Fresh Powder

Let’s take a lift to the top.

Whether you ski or snowboard, you’re not getting far without the right equipment. Financial modeling is an important technique that helps you simulate different scenarios for your business. Imagine we’ve now made it to the top of the snow-covered mountain. There are endless ways to make it down. Similarly, there are endless ways your business can evolve.

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This caffeinated contribution was written by Jeff Erickson. Based in the silicon slopes of Utah, Jeff is an angel investor, experienced advisor, avid skier, and leads partnership development at Forcastr. Forecastr is a financial modeling platform that helps founders forecast revenue, predict runway, and use dynamic insights to get funded.

Having worked with hundreds of early-stage startups, I often hear founders talk about how everyone knows financial projections will be wrong, so why is financial modeling important?

A financial model is a tool to help forecast the financial performance of their company over time. Financial models are generally based on a combination of the company’s historical performance and assumptions about the future. Financial models can be used by entrepreneurs to help make better decisions when raising financial capital and to assess the potential returns of a given venture. Returning to our mountainous metaphor, think of financial models as your map of the snowy terrain. It provides an overview of the area, routes to explore, and dangers to avoid. Similar to a trail map, financial models use numbers to set the scene, then help entrepreneurs determine the speed and direction of their business. Along the way, they also help identify potential risks and optimize how different types of resources are used.

As a startup founder, it’s important to understand why investors ask for financial models. A financial model is essentially your roadmap for the future and it gives investors an understanding of how you plan to generate revenue and scale up over time. Having a solid financial model demonstrates that you have done research into the market, understand potential risks and opportunities, and have thought through the key drivers for success in your business. Ultimately, your financial model helps investors see how you think about your business and whether you understand the levers that matter. It also gives them confidence when they see that you know how to strategically allocate the money they may invest and that you know how to project and manage cash flow.

Most investors speak in the language of finance. Terms like run rate, CAC, LTV, runway and burn rate are common vernacular. Going through the process of building your financial model helps you learn, decipher and understand this language of finance. A shared understanding will help you more effectively work with investors. A common mistake for many founders is thinking that it’s you and your financial model versus the world. Instead of falling in love with your assumptions, consider how you can work with potential investors, by using the financial model to analyze various scenarios. When founders can cruise down the mountain with investors, while explaining different scenarios in real-time, strategic partners will get excited about taking the lift back up for another run.

Ready to create a financial model that’s useful? Most models have historically been built in spreadsheets, but new software tools, such as Forecastr, make it easier for companies to create financial models. Entrepreneurs need to be aware of the changing terrain in order to make the best decisions for their evolving business. Let’s avoid the trees and carve out a few key steps that will land you in a position to know the numbers.

Define

Before you can create a financial model, it is important to define the company’s business model, revenue streams, and financial objectives. This understanding will help determine how you structure your assumptions in order for the projections to accurately reflect what could realistically happen with your startup.

Gather

Once you define the company’s goals, gather historical data that is relevant to creating accurate projections for your startup’s future performance. This includes information such as past sales, costs associated with running operations, generating revenue, customer acquisition, and any other financial data that may help tell the story of your business.

Build

Using both qualitative (e.g., industry trends) and quantitative (e.g., past results) data points, begin building out realistic assumptions that will drive your financial model. Begin with customer acquisition and define how you will attract customers (e.g., paid ads, partner referrals, reseller channels, sales outreach, etc.). Next, build out assumptions around your revenue streams. Consider all the ways you can make money by adding value to your customers (e.g., advertising revenue, product sales, services, etc.). Now you’re ready to build out assumptions in regards to hiring and building your team, and then focus on projecting the changes in your operating expenses based on the company’s performance. Finally, consider any required expenses to scale your business and how you plan to finance the overall venture.

Validate

With all your initial assumptions in a financial model, it’s important to track the accuracy of your assumptions each month and update the numbers based on actual data. As metrics are consistently tracked over time, your financial model becomes more accurate and reliable. You will notice trends in customer acquisition, identify the most profitable revenue streams, and monitor your expense projections. Additionally, you will be able to run different scenarios using your financial model to help you confidently make better decisions in running your business.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this month’s theme, dedicated to early moves that help anyone avoid that new business idea from floating toward someday! As you compile the various resources you’ve created into an investor pack, you’ll be astonished at how well you understand your new venture. As you stay committed, the self awareness brews confidence from true understanding and others will be even more excited to join you.

Attention Traps

We’ve spent all month exploring early moves to evolve business ideas into reality. Using your time dedicated to no-code wireframing, actively listening to others, telling customer stories with a colorful business model canvas, and escorting execution with business plans, let’s translate emerging insight into snapshots of your business. The one pager, pitch deck, and investor memo are different types of attention traps entrepreneurs can use to connect with those who care.

One Pagers

The one pager is a punchy asset built to describe the most important elements of your business. Concise is nice, as the goal is to create immediate intrigue from everyone who receives it. Speaking of everyone, a one pager should be ready for anyone. This means you must find a balance between enough details to show substance and realistic potential, without giving away the secret sauce.

While you know a lot about your business, the goal is simple. Create enough curiosity to keep the conversation flowing. For more on how to sequentially guide people through the layers of understanding, scrub to minute 10:45 in this talk I shared at a 2022 raising capital seminar.

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Here’s my guest column on consistency in the Business Record!

As you consider what content to include and how to format so much goodness into such a tight document, here is the FliteBrite one pager from 2015 and there are many other sharp templates online. Once you have a one pager ready to share, let’s connect! I’d love to look it over and can provide feedback if you’d like, but can also feed momentum by sharing your new one pager with strategic investors.

Pitch Decks

The pitch deck is like a slide deck used in a verbal pitch, but with more information to help recipients (often investors) learn about your venture. Within 10-15 slides, present the story of your business with eye-catching visuals, data-driven details, and links to more supportive content. A concise pitch deck showcases your storytelling skills while entertaining an audience who is about to learn more about the market, problem, your solution, traction, moat-digging differentiators, the team, vision, and how to contact you.

Knowing this attention trap is most often needed by founders raising financial capital, even if it’s in a closing appendix, it’s good to include more data-driven details in a pitch deck. Like handy back slides during the Q&A portion of a pitch, clear financial projections, existing market research, how money will be spent, and customer discovery results are all good ways to prove you understand your business plan and how the numbers work.

That said, don’t numb readers. Avoid small font and word salads. Incorporate imagery that supports a captivating story. Translate your mission while making it clear how this venture will deliver serious returns. Like the one pager, pitch decks are not crafted to secure an investment. They are designed to fuel curiosity and more conversation.

Investor Memos

Commanding a dynamic investor memo keeps people informed with the ongoing progress of your company. Along with sections you include in a pitch deck, investor memos create space to highlight the evolving details of your fundraising campaign, key performance metrics (KPIs), data visualizations, recent milestones, multimedia, current needs of the team, and future goals for the company. Platforms like Carta, Build Memo, Visible, Paperstreet, and Notion make it easy to manage accurate, updated, and communicated investor memos. The quick-to-digest, but also real-time information is why investor memos are popular among well-articulated founders raising venture capital.

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If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. -Albert Einstein

As we finish sipping on these three different types of attention traps, let’s commemorate how alternate versions of each document may help you share the most impactful details with the right audience. For example, a pitch deck for local angel investors may be different than a pitch deck for a global venture capital firm. Connecting everything can also add efficiency, but maintaining a well-organized data room is not for the faint of heart. As any company evolves, so will the need to update documents that tell its story.

Escorting Execution

After a few early moves, developing a business plan is a hearty exercise. Business plans are less pivotal than some scholars preach, but writing a business plan does force you to pick through the details of your business. This deliberate planning will help pave a path toward sustainability. The understandings will also help you articulate honest details to potential co-founders, investors, and early adopters.

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I considered sharing the original FliteBrite business plan from 2016, but decided to keep this detailed document offline. That said, if you’re building and would like to look at this multimedia masterpiece, send me a note and we’ll look at it together! If you’d like feedback on your emerging business plan, I’d be happy to discuss that as well.

This first version of a business plan does not need to be super long, but it should include a handful of key elements. While this can feel heavy, the work you previously put into wireframing and canvasing will lighten the load as you flesh out details. Below are the traditional elements to include:

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Company Description
  3. Market Analysis
  4. Products & Services
  5. Marketing & Sales
  6. Operations
  7. Financials
  8. Appendix

While using a standard form may add efficiency for readers, one size does not fit all. Consider how you’ll be using this dynamic document and who will be reviewing it. There are more details and endless examples online, such as this guide from the U.S. Small Business Administration, which will help you cater a business plan to your needs.

Creating a business plan is rarely a waste of time, but they do become a required asset when you’re raising financial capital. A few situations where you’ll likely need a business plan include grant applications, traditional bank loans, equity financing, and pitch competitions. Entrepreneurial support organizations (ESOs) may request a business plan to activate their services as well.

As you build a business plan, use a clarifying framework, concise content, and mark areas that may need to be frequently updated. This makes the document interesting, more digestible, and easier to maintain. Along with keeping this evolving asset fresh, consider how your business plan connects to support other emerging resources that collectively paint the picture of your company.

Stay tuned as we’ll look at one pagers, pitch decks, and investor memos next week, then explain how to weave everything into a forwardable investor pack as we conclude this month of themed tactics geared to keep your idea from slipping toward someday.

Canvasing

The New Year is already starting to feel like old news, eh. Let’s shake off that early temptation to push your new idea toward someday. Look, I get it. There was intoxicating enthusiasm when you first thought through everything over the holidays. As you’ve returned to routine, the idea that felt like it was the one & only thing that mattered, now seems to be falling down your priority list.

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This is normal, but we’re not normal!
We are the weird who make a ruckus.

After some creative wireframing, I challenge you to setup (at least) two meeting to breath life into this budding idea. First, meet with a #givefirst mentor. This should feel like a supportive space, but avoid rainbows and butterflies. Be realistic by sharing the exciting aspects of the idea, but also the challenges. As discussed in YDNTB, a fast no is much better than a long, wrong yes. That said, playing it safe is easier than activating initiative, so don’t let early doubt slow you down. Instead, welcome it. Let this energizing form of curiosity uncover new understandings. Pivots are inevitable and this exploration adds confidence as the original ideal is tweaked toward product-market fit.

After transparently talking with that trusted mentor, the next meeting is with a potential customer. This will feel too early, but it’s not. Your actually protecting your personal bandwidth by not swinging at a bad pitch too many times. Be smart to optimize these early interactions. Arrive prepared to ask good questions. Take notes and speak less so you can actively listen to how this potential early adopter is responding. Are you building a pain killer or vitamin? Remember, feedback is data and this is only one data point, but let this conversation absorb reality into the idea. Show up, stand out, follow up, stay connected by accelerating their work, and let’s keep building.

To do so, let’s continue brewing into this month’s theme of early moves. The business model canvas is a tool for crafting a story that sells. Here is a business model canvas that includes a little extra encouragement.

As we dive in, I’d like to share a suggested cadence from a friend of mine. Based in Sacramento, JDM is a fellow founder, entrepreneurial ecosystem builder, and tenacious content creator. He will be sharing a caffeinated contribution soon, but the way he moves through the business model canvas caught my attention. In short, most business models can’t be told in one story so it’s not one box at a time, but one story at a time. Instead of trying to boil the ocean, organize different stories for each customer segment. I’ve numbered each box in this downloadable business model canvas as a friendly guide.

  1. Customer Segments – Start with the details of a particular type of customer. The goal isn’t to complete the Customer Segments box. It’s starting a story to follow through the rest of the canvas. Now lean into the pain as you move from box to box and watch as your solution transforms into a story.
  2. Value Propositions – Based on this single customer, outline the value you’ll deliver.
  3. Channels – Where will your business connect with this specific customer?
  4. Customer Relationships – Who are you working with and how will collaboration feel?
  5. Revenue Streams – Based on the first four boxes, what’s the exchange the value?
  6. Key Activities – To deliver on the promise, you must execute with action(s).
  7. Key Resources – Using all seven capitals, here’s what’s needed to keep building.
  8. Key Partners – We can do more with less in the connected era. Who helps you get where?
  9. Cost Structure – The financial capital needed to go from problem to solution.

By telling the story of how you’re creating value for one customer segment, hypotheses connect through all nine boxes and are properly contextualized. Now add more stories, one at a time. To stay organized, use a clean business model canvas for each customer. With different stories told for each customer, color code each story as they are merged into one business model canvas. As everything blends together, the rainbow of color creates a roadmap to reality.

Wireframing

After a holiday season full of creative conversations with family and friends, the New Year inspires an openness to what’s next. This leads many to consider building something new. To kickoff 2023, go beyond only being the idea machine. Let’s start building now.

We’ll begin with a common scenario – there’s a cool concept and maybe some industry insight, but the idea requires technology and you lack an ability to code. This often makes first-time founders feel like there’s nothing they can do without paying for development or immediately recruiting co-founders to help build the product. This locks the idea in limbo, when in fact, there are many methods to make purposeful progress without writing a line of code.

One easy way to start is to visualize the idea through a process called wireframing. Wireframing is an entrepreneurial exercise that only requires a pencil, paper, and time. This activity is thought-provoking and allows anyone to conceptualize the structure and flow of their idea. It helps identify each type of user and the user experience (“UX”) with no tech required.

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This twitterstorm connected 78+ tweets and highlights all of my weekly writings from 2022. I work toward this all year, so I hope you’ll enjoy clicking into each satisfying rabbit hole. Please be sure to RT and LIKE your favorites to connect with others as well!

Ready for action? Excellent! Use a wireframing template to draw everything on screens of the device(s) your product will be used on. For example, if it’s a mobile app, find a wireframing template that includes blank smartphone screens and space for notes (example) to describe each state and how everything connects within the user interface (“UI”). Wireframing is mostly used to outline technology-based products, but some thoughtful sketching helps jump start physical products as well. If you’re thinking about a physical product, test your drawing skills by highlighting how different elements collectively come together to form the final embodiment.

Along with clarifying concepts for yourself, coordinated wireframing makes it easier for others to follow how everything fits together. The time spent here will save you money if you outsource development, as a solid roadmap helps lone wolves avoid costly detours. Wireframing helps you hire a team that can build what you want without pushing the idea into a more ordinary direction that works best for them. If you decide to seek co-founders who can effectively help build ideas into reality, (which would be my recommendation, but will take more time), wireframing is one more way to show you’re serious.

As you plug into the startup community, which is critical, this wireframing activity helps support the early versions of a pitch that tells a more impactful story as you breathe fresh air into the idea with feedback from others. While product design and the business to support it will need to evolve, earnest wireframing will help idea machines avoid melting momentum.