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What Angel Investors Prefer

At Your Startup Guru, we fundraise for a wide range of clients from a broad spectrum of industries including restaurants, software as a service (SaaS), to fintech and more seeking capital ranging from $10,000 to over $10 million.

We get capital from a wide range of sources including private equity, banks, credit unions, government economic development authorities, angel investors, and more.

However, not all industries get the same attention. For example, according to a recent report based on an analysis of 2,492 transactions across 2,444 companies all completed in 2019, angel investors are more likely to prefer certain industries and deal structure type (e.g. convertible note).

Selected portions from the report below:

Industry

The 2019 data revealed a first-time decline in the information technology/software segment as a percentage of total transactions relative to other investment segments (2019/2018) — 29% of the investments (2019) were in info tech,
compared with 38.6% (2018). Yet Information Technology still remains the dominant segment for angels.

Consumer Products / Services sector saw significant growth, up from 18.2% (2018) to 25.75%.

If Healthcare and Biotech were combined, they would comprise 21% (2019) of transactions versus 18% (2018). We added Biotech as a discreet sector to track in 2019, but for comparison sake, you can observe that even without Biotech, the Healthcare segment continues to be a major category for angels.

We also noted an increase in Financial Services’ Fin Tech in 2019, which was too small in 2018 to warrant its own category. In 2019 companies in this sector participated in 3.55% of all transactions. The Energy sector also rose to over 3% with a few related Environmental companies included.

And for this year, we found enough companies to warrant adding Ag Tech (1.2%) as a separate category and clearly growing. While Info Tech and Software is still the leading category for angel investing, but by a much smaller margin than in the past, we also acknowledge that Info Tech / Software is often a necessary core component of many other sector investments.

Deal Structure Type

While we continue to see the use of SAFE notes they are a minor percentage of all Seed transactions at 4.7%. The primary structures were 51% Convertible Notes and almost 41% Priced Preferred. SAFE’s are not reported in our data as frequently as we hear them discussed amongst early stage entrepreneurs.

Series A transactions were (as expected) Preferred Stock 86% of the time, with 12% standard Convertible Notes associated with a Series A, typically a bridge to Series A, but distinctly beyond Seed stage.

We did find SAFEs were most frequently used in Mid-Atlantic Region at 12%. The Mid-Atlantic use of SAFEs may be heavily influenced by US Federal DOE, NSF, NIH, and other grant money which does not permit debt as a liability while grant funds are in use, hence early stage companies who do not wish to price their round are opting for SAFE notes.

California was #2 in SAFE usage at 10%, influenced by California incubators and possibly by science companies vying for Federal grant funds.


There are considerable pre-money valuation and round size discrepancies when it comes to the various demographics of entrepreneurs that highlights a disturbing flaw in the angle investment community but that goes beyond the scope of this blog post.

How to Be More Influential

Influence - The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D.
Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D.

One of the best podcasts for business or for learning anything really, is the Freakonomics Radio podcast. This particular episode was especially interesting because it has direct relevance to sales. One of the biggest issues for any business is generating revenue. In order to do that, your revenue centers have to be skilled at influencing clients to purchase from your business.

The social psychologist Robert Cialdini is a pioneer in the science of persuasion. His 1984 book Influence is a classic, and he has just published an expanded and revised edition. In this episode of the Freakonomics Radio, Cialdini discusses the seven psychological levers that manipulates our self-described rational minds and lead us to act, follow, or believe without a second thought. The seven levers of influence are reciprocation, liking, social proof, authority, scarcity, commitment and consistency, and unity.

Some key excerpts from the interview:

  • Reciprocation – Reciprocation is the rule that is installed in all of us, in every human culture, that says we are obligated to give back to others the form of behavior they’ve first given to us. 
    • For large groups, he would ask the first person for an order, and no matter what s/he ordered, he would frown, lean down so everyone could hear, and say, “That’s really not as good tonight as it normally is.” And then he’d recommend something slightly less expensive from the menu. “This, this, and this are really good tonight.” So, what he did was to say, “I’m being so honest with you, I’m willing to recommend something that will give me less of a tip.” Then when he returned at the end, he would say, “Would you like me to recommend a dessert wine or a dessert?” And people would all look at each other and say, “Of course, Vincent, you know what’s good here, and you have our interests at heart,” and they would spend on wine and dessert.”
  • Liking – Being likable makes you more persuasive
    • But how do you make someone like you? One is to point to genuine similarities that you share. The other is praise. Because first of all, people like those who are like them, and secondly, they like those who like them and say so.  Car salespeople, for example, are trained to look for evidence of such things while examining a customer’s trade-in. If there is camping gear in the trunk, the salespeople might mention, later on, how they love to get away from the city whenever they can; if there are golf balls on the back seat, they might remark they hope the rain will hold off until they can play the 18 holes they’ve scheduled for the next day.
  • Social Proof – We are more likely to say yes to a proposal or a recommendation if we have evidence that a lot of others like us have been doing so. 
    • The power of social proof is so substantial that people who watch a presidential debate on T.V. are said to be significantly swayed by the magnitude and direction of the applause at the live event. This is not at all a recent phenomenon.
  • Authority – Deferring to authoritative figures and sources
    • In one study, someone called the nurses in various wards of hospitals and claimed to be a doctor on the staff who the nurse had never met and ordered the nurse to give a double dose of Astrogen to a patient. They’re not supposed to take these orders by phone. The dose was twice the maximum dose that was on the bottle of Astrogen. But 95 percent of them were on their way to give the drug to this patient before they were interrupted by a researcher who said, “Wait, don’t do that.” The researchers concluded that one would think there would be multiple intelligences operating to decide whether to give this amount of drug or not. But it turns out that, because of the principle of authority and the deference that the nurses were giving to the physicians, there was only one such intelligence function. As highly trained and intelligent as nurses are, in a fast paced challenging environment, it is easy to unthinkingly follow an authority’s directive.”
  • Scarcity – An insufficiency of amount or supply
    • In the book, you tell the story of your brother when you were much younger, that he would buy and resell used cars. And his big trick was to tell all the prospective buyers to come view the car at the same time, so that he’d have everybody come Sunday at 2:00 p.m. to create a sense of demand or a false scarcity.
    • Another example is companies that create an artificial scarcity, essentially by limiting the amount of production they engage in. Let’s say it’s a T-shirt, a sneaker, a luxury watch. They could make a million a year. They choose instead to make 10,000 a year and charge 100 times what it might go for on the market as a mass-market item.
  • Commitment & Consistency – Seeming to appear true one’s decisions, beliefs, and/or actions
    • In one study, when six- or 12-person experimental juries were deciding on a close case, hung juries were significantly more frequent if the jurors had to express their opinions with a visible show of hands rather than by secret ballot. Once jurors had stated their initial views publicly, they were reluctant to allow themselves to change publicly. Should you ever find yourself the foreperson of a jury under these conditions, you could reduce the risk of a hung jury by choosing a secret rather than public balloting method.
  • Unity – The power of social identities to drive people’s behavior
    • In the United States, citizens agreed to participate in a survey to a greater extent if it emanated from a home-state university. Amazon product buyers were more likely to follow the recommendation of a reviewer who lived in the same state. People greatly overestimate the role of their home states in U.S. history. Readers of a news story about a military fatality in Afghanistan became more opposed to the war there upon learning the fallen soldier was from their own state.

The most fascinating take-away is that the more “rational” aspects such as features, benefits, quality, value, or pricing is not a major direct decision making factor. Although, it is arguable that quality, features, etc. can fall under Like; they prefer substance over style, etc.

Listen to the whole episode here:

Another effective marketing strategy is using the MAYA approach, “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable” also incorporates some of the levers of influence namely Liking and Commitment & Consistency. Read about MAYA here.

How to Sell Something Old and Something New

New Product Development Flowchart

New product development is a complex and variable process. This flowchart provides a general macro view of the new product development process. Each decision and process step is an entire field of study onto itself with significant details and nuances beyond the scope of this flowchart. Please note, every decision and process step may require significant costs and expenses.

A general macro flowchart of the new product development process

This process is applicable to many products. For example, in 1920, candy store owner Christian Kent Nelson, invented an ice cream brick with chocolate coating. Because he did not have the know-how or means to mass produce his invention, he secured an agreement with local chocolate producer Russell C. Stover, of Russell Stover Candies, to mass-produce them under the new trademarked name “Eskimo Pie”. The dessert was rebranded to Edy’s Pie in 2021, because the original name contained a derogatory term.

Lessons from Quibi’s closure

Media streaming service Quibi closes - Your Startup Guru
Media streaming service Quibi closes

Media streaming service Quibi shutting down six months after launching. Their closure is not surprising because Jeffrey Katzenberg, the former Disney studio head and DreamWorks co-founder missed one important lessons when selling something new: make it familiar.

Katzenberg missed one important lessons when selling something new: make it familiar.
People were not going to shell out $5 per month to watch something they’ve never heard of with commercials.

In a previous post, we discussed how industrial designer and marketer Raymond Loewy created the concept of MAYA — Most Advanced Yet Acceptable. His firm designed mid-century icons like the Exxon logo, the Lucky Strike pack, the Greyhound bus, as well as Frigidaire ovens and Singer vacuum cleaners. Even the blue nose on Air Force One was his idea. Loewy had an uncanny sense of how to make things fashionable. He believed that a balance must be struck between two concepts: the curiosity about new things and a fear of anything too new. He said to sell something surprising, make it familiar; and to sell something novel, make it novel.

What is Quibi?

Quibi is a media streaming service that promised to reinvent television by streaming high-quality content in ten-minute-or-less episodes to “the TV in your pocket.” Quibi, is short for “quick bites.” Katzenberg believed enough mobile-phone users would use their spare minutes of downtime — while waiting in line for coffee, riding the bus or subway — to watch bite-sized episodes of premium, Hollywood-quality video.

The concept itself is great except all of their content was new and it cost $4.99 (with ads) or $7.99 (without ads) per month. People were not going to shell out $5 per month to watch something they’ve never heard of with commercials. Also, the short episodes might not be long enough to engage the audience. Ultimately, their revenue model did not match their pricing strategy (1, 2).

What Should Quibi Have Done?

Using Loewy’s lessons, in order to make the shows on Quibi familiar as well as its short format, they should have gone with the freemium model by giving one month free with an additional month if they get someone to join. This will give time for people to bond with the shows before introducing the paid no-commercial version. Hulu used this same pricing strategy and it worked out well for them.

According to Vulture article Is Anyone Watching Quibi?

Quibi was to launch in the spring of 2020 with 50 original shows, and another 125 were to be rolled out by the end of the first year. Recognizing the risk of making something for an unproven platform, Katzenberg typically offered to pay producers’ costs plus 20 percent. “People on Quibi have $100,000 a minute to make content,” Katzenberg tells me. “That doesn’t exist on other platforms.”

This production pace and cash burn is difficult to sustain and now, in a fire sale, they are giving out free 6 month trial memberships in an attempt to gain viewership but it was too little too late.

Pabst Blue Ribbon: Why hipsters found a beer that was cool before it was cool

Hipster and Pabst Blue Ribbon - Your Startup Guru
Hipster and Pabst Blue Ribbon

Pabst Blue Ribbon’s (or PBR) rise and fall is a story of a market finding a product — unfortunately, it 170 years for it to happen. PBR has been around for 170 years but only in 2008 enjoyed a 6 year boom in popularity (outside of a brief moment in the 1970s). If hipsters were around 170 years ago, it wouldn’t have taken one hundred seventy years for PBR to find popularity.

It is better to find an under-served market and create a product/service for them than wait for a market to find your product/service.

Hipsters are known for following the latest trends and fashions, while eschewing things regarded as being within the cultural mainstream. Hence the term, “I was into __________ before it was cool.”

So why did hipsters like PBR? To put it simply, it was “retro chic”, anti-mainstream, and with many people still trying to recover from an economic recession, Pabst Blue Ribbon’s low price point was an attractive option. This brings us to a tool in marketing used to find customer groups — psychographic segmentation.

What is Psychographic Segmentation for Business?

Psychographic segmentation is used in market research as a way to divide consumers into sub-groups based on shared psychological characteristics, including subconscious or conscious beliefs, motivations, and priorities to explain and predict consumer behavior. Any dimension can be used to segment a group of consumers such as style, variety, availability, price, etc.

Hipsters avoided things that were popular and some of them were not price sensitive so they were willing to consider a range of beers that occupied a certain psychographic zone.

Psychographic segmentation of hipster beer consumption - Your Startup Guru
Psychographic segmentation of hipster beer consumption

As PBR’s popularity grew, it was departing from the zone of consideration – the region of price and popularity where hipsters were willing purchase from. Also, as hipsterism became more mainstream, the association of PBR with hipsters caused a self-fueling downward cycle.

Shift in Pabst Blue Ribbon popularity caused hipster abandonment - Your Startup Guru
Shift in Pabst Blue Ribbon popularity caused hipster abandonment

How to Use Psychographic Segmentation for Business?

Since you don’t have over one hundred fifty years for your product or service to be found by a market, it is better to find an under-served market and create a product/service for them than wait for a market to find your product/service. You can read about more businesses that found a need and filled that need.

Your Startup Guru used psychographic analysis to differentiate our client’s brand from that of their competitors yet stay true to their envisioned identity:

swimsuit brand psychographic differentiation - Your Startup Guru
Swimsuit brand psychographic differentiation

How to Do Market Research for Business?

There are many sources at your disposal to gain a deeper insight into who your customers are and segments within that market.

  • Ask potential customers: Surveying is a form of primary market research. Ask them how they use their product, what they like/dislike about it. How long they have used it, is it expensive, how does it make them feel, etc. These questions will give you valuable insight on the psychology of the user.
  • Pose as a customer and visit your competitor’s store/website. Learn how they do what they do. See what they do well, what they can improve on. Sometimes employees are very happy to share details you cannot find anywhere else.
  • Industry and market research companies such as IBISWorld, Pew Research Center, Audience Overlap Tool, Statista are loaded with great information. The downside is that they can be expensive. Less expensive options include the SBA’s Office of Entrepreneurship, US Census data, and older reports/white papers.
  • Industry and trade publications for your particular sector are also a great source of information. Some are free while some require memberships.

So What Should Pabst Blue Ribbon Do?

Given that hipsterism is on the way out, a brand extension with Pabst [pick your color] Ribbon which is guerilla marketed to a new niche market segment such as Yuccies: Young Urban Creatives (that are a slice of Gen Y) with product placement on their YouTube channels is a viability…or wait another +100 years.


Contact us today to get started on market research that will help pinpoint your target market.

Lipstick on a pig and recession-proof businesses

Lipstick on a pig and recession-proof businesses - Your Startup Guru
Lipstick on a pig and recession-proof businesses – Your Startup Guru

Welp, there’s no need to put lipstick on a pig. Today’s GDP data released by the US Bureau of Economic Analysis showed that real gross domestic product (GDP) decreased at an annual rate of 32.9 percent in the second quarter of 2020, according to the “advance” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the first quarter, real GDP decreased 5.0 percent.

Chart showing Real GDP: Percent change from preceding quarter

This is really bad news which means figuring out how to mitigate damage and making all adjustments by bootstrapping. Many businesses such as bookstores, farms, and clothing manufacturers pivoted their business models to adapt to the impact of COVID-19.

One thing I learned while working with my client KiloNiner several years ago is that pet products were largely recession-proof during the 2007-2009 recession. This is because people view their pets as family members so cutting back was avoided. There are many other businesses are that recession-proof as long as adjustments are made to accommodate social-distancing requirements:

  • Repair / maintenance services: People will still need their plumbing to work, their lights to turn on, and their car engines to run
  • Dry cleaning / laundry: Laundered clothing and materials will always be needed as long as people wear clothes and don’t have in-house machines. Dry cleaning for clothing might decline as formal wear is reduced but will not go away as people still wear jackets, etc. on occasion.
  • Professional services: Accountants, lawyers, and other administrative professionals still needed for the economy to run.
  • Funeral / Memorial services: A natural consequence of life is death. Particularly with the unsettlingly high mortality numbers associated with COVID-19, demand will likely be high for a very long time.

There are many more industries and even sectors/value-chain-links within floundering industries that are somewhat insulated from recessions. Your Startup Guru provides industry/market research as well as a wide range of other services for businesses to help navigate this turbulent economic climate. Contact us and let’s figure out a plan for you.

Old school business model

I just saw a commercial for Rent-A-Center and thought to myself that their old school business model is nearly a half center ahead of the times.

Founded in 1974, Rent-A-Center is an American public furniture and electronics rent-to-own company based in Plano, Texas. The company was incorporated in 1986 and as of 2014 operates approximately 2,972 company-owned stores in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico, accounting for approximately 35% of the rent-to-own market in the United States based on store count.

A convergence of trends—including the Mari Kondo-sparked enthusiasm for cleaning out closets, increased concern over the impact of climate change, and a movement toward smaller, urban apartments—has made millennial consumers more conscious of how many items they’re accumulating.

Rent the Runway CEO Jennifer Hyman.

As you may know, companies are taking a similar business model and expanding it to other consumer sectors such as clothing and jewelry. This model has already been applied to transportation with Lyft/taxis/vehicle leasing and with housing with AirBnB/hotels/apartments and intellectual property with game rentals/public libraries. Entering into the fray are companies like Rent the Runway, which rents unlimited designer styles to subscribers and Fat Llama, which rents electronics (in the UK).

A convergence of trends—including the Mari Kondo-sparked enthusiasm for cleaning out closets, increased concern over the impact of climate change, and a movement toward smaller, urban apartments—has made millennial consumers more conscious of how many items they’re accumulating, according to Rent the Runway CEO Jennifer Hyman.

The spending habits of millennials, the largest single consumer group out there with 83.1 million (a full quarter of the U.S. population), was surveyed. The survey found that the main reason why they rent is to “test things before purchasing” at 57%. This makes sense with money being tight and space being limited, every purchase has to be scrutinized. The results of the survey are shown in the infographic below:

World Economic Forum: This is how millennials are fueling the rental economy

Old school brands such as Play it Again Sports and Rent-A-Center are riding the boom of the change in consumer sentiment and behavior. Rent-A-Center’s revenue grew $9M between 2018 and 2019 to $2.6B, operating income balloon an astounding $197M between 2018 and 2019 to $253M, helping net income to increase by $165M to $173M.

Adaptability is the most powerful trait

You have probably noticed the deluge of advertising that is targeted to the new reality of being at home. This is obviously a response to the global pandemic we are all being affected by. The following is a breakdown of what is happening and how your business can harness the post powerful trait: adaptability.

Adapt Through Marketing Strategy Marketing

Aired prior to the COVID-19 crisis but replayed recently Campbell’s realized that people are stockpiling canned food. Set to a wholesome and nostalgic soundtrack without pandering to panic buying, they capitalized on an opportunity to remind customers of a classic pairing. On a side note, the music choice was oddly relevant — Thank You For Being a Friend was the theme song to the ’80s sitcom The Golden Girls and the elderly are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Also, more people are telecommuting and are realizing their home computers might not be suitable for work so Dell aired a commercial for one of their newest laptops. Peloton, home office chairs, etc. are all advertising the benefits of being healthy and productive at home. Also, mental health app Talkspace, Delta Airlines offering free flights for medical volunteers, online education, bidets, and more are using this opportunity to advertise their products and services.

Adapt by Seizing the Opportunity

Adaptability Charles Darwin - Your Startup Guru
Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

When disruptions happen, it is important to consider alternatives in order to adapt to the new environment. I have advised a new restaurant client to pivot their business model from a brick and mortar location to a commercial kitchen or food truck and adjusted their ad hoc financial projection model to reflect the pivot. Of course, depending on the stage of a business pivoting to a commercial kitchen or truck is not an option; which is why I always provide tailored consultations to each client.

Many people have a lot of downtime now with not having to go into work. It is a good time to take a break from watching the news and start mapping out the idea that you’ve been mulling. Who is your target market? Where will you be located? What are your startup costs? These are all questions you should know the answers to or be actively seeking if you are serious about taking the next step. If you do not know the answers or want a second opinion on, I always provide free consultation so send me an email. Afterwards, those pushup challenges on social media are also a good healthy distraction too from all the dire news.

These are better practices than gouging prices like that hand sanitizer guy.

sanitizer price gouging guy

A win-win situation


9 times out of 10 I create for my clients a risk-adverse, slow growth, manageable startup strategy to minimize downside risk.

Contact me and let’s create a win-win plan for your company.

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