Career Advice

How does your investor make money?

So you want someone to give you $100,000? $1,000,000? How does that person or firm make money?

Too often I review business plans which have a great idea, a huge market, but no viable business plan that explains how the investor makes a return. I saw two this week like this (one in the US, one in Israel). Terrific technology ideas, potentially large markets, enthusiastic smart young teams but no P&L, no future financial plan and no discussion of current valuation, or even readiness to discuss it.

Before someone other than your friends and family will give you a useful amount of money they are going to want to know how much return they are going to make, and over what period of time. Unless you are a former founder with an amazing track record, or flat out lucky (and you can’t plan for luck) you will need to be able to explain the following:

  • what the size of the market is for your idea – who buys what/when/why
  • how you bring your idea to that market and how much money you make over time (your best stab at your P&L over the next 3-5 years)
  • what your idea/prototype/beta is worth now (i.e. if you want to raise $1M and you only want to give away 10% of your company then you have to justify why your current company is worth $10M today)
  • how the value of your company grows over time and possible exits – why is it IPOable at some future date or who might buy it?

You don’t necessarily have to have slides for all of this because the first thing you need to do is hook an investor on your idea but if they bite and start to ask how you see your revenue and value developing you’d better have enough of an answer to get into a good discussion. Don’t be intimidated. Remember the investor does not know more than you do about your idea (even if they act as if they do), and whatever you say will not be what happens (reality has a way of messing with even the very best of plans) but you need to have thought about how you’ll make money and be able to engage the potential investor in a discussion.

Eventually you’ll need to be able to make the argument for how revenue grows, how much cash you need to get to cash flow breakeven (i.e. self sustainable) and what the company will be worth in the future when you do. And the great VCs, if they are intrigued, will then dig in and help you figure out your first business plan and how to value your initial round.