Set Your Strategy and Make Organizational Goals For Success

An Interview with Steve Rubin, Launch413 Venture Advisor


Why should any enterprise have a strategy and goals?  

Creating a base strategy provides an organization with purpose and direction. It informs the constituents about the purpose of the business: what the business is attempting to accomplish, in what time frame, and, if successful, what benefits will accrue to its customers. Goals are the objective milestones that allow a business to assess how well the business is performing against its strategy. Having a clear strategy and goals that can be shared across the enterprise will guide the enterprise’s core actions, resource allocation, and the prioritization of decisions.


Is setting strategy and goals more important for an early-stage business or a mature business?

It is equally important for both early-stage and mature businesses to have a strategy and goals. Sometimes the exercise of developing a strategic plan is seen as time-consuming and difficult, but it can be a simple process. For some, a first-pass plan can be developed with just a couple of hours' effort. Whether you've just launched a new venture or lead a larger, more mature business, having a simple but clear direction and small set of goals that guide actions is critical.


Have you worked with companies that didn't set a strategy (or didn't do it well)?  

I've worked as a line manager at some companies and consulted for many others where the businesses either didn't set strategy and annual operating plans, or did it poorly. It's really about the readiness of a business to embrace a simple process of visioning, planning, and aligning resource allocation. Again, setting strategy shouldn't be complicated or cumbersome. The key is to match the effort to the culture and capability of the organization. The strategy doesn't have to be perfect; what's most important is to get started and iterate from there.


How have you helped companies to set strategy and goals?  

Typically the leadership team starts with a quick exercise to define the purpose of the business: what the organization does, for whom, why, and how. Then they set some short and mid-term goals that establish milestones for what needs to be accomplished. Next the leadership team identifies and prioritizes the key cross-business actions required to achieve these goals. Finally, a method is set up to regularly track progress and adjust as needed. Ideally, tracking happens naturally as part of an existing process such as monthly operating reviews, product planning or customer success meetings.

       

What have you found to be the keys to success?

First, identify a senior sponsor upfront to encourage employees to participate and embrace planning and change efforts. Second, find a compelling reason for change. When companies are forced to deal with a crisis, change feels natural. Without a crisis, companies need to create that sense of urgency to motivate their teams. A third key to success is an honest assessment of the current state, capabilities, and opportunities which will guide the company in the right direction. Finally, successful teams must track progress on a regular basis making sure they accomplish what they intend to achieve.

       

How long does it take companies to right themselves?  

It varies by company and how successfully they embrace the process. Early wins will reinforce the team's efforts and lead to more success. Those that lean in tend to get results quickly, usually within six months. For some companies the change takes longer.


What if companies fail to follow through?

I wish all companies would heed the advice and tools provided, but realistically that's not always the case. Some of my clients have acted slowly or have allowed distractions to interfere. For them, the results have been more muted, or have taken longer to achieve than other companies that have embraced these efforts and acted quickly.


Did any companies that followed your advice still go under?

Strategic change never happens in a fully-controlled environment, and unfortunately, most companies are faced with a number of unforeseen challenges. I've found that companies that have implemented a strategic plan, set corporate goals and aligned resources, and cascaded the plan and results throughout the organization are the companies that are able to persevere through tough times.


When is the right time to work on setting strategy?  

Ideally, develop a plan early on or before the beginning of a new year; however, setting a strategy at any time is better than not doing it at all. Once an organization implements a planning process, it's able to start reaping the benefits.


How does an enterprise know when they should be calling you for help - what are the warning signs?  

Founders and leaders typically realize they need some help when their organizations are under-performing, or when their teams are spending more time reacting to issues rather than proactively building for the future.


Where did you learn to do this stuff?

I began my career at GE when Jack Welch ran the business and it was known as one of the best run organizations in the world. Most of the tools and practices I still use came from what I learned as an operator and leader at GE, as well as my time as a consultant at Schaffer Consulting, a great change and performance management practice in Stamford, CT. One of the early lessons I learned was that the best strategies and tools are ones that are simple, easy to understand, and even easier to implement. If things are complex to understand and implement, the chance of success drops significantly. I've been an entrepreneur, operations leader, consultant and advisor for 30 years now. I love helping businesses and their leaders become stronger and accomplish their goals.



Twelve Mistakes to Avoid in Investor Presentations

What follows is an article by Launch413 advisor, Jim Geisman.

Pitch: n. Slang for investor presentation. An event where one party uses their mouth to pry open another party's wallet.

For many entrepreneurs, a high point in a founder’s journey is the investor presentation. Entrepreneurs spend a lot of time trying to distill the essence of their deal down to ten or fifteen slides that can be presented in 15 or 20 minutes. Sometimes an investor presentation is even shorter than that (like at Valley Venture Mentors). Unfortunately, many times the presentations do not do justice to the business concept.

Here are twelve mistakes entrepreneurs make when presenting their projects. Avoid these mistakes so your presentation will be effective and improve your chances of raising money.

Field of Dreams  Just because you can build a product does not mean customers will buy it. Focus on building the business not just building the product. Investors care more about building businesses and the value of an asset than they do about building a product (or services).

Technologie Über Alles  Many markets, especially online ones, are maturing and attracting more and more customers with less and less technical knowledge. Make sure to focus on how your technology creates benefits that the customers will pay for. Companies win more customers these days with better marketing and customer focus, not by touting their superior technology.

Gold Plated Pistons  Automotive engineers and car racers care about the pistons buried inside a car engine. Most folks only care about driving the car. Make your product features meaningful, easy to understand, and obvious. If you have to peel away a lot of layers to get to any meaningful features, you may have a me-too product.

Following the Puck  A famous hockey player said his success was knowing where the puck was going — and being there at the right time. Too many entrepreneurs are following today's products and markets. Describe how your product strategy anticipates the future. If you want to lead, be out front with something others will want to follow.

Chinese Glove Fallacy  A glove-making entrepreneur once claimed he would build a "big business" by getting a small share of a huge market. Oh really? The devil is in the details. How will your product make its way to your customers through your sales and distribution networks?

The Rising Tide  This common mistake is related to the Chinese Glove Fallacy. While it is better to sell into a growing market instead of a shrinking one, growth markets do not guarantee success. Describe how you will differentiate your products, or otherwise create a competitive advantage, so you can grow with the market.

More Is Less  All deals consist of a lot of details. Don’t overwhelm or bore investors with irrelevant details. Effective presentations focus on a few details that are important to the deal. Keep it simple. Don't talk faster, instead get rid of excess information.

Put a Face on the Deal  Customers and companies are faceless. Everyone, including investors, like stories so talk about people using your products in their activities. Give your product or service character. Turn your company's products or services into a human interest story. Markets don't buy products. People do.

Let Mikey Eat It  In a TV ad, some kids wonder if a cereal tastes good so they let Mikey try it. Companies who rely on letting their distributors or other intermediaries do their sales and marketing are doing the same thing. Investors know intermediaries respond to demand and do not create customers. Make sure you can identify and sell your product directly at least a few times. Know the way so you can show the way.

What's the Deal  An investor presentation that doesn't describe what you want is a sales presentation that doesn't ask for the order. Forget ROI. Forget valuation. Describe how much money you want and how you will use it. Then ask for it.

The Empty Suit  No matter how great your acting skills, acting can't overcome a presentation that lacks substance. Investors look for presentations with substance, based on logic, delivered with conviction. Describe your deal with cold facts not with hot air.

Mouth Open Ears Shut  An investor presentation should not be a monologue or a lecture. If an investor asks questions or offers suggestions, listen carefully. Aside from common courtesy, you may learn something. You may also learn that the investor is watching how you react to being challenged or how you consider alternative viewpoints. If you have all the answers, make sure you are answering the right questions.

In addition to being an advisor at Launch413, Jim Geisman is a consultant to entrepreneurs and senior managers at business-to-business (B2B) companies, helping them develop business and revenue models that allow their companies to grow and get funded. He has a unique, detailed understanding of how marketing, sales, business development, finance, and operations work together to achieve success.

Jim consults internationally on issues of software pricing and deal structuring and works to help companies solve some of their toughest pricing problems.

Jim mentors at Valley Venture Mentors. He is also a mentor at the MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge, serving on their Board and running their start-up clinic for 10 years where he was exposed to hundreds of companies and their business plans.

Before starting his consulting career in 1982, Jim held marketing management positions at Tektronix and Apollo Computer. He performed the first throughput tests on the forerunner of the Internet when there were only four nodes.

Jim holds Electrical Engineering degrees from Tufts and an MBA from Harvard.


Want a Successful Startup? Consider Minimalism!

What follows is an article by Launch413 advisor, Dr. Murdoc Khaleghi.

Want a Successful Startup? Consider Minimalism!

If you were to closely question most successful entrepreneurs on why they do what they do, they would tell you that it is not for a big payoff or the status of succeeding. It’s because they want to find a solution to a problem they care deeply about. This desire to solve a meaningful problem allows them to sustain the motivation, passion, and energy needed to overcome insurmountable odds.  


As a physician, it’s been illuminating to review the research that demonstrates how classic extrinsic motivators, such as money, status, and possessions, only produce a temporary stimulation of pleasure in the brain. Similar to drugs, this dopamine increase is fleeting, leading to wanting higher amounts until further increases aren’t possible anymore. Meanwhile, the pursuit of meaningful challenges and service offers a long-term satisfaction that can sustain an entrepreneur. Since creativity is a key asset for a successful innovator, I find it also significant that extrinsic motivators have been demonstrated to decrease creativity, while intrinsic motivators offer no such limits.


Fortunately, there are a number of sources of sustainable long-term satisfaction inherent in entrepreneurship, including the challenge and service of trying to solve a meaningful problem, as well as the autonomy to pursue what one wishes. The joy of autonomy is why it’s rare for an entrepreneur to ever go back to doing anything else.

 

Funding Your Startup


While having the right motivations can increase the chance of a startup's success, the biggest reason for a startup’s failure will always be funding. When managed properly, financing and motivation can be optimized by decisions you make in your own life.


When we think of financing, we focus on debt and equity. Debt is not a good option for a startup, as most ventures are considered too high-risk for debt financing, and interest payments are required while cash flow is still typically negative. Instead, most startups seek financing through equity, exchanging shares in their company for funding. While this is the most common option, it comes with serious drawbacks. At early stages, ventures generally do not have much worth, so to raise sufficient funds a significant portion of the company has to be exchanged. In addition, autonomy is one of the primary sources of the joy for an entrepreneur, but when entrepreneurs exchange equity to fund their venture, they lose a sizable piece of their company, as well as their autonomy and control since they must now report to their investors. A venture has only two possible paths: failure - losing everything, or success - which makes the equity given away early very valuable. Giving away valuable equity is not something most entrepreneurs want.

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There is a third funding option: bootstrapping. Bootstrapping means funding your venture as long as possible with your own money. The longer you bootstrap, the greater the possibility of increasing your company’s valuation. Then, when you do need to raise money, you can give less of your company away. While bootstrapping sounds ideal, many entrepreneurs don’t have significant funds to bootstrap. Fortunately, there are changes you can make in your life to maximize your ability to fund your venture independently.

 

Minimize Your Lifestyle to Maximize Your Startup


Most people live up to or close to their means. When we’re young adults we live on very little, and then as our income grows, our expenses do too. While some increase in expenses is necessary and unavoidable, most increases in expenditures are optional decisions under the guise of necessity. We buy newer cars, bigger houses, upgrade our TV, get a daily coffee, eat meals out, etc. These changes are subtle and gradual, to a point where I observe many of my colleagues who make high 6 or 7 figures finding a way to spend most of their income. While you might think they are excessive, they are just doing what seems natural--spending most of what they have.


There is an alternative that I have embraced in my life that has significantly helped me as an entrepreneur, including building several 8 and 9 figure companies, publishing eight books, and running a 30 member provider group. I’m a minimalist. Despite sometimes earning 7-figures, I still drive my 96 Civic, live in my modest home, don’t own a TV, get my books from the library, cut my own hair, and make most of my own meals.  Because of this, I’ve had the resources to pursue whatever endeavor strikes my fancy, and had to worry far less about the runway, the amount of time my funds will last me, for either my personal life or the venture. Interestingly, this minimalism has many other benefits:

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  1. When you start trying to live simply, you find joy in activities that cost little if anything.  Forget the fancy meal or ultra4K TV--give me a run through park trails or a hug from my child any day.

  2. One of the secrets to building wealth is buying assets instead of liabilities. I spend most of my money on things that make money and then use that money to buy more things that make money. The growth is exponential.

  3. Having savings and those assets has given me the security to never have to worry about having enough and the freedom to never have to do anything for money. With that freedom I pursue activities that are  meaningful to me. Additionally, whatever I do, I enjoy it more knowing I don’t have to do it. After all, how can you find your calling if you are focused on needing to pay the mortgage? By not giving much attention to buying stuff and then managing that stuff, I’ve had a lot more time and mental freedom for more interesting pursuits. Rather than spend my time looking at new cars, TVs, or houses, I write books, design courses, and start disruptive companies that try to solve major problems.  

  4. Living my minimalist life I now get more sustainable satisfaction from creating, helping others, and forming relationships, without needing the dopamine hit of moment to moment consumption gratification.

  5. I have the money to do some good. Many studies have shown that while the pleasure of purchasing for ourselves is fleeting, using money to help others makes us happier and for longer. I spend money to make a significant impact in a way that’s meaningful to me.


Making these changes is not easy. People often feel overwhelmed regarding where to start, and how far to go. They might feel uncomfortable about not following societal convention, or experiencing the changing of priorities. Embracing a minimalist lifestyle can also greatly impact one’s identity and like the best entrepreneurial pursuits, it’s not about achieving some destination, but about moving in a direction, with every step forward bringing a victory. What’s wonderful is no one ever regrets living more minimalistically, just like no one ever regrets being an entrepreneur. Doing one can make you successful being the other.


Besides being an advisor to our client companies at Launch413, Dr. Murdoc Khaleghi, MD MBA FACEP, is an emergency physician and Co-Founder or Founding Chief Medical Officer of many companies: including WellnessFX, StemoniX, and EverlyWell. He is the CEO of Westfield Emergency Physicians, and has published 8 books, including an Amazon bestseller. Dr. Khaleghi teaches Entrepreneurship at Westfield State University, with a focus on the practical changes to your life and skills you can develop to maximize your success as an entrepreneur. 

Launch413 Invests in BookFlow

Lisa Papademetrio, Founder, Bookflow

Lisa Papademetrio, Founder, Bookflow

We are proud to announce the latest addition to Launch413‘s portfolio: Bookflow. Bookflow aims to become the software platform for novelists to create, share, and improve their stories.

This Western Massachusetts company is led by Lisa Papademetrio, a New York Times best-selling novelist and Master’s-level educator of creative writing.

“Here is someone with well-earned national prestige, a deep knowledge of the industry, and an even deeper knowledge of the challenges faced by her target market: aspiring novelists. Oh, and she didn’t just talk a good game, she actually went and launched a prototype last November! We are thrilled to bring in the strategy, marketing, and revenue model expertise she’s been looking for to help scale this to a venture helping millions of authors,” said Launch413 co-founder Paul Silva.

Technology Roadmap Essentials

What follows is an article written by Launch413 advisor Ali Usman and originally published on PixelEdge (his company’s site).

When building a new digital product, having a high-level technology roadmap can help in decision making and communicating with the rest of the team. While there is no standard one-size-fits-all template, there are a few key components to keep in mind:

  • Business Model

  • Technologies

  • Team

  • Prioritization

  • Budget

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Business Model

The business model outlines both the business and the product. Make particular note of the Business Description and Vision; it is important to articulate what the business as a whole does and how the new product fits in. Since revenue and marketing channels are key to a successful product, it is important to state them and keep updating them as the business model changes.

Elements of the business model can include the following:

  • Business description

  • Vision for the product and how it fits within the business

  • Key milestones

  • Types of users, for example, customers (tiers if applicable), internal team members, system administrators, and any other internal, partner, vendor, and supplier users

  • User Story map listing key functions of each user type

  • List of delivery channels — e.g. web, Android App, iOS App, Smart Speakers

  • Marketing channels

  • Revenue channels

Technologies

It’s important to assess technology needs from the ground up. One approach is to start with infrastructure and business needs. Another approach would start with the team. The most important thing is to categorize elements and deal with them point by point.

A sample approach is listed below:

Infrastructure

  1. Hosting environment (e.g. Amazon Web Services)

  2. Choice of technology platform unless the product is going to be completely custom

Business needs:

  1. In-sourcing, outsourcing, or co-sourcing

  2. On-shoring, off-shoring, or hybrid model

  3. Skill sets needed (see example below)

  4. Data Replication

  5. Data Backups

  6. Business Intelligence

  7. Email

  8. APIs

  9. Periodic Tasks

  10. Others

Programming

  1. Backend programming language (for example, Java, Php, or Python)

  2. Frontend

Programming Frameworks

  1. Backend

  2. Frontend

DevOps tools such as Pivotal Tracker and Github

Team

Product stakeholders have to decide on three key questions:

  1. In-sourcing, outsourcing, or co-sourcing

  2. On-shoring, off-shoring, or hybrid model

  3. Skill sets needed (see example below)

Identifying skill sets that the current team has and future needs:

  • Project Lead

  • Business Analyst

  • UX Design

  • Frontend Programmer

  • Backend Programmer

  • Database Engineer

  • Quality Assurance

  • Hosting DevOps Engineer

  • Integration Engineer

  • Security Engineer

  • Others

Prioritization

What goes into the beta, minimum viable product (MVP), V1.0, V1.1, V2.0, and beyond? Outlining the parameters of your product and product lifecycle is essential to the success of any business venture. Every product has a unique set of requirements, and therefore every product needs a unique set of guiding principles to help prioritize those requirements.

Budget

When budgeting the true total cost of technology projects, it’s important to remember that launch is just the beginning. A study by Stanford University found that up to 90% of the overall cost can come after the launch of V1.0.

Example of budget line items.

  1. Direct cost

  2. Indirect overhead cost

  3. Tools

  4. Hosting

  5. Things going wrong (meaning the risk factor)

  6. Technical Support

  7. Customer Support

  8. Quality Assurance

  9. Maintenance

  10. Bug fixes

  11. Updating underlying frameworks and operating systems

  12. Forward compatibility

  13. Enhancements

Launch413 Invests in Clean Design Company

Dan Koval, Founder, Clean Design Company

Dan Koval, Founder, Clean Design Company

We are proud to announce the latest addition to Launch413‘s portfolio: Clean Design Company. By reinventing the mop hinge, Clean Design Company’s Duop® mop can do all sorts of things that your standard mop can’t - Dramatically saving you time, money, and effort.

This Western Massachusetts company is led by Dan Koval, a serial entrepreneur with special expertise in design and international supply chains. “We met Dan back when he was involved in the Valley Venture Mentors in 2014 & 15 and have enjoyed informally working with him for years,” said Launch413 co-founder Paul Silva. Paul went on to say, “We’re excited to have the chance to help him achieve his dreams.”

“Dan’s team took one of the most mundane objects, the kitchen mop, and completely reinvented it. Now it decreases workplace injuries, increases the speed people can get cleaning done, and is better for the environment. That is the kind of entrepreneur you want to back.” said Launch413 co-founder Rick Plaut.

Launch413 Invests in Music Box Licensing

Will Bangs , CEO, Music Box Licencing

Will Bangs, CEO, Music Box Licencing

We are proud to announce the latest addition to Launch413‘s portfolio: Music Box Licensing (MBL). MBL connects composers to buyers seeking original music for commercials, websites, and movie trailers.

This Western Massachusetts company is led by Will Bangs, a musician who spent the past ten years as a public school teacher to feed his family and find meaningful work. After graduating from Valley Venture Mentors earlier this year he took the plunge to convert MBL from a side-hustle into a full time venture.

“We were immediately impressed with Will’s work ethic, ability to incorporate advice, and commitment. By himself, and with no training (before VVM) he’s built an impressive small business with real potential to scale,” said Launch413 co-founder Paul Silva.