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Mine

Five Fatal Flaws in Financials

One of the first and most important steps to take before you launch your startup company is to create pro forma financial statements to verify that your company makes financial sense if all the assumptions that you are making end up becoming true.

The three pro forma financial statements we will be referring to are the income statement, cash flow statement, and the balance sheet.

Three types of “financial sense” can be derived from the above financial statements:

  • Fatal flaws: These are conditions in your financial statements that indicate that the company cannot survive. These are the subjects of this blog.
  • Universal non-investible flaws: These are conditions in your financial statements that make it highly unlikely that any right-minded investor would consider investing in your endeavor. The presence of universal non-investible flaws implies that the company could survive but will not produce extremely good financial returns.
  • Situation-specific flaws: These are conditions in your financial statements that may or may not preclude good financial returns, depending on the specific industry or unique situation.

Fatal Flaw 1. Negative Cash

The bottom line of every column of the monthly cash flow statement is always labeled “Cash at End of Period.” It tells you (based on all the assumptions you have made about your company) how much cash you will have in your company’s bank account at the end of every month.

No entry in this row can be negative.

If some column has a negative value in this row, you must do something to your assumptions prior to this month, for example (these are just four of dozens of possibilities),

  • Get a loan
  • Raise money in an investment round
  • Sell more product
  • Spend less money (on expenses)

What you cannot do is just launch the company and hope that things will work out. Hope is not a strategy. The fact is many things will change once you launch, but you have to at least start with a plan that has a fighting chance of working.

Fatal Flaw 2: Negative Gross Profit

Near the top of every column of the annual income statement will be lines for

Revenues
– Cost of goods sold      
Gross profit

Gross margins indicate how efficient the company is at acquiring and using raw mate­rials for its products. Different industries tend to experience radically different gross margins based on (a) inherent cost of goods sold within those industries, and (b) level of price competition.

Your company can tolerate a negative gross profit in its first year while you figure out pricing, find best suppliers, and hone manufacturing and internal processes. However, by year 2, you had better have a positive gross profit.

New companies rarely emerge in industries where gross margins are low. Reasons should be obvious: investors will likely not see a return on their investment based on an ROE calculation.

Here are some ideas on how to increase gross margins:

  • Decrease cost of raw materials. This is the most straightforward method to reduce cost of goods sold, and yet it is the most dangerous because of potential to adversely affect product quality.Some ways are: (a) find alternative suppliers, (b) replace expensive components with less costly substitute components, especially when customers are unlikely to perceive the difference, (c) use less of a raw material in your product, and (d) purchase in larger volumes
  • Outsource, insource, offshore, or onshore. Find the lowest cost source of doing tasks while still maintaining acceptable levels of quality.
  • Increase prices.
  • Change the product. If your product cannot be sold profitably, consider selling a simpler product that solves fewer customer problems and price it lower. Or consider selling a larger product that addresses more customer pains and price it higher. Or maybe you should rent or lease the product instead of selling it?

Fatal Flaw 3: Insufficient Cash from Operations

The top third of the annual cash flow statement captures cash flows in or out of the company that result from the core business of the company. The bottom line of every column of this top third is always labeled “Net Cash Provided (Used) by Operating Activities.” It tells you (based on all the assumptions you have made about your company) how much cash the company’s business is generating without the contributions of loans, investments, or sales of property.

Almost all startups experience negative cash from operations for the first few years. During this time, they rely on infusions of cash from external sources such as investments or loans.

However, a successful company must at some point be self-sufficient; it must be able to sustain itself with being on life support.

It is possible that a high-growth company with a huge market could plan to stay on a high-growth trajectory for many years and continue to need capital infusions to fund its growth. So, I guess the best way to describe this fatal flaw is to ask if the cash from operations would be positive if the cash from financing were set to zero.

Fatal Flaw 4: Current Ratio Less than One

On the annual balance sheet, divide current assets by current liabilities for each year. This current ratio gives you a pretty good indication of whether your company will be in a condition to pay off debt when it becomes due.

A value less than 1.0 indicates that the company is going to have problems, although there could be short-term fixes for short-term problems. As your company evolves, your current ratio should become (and remain) above 1.2.

If your current ratio is less than zero, it means your current assets are negative (current liabilities can never be negative), so this is equivalent to fatal flaw 1.

Fatal Flaw 5: No Profit

Near the bottom of every column of the annual income statement is a row labeled “EBITDA,” short for earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization. You can think of it as the company’s profit (without some of the “noise”).

Most startups experience negative EBITDA for the first one or two years, and that is okay. In fact, it is highly unlikely to have positive EBITDA during those first few years.

However, by year three or so, EBITDA should be positive, and stay positive for the remaining years.

Summary

Although many dozens of potential problems can be detected in advance by examining the pro forma financial statements, the above five conditions are easy to detect and are almost always fatal for your company if not fixed. If you find them to be present in your company’s financial statements before you launch, don’t launch! Instead, fix your plan.

After you fix the plan, and know that it is possible to succeed, then launch the company. It is always good to start knowing that failure is not guaranteed.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Dr. Al Davis has published 100+ articles in journals, conferences and trade press, and lectured 2,000+ times in 28 countries. He is the author of 6 books, including the latest, Will Your New Start Up Make Money? He is co-founder and CEO of Offtoa, Inc., an internet company that assists entrepreneurs in crafting their business strategies to optimize financial return for themselves and their investors. Formerly, he was founding member of the board of directors of Requisite, Inc., acquired by Rational Software Corporation in 1997, and subsequently acquired by IBM in 2003; co-founder, chairman and CEO of Omni-Vista, Inc.; and vice president at BTG, Inc., a Virginia-based company that went public in 1995, acquired by Titan in 2001, and subsequently acquired by L-3 Communications in 2003.

If you’d like to learn if your great business idea will make money, take a look at Will Your New Start Up Make Money? If you’d like to verify that your great business idea makes financial sense, sign up for www.offtoa.com.

Empty Wallet

How can a startup be profitable & still run out of cash?

New entrepreneurs often confuse profit and cash. Understanding the difference can be critical to your success. After all, it is possible for your company to be profitable and yet still run out of cash. And it is even possible to be unprofitable and have plenty of cash.

Making a profit is one good indicator of whether or not your company is successful. Having cash determines whether the company will be alive, i.e., whether the company will survive so it can be successful or unsuccessful. To help you understand the difference, let’s examine the two concepts.

1. Profit

Revenue (aka sales) is what you record on your financial books when you sell a product or service to a customer. For example, if you sell a 2,000 bottles of wine for $25 each to customers during a month, you record $50,000 in revenues for that month.

If it cost you $10,000 to produce those bottles of wine (by the way, that’s called cost of goods sold) and you paid rent and salaries during the month of, say, $25,000 during that month, your profit for the month will be $15,000, i.e., subtract your cost of goods sold and expenses from revenues.

2. Cash

A company can gain cash in four ways:

  • By receiving payments from customers when you sell them products/services.
  • By receiving payments from lenders when you apply for a loan.
  • By receiving funds from investors.
  • By receiving cash for selling fixed assets. [Very rare for a startup company]

A company can lose cash in a variety of ways:

  • Cost of goods sold or expenses. By making payments to suppliers.
  • By making payments to lenders on a loan.
  • Stock repurchase. By the company returning outstanding stock back to the treasury. [Very rare for a startup company]
  • Buying assets. By paying cash for the purchase of fixed assets.

3. How Cash Can Exceed Profit

Many scenarios can demonstrate how you can be unprofitable and yet have cash. Let’s look at some. In all the following cases, assume that at the beginning of the aforementioned month, your checking account had a balance of $0 (which might be the case if you just started the company). Let’s again say you sold 2,000 bottles of wine for $50,000 and made a profit of $15,000.

  • If you have negotiated “net 60” terms with your suppliers, you will still owe them $35,000 and you will end up with $50,000 in the bank at the end of the month (even though you had a profit of just $15,000).
  • On the other hand, if you took out a loan during the month of $40,000, you will end up with $55,000 in the bank at the end of the month.
  • On the other hand, if you accepted an investment during the month of $200,000, you will end up with $215,000 in the bank at the end of the month.

In all these cases, your profit is $15,000, but your cash was quite different, specifically, $50,000, $55,000, and $215,000, respectively.

4. How Profit Can Exceed Cash

Many scenarios can demonstrate how you can be profitable and have much less (or even no) cash. Let’s look at some. In all the following cases, assume that at the beginning of the aforementioned month, your checking account had a balance of $0 (which might be the case if you just started the company). Let’s again say you sold 2,000 bottles of wine for $50,000 and made a profit of $15,000.

  • If 500 of those bottles were sold to a customer that had negotiated “net 30” terms with you, that customer will still owe you $12,500 by the end of the month (by the way, that’s called your accounts receivable). You will have only $2,500 in the bank at the end of the month (even though you had a profit of $15,000).
  • If you still owed $1,000 to a cork supplier from a previous purchase you had made (by the way, that’s called your accounts payable) and decided to pay it this month, you will have just $14,000 in the bank at the end of the month (even though you had a profit of $15,000).
  • If you decided to purchase a major piece of equipment for $10,000, you would be unable to subtract that amount from your revenues, but you would have to spend the cash. Thus you’d have just $5,000 in the bank at the end of the month (even though you had a profit of $15,000).
  • If you are a B2B company, and your customers (who are businesses themselves) are having cash problems, as is often the case during difficult economic times, so they may delay their payments to you. If half of your customers have failed to pay you by the end of the month, you will have $25,000 less than you expected. That means you will end up with a negative balance in your checking account, something that banks frown upon. Before long, you could be out of business.

In all these cases, your profit is $15,000, but your cash was quite different, specifically, $2,500, $14,000, $5,000, and minus $10,000, respectively.

In summary

The difference between cash and profit is not subtle. Many companies have been forced out of business due to lack of cash even though they were profitable. Understanding the difference and planning ahead is essential to prevent disasters.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Dr. Al Davis has published 100+ articles in journals, conferences and trade press, and lectured 2,000+ times in 28 countries. He is the author of 6 books, including the latest, Will Your New Start Up Make Money? He is co-founder and CEO of Offtoa, Inc., an internet company that assists entrepreneurs in crafting their business strategies to optimize financial return for themselves and their investors. Formerly, he was founding member of the board of directors of Requisite, Inc., acquired by Rational Software Corporation in 1997, and subsequently acquired by IBM in 2003; co-founder, chairman and CEO of Omni-Vista, Inc.; and vice president at BTG, Inc., a Virginia-based company that went public in 1995, acquired by Titan in 2001, and subsequently acquired by L-3 Communications in 2003.

If you’d like to learn if your great business idea will make money, take a look at Will Your New Start Up Make Money?  If you’d like to verify that your great business idea makes financial sense, sign up for www.offtoa.com.

Four Things a Cash Flow Statement Tells You

CFS PhotoWhen you plan to start a company, you need to create pro forma financial statements. Pro forma financial statements include an income statement, a cash flow statement and balance sheet.

A pro forma cash flow statement shows all cash that you expect will come into the company and all cash that you expect will go out of the company during a period of time based on your stated assumptions.

The cash flow statement answers four questions for you and your potential investors:

  1. Does the cash at the end of the period (the last line of each column of the cash flow statement) equal the top line (i.e., cash and cash equivalents) of the balance sheet? Make sure you are comparing a cash flow statement that ends on the same date as the date of the balance sheet.
  2. Does the company run out of money? Is the cash balance at the end of any period negative? Check on both the annual cash flow statement and on the monthly cash flow statement.
  3. Does the company’s core business eventually generate enough cash to sustain itself? You will learn this by examining the line net cash provided (used) by operating activities. For the first few years, this is likely to be negative (with the cash shortfall made up for by influxes of cash from loans and/or investments).But eventually, the company should be able to sustain itself. When net cash provided (used) by operating activities becomes positive, the company has achieved a sustainable growth engine (see Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup).
  4. Is an investment being used to pay off a loan? Most investors want their cash to be used to grow the company; they do not want it used to retire debt. Such a situation can be most easily seen by examining the monthly cash flow statement. Look at any month in which the line issuance of stock has a positive entry. Is there a corresponding negative entry on the line proceeds from (payments on) notes payable? If so, there could be a problem.However, in some cases this could be okay, e.g., when the lender holds a convertible note and the note is simply converting into equity. In such cases, no cash is actually changing hands; it is simply a bookkeeping entry and a conversion from debt to equity for the same party.

Let’s take a look at a cash flow statement to understand how these four questions get answered.

The figure below shows a cash flow statement for the first five years of a company.

Sample CFS

All cash flow statements are organized into three horizontal sections, each corresponding to a different set of events that cause cash to flow into or out of the company:

 Cash flows from operating activities

Cash flows from operating activities show cash that relates to your primary business. The first entry is profit or loss from the business (copied from the bottom of the income statement). The rest of the entries are adjustments because not all profits or losses are reflected in cash. So, for example:

  • Depreciation was on the income statement and contributed to expenses (and thus decreased profit), but unlike other expenses, it caused no corresponding reduction to cash. Therefore the first thing we do on the cash flow statement is add back the amount of depreciation.
  • Any decrease (or increase) in accounts receivable between the last period and the current period must be reported here as an increase (or decrease) in cash.Notice that if customers pay you during the current period for something that they purchased in a previous period, no entry is made on the income statement, but you did have a positive cash event. That cash event is recorded on this line.
  • Any increase (or decrease) in accounts payable must be added to (or subtracted from) cash for the same reason as explained above for accounts receivable.
  • If there is any change in the accrued liabilities between the last period and the current period, that change needs to be added to or subtracted from cash.
  • Any changes to inventory would not be reflected in your income statement but would affect cash. Specifically, if you increased your inventory since the previous period, that needs to be reflected as a net cash loss, and a decrease would be reflected as a net cash gain.

The sum of the above items is shown as net cash provided (used) by operating activities.

Cash flows from investing activities

Cash flows from investing activities show cash that relates to your major purchases (or sales) of fixed assets (e.g., real estate, equipment, acquisitions, vehicles, computers, and so on.)

Notice that although such major purchases cannot be subtracted from your earnings in the current year (that’s why they don’t appear on your income statement), they do impact cash!

The full amount of their purchase is recorded here because the company is incurring the entire cost of the asset from a cash perspective. Their sum is shown as the net cash provided (used) by investing activities.

Cash flows from financing activities

Cash flows from financing activities show cash that relates to financing your business, e.g., loans you accept (or make payments on) and investments received by the company.

It is shown on two separate lines, one for investments, and one for loans. Notice that loans and investments you accept have no effect on your income statement but have a significant effect on your cash, which is why they appear here. Their sum is shown as net cash provided (used) by financing activities.

Summary lines on your cash flow statement

At the bottom of each column a few summary lines appear:

  • The net increase (decrease) in cash line shows the sum of the net cash subtotals from the three aforementioned sections.
  • The cash at beginning of period starts at zero when the company is founded. Each subsequent year just copies the value from the end of the previous year.
  • The cash at end of period is calculated by adding the net increase (decrease) in cash to the cash at beginning of period.

Many new entrepreneurs confuse cash with profit. Your company could be profitable (as reported on your pro forma income statement) and you could still run out of cash. You could also be unprofitable and have cash (e.g., with the help of highly optimistic investors).

Using your cash flow statement is the best way to find out exactly where your company is getting and spending its cash.

Other articles you may find helpful in the series:

Al Davis is a Serial Entrepreneur, Angel Investor and Author of six books. He is CEO of Offtoa, Inc., his fifth startup.

Photo courtesy of Ken Teegardin (Creative Commons).

Why My Startup Need Pro Forma Financial Statements

by Al Davis and Nicola Roark

Money launchWhen you plan to start a company, you need pro forma financial statements.  Pro forma financial statements include an income statement, cash flow statement and balance sheet.

Do these really matter or could you take your great idea, score some investment money and get your product to market more quickly without pro formas?

This question puzzles a lot of startups so let’s answer it.  While there’s no wrong answer, each path has its own likelihood of success:

No pro forma financial statements = low probability of success

The reason this path has low probability of success is not because you don’t have a great idea!  Your idea is probably fantastic but it’s even better when you can back it up with financial assumptions that make sense.

The reality is that investors place their bets on startups less than 3% of the time[1].

And when they bet on a startup, they demand pro forma financial statements and at least some kind of detailed plan for the business.

The other 97% of their money goes to businesses that have already been through rounds of funding and have demonstrated that there is a market willing to buy their product.

Pro forma financial statements = high probability of success

Investors take their risks with those that have a reasonable chance at being successful and returning their investment, plus some, to them.  Investors want to know when to expect a return on their money.  Pro forma financial statements tell them that.

Let’s take a quick look at the pro forma financial statements that all investors expect from a startup. Understanding the value of each adds tremendous power to running your business, growing your business, and to the proposition you make to investors.

Your pro forma income statement (also called profit and loss statement, or P&L statement) is the tool used by businesspeople and investors to determine if a company is profitable (or not) over a period of time.

It shows what the revenues, cost of goods sold, expenses, and profits of a company would be, based on a set of given assumptions. Your income statement answers seven questions for you and your potential investors.  To learn more about these questions and their answers, read Seven Things an Income Statement Tells You.

Using your income statement is the best way to find out how efficient your company is in generating that profit from the sales.  These are imperatives for launching and running a viable business.

Your pro forma cash flow statement shows all cash that you expect will come into the company and all cash that you expect will go out of the company during a period of time based on your stated assumptions.

Many new entrepreneurs confuse cash with profit. Your company could be profitable (as reported on your pro forma income statement) and you could still run out of cash.

The cash flow statement answers four questions for you and your potential investors.  To learn more about these questions and their answers, read Four Things a Cash Flow Statement Tells You.

Your pro forma balance sheet shows all the things your company would own (its assets), all the things it would owe (its liabilities), and their difference (shareholders’ equity), based on your assumptions.

The balance sheet answers four questions for you and your potential investors.  To learn more about these questions and their answers, read Four Things a Balance Sheet Tells You.

Understanding the value of your pro forma financial statements is not only a benefit to you and your business, it’s an expectation from investors.  They are the compass on your business journey and without them you’ll quickly start drifting.

Using your pro forma financial statements to chart your course, demonstrate your business acumen, and recommend course changes is the most reliable compass you, and your investors, can have.

Al Davis is a Serial Entrepreneur, Angel Investor and Author of six books. He is CEO of Offtoa, Inc., his fifth startup.

Nicola Roark is a Marketing Consultant and Strategist working with entrepreneurs and startups. Her business allows her to do two things she loves; collaborate with businesses who have a dream and develop the strategy and content to take it to market. Visit her website: www.exhilarationmarketing.com or email her: nicola.roark@exhilarationmarketing.com for more details.

How to read a cash flow statement for a startup

How to read a cash flow statement

When you plan a start-up company, you will need to create pro forma financial statements, including the income statement, cash flow statement and balance sheet. A pro forma cash flow statement shows all cash that you expect will come into the company and all cash that you expect will go out of the company during a period of time based on your stated assumptions. Let’s say, for example, that we want to look at your company’s first year’s cash flow statement. Then, the period of time is the “first year.” The figure below shows a cash flow statement for the first five years of a company. All cash flow statements are organized into three horizontal sections, each corresponding to a different set of events that cause cash to flow into or out of the company, as shown in the figure:

Cash from operating activities

Cash that relates to your primary business. This is called cash from operating activities. The first entry here is the profit or loss from the business (copied right from the bottom of the income statement). The rest of the entries are adjustments because not all profits or losses are manifested in cash. So, for example,

  • Depreciation was shown on the income statement and contributed to expenses (and thus a decrease in profit), but unlike other expenses, it incurred no corresponding reduction to cash. Therefore the first thing we do on the cash flow statement is add back in the amount of depreciation as positive cash.
  • Any decrease (or increase) in accounts receivable between the last period and the current period must be reported here as an increase (or decrease) in cash. Notice that if customers pay you during the current month for something that they purchased in a previous month, no entry is made on the income statement, but you did have a positive cash event. That cash event is recorded on this line.
  • Any increase (or decrease) in accounts payable must be added to (or subtracted from) the cash from operating activities on the cash flow statement for the same reason as explained above for accounts receivable.
  • If there is any change in the accrued liabilities between the last period and the current period, that change needs to be added to or subtracted from cash on the cash flow statement.
  • Any changes to inventory would not be reflected in your income statement but would affect cash. Specifically, if you increased your inventory since the previous period, that needs to be reflected as a net cash loss, and a decrease would be reflected as a net cash gain.

The sum of the above items is shown as the net cash provided (used) by operating activities.

Cash from investing activities

Cash that relates to your major purchases (or sales) of fixed assets (e.g., real estate, equipment, vehicles, computers, and so on.) This is called cash from investing activities. Notice that although such major purchases cannot be subtracted from your earnings in the current year (that’s why they don’t appear on your income statement), they do impact cash! The full amount of their purchases is recorded here because the company is incurring the entire cost of the asset from a cash perspective. Their sum is shown as the net cash provided (used) by investing activities.

Cash from financing activities

Cash that relates to financing your business, e.g., loans you accept (or make payments on) and investments received or stock repurchases made by the company. This is called cash from financing activities, and is shown on two separate lines, one for investments, and one for loans. Notice that loans and investments you accept have no effect on your income statement but have a significant effect on your cash . . . which is why they appear here! Their sum is shown as the net cash provided (used) by financing activities.

Summary lines on cash flow statement

At the bottom of each column appear a few summary lines:

  • The net increase (decrease) in cash line shows the sum of the net cash subtotals from the three aforementioned sections.
  • The cash at beginning of period starts at zero when the company is founded. Each subsequent year just copies the value from the end of the previous year.
  • The cash at end of period is calculated by adding the net increase (decrease) in cash to the cash at beginning of period.  A quick check should be performed to make sure that this value equals the top line (i.e., cash and cash equivalents) of the balance sheet. Make sure you are comparing a cash flow statement that ends on the same date as the date of the balance sheet.

Pro Forma Cash Flow Statement for NewCo, Inc. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fiscal Year 1

Fiscal Year 2

Fiscal Year 3

Fiscal Year 4

Fiscal Year 5

CASH FLOWS FROM OPERATING ACTIVITIES 

 

 

 

 

 

   Net (loss) profit

($718,080)

($266,052)

$275,040

$896,548

$1,198,368

   Adjustments to reconcile net cash used by operating activities:

 

 

 

 

 

      Depreciation

8,328

8,328

13,332

26,670

35,004

      Income Tax

 

 

 

 

 

   Changes in operating assets and liabilities:

 

 

 

 

 

      Accounts receivable

(833)

(56,042)

(85,000)

(80,949)

(99,284)

      Accounts payable

8,402

4,615

7,881

19,925

42,295

      Accrued liabilities

52,917

13,758

(8,330)

2,913

3,062

      Inventory

(26,577)

(11,680)

(31,520)

(68,561)

(233,537)

   Net Cash Provided (Used) by Operating Activities

($675,843)

($307,073)

$171,403

$796,546

$945,908

 

 

 

 

 

 

CASH FLOWS FROM INVESTING ACTIVITIES 

 

 

 

 

 

   (Purchase or) sale of fixed assets

(50,000)

0

(30,000)

(100,000)

0

   Net Cash Provided (Used) by Investing Activities

(50,000)

0

(30,000)

(100,000)

0

 

 

 

 

 

 

CASH FLOWS FROM FINANCING ACTIVITIES 

 

 

 

 

 

   Issuance of stock

830,000

465,000

0

0

0

   Proceeds from (payments on) notes payable

0

0

0

0

0

   Net Cash Provided (Used) by Financing Activities

830,000

465,000

0

0

0

 

 

 

 

 

 

Net Increase (Decrease) in Cash

104,157

157,927

141,403

696,546

945,908

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cash at Beginning of Period

0

104,157

262,084

403,487

1,100,033

Cash at End of Period

104,157

262,084

403,487

1,100,033

2,045,941

 

 

 

 

 

 

The above is extracted from my latest book, Will Your New Start Up Make Money? Buy your copy in Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/Will-Your-Start-Make-Money-ebook/dp/B00JOOZQNE or paperback format http://www.amazon.com/Will-Your-Start-Make-Money/dp/0996028307