Frances Cole Jones interview: Making persuasive pitches

May 19, 2010

Frances Cole Jones is the founder of Cole Media Management, a consultancy that prepares clients for television and print interviews, IPO road shows, and investor pitches. She’s also the author of How to Wow: Proven Strategies for Selling Your (Brilliant) Self in Any Situation, and The Wow Factor: The 33 Things You Must (and Must Not) Do to Guarantee Your Edge in Today’s Business World. Jones has prepared clients for appearances on Oprah, Good Morning America, The Today Show, ESPN, Larry King Live, The Discovery Channel, Access Hollywood, E! Entertainment, CNN, and BBC News.

UpStart:  “You’ve advised hundreds of clients on how to make effective presentations. What’s the most common mistake you see?”

Frances Cole Jones:  “Reading off of their slides. In my dream world I don’t want anything on a client’s slide coming out of their mouth. We’ve all been reading since we were about six years old—being read to drives us mad. Slides are meant to enhance talking points, not replace them.”

UpStart: “Are there any quick fixes you recommend that can have a big impact?”

Frances Cole Jones:  “55 percent of your impact comes from what your body is doing while you are speaking. Only seven percent comes from the words we say. So body language is critical. Keep your hands where people can see them. We trust you when we can see your hands; we don’t trust you when we can’t. Also, remember the power of storytelling. When you tell a story, filler words like ‘um’ and ‘uh’ magically disappear. Speak from your own experience, and ask yourself why your audience should care.”

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Chip Hazard Interview: Pitching your strategy

May 19, 2010

Chip Hazard has been in venture capital for over 15 years and has an impressive track record of success. He’s currently a general partner at Flybridge Capital Partners, a leading early-stage venture capital firm. He currently sits on the board of eight information technology companies. Previously, Chip served as general partner at Greylock Partners and was a consultant at Bain and Company. Chip is a graduate of Stanford University and The Harvard Business School—where we met—and where he graduated at the top of his class as a Baker Scholar and a Ford Scholar. You can read Chip’s blog at www.hazardlights.net.

UpStart: “What advice do you have for entrepreneurs pitching their strategy?”
Chip Hazard:
“As an early-stage venture capital investor, I regularly meet with entrepreneurs that are just getting their businesses off the ground. During these meetings I am often struck by how much trouble the founders have articulating their strategies in a clear, concise, compelling way. I encourage entrepreneurs to focus on delivering a simple vision of what they are trying to do and why it is important, what markets are being targeted and how broad these markets are, and how the idea, customer value proposition and market translate into a compelling business opportunity. It is important to avoid in this introduction the deep technical details of how the product or service works, but rather focus on the connection between a large unmet need and your unique solution. The MadLibs exercise outlined in this chapter is a great tool to drive this exercise, resulting in a simple, short, clear message.”

UpStart:  “Please provide an example of a great strategy summary.”

Chip Hazard: “I always felt Skype did this well. Using your format, from the beginning their message was something like: For people who want to connect with friends and family around the world, Skype is a person-to-person Internet telephone service that is free, simple and easy to use.”


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.”


Bo Peabody interview: Business models

May 19, 2010

Bo Peabody is co-founder and Managing General Partner of Village Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm. Previously, Bo founded / co-founded a string of startups, including: Tripod (one of the first social networks, later acquired by Lycos), Waterfront Media, VoodooVox, FullTurn Media, and UplayMe. He’s also an owner of Mezze, Inc, which consists of three award-winning restaurants. Bo wrote a book for entrepreneurs called Lucky or Smart? published by Random House. He is a graduate of Williams College.

UpStart:  What advice do you have for entrepreneurs pitching investors about their business models?

Bo Peabody:  “Entrepreneurs have the counterintuitive task of having to think big and act small. For any business that is going to attract venture investors, a big vision is important. But that’s the easy part. The much harder job is figuring out how to distill that vision into an actionable plan that has clear, incremental levels of success. Entrepreneurship is like a video game…you need to know what the levels are and then reach each one before going on to the next.”

UpStart:  Are there particular business models that you prefer to invest in?

Bo Peabody: “At Village Ventures, we prefer to invest in business models that are tackling mature markets. We’d rather bet on our ability to back the right team that can knock off existing competition than bet on our ability to see around corners. For instance, this is why we invest in vertical publishers in the interactive media space, rather than social media companies.


7 WAYS TO ASSESS A STARTUP IDEA

May 19, 2010

Evaluating a new business idea? First, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Does the idea meet your personal criteria? Is it a fit with your goals, passions, and work environment preferences? Are you comfortable with the risks involved? Do you have the right skills and resources to make it successful?

2. Are market conditions favorable? Why is this the right time for your idea to work? How fast is the market growing? Is it big enough to support your revenue goals? For example, if the entire market only generates sales of $10 million, it’s probably unrealistic to think your company’s revenue will hit $5 million within five years.

3. Is there enough demand? Who are your target customers? Do they have important needs that are not being addressed? What evidence do you have that they will buy your products? (Note: “my friends like the idea” is not good enough).

4. Is it working somewhere, somehow? It’s a good sign if other companies are pursuing similar ideas and experiencing success. That shows the idea can work, and provides an opportunity to learn by watching what other companies do. On the other hand, too much rivalry can tie up partners, drive down prices and make it tough for you to compete.

5. What’s the business model? Very, very few companies can get away with gaining a following first, and figuring out a business model afterwards. Leave that to whiz kids with venture capital backers. Instead, come up with ONE way to generate revenue that is clearly working elsewhere, and make sure your idea is a good fit with that revenue stream. For example, if you want to sell advertisers access to your website, understand how much traffic you’ll need, and whether your audience is one that brands want to reach – before you go through the trouble of aggregating that audience.

6. What will you need to execute? How much money do you need to build the business, and when? What kind of team will you need? Are there particular skills or relationships you’ll need to be successful?

7. What’s the payoff? If all goes well, how will you and any other shareholders (e.g. investors) benefit? Will you get paid along the way? Get a payout when you sell the company? While it’s tough to predict the future, you have at least one plausible end game in mind before you commit to an idea.


Mo Koyfman interview: Startup teams

May 19, 2010

Moshe “Mo” Koyfman is a principal at venture capital firm Spark Capital, where he leads investments in Web services such as www.aviary.com. Prior to joining Spark, Mo spent six years at IAC, most recently as Chief Operating Officer of Connected Ventures, parent of CollegeHumor.com, Vimeo.com and BustedTees.com. Mo is a graduate of The Wharton School and The College of Arts & Sciences at The University of Pennsylvania.

UpStart: What do you look for in a startup team?”

Mo Koyfman: “A great team is the first thing I look for in an investment opportunity. Successful businesses are built by extremely talented people and that’s where my investigation begins. I specifically like to see great co-founders, as there seems to be a unique chemistry that develops with the right mix of leadership at the helm. If technology is an integral part of the product, I also like to see at least one of the founders with a strong technical background. It’s certainly ideal if they’ve had prior success, but not a prerequisite. And it’s important that they’re still hungry, no matter how successful they’ve been previously. I also look for a balance between tenacity and passion on the one hand and a willingness to listen and learn on the other, as many mistakes will be made and the company will undoubtedly have to hear their users / customers and pivot over time.”

UpStart:  “What do you like to hear from a team when they present their business plan?”

Mo Koyfman: “First, I like a business plan to be clear, informative and brief. If your PowerPoint is more than 20 pages, you haven’t done a good enough job of crystallizing your plan. In the team section of the plan, I like to know how the team came up with the idea. I tend to prefer ideas hatched from real needs, as opposed to ideas developed in top-down brainstorm sessions. I also like to know how the team knows each other, to get a sense for their shared vision, and to understand how their skills are complementary. I also prefer when teams come with a built product rather than just a plan—particularly for Internet service companies, where it’s become easier and cheaper to build basic products right out of the gate. I like to see a team scrappy enough to have built a prototype themselves, with the least amount of money possible.”


Tommy Hilfiger interview: Team, team, team

May 19, 2010

Tommy Hilfiger is the founder of Tommy Hilfiger Corporation. An entrepreneur from his earliest days, Tommy skipped college to run a string of retail stores in upstate New York. He later turned down highly sought-after fashion design job offers to start a company of his own. In 1995, Tommy was named Menswear Designer of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Three years later Parsons School of Design named him Designer of the Year. By 2004 Tommy Hilfiger Corporation had over 5,000 employees and revenue of more than $1.8 billion. Private investment company Apax Partners acquired the business in 2006.

UpStart: What does it take to be a great entrepreneur?”

Tommy Hilfiger: “I think skills and personality traits are more important than background. I never went to college or design school, but I had passion, drive, and resourcefulness in droves. When I launched Tommy Hilfiger Corporation, I wasn’t trained in the conventional rules of business, but that worked to my advantage. I experimented. I made bold moves. And I adapted as I learned. I credit much of my success to my drive to win and my fear of losing.”

UpStart:  “To what degree was your team responsible for your success?”

Tommy Hilfiger: “I’ve always been aware of my strengths and also my weaknesses. Because I acknowledge my weaknesses, I’ve been able to surround myself with people whose skills complement mine. Building great teams has been essential to my success.”