Written by Jay Turo on Thursday, October 8, 2009
Very, very sad news today that Luis Villalobos, Founder of the Tech Coast Angels and angel investor in 57 early-stage ventures, died suddenly yesterday at the age of 70.
I had the extremely good fortune to have Luis be one of the first clients of Growthink back in 1999. Luis hired us to do a lot of the "blocking and tackling" work in assembling a business plan for a fund/incubation concept - Gazelle Labs - that he and a number of the other principals of TCA had established. Truth be told, we should have paid Luis to work on the project.
First of all, because even at that time, he had forgotten more about entrepreneurship and early-stage investing strategy than most of us will ever know. And because of his attention to detail and intellectual rigor, he set a standard and an expectation of work product that we have tried to carry through with here at Growthink in the last 10 years. Wisdom worth many, many, many times the fees we earned on the engagement.
I have fondly reflected on my experience of working with Luis over the years. He embodied the best qualities of the American entrepreneur and angel investor - hard-headed and brutally realistic, challenging AND extremely giving of his time and energy in support of aspiring entrepreneurs.
He will be missed. May America produce more of his kind.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Imagine a business opportunity that had a 95% chance of success.
In the interview, Ed revealed tons of great tips and information regarding buying a business, including:
Listen to the full interview here: http://www.growthinkuniversity.com/members/357.cfm
Non-members can listen to a brief clip of the interview by clicking on the blue triangle in the player below:
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, October 5, 2009
To be filed firmly in the categories of the rich get richer and it does usually make sense to be both lucky and good, this week’s New Yorker notes that Jeff Bezos was one of the early investors in Google.
Yes, that Jeff Bezos. Founder of Amazon.com. #33 on last year’s Forbes’ 400 with a net worth of over $8.7 billion.
The story is this - 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 in a $1 million follow-on investment round.
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.
Why did Bezos invest in Google? In his 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.”
In addition to being a tale to which the normal reaction is to just say “wow,” Bezos’ Google investment offers a number of great lessons for aspiring, private company investors:
1. He Thought Long Term. Even though Google has been the fastest rocket ship growth company in the history of capitalism, it was still SIX YEARS from Bezo’s investment in the company to liquidity. Private equity overnight successes simply do not exist.
2. He Got 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 to another 535% on top of that.
3. He Invested in People. At the time of Bezo’s 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 and is embodied in the Amazon customer service experience.
So while a business opportunity, in its abstract is great, evaluating the people leading a business is a FAR MORE RELEVANT investing best practice.
4. He Took 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 early stage private company investor having a Google-like success in their portfolio is anything but very low, but it does mean that it is far greater than the ZERO percent likelihood of success of those who did not invest.
As they say, you can’t win if you don’t play.
5. He Got Lucky. As hard as it is for many to accept, luck is a key, and sometimes the key, variable in successful investing.
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?
Best regards, and look forward to connecting.
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Written by Dave Lavinsky on Wednesday, September 30, 2009
I just finished a great book called The Inspired Leader.
And while I was reading it, I tried to see how I stack up against the great business leaders discussed in the book.
And unfortunately, I didn't rate myself so well.
Maybe I'm being a bit harsh on myself, but there's clearly a lot of room for improvement. And importantly, I will be making a personal effort to improve. And I hope you will too. Because, a key attribute of a successful entrepreneur is that he or she be an effective leader.
As you know, few successful companies have just one founder and no employees. As you grow your business, you will most likely grow your employee base. And, as you do this, your ability to effectively lead your workforce becomes more and more important.
In fact, according to management expert Peter Drucker, most businesses would double their profits if they increased employee productivity by just 10%.
Let me repeat this critical point - most businesses would double their profits if they increased employee productivity by just 10%.
That fact alone should inspire you as an entrepreneur to improve your leadership skills. It certainly did for me.
Now, the key premise of the book is that there is one leadership skill that trumps all others. That skill, as the book's title so aptly points out, is the leader's ability to inspire employees. (The proof? The book's authors, through rigorous market research and analysis, repeatedly found a high correlation between success and a leader's ability to inspire the employees around them.)
So let's talk about nine ways that you and I can be more inspiring to our employees:
1. Increase our energy and enthusiasm. When inspiring leaders enter a room the energy level and excitement should go up. Employees should want to be around you.
2. Provide clarity on your goals. Inspiring leaders are very clear about the company's goals and how each employee can contribute to the company's success.
3. Set challenging goals and objectives. Setting "stretch" goals (goals that are challenging but obtainable) releases employees' conserved energy and increases their productivity as they try to achieve those goals.
4. Have a formal plan for personal development. No leader has all the skills they need. Every leader can become more knowledgeable in multiple areas and needs to continually educate themselves and keep abreast of best practices.
If you go to Growthink University (http://www.growthinkuniversity.com), you
will note that we recently added three "Departments" - 1) Building Your Team, 2) Growing Your Revenues, and 3) Protecting Your Business. Over the coming months, I will be developing (myself and with the help of various experts), expert content in these and several other areas to ensure that the entrepreneurs who enroll in Growthink University have all the skills they need to succeed, and are constantly learning best-of-breed success practices.
5. Provide coaching and mentoring. Inspiring leaders help employees develop new skills and abilities.
6. Share information. To be a great leader, you need to share important information with other team members. In the information age, where the sheer quantity of information is so great, this becomes more challenging as leaders want to provide enough information, but not too much information such that it bogs down employees.
7. Do as you say and say as you do.
8. Encourage feedback and ideas from employees. Great leaders don't come up with all the great ideas themselves. They get constant feedback from their teams. And they don't criticize feedback. Or else, the feedback quickly stops coming.
9. Provide helpful feedback on performance. Great leaders periodically review their employees' performance and give feedback regarding what is good, what needs to be improved and how.
If you're curious to see why I gave myself a C+, I feel that I can do a much better job of 1) setting stretch goals, and 2) periodically reviewing and helping to improve the performance of each of my team members.
Finally, to ensure that I do a better job on ALL NINE of these ways to inspire my employees, I have created a monthly worksheet for myself that I will complete on the first of each month. I uploaded a copy of the worksheet here: http://www.growthink.com/InspiringLeader.pdf, so you can use it too.
Just fill in the blanks and post it on your wall. If you see it every day, you are more likely to execute on it.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Wednesday, September 30, 2009
The conversation I had the other day started like many others I have with entrepreneurs.
"How can I help you?" I asked.
"I need money to grow my business," he said.
"So how far along is your business right now?" I replied.
Now, here is where things got a little strange.
In most cases, the entrepreneur says that they are just starting out. Or that they have been around for a year or two and have some customers and a nice revenue base.
But this entrepreneur responded, "Well, we're 7 years old and projected to do $120 million in revenue this year."
??? No, this was not the response I was expecting.
So, why does a company that's doing over $100 million in revenue need capital? To buy a competitor? To build market share since it's selling products at a loss?
While these are two valid reasons why more established companies constantly need capital, this company was actually very profitable and not looking for acquisitions.
So, why then did this company require capital?
Because it was growing too quickly and hadn't financially planned for that. You see, the company was manufacturing and selling products at a nice profit, but it needed to pay its manufacturing costs 90 to 120 days prior to when it received payment from its customers.
The result is a cash crunch.
The company has lots of outstanding orders. But it can't fulfill them since it can't lay out the cash to manufacture the goods. This is extremely frustrating for the entrepreneur, and potentially lethal (if customers decide to switch to a competitor).
Now, there are two key ways around this problem.
One, as discussed in Growthink's Definitive Guide to Creative & Alternative Financing Sources, is customer financing, whereby the customer pays for the product upfront or more quickly in return for some benefit (equity or price discounts).
The other is getting outside capital to solve the cash crunch.
The underlying issue here that you must understand is that "cash flow" is very different than "profitability."
Profitability compares your revenues to your costs.
On the other hand, cash flow determines when, where and at what times cash is coming into and cash is leaving your company. And without proper cash flow projections, a fast growing company can find itself in big trouble.
That's why it's critical that all companies, as part of their business planning process, prepare a Cash Flow Statement or forecast. And in fact, companies should prepare cash flow forecasts every month if not every quarter.
This is particularly important for companies who expect significant growth or those with seasonal sales fluctuations.
Your cash flow statement is roughly calculated as follows: Cash Flow From Operations minus Cash Invested in Equipment plus Cash Received from Outside Financing.
It gets a little more complicated than this, since Cash Flow From Operations includes things such as whether your accounts receivable (how much money you are owed from customers) is going up or down, etc.
So, the key takeaway is this - do NOT risk bankrupting or slowing the growth of your business because you don't forecast your cash flow statement every quarter or month.
If you need help, the financial model portion of Growthink's Ultimate Business Plan Template has a full, plug & play, financial model which includes your Income Statement, Balance Sheet and Cash Flow Statement, so you can accurately project what your monthly cash flow will be.
Importantly, this will ensure that you can get financing, as needed, well BEFORE the months when you need it (and not risk your company's future).
Here's the link to Growthink's Ultimate Business Plan Template - http://www.growthink.com/products/business-plan-template.
Written by Christiana Moffa on Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Why Every Entrepreneur Should Wear a Top Hat
Last week, I had the great honor of attending the annual Inc. 500/5000 Conference, which celebrates the fastest-growing companies in the United States. Surrounded by the country's most inspired and innovative entrepreneurs, I was constantly amazed at what people can accomplish when they set their minds to it. Truthfully, I took a look back at my life and career and thought, "Should I be doing more? Am I inspiring others?"
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, September 22, 2009
I just read this really interesting story about Dr. Doreen Orion in Psychology Today and wanted to share it with you.
Dr. Doreen Orion is a psychologist, as is her husband, Tim.
That's why she truly thought her husband was insane when he proposed that they give up everything and travel the country in a converted bus for a year.
But after two years of being nudged to do it, Dr. Orion finally gave in.
So, off they went around the country in their bus. And, during that time, they experienced it all... from a fire, a flood, an armed robbery and finding themselves in a nudist RV park.
Was it worth it?
According to Dr. Orion the answer is a whopping YES. In fact, enough so that she and her husband have decided to sell their home and live on their bus full-time.
So, what did she find? What did she learn?
Dr. Orion learned that "being comfortable" is not all that great. She said, "I hadn't understood how important it is to keep stretching myself, to keep trying new things. A certain spark I hadn't even known was missing suddenly came back into our lives."
The key for me is this -- it is the process of making yourself uncomfortable and stretching yourself when real personal growth and progress is made. As an entrepreneur, you MUST do things that make you uncomfortable. You can not let fear get the best of you.
Consider Johnny Carson who is well known for his severe stage fright. Fortunately that didn't stop him.
And consider the millions of great entrepreneurs who had the courage to develop their business plans and launch their business to the world.
Now, if you haven't truly launched your business, that is, if you haven't developed your business plan and raised capital (if needed for your business), then now is the time to do it.
And, to "make you an offer you can't refuse" (to borrow the line from the great mafia movies), until this Thursday at 5PM EST, I have a really special offer for you.
The offer is this:
For just $1, you can instantly download Growthink's Ultimate Business Plan Template and get a 14-day trial to GrowthinkUniversity.com
To learn more, and take us up on this $1 special offer, click the link below to watch a video that explains it all:
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Thursday, September 17, 2009
The other day I was given a badly-needed, private webinar by John Moccia, Technology & Venture Capital Practice Leader at Rollins Insurance, which is a member of TechAssure.
John has been working with venture capital firms and emerging ventures for many years to make sure they are properly protected. And he was gracious enough to give me a private presentation (which we recorded as a video) regarding the insurance needs at the four key stages of an emerging company's lifecycle:
Stage 1 - Formation/R&D
Stage 2 - Growth Phase
Stage 3 - Mature Company/IPO
Stage 4 - Public/Fully Developed Company
I think all of you will find tons of value in this presentation, particularly as it relates to Stage 1 and Stage 2, where most of you currently are.
John went through each of the key types of insurance that entrepreneurs need during these phases. He discussed numerous types of insurance that you must be aware of, including:
• General Liability
• Property Coverage
• Business Interruption Coverage
• Workers Compensation & Disability
• Errors & Omissions
• Directors and Officers Liability
• Crime Coverage
• Global Companion Policy
• Employee Benefits including medical, dental, 401k, life and disability coverages
• Key Man Life Insurance
Importantly, John not only talked about what each of these insurance policies are, but he explained when you need them and when you don't, and gave great tips regarding finding the right insurance policies for your company (and what to look out for).
Now, I'll be the first to admit that buying insurance for your company is not the most important part of being an entrepreneur. But getting the right insurance is part of being a sophisticated entrepreneur.
And in fact, several types of insurance are required when reaching key milestones such as getting your first office, raising capital, and expanding geographically. So, it's important to understand the key insurance issues and plan accordingly.
You can watch the video below:
If you need to contact John or Rollins, his contact information is on the last slide of the video.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, September 15, 2009
The other day I had the pleasure of interviewing someone who I really admire - Dr. Basil Peters.
What I really like about Basil is that he's had success in so many positions. As an entrepreneur, he co-founded Nexus Engineering, which he grew to over 300 employees and sold to Scientific Atlanta.
He's also had success as a venture capitalist as CEO of the venture capital fund, BC Advantage Funds. And he is a successful angel investor, and co-founder and CEO of an angel fund called Fundamental Technologies II.
Basil also writes a blog on best practices for angel investors and entrepreneurs at www.AngelBlog.net and he is an Entrepreneur in Residence at Simon Fraser University where he spent 15 years as an Adjunct Professor of Engineering Sciences.
And finally, Basil is the author of a great book on exit strategies called Early Exits: Exit Strategies for Entrepreneurs and Angel Investors.
So, with this wealth of experience, I knew that I would learn a ton from the interview, and more importantly, be able to pass on several nuggets of wisdom to other entrepreneurs.
And he delivered.
In fact, Basil made one statement during the interview that I've thought about nearly every day since we spoke. Here's what he said:
"...So I've come to believe that it's a law. I believe that successful entrepreneurs have mentors, and I also believe that it's the most controllable success factor - it's the single thing entrepreneurs can do that would dramatically improve their chances of success that they can control."
An entrepreneur's most controllable success factor. Those are pretty strong and pretty wise words. Let's think about this. From the perspective of a proven entrepreneur and investor, having a mentor is one of the smartest thing an entrepreneur can do to improve their chances of success.
And Basil told me that virtually every successful entrepreneur that he has met has had either a formal or informal mentor.
So, why wouldn't every entrepreneur have a mentor?
Let's start with me. I don't have a formal person that I call my mentor and who considers me their mentee. But I have had several informal mentors. An uncle who's a successful business man. Mega successful Growthink clients (I define "mega successful" as having exited companies for $100 million or more) who I've worked very closely with for years. And professors who have taught me and answered my numerous questions over time.
Now for those of you entrepreneurs who do not have mentors, I'm going to give you a hard time....Let's go over some excuses you might have:
Unfortunately, none of these excuses are valid.
Finding a mentor shouldn't take all that much time, and this time will possibly have the greatest ROI of all your time investments.
Regarding fear of getting rejected, you'll simply have to overcome this. The fact is that you probably will get rejected by some potential mentors. That's ok. But you can't be afraid to ask. And to persevere until you find a great mentor.
Like everything else in entrepreneurship, rarely does your first effort work as planned. You need to persevere and keep trying.
Now finally, with regards to not knowing who to ask, I believe that any business person who has achieved success and who you respect and admire can make a great mentor.
Wow, 500 words so far, and I've only touched on one of Basil's great points. To get many other great insights from Dr. Basil Peters, listen to the interview.
Click below to hear excerpts from the interview:
To download the full interview and/or transcript click here.
Written by Jay Turo on Sunday, September 13, 2009
Did you know that the current stock market rally, which has seen the S&P 500 rise over 54% from its low of 676 on March 9th, is the greatest in history?
Lazlo Birinyi, founder of Birinyi Associates, notes that since March the S & P has risen 0.31%/day on average.
This is three times faster than the previous fastest recovery in 1982, which averaged an increase of 0.12% per day.
He calls it the "Usain Bolt of markets. We just blew through the records."
Tracking the uptick in the market has been rising consumer and economic confidence.
The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index was up in August to its highest level since December 2007.
And the Discover Business Watch Small Business Confidence measure jumped last month to its highest level since February 2008.
How to Take Advantage?
The problem is, of course, first determining if you've missed the rally, and then how to translate this improving business sentiment into opportunity for you.
For those of us that aren't Washington politicians or C-level executives of Fortune 500 companies, the best pathway to do so is via entrepreneurship and via involvement in private companies.
But, and it is a very key but, you have to know what you're doing. As the famous saying goes, "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing."
Quite simply, when it comes to investing in private companies you must "do it right or don't do it at all."
Best regards, and look forward to connecting.
P.S. There are 50% and more rallies every year in various private equity sectors. You just need to know where to look.
And before you start looking, you need to know what to look for.
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