David Brim on business, marketing & life.

1,000+ Startup & Growth Companies Analyzed – Ideal Criteria for Success

Contributor: David Brim January 24, 2015

When I was in college at the University of Central Florida (Go Knights!) I was introduced to many leaders in the community who had been very successful entrepreneurs that transitioned into successful angel investors and/or venture capitalists. I had the opportunity to pitch many of these investors during business plan competitions. You could think of these competitions like SharkTank, before SharkTank, with prize money instead of investment capital.

David Brim - business plan competition judge

A few Orlando business leaders and myself judging a UCF business plan competition

I won two business plan competitions and was finalists in a state and national competition. I received press mentions, trophies and about $20,000 in cash over two years…however I gained something far more valuable. A clear vision of what I wanted to become. I wanted to be in that chair and have entrepreneurs pitching me for investment. Not just for college competitions, but for real (I have been invited back to UCF and to UF to judge business competitions). I wanted to not only be able to pursue and invest in my own ventures, but work with other aspiring entrepreneurs and help them grow by providing business wisdom, marketing assistance and in some cases capital and/or resources invested into their venture.

After I graduated I decided to build a foundation that would allow me to learn about many types of different businesses, connect with entrepreneurs and utilize my marketing skills to help companies grow. I decided to start a marketing agency in 2009 that could serve various businesses and my own ventures. I named it Brand Advance.

Over the last five years I have personally worked with over 1,000 different businesses through Brand Advance. Many of these businesses were past the startup stage and were growth companies (over $1M in revenue). Some of these businesses sought marketing assistance to help them increase sales, but were facing problems that marketing alone doesn’t solve. You cannot market yourself out of a strategy problem (climbing up a ladder on the wrong building). Furthermore, if you have a bad product or service or poor operations then customers you obtain may have a bad experience. Therefore, obtaining more customers into a system that cannot support it (ie Marketing) can often cause more harm than good.

After working with so many companies I started to see trends. I intimately learned what I like and don’t like about different types of businesses and ventures.

I decided to create a concrete list of characteristics (criteria) for ideal startup & growth companies to:

  1. Recognize companies when I find them – so we can be their marketing agency or I could eventually invest in them.
  2. Strive to build the ventures I have in my portfolio to meet these criteria
  3. Help other entrepreneurs, including certain ones we work with, understand these criteria so they could have a higher likelihood of success.

I recently shared it with someone else who had come from the private equity world and he asked for a copy. I decided that many others may find value from the criteria so decided to publish it. With that said…here are my criteria…

Characteristics of ideal startup & growth companies

Market Related

  • The entrepreneur(s) have chosen a fertile Niche Market to target.
  • Market is large enough to generate the desired target revenue, return or exit
  • If market is not large enough, the entrepreneur has a clear path to expand to adjacent markets (Bowling Pin Strategy)
  • There is a void in the market that is unfulfilled
  • If no clear void exists, the team has an innovative approach that can save members of the market time & money, or add meaningful value in some other way.
  • The entrepreneurs have taken the time to understand and assess direct and indirect competitors
  • The team’s growth plan and sequencing to grab market share makes sense
  • The product or service has been validated by the market either through a beta product with initial customers, or through an experiment (mock ups or prototype shared with potential customers with positive feedback received)

Customer related / Marketing

  • Clear target customer is identified
  • The type of customer is intimately understood.
  • The customer has a true need and receives meaningful value or relief from obtaining the product or service.
  • Customer has ability and authority to buy (Purchasing power and authority)
  • Customer can be reached (Marketing and sales plan is clear)
  • Decision making and purchasing process is clear and understood (Conversion Process)
  • If the venture has multiple potential customers then each customer segment is prioritized.
  • Venture can ideally benefit from network theory (viral organic growth / network effect) to increase awareness and sales
  • Decision makers, or highly visible influencers, can provide effective leverage to reach many customers or prospects
  • Customers are “sticky” – the business has high retention rates.

Business Model

  • Re-occurring revenue (ideal)
  • Ability to upsell add-on offerings, upgrades or related products to customers
  • High barriers to entry for competitors
  • High switching costs for customers (lock in business model)
  • Clear CPA (Cost per Customer Acquisition)
  • LTV (Life Time Value) is significantly larger than CPA
  • Economically viable and scalable model

Product

  • Product has a distinct and “marketable” advantage over competing products and/or alternatives (indirect competitors)
  • If the product has not established a meaningful advantage over competing products – the product has a clear plan to gain a marketable and distinct advantage.
  • If the product is a software venture – the software should be focused enough to serve a niche market well, but not rigid to prevent the product from adapting to market issues or business objectives that arise.
  • Product does not win in the marketplace on price alone (Not commodity product or service)
  • High profit margins

Team / Entrepreneur 

  • The leadership team has sound judgment, justifiable experience and integrity
  • The entrepreneur is passionate, committed, focused and driven
  • Entrepreneur is able to adapt to change gracefully
  • The entrepreneur knows when to “explore” and when to “exploit” and can adapt his team accordingly
  • The leadership has a strong ability to collaborate and work with others
  • The leadership is willing to listen and understand the perspective and suggestions of others
  • The entrepreneur(s) is/are not overly confident – willing to seek out advice from wise counsel when needed (Coachable)
  • The entrepreneur or team has deep knowledge of the market and/or customer
  • The team or entrepreneur has the ability to manage operations, people and finances
  • The leadership understands financial statements & tools like cashflow, budgets and the balance sheet.
  • The team has a qualified product engineer or specialist

Operations and Company Related

  • No partner or investor issues that could be difficult to resolve (“dead equity”)
  • No significant looming lawsuits
  • There is an operational agreement in place that outlines owner (member) responsibilities and protects against unfair equity allocations.
  • No substantial company debt, unless it is income producing or strategic debt.
  • Scalable operational systems are in place or planned that can accommodate future customer growth.

Current Status & Existing Performance

Before choosing to invest or determining a valuation, the current status of each perspective venture should be understood. Various areas of the business should be assessed including:

  • Company legal status and structure
  • Current product status – Just a plan? MVP (Minimum viable product), beta, product used in market already, etc.
  • Existing customer satisfaction
  • Existing team & planned potential hires
  • Current operational efficiency
  • Brand and related assets – Does the brand match the key prospect? Review website, collateral, social media, etc.
  • Sales and marketing efforts, performance and plans
  • Current financial status and position (Balance sheet review)
  • Current profitability (cash flow and income statement review)

I want to be clear that these criteria are not the ideal investment for everybody. For example, some people may seek to create products with mass market appeal. Based on what I’ve observed creating a mass market product that competes with many big players directly is a very costly and risky approach. I find niche businesses with the ability to expand, similar to a wedge that goes wider as it moves deeper, to be much more well founded and more likely to succeed. This criteria was also prepared to identify businesses that I would eventually want to invest in. This does not mean that businesses that don’t fit this criteria couldn’t thrive or be great lifestyle companies.

I hope that you found my fertile investment criteria to be helpful.

Dare to Dream.

Happy Growing!

ps…If you enjoyed this post, please consider voting for my blog. It was recently nominated as a top 3 business blog in Florida for 2014 out of 600 total blog submissions. The winner will be announced next month. You can vote here. Thanks for your support!

Global Entrepreneurship Week is Almost Here: Orlando is Ready! (BIG EXCHANGE)

Contributor: David Brim November 15, 2014

Have you caught the entrepreneurship bug yet? If not, now is the time…literally!

Global Entrepreneurship week is kicking off this upcoming Monday, November 17th. Whether you are currently an entrepreneur, or aspire to become one, it is time to partake in the festivities with fellow entrepreneurs around the world…in other words it is time to get to work!

In my last post I wrote about the Strength Finders 2.0 and Myers Briggs Assessments, two resources that can help us better understand ourselves and others. We all have our own unique gifts, strengths and talents. When we come together and align our respective gifts on the common goal of solving BIG problems we can make a BIG impact. This will be occurring right in my backyard next week in Orlando, Fl as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week.

THE BIG EXCHANGE: Orlando’s Global Entrepreneurship Week Celebration.

The BIG EXCHANGE is Orlando’s one week long celebration of Global Entrepreneurship Week.

Teams of Thinkers, Artists, Makers & Educators will come together to solve our most pressing problems together through a series of workshops that awaken your inner entrepreneur and bring your unique gifts to the table.

THE BIG EXCHANGE : Who Should Attend?

If you have a passion for entrepreneurship, solving problems, and making an IMPACT….you don’t want to miss this event!

At THE BIG Exchange you’ll find a great mix of people such as Thinkers, Makers, Artists and Educators. When you get great people together…good things happen.

Thinkers, Makers, Artists and Educators

This week-long event will especially be good for you to attend if you:

  • Have a desire to be entrepreneurial, but are missing an idea.
  • Have an idea, but need a helping hand from others to bring your vision to life.
  • Are looking to give back to entrepreneurs through mentorship and sharing what you have learned.
  • Are an investor in Central Florida looking to make connections in the entrepreneurial community.
  • Are a skilled artist, or maker looking to be a part of a new and exciting venture.
  • Want to be inspired and energized through the spirit of entrepreneurship.
  • Are seeking to better understand your own gifts and how they can add value through entrepreneurship

THE BIG EXCHANGE : Schedule

The week is packed full of activities and events. I’ve added a schedule for all the festivities below:

Orlando s BIG Exchange  Schedule

 

THE BIG EXCHANGE: $20k+ prize package

The winning team of Orlando’s BIG EXCHANGE will earn $20,000 in prizes.  This awesome prize package will help fuel the concept they created and planned into existence.

 

THE BIG EXCHANGE: Tickets

To join in the celebration of Orlando’s BIG EXCHANGE get your tickets today.

 

THE BIG EXCHANGE: Join in Online

If you cannot make all of the events, don’t worry! You can follow the conversation and events online. THE BIG EXCHANGE team has partnered with Got-Chosen to implement a program called social exchange. This will allow you to stay connected with the event anytime and anywhere.

BIG_EXCHANGE_-_GOT_Chosen

 

You can also follow the conversation via Twitter by following  , the hashtag:   or on Facebook.

 

THE BIG EXCHANGE: See you there!

Visit www.big-exchange.com to learn more and get involved today. I will be attending a number of the events throughout the week as my schedule permits. I hope to see you there!

Happy Global Entrepreneurship week everyone!

Cheers to making a BIG IMPACT.

Looking to build a start-up? The Business Model Canvas can help

Contributor: David Brim February 26, 2014

This past Friday (2/21/14) I was a judge in UCF’s business model competition. I’ve judged multiple business plan competitions in the past, but the business model competition was very different. Rather than focus on the business opportunity, the unique offering, team and likelihood for success; the business model competition focuses on the journey that the entrepreneur has been through to arrive at their current state.

UCF Business Model Competition Judges

UCF Business Model Competition Judges

The business model competition is based on lean start-up principles. The belief is that a start-up is in continual exploration to uncover a scalable  business model.

Most successful start-ups don’t end up doing exactly what they had planned initially. There are many lessons that start-up entrepreneurs go through along their journey. As a result of these lessons a series of pivots, or course adjustments, are made by the entrepreneur to help their startup better adapt to their respective environment (or find a new environment that fits them best).

Developing a full business plan can take substantial amounts of time and in the end may be invalidated once you actually get into the market and learn.

The business model canvas is used to help start-ups consider the major aspects that comprise their proposed venture and business model.

I’ve added a copy of the business model canvas below:

After proposing an initial business model you should then develop key assumptions to test before investing substantial amounts of time and money in a venture. I’ll give a personal example.

Background for example: Several months back my start-up Bright Impact, a solution for assessing the impact of service learning programs in higher-ed, was approached by an NBA team. They desired to track their corporate social responsibility impact through our tool.

I didn’t want to immediately customize our software for that sports team because we would be going into a completely different market, become distracted from current objectives and potentially stray away from our brand positioning. At the same time I didn’t want to ignore a big potential opportunity if our product could solve a large need that another market had.

I decided to create a test to validate my assumption.

My assumption: Large corporations, including professional sports team, could benefit and would pay for Bright Impact to assess their CSR activities.

My test: I arranged a meeting with CSR decision makers at Universal, Disney and the Orlando Magic and held a focus group. During the focus group I presented mock-up designs of what Bright Impact would look like when customized for them.  I then presented a survey and had each of the decision makers answer the survey individually then we discussed the answers together as a group.

Results: After the meeting I realized that this market was not the best to pursue at this time. Rather than be discouraged I was very thankful for the opportunity to save myself and company a lot of time and money. One indicated that they already had developed proprietary ways and software to collect this data. Another mentioned that their CSR reporting has become less important in recent years. The final one mentioned that it took over a year to just approve a new niche Facebook page and the sales cycle for selling this type of solution would likely be very long.

As entrepreneurs it is easy for us to have a vision and believe that the world should conform and change to be exactly what we envision. It is important to truly understand the markets that you are seeking to sell into and the pain you are looking to solve.

In our case one professional sports team reached out to us, but that doesn’t mean the whole market has this pain and would be willing to pay for the solution.

Whether you are a new entrepreneur, serial entrepreneur or an intrapreneur (entrepreneurial employee within a corporation) it is important to understand how to construct potential business models, develop assumptions and test those assumptions before investing time and resources into building something you think a market will want.

It is a lot easier up front to just build it and think customers (and cash) will come…but the world doesn’t work that way.

If you utilize the business model canvas then develop assumptions and tests you are a lot more likely to make better decisions. Though you may experience entrepreneurial growing pains early on, it will save you a lot of pain and frustration in the long run.

I think it is great that UCF has introduced this new competition. Utilizing the business model canvas and lean start-up methods is a great skill for any entrepreneurs to learn. This year’s judges were Robin Phelps (Business Consultant and previous tech entrepreneur), Doug White (Founder and Marketing specialist at Dream Tree Agency), Christine Ortiz (Ed reform enthusiast and founder of Founder & CEO at [ ]schools) and myself.

This year’s winner of the UCF business model competition was Oluwafunlola Falade, who passionately explained his journey and love / hate relationship with the business model canvas. Congrats Falade!

Falade UCF business model competition

Pam Hoelzle, Oluwafunlola Falade (UCF Business Model Competition winner) and Cameron Ford

If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy the post I shared a few weeks back: The business plan template that helped me to win over $18,500.

The Business Plan Template that helped me win over $18,500!

Contributor: David Brim January 29, 2014

Howdy fellow and perspective entrepreneurs,

Today I am sharing a valuable resource with you. As entrepreneurs you have to think about a lot – your products & services, operations, marketing, funding, industry trends, sales, and more. It helps to have something that keeps you organized and ensures you’re thinking about all the aspects of your business. The most effective way to do this is through a business plan. What I’ll be sharing with you is an awesome business plan template!

A new entrepreneur recently reached out and asked me if I had any resources for business plans and this one immediately came to my mind. This template was developed by the Kaufman Foundation and is one that I have used for years. It has really paid off!

While attending the University of Central Florida this template was a very helpful asset and helped me win multiple business plan competitions. These competitions collectively provided $18,500 in startup capital to help my ventures grow. These business plan competitions included: Winning the UCF Joust Competition twice, being a finalist in the State Sunshine business plan competition and being a finalist in the Nascent 500 competition (where we pitched to investors in the back of a limo going around the Indianapolis 500!).

Business plan competition - UCF Joust

UCF Joust Business Plan Competition Award – 2008: Cameron Ford, David Brim and Carl Henderson

One of the reasons why I had such strong business plans for the competitions was that I used this template overtime as an organizer and outline for my ventures.

Each time I learned something new, found good content in a relevant article or had a marketing idea I would add it into my business plan template. Every so often I would go through the business plan, try to make sense of everything, and clean everything up so it would be more presentable if I needed to share it with anyone.For example if I learned something new about an industry trend, competitor, key prospect / target market, product requirement – it would go into the appropriate section of the template.

There are hidden instructions for each section on the template. If you follow the instructions and hit the “paragraph icon” on the tool bar the hidden text will show up and give you valuable things to think about.

 

How I use this business plan template 

  • Remove sections that are not applicable. Rename the sections as you wish.
  • Anytime I have research, a marketing idea, or updates I drop my notes into the appropriate section. Remember a business plan is a living document / process and not a one time event. Since the world constantly changes you can drop important ideas, research and plans into the business plan as you move along. Test assumptions in the marketplace..talk to customers…review research, learn and update your business plan accordingly.
  • Spice it up by rewriting section titles to be more relevant and enticing to my venture”
  • Every so often go through the business plan and clean things up so everything flows together and is presentable to others if needed. As you go through try to make sense of research you previously gathered and new things you have learned.

 

I hope this helps everyone!

 

Good luck on your entrepreneurial journey.

 

Cheers,

 

David

Tips for Investor Pitches

Contributor: David Brim April 19, 2010

This past Friday I had the opportunity for the second year in a row to Judge the UCF Joust Business plan competition.  This competition, one that I previously won two different times, is organized by UCF’s college of business and numerous successful business leaders and investors are invited to judge various team’s business plans, venture viability, and pitch.

I learned a large amount by participating in the competitions as a contestant when I was in school, however being on the other side of the table teaches you a great deal and is a fantastic learning experience as well.  For the record…I like being on the investor side much better 🙂

Here’s 5 quick tips on helping you successfully pitch your business to investors, or judges in a business plan competition.

  1. Strong Attention Grabbing Opener– Try opening your presentation in a way that relates to your audience.  Asking a question or utilizing a “Picture this” or “Think back when” statement is one that I often used in the past….Have you ever (been in this bad situation or felt like this)…well millions of others do every day.  But we have come up with a solution…I’ll get to that momentarily.  My name is (X) and I’m with (X company).
  2. Follow a Logical Sequence– The sequence I usually use is a modified version of “Monroe’s Motivated Sequence”.  Attention Grabber–>Market–>problem–>solution (your product/service)–>Team–>Marketing plan–>Sales–>Financials–>Ask

    This keeps your presentation on track and flowing smoothly.
  3. Don’t Read Directly from the slides! The first two teams who presented on Friday read directly from the slides.  This is not only very boring, but it also shows that you’re not very knowledgeable about your business.  Reading from the slides also prohibits your passion for your venture from showing.  Showing your passion is a very important part of selling your audience on a concept.  The first two teams that presented this past Friday read from their slides and I wanted to slap some sense into them!
    Please don’t make this same mistake.
  4. Utilize Visuals– This tip goes with my last point and makes your presentation more engaging.  Don’t simply put massive amounts of text on your slides.  If your presenting about an actual product, bring your product or a beta in to share it with your audience.  The other option is simply adding graphics to your presentation:

    – Add pictures of your market
    – Add images that represent the pain they are facing
    – Add graphics of your product or service offering
    – Add images showing your marketing initiatives
    – Show a graph of your financials (revenue, expenses and break even

  5. Make sure your financials are solid! One team that presented in the competition didn’t even have financials!  One of the other teams had financials that were very incomplete.  The team spoke a large amount about their marketing and how they would capture 5% of a large market and didn’t even allocate a marketing budget!  Don’t make this mistake!  I would recommend having an income statement, balance sheet, cash flow statement and financial assumptions.  If you are very early stage everyone is going to know these are not 100% accurate, however you need to be able to defend these financial statements….hence the reason for your financial assumptions.

Now there are a lot more tips that can be said, but these were the five that really stuck out in my mind after judging the competition Friday.

I wish all of you the best of luck in your various entrepreneurial endeavors.  If I can be of any assistance let me know!
If there are any other tips my readers would like to share feel free to drop a comment.

Cheers,

David

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