Einstein's Advice For Entrepreneurs


 

Albert Einstein is well known as one of the great geniuses of all time.

What most don't know is that Einstein started his career as a patent examiner. For two years he worked at the Swiss Patent Office evaluating patent applications.

During this time, Einstein encountered thousands of entrepreneurs doing the same thing - trying to convey why their ideas were unique and thus should be granted a patent.

To a large extent, this is the same challenge that entrepreneurs have in raising money; convincing investors that their ideas are unique and thus should be worthy of their money.

Interestingly, one of Einstein's most famous quotes provides great value to both the entrepreneur seeking a patent and the entrepreneur seeking funding. This quote is this -- "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it..."

Failure to concisely convey a business idea is one of the top reasons why business plans don't get read (if you can't convey your idea concisely in the first paragraph, the reader will most likely stop reading) and why most companies fail to raise money.

However, I would expect many entrepreneurs, particularly those who haven't been able to simply explain their businesses, to disagree with Einstein. And to feel that they really do understand their business.

And to a large extent I agree with those entrepreneurs. Yes, they may understand their business. But, they probably haven't fully thought through their business.

Let me explain. When you properly complete your business plan, you are forced to think through all aspects of your business, and answer questions such as:

* What customer pain are you solving?
* What are customers currently doing to solve that pain?
* What are the strengths and weaknesses of these solutions?
* What is the demographic and/or psychographic profile of your ideal customer?
* Why is your company uniquely qualified to succeed?
* Etc.

Importantly, answering these questions helps you to better understand your business. And thus to create a more concise explanation of it. Which is the point of Einstein's quote, and which is the key to raising money for your business.

So, make sure you have asked and answered all of the key business plan questions. And then, sit down and review your answers and come up with the one line or paragraph that most simply describes your business.

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Residential Real Estate - Time to Move On


 

For opportunities that Growthink is following now, click here.

Believe it or not, the great residential real estate crash of the last few years will turn out, in the long run, to be VERY good for the U.S. and the global economy.

Here's why:

The Fixation on Housing Prices Has Been and Is Unhealthy: The word that comes to mind when reflecting upon the government subsidies (see mortgage interest deduction, first-time home buying credits, etc.) and media attention given to housing prices is distorted.

Sure, the price of homes is important, but is it more important than educating our children? Than the health of our startups and small businesses? Than our global competitiveness?

Maybe it's me, but the America I love isn't one whose economic and social health is judged by how climate-controlled the big-screen TV room is, or how comfortable the couch.

Now I am not saying that a lot of people haven't been badly hurt by this recent (though not unprecedented) popping of the real estate bubble nor that our love of homes has turned us completely into a nation of unadmirable shut-ins and couch potatoes.

But if we must choose (and we must), I'll cast my lot with the young, highly educated, preferably immigrant software entrepreneur, working out of  their cramped garage, over the slow-to-innovate home-builder or mildly educated real estate agent.

Innovation, Not Bigger Bathrooms, Drives Wealth-Creation. As noted in my review of Matt Ridley's fantastic book, "The Rational Optimist," the source of all wealth-creation is innovation (i.e. technology).  While there have been of course many meaningful innovations in housing over the years, it is illustrative that the basic living schematic - bed, bathroom, kitchen - hasn't really changed much since Roman times.

Following up on this point and to my blog post last week let's remember that it is services not "stuff" that power the U.S. economy. And while the real estate industry creates a lot of service jobs for sure, you have to look elsewhere to find the really high value-add, high-paying ones (see software, financial services, energy, healthcare).

So what to do about it? Here are three quick ideas:

1. Eliminate the Mortgage Interest Deduction and Replace it With a Startup Business and Investment Credit.  As opposed to the government granting a $100 billion annual tax break to homeowners with the mortgage interest deduction, give it instead to the entrepreneurs - who, on average create 4 net new jobs every time they start a new business - and those that invest in them.

How transformative would this be? Remember that total venture capital and angel investing in a typical year doesn't add up to more than $50 billion, or about one-half of the mortgage interest tax break.

A tax break re-allocation of this nature would at least double the number of new businesses and investments in them every year. In addition to the millions of jobs created, the innovation gains that would result would be awe - inspiring.

2. Let Prices Fall.  It is time for all homeowners to just take their medicine (or, more accurately, even more medicine) and let prices fall to where the housing demand meets supply.

In addition to being the right thing to do in a market economy, significantly lower prices would be a huge boon to new homeowners. 

And as these new homeowners tend to be younger people, the time and money savings of lower housing costs could go to more societally beneficial pursuits than remodeled bathrooms - like perhaps going to back to school or starting or investing in a business?

3. Just Stop Talking About It.  My favorite because it is easiest and will have the quickest effect - let's just stop talking about residential real estate. Too much ink and mindshare have been wasted on it these last few years. 

This would not be all that bad if the coverage was somewhat balanced, but as it is almost universally presented in an "the end is near" tone and focus, falling home prices have been unfortunately equated with the health of our economy and our society.

Let's use better, more 21st century measures of well being - like our kids' science and math scores  or the speed of innovation in those high value-add service fields like healthcare, energy, and software.

More attention here will mean more human progress, more wealth for all of us.

And maybe this time, with all that new wealth, instead of building bigger bathrooms, we do something with it that's just a tad more...inspirational?

Looking for Opportunities Now?

Each year, Growthink reviews hundreds of startup and emerging company opportunities and selects those with the best management teams, market opportunities, and financial prospects.

To learn more about opportunities we are following now, click here.

To your success,

Jay Turo

--
Jay Turo
CEO
Growthink

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5 Cool Companies Who Just Raised Venture Capital


 

Now that September is here, venture capital activity will pick up as usual. That's not to say that tons of VC deals were done over the summer; since they were.

Here are a few of the companies who raised venture capital in August that I found really interesting.

JiWire: JiWire has created an advertising network which reaches users at wi-fi hotspots. The company raised $2.1 million from Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Panorama Capital and Comcast Interactive Capital.

Zimride: Zimride is a ridesharing service that combines social networks and a route-matching algorithm, to make it easy for people to share seats in their cars or catch a ride. The company raised $1.2 million from Floodgate, K9 Ventures and two angel investors.

CloudCrowd: CloudCrowd has created a unique Labor as a Service outsourcing platform. The company raised $5.1 million from Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

WePay: WePay helps groups easily collect, manage, and spend money. The company raised $7.5 million from Highland Capital Partners and August Capital.

Payfone Inc: Payfone has built a mobile payments platform. The company raised $11 million form Opus Capital, BlackBerry Partners Fund and RRE Ventures.

I'm not totally sure why these 5 caught my eye...maybe because they're products/services that I would use. Or maybe because they show that all types of companies can raise venture capital. Or maybe both.

Suggested Resource: In Venture Capital Pitch Formula, you'll learn exactly how to find and contact venture capitalists, exactly what information to include in your presentations, and how to secure your financing. This video explains more.

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The #1 Rule of Speaking


 

Last year I watched a seminar given by public speaking coach Patricia Fripp.

In it, she repeated the phrase, "We speak to be remembered and repeated" over and over again.

And I think she's right. We do speak to be remembered and repeated. After you speak with an investor, or a prospective customer, or an employee, would you like them to immediately forget what you told them?  Or would you like them to clearly remember what you said, spread the word about you, and take whatever desired actions you asked them to do. Clearly, you want the latter.

Unfortunately, few entrepreneurs speak to be remembered and repeated. Rather, most have so much to say that they rant uncontrollably.

I get this all the time. Whenever I'm at a party and an entrepreneur finds out what I do for a living, he or she starts to talk my ear off about their idea.

Now, I love what I do and I love listening to and helping entrepreneurs. But what I don't love it when 100 words can be replaced with 10, or a 5-minute company description can be shortened down to 30 seconds.

The key is this; you MUST spend however long it takes to create a concise, easy-to-remember elevator pitch for your company. If not, it's going to cost you dearly. You will turn off investors, partners, customers, and employees among others.

This is because in today's fast paced environment, no one's going to invest the time to listen to your full presentation or read your full business plan if they don't get it right away.

Here are two exercises I recently developed to help you create an elevator pitch that others can "remember" and "repeat":

1. Tell your pitch to a child and then have them repeat it back to you. One of my Crowdfunding clients read his originally highly complex business summary to his 6-year old granddaughter. The 6-year old repeated back a concise summary that anyone in the world can immediately understand. We went with the 6-year old version.

2. Try to develop a 30-second television spot. I recently worked on a 30-second television spot where I tried to explain who I am, what I was offering, and what I wanted the audience to do next. In doing this I put together 10 extremely brief PowerPoint slides. I then read the slides aloud and timed it. It took 53 seconds. Getting it down to 30 seconds was serious work. But the result was a really concise message.

Try doing the same thing. Put together a draft 30-second commercial. What would you want your audience to learn? To remember? To repeat? And to do after watching your commercial? If you can achieve this in 30-seconds it will help with every aspect of your business. And start teaching you to be more concise, more memorable and more impactful.

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Thermometers Versus Thermostats and Success As An Entrepreneur


 

Are you a thermometer or a thermostat?Thermostat

Thermometers are instruments that measure temperature.

Thermostats are devices that control the desired temperature.

The difference between the two is critical.

Thermometers are reactive. They sit by passively and accept whatever conditions their environment has created for them.

Conversely, thermostats exert control. When the environment isn't quite right, perhaps it's too hot or too cold, the thermostat pro-actively adjusts to obtain the desired conditions.

I think that few of us are completely on one side or the other, being completely reactive or completely controlling.

But I do think that most of us need to be more like the thermostat. We need to be less accepting of our current circumstances, and exert more control into positively changing them.

In fact, virtually all budding entrepreneurs are trying to improve their current environments. Typically they are not living the lives they have dreamed about. And thus, they use entrepreneurship as their thermostat. Specifically, they start their companies to change their circumstances and to achieve their goals.

But oftentimes, the fight to become a successful entrepreneur is truly great. It's rarely easy, and things don't always go as smoothly as we'd like. But if it was too easy, everyone would be an entrepreneur and there would be less opportunity.

The key is to CONTINUE to act like a thermostat through thick and thin. You must act like a thermostat at the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey. This is when you take the idea out of your head and first jot it down on paper, and then you develop your business plan and incorporate your company.

And then, you must NEVER stop acting like a thermostat. You must constantly be pro-active in raising funding, getting customers, hiring and managing your team, etc.

What are you doing today that's truly proactive? What should you be doing? Here's an exercise to try right now:

1. Make a list of things in your environment that you are not satisfied with? Are you not making enough money? Do you not have enough customers? Are you dissatisfied with the performance of some of your team members? Do you not have enough funding to execute on your plans? Etc.

2. Prioritize your list to figure out which items are most important for you to change.

3. Create an action plan to start achieving your most important item. Then move on to number 2, 3, etc.

Think about the most successful entrepreneurs of today and yesteryear. Individuals like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Bill Gates and Sir Richard Branson. Do you think any of these individuals accepted undesirable circumstances and environments? Do you think they complained about them? I doubt it. Rather, they identified these negative environments, and went about fixing and overcoming them. We all need to do the same. Every day.

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Why Your IQ Doesn't Matter


 

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.

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How to Kick Butt In Investor Meetings


 

Investor MeetingSeveral 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.

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The Coming Technology M+A Boom


 

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,

Jay Turo
Chief Executive Officer
Growthink, Inc

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Angel Funding Harder to Raise....But Not Really


 

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.

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Two Paths - Which Will You Choose?


 

"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.

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