As last week’s event commenced, I was excited by the amount of chatter in the crowd in anticipation for the workshop on startup & business plan writing hosted by the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship. Indeed, I’m quite certain recent political events had nothing to do with this level of energy. Writing a startup business plan was the focus. We had two impressive speakers and a workshop to top the night off.
Christopher Thierry, past judge of the McGill Dobson Cup and President of Cimpl, discussed the basics of a business plan and some tips to keep in mind when dealing with VCs. Out of all aspects of your business plan, Christopher highly recommends spending the most time on the Executive Summary. The Executive Summary is by far the most important page since most investors usually don’t need to look past the first page in order to be interested. Thus, this part should be modified to cater to who you are specifically pitching your business proposal to.
Christopher also brought up an important concept of sweat equity that I’d like to discuss further. Investors need to believe and know you have high levels sweat equity in order to have their trust, this is true. What catches my curiosity is what validates high sweat equity?
In my opinion, you can waste tons of energy and time if you haven’t properly evaluated how much energy and time this idea is worth. It is widely accepted that entrepreneurs will repeatedly fail before maybe achieving some success, but I think there are some common factors that entrepreneurs should evaluate before devoting all their time and energy. According to Wasserman’s work on Founder’s Dilemmas, there are common areas such as Personal, Career and Market factors to consider before going all in.
Christopher also discussed startup core values as well which I’d like to dive in a bit more. While I’m no president of one of the top 50 fastest growing companies in Canada (Cimpl), when Christopher mentioned that customer service as a core value for a startup can be too vague (because, let’s face it, every company can claim to have great customer service as one of their core values, but not actually deliver on it, e.g. telecommunications firms), that got me thinking of opposite examples.
Notably, Zappos thrives and is renowned for its excellent customer service. Furthermore, when Christopher claimed patents was a better type of core value to muster, I would posit that it depends on the industry you run your business in. According to Aulet in Disciplined Entrepreneurship, biotech companies rely heavily on patents, but in other industries, patents need to be supported by strong capabilities in order to ensure success.
Despite my reservations on some of the points mentioned above, Christopher did have an amazing point about VC’s high level of detailed questioning, otherwise known as “getting ripped apart”. He believes the more VCs question you about the details of your idea, the more they care and are interested, rather than being patronizing or being antagonistic for the sake of it. I could easily imagine how demeaning those questions could make one feel, but keeping a positive frame of mind during those uncomfortable moments will surely help one propel forward and make their startup better.
Next, Morgan Abraham, co-founder and CEO of UGo Smoothies, came in for an enthusiastic presentation about his fascinating story. I particularly liked his point about the different challenges on barriers to entry regarding your industry. He explained how the barriers of entry in the mobile app industry are very low but has tons of competition. However, in the hardware industry, there are many regulations and hardware giants, thus increasing the barriers of entry in the industry for entrepreneurs like Morgan. You can read more about his story here.
The evening ended with a workshop to help attendees work on their own startup business plans for their various ideas.