Entrepreneurs often ask me how to value the sweat equity invested in their start-up. I used to offer a quick and easy response: Its worth whatever your investors tell you its worth. But over the years, I have come to realise that sweat equity isn’t the same thing as market value for your start-up. Investors have no idea how to value sweat equity, and I now believe it’s a bad idea to let them tell you how to do it. At a minimum, they could use this as a negotiating tool to undervalue your start-up.
When you’re getting started, sweat equity is often a critical component of your negotiating leverage with co-founders, early stage employees and others who aren’t paid market wages to help you grow your business. As the business owner, you should be the expert on valuing sweat equity, not your investors, accountants or lawyers. Here are some tools for tackling the challenge.
When determining the value of the sweat equity provided by an employee or potential co-founder, first assess these three characteristics of the person in question:
- Commitment. Is he or she committed to being a founding partner for the long haul?
- Unique contribution. Does he or she bring specialised knowledge, skills, leadership ability or experiences that you don’t have?
- Hopes and dreams. Are his or her hopes and dreams for personal wealth, business success and autonomy the same as yours? If not, are the differences substantial enough to pull the company apart? Then, start thinking about the numbers.
1. Market value doesn’t equal the sum of sweat equity invested by you and your partners.
If you have invested R100 000 worth of your time in writing a business plan, and your partner, a young engineering student, has invested R25 000 worth of her time in building a prototype, it doesn’t mean the market value of your start-up is R125 000. In fact, it could be worth much more. Sweat equity is just one component of early-stage valuation.Valuing a start-up is driven by market conditions, comparable companies, exit potential, future capital needs and many other factors.
2. Foregone wages for an engineer aren’t the same as foregone wages for a prototype designer.
In the example described above, the R25 000 estimated by your business partner is likely to be based on wages that she could have earned in a full-time job. This is the typical way that a founder determines sweat equity: foregone wages. However, your partner could just as easily have argued that her sweat equity is worth R250 000 since that’s what a prototype would have cost you to make had you hired a prototype development firm. Or she could argue that the prototype is so critical to the business that she should get 50% of the company’s stock.
In my experience, this is the basis for much of the negotiation that CEOs will have with their early-stage employees and co-founder. You need to determine the principle applied for valuing services invested in a nascent business. Foregone wages tends to be the anchor that keeps valuation negotiations from sailing into oblivion. Don’t be tempted to dole out equity to everyone who helps you found the company – even if it makes you feel good to have co-founders. (Being an entrepreneur is lonely, but there are better ways to make friends or build a community of credible supporters than by giving early-stage equity to people who make small contributions to your business.)
One simple solution is to “pay” a slight premium for sweat equity to early-stage employees. For example, when valuing the sweat equity invested by your prototype designer, use R30 000 rather than R25 000 as a valuation figure and explain that you’re paying a 20% premium because of the risks associated with being paid in equity rather than cash.
3. Employees and founders are motivated by different things.
How should you decide if your prototype designer should be a co-founder who deserves 50% of your company or deserves R30 000 in sweat equity for her work as an employee or consultant? Too often,
I see entrepreneurs making this critical decision by trusting the opinion of their investors – or potential investors – rather than determining what their business will actually need. First-time entrepreneurs often think “If I approach a VC with a chief technology officer or chief prototype designer in place, then I’m more likely to get funded.” So they end up getting a co-founder and parting with 50% of their company, even if their CTO is really a young prototype designer who will get discouraged or fired a few months later. Using a restricted stock agreement, you can mitigate risk, building in a buy-back right for the partner’s equity grant. Ultimately, it’s up to you. You get to decide what you need to give up to keep or get an invaluable partner on board.
6 Great Tips For A Successful Shark Tank Pitch
Whilst most of us are unlikely to appear on television shows such as Dragons Den or Shark Tank there is a lot we can take out from watching these programmes.
Whilst most of us are unlikely to appear on television shows such as Dragons Den or Shark Tank there is a lot we can take out from watching these programmes. Entrepreneurs will often need to promote their businesses to prospective customers, lenders, investors, employees and even suppliers.
All stakeholders would like to know with what and whom they are dealing. They will need to assess risk and will try and evaluate the business against others who are competing for those same funds.
1Know Your Product
You should be able to describe your business within 60 seconds, in a confident and positive manner. Let the stakeholder know what particular problem your business solves which makes it viable and attractive.
Your brand and how you intend to develop it is important in determining whether they will invest or lend you money. Share critical information with them such as large customers, patents and trademarks and details of forward orders.
If you are looking for funding or investment, make sure you have the relevant paperwork to back up what you are saying.
You must have your numbers at your fingertips. A true and successful entrepreneur will know his numbers instinctively and be able to recollect and present them convincingly. Stakeholders want to know your turnover (sales) over the last couple of years, your gross profit and net profit.
Investors want to know what they are investing in and whether there is strong potential for their money to grow. Lenders will want to assess their risk — how are you going to repay the money? Moreover, you as the business owner, need to be sure that you will be able to make the required repayments.
You must know what your margin is, as this will largely determine your viability as a business. Margin or gross profit is the difference between the selling price of the goods and their cost and is usually expressed as a percentage.
3Know What You’re Asking For
Be clear as to the size of the investment you want to give away and how that determines the ‘valuation’ of the business. Therefore, if you wish to raise R200 000 for 10% of the business, that means you value the business at R2m — be sure you can back that up or you will get taken apart.
4Have a Business Plan
The best way to fully understand your business is by way of having a detailed business plan, which has been prepared whilst working through every facet of your business, from the original idea to the finished product.
As the business owner, you need to live this business plan and be able to use it as your daily guide to success. Develop it, change it where circumstances require it, but most importantly know it and understand it.
In this way, you will be able to deal with most of their questions, be they about marketing, research, international expansion etc. It is also a good idea to know your competition and what they are up to.
In most interactions, you the entrepreneur, are selling yourself. Whether it is an investor, lender, customer or prospective employee, it is their impression of you and your capabilities which ultimately determine whether they want to work with you.
Be confident, defend your position where required, as you will need to parry some blows but do not behave arrogantly.
6Learn From Your Mistakes
Many entrepreneurs who have presented to the Shark’s Den and not been able to garner investment have turned their business into great successes. You need to be able to learn from the experience, and if rejected, bounce back even stronger.
3 Things You Must Have In Place To Get That Start-up Bank Finance
If you’re planning to secure funding for your start-up, you need to put the right foundations in place.
The South African landscape for raising finance is tough for any business, with stringent lending regulations. Here are three areas to focus on as you set up your start-up to ensure you’ll qualify for a loan or equity funding.
1Securing a Market
Most SMEs I have mentored or advised start with expressing how big the total market size is for their product or service, but, while this is important to understand, the big question is: What percentage of that market will you attract and how?
Look at the ‘how’ first and work your numbers backwards. For example, if you secure a R10 million contract to supply an item that has a market size of R37 billion you are capturing only 0,03% of the market. However, if you’re able to cover your monthly expenses (including your loan repayment) and make a profit, that’s what counts. You should be able to show this contract or letter of intent to procure, which shows how and where you will find this market.
2A Strong Team
When you’re starting out you’re likely to be the sum total of your team. If you’re going down the entrepreneurial journey alone, make sure you have identified who will mentor and guide you through the areas you don’t have competencies in and cost this into the business start-up and running costs.
Focus on who in the business is going to:
- Sell and market: Do they have the necessary skill, network, product and market knowledge?
- Control the money: Are they financially savvy and can they make sure that money is being used for the right things?
- Operate: Who has done this before? Can this individual manufacture the product or arrange the supply of goods or services, ensure quality control and sound human resource management?
Formalising your business is costly but necessary. If you don’t have a formal entity, shareholders agreements, loan agreements, financial statements, management accounts, tax compliance and so on, you will come short when looking to raise finance.
Understand these costs upfront and include them into your start-up budget — this will save you a lot of pain in the long run.
The truth is that finance is available for women who have the right business ingredients just as much (if not more — in the South African context) as it’s available for men and just as with men. And, resources such as these help to unpack and guide the core fundamentals that are needed to make business bankable/fundable.
Then it’s all about implementation and staying on track to translate all that you’ve done and all that you wish to do in a bankable business plan, and approach the relevant funder for your needs. The right business mentor can certainly help you on that journey.
If You’re Trying To Raise Money, Doing Any Of These 9 Things May Scare Off Investors
Avoid these mistakes and funding could be yours.
Most new and existing businesses can benefit from outside funding. With such funding, they can grow faster, launch new initiatives, gain competitive advantage and make better long-term decisions as they can think beyond short-term issues like making payroll.
Unfortunately, though, most entrepreneurs and business owners make several mistakes that prevent them from raising capital. These mistakes are detailed below. Avoid them and funding could be yours.
Making unrealistic market size claims
Sophisticated investors need to understand how big your relevant market size is and if it’s feasible for you to eventually become a dominant market player.
The key here is “relevant” and not just “market.” For example, if you create a medical device to cure foot pain, while your “market” is the trillion-dollar healthcare market, that is way too broad a definition.
Rather, your relevant market can be more narrowly defined as not just the medical devices market but the market for medical devices for foot pain.
In narrowing your scope, you can better determine the actual size of your market.
For instance, you can determine the number of foot pain sufferers each year seeking medical attention and then multiply that by the price they might pay for your device.
Failing to respect your competitors
Oftentimes companies tell investors they have no competitors. This often scares investors as they think if there are no competitors, a market doesn’t really exist.
Almost every business has either direct or indirect competitors. Direct competitors offer the same product or service to the same customers. Indirect competitors offer a similar product to the same customers, or the same product to different customers.
For example, if you planned to open an Italian restaurant in a town that previously did not have one, you could correctly say that you don’t have any direct competitors. However, indirect competitors would include every other restaurant in town, supermarkets and other venues to purchase food.
Likewise, don’t downplay your competitors. Saying that your competitors are universally terrible is rarely true; there’s always something they’re doing right that’s keeping them in business.
Showing unrealistic financial projections
Businesses take time to grow. Even companies like Facebook and Google, with amazing amounts of funding at their disposal, took years to grow to their current sizes.
It takes time to build a team, improve brand awareness and scale your business. So, don’t expect your company to grow revenues exponentially out of the gate. Likewise, you will incur many expenses while growing your business for which you must account.
As such, when building your financial projections, be sure to use reasonable revenue and cost assumptions. If not, you will frighten investors, or worse yet, raise funding and then fail since you run out of cash.
Presenting investors with a novel – or a napkin
While investors will want to meet you before funding your business, they will also require a business plan that explains your business opportunity and why it will be successful.
Your business plan should not be a novel; investors don’t have time to wade through 100 pages to learn the keys to your success. Conversely, you can’t adequately answer investors’ key questions on the back of a napkin.
A 15- to 25-page business plan is the optimum length to convey the required information to investors.
Not understanding your metrics
How much does it cost to acquire a customer? What is your expected lifetime customer value?
While sometimes it’s impossible to understand these metrics when you launch your business, you must determine them as soon as possible.
Without these metrics, you won’t know how much money to raise. For instance, if you hope to gain 1,000 customers this year, but don’t know the cost to acquire a customer, you won’t know how much money you need for sales and marketing.
Likewise, understanding your metrics allows you and your team to work more effectively in setting and achieving growth goals.
Acting like know-it-alls
While investors want you to be an expert in your market, they don’t expect you to be an expert in everything. More so, most businesses must adapt to changing market conditions over time, and entrepreneurs who feel they know everything generally don’t fare well.
A good investor has seen many investments fail and others become great successes. Such experiences have made them great advisors. They’ve encountered all types of situations and understand how to navigate them.
If you’re seeking funding, acknowledge such investors’ experiences. Let them know that while you are an expert in your market, you will seek their ideas and advice in marketing, sales, hiring, product development and/or other areas needed to grow your business.
Focusing too much on products and product features
When raising funding, you need to show you’re building a great company and not just a great product or service. While a great product or service is often the cornerstone to a great company, without skills like sales, marketing, human resources, operations and financial management, you cannot thrive.
Furthermore, if your product has a great feature, be sure to specify how you will create barriers to entry, such as via patent protection, so competitors can’t simply copy it.
Exaggerating too much
When you exaggerate to investors who know you’re exaggerating, you lose credibility.
One key way to exaggerate is with your financial projections as discussed above. There are many other ways to exaggerate. For instance, saying you have the world’s leading authorities on the XYZ market is great, but only if they really are the world’s leading authorities.
Likewise if you say it would take competitors three years to catch up on your technology, when investors ask others in your industry, they better confirm this time period. If not, your credibility and funding will be lost.
What do investors care about? They care about getting a return on their investment. As such, anything you say that supports that will be welcomed.
For instance, talk about your great product that has natural barriers to entry. Discuss your management team that is well-qualified to execute on the opportunity.
Talk about strategic partners that will help you generate leads and sales faster.
But, don’t go off on tangents that don’t specifically relate to how you earn investors returns, like the fact that you’re a great tennis player.
Likewise, conveying too many ideas shows you lack focus. For instance, saying you’re going to launch product one next year, and then quickly launch products two, three and four, will frighten investors. Why? Because they’ll want to see product one be a massive success before you even consider launching something new.
Investors have two scarce resources: Their time and their money. Avoid the above mistakes when you spend time with investors, and hopefully they’ll reward you with their money.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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