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The University Startup Company Law Firm California Massachusetts Florida  [email protected] (310) 993-9664. Stephen P. Rothman, Esq. Assessing Business Feasibility - Outline for Panel at CNSI. 1. Background

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The University Startup Company Law Firm

California Massachusetts Florida

 [email protected]

(310) 993-9664

Stephen P. Rothman, Esq.

Assessing Business Feasibility - Outline for Panel at CNSI




Rothman and Company, P.A. . We spend most of our time working with university-based startups and their investors. Have seen a lot of them fail.



Why Feasibility Assessment

Most startups fail. University based startups may have a somewhat better success ratio, but still a majority fail. Technology advantage. But also recurring pitfalls of academics who don’t have business experience.

Think of a startup as like a mission to the moon; need many things to go right:

Years of planning


Precise measurements


Good people

And if one critical part fails, mission blows up.

Your job in feasibility assessment is to identify all (not most, all) of the possible critical failures, in advance, so that you can:

Figure a way around them; or

Abort the mission before spending years of effort and large amounts of money on it, if it’s not viable.



Central Question

1. What might go wrong?

Market – size, profitability, timing, trends, overall attractiveness, is the market there now or do you have to create it

Competition – how do customers now solve problem; how will competitors respond to your market entry? Expected cost of your product relative to competing products. Competitive advantages and disadvantages. IP. Brand.

Team – who would you need to recruit to succeed – industry background, skills or information that you lack; , knowledge of the market, personal contact with customers, time to devote to the venture, experience with startups; team that can work together harmoniously

Financial resources - how much money needed; how much time needed (more than you think). Investor fit.

2. How do you fix, avoid the problem?

3. Go / No Go decision

Keep going / give up decision



Paradox of the New Venture:

Most fail

In retrospect many of those were destined to fail from day one

You want to avoid starting on a losing path

You want to cut your losses if it becomes clear that you are not on the right course – change course or abandon ship.

Yet . . . .

Great successes come from:

Doing what seemed at first to be impossible

Refusing to admit defeat

Not quitting upon apparent failure when you are actually on the verge of success

Ford engine cast in a single block

Edison light bulb – running out of ways that would not work



Pointers and Pitfalls for startups, especially academic startups

Focus on the customer, not on the technology

Not enough to be innovative, smart, cool

Not enough to win government grants

Not enough to be published in peer reviewed journal

Will the dogs eat it?

Talk to the potential customers:

do they want it?

At what price?

With what features?

Is it in their budget to buy it?

What will it take to get them to switch from their current solution?

How many such customers are there and what volume does each need?

One sign of a good opportunity:

The proposed business is exciting both to the potential customer and the potential investor.



Pitfall  1:  the better but more expensive mousetrap

You have invented a better mousetrap.  It works more easily, reliably, and doesn’t require a supply of cheese.  The problem is – it is more expensive than a standard mousetrap.  People will still buy the $2.29 wooden plate with the metal trap on a spring trigger, because it works well enough and it’s cheaper. 



Pitfall 2:  The cheaper, better mousetraptoo late


opto-electronic communications technology

faster, smaller and less expensive than what is in the market. 

Customers like it

Problem:  In 2001 the communications infrastructure has been over-built; no one is building networks, and there is no demand even for a superior product.  It takes years for the market to rebound, and in the meantime your company runs out of money and its investors run out of patience and shut it down.



Pitfall 3:  The cheaper, better mousetraptoo early


Software-based system for use in webcasts by radio stations

Allows targeting advertisements to individual listeners based on their age, gender and location.

Problem: in 2000, very few people listen to the radio through their computers, and selling advertising requires a very large audience.  This product will be successful seven or eight years later, but by that time your startup will have folded.



Pitfall 4:  Gaps in the team

Need all of these:

Industry specific experience

Commercial setting experience

Startup experience

Why do people make the mistake of not bringing in the right team:

Desire to maintain control

Reluctance to share equity





Stephen P. Rothman, ESQ.


E-MAIL:[email protected]

(310) 993-9664