If you know me through the startup scene in Atlanta, you know that I am involved in quite a number of different business plan competitions, entrepreneur-mentoring circles, and investor happenings. Frankly, as much as I enjoy it all, I’m simply tired of seeing Failplan after Failplan and Failpitch after Failpitch out there. And it stops here. Today. Right now. Before someone gets hurt.
Through this intentionally cheeky series of posts, you and I are going to do something really cool. We’re going to create a fictitious startup company, and then put together an elevator pitch, a fast-pitch deck, a one-pager, an investor pitch deck, a business plan – the works. And I will mold you in my deadly image along the way (bwahahahahah!).
In all seriousness, we’re going to learn how to do this stuff the right way – the fun way, do a little bootstrapping, overcome some adversity, get engaged with some mentors, and make a kick-ass set of docs. And, we might just dispel a few myths along the way. This is going to be fun.
The series will be broken down roughly as follows (subject to change):
And before I forget, please forward a link to this blog post to your entrepreneurial friends, so we can put an end to this Communist-Failplan madness! :)
Because the approaches that most people end up using generate heaping bowls full of fail – I’ve already said that. As I mentioned previously, I’ve certainly seen my fair share of business plans and pitches. And most of them suck. Not necessarily the teams, businesses, or concepts, mind you – but rather the plans, the messages, and the pitches that stand in between them and success.
Note: I’m not faulting founders, here. No one, save for Wifi-Cat, ever sat out to intentionally create a failplan. I’ve always said that no entrepreneur in the world can pitch their own deal without involvement from neutral eyes (using “pitch” broadly here to include the business plan, deck, fast pitch, elevator pitch, etc). I’m including myself in that mix. For noble, valid, and expected reasons, founders almost always get too close to the subject matter to be able to pitch effectively. Or, they simply don’t adequately prepare. They start with the best of intentions, then it quickly snowballs into Armageddon, and they end up living in a van down by the river.
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
— Albert Einstein
Sure, there’s the obvious stuff – errors with spelling, grammar, and punctuation. And yes, despite the abundant advice on why including an NDA in your business plan can be a bad idea, many people still insist on doing it. But I’m not here to write about that stuff. Those problems are easy to solve, and coverage of them was overdone ages ago. I’m talking about content here, and the psychology and methodology that should drive it.
Microsoft Office is to entrepreneurs as a hammer is to a blind man. Powerful, yet typically capable only of destruction. Give an entrepreneur a blank document in Microsoft Word, and he’ll fill it up. Quantity is easy. Quantity is not the goal. Quantity can kill you. Van. River.
Like startup ventures themselves, Failplans come in all shapes and sizes. But there are some general themes that seem to bubble up on a regular basis:
You’ve got 50 pages in the can and you’re jazzed as hell. The problem is that the “can” in question should be the “garbage can”, because no one can follow your rambling collection of nonsense. There is no method to your madness. Your idea seems to have a hint of brilliance in there somewhere – too bad no one will ever see it.
Despite the herculean effort you put forth to make sure that your new web 7.0, scalable, enterprise-grade lollipop holder is described in glorious detail, you’ve somehow managed to cobble up enough time to let the reader know that you have absolutely no business running a company. The problem with 50 pages of stuff is that you told them all they needed to hear … you’ve skipped the “next date” altogether, and proceeded straight to divorce court.
You’ve finally figured out how to productize your magic formula that turns peanut butter into jet fuel! Too bad your message has been put through a blender, flogged with a bit of wet lettuce, and slapped up on the wall next to Jackson Pollock’s Full Fathom Five. And no one can tell the difference between the two. Great for abstract art, not so much for your message.
What a bountiful harvest! Your basket is full of Competitive Landscapes, Management Team Summaries, and Financial Pro Formas. You’ve even managed to work in my Uncle Al’s favorite fruit, SWOT. It all sounds so cerebrally delicious! Unfortunately, you left out the part where you actually tell people anything coherent about your business.
You’re an MBA student at a great school, and your professor has given you the “magic template” for the business plan you are to write. Unfortunately, you realize that the file is actually named FailPlanTemplate-1986.wp5 (that’s WordPerfect v5, for you young ones), and is based on principles that are overly academic, dated, constraining, misaligned, and/or chock full of fail. Congratulations … you now have a first class ticket on the nonstop to nowhere.
I could go on, and probably will, before this is all over with.
You don’t have to. Feel free to go chase down the path of all the other failplan authors. My advice is worth what you’re paying for it … exactly nada. But I will entertain the question.
For starters, there’s the obvious. I’m not trying to sell you an e-book, an online seminar, or consulting services. You can find that crap via the link above. My motive here is simply to make you better, so when someone is trying to mentor or advise you, or help you in some other way, you don’t become a freakin’ time sink and drag everyone down with you.
I’m far from being a brilliant mind. But I’ve seen business plans. I’ve built and sold businesses around business plans I authored. Through StartupLounge, we’ve put over 200 aspiring dreamcatchers through our free PitchCamp workshop. The startup teams we’ve mentored/coached over the years have historically performed very well in, and/or have won, various business plan competitions. Many have gone on to successfully raise outside financing. Even better – many have gone on to create successful businesses.
You see, with every plan I read, every pitch I hear, and every team I volunteer to help, I gain opportunities to advance my own thinking. I’ve learned from the best, and worst, out there. And that is something for which I’m incredibly grateful. Hopefully, some of the things I’ve learned over the years will spill their way into this series of posts, and may actually help someone else out.
However, I will be the first to tell you that I don’t have all the answers to everything that ails you. No one does. That’s part of the formula, too, as you’ll see soon enough. If you have thoughts along the way, I absolutely welcome you to chime in and add to the discussion!
There is no set publishing schedule for these posts, but I’ll work on them as time permits. Stay tuned…
Coincidentally, I am publishing this first post while sitting in the break room at the ATDC down at Tech Square here in Atlanta. Come say “hi” if you read this right after I post it. The 4th week of CapVenture is tonight – another great opportunity for startup volunteerism!