Written by Dave Lavinsky on Sunday, March 9, 2014
On March 3rd, Crowdfunding platform Kickstarter announced that is surpassed $1 BILLION in funding pledges. That’s $1,000,000,000 in funding for entrepreneurs.
Very interestingly, Kickstarter included lots of interesting statistics on these crowdfundings as follows:
- 5.7 million people funded these projects (versus less than 1,000 active venture capital firms worldwide)
- More than half of the $1 billion was pledged in the last 12 months alone
- The 5,708,578 people who have backed a Kickstarter project represent 224 countries and territories, and all seven continents
- These are the top Countries & Territories by dollars raised:
- United States: $663,316,496
- United Kingdom: $54,427,475
- Canada: $44,913,678
- Australia: $31,776,566
- Germany: $21,607,047
- France: $10,131,159
- Sweden: $7,150,257
- Japan: $7,139,419
- Netherlands: $7,033,026
- Singapore: $6,710,981
- 1,689,979 people have backed/funded MORE than one project
- 15,932 people have backed/funded more than 50 projects
- $619 million has been pledged by returning backers
Those are some very impressive numbers. And they ONLY represent one Crowdfunding platform. If we start adding other platforms, like IndieGogo, RocketHub, etc., the amount of Crowdfunding dollars raised and the number of backers skyrockets further.
And, perhaps most importantly, the trend for entrepreneurs is extremely positive as Crowdfunding is growing rapidly. Recall what I wrote above -- “more than half of the $1 billion was pledged in the last 12 months alone.” Now consider that Kickstarter launched on April 28, 2009.
That means that from April 28, 2009 to March 2, 2013, a nearly 4 year period, a half-billion dollars was raised on Kickstarter. They then raised the same amount in just the last year.
The fact remains that Crowdfunding is here, is here to stay, and is only growing. This is truly a blessing for entrepreneurs and is probably making right now the best time in history to raise money for any company. So, if you need funding, what are you waiting for?
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Sunday, March 2, 2014
Even billionaires need to raise money. Take Donald Trump. Each time he launches a new real estate project, he raises outside money for it. Why? Because why should he only invest his own money? Rather, Trump and other billionaires understand the importance of leveraging other people’s money.
So, what do billionaires like Donald Trump do to raise money? Below are five key tactics billionaires use, and perhaps more importantly, that you can too.
1. Leverage Relationships
Billionaires have lots of relationships that they leverage when seeking capital. They access their networks by telling them about their latest project and their funding needs.
You too have relationships. You have current and/or former bosses, co-workers, counsel (e.g., accountants, lawyers, etc.), family friends and so on. Leverage these relationships when seeking funding. Even if none of your current relationships can invest directly, some certainly know and can introduce you to others who can.
2. Get Creative on Deal Terms
A great investment makes sense for both the investor/lender and the entrepreneur. Oftentimes, in ensuring the investment works, you need to get creative on the deal terms.
For example, maybe you give the investor a small equity percentage in your business, monthly repayment of some of their investment, AND a small percentage of your venture’s future sales. While most investments only include one of these funding options (e.g., debt/loan, equity, or royalty payments), there’s no rule that you can’t get creative and combine deal terms. And when you do, you often make your deal/company more appealing to investors.
3. Sell Investors on the Opportunity
Regardless of how good your company or investment opportunity is, you need to “sell” it to investors and lenders. Billionaires like Donald Trump must also do this. For instance, Trump constantly convinces investors why his newest venture will be a huge success.
Marketing yourself and your company to investors is a crucial part of raising capital. You must prove to investors why your company will be successful and that they will get a solid return on their investment. Importantly, when “selling” investors, get specific. For example, don’t just say you will succeed because you have the best management team. Rather, explain the precise credentials of your team that make you the best.
4. Don’t Take Rejection Personally
Billionaires like Donald Trump have been rejected hundreds of times in their money-raising careers. The fact is that your investment is never right for everyone.
You must accept that you will get more “no’s” than “yes's” when raising money. Importantly, don’t let the “no’s” get to you. Remember that you only need one “yes.” So, even after 10 “no’s” or 25 “no’s” or even 50 or 100 “no’s” you need to keep going and persevere.
If you truly believe you have a great company or opportunity, and that it can provide a solid return to your investors/lenders, then never back down.
5. Strategically Incorporate Investor Feedback
When investors say “no,” use the opportunity to gain feedback. Specifically, ask them why they didn’t want to invest. Sometimes it has to do with your deal terms. Other times it has to do with concerns about your business or business model.
It is important for you to strategically assess this feedback. Don’t blindly follow the feedback or advice, as it may or may not be correct. But particularly if you hear the same feedback from multiple investors, you must strongly consider what they are saying. If multiple investors, for example, say your management team isn’t strong enough, then it’s generally time to agree with them and immediately start to bolster your team.
Similarly, when billionaires like Donald Trump have trouble raising funding, they modify their project and/or deal terms to better adhere to the needs of investors and/or lenders.
In summary, raising capital is essentially a partnership between you the entrepreneur and the sources of funding you seek.
The larger your network, the more potential funders or referrals to funders you have. After that, it’s about creating and selling an opportunity that funders can’t resist. Never give up, but also, don’t be stubborn -- realize that feedback from those who say “no” can often be invaluable to your ultimate success!
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Monday, February 24, 2014
Great leaders delegate. They get other people to do the work for them. They focus on vision and strategy, and getting their people to perform at their highest possible level. And when their people perform, the company executes on the strategy and achieves its vision.
While much about leadership has been written over the years, much of it has changed. Because many of the old rules and strategies, such as the “it’s my way or the highway,” strategy no longer apply. People are different today than they were even a decade ago. We have different needs and thinking, and nurturing your team to get them to perform is more complex.
In fact, when it comes to outsourced employees, leadership is even more complex. Because when you can’t look your employee in the eye, it’s hard to tell if they’re bought into your strategies and goals, and if they will perform to your standards.
What makes this so more important is that any good HR strategy nowadays includes outsourcing. Because outsourcing certain roles allows your company to achieve great progress at a significantly lower expense, and without increasing your fixed costs which decreases flexibility.
This being said, the following are five things a great leader would never do when managing their outsourced employees.
1. Rely exclusively on email. Email is generally the easiest way to communicate with outsourced employees, particularly if they live in different time zones. However, email is rarely the most effective communications method, particularly when you want to motivate people. Rather, make sure that occasionally you also use telephone calls and video calls using services such as Skype. By seeing your employee, and having them see you, you can gauge and influence their levels of engagement and excitement.
2. Give vague directions. If someone’s seen you do something several times, and then you ask them to do it, they might do a good job. But if someone’s never seen you do something, particularly when they don’t work in your office, they’ll generally fail wildly. Unless, that is, you give them precise directions. When you outsource a task, be sure to document precisely what you want done and why. This will guide the employee and set expectations for them to meet.
3. Wait to see finished work. When you outsource a project to someone, don’t wait until the end to judge their work. Rather, check in periodically. Ideally, break the work into pieces. For example, if an outsourced employee is responsible for creating a video, natural pieces or project stages might include: 1) writing the video script, 2) sketching or finding the images to be included in the video, 3) creating a video draft, 4) finalizing the video. If you wait to see the final video, you inevitably will be disappointed. Rather, check in after each stage and provide feedback. The end result will be infinitely better.
4. Fail to set deadlines. Employees, particularly outsourced employees who don’t see you, need deadlines. If not, they’ll generally take way too long to complete a task. When employees work in your office, they should have deadlines too; but, because you see these employees, if there is a deadline, you’ll simply remember to tell them. You don’t have this luxury with virtual employees, so make sure they know the deadline for each of their projects.
5. Fail to give time expectations. Even when you set a deadline, you still must set time expectations, particularly if you are paying your outsourced employee on an hourly basis. While two people can both complete a project in a week, for example, you’re clearly paying a ton more if one worked ten hours per day and the other two. So, at the beginning of each project, have the employee give you an estimate of the work hours, and have them check in periodically to let you know if their estimate is on track or not.
When you outsource properly, you can dramatically grow your company at a fraction of the cost as your competitors. But, make sure you avoid these leadership mistakes; when you do, you can effectively manage your outsourced workforce to get the most benefit from this key HR strategy.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Thursday, February 20, 2014
Every year I make predictions. I predict who will win the Super Bowl. I predict who will win this election or that. And so on. Like most people, sometimes I’m right. And often I’m wrong.
However, I rarely if ever make predictions publicly. Unless, that is, I am extremely confident my prediction will come true. Maybe this is a psychological flaw; that I don’t want to feel publicly humiliated by making a wrong prediction. If it is, so be it; the fact is that I only make public predictions when I’m close to certain they’re right.
In fact, my last public predictions came nearly 4 years ago today. On that day, in an email to over 80,000 entrepreneurs, I predicted that Crowdfunding (which had just begun) was going to be huge. It turns out, I was right.
1) The Growth of Crowdfunding
When I predicted the success of Crowdfunding in 2010, it wasn’t even an industry yet, so there are no formal statistics on it. But as you can see in the chart above, $1.5 Billion was raised with Crowdfunding in 2011. This amount increased by 80% in 2012 to $2.7 billion. And then from 2012 to 2013, Crowdfunding increased by 89% to $5.1 billion.
2) Why Crowdfunding Has Taken Off
There are several reasons why Crowdfunding has succeeded.
One reason might be that we are becoming more and more of a consumer society; which is defined as a society in which the buying and selling of goods and services is the most important social and economic activity. People simply like to buy things, and investing in a company is a type of buying.
Another reason is probably that people want to belong and be part of something. By investing in a nascent company, you essentially become part of it. If it succeeds, you were there from the beginning. That’s exciting!
Another reason is that we more and more live in an entrepreneurial culture. Entrepreneur success stories, like Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, are now mainstream media. Top entrepreneurs have gained the public status formerly only occupied by actors, musicians and athletes. Likewise, television shows like Shark Tank have positively shined light on entrepreneurship.
3. Will the Growth of Crowdfunding Continue?
Yes, I am 100% confident that Crowdfunding will continue to rapidly grow. Here’s why. While the JOBS was signed in April 2012, it did not allow for equity-based Crowdfunding until the SEC approved certain regulations. Some of those regulations have since been approved. For example, "accredited investors" can now make equity-based Crowdfunding investments. But non-accredited investors still cannot. When this changes (which is expected later this year), and the general public can invest, the Crowdfunding market should grow like wildfire.
4) How Can You Take Advantage of the Rapid Rise of Crowdfunding?
To raise Crowdfunding, do the following:
1. Follow the 14 Step Formula
Below are the 14 steps I teach in my Crowdfunding Formula course that are critical to successfully raising donation or rewards-based Crowdfunding.
1. Choose your Crowdfunding platform
2. Create an account
3. Create your funding project
4. Categorize your project
5. Create your project tagline
6. Create your project teaser text
7. Create your full text project summary
8. Determine the right fundraising amount
9. Determine the right donation time
10. Develop your list of rewards
11. Create your project visuals
12. Create your project video
13. Promote your project to your network
14. Maintain and update your project
2) Become a Great Marketer
No matter how good your idea is, you will need to market it to others to get them to invest in it. A good analogy is this: every day thousands of people release videos hoping and thinking they will go viral, but they don’t. Even if their video is great, they need to get it in front of a bunch of people who watch it, like it, then spread the word.
In 2010 I called Crowdfunding the most exciting thing that’s happened in the entrepreneurial space since the first venture capital investment was made in the 1950s. Crowdfunding is helping entrepreneurs raise money and gain customers, and more and more Crowdfunding success stories will be featured in the media in the coming days. Hopefully it’s you they’ll feature!
Written by Jay Turo on Thursday, February 13, 2014
We’re hosting a webinar today at 4 pm PT about equity investing in 2014, and you’re invited to attend.
To register, click here: https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/638414410
On it, we will share some key statistics, especially that while from August 1982 to September 1999, the Dow Jones industrial average rose from 777 to 11,078, in comparison since 1999 it has moved only from 11,078 to 16,017 (approximately 44%).
Given that inflation since then has reduced purchasing power by over 37%, the net return for the period has been less than 1% per year.
So, on the webinar we will explain:
1. Why has this happened?
2. What should we do about it?
Well, first of all with overall GNP growth rate being cut in half, from averaging 3.6% annually from 1982 to 2000 to 1.8% from 2000 - 2014, there is simply less money to go around.
Then, the returns that are to be had…well they have been mostly eaten up by the huge big bank infrastructures built up as trading volumes have increased over twenty-fold since the 1980s.
Sadly, slow overall GNP growth remains our most likely macroeconomic reality, and does anyone really see Wall Street slimming down any time soon?
So what to do about it?
Well, on the webinar, we will suggest three prescriptions:
1. Give up on the public markets.
2. Find market inefficiencies.
3. Do it Right.
“Doing it right” should of course be all of our favorite, so we will share what we have discovered as to why today’s smart investors avoid the public markets and where, why, and how they invest now, including:
• How many of them no longer invest in “companies,” but rather only in projects
• How they are and how they are NOT planning to utilize the new laws regarding crowdfunding
• How they are utilizing “cross-border” and “in-kind” transactions to shelter returns from Obama era tax increases
• How they limit risk through "Black Swan" portfolio theory and modeling
Register now via the below link:
To Your Success,
P.S. Note, to preserve the intimacy of the presentation, we are limiting attendance to only 35 registrants so be sure to secure your spot right away.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Wednesday, February 12, 2014
If you want to generate new leads and sales, consider public speaking. Assuming you’re not deathly afraid of speaking in public, below are answers to the five most common questions about using public speaking to grow your business.
1. Where should I speak?
In determining where to speak, the goal is to speak in whatever venues will get you in front of the most target customers.
This could range from local organizations such as your local Chamber of Commerce to national trade associations. Simply brainstorm events in which your target customers attend.
Then, contact the event organizers and ask them to consider you as a speaker. For annual events, there is often a place on their website where you can apply to speak.
2. What should I talk about?
Figuring out what to talk about is fairly easy. Figure out the questions and problems your customers are having, and speak directly to that.
For example, let's assume your company provides outsourced customer service. To begin, you'd want an audience primarily comprised of business owners. Since you know they probably have questions about how to provide better customer service, a great topic would be “5 tips to improve customer service.” For each tip, you would include good and bad examples.
Importantly, in giving such a presentation, you will naturally promote your company's service (as the "good" examples will be ones that your organization has done) without directly pitching the audience.
As you can imagine, such a presentation would generate new leads and sales without you having to be "salesy."
3. Where do I get material for my presentation?
This part is easier than you think. Once you determine your topic, brainstorm everything you can think of that it entails. With the customer service example, you can discuss costs, delivery & fulfillment, billing, refunds, returns & exchanges, technical support, customer phone support, etc.
Since you are already an expert in your business, the information is probably already in your head.
4. How do I overcome my fears of public speaking?
Don’t create your presentation all at once. Rather, keep a journal for a couple of weeks in which you collect ideas and tips you’ll want to share. Then, assemble this information into an outline for your presentation. You don't have to write it out word for word. Rather, develop a slide presentation that guides you through your talk.
Of critical importance is to never add more than 30 or so words per slide. You want attendees focusing on you, not reading your text.
Practice giving your presentation by yourself so you can pause and think about how it sounded along the way. Then have someone else listen to you in order to give feedback.
When the day comes, relax and remember to talk as if you're on the phone with a friend. You don't have to hold eye contact with anyone in the audience, and they'll forgive you for any blunders as long as you're sincere and interesting. Remember that your audience is there to learn from you, not to critique you as a public speaker.
5. How do I get the most value from public speaking?
To get the most value from public speaking, do the following:
a) Get contact information from your prospects. The easiest way to do this is to tell the audience to email you if they want a copy of your slide presentation. This will result in a large email list of qualified prospects.
b) Invite prospective customers to hear you speak. Having them attend will give you great credibility (you actually gain great credibility even if they don’t attend) which will help close more sales.
c) Have someone record a video of you speaking at the event. As appropriate post all or part of the video on your website and/or on social media sites. The video will give you more credibility and position you as an industry expert.
d) Make sure you bring lots of business cards to hand out and budget time after your presentation to speak with attendees. Typically, after you present, several attendees will come up to you with questions and you want to be prepared.
Public speaking is an excellent way to find and secure new customers, employees, partners, investors and so on. Follow the advice in the five answers above so you can reap these key benefits for your business.
Suggested Resource: Public speaking is a great way to increase your company's credibility and get new clients. For even more "publicity" methods to grow your business, check out Growthink's Publicity Playbook.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Sunday, February 9, 2014
Publicity is an extremely powerful form of marketing. If customers say positive things about you, particularly online, many new customers will learn about you and possibly buy your product or service.
Likewise, if the media covers your company, not only will more customers hear about you and possibly purchase your offerings, but it gives your company an implied endorsement and additional credibility.
However, the opposite can be true. That is, having customers and/or the media say negative things about you and your company could lead to its downfall. Below are 3 strategies to protect yourself from such negative publicity.
1. Take care of your customers
This first strategy is pretty obvious, but often overlooked. The challenge is that sometimes entrepreneurs get too focused on maximizing profits that they forget about the needs of their customers.
Customers are the lifeblood of any business, so take care of them. The more satisfied your customers are, the more likely they will be to spread positive messages about your company.
2. Respond to customer complaints
No matter how customer-centric you are and no matter how great your product or service, some customers won’t love it. Sometimes these customers are negative by nature or maybe they simply had a bad experience. For example, I’ve often looked at reviews for restaurants I love and have seen at least some negative reviews.
As an entrepreneur or business owner, you need to respond to customer complaints wherever they appear, from in your inbox to social media sites, etc. Doing so allows you to solve the issue and satisfy the customer, and/or at least let other customers know that you stand by your offering and support your customers.
In many cases, for example, I’ve seen customers complain online with regards to products they wrongfully bought (they purchased the wrong item to suit their needs). By posting that information, in a nice way of course, online, your company explains the negative remark and gains credibility with prospective customers.
3. Create your own media
A final way to protect yourself from bad press, and in fact ensure positive press, is to write articles yourself.
Clearly, if you are the author of articles appearing in the media, they’re not going to say negative things about you. On the contrary, any articles you write give you and your company great credibility.
I’ve been using this strategy for years. Many years ago I started publishing articles on article submission sites like Ezine Articles. As I gained more expertise and a track record, I started contacting editors at bigger news sources requesting they publish my articles. Today, I regularly contribute to Forbes, Entrepreneur and AllBusiness. I also frequently contribute articles to smaller magazines and blogs.
Don’t like to write? Well, these days, that’s not really important. You can simply come up with a topic that customers want to know about, and dictate your expertise on the topic into a microphone or your mobile phone. You can then email your recording to a dictating service or to a freelancer who will transcribe and edit it into a great article.
Once you have the article (and/or beforehand), contact websites, blogs, newspapers, magazines, trade journals, etc. who might be interested in your article to convince them to publish it.
You might have heard the expression that there’s no such thing as bad press. This is true to the extent that it’s always great to have media spread the word about your company so new potential customers hear about you. But clearly, positive press is far superior to negative press, so start using these 3 strategies today to get positive press that yields new customers, more sales and improved profits. For further strategies and step-by-step guidance to getting tons of great publicity for your business, check out my Publicity Playbook course.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Friday, February 7, 2014
In writing his book, "Rich Habits - The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals," author Thomas C. Corley studied the daily habits of hundreds of wealthy and poor people.
He defined wealthy people as those earning at least $160,000 annually and owning assets of at least $3.2 million. Conversely, he defined poor people as having an annual income below $30,000 and less than $5,000 in assets.
Read below to see the stark differences between the two groups.
1) Maintain a to-do list
- 81% of wealthy does this
- 9% of poor does this
Answer for successful entrepreneurs: Maintain a To Do List
2) Wake up 3+ hours before work
- 44% of wealthy does this
- 3% of poor does this
Answer for successful entrepreneurs: Most entrepreneurs pretty much work all the time, and clearly work more than the general 9-5 work day. I prefer highly organized work to a ton of work. But either way, you need to put in the hours to succeed as an entrepreneur.
3) Listen to audio books during commute
- 63% of wealthy does this
- 5% of poor does this
Answer for successful entrepreneurs: Educate yourself during your commute. EVERY single one of the video training products I offer has an audio download component so you can listen to them during your commute. Yes, I did this on purpose.
4) Network 5+ hours or more each month
- 79% of wealthy does this
- 16% of poor does this
Answer for successful entrepreneurs: Network more. Networking is a great way to meet great people who can become: investors, mentors, advisors, customers, employees, partners, etc. If you need more of any of these things, then network more.
5) Read 30+ minutes or more each day
- 88% of wealthy does this
- 2% of poor does this
Answer for successful entrepreneurs: Read at least 30 minutes each day. Here I’m probably preaching to the choir, since you’re reading this essay of mine - good job!
6) Live a healthy lifestyle
Eat less than 300 junk food calories per day
- 70% of wealthy does this
- 3% of poor does this
Exercise aerobically four days a week
- 76% of wealthy does this
- 23% of poor does this
Answer for successful entrepreneurs: Treat your body well. You need the physical and mental energy to succeed.
7) Use television smartly
Watch one hour or less of TV every day
- 67% of wealthy does this
- 23% of poor does this
Watch reality TV
- 6% of wealthy does this
- 78% of poor does this
Answer for successful entrepreneurs: Don’t watch too much television and when you do, don’t watch garbage.
The final, and most important habit for the world’s wealthiest entrepreneurs is that they have built and sold their companies. Of Americans with a net worth of $5 million or more, an overwhelming 80% of them are entrepreneurs who have sold their businesses.
So, in summary (and feel free to print this out):
1. Maintain a To Do list
2. Wake up early/work hard
3. Listen to audio books during your commute
4. Network more
5. Read 30+ minutes each day
6. Maintain a healthy lifestyle
7. Don’t watch too much (or garbage) television
8. Build a sellable business
When you think about it, none of this is really that hard. Yes, YOU can do it!
Written by Jay Turo on Thursday, January 30, 2014
Almost completely shrouded in the drumbeat of negativity that passes as business reporting these days has been the bursting growth in U.S. service exports – increasingly from U.S. startups and small businesses.
Contrary to the image of imports and exports being only “stuff” flowing in and out of places like the Port of Long Beach, last week's Census Bureau noted that services accounted for 30%, or $57.4 billion of total U.S. exports in October. And unlike our huge “hard goods” trade deficit, in the value of U.S. service exports was 51% greater than that of imports.
Business, professional, and technical services were the fifth largest U.S. export category in 2008, and half of the top 10 major export categories were services. And with U.S. service companies representing close to 15% of global commercial service exports, the United States is hands-down the world’s dominant service exporter.
Of many, let me flag three main drivers:
1. Purchasing Power Parity. Purchasing power parity (PPP) posits that with free-flowing markets wages and prices worldwide approach parity.
Protectionist types of course interpret this to mean that “our wages will get pushed down to “their” levels – or more viscerally, “if this keeps up we’ll all soon be making $2 dollars per hour.”
Well, let’s leave for now the huge economic fallacy of this thinking and concentrate on the fact that the narrowing of the relative wealth differential between the U.S. and the rest of the world has allowed for phenomena like a Ukranian manufacturing company hiring U.S. advisors (i.e. Growthink) to help them define strategic growth opportunities in Poland .
Why? Because on a dollar-for-dollar (or better yet, zioty-to-zioty) basis, it was a better value for them to import services like these from the U.S. The world is changing, isn’t it?
2. U.S. Services are Increasingly Exportable. The drumbeat always goes on how “we here in the U.S. don’t “make anything.” Well, beyond the fact, that I note in my “Made In China” post that very few Americans dream that their children will grow-up and work in a factory, we here in America “make” the most important stuff that has ever existed we do it better than any society has ever done so.
That stuff? Ideas and Innovations. Strategies.
Or more prosaically, Brands. Websites. Entertainments in all their wondrous forms – Movies, Video Games, Social Networks.
Even our current favorite whipping boy industry – financial services – continues to bring us world-bettering innovations like venture philanthropy (i.e. applying market principles to solve the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges), super angel funds (overcoming the “outlier” or “Black Swan” conundrum of startup investing) and of course crowdfunding (democratizing fund-raising and investing in ways never before even dreamed possible.)
3. Global Best Practices. Perhaps my favorite, namely that business best practices worldwide are visible and replicable to and for all. And the corollary, the really screwed-up and ineffective ways of doing things are also blatantly transparent.
From lists like the “most business friendly” countries to California now having a portal where parents can see teacher’s ratings to the U.S. Senate studying Chinese technocrats to the simple reality that the Internet and mobile phones make it crystal-clear to all who is winning and losing in the world (see North Korea, Iran, et al.), the modern world has become a rickly competitive market in all its best senses.
The cream rises, and the inefficient, the bureaucratic, the regulatory dead-enders get left on the dustbin of history.
And guess who, when it comes down to doing business right, is the richest cream, the sweetest soup?
It is, of course, American startups and smaller and emerging companies.
And as they, like the U.S. economy as a whole, become almost exclusively services-focused, they will both lead and profit from their exploding opportunities worldwide.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Wednesday, January 29, 2014
This blog post was written by Mary Juetten, founder of Traklight.com, a site that provides inventors, creators, and small businesses with integrated software tools to identify and protect intellectual property.
Startups and small businesses are torn when it comes to protecting their ideas. There is a challenging balance between keeping the critical pieces secret and promoting products and services during fundraising – whether with angel investors, venture capitalists (VCs), or crowdfunding platforms.
The NDA question comes up more than you would think because scrappy entrepreneurs are always looking for collaborators, co-founders, and capital while jealously guarding their ideas. At least once a week, I hear one side of this debate or field a question on the topic.
What is a NDA?
Let me first say I am not an attorney (see the disclaimer at the bottom of this article). That being said, a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) is a legal document used to protect ideas, know-how, and other secret sauce under a variety of circumstances.
One standard use of a NDA is protecting one company from another during discussions and negotiations. That means, if I approach Company A to code my software application, I want Company A and all their employees and contractors to keep all discussions about my project confidential. In the same situation, a mutual NDA means that everything Company A discloses about how they will work with me needs to be kept secret by me and my team. If I have a mutual NDA with Company A, I cannot go to software Company B and spill secrets learned from Company A.
As I said, I am not an attorney however I did go to law school (and yes, I graduated but chose to start my company rather than take the bar). The answer to almost every question in law school was, “It depends.” And that is the case here. Requesting and/or insisting upon a NDA depends on the situation. Are you hiring an employee? An independent contractor? Perhaps you are hiring a company for custom work, or are talking to potential co-founders, angel investors, or venture capitalists. Or maybe you are sharing information to collaborate or simply chatting in the grocery line.
NDA for Employees and Contractors
It’s my humble opinion that employees and contractors should be under NDA when you are revealing your know-how during initial discussions. It is purely good business sense to ask for that level of protection. The “I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours” strategy can backfire without a NDA, not to mention these handshake deals are not professional and can lead to messiness (a distraction when trying to start or grow a business).
Please seek professional advice to ensure that your contracts of employment, consulting, operating agreement, articles of incorporation, etc. have the appropriate non-disclosure provisions for your state.
NDAs are questionable for angels; NO for VCs
It is high unlikely the professional investor wishes to steal your idea. The main reason angel investors are reluctant to and venture capitalists (VCs) often refuse to execute a NDA is because they may then be limited in the future from funding similar companies. Another reason is that your company and products may conflict with their existing ventures.
One path forward is to only reveal enough information to interest potential investors while keeping mission critical secrets secret, especially in the first meeting.
No NDA for public pitch or demo competition
Trade secrets are no longer secret if revealed to the public. There is no confidentiality in a public setting, so leave your secrets at home. Disclosure of such secrets may impact the ability to patent here in the US and globally, so be careful in any public pitch, tradeshow, or presentation.
All entrepreneurs understand that the tough part is execution, not idea generation. And to be technical, ideas themselves are not intellectual property. So you need to think of the context of your discussion and what you are trying to protect.
Know your audience. If you have the next great software idea and you are not technical enough to code yourself it is likely a good idea to ask potential co-founders or software companies to sign a NDA before you reveal the details of your idea.
Does that mean you carry the NDA in your purse (or briefcase)? You may but it is mostly applicable for the meeting after your initial encounter. When revealing your secret sauce or business process in public, a NDA is critical.
In conclusion, if someone does not wish to sign a NDA, think of the context, timing, and the person before you walk away. That done, if you have that niggling, uncomfortable gut feeling about why the person will not sign the NDA, head in the other direction.
Visit Traklight and use “ID your IP” with Traklight’s compliments until February 28, 2014. Remember, you cannot protect something if you do not know you have it! Free “ID your IP” Code GROWT13 ($59 value).
Disclaimer: This article is intended to be general information and nothing in this article constitutes legal advice. Please consult with an attorney before making any intellectual property or other legal decisions.
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