An update on the art of pitching…

January 23, 2007

An excellent overview on the art of pitching to potential investors can be found on Guy Kawasaki’s blog written by Bill Reichert of Garage Technology Venture.

“Endless articles, books, and blogs have been written on the topic of business plan presentations and pitching to investors. In spite of this wealth of advice, almost every entrepreneur gets it wrong. Why? Because most guides to pitching your company miss the central point: The purpose of your pitch is to sell, not to teach. Your job is to excite, not to educate. “

Take a read; it contains a lot of sense.

Here are some of the points that I believe to be important:

  • What is the industry pain you are solving? This is often not articulated early enough or never at all leaving question marks in the recipients head as to what problem you are solving. The natural follow on to this is to show how your company provides an answer! The bigger the pain and the more unaddressed it is the better of course!
  • Are you just another clone? The world is already full of successful and wanabe companies in many sectors – VoIP, web conferencing and social networks to name but three. Why are you different and why will you succeed? IMHO, if you are, you have a significant challenge ahead. Uniqueness can be a problem as well, but rather that than being #75 in a particular segment.
  • Be clear right up front WHAT YOU DO. You’d be surprised in how many presentations the audience is still confused about thi9s half an hour into the flow.
  • Pick up on what the listener wants to hear. Are they looking for that YouTube world beater and nothing else is of interest to them? Are they cynical about your channel to market or the difficulty you might have selling to carriers?
  • Demonstrate that you know about the competitive landscape. Talk about competitors knowledgably and about the challenges you face in getting your product sold. Show your experience and that you are not naïve.
  • Make sure the presenter shows PASSION and ENTHUSIASM. Start-ups are principally about people and if the presentation is dull, boring and goes on and on it will not go down well.
  • Don’t spend 1/2 hour on the first slide. So easy to do, especially if questions are asked. Make sure you keep to your time slot and avoid using it all up on the first few slides. This happens time and time again. Of course if they want to spend hours and hours with that’s great!
  • Don’t use unexplained acronyms. In fact don’t use them at all if you can avoid it. You are not presenting to industry experts and they will probably not know what they mean. This is so often the case in telecoms presentations. If you do use them, always provide an explanation. I’ve seen slides stuffed with not-obvious acronyms.
  • Look for audience body language Look at your audience to gauge feedback and provide guidance for what to say. I was at a presentation last year where one of the audience left the room and the presenter didn’t even notice!
  • Never say “I’ll answer that question in a minute”. Answer it there and then but succinctly as nine times out of ten you never get round to it.
  • Get the balance right between technology and business. If you spend too much on early slides, business and finance stuff often gets forgotten.
  • Practice. It really does help.
  • Don’t rely on them having a live Internet connection for a demo. Getting this set up will be a distraction at a crucial time. Have it as a demo on a PC as getting the projector to work will be difficult enough!
  • Have a backup. For both notebook and the principle presenter.

And I thought it was all so easy. Come to think of it, maybe the above are all mistakes I’ve made over the years!

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Howzat! – wotsthat?

January 22, 2007

Just after Christmas I met up with Hugo Burge who is Vice-Chairman & Head of International at Cheapflights. He was telling me about the amazing success story of their Internet business.

Even though full of a cold, he was full of enthusiasm for what they had achieved in the five years since they started. I came away from the meeting enthused for the rest of the week! No, it was not all downhill and they had to overcome the many obstacles through hard work and luck.

I’ll quote their press release to relate that story:

“In 2000, Hugo Burge and David Soskin co-ordinated a group of private investors in a Cheapflights management buy-in. Profitable since launch, Cheapflights was an early media internet company and a pioneer in its sector. It revolutionised the way consumers research and purchase flights and other travel products. Since 2000, Hugo and David have built the company from a three person operation into a leading business in its sector; expanded successfully into the USA; increased sales twenty five times; and organically grown traffic from 350,000 to over 5.25 million global unique users a month. “

Anyway, what prompts this writeup is that today the CheapFlights team has launched a new Internet investment fund Howzat Media and have made their first investment in WAYN. I bet they are keen cricket fans!

Launched with an initial US$10 million, the new fund has a clearly defined focus: to identify and invest in start-up and early-stage internet media companies that are re-inventing the way in which consumers access and use online information.

It will seek out global opportunities in internet media, including, but not exclusively, in the travel sector. This investment profile reflects Cheapflights’ own successful business model.

WAYN was co-founded by Jerome Touze, Peter Ward and Mike Lines, and has grown from 45,000 members in March 2005 to nearly 7 million members from all over the world. WAYN is the largest travel and lifestyle membership community in the world and is the only social network that allows its members to keep track of its members from around the world and make new friends based on where they have been, where they are now and where they are going. WAYN’s revenues have grown tenfold in the last year and is one of the only web 2.0 ventures that generates a profit.

I wish Hugo and the rest of the team success with their fund.

And don’t forget…

If you want some money and arrive at their office to pitch, start off with a good cricket anecdote and you won’t go wrong!

2nd March 2006 update: Howzat! just invested in www.TrustedPlaces.com The website is a terrific way to share and read up on reviews for unusual bars, cafes, restaurants and places to hang out. It has been run by the two founders Walid and Sokratis, who have an amazing passion for their website. They have made terrific progress already and have plenty more exciting plans. The focus at the moment and the place with most reviews is London.

What makes Cheapflights tick – David Soskin talks about what has made them successful?

To view their press release: Read the rest of this entry »


Sharedband: not enough bandwidth?

January 22, 2007

I noticed a discussion about Sharedband on Vecosys and I couldn’t resist finding out a little more about what they were up to, so I spoke with Keith Collins, who is their Sales and Marketing Director (you can find Keith on LinkedIn). Sharedband have recently started beta trials of their software with a couple of UK ISPs and plan for launch in the March timeframe.

What do they do?

The concept of inverse multiplexing goes back donkey’s years and was applied to traditional E1/T1 lines and to ATM. The term means that individual links are paralleled (or bonded) to multiply the available bandwidth according to the number of links paralleled. Sharedband have extended this concept in a “quite novel” way to the IP layer which enables ISPs to offer a DSL bonding service.

Sharedband is essentially a software company and they provide the tools necessary to manage the service. They license their software which is installed on the ISP’s routers and the ISP provides a firmware update for their customer’s routers.

Because the concept is IP based, it’s claimed to be low cost and an ISP can get the Sharedband service up in a day or so. It’s also simple to install at the customer end as well.

The company believes that there will always be a need to gain some additional bandwidth if it is obtainable at a reasonable price. They are probably right. There will always be individuals who want to increase whatever bandwidth they currently have, turning 1Mbit/s into 2 or more likely 8Mbit/s into 16Mbit/s. According to Keith they “want to look for companies that want to use something now rather than having to wait”.

They are initially focusing on the small business market (SME) and home workers with some money to spend as this seems to be an obvious market.

What is really interesting, is that because the software is network provider agnostic, it could be possible to obtain real provider resilience and even “bond cable and DSL combinations”. For example, the two bonded DSL lines could use different ISP providers although care would be needed to ensure that both are not using BT to provide the DSL connection or the phone line use the same BT street box. This is such an interesting application area!

As Sharedband works at the IP layer, bonding does not have to be limited to being installed on ISP DSLAMs. It could be installed on servers at a datacentre which, I imagine, could lead to network-based services such as Salesforce.com offering some interesting services that could improve performance and resilience directly to their customers.

Finishing off:

Their business model is that the ISP charges for the multiple DSL lines and then adds an additional bonding charge which is split between the ISP and Sharedband.

Sharedband are currently talking to 20 /30 ISPs and hopes to sign up this number within 12 months. One might also imagine, with their BT genesis, that we will see an announcement in this space as well?

They are currently in beta with two providers KeConnect and TeleComplete though I couldn’t find the doubler service on TeleComplete’s web site. You can see details of the service and pricing on the KeConnect site.

Some other vendors offering hardare based solutions:

There are other companies that provide a solution to bonding multiple DSL lines, the Australian ePipe is one example. The ML-IP access concentrator, is a hardware solution an enterprise can bond three DSL links into a multi-link tunnel without the involvement of the ISP.

 

FatPipe is another. “MPVPN enables bi-directional data transmission over multiple VPN paths, providing customers with the confidence that MPVPN will keep their VPNs “up” at all times regardless of router, ISP, line or backbone failures on one or two carriers. MPVPN allows companies to maximize the reliability, redundancy and speed of their VPN infrastructures while only requiring one VPN unit profile life.” Here is a short presentation on MPVPN.

 


Location Based Services – Alive and well!

January 21, 2007

HTML clipboard

I’ve attended many full blown telecommunications oriented conferences or evening network-oriented events like Telecommunications Executive Network (TEN) organised by Ben Crangle in the last few years. Sure as eggs are eggs whenever location based services (LBS) are mentioned a miasma of disappointment seems to pervade the room.

I suppose this is due to a industry-wide view that location based services have not really taken off or not met uptake expectations. To use the ‘Chasm’ speak of Geoffrey Moore; they have not yet ‘jumped the chasm’ into use by the mainstream market.

I wonder if this is actually true or whether the expectations of the mobile industry were just too unrealistic from day one? Was every product marketer looking for another major success like SMS? Although it is true that LBS services arenot exactly taking over the world, there is a good solid level of activity and a number of companies that have significant headway.

Location based services can derive location data from a number of sources of course. These include mobile cell triangulation, GPS, Wi-Fi cell usage, active badges, RF-ID and even the self posting of location. It’s also possible to derive location by recognising that someone that is actively using a keyboard and I’ve actually seen a Microsoft presentation (jokingly?) show a switch in a chair seat being used! I’ll not touch on keyboard activation in this post as it is moving near to what is known in the industry as presence, but that will be a subject for another day!

To provide an overview of what’s going on, here are a few companies that use some of these sources of location information.

Kids tracking

Tracking children and familiy members has always been seen as one of the core markets for location based services. Here are four examples: iKids, Chaperone, UandME and Followus. I have also come across several companies who track a child’s nearby location using wireless-based proximity methods. Unfortunately, I discovered that one of these, kidsOK, has recently hit the wall. According to the web site: “Sadly after more than three years building the KidsOK business, mTrack Services Limited, the company behind the ground-breaking KidsOK and PingAlert service has now ceased trading. We were hit by the liquidation of both our largest supplier and largest customer and have been unable to overcome the problems associated with the two occurrences happening so close together.”

Mobile social networking:

This is the one of the most interesting and dynamic areas today with services that enable individuals to determine whether their friends or ‘buddies’ are currently in the vicinity. Alternatively, they can let their friends know where they are. Generally these are associated with mobile chat services and aimed at the younger community and someone of my age! Location information is derived from mobile cell triangulation: Dodgeball, Jaiku, uandme and Loopt.

Manually entered locations

There are quite a few ‘simple’ location-based services that rely on users just entering their locations manually: Plazes, BuddyPing and CityNeo. This is nice simple non technical solution, as the provider can be quite specific about their location! Another entirely differant example of this is WAYN, where member can provide information about their travel locations.

Business services

Of course we should not forget business services for tracking employees, vehicle and objects (RF-ID is another associated market area). I guess it is the use of the word ‘tracking’ that has give LBS a bad name. Nobody likes to be tracked – do they? Closer and CPSlocates are but two examples.

Technology providers

To close, there are quite a few companies who provide the platforms, software and technology to enable companies to provide services. Here are just a few: Locatrix, Wherify, SkyHook Wireless and True Position.

Overall, if you look at the totality of the location based service market, things are not going too bad I reckon. There are a broad spectrum of innovate services and a slow uptake by the mass market – at least the young mass market!

As we all know, the real challenge lies in creating original business and service ideas to make use of the technology! This area holds a lot of scope so get your thinking caps on.


A BT game, or what?

January 19, 2007

You might like to play this BT game received via an email today. It looks like updated space invaders and it is quite entertaining.

However, its really a survey in disguise and you will also have to agree to BT’s terms and conditions as there is carrot of a prize. Methinks that this viral marketing initiative has been passed through BT’s large lawyer department!

Anyway, this is what the email said with the advertising for BT’s ExpertIT service removed. Enjoy!

BT Business IT Manager invites you to take revenge on your IT problems with the fast paced game Office Warfare, and win a fantastic day out for your and your colleagues.

It’s man against machine, or machine against man – if you can’t hack it!

It’s time to crash the computers. Click on the link to play.


How do I get my start-up started?

January 19, 2007

At the recent Mobile Monday event I attended, Sam Sethi talked about how much easier it is now is to get a company of the ground. To quote Sam as best as I can remember:

“In the last round of funding, start-ups needed to go to a VC, take business plan, present it to them, pray and cross their fingers, in an attempt to raise a few million pounds. This time, around which is why VCs are finding it so hard, you can fund the company on a credit card and when you take later take the business plan to a VC, you just provide a http://www.xxx.com link, and say ‘I’m profitable’, ‘I have customers’ and ‘I did it very quickly on sweat equity.’”

This is all so, so true and it is the methodology I have adopted for trymehere, although I’m not sure about the quick bit!

When Sam pointed this out, he was probably thinking more about the web 2.0 space where a ‘point application’ can be developed quite quickly using free open software. The practice being that you have a developer as part of the team rather than spending a fortune on out-sourced development in the Ukraine or elsewhere.

However, if your idea requires chip development or is a complex Operational Support Software (OSS) package, then it is likely that a larger team of developers would be required and the development may take many months to complete. This, is much more of a challenge to get going.

It’s most unlikely that you will be able to raise VC money on the basis of just an idea and a business plan unless you really are a serial entrepreneur with a history of success behind you. So, the real challenge today is just how do you get your new business off the ground while still paying that dreaded mortgage?

If you really do need significant money, it makes good sense to leave an approach to VCs to a much later stage by which time you will have real customers and more importantly, real revenue. This will maximise the pre-money valuation of your venture and reduce the percentage you will need to give away to institutional investors.

Friends and families can help in the early days and certainly individual angels or angel groups also, but again the more you have a real product and real revenue the easier it will be. But to be honest even angels are hard to find these days as they are still recovering from the 1990s.

One of the key ways to resolve this issue is to return to how companies were started before the 1990s i.e. bootstrap the venture. But, how do you do this?

When bootstrapping comes up in a conversation I nearly always push them to visit a great web site with the catchy URL: http://www.antiventurecapital.com . This may sound a bit negative, but it really isn’t once you delve into the material. The site itself is called The Smart Startup and it’s the strap line that says it all – Solutions for the Startup Funding Problem.

It also says: or How I Learned to Stop Waiting for Investors and Start Building Companies? Isn’t that what we all should be doing?

I really can’t recommend this site more and the acquisition of Peter Ireland’s guide for $59.95 will certainly get you thinking and just maybe provide some answers. (and no, I’m not on a commission!)


Default editor in Outlook 2007 is Word?

January 18, 2007

I’ve just been reading an interesting newsletter from Kevin Yank at sitepoint called Microsoft Breaks HTML Email Rendering in Outlook 2007.

And, according to Kevin:

While the IE team was soothing the tortured souls of web developers everywhere with the new, more compliant Internet Explorer 7, the Office team pulled a fast one, ripping out the IE-based rendering engine that Outlook has always used for email, and replacing it with … drum roll please … Microsoft Word.

That’s right. Instead of taking advantage of Internet Explorer 7, Outlook 2007 uses the very limited support for HTML and CSS that is built into Word 2007 to display HTML email messages.

Now, everyone who does any HTML editing knows that any programme within the Microsoft Office suite produces the most awful HTML code imaginable and nothing has been done in with Outlook HTML rendering for years.

The newsletter talks about many areas of incompatibility but I thought it would be interesting to take a look at actually how much bloat these MS apps add to simple HTML code. So I created a Hello world! text in a single-celled table to compare. The results are shown below:

Simple html (92)

<table border=”0″ cellpadding=”0″ cellspacing=”0″>
<tr>
<td>Hello world!</td>
</tr>
</table>

Frontpage (187 – 103% bloat)

<table border=”0″ cellpadding=”0″ cellspacing=”0″ style=”border-collapse: collapse” bordercolor=”#111111″>
<tr>
<td width=”100%”><span lang=”en-gb”>Hello world!</span></td>
</tr>
</table>

Word (517 – 461% bloat)

<style>
<!–
table.MsoTableGrid
{border:1.0pt solid windowtext;
font-size:10.0pt;
font-family:”Times New Roman”;
}
–>
</style>
<p><span lang=”en-gb”>Word</span></p>
<table class=”MsoTableGrid” border=”1″ cellspacing=”0″ cellpadding=”0″ style=”border-collapse: collapse; border: medium none”>
<tr>
<td width=”113″ valign=”top” style=”width: 3.0cm; border: 0.0pt solid windowtext; padding-left: 5.4pt; padding-right: 5.4pt; padding-top: 0cm; padding-bottom: 0cm”>
<p class=”MsoNormal”>Hello world!</td>
</tr>
</table>

Excel (572 – 521% bloat)

<table x:str border=”0″ cellpadding=”0″ cellspacing=”0″ width=”64″ style=”border-collapse:
collapse;width:48pt”>
<colgroup>
<col width=”64″ style=”width:48pt”>
</colgroup>
<tr height=”17″ style=”height:12.75pt”>
<td height=”17″ width=”64″ style=”height: 12.75pt; width: 48pt; color: windowtext; font-size: 10.0pt; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; font-family: Arial; text-align: general; vertical-align: bottom; white-space: nowrap; border: medium none; padding-left: 1px; padding-right: 1px; padding-top: 1px”>
Hello world!</td>
</tr>
</table>

Even I’m surprised about the 500+ bloat! with Excel. Personally I would never use Word as an HTML editor and I would certainly never use it as the default editor for Outlook – it’s the 5 minute load time as much as the awful HTML editing that bugs me!

If anyone has comments or solutions about this issue, pleaselet me know and I’ll pass it along.