Saturday, June 24, 2017

Choosing an E-commerce Platform

So you have decided that you want to sell a product online. What next?

Building an Online Presence: First of all, get an understanding of the challenges and risks ahead of you. Get a clear vision of what it means to engage in e-commerce before you jump into the task of setting up a new website. In the decision to establish a site, keep in mind that this is a business. You are not creating a blog or a personal expression. Your goal is to make money selling products online. So put aside the need to create a lovely website or to provide pithy information.; those components are only relevant in as far as they help you sell products.

Storing the Product for Delivery: How will you manage the product after assembly? Your product must be available in sufficient quantity that users can receive it quickly. And you must have a means by which it can be stored and is still ready to be shipped promptly. How are you going to do that?

Gathering Customer Attention: Next comes the challenge of customers finding you and your marketing of the product to gather attention and enthusiasm. How will you stand out among the thousands of e-commerce websites already out there? Is your product so unique that it will engender a high-profit margin? Is it a commodity which will succeed based mostly on price? Also, consider if you want to offer special pricing to entice users to purchase your product such as a sale in July or a discount for first customers. Thus, how much control do you want to have over the marketing aspect of your product?

After the Sale: Once a customer has decided to buy your product you need to be informed of their purchase and engage a rapid and consistent system of shipping that product out to the customer reliably and efficiently. In a global market, users could be anywhere and potentially speak any language. You need to decide how far and wide you're going to ship and what methods you were going to use to ship the products.

When the Sale Sours: Unfortunately, the story does not always end there. Many times the product is seen as defective on the part of the customer, or there are shipping errors. These mistakes can lead to negative impressions of your product which harm sales in the future. How will you handle a request for returns and refund? Do you have a window upon which you will accept returns and outside of which you will reject them? Payments too can become problematic. The buyer can refuse the credit card payment. Depending on the credit cards you accept, you may have little or no recourse but to refund customers.

Happy Customers: Once you have established a relationship with a client, you may want to engage them in a system of longer-term retention to enable repeat sales or sales of similar products. You need to decide how integrated that system will be and time intensive for you to maintain. Similarly, will you somehow reward purchases and enable users to receive a discount for additional products? How will you get them to write a review or expressing interest in your products?

Choosing an E-commerce Platform: There are essentially three choices for an e-commerce platform.
  1. First, you can go it alone. That means you control the servers, the domains, the security certificates, and the payment system such as PayPal. 
  2. The second option would be to engage one of the many shopping platforms such Shopify. Shopify competes in a complicated Market. There are other shopping platforms which you would want to consider such as Bigcommerce Magento yo Kart and Big Cartel.
  3. The last option is the gorilla in the room, and that is Amazon. For the novice to e-commerce, Amazon has an incredibly complete help system with video and audio which explain components of the process step by step. 
Going it Alone: The above issues make it clear that creating your e-commerce website from scratch is unlikely to be a good choice and likely to be a source of risk and headaches. Few sellers choose this route anymore, and you should probably discard it.

e-commerce Platforms besides Amazon: Shopify is an example of a very easy e-commerce platform to engage. It will address most of your needs. But it doesn't necessarily have all the features you are looking for

Although the e-commerce platforms are popular, anyone who has purchased on Amazon understands its market power and influence. Unless there is a compelling reason to choose an e-commerce platform, Amazon should be your first choice to introduce your product to the market and engender sales. If sales disappoint or you feel that better returns could be obtained, then you can certainly engage a marketing platform to supplement Amazon or potentially to replace it. But as you start to investigate the value of e-commerce for your product Amazon and it's support for your growing operation, Amazon is a powerful and easy place to start.

Amazon
Amazon constrains your site to the Amazon interface and approach. If you feel that a unique selling strategy is important or essential to your product's sales, then the look and feel of the Amazon experience may not work for your product. On Amazon, you will find many unique and different products. Those companies have likely assumed that the marketing power and sales potential of Amazon outweigh possible benefits of a custom-designed website regarding sales or the expense of effort required.

Amazon comes in two flavors to the seller one in which you continue to manage warehousing and fulfillment and mainly use their structure for marketing, customer acquisition, and customer relationship management. Amazon brings s together many of the pieces involved in e-commerce and has established standards at a higher level than large shopping platforms.

Amazon FBA
Amazon is interested in your forming an even closer relationship by engaging in their fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) program. FBA removes almost all of the challenges of e-commerce in exchange for your paying Amazon for this service. FBA is provided in two sections, one for the individual and one for the business depending on the number of sales. If the number of sales is beyond 40 items per month, then the business strategy is the optimal choice.

Why Amazon FBA
Amazon FBA offers a solution to almost all e-commerce questions and concerns. It handles warehousing, fast shipping, returns, payment systems, and product reviews. It also has tools to get an overview of your product, assess sales, and identify areas where you can improve the performance of your sales operation. You essentially lose control and gain freedom.

Amazon's goal is to get you to utilize Amazon FBA to sell your product, and they have developed a system that will accomplish this aim. Further Amazon is always endeavoring to expand its market and better serve its customers. As seen by Amazon's next day delivery and same day delivery, they will continue to push the boundaries of e-commerce and to delight customers by addressing their desire for a clean, seamless, and quick purchasing experience. So keep in mind that this is a field of rapid change. For your product will you gain from such rapid change or be harmed by an inability to keep up with the field of e-commerce? FBA is a bet that Amazon will stay on top of e-commerce. That assumption hasn't been proven wrong yet.

Friday, June 23, 2017

That's All Folks. Selling a Life Science Venture

It's never too early to start to plan for selling the company. In fact, before you start you need to visualize how this venture will end. After all, this is the outcome your angels and Venture capitalists are waiting for. And they will have strong opinions about when you should sell.

When that time comes, you may be delighted that your company will be sold. However, you should consider the ramifications to your career. You may have invested most of your career in obtaining expertise in a single life science area. After you sell what rights will you have to participate in this field? Will you continue to be able to expand your knowledge? Will you be able to utilize your expertise? These are essential components of any sales agreement, and it is important that you are comfortable with the outcome.

Regarding the actual sale of the company typically there are multiple options for obtaining value from the company post funding cycles; however, for life science company there are typically very few options. Almost certainly you will seek a strategic sale to a pharmaceutical company. The capitalization requirements and complexity of marketing a novel pharmaceutical or device most rule out an IPO. And without that expertise obtaining revenue to entice a walking harvest (ongoing payment based on sales) or partial sale are unlikely. Nor is a financial sale to non-life science company likely.

Further, few purchasers can obtain the full value of your vision, and the potential buyers will be short. On the other hand, large life science corporations are counting on companies such as yours to identify new opportunities, so if the trials go well, you have a valuable product to sell. Of course, there is a chance that trials go poorly and the value of company plummets. Be prepared for the reality that the end result of your venture is Chapter 7, full dissolution of all assets. Not a pretty outcome but highlight likely in a life science venture.

To prepare for eventually selling your company, your goal is to find angels and more importantly venture capitalists with expertise in this domain since no doubt skills required to sell a company are far outside your skill set. Look to investors to obtain expertise and negotiate a favorable sale of the company. Regarding the value obtained keep in mind that timing, a sale is not an exact science. You are going to feel like you either waited too long to sell or have sold too early. You are not seeking the perfect solution but of solution which meets your financial and developmental needs and goals. Good luck with your planning and good luck with your future venture.

The Startup Process: Sourcing - Evaluating - Valuing - Structuring - Negotiating - Supporting - Harvesting

Reference: David Amis-Howard Stevenson (2001). Winning angels: the seven fundamentals of early-stage investing. Pearson Education.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Getting Support for Your Life Science Startup

As a life scientist-entrepreneur, you are well aware of the value of mentors. In the process of education and early training, a life scientist engages with the number of mentors who provide support from the emotional to coaching to specific skills development.

In the life of the company, there are similarly multiple areas that require ongoing support. For example:
  • determining a valuation of the enterprise,
  • developing a marketing strategy,
  • determining when to seek out guidance and from experts such as accountants and lawyers.
At crucial points in career development, scientists receive key input. One framework when evaluating the need for entrepreneurial support is to consider the concept of a value event. In scientific training, one can imagine such an event would be an advisor who recommended classes to take as an undergraduate or a Ph.D. program or MD program which would meet professional and personal needs. In career development of the life scientist, a large number of individuals have guided the life scientist regarding scientific research at various key points. In fact, the decision to pursue an entrepreneurial path is such an event.

The concept of a value event applies equally well to the life scientist embarking on a business career. In business, there are similar milestones including:
  • determination of a need for additional funding and the amount of funding to request,
  • the timing of various funding rounds and the type of investor to seek, 
  • reassessment of team members and the need to alter or enhance the team to meet business goals. 
Life scientists additionally have value events related to the production of a pharmaceutical or device. These are clearly marked through various stages of clinical trials. The success or failure at these stages will dramatically affect the potential value of the startup venture. It is essential that the investor also understands the implications of such value events. A medical product with negative impact or no demonstrated value cannot ethically be sold. Investors must realize that one cannot market such products even if it is in high demand.

In the life sciences because of the need for vast capital and marketing expertise, a startup venture will rarely succeed as an independent body. Identify individuals who can assist with the most important event to investors, the sale of the company when the proper time comes. No doubt, the investors will be very interested in participating at this point; however, the entrepreneur must look out for both personal and business interest since the sale of the company may require ongoing effort as an employee or removal from the enterprise altogether. These are dramatic changes that will impact the scientific career of the life scientist-entrepreneur. Picking up a new biomedical path is not the same of as creating a new piece of software.

The Startup ProcessSourcing - Evaluating - Valuing - Structuring - Negotiating - Supporting - Harvesting

Reference: David Amis-Howard Stevenson (2001). Winning angels: the seven fundamentals of early-stage investing. Pearson Education.