My Post last week on the fast funding and growth success of Domo (over $450 million in capital raised at a $2 billion valuation), generated a lot of great responses - some whimsical, some skeptical, but with the most interesting being variants of:
"How can the lessons of Domo (and those of the other Tech Unicorn's profiled), be best applied to my business and investment plans?
This is such an important and in so many ways misunderstood topic that I decided to share, via live Webinar, key insights from the business models and investment strategies of Unicorns like Domo, Uber, Airbnb, Dropbox, and Slack and why some of the smartest business and investment minds in the world today consider what these companies do so important and valuable.
What Will Be Covered
On the webinar, I will reveal:
• Why the valuations for SaaS companies have grown so exponentially
• What aspects of their business models can be ported to virtually any business in any industry
• Why emulating what Tech Unicorns do and how they do it can be so high ROI for virtually any business
• Where companies with Unicorn Potential can be found in today's markets
• And much, much more!
Who Should Attend
I have designed the webinar with two main audiences in mind:
1. Entrepreneurs and Business Owners seeking transformational ideas to quickly increase the growth and value of their companies.
2. Investors interested in aggregating positions in Disruptive Technology Companies at their most opportune moments: after the highly unpredictable Startup stage, but before they become widely known and priced to market.
To preserve the intimacy of the presentation, we are limiting attendees to the first 35 registrants, so Reserve Your Seat today!
Sign up here:
This is clearly one of the great boom times in the history of Venture Capital, with more than $29 billion in fresh capital being raised by more than 250 funds over the past year. This represents a 70% jump from the comparable, previous year’s period, and more than a 225% jump from the “nadir” numbers of 2009-2010 (all stats here from the NVCA).
And VCs have seen a lot of successful exits, too (hooray!), with in 2014 more than 115 venture backed companies going public and more than 455 exits via M&A.
Probably most importantly, long term (3, 5, 10, and 20 year) VC returns continue to significantly out-perform the major public equity indices (DJIA, NASDAQ, S&P 500).
All very, very good and exciting stuff, but for the individual investor, is investing in a VC fund a good idea?
It can be, as the return examples above attest, but because of regulatory and technology changes, there are now far better ways to deploy capital into high potential, privately held companies (i.e. the VC investment sweet spot). Here’s why and how:
Market Efficiency. With now over twelve hundred active U.S. venture funds - and in general with them pursuing mostly the same deal sourcing strategies and approaches - it has become extremely difficult for VCs to consistently 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 return, and more profoundly are in contrast to the “disintermediation spirit” so at the heart of modern 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 VC investing 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 want access to the unique returns of the 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 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.
And, with the SEC greenlighting equity-based crowdfunding last week, keep a careful eye on crowdfunding sites like Crowdfunder.com that will now be able to directly process smaller-denomination private company investments over the Net.
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 investments 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 this 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 modern way.
To Your Success,
In my Crowdfunding Formula program, I teach the 14 steps you must follow to successfully raise money from Crowdfunding.
It turns out that Jeremy Smith from Provo, Utah, not only followed these 14 steps to a "t", but really perfected them.
The result: while he set out to only raise $12,000 for his new night light product (the SnapRays Guidelight), he ended up raising over $430,000 (he raised the $12,000 he needed in just 2 hours).
You can see the Crowdfunding raise for yourself at Kickstarter here.
Here are the key reasons Jeremy and the SnapRays Guidelight were successful in their Crowdfunding raise. Make sure you keep these points in mind if/when you use this great new funding source.
The video explaining the product and the Crowdfunding raise was excellent. It starts by explaining the problem (i.e., existing nightlights have lots of issues such as bulkiness, etc.). It goes on to explain the benefits of his solution (e.g., ease of install, energy efficient, etc.). It even does a side-by-side comparison versus an existing solution showing how much better it is.
Then, about 2 minutes into the 2:45 minute video, co-founder Sean appears and says “thanks for watching” and explains how he and his team has “poured their lives” into the project or years. This personalizes the video, makes you like him, and thus makes you want to fund the project more.
Finally, the video has inspiring music in the background. While it’s just “stock” music footage, it gets the viewer excited.
Beneath the video, there are tons of pictures of the product, a great description, and answers to all the frequently asked questions people have about it. Where did they uncover what frequently asked questions to answer? Well, from previously presenting to potential investors and partners they developed a list of all the key questions people have.
Variety of Reward Options
When doing a Crowdfunding raise, you offer rewards to those who back you. This company wisely created 11 different types of rewards based on contributions of just $12 to $120. By having this variety, they were essentially able to price discriminate. People who were only able to offer $12, spent that amount, while those with deeper pockets provided more support.
Quality Social Media Marketing
Everything I’ve mentioned so far about this Crowdfunding raise would have been a waste had the founders been unable to drive people to their page. And that’s just what they did. Via a very effective and concerted effort, they took to Facebook and Twitter and generated a big buzz for their raise. As a result, they drove a lot of people to their Crowdfunding page, and those people often funded the company and/or told even more people about it.
Like everything else, it’s all about execution. Having a great idea is one thing. But the magic is when you perfectly execute on it, and raise over $430,000 in under 30 days!
The right story can grow your business into an amazing success. That being said, consider this great story:
The above story/sales letter, written by Martin Conroy, was used by the Wall Street Journal for 25 years starting in 1974. Doing the math regarding how many people this letter was sent to, the percentage of orders that came from it, and the subscription prices, it is estimated that this story resulted in $1 billion in sales for the paper.
So, what’s the point?
The point is that stories are an extremely effective, but often overlooked, sales tool that can allow emerging ventures to compete with large established companies. Stories allow companies to get their prospects involved in their message. It gets them excited. And then they want to learn more.
Here's an example of another startup who crafted a great story...
The story goes on to discuss all the benefits of Joe Sugarman’s BluBocker sunglasses… over 20 million pairs of which have now been sold!
Does your company have a great story? If you do, great. If not, create one.
And once you have a story, where should it go? To start, it should go in your business plan. Use your story to excite investors, and others like potential partners and employees. And use your story in your marketing like the Wall Street Journal and BluBocker sunglasses did.
Success can be a simple as crafting a great story (and then delivering on the story’s promise of course). So start crafting today!
On March 3rd, Crowdfunding platform Kickstarter announced that is surpassed $1 BILLION in funding pledges. That’s $1,000,000,000 in funding for entrepreneurs.
Very interestingly, Kickstarter included lots of interesting statistics on these crowdfundings as follows:
Those are some very impressive numbers. And they ONLY represent one Crowdfunding platform. If we start adding other platforms, like IndieGogo, RocketHub, etc., the amount of Crowdfunding dollars raised and the number of backers skyrockets further.
And, perhaps most importantly, the trend for entrepreneurs is extremely positive as Crowdfunding is growing rapidly. Recall what I wrote above -- “more than half of the $1 billion was pledged in the last 12 months alone.” Now consider that Kickstarter launched on April 28, 2009.
That means that from April 28, 2009 to March 2, 2013, a nearly 4 year period, a half-billion dollars was raised on Kickstarter. They then raised the same amount in just the last year.
The fact remains that Crowdfunding is here, is here to stay, and is only growing. This is truly a blessing for entrepreneurs and is probably making right now the best time in history to raise money for any company. So, if you need funding, what are you waiting for?
The confluence of Big Data and high quality, low cost software-as- service (SaaS) programs and applications for virtually every business purpose has made the path clearer than ever as to what entrepreneurs and executives must do to build real equity value in their companies.
It looks like this:
First, utilizing great tools like John Warrilow’s Sellability Score or Dave Lavinsky's Start at the End we define exactly what we seek for our key stakeholders: Customers, Employees, Partners, Vendors, and Shareholders.
For customers, it might be the efficacy / benefits of our products and services.
For Employees, it might be their opportunities for contribution, professional growth, enjoyment and income.
For Partners and Vendors, it might be what we wish our reputation to be, our brand to represent.
And for our Shareholders, it is the equity value we seek to attain, through our stock price, our sale price (to a strategic or financial acquirer), and / or the future value of our cash flows.
With these end points clearly defined, we then score ourselves - i.e. measure the size and nature of the “gaps” between where we are and where we want to be.
Now, for almost all businesses, completing this scorecard requires accessing various SaaS programs, both paid and free, to “get the data.”
We then turn to “the Micro SaaS” – the various “Cloud” programs and applications on which our business partially, mostly, or completely runs.
Programs and applications like Google Analytics, PIWIK, Clicky, and KISSmetrics for our web marketing performance, Salesforce, SugarCRM, Infusionsoft, and Marketo for lead conversion and sales teams, ECI, Sage, Intacct, and Basecamp for operations and project management, and QuickBooks, NetSuite, and Xero for accounting and finance.
Now, here is where, in the last 18 months, the game has really changed.
For the first time ever, we can now automate both the measurement of where we stand against our goals and the Gap Analysis of what we need to do improve results.
This is because the long hoped for promise of business intelligence dashboards, tools and services has reached a tipping point, as best evidenced by the massive financing attained by companies like Cloudera and Domo, and by the incredible traction that smaller company-focused business intelligence dashboard tools like Geckoboard, Leftronic, and my company's product Guiding Metrics have gained.
Combining Exit Planning, SaaS, and Dashboards allows us to automate our strategy, defining what we want to achieve and understanding the industry, market, and competitive landscape we must prevail in…
…and our tactics, the day-to-day marketing, sales, operations, and financial nitty-gritty needing to be done to get there.
And as we attain this seamless integration and automation, we in turn get closer to realizing the ultimate business dream...
…sitting back and watching the dollars and the victories roll in while enjoying and not killing ourselves in the process!
Pretty cool, eh?
Even billionaires need to raise money. Take Donald Trump. Each time he launches a new real estate project, he raises outside money for it. Why? Because why should he only invest his own money? Rather, Trump and other billionaires understand the importance of leveraging other people’s money.
So, what do billionaires like Donald Trump do to raise money? Below are five key tactics billionaires use, and perhaps more importantly, that you can too.
1. Leverage Relationships
Billionaires have lots of relationships that they leverage when seeking capital. They access their networks by telling them about their latest project and their funding needs.
You too have relationships. You have current and/or former bosses, co-workers, counsel (e.g., accountants, lawyers, etc.), family friends and so on. Leverage these relationships when seeking funding. Even if none of your current relationships can invest directly, some certainly know and can introduce you to others who can.
2. Get Creative on Deal Terms
A great investment makes sense for both the investor/lender and the entrepreneur. Oftentimes, in ensuring the investment works, you need to get creative on the deal terms.
For example, maybe you give the investor a small equity percentage in your business, monthly repayment of some of their investment, AND a small percentage of your venture’s future sales. While most investments only include one of these funding options (e.g., debt/loan, equity, or royalty payments), there’s no rule that you can’t get creative and combine deal terms. And when you do, you often make your deal/company more appealing to investors.
3. Sell Investors on the Opportunity
Regardless of how good your company or investment opportunity is, you need to “sell” it to investors and lenders. Billionaires like Donald Trump must also do this. For instance, Trump constantly convinces investors why his newest venture will be a huge success.
Marketing yourself and your company to investors is a crucial part of raising capital. You must prove to investors why your company will be successful and that they will get a solid return on their investment. Importantly, when “selling” investors, get specific. For example, don’t just say you will succeed because you have the best management team. Rather, explain the precise credentials of your team that make you the best.
4. Don’t Take Rejection Personally
Billionaires like Donald Trump have been rejected hundreds of times in their money-raising careers. The fact is that your investment is never right for everyone.
You must accept that you will get more “no’s” than “yes's” when raising money. Importantly, don’t let the “no’s” get to you. Remember that you only need one “yes.” So, even after 10 “no’s” or 25 “no’s” or even 50 or 100 “no’s” you need to keep going and persevere.
If you truly believe you have a great company or opportunity, and that it can provide a solid return to your investors/lenders, then never back down.
5. Strategically Incorporate Investor Feedback
When investors say “no,” use the opportunity to gain feedback. Specifically, ask them why they didn’t want to invest. Sometimes it has to do with your deal terms. Other times it has to do with concerns about your business or business model.
It is important for you to strategically assess this feedback. Don’t blindly follow the feedback or advice, as it may or may not be correct. But particularly if you hear the same feedback from multiple investors, you must strongly consider what they are saying. If multiple investors, for example, say your management team isn’t strong enough, then it’s generally time to agree with them and immediately start to bolster your team.
Similarly, when billionaires like Donald Trump have trouble raising funding, they modify their project and/or deal terms to better adhere to the needs of investors and/or lenders.
In summary, raising capital is essentially a partnership between you the entrepreneur and the sources of funding you seek.
The larger your network, the more potential funders or referrals to funders you have. After that, it’s about creating and selling an opportunity that funders can’t resist. Never give up, but also, don’t be stubborn -- realize that feedback from those who say “no” can often be invaluable to your ultimate success!
Yesterday, TechCrunch posted a neat slideshow on the nine largest venture capital and private equity financing rounds of the past 24 months.
It is an extremely cool piece - profiling seven (two companies on the list had multiple rounds) of the highest flying technology companies in the world.
Let's start with Uber, both because it tops the list, with over $4.6 billion in capital raised, and because most of us can easily understand and relate to the Simplicity, Power, and Promise of its business model.
First, the Simplicity. At its core, Uber utilizes pretty basic technology to better deliver a basic service - a hired ride from point A to point B - that has been in existence since the beginning of time.
It is simple in such an eye opening way that for many folks the first time they download the app, press “Request Uber X,” and magically then a few minutes later a ride appears they are taken with a giddy excitement.
This simplicity masks the Power unleashed by Uber's technology: the initiative of the now over 162,000 and growing Uber Drivers.
There are various reasons (many controversial) why these drivers see Uber as a good and worthwhile use of their time and work energy, and whether or not it is good for our economy and society as a whole.
However, what is clearly not in doubt, is how Uber is massively profiting by harnessing and channeling the entrepreneurial, Sharing Economy Power of these tens of thousands.
That Power in turn leads to the Promise of Uber: To transform our notion of what transportation is, including whether or not it even makes economic and quality of life sense to own an automobile anymore...
…and in an even grander vision how Uber could up-end the shipping industry (and even the mail, too!).
Simplicity, Power, Promise - better and more cinematically embodied in Uber than perhaps in the other six companies profiled, but as you dig into those you will find similar themes.
Didi Dache, which just raised $700 million, is the Uber of China. The core business of SpaceX, which just raised $1 billion from Google, is as Simple and Powerful as they get: shooting rockets into space.
Xiaomi, to bring the promise of high-end “Apple-like” smartphones, to China’s 1.2 billion mobile customers.
The vision of Cloudera, which has raised over $1 billion from investors (and is contemplating an IPO in the near future) is nothing less than to give “all businesses a…360-degree view of their customers, their products, and their business.”
The obvious suggestion is to work to bake these qualities into our business models and entrepreneurial endeavors.
Perhaps less obviously, in my experience these qualities do exist in most businesses, but to find them requires a boiling away of the Complex Excess to get to the essential core.
When you do, while you might not raise $4.6 billion at a $40 billion+ valuation like Uber, my gut is that you will find the path to meaningful growth and a High Value Exit more clearly and easily defined.
Every year I make predictions. I predict who will win the Super Bowl. I predict who will win this election or that. And so on. Like most people, sometimes I’m right. And often I’m wrong.
However, I rarely if ever make predictions publicly. Unless, that is, I am extremely confident my prediction will come true. Maybe this is a psychological flaw; that I don’t want to feel publicly humiliated by making a wrong prediction. If it is, so be it; the fact is that I only make public predictions when I’m close to certain they’re right.
In fact, my last public predictions came nearly 4 years ago today. On that day, in an email to over 80,000 entrepreneurs, I predicted that Crowdfunding (which had just begun) was going to be huge. It turns out, I was right.
1) The Growth of Crowdfunding
When I predicted the success of Crowdfunding in 2010, it wasn’t even an industry yet, so there are no formal statistics on it. But as you can see in the chart above, $1.5 Billion was raised with Crowdfunding in 2011. This amount increased by 80% in 2012 to $2.7 billion. And then from 2012 to 2013, Crowdfunding increased by 89% to $5.1 billion.
2) Why Crowdfunding Has Taken Off
There are several reasons why Crowdfunding has succeeded.
One reason might be that we are becoming more and more of a consumer society; which is defined as a society in which the buying and selling of goods and services is the most important social and economic activity. People simply like to buy things, and investing in a company is a type of buying.
Another reason is probably that people want to belong and be part of something. By investing in a nascent company, you essentially become part of it. If it succeeds, you were there from the beginning. That’s exciting!
Another reason is that we more and more live in an entrepreneurial culture. Entrepreneur success stories, like Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, are now mainstream media. Top entrepreneurs have gained the public status formerly only occupied by actors, musicians and athletes. Likewise, television shows like Shark Tank have positively shined light on entrepreneurship.
3. Will the Growth of Crowdfunding Continue?
Yes, I am 100% confident that Crowdfunding will continue to rapidly grow. Here’s why. While the JOBS was signed in April 2012, it did not allow for equity-based Crowdfunding until the SEC approved certain regulations. Some of those regulations have since been approved. For example, "accredited investors" can now make equity-based Crowdfunding investments. But non-accredited investors still cannot. When this changes (which is expected later this year), and the general public can invest, the Crowdfunding market should grow like wildfire.
4) How Can You Take Advantage of the Rapid Rise of Crowdfunding?
To raise Crowdfunding, do the following:
1. Follow the 14 Step Formula
Below are the 14 steps I teach in my Crowdfunding Formula course that are critical to successfully raising donation or rewards-based Crowdfunding.
1. Choose your Crowdfunding platform
2. Create an account
3. Create your funding project
4. Categorize your project
5. Create your project tagline
6. Create your project teaser text
7. Create your full text project summary
8. Determine the right fundraising amount
9. Determine the right donation time
10. Develop your list of rewards
11. Create your project visuals
12. Create your project video
13. Promote your project to your network
14. Maintain and update your project
2) Become a Great Marketer
No matter how good your idea is, you will need to market it to others to get them to invest in it. A good analogy is this: every day thousands of people release videos hoping and thinking they will go viral, but they don’t. Even if their video is great, they need to get it in front of a bunch of people who watch it, like it, then spread the word.
In 2010 I called Crowdfunding the most exciting thing that’s happened in the entrepreneurial space since the first venture capital investment was made in the 1950s. Crowdfunding is helping entrepreneurs raise money and gain customers, and more and more Crowdfunding success stories will be featured in the media in the coming days. Hopefully it’s you they’ll feature!
If you want to generate new leads and sales, consider public speaking. Assuming you’re not deathly afraid of speaking in public, below are answers to the five most common questions about using public speaking to grow your business.
1. Where should I speak?
In determining where to speak, the goal is to speak in whatever venues will get you in front of the most target customers.
This could range from local organizations such as your local Chamber of Commerce to national trade associations. Simply brainstorm events in which your target customers attend.
Then, contact the event organizers and ask them to consider you as a speaker. For annual events, there is often a place on their website where you can apply to speak.
2. What should I talk about?
Figuring out what to talk about is fairly easy. Figure out the questions and problems your customers are having, and speak directly to that.
For example, let's assume your company provides outsourced customer service. To begin, you'd want an audience primarily comprised of business owners. Since you know they probably have questions about how to provide better customer service, a great topic would be “5 tips to improve customer service.” For each tip, you would include good and bad examples.
Importantly, in giving such a presentation, you will naturally promote your company's service (as the "good" examples will be ones that your organization has done) without directly pitching the audience.
As you can imagine, such a presentation would generate new leads and sales without you having to be "salesy."
3. Where do I get material for my presentation?
This part is easier than you think. Once you determine your topic, brainstorm everything you can think of that it entails. With the customer service example, you can discuss costs, delivery & fulfillment, billing, refunds, returns & exchanges, technical support, customer phone support, etc.
Since you are already an expert in your business, the information is probably already in your head.
4. How do I overcome my fears of public speaking?
Don’t create your presentation all at once. Rather, keep a journal for a couple of weeks in which you collect ideas and tips you’ll want to share. Then, assemble this information into an outline for your presentation. You don't have to write it out word for word. Rather, develop a slide presentation that guides you through your talk.
Of critical importance is to never add more than 30 or so words per slide. You want attendees focusing on you, not reading your text.
Practice giving your presentation by yourself so you can pause and think about how it sounded along the way. Then have someone else listen to you in order to give feedback.
When the day comes, relax and remember to talk as if you're on the phone with a friend. You don't have to hold eye contact with anyone in the audience, and they'll forgive you for any blunders as long as you're sincere and interesting. Remember that your audience is there to learn from you, not to critique you as a public speaker.
5. How do I get the most value from public speaking?
To get the most value from public speaking, do the following:
a) Get contact information from your prospects. The easiest way to do this is to tell the audience to email you if they want a copy of your slide presentation. This will result in a large email list of qualified prospects.
b) Invite prospective customers to hear you speak. Having them attend will give you great credibility (you actually gain great credibility even if they don’t attend) which will help close more sales.
c) Have someone record a video of you speaking at the event. As appropriate post all or part of the video on your website and/or on social media sites. The video will give you more credibility and position you as an industry expert.
d) Make sure you bring lots of business cards to hand out and budget time after your presentation to speak with attendees. Typically, after you present, several attendees will come up to you with questions and you want to be prepared.
Public speaking is an excellent way to find and secure new customers, employees, partners, investors and so on. Follow the advice in the five answers above so you can reap these key benefits for your business.
Suggested Resource: Public speaking is a great way to increase your company's credibility and get new clients. For even more "publicity" methods to grow your business, check out Growthink's Publicity Playbook.