FreshPlanet just announced that it raised $1.5 million in Series A funding.
The company creates "Fun games for smart people."
I'm not wowed by any stretch by FreshPlanet. Just another video game company in my book.
But I included it here for just that reason. FreshPlanet is not some ultra-unique product or company. It's just two successful entrepreneurs trying to improve on products in an established industry.
And by putting together the right strategy and plan, and knocking on the right doors, they raised $1.5 million from three individual angel investors and one early-stage venture capital fund.
For those of you who don't understand the term "Series A," the Series A round is the name given to your first significant round of venture financing. The name "Series A" refers to the class of preferred stock that you sell to investors in return for their cash. Your Series A round is typically the first series of stock issued after common stock (which is typically issued and/or sold to company founders, employees, friends and family, and initial angel investors).
If seeking angel funding: Download Growthink's Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capital from Angel Investors.
If seeking venture capital: Download Growthink's Step-By-Step Guide to Raising Venture Capital.
A while back I started reading a lot of articles on resume writing.
No, I'm not looking for a new job.
But, I realized the similarities between resumes and business plans.
A resume is used to convince a prospective employer that you might be the right job candidate, and that they should invest the time to meet with you to learn more.
Similarly, a business plan is used to convince an investor or lender that you might be the right funding candidate, and that they should invest the time to meet with you to learn more.
(Note that there is a key difference between resumes and business plans. Mainly your business plan also has critical value in terms of plotting your strategy. But when used to convince outsiders (investors, advisors, partners, employees, etc.) to join or fund the company, plans and resumes serve a similar marketing function.)
Interestingly, HotJobs recently developed an article revealing the "10 Boilerplate Phrases that Kill Your Resume." They are as follows:
• Results-oriented professional
• Cross-functional teams
• More than [x] years of progressively responsible experience
• Superior (or excellent) communication skills
• Strong work ethic
• Met or exceeded expectations
• Proven track record of success
• Works well with all levels of staff
• Team player
• Bottom-line orientation
Moving back to business plans, I have often heard investors and lenders complaining about similar phrases in plans such as "proven management team," "first mover advantage," and "dominate competition."
The problem with these generic phrases in both resumes and business plans is that, by themselves, these phrases don't show whether the person or venture is really unique (which is what both employers and investors/lenders want).
Now I'm not saying that you need to avoid these phrases.
Rather, you need to clarify these phrases.
If you have a "proven management team," then you need to state why. For example, maybe one management team member formerly ran a successful company, or another formerly increased sales by 3 times at their last company, etc.
When presented to people outside yourself or your company, your resume or business plans are marketing documents. They are used to convince others to invest time towards hopefully hiring you or investing in your company. In order to be successful, be sure to show how you and/or your venture is unique, and whenever possible, provide specific proof behind your arguments.
If you have not completed your business plan, or are dissatisfied with the results, download Growthink's Ultimate Business Plan Template. Our Template will help you quickly, easily and expertly complete your business plan: http://www.growthink.com/products/business-plan-template
VC-backed exits had a great quarter in Q1 of 2010. (For those who don't understand "VC-backed exits" it means companies funded by venture capital firms which cashed out, which typically happens through being acquired or by going public.)
According to The National Venture Capital Association and Thomson Reuters, VC-backed M&A exits were the highest ever in a single quarter. 111 venture backed companies were sold for $5.86 billion in disclosed value. And nine venture backed companies went public, raising more than $930 million.
Another note to folks seeking VC; in the first quarter M&A (exit by acquisition) was 12.3 times more likely than going public. This ratio is fairly typical.
Another piece of good news is that 79 private equity firms, including VC firms, raised $50.4 billion in Q1 to invest in companies.
So, VCs are generally in a good mood since they've just made big money on their exits, and they now have more money to invest. So start sending out your teaser emails and raising venture capital!
(If you don't know what a "teaser email" is, or you haven't raised venture capital before, it is a very tricky path with lots of landmines. So download our Step-By-Step Guide to Raising Venture Capital so you can successfully raise venture capital.)
Like many of you, my first full-time job wasn't as an entrepreneur. I too "worked for the man" and earned my steady paycheck. And each month, I advanced a little. But never as quickly as I wanted.
And what did this cause?
It caused me a lot of stress, discomfort and anxiety.
I was in a position that I wasn't comfortable with. I wanted something better.
The other day I realized what I really had been feeling was a lack of control, which in turn caused my stress and discomfort.
In fact, according to the new book, The Art of Choosing, by Sheena Iyengar, the ability to make our own decisions is critical to our sense of well being.
For example, studies show that it isn't the company's CEO who's most likely to have a stress-related illness or heart attack. No. It's actually the CEO's assistant! Research shows that the less control we have, or that we think we have, the higher the likelihood of stress, back pain, mental illness, high blood pressure, getting sick, and so on.
So what does this mean for you?
1. If you're still working for someone else, and are feeling the stress of not controlling your destiny, then now's the time to launch your own business. I'm not necessarily saying to quit your job until your business is generating income. But I'm saying to at least take pen to paper and write down your business plan and strategy so you can start planning out your venture. (As you know, I designed my business plan template specifically to help with this).
2. If you are running your own company, make sure that you give enough authority to your employees. You don't want your employees to feel a lack of control. This will lead to stress and they will get sick more often, won't be as productive, and so on.
Note that I will be releasing a new Leadership course later this month that reveals lots of leadership tips, but to start, make sure your employees have some decision-making authority and a feeling of being in control within their areas of responsibility.
I recently interviewed sales expert Marvin Montgomery.
And I don't use the word "expert" lightly....Marvin has 30 years of sales training experience, served as director of sales for one of the country's largest jewelry store chains (where he trained over 1,200 associates in 95 stores) and is the author of the book "Practice Makes Perfect: The Professional's Guide to Sales Success."
Marvin gave me tons of great sales tips during the interview, but one thing really stood out to me.
He told me he'd been invited to the weddings of people to which he has sold products and services. Now, these were NOT people he knew beforehand. But people that he met when trying to sell them something.
Imagine that for a moment. Inviting your salesman to your wedding. You get a phone call from a salesperson. Or you're at the department store and a salesperson is trying to sell you a vacuum. And, then, a few short months later, you're inviting them to your wedding!
Marvin and I both agreed that this is the ultimate sales test - if your prospects and/or customer invite you to their wedding, you are truly a great salesperson!
Now, to accomplish such a feat, Marvin explained that you need to start by having a "servant mentality" and really listening to and serving the needs of your prospects. By doing so, you create real, lasting human-to-human bonds, which will massively increase your chances of making the sale.
Remember, people (not companies if you are selling to businesses) make buying decisions. And a key part of a person's buying decision is how they feel about the salesperson. Your job is to make the prospect feel good about themselves, which will make them like you more!
In the interview, Marvin focused on the "3 R's" of selling: Repeat business, Referrals, and Requests.
You can listen to the full interview here, but here's a key point that he mentioned for each.
Repeat business: repeat business starts by satisfying the customer the first time. And a key to satisfaction is to eliminate buyer's remorse. Marvin explained that re-affirming the person's buying decision helps here. A simple phone call or letter starting with "you made the right decision and here's why...." can eliminate buyer's remorse, increase satisfaction, and set the customer up to buy from you again.
Referrals: Once you know your customers are happy, you need to ASK for the referral. Marvin differentiates between "planting a seed" and actually asking; and explains that specifically asking is key. A great idea that he mentioned was getting the customer to visualize who they can refer. For example, he gave this example: "I know that you're in the local rotary club - are there any other members of the club that you think could also benefit from this service?"
Requests: Requests are when a prospect specifically requests to work with you, rather than anyone else at your company. When someone specifically requests you, clearly you have a much greater chance of making the sale. One of his keys here was "lagniappe" which is defined as a small, unexpected extra.
Does this work? Well, I'll give you a personal example here. Every Monday I bring bagels into the office. There are two stores from which I can buy bagels. A while back, one of the workers at one of the stores gave me 2 extra bagels at no charge. Since then, I only go to that one bagel store and I always wait for that worker to serve me. Yes, it works.
In the interview, Marvin gave a ton more insight into the 3 R's and also talked about keys to sales team management, how to hire sales staff, and how to get more customer leads and prospects.
You can download or listen to the interview here: http://www.growthinkuniversity.com/members/427.cfm
Or listen to a short clip in the player below:
Is it possible to double, triple, or even quadruple your sales conversion rates?
It sure is.
And to explain how, you simply have to spend an hour with the world's best salesperson - my daughter.
You see, kids are pretty amazing sales people. They ask for something. And when they don't get it, they ask again, and again, and again.
So, my 7-year old daughter wanted a horse figurine. So she asked me to buy it for her. I said I'd think about it. So the next day she asked me again. And again I replied "Let me think about it."
This routine continued day after day after day. Until finally, I broke down and bought it.
Now the lesson here is simply -- persistence is absolutely critical to sales success.
Consider these statistics from the National Sales Association:
* 2% of sales are made on the 1st contact
* 3% of sales are made on the 2nd contact
* 5% of sales are made on the 3rd contact
* 10% of sales are made on the 4th contact
* 80% of sales are made on the 5th-12th contact
This is truly amazing -- your chances of closing the sale go up 40 TIMES when you try 5-12 times.
Likewise, a recent report from The Bridge Group found that it takes an AVERAGE of seven touches to "convert a suspect to a prospect." These touches may include phone calls, direct mail, email, webinars, or face-to-face encounters among others.
Once again, the key is persistent follow-up. You cannot afford to give up on prospects after the first, second, or even third or fourth contacts. By continuing to follow-up with them, you will skyrocket your sales conversion rates and profits.
The EASIEST way to ensure consistent, high quality persistent follow-up is using Autoresponders. Autoresponders are automatic emails that you send at defined intervals. So, for example, you can automatically send high quality emails to your prospects every 3 days for a month in order to increase your conversion rates. In the Ultimate Internet Marketing System, we dedicate two modules to Email Marketing where we cover how to expertly use emails and autoresponders to increase your conversion rates. Learn more here: http://www.growthink.com/products/internetmarketingsystem
In 2002, the CEO of Integreon, Liam Brown, sat in Growthink's offices in Los Angeles.
Integreon was just getting started and had 4 employees.
In the subsequent months, we worked with Integreon on its strategy and to developed its business plan.
The rest, as they say is history.
After raising rounds of capital and growing like gangbusters, Integreon is now a global provider of outsourced research, legal and business Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO) services. It currently has 2,000 employees and offices throughout the world.
And just today, the company announced that it raised another $50 million in expansion capital.
But the big amount is not what excited me most when I heard about the raise. It was the one tiny phrase in the press release that most others probably missed: "a substantial minority stake."
I like when the $50 million investment only accounted for a "minority stake" in the company. It means the company is worth over $100 million, and probably much more than that.
Yes, the right strategy and business plan can produce amazing results!
Actually, opposites do NOT attract.
Government bureaucracy does not equal economic prosperity.
Centralization of power in Washington does not equal representative democracy.
Regulatory complexity does not equal consumer protection.
Lawyers parasitically feeding off...well, everything does not equal justice.
Senior citizens fighting maniacally for their social security, for their Medicare, for their drugs, in the face of crippling federal budget deficits does not equal paying it forward.
Teachers' unions, fighting school choice and merit-based pay does not equal U.S. competitiveness.
And complaining about any/all of the above does NOT equal doing something about it.
No, if you want to help create good jobs for all of those that want them, if you want to insure a better future for our children, then:
Turn OFF the TV.
Turn down the radio.
Put down the newspaper (though you probably have done that already).
Start A Business. That business idea you've been kicking around for years? Well, join the 6 million Americans every year (that's 3% of the adult population) and start a NEW business. In addition to pursuing your dreams, you will also be doing more to create jobs than the government ever will. Why? Because 2 out of 3 of all new jobs are created by new and young (less than 5 years old) firms. Click here to learn more.
Grow A Business. If you own or manage an existing business, go for it. Launch that new product. Offer that new service. Try that new marketing strategy. Implement that new software. Apply for that bank loan. If you don't know how, or need inspiration, read Entrepreneur, Inc. and Fast Company Magazines. This list, too.
Invest IN A Business. Supporting good non-profits is great, but even better is to support entrepreneurs while making excellent money doing so. Startup investing has outperformed every major investing class, with IRRs of over 27.3% (click here to learn more). Compare this to the Dow Jones (returned less than 1% annually these last 10 years), or real estate (2%), or the current cash/money market yield (0.7%).
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As providers such as Android gain traction in the market place, and iPhone alters the requirements for applications carried in its AppStore, a slew of entrepreneurs have been working tirelessly to create engaging applications for smart phone owners.
Growthink has worked on a number of projects with these emerging companies and offers the following insight to individuals who are looking to break into the lucrative mobile application market.
The success of Apple, which, as of January 2010, had 3 billion downloads from its application store has fueled much of the development in the application sector. Some 100,000 applications have been developed, many of which see their income not from the per application download fee, but in engaging the consumer past the point of purchase.
At the Digital Media Conference West, Norwest Venture Partners’ Tim Chang stated “that in order [for an app] to do $10 million in revenues in the App store it must appear in the top 5 for 3 months.” This is an important point for entrepreneurs out there – find a way to monetize your customer based on their activity; a sustainable business model will include revenue past the point of sale.
One space that has found a way to do this is mobile gaming. Mobile game technologies have been wildly successful, even amidst the economic downturn through the sales of virtual goods which are then paid for using micropayment technology. Micropayments have been enormous money makers for companies like Zynga, Playfish and Japan’s Mobile Game Town. Even traditional game development companies have gotten involved in mobile gaming; Electronic Arts produces Monopoly and Rock Band for the iPhone, to name a few and recently acquired Playfish for $400 million in cash and stock.
As would be expected, venture capital has followed the mobile gaming space. Zynga, the creators of Farmville, claim to have 20 million users and have raised $219 million in venture capital to date. Their latest round occurred in December 2009, and was $180 million dollars at a $1 billion valuation. PopCap Games raised $22.5 million in Series A capital in October 2009 – their claim to fame? Bejeweled, the 7th highest grossing game in the App Store.
The mobile application space, and more specifically the mobile gaming space, are two exciting sectors in which there have been a number of emerging companies taking storm over the past six months. The best performing companies have learned early on that the key to success is an application that engages the user beyond the point of purchase and provides for daily active user engagement. Companies that are prepared to create engaging games with well thought business models have the highest chance of success. This is based on the market conditions as well as the eagerness in the venture capital community to become involved with new developers in the marketplace.
There’s one role in an organization that most entrepreneurs and business owners’ don’t really understand.
It’s not the Marketing Manager. That’s pretty easy. The Marketing Manager is in charge of marketing the company’s products. It’s not the Sales Manager. Or the Operations manager either. These roles are also quite evident.
But the CFO (Chief Financial Officer) role confuses most entrepreneurs.
In fact, most don’t really understand what a CFO does, or think that the CFO role doesn’t apply to their business until they’re much bigger.
Well, recently I had the opportunity to learn more about the CFO role when I interviewed Jonathan Weiss.
Unlike many of the interviews I’ve done, Jonathan is not a famous author, investor or renowned entrepreneur.
No, Jonathan was simply a classmate of mine when I went to business school at UCLA (The Anderson School). But when I started speaking with him at our 10-year class reunion a few months back, I realized he had some special expertise.
You see, Jonathan had recently been the CFO of a small company, LA Rose, which manufactures fashionable uniforms for healthcare workers.
The company had been around for a few years and was generating $3 million in annual revenues when he joined it.
But in short order, Jonathan helped grow revenues from $3 million to $10 million, and then he helped sell the company for a nice multiple.
I listened to Jonathan’s story in amazement, and the questions started flowing. What did he do as the CFO of that company? Do all businesses need a CFO? What should my clients be doing to replicate his success?
But rather than monopolize Jonathan’s time at the reunion, I requested a telephone interview to ask these questions, and he was kind enough to oblige.
Here's an excerpt of my interview with Jonathan:
Click here to listen to and/or download the full interview and/or transcript.
Now, before I brief you on some of the interview’s highlights, let me explain the core role of the CFO.
As the title implies, a CFO or Chief Financial Officer is responsible for helping the company achieve it’s financial objectives.
Specifically, the CFO:
Ensures that key financial metrics (e.g., last month’s sales, current inventory levels, etc.) are reported in a timely manner.
Ensures that the company has enough cash to fund its growth
Helps improve the profitability and efficiency of the company
Figures out where assets should be invested
So, for example, some specific things that Jonathan did at LA Rose were as follows:
1. He created a financial dashboard. This dashboard showed the business owners exactly how the company was fairing on key metrics such as month-over-month sales, inventory levels, etc. This helped the company set and accomplish goals. Importantly, he also put key financial figures in terms that the business owners could understand so that they were able to make better decisions.
2. He improved the profitability of the business by better focusing the owners’ time. For example, one owner was amazing at designing new uniforms. But, she was only spending 10% of her time doing that (and spent her other time managing customers, employees, etc.). When those other roles were delegated and she focused more of her time on design, sales and profits skyrocketed.
3. Product sourcing. Jonathan boosted profits by finding new suppliers to manufacture the same quality uniforms at a lower cost.
4. New financing. Jonathan identified that much of the company’s capital was tied up in receivables (e.g., money owed to it by customers). He used a unique combination of factoring and receivables insurance to get this money from third parties at a low cost. The money was then reinvested in the company, and sales went up dramatically.
5. Investments. Jonathan made investments in IT that helped streamline operations and cut costs, boosting long-term profitability.
Whether your company needs to hire a CFO right now is up to you. But clearly someone needs to be performing the CFO role if you hope to really grow your revenues and profits.
To hear Jonathan tell his story and reveal his best CFO tactics, click here to listen to and/or download the full interview and/or transcript.