Far from Silicon Valley: From Startup to IPO?


 

I had the good fortune to moderate a panel at last week's IBA Silicon Valley from Start-up to IPO / Exit Conference.

With entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, attorneys, and investment bankers from over 18 countries represented - from places as far afield as Switzerland, Singapore, and Spain (and Santa Monica and Silicon Valley!) - it was a truly international gathering.

Predictions were shared ranging from the outcome of the Scottish independence vote (incorrect) to Alibaba’s 1st day’s trading closing price (correct!), to animated discussions on the differing perspectives on Internet privacy in the U.S. and Europe.

But, the main thrust of the conference call was quite simple.

It was an inquiry, especially from the conference’s international attendees, as to how and why such an incredibly high percentage of the tech. start-ups that turn into “Unicorns” - businesses with exits via IPO or acquisition of greater than $1 Billion - emanate almost exclusively from the United States, and far more specifically from Silicon Valley.

How concentrated is this phenomenon? Well, as shared by Doug Gonsalves of Mooreland Partners, more than 70% of these Unicorns - names like Dropbox, Airbnb, Facebook, Splunk, Uber, Waze, LinkedeIn, and Palantir - were born and are headquartered in a “30 mile circle around San Francisco Airport.”

The “top down” effect of this cannot be overstated.

These huge exits and investor wins drive the fact that the Bay Area - with less than 6 million people - ingests close to 50% of all U.S. venture capital funding, which in turn is four times as much as in all of Europe.

This in turn drives an as large disparity in the number and quality of tech. startups and innovation emanating from various points on the globe.

Now, my perspective on this concentration has been mostly as an American businessman, as one that lives and works in Los Angeles (which may seem close to Silicon Valley, but to those who know both places can attest are worlds apart).

But visiting with entrepreneurs and executives from Europe, Israel, India, Singapore, and beyond brought the matter into much sharper relief.

Gil Arie of Foley Hoag shared the Israeli perspective - one where the best tech companies there as often as not are making the simple and powerful decision to move themselves (and their families) from across the globe for a Valley presence.

Sure, these companies can (and prefer) to build engineering teams in the lower cost, talent rich environs like Israel, India, Eastern Europe, etc., but for the “top of the pyramid” stuff - strategy, product design, capital formation and funding – being in the Valley feels like a necessity.

But expressed also was a strong counter-balancing sentiment, a deep desire to prove that world and industry leading technology companies can be born and grown far from Sand Hill Road.

And surely it will be so.

For this ambition - always in abundance in the world's best entrepreneurs - to build something that is theirs will eventually push back on the Valley's admirable yes, but also unnatural hegemony on global tech innovation and wealth.

And the great thing is that it will be far from a zero sum game.

Just think about it - if even a small fraction more of the world's Seven Billion People could live, work, and dream in a culture as forward and possibility - filled as Silicon Valley's…

Anything is possible, is it not?

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7 Things You Must Know to Raise Money


 

Raising funding is hard. This is actually a good thing. Because if it were easy, everyone would raise money and start a business, and competition would be ferocious. Better yet, since most entrepreneurs won't take the time to read this essay, you'll know this insider information and have a huge leg-up on them in raising capital.

So, here are 7 things you must know to raise money today.


1. Understand That Funding Doesn't Take Place All At Once

No matter how great your company or idea is, you are probably not going to get a $10 million check right away. Rather, you will typically raise several "rounds" of capital.

You start with a smaller round or amount of funding. Then, as your business grows, you are eligible for larger rounds of funding. This is because your business proves itself over time (eliminating some risk to investors) and your valuation rises as you grow (enabling you to raise larger sums of money).

2. Choose the Proper Source(s) of Funding

Choosing the right source of funding is the key to the Growthink Funding Pyramid™. Some forms of funding are much easier to raise than others. And based on your stage of development, different forms of funding are more relevant.

For example, the funding sources available to a pre-revenue startup are very different than the sources available to a 3-year old company generating $1 million in annual revenues. Case in point: Google initially failed when it tried to raise money from venture capitalists. The key is to go after the right sources of funding at the right time.

3. Build Relationships Early

According to Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, "The perfect entrepreneur/VC relationship is one where each has established respect and trust with the other well before an investment transaction is broached."

The key is to build these relationships early. So, even if you don't qualify for a $5 million round of venture capital today, start meeting with venture capitalists so they know you when you do qualify a year from now.

4. Keep Your Business Plan Current

One of the most important things to show in your business plan is what you've accomplished in your business to date. And ideally, every month you are accomplishing more. So, be sure to update your plan with this progress.

Importantly, when you meet a lender or investor, you want to be able to give them your business plan in a timely manner. So finish your plan now, and keep it up-to-date, so you can send it off at a moment's notice.

5. Always be a Marketer

In raising money, the best company doesn't always win. Rather, the best marketer wins. That is, the entrepreneurs that are best able to market their companies to lenders and investors are the ones who raise the money.

Marketing is the process of finding the right investor, convincing them to meet with you, and then convincing them to invest in your business. Yes, this is very similar to how you market a product or service. So make sure to use your marketing skills.

6. Have "Thick Skin"

When raising funding, be prepared for a lot of "no's." Going back to the Google example, even when Google was ready for venture capital, the majority of venture capitalist said "no."

When an investor says "no," it doesn't necessarily mean that your venture is not a good one. It simply means that the venture is not a good investment fit for them. You must have "thick skin" and be able to bounce back from lots of "no's" and persevere.

When failing over and over again to create the light bulb, Thomas Edison famously said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Have the same mentality with investors. That is, think, "I have not failed. I've just found 100 investors that aren't a good fit."

7. Adapt as Needed

While you must have "thick skin," that doesn't mean to be foolishly stubborn. What I mean by this is that if you hear the same feedback from investors over and over again, you shouldn't ignore it. Rather, you should adapt.

For example, if several prospective investors tell you they want to see a sample of your product or service before considering funding you, create it for them. Don't just plow forward with contacting more and more investors in this case.

By adapting to the needs of investors, particularly when you hear the same feedback multiple times, you can make the requisite changes to raise the money you need.

Understanding these seven funding truths will help you raise the funding you need to grow your business. For additional assistance, this "truth about funding" presentation will prove quite helpful.

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Why NOT to Invest in VC – backed Companies


 

The typical wisdom regarding the appropriate financing course for a new company goes as follows:

1. An entrepreneur starts a company in classic "bootstrap" fashion - with a combination of sweat equity and their own financial resources. This usually consists of personal savings, credit cards, and small loans from relatives (Mom, Dad, Uncle Bob, etc.).

2. Through connections, or through a chance meeting at a networking or social event, an angel investor hears the entrepreneur's story, likes them and their technology, and on the spot, writes a check to provide the company with its first outside financing.

The angel then introduces the entrepreneur to his or her wealthy friends and business connections who, based on the good reputation of the referring angel, also invest.

3. With this seed capital – more often than not totaling between $100,000 and $1,000,000 - the company accomplishes a number of key technical milestones, gets a beta customer or two, and then goes on a "road show" to venture capitalists around the country for capital to “scale” the business.

This venture capital financing - usually between $3 and $10 million - is the first of a number of rounds of outside investment over a period of three to five years. With this capital, the company propels itself to $50 million+ in revenues, and to either a sale to a strategic acquirer or to an initial public offering.

4. With the exit, the entrepreneur and the original angel investors become fantastically rich and are lauded far and wide.

5. The cycle is then repeated - with the original angel investors now joined in their investing by the once impoverished but now wealthy entrepreneur.

6. All live happily ever after.

It all sounds wonderful and it is. The only problem is that it almost always a fairy tale.

What really happens is more like the following:

A. The entrepreneur pours their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor into their company- at great personal sacrifice to them, their families, and everyone connected to the enterprise.

B. A "black swan" investor appears out of the blue and backs the company - less impressed by the technology than by the talent, desire, and grit of the entrepreneur.

Technical progress and market traction are much slower and cost a lot more than anticipated. There are a lot of dark, hard days.

C. There is considerable internal debate around whether or not to solicit and/or accept outside venture capital. For most companies, it is simply a non-starter. Management has the wrong pedigree, is geographically undesirable, competes in the wrong industry, and/or has a business model that lacks "scalability credibility" with the venture community.

D. Usually unbeknownst to all, the decision around pursuing or accepting a venture capital round will be the most important factor in determining the investment return for the founder and the original angel investors in the company.

But here is the key – contrary to popular wisdom it is negatively correlated.

Yes, you heard me right – multiple research studies, including from the Kauffman Foundation, have shown that when you remove a follow-on venture capital round from a founder or angel investor-funded company, that expected returns skyrocket.

This is very counter-intuitive but critical insight for emerging company entrepreneurs and those that back them to grasp. It is driven by the following:

•    The Best Metric for the Health of a Company is Cash Flow. By definition, companies that receive venture capital cannot fund their businesses from operations, and thus need to seek outside capital.

This leads to a lot of negative selection with venture capital - backed companies – whereby the sample of companies that need venture monies are by definition weaker companies.

•    Venture capitalists Have Very Different Objectives than Angel Investors. Venture capital funds are usually 7 - 10 year partnerships whereby the general partners - the “VC” - manage the capital of the limited partners, usually institutions (endowments, pension funds, etc.).

At the end of the period, all profits and proceeds are distributed to the various partners on a pre-determined split. These splits are normally such that the VC needs to obtain a “highwater” return for their limited partners before they, as the general partners, see any return.

In practice, this creates a significant incentive for the general partners to hold on for an extremely large investment return, and to be reasonably indifferent regarding smaller (less than 3x returns).

As a result, the VC will often block a portfolio company from harvesting a very attractive, but not home run, return.

•    Venture capitalists Cut Tough Deals. Venture capitalists for the most part are very nice guys and passionate about entrepreneurship, but they are not shrinking violets. And they hire very aggressive securities attorneys to represent their interests.

This combo all too often leads to various forms of deal unpleasantness, like cram-down rounds, liquidation preferences, and change of control provisions, which in turn, often lead to unhappy founders and angel investors even in somewhat successful exits.

My suggestions for the investors seeking emerging companies to back?

First, look for "one and done" financings - companies that need just one round of outside capital to propel them to positive cash flow.

Second, look for companies that have short and realistic liquidity (exit, IPO) timelines.

And third, don’t get star-struck by big venture capital interest in a deal. It is often a double-edged and very sharp sword. 

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What We Can Learn from One of the Greatest Investors of All Time


 

On the cover of this week’s Fortune Magazine is PayPal founder and famed technology investor Peter Thiel. Within is an awesome 4,000+ word opus on Thiel’s views on technology, investing, education and innovation.

Thiel’s career and successes span almost the entirety of the Internet Age - in 1998 he co-founded PayPal, sold to eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion.

More impressively, the managers and engineers that Thiel attracted to PayPal went on to become some of the most famous entrepreneurs of our era – including at least seven that went on to build companies valued at more than $1 billion: Tesla and SpaceX (Elon Musk), LinkedIn, (Reid Hoffman), YouTube (Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim), Yelp (Jeremy Stoppelman and Russel Simmons), Yammer (David O. Sacks), and the data-mining company Palantir (co-founded by Thiel himself).

This recognition for entrepreneurial talent has also made Thiel one of the greatest investors of all time.

His prescience is of course best highlighted by his most famous investment, when in 2004 he gave the 20-year-old Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard sophomore at the time who had never held a steady job, $500,000 in exchange for 10.2% of the company then called “Thefacebook.”

That investment has so far netted Thiel more than $1 billion in cash, and is the highest profile of a string of amazingly lucrative stock picks, a list that includes the aforementioned LinkedIn and SpaceX, but also tech high-flyers like Spotify and Airbnb.

While lately Thiel has become somewhat infamous for his controversial views on anti-aging (Sens Institute), Libertarianism (Seasteading Institute), and education (20 under 20), let this not distract from the fact that we can all learn a lot from his astoundingly successful approach to investing, technology and entrepreneurship.

A few of my favorites are:

1. Run With the Right Crowd.  Starting with the PayPal Mafia, with his teaching of a famed Stanford Computer Science course, and his ongoing writing, speaking, and networking in Silicon Valley and beyond, Thiel travels in the rarefied air of next generation technology ideas and technologies. And because of this, he meets great technologists and entrepreneurs and sees deals.  Many are duds of course, but a few are world-beaters like the list above.

2. Think AND Act.  As PayPal, Facebook, LinkedIn, Airbnb and so many others so aptly demonstrate, Thiel “gets” key technology and investing precepts like scalability, switching costs, double feedback loops, customer acquisition costs, minimum viable paid options, lifetime value, and many more.

And he acts on what he thinks – through founding and investing in companies with these concepts inherent to their business models.

3.  Get Lucky. In so many ways, Peter Thiel’s successes are emblematic of the business religion of our technology age: LUCK

Books like Outliers, the Black Swan, Fooled by Randomness, and the Age of the Unthinkable profess on it.  Successful technocratics like the PayPal mafia toast to it.  Aspiring entrepreneurs who seek their name in lights pray to it.

And the average man unwilling to step outside of his box gets none of it.

Peter Thiel, from his earliest days, has stepped out of the box and has thought for himself and challenged others do the same.

He has acted on those thoughts and beliefs through founding and investing in companies that in retrospect might look like easy calls, but at the time were shrouded in considerable doubt and passed over by almost everyone else.

With this way of thinking and doing, Peter Thiel has channeled the Romans and their famous ode to luck - "Fortes Fortuna Adiuvat", "Fortune Favors the Bold."

The question, of course, is will you?

P.S. Looking for Opportunities Now? Each year, Growthink reviews hundreds of emerging company opportunities and selects those with the best management teams, market opportunities, and financial prospects. 

To learn more about opportunities we are following now, Click Here.

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3 Business Growth Lessons from Madonna


 

Modeling a business strategy after someone else's prior success is typically a great idea.

Interestingly, these models of success can come from rather unexpected sources.  While most people will turn to other businesses when looking for new ideas, the world of popular music can teach us quite a lot about business growth and sustainability. 

Madonna, for example, has long been the undisputed queen of popular music. Whether you love or hate her music (or her), Madonna has proven to be more than a singer and dancer.  She has a savvy business mind that's supported a successful career spanning more than 30 years and an empire of music sales and merchandizing valued at $500 Million.  You have to admit, the Material Girl has had a good run. 

Here are 3 powerful lessons we can learn from Madonna and use to create success in our own businesses:

1. Constant Reinvention

Madonna is well known for constantly reinventing herself and each album she releases has been different from the last.  Reinvention has actually been one of the greatest signatures of her career and has allowed her to stay relevant in a constantly changing market. 

As the industry matured, Madonna's music and image have also changed in an effort to constantly bring her fans what they want.

The lesson:
Staying relevant is extremely important for businesses of any size.  Markets are always changing and a business that allows itself to lose its relevancy has been left behind.  Stay in touch with your customers/audience and market evolutions. 

2. Pushing the Boundaries


If Madonna is known for one thing it is pushing boundaries.  She has been creating controversy throughout her career and much of this stems from her willingness to challenge commonly accepted notions.  She created sexier songs with racier lyrics and began challenging what society saw as acceptable entertainment. 

In fact, in 1990, when her music video Justify My Love was banned by MTV she packaged it as a single and sold it.  This had never been done with a music video before.  This innovative, bold, in-your-face move earned her millions in revenue when the video sold like hotcakes. 

The lesson:
Knowing how and when to push boundaries is an important skill for any business.  Challenging accepted notions is often what leads to innovation.  Those companies who have come to dominate their markets through innovation were always willing to push things a little further, to do what no other company had yet done. 

Pushing boundaries can be a worrisome concept because innovation is almost always met with resistance but without risk there can be no reward. 

3.  Leverage Platforms & Distribution


Madonna is an impressive businesswoman and she has always understood the importance of leveraging existing platforms and distribution channels. In fact, part of the reason she rose to prominence so quickly is because she made highly effective use of the very young MTV platform.  Here was a chance for her to access a vast consumer market in a unique and novel way.  Her focus on high quality videos, filled with great music and alluring imagery, set her apart from the other musicians of the time.

The lesson:
Madonna was far from being the first successful popular musician but she was one of the first to harness the new and highly effective market of music video television.  Think of the iPad.  While similar  tablet technology came years before it, Apple was the first to package it in a unique style with functionality that appealed to consumers.

Business owners need to be vigilant in looking for new and emerging markets and platforms and then be assertive in establishing themselves in each one.  As the market/platform grows in popularity, the prominence of the company also rises. 

Like a Virgin

Madonna's career can be a great example from which to draw a number of useful concepts.  Her unique voice and readily identifiable fashion sense helped to establish her as a brand early in her career but she was never afraid to reinvent herself to remain relevant.  The great impact she has had on the world of popular music comes from her desire to continually push boundaries, to challenge accepted notions and create something new and desirable. 

Businesses can never stagnate; they must remain dynamic and able to change to meet the demands of a growing market.  Schedule an hour of quiet time this week.  You can do this alone, with your advisor, or your core leadership team.  Consider these questions:

  • What have I been afraid to do in my business for fear or "rocking the boat" or being "too edgy?"

  • What new technologies, markets, product innovations, or unique services can I offer?  How can I go beyond what currently is and create an appetite for a new product or solution?

  • Where can my company get head of others?  What ideas do I have that I can validate and get to market before my competitors?  What client needs can I solve before anyone else?

  • What established platforms or distribution channels are my target customers already using or buying from? How can I leverage them to get my product or service in front of these customers?


The answers can be powerful and open doors to opportunities.  Remember, brainstorming and documenting ideas is great, but profit and growth only come from action.

Just like Madonna, be willing to take proactive, out-of-box, bold action.

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Why I Hate & Love Mobile Marketing


 

Mobile marketing is here, and it's here to stay.

Interestingly, I both hate and love mobile marketing.

Here's what I hate about it, and particularly, my frustrations with mobile phones:

1. I've seen families out to dinner together where 2 or more of the family members are on their mobile phones (come on, it's family time)

2. I've seen kids spending too much time texting and playing games on mobile phones, when they should be reading, playing sports, doing school work, etc.

3. Texting and driving has gotten out of control, and has made driving much more dangerous (According to AAA, 46% percent of all teenage drivers admit to text messaging while driving).

4. I've seen too many cases of mobile phones being used to entertain children so their parents can converse amongst themselves. It just concerns me that kids brought up with constant entertainment and less inter-personal communications are going to have issues later.

So, as you can see, my frustration with mobile phones is largely when they are abused. I clearly thing there's a time for them. But we (kids AND adults) need limits.

Ok, I'll get off my soapbox now, and talk about the positives of mobile phones, and specifically mobile marketing.

The fact is this: mobile marketing is highly effective and it's growing like crazy.

In fact, earlier this month, Facebook announced in its second-quarter earnings. In it, Facebook disclosed that a whopping 41 percent of its advertising revenue was generated by mobile users. This was up 11 percent from just one quarter earlier.
 
What this means to all marketers is that smartphones and tablets are becoming more and more prevalent over desktop computers as a means of accessing information (and time spent).

Here are some of the benefits I see of mobile marketing:

1. Mobile marketing is where your customers are. 80% of Americans have their mobile phones with them virtually all the time. Since your customers and prospective customers are on their mobile devices, you have a better chance reaching them there versus most other channels (e.g., telemarketing, print ads, etc.).

2. Mobile marketing incurs a very low cost. Mobile advertising is relatively inexpensive. And mobile marketing activities like sending text messages only costs pennies.

3. Some forms of mobile marketing are very intrusive and thus get seen. Text messages are highly effective. In fact, according to the CTIA Wireless Association, while it takes 90 minutes for the average person to respond to an email, it takes just 90 seconds for someone on average to respond to a text message. Likewise, most mobile ads are more intrusive, and thus more seen by customers, than ads in other media like print and web.

4. High response rates: Response rates to mobile marketing are nearly 5 times higher than response rates to print advertisements.

These benefits mean that mobile marketing should be part of every company's marketing plan. Mobile marketing allows you to reach customers quickly. Customers will get more and more used to paying you and other companies via their mobile device.

And mobile applications will continue to grow like wildfire, and are not only a way for you to stay in front of customers, but they could be a huge revenue source for your company. Note that in the first quarter of 2013 alone there was an 11 percent increase in mobile app downloads versus the entire year of 2012.

So, personally, I ask that you don't abuse mobile phones per my frustrations above. But do embrace mobile marketing as it's a must-have in your marketing plan.

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How to Find the Most Qualified People When Outsourcing


 

There are many websites, such as ODesk, Guru, and Elance, on which you can find people and firms to which you can outsource projects. Regardless of the site you choose, the key is to get the largest pool of qualified providers to apply for your project. This way, you have more people from which to choose.

Even if you only hire one, you can go back and contact the same pool of talent for future projects later. Consider applicants as being in your "rolodex" of people to contact in the future.

Below are tips to keep in mind when posting your project. In a nutshell, you want to include all of the information that an applicant needs to know, but do so succinctly.

If anything is left out, you'll have to go back and answer their questions about it later. It's always easier to clarify everything up front.

Create a Clear Project Title

Here, include the work to be performed, on what, and in what industry. For example, "Help Developing Ebook" could mean anything from research to writing to editing to cover design. Compare that to "Writing 10,000 Word Real Estate Ebook."  The latter will be more likely to catch the eye of writers with real estate knowledge.

Create a Clear Project Description

This sounds simple enough, but you should try to answer as many possible questions as you can, which means addressing certain areas, like:
 

  • The scope of the project. In the above example, wanting a 10,000-word Ebook written vs. 20,000 words would be helpful information for applicants to know. This helps them estimate the time it will take them and therefore their bid for the project. If you are paying hourly, it will help prevent misunderstandings later.

  • Software needed. Make sure they at least have Microsoft Word and Excel, if that's what you use. Other software is industry-specific, like Adobe Photoshop among graphic designers.

    You may or may not know what software is needed for things you don't specialize in, but you will soon enough. All other things equal, choose the person who already has the best software for the job, as you'll get better results.

  • Programming languages. Some website projects require that the provider knows certain programming languages besides standard html, such as PHP, AJAX, etc. In these cases, it's better to post "PHP Programmer Needed to..." than just "Programmer." You'll get fewer, but more qualified responses. If you don't know what languages are needed, either ask a friend or do a Google search beforehand, or you could post in the project that you don't know what language is needed, and ask them to make suggestions.

    Ideally, you will want to hire people who can educate you, so this sets the tone right from the beginning. I know some people who post $10 projects for 30 minutes of a programmer's time just to have their questions answered.

  • Payment amount. First, decide if you want to pay them by the hour, or for the whole project. There are pros and cons to both. If you estimate that something will take 5-8 hours, going hourly is fine. For work that will take longer than that or that has a higher likelihood of uncertainty, I would try a project-basis.

    Sometimes you can't estimate how long something will take, in this case, hire them on an hourly basis for a little while to get started and figure things out. Sometimes applicants will claim that they can't estimate how long it will take, while others can. I would go with people who are able to give you specific information as it shows they're more organized and have done something enough times to know how long it should take.

  • Payment terms. I would never pay more than 50% up front. In this case, I would pay the remaining 50% when the work is done, or have a milestone payment of 25% and 25% upon completion.

    Also, never pay someone the final payment if there is still work left to be done; you may never see your project finished.

  • Payment methods. When you outsource through third party websites, they will typically handle the payment method.  If or once you start outsourcing directly, you will have to figure out the best method for paying your contractor. In the latter, there are multiple options such as PayPal and Dwolla.


Upload samples of what you need

You can write 5 paragraphs trying to explain the final product, or you can show them something similar you have had done before (or someone else's to model yours after). The latter is typically more effective.

Most sites will allow you to upload files to show the contractor what they'll be working with or making. You can also insert links in the project description to websites, files, audios, or videos showing or explaining things more vividly.

Particularly if you are asking the person to develop a website, you must show them examples of other websites you like. If you don't, I can nearly guarantee you'll be disappointed with the results.

Choose the time period for bidding

On outsourcing websites, you are typically given options like 3 days, 5 days, 7 days, 15 days, or 30 days to accept bids. I lean towards giving a longer time period, unless the urgency of your project means that you don't have as much time to wait.

In general, the more time that providers have to find and respond to your project, the more qualified applicants from which you'll have to choose.

Also, some of the best providers are also the busiest, so by giving a longer time frame to respond you are more likely to catch them when they're available.

Follow these tips and my other key outsourcing strategies to get a qualified pool of outsourced applicants to complete your projects. These outsourcers will give  you the manpower and expertise you need to grow your business at a very economical price.

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RISK…and what to do about it


 

The four letter word in all conversations between entrepreneurs and investors is risk.

Investors are always interested in getting ownership stakes in high potential companies but are also always weary of the considerable risk-taking necessary to actually do so. 

The most successful investors and entrepreneurs I know take a dispassionate and detached approach. 

They don’t get caught up in all of the “drama” around thinking and talking about risk.

Rather, they view it for what it actually is - simply a measurement of the likelihood of a set of future outcomes.

In the context of evaluating whether or not a business will grow and be successful, risk has three main drivers:

1.  Technology Risk. Can the entrepreneur actually bring-to-market a product or service and on what timeframe?

2.    Market Risk. Once the product is in the market, will anyone care?

3.    Execution Risk. Can that entrepreneur lead and manage a growing enterprise?

Critically, this risk calculation is done not by adding, but rather by multiplying, these factors together.

As such, poor grades on any one of these factor has an exponential impact on the business' overall risk profile, and thus its overall attractiveness.

And as should be obvious, better led and better managed companies simply have better answers when queried regarding the above - their technology plans are better thought out, they understand their market and customers more deeply, and their people have better resumes and track records. 

But it goes deeper than that. 

Human beings – conservative by default - are disproportionately prejudiced against higher risk undertakings and strategies, even when their expected returns more than compensates for their higher risk.

As a result, higher risk deals are normally underpriced while the lower risk ones are usually over-priced. 

That is good knowledge for investors seeking alpha (and who isn’t?), but what about the entrepreneur?

Well, it should be to always remember that the real dialogue going through the mind of an investor when considering a deal is not really about technology, or market, or management, even when that is what they want to talk about…

No, it is almost always about risk - both its reality and its perception.

Address this concern above all others, head-on, thoughtfully, confidently, and candidly. 

And then risk will be put back where it belongs - as a factor to consider - and not something that just automatically stops a deal.

To Your Success,

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The 5 Biggest Outsourcing Blunders


 

The term "outsourcing" describes contracting out of a business process to a third-party, that is, someone or some firm outside of your core organization.

Outsourcing generally refers to ongoing processes versus one-time processes. For example, the development of your website is generally a one-time process. Conversely, the maintenance of your website is an ongoing process. However, some people consider both one-time and ongoing processes to be outsourcing when you select someone outside of your organization to complete them.

Regardless of your definition, outsourcing has many benefits, my favorite of which are these four:

1. Focus: Outsourcing allows you to focus on your core competencies and activities. For example, if you own a chain of restaurants, you generally don't have (nor should you) the skills to develop a cutting-edge website in-house.

2. Cost Savings: You can often outsource to individuals and firms in areas with lower costs of living and thus lower prices than you can attain in-house.

3. Expertise: When outsourcing to individuals and firms who specialize in a certain area, they will have expertise that you simply don't have.

4. Flexibility: Outsourcing allows you ramp up and/or ramp down more quickly than maintaining a full-time staff for all functions.

Unfortunately, when they start outsourcing, most entrepreneurs and small business owners make several mistakes. Below are the 5 most common ones to avoid.

Mistake #1: Failing to define tasks/projects clearly


If you don't clearly and comprehensively define the task or project you need fulfilled from the start, your project will inevitably fail. You might choose the wrong person for the job and/or they won't perform to your expectations if you haven't completed this crucial step.

Mistake #2: Failing to hire someone without enough experience


Nothing is worse than the blind leading the blind. When I hire someone to do something that I do not know how to do personally, they need to know how to do it. They need to educate you on their chosen skill set, not the other way around.

Your role is to describe the end result you want, ask for and listen to their suggestions, and rely on their expertise and talent to achieve it according to your description. Make sure you check their past work and references to ensure they have a track record of getting similar work completed on-time and to the satisfaction of those who've hired them.

Mistake #3: Failing to establish and abide by the timeframe

If you've ever provided services for a client in a rush, you know how stressful it can be to drop everything at the last minute and make their emergency yours. The people you outsource to are no different, and it will benefit you to plan and begin things in advance and not at the last minute.

So, map out by when you need to hire someone, when the work needs to commence, and when it must be completed. Create milestones within each of these processes, such as by when you will complete your project description, and when the contractor must complete the first draft, etc.

Mistake #4: Failing to adequately communicate

Just because you hired a great person, it doesn't mean the project will go smoothly. The key here is to effectively communicate with them.

Make sure you check-in with them and get status updates. Get them to send you drafts of their work, and then provide detailed comments regarding what you like and don't like.

The fact is that the more and more thoroughly you communicate with them, the better they will perform. This is true up to an extent of course; because if you micro-manage (or manage too aggressively) it will take up too much of your time and often aggravate the contractor.

Mistake #5: Failing to leverage talented outsourcers


Once in a while, when you outsource, you will find gems. Gems are those outsourcers who do a phenomenal job.

The key is this: once you find these gems, keep them. Give them additional projects. And if you don't have any, refer them to others you know. And keep in touch. At a minimum, email them every month or two to say hi.

In fact, I've had amazing success with just this. I hired an outsourced tech person on August 16, 2005. He did a phenomenal job. I've often kept in touch since then, and he's helped me with several projects. And even though he now has a full-time job (he's in India), he still helps me on the side a lot. And he still does a great job each time!

Knowing how to effectively outsource is a critical skill all entrepreneurs must have. It allows you to accomplish more, accomplish it with more expertise, accomplish it faster, and accomplish it with less money. These are key benefits you can't do without.

 

Suggested Resource: In today's competitive business environment, you must outsource to stay competitive. Outsource the right way using Growthink's Outsourcing Formula.

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Strategic Plans And Business Plans: 5 Key Differences


 

Over the past 15 years, I've helped over 500,000 entrepreneurs and business owners to develop their business and strategic plans.

And, as you might imagine, I've spent a lot of time discussing business plans and strategic plans internally. Enough so that among other things, I use the acronym "BP" for business plans and "SP" for strategic plans.

Now, because these terms are often used synonymously, let me explain the key difference as I see them. Business plans or BPs are plans created for the primary goal of convincing an investor or lender to fund you. Conversely, strategic plans or SPs are developed to determine and document your strategy so your company understands and can attain its objectives.

As you can see, both plans serve very different and very important purposes.

Below are the 5 key sections that a strategic plan must have that need not be included, or require much less focus, in a business plan.

1. Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch is a brief description of your business.

It is included in your strategic plan since your elevator pitch is both important to your business' success, and should often be updated annually.

An elevator pitch got it's name because you need to be able to describe your business succinctly and within the time it takes to travel from the ground to the top floor in an elevator.

A quality elevator pitch:

  • Gets everyone in your company on the same page regarding what your business is and what the key objectives are.

  • Allows everyone in your company to give a concise and consistent explanation of your business which leads to more customers.


In a business plan, you do include your elevator pitch in the Executive Summary section to concisely explain your company to investors and lenders. In your strategic plan, it is used to ensure consensus within your organization.


2. Company Mission Statement


A mission statement explains what your business is trying to achieve.

For internal decision-making, it helps as key decisions should be made with regards to how well they help the company progress in achieving its mission.

Also, for internal (e.g., employees) audiences, the mission can inspire and get them excited to be part of what the company is doing.

While your mission statement is often also included in your business plan, investors and lenders are generally more concerned with your ability to earn them a return on investment. As such, it's not as heavily emphasized in your business plan.

Some great examples of mission statements include the following:

  • Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.

  • Kiva's mission is to connect people, through lending, for the sake of alleviating poverty.


3. Goal Specificity

Because your strategic plan focuses on setting your company's vision and getting your team to execute on that vision, your strategic plan must include a greater focus on your goals than your business plan.

While your business plan focuses more on your long-term goals, your strategic plan is more granular. Specifically, your strategic plan should lay out your company's 5 year goals, 1 year goals, and your upcoming quarterly and monthly goals.


4. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

As the name indicates, your "KPIs" or Key Performance Indicators are the metrics that judge your business' performance based on the success you'd like to succeed.

Identifying and measuring your KPIs is absolutely critical to ensuring you are effectively executing on your vision and plans. Conversely, if you don't measure your KPIs, you have no idea whether you are achieving the success you desire.

In your strategic plan, unlike in your business plan, you must identify the KPIs your business must track in order to achieve your goals.


5. Identification of Required Strengths


In your business plan, you should stress your existing strengths that make your business uniquely qualified to succeed. This helps convince investors and lenders to fund you.

Conversely, in your strategic plan, you must identify the strengths you need to develop. For example, how could you gain competitive advantage by modifying your products or services? Or by hiring and training certain personnel? Or by creating new operational systems? Etc.

By asking and answering these questions in your strategic plan, you can create a strategy for building a rock solid company that's the envy of your industry.

To summarize, the right business plan allows you to raise money to fund your business' growth. The right strategic plan gives you and your team the vision, goals and game plan to achieve this growth. Finally, using the right strategic plan template helps you create your strategic plan quickly and easily so you can start growing immediately.

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