1 Month Immersion Training Business Plan
Key Elements of a Business Plan
- The problem and your solution. These are your hooks, and they better be covered in the first paragraph. State your value proposition, and what specifically you are offering to whom. Skip the acronyms, history of the company, and the disruptive technology behind your solution.
- Market size and growth opportunity. Investors are looking for a large and growing market. Spend a few sentences providing the basic market segmentation, size, growth and dynamics – how many people or companies, how many dollars, how fast the growth, and what is driving the segment. Skip the comment that you are conservatively estimating your penetration at 1%.
- Your competitive advantage. Identify your sustainable competitive advantage, like unique benefits, cost savings, or industry ties. Don’t kill your credibility by saying you have no competition. At minimum, you compete with the way things get done currently. Most likely, the investor has already seen multiple plans with similar solutions.
- Business model. Who is your customer, what is the price, and how much does it cost you to build one? Do you now have real customers, are just starting development. Outline your sales and marketing strategy (direct marketing, sales channel, viral marketing, and lead generation). Identify key quantities, such as customers, licenses, units, and margin.
- Executive team. Remember that investors fund people, more than ideas. Why is your team uniquely qualified to win, and what have they done before? Explain why the background of each team member fits, by naming roles and names of relevant companies. Include outside advisors if they have relevant experience.
- Financial projections and funding. You need to show your summary revenue and expense projections for three to five years. Investors need to know the amount of funding you are asking for now, and what they get. The request should generally be the minimum amount of cash you need to reach the next major milestone in your plan.
Do at least first 7 of these -
- Value proposition. What is the need you fill or problem you solve? The value proposition must clearly define the target customer, the customer’s problem and pain, your unique solution, and the net benefit of this solution from the customer’s perspective.
- Target market. Who are you selling to? A target market is the group of customers that the startup plans to attract through marketing and sales their product or service. This segment should have specific demographics, and the means to buy your product.
- Sales/Marketing. How will you reach your customers? Word-of-mouth and viral marketing are popular terms these days, but are rarely adequate to initiate a new business. Be specific on sales channels and marketing initiatives.
- Production. How do you produce your product or service? Common choices include manufacturing in-house, outsourcing, off-the-shelf parts. The key issues here are time to market and cost.
- Distribution. How do you distribute your product or service? Some products and services can be sold and distributed online, others require multi-level distributors, partners, or value-added resellers. Decide whether the product is local or international.
- Revenue model. See Top 10 Business Models How do you make money? The key here is to explain to yourself and to investors how your pricing and revenue stream will cover all costs, including overhead and support, and still leave a good return.
- Cost structure. What are your costs? New entrepreneurs tend to focus only on product direct costs, and underestimate marketing and sales costs, overhead costs, and support costs. Test your projections against actual published reports from similar companies.
- Competition. How many competitors do you have? No competitors probably means there is no market. More than ten competitors indicates a saturated market. Think broadly here, like planes versus trains. Customers always have alternatives.
- Unique selling proposition. How will you differentiate your product or service? Investors look for a sustainable competitive advantage. Short-term discounts or promotions are not a unique selling proposition.
- Market size, growth, and share. How big is your market in dollars, is it growing or shrinking, and what percent can you capture? Venture capitalists look for a market with double-digit growth, greater than a billion dollars, and a double-digit penetration plan.
- See more at 
- Focus on headcount. Outside of marketing programs, the basis for all cost in Internet software is headcount. Just figure out whom you’ll hire and how much you’ll pay and you can’t go far wrong.
- Plan slow, run fast. The most likely scenario is that you won’t be able to hire engineers fast enough, and that revenues will come more slowly too. Investors expect their money to drive artificially accelerated growth rates, but signing up for that sometimes just blows a company up before you’ve had a chance to figure everything out. At least in the financial model, give yourself as much time to grow as you can.
- Run top-down sanity-checks. To estimate what a company is likely to spend each year, try doubling the average salary and multiplying it by the number of employees. A 100-person company might spend as much as $15 million per year.
- Forget economies of scale. The biggest whopper is that a business will magically become more efficient as it grows. If you really believe this, just walk into the headquarters of Amazon or eBay. Bureaucracies grow. Salaries float away. Straining to make a model work, I always forget that per-employee costs rise every year.
- Admit that revenues are a mystery. If you don’t have any revenues yet, you can’t say what they’ll be. The point of a model is to prove you can make money if people buy your product, not to insist that they will. By developing different scenarios based on different levels of demand, you can later calibrate hiring and spending according to which scenario fits reality best.
- Build from building blocks. Nearly every model is the sum of smaller units. In Redfin’s case, our unit is a market like the San Diego real estate market, which we plan to grow to a certain size in a certain number of months, hopefully returning a certain amount of profit to the overall business. We can then gauge whether the model works by just looking at whether San Diego works, and then asking, “Now what if we had twenty San Diegos?” For another company, it may be a user-created website, with so many page-views and so many ads, or it may be the productivity of a single salesperson, with a million dollars in quota per year.
- Take out “hope.” Think about what is most likely to happen, so that a bookie would say you’re as likely to out-perform the plan as under-perform it. Generally speaking, “hope” is not a strategy.
- Flag your assumptions. Rather than burying your assumptions in Excel formulae, call them out in a separate tab of the workbook, so that you have a control panel for adjusting the model. This is especially important if you plan to share your model with potential investors.
- Hit $100 million in revenues within five years. The premise of most venture investments is the possibility of generating ten-fold returns in five to seven years, which is hard to do if you spend $5 million to build a $25 million company.
- Keep market-share under 20%. Most startups reach a jillion in projected revenues by assuming that the business grows by leaps and bounds for five years. Since there’s a natural limit on growth, be ready for the question: “What would your market-share be in year five?” If it’s over 20%, take the jillion-dollar projection down a notch. Even a hit like iPod doesn’t have 20% market-share. You’ll be lucky to come close to 20% of any market.