You don’t have to work in venture capital to know that many biotech startups are having a difficult time raising money. The economy remains in the tank, and the former Olympic-sized pool of accessible cash now more closely resembles a wading pool. There are an enormous number of reasons why a company will have difficulty acquiring capital. These include unexplainable technologies, business plans crafted by devotees of Karl Marx or Scrooge McDuck, a lack of issued (or even filed) patents, or a management team just a few years removed from the lemonade stand or Federal prison.
One easy way to sink your start-up: anchor it to a woeful website. I’m talking about one that is so unprofessional and singularly uninformative that it will prevent you from raising enough money for a successful morning run to Starbucks (and that’s without the pastries). Count yourself fortunate if you’ve never come across one of these horrors. If you have, you probably found yourself wondering if they were trying to chase away investors and potential customers. I’ve found that these poorly crafted websites generally share at least some of the following unattractive characteristics:
1) No information provided as to the location of the company (cyberspace is not a physical address), the composition of the leadership team (with associated bio’s), a telephone number, or anything else that might help to convince me that the organization really exists somewhere in our universe. Instead, you often see a generic suggestion to “contact us at email@example.com”. Why would I send you an email? If you think it would be to get more information, sorry. You already blew your first, best, and likely only chance to tell me about your new organization. Actually, your website did tell me about you, and the news report wasn’t good.
2) No description of the technology that the company is built around. No clear business model. No drugs and no devices. No reagents. No service plan. Nothing to buy, nothing to rent, and sometimes nothing to read. I’ve come across sites that have hardly any text at all. The sad and lonely space is filled with only a single graphic, which, if you’re lucky, will be a stock image. Illustrations on a few sites look like someone’s 5th grade daughter drew them after she got bored with the purple ponies. I’m displeased to find that the website is boring, but even worse, I’m ticked off that it tells me nothing about your company. Is this really your best effort to promote your start-up? I worry that the same lack of commitment to doing things right will carry over to your R&D, your business plan, and every other aspect of your corporation.
3) The “couldn’t possibly be deader” primary link. Typing in the URL that is supposed to take you to the company website instead dumps you onto a generic hosting webpage. Failure to pay the $10 domain name registration fee is a crystal-clear sign that management is not firing on all cylinders. When this happens, I simply delete the link and move on. I’m sure I’m not the only one that does this. Keep in mind that there are only a limited number of angel investors on the Forbes 400 List of Obscenely Wealthy People with Offshore Bank Accounts, and you can’t afford to piss any of them off. Don’t count on the next Mega Millions jackpot drawing coming up with your favorite numbers either. Buying lottery tickets is not a substitute for finding qualified investors, nor are you likely to meet any while standing in line to buy these tickets at the Kwik-E-Mart.
Putting together a professional looking website these days is really not that difficult. You don’t need snazzy animations, layered floating menus, or other high tech tricks. Many web hosting and software companies offer free templates that can easily be adapted to your needs with a minimum of effort. If you’re a start-up, free works! Who would invest their hard-earned cash (or for that matter, someone else’s) in an organization that cares so little about itself that it would post an electronic eyesore? I understand that many companies start by reserving a website as a placeholder, but if you decide to do this, don’t share the URL with anyone until it is ready for primetime. Remember that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Unless, of course, you’re Charlie Sheen or Lindsay Lohan, but hopefully your drug discovery efforts will be markedly different from theirs. Make a serious effort to have an attractive, informative, and useful website. As Rene Descartes put it, “it is not enough to have a good mind, the main thing is to use it well.”
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