Getting started on formulating your business pitch or plan can boil down to this: Articulate the problem you are trying to fix and why you have the best solution for the problem. Then, concisely and powerfully, communicate how you and your team will execute on your very focused vision.
That’s not easy, but the panelists at last week’s Miami Herald Business Plan Bootcamp had plenty of advice about writing a short business plan and launching and pitching a startup for the 200 attendees. The annual event held at Miami Dade College is held in conjunction with the Miami Herald’s Business Plan Challenge contest.
“Team is first and foremost. If you can build a great, well-rounded team with complementary strengths, that says a lot about you as a founder,” said Raul Moas, managing director of AGP Miami, South Florida’s largest angel network with about 80 members. “Is your solution exponentially better than what is out there? That’s also key.”
As you’re building a team, advisers can provide expertise where you have weaknesses, the panelists said. Interns can provide valuable help, too. Don’t obsess about titles at the early stage: Your next hire should be whoever will move your company further the fastest, said Melissa Krinzman, managing partner of Krillion Ventures, an early-stage venture fund.
Whether you are raising capital, building a team, seeking partners or acquiring your first customers, you should be able to rock your pitch at anytime. “I call it the Aunt Sue-Uncle Joe test. If you can turn around and tell them about it and they get it, you are doing a good job,” Krinzman said.
If you are getting ready to raise capital, pitch your least likely investors first because your first pitches will be learning experiences, said Krinzman, whose fund has invested in nine South Florida startups in the past two years.
Moas said AGP saw 800 deals last year and is on track to see 1,000 this year, so he had some advice about getting your company angel-ready. AGP wants to see companies that are already in the market and have achieved some traction, and so far, its members have invested in about two dozen South Florida startups. “We are looking for companies that are poised for significant disruption,” he said. “Ideas are cheap: The real value is that you can execute on that idea.”
An audience member asked whether a pre-revenue stage company can attract investors. That’s where friends and family come in because they are the people who know you, believe in you and want to help you with your dream, Moas said. Investors come in when you have some sort of proof of concept.
If you can build a great, well-rounded team with complementary strengths, that says a lot about you as a founder. Raul Moas, managing director, AGP Miami angel network
Moas recommended entrepreneurs read “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries for a grounding in the iterative process of launching a startup and “Who” by Geoff Smart and Randy Street to help get better at hiring. Krinzman recommended “Venture Deals” by Brad Feld, a primer for all entrepreneurs raising money, “Angel Investing” by David S. Rose and “Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight, a story about his journey founding Nike. “You won’t be able to put it down,” she said.
Past Business Plan Challenge winners at the Bootcamp also had plenty of tips from the startup trenches.
Take advantage of social media and connect with influencers in your industry, said Tina Vidal of Pooch Perks, which creates dog treat boxes for consumers as well as pet-friendly hotels. “Produce your own content and become an expert in whatever field you are in. Start a blog. The NBC ‘Today’ show found us because of the content we were putting out there on our social media and blog.”
“About 80 percent of our best leads came from email marketing and social media,” said Chris Daniels of Candidate.Guru, a software startup that helps employers find employees who will be a culture fit. “Marketing can absolutely be a black hole so learn very quickly where to put the money.”
Remember that your customers are humans too, said Olga Granda-Scott, of The HighBoy, a curated marketplace for antiques and fine art that has raised $2 million from a strategic investor. “Make sure you are going out there to be where they are,” she said. “Go to a trade show or fly to a city where you have a lot of customers. Getting feedback from them is an opportunity to learn a lot to improve your product.”
Make sure you are going out there to be where [your customers] are ... Getting feedback from them is an opportunity to learn a lot to improve your product. Olga Granda-Scott, co-founder of The HighBoy
Where do you find mentors to give you candid, honest advice? Universities all have programs, such as the Idea Center at Miami Dade College, StartUP FIU, UM’s The Launch Pad and FAU’s Tech Runway. Community organizations such as the Small Business Development Center and SCORE can pair you up. Apply to 10,000 Small Businesses if you are an existing business. And check out MentorDay.co, the panelists said.
Whether you are getting feedback from a mentor or an investor, don’t get defensive. “If we invest in you, we are going to be partners — we need to know you can take criticism and coaching,” Krinzman said. And remember, entrepreneurs don’t always need money, what they need is advice, added Granda-Scott, who co-founded The HighBoy with her husband.
You may find your next investor, employee or mentor at an entrepreneurial event, of which there are many in South Florida, the panelists said. To keep up with what is going on, the panelists recommended the Miami Herald’s Starting Gate blog, RefreshMiami.com, the Startup.Miami guide, the Startup Digest newsletter, Venture Cafe’s free Thursday Gatherings, and the newsletters of local incubator programs and co-working spaces.
The winners also had advice for entering the Business Plan Challenge, which they said gave them valuable exposure and connections. The deadline for entries is March 20 and contest rules and guidelines can be found at MiamiHerald.com/challenge.
[READ MORE: Think big and enter the 2017 Business Plan Challenge]
Think of it as the Twitter Business Plan Challenge, Vidal said. “The Challenge forces you to be succinct with your messaging, and get down to the most important concepts of your business ... The one mistake many in our track made was we were so focused on our product and the opportunity we left out the competitive landscape. Don’t make that mistake.”
Want more advice? Let someone else read over your plan before you submit your entry. Don’t wait until the last minute. Make every word count. Weave in your story and show your passion. Think big.
Daniels said winning the Challenge likely helped him land his lead investor. Daniels recently raised nearly $1.1 million from Florida angel groups, including The FAN Fund, Florida Funders and Miami Innovation Fund .
“Your ability to communicate clearly and powerfully is so important,” Daniels said. “Practice your pitch 100 times, 200 times. It will become second nature.”
Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg
[READ MORE: 2017 Business Plan Challenge rules and guidelines]