Of all of the variables to evaluate in handicapping the likelihood of success of a business, by far the most important is its "human DNA" - that killer combination of people smarts, vision, creativity, integrity and work ethic present in all great companies.
Here are 7 qualities to look for in a management team worth backing:
#7. They Are, In Fact, A Team. Great companies are not simply the byproduct of a visionary and/or charismatic founder and chief executive, but rather of a multi-disciplinary, multi-faceted, and well-meshed leadership team.
Great companies have cultures of achievement.
The tone of this culture might be, and usually is, set by a charismatic founder. But its enduring success is dependent on how it can replicate and maintain that culture as the company grows, and as its founder's role becomes less pronounced.
#6. It Is Clear Who Is In Charge. This may seem contradictory to the above, but all well led companies have clear and final points of decision making. There are many effective styles of leadership, from greatly autocratic to fundamentally consensual, but all of them share the fact that in them there is one person at whose desk the "buck" truly stops.
#5. They Have Small Business Discipline. To paraphrase Guy Kawasaki -- the worst folks to run a start-up or an emerging company are a group of ex-Microsoft executives. Entrepreneurial companies are first and foremost small businesses. As such, their management must a) fervently guard cash flow and manage it with a cult-like intensity and b) always make decisions with the mindset that they only have so many "arrows in the quiver" in terms of time and capital to pursue initiatives.
#4. They Are Risk-Takers. The proper goal of an entrepreneur with outside investors is not to run a small business in the common sense of the term. With the fear of sounding harsh, the best managers are minimally concerned with protecting their own "middle-class" lifestyles. Rather, they understand that to achieve greatly requires daring greatly.
For investors, a flame-out failure is not the only bad outcome. As damaging is "a muddling along" driven by too conservative decision making influenced by the desire to "protect hides."
Companies that run this way, in fact usually require MORE money, and counter-intuitively can often be riskier than their harder-charging brethren.
#3. They Are "Goldilocks-ish." While there are certainly outliers in this regard, the significant majority of the best entrepreneurial managers are not "too hot" nor "too cold." Again, not a hard and fast rule, but look for leaders where the key people are between the ages of 30 and 50 have had a few past successes and maybe a failure or two.
They are now in that sweet spot between youthful hunger and middle age wisdom. They know what they know, yet they still have the intellectual and emotional flexibility and curiosity to change and grow.
#2. They Are Technologists. All successful 21st businesses are, at their essence, technology businesses. This does not mean that they all would be considered classic "emerging technology" companies (though the majority of them, in fact, are).
Rather, well-run modern companies leverage technology -- from CRM and ERP to SEO and SEM to scenario-planning and simulation to "best practice" their business models. Their managers understand that information technology is not just the domain of a geeky guy to call when computers can't boot up, but is rather the drumbeat of their business.
#1. Their Work Ethic is Off The Charts. More than anything else, successful entrepreneurs work hard. As in very, very, very, very hard. They work nights. They work weekends. They take short vacations, if any. They work when they're sick. They work when they're tired. They work and work and work and then to paraphrase the great (and famously hard-working) golfer Gary Player, "The harder they work, the luckier they get."
Look for this quality above all else. It is almost always the best predictor of success.
After five years of living in our new house, my wife and I decided to buy a new clothes washer and dryer. We figured we'd upgrade to those new, ultra-efficient machines that use really little detergent, water and energy.
But right as I was about to make the purchase, I started to feel really bad for the washer and dryer manufacturer.
Well, we bought it at Best Buy, and before we made it to the front, where the registers are, our son Max stopped us in the video game section.
And so I started thinking. When am I going to buy my next washer and dryer? Maybe in another 5 years? 10 years? 15 years?
And when is Max going to get his next video game? Probably next month. And then the month after that. And then the month after that. (If he keeps up the good behavior and good grades as I expect he will.)
What an amazing difference! The washer and dryer manufacturers may only get one sale from me in the next decade while the video game companies might get 120 sales over the same period. Sure, the washer and dryer are bigger ticket items, but even if I'm satisfied, that manufacturer isn't getting squat from me for a long time.
Which made me think of the mistake I made when we first started Growthink.
When Jay and I first started Growthink, we focused solely on developing business plans for companies. We helped a ton of companies achieve a lot of success. But oftentimes, after we helped a company, they no longer needed us. The used the plan to raise money and grow their businesses, and didn't need to come back to us for another business plan.
We were like the washer and dryer manufacturer.
So, we set out to correct this mistake.
We started offering more services to help clients after developing their business plans. We launched our investment banking practice to help them raise capital and/or sell their businesses. And we began offering marketing and internet marketing services to help them generate new leads and customers.
And then we launched Growthink University to help clients with everything they need to successfully start and grow their businesses.
It took us years to get to this point, but now things are humming.
So, my key takeaway for you is to really think about your business:
How often will customers buy from you?
What is the lifetime value of your customers?
How can you increase the number of purchases that customers make from you?
Can you develop new products or services for them?
Can you offer them value month after month after month?
As we start this new year and decade, I want you to take some time to think through these questions. Make sure that you are adding as much value as possible to your customers; and giving them the opportunity to pay you month after month, year after year to receive this value.
If you're even considering selling your midsize company in the next couple years, here's the bottom line: you should start the process now.
That does not mean you should officially list your business for sale. It means you as the business owner should start some of the "behind the scenes" efforts (that is, preparation) that will enable you to maximize the value of your company during a sale and enhance the terms you'll negotiate as early as possible.
We certainly understand: you've been growing and leading your company for years, not working to sell it. You've been building it to last, not flip. The principals at Growthink have been in your shoes. We've started and grown businesses ourselves. And we've sold them too. We've learned lot of lessons along the way during our collective 100 plus years of start-up and business advisory experience.
But only about one of every three or four businesses successfully reaches a closing after they are listed for sale.
That's a discouraging statistic, but one that can be overcome. And consider, too, that various sources note that up to 75% of all business owners are planning to sell their businesses within five to ten years, creating a massive inventory of available businesses competing with you for buyers' attention.
Why should you care?
What's one of the key differences between those business owners who execute a successful sale of their company on good terms and those who fail to close?
Simply knowing the process well in advance, focusing on a few essential actions as early as possible, and taking a comprehensive approach that is integrated into your overall business management and planning process.
Growthink's approach is unique and designed specifically for business owners. Unlike accountants, lawyers, business brokers and other intermediaries, we believe in a comprehensive approach to optimizing the chances of selling a business for the highest price and on the best terms for the owner.
We recommend you focus on three distinct initiatives months (or years) before you officially offer the company for sale:
1. Enhancing Your Business Plan to Increase Your Value - and Sales Price. Since 1999, we've helped 2,000 clients build their business plans and strategies. We'll show you how to achieve a value for your firm that includes its future growth opportunities, not only its past performance. Consider why the stocks of some public companies in a certain sector command a premium price to others in the sector - it's because investors believe in the future prospects of that company compared to the others. You should work on developing that premium value for your company through maximizing your business strategy - a process you're probably already doing anyway.
2. A Complete Process. These include all the steps involved in selling your business, from beginning to end (and even after the close). Steps include improving your financial statements and records and thinking about future capital gains, estate and other tax issues as early as possible.
3. Creative Financing and Transactions. You don't have to sell your business to your first bidder through a straight asset or stock sale. We'll teach you a variety of structures to choose from, including tax efficient sales to your existing partners, recapitalizing the company so you keep a continued role, and selling to another company in your industry, among others. All options offer advantages and disadvantages. You'll learn why and what type of approach might be right for you.
Experience has shown that only a relative few midsize businesses start the sales process early and focus on a comprehensive approach. Quite frankly, these business owners have a better chance of a successful outcome that those who don't plan.
We encourage you to learn the basics - whenever you think you'll sell your business.
Online Seminar - Thursday, January 7th at 1 PM PDT/4 PM EST
Join the expert Growthink team businesses for 45 minutes, and learn key lessons that will benefit you whenever you decide to sell your firm. The official Growthink "Bottom Line Guide to Selling Your Business" will be provided to seminar attendees.
Thursday, January 7th at 1 PM PDT/4 PM EST
During the online seminar, we'll also disclose the top mistakes owners make when selling their businesses (the land mines to avoid), as well as government actions that may be coming soon and affect your sales process (yup, think capital gains taxes).
Sign up here.
Join the expert Growthink team and two entrepreneurs who recently sold their businesses for 45 minutes, and learn key lessons that will benefit you whenever you decide to sell your firm. The official Growthink "Bottom Line Guide to Selling Your Business" will be provided to seminar attendees.
Seminar Fee Waived for this Program. Strictly First Come, First Serve
Since our webinar system is limited to 200 registrants, sign up right away to attend via the link below.
Sign up here.
Look forward to your participation,
The Growthink Investment Banking Team
Look to the right for a fantastic chart that tracks investment returns for various asset classes over the past 10 and 20 years.
A few points immediately jump off the page:
So that is past. What will the next 10 years hold? Here are three predictions:
My answer - yes but. Yes - because the 2 key factors that drive angel investing outperformance remain the same. One, returns have to be very high as compensation for illiquidity - most angel investments are in private-held, small companies years away from a sale or an IPO. And two, returns are high as compensation for the EXTREME variance of the asset class.
Now for the but. While the asset class returned an average of 30%+, it was attained via the sum of a very, very few winners (aka Google), and lots and lots of losers.
Quite simply, a few investors made a killing, and a giant many got killed.
But here is where it gets interesting. The one thing that has and will continue to drive angel investing returns - namely technology advancements - now allows investors, for the first time, access to smoothed-out returns (i.e. higher likelhood of hitting the 30% average versus the extreme highs and lows).
Enter your email address to get instant access:
It's really easy to make fun of big businesses. With all their bureaucracy, they tend to move slowly. And they tend to be difficult to work with.
But there's one thing that big businesses typically do much better than smaller companies. And that is conducting employee performance reviews.
In fact, many smaller businesses focus so much on solving day to day crises, that conducting employee reviews falls by the wayside.
Which leads to problems. Lots of problems.
Companies that succeed have strategic plans.
And, when you conduct periodic employee performance reviews, you ensure that your employees have objectives that are congruent with your company's strategic plan.
So rather than employees focusing on tasks that they think are right, you ensure that they accomplish the tasks that really allow your company to grow and profit.
Without performance reviews, you get lots of problems. Management gets frustrated because employees are not achieving key objectives. And employees get frustrated because they don't know if they're doing a good job or not.
Interestingly, when I recently interviewed Mike Carden, co-founder of performance management review company Sonar6, he told me that most employees really like performance reviews, even when they are underperforming.
He said, "It's sort of like playing golf. Even if you don't play great, you want to know your score at the end."
Carden gave me some other great tips on conducting performance reviews to ensure that you get the most out of your employees and your company achieves its objectives.
Among other things, Carden mentioned that reviews should typically be done monthly and should take no more than 20-30 minutes per employee.
By getting into the habit of conducting monthly performance reviews, you ensure that your employees remain focused on the RIGHT objectives and that you reward them and/or improve their performance more quickly.
To hear a short clip of the interview, click the blue triangle on the player below:
Growthink University members can download the full interview here: http://www.growthinkuniversity.com/members/384.cfm
Most of us are familiar with Ivan Pavlov and his famous Pavlov dog experiments.
To refresh you, Pavlov found that when dogs constantly heard a bell when they were fed, that subsequently, the mere sound of a bell would cause them to salivate in anticipation of their next meal (even if that bell was not accompanied by food).
Interestingly, when I recently interviewed productivity expert Laura Stack, she compared checking email to a Pavlovian response. Basically, applications like Microsoft Outlook with features like a bell sounding with every new email, or an envelope in the system tray, have conditioned people to check email far too often.
In fact, many entrepreneurs and business managers check email 10 times a day or more. Some check it constantly.
But what happens when you are checking email too often? Well, according to Stack, you are failing to complete the key tasks and projects that must be done in order to grow your business.
Successful entrepreneurs and business managers have the insight to determine the highest value uses of their time. And then they have the self-discipline to ensure that each and every day, they devote time to these uses. It is then, and only then, that entrepreneurs can grow their businesses. If not, every day they might accomplish 20 tasks, but these tasks won't help their businesses grow.
During the interview, I peppered Ms. Stack with a series of productivity questions, and received tons of great answers in return. My favorite was her six-step outline for entrepreneurs to become more productive as follows:
1. Determine what you are supposed to be working on (what has the highest value-add to your organization)?
2. Make room for those activities on your schedule (and do whatever you have to do to get it done, including scheduling meeting with yourself or working offsite)
3. Focus on achieving those things that need to be done. Don't let yourself get distracted.
4. Get organized.
5. Be disciplined. Do the things you need to do. Don't waste time on rituals like checking email, getting beverages, and socializing with co-workers in the morning.
6. Get back the attitude you had when you first started your company. By focusing on the high value-add objectives and freeing up your time from monotonous and low value-add activities, you will feel a renewed energy and excitement for your business.
To hear a clip of the interview, click the blue triangle on the player below.
Growthink University members can listen to and/or download the full interview here: http://www.growthinkuniversity.com/members/383.cfm
Barring a massive rally between now and the end of the year, the "00's" will be the worst decade in the history of the stock market.
As reported in the Wall Street Journal today, since the end of 1999 stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange have lost an average of 0.5% per year.
Let's put this in historical perspective.
The 1990's were the best calendar decade in history for stocks, with an average investment return of 17.6% per year.
Even in the 1930's - the era of the Great Depression and usually considered the gold standard (pardon the pun) for bad markets, investors did better - with stocks "only" losing 0.2% per year.
And, as the Journal goes on, the news is even worst when we take into account inflation. Since 1999, on a inflation-adjusted basis, the S & P 500 has lost an average of 3.3% per year.
How bad is this? Given that the 1930's was a period of deflation, stock actually gained, in real terms, 1.8% per year during that decade. Even the 1970's - a period of both a bear market AND inflation, did better than this last decade, with stocks only losing 1.4% after inflation.
So before moving to the "what does this mean" and "what do we do now" discussion, let's take a moment of pause to reflect on just how tough an investing decade this has been
Very, very tough. Trillions lost. Retirement plans delayed. Heartache and heartbreak.
Perhaps most gallingly, while most suffered, there were those that did very well while really having no business doing so. Hedge fund managers. Derivatives traders. Bank executives.
I think we can all agree on a hope for the new decade - that the financial rewards in the next 10 years go more to the creators of value and less to the speculators on value.
Here are three more:
1. May Venture Capital Rise Again. Venture capital firms, for the first time in their history, lost money over a decade-long period.
Given the amazing and world-changing advances in human productivity and connectivity over the last 10 years, may the venture capital industry, and correspondingly the world of emerging technology - re-find its return footing.
2. May, on December 31, 2019, The NASDAQ and Dow be trading at, respectively, above 10,000 and above 30,000. Even getting to these levels will mean a return of less than 5% annually from 1999 to 2019.
This falls into the category of the equity markets being "due" for a big returns decade. A simple, but defensible premise.
3. May The Nation's Entrepreneurs Lead The Way. Never has there been more productive, focused, mature, and cause-driven entrepreneurs alive in the world than there are today.
Take a look at the below list of the top performing stocks of the past 10 year (1999-2008):
Symbol Company 10 Yr. Cum. Return
GMCR..............Green Mountain Coffee Roasters................7,895.4%
As Tim Hanson points out, these companies have three qualities in common - they were mostly ignored and obscure when they began their meteoric rise, and they were SMALL.
And you know what? Come 2019 there will be TEN DIFFERENT obscure and small companies that will make this list.
Noone knows who these companies will be. But to attain alpha, you MUST find them.
One thing is for sure - a few investors WILL find them.
The more interesting question of course is - will you be one of them?
I look forward to your attendance and feedback.
Looking for venture capital? Or looking for great insights to grow your business?
Well, we've scoured a year's worth of great blog posts from hundreds of venture capitalists and industry experts, and are pleased to present you with our 50 favorite posts of 2009.
Some great information is included in these posts, and savvy entrepreneurs and investors will heed this advice.
And we'd love to hear your comments...what posts did we miss?
1. Ed Sim (Dawntreader Ventures)
This video reveals a common mistake entrepreneurs make when shopping for capital.