Why Investors Like Startups Focused on Solving Social Problems

The social impact of businesses has been held to the highest of regards in the past decade. Part of the reason for that is millennials have grown up with a more socially responsible mindset than previous generations. Though this has now become today’s norm, many entrepreneurs have gone the extra mile by making solving social problems their main focus. Companies such as Thread International, TOMS, Belu Water, and CellInk are just a few example. With unfortunate social problems making news headlines, one thing is for certain, solving social problems has become what the corporate world would refer to as “good business”.

An uneasy relationship has always existed between investors and entrepreneurs when social problems were in question. If you planned on utilizing socially friendly practices the hope was that it did not excessively affect your profit margins, and if you’re main focus was solving a particular social problem the worry was that you wouldn’t be making enough revenue. All this to say that many investors were hesitant to put too much focus in such businesses. However, with changing societal climates, we are in the midst of a shift. What we see today is that investors no longer have to choose between money, and their values. Hence, the rise of sustainable investing. The reason for its rise in popularity amongst interested investors is simple. People want to make a difference, and figuring out which companies are truthful to their social initiatives has become easier to monitor.

Sustainable investing is a term for investment approaches that consider environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors and their impact. Point in fact, after the controversial era of banking secrecy, sustainable investing has come to the forefront and become one of the fastest growing segments in finance. It is an opportunity to make money and make a difference in the world. By acknowledging its importance and popularity, organizations have further facilitated and incentivized investments in companies focused on solving social problems. For instance, PME funded company Co-Power, identifies energy efficiency projects that generate, or are expected to generate steady, predictable revenue streams by either selling clean power or by reducing energy consumption.

With societal consciousness becoming of increased importance in today’s corporate culture, investors have begun to fish out companies promoting such agenda simply for positive PR. Genuine social impact companies integrate doing good into everything they do. Successful social impact ventures balance for-profit work with community-oriented resources. Failing to do so diminishes credibility and increases customer mistrust. Therefore, entrepreneurs should make a habit of working with institutions and platforms that help verify and certify social impact, examine their supply chain, look for like-minded investors, and build a team that understand the importance of its principles. Act on your beliefs instead of just talking about them.

Making the world a better place and making money can go together. Startups focused on solving social problems endure many challenges that other businesses might not. However, it is important to remember that this is a better time than ever before to appeal to investors. Assuming millennials continue to make social responsibility a priority when it comes to where they work, what they buy, and whom they support, it is safe to say that many investors out there are open and willing to contribute to a greater good.

How to Read an Income Statement

financials

For many new in the business world, reading an income statement can be a confusing and intimidating experience. However if you know where to look you will realize that it is not as intimidating as it may appear. Understanding an income statement is a very important skill to have for entrepreneurs as it aids with making sound business decisions. Basically, an income statement tells you how much money came into your company during a specific period, how much a business spent in order to generate income, and how much profit a business has after having paid all expenses. Here are a few points that will make income statements easier to understand.

  1. Income statements cover a period of time

Before you delve into reading the income statement, make sure to take note of the specific time period covered. Questions you should be able to answer for the said period include: What are the revenues of the company during the period? Have the revenues increased or decreased over the last few periods? What are the various components of cost? How profitable was the company during this period? What are the earnings attributable to a share or the Earnings per Share?

 

  1. Income statements follow a simple formula

Income statements may have slight variations, depending on the company. However, they all possess the same data. Essentially, total revenue, total expenses, and net income (Total revenue-total expenses= Net income). Additional information is simply added in order to give the reader a more detailed depiction of financial status.

  1. Don’t let the jargon throw you off

What can make income statements difficult to understand is wording. Keep in mind that businesses can use different words to describe the same concept. For instance, the term “sale” or “income” can be used instead of “revenue”. The word “expenses” can be used instead “costs.” “Profits” and “net income” are also interchangeable.

 

  1. Expenses are often split into different parts
Expenses tend to be broken down into components. Cost of Goods Sold is the direct cost attributable to goods sold. Selling, General and Administrative Expenses combines payroll costs, except for what has been included in labour costs. Depreciation and amortization are charges with regards to fixed and intangible assets that have been capitalized on the balance sheet over time. Sales & marketing, as well as Research & Development costs are also almost always included in income statements.

 

  1. Keep an eye for cash flow
Comparing an income statement to a cash flow statement is highly recommended. The reason for this is to see if the profits earned are supported by the cash coming into the company. High profits on an income statement paired with low cash flow can imply weak quality of earnings. Know your key drivers and manage them. Keep a careful eye on areas that affect cash flow: accounts receivable collections and inventory turnover. How are you doing compared to past performance and your peers? Watch key areas that affect profits, net and gross margins, labor and fixed asset utilization. Though this is more acceptable with start-ups since they likely have to make substantial inventory investment before collecting from customers, this is something that should improve over time.

 

  1. Take note of the profit margin and earnings per share

The profit margin will give you an indication of the percentage of revenue that is left for shareholders after expenses are paid. Earnings per share will tell you the portion of earnings you would be entitled to if you owned one share.

 

Income statements can be very intimidating if you are a first-time business owner. If you are an entrepreneur needing help with your financial statements, remember that some aspects of running a business are not worth saving money on. There’s no need to turn yourself into a CPA, but you must be able to read financial statements, talk with better qualified financial people and assess your company’s performance.This will lower your stress level and get the job done efficiently.

What Is an Economic Moat?

The term economic moat, coined and popularized by Warren Buffett, refers to a business ability to maintain competitive advantages over its competitors in order to protect its long-term profits and market share from competing firms. Imagine McDonald’s without cost, convenience and golden arches, Nike without technological and trademarked innovation, or Amazon without its timely customer service innovations. They would be relatively unpopular companies struggling to survive in their respective industries. Business mogul, Warren Buffet has introduced the world to many of his lifelong lessons over the decades. One of the lessons that seems to have stayed relevant throughout the years is related to the coined term, “economic moat”.

As the age-old saying goes: Being the best is great because you’re number one, but being unique is greater because you’re the only one. Buffet has explained the importance of economic moats specifically when describing his investment strategy. His strategy centers on companies with strong economic moats, as they are more likely to withstand their competitors, and remain successful and unique. A company having a competitive advantage that further differentiates it from the competition will help through the highs and lows of operating a business. In its most basic form, a company without an economic moat is like a movie without an engaging hero, or storyline. In such a situation, there would be no way of creating a loyal consumer following, and subsequently no way of overcoming challenges that arise over time. On the other end of the spectrum, companies with competitive advantages can be threatened by competitors who replicate their methods. Establishing economic moats can therefore help companies protect long-term profits.

Thankfully for today’s business leaders, Buffet didn’t simply coin a theory-based term that required a bunch of scholarly analysis. The concept of building economic moats is a tangible one that can be leveraged through different business strategies. For instance, economic moats can be achieved in five ways: cost advantages, the network effect, high customer switching cost, efficient scale and intangible assets. The way you choose to build your economic moats all depends on the nature of your business. Think about what would be a good fit for the strategy you plan to execute. Buffet emphasizes the economic moat as an institution. It is not the mere elements that customers will like. Companies that build moats carve them around their businesses to keep competitors at bay. For instance, people loved Coca-Cola 50 years ago, and it’s fair to assume that they will 50 years from now. This is because Coca-Cola utilized the five sources of economic moats in order to create a loyal consumer base.

Let’s use the example of low-cost advantage. Suppose you have decided to make your fortune by running a lemonade stand. If you buy lemons in bulk once a week instead of every morning, you can reduce your expenses by 30%. This allows you to undercut prices of competing lemonade stands. While profits would increase, it wouldn’t take long for competitors to notice your method and replicate it. However, suppose you develop and patent a juicing technology. This technology would allow you to get 30% more juice out of the average lemon. This time, it would be a lot more difficult for the competition to duplicate. In this example, your economic moat is the patent that you hold on your proprietary technology.

The nature of capitalism is that others will want to come in and take what you have built. The goal for every business should be to build a durable fort around its castle.  The goal is to protect it from any attack that would come from the competition. Sometimes an economic moat is having more talent, other times it’s establishing legally protected patents. Just remember to remain patient. You should stay persistent because it may even take a few tries until you get your strategy right.

 

6 Tips for Reading an Income Statement

The income statement is one of three financial statements that you need to become familiar with (the other two are balance sheet and cash flow statement). Understanding an income statement is essential in order to analyze the profitability and future growth of your business however reading an income statement can be intimidating to many people. Especially, if you’re at the early stage of starting your first business. To make the process slightly easier for you, here are 6 tips you should consider while looking over any income statement. It may not be as difficult or as confusing as you think it is.

1. Every income statement follows a simple formula
There is one formula that every single income statements follows:
Revenue- Expenses= Profit.

2. Income statements cover a period of time
The income statement will inform you of the amount your business has made over some time. usually, The statement will represent how much was made over a month, a quarter or a year. The “year-to-date” reflects business activity since January 1 to the present date (usually end of month).

3. Multiple names for one item cause complexity
Don’t let the financial jargon throw you off. Confusion can stem from the vocabulary used in in statements. People can use different terms to describe the same things. For instance, the words “sales” and “income” can be used interchangeably, as opposed to revenue. The term “profit” can be used instead of “net income”. “Expenses” are sometimes called “net income”.

4. The breakdown
Often times, expenses are split into multiple parts. Furthermore, profit is calculated at interim levels. For example, expenses will often be broken down into revenues, cost of goods sold, gross margin, selling, general and administrative (SG&A), and profit. Cost of goods sold are costs directly related to the products sold. Materials bought to make a product fits within this category. SG&A are costs not directly related to the making of the sold good. For example, salaries and office supplies are calculated for this.

5. Gross margin percent should be relatively constant
Gross margin is revenues less cost of goods sold. Also referred to as gross profit, gross margin is the money you receive from the products and services you sell, minus what it cost you to deliver them. It is essential because that the cost of goods sold move with revenue. The gross margin percentage is your gross margin divided by revenue. It should remain relatively constant over time. Any dramatic change with this regard should be seen as a red flag.

6. Dollars spent on SG&A should be relatively constant
Any significant and abrupt change in SG&A should be considered as alarming. It should remain constant overtime, and all dramatic and unjustifiable change should be looked into.

Understanding how to read an income statement is important, as it summarizes the overall financial health of your business. Not only is it simple once broken down, there are also many tools available online for you to deepen your knowledge on the matter.

What to Do Before Accepting VC Funding

All start-up investors are not the same. Struggling entrepreneurs are often so happy to get a funding offer that they neglect the recommended reverse due diligence on the investors. Taking on equity investors to fund your company is much like getting married, it is a long term relationship that has to work at all levels.  Investors will conduct due diligence and  have a number of questions about your startup . But it is equally important that you understand the venture firm and the individual venture capitalist or angel investor who is considering an investment in your company. Though likely tempted to accept more capital, there are certain things all entrepreneurs must consider before accepting VC funding. More money is great, but weighing what this can imply for the future of your startup is crucial. In order to avoid accepting an investment you will regret down the line, here are a few things you should do before accepting VC funding.

  1. Think about whether your investor can offer more than just a check

    It is crucial that you research VCs thoroughly before you submit your pitch deck. Every venture capitalist has an investment thesis, strategy and approach to making decisions. If your business is technological, seek venture capitalists who help entrepreneurs in the tech field. Likewise, seek VCs who fund businesses in your stage of development whether it is a startup or an expansion.  Having more capital is great, but think about other attributes that can benefit you long-term. Your research will help you determine if your business and team are aligned with the venture capitalist’s process.

    You should ask about your investor’s investment track record. This is a follow-on about domain expertise and the experience of the specific VC. What are they most proud of? What was their contribution to the success of startups? This is also a way to identify other CEOs that have worked with this VC and get their perspective about the contribution the VC. Also, all investors do their due-diligence about a startup before investing. Entrepreneurs should be doing the same regarding investor. Reverse due-diligence is a process whereby entrepreneurs seek to validate the track record, operating style and motivation of their potential partner.

  2. Analyze the terms of the investment

    If a VC plans to embark on the journey with you, make sure you understand what his intentions are. Read the contract terms carefully. Have an experienced third party review the conditions of your partnership. For instance, it is important to know how involved they plan to be in the decision-making, and the stake they want to take. If a VC plans on taking a board seat, you want to make sure they will add value. Making sure you have the best people at the table is important.

More money is definitely tempting, especially for startups lacking capital. But it should be understood that receiving money from a VC has long-term consequences. For this reason

don’t succumb to the temptation to take funds from investors that you are not totally comfortable with. It is important to make sure that the partnership is a good fit, and compatible with your goals and ambitions.That means you and your business must benefit from both the money and mentoring from the investor, and the investor will win from getting a larger return sooner. Win-win relationships get better over time, whereas win-lose go downhill fast. Never underestimate the importance of doing your due-diligence, and reading the fine print.

Businesses You Didn’t Know PME Helped Propel

Over the past 18 years PME has helped guide many diverse businesses to success. Often, entrepreneurs come to us with just an outline of what they aim to achieve. With added assistance from our program leaders, mentors, and committee members, we are able to turn this vision into reality. Here are just a few notable mentions of companies that have been able to turn ideas into lucrative business opportunities with help from PME.

Budge Studios

Not only do they have millions of downloads for their games, they have become members of the PME committee. The mission of Budge Studios is to thrill, educate, and entertain children around the world through creative and innovative apps. They have won numerous notable awards for their accomplishments. This includes the Google Play ‘Best of 2016’ App Selection Award for their app, My Little Pony: Harmony Quest. Additionally, they won the Apple Store Best of 2016 for Miss Hollywood Vacation Canada. Budge Studios may be in the business of creating games but their business strategy and objective is rigid and direct. It’s all about being family friendly and universally playable.

Naked and Famous Denim

Naked and Famous Jeans has come a long way since we first met Brandon Svarc. Simply put, the company focuses on one thing only. As they so eloquently state: “No marketing, no washes, no pre-distressing, no nonsense. Just excellent denim at a reasonable price.” Naked and Famous Jeans uses Japanese selvedge denim which is woven slowly and painstakingly on old shuttle looms. Svarc travels to Japan numerous times a year to find new fabrics, and denim mills. Nicknamed the Willy Wonka of denim, he has been interviewed by popular publications such as GQ to share knowledge about his expertise. With all their products made and sewn in Canada,their sole purpose is to sell the highest level of quality to their end-user.

Copower

CoPower is where impact investment meets Wall Street. We met founders David Berliner, Larry Markowitz and Raphael Bouskila in 2013. Since then, CoPower has continued to strive and make the world a greener and more sustainable place. CoPower’s team works with clean energy firms to identify clean energy and energy efficient projects that generate steady and predictable revenue streams. CoPower is all about impact investing. For those of you who are unsure of what this is, impact investing is a strategy that involves the investing in companies and projects with the intention of generating measurable, positive, and environmental benefits alongside financial returns.

Revols

Not only are Navi and Daniel kick-ass entrepreneurs, but did you know they had the biggest kickstarter campaign in Canadian history? Revols has come a long way since its founding in 2014. Navi and Daniel were endlessly frustrated with finding the perfect pair of earphones. While they understood that ears are as unique as fingerprints, all custom-fit earphones came with a high price-point and long wait times. The dynamic duo decided to take matters into their own hands and create Revols: a pair of wireless customized earphones that provide the same comfort and sound benefits as traditional custom-fits, at a fraction of the cost and time.

All in all, PME has had some pretty driven, and ambitious entrepreneurs come through its doors. This is just a glimpse of many of our success stories. We provide them with the most essential tools entrepreneurs need in order to succeed.

Funding Rounds: What Are They?

You see it in the media all the time: Company X raised X amount of dollars at X$ valuation. If you don’t work in finance, have a business background, or have knowledge of venture capital, this may sound foreign to you. It’s pretty simple when broken down. Funding rounds and entrepreneurial jargon can seem intimidating to many. All it takes to understand is a step-by-step explanation of its different components, and that’s exactly what we want to do to alleviate your worries.

What is a funding round?

First off, what is a funding round, exactly? A funding round is what occurs because of a company’s need to raise money with help of investors. This means that new partners enter by acquiring part of the company’s share capital. Subsequently, this entails them having control over a part of it. In return for funding, investors expect the company to grow and succeed, and recover more than what they had invested. There are different types of funding (i.e. seed, series A, series B and series C). But, before going into all of that, let’s cover the basics.

Why is it important for startups to get the money?

When investors give money to startups they receive ownership stake in return. What increased investments does is that it can increase marketing budget, affect your speed to market, increase your visibility, and decrease your personal risk. Most investors usually join the project as partners. Having motivated, smart, and connected partners on your team comes with benefits beyond money.

Does the money have to be paid back?

No. If the startup fails, the investors lose out. But if the company gets acquired or goes public, they could potentially make a lot of money. Investors that take equity stake in a startup expect to reap large returns and rewards.

Why not just take a loan?

Although it is very smart not to dilute your business when you are first starting out, taking out a loan can be challenging for a new business. If you are an entrepreneur looking to keep all equity of your business, loans are the way to go. But, it is important to keep in mind that while loans don’t dilute ownership, they have to be paid back with added interest. All in all, many entrepreneurs opt for loans, in addition to funding rounds.

What’s a valuation? And how is it determined?

Startup valuation isn’t an exact science. A valuation is how much the company is worth. Determining this can get complicated, especially for early stage startups. Many startups raise funding when they are pre-revenue, so it’s really just a bet on how big the company can be in the future.  There are many different valuation tools and method that can be used. They can vary in the amount of assumptions you need to make about a company’s future, relative to past performance. Most startups take into account the estimated market size for their product or service, revenue, growth trajectory, and the likelihood of IPO or acquisition.

The higher the valuation, the better?

Not necessarily. Raising the valuation raises the stakes. Not only can valuations be ambiguous, a high valuation doesn’t mean much if a company decides to sell for less than it initially raised. Investors would then lose money on the deal. Also, assuming a company isn’t in their last round of funding, what a high valuation has done is set an extremely high bar for the business to reach before being able to raise more funds. This can also mean bad news for employees with equity compensation.

What is seed vs. Series A, B and C?

These designations relate to the stage of investment. “Seed” refers to the startup’s very first funding round. The subsequent rounds have the letters “A”, “B” and “C” attached respectively. There are investors that specialize in different stages of investment. They often label themselves as “seed-stage funds” or “late-stage funds.”

Is there a difference between an angel investor and a venture capitalist?

Yes. The difference is pretty clean cut. Angel investors are individuals who invest their personal finances in a startup. On the other hand, venture capitalists are institutional investors. They manage other people’s money, which they use to invest in business ventures. Many venture firms have limited life cycles, and are expected to provide returns to their contributors at the end of the period. It is expected that most startups will fail, but that the best ones will provide enough returns to cover all the losses and then some.

What do startups do with the money?

Simply put, the money is used to accelerate growth. It can be used to hire new employees, sales & marketing efforts and any sort of production costs. Obviously, this also depends on the nature of the business.

When and how often should a startup raise money?

This varies from business to business. Generally, startups raise funding every 1-2 years. It all depends on how much money is in the bank, how much more is needed and how much investors want to invest in you. Smart entrepreneurs raise funds before the money is needed, running out of cash is death for businesses. Don’t forget that fundraising is a long and arduous process.

How do you get investors?

Of course you should have a solid business proposal, but forming connections with investors is just as important. There is so much value to be gained by networking. Other than investing in someone with an attractive business, investors look for people they can trust to get the work done. Make an effort to go to industry events, build relationships, and introduce yourselves to people who can help make your goals happen.

How should you pick investors?

Whether you are working with an angel investor or a venture capitalist, one thing is for sure: money isn’t the only thing that makes an investor a right option. If your investor plans to be an active member of your business, it is crucial that there is trust in that relationship. It is also important that you find an investor in line with your interests, and that can solve your current problem. Additionally, keep in mind that diversity matters. In other words, you want investors with a complimentary skill set.

So you’ve raised millions. Does that mean you’re going to succeed?

Unfortunately, probably not. Starting a company is always a gamble. Some win and some loose. It requires much more than money raised. It entails consistent pace of innovation, and an immense will to persevere through hard times. Smart and hardworking people can run into various challenges at different stages. The key is knowing how to solve problems that arise, putting in the hours, being patient, and knowing when to pull the plug.

Hopefully this has covered some of the basic questions you had about funding rounds and why they matter. While your investments don’t necessarily determine how successful your business will be, funding rounds have great impact on your business’ potential. Funding rounds don’t provide automatic solutions to your problem, what you do as a result is what matters.

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How to Build a Perfect Pitch-Deck

When you see about 20 pitch decks a week over 15 years, you see A LOT of repeat mistakes. Many argue that there are different ways to create a pitch deck. This, however, is only half true. There is actually only one right way of building a pitch deck. Think about building a house. Every house needs a foundation, frame, walls, windows, paint, etc. A house can have its unique design and characteristics, but without the proper structure it can collapse. This too applies to your pitch deck. It’s all about the Story. Entrepreneurs often are confused by the term “Story”.  A story is not adding meaningless details, jokes or anecdotes.   Stories captivate, inspire and influence the audience you are pitching to. If done right it will get you closer to getting the deal you are hoping for.  For maximum impact, here are the slides you must have in your pitch deck.

The Introductory Slide:

Captivate your audience by introducing your company, explaining what you do and why you do it!

The Need:

The need is caused by the problem you are aiming to solve with your product. Essentially, the problem is the villain of your story. As seen in any superhero movie, the villain is a very complex and multifaceted character. The same goes for the problem you have identified. Here is where you, the entrepreneur, explain the gap/problem/challenge that must be solved. This is best told in a story. You can choose to tell your own story, that of a friend, family member, or the user persona. You can even frame your presentation in a way that permits for a story telling technique. Include a clear and concise problem statement.

The External Environment and Market Potential:

This slide is crucial for your deck. Basically, it explains, why you and why now. Going into detail about the external environment and market potential also includes some number crunching. The TAM (Total Addressable Markets), SAM (Segmented Addressable Markets) and SOM (Share of Market) will give an indication of the market size. Don’t forget to address the values of the markets, what was spent on similar solutions in previous years, etc.  Additionally, go over market trends among users that show a shift in behaviour. What is essential to highlight is that you’re working within a growing and profitable market!

Competitive analysis:

The goal here is to showcase your understanding of the market and its competitors. In order to do this in the best light you must highlight how you differentiate yourself from the competition. Visually, you can do so by preparing a quadrant or petal-diagram showing how you measure up to your competitors, listing them by name. More specifically, explain why you are better, what you understand that they don’t, what makes your product better, and what is your unfair advantage against them. Your differentiation statement will be the highlight.

The Solution:

Your solution is the “hero” of your story. For every quality your villain possesses, your hero embodies a counterpart. Not only does a hero come save the day, but it has also earned the trust and respect of a loyal group of people that rely on the hero. Describe how you are solving the issue with a simple solution sentence. A solution sentence should be formulated as such: we’re doing X (solving a problem), for Y (for a specific audience) by Z (what are you? A Platform/app/solution/tool, etc.). Don’t forget to mention your secret ingredient that is allowing you to do this. When showcasing your demo make sure to clearly portray the user experience, all relevant features, and what makes it beneficial to specific users. But remember, keep it simple!

The Business Model:

When presenting your business model the purpose is to describe your main revenue model (ex. Subscription, ads, affiliate, revenue share, etc.) Additional revenue streams should be mentioned as well. Describe the milestones you’ve reached in funding, product, users, revenue, growth, endorsements, partnerships, etc. If you haven’t reached any major milestones yet, that too is okay. Make sure to give a truthful depiction of where you are at, and use some metrics to help illustrate this.

Go-to-Market Plan:

You must showcase the strategies that will allow you to penetrate the market and gain users. More specifically, if you are a dealing with different consumer groups you must indicate the different channels you plan to use to acquire each customer. Specify the cost-per-acquisition (CPA) for all. Even though you might not have money at the start, you may have plans of putting together a sales team, establish strategic partnerships, distribution channels, content market and social campaigns. Makes sure to vocalize all of these elements.

Moving forward:

Here is where you get to the aftermath, hoping your hero is triumphant. You present a short-term and long-term plan for your business moving forward. Any exciting additional features or products in that you intend to explore? Plan on using new revenue streams? This is where you showcase the bigger vision you have for your business! Don’t forget to present your KPIs.

Roadmap and Round Objectives:

When going over your funding requirements, list the main allocations such as R&D, Sales and Marketing, Team Expansion, etc. Your “round objective” should indicate where you wish to be when you get to the next round of funding (for example: this will take us X months and X users/revenue/downloads, to breakeven and have positive cash flow).

The Team:

The Conclusion:

 

Whether your presentation has many, or very little slides is not of importance. Some superhero get one movie, while others get numerous sequels. This does not make one better than the other. What is important is that you have communicated your ideas simply and efficiently. Utilizing storytelling, while also using the essential founding elements for a pitch deck is the only way of getting the investor interested.

 

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