Written by Dave Lavinsky on Thursday, June 25, 2009
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.
Written by Jay Turo on Wednesday, June 24, 2009
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.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, June 23, 2009
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!
Written by Jay Turo on Tuesday, June 23, 2009
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.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Thursday, June 18, 2009
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.
Written by Jay Turo on Tuesday, June 16, 2009
The typical wisdom regarding the appropriate financing course for startup goes as follows:
It all sounds wonderful and it is. The only problem is that it mostly a fairy tale. Here is what really happens:
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:
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.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Every day I hear pitches from entrepreneurs about the great new product or company they are launching (or want to launch).
Written by Jay Turo on Wednesday, June 10, 2009
With the Dow Jones up more than 35% from its early March lows of 6,440, the investing mood has undergone a 180 degree turn for the better. How does this rebound affect the angel investing returns?
Here are the negatives and the positives:
But we are getting our groove back. Consumer and business confidence have skyrocketed since March. Bank lending is up. Business capital expenditures are increasing. The real estate market, in most parts of the country, has at least stabilized (and in many places, greatly rebounded). Jobless claims are down. Most importantly, corporate profit forecasts are up.
All of this drives deal-making. It drives big companies to buy small companies to gain access to their people and their technology. It drives venture capitalists to agree to bridge financings. It drives entrepreneurs to get back to pushing the envelope with their growth plans. And all of this positive, forward-looking acting and thinking drives angel investing returns. Entrepreneurs grow their businesses faster, they exit faster, and investors turn their money faster and at great multiples.
All these factors have turned 180 degrees since March. And for those that love America and its entrepreneurial spirit, not a moment too soon.
Written by Jay Turo on Wednesday, June 3, 2009
The next big private equity investment idea is the “Early Exit.” The best articulation of it comes from Basil Peters, a serial technology entrepreneur, co-Founder of Nexus Engineering, former Canada Entrepreneur of the Year, and Managing Partner at 3 venture capital funds – Fundamental Technologies I and II and the BC Advantage Funds. His blog is one of the best resources on technology investing out there.
Aptly to the point, Basil is the author of a great new book – “Early Exits: Exit Strategies for Entrepreneurs and Angel Investors.” His core thesis is that successful private equity investing is now driven by quickly getting to the smaller investment exit. Or, as he says it, "Today, the optimum financial strategy for most technology entrepreneurs is to raise money from angels and plan for an early exit to a large company in just a few years for under $30 million."
I love this strategy because it is realistically attainable for the individual investor. Here's why:
You, Mr. or Ms. Main Street Investor, are NOT getting a piece of the next big IPO: The 2 best known venture capital funds –Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins - because of their reputations and massive bankrolls – will continue to get the lion’s share of the deals with rockstar IPO potential. Try these names on for size – Electronic Arts, Apple, Google, NVIDIA, Rackspace, Yahoo!, Paypal, Amazon.com, America Online, Intuit, Macromedia, Netscape, Sun Microsystems.
They were all Sequoia and/or Kleiner investments that became mega-successful IPOs. To give a feel for the power of their investment model, estimates are that Kleiner’s investment in Amazon scored returns of 55,000%!
YOUR big problem – your friendly neighborhood stockbroker (if they exist anymore) isn’t getting you in on any of these deals anytime soon. And if you don’t have a $100 million bankroll and the very right connections to become a Kleiner or Sequoia LP, you’re not joining their club.
Hit’em Where They Ain't: The size of most modern venture capital funds has increased, with the average sized fund now having more than $160 million under management. As a result, the vast majority of professional investors simply can’t and won’t invest in smaller deals. The new VC model has, for better or for worse, become “Go big or go home.” As such, competition for smaller deals is much less and the deal pricing on them far more favorable.
Small Deals Rock: You don’t need a lot of money anymore to build a technology startup – not with outsourcing, viral marketing, and the Software as a Service (SaaS) revolution. And if your business isn’t cash flow positive REAL FAST, you probably don’t have a very good business.
So the new technology investment model is to place small amounts (under $1 million) into companies that a) develop intellectual property and compete in markets with lots of active strategic acquirers (think Internet, software, biotechnology, digital media, and energy) and b) have management with the mindset and track records to ramp-up and exit FAST and at very attractive but not pie-in-the sky multiples.
Not a game that big private equity or venture capitalists are interested in playing because it is just too hard to put large amounts of money to work in such a fragmented marketplace.
But if done right, an EXTREMELY lucrative one for thoughtful entrepreneurs and the investors that back them.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Recently, I had the great fortune of interviewing Mark DiPaola, an extremely accomplished entrepreneur.
As the founder of Vantage Media Corp., Mark raised a $70 million Series A financing, which is still on record as one of the largest Series A raises in history. And in 2007, his company generated $68 million in revenues.
As president of D3 Ventures, Mark also functions as an investor.
As a person with such success on both sides of the table - investing in growing businesses, and actually founding and growing businesses himself, I couldn't wait to interview him about entrepreneurship and raising capital.
During the interview, Mark went into great detail as he recounted his own experiences on raising capital for Vantage Media. One thing he emphasized was how important it is to know your business inside and out, and how this knowledge impacts not only your ability to grow your business, but also to achieve sales breakthroughs and get the attention of investors.
Mark revealed one website for job postings which helped him assemble a 35 -person team that brought in $40 million/year in revenue -- and it's not the website you might think! We discussed hiring strategies, the number one factor to look for in job candidates, and when it's time to bring in a highly-experienced management team.
Regarding his role as an angel investor, Mark shared the qualities he looks for in a company before making an angel investment, and why it's important that entrepreneurs are referred to investors.
Growthink University members can listen to the interview here:
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