Monday, July 29, 2013

Five Questions Any Money Seeking Entrepreneur MUST Be Able to Answer Briefly and Compellingly

Every day, we talk with entrepreneurs who wish to grow or start a business, with the help of other people's money (whether the source is investors, banks, factoring firms, or grants). If you are among them, you HAVE to be able to answer the following five questions, briefly, clearly, and compellingly or you will not get past a first phone call with a legitimate source of funds and each subsequent call to someone else will be a waste of everyone's time. Too often, the entrepreneurs who call us are absolutely stymied by these questions. Don't be like them!

The Questions:

  1. How do you (or how will you) make money?
  2. How much do you wish to raise (or borrow)?
  3. What will you do with the investment (or loan amount)?
  4. How will you pay it back (by date) (or how and when will the investor earn a return on investment)?
  5. What experience do you and your management team have in this industry and with prior investors' money (or loans)?

Why These Questions are Important:

Each question helps your potential lender or investor assess risk and potential reward. If you hem and haw on any of them, you are doomed, because it means that you don't appreciate the risk you are asking that person to take with money he/she has that you lack. A non-answer to any one of these is akin to asking someone to dive into a dark pool without being able to answer the obvious first question, “how deep is it?”

Components of Compelling Answers

  1. The answer to question 1 (How do you make money?) is stronger with any of the following components:
    (a) Multiple revenue streams are better than “one trick ponies” because the variety allows the company to stay afloat even if some products or services fail or take longer to succeed or cost more to develop/deliver than anticipated;
    (b) The revenue projections are not dependent on unlikely scenarios (like huge market share grabs right away or fuel prices lower than they are today or a a shorter sales cycle than is normal for your industry);
    (c) Products and services that are correlated to a variety of economic assumptions are likely to weather the highs and lows of economic cycles better than those that depend only on a high or low. For example, a company might have some offerings attractive in periods of inflation AND recession or when client companies or target populations are growing AND maintaining, aging, and retracting.
    (d) Demonstrate profitability, even if in a small market or by another company.

  1. Questions 2, 3, and 4 are related, even if they are asked separately, so construct your answers with each one in mind. This is because the amount you wish to raise should be directly related to how you plan to use it and that use should enable you to pay back your lender or investor on time and at a profit. For example, if your reason for raising money is “to rent larger office space and pay me a salary,” or “to research the market potential” such answers do not translate into repayment of the loan or investment and therefore do not encourage much confidence. These are faith based answers, like “just trust me.” Why? A compelling answer is one that directly leads to a believable profit. Good answers might sound like this: “We wish to raise $xx in order to increase our manufacturing speed to meet current demand that exceeds our capacity” or “We wish to raise $xx to buy a competitor we believe to be undervalued and that offers a complementary fit with our firm in terms of customer base, geography, and product lines.” Or “this business model has been profitably test marketed (where) and we are now ready to launch it on a larger scale, with $xx for experienced industry sales personnel in the most lucrative markets.”

  2. Your answer to Question 5 indicates your ability to understand and respond to the the risks in the business you propose to run with someone else's money. Managers with a track record of relevant experience are obviously more attractive than those without. Managers who have borrowed money or taken investors' money and returned it, on time, at a profit to the lender or investor are equally appealing. If you have not done the exact thing before to great financial gain (because otherwise you wouldn't need to borrow money, would you?) you can still construct a compelling answer. For example, have a board of advisers experienced in this industry, an excellent credit rating, or prior lines of credit that were paid back on time after being used well. Have a list of pertinent referrals from professionals in your current and prior industries. If you are an expert in the pertinent field, who knows it? Have you published papers, delivered speeches? If not, write some and put them on your website or send out press releases. Neither costs much. Become an expert in your field. Research other public and private companies in this sector, join relevant professional associations, subscribe to pertinent journals.

    There is nothing more embarrassing than talking to an entrepreneur who knows less about his/her industry than we do, especially when we don't consider ourselves expert, but just educated business people. Compelling answers could include variants of: “I have x years of experience in this aspect of the industry, and have assembled a management team and advisory board that excels in the other areas we need to anticipate and respond to the market potential.” Or “I am a serial entrepreneur who has run xxx number of companies in other industries and sold them at a profit (or returned investors' money) in most cases and learned hard and lasting lessons when I didn't. I have succeeded by a set of priorities that has guided me in each of the prior companies and will do so in this one, too. Those priorities are xyz.” Or “I have several patented game changing innovations that will enable our targeted client companies to deliver results faster, cheaper and better than their competitors.”


If you can't answer these questions well, don't pick up the phone to ask for money. Put your time, instead, into learning more about your industry or surrounding yourself with others who know it better than you do. They can help you not only answer these questions, but build a profitable company. Who knows. You may never need to borrow a dime to make a dollar.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Of Mosquitoes and Moose: Part 2: Mosquitoes

Alaska is famous for animals big and small, and perhaps the most noteworthy large and tiny are moose and mosquitoes. June is the time we see a lot of both here at the cabin. We kill swarms of the latter but enjoy watching the former. Here follow some anecdotes about them this year. This article is about mosquitoes; the prior one is about our neighboring moose.

Mosquitoes in Alaska are something of a marvel to me. How can something with no exoskeleton survive winters at 30 below zero? REI offers nothing that competes with the winter resilience of these survivors.

This spring, our lake didn't even thaw until May 30. (We kayaked through ice floes that day, feeling like Ernest Shackleton). Still, the newest generation of mosquitoes emerged, en masse, like something out of the Book of Revelations, only two weeks later, and were the worst I had experienced in the past five summers. They were fast and aggressive, biting me through my gardening gloves and pants and hair, flying freely into and within the cabin, and even penetrating the mosquito netting under which we sleep. My husband slept wearing a head net, a cap, long sleeved T shirt and pants – under the full bed mosquito net. I awoke with welts on my scalp under my hair.
Bed under mosquito netting;
lights powered by solar/wind

We had Florida guests for a weekend during this period and the husband, by his own admission, emerged from the guest cabin looking like the “Elephant Man” - he was so swollen from insect bites (although he admitted that he didn't appreciate why we had a mosquito net over the bed (“in Alaska?”)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Of Moose and Mosquitoes, Part 1: Moose

Alaska is famous for animals big and small, and perhaps the most noteworthy large and tiny are moose and mosquitoes. June is the time we see a lot of both here at the cabin. We kill swarms of the latter but enjoy watching the former. Here follow some anecdotes about them this year. This article is about moose; the following one is about mosquitoes.

Of ungulates, Southeast Alaska has deer (3 feet at shoulder), northern Alaska has caribou and reindeer (which are domesticated caribou) (4 feet at the shoulder) and our area has moose (6 feet at the shoulder). Elk have been introduced, too. Moose are HUGE. They are not only much taller, but also much bulkier than these other animals. Adults weigh between 1200 and 2000 pounds (compared to a light boned Wisconsin deer of 300 pounds). In fact, I understand that they are the largest species on the American continents, unless you count bison, which are shorter but even heavier.

June calf near blue kayak for size comparison 
Moose calves are born in May/early June, and they walk nearly immediately, to be less vulnerable to predators (bear and wolf), which kill one out of three during their first year. We see them once our “yard” greens up. The mother must be ravenous at that point after a long winter, particularly when she is pregnant. Can you imagine being a 1200 pound pregnant herbivore rummaging around through 8 foot snow looking for willow branches to keep up your weight and strength!!!!? 

Right outside the window, munching on fireweed
Our current “Mom” looks enormous – her legs are probably five feet long. Her coloring exactly matches the spruce bark, and it amazes me how something so large can virtually disappear mere yards from my position. The other day, I watched her scarf up fireweed, elderberry, and cranberry bushes as she ambled past our cabin on her way toward young birch trees along the lake. Even though I saw where she had gone and could see the movement of the birch branches being stripped of leaves, I could no longer see the moose herself. This experience reminded me of that movie, "Predator," in which you can't see the alien bad guy himself, just his movement. All ungulates can be quiet, but these huge beasts are far more stealthy than one would expect of such an unwieldy looking animal traversing ground covered with dead leaves and broken branches. One dawn, my husband was startled when he opens curtains to see a moose two feet beyond the glass. “Good morning, neighbor!” Another time we startled a buck that was lying down in the blueberry thicket. It is probably the calves that we hear first, as they trot along behind their mother, trying to keep up with her long strides. In June, I don't see the little ones eating much greenery. Rather, they reach up to nurse whenever Mom stops to eat a shrub or branch or to investigate a sound or smell with her large ears and nose.

Friday, July 12, 2013

How to Make Birch Sap Beer

My husband has made his own beer for several years, and this spring, we decided to make our first batch of birch sap beer, inspired by a couple whose B&B we visited near Talkeetna.  It was very tasty. Below is our experience of collecting, making, and tasting the result. 

(At the bottom of this blog entry, I list several useful resources for readers who may be interested in exploring their own beer making). 

Bryan bought four taps at Alaska Mill and Feed (, which look like slim, metal spouts, each one about ½ inch in diameter and 3 inches long. Our mentors indicated that the sap starts running around April 20, but the winter of 2012-13 lasted f-o-r-e-v-e-r, including three snow storms in May, so it wasn't until about May 15 that Bryan tapped four birch trees. To do so, he used a ½ inch drill bit to cut an upward angled hole through the bark to the sap layer and inserted the tightly fitting tap. Under this spout, we hung a cleaned vinegar bottle, because the mouth is narrow enough to limit entry of debris and also because we could string a bungy cord through the handle and around the tree to hold it in place.

Each afternoon, we tramped through the increasingly soft and slushy snow surrounding the trees to collect that day's accumulation.  We strained the results through paper coffee filters before pouring the sap into wide mouthed jars that we froze. This was a fun endeavor, especially at that “hold-your-breath” time of year waiting for the winter to finally end and spring to burst forth, as it does here. The running of the sap represented the first discernible sign of spring!  Since we enjoyed this process (and the result) and live in a spruce and birch forest, we plan to involve more trees next year (so we are saving additional vinegar bottles and malt jars!) 

I was surprised how variable the output was. One tree was the champion producer, two others dribbled out negligible results, and a fourth was in between. When the big producer slowed just before the trees started to green up, about ten days later, we removed the taps and caulked the holes. Altogether, we collected about 2.5 gallons.  Over the course of the summer, we will check those holes to make sure that the trees are not "weeping" there.