Q: What kinds of questions will potential investors ask when I present my business plan?
A: Investors ask questions about anything and everything. Be prepared for questions about your opportunity, you, your deal and your presentation.
A lot of these questions will be ones your business plan is also expected to answer. They'll want to know how big the opportunity is. What's the market size? How well developed is it? What's your product, and what needs does it address? Is it likely to capture a significant chunk of the market? Expect savvy investors to call your existing or prospective customers to verify the need you present and make sure your proposed solution is feasible.
Expect questions about the competition. Investors want to know that you understand who you'll be competing against, what your competitors' strengths and weaknesses are and how you'll respond to them. Keep in mind that competitors don't necessarily sell exactly the same product as you. Rolex and Rolls Royce are competitors-they compete for luxury dollars among the very wealthy.
The investors also want to know that you and your team will be able to take advantage of this opportunity. They'll ask about what you've done in the past, and what resources (people, money, products) you have at your disposal through your personal networks. They may ask questions about your past working relationships to get a sense of how you and your team will work with them.
When I'm on the investor side of the table, I often ask questions from my own consumer experience. An entrepreneur claims his product will make paper obsolete. I pull out my Palm Pilot, my laptop, my cell phone and my pad of paper. Those first three devices failed to make paper obsolete. So I ask why his will succeed. I'm searching for the real consumer value in the product, and I want to understand his reasoning or lack thereof. His handling of the question hints at what working with him would be like. Does he get defensive? Does he take feedback and reject or accept it out of hand? Does he think about it? Basically, is this someone I want to trust with my money in a multiyear business relationship?
Savvy investors who understand your industry may dig deeper into the details of your product or service. If you're putting together a plan for a software company, a software-savvy investor may ask detailed questions about engineering architecture or quality assurance. Someone with a shipping background may question your logistics plan. Such questions are very industry-specific. If you present to investors like these, make sure you know your stuff.
Your audience also needs to know the bottom line: How much money do you want from them, and what are you giving them in return? When can they expect their money? How much can they expect? Their questions won't just be about the deal structure, but also about the logic you used to arrive at the structure. If you're promising a 50 percent return in two years, assuming revenues of $10 million, they'll dig into your revenue and expense numbers to make sure your projections are plausible.
And finally, if your presentation itself isn't clear, investors will ask clarifying questions such as "What exactly did Slide Three mean when it talked about widget consumption per race track cylinder?" It pays to rehearse your presentation with an objective audience to make sure you know what you're going to be saying.
Stever Robbins is a consultant specializing in mastering overwhelm, power and influence. The author ofIt Takes a Lot More Than Attitude...to Lead a Stellar Organization, he has been a team member or co-founder of nine startups, an advisor and angel investor, and co-developer of Harvard's MBA program. You can find his other articles and information at SteverRobbins.com.
This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com in 2002.
Stever Robbins is a venture coach, helping entrepreneurs and early-stage companies develop the attitudes, skills and capabilities needed to succeed. He brings to bear skills as an entrepreneur, teacher and technologist in helping others create successful ventures.