Business Plan Basics

What makes for a successful business plan? This post from Noah Parsons covers the essentials:

"Executive summaries need to be short, direct, and provide an overview of the business opportunity ... A good plan will communicate what the business does, who the target market is, and what the potential upside is in no more than 5 sentences.

"Expenses – A common failing in business plan financials is to either under-estimate expenses or to leave out some expenses altogether ... make sure that your P&L includes all ... costs for running your business.

"Optimism – Optimism is great ... but ... make sure your [sales] forecast is realistic. Most business plan readers are going to question what appears to be overly optimistic growth scenarios ...

"Market Size – ... Divide your market into manageable segments such as location, customer needs, age, income, etc. Without a realistic market segmentation strategy and a marketing plan that addresses that segmentation, you will have a difficult time implementing the plan."


20 Startup Business Questions

1. Am I prepared to spend the time, money and resources needed to get my business started? 2. What kind of business do I want? 3. What products/services will my business provide? 4. Why am I starting a business? 5. What is my target market? 6. Who is my competition? 7. What is unique about my business idea and the products/services I will provide? 8. How soon will it take before my products/services are available? 9. How much money do I need to get my business set up? 10. How long can I have to finance the company until I start making a profit? 11. Will I need to get a loan? 12. How will I price my product compared to my competition? 13. How will I market my business? 14. How will I set up the legal structure of my business? 15. How will I manage my business? 16. Where will I house my business? 17. How many employees will I need to start up? 18. What types of suppliers do I need to contact? 19. What kind of insurance do I need to invest in? 20. What do I need to do to ensure I am paying my taxes correctly? SOURCE: 20 Questions Before Starting a Business SBA.gov


Corporate Culture Defined

Good definition of corporate culture from Innovation Excellence:

"Corporate culture is the set of assumptions, beliefs, practices, formal and informal rules and attitudes about how a company operates. Corporate culture evolves over time, and is both formal and informal. Corporate culture often shifts over time as well. Young entrepreneurial firms and startups have a culture that thrives on risk, speed and change. Growth is paramount. Older, established firms have a culture more typically based on rules, hierarchy, achievement of predictable milestones. While many firms have elaborately detailed organizational hierarchies and established workflows, corporate culture is often much more informal, and more powerful than any individual, and often more powerful than senior executives appreciate or expect.

"In an organization with a strong corporate culture, people learn to fit in quickly, adjust their thinking to the predominant culture or are quickly ostracized. Corporate culture, more than any other factor, details how people think, what they believe is important and valuable, and dictates how work should get done. It is difficult to change, especially under duress, and often communicates much about the values and intentions of a business."


Casey Anthony Jury Had No Choice

I have been asked to comment on the Casey Anthony trial. I did not follow the trial in detail as it was happening. I am not in a position to judge particular tactics used by the lawyers, nor am I able to offer my opinion on the adequacy of the evidence presented. I focus on the result - the “not guilty “verdicts.

In Florida, to prove the crime of First Degree Premeditated Murder, the State must prove each of the following three elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

1. (Victim) is dead.
2. The death was caused by the criminal act of (defendant).
3. There was a premeditated killing of (victim).
What is a reasonable doubt? Standard Florida jury instructions provide as follows (emphasis added):
A reasonable doubt is not a mere possible doubt, a speculative, imaginary or forced doubt. Such a doubt must not influence you to return a verdict of not guilty if you have an abiding conviction of guilt. On the other hand, if, after carefully considering, comparing and weighing all the evidence, there is not an abiding conviction of guilt, or, if, having a conviction, it is one which is not stable but one which wavers and vacillates, then the charge is not proved beyond every reasonable doubt and you must find the defendant not guilty because the doubt is reasonable.

It is to the evidence introduced in this trial, and to it alone, that you are to look for that proof.

A reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the defendant may arise from the evidence, conflict in the evidence, or the lack of evidence. If you have a reasonable doubt, you should find the defendant not guilty. If you have no reasonable doubt, you should find the defendant guilty.
Casey Anthony does not behave as many people believe she should. She may have mental problems. She may have killed her daughter. Much of the public and many passionate commentators have concluded that she is a murderer. Fortunately for us, her guilt or innocence must be determined in a court of law.

My take on the situation is this: The jury members took their jobs very seriously. Based on the evidence that was presented in court, they were not convinced that each element of the charged felony offenses had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. As to the first degree murder charge, probably, the conflicting evidence about the 2nd and 3rd elements of the crime entered into their decision making.

I found particularly haunting the statement by the alleged paramoor of Casey's father that he had told her that Caylee's death had been an "accident that snowballed out of control." Also, the prosecution had trouble establishing exactly how Caylee died.

What is galling about this, is that Casey's lying contributed to the delay in finding Caylee's body. Nonetheless, the burden of proof does not shift to the defendant in a criminal trial, no matter how big a liar she is alleged to be. Nor should it.

Whatever conviction the jury had of Casey’s guilt, it must have been of the “wavering and vacillating” variety. That being the case, they had no choice but to acquit her.


So You Want to Start a Business?

This Guide to Starting a Corporation from Fenwick & West offers a good overview of the process.


Startup Employment Agreement

This Startup Employment Agreement from Inc.com is used by startup companies to establish terms and conditions of their workers' employment. The agreement outlines compensation, benefits, policies, and rights for the employee and employer and is customizable for your company’s usage.


Leaders as Problem Finders

"Practicing problem-finding helps leaders spot and address emerging concerns while they are still manageable and before they turn into disasters...[Use]these seven steps...

1.Circumvent the gatekeepers – get unfiltered information.
2.Become an ethnographer...
3.Hunt for patterns – try to draw on past experiences but don’t get caught in the trap of misusing analogies.
4.Use intuition to “connect the dots”...
5.Encourage innovative thinking...
6....Adopt the military’s 'After Action Review'(AAR) process to learn and improve;
7.Create a climate of information-sharing – encourage people to speak up and have a mindset of 'openness.'"

Read more in this post from NACD Blog.


Top Ten Startup Legal Mistakes

# 10: Failing to incorporate early enough.

# 9: Issuing founder shares without vesting.

#8: Hiring a lawyer not experienced in dealing with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

#7: Failing to make a timely Section 83 (b) election.

# 6: Negotiating venture capital financing based solely on the valuation.

#5: Waiting to consider international intellectual property protection.

#4: Disclosing inventions without a nondisclosure agreement, or before the patent application is filed.

#3: Starting a business while employed by a potential competitor, or hiring employees without first checking their agreements with the current employer and their knowledge of trade secrets.

#2: ...failing to comply with state and federal securities laws.

#1: Thinking any legal problems can be solved later.

Read more in this HBS Working Knowledge article


.XXX Domain Names - Get 'em while they're hot

"While traditional rights protection mechanisms, such as the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP), will apply to .xxx domain names, and while ICM Registry has implemented a host of other protection mechanisms that will aid trademark owners seeking to combat infringing - or simply disparaging - use of valuable brands, trademark owners should consider 'pre-reserving' and/or defensively registering key .xxx domain names containing valuable trademarks." Advice from this Foley Hoag LLP post.


Mutual Non-Disclosure Agreement

This Mutual Non-Disclosure Agreement from Inc.com is a sample contract between two parties exploring a business opportunity of mutual interests, whereby the parties agree to treat disclosed information concerning the opportunity as confidential.


Creativity Begins with Little Bets

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” -- Alan Kay

“...Unleashing our creativity, however deeply it’s hidden, begins with little bets...concrete actions taken to discover, test, and develop ideas that are achievable and affordable...”

"Becoming more comfortable with failure, and coming to view false starts and mistakes as opportunities opens us up creatively."

"Most entrepreneurs launch their companies without an ingenious idea and proceed to discover one, or if they do start with what they think is an ingenious idea, they quickly discover that it’s flawed and then rapidly adapt."

--- from Change This - Little Bets: Think Differently


Yale Trivia Presentation

I was privileged on Friday night to be the representative of the Princeton Alumni Association of Western Pennsylvania at the Yale Club of Pittsburgh annual dinner. My role was to offer greetings and remarks ribbing or roasting the Yalies. I used a format from a Jeopardy-like game show that I have reproduced as a presentation.

Yale Jeopardy