Growthink Blog

Israel Venture Capital: The Silicon Valley of the East


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Israel, more fondly nicknamed as the “Silicon Valley of the East”, is the largest recipient of United States venture capital, absorbing 7.7% of outbound investment dollars. For a small and relatively new country, Israel has jumped into the limelight as one of the largest producers of new technologies. The country is responsible for some of the most prominent inventions over the past several decades, including drip irrigation, instant messaging (ICQ), Intel’s Centrino computer chip, and voicemail technology.

Israel also holds the second greatest number of foreign companies on the NASDAQ, second only to Canada. Some of the more prominent multi-billion dollar corporations listed on the exchange include TEVA Pharmaceuticals (market cap: $41 billion), the world’s largest generic drug manufacturer, and Gilead Sciences (market cap: $43 billion), which develops therapies for viral diseases, infectious diseases, and cancer.

In 2008, over $2 billion was invested in 480+ Israeli high-tech companies, an increase of 18% over the prior year. Roughly 50% of funds came from outside of Israel, primarily from the United States, which has also shown significant investment in Israel by building Israeli satellite offices for American companies. In 1974, Intel chose Israel as the location for its first design and development center outside the United States, and thereafter opened 8 locations, employing over 5,300 employees. International companies such as Microsoft, IBM, Nokia, and Motorola have also followed in the footsteps of Intel Corporation by opening offices in Israel.

So why has Israel drawn so much VC funding and attention from the international business community?

Israel has the highest number of university degrees relative to the population and the largest number of scientists per capita in the world, with 145 scientists per 10,000 citizens, in comparison with the United States at 85 per 10,000. Additionally, Israel has the highest number of start-up companies in the world outside of the United States.

Israelis also receive extensive technical training through their compulsory military service and have adapted several advanced military technologies to other applications. For example, Given Imaging, which in 1998 came out with the first ingestible disposable video camera for viewing and diagnosing the small intestine, developed and adapted their product from an electro-optical device for military missiles.

The enormous pool of talented workers in Israel is also much more affordable for technology companies than those in Silicon Valley, and the government has been a strong supporter of growth in the hi-tech sector. The Israeli government provides incentives and grants to encourage capital investment and scientific research within the country.

Growthink has worked with dozens of Israeli entrepreneurs throughout its ten years of operations and has several strategic alliances with individuals within the Israeli Venture Capital community.

One Really Big Organization that Wants You to Succeed


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If you own an existing business, or are planning to start one, there is one organization who really wants you to succeed.

In fact, this organization is even willing to loan you money to start or expand your business. And they will give you this money with favorable interest rates and payback terms.

That organization is the United States government.

The U.S. government has learned over time that giving capital to entrepreneurs creates more jobs, improves the economy, and expands the tax base. All the things they really want to achieve.

Many years ago the U.S. government set up the Small Business Administration (SBA) specifically to make loans to entrepreneurs and small business owners. In fact, the SBA currently has $45 billion in loans outstanding to entrepreneurs.

And, in addition to SBA loans, there are several kinds of debt capital that may be available to start or grow your business such as business lines of credit and traditional bank loans.

Each of these types of capital are covered in detail, including a step by step plan for getting these loans for your business, in our new report entitled "Growthink's Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capital from Banks & SBA Lenders."

Among other things, the report covers:

* The differences between raising debt capital and equity capital that you need to understand (Page 2)

* The important elements of loans and what you need to know BEFORE you look for one (Page 7)

* Exactly what lenders are looking for when they consider whether or not to fund your business (Page 9)

* The biggest misconception about loans that keeps many entrepreneurs from getting funded (Page 11)

* One easy, but seldom used trick to maximize your chances of getting a loan on the best possible terms (Page 12)

* The key types of loans and what you need to know to make sure you get one that's right for your business (Page 13)

* The best way for startups to overcome a key SBA requirement and quickly get the perfect SBA loan (Page 19)

* Assessment of every type of SBA loan to allow you to quickly determine the optimum one for your business (Pages 19 to 24)

* The hands-down fastest way to get an SBA loan (Page 29)

* Growthink's proven 6-step formula for getting an SBA or bank loan (Pages 32 to 36)

* The 30 U.S. banks that are most likely to loan money to your business (Page 37)

 

To learn more, click here.


Raising Funding for a Social Network or Web 2.0 Concept: Has the Bubble Burst?


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Many entrepreneurs and investors have been capitalizing on developing internet capabilities and the increased usage of social networks around the world by creating a new wave of social networks and Web 2.0 websites. Over the last few years, the Web 2.0 sector has seen a number of acquisitions for companies including Bebo, Blogger, Cork’d, Del.icio.us, Flickr, Jaiku, Last.fm, Picasa, Rojo, Skype, Sphere, StumbleUpon, and Webshots. Entrepreneurs have been encouraged by large scale transactions including YouTube selling for $1.7 billion, Facebook’s valuation at $15 billion based on Microsoft’s recent investment, and MySpace’s sale for $580 million.

A great Web 2.0 website can be built on a shoestring budget with a few smart developers and an innovative concept driving the growth of the business. Web 2.0 companies have the potential to experience overnight notoriety through a few press mentions and can grow exponentially thereafter.  Thus, venture capital firms do expect to see a great deal of traction in the marketplace before seriously considering funding your social network. Due to market conditions, VCs today are seeking to fund companies that are already well on their way to success, rather than higher risk and earlier stage deals that they might have previously considered.  As a social network, the right time to contact a VC is when your site has a solid user base and viral growth through an innovative guerilla marketing strategy, not at the idea stage. For example, just today Glubble BV (www.glubble.com), a niche Amsterdam based social networking website for families with children under the age of 12, announced that they raised $1 million in Series B funding. Glubble was launched in 2007 and counts 300,000 family pages on its service to-date.

Due to the large number of social networking sites that were funded in the last three years, VCs are getting increasingly skeptical of these concepts. Kleiner Perkins, one of the largest VCs, has publicly stated that they are no longer investing or even looking at Web 2.0 companies. I’m not suggesting that you get discouraged by this or that the opportunities for new web 2.0 or social networks have passed, but realize that the competition is great and you must differentiate yourself both in your market and when pitching to venture capital firms. Stand out by targeting niche users, such as senior citizens, travelers, specific cultures, or countries. Find a niche that has not been already conquered, but that has enormous value, and do not promote your business as the next MySpace or Facebook. These networks have generated enormous and loyal user bases and it will be extremely challenging if not impossible to replace them.

Growthink has worked with nearly 100 web 2.0 businesses over the last few years and has developed strong expertise in the sector. We can help you to strategically think through your business model and create a compelling business plan that will help your Web 2.0 company stand out among the throngs of competitors. We can also advise you on how to improve your viral marketing strategy to optimize your valuation before bringing your company to a VC firm.

If you are an existing website, we can also help provide you with strategic recommendations based on a complimentary website audit. Please follow this link for more information:

http://www.growthink.com/internet-marketing/website-audit#auditform


Why You Should DOUBLE Your Employees' Salaries


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In a world with a poor economy and uncertain economic outlook, the knee-jerk reaction of most entrepreneurs and business managers is to layoff employees and thus reduce labor costs.

While I agree that reducing labor costs is key, you can oftentimes do this by increasing the amount you pay your employees.

Take the case of The Container Store. This Texas-based company has a unique HR strategy. That is, they have just one employee for every three that their competitors have. But, they pay their employees double the industry average and spend 160 hours training them.

The result is that their employees are better trained and happier, and thus provide superior service at a 33% overall lower cost than competitors.

Interestingly, when The Container Store opened in New York City, it had 100 times more applications than available positions. With numbers like that, they are able to hire the best of the best each time.

Similarly, Harry Seifert, CEO of Winter Garden Salads gives employees bonuses just before Memorial Day, when demand for its products peak. The bonuses boost morale and cause the company's productivity to jump 50% during the busy period.

Paying employees more to improve performance and boost company-wide profits is a historically proven tactic. In fact, back in 1913, Henry Ford doubled employee wages from $2.50 to $5.00 per day. The move boosted employee morale and productivity and caused thousands of potential new workers to move to Detroit.

A final key point to note is that laying off employees is often a bad strategy. While it will save you money in the short-term, in the long-term, hiring new employees and training them is much more expensive than the cost of keeping the employees that you laid off.

Rather, a strategy that you should consider is to ask (or require) employees to take pay cuts and/or offer employees company stock in lieu of a portion of their cash compensation.

Angel Investing Returns - The Impact of the Stock Market


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The general misery that the public markets have subjected us all to over the past year (and really the past 10 years, with the Dow Jones, the S & P, and the NASDAQ all trading lower today than they were in 1999), begs the question - how does stock market performance affect angel investing returns?

The answer, on the one hand, is very obvious.  A falling tide sinks all boats.  So as goes the public markets, so go the private equity markets, of which both venture capital and angel investments are subsets.

This is best illustrated by the amazing (and depressing) statistic that in the last 10 years there has been more money invested into the venture capital industry than has come out of it.  A lot of effort for naught.

But in spite of this, and maybe even because of it, average angel investing returns this decade have been surprisingly, even shockingly good.  According to data compiled by Thomson Financial, average angel investing returns have been in excess of 20% annually since 1999.

Why is this and will it continue?  Well, it has to do with the difference between the "macro" and the "micro."

To hear more on this, please click the below.
 
 
 
 

 


A Venture Capitalist, A Corporate Investor & Two Angels - Animoto is Listening


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When entrepreneurs ask me what sources of capital to tap to fund their businesses, my answer is generally "as many as you can."

I often point to companies like Google, who relied on credit cards, angels and venture capitalists in its early days.

Recently Animoto heeded my advice. In it's most recent round of funding, Animoto raised $4.4 million from a venture capitalist (Madrona Venture Group), a corporate/strategic investor (Amazon.com), and two angel investors: iStockphoto founder Bruce Livingstone and angel investor Jeff Clavier (Clavier is also the founder and managing partner of SoftTech VC, a seed-stage venture capital firm).

What's even more interesting is what Animoto is. Animoto is a website where you can quickly and easily turn photos into videos. Why is this interesting? Because you can use Animoto to create a video about your company to market it to investors.

So not only is Animoto teaching each of us about how to best raise capital to fund our growth, but is offering a tool to help us market ourselves to investors.

To see how it worked, I created an Animoto account (doesn't cost anything and is quick to do) and created a quick video. I was home at the time with my daughter, so we did it together and created one with a few of her recent horseback riding pictures.

The good news is that it was really simple to create the video. The negatives were that 1) rendering time was slow (plan to wait at least 5 minutes before the video is ready to be viewed for a 30-second clip), and 2) the non-paid version only allows your video to last 30 seconds. Fortunately for $3 per video, or $30 for a year, you can create full-length videos.

Overall, Animoto is a great lesson in capital raising and a great tool to use when raising capital for your business!

What Separates the Best from The Rest?


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Accelerant. C8 Medisensors. Dakim. DCIP. Free Conference. Fresh Games. Green Medical. Helix Wind. InfoSpace. Integreon. L3D3. Mobeze. MyPublicInfo. Nolatek. Ometric. Pocketsonics. Precision Time. Raise Capital. Recoup IT. Research Scientists. Sandel Medical. Spring Medical. Telverse. Thrombovision. XCOM Wireless. Xorbent.

These companies all share a few things in common:

1. They are either past or current Growthink clients and/or investments (though this is by no means a complete list).

2. They all either achieved - or are on the path to achieve - successful exits through a public offering or a company sale.

3. They are all led by CEO's and senior executives that are a cut above. Men and women that are entrepreneurs and business-builders in the best and highest sense - the kind of managers and visionaries that are the bedrock of America's vibrant, free enterprise system and way of life.

I have been privileged to work and get to know inspirational, entrepreneurial leaders like Dan Michel at Dakim, Liam Brown at Integreon, Walter Alessandrini at Ometric, Brian Ashton at Precision Time, Rick Singer at Raise Capital, Peter Sobotta from RecoupIT. Jack Smyth at Spring Medical Systems, Ed Teitel at Thrombovision, and Dan Hyman at XCOM Wireless.

Here are 5 qualities they all share:

1. Their Work Ethic is Off The Charts. This may sound really obvious, but the great entrepreneurs are extremely disciplined and organized and make the sacrifices to commit themselves fully to their business. Work - life balance is a nice theory, but in entrepreneurs to back, the more zealous the better.

2. They Have Great Numbers Fluency. As Guy Kawaski so eloquently puts it, we live in the age of excel, not of PowerPoint. Great 21st century leaders are "Super Crunchers," - they undertand the power of statistics, of "evidence-based" decision-making, of testing, and of managing by the numbers. They are not enslaved by the numbers nor do they lose sight of their human and qualitative aspects, but they are highly informed by them. They are hungry for unbiased, third-party information about their markets, their customers, their competitors.

3. They Have Done it Before. Following up on #2, the entrepreneurs most likely, statistically, to be successful are those that track records of success. It doesn't mean that just because they have succeeded in a past company mean that they will necessarily succeed in the next one. Nor do this mean that those who have failed in the past will fail in the future. Only that the probabilities are that this be the case. All of the managers above had track records before their existing business of successes - entrepreneurial successes, corporate successes, educational successes. Success follows them, not the other way around.

4. They Know When To Manage and When To Lead. Successful business exits require first and foremost, organization-building. Teams of people need to be assembled and directed to accomplish a common objective that can be quantified on the scorecards of business - revenues, profits, and cash flow. Balancing these left and right brain objectives require a sense of knowing when to manage and when to lead. Management is left-brained - it is analytical, numbers-driven, and dispassionate. It see business as a black box, with the sole objective of turning cash into more cash as fast as possible. Leadership is right-brained - it is conceptual, more long-term focused, and sees the business more as an organism as opposed to a collection of individual parts. Leaders sometimes will sacrifice short-term results for long-term gain, but do so carefully, deliberately, and warily. They are soft-hearted but hard-headed.

5. They are Proud and Humble. Great entrepreneurs are proud of their accomplishments and greatly desire more of them. They are confident in their vision and their abilities, and do not let adversity, criticism, objections or rejections deter them from their chosen path. They are not, however, headstrong nor arrogant. They respect facts, statistics, and informed opinions. And when these are in conflict with even their most dearly-held beliefs and strategies, they change. Not with the wind, but nor only at the point of a gun.

If you find these 5 attributes in an entrepreneur, savor them, appreciate them, learn from them, and back them. Till the cows come home. And then some more.


Investor Presentation: The Overlooked Key to Raising Capital & Succeeding In Business


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Over the past decade, I have written countless articles on how to raise capital. I have taught thousands of entrepreneurs how to create a great business plan, how to develop a strong financial model, and ways to devise a slide presentation that gets investors excited.

And then, I have written extensively about how to grow your company once you have raised capital. Discussing how to motivate your employees to maximize their effectiveness. And how to find partners that can take your business to the next level.

But there's one thing I haven't written about. One thing that I've totally neglected. And this one thing can increase your effectiveness at ALL of these activities - from raising capital to performing all the tasks needed to grow your successful business.

For this I apologize.

So what is this one thing?

The answer is public speaking, and your ability to communicate ideas to investors, partners, employees and others.

I realized that public speaking was the missing key when I recently reviewed a unique book called "The Power Presenter" by Jerry Weissman.

And, I might not have read the book if it had not received so much praise from venture capitalists. These VCs have relied on Weissman to prepare them to not only raise money for their own funds, but to teach their portfolio company CEOs so they could raise future funding and better grow their companies.

So, why are Weissman's teachings so important? Because, your ability to present effectively and be a great public speaker is critical to your ability to raise money for your business, attract and formalize relationships with key partners, and build a highly motivated team among other things.

And importantly, Weissman's research proves that the content of your presentations is less important than your body language (most important factor) and your voice (next most important factor).

Allow that to sink in for a minute.

What this means is that when you meet with a venture capitalist, angel investor or bank loan officer, your presentation skills are more important than the content of your presentation!

This fact is a bit bothersome to me.

Why? Because it means that an entrepreneur who has great public speaking skills but a poor investor presentation and business model has a superior chance of raising capital than an entrepreneur with a great investor presentation and business but poor communications skills.

But, rather than me pouting about this seemingly unfair reality, let me tell you some of Weissman's keys to making you a better public speaker and presenter.

First of all, to reiterate, the most important thing influencing your audience is visual (i.e., your body language), then vocal (your voice and speaking rhythm) and then verbal (the story you tell).

Secondly, when you present in front of a group, your natural "fight or flight" instincts kick in. Your adrenaline starts pumping and you often get anxious and fidgety. The way that you act as a result of this poorly impacts your audience's perception of you.

To decrease your anxiety, use the following techniques:

1. Practice, practice and practice some more. The more you practice your presentation, the more comfortable you will be when you give it.

2. Concentrate. Just like an elite athlete, you need to clear your mind before the presentation so  you can fully concentrate on the task at hand.

Important side note: many years ago, I had the pleasure of introducing entrepreneur and author Harvey McKay at an event. Before he went on, I saw him with his head against the wall talking to himself. I thought it was absolutely bizarre. But he used that technique to focus his mind and pump himself up. The result - he had the audience in the palm of his hand the whole time. It was truly amazing.

3. Shift Your Focus from You to Them. If you give a presentation and your best friend happens to be in the room, chances are that after the presentation the first question you will ask your friend is "How did I do?"

It is this mentality of thinking about yourself that makes people nervous. Rather, focus on the audience. Look at them and think "how are they doing?"  This will allow you to present more effectively.

4. Focus on specific people in the audience. Whether there are three prospective investors or business partners in the room, or you are speaking to a room of 50 or 500, you need to visually focus on one person at a time. That is, pick one person to start and complete your first main point. Then you should shift to different people for each key point you make during the presentation. This helps you concentrate better and make sure you are focusing on the audience rather than on yourself.

5. Practice your hand gestures. Hand gestures often positively engage an audience. But, making hand gestures in front of an audience often feels awkward and uncomfortable. You must practice using them with "warmer" audiences (e.g., your friends, co-workers and/or employees) until they become second nature.


Like it or not, your public speaking ability and presentation skills are more important than the content of your presentations. As such, successful entrepreneurs need to master these skills. Use these tips to improve your skills, and remember to really practice all your presentations before the actual event. As you know, in most cases, you only get one shot at key presentations.


Angel Investors - Do You Want Venture Capitalists in Your Deals?


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The typical wisdom regarding the appropriate financing course for startup goes as follows:

  1. Founders start the company in classic "bootstrap" fashion - with a combination of sweat equity and their own financial resources. This usually consists of their personal savings, credit cards, and small loans from relatives (Mom, Dad, Uncle Bob, etc.).

  2. Through connections, or through a chance meeting at a networking or social event, an angel investor hears the entrepreneur's story, likes him or her and the technology, and on the spot, writes a check to provide the company with its first outside financing. The angel then introduces the entrepreneur to his or her wealthy friends and business connections who, based on the good reputation and respect that the angel has with them, also invest.

  3. With this capital, usually totaling between $100,000 and $1 million, the company accomplishes a number of key technical milestones, gets a key beta customer or two, and then goes on a "road show" to venture capitalists around the country. The first institutional financing round - usually between $3 and $10 million - is the first of a number of rounds of outside investment over a period of 3 - 5 years.  With this capital, the company propels itself to $50 million+ in revenues  and to either a sale to a strategic acquirer or to an initial public offering.

  4. With the exit, the entrepreneur and the original angel investor become fantastically rich (or in the case of the angel, even more so), and are lauded far and wide for their deep and keen predictive insight.

  5. The cycle is then repeated - the original angel investor utilizing the windfall from their successful exit to fund more companies.  And they are now joined in their investing by the once impoverished but now wealthy entrepreneur.

  6. All live happily ever after.

It all sounds wonderful and it is. The only problem is that it mostly a fairy tale. Here is what really happens:

  1. The entrepreneur pours their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor into their company- at great personal sacrifice to them, their families, and everyone connected to the enterprise.

  2. A "black swan" investor appears mostly out of the blue to fund the deal - less concerned re the efficacy of the technology than by the talent, desire, and grit of the entrepreneur. Technical progress and market traction are much slower and cost a lot more than anticipated. There are a lot of dark, hard days.

  3. There is considerable internal debate around whether or not to solicit and/or accept outside venture capital. For most companies, it is simply a non-starter. Management has the wrong pedigree, is geographically undesirable, competes in the wrong industry, and/or has a business model that lacks "scalability credibility" with the venture community.

  4. Usually unbeknownst to all, the conversation and decisions around pursuing or accepting a venture capital round above will be the factor most highly correlated with their expected return on investment.  But here is the key – contrary to popular wisdom it is negatively correlated.

New, groundbreaking research from the Ewing Merion Kauffman Foundation on Entrepreneurship shows that the #1 key for the angel investor returns in emerging technology deals is that there is never any venture capital invested in the company!

As interestingly, the data shows that when you remove a follow-on venture capital round from angel invested deals that expected returns skyrocket.

The data is somewhat inclusive as to why this is.  I surmise three main reasons:

  1. The Best Metric for the Health of A Company is Cash Flow. By definition, companies that receive venture capital cannot fund their businesses from operations - and thus need to seek outside capital. This may lead to inherent negative selection to venture deals – whereby the sample of companies that need outside capital are by definition weaker companies.  

  2. Venture capitalists Have Very Different Objectives than Angel Investors. Venture capital funds are usually 7 - 10 year partnership structures whereby the general partners, the VC’s, manage the capital of the limited partners, usually institutions (endowments, pension funds, etc.).  And at the end of the period, all profits and proceeds are distributed to the various partners on a pre-determined split. These splits are normally such that the general partner professional money managers need to obtain a “highwater” return for their limited partners before they, as the general partners, see any return. beyond their management fees   In practice, this creates a huge incentive for the general partners to hold on for home runs, and to be reasonably indifferent regarding smaller (less than 3x returns).  As a result, the VC will often block a portfolio company from harvesting a very attractive, but not a home run, investment return. Or as counter-intuitively, press for a far more risky strategy than the entrepreneurs or the angel investors in the deal would prefer.

  3. Venture capitalists Cut Tough Deals. Venture capitalists for the most part are very nice guys and passionate about entrepreneurship, but they are not shrinking violets. And they hire very aggressive securities attorneys to represent their interests.  This combo all too often leads to various forms of deal unpleasantness -  ncluding cram-down rounds, liquidation preferences, and change of control provisions, among others. Which in turn often leads to a lot of very unhappy founders and angel investors even in somewhat successful exits.

My suggestions for the angel investor looking to make money?  First, look for "one and done" deals - companies that need just one round of outside capital to get them to positive cash flow.  Second, look for companies that have short and realistic liquidity (exit, IPO) timelines.  And third, don’t get star-struck by big VC interest in your deal.  It can often be a double-edged and very sharp sword.   


How to Make Your Ideas That Much Better


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Every day I hear pitches from entrepreneurs about the great new product or company they are launching (or want to launch).

But unfortunately, more often than not, their ideas aren't that exciting.

Now, if you have great access to capital and are absolutely amazing at execution, then a "regular" idea is fine. In those cases, you simply go out and raise capital, launch your company, and then out-perform your competitors.

But, entrepreneurs who can do this are few and far between.

For the rest of us, we need an edge. Something that's different. Better than what's out there.

What I'm talking about is the kind of business idea that you look at and say, "That's really cool."

Now, these types of ideas typically feed off the wants and needs of consumers. That is, the entrepreneurs who conceive them have considered the true needs of the customer and modified existing products to satisfy those needs.

Importantly, in most cases, the customer hasn't even recognized the unmet need. But when they see the product or service, they realize its advantages and buy it.

I came across a couple examples of such "cool" products recently. The first was a pair of Reef brand sandals which has a bottle opener nestled in its sole making it "a mandatory accessory for a night out with the boys."

The second is Panasonic's BF-104 flashlight which operates with any combination of D-cell, AA OR AAA batteries. How cool is that...as long as you have 3 batteries, regardless of the type of each, it works (rather than all the time we've all spent searching for that last D-cell battery).

Neither of these innovations required years in the lab. Rather, they were both the result of the entrepreneurial mind coming up with creative solutions to the needs of their customers. (Note that the fact that these two innovations came out of corporations, rather than individual entrepreneurs, is even more impressive to me).

So, how can you maximize your creativity to come up with better ideas for your business?

Recently I created this video (http://www.growthink.com/content/breakthrough-business-idea-generator) that discusses one of my favorite brainstorming techniques called Assumption Reversal.

We have been using Assumption Reversal much more internally and coming up with some really neat ideas. I encourage you to watch the video and use Assumption Reversal for your business.

Finally, not long ago, I had the honor of interviewing Michael Michalko. Michael is the author of the book Thinkertoys which is known as one of the best books on creativity of all time. In fact, I learned about Assumption Reversal from this book.

I will be releasing more of Michalko's best creativity techniques in the coming months. In the meantime, try out the Assumption Reversal technique and keep brainstorming to come up with even better ideas.


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