Throughout my life I've met a lot of really smart people. People with really high IQs that excelled in school.
And I've also met and worked with a lot of extremely successful entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs worth 7, 8 and even 9 figures (yes, that means they're worth over $100 million).
And interestingly, the two groups are pretty much mutually exclusive. That's not to say that the extremely successful entrepreneurs aren't smart. They are. But not as smart as a lot of the other folks I know.
So why is it that the high IQ folks haven't achieved as much success in life?
The answer is that IQ, your intelligence quotient, is less important then RQ, your risk quotient.
To become successful as an entrepreneur, you must take risks. You must get out of your comfort zone and try things that might not work.
Interestingly, throughout our early lives, we were trained NOT to take risks. I know I do this all the time with my kids. "Don't cross the road until there are no cars in sight," I tell them. Or "stop playing lacrosse; it's getting late and I don't want you getting hit in the face with a ball." We were all taught this to improve our survival.
But once we get older, survival is not enough. I don't want my tombstone to read "Dave survived." I want it to read that I thrived. That I accomplished my potential. That I made a difference.
And the only way to do this is to take risks. Some risks have relatively little downside. Like starting a new business that could possibly lead to bankruptcy. Other risks have bigger downside. Like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s risk to fight for civil rights which ultimately resulted in his death. But, Dr. King's risk also resulted in such amazing positive change, and the betterment of millions upon millions of lives.
I'm not suggesting that you take such a risk as Dr. King did. I am suggesting that you need to get out of your comfort zone if you aspire to be a successful entrepreneur. You need to have an honest talk with yourself. Write down what goals you truly want to accomplish with your life. And then write down what you're willing to risk. Since if you're not willing to risk anything, your goals will remain dreams.
Jay Turo, my co-founder at Growthink, wrote a great blog post called "Entrepreneurship and Overstating Fear of Loss" a few years back about how "human beings greatly over-estimate the pain they think they will feel regarding a prospective future loss." Basically, when we do take risks and fail, the pain isn't so bad.
So how can you increase your RQ quotient? Try this:
1) Write down your goals.
2) Write down all the actions and associated risks you might have to take in achieving these goals.
3) Start taking the actions with the smallest amount of risk. As you start taking risks and getting out of your comfort zone, taking bigger risks will get easier an easier.
For me, the biggest inspiration that helps me take risks is my tombstone. While not trying to be morbid, I think about how people will remember me and how I want them to remember me. How do you want people to remember you? Once you figure that out, figure out that actions and risks you have to take to achieve it.
Several years ago, a very interesting experiment was conducted.
In the off-season, a basketball team was split into 3 groups for a month. The first group practiced shooting free throws for 30 minutes per day. The second group didn't practice shooting free throws at all. The third group also didn't physically practice shooting free throws at all, but this group spent 5 minutes per day visualizing themselves shooting free throws and getting them in the basket.
The results: The first group improved their free throw shooting by 24%. As one might expect, 30-minutes a day of practice led to improved performance. The second group had a 0% average improvement. Once again, as you would expect, by not practicing, the players didn't improve their performance.
The most interesting result was the third group, who increased their free throw shooting by 23%. This group improved performance by virtually the same amount as group one. And they didn't even take a single practice shot. And, they only spent 16% of the time (5 minutes visualizing vs. group one's 30 minutes of actual practice) trying to improve.
Now, I'm not saying that people should never physically practice things to get better at them. No, real practice is essential to success. But, when you add visualization, your success can go through the roof.
Visualizing yourself achieving success is also known as "mental rehearsal." And mental rehearsal has been proven to improve performance in a variety of situations from job interviews to presentations to sales calls to athletic performance.
And the big one I want to focus on is presentations. Contrary to what most entrepreneurs want to believe (most want to believe they can simply send an email to an investor and receive a funding check in return), no one is going to invest in your company without first meeting with you.
And when you meet with them, you want to go through a well thought-out and delivered presentation that explains what your company is, why it's exciting, and why they should invest now.
To succeed in this endeavor, the entrepreneur must first create a compelling slide presentation. Then, they must practice giving the presentation over and over to increase their fluency and comfort giving the presentation.
And finally, as we learned with the free throw shooting experiment, the entrepreneur must mentally rehearse the presentation. They must visualize themselves giving the presentation, and having the investors nodding in agreement, and ending the meeting with the desired outcome (e.g., the investor writing a check to you).
The mind works in funny ways. It seems odd that visualizing yourself successfully giving a presentation would make a difference. But it definitely does. And it is often the difference between an entrepreneur receiving a big check that funds their business, and going home empty-handed.
In my last post, I referenced Basil Peters' great book - Early Exits - and how the technology investment of choice is "small ball": Putting small amounts of money to work in companies with game plans of quick sales to strategic acquirers within 3 - 5 years.
Well, in response, I have been inundated with variations of one of the two queries:
1. How does the current, sluggish deal environment affect this strategy?
2. Where can I find companies that meet this criteria?
Let's take these one by one.
First of all, the current deal environment - if you have an ounce of contrarian in you - should be best described as a dam ready-to burst.
Try these numbers on for size: Mergers and acquisitions activity in the past 24 months has more than halved - with only 7,300 deals closed in 2009, representing approximately $803 billion in deal value.
Compare this to the more than 13,000 deals representing $1.38 trillion in value that got done in 2007 - the last "normal" year.
The YTD date deal numbers for 2010 are even worse. While the number of deals will, in all likelihood, show an up tick, deal values are actually significantly behind the abysmally poor 2009 numbers.
And while this has happened, an enormous stash of cash has built up in the coffers of companies and private equity funds worldwide, more than $3.4 trillion sitting on the sidelines in low to no-interest bearing cash instruments.
Now to this backdrop reflect on the following:
1. Speed of innovation remains, as it always has, the #1 driver of competitive advantage in modern business.
2. Large and mid-sized companies are more scared than ever of their ability to keep up.
3. Concurrently, it is only the startup and small technology company form of business that has proven to be able to consistently innovate at positive ROIs.
The result: a desire and game plan of companies of any significant size to BUY technology, and not build it.
Put it all together and a LOT of technology M+A activity in 2011 and beyond is the almost certain future.
So how can you get in on the action?
Well, two choices and two choices only - be a technology entrepreneur or back one.
As for which sectors to seek out, look for those with high quotients of intellectual property - think Internet, software, biotechnology, digital media, and energy. And ones characterized by high cash flowing "lumbering giants" - think consumer products, oil and gas, and financial services.
As for business plans, look for those that are built for speed and for hitting "hard singles and doubles" versus swinging for the fences.
And when hit in quantity, those singles and doubles REALLY add-up.
Webinar: Secrets of the Black Swan and The Early Exit
I encourage you to register for my webinar this Thursday - "Secrets of the Black Swan and the Early Exit" - where I will show you which early exit opportunities we are following now, and how you too can participate in the coming technology M+A boom.
To register, click here.
To your success,
Chief Executive Officer
Recently, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was enacted into law.
One type of consumer that the Act tries to protect is angel investors. Specifically, the Act modified the qualifications for being an accredited investor.
Previously, an accredited investor was defined as an individual with at least $1 million in assets, $200,000 in personal annual income or $300,000 in joint-spousal annual income. The Act modified the asset calculation to exclude the value of the individual's home. As a result, many angel investors who were previously categorized as accredited are no longer accredited.
However, this is not the end of the world to entrepreneurs seeking angel investments. Regulation D still allows up to 35 non-accredited investors to participate in a private placement. As a result, you can still receive funding from some angel investors who are no longer accredited due to the revisions stipulated in the Dodd-Frank Act.
If you are seeking to raise funding from angel investors and/or through a private placement, read this article which details the Regulation D exemptions you need to be aware of.
"There are always two choices. Two paths to take. One is easy. And its only reward is that it's easy." - Author unknown
By definition, as entrepreneurs, we try to achieve a lot of tasks with limited resources. And as a result, it is often imperative that we seek the easiest ways to achieve these tasks.
Is that so bad? As the quote implies, it would be. However, a critical distinction must be made between the words "easy" and "easier."
In general, "easy" is not good. If something is easy, than anyone can do it (including your competitors) and you gain no competitive advantage. Unless, that is, there is an advantage to doing something first. Or, if you don't need competitive advantage in that area (e.g., using a website that makes it easy to find a local cleaning company for your business would be an example of this).
On the other hand, accomplishing something in a way that is "easier" than your competitors does give you a real advantage.
And there are three core ways you can accomplish tasks easier:
1) Planning. When entrepreneurs rush to accomplish tasks, they often make mistakes, don't perform as well, and take longer to achieve the desired outcomes. Conversely, with a bit of planning before starting key tasks, you will complete them faster and with better results.
For example, if you were driving somewhere for the first time, spending 5 minutes planning the trip (printing out directions for example) would clearly save you multiples of that 5 minutes in driving time had you not done it. Or preparing a grocery list before going shopping always saves you time and ensures that you get all the items you need. The same is true for virtually ever business project you undertake.
2) Getting better information. By getting expert information, you leverage the wisdom of others who have already accomplished what you seek to do. For example, if your goal is to drive one million visitors to your website, clearly you could achieve this better and faster by following the blueprint of someone who has done this before.
This is why I have created so many information products. For example, if you're trying to raise venture capital for the first time with limited knowledge of how to raise venture capital, your chances of success are pretty much zero.
Now, if you follow my Venture Capital Pitch Formula, are your chances of success 100%? Definitely not. But this product gives you all the lessons and steps gained from my expertise raising venture capital for numerous clients. So, not only do your chances of success skyrocket, but you save countless hours and avoid embarrassing mistakes.
So, always seek out the best expert information before embarking on a key project.
3) Using the right tools. I often get frustrated when doing home improvement projects without the proper tools. It always takes much longer and the results are never as good. The same is true in our businesses. The right tools allow you to boost your productivity and achieve more results in less time. For example, I use Basecamp to better communicate and share information with my team. And we use QuickBooks to streamline our accounting. And so on.
Particularly with tasks that need to be completed on an ongoing basis (e.g., invoicing clients), it's always a good investment to find and use the best tools.
It's your willingness and ability to accomplish the hard that makes you a successful entrepreneur. Never take the easy road. But when you're on the challenging entrepreneurial path, constantly seek to find the easier ways to accomplish tasks. For this will allow you to accomplish tasks faster and with less resources, and gain lasting competitive advantage.
And remember, success isn't easy, but it can be made easier, and it's worth it.
Most of you came to this blog post from an email I sent you.
The email read as follows:
Subject Line: The Most Important Email
You'll Ever Read
I have an ultra-important message
to share with you.
Visit my blog to read it.
PS. It will only take about 3 minutes to read this.
And you'll benefit for a lifetime.
Visit my blog to read it.
So why is this the most important email (or blog post) you'll ever read?
Because it gives you a critical lesson in communications that is absolutely essential to your success as an entrepreneur.
The lesson is this: 1) be as simple/clear/concise as possible in all important communications, and 2) sell ONE thing at a time.
Let me explain.
1) Be as simple/clear/concise as possible
My email message was extremely concise. It said that I have an ultra-important message
to share with you and that you should visit my blog to find out what it is.
2) Sell ONE thing at a time
My goal in the email was to "sell the click" or convince you simply to click on the link. I wasn't trying to get you to do anything else.
The results: Because I was clear and sold just one thing, you clicked on the link.
So let's apply these lessons to raising funding for your business.
The other day, one of my Crowdfunding clients sent me the email they were about to send to their friends to get them to donate.
The email was very long and gave tons of details about their company and why their friends should donate.
THIS WAS THE TOTALLY WRONG APPROACH!
To begin, the story about the nature of the company should have been no more than ONE LINE long. If you can't already sum up your venture in one line, than stop everything and figure out how to do it. Importantly, that one line doesn't have to provide every detail about what's unique about your business. Rather, it just has to give people the essence of your business.
Secondly, the goal of the email should have simply been to get their friends to click on a link to learn more. To go to a page with a video and a nicely laid out story on why they should donate.
The point is that you can't get many people to donate just from the email, but you can get many people to click. And then once they click, you give them the information they need to donate.
The same is true with angel investors and venture capitalists. No venture capitalist has EVER invested based on an email they received. So why would you ever send an email with the hopes that they will invest?
Rather, the initial email you send to investors should just be to gauge their interest. That's ALL you're selling in the email. Say here's what we're doing and include 5 interesting bullets about your company. And then say, "would you like to learn more?"
That's it. Sell one thing, which is "would you like to learn more?"
And then, if they say "yes," you're goal will be to sell them on investing the time to meet with you.
And then you're selling them on letting you present to the other VCs in their firm.
And then you're selling them on giving you their money with the best investment terms. And so on.
I'm very lucky. My son is a fifth grader. So I have built-in tester. If I tell him a message and he can't repeat it back to me as clearly as I told it to him, then my message is flawed.
And if I ask him to do a complex task and he does it wrong, it's because I tried to sell too many things at once, rather than selling him on doing just the first step.
Many of us have heard the acronym KISS, standing for "Keep It Simple, Stupid." Simplicity in communications is essential. While some people think complexity makes them sound smart, it confuses their messages so the recipients of those messages don't take the desired actions.
In fact, I rather sound like a moron, but convince others to do what I need them to do, than appear as a genius, but a genius that fails to accomplish his goals.
So to reiterate, if you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, you must communicate clearly and simply, and sell just one thing at a time. This is key when selling to everyone from investors, to customers, to partners, to your employees.
Three resources for you:
Readability Score: this cool free tool allows you to see how easy your text is to read. You simply copy and paste your text into the box and click Submit.
FYI, according to this tool, my email was written at just a 2nd grade level. Meaning that even a 2nd grader would have understood exactly what I wanted them to do. This blog post was written at a 6.5 grade level (I have to work on getting that down so it's even easier to read my posts (the New York Times is written at a 6th grade level)).
Truth About Funding: This guide shows you exactly how to raise all the money you need. Importantly, it walks you through 3 different approaches and exercises to create a hard-hitting concise pitch for your company.
Crowdfunding Formula: This program shows you precisely how to raise money from Crowdfunding, the newest and probably the easiest way to raise money for your business. Crowdfunding allows you to leverage the communications techniques explained above.
I just learned about an interesting new website called My Dunk Tank.
The site helps you raise money by asking your supporters to create dares for you and vote with their donations.
Here's how it works:
1. You make a list of dares you're willing to do
2. Your friends vote for their favorite dare by making a gift in your name to the organization you are supporting
3. You do the dare that gets the most votes
So far, people have done some pretty interesting dares from jogging naked to eating worms to kissing a pig.
One of the bigger winners so far was Beth and Katie Cooke who raised $2,913 for The Spina Bifida Resource Network via the dare of "wearing a full head of cornrows in our hair for 2 weeks."
To date, it appears that all the fundraising has been for non-profits like the National MS Society, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, and Talk About Curing Autism.
And the amount of the funding is relatively low, with most funding amounts ranging from $500 to $2,000.
So, if you have a non-profit organization looking for $500 to $2,000, you could certainly try MyDunkTank. But for the vast majority of you, this amount of funding is not going to really help.
However the bigger lesson here might be that dares and stunts can give any type of venture lots of attention.
Consider newspaper man Henri Desgrange. In 1903, his French newspaper was suffering from poor circulation. So, they developed a stunt to promote a new newspaper service route. That stunt garnered national attention and eventually turned into the Tour de France.
So, what kind of stunts can you do for your business to gain attention? I don't think silly stunts like kissing a pig or shaving your head are the answer. They're too short lived. Can you think bigger?
And specifically, is there anything that you can do that's interesting and related to your venture? One of my favorite example is when the manufacturer of Blendtec blenders made a video showing that it could blend an iPhone. That video has gotten over 8.8 MILLION views to date on YouTube (you can watch it here).
The good news is that with brand new funding sources like Crowdfunding, even a startup with no revenues can raise hundreds of thousands of dollars if they can generate enough attention.
So get your creative juices flowing, come up with ideas to generate buzz, and you can parlay that into investors, customers, partners and more.
Last week I commented on Matt Ridley’s incredible book, “The Rational Optimist,” and how it represents an entirely new paradigm re the probabilities for economic growth and prosperity worldwide in the coming years.
A particularly revelatory component of Ridley’s analysis revolves around what the real process of innovation is and what it is NOT.
Ridley first points to what innovation is NOT.
It is NOT Government Research. One of the most cited examples of the importance of government research to commercial technology is America’s successful efforts to land a man on the moon in the 1960’s. It is often said that non-stick frying pans would simply not exist were it not for the Apollo program.
Well, given that close to $200 billion in today’s dollars was spent on the moon effort, it is just a bit underwhelming, isn’t it? Heck, even the Wikipedia entry re the program’s scientific and engineering legacy is a scant 3 sentences.
It is NOT University Research. Buzzwords from academia like “technology transfer” and “commercialization” are, in Ridley’s analysis, just that - buzzwords.
For the tens of billions of dollars in hard costs and the monumental diversion of top-grade intellectual talent from commercial activity that academia represents, no demonstrable commercial return-on-investment has ever been proven.
A “Renaissance lifestyle” value for young people, sure. Civic pride and relationship values of affiliation with top-notch colleges and universities - of course.
But actual hard dollars and cents wealth-creating returns, well it just isn’t there. Probably the best that can be said about the commercial value of the university R+D is that it is normally so stilted and misaligned that it drives away the best entrepreneurial and technical talent very quickly (see Gates, Ellison et al.)
So What Does Drive Real Innovation? Building on the seminal work of Clayton Christensen in the Innovator’s Dilemma, Ridley describes the innovation process and its economic value-add in very prosaic terms.
He points to innovations like Amazon’s ongoing transformation of the ecommerce experience – none of which would be considered breakthrough technology, but which in their aggregate have brought unprecedented consumer productivity gains.
And to eBay, whose core innovation was NOT the idea of online auctions as much as it was that a robust exchange of buyers and sellers could be attracted via pay-per-click advertising (see Google above).
Ridley’s point is that the innovation that creates wealth - versus innovation that looks good on an academic’s or a politician’s whiteboard - is simply the abiding power of Adam Smith’s invisible hand made real.
Namely individuals and small teams tweaking the way things are done only so slightly for one purpose and one purpose only – to make a buck. Or a yuan. Or a rupee. Or a few pesos. Period. End of story.
And you know what else? For the first time in human history, there are now billions of people thinking and working and collaborating in real time toward this basic human desire.
And that is why - and only why - as a species we just keep getting richer every day.
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Emeril Lagasse is no doubt one of the most famous and successful chefs of all time.
In fact, Emeril's media, products and restaurants generate an estimated $150 million in annual revenues. Not bad.
One of the reasons for Emeril's success is his personality. And in particular, his ability to make cooking exciting. Particularly when he shouts his catchphrases including "Kick it up a notch!" and "BAM!"
I want to focus specifically on Emeril's "BAM!" and its implications.
Emeril say "BAM!" only at a specific time. He says it when he adds a pinch of a certain ingredient that will make a good recipe extraordinary. Also, like other chefs, Emeril spends time "plating" or focusing on the appearance of the dish.
So why am I telling you this?
Because Emeril gives us a great lesson in developing business plans, particularly if we hope to present our business plans to investors and/or lenders.
To begin, your business plan must have a "BAM!" factor. The "BAM!" is what makes your plan extraordinary or worth reading. I believe that the biggest "BAM!" factor is your list of success factors that MUST go on the first page of your business plan.
Specifically your success factors must detail, ideally in bulleted form so it's simple to digest, why you are uniquely qualified to succeed.
Most business plans neglect this, and most entrepreneurs think that the quality of their idea is more important than this. Not true. Your ability to execute on the idea is of paramount importance.
In addition to including your "BAM!" factor, like Emeril, you need to spend time "plating" or making sure your business plan has a great appearance. Since if it doesn't, investors won't read it.
Making your business plan graphical appealing, with pictures, logos and the right fonts and spacing helps. But even more important is laying the "story" of your business out in a format that constantly compels the reader to want to read and learn more. Rather than bombarding them with every detail about your venture, you lead them down a path.
You succinctly tell them about what your venture is all about. You tell them why you are uniquely qualified to succeed. You show them the market need. And customer wants. And your marketing plan. Etc.
Few people, including investors and lenders looking for deals, really want to sit down and read your business plan. Those business plans that are inviting, and have the "BAM!" factor are the ones that investors pick up and can't put down. And those are the ones they fund. So make sure yours is like that too.
Watch this video for tips and shortcuts for completing your business plan.