Friday, March 20, 2009

Positioning and pitch decks for startups

IMHO, a great pitch deck is concise (15 slides) and highly focused. And in the deck I like to see the following points covered (yes, this is my preferred order):

One/Two sentence pitch for company -value proposition (1 slide)

Brief history - founded when, capital raised to date and from whom, capital needed in new round (1 slide)

Who/Team - give me some context of who you are, your backgrounds, success/failures so I can get an idea of your ability to deliver and surround yourself with experienced talent, also include any board members or advisory board members that may be relevant (1 slide)

What's the problem? - too often I see pitches where the entrepreneurs dive right into the product and I scratch my head thinking why in the world we need another lifestreaming service or social network or ad network (1 - 2 slides)

How do you UNIQUELY solve the problem? - solving the problem just like everyone else is not exciting. You need to show how you solve the problem UNIQUELY and ultimately deliver a 5-10x improvement for the customer in terms of ease of use/functionality and cost. What this boils down to is your simple product pitch. (1-2 slides)

Product/Tech - make sure to tell me about your secret sauce or core tech that enables you to deliver a unique service - screen shots, overview, etc - could be good time to go into demo in a live meeting (1-2 slides)

Customer traction - is product in hands of customers? if so, how long in market and share some data on users or beta customers or customers (1-2 slides).

Market size/Competitive Overview - how big is the market and how do you come up with that number - how are you positioned in the market - show graphically maybe by offering or value proposition (this is where you get your typical top right hand corner Gartner like quadrant). A sin is to tell me you have no competition (1 - 2 slides)

GoToMarket Strategy - how will you grow quickly and in a capital efficient manner? How will you sell your product - online, direct, or indirect sales? any potential partners signed or game changing partners that will help you deliver? (1 slide)

Business/Revenue model - show me that the economics of your business work - note that single digit gross margins will get you thrown out the door pretty quickly (1 slide)

Financials - yes I know for early stage customers it is at best a guesstimate but give me an idea of how this will grow, what the revenue numbers look like over the next 3 years to give me an idea of how the business scales, and ultimately it helps me understand the true cash needs for the business to get to breakeven (1 slide)

The financing round - lay out the dollars you are asking for, how it will be used, and how long the cash will last (1 slide)

Milestones-what milestones have you hit so far and what do you plan on realizing during the next year with the new cash (1 slide)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

JD Supra

Startup JD Supra is hoping to merge user generated content with the legal community. Founded by attorney Aviva Cuyler and launched last year, the site enables lawyers, law firms, and legal professionals to publish legal documents online. The source is credited for his or her work via a LinkedIn-like profile on the site. Access is free and anyone can search the database of memos, court filings, agreements and more.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Steve Forbes on Taxes

--Individuals and businesses spend 7.6 billion hours a year filling out tax forms for the IRS. "And that figure does not even include the millions of additional hours that taxpayers must spend when they are required to respond to an IRS notice or an audit." Those 7.6 billion hours consume the equivalent of 3.8 million full-time workers.

--The cost of complying with the code comes to $193 billion. Other experts think that assessment is too low and have come up with estimates approaching $300 billion.

--The number of words in the code has grown by 2.3 million since 2001. In 2008 there were more than 500 changes to the tax code. Other surveys have found that the code has been amended some 14,000 times since the mid-1980s.

--No one can cope anymore: "Individual taxpayers find the return preparation process so overwhelming that more than 80% pay transaction fees to help them file their returns."

There are countless examples of the code's mind-numbing complexity. For instance, there are at least 11 incentives to encourage taxpayers to save for and spend on education, with each having different particulars on definitions, eligibility requirements, income-level thresholds, phase-out range and inflation adjustments.

There are at least 16 incentives to encourage saving for retirement, again with different parameters.

The alternative minimum tax is an atrocity in a class all its own. It was enacted four decades ago to ensure that everyone pays income taxes, no matter what loopholes or deductions they might employ. In 1970 only 20,000 filers were affected. By 2010 the number will reach 33 million. Congress, knowing the outcry that would ensue if it whacked the middle class that harshly, regularly enacts a so-called patch, which results in the AMT hitting around 4 million filers. The biggest trip wires for AMT are family size and living in a high-tax state. In other words, if you have a lot of kids or you reside in California, New York or a similarly tax-greedy state, you will fall into AMT quicksand. Writes Olson: "Few people think of having children or living in a high-tax state as a tax avoidance maneuver, but under the unique logic of the AMT, that is how those actions are treated." Olson wants Congress to get rid of the AMT once and for all.

And God help us if Congress again tries to help beleaguered taxpayers. A little more than a year ago, for instance, Congress--with considerable fanfare--enacted the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act. Previously, a distressed homeowner who renegotiated his mortgage with his bank had to pay income tax on the amount by which the loan was reduced. This new law was supposed to put a stop to that. But, as the Advocate's report notes, "A taxpayer must file Form 982, [which] is extremely complex, and very few taxpayers or preparers are familiar with it … and the form is not included in many tax software packages."

One sees a similar abomination with the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is supposed to give low-income taxpayers a rebate. Naturally, "The eligibility requirements and computations are complex, yet recipients are relatively less able to understand complex rules and less likely to speak English as their primary language, creating a recipe for confusion." The result: a large number of improper claims by taxpayers and improper denials by a confused IRS.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Lieberman Asks, Why Are Court Docs Still Behind Paid Firewall?

Online Rebel Publishes Millions of Dollars in U.S. Court Records for Free