When you buy candy, you think of it as something sweet. When you sell candy you think of it as a product. A similar dynamic is at play when entrepreneurs write business plans, except that all too often it works backwards. The seller (entrepreneur) sees the sweet upside and the potential investor views the risk as well as the reward potential. Learning to view your own business plan through an investor’s lens is valuable and necessary lesson for every business founder. It is not an easy adjustment to make, but it is crucial.
Perhaps the most compelling reason to learn to look at your own venture as an investor would is that you will always be its major investor. Outside financial investors will invest discretionary capital that they can afford to lose. You will end up investing years of your life, enthusiasm, energy and credibility. Your friends, business colleagues, family and many others will either watch you succeed or fail. You will probably spend a good deal of your own money and make many material and other sacrifices. If the venture stumbles along for three to five years, it is likely that you will be the first one in and the last one out. No one has more invested in your start-up than you do. The years, money, self-esteem, sleepless nights, personal reputation and spirit that you put at risk is a huge investment.
The first step in the process is to stop focusing on the great new product or service that you dreamed up and shift to laser sharpness on whether and exactly how a company built around such a product would make money. Learn to question your assumptions and seek proof as professional investors surely will. Have you adequately laid out the business case? Have you accurately estimated the market or have you made the Red Sneakers mistake or used Chinese Math? Will people actually want what you sell enough to spend the amount you need to yield a profit? How much must they spend for a competing product? Do you have solid figures to back up the cost of making the product, acquiring customers and closing sales? Great ideas are a dime a dozen. Businesses succeed by executing well on sound business strategies. Can you demonstrate that your management team has the vision, skills and relevant experience to do that?
These are hard questions indeed, but you need to ask and answer them to protect your investment. If you fail to ask them now, it is very likely that you will wish later that you had paid them more attention. Moreover, if you think these things through carefull before an outside investor asks about them, you will not only be prepared, but you will see the importance and relevance of the questions much more clearly.
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