The Biggest Round I've Seen in a LONG Time...


 

 

Series B funding, as you may recall, is the 2nd institutional round of equity funding that a company receives.

 

Typically a Series B financing event will raise $5 to $10 million for the company. But this is just a guide, and many companies raise less or more than this amount.

 

Like Amonix who designs and manufacturers concentrated photovoltaic solar power systems.

 

Last week Amonix raised a $129.4 million Series B financing round - this is the biggest Series B round I've seen in a long time. The round was led by the VC firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers. Other participants in the round included Adams Street Partners, Angeleno Group, PCG Clean Energy & Technology Fund, Vedanta Capital LP, New Silk Route, The Westly Group, and current investor MissionPoint Capital Partners.

 

A few notes to point out:

 

1. $129.4 million - yes, that's a LOT of money. There is a ton of financing waiting for the right companies. So yes, even in this economy, venture capital financing IS readily available.

 

2. The round was "led" by one VC firm. The "lead" VC firm creates the terms of the deal. They also invest the most money. The other investors are called "syndicate investors" or "co-investors" and invest at the same terms as the lead investor, so you only need to negotiate once. Having multiple VC firms participating in a venture capital financing event is common.

 

3. The "current investor" means the investor who provided the previous round of funding (Series A). Oftentimes, as happened in this case, that investor will put in more money to retain their share of the company's equity.

 

If you are seeking venture capital financing, I not only lay out the exact proven path you should take, but educate you on every detail you need to know in my Step-By-Step Guide to Raising Venture Capital.

Click here to learn more.  

 

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Jeff Bezos Investing in Google: Luck or Foresight?


 

After my column a few months ago regarding Jeff Bezos' now famous (and incredibly profitable) investment into Google in 1998, I was deluged with comments and opinions on this question - was his investment luck or was it foresight?

The backdrop again: In 1998 when Larry Page's and Sergey Brin's Google offices were a Menlo Park, California garage - Bezos invested $250,000 of personal funds into the fledgling search engine.

When Google went public in 2004, that $250,000 investment translated into 3.3 million shares of Google stock. At Google's IPO that represented a stock share position worth over $280 million!

While Bezos does not disclose how many of those shares he still holds, at the current price of Google stock they would represent an investment position of over $1.5 billion.

So was it luck? Or foresight?

In Bezos' words, "There was no business plan.  They had a vision. It was a customer-focused point of view."  And more tellingly he adds, "I just fell in love with Larry and Sergey."

So whether luck or foresight, this is a wow story of the first order.  Lessons learned:

1.    Think Long Term. Even though Google has been the fastest rocket ship growth company in the history of capitalism, it was still SIX YEARS from Bezos' investment in the company to liquidity.

2.    Get In Early. Sure, it would have been great to get into Google at its IPO price of $85/share, especially as the shares are up over 535% since then. But Bezos got in, after adjusting for stock splits, at EIGHT CENTS PER SHARE!

Talk about leverage. That translates to a 112,000 percent increase from investment to IPO, and then if he held onto the shares for another 535% on top of that.

3.    Invest in People. At the time of Bezos' investment, there were a large number of very well-funded and far more successful search engines already on the market. Remember this was 1998 not 1994. Yahoo. Alta Vista. Lycos. Excite. Looksmart. Webcrawler. Infoseek. Inktomi and GoTo to name just a few.

But Bezos was attracted to Page and Brin as people, as technologists, as leaders. And obviously their customer-centric focus really tracked the way that Bezos looks at the world.

4.    Take a Shot. For every Jeff Bezos who invested in Google, there are stories of literally dozens of investors that were presented with the opportunity and did not.

This of course does not mean that the probability of any startup having Google-like success is anything but very low, but it does mean that it is far greater than the ZERO percent likelihood of success of those who don't even try.

5.    Get Lucky. Yes, luck is a key, and sometimes the key, variable in entrepreneurship and business. As opposed to fighting or getting philosophical re this reality, a far better question to ask is, "How can I improve my likelihood of, for lack of a better turn of phrase, getting lucky?"
 
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How I Survived Digital Detox Week


 

Unbeknownst to most of us, last week was Digital Detox Week.

Digital Detox Week, conceived by Adbusters.org, had the goal of getting people to decrease their reliance on electronics and technology for a week.

The goal was to get people to slow down, to take a walk outside, and to get reconnected with their friends and families.

I found the concept really interesting.

I didn't fully detox, but I did spend a little less time in front of the computer.

And I replaced it with a little more time on the telephone (my office line which I guess is less "digital" than my mobile phone).

And I used the phone to connect with my people. I spoke with clients, partners, friends and others.

And I mostly listened. Since I learned a while back that I don't learn much from listening to my own voice. But when I ask good questions and just listen, I gain great knowledge.

I think everyone can use a detox week or a detox day. I'm not saying to commit the whole week or day to being offline, but just take some time to really think about what you want to achieve in life, and who you want to be around you when you do.

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What I Told Him To Tell Her...


 

I got yelled at the other morning.

Let me explain what happened.

On Thursday morning, I dropped my son off at school early for orchestra practice.

Now, every time I drop him off, while he's getting out of the car, I shout something at him.

Like - "hey, tell that girl you like her" (while pointing at the girl) or tell that boy you like his shirt.

Well, right before my son left the car that morning he yelled at me. "Dad - stop shouting things at me when I get out of the car. It's embarrassing...."

So, I didn't do it. (and note that I never do it loud enough so that the others will hear).

But let me tell you why I do it.

To begin, for some reason, it cracks me up to do it. I guess that's not really nice, but I find it funny....

But more importantly, I was a bit shy as a kid. Not terribly shy, but I wouldn't have been the first person to go up to someone I didn't really know and say hi, especially not to a girl.

So, I want my son to avoid this shyness. Since it's not a good thing. To be really successful in life, you have to be able to network to meet others, and not be afraid to approach others.

And to be successful in life, you must go outside of your comfort zone. You must try things that might end in failure. You must do things that you know are right, even if they make you feel a bit uneasy.

Almost always, the fear dissipates right away. The fear of asking a girl or boy on a date. The fear of asking an investor for a meeting or money. The fear of calling a company who could become a potential joint venture partner. The fear of starting a new venture, and/or quitting your job to do so.

All of these things could have incredible results, but could also result in rejection or failure.

Without risk there often is no reward.

So I think all of us need to get out of our comfort zone more and take risks.

And be glad that you're not my son and get daily training on how to take risks :)

PS My daughter's only 7, so I take it easy on her...

PPS I will be releasing my Leadership Course this week. Most entrepreneurs don't lead the right way. And as a result they don't achieve the success that other entrepreneurs do.

The vast majority of the course will keep you within your comfort zone; you'll just learn the unique techniques that work wonders.

I believe this course will launch the successful entrepreneurial careers of many of you. So stay tuned.

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How to Avoid "Too Much Stuff" Syndrome


 

One of the interesting benefits of my job helping entrepreneurs is that lots of old friends get in touch with me.

That may sound strange to you, but what I mean is that people that I knew from "past" lives, like high school, college, old jobs, etc. constantly contact me.

Lots of them hear about what I do from mutual friends, and the next thing I know, I'm getting emails, phone calls, LinkedIn requests, Facebook messages and so on.

The contact me because they want to become successful entrepreneurs.

In fact, according to The Kauffman Institute, 500,000 new companies are conceived each month in the US alone.

It turns out, people that I have known in past lives, are overly represented in this group : )

But that's a good thing. It's great to reconnect, and I love helping entrepreneurs succeed.

The first questions most of these entrepreneurs asks me is often about developing their business plan.

Which is a good thing. Since the word has finally gotten around that developing your business plan is the first and most important thing that an entrepreneur must do.

But, as I learned, while developing their business plans is often the first thing they START, it often goes unfinished.

And from conversation after conversation, I've found this is because most people simply don't know what to include in their business plan.

As a result, it's really hard to put pen to paper.

It's like telling an artist to paint a picture when they haven't the foggiest idea what to paint.

Or worse yet, when they have multiple ideas in their head and try to get them all in the one painting.

And that is the key issue that plagues entrepreneurs when developing their plans -- trying to include too much information...trying to cram every conceivable aspect of their business, and every idea into their plan.

Rather, your business plan does NOT have to answer every question.

In fact, there are 2 questions that trump the rest. These questions are as follows:

1. Why is there a need for your business?


Mainly, you need to explain why customers need what you will be offering them. At the end of the day, it's your customers that will dictate your success.


2. Why will you succeed?

We all know that business ideas are a dime a dozen. What is it about your idea, about you as an entrepreneur, about your marketing plans, etc., that will enable you to succeed while other ventures fail.

At the end of the day, your business plan MUST answer these two questions clearly.

Sure, there are lots of other key points you need to make, but these two trump the rest.

One of the reasons I put together Growthink's Ultimate Business Plan Template was to guide entrepreneurs through creating their business plans quickly and easily.

One of the keys to its success is that it guides you through only the questions that matter, that you MUST answer in your plan.

And it avoids all the superfluous information that doesn't really matter (and which dramatically slows down the creation of your plan).

To download your copy of Growthink's Ultimate Business Plan Template, and finish your business plan in hours, and not months (or never), click here.

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The Strange Thing I'm Learning


 

Last weekend, I took a class.

There was something I needed to learn how to do. And I woke up  early on Sunday morning to learn it.

You'll probably think what I'm learning is sort of strange. Because in many ways it is.

What I'm learning how to do.... is to run.

Now, I've run many miles in my life. I was a college wrestler and part of staying in shape during and off-season was running.

But, after years and years of running, it has taken a toll on my feet, my knees and my back.

And a couple months ago, when I was vacationing in Florida, I met an interesting guy who told me about a new type of running called The Pose Method.

Now, I'm not going to get into what The POSE Method is (for those of you who are interested, go  to http://www.posetech.com), but there are some things I'd like to share with you.

To begin, the gentleman who convinced me to take his POSE course did so by doing two things. First, he told me about the 200 mile race he ran. 200 miles - wow! that's really impressive. So, that gave me proof that the method works. Second, and more importantly to me, was that he spoke about The POSE Method with such amazing enthusiasm.

You just can't fake that kind of enthusiasm. He was such a believer and his beliefs were contagious.

So those are the two marketing lessons -- offer proof and sell with enthusiasm. At least if you want to sell me something.

The other key lesson in this story is that learning The POSE Method is HARD.

It's probably going to take me 7 to 10 months to learn it correctly. You see, I have to unlearn the way I've run for the past 30 years, and learn a very different way.

And, to tell you the truth, I'm not really enjoying it. When I run, I usually listen to my iPod and don't think at all about my technique.

Now, I'm 100% focused on technique and it's a bit frustrating as it's hard and I am constantly making mistakes.

But, and here's the key -- after I invest 7 or so months learning the new method, I'm going to reap the benefits for the rest of my life.

You see, there are 60 and 70 year olds running marathons and ultra-marathons (typically 100+ mile races) using The Pose Method.

And it should eliminate my foot, knee and lower back problems.

So, take a look at where you want to be in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years and beyond. And think about what skills you need to get there.

Attaining these skills is often hard work, and not always so fun, but they're critical to your long-term success and happiness.

(Below are some images of me running before and after I learned The Pose Method:)

Dave before POSE

(Before)

Dave after POSE

(After)

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$385,000 in Funding from Unlikely Source


 

This week, the 10th annual Rice University Business Plan Competition kicked off. Last year, winners took home $800,000 in funding.

This year, competition winners will take home $1 million in funding, including $385,000 that will go to the competition's winner.

Business plan competitions are one of many overlooked sources of funding for new and growing businesses.

If you are comfortable with your business plan, seek out local business plan competitions in order to raise capital (you will also meet a lot of quality people at these events who may become advisors, partners, employees, etc.).

Importantly business plan competitions are just one of 28 unique sources of funding presented in Growthink's Definitive Guide to Creative & Alternative Financing Sources.

As many successful entrepreneurs have learned, tapping creative and alternative funding sources is often the easiest and quickest way to raise capital. This is because they are less competitive (because they are less known) than traditional financing sources.

Download Growthink's Definitive Guide to Creative & Alternative Financing Sources today to find the funding sources you probably didn't even know existed.

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3 Cool Espionage Tools for Your Business


 

SpyUnderstanding your competitors and monitoring their activity is key to your success.

In fact, I often point out that if you have no competitors, you may not have a market. Meaning that if you are planning to launch a new product or service, a lack of competitors might mean that no demand exists for your product/service.

Oftentimes for new offerings, your competitors are "indirect competitors," meaning that they fulfill the customer's needs with a different type of product or service offering. Conversely, direct competitors are those who fulfill the same need with a similar type of product or service offering.

Regardless of whether your core competitors are direct or indirect, you should always keep an eye on what they are doing. Mainly, so you can learn from them. If your competitors are able to acquire customers more inexpensively than you, you have a problem. Likewise, if competitors are able to generate more customer lifetime value than you, you will be at a distinct competitive disadvantage.

In this regard, there are three free tools I want you to know about.

The first is ChangeDetection.com (http://www.changedetection.com/).  ChangeDetection.com provides page change monitoring and notification services. It really couldn't be simpler. You simply type in your competitor's website addresses, and whenever it changes one of its web pages, you are immediately notified via email. Pretty cool. If one of your competitors changes its prices, or adds a new product or service, or decides to test new text to promote its benefits, etc., you are immediately notified.

The second cool tool is KeywordSpy.com (http://www.keywordspy.com/). KeywordSpy allows you to see how your competitors are marketing themselves online. Among other things, you can see the keywords that your competitors are advertising on, their estimate ad budgets, and what keywords they rank organically on. This analysis allows you to identify where your competitors are getting their best online traffic, so you can replicate it.

The final tool I want you to know about today is Compete.com (www.compete.com). There are two features of Compete.com that I really like. The first is that, using their "Compare Sites" tab, you can compare the traffic of up to 3 websites for a period of up to 2 years.

Using the "Site Profile" tab, you can see online traffic details of individual sites. Within the premium features of Site Profiling, you can see the demographic profile of site visitors and the sites that refer the most traffic to them.

This is really cool. To begin, knowing the demographic profile of your competitor's customers could dramatically help in your marketing efforts. Secondly, if you know the sites which refer the most traffic to your competitors, you can contact them and try to get links to your website included there too, so you can "steal" some of this traffic.

Really understanding your competitors and leveraging this understanding will improve your marketing and operations. Similarly, in your business plan, showing a comprehensive understanding of your direct and indirect competitors positions you as an expert in your market, which is very appealing to investors and lenders.

Need help?

If you need help with the Competitive Analysis section, or any other section of your business plan, download Growthink's Ultimate Business Plan Template.

If you need help with your Internet Marketing efforts, and using the above tools to increase your profitability, download Growthink's Ultimate Internet Marketing System.

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SBA Loans Are Growing Like Gangbusters


 

MoneyLong story short, last year, the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act dedicated a lot of money to supporting SBA loans.

And since the passage of the Act, the U.S. government has repeatedly increased its ante, guaranteeing more and more SBA loans.

According to National SBA Administrator Karen Mills, "thousands of small businesses across the country have taken advantage of these Recovery loan enhancements to get the capital they need during these tough economic times. The increased guarantee and reduced fees on SBA loans helped put more than $23 billion into the hands of small business owners and brought more than 1,100 lenders back to SBA loan programs."

That's $23 billion, with a "B."

Mills also said that the average weekly loan approvals by the SBA (as of April 2010) have increased by 86% compared to the weekly average before passage of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act.

So, the time may be right to get an SBA loan to fund your new or existing business.

To access SBA and bank funding for your business, download Growthink's Step by Step Guide to Raising Capital From Banks and SBA Lenders.

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7 Interesting Marketing Lessons from My Broken Dishwasher


 

DishwasherRecently, I was unloading the dishwasher. I'm about half way through and came to a dish that just wasn't very clean. Then another one. And so on.

Not good.

Since then, my wife and I have taken a bunch of steps to fix the problem (I'll tell you about those in a moment).

Then, this morning, I started thinking about all these steps, and noticed some interesting marketing lessons.  I figured you'd find them valuable, so I wanted to share them with you.

Step 1: The first thing I did was go to the Internet to try to solve the problem myself. I Googled "dishwasher top rack not cleaning" since the dishes on the bottom seemed fine.

I read a couple forum posts on this, and realized I didn't have the technical skills to solve this on my own.

Lesson:
Expect your customers to have some knowledge about your products or services. Note that this knowledge may not be accurate based on where they learned it (e.g., from a web forum post from Joey in Idaho).

Step 2: So, my wife called an appliance repair guy who she found by doing some local searches online.

Lesson: Make sure you (and not your competitors) are easily found online.

Step 3: The repair guy came, gave us a bill for $95.07 for showing up and diagnosing the problem. He said that it would cost about $300 to fix it, but that the dishwasher was installed in 1994 (16 year ago; well before we bought the house) and that it was probably a better bet to just buy a new one.

Lesson: The repair guy gave us advice that was good for us (don't do the repair, buy a new dishwasher) and bad for him (him losing out on the $300 charge). We decided to buy a new dishwasher. But, since he was honest and gave us good advice, we will use this repair guy again and definitely recommend him to others if ever asked. So, do the right thing now, even if you have to forego short-term profits, and you will get rewards later.

Step 4: I looked online for dishwashers. What I cared about in the purchase were the following: price, cleans well, time savings (i.e., don't need to rinse dishes before loading), looks nice (we wanted a stainless steel front), and is relatively quiet.

Lesson: not every customer cares about every feature. Many of the dishwashers promoted 9 different programs and cycles (like special cycles for glassware). My wife nor I have ever used these, so we didn't care too much about them.

Another lesson: I looked at customer reviews online to see what others said about the different dishwasher models. If you sell someone a product or service, you should follow-up with them to make sure they are satisfied (or to satisfy them if they are not satisfied). Because your customers may post their comments online (or offline) which will influence your future sales.

Step 5: I bought the dishwasher. I paid extra for installation and haul-away of my old dishwasher and bought a 3-year warranty.

Lesson: These add-on sales increased the total sales price by 24% and must have increased their profits by a lot too. And these upsells were things that I wanted. The lesson is that you must upsell your customers by offering them items that will better satisfy them.

Final lesson: My wife and I don't represent every shopper. Not every shopper goes online to try to solve a problem themselves or to compare products. Not every shopper doesn't care about certain product features. And not ever shopper is going to take your upsells.

But, make sure you figure out your main customer segments, think about how they will buy and make decisions, and create sales and marketing strategies that are in line with this.

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