Cost-Benefit Analysis: Startup Decision Making For Geeks

Decisions make or break startups. So how do you decide whether or not to attempt that project with a lucrative markup? How do you decide between two different alternatives? Who should i marry July or Emily? Turns out that you can analyse the costs and benefits of your decisions, within a “Rough” framework to arrive at answers that make a little sense. The answers however are dependent on some of your assumptions about the variables within the frame work.

Standard Cost Benefit Analysis

In standard cost benefit analysis all one needs to do is make assumptions of the costs and benefits of a particular course of action.

For example if you want to do a cost benefit analyses for project X

First Costs……

Operating costs (Cost of resources used for project): 2000$/month

Fixed cost (Cost Of Project acquisition): 1000$

Opportunity Cost (Cost for opportunities you missed): 1000$/month

Then Benefits…..

Project Revenue: 7000$

Now Net Benefit/Cost (-) = (7000) – (2000*months + 1000*month + 1000)

If months = 1, then net benefit is 3000$ so you go ahead and take the project.
If months = 3, then net cost is 3000$ so you don’t take the project.

This is the bare minimum cost-benefit analysis framework.

Cost benefit analysis for geeks

Ok now onto the geek flavor of cost benefit analysis. This is something i developed and use, so pls do point out any mistakes you can find. Anyway the crappy thing about the above frame work is that there is no flexibility. Your guess for the fixed costs might be wrong and hence your whole analysis might be screwed. So in my framework i make room for uncertainty in the guessed values.

So instead of saying my fixed costs will be 1000$

i’ll say my fixed costs could be 1000$ with 80% probability, 2000$ with 15% probability and 4000$ with 5% probability.

So now the above equation becomes

Cost (-)/benefit = 0.8*((7000) – (2000*months + 1000*month + 1000)) + ((7000) – 0.15*(2000*months + 1000*month + 2000)) + 0.05*((7000) – (2000*months + 1000*month + 1000))

Hence the framework becomes.

Cost (-)/Benefit = (benefit1 – cost1)*Probability Of Outcome1 + …….. + (benefit n – cost n)*Probability Of Outcome n

The above two frameworks are only for cost-benefit for a project with a one time payoff.

What if the decision to be taken requires investment and the Return on investment is expected after many years? All you need to then is to use the time value of money paradigm, which is described in my post startup valuation for geeks.

So if you see any mistakes or have any doubts please do leave a comment. Bye

-Suman

PS: I know the post sucks and is humor less but lately my cost benefit analysis shows that its costlier for me to write a long post with attempts at slapstick.

Entrepreneurship for students II: 11 things to do before you leap

Ok i know your embarassed they made you wear a gown and a dorky looking hat with a horse tail kind of thingy hanging from it. And I know you are beyond furious that they actually made you go on stage infront of your entire class in that ridiculous outfit to accept your degree. In short your triumphant emergence from the drudgery of student life is celebrated by embarassing you infront of 500 people and then expecting you to pose for pictures to capture this moment for an eternity. Yup convocations can be painful, but hey you get to laugh at all your other friends while they are onstage and you get to throw those dorky hats, so it doesn’t suck that bad. On the flipside all you have to do now is decide what to do with the rest of your life. No sweat, this is only like the most important decision ever which can screw your entire life up, yey! While you are pondering over the “what next” sweating like a pig(did anyone actually see a pig sweat(get back to me if you have)) you have this great itch for entrepreneurship that is begging to be scratched. Ever since you saw some crappy article on some blog this itch has only grown. Finally you decide entrepeneurship is for you and want to jump into the madness and insanity that is a startup. Not so fast buddy, undecide what you have just decided. There are things you need to do before you take that leap.

BTW this part is the shameless self promotion of my articles in this series so feel free to skip ahead.
Entrepreneurship for students I : 11 reasons why you need start now
Entrepreneurship for students II : 11 things to do before you leap
Entrepreneurship for students III : 11 Myths about student entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship for students IV : 11 things to expect before you leap

1. Introspect

At the risk of sounding redundant please let me repeat what poorna and I have already said “Know thyself”. Ask yourself “why you want to be an entrepeneur?” Not surprisingly that question has all kinds of right and wrong answers.

Right answers
1. I have a passion for building a good company.
2. I have a great idea which if executed well will make me a lot of money.
3. I love the entrepreneur life style.(this can be a wrong answer too given your knowledge of the entrepreneur lifestyle)
4. I want to invest my time for exponential Rate of return even if there is risk instead of the steady Rate of return that a job provides.
many more…….

Wrong answers
1. Steve jobs was an entrepreneur, I luv steve jobs.
2. Tom, dick and harry are doing it why can’t I?
3. Hey the job title ‘entrepreneur’ sounds cool.
4. Because suman(or anyone else) told me to(very bad reason).
many more……..

It’s very important to be aware of all your reasons to be an entrepreneur. It is also important to scrutinize these ideas to withstand the stupidity test. People who are risk averse, easily influenced by others, afraid of failure should understand what entrepreneurship really entails before they decide wether it is their cup of tea. Realizing that you were not meant for entrepreneurship after a couple of months in will really spoil your day.

2. Get your shit together

Entrepreneurship and being an entrepreneur is a luxury and privilege few students can afford. Most wannabe entrepreneurs are kept at bay by the realities of everyday life. A typical graduate in india is expected to support his family. He/she is expected to earn and pay off the umpteen loans and needs of the house. When the vehicle, home and education loan come calling and expect you to pay up every month, starting your business might not be a good idea. Your first responsibility is to your family and the people around you. which means you have to hold off your dreams until “more important things” are taken care of. Don’t count on a steady stream of income when you are an entrepreneur. So get your financial affairs and responsibilities straight and fulfill them before you think about entrepreneurship. For the lucky few of us that needn’t worry about anyone else except themselves, consider yourself really, really lucky and make the best of your situation.

3. Round up the gang

The lone founder is a creature seldom seen in the bootstrapping startup circle, and with good reason. Being an entrepreneur is like being an entire office all by yourself, you need to be the clerk, programmer, boss, accountant, marketer, evangelist and a million more things. Though an enterpreneur is supposed to be a generalist rather than a specialist, not everyone can do all things well. A co-founder or a bunch of them will lighten the load on your shoulders while increasing your venture’s odds for success. The team can afford to have specialists so you have the “horses for courses” option. I also find that the more intelligent people there are around the harder it is for bullshit ideas to survive. For the student entrepreneur a support structure is also very important and vital reducing the cumulative downtime of individuals(if ur down ur buddies will kick ur ass to happy town). What im getting at is that a founding team is essential and a good idea for a student entrepreneur. As a general rule the older you are past your college years the harder it is to find co-founders. So get your team together.

4. What do you want?

It is important that every member of team be aware of what every other member on the team wants and expects from the planned venture. This is the step where most prospective co-founders are filtered away. There are certain core values, beliefs and perspectives that all the co-founders must share, and any compromise on these would most likely lead to conflicts in the future when they will be much more detrimental to the venture and will be harder to diffuse. For example if you believe in bootstrapping and your co-founders think that external funding is the only way to go then that doesn’t exactly seem like a good match, Similarly if you want to grow your company and your co-founder wants to build something and flip it then that doesn’t exactly spell ‘two of a kind’. This does not mean that different perspectives are undesirable, often conflict is a good thing and different perspectives aid in complementing each other to achieve the common goal. The short mantra is “like minded in core, complementary perspectives otherwise.”

5. What’s your business?

This is a not a toughie, before you begin your business you must know what your business is(I know my phrasing sounds stupid and condescending(what do i care, its my blog hehehehe)). Sit down and decide what you are going to do. Are you going to make and sell software? What kind of software? Do you want to get into E-commerce? If you dont have a narrow idea which is a good place for any startup to begin with, then formulate a broad business plan like “I am going to turn man hours into money(software services company)” or “Im going to turn patentable innovation into money”(selling high IP solutions). Validate your business plan or idea as much as you can before you get into it. You must answer questions like “Will people buy this?”, “Is our product unique?”…..

6. Role Play

What role are you and your co-founders going to play in the venture. Who is the people person is he going to be the evangelist and the vp of marketing. Who is the techie/geek does he have the discipline to be the CTO. Ofcourse these are decisions that cannot be taken at the outset but everyone should at the least be aware of their rough responsibilities and ownerships right at the outset like the techie, the money guy, the seller, the lead generator, so on and so forth. However no one should be a specialist and be limited to a small part of the operations of the company, everyone must be involved in everything as much as possible until it starts getting detrimental. The reason for this is that the team should recover and pick up the slack immediately if one of the members decides to leave. So a bunch of allrounders with a bias towards complementary specializations is the need of the day here.

7. Network

It’s never too early to start networking. The network is very important for a startup and it allows you to reach prospective clients while finding partners who you can complement and who can complement you. However one must be weary of the kind of people you need to network with. Often you will come across people that look very good on paper but in reality turn out to be nothing more than bandwidth hogs. The yard stick for any strategic partnership is the amount of mutual benefits. The point cannot be stressed enough, put your connections into perspective. The contact should be beneficial not detrimental and when you are a naive student who is full of energy its pretty hard to differentiate the beneficial and detrimental prospects(its hard enough for the more experienced ones). Help out your peers whenever you can and when you need your back scratched really badly someone will help you out.

8. Mentor

Find a mentor. Better yet find a set of mentors. The tech startup community is by nature very helpful, accommodating and forward so if you prove you will not be a waste of their time you can find good mentors. It is wise to learn from the mistakes and successes of others. Putting your mentors on a pedestal however might not be a good idea and at the end of the day all advice should be taken as just that advice and nothing more. It is you who must consider your every step from all angles and ultimately decide what to do even if it means going against your mentor’s advice. So take all advice from your mentors with a pinch of salt. Also as a rule a lot of advice that people dole out is nothing more than bullshit(including me(not)). One should offer a stake in the venture to the mentor if you think he is valuable enough to the future of the company. However this kind of stake will attract a lot of charlatans and pretenders who can’t add any real value and yet will promise you the sky.

9. The sponge

Be a sponge and absorb all the information that you can about starting and running a business. Your ventures future depends upon how well and how fast you can negotiate the learning curve that a startup requires. Do you know what cost-benefit analysis is? What about product lifecycle? And a gazillion other things. So learn, learn, learn and convert that knowledge into action as fast as possible. Take care that you aren’t caught flat footed on any issues that you should know. If you don’t know ask ex:”should our venture be a partnership firm or a LLC?”

10. The Sitdown

This is probably the most difficult thing you might have to do before you start your own venture, Convince your family that this is a good idea. Ofcourse first they are going to point at you and start laughing as if you just told them that

Ze Look

you would be an astronaut, that is until it sinks in. Once they realize you are not kidding their expression changes and their jaw drops with their mouth wideopen not believeing the words coming out of your mouth. Then you get ‘the look’. What is ‘the look’? you ask. Well it is the most dreadful heart melting expression that makes grown men cry. You know

the sort of look ‘puss in boots’ gives shrek in shrek 2. But don’t let this stop you, explain to them that you have thought his through and tell them what your plan is. Tell them that you know there is risk involved and have not ruled out failure as an option. Tell them this is what you’d like to do and that anything else would make you feel trapped and unhappy. And because they are your family and would want the best for you, they will agree if your idea isn’t something a numbskull concocted on his bad hair day.

11. Get a rich girlfriend

Better believe it, once you start your venture you can’t afford to have a normal girlfriend. For one thing your phone bill alone will bankrupt your company. So get yourself a rich girlfriend if you have to. Infact don’t think “girlfriend” think “angel investor”. Ofcourse it would help if the angel is hot, beautiful and wants to pamper you every chance she gets. And the best thing is you don’t have to get her gifts citing your nonexistent startup revenues.

Anyway my shitty attempt at comedy, and the fact that i could only think of 10 good things and had to fill the list with one sexist thing aside this was a pretty long article. So be vocal about your opinions people and if anything seems like bullshit please call it. Bye Bye.

-Suman

Entrepreneurship for students I : 11 reasons why you need to start now

The end of your “good life” is tumbling towards you like an avalanche. For 20 odd years you have been living off your parents genetic imperative to feed you. But now that well has dried up, worse still everyone is expecting you to stand on your own feet. I know, I know, if life was fair we could all be mooching off of our parents our whole life. But guess what, life is a female dog. So now you need to get your act together and decide what you’ll do for the rest of your life. Well if you are one of those rare people who have a passion for entrepreneurship, look no further. Just sit back and let me convince you why starting your own business right now is not as crazy as you think it is.

This is going to be part I in a series of articles on entrepreneurship for students like the following….
Entrepreneurship for students I : 11 reasons why you need start now
Entrepreneurship for students II : 11 things to do before you leap
Entrepreneurship for students III : 11 Myths about student entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship for students IV : 11 things to expect before you leap
and more ……….

First i know there must be a searing question that has been eating you right from the moment you saw the title(and even if it didn’t i bet its eating you now.). Why 11? well the simple reason is im sick of “10 tips” lists all over the internet and im also sick of “12 steps to” programs derived from AA(alcoholics anonymous) framework. So (me + judgement call) = 11 points baby. And also im going to spare you the pretentious jedi bullshit that poorna has been slathering his articles with (“Young padwan”). Don’t tell poorna but he thinks he’s ‘obi wan kenobi’ or ‘yoda’ or something. As for me i have a much better grip on reality and know that the only way is the way of the dark side. So you may refer to me by my title “darth vader”. That’s “Sir Darth” to you poorna. Anyway enough about the ways of the force, let’s get cracking on why you need to start now. First let me give you a preview of what your life is going to be like if your passion is entrepreneurship and you don’t start right now. The non-entrepreneur life cycle…..

Normal Life Cycle

1. Your not getting any younger

This is simultaneously the simplest, stupidest and the most logical reason why you should be getting into entrepreneurship right now. If you want to be in the startup business then its going to be tough on you physically and psychologically and 50 isn’t exactly your most energetic age. And as a general rule the older you are the less likely you’ll be starting a venture. Even paul graham is of the opinion that 20ish is the ideal time for someone to get thier own software startup. Besides my bias towards starting early, many points below will also make the case for starting as early as possible.

2. Ability to live like a hobo(Low Burn Rate)

While we are students we have this unique supernatural ability to live on an almost non existential cash flow. This is the Top ramen, Bathe once a week, what is detergent? lifestyle. But these powers somehow vanish once you become a corporate stooge and start spending heavy and fast on even the basic necessities of life. Water becomes a latte grande, a bus ride becomes 10 gallons of gas(petrol), lays become a ‘power lunch’, your annoying company becomes and ‘expensive date’… so on and so forth. This ability of students to sustain themselves with a very low burn rate over long periods of time becomes indispensable when you are an entrepreneur trying to bootstrap your venture.

3. Golden Handcuffs

I call this pehnomenon ‘the dream killer’. Most wannabe entrepreneurs get drawn into this trap like a moth to a flame. You are a year or so into your job and you have gotten used to your healthy pay check and the amenities it affords you. Even though your job sucks and that’s not what you want to do you still do it to keep your lifestyle going. Wether you work or just pretend to work, you will have a check waiting for you always. Your used to the instant gratification lifestyle and are terrified at the prospect of this stream of income drying up. Which is what will happen if you quit and try to start your own venture. You then fall into this endless circle of wanting to quit of your job, but realizing in the back of your head that you have golden handcuffs on and you dont want to let go of them. So start your venture once you graduate and avoid chasing the carrot they dangle in front of you.

4. Only you get screwed

When you are a fresh graduate and your venture or ventures fail, its you who gets screwed and no one else. But if you fail in the same fashion 10 years later your spouse, your children’s trust funds and all your dependents will feel the impact. As you can see most people have a very small window of opurtunity to fail, from their mid 20’s to their early 30’s beyond which people around them start to bare the brunt of the failure. This is the reason why there are so little first time entreprenuers that start when they have a young family.

5. Can’t loose what you ain’t got

When you begin with nothing(no capital) and try to bootstrap your venture like most young entrepreneurs do, you have little to loose other than your time. On the other hand if you launch a venture after you have been working for a couple of years, more often than not you are going to have a higher intial investment and burn rate. Here the young entrepreneur can afford to fail and as a result is able to tackle high risk high rewards ventures. However when a major investment of capital your own capital is involved high risk ventures don’t exactly seem that attractive. A fresh graduate has better downsides to most ventures than someone who has worked for a couple of years. However they share the same or similar upsides to most ventures.

6. Not constrained by the system

‘Thinking outside the box’ is a popular industry mantra that everyone preacher. But this however becomes difficult to do if you are part(employee) of the system. The tendency of any system is to maintain its inertia and that’s the reason why innovations always seem to come from small groups that are isolated from the system. Do you think larry and sergey would be wanting to build a better search engine if they were working for yahoo. For a student this proverbial “Box” is still just a word. As he/she hasn’t been exposed to a constrained thought process he/she is more likely to come up with an innovative or “out of the box” solution to any problem that might present itself.

7. Diverse options

You are fresh out of college, so what product are you going to build. Well your guess is as good as mine. This is the beauty of being a young entrepreneur. You have the basic skill sets and the ability to make a good product and you can choose any direction you wish based on the market, oppurtunity, know how. If you however have been working for a couple of years for a storage solutions company, we can bet good money that most people can predict which market your venture is going to be aimed at. This is because you are comfortable with your area of expertise and your market and cannot take the chance of venturing into new and unknown markets. Once again the student entrepreneur wins out as far as the sheer number of chances he can take with different markets and products.

8. Fail early fail often

Though few people realize it, failure is a very important part of an entrepreneur’s life. There is no better way to keep you grounded in reality than a failure. The earlier and the more often you fail the better it is. Failures in the early stages wont impact your upcoming projects and products as much, while at the same time providing an invaluble experience. If you are however a late entrepreneur you can’t afford to fail, but that does not mean you are not going to fail. So a student entrepreneur can take many shots while late bloomers get to take only a few.

9. High risk tolerance

As i said earlier the younger and the more bankrupt you are, the more ridiculous your ventures can afford to be. It is often the case that “Great Ideas” look like very “Stupid Ideas” (Scott adams agrees). When steve jobs and steve wozniak went to hp execs with their home built computer they were laughed out of the office citing “Who would ever want a personal computer?” When sergey and larry approached yahoo to tell them they can improve search results the reply they got was “who’s looking for a better search engine? People don’t care.” I bet any VC would be rolling on the floor laughing if you pitched a “Blogging” platform to him some time in 1998. High risk ventures allow you to in rare cases look ahead of the curve and even define the curve in sometimes. As already seen young entrepreneurs have a high risk tolerance and this affords them the latitude to attempt high risk innovations.
10. No more mundane jobs

You definitely dont have to be worried about getting stuck in a job that doesnt challenge and tingle your intellectual and physical potential. When you are a young entrepreneur you are like an entire company onto yourself, so you’ll have tons of work that will allow you to meet your potential and exceed it. You’ll often find that you have skills that you never knew you had(not like flying or laser eye beams). When you compare this to your usual mundane job which seems like an endless cycle of being someone else’s codemonkey, it’s a no brainer which you would be rather doing given the choice. On the oneside you have strobe lights, cubicles and an endless supply of work that doesnt lead anywhere. On the other side passion, challenges, risk and your chance to make the world a better place(atleast for some people, most importantly yourself).

11. Bragging rights

Ok your at a bar, this totally hot chick is sitting next to you. Both you and another unfortunate being make a move on her at the same time. So you have this awkward 3 way discussion going on…

Poor guy: So what do you do?

Hot Chick: Im a model.

You: You mean like a model model, with the swimsuits and everything (drooling)

Hot Chick: Yeah. So what do you guys do?

Poor guy: Well im a project leader for a random MNC with an Obscure Sounding product.

Hot Chick: Really! Interesting, and you?

You: Oh nothing much, Just have a big, large, huge(garage) company of my own with employees(your cofounders and you) and stuff. (Ofcourse she doesn’t know your company doesn’t have revenue yet)

Hot Chick: Really! What do you guys make?

You: you know google? we are in the same business(you make an intranet search application).

…………… and so on while the project leader fades into obscurity. But ofcourse later the hot chick’s boy friend shows up with his ferrari. But for now ur invincible.

And on that note we conclude this installment of student entrepreneurship. We leave with the life cycle of a student entrepreneur. Contrast it with the normal life cycle.

Entrepreneur life cycle

-Suman

PS: Leave comments on the following.

Q1) Does this article series suck?

Q2) Does the extermely orange header image suck?

Q3) Darkside or the jedi way which is the way of the force?

Startup valuation for geeks

Valuation is the process of coming up with the market value of a company. This means that any investor who is on the right side of sane will see the valuation of the company before he even sneezes in your direction. Yet to most techies and geeks ‘valuation of a company’ looks like ‘?%&*#$@!?%&*#$@!?%&*#$@!'(martian symbols). Me being the philanthropist(ego maniac) I am, could not let those ‘money types’ blabber away about stuff like valuations, return on investments and discounted cash flow. Instead i decided to put my ‘amature quack’ status to good use by preaching my own brand of geek friendly finance. Anyway im all set to venture into the deepest darkest corners of the universe where few geeks have ever been before for your benifit. In case i fail miserably be kind and point my mistakes(Then you can be rutheless and point and laugh(comeon where is the fun when not kicking somedboy who is down) ).Anyway let me start by telling you why geeks(startup geeks) should understand valuations.

Reason 1: Stop kidding yourself(Know Thyself)

Most startup founders tend to believe that their brilliant idea is worth millions. As it turns out most of the time a brilliant idea is just that an idea. One of the best things to do for a startup is to stay grounded in reality instead of fantasy. Dont get me wrong, dreams should and do drive you but what you should be worried about are illusions. Valuation of your company forces you to deal with the reality of what your value is based on for the most part solid data and for some part conservative estimates. Hence a valuation of your startup can give you a clear picture of how “valuble” your company is which is much more relevant to you as you are investing your precious time in it. If you feel that your not getting good return on your investment then its time to reasses your companies goals and policies. Hence valuation can serve as a good tool of introspection for your company.

Reason 2: Bullshit Filter

Know that the value of your company can act as a filter against all the bullshit figures others(investors) will come up with. It is always the investor’s imperative to undervalue your company, i’ll explain why. Suppose your scouring the market for a company to buy and come across the company ‘SuckersAreUs’. Well as it tutns out the founders of the company are all suckers and dont really know how much their company is worth. What do you do? well you say “Aaaah! your company isnt so gr8(even though you know it is) no one is going to pay 5 million for it.” The suckers not knowing their own value agree to be bought out at 3million dollars. What you have just bought a 5 million dollar company for 3 million dollars. Im not suggesting that all investors try to take you for a ride, but its good to know the approximate value of your company so that you will be protected against people trying to hussle you out of what is rightfully yours. On the flipside you must also take your valuation of the company with a pinch of salt as some of your assumptions might be off. Look at the friendster story. Its living proof of how wrong valuation assumptions by the company can spell doom. As they say valuation is more art than science and sometime ur art can really suck.

Reason 3: Makes you look cool

nuff said.

And now presenting to the world, “suman’s framework for startup valuations”(trumpets in the background playing pompous tunes). Before we start with the framework though let me explain what my reasoning behind this kind of a framework is so that you could point out some obvious blunder i committed and i could correct it.

Value of a company

How can one quantify the value of a company? Well in financial terms there are many ways to do this but let us try to approach this from the logical point of view. Let us begin by asking ourselves the simple question…

Q) What does a company do?

A) A company or business in general acquires resources or materials at price ‘x’ produces product ‘A’ and sells it at a price ‘y’. The company makes a profit when ‘y’>’x’. Where the price of both ‘y’ and ‘x’ are decided by their supply and demand in a normal market environment.

Value Addition

From the above we see that ‘x’ is the value of the resources which are input into the company and ‘y’ is the value of the product which is the output of the company. The value discrepancy(Y>X) can be taken as the quantification of the value added by the company. Hence value addition of the company and consequently the value of the company can be determined using this approach. Here one has to take note that the value or the price of the input resources are taken individually for each resource. This is done because any possible integration of the resources can add value or make the resources more costly. For example google’s 1600 strong research team is worth more than the same 1600 researchers existing independently out in the market. Here the value of sum of all parts is definitely higher than the value of the parts. So you might be thinking how can one quantify something like “myspace”. Well you just assign a value(price) to each user, page hit or content unit and the cumulative value of all these units is the value of the products produced. And if your company is a startup without any customers yet, then look at your competition and make a conservative estimate looking at their sales and projecting what your sale might be. worse still if you are a high ip startup with zero customers and zero competition then you have to find some way to gauge the latent demand for your product in the market, without which you might as well be randomly picking a number as the value of your company at this point.
In the above diagram and paragraph we were able to quantify the value of the company only in one product they produced. In order to determine the value of the company let us extrapolate the above to say the following. The value of the company is

Value of products over a period ‘T'(VOP) – Value of resources over period ‘T'(VOR) = Value of the company over a period ‘T’

here ‘T’ is usually one year. Yeeeeeeeeeeeeey we have the value of the company finally! Not so fast skippy, we still have a lot to go through. You see the value of an investment is slightly more complicated than that. The purpose of investing money is to make more money. Which means it doesnt just matter what the value of your company is today, of more importance is what the projected value of what the company is a few years down the line. Let me explain this in detail.

There are 2 companies, company ‘GoGetters’ Company ‘Slackers’

Company ‘slackers’ is a multi million dollar company with huge assets

Today’s net assets 12 million dollars………………………………Projected net assets in 5 years 15million

Company ‘GoGetters’ is a small company

Today’s net assets is 1 million dollars……………………………..Projected net assets in 5 years 5 million

Now given 500,000$ to invest, which company would you invest in? If you said the ‘slackers’ u are one and if you said ‘GoGetters’ u are correcto. As you can see the second company gives higher returns on my investment than the first one. Hence if i was an investor i would also asses the value of the company not just with today’s cash flow but also the cash flow that is expected in the future.
So now the formula morphs into

value = (VOP1 – VOR1) + (VOP2 – VOR2) + (VOP3 – VOR3) ……

here 1,2,3 .. represent the years where 1 is now and 2 is over the next year so on and so forth.

But there is another problem here, you see 1$ today is more than 1$ tomorrow. Similarly 100$ today is more than 100$ 5 years from now. This is called inflation where the money today is worth more than money tomorrow. There is also a certain risk here because except the first year all the other years are projections of what the value might be. Hence if it is a high risk industry where either demand or supply of both product and resources can fluctuate then this risk needs to be taken into account. Another thing that also needs to be discounted for is the value of no risk investment, which means if you put your money in a bank instead of in the company you’ll be getting 5% or 6% return on your investment every year and this needs to be taken into accound when discounting projected future values.

So we need to discount

i = inflation

r = risk

n = rate of returns for no risk investment

Now the formula morphs into……..

value = (VOP1 – VOR1) + (VOP2 – VOR2)/(1+(i+r+n)) + (VOP3 – VOR3)/(1+(i+r+n))*(1+(i+r+n)) ……

Note here that we did not discount for the present year this is because our investment is at the current inflation, with no risk and no interest. Now let us see how this works with an example.

First and foremost we need to assign values to the variables

i = 2% rate of inflation.

r = 3% risk.

n = 5% rate of no risk return.

vop1 = 200, vor1 = 100

vop2 = 300, vor2 = 200

vop3 = 250, vor2 = 200

when we substitute in the above formula we get ( i left the calculation to you, check wether im right)
value = 232.22

So if you float 100 shares of your company each is worth 2.3222 after the valuation. One must make conservative estimates of all the above variables and that too only projected to 4 to 5 years in the future. Beyond which such assumptions are not meaningfully possible. The above framework can also be viewed as a different take on discounted cash flow method check it out for more info. And another thing since this is for startups im taking year 1 as the first year of operation. If this is not the case with you then you have to add Net Present Value to the above equations.

Net Present Value = value of the company before the earnings of this year(VOP1 – VOR1), Which could mean the earnings of the previous years of operation. So the entire formulat will be……

value = NPV + (VOP1 – VOR1) + (VOP2 – VOR2)/(1+(i+r+n)) + (VOP3 – VOR3)/(1+(i+r+n))*(1+(i+r+n)) ……

And that’s that for today boys and girls. I’ve been sleeping on the keyboard for the past hour so all the above could be random key strokes. Bye

-Suman

Planning For Success

Why do you think the same five guys make it to the final table of the World Series of Poker EVERY YEAR? What, are they the luckiest guys in Las Vegas? Mike McDermott, Rounders

Can success be planned for? This I guess is a fundamental question every entreprenuer should ask himself/herself(Yeah yeah politcally correct blah blah) and strive to find the answer to. The very notion of success being planned for, or in other words ,the predictability of success for a course of action seems absurd at its best. Are we naive in asking ourselves the question when we know that 9 out of 10 ventures fail? Well I think and hope that we are not. So how should we even attempt to find an answer to this question?

The Genesis
I like many other people used to, and still to some extent take decisions based on gut instinct. There was no formulaic way in which decisions or ideas were approached. Then during the short time I was co-founder of Advetta i met Rajan my antithesis in regard to ‘decision making’. Interaction with Rajan was one of the best things I retained from my stay at Advetta and I learnt a lot from him. He was a guy that played chess(metaphorically of course) all day long. For every step to be taken, we would bring to the table the analysis of all the possible consequences we could think of for that step and Rajan would try to quantify in a mathematical (I know i lost all non geeks here) way how one step was better than another. I am not saying we always made the right decisions or such a process will always lead to the right decision, but atleast we were working within a framework that attempts to reach the best possible decision. Which made me ask myself can’t we extend this to plan success?

Success? Planning? What does it mean?
First lets try to understand what “planning for success” means. The only thing that is certain right at the outset is that success is never certain (Hehehehe pun intended and gotcha!). Success here is not about an absolute certainity but a probability which in English would mean “we don’t need to win or loose we simply need to win more times than we loose“. When we attempt to plan for success we are attempting to create a framework or science which would increase our probability or chances of being successful. With this framework if we fail only 8 out of 10 time we are already more successful than the average Subramaniam/Kumar (the india version of the average joe). So to put it in a nutshell….

“a good plan for success should ensure a higher statistical probability of success”

Is this too much to ask for? Can there be no scientific (systematic) way in which we can approach this problem and attempt a solution. To the casual observer this might indeed seem so, these are the people that feel its a game of chance and that most successes are just a result of pure dumb luck. Yet what they fail to realize is that many people consistently make a killing at stuff that to the layman seems like gambling. “Consistent success” is the key factor to consider here. At this point lets indulge in little logical rambling shall we….

  • Consistent Success means success at higher probability than the norm
  • Probability that this consistent success is because of luck – Is very very low (decreases as consistency increases)
  • Probability that this consistent success is a result of a system that works(atleast for the time) – Very Very High

So a person who is consistently successful in a high risk market is advertently or inadvertently using a broad system or a broad set of rules to do it. Now that we have established that consistent success in a high risk environment is more the result of a good framework or system than luck let us look at one such scenario.

The `Stock Market’

Speculation in the stock market is the crucible for our assumptions that success can be planned for. There is probably no better or easier way to demonstrate that in the long run luck won’t get you anywhere and even simple well formulated ways of building and maintaining a stock portfolio can result in enormous returns. In fact speculation in the stock market has given rise to computer software that can consistently make profits given the appropriate statistical data regarding the stock market and external factors. In essence…

Statistical Data => System => profit

So a system working on certain assumptions and real world data can consistently generate profits. Another important lesson from stock speculation is “Dont put all your eggs in one basket” aka Diversification. Spread your risk, diversify your investments on many levels. Such a strategy would more often than not give you better downside protection.

Coming to the high risk world of Technological entrepreneurship, can we come up with some sort of a broad system to build ventures which would more often than not succeed? Well that is our hope at this point, we can’t say wether we or anyone else can come up with one such system, but we intend to attempt to find the solution as scientifically as possible. Here unlike the stock market there are hardly any precedents and they keep changing fast. But how can one build or discover such a system not just for startups but any other field where a systematic approach to success is possible. Following is a broad list of guidelines we intend to follow to arrive at such a system. Note that this is not a list on how to achieve at success but how to build a plan that delivers success at a high probability.
1. Define goals the plan or system tries to achieve

You can’t reach your destination if you don’t know what your destination is. Think what you are planning to achieve. If you are not too sure about the specifics define broad goals(hehehehe that is what we are doing), you can fill in the specifics later. For example my goal could be “My plan or framework should achieve 80% leads to sales conversion.”

2. Trial and error

Try and avoid error part of this as much as possible
– Learn from other peoples mistakes and successes.
– What works, why it works…
And trial and error is as necessary to arrive at a comprehensive plan for success if you are not committing errors you have luckily stumbled upon one possible path to while all other paths are closed. Only through friction can the true nature of the system be perceived.

3. DATA, DATA, DATA, DATA, DATA, DATA…

Oh and have i mentioned data. The crux of any scientific study is based on data and lots of it. Collect data from every angle possible, on everything possible. Once the data is collected and observed an inference or a hypothesis can be reached that tries to arrive at the end result from the given data. This at the very highest level is an attempt to discover how the system produces observed results for done actions.

And now the above paragraph in english. Imagine you own a chain of restaurants and you notice one day that the profits in winter are low. You don’t understand why? Now you go back to all the detailed data you have been collecting regarding your chain. You see that your sales in colder regions of the country are falling off drastically when compared to your partners only in the cold parts of the country while your sales in the warmer parts of the country are more or less the same. Once we have things in this perspective we can reach one of several conclusions…
Your chefs suck in winter – low probability
Customers in cold places are crazy – low probability
Your supply chain is not sourcing fresh ingredients in winter – High probability
Once again data saves the day!

At the end of all this, what we hope to have is a comprehensive system that delivers success with a higher probability. So begins our journey into the abyss of the unknown, unheard and unseen (A bit of melodrama for our female readers just so they know we may be smart but we are also sensitive and caring(who cares girls always seem to go for the jerks with a high probability (that should be your “scientific” plan for bagging a girl, be a jerk(wow too many brackets))).

-Suman