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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Learning How to Incorporate, IP Law, Financial Modeling and Startup Survival in One Day

Believe it or not, a group of 20 or so young aspiring/current CEOs came as close as you can to learning about different types of corporate entities, IP law, financial modeling and general "startup survival" in just a days time last Saturday at the Foley Hoag's office on Winter Street in Waltham. Each member of The Leadership Program is placed in a small group with other members and in charge of organizing an all day workshop before the program is complete, and this past Saturday I was fortunate enough to be part of the team running the "Hard Skills" workshop with Kwa Liou, Will Adams, Ariel Assaf, and Julianne Gauron. The day was packed with helpful sessions all regarding critical aspects of starting a business with many great presenters and speakers. The agenda included:

Legal Documents - Mark Haddad of Foley Hoag was kind enough to come in and speak about all the in's and out's of setting up your company, what type of entity to consider, and the details of different corporate structure. While there was a lot of good information in Mark's presentation, the most interesting point I took away was the fact that when issuing stock, often times vesting is based on a person's time spent with a company, but it can also be based on reaching specific milestones.

Intellectual Property - Melissa Hunter-Ensor and Rajesh Vallabh also of Foley Hoag came in to discuss Intellectual Property and ended up covering almost every nuance of patent do's and don'ts, types of patents and strategies. It was interesting to hear about their unique experience working with people at the cutting edge of many technology industries. An interesting fact I took away was that you cannot patent an algorithm. For example, while Google's patented PageRank is based on an algorithm, the patent is actually for the complete process of how Google applies rankings to individual HTML pages.

Financial Basics - Dave and Eric Collard of Principal Collard Advisory Group, a firm that helps startup companies handled their accounting came to discuss some financial basics all CEOs should have a handle on. The main take away here was that if you are an early stage company and have raised money, let the Collards handle your accounting so you can work on the fun/important stuff like building your product, marketing and acquiring customers. Some other good tips the Collards provided: 1) After you have raised a Series A round you should consider using SVB or Comerica as your bank and 2) As you grow, you should consider engaging with ADP or Paychex to process your payroll.

Financial Modeling - Anupendra Sharma, the fearless founder of The Leadership Program, came in and gave a great presentation about financial modeling. We spent a good hour with our sleeves rolled up and working with a financial model excel spreadsheet. The take away from this one: the slightest slip in sales conversions, meaning fractions of a percentage point, can man make your company unattractive to investors. While no investors expects your model and predictions to be spot on, it is important to try to be as realistic as possible and make sure that the the big picture is big enough and obtainable.

Startup Survival - We concluded the day with a panel on "Startup Survival" which I moderated with Mike Webb of Managing Director of Exponential Pharma Ventures and Pano Anthos CEO of Hangout Industries. The discussion ranged from bootstrapping to networking and relationship building, early stage product development focus to raising capital. The most interesting point I came away with was that early stage founders should hedge their risk by helping a couple startups, like investors do by investing in several companies. While often times most of your attention will be devoted to one project, it is much more common now to see people working on a handful of early stage companies.

All in all, the workshop was a great experience with some great discourse throughout the day. A big thanks goes out to all of the speakers, Kwa for leading the organization of the workshop, Julianne for putting together the brochure and everyone else who helped out.

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