Written by Dave Lavinsky on Saturday, May 9, 2015
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.
Written by Jay Turo on Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Over the past few weeks, I have written about the amazing growth and financial progress of Business Intelligence (BI) companies like Domo, Birst, and Looker and how their rise to prominence and value signifies a shift in how we think about the best way to manage and value an enterprise.
I described this shift as "changing the world of business from one done by gut and hand to one done by statistics and evidence," and how this next generation of software companies can "finish the job" of the IT revolution and enable a level of predictability and automation to business and investment processes like never before.
There is one big problem, however.
A problem that threatens the ability of these companies to deliver on the promise of their amazing technologies…
…and along with it any meaningful ROI for their customers.
That problem is people.
You see, the vast majority of us are a combination of unable and unexcited to actually use business intelligence tools and technologies on a regular and consistent basis.
Because doing so is hard.
And harder still when one does not have a rigorous quantitative background in things like statistics, cost accounting, behavioral economics, and managerial finance.
As tough, managing by data requires a lot of “pig-headedness”- not getting distracted by the "noise in the numbers" and a deep humility that when the inevitable conflicts between and our gut and the numbers arise to consistently choose the latter.
None of this sounds like much fun. So we avoid it.
However…let's juxtapose this difficult reality against why so many very smart people and investors are so excited about BI.
Because when Business Intelligence is done right, everyone makes a LOT more money.
A good analogy is eating better and exercising more – we all know it is really good for us but doing it requires education, habits re-training, and consistent, diligent work.
And those most successful at eating great and being in awesome shape usually have coaches – personal trainers, chefs, nutritionists - to help them define goals, put action plans together, and provide ongoing measurements, accountability, and course corrections to achieve success.
And enabling Business Intelligence tools and technologies within organizations is no different.
Luckily, a whole generation of companies have arisen to help companies implement and integrate BI into their management practices and work processes, and to train, teach and coach managers how to use and profit from them.
For sure, some day using BI to drive our daily work and business decision making will become, for most of us, as simple and natural as using a word processor or a spreadsheet.
But that day is a long way off.
And between now and then, the best managers looking to get BI working in their organizations quickly and correctly will hire coaches and consultants to help them.
And the values of the firms that do this work right and truly help managers and companies unlock the huge profit potential of Business Intelligence could someday approach that of the companies that build the software empowering it all.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Earlier this month, the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team was sold by Herb Kohl for $550 million. What’s interesting was that in 2003, Michael Jordan was interested in investing in both the Milwaukee Bucks and the Charlotte Bobcats. However, for his $50 million, neither organization would give him managerial control.
So, Jordan passed on the opportunity to invest in either. However, over the following seven years, the Bobcats imploded and Jordan was able to purchase the entire team for $175 million in 2010. Since then, with full managerial control, Jordan has turned around the Bobcats team (the team made the playoffs this year for just the second time in history). As a result, the value of Jordan’s investment has gone way up. In fact, it’s most likely considerably higher than the $550 million just paid for the Bucks.
So what is it about Michael Jordan that’s made him succeed in both sports and business?
My answer: Preparation and Practice
According to the book "How To Be Like Mike: Life Lessons About Basketball's Best," as a player, Michael Jordan's practice habits and conditioning regimen amounted to an "almost alarming harshness."
In fact, many experts, such as Florida State University professor K. Anders Ericsson, argue that practice continually trumps talent.
Prominent examples of success attributed to continuous practice besides Michael Jordan include:
- Bobby Fischer: While Fischer became a chess grandmaster at the young age of 16, he had nine years of intensive study and practice beforehand.
- Warren Buffet: Buffet is known for his extreme discipline and the significant time he devotes to analyzing the financial statements of organizations in which he considers investing.
- Winston Churchill: Churchill is widely considered one of the 20th century's best speakers. Historians say he compulsively practiced his speeches.
- Tiger Woods: Tiger developed rigorous practice routines from an extremely young age, and devoted hours upon hours each day to conditioning and practice in order to improve his performance.
As you can see, and as is pretty intuitive, preparation and practice are keys to success in sports. And in business, it’s the same.
Consider these examples that entrepreneurs often face:
- Developing your business plan? Make sure you prepare the right information. Conduct solid market research to ensure your market opportunity and strategy are sound.
- Giving a presentation to an investor or prospective client? Be sure to spend significant time preparing. Make sure you develop the right slides. Make sure you practice it and deliver it smoothly. Make sure you’ve anticipated the questions that might arise, and have answers for each.
- Meeting with an employee to improve their performance? Make sure to prepare your list of items in which they are doing a good job, and a list for which they must improve. Practice delivering the information and prepare answers for questions they might ask.
- Holding a company-wide meeting? Make certain you have a clear agenda. Prepare an outline to follow and a list of key points you need to get across. Practice delivering your presentation to get the greatest impact.
Importantly, for these and other business situations, think about your goals. What is the goal of developing your business plan? What is your goal of presenting to an investor or prospective customer? And so on. Having these goals clearly in mind when you prepare and practice ensures you prepare for the right outcomes.
Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” Perfect practice means you’ve done your preparation, for instance, learned what perfection is. And both on the sports field and in your business, doing the right preparation and practice will pay significant dividends. So, be sure to make preparation and practice a part of your daily routine.
Written by Jay Turo on Wednesday, April 29, 2015
An endearing, but dangerous quality of entrepreneurs and small business owners is their propensity to go all-in -- not only pouring all of their lives, hearts and souls into their business, but all of their money too.
Of course, many entrepreneurs simply need every penny they have and more to fund their businesses and there just isn't any money left to invest in anything else.
But once an entrepreneur gets beyond the survival stage, they need to think about how and where money is working for them in their own business, and where it could do better.
Often times, a lot better.
The first challenge: Entrepreneurs live, breathe, and too often suffer their own businesses so much that when it comes to investing, they can’t think straight.
I encounter a lot of entrepreneurs who have this massive built-in bias toward ongoing, disproportionate investment in their own businesses and correspondingly are often just blasé, disinterested, and even, dare I say lazy when it comes to thinking about money and investments outside of their “baby.”
So they take one of two approaches. The first is the passive one -- outsourcing money and investment decisions outside of one’s business to a wealth “manager.” While there are compelling financial planning reasons to do this -- i.e. "we need to save and invest this much and earn this rate of return by this date to comfortably retire" -- the expectation for actual investment returns via this approach should be kept pretty low.
In fact, the S&P Indices Versus Active Funds Scorecard (SPIVA) shows that average "managed money" returns trail the index averages by almost the exact percentages of the fees charged for managing the money.
The second approach is more scatter shot - whereby investments in “one-off” real estate, startups, oil and gas, and collectables opportunities, among others, are presented to the entrepreneur by a varying lot of well-meaning and potentially pilfering parties.
And entrepreneurs, as they are wired fundamentally as optimists, find these opportunities naturally appealing.
So they invest – sometimes to good and lucky effect, but often disastrously so.
Is there a better way?
Can the hard-working entrepreneur have his or her money earn a good rate of return? While managing risk?
And dare we dream – adoing so in a way that is in alignment with their entrepreneurial values and leverages their entrepreneurial skill sets, experiences, and industry knowledge?
Of course there is!
An approach built on diversification and one that leverages traditional managed money vehicles like public market stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, but also offers the opportunity for above average, and with a little good fortune, potentially excellent investment returns.
It looks, quite simply, like this: Invest in what you know.
Or, in other words, a restaurateur could invest in other people’s restaurants and food service businesses.
Healthcare entrepreneurs could evaluate investment opportunities in healthcare.
Those owning distribution or light manufacturing businesses, look at other people’s distribution and light manufacturing businesses.
Now, of course there are caveats to this approach.
The first is to be cautious and conscious as to industry risk – factors such as an uncertain regulatory environment or perilously fast changing technological change that create risks beyond the control of any one or several companies in an industry.
Secondly, to undertake this form of investment, especially when owning minority positions in private companies, transactional and deal term sophistication is a must.
So if you don't understand aspects of private equity investing like valuation, capital structure, control and anti-dilution provisions, it is probably better to either avoid this form of investing, or do so through a managed or private equity fund vehicle approach.
You may be asking: Why go through all the trouble?
Well, when done right, a properly executed and diversified "angel" investment approach like this can earn a very high investment return.
Research from the Kauffman Foundation Angel Returns Study and the Nesta Angel Investing Study, compiled by Dr. Robert Wiltbank, have demonstrated that the "…average angel investor (across the U.S. and UK) produced a gross multiple of 2.5 times their investment, in a mean time of about four years."
Returns like this will not be found via traditional managed money approaches, and rarely -- especially when accounting for the huge opportunity costs of running a company -- in one’s own business.
So for those entrepreneurs with the stomach and the work ethic for it, an "Other People’s Business" investment strategy like this is one well-worth considering.
To Your Success,
P.S. To listen to a replay of my Friday Webinar, “Characteristics of SaaS Companies with Breakout Potential,”, click here.
A version of this article originally appeared in Entrepreneur Magazine and can be seen here
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Wednesday, April 22, 2015
It’s been 15 years now since I started working with entrepreneurs. Over this time, I’ve seen lots of successes, and unfortunately lots of failures.
So, I started thinking, “what is it about those entrepreneurs who have achieved the most success? What are their common attributes and skills?”
While the initial list was pretty large, when I boiled it down, there were 5 common attributes or skills that the successful entrepreneurs all had. I’ve listed them below.
1. Vision & Leadership: Entrepreneurs must have a vision of where the company will be in the future. In addition, you must be able to communicate your vision so you can motivate employees, investors, and partners to help you achieve that vision.
You must be able to identify staffing needs, expertly fill them, and lead your team to success. Rarely (actually never) do entrepreneurs build successful companies all by themselves.
2. Focus & Execution: Entrepreneurs must focus to make sure that goals are achieved, customers are satisfied, and employees are motivated.
For most entrepreneurs, staying focused is harder than it sounds. Be careful not to be seduced by the next exciting opportunity without executing on the priorities at hand. And don't let perfectionism prevent you from taking action, either; at the end of the day, a product on the market is better than a product shelved due to lack of focus, execution, or perfectionism. Get to market and get feedback from your customers as soon as possible.
3. Persistence & Passion: As an entrepreneur, you must be passionate about what you are trying to accomplish. In addition, you must be willing to commit whatever is needed of them, whether it's time, energy, money, or other resources.
You must persist through trying times (which will be frequent), and fight as much as needed to achieve the goals you have set for yourself and your team. I’ve never met an entrepreneur who didn’t struggle through hard times on their path to success. So, don’t give up when hard times hit you.
4. Technical skills: As the owner of your firm, you may not need to be the most skilled technician on your team. But you need to have necessary foundational knowledge to be able to lead your technical team and make informed decisions.
For instance, in my dashboard business, I can’t technically build most dashboard charts myself. But I know the metrics that must be plotted. And I understand the basic framework with which charts are built. As a result, I know whether a certain chart is feasible and approximately how long it should take to create. This is the information I need to effectively lead the organization.
5. Flexibility: Successful entrepreneurs understand that the world and the environment in which they operate are constantly changing. While you must focus on the end game, you also must adapt your strategies and offerings to meet changing market conditions.
Remember that many successful companies resulted from flexibility, particularly when their first idea didn’t pan out. Such as PayPal, which radically changed its business concept when its core technology of allowing one PalmPilot to pay another wasn’t gaining enough traction.
So, be persistent to a point when something’s not working. But realize that change and flexibility might be required.
The good news is that each of the above traits and skills can be acquired. You can teach or force yourself to be more flexible. You can set goals and give them laser focus. And so on. Make each of these attributes a habit, and you will have no choice but to achieve the success you desire.
Written by Jay Turo on Wednesday, April 22, 2015
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?
Friday 1:30 pm ET / 10:30 am PT Webinar
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:
Written by Katie Perratore on Wednesday, April 15, 2015
On Wikipedia, I found the word "angel" defined as "a supernatural being or spirit, often depicted in humanoid form with feathered wings on their backs and halos around their heads."
While this might depict an "angel," it certainly is a far cry from the definition of an "angel investor."
Below I define exactly what an "angel investor" is along with answers to the other most common angel investor questions.
1. What is An Angel Investor?
The term "angel investor" is officially defined as a private investor who offers financial backing to an entrepreneurial venture.
When several private investors form an organization to collective fund ventures, they are known as an "angel investor group."
The act of providing the financial backing is known as "angel investing."
The amount of angel financing is significant. According to the Center for Venture Research at the University of New Hampshire, each year over 60,000 ventures raise over $20 billion from angel investors.
2. Will an angel investor invest in my ______ (insert restaurant, hotel, technology, website, product, app, salon, etc.)?
The answer to this is "yes."
Software is the top sector that receives angel funding, representing approximately 23% of total angel investments annually.
Healthcare Services/Medical Devices and Equipment (14%), Retail (12%), Biotech (11%), Industrial/Energy (7%) and Media (7%) are the next top sectors.
Importantly, that leaves an "other" amount of 26%. And ìotherî includes every type of company there is. So, yes, there is an angel investor out there who would fund your type of business.
3. What is the difference between angel investors and venture capitalists?
Venture capitalists differ from angel investors in that they typically provide more money (generally at least $2 million) and focus on companies that have achieved more operational milestones than companies generally funded by angel investors
Other key differences include the following:
- Venture capitalists are professional investors. That is what they do for a living. Angel investors do not invest for a living.
- Venture capitalists invest other peopleís money in ventures. Conversely, angels invest their own money. As a result, angel investments are not always based on the potential return on investment (ROI) of the deal (the primary concern of venture capitalists) but may result from other factors such as simply liking the entrepreneur and wanting to help them out.
4. What return on investment do angel investors want?
There is no set formula for the return angel investors want. In general, they simply want a "fair" return. "Fair" might imply millions of dollars if your company eventually goes public and is valued at billions. Or, "fair" may be a 15% return, or a reasonably higher return than they would receive if they invested in the less-risky public stock market.
The key is to figure out what the prospective investor deems to be ìfairî and offer it to them.
5. Where can I find angel investors for my company?
The best place to find angel investors is through networking. Who do you know? Who do your friends know? Who does your attorney know? And so on.
And then once you meet those referrals, ask who they know. And so on. By networking, you can reach tons of prospective angel investors and raise the funding you need.
Importantly, the vast, vast, vast, vast (yes, I know I just said ìvastî four times!) majority of angel investors are what I call "latent angel investors." That is, they don't know or walk around thinking of themselves as angel investors. But, they have the means, interest and ability to make angel investors.
Latent angel investors are the BEST for entrepreneurs, since they arenít seeing tons of potential companies to fund. As a result, if they see one good deal, thereís a good chance theyíll fund it. Conversely, those investors who see tons of deals are less likely to fund any particular venture.
Now that you know the answers to the five key angel investors questions, use this knowledge to raise this great funding source for your business.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Friday, April 10, 2015
I find it amazing how many entrepreneurs and business owners get burned by thinking about things incorrectly.
Here’s an example from a recent conversation I had with an entrepreneur who sells professional services. His sales were strong, but his profits were weak. In trying to figure out a solution, he started by suggesting he layoff part of his staff. If he cut his staff, costs would go down and profits would go up.
However, he then realized that if he had less staff members, he couldn’t close as many sales nor complete as many projects. So, sales would go down about the same as costs, and profits would remain flat.
The solution I gave him was to cut costs by reducing his staff (either through layoffs or natural attrition) and to boost employee productivity. Because if he were able to serve the same number of clients with a smaller staff, then profits would rise. In fact, if the staff were pared down enough, he could even afford to pay each staff member more than they currently make.
There are several great example of this “reverse logic” of paying employees more to increase profits.
One example is The Container Store. The Container Store has just one employee for every three their competitors have. But, they pay their employees double the industry average and spend 160 hours training them.
What is the result of this strategy? The Container Store employees are better trained and happier, and thus provide superior service. All this at a 33% lower cost than competitors.
Interestingly, when The Container Store opened in New York City, it had 100 times more applications than available positions. With numbers like that, they can hire the best of the best each time.
Similarly, Harry Seifert, CEO of Winter Garden Salads gives employees bonuses just before Memorial Day, when demand for its products peak. The bonuses boost morale and cause the company's productivity to jump 50% during the busy period.
Paying employees more to improve performance and boost company-wide profits is a historically proven tactic. In fact, back in 1913, Henry Ford doubled employee wages from $2.50 to $5.00 per day. The move boosted employee morale and productivity and caused thousands of potential new workers to move to Detroit.
Your employees can and should be a source of your competitive advantage. Recruit them slowly and wisely. Train them well. Give them a voice in your company and respect them. And pay them well. When you do this, you’ll have employees that perform at three times the level of your competition. And even if you pay them double the industry average, you’ll still have huge profits and outperform your competitors.
Written by Jay Turo on Wednesday, April 8, 2015
I regularly engage with entrepreneurs and executives to help them determine the right long-term strategic plans and goals to pursue, toward the end of maximizing their businesses’ valuations and their likelihoods of selling their companies down the road.
This, as I have discussed before, is the highest ROI work that a business manager can do, yet most of us invest way too little time in it, and even more vexingly the results we get from the time we do spend are middling at best.
Now, in addition to just not knowing how to strategic plan (and for those interested in a quick primer, I recommend Dave Lavinsky’s excellent book Start at the End), an under-rated reason why otherwise talented businesspeople are poor strategists is because of what I would describe as Business Dissonance - the sad feeling that even if we do manage to arrive at the right plan, it won't make any difference.
Why not? Well, at least partly because for too many of us and the organizations we lead feel incapable of implementing and maintaining the big changes that are almost always required to attain the long-term plan.
Yes, to paraphrase a famous scene from The Godfather, it can often feel like every time we think we have freed ourselves from Business as Usual, we are pulled back in and nothing changes.
As a result, we sabotage our grand plans by frittering away our precious time and energy on the mundane, the petty, and on the "urgent" but not really important stuff that can so easily consume our day.
Like round and piles and endless streams of email.
Meetings with weak agendas and even weaker follow-up.
The daily "just getting through” client and customer “crises” (versus finding and fixing their root causes).
On chatter, and on frenetic activity that feels like hard work, but doesn’t progress us toward important goals.
Paradoxically, this state of affairs does point us to the strategic breakthrough: by gaining control of our day to day schedules and to dos, we will free up time and space to focus on the important projects as dictated by our strategic plan.
And how can we empower ourselves in such a glorious way?
Well, for those that can describe themselves as Knowledge Workers (almost all of us these days), here’s an extremely simple daily “hack”: For the first hour of our day, shut off the technology.
No email. No text. No tweets. No posts.
And if an hour feels too much, then start with 15 minutes.
Sound simple? Well, it is, but not easy. (Try it, and if you can keep it up for just a month write me back, and I'll send you a card for a free cup of coffee on me).
When we clear our minds and spirits like this to start our day, almost magically will our capacity grow to make steady progress toward our most important (and almost always extremely proactive) projects and goals.
And the deep peace of mind of knowing that today’s work is in sync feels really, really good, too.
Written by Jay Turo on Wednesday, April 1, 2015
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.
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Most entrepreneurs fail to raise
venture capital because they
make a really BIG mistake when
approaching investors. And on
the other hand, the entrepreneurs
who get funding all have one thing
in common. What makes the difference?
to watch the video.
The Internet has created great
opportunities for entrepreneurs.
Most recently, a new online funding
phenomenon allows you to quickly
raise money to start your business.
to watch the video.
"Barking orders" and other forms of
intimidating followers to get things
done just doesn't work any more.
So how do you lead your company
to success in the 21st century?
to watch the video.