Growthink Blog

Getting Robbed at the Bank, Part II


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Last week, I talked about Getting Robbed at the Bank - how today's Low Interest Rates (0.1%!) combined with High Inflation Risk make this one of the worst times ever to build wealth via savings.

Thankfully, this may also be one of the best times to invest, as never before have there been so many well-performing alternatives.

Start with Housing: 95 of the 100 largest US Metropolitan areas have seen housing prices rise since last year, with CoreLogic’s much-watched Home Price Index showing an average 10.5% Year-over-Year increase.

This has mirrored a solid rise in the Public Stock Market, which despite its extremely Poor Long-Term Performance, is up 5.5% this year.

And for those that can still remember the 2008 talk of Doomsday and of the collapse of our financial system, it is heartening to note that the S&P is up an amazing 189% since its March 2009 nadir.

And as good as the news has been in the Housing and Stock markets, it pales in comparison to this Golden Age of technology and venture investing that we are currently experiencing.

Almost every day comes barely able to believe valuations on technology company financings, acquisitions, and public offerings.

From last week's news of Open Table being purchased by Priceline (itself once an incredibly high flying Internet darling) for a whopping $2B, to transportation service Uber commanding the highest pre-public technology company valuation ever, to the fantastic and quick riches made by the early investors in companies like Nest, Occulus VR, and WhatsApp, the list just goes on and on.

And while it is human nature to feel more than a little jealous of those lucky enough to be the Founders and the Early Investors in these companies, what we really should feel is gratefulness for their roles in helping to right our national economic ship.

Start with jobs - unemployment went from a very impressive low 4.4% in 2007 to a very discouraging 10% by October 2009.

But with the addition of another 217,000 jobs in May, Unemployment now stands at a very manageable 6.3%, and there are now more people with jobs in the United States than ever before.

And when asset values go up, when purchase and sales transactions occur that result in huge capital gains, when people are working and earning good wages, Tax Receipts increase too.

And, in turn, the National Credit Rating improves.

After being embarrassingly downgraded in 2012, S&P now says that they are prepared to increase the rating back to AAA as the ongoing evidence of the economic good times (and Congressional Good Behavior) continues to build.
 
So for investors, this is as good as it gets. Real Estate, the Stock Market, Technology and Private Equity, Jobs, the Deficit, and more.

All that is lacking now are those “psychological” final pieces of the puzzle: Optimism and Confidence.

There is still a holding back, an unwillingness to believe that all of it is real and not a mirage.

And as a result, when it comes to those very precious dollars that we do not spend, that we put away for the future, we are still saving too many of them and investing too few.

Yes, we must proceed carefully and deliberately - because investing always involves risk - but we most proceed.

Leaving money in the bank is not a viable option anymore, not when interest rates are so low, not when the threat of inflation is so high.

And certainly not when the investment pickings are so good.
   
To Your Success,





Getting Robbed at the Bank


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I took my six and eight-year old sons to the bank this weekend to open their first savings account.

It felt like the right thing to do - they are at an age where they can understand the power and importance of money, albeit if mostly from the perspective of the things that can be bought with it.

But the hope of course is that the habits of savings, of delaying gratification are ones that will stay with them for a lifetime.

So off we walked to our local Bank of America branch - both boys clutching around $100, and proudly announcing our intentions to the teller.

We were then escorted to a BofA “personal” banker, who graciously walked us through the account opening process.

All was going quite swimmingly, and then I did something that I knew I shouldn't but couldn't resist.

I asked what the interest rate was.

And our banker glibly informed me that it was one tenth of one percent. 0.1 %.

And then instead of feeling all fatherly and a great role model…I felt like a real chump.

Every year my boys will earn one dime in interest.

Let's say they really button down and build up their accounts to $1,000.

That will get them one dollar per year.

Heck, how about those folks that work hard and save for a lifetime and accumulate $1 Million in savings?

Well, in the bank they are now earning a beyond miserly $1,000 per year.

Sure there are savings accounts that pay a little more, but has there ever been a time where the risk – reward gap between saving and investing was greater than it is right now?

Let’s define savings as what I did with my boys this Saturday: Putting and leaving money in the bank.

And let's then define investing as pretty much everything else: Public and Private Stocks, Bonds, Real Estate, Commodities, Collectibles, and more.

When it comes to return (0.1%), the comparison is an utter and complete joke.

But, it is when it comes to Risk, well…
 
…Investing, of course, involves risk. Always has, always will.

And while it is understood that while cash savings offers far lower returns, the tradeoff always was the assurance that your money was safe in the bank.

But in today’s economy, very unfortunately it simply is not.

Why? Because of massive inflation risk.

As in 10%, 15%, 20% annually or more.

And potentially coming not in the distant future, but very possibly in the next few years.

Since 2008, our Gross National Product has increased approximately 10%.

In that same time, the Federal Reserve has expanded the Money Supply more than 400% - from $800 billion in 2008 to over $3.9 trillion today.

As in four times as many dollars floating around here and abroad than there were six years ago.

Even generously taking into account the fact that the Greenback remains the reserve currency of choice the world over, this can only account for a fraction of the money supply increase.

Inflation – and lots of it – will eventually cover the rest.

And when it does, the savers amongst us are in for a world of hurt.

This is sad, because in so many ways the savers are the responsible ones - delaying gratification.

Planning for the Future. And for a rainy day.

But when the inflation deluge comes, our poor and pathetic savers probably won't even be able to afford an umbrella.

When I think of it like this, next week I'm marching my boys back to the bank and we're closing those accounts.

On the walk back, I'll teach them how to invest.

To Your Success,


--

Jay Turo

CEO

Growthink

 

P.S. Are you an accredited investor? Are you looking for opportunities now? If so, click here to tell us more about your current objectives and investment outlook and have a cup of coffee on us! 

 

 


Why Wall Street Can’t Be Trusted and What to Do About It


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Over the last three weeks, we have discussed the various factors that drive the 25% IRR return potential of the startup and emerging company investing class.

We then reviewed the various approaches to gain exposure to this return potential: Investing directly in operating companies, doing so through a Venture Capital Fund, or “Doing as Warren Does" and utilizing “The Berkshire Approach” of investing in an operating company that in turn invests in other operating companies.

Unfortunately, all of these approaches rely on something in exceedingly short supply in today’s financial marketplace.

Trust.

Now, wouldn’t it be great if investing actually worked like all of those lovely ads that mutual funds, brokerage firms, and insurance company say it does?

As in, Trust Us and we will take care of it for you.

If this were really so, it would free up so much valuable time and energy.

For family, hobbies, volunteer work, and more…knowing that one’s financial future was in someone else’s safe and capable hands.

But it just doesn’t.

A big part of the problem is that "Us" is for the most part large Wall Street banks and brokerage firms.

And if the last few years have taught us anything, it is that banks and brokerage firms are NOT places where smaller investors (and today small is anyone with less than $100 Million) should be expecting anything approaching extraordinary and high trust treatment.

Now, let me be clear: I am not a conspiracy theorist nor do I see Wall Street as at the heart of our Country's ills.

But I am someone that has looked at stock market return records of the past 15 years and sees too many people on Wall Street making a lot of money while delivering extremely average returns.

The word that best describes a state of affairs like this is institutional.

Self-preserving, bureaucratic, slow, dull.

And what it creates is a just a lot of…Blah.

Tired, mediocre ideas.

Blah Results and Blah returns.

Think of it this way: How much of a fish out of water would an innovator and a wealth creator like Steve Jobs have been on today’s Wall Street?

Yet, for the very most part, it is to this world that most of us turn to manage our money.

So when results come back that are barely average, we should not be surprised.

Now, there are alternatives. 

Let us not forget that the most famous and lauded investor of them all hails from Omaha.

And more to the point, the great entrepreneurs, the builders of businesses, those that actually create wealth…

…have always percolated at the edges and NOT in financial centers.

In The Silicon Valleys and The Silicon Beaches and The Salt Lakes and The Seattles and The Austins of the World.

The challenge is to see and act upon this reality.

To not be swayed nor frightened by the financial industry’s omnipresent marketing machine.

Because just like the greatest investor of them all became famous and fabulously wealthy far from Wall Street…

…We too can earn portfolio - transforming returns by doing something not any more complicated than thinking and acting for ourselves.

And when we do, a world of opportunities open up that are anything but institutional.

To Your Success,

--

Jay Turo

CEO

Growthink

P.S. Are you an accredited investor? Are you looking for opportunities now? If so, click here to tell us more about your current objectives and outlook and have a cup of coffee on us!


The Perfect Investor


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There were a lot of Warren Buffett "hero worship" type responses to my posts last week on "Doing As Warren Does" and applying the principles utilized to make Berkshire Hathaway the most successful investment company of all time.

And it is understandable why so many people - from very different world views and levels of financial sophistication - rightly consider Mr. Buffett to be the “Perfect Investor.”

His qualities in this regard are almost cliché - honest, humble, frugal, opportunistic in the face of adversity, and possessing of an other-worldly foresight as to where and how to find outsized returns.

But there are a couple of problems.

First, Mr. Buffett, for all of his amazing track record, is 83 years old.

And he is on record as saying that he rarely invests in technology companies as he does not feel qualified to properly diligence and understand them.

Both of which beg the question as to whether the “Buffett Way” is still the way to win in this global, technological age of ours?

And if it is not, then who will be the The 21st Century Warren Buffett?

The Perfect Investor for our era? 

While the identity of this person will be almost impossible to discern before the fact, he or she will almost assuredly possess these characteristics:

They Will Love Risk. Relative to the Mid-Century America in which Warren Buffett developed his philosophy and approach, our era of global and hyper-warp speed technological change requires a much different approach to uncertainty and loss.

While Mr. Buffett was able to build an alpha-performing portfolio without significant risk-taking on any one position, the modern investor simply does not have this luxury.

Instead, they must be far more comfortable and proficient with an “Outlier” approach, where a few big wins offset middling performance - and even complete loss of principal - on the significant majority of held positions.

They Will Focus on Market Opportunities More than on Execution. While quality, determined execution will always be at the heart of successful business-building, our Modern Day Perfect Investor will recognize this as a necessary, but by no means sufficient condition for business and investment success.

Far more important will be “visionary” assessments of global markets, specifically as to which types and forms of technology will disrupt these markets over the next 5 to 10 years.

Think Dropbox for Storage, AirBnB for Travel. WhatsApp for Communication, and Nest for the Internet of Things.

They Will Possess a “Modern” Morality. The idea that that which is moral and right needs to be updated alongside the wild, rapid, and continuous updating of our technologies is a hard one for those of a certain age and era to accept and embrace.

Yes, perhaps “prudent” and “conservative” in this Brave New World of ours are as much barriers to success as they are emblematic of it?

Maybe pomp, flash, celebrity - as opposed to being things to be frowned and looked down upon - instead are assets to be nurtured and promoted.

Maybe morphing one's business model on annual, quarterly, or even monthly basis is not a sign of scattered focus, but rather a necessary competence to survive and prosper in our modern conditions of permanent uncertainty.

It may sound and be unsettling.

But to paraphrase an old but yet very modern philosopher it is sometimes only chaos that can give birth to a dancing star.

In short, our Modern, Perfect Investor will probably not look anything like Warren Buffett. 

Other than in the one quality that matters above all else…

…outsized results earned over time.

That never goes out of style.

To Your Success,

 

P.S. Like to learn how to apply these principles to your portfolio? Then attend my webinar this Thursday, “What the Super Angels Know about Investing and What You Should Too.”  

Click Here to learn more.


Improved Liquidity, Investment Flexibility, and Labor Arbitrage


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There were some great responses to my post last week as to the poor returns experienced by venture capital fund investors.

Some suggested that the blame for this lied more with the very difficult market and deal conditions of the past decade than with the VC investment model itself.

Typical was this comment submitted by a San Diego VC: "I agree that the VC fund industry is guilty as charged when it comes to being opaque as to real returns data, but I challenge you to revisit your analysis in 24 to 36 months, when we all will have had time to benefit from today’s strong M&A and IPO markets."

One reader reference Gust Founder David Rose’s new book - “Angel Investing: The Gust Guide to Making Money and Having Fun Investing in Startups” and to Rose’s main contention that to access the 25% IRR potential of the asset class one must hold positions in not less than 20 companies.

He asked, “Is this practical advice? I mean - who really has the time to find, diligence, and invest in dozens of companies? And for those that don’t, are there really any “Warren Buffet-types” to back in this asset class?”

This is the billion dollar question, is it not?

And while of course anyone will be very hard-pressed to even approach Warren Buffett’s other-worldly track record, there are some powerful forces right now driving the timeliness of venture investing via the “Berkshire Model.”

These forces fall into three main categories – Improved Liquidity, Investment Flexibility, and what let’s call “Labor Arbitrage.”

Improved Liquidity. Illiquidity is a huge elephant in the room when it comes to startup and emerging company investing. Most startups and early stage companies that seek outside investors are years away from investor liquidity – either via sale to a strategic or financial acquirer, or far more rarely via a Public Offering of the Company’s stock.

Now Berkshire Model companies, as entities with fundamentally investment vs. operating mindsets more naturally position, language, and network their businesses in finance contexts.

While doing so by no means assures successful outcomes, it does create the far more likely possibility of secondary market liquidity alternatives for investors that “want out” in the interim before the final exit.

Investment Flexibility. Investment companies in the Berkshire mold have great flexibility to structure investments of various types: traditional straight cash-for-equity, warrants, contingent warrants, revenue certificates, convertibles, in exchange for professional services, on project-by project bases, and more.

This flexibility is a game changer, as when done right it can provide managed, diversified exposure to a portfolio of deals and opportunities inaccessible via more “traditional” means.

Labor Arbitrage. A wise man once said that all businesses fundamentally do is “bridge the gap” between markets for labor and those for products and services.

Relatedly, one of the best advantages of the Berkshire model is the ability it affords to "Mark Up" the labor involved in effecting deals and transactions.

Let’s explain this by example.

Say a finance or advisory services professional is paid a salary of $80,000 per year, plus bonuses and incentives based on deals, transaction closings, and successful exits (not atypical terms).

Let’s then utilize a 20% load factor and assume that this worker’s fully loaded cost is $100,000 per year. Let’s then assume a 2,000 hour work year (we hope they work harder than this, as this is such an opportunity filled industry!).

Then, on a hourly basis, this professional’s fixed cost is approximately $50 per hour.

Now it is neither unusual nor unreasonable for even midlevel management consultants and investment bankers to bill out at $250 an hour and more on a cash basis, and much more than this on a cash equivalent basis when services are performed in exchange for contingent and / or equity compensation pay structures.

The critical point here is that when services are performed in exchange for equity compensation , even with average deal “picking” there is a natural Deal Arbitrage Effect that can easily create positive expected value on each and every deal.

A massive advantage.

Like everything associated with startup and emerging company investing, a lot of hard and smart work is needed to do it right.

But when done so, the payoffs can be enormous.

Just ask any Early Berkshire investor for confirmation.

To Your Success,

P.S. Like to learn how to apply these principles to your portfolio?   Then attend my webinar this Thursday, “What the Super Angels Know about Investing and What You Should Too.”  

Click Here to learn more.


The Big Secret to Raising Venture Capital


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Years ago I served on a funding panel with Tom Clancy. At the time, Tom was a partner at Enterprise Partners Venture Capital in San Diego.

At the time (around 2003), many venture capital firms were licking their wounds. They had funded a ton of companies during the tech bubble phase, and most of them had failed.
 
This led Clancy to make an important decision. He said that going forward, Enterprise Partners would wait at least six months before funding any new company they met.

The rationale was solid. During the six months, he would see what the entrepreneur was able to accomplish. If the entrepreneur accomplished the milestones set forth in their business plan, than they were deemed worthy and would receive funding. If not, they would not.

So what is the entrepreneur to do during the six months in order to get the investor to write them a check?

Obviously they need to achieve milestones... But what else?

Before I give you an answer, I want you to know how crucially important this is, not only in raising capital, but in securing key partnership and gaining key customers.

Let me give you an example of an entrepreneur who successfully used this technique in order to get a key partner. This entrepreneur’s name was Chet Holmes. And one of the key reasons that Mr. Holmes achieved success was through his partnership with marketing guru Jay Abraham.

How did Holmes get the partnership with Abraham? Like many people, he tried to reach him by phone, fax and mail. But Holmes did it every other week...

...FOR TWO YEARS!!!

Then, he finally got a call from Abraham's business manager for a lunch appointment, flew to Los Angeles for lunch, and established a very profitable partnership.

So, what's the answer to the question of how to woo investors, customers, partners, advisors, key hires, and more over six months?

Effective and persistent communications. In other words...

FOLLOW UP.

You must consistently, over a period of time, hammer home your message to investors, key customers and others.

What exactly does this mean? For investors, once you meet them, you should follow-up with them at least twice per month to update them on your progress. For prospective customers, you should contact them on an ongoing basis to continually give them value and convince them of the benefits of working with you. And of course, don't forget to follow-up with your existing customers.

And a key here is that this follow-up should NEVER END unless or until the costs of the follow-up clearly outweigh the benefits.

Remember that people invest in, buy from, and partner with other people. So, who would you rather work with? Someone who has been contacting you for two years with quality messages regarding why you should partner with them, buy their product or invest in them? Or someone who you just met yesterday and tells you how great they are?

The answer is clear.

Don't stop at the first contact. Choose the appropriate frequency (i.e., you don't want to be perceived as too obnoxious or pushy to potential investors), craft quality messages, achieve your milestones, and convince investors and others to work with you over time.


When it Comes to Venture Capital, Do Like Warren Does


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All of a sudden, it is boom time again for venture capital funds, with over $10.3 billion in fresh capital raised by 578 funds in the 1st quarter, up 36% from 2012.

And high profile exits on deals like Nest, WhatsApp, and Occulus - where fund investors saw returns in excess of 20x their original investments - have caught the public's fancy as to the power of startup and emerging company investing.

So it should come as no surprise that a lot of folks want in on the action.

But for the individual investor, is investing in a venture capital fund really a good idea?

It can be, as the return examples above attest, but more and more it has become a losing game.

Here’s why:

Market Efficiency. With now over one thousand active U.S. venture funds - and with so many of them pursuing similar deal sourcing strategies and approaches - it has become extremely difficult for VCs to find and secure high potential, well priced deals.

The result has been a “regression to the mean” - with alpha performance by fund managers being driven as much by randomness and luck (as it has been with public market mutual funds for decades) as by coherent design.

Fees. The world of low and no load management fees that so transformed mutual fund investing for in the 80's and 90's is far from being on the VC radar.

In fact, as opposed going down, venture fund fees have been going in the other direction, with a number of higher profile funds upping their annual fees to 3% (along with asking for a greater share of the returns) versus the standard 2-2.5%.

These high fees obviously eat away at returns, and more profoundly are in contrast to the “disintermediation spirit” so at the heart of modern technology investing.

Friction. Little discussed in most venture fund models are the high costs of deal sourcing, diligence, and oversight.

It is not unusual for a venture fund to sort through thousands of possible investments, deeply diligence a few hundred, prepare and submit term sheets on a few dozen, and then do zero deals.

This all costs money.

And all this doesn’t even begin to measure the management and oversight costs on the deals that are done – which at their barest minimum range from quarterly board meeting attendance to monthly, weekly, and sometimes daily calls and meetings with portfolio companies.

All this work is necessary to do venture capital right, but is also expense and friction filled.

Now, funds do work to charge some of these costs back to their portfolio companies, but usually these offsets flow to the fund’s General and not its Limited Partners.

So what to do?

Well, for those that love the startup and emerging company asset class, but are reluctant to either a) put all of their eggs in one basket via investing in one particular startup directly and / or b) get the problems with the current VC model per the above, here are two ideas:

1.    Explore Crowdfunding sites like Crowdfunder.com and peer-to-peer lending sites like Prosper.com and LendingClub, all of which offer various forms of fractionalized and securitized investing into the asset class.

2.    Do Like Warren Does. The Berkshire Hathaway model of an “operating company owning other operating companies” can be a great gateway to the asset class, combining both diversification along with the the “pop” and fast liquidity potential that a single company investment allows. Well-run companies like this that focus on the startup space are hard to find, but when one does they are definitely worth a closer look.

In short, when it comes to asset class, the advice here is to avoid the VCs and explore investment models – some new and some old – that provide access to it in a lower cost, higher expected return, and all-around more investor-friendly way.

To Your Success,

P.S. Like to learn how to apply these principles to your portfolio?   Then attend my webinar this Thursday, “What the Super Angels Know about Investing and What You Should Too.”  

Click Here to learn more.


The Greatest Steal Ever


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I grew up watching Larry Bird. My dad was a huge Boston Celtics fan (which is relatively odd considering he grew up in New York City). So, I became a huge Celtics fan too. And I was a big fan of the heart of the Celtics’ Larry Bird.
 
This guy never gave up.

In fact, if you watch this 40 second video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_RJ5XN8TK8 - you’ll see what I consider the greatest steal ever...

The Celtics were losing by 1 point with only 5 seconds left. And the other team had the ball. The game was essentially lost. But then Larry Bird intercepted the inbound pass and passed the ball to Dennis Johnson. Johnson scored the basket and they won the game.

While Larry Bird’s steal was phenomenal, if his teammate Dennis Johnson wasn’t in the right place and didn’t execute on his layup, Larry Bird’s efforts wouldn’t have resulted in a win.

As an entrepreneur, you also need great teammates. Since you can’t possibly build a great company by yourself.
 
In fact, great entrepreneurs are more like Larry Bird the coach (who “hired” and coached his players into being the best they could be) than Larry Bird the player (who performed key tasks and made his co-players better).
 
The key is this -- you need to find, hire and then train and coach the best people. Because there are TONS of bad people. I learned this very early on at Growthink. Years ago, I generally gave people the benefit of the doubt. If they said they could do something, I figured they could. And then I quickly realized that some people “have it” and some people don’t.
 
I think “having it” is the quality of people who “do what they say and say what they do” and always try to do their best. You want people who “have it” and at the same time people who are qualified and uniquely skilled at the position you need to fill. For example, while I believe I “have it,” there’s a whole bunch of positions that I’m not qualified to fulfill or which wouldn’t inspire me to do my best work.
 
So, how do you find these great people who “have it” and possess the skills you need. Here are my recommendations:
 
1. Event Networking:
great people have several common traits, one of which is their dedication to ongoing education. That’s why great people generally go to events and conferences. You also need to go to these events, where you’ll find some very talented individuals.
 
2. Being Sociable:
I’ve heard lots of stories of people meeting people at sports events, supermarkets, on a plane, etc., and striking up conversations that results in great hiring decisions. I must admit that I’m not the most sociable person outside of work; but I’m getting better at this.
 
3. LinkedIn:
LinkedIn is a great online network to find qualified people to come work for you. Join relevant LinkedIn groups to find folks with similar interests and who are looking to further their careers. And reach out to the best ones.
 
4. Recommendations & Referrals:
Oftentimes the best hires are the ones that were recommended to you by friends and colleagues. Send emails out to your network and advisors asking if they know someone with the skills you need. People generally only recommend people that they believe are competent, since their own reputations are on the line.
 
5. Executive Recruiters:
while this will cost more money in the short-term, executive recruiters (also known as “headhunters”) can find you great candidates. This is what they do. Importantly, they will often find you people who aren’t actively looking for a new job. These are often the best folks. I mean, would you rather hire an unemployed person looking for any company that will take them, or someone who’s thriving at a company but sees great opportunity in helping you grow your venture?
 
Importantly, in its relative infancy, eBay used executive recruiting firm Kindred Partners to find and hire Meg Whitman. Whitman turned eBay into a multi-billion dollar company and herself into a billionaire.
 
Using one or more of these five tactics will get you qualified job candidates. But, before you hire any, I highly suggest you give them two tests as follows:
 
1. A skills test:
whenever possible, you should test the skills of the job candidate. If you are hiring someone for a research job, give them a research assignment. If you are hiring someone to be a receptionist, do mock calls with them. Etc. I realize that for some jobs, it may be harder to test, but get creative since you want to make sure they will be able to perform.
 
2. A culture test:
if someone comes highly recommended and passes a skills test, it still doesn’t mean they’re the right hire. They MUST match with your company’s culture. For instance, if they’re a stiff, and your company thrives on fun and creativity, then they’re not the right match. Your company culture is critical, so don’t ignore this key test.
 
Hiring the right players for your team is critical to your success. There are no wildly successful 1-person companies that I know of. Imagine for a moment if you had a dream team; a group of employees that were so talented your competitors would be in awe. How good would your company become? How much faster would you accomplish your goals? How great would it be to come to work every day? Think about your answers to these questions, and then start building a great team and a great company today.


Lucky or Good? Companies that Sell for High Exits


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The saddest lament of entrepreneurs and owners of private companies seeking to sell and exit their companies is that they want their businesses to be valued on their future potential, and not its CURRENT profitability.

Given that the typical, offered purchase multiples for smaller businesses – as in those with less than $5 million in EBITDA – can be as low as 1 or 2 times last year’s tax return profits, this is understandable.

In fact, we often see purchase offers based on multiples of MONTHLY earnings – not exactly the “happily ever after” exit dreamed of when these businesses were founded!

Yes, getting a business valued and sold based on factors other than its earnings while by no means impossible nor uncommon, is HARD.

Yet…there are literally hundreds of companies every month that sell for very high multiples of profits, for multiples of revenue, and even companies that are in a pre-revenue stage that sell every day just on the value of their technology, their people, and their work processes.

What do they?

Well, here are six things that companies that sell for high multiples do that you can and should too.

1. They Are Technology Rich. Companies rich in proprietary technology in all its forms – patents, processes, and people – are far more likely to be valued on factors other than profitability and correspondingly attain purchase prices beyond a few times current year’s earnings.

As an example, the likelihood of a medical device company being sold or taken public is twenty times greater than that for a services - or a low-to-no proprietary technology company - doing so.

2.They Have Gold at the End of their Rainbows. Businesses that sell for high multiples communicate exciting and profitable future growth.

Their managers demonstrate understanding of the big 21st century “macros” - i.e. how technology evolutions and globalization will impact positively and negatively their industry, market, customers, and competition.

Concurrently, these managers understand the micros well too, especially how their business’ human capital will adapt and grow as change happens. 

All this translates into well-developed stories that if their businesses aren’t making it now, there is gold (and a lot of it!) at the end of their rainbows.

3. They Are Great Places to Work. Businesses that sell are usually characterized by that good stuff that we all seek in our professional environments.

They are culturally cohesive. If they don’t have low employee turnover, they at least have well - defined career progression paths. And their compensation policies align and pay well with desired performance.

Quite simply, they are great places to work and are reputationally strong within their industries.

4. They are Process and NOT People Dependent. Businesses that are overly dependent on charismatic owners or a few dynamic salespeople or engineers rarely sell because the majority of their value can simply walk out the door tomorrow and never come back.

Important aside: for those entrepreneurs that harbor the desire to sell but not the ambition to build a meaningfully sized, process-based organization should then focus their exit planning almost exclusively on technology and intellectual property development.

If they are unwilling / unable to do this, then they should put the idea out of their head for now and invest this energy into more meaningful pursuits.

Like my favorite - making absolutely as much money today as one possibly can.

5. They Have Good Advisors. Businesses that do everything right but have messy financial statements because of poor accounting, messy corporate records because of poor or non-existent legal counsel, and messy “future stories” because of poor exit planning and investment banking advice, simply do not sell.

Sure, they may get offers, but invariably these deals fall apart in diligence and at closing.

And as anyone that has ever been through a substantial business sale process knows, almost nothing in business is as time and energy-draining as is getting close to a business sale and not getting it done.

6. They Get Lucky. Luck remains a fundamental and often dominant factor that separates the businesses that successfully sell from those that don’t.

The best entrepreneurs and executives don’t get philosophical nor discouraged by this but rather they embrace it.

They try new things. They follow hunches. They make connections.

They start from the pre-supposition of “accepting all offers” and work backward from there.

They and their companies can be best described as “happy warriors” – modern day action heroes ready for the fight. When they get knocked down, they smile, wipe their brow, and get right back in the fray.

And you know what? Our happy warriors, living and thinking and working like this day after day channel some mystical power and draw great luck and more to themselves and their companies.

Yes, companies that sell are the good and lucky ones.

Follow the advice above and fortune just may smile on your company and those you invest in too.


Who, Why, When: 15 Minute Due Diligence for the Modern Investor


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Over the last two weeks we have discussed the motivations of private equity investors, and then characteristics of companies with breakout potential.

So now we are at brass tacks: actually making Yes/No decisions on specific deals and opportunities.

In other words, handicapping the probability of a company’s investment return projections actually coming to pass.

And relatedly, fair pricing and terms upon which to consummate a deal.

It is upon these “Due Diligence” matters where the real - as opposed to the theoretical - money on early stage deals is made.

Now, due diligence - as it is done by serious, professional investors - is an enormous undertaking.

It often requires hundreds and sometimes thousands of hours of accounting, legal and background reviews and checks, along with third party validation and research as to claims regarding market opportunity, competitive landscape and customer pipeline, traction, and satisfaction.

It can be as time, energy, and expertise intense as any business process or project one could possibly imagine.

And because it is so, for almost all individual investors doing it thoroughly and right is almost always completely unrealistic.

Luckily, there are some shortcuts that can yield similar investment insight.

I call them the “Who, Why, and When” 15 minute Modern Due Diligence Checklist.

Who. Easily the most important question to ask of any endeavor of importance: Who is involved? What are their personal and professional histories and backgrounds? Of leadership, business, investment and life success? Who are the professional partners (Law, Accounting, Banking, etc.)? Who is on the Board? (Is there a Board at all)? Who are the Customers? The Partners? The Employees?

When it comes to whether a deal is good or not, the answers to these “Who” questions is more often than not all you need to know.

Why. Why is a deal happening? Why are those who are involved in fact…involved? Why is the deal being offered to you?

Start with Why.

When. The old adage that “Time kills all deals” is also a great harbinger into the likelihood of a successful investment outcome.

How long has the deal been shopped? How urgent/desperate are those involved to get the deal done?

Now, these questions cut both ways. I as much want to see entrepreneurs that need to get a deal get done versus those that perhaps just want it to be so.

Need, in its best sense, drives urgency and action.

Want is often lighter, less substantial, and thus more prone to delays and “almosts” versus results and return.

Who. Why. When.

Mediocre answers to any of these and almost certainly the deal is not right.

But as they are all spot on, well then the next question to ask is often “What are you waiting for?”


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