“Please send us your pitch deck”
If you have been looking for startup capital, you know that conversations with investors tend to always start the same: “Please send us your pitch deck.” The same is true for us at Yunus Social Business Balkans. But what is it? How can you become good at writing one? And where to find inspiration. In this article, we want to give you a brief overview.
What is a pitch deck?
“For entrepreneurs, life is a pitch”
A pitch deck is a brief overview of your business. It can come in many shapes and forms. Usually though, entrepreneurs prefer presentation formats (Powerpoint, Keynote, Google Slides, etc.) because it makes it easier to visualise key aspects of your venture.
Pitch decks are mainly used for fundraising with investors or at conferences to present your business. They are a great tool to start a conversation. Investors use it to get a rough understanding about your business and whether it fits their criteria. After getting this high level overview, they can already decide whether it is worth spending your and their time on an in-depth conversation.
A pitch is NOT:
An exhaustive business plan: Stick to the main facts. It is by definition incomplete. You want to make investors curious to know more. If investors get back with a long list of detailed question, that means “mission accomplished”.
Longer than 30 slides (ideally 15-20 slides): As per above, you want to keep it crisp, exciting and clear.
The reason why investors invest in you: Don’t over-engineer your pitch deck. Yes, it is the first point of contact. But if you’re business is good, it won’t be the last.
A pure sales pitch that has to paint the perfect picture: We are often approached by entrepreneurs that claim they do not have any challenges. When that happens, we’re VERY suspicious. Why? Because either the entrepreneur is trying to cover up the challenges (which is bad) or she/he is not aware of the challenges (which is worse). Your pitch deck should contain a clear statement of what your challenges are and how you will attempt to solve them. If we see that, we feel much more comfortable because it builds a basis for discussion. It shows us how you think. And it breeds trust.
What elements should be included in a pitch deck?
The following topics should be part of a pitch deck. You may add, combine or change the order of some of the elements. But the below list gives you a good overview.
- Introduction: Short intro about you and your business
- Customer Problem Statement: What is the problem you are solving for your paying customer. If you are a social business, do NOT confuse this part with the social problem you are trying to solve.
- Your solution and product: How are you solving the customer’s problem? What is the product you are offering?
- (Competitive) Advantages: How is your solution better than the customer’s current solution*?
- Progress so far (also called “traction”): How many paying customers do you currently have? How fast did your customer base grow? What are your revenues?
- Team: Who is behind the business and what is your team’s background
- Market: What is the market for your product and how do you expect the market to develop in the future?
- Competition & Positioning: Who are you competing against? How is your solution better than the competition?
- Business Model & Plan: How do you make money? What is your revenue model? What is your rough financial forecast for the next 3 years?
- Your ask: How much investment do you need? What is the form of funding that you seek (equity, loan, etc.)?
*A quick note on “advantages”: When describing your advantage, you don’t just want to look at products from competitors. Also consider alternative solutions for your customer’s problem in general. For example: If you are selling cars, one of your customer’s problems is getting from A to B. So compare how your car is better then other cars. But also compare how taking your car is better than taking the train, riding a bike or simply walking.
If you are pitching to Yunus Social Business, you want to add the following topics:
- Target beneficiary: Who benefits from your activities?
- Current Situation: What is their current situation?
- Impact logic: How do you make a difference in the lives of your beneficiaries?
- Impact Metrics: How do you measure your impact on your beneficiaries’ lives?
Where can I find examples of good pitch decks?
There are a number of good websites that host examples of pitch decks. We are sharing our favourite pitch deck below. Find out yourself why we love it. You should check out the following websites to find more examples – and please send us more websites if you find them:
About the Author
Daniel Nowack (@dannowack) has helped start four businesses in image manipulation, mobile payment, online marketing and publishing. He held various roles in startups such as CEO, CFO and Head of Business Development. He has a background in marketing and finance and has been involved in multiple 6- and 7-digit funding rounds in the past. He is a product and finance mentor for Google LaunchpadX and a lecturer at RheinMain University, Germany. Daniel has been working with nobel laureate Prof. Yunus since 2010 and currently heads YSB Balkans, an impact investing fund for the region, as Executive Director.
Copyright: sifotography / 123RF licencefree images
Finding adequate financing for your business is a challenge. Not only is it hard to find affordable investments. You also have to find investors that believe in you and your vision. And you have to find the right type of financing to fit your needs. This series on Startup Financing 101 explains how you choose the right type of financing for your business. This time, we explain how convertible loans work and when they are used.
What are Convertible Loans?
When investors talk about “convertibles”, they mean convertible loans. And they are what they sound like: Loans. They have an interest rate, a duration (“maturity”) and repayment terms. But convertible loans can also be converted into shares in your company (“equity”). That means that the outstanding money that you still owe to the investor (outstanding principal and accrued interest) can be converted into shares in your company.
When investors sign a convertible with you, it means the investor agrees to share the risk of failure with you. Convertible loans are treated as equity when your business goes bankruptcy. That means, that they usually default in 90% of the cases when a business goes belly up. If the business goes well, however, the investor is rewarded for taking that risk by choosing whether he wants to get his money plus interest back or convert the loan into shares in your company.
Example A (Basic Convertible Financing): So let’s assume that you have a convertible loan of 100 with investor A. Your business succeeds and the investor chooses to convert the loan into shares in your company. How many shares the investor gets depends on how you negotiate the contract. Let’s assume the contract says that the investor can convert the loan into shares at 2 per share and your business has 200 shares. That means, the investor gets 50 shares in your company or 25%.
There are different ways to set up “triggers” – events when the loan is converted. With startups that ultimately seek new financing from VCs or other institutional investors, the conversion is usually automatically triggered with the next funding round. For other companies, investors may reserve the sole right to trigger the conversion whenever they want (or not at all).
Example B (Startup Financing Rounds): You have a convertible loan with investor A of 100. A new investor (investor B) comes in, wants to provide another 100 and agrees that your business is worth 900 before he invests. That means your “pre-money valuation” is 900 and your “post-money valuation” is 1000 (900 + 100 from investor B). So after the investment, your business “is worth 1000”. Investor A will now convert the 100 outstanding loan into shares in your company. Because the valuation was 1000, that means investor A and B both get 10% of your company for the 100 they put in.
For a more advanced explanation see this blog post by Capshare.com. Note that this is simplified and does not include the interests linked to the loan. In practice, accrued interest for the loans is included in the conversion.
In which cases are Convertible Loans used?
At the early stages of a company, it is really difficult to determine how much the company is worth – or in other terms what the “valuation” of the company is. That means, that it is difficult for you and the investor to agree on whether the investor should get 5% of your company, 10% or 25% for the money that is invested.
But the process of registering new shareholders is quite complex. And you really want to avoid changing the number of shares per shareholder after you have registered them – just because it’s a pain in the a** from a legal and administrative perspective.
So it is simply easier to set up a convertible loan until you know how much your company is worth (based on the revenues that you will hopefully be making or based on the valuation the next investor is willing to accept). And it is also much quicker because it does not need to be registered with any local authorities (exceptions may apply for foreign investors).
What to watch out for
Interest Rate: As mentioned above, convertibles are designed to speed up the investment and avoid difficult discussions about valuation in the early days. But ultimately, they should be seen as a form of equity investment. That means that interest rates should be moderate and not exceed market standards. Interest payments are usually due on an annual, or at most quarterly basis. Depending on your country, you also want to avoid zero interest convertibles for tax reasons. Authorities may tax you on the fictional interest that could have been made.
Covenants: Covenants are conditions that come with the convertible loan note. Those covenants can create serious implications down the road. So you want to play through all the scenarios before accepting them.
Read more if you want to raise money from VCs
What we are describing here are the very basics of convertible loans. That is simply because we think these are the most important elements you have to know in the context of the Balkans. But if you are looking to close rounds with VC or other institutional investors after your first round with a convertible, you should really dive a bit deeper and read this blog post by Seedcamp or this one from Techcrunch.
Where can I find a legal template for a convertible loan?
There is a lean and quite simple template available from the SEC in the US. It gives you an overview of the elements of such a convertible loan note and its conditions. Of course, you want to consult your own lawyer that knows about specific local legal requirements.
About the Author
Daniel (@dannowack) has started four businesses in image manipulation, mobile payment, online marketing and publishing. He held various roles in startups such as CEO, CFO and Head of Business Development. He has a background in marketing and finance and has been involved in multiple 6- to 7-digit funding rounds in the past. He is a product and finance mentor for Google LaunchpadX. Daniel has been working with Prof. Yunus since 2010 and was in the driver’s seat for projects such as Social Business Cities or the Global Social Business Summit 2011. He currently heads YSB Balkans as Executive Director.
Our lawyers asked us to include this and we think that it is a good idea to listen to them: We are not a Registered Investment Advisor, Broker/Dealer, Financial Analyst, Financial Bank, Securities Broker or Financial Planner. The Information on the Site is provided for information purposes only. The Information is not intended to be and does not constitute financial advice or any other advice, is general in nature and not specific to you. Before using our information to make an investment decision, you should seek the advice of a qualified and registered securities professional and undertake your own due diligence. None of the information on our Site is intended as investment advice, as an offer or solicitation of an offer to buy or sell, or as a recommendation, endorsement, or sponsorship of any security, Company, or fund. We is not responsible for any investment decision made by you. You are responsible for your own investment research and investment decisions.
Entrepreneurs often struggle with developing their own templates when going through a financial planning exercise. Without a financial background, it is easy to spend hours for research, piecing together a model that fits your needs.
But there actually are tools out there. A number of free financial planning tools offer solid frameworks. We wanted to introduce five of them to you and talk about their pros and cons.
The criteria for evaluating financial planning templates
We considered the following criteria for evaluating the financial planning templates:
- Simplicity and Ease of Use (Scale 1-5 with 5 being the best): How easy is it to use the template with only rudimentary financial skills?
- Notes and Comments (Scale 1-5 with 5 being the best): Is the template well documented and are there instructions for using the financial planning template?
- Profit and Loss Statement: Does the template include a profit and loss statement?
- Capital Expenditures: Does the template include capital expenditures?
- Cash Flow: Does the template allow you to make cash flow forecasts?
- Balance Sheet: Does the template have a balance sheet section?
- Graphics and Summaries: Does the template have summary and graphics tabs to visualise data?
As you can see, the criteria are quite straightforward. We only used a simple scale for the first two categories. For features, we scored each template with ‘–’ if a feature in that category did not exist. If the feature did exist, a score between ‘+’ and ‘+++’ shows how advanced its functionality is.
We researched five different financial planning templates. For sure, there are more out there and there are certainly more premium models out there. Let us know if you find any other financial planning template that we should check out, too.
- Businessmodelforecast.com: This excel-based model comes with a lot of thunder and its own website. It is a basic model for any industry. It allows you to quickly set up a forecast for your business in the broadest categories. It also has a neat dashboard around key figures.
- Christoph Janz’ 2.0: A financial template for Software as a Service (SaaS) startups that started as a one-sheet forecast and now has developed into a more advanced model. The author, Christoph Janz, is an investor himself (e.g. ZenDesk) and Managing Partner at Point Nine Capital in Germany.
- Christoph Janz’ 1.0: This SaaS financial is Christoph Janz’ first version of a financial planning template. It is a one-page Google Sheet that beautifully combines simplicity with the most relevant categories.
- Futurpreneur.ca: This model is published as a template for applications to Futurpreneur in Canada. It comes as an excel file with loads of explanations, a great glossary and detailed forecasting abilities.
- Danielnowack.com: This GoogleSheet also provides all inputs on one single sheet. It was developed in an attempt to create a template that is as simple has Christoph Janz’ templates but includes the feature to plan capital expenditures (=big investments). It also provides basic diagrams and summary views. Disclaimer: It has been developed by the Executive Director of YSB Balkans.
|Business Model Forecast||Christoph Janz 1.0||Christoph Janz 2.0||Futurpreneur||Daniel Nowack|
Super simple to understand but with protected sheets. Planning only on a quarterly basis.
Everything for Saas and tech startups on one sheet. Beautiful!
Not quite as simple as version 1.0 and doesn’t have everything in one template anymore. But still strikingly simple.
Even though it is pretty complex, it does guide you through each step in a visual and rather straight forward way.
| Score: 4
Not quite as simple as Christoph Janz’ 1.0 masterpiece but still all inputs on one page
|Notes & Comments||Score: 4
Only very basic notes and explanations but an extensive website
Notes are right next to the cells and the blog answers any remaining questions
Straight forward descriptions and an extensive blog post about the template
Futurpreneur really outdid themselves on that – plenty of notes, instructions and even a glossary. Awesome!
No documentation at the moment but a blog post is promised to come soon.
Simplicity: Christoph Janz’ first version of the SaaS financial planning template is the clear winner in this category. The template has everything on one sheet. Instructions are straightforward. Formulas are easy to understand. It just does not get any simpler.
If you need a bit more complexity, Christoph’s 2.0 version and Daniel Nowack’s template are similarly simple. Both add a few more layers of functionality. Christoph’s 2.0 and Daniel’s template are straight forward to use and don’t really need further explanation. But if you do need more guidance, Christoph has an amazing blog that goes into every single detail.
The Business Model Forecast is also quite simple – almost too simple in some instances. But it has protected sheets that make it harder to change parts of the template. And futurpreneur’s template is the most complex though well documented (see next category).
Notes & Comments: Three out of five financial planning templates do an amazing job in documenting their setup. Probably the best explanation comes from Futurpreneur. Not only do they provide a blog post about their template. They also offer detailed instructions and a glossary in the financial planning template itself. The glossary alone is a gold nugget for any startup.
Similarly, Christoph Janz’ templates provide a lot of context in the sheets themselves. They also come with dedicated blog posts. The BusinessModelForecast template has an entire website dedicated to it – though is not necessarily easy to use. The template itself relies on your ability to make sense of the financial vocabulary.
Similarly, Daniel Nowack’s template has some explanations. But it mostly relies on the user making sense of it. However, there is a blog post coming that further describes the template. So stay tuned.
Features: There is a huge variation of features across the templates. You can get the gist of it through the results overview. It is striking that all templates offer P&L planning (which is obvious). But almost none offer balance sheet or cash flow planning. So if you have significant working capital, high CAPEX or simply a more complex balance sheet, you may want to look elsewhere. In terms of visualisation, Christoph Janz’ 2.0 template is again far ahead of other templates. It provides beautiful diagrams with insightful analysis.
Picking your financial planning template
Different financial planning models may be more helpful to you. It all depends on your business model and industry. If you do have a startup in tech or even SaaS, there is no way around Christoph Janz’ templates. They are just too good to be true.
If you need more detailed CAPEX planning but don’t want to sacrifice simplicity, go for Daniel Nowack’s template. Finance savvy founders who just want a quick scrabble of their finances should go for the BusinessModelForecast. And if you want more sophisticated financial planning but need a step-by-step walkthrough, Futurepreneur definitely is a good choice.
You know other models?
Let us know if you know any other models that we should take a look at! We know, for example, that there are great premium models out there. And we are certain we missed a number of free models. Happy to hear more!
About the author
Ermira Repaj is responsible for new investments and our portfolio at Yunus Social Business Balkans. She leads new investment candidates through our due diligence. She works with our portfolio companies to implement best practices for financial management, operations and planning.
Prior to YSB, Ermira was responsible for managing the Treasury Single Account in the Treasury Department, in the Ministry of Finance of Albania, with strong expertise in accounting and finance. She is an adjunct professor at the Faculty of Economics of University of Tirana. Ermira’s early professional experiences include working as finance specialist in the National Albanian Agency for Homeless People and teaching as an adjunct professor in the Faculty of Economics of University of Shkodra: “Luigj Gurakuqi”. Ermira has a BA in Business Administration from University of Shkodra and a Msc. in Financial Management from University of Tirana and University of Modena & Reggio Emilia.
For most people, financial planning is certainly not a fun activity. You have probably never met a single person that said “oh we just got together with a bunch of friends for beers and a relaxed financial planning exercise”.
So why even bother about financial planning?
“Life is what happens while we are busy making plans” – John Lennon
For startups and small businesses, financial planning is crucial to survival – even if you are not looking for money from investors or donors. It helps you understand the nuts and bolts of your business. And in many cases, it even tells you whether it is worth pursuing your idea or not.
In the past years, we have worked with over 400 entrepreneurs across the world at Yunus Social Business. And I personally had my own share of startup mania as a CFO and Product Manager for startups and as a mentor at Google Launchpad.
I found that many startups only have a vague idea about how much money they have to make to become financially sustainable (i.e. break even). So I tend to do a quick financial planning exercise with them (not more than 20 minutes) which more often than not is a real eye-opener. They suddenly realise the challenges, identify the things they have to validate and how they can scale their business.
Financial Planning as a Blueprint
Financial Planning helps you to understand which levers you need to push in order to go to full steam with your startup!
So think of planning as a blueprint to a steam locomotive that has numerous handles and levers that you can pull. Your job as an entrepreneur is to understand which levers to pull in order to move as quickly as possible. And financial plans help you do just that.
You will identify what drives success for your business. Is it really how many new customers you can generate each month? Or is it how often a customer orders? Or is it the costs of raw materials? Can you pay your own salaries with 100 customers, 1,000 or 1 million?
And don’t worry too much about accuracy: The whole exercise is about taking an educated guess and understanding how the pieces of the puzzle fit together. You will later take this guess and validate it in the market through iteration, customer development and experimentation.
But where to start? Let us walk you through a step-by-step exercise on how to develop your financial plans. Don’t worry, we will support everything with examples to make it transparent. In the coming months, we will further deep-dive into topics like sales planning, costing or investment planning. So stay tuned.
Whatever you do, keep in mind that the whole exercise is not about predicting the future. It is about taking an educated guess and understanding how everything fits together.
1. Planning your Sales
Start with your ambitions for the future and talk about how quickly you will find new customers/users and make money. This includes asking yourself the following questions:
- How many customers can I attract each month?
- How much does each customer buy?
- How many customers come back to order again? How often and frequently do they come back?
- How many do not come back?
- What are your total sales?
People love complex language because it serves as a code. If you can speak the code, you belong to the group of cool guys. Don’t worry, we decode some of the most used words for you here as well. We call that “Bullshit Bingo”.
Don’t forget VAT!
When planning sales, many entrepreneurs forget the value-added tax (VAT). In many countries, VAT is a substantial amount of your sales. As an example: Your customer is paying you 100 EUR per sale. But from those 100 EUR, you will need to pay VAT – either now or later as you grow depending on the laws in your country. Let’s assume your country charges 20% VAT. That means that out of the 100 EUR, 17 EUR are VAT (100 EUR divided by 1.2). Those 17 EUR do not go to your business but will have to be paid to the state. It leaves you with 83 EUR to play with.
2. Variable Costs
Variable costs are costs that increase with the number of products and customers you have. There are many types of variable costs but we will talk about the two most common costs below: Costs of Goods Sold and Customer Acquisition Costs.
Cost of goods sold (COGS)
Producing a product or service has a cost. It may be raw materials that you have to buy, worker wages or fees you have to pay for each product you produce and sell. These variable costs are called “Costs of Goods Sold”. They are critical for the success of your company because of COGS per unit are higher then your net sales per unit, you are effectively making a loss on each product you sell.
So for example, if you are selling vegetables from farmers on a fresh market, you will need to buy the vegetables from the farmers in the first place. The price you pay those farmers is part of your COGS. The logistics costs such as gas for the pickup truck are also part of COGS because they increase as your sales volume increases. Obviously, it is important that you sell the products at a higher price than what you had to pay.
Customer Acquisition Costs (CAC)
This cost type is quite unique mostly to e-commerce and online startups. But the concept can be equally applied to other businesses – especially if you are attracting your customers through online activities. CAC measures what it costs you to acquire one paying customer.
Why is that important? If you cannot make enough money from each customer that you attract to cover the costs that it takes to acquire that customer, you are back in the loss-making business.
Example: You are trying to sell concert tickets online. You are acquiring customers via Facebook ads and your sales funnel looks like this:
- 0,24 EUR Costs per Click (Facebook ads are usually on a per click basis so each click costs you 0,24 EUR)
- A user has to click about 4 times until she actually finds a concert that she is interested in
- 20% of the people that find a concert they are interested in actually purchase from you
That means: Your customer acquisition costs are 4,80 EUR (0,24 EUR x 4 divded by 0,20). So if you cannot make more than 4,80 EUR from a concert ticket (or can lock in the customer for future purchases), you cannot make a profit from your business.
3. Gross Margin
The gross margin is simply your net sales minus your variable costs (COGS, CAC, etc.). It tells you how much money you are actually making from each sale.
4. General & Administrative Costs (G&A)
General and administrative costs cover the fixed expenses of your business. They cannot be directly linked to a sale or a product. And you have to pay those costs – no matter if you sell 1,000 products or zero. What types of G&A you have can vary across sector and industry but below is a list to think about when doing your financial planning.
- Rent, Utilities, Telecom
- Sales, Marketing, Public Relations
- Repairs and Maintenance
- Office expenses (supplies, etc.)
- 3rd party (legal, accounting, …)
- IT Expenses (Hosting, Software Licenses, etc.)
- Other: Freelancers, Travel costs, etc.
EBITDA is short for “Earnings before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Ammorization“. Or how I like to call it: Your profit except for the other stuff you have to pay but frequently forget about. EBITDA is simply your Gross Margin minus G&A. Remember, Gross Margin is your Net Sales minus your variable expenses so the full formula looks like this:
- Gross Sales
- less VAT
- = Net Sales
- less Variable Cost (like COGS, CAC, etc.)
- = Gross Margin
- less G&A
- = EBITDA
To keep it simple: If your EBITDA is positive, you have a good business case. In simplified terms, this is the indicator whether your business is profitable or not. To get to net profit, you have to deduct depreciation and amortisation (a more complex accounting topic that we will go into later), any interest payments and incomes as well as taxes.
5. Plan your cash flow
All of the above items are items of the so-called “profit and loss statement” (or P&L). Plan those items on a month by month basis at least for the first year of your startup. Ideally, you want to have a three year cash forecast – or at least that is what investors will look at.
The P&L gives you an expense-overview but not a cash overview. Confused? Fully understand. Without going into too much accounting details (and horribly simplifying), the P&L tells you when you receive or send invoices and the cash flow tells you when you pay them.
So for example: You send an invoice to a client in January but usually, they only pay one month later. So the P&L will show revenues in January while your cash only comes in February.
Make sure that you think about when you actually need the cash. It is very common for startups to get into financial problems when they don’t monitor their cash enough.
Review and play with your forecast
When you are done with your forecast, take a closer look. What drives your profits? What do you have to do to increase your margin? Is it possible to increase sales as quickly as you think you can?
Change a few assumptions (like price, number of customers, COGS or G&A) and see how this “moves the needle”, i.e. how it changes your profit. That is how you find out what really matters – and quite often it is something startups have not thought about.
If you don’t feel comfortable with it or if you need more information, get someone to help you. If you don’t have anyone, feel free to reach out to us. Not only do we love to work with startups but we also have access to over 150 mentors that love working with startups, too. So just send us an email and get the discussion started.
Also check out our financial planning template for startups. It’s super easy to use and you can adapt it to your needs. And it’s absoltely free of charge. You can download it here.
About the author
Daniel (@dannowack) has helped start four businesses in image manipulation, mobile payment, online marketing and publishing. He held various roles in startups such as CEO, CFO and Head of Business Development. He also worked in financial planning and reporting for Merck & Co., overseeing $22bn in sales. He has a background in marketing and finance and has been involved in multiple 6- to 7-digit funding rounds in the past. Daniel has been working with Prof. Yunus since 2010 and was in the driver’s seat for key projects such as Social Business Cities or the Global Social Business Summit 2011. He currently heads YSB Balkans as Executive Director.
We just launched our Balkan-wide initiative with Yunus Social Business Balkans! The team and I have been traveling across the region in search of potential and successful social entrepreneurs.
It’s been incredibly exciting.
Having had the personal pleasure of meeting rooms full of entrepreneurial energy in Sarajevo, Tirana and Belgrade, I’ve also watched activity flourish in our team’s wake across Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro.
Our focus has been to give people a taste of what it means to be in a YSB accelerator, and the methodology and network that is our strength.
However, if you were unable to join us at any of our events so far, we wanted to offer you some insights here, on our blog!
Below I’ve collected 5 great success stories from social entrepreneurs to highlight what they’ve done right.
These are all core elements of what we do as a social business accelerator. So if you want to know what you could learn by working with us, this is a great place to start.
1. Great Social Entrepreneurs Focus on the ‘Business’ in ‘Social Business’
All sincere social entrepreneurs have a deep-rooted passion for change and impacting people’s lives. That is why they create such inspiring social businesses in the first place. But there is one criteria that separates the successful ones form the not so successful ones and that is business instincts.
Whenever we are approached with “project proposals” for a social business, plenty of alarms go off in our systems. A social business is a business first and can only create meaningful impact if it is running on a sustainable business model.
Always ask yourself “who will pay for my services?” and “how can I provide the best product or service to my paying customers?”.
When Emiland Skora first approached us with his idea of an organic aromatic herbs plantation in Albania, he pitched the amazing market opportunities around aromatic herbs first. THEN he told us about the great things he could do for farmers in rural areas with such a profitable business.
After just a few discussions, he ticked almost all the boxes that we were looking for: Years of experience, links to international markets and – most importantly – a true commitment for helping people in his community.
From day one, the business was built on a very healthy financial basis. So it was easy to integrate a social model into “Saint George Valley Organic Farming”. And today, only one year after incorporation, it helps employ 75 rural farmers.
Check out similar stories on inclusive growth by social entrepreneurs on the back of profitable business models: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/08/5-ways-trade-can-deliver-for-the-worlds-poor/
2. Create Stuff That You As A Social Entrepreneur Really Care About
Doing business is rough and tough. It takes you to the highest peaks of excitement but it also drags you through the valley of setbacks. To pull through these heavy times, you have GOT to love what you’re doing – to the verge of obsession for your product.
Some studies even suggest that there is a link between successful entrepreneurship and sub-clinical psychopathy. Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t think that good entrepreneurs need to show up in straitjackets. But:
Social entrepreneurs have to show extreme excitement for the products and services they are selling. Otherwise, how will they ever be able to convince others to buy their products?
One amazing example for such an entrepreneur is Fionn Dobbin. He is a Social Business Ambassador for the Balkans. Every single time I hear him speak, I am filled with energy. He talks about his social business Mammu with so much passion that you just have to love the things he does.
Mammu sells high fashion made by single mothers in Latvia. He even got world class designers, models and retail companies to love his product. He just presents it in a way that is breathtaking. And Fionn himself nails this topic much better than I can in his TEDx about “A Brand becomes a Movement”.
Also check out Fionn’s presentation on “Why Shit Matters”. It’s a prime example of how passion can (almost literally) turn shit into gold.
3. Prototype Early On, And Don’t Cheat
The “Lean Methodology” is, of course, an old hat by the standards of tech leaders and startups. But it has not yet found its way into social business. And much less so into the Western Balkans. It is all about finding out what your customers want first. Then understand which products and service deliver the best value to them. In another step how you can get the product to your customer, etc. etc. In this process, you always focus on “how can I prove the assumptions in my business model (with data) “.
A perfect example of how this can work is Sonila’s “Farm to Table”. She and her team of social entrepreneurs entered last year’s accelerator program with the idea of starting a supermarket for organic food with zero waste in Tirana. Much like “Original Unverpackt” in Berlin.
After going through our workshops and discussions with her mentors, she and her team realized that they needed to start by serving their first customers. But instead of setting up a full-scale supermarket, they went directly to their first clients. They offered a subscription service for healthy food. Every week, their clients would order vegetables, fruits, cheese or wine. And the Farm to Table team would go out to their rural farmers to procure the items.
By the time they left the accelerator, they had over 30 clients. And most importantly, they truly understood their customers’ needs. They knew how much they would pay. And they found out how they could source the products they needed. And all this with zero investment money.
Good social entrepreneurs think big and start small. They always try to understand their customers and the market first.
4. Hire Diversity
Once you’ve made it through the hard first steps of building a social business you will come to a point where you have to grow a team to support you. At that point, it may feel obvious to hire people that tick like you. You are tempted to hire people that share your passion and who you get along with.
You live off of the diversity in your team. The more diverse, the better. People from different backgrounds will come up with completely new solutions to the problems you are facing. That makes you innovative but also extremely effective.
Jeff Bussgang describes the needs for different profiles at various stages in a business in a very striking way. He talks about three stages of growth: Jungle Stage, Dirt Stage and Highway Stage.
In the beginning, you as founders and your first hires have to battle your way through a jungle of challenges. There simply is no clear road to follow. You are the newcomers in unchartered territories. Once you clear that jungle, you hit the dirt road. Here, the path becomes much clearer but people still have to get their hands dirty. After that, you enter the highway. And now, it is not only possible to progress at high speed but it also becomes dangerous if you cannot keep up with the speed of the crowd.
At each stage of your business, you will need different profiles that keep you on track.
Bear with me, please, when I describe Yunus Social Business as an example for such diversity. Our co-founders, Saskia Bruysten (@saskiabruysten) and Sophie Eisenmann understood from day one that the vision they had for the company needed a very diverse team.
And as I write this, I am sitting in a room with a a serial entrepreneur from Barbados, a former manager of an SME support organization in Kosovo, a consultant from Boston Consulting Group from France and a communication expert from Papua New Guinea.
5. Step Aside
As your company grows even bigger, it is time for you as a founder to revisit whether you can add value in your company.
At some point in your career, you will have to start working on your business, not in it.
That is the moment when you have to detach yourself from daily operations. And that means, to some extent also from the constant thrill of customer and beneficiary interaction. In many cases, social entrepreneurs really don’t like that. But they also don’t give themselves a chance to change that.
But there would be so much to gain from revisiting your own position in your company. This means, really understanding what you want to do personally. Take a look at the bold step that Sergey Brin and Larry Page took by stepping down as CEOs from Google. They wanted to focus on what they were good at: Creating new products and spurring innovation.
In an amazing step of similar hindsight, Christian Vanizette (@coconutsurfing), Founder of MakeSense, stepped away from leading MakeSense as the CEO. He no longer wanted to have the head position to focus on the things he really can get excited about: building communities and bringing social entrepreneurs together across the world. So he became the leading “backpacker” and community manager of MakeSense. He continues to growh the MakeSense across the world. And he truly adds value each and every day.
Today, whenever I meet him, he just gets more and more energised about the great things MakeSense does. He gets to focus on what he loves doing most – without the hassle of sometimes very bureaucratic CEO tasks.
I hope you take these examples away with some inspiration for yourself. If you are interested to learn more and dive deeper into the Yunus Social Business network, apply for our accelerator in the Balkans or write us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
Daniel (@dannowack) has started four businesses in image manipulation, mobile payment, online marketing and publishing. He held various roles in startups such as CEO, CFO and Head of Business Development. He has a background in marketing and finance and has been involved in multiple 6- to 7-digit funding rounds in the past. Daniel has been working with Prof. Yunus since 2010 and was in the driver’s seat for key projects such as Social Business Cities or the Global Social Business Summit 2011. He currently heads YSB Balkans as Executive Director.
YSBA is happy to announce that Andreas Heinecke, the YSBA ambassador in the world, also the famous social entrepreneur of Dialogue in the Dark will be mentoring the Accelerator Program this year!
Andreas Heinecke started his path as social entrepreneur in 1985. While working for a radio station, he was charged with developing a rehabilitation program for a blind colleague. Inspired by this encounter and realizing the potential he created a dialogue with a reversal of roles – the concept of Dialogue in the Dark, which was launched in Frankfurt in 1988.
Since then, numerous Dialogue in the Dark exhibitions and business workshops have evolved worldwide and are established independently through a social franchise-system. More than 7 million visitors and participants have been taking part in this unique experience, thereby promoting empathy and tolerance towards “otherness” in the greater public understanding. In 1997 Dialogue in Silence was created as complimentary experience in total silence where participants discover a repertoire of non-verbal expression with the help of hearing impaired guides and trainers.
In 2005, he became the first “Ashoka-Fellow” in Western Europe and the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship appointed him as “Outstanding Global Social Entrepreneur”.
In 2009, Heinecke founded the Dialogue Social Enterprise GmbH to establish an umbrella for all current and future projects, the latest one being Dialogue with Time, created together with his wife Orna Cohen and opened its doors in Israel in August 2012. The exhibition guides are seniors from 70 years up and visitors experience aging and can enter to a dialogue of generations.
Since 2011, Andreas took a Professorship at the Danone Chair for Social Business at the European Business School in Wiesbaden, Germany.
New Entrepreneur Program is a YSBA Pilot Program that will be implemented by Yunus Social Business Albania, is a replication of NobinUdyokta (New Entrepreneur) Program, a new dimension in the development of Social Business in Bangladesh. It enables Grameen family members to grow their micro-businesses to a sustainable size and provide job opportunities. More than 400 businesses have been supported – a success story in the making.
The program encourages young individuals of the community to create employment for themselves as well as others by using their creative, innovative and entrepreneurial skills. The goal of this program,is to convert youth unemployment to entrepreneurship, the inspiration for which comes from Professor Yunus’ words, “We are not job seekers, we are job givers.”
NE will provide small equity-like financing (3k to 8k EUR) to young entrepreneurs in order to realize their dreams and a coach will guide them along the way. After repayment of the seed financing, they fully will own their business – no strings attached.
This pilot aims to provide proof of concept for Europe, based on the success of the same concept used in Bangladesh to be scaled and replicated later on.
YSB accelerator program in Albania helps entrepreneurs develop their ideas into successful startup businesses. The goal of this program is to create jobs, spur innovation, create new business leaders in Albania and the region, give hand-on business education and opportunities, and develop an entrepreneurial network. The third round of the Accelerator Program will be held during November 2015 – February 2016.
- Deadline: Applications will open from July 20th – September 30th 2015 through YSB online platform
- Eligible Applicants: Interested entrepreneurs and wannabe entrepreneurs from Albania and Kosovo who are interested to start or develop their business initiatives, preferably within one of the sectors with high potential for social impact: Agriculture and Local Development or Information Technology. Other sectors can be considered if the startup has an outstanding impact, or an innovative business model. The acceptable business initiatives could be early planning stage, at prototype stage or at growth stage.
Selection of candidates: The selection process will happen during October 1st – October 22th in two stages as follows:
- Evaluation and selection of semifinalists will be done during October 1st – 10th;
- Interviews with the semifinalists will be held from during October 12th – Oct. 20th
- Pitch Day on October 22th where up to 15 winners will be selected
Announcement of winners: YSB will select up to 25 candidates for the Acceleration Program (depending on the quality of applications), with up to 15 winners being announced during October 22th, 2015.
Tuition: The Accelerator Program even this year will be offered for free for the 15 selected participants.
Start your own journey!
Florian Hofmann, Co-Founder and CEO of pixoona, will join our accelerator program as an international expert. Besides his job at Germany-based pixoona he is board advisor to the team of paij, a mobile payment app. Florian brings great experience in team building, leadership and product development to our program. In a first article, he talks about his experiences.
A thrilling idea is born, what is the next step?
You shouldn´t fly solo! The next challenge is to enthrall 2-3 people with your vision and mission-statement. It should be your first reality check: is your idea really generating value for people? Bringing in partners who supplement your blind spots and weaknesses can be the difference in determining success or failure. If you have to “going it alone,” you should make sure that you have access to a support system of trusted mentors and advisers, like Yunus Social Business team, who are willing to help you look at your business objectively and navigate through unexpected events – because they will arise, believe me.
You’ve already founded several Start Ups – Where do you find your investors?
I think that’s a wrong perspective. It’s not about where you can find investors, it’s more about what kind of money do you really look for.
I’m sure the German investment environment for startups is quite different in Albania or the U.S., but for every entrepreneur it’s important to understand the consequences of your choice of investment strategy:
Do you need a proof-of-concept first or do you really just need to scale up? Do you look for a strategic partner or do you need more reach? – There is a source of money for every need.
Family and friends are the first choice for you to look for investment money for the startup, when you’re sure that everyone understands the risk of failure and in the worst case, they would still respect you and accept failure as part of doing business.
Private Business Angels bring in money and expertise. When you get your first good results they are the perfect door-opener for bigger investments.
Crowd funding platforms provide you a low level entry to a broader scene of micro-investors. A positive marketing aspect is that these investors will probably be your first fans and customers, too.
A venture capitalist can transform your dream into a rocket, but be aware of the fact that they’re just managing money of their customers. So the valuation of your company has to be in a realistic relation to your investment-need. They won’t accept investments with a ratio bigger than 25%.
What kind of mistakes should you avoid as a “first time founder”?
Sure, running out of money is one oft the biggest challenges for young businesses. Often this is the consequence of mistakes the founder or management team did in the past:
When we were just starting out, I was still studying Social work and Business Administration. At one point I decided to drop out, because our company was growing faster and faster. I was aware of my gaps in classic management skills, like controlling or financial planning and I had to learn to bring in external expertise for these kinds of tasks in the company. . Don’t wait for that! Perfection means weakness. Don´t fall in love too much with your product. A fast roll out is more important than making sure that the world knows how genius you are.
What are the 3 most important learnings for you?
It’s all about building, testing, learning.
Think Big and Stay Lean: Spark 59 are providing a lot of practical ressources for founders and the book rework from Jason Fried, founder of 37singals, taught me a lot
Launch Early: You´ll never be the only person on the planet with a specific idea. Your idea is worth nothing until you’ve implemented and proofed it. Start with the minimal viable version of your idea/product, test the acceptance and then decide about the most important things to improve for your user’s/customer’s experience.
Measure, Measure, Measure: You have to identify the most important key indicators to control your theory and assumptions. There is no one to blame when your analytics point out that some assumptions were not realistic. These insights can reveal which measures you have to put in place.
What are the most effective tools you are working with? Can you recommend some powerful applications that founders could use?
Wow, let me think… Managing a project has never been easier, thanks to some great online collaboration tools. When trying to coordinate my team for example, the tools I worked with were basecamp and flow. They are both task management tools for managing files, tasks and deadlines in one place. They are not free, but it’s a small and effective investment.
Another very clever tool is IFTTT, a service that connects different web applications together and that lets you create actions with one simple statement, to manage very easily your social postings and stuff like this automatically.
And here is one of my little dirty secrets: For user growth on Facebook we are working a lot with the tool: Social Lead Freak. It’s an application that allows you to extract and export ID-Numbers of groups, fan page-members and events, and migrates these lists into your Facebook Ad-Manager. Instead of just targeting socio-demographic parameters, you can now combine them with personal preferences like group’s memberships, liked pages or events. The site of its provider looks a little fishy, but the app is doing its job very well.
How important is personal support and your social network as a founder?
Besides my co-founders and teammates I really have to say that I never could run my business without the strong support of my wife and family. They backed me up 100% and gave me the emotional support to walk through the valley of disappointments and the fear of failure. And they were willing to pay a price too, because it’s not easy to make time for them like I could in a 9 to 5 job. But with your family and friends you are able to move mountains. So I would like to encourage every reader to really start working on their own things. And don’t fear failure – it’s a chance to strengthen your personality.
Florian Hofmann is co-founder and CEO of pixoona, a startup which develops the same-named photo tagging app revolutionizing communications on images. Besides his job at Wiesbaden-based pixoona he is board advisor to the team of paij, a mobile payment app. After his studies of Social Work and several semesters of Business Administration at the University of Applied Sciences Wiesbaden he worked as Manager of Business Development for the company for more than two years. Before joining pixoona in June 2009 Florian Hofmann was manager of Internal Retail Sales at Berlitz GmbH Deutschland.
There are many issues and needs in the Albanian rural areas specifically in Shengjergj where the unemployment rate is extremely high (35%), families are poor and their lands are empty. The organic farm will produce organic herbs for local and international traders and processors of essential oils. It will also rent plots from farmers and employ them for all works related to land preparation, planting, harvesting, and providing them with a source of income.