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Start-up Advice

10 Key Questions to Determine Whether Your Dream Is a Business

There is no magic formula for building a good business, but there are some common elements.

Martin Zwilling

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Business dreams are fun, but they don’t change the world or make you any money if you can’t turn them into a reality. Many aspiring entrepreneurs are stuck in the idea stage, and only a few have the discipline and the insight to move on to the execution phase.

There is no magic formula for building a good business, but I’ve seen enough successful ventures to pick out some common elements.

In fact, as an angel investor, I find that many of the questions in the due-diligence process give me real insight into the maturity of a startup.

 

We-recommend-tickRecommended: 6 Things I Wish Somebody Had Told Me When I Started My Small Business

I offer these same questions to you as a self-assessment of your own progress and ability to transform your idea into a business:

1. Has your vision attracted smart people to you?

A vision that you alone believe in won’t make a business. It’s really about clarity of communication to others.

You need the right team to build and grow a business, and your first challenge is to show you can build a team, with effective continuous written and verbal communication.

2. Have you defined a focused strategy and plan to get there?

If you strategy and plan are not clear even to you, or constituents don’t seem to get it quickly, you can bet that potential customers also won’t get it. Strategies need no more than three elements, and plans that are written down are more easily understood and more likely executable.

3. What level of stakeholder commitment do you have?

The first and biggest stakeholder is you, the entrepreneur. Is this a spare-time-only effort that you have been working on for five years, or do you have real skin in the game? Investors expect to see a personal commitment, as well as team members, other investors or even customers.

4. Is this a win-win opportunity for all the principals?

Business ideas that win only at the expense of the customer, or investors or partners, will fail in the long run. With the best dreams, customers get great value as your business makes money.

Pyramid schemes and work-at-home scams sound good in the marketing pitch, but nobody wins.

We-recommend-tickRecommended: Why Being So Serious Could Slay Your Start-Up

5. Does your dream include automated and repeatable processes?

We all know artists and consultants who bring great value, but their businesses won’t scale, since they can’t clone the founder, and can’t use tools to automate the process.

Highly manual processes can’t be easily automated and measured, and tend to be very expensive.

6. Are you able to show a “sense of urgency,” not a “sense of emergency”?

Succeeding in business is all about keeping the focus on important things, rather than the crisis of the day.

Good entrepreneurs are able to manage priorities, keep them to a small number and communicate effectively to all constituents to maintain commitment and momentum.

7. Do you promote a culture of teamwork, mentoring, and training?

It all starts with attracting and hiring the best people, and nurturing these individuals with support and ongoing growth opportunities. Too many entrepreneurs assume that everyone knows what needs to be done, and everyone is self-motivated and committed to the same dream.

8. Can anyone see a pattern of team actions and results?

Some entrepreneurs remain a “one-person show,” even with good team members around them. The entrepreneur has to assign and delegate the right actions, motivate real results and hold people accountable. At the same time, leaders need to be “hands-on,” not merely observers.

9. Are there adequate milestones and measurements in place?

Execution is achieving a series of small milestones, not just one big final success. Along the way, you can’t achieve what you don’t measure.

I look for a focus on a few drivers, rather than a long list of deliverables. Things change rapidly in a startup, so strategy reviews are a must.

We-recommend-tickRecommended: 4 Signs that your Small Business has Finally Arrived

10. Do team members get rewarded for the right things?

Some entrepreneurs, by habit, are too focused on hours worked, rather than results. In all work environments, you get what you pay for. The best entrepreneurs set high standards for performance, but are quick to celebrate results with rewards, recognition and advancement.

If a potential investor doesn’t see enough of these attributes, it doesn’t mean your business efforts will fail, but it may indicate that your dream is still in the idea stage or early seed stage.

More work is needed to transform it into a business. Otherwise you are likely to hear from investors and other constituents the dreaded “come back when you have more traction.”

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Martin Zwilling is a veteran startup mentor, executive, blogger, author, tech professional, and angel investor. Contact him at at marty@startupprofessionals.com

Start-up Advice

Entrepreneurs! Do You Know What Your Customers Want?

Take off those rose-tinted spectacles and start looking at your business the way your customers do.

Chris Ogden

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Do you know what your customer’s need? Have you really looked at their problems and challenges and asked yourself how your product or solution helps solve them? Do you even know if your business addresses any one of the myriad pain points they face every day in their personal and professional lives? If your business talks to other businesses, are you speaking in the language they want to hear? If you don’t answer a definitive YES to every one of these questions, then you need to start paying attention…

Put in the effort

Research, research, research. Find out what people need through all the myriad of digital and physical research channels available to you. And when you engage with your customers in person, ask them questions and write those insights down. Listen.

Related: 5 Reasons Why Your Business Is Losing Customers

Bad feedback is great feedback

If clients are unhappy, they talk to you. This is good news. Use this feedback to build solutions that change these issues into advantages. This is when you should consider building an open feedback loop or mechanism into your business to ensure that you are getting the best possible insights from your customers. I

It’s also a good idea to check their criticism against reality before you spend thousands on fixing a problem that doesn’t really exist. For example, if they complain about poor customer care, assess your process and see how many complaints you have. It may be that one customer happened to deal with that one unhappy employee.

Understand their business

Your client has their own clients who have their own clients, and so on, and so forth. Take the time to get to know their business and their market. Often entrepreneurs don’t get to know how their client’s businesses work and they miss a crucial trick. By spending time with them and listening to them you get to understand their pain points and their needs. This way you can be the one who helps to fix their problems properly.

Related: How Well Do You Really Know Your Customers?

Don’t stop innovating

Don’t fear the ability to change something to suit a client’s needs. Your products and services have to evolve constantly as your market and consumers are changing constantly. You need to add value, change features or adjust your services dependent on the business you are in. Pay attention and innovate.

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Start-up Advice

Why Failing Is A Necessity Proven To Guarantee Success

We should always have this at the back of our minds whenever we have that nudge to give up on our dreams.

Matthew Mordi

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There comes a time, especially after a terrible defeat, when we feel like giving up or even quitting. The defeat clouds our minds and make us forget completely what victory feels like. We forget the successes and judge ourselves solely on the defeats. This feeling isn’t unique to a single individual as even the most successful businessmen, inventors, politicians, world leaders have experienced failures at different points in their lives.

We all love success stories. It’s a matter of fact that behind every success story is a large amount of failed attempts. The notion of overnight success is a myth. It took the Wright brothers between four and seven years of scientific experimentation and several failed attempts before their maiden flight covering a distance of 852 feet which lasted a mere 59 seconds was achieved.

History is replete with instances of individuals who were written off after a terrible fall from grace. These individuals, against all odds, didn’t give up.

Related: Having The Perfect Product Isn’t Enough To Keep You In Business

Tiger Woods, for example, has for the most part of his adult life being in the public eyes. That’s why when he went to his very public divorce, tales of womanising, dabbling with prescription drugs. Also plagued by injuries, his golf was seriously failing and in danger of being a “has been,” analysts advised he should just retire. It was obvious Tiger had a different plan up his claws by winning his first PGA tournament in five years.

His recent resurgence in form is testament to the fact that no one has the stop button to our life or life’s dreams and ambition. No one but you. It’s only when we stop innovating and trying that we’ve failed. Having lost a business deal that had the chance to change our lives positively forever isn’t the end of the world. Hence we need to reinvent and innovate.

If achieving success was easy, the vast majority of people would be successful. We have to put in the work and our skill to be able to achieve success because the most worthwhile things don’t come easy.

Defeats, if seen from a positive perspective, bring out the best in us. Victories don’t. Victories swell our egos, fill us with the air of invisibility, and this is dangerous. Hence we need a large dose of failures and defeats to bring us down to earth, to make us learn and better appreciate success the moment we’re able to achieve it.

What then do we do when we experience a poor run of defeats that make us doubt our abilities. Being fixated on the defeats for one, isn’t the solution. It has the tendency of making us forget what it felt like to win and totally derail us from our set goals. This, in itself, is a problem as it may lead to a state of unhappiness.

Related: Why Small Businesses Are Unable To Pay Staff Salaries

The bad results we might have experienced isn’t an indication of our inabilities, it’s an opportunity for us to look at the venture from a different perspective and take necessary action to improve or try a different approach towards achieving our aim.

Defeats can be depressing when we have dependents who rely on us for guidance and in some cases sustenance. Dependents could be in the form of a spouse, children, wards, parents, even staff. The pressure can be enough reason for some to give up and settle for the safer option.

With the decision to settle comes the likelihood of regret which may be more depressing than the expectations of dependents. Fortune they say favours the brave and nothing worthwhile was ever achieved without the possibility of failure.

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Start-up Advice

Why You Need Smart Legal Foundations For Your Start-up

The legal background to a start-up might not be the most exciting area for an entrepreneur, but it’s your foundation for growth. Are you aware of everything you need to have in place?

Kyle Torrington

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One of the best parts of what we do is helping start-ups — the right legal foundations can mean the difference between a start-up that’s geared for scale, and one that needs to retroactively put agreements, checks and balances in place. If you’re aiming for growth, you want to get these foundations right from the get-go.

When Benji Coetzee launched EmptyTrips, a hot up-and-coming start-up 16 months ago, Legal Legends was on the ground floor with her. Although your start-up trajectory may not be identical to that of EmptyTrips, many of the foundational principles canvassed in this article will apply at some point in the lifecycle of your business. They highlight what you should be thinking of from the word go.

Laying the right legal foundation

By the time we were introduced to EmptyTrips, they had already registered their entity as a company and had started to prepare for their first beta public launch in April 2017. When our dealings with the start-up began, the business had already enjoyed a quick and accelerated cycle.

As with all start-ups, the founders had a clear vision and objectives. Unlike too many start-ups however, Benji understood how important the right legal foundations would be, particularly as the business matured and required different support structures.

The following three actions are a good example of the legal foundations all businesses should consider, particularly if growth is a part of the founder’s vision:

1. Why you need trademark protection

Given that EmptyTrips is a digital solution, with limited physical assets, protecting intellectual property as ‘soft’ assets was critical to its differentiation and valuation given the recognition of brand value over time.

At first, we set out to ensure that EmptyTrips’ marketing materials and properties, such as company name, slogan, and product names were protected sufficiently from use by others. This was done by filing for various trademark registrations.

A trademark is a sign or symbol that is unique to your business, and which distinguishes it from other businesses. The most common forms of trademarks are business names, product names, logos and slogans.

By registering a trademark you are granted exclusivity over the use of the name, slogan or logo, and may prevent others from using similar names, slogans or logos in their business in the future.

Related: [PODCAST] Benji Coetzee, Founder & CEO Of Empty Trips – How To Disrupt A $8 Trillion Logistics Industry

When it came to EmptyTrips, they had already filed a trademark for their business name, so we focused on protecting the names of the different service offerings on the business’s platform as the solution evolved and pivoted. These included Trip Exchange; Freight Open Exchange; SureFox and RailFox. As the business grows and product lines are added, we will continue to update this list.

2. The importance of website legal documents

EmptyTrips is predominately an online marketplace solution to enterprises. It is a digital transport brokering agency that has been developed to source, match and market available transport capacity (empty space on trucks, trains, vessels and so on) to commercial freight with on-demand supporting financial products (insurance etc).

Our next task was to prepare the documents that would govern the relationship between EmptyTrips, its users and service providers. These documents, as with most websites, consist of both a terms of service and privacy policy.

Each company’s Terms of Service will be unique to that business, market and customers, but privacy policies are universally required by law.

A privacy policy is a written document available for all users to inspect on your website and which they are required to agree to. It sets out the different kinds of personal information that you collect, coupled with how you store that information, and what you do with it. A privacy policy is required by the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act No 4 of 2013, and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (EU) 2016/679 if you are collecting personal information from European citizens.

In the case of EmptyTrips, their pick up and drop off address, business information to cater for the pick-up and drop-off of goods by carriers, personal information such as the name of the carrier, and payment details, need to be recorded in the privacy policy. In addition, certain elements of the information, such as pick up and drop off locations being shared with potential transporters, need to be mentioned.

If you do not have a privacy policy in place on your website, Legal Legends has a cheap automated version available at the following link if you would like to order one: www.legallegends.co.za

3. The legal frame work around outside investment

Like many high-growth starts-ups, Benji and her team reached a point where outside investment was needed. This is an area where your legal partner is key. Apart from attending to various due diligence meetings and ensuring proper governance controls, we were tasked with ensuring that the contracts for external investment were prepared in a manner that sufficiently protected the interests of EmptyTrips and its founding members.

It’s common during a seed or series A round of funding for an investor to present the start-up with a term sheet detailing the nature or basis of the intention and extent of their investment, as well as all the terms relating to the governance of the company that they would like to put in place.

In this case, the institutional investor presented EmptyTrips with a term sheet that detailed the monetary investment that the investor would provide over a number of years, the monthly draw-downs of the investment that EmptyTrips would be entitled to, the number of shares that the investor would be issued for their investment, as well as the manner in which the governance of the company would be changed in order to protect their investment.

Often, and this applied to EmptyTrips, the terms contained in the term sheet require a new shareholders’ agreement and/or memorandum of incorporation in order to protect the interests of the minority shareholder (the investor).

A shareholders’ agreement governs the relationship between the shareholders of the company and their ability to administer the company.

A memorandum of incorporation governs the relationship between directors, shareholders, prescribed officers and the company.  A standard memorandum of incorporation is issued when a company is registered, but it will often need to be amended at a later stage if, for example, measures to protect the minority shareholders are introduced.

A memorandum of incorporation can regulate the same aspects as a shareholders’ agreement, however, the main difference is that it is a public document available for inspection by anyone, whilst a shareholders’ agreement is a private document.

In addition, if there is any conflict between a shareholders’ agreement and a memorandum of incorporation, the shareholders’ agreement will not apply and will be voided to the extent of its inconsistency.  This often means, as was the case with EmptyTrips, that certain aspects of the shareholders’ agreement that provided for protection of the investor required a redraft of the memorandum of incorporation so that the two documents were aligned.

A shareholders’ agreement might not be enforceable until a memorandum of incorporation has been aligned with it.

Read next: 5 Lessons From The Legal Legends On Pivoting

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