Business Magazine

Translate Your Startup Vision to Investor Values

Posted on the 28 June 2011 by Martin Zwilling @StartupPro

Image #: 3980104    Warren Buffett, chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway, listens during a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee on federal real estate taxes, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2007. Buffett called on Congress to maintain the estate tax, saying that plans to repeal the levy would benefit a handful of the richest American families and widen U.S. income disparity. Photographer: Stephanie Kuykendal/Bloomberg News /LandovPresenting your startup vision as a founder to a potential investor, or presenting an idea as an employee to an executive, requires that you effectively communicate, or “translate”, the value proposition into terms that the receiver can fully understand and appreciate. If you fail, it’s your loss, not theirs, no matter what the reason.

For example, if your investor has been a senior business leader, you need to transform your message so that it addresses the issues that senior business leaders have experienced as priorities. For the business leaders I know, these priorities almost always include the following:

  • Business agility. How can my company keep up with the ever increasing rate of change in technology, core business strategies, and culture trends? Implicit in agility is increased productivity on change initiatives. This applies to startups as well as big companies.

  • Data security. In today’s world of distributed data, global reach, and powerful incursion technologies, how do I protect my data and my customers’ data? Executives need more data accessible to their team everywhere, but at what cost?

  • User privacy. Customers are bombarded from all angles today for information to improve their user experience, yet they need to protect highly personal things. How does your proposition address highly targeted advertising without a privacy backlash?

  • Risk reduction. Especially in this world of constant litigation and hackers, how can I as an executive manage the risk to my personal future, as well as the future of my company? How can I control a highly distributed technical operation, which changes every day?

  • Return on investment. How do I measure the return on my development and marketing investments? These business leaders get demands from all organizations for more, more, more, with little ability to quantify payback.

  • Integration. Too many applications out there today are “silos,” built outside the existing organization without an overall architecture, or even a maintenance plan. How do I integrate these to maximize my return?

Your message better hit one or more of these priorities dead on, if you hope to get some traction. Too often what an executive hears is a pitch on some grand new technology that they can’t even understand, or certainly can’t see as directly applicable to their priorities. Remember they have heard similar technology stories for the last twenty years, usually expensive, with poor results

Consider this real example I heard a while back from some MBA students – “Let me introduce our newest tool, which we developed from ‘mashup’ technology, made popular by Facebook and MySpace.” This entry line, as well as a long presentation which followed, was missing not only the translation to receiver priorities, but also assumed that the executive had the same background and view of the world as the presenters.

This is called the generation gap. These young technologists didn’t consider that most executives today are a few years older, and would probably translate ‘mashup’ to mean some version of a train wreck. And the mention of MySpace would raise some vague fears of their granddaughter being accosted through the Internet. You won’t close the deal with that pitch.

Obviously, if you are communicating to peers, or any other generational group, the rules change. But the message is the same - if you want to win, then the onus is on you to communicate the value of your argument in terms the other party understands.

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