Fred Haney: Is Your Product Really Better?

Have you ever wondered what venture capitalist looks for in a startup? Or what is going through an investor’s mind during a pitch deck presentation? Continue reading if you want to find out! The SBEC is lucky enough to have Fred Haney as one of our mentors. He is a venture capital fund manager, private investor and entrepreneur with ample experience. As the founder of Monday Club, he regularly listens to pitches from hopeful entrepreneurs.

Here is what Fred has to say:
One mistake a lot of presenters make is to simply say their product/service is simply ‘better’ than existing competition. Of course it is, but that doesn’t really answer the question an investor is asking. An investor wants to know, “How much ‘better’ is it? Is it ‘enough better’ to prompt a customer to buy it?” And, “How do we know that it will be “enough better” in five years, or so, when we want to sell the company?”

The concept of ‘enough better’ is important. It forces the presenter to define and quantify what it means by ‘better.’ And it forces the presenter to confront the question, “How much better does a product need to be in order to compel customers to buy it?” Usually, ‘incremental improvement’ is not enough to force people to purchase. Products generally need to be 50% or 100% ‘better’ in order to get someone’s attention, and their advantage needs to be ‘sustainable’ over a long period of time.

As always, the SBEC is thankful to have such seasoned mentors on board that support entrepreneurship. Let us know your thoughts on Fred’s words in the comments!

Fred Haney: SBEC Mentor

Fred Haney
Owner, Venture Management


Mike Grimshaw: College for Entrepreneurs

As a college professor, Mike Grimshaw is always surrounded by students so it is only fitting that he has submitted the following images showing college statistics in America. There are quite some interesting stats if you look closely. My personal favorite is the fact that there are classes such as Art of Walking, Maple Syrup, and Arguing With Judge Judy.

Let us know what you found to be the most interesting fact in the comments below!

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Mike Grimshaw: SBEC Mentor

Mike Grimshaw
The South Bay Entrepreneurial Center

Patrick Stacy: I’ve Got a Great Idea!

When Patrick Stacy, SBEC financial & business mentor, was asked what advice he would give entrepreneurs, he had some very helpful insights. Read to find out more!

First off…the disclaimer. I am NOT an entrepreneur. But during my career as a CFO for middle-market businesses, I have helped entrepreneurs with great ideas turn those ideas into business success. However…here’s the conundrum. Most successful entrepreneurs undoubtedly start with a “great idea”. But not all great ideas become successful businesses. And why is that? There is no one answer to that question. Whether a great idea becomes a successful business or not depends on so many different factors that MAYBE I could address them in a book…but certainly NOT in a blog!

The biggest quandary is that every great idea is going to encounter its own unique set of factors that will determine its success. Will someone buy what you are selling? Can you manufacture it? Will you run out of money? How can I find good help? These are just a few common issues that different entrepreneurs have encountered in the past. And there are a myriad of others. Some of these factors are show stoppers…if you can’t sell what your great idea produces, sorry, but you don’t have a business model…you have a hobby.

So, how can an entrepreneur determine which issues could potentially derail her or his great idea on the way to Success Station? Again, no one answer fits all situations. But one simple method of attacking the question is to ask someone who knows more than you. If you have a critical patent question, you need to find a legal expert familiar with your product and get advice. If you’re not sure about how to market your product or service, find someone who knows a lot about that field and question them.

Ultimately, as an entrepreneur, the decision to move forward on your great idea is yours alone (or yours and your partners). And you may find that factors you believed were show stoppers are really not that crucial to your success or can be overcome with relative ease. But failing to get advice from experts in a number of different disciplines related to your great idea may be the ultimate factor in whether it succeeds or fails.

Most entrepreneurs don’t lack for belief in their idea, not do they lack the will or effort to make it happen. But if you don’t know what obstacles you will encounter on your journey, it’s hard to know if you’re tackling a difficult hill or Mt. Everest. There is not any one road map, but ask people who have taken similar treks and you may just reach your destination.

And one more thing…enjoy the journey!

Patrick Stacy: SBEC Mentor

Patrick Stacy

Does a Formal Education Help Young Entrepreneurs?

As a co-founder, Mike Grimshaw has been with the SBEC since the beginning. He is a huge supporter of entrepreneurship and carries that vision over to the college where he teaches. Continue to find out about Mike’s thoughts on formal education and entrepreneurship!

Most of what you hear about entrepreneurship is all wrong. It’s not magic; it’s not mysterious; and it has nothing to do with genes. It’s a discipline and, like any discipline, it can be learned –Peter F. Drucker
As a college teacher I am constantly challenged by my students about the value of a college education versus the opportunity to pursue entrepreneurial dreams. They cite examples like famous billionaire entrepreneurs: Bill Gates (Microsoft), Larry Page (Google), Michael Dell (Dell), David Geffen (Geffen Records), Steve Jobs (Apple), Richard Branson (Virgin), Ralph Lauren (Ralph Lauren), Jerry Yang (Yahoo) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook). Most on this list received a modicum of post-secondary education before bailing and pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams.

Like Zuckerberg, Gates also went to Harvard. Page and Yang both attended Stanford. Jobs only completed one semester at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Dell left the University of Texas at 19. Geffen dropped out of three universities before launching his record label. Lauren went to little-known Baruch College in New York State, but left after two years. Branson, a mild dyslexic, never made it out of high school.

They have been successful mainly because they have ample talents combined with both the luck and skill of exceptional timing. Research indicates that a far greater percentage of self-made billionaires have a master’s degree than no formal college education. In life and in business there are no shortcuts. I have never heard of a college graduate expressing regrets about obtaining a college degree. I have heard many non-college graduates express their regrets of not starting or completing college. It is possible to be a successful entrepreneur without graduating college. But the chances of becoming a Zuckerberg, Gates, or Jobs by not attending college must be similar to having your house hit by a meteorite while you watch TV.

Unless you have a successful entrepreneurial track record or can get the attention of seed capital to fund your innovation, just try and get someone to put their money on the table unless you have an education. Education may not be necessary, but statistics have shown that there are many more examples of success with education than without it. As an educator teaching Business and Entrepreneurship in a private college, I bring industry into the classroom so students get hands-on experience solving business problems. I can tell you that most of my students (not all but most) do not have the skill sets or vision to innovate an industry. However, by the time they leave college they have an idea of what it takes and some skill sets to build on.

Oh… and a degree to help get a job as they build their entrepreneurial dream.”

Mike Grimshaw: SBEC Mentor

Mike Grimshaw
The South Bay Entrepreneurial Center

Fred Held: Know Your Target Market

When SBEC asked what costly mistakes entrepreneurs should avoid, one of our mentors Fred Held provided some valuable insight. According to Fred, one of the biggest mistakes an entrepreneur can make is not knowing their target market which can end up causing a business to fail.

My clients usually fall into focusing on how wonderful their offering might be. They believe that there is nothing like it on the market and think they will make it in the USA. One of the most common assumptions is that the target market is everyone. They have not done a product profit plan. Usually they will not be able to compete making it in the USA. They do no market research or believe anything negative from a survey of consumers. The result is more than 90 percent fail. Spend time doing market research and understand the target market of your business and your efforts will be worth it.

Much like what Martha Spelman mentioned in our previous post, most people just think about how great their idea is and believe it will sell to everyone. However, you truly need to understand your target market to succeed.

Fred Held: SBEC Mentor

Fred Held

Martha Spelman: 5 Tips to Being a Successful Entrepreneur

1. Coming up with an idea is the most fun — executing it… not so much. The idea is about 1% of the overall business; execution is about 99%. In other words, the day to day work is where success lies.

2. Most people just think about how great their idea is. They don’t think about how they will let people know about their great idea. Figure out how you’re going to market your business, and to whom (your audience), before you spend too much time or money on your idea.

3. Take criticism. Talk to people about your idea, show them what it does or how it works. Listen to what they have to say. You will not like everything you hear, or incorporate all of the suggested changes, additions, deletions or comments, but it’s all valuable.

4. Being an entrepreneur is not a get-rich-quick-scheme. Most businesses are not overnight successes. The best way to be successful, and make money, is to work the business, everyday, for a long time. Even if your business is viable, you may not break even for three or four years. You might not show a profit for even longer.

5. You will be most successful operating a business that you like (or love). Determine where your interests lie and what your passions are. Figure out a business that combines some or all of those. Making a lot of money is not one of those things. Do something you can’t wait to do, and the money will come.

Martha Spelman: SBEC Mentor

Martha Spelman
Marketing Consultant
Co-Founder Newzful -subscription-based site that provides useful facts, stats and data for content marketing
Author of The Cure for Blogophobia: How to Create, Publish and Promote Your Business Blog

Allan Colman: Absent a Steady Stream of Leads

Continuing with the problem areas presented and responded to in the U.S./Canada survey we conducted along with RainmakerVT, 70% scored themselves a 5 ( 1-10 with 10 high) or lower when asked about having a “steady stream of leads.” In the previous blog we addressed the major reasons identified in our client work and tactics useful in overcoming the absence of leads. Today the discussion will focus on “relevance” to the client/prospect.

Are you meeting merely because you can, i.e. your connection is via a trusted source or some other random cause? But is there a specific issue to drive the new relationship?

And if you have a high incidence of calls/meetings being rescheduled or cancelled, that’s a pretty good indicator that the other party sees insufficient relevance to keep you on the schedule. This is true whether you are talking with clients or prospects.

To enter your pipeline willingly and remain engaged with you, prospects must see you as relevant to their world. So how can you improve your relevance?

Identify and discuss business issues that someone in this prospect’s situation are obligated to care about because of the problem’s current or projected impact.

Next, demonstrate your depth of understanding of this problem, using language that insiders use. Now, you are participating in an ongoing business conversation rather than interrupting one to talk about your credentials and experience. Over time, as people in that business associate you with that issue, it becomes almost impossible for them to discuss it without you coming to mind as the solution.

Allan Colman: SBEC Mentor

Dr. Allan Colman
The Closers Group
Author of OWN THE ZONE-Dominate the Competition

Allan Colman: Own the Closing Zone

During the conduct of our recent U.S./Canada survey on Business Development Confidence, Mike O’Horo from RainmakerVT and I have been asked numerous questions about how to deal with the problems presented. This blog and several to follow will address the problem areas raised and a range of solutions to them.

If you’re not generating the amount and type of business you need it likely means either you have no steady stream of high-quality leads, or when in pitch meetings, you are talking about your solution instead of talking about their problem. The third cause of too few leads/opportunities is often the result of low or inconsistent lead-generating activity.

Typically the absence of a steady stream of high-quality leads or opportunities is a Marketing problem (vs. a Sales problem) and contains two components:

  • Low number or frequency of occurrence
  • Low quality or value.

When we ask who their targets are, we too often hear “anybody.” This is a function of not having a clear definition of your market and no objective profile of your optimal client. It’s not possible to communicate with “anybody.” What are your options?

First, re-evaluate past clients and prospects for reconnecting; they are typically a top source for new business. In fact a recent Harvard Business Review article indicated that at least 50% of new business every year should come from clients and referrals.

Take a closer look at your clients’ industry publications to refresh your understanding of the problems that companies in that business are experiencing. Unless your clients are outliers, they likely face the same ones, or will soon.

The third option is to get past the trap of communicating only with your direct contact. Initiate conversations with the people in different roles in the company or agency. In many cases, the emerging issues you are reading about in the industry trades won’t have made it to your contact yet; you’ve got to talk with the people out at the “pointy end of the stick”, i.e. out in the business units. In fact, they are more and more likely to be sharing in the expenses you are incurring on their behalf.

When viewed closely, this will get you closer to talking about their problem and not just offering solutions you have tried before. Don’t wait for a work lull to ratchet up your marketing activity. Set a weekly time budget to invest in your pipeline, and honor it. Make sure you are “touching” each of your clients and prospects at least 3 times a year.”

Allan Colman: SBEC Mentor

Dr. Allan Colman
The Closers Group
Author of OWN THE ZONE-Dominate the Competition

Christopher Braun: My Advice for Entrepreneurs

SBEC recently asked a few of our mentors to share insights with everyone about growing businesses. SBEC’s Chairman of the Board, Christopher Braun, shared some valuable ideas. Enjoy!

What is your best advice to start-ups and entrepreneurs?

Several things come to mind:

  • Develop a group of advisors/ mentors as soon as possible…they can help you avoid mistakes.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions.
  • You are not an expert in all fields and recognize and accept that you will need professionals to help you.
  • Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you.
  • Define your market succinctly.
  • Define your value proposition succinctly.
  • Articulate what your target customer looks like.
  • Become customer-centric

What are a few things you wish you knew when you first started your business?

  • Cashflow is key. You will need to be able to operate your business for months without receiving payment for your services.
  • Plan for cash flow to be a problem on start-up and during rapid growth phases.
  • Define what success looks like for you and your company.
  • Develop a Plan for the best and worst case scenarios for your business.
  • Be willing to adapt to many changes… all the time.
  • Continually strive to be the “go to” person for your industry. Be an expert.
  • Your clients, vendors, and employees can last a lifetime.
  • Be willing to accept there may be a better way to do something even though it may mean that your idea is not

What is the best decision you made for your business or professional career?

It’s great if you can join groups of unfamiliar people, be open to listen, and feel comfortable to ask for help from them.


Chris Braun: SBEC Mentor

Christopher Braun