Building a Financial Model for a Startup: A Live Experiment

The Business Development video series on this website uses real data to build a financial model for ASM, which effectively makes the series a startup financial model tutorial. When I launched this website in July of 2013, my professional experience analyzing companies was limited to large public or private businesses. I did not have any prior exposure to startups, but that started to change rapidly as I began contemplating this project. Since ASM went live, I have found myself interacting with entrepreneurs and VC investors more frequently. It’s been a terrific experience to gain this new perspective.

To share the story I am including information detailing the process of building an online following. I still recall uploading the first videos and Excel templates thinking that the website would take off immediately. I was terribly wrong as you can see by the first year of Google Analytics data captured in the image below.

In the first year I had a total of ~8,000 visits, which was, needless to say, frustrating. But today the website generates that much traffic in a month, and has developed a user base across the globe. The image that follows, also taken from Google Analytics, shows how ASM’s reach has expanded.

How did we pull it off? The videos provide some of the resources and strategies employed. This is not the focus of the material, but I believe it helps to have context. The time required to gain traction online is relevant as you look to the future and start to develop financial projections.

I also believe it is telling that the first financial models I developed for ASM were not at all useful. My approach was off, and at the time I didn’t really know what my objective was. Beyond providing financial modeling instruction, there was no business plan. This was new territory, and I point out why the first models were not useful in an introductory video.

By the time I started developing useful models for this video series I had 43 months of expense data to work with. The video-driven instruction will demonstrate how this data was collected and organized. As an example, the data is first provided in the format visible below:

With the information labeled on the appropriate worksheets, the video instruction continues by explaining how formulas can be used to organize and track the data by period and expense category:

The objective, of course, is to establish a revenue model that will cover the cost of maintaining, and permit investing greater resources into generating more content and developing better technology. In March of 2016 we relaunched the website with this objective in mind. Whereas the old website simply provided the means to share content, the new website incorporated the following features:

Membership Profiles

Quizzing Platform

Content Paywall

The decision to incorporate a quizzing platform was influenced by several texts I had read on the science of effective learning practices. Retrieving knowledge from memory is essential to the learning process (click HERE for more information about the science of learning), and my hope was that by charging primarily for quizzing it would be possible to keep a lot of the instructional content available free of charge. But putting some content behind the paywall also encourages users to explore the quizzing platform, so for the time being as new content is added to the website it will be placed behind the paywall. We are, however, attempting to keep prices low and currently charge $3 per month (cancel anytime). It’s slightly cheaper if you subscribe to the annual plan, and the website benefits substantially from this plan over the monthly plan (the video series explains why).

What’s exciting about this is that we can start incorporating a revenue model in our financial projections. I hope you will find it sufficiently intriguing and subscribe to learn more about this process. This video series is essentially a live entrepreneurial experiment. Whether it succeeds or fails you will get to witness it via the financial models and video instruction uploaded. It should be interesting.