Growthink Blog

In Investing, Does Fortune Really Favor the Bold?


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Last week my post on investment motivations generated a lot of great responses.

Many were of the genre that “…Yes these companies you describe sound amazing - awesome technologies, exciting markets, management with knock-your-socks off resumes, but when it comes to actually investing them….

…How do I even have a chance of separating the wheat from the chaff?

The superstars from the also-rans?

Or, more to the point, the ones that will make money from the ones that won't.

This is the ultimate question, isn’t it?

First of all, we are certainly not referring to “stock picking” to beat the markets. Everyone knows that this is not possible. (And if you have even a sliver of remaining doubt on this point, read this article).

And we're not talking about high profile, private companies that have already raised tens (and sometimes hundreds) of millions of dollars and are deep in the investment news cycle.

High-flying venture-backed companies like AirBnB, Dropbox, Uber, TangoMe, and Domo.

For these companies and hundreds of others backed by venture capital firms, by the time the public knows about them, almost always the best opportunity to invest in them has long past.

And, for the most part, we are also not talking about businesses or projects competing in mature and well-covered like Real Estate.

For sure, there are lots of solid real estate investment opportunities, but as it is such an efficient and well-covered market – with tens of thousands of investors seeking projects and deals of all sizes that the likelihood of finding those that offer returns even slightly above average is pretty low.

And let’s also cut out investing in “things” like art, collectibles, and commodities. While in places interesting for sure, statistics over a long period of time show that their average investment returns is significantly less than that of an S&P index fund.

So what investors seeking alpha are left with almost exclusively is that most special segment: startups and emerging companies.

Companies almost always with these characteristics:

They are Small. As in less then $10 million in in revenues and less than 30 employees.  Not hard and fast rule, but holds true 95%+ of the tie.

They have an Ambitious Leader. At the beating heart of these companies is almost always a charismatic individual that leads big and manages small.

A leader with an articulate “point of view” on where a market and an industry are heading.

And who can then translate this vision to the day-to-day small business discipline required to turn dreams and visions into objective reality and results.

They Compete in Big Markets. This one is easier than ever before. Why?

Well, with a 7 billion person strong, $84 trillion global economy, almost every business – even those in the smallest of niches - has a large global opportunity.

Of course, to profit from them opportunities requires great leadership and management (see above) but the opportunities are everywhere.

Companies with Thoughtful Revenue Models. This is where the ability of a company's leader to think and act both “big” and “small” are so critical.

Quite simply, companies that build asset and equity value for their shareholders are vigilant in ensuring that their monetization strategies are built around long-term customer retention and satisfaction, and NOT short-term gain.

Companies that are Lucky. The new and eternal mantra of our age is luck. Books like the Black Swan, Fooled by Randomness, and the Age of the Unthinkable profess on it.

Famous technocrati like Brian Chesky, Drew Houston, and Garret Camp pray 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.

Yes, as it has been true since Roman times in our booming deal economy for investors and entrepreneurs like Fortune does Truly Favor the Bold.

The question, of course, is will it favor you?


[Report] Here’s Why the Stock Market is Broken


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Remember the bull markets of the 1980s and 1990s, when everybody was making money in the stock market?

Bad News: Those days are GONE… and they’re not coming back

Click below to discover mine and Growthink’s exclusive report on WHY today’s stock market is broken -- and what you can do about it:

http://www.growthink.com/stock-market-dead <-- Click here

It’s almost hard to imagine how strong stock market returns used to be…

Just look at the average annual returns of the Dow Jones Industrial Average from 1982 to 1989:
•    1982: 19.61%
•    1983: 20.27%
•    1984: -3.74%
•    1985: 27.66%
•    1986: 25.58%
•    1987: 2.26%
•    1988: 11.85%
•    1989: 26.96%

The good times continued in the 1990s. On January 1, 1990, the Dow Jones was at 2,810. By December 31, 1999, it had exploded to 11,497 -- an increase of 409% in just 10 years.

But today’s stock market is BROKEN.

From 2000 to TODAY, the Dow Jones has only moved from 11,078 to 16,700 (only 40%). And INFLATION has reduced purchasing power by 37%... which means the net returns of the Dow Jones have been close to ZERO.

Download this report and discover why the stock market is broken – and what you can do about it.


The 5 Most Important Entrepreneurial Skills


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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.


What Every Investor Wants


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Last week my post on Silicon Valley - where I posed that the Valley as an investment hub had become overbought, and that the best opportunities were trending elsewhere - elicited some great responses.

Perhaps my favorite was from a Midwest VC, in reference to one of his portfolios companies in the data center space..."Here is an excellent company which is part of our VC portfolio that is…in the midst of the cold Midwest in Rochester, Minnesota, a location where few Silicon Valley folks are brave enough to consider for investment."

Another came from a well-known super angel from Dallas, “very much admire the wealth and innovation coming from SV, but it is time for investors to step out and see all of the great technology companies starting and growing outside of California.”

I appreciate these sentiments very much, and they got me thinking as to what are the common threads amongst those that love, work and invest in the startup and small business sector.

It starts with a set of beliefs. First and foremost, a clear and passionate recognition that the blessings of our way of life depend on our thriving free enterprise system.

And a deep and abiding respect for those that create wealth via their own hard work, creativity, and opportunistic sense of risk and reward.

For the entrepreneurs, the owner-operators, “the risk takers, the doers, the makers of things.”

Those brave souls that embody Picasso's famous credo of "work being the ultimate seduction.”

From whom business is far more than simply a way to make a living.

AND as they do it, they make money.

A lot of it.

In fact, the vast majority of startups and small companies earn a far higher return on invested capital than their larger publicly-traded brethren.

In fact, companies on the Inc. 5000 - a list of the country’s fastest-growing privately-held companies - average annual revenue growth of over 70%.

And a good number of these companies take in outside investment to accelerate their growth.

Some from professional investors - private equity and venture capital firms - and some from individual, “angel” investors.

And when the better among them do, those that love and are passionate about entrepreneurship, about technology, and about making money, want to participate.

Here’s why:

1. High Rate of Expected Return. Angel investing is by far the highest expected rate of return form of investing, Research from the Kauffman Foundation Angel Returns Study and the Nesta Angel Investing study, compiled by 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."

2. Home Run Potential. Smaller operating companies are the only form of investment that offer true "home run" potential.

Almost all great fortunes have been made via positions in small companies that became big. The list is legion, and runs from Standard Oil, DuPont, and Ford, through IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Wal-mart, Microsoft, and Oracle, to modern day supernovae like Amazon, Google, LinkedIN, Facebook, and Twitter.

And yes, Whats App and Occulus, too - companies still early in their business life but having already created fortunes for their early investors.

3. Connectedness. Perhaps my favorite, investing in smaller, private companies offers a connectedness, realness, and "human scale" interaction best compared to philanthropy.

It is the spiritual opposite of index, derivative, and Federal Reserve tea leave gazing that so unfortunately is what the media now considers “finance.”

Quite simply, early-stage investing is one of the last, pure forms of doing good while doing well…

…making a high personal expected, economic return decision while contributing to the entrepreneurial force of the world and providing fuel for innovations of all types that make it a better place.
What is better than that?

 


Answers to the 5 Most Common Angel Investor Questions


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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.


How Reverse Logic Doubled Profits


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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.


Silicon Valley: Only Game in Town?


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With 41% of all U.S. venture capital investing activity, Silicon Valley is the nation’s unrivaled tech early technology investing epicenter.

As the innovations and wealth that have flowed from Valley Tech companies - from Apple to Cisco to Ebay to Facebook to Google to HP to Netflix to Pixar to Oracle to Yahoo and thousands more - have enriched the world beyond measure.

And since the start of this year, almost impossible to believe stories of fortunes being made there have inspired us all (and provoked more than a little jealousy, too!).

I profiled a pair of these stories - Jim Goetz of Sequoia Capital parlaying a $58M investment into WhatsApp into a $3B fortune when in February Facebook purchased the messaging app

And Super Angels Peter Thiel and Sean Parker, who through their Founder’s Fund invested $16 million into virtual reality headset maker Occulus VR, which returned more than $740 million when Facebook bought the business last month.

Great for them.

But it does beg the question: Has Silicon Valley become so dominant - has it so separated itself - that the best opportunities can only be found there?

Of course not.

In fact, the argument can be made that the worst place to invest right now is in Silicon Valley.

As the stories above illustrate, deal prices there are high, and there is more money than ever (including $7 billion in fresh capital raised last quarter) chasing fewer and fewer deals.

So smart money is starting to look elsewhere.

Like in Los Angeles.

Long renowned as a digital media and entertainment hub, LA Tech investing activity has never been greater, with both funding and deal activity at a five year high.

Smart investors are making a lot of bets on young LA companies, with 70% of all area investing activity happening at the Seed and Series A stages.

Like in the Valley, Internet and Mobile-related businesses dominate - with close to 80% of all venture activity being concentrated in these areas.

These investments are paying off, with 59 recent venture-backed Tech Exits, including Demand Media (IPO), Cornerstone on Demand (IPO) Riot Games (Purchased by Tencent), Edgecast (Purchased by Verizon), Servicemesh (purchased by CSC), LiveOffice (purchased by Symantec) and Integrien (purchased by VMware).

And many, many investing “win” stories like these can be found in Tech Centers like New York, Boston, Chicago, Austin and more.

Yes, the Valley is great but it is far from the only game in town.

And there is a strong case that its best investing days may be behind it.

The word to the wise here is to look elsewhere.

To Your Success,

P.S. Click here for a recording of my private equity investing webinar: What Peter Thiel and Sean Parker Know about Investing and What You Should Too.


1st Quarter 2014: Best for Investing in 15 Years


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Don’t you just love these booming markets? Well, if you don’t, try on these IPO, M&A, and financing stats from 1st Quarter 2014:

Initial Public Offerings: 72 companies went public in the U.S. in the 1st quarter - the largest number of new issuers since 2000 -raising a total of 11.1 billion. And, as of Monday 54 of the 72 of them were trading above their IPO price.

Mergers & Acquisitions: Global mergers & acquisition activity totaled $710 billion (Thomson Reuters), up 54% from last year.

Private Equity. Private equity firms did 850 deals, representing investments of greater than $152 billion (Pitchbook), up 11%.

Venture Capital. 1,348 companies raised more than $15 billion from venture capitalists, up 36%.

They also raised $10.3 billion for 578 funds in the 1st Quarter, up 51% from last year.

After many years of ongoing economic and investment dreariness, isn’t this so refreshing?

And aren’t we heartened that the doomsayers have been proven so fundamentally wrong?

Wrong about the U.S. economy.

And wrong about what is so clearly the dominant leadership position of this country in all of the great technologies growth industries of the 21st Century - software, biotechnology, energy, digital media, and more.

And beyond the numbers, there are some great stories.

Of new industries being built, of fortunes being made. Here is one of my favorites:

Last week, Facebook acquired virtual reality headset maker Occulus VR for approximately $2.24 billion.

Among the investors were Peter Thiel and Sean Parker, of PayPal and Napster fame, who through their VC The Founder’s Fund last year invested $16 million into Occulus.

Upon Facebook’s purchase of the company and correspondingly of their shares, their position is now worth more than $740 million, or a return of close to 50X on their invested capital.

How did they do this?

What selection strategies did they utilize to identify companies with this kind of return potential?

WEBINAR INVITATION

Well, attend my webinar Thursday - What Peter Thiel and Sean Parker Know about Investing and What You Should Too - to find out.

On it, I will share:

- Why the majority of investors presented the opportunity to invest in Occulus declined to do so

- How Thiel and Parker and their fund partners diligenced the deal and decided to invest in Occulus instead of in the dozens of virtual reality technologies then and now in the marketplace

- How Big Data and Black Swan portfolio theory and modeling were critical to their valuation analysis on the deal

- How today’s booming IPO and deal market, discussed above, is affecting (positively and negatively) the technology deal marketplace

Register now via the below link:

https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/646160762

To Your Success,

P.S. Interested in the topic but can’t make the webinar time? Well, do register and will make sure that you get a recording of the presentation.

 


Perfectly Executed Crowdfunding Campaign


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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.

Great Video

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.

Solid Description

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!


Tech M+A: $65.2 Billion and Counting


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Global Technology Mergers & Acquisitions Activity is now at its highest year-to-date level since 2000 (in terms of both dollar volume and deal number).

Overall there has been $65.2 billion of M&A activity announced year-to-date (Thomson Reuters).

And then layer in the the crowdfunding boom (both donations and investment-based) and the exploding growth of peer-to-peer lending sites like Lending Club and Prosper.com, and never before have there been so many and so good “digital” places for those seeking and those providing capital to connect and transact.

The result?

More entrepreneurs and businesses having access to outside capital than ever before and...

…for the first time investors having the ability to efficiently build diversified portfolios of private equity and debt investments with strong, positive expected value.

Now compare all of this freshness and innovation against the ongoing dreariness of the “public” markets.

From 2000 to today, the Dow Jones has risen from 11,078 to approximately 16,268 (as of 03/26), or approximately 42%.

During that same time inflation has reduced the dollar’s purchasing power by almost exactly that same amount (38%).

So basically 15 years and ZERO real investment return.

Now what do these two fast diverging worlds, the increasingly innovative and transparent one of private investing on the one hand, and the flat and more opaque than ever one of the traditional public market returns on the other, mean for the entrepreneur and for the smaller investor?

Quite simply, it is all good.

For investors, it means access to higher returns.

Research from the Kauffman Foundation Angel Returns Study and the Nesta Angel Investing study, compiled by 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.

And for the entrepreneur, it means more, quicker, and cheaper access to capital, especially in smaller amounts.

Which leaves more time and energy for what entrepreneurs want to do and what we all need them to do…

starting and growing profitable and innovative companies that make the world a better place.

Amen to that. 

To Your Success, 


 

 

 

P.S.  To listen to a replay of my Thursday webinar, where I explored some of the key lessons learned from Sequoia Capital's $58 million investment into WhatsApp - and subsequent $3 billion windfall - upon Facebook's purchase of the messaging app last month, click here.

A version of this article originally appearedin Entrepreneur Magazine and can be seen here.


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