds -- maybe 2 or three phases out that show the costs associated with getting to a place where true market viability and value can be assessed.
How many references? .....just enoughProvide the best possible three you can in your executive summary, and start to build a "book" of the references so that you can pull them out and cite them.
to sell my point or as many as
Finally, I don't have a setThe only "there-there" at the moment is an idea -- leave it open and when someone is willing to invest in the idea/you then you can put together the right company structure.
company structure proposed .... or is
it still better to leave it open?
"...If you build it, they will come..."
I worked for a 1999 startup where investors poured "buckets of cash" on our heads for having an "idea". Those times are over. In today's economy, if you're not a famous entrepreneur who "did it before" and have connections with VC's - you won't see a penny for an idea.
You may see a penny and much more than that when you can prove user traction, revenue and growth. So, just like that old Kevin Costner movie - If you want them to come -- you have to build it.
This is what I'm doing with my own startup. I have a wonderful idea and I'd love to have someone pour $700K at my feet so that I can hire people, get offices and quit my current day job so that I can concentrate on running my startup instead of working nights and weekends and have black bags under my eyes. Not going to happen. Money will come to me if I can prove my idea works. I intend to do just that.
@Sonny, there seems to be some seriously opposing views on this topic, "don't bother with a business plan" VS "you need one".
Personally I think you need a business plan but it doesn't need to be 1000 pages and cover everything. It should pretty much be a formilised set of working notes for what your going to build, how your going to address the market and what you see it is going to take to get you there.
Personally I rewrite our companies business plan every two years, it comes in around 20 pages, which I then distill down into 2-3, which then go down into the elevator pitch ... the 20 pages is only ever read by the other business partners (sometimes) ... really its for me to know I have my head around the issue, the spreadsheet with incomings and outgoings for good, average and bad senarios ... This helps me enourmasly to say
In the last 2 years I have started writing most of it as an internal blog so that everyone understands the goals and direction we want to head ... along with the WHY.
You may not even end up showing the investors but you sound far more convincing and comfortable in yourself when you easily answer the tricky questions around costs, needs of the business, market and competition.
As for your points:
If you don't know this how much are you going to ask an investor for? How will they know what they are in for?
You should not bother to write a complete business plan until someone actually asks it from you. Instead, focus on a presentation that explains the value proposition of your idea. Then, spread the message and seek people to join (not only investors, you probably need some partners as well).
Before you ask "do you need a business plan" ask yourself "do you need investors". If all you have is an idea, no one will care, everyone has ideas. How much did you pay for the last idea you heard? Nothing, people pay for the execution of the idea.
If you also have the business skills, financial backing, etc to run the business, then you wouldn't need to ask this question here, so I'll skip these possibilities.
To make this successful, you will likely be doing the technical work yourself, and you don't need investors for that. If it's software, then get writing. If it's a web site, then register the domain and put it out there. None of these should cost you more than your time, and perhaps one less over priced coffee. Just don't quit your day job, but do double check your IP rights in your employee agreement. If, after you build it, you still need funding for marketing or bringing on more staff, then you have something to show the investors.
Now, that being said, yes, you still need a business plan, but not for investors. You need to think through more than just the technical challenges, for yourself. How will the business make money? How will you handle the threats from competition? How will you handle things should the business fail? Make realistic assumptions, and then double/half them in the direction of pessimism. If you realistically think it will take 6 months to build, plan for 1 year. If you think you'll get 100 customers in the first year, plan on no more than 50. If you think customers will be willing to pay $10k for this, then plan on not seeing more than $5k. If the business still makes sense, then get working on it.