Dany Levy interview: A business plan should evolve.

May 19, 2010

Dany Levy is the founder and Editorial Director of DailyCandy, a daily newsletter with insider advice about style, food, fashion, and fun. Dany started DailyCandy in 2000 with a simple vision: one thing in your inbox telling you what to do that day. In 2008, Comcast acquired DailyCandy for a reported $125 million. Today DailyCandy has over three million subscriptions. Prior to founding DailyCandy, Dany worked for New York Magazine and Lucky, and wrote for The New York Times, Martha Stewart, and Vanity Fair. Dany is a graduate of Brown University.

UpStart:  How did you make use of a business plan at DailyCandy?

Dany Levy: “A business plan should evolve depending on the stage of a business and on the audience it’s written for. I started DailyCandy myself, at my kitchen table, with no employees. At that point, my business plan was just for me. It was a two page document describing what DailyCandy was, to help me clarify and narrow down what the product should be. That plan helped me stay focused, but it also left room for flexibility. I just concentrated on writing great editorial, and spreading the word. A year later, I developed a more comprehensive business plan, as I began to sell advertising and court suitors. Still, I kept it short. I figured investors needed to “get it” after the first few minutes. As the business grew, and I took on institutional investors, I needed more detail, like financial projections and strategies for marketing and sales.”

UpStart:  Did developing a business plan provide any other benefits for you?

Dany Levy: “Yes. Most of all, it helped me learn. That was one of the greatest things about building a business – the steep learning curve. And the business plan made that learning explicit. I got a lot of help with my plan from my CEO, Pete Sheinbaum. At the time, I handled editorial, and he handled business matters. I remember learning to measure the cost of acquiring customers, and the value of those customers. I think at the time one customer was worth somewhere around $10.37. The next time I attended a DailyCandy event, I looked around the room and imagined a price tag on every girl’s head reading ‘$10.37’. Understanding the economics of the DailyCandy business gave me a much broader and deeper sense for what we were doing, and that ultimately paid off far beyond my wildest expectations.”

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The 5 most important numbers in your business plan, part 2.

May 6, 2010

In part one of this series, we looked at marketing efficiency. In this post, we’ll look at break-even.

One sure-fire way to kill your startup is by running out of cash. The risk is greatest in the early days, before your company is profitable. That’s why you’ll want to pay close attention to break-even. That’s the point in time when cash from operations stops flowing out of your business, and starts flowing in.

If you are in the planning stage, estimate when you’ll reach break-even, and how many transactions per month you’ll need to get there, also known as break-even volume. Once your company is up and running, track your progress toward break-even, and consider it a critical early milestone.

To estimate when you’ll reach break-even, start by calculating the unit contribution, or margin, generated by one sale or transaction. To do that, figure out your revenues from one transaction, and subtract the costs linked directly to one transaction, aka “variable costs” (e.g. sales commissions and costs of producing the product, aka “cost of goods”).

Next, calculate your monthly overhead—operating costs that don’t vary directly with sales volume (e.g. rent, salaries, utilities, legal and accounting expenses, etc.). If you are still in the planning phase, project your monthly overhead for a future period, such as after 12 months.

Finally, divide your monthly overhead by your unit contribution. That will tell you how many units you’ll have to sell to cover your overhead, or break-even. When do you think you’ll reach that level of sales? The answers to those questions will tell you, and potential investors, more than most fancy long term projections.


Lifetime value of a customer

November 19, 2009

If you’ve got any interest in marketing, you should be reading Seth Godin’s blog. Today, he talks about the lifetime value of customers.

When planning a new business, it’s easy to get mired in the weeds of complex financial projections – that are nearly almost wrong. But very often, so-called back of the envelop numbers are more useful and accurate. For example, unit contribution, and break-even volume. Understanding the costs of acquiring an average customer and the lifetime value of that customer are also at the top of the list, especially for companies with large numbers of customers. Here’s an excerpt from Seth’s take:

If you walk into a company-owned cell phone store to sign up for a contract, what are you worth? Given the huge gross margins at AT&T and Verizon and the standard two-year contract, I think it’s easy to figure on more than $2000 in lifetime value…

Few businesses understand (really understand) just how much a customer is worth. Add to this the additional profit you get from a delighted customer spreading the word–it can easily double or triple the lifetime value.

So, a chiropractor might see a new patient being worth $2,500, easily. And yet… how much is she spending on courting, catering to and seducing that new customer? My guess is that $50 feels like a lot to the doc. Instead of comparing what you invest to the benefit you receive from the first bill, the first visit, the first transaction, it’s important to not only recognize but embrace the true lifetime value of one more customer.

Write it down. Post it on the wall. What would happen if you spent 100% of that amount on each of your next ten new customers? That’s more money than you have to spend right now, I know that, but what would happen? Imagine how fast you would grow, how quickly the word would spread.

Here’s how you’ll know when you’ve really embraced this–a good customer at your podiatry practice (or supermarket or tax firm) walks out the door in a huff and you turn to your partner and say, “There goes $74,000.”