Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What does it take to start a company?

The Texas alliance recently published a paper explaining all the different uses for petroleum. Our goal at Vastly Different Solutions is to find renewable and sustainable solutions to every one of these products. The first one is BioLighter. If you are interested in:
  1. Partnering with us, or working for us to make these products more widely available
  2. Investing in our technologies
  3. Offering your expertise and knowledge
You may do any of the following to get in touch with us:
  • Comment at the bottom of this post
  • Drop us an e-mail at info@biolighterbbq.com
  • Visit us on our Website or Facebook page

First you need a problem to solve
As many of you know, Vastly Different Solutions has been working with biofuels to create new and more responsible alternatives for consumer packaged goods. This all started at a back yard grill-off where our founder, partner, and patent holder, Joe Marlin, noticed how bad the smell of petrol charcoal lighter fluid was. Being an accomplished engineer and well versed in the Biofuels industry, he went home and created a new formula that works faster, burns cleaner, and tastes better than traditional lighter fluids. We are now on the path to commercialization. With our story as an example, this blog will teach you all about the moving parts that go into a thriving startup.

BioLighter 1.0
After several months in meetings with patent lawyers, banks, input suppliers and countless barbecues, BioLighter was born. We had created a legal entity, bank accounts, a great team and most of all -a great product.

We next created prototype cans in our garage and hired Zach Winter to create a label. The first problem we encountered was learning about all the verbiage associated with flammable liquids, and how to properly label this innovative new product. After several iterations, we solved this problem with the following considerations:
  • Identify the top 4 or 5 features and/or benefits of your product and put them on the front of the package;
  • Use the label to educate the customer, not just boast your product;
  • Understand your competitive environment and the functional requirements of your customers, and make sure you address those on your packaging;
  • Apply for a UPC code at the GS1 website so retails can easily integrate your product into their inventories.
  • There are many packaging companies that can do this for you if you have the cheddah $$$ but this is in some ways the most important part of your product. Make sure they add true value if you go this route.

Crowd Source for Solutions

Your team may want to hold a contest for labels (#99designs does a great job of getting ideas in front of your team, but we suggest you pay at least $1000 to attract some talent). After you find a couple of your top potential labels, hold a vote so customers, or anyone else can voice their opinion.Surveymonkey.com is a great, free resource to hold this vote off, and we got over 100 people to voice their opinions by merely posting it on our facebook page and sending the link to our contacts.

We then put our final labeling into the USPTO to trademark our brand. Might we ever get ripped off without it? Who knows, but when you are starting a company it is imperative to understand and follow the proper steps to avoid potential pitfalls in the future.

With these lessons learned, BioLighter 1.0 reached on the shelves in early May 2010.

Creating the Master Plan
We have been in the biofuels business for 10 years, and successfully created two startups. Dogpatch Biofuels sells B-100 biofuel at vehicle pumping stations, and Incredible Adventures runs the worlds greenest eco-tourism company with a fleet of biodiesel tour buses. Because we made BioLighter available on the shelves at Dogpatch and other biofuel stations in the Bay Area, our upstream suppliers got wind of it fast.

It turned out they had recently been approached by several investors in Nevada who were looking for new markets and business opportunities in biofuels, and they put us in touch. We also were introduced to an NGO with close ties to regional and state governments who were interested in supporting our new venture.

At this point, Adam Salmen, a young and eager entrepreneur with a top notch degree from Babson College and a history of successful startups, was brought on to write the business plan and help the company plan a growth strategy.

(If you are an aspiring entrepreneur, it might be a good idea to check out NEW VENTURE CREATION, a book by Jeffrey Timmons. But if you don't have $150 to shell out for the book,you might want to consider bootstrapping some resources from Venture Hacks, an amazing and free resource for everything entrepreneurship).

Disclaimer on Business plans
Many entrepreneurs know that a business plan is a necessity that shows that you have masterminded a route to market, and also that it inevitably becomes nothing more than a scrap of paper once reality hits you in the face. A business plan amounts to your hopes and dreams, while a real business is wildly unpredictable. Once you hit the ground and the hurricane of activity begins, you hardly have time to look back at your organizational structure. Your financial models become pretty pictures and your original marketing strategy is gone with the wind. With these considerations in mind, the most important things to accomplish in writing a business plan are:
  1. Defining a goal;
  2. Getting the teammates to agree on their roles and responsibilities;
  3. Digging deeper into the details than "and then we make millions..." and anticipating as many of the challenges you will face as you can imagine, as early as possible.
But when it comes down to it, success lies in the ability of the team to exploit an opportunity with the resources that it has...

Modeling the process
Jeffrey Timmons believes that the success of a venture lies on the shoulders of the entrepreneur. The success also lies in his or her ability to balance the OPPORTUNITY, TEAM and RESOURCES in order to create a successful startup.

BioLighter's opportunity

Petroleum-based lighter fluids are obsolete. The EPA has been trying to get it off the shelves for years, and is now tightening up the standards on VOC emitting lighter fluids. Brands like Kingsford are being forced to put unrealistic serving sizes on their bottles so they can pass emissions tests. Kingsford is actively searching for our product, and has yet to come up with the solution we have a patent on.

The BioLighter Team

Biolighter is composed of 4 teammates, each proficient in different aspects of the business, and surrounded by a reputable network of industry leaders. We feel that our best assets of our business are:

  1. The deep knowledge of biofuels that Joe brings to the table;
  2. Brian's history of creating relationships and starting up 2 previous (mulit-million dollar) companies;
  3. Jolie's ability to go through the formal paper work, manage business accounts, and make sure BioLighter ready for the major league;
  4. Adam's academic rigor (financial modeling, business planning, etc.) marketing abilities, and active business management skills.
  5. We have also brought on a master retailer who is known for selling millions of dollars of new winning products. His ability to sell will give us introductions to top retailers and distributors.

BioLighter's Resources
Possibly the best aspect of BioLighter (in respect to the Timmons model) is its ability to acquire resources. After 10 years in the BioFuels Industry, we have substantial up-stream contacts and partners to ensure a constant stream of quality material inputs. Joe has established a fantastic network in the industry and the ability to contract purchases anywhere in the United States. We also have access to several task forces facilitated by the Nevada government. Our financials have been certified by Jack Van Dien, previous chairman of the Chrysler Corporation.

Brian has a family history of entrepreneurship in bottling and manufacturing. We have had the opportunity to use these relationships as key resources to learn the logistics of the bottling industry. We are now in contact with several bottling facilities, strategically placed around the United States to cater to our bottling needs. However, as BioLighter picks up, we will build our own manufacturing facility to create jobs, and to create the world headquarters for sustainable and well educated packaging solutions.

Our whole team has built great relationships with retailers throughout the United States market. With our support from the NNDA , we are in touch with a master retailer to take our product on a national "road show". Our plan is to create an organic demand for our product via roadshows and special retail solutions. And we have signed contracts to roll out BioLighter in time for the 4th of July, taking a great step towards our nation's energy independence!

Our Business plan spelled out the entire process, and is now being used as a blueprint. As Timmons suggests, our business plan was used to fit the gaps between the team, opportunity and resources!

Next Step- Funding...

So now that we had created the proper kindling (a huge opportunity, a great business plan, an amazing team, and the resources to make this plan a reality) we started searching for the match (proper funding with reasonable terms) to get this BioLighter party started...

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