Written by Dave Lavinsky on Thursday, May 7, 2009
Yesterday I had the opportunity to interview Brad Feld, who is considered among the elite investors in privately held companies.
Many first-time entrepreneurs view VCs simply as providers of capital. In actuality, VCs are partners. They exert control over your company. They have experience in product development or scaling companies, or both, and can provide significant value beyond the money they infuse in companies.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Wednesday, May 6, 2009
My recent interview with PR expert Richard Harris was enlightening. You may know that I owe a lot of Growthink's success to PR. A decade ago, I pitched the Los Angeles Times and they published a story on us. That day I received about a hundred phone calls, and at least that volume in emails. So, I focused the interview on figuring out how to replicate that success.
Richard serves as the founder and CEO of Momentum, which provides communications, strategy and placement agent services to private equity funds, investment banks, and selected early stage and non-profit companies. A 20+ year veteran of the public relations industry, Richard has not only an impressive client list (that includes The Girl Scouts of America, Polaris Venture Partners and Star Jones), but also a wealth of knowledge on this subject.
Some of the areas the Richard covered were:
The full interview is available for members of Growthink University.
For non-members, you can listen to the first five minutes of the interview by clicking on the blue triangle on the player below.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Wednesday, May 6, 2009
All entrepreneurs must be well-versed in sales.
We are always selling: Selling to employees as well as customers, investors as well as partners, etc. And those who excel at selling have a major competitive advantage.
To make sure that both you and I are in fact not only great at selling, but building an effective sales team, I recently interviewed sales whiz Adam Shaivitz.
If you're not familiar with Adam, Adam is the co-author of a best-selling book on selling called “Selling is Everyone's Business: What it Takes to Create a Great Salesperson.” He is also a sales consultant with Accelerate Performance who has consulted for Google, ADP, Pimco, Morgan Stanley, and many others.
Adam conveyed tons of great information. Two points that I especially liked were the following:
1. Make sure that you are properly motivating and solving the problems of your buyers.
The best salespeople are problem solvers who are able to sell the benefits of their offerings tailored to one or more of the six basic fundamentals that all of us as humans want:
Adam told us that too many business owners neglect their top sales performers. Rather, they tend to focus on improving their lowest performers.
The full interview is available for members of Growthink University
To listen to the first few minutes of the interview, please click the blue triangle in the player below.
Written by Jacklyn Rome on Tuesday, April 28, 2009
While you probably have heard about the Stimulus Package and President Barack Obama’s push toward increased usage of renewable energies, you may not be aware of how this initiative can help your business and where the money is in fact going. The following information will explore the specific allocations of the Energy Stimulus and how you, as a business or as a consumer, can take advantage of this unique opportunity.
The following outlines the specific initiatives the energy stimulus money will be dispersed to:
Historically, companies have been reluctant to invest in renewable and clean energy technologies, because they require tremendous economies of scale to be profitable. Since these systems require large capital outlays upfront, it takes a long time to see return on investment. The Stimulus Package aims to combat these hesitations toward switching to renewable energy systems. The initiative will benefit various members of the energy sector from large utility companies upgrading energy grids to small businesses installing solar panels. It also benefits end consumers striving to make their homes more energy efficient through tax breaks and government subsidies.
Federal Involvement will Spur Investment, Growth, and Job Creation
The influence of government grants, loans, and tax breaks, will help encourage progress for both the supply and demand side of this sector. On the supply side, the government will provide research grants and funds for investing in promising existing and new technologies. On the demand side, the Stimulus Package will help companies and homeowners purchase new green energy systems by making them more affordable. The Stimulus Package will also create thousands of new jobs across the nation fulfilling these initiatives, helping to fuel unemployment and the overall status of the economy. According to Nancy Pelosi, investment in the green sector will create close to 500,000 jobs in 2009, 67,000 of which will be in the solar and wind power installation sector. Ultimately, the energy portion of the stimulus package will reduce American reliance on foreign nations for fossil fuels, generate domestic jobs, and promote innovation and adoption of new renewable energy technologies nationwide.
Access to the Allotted Funds
Whereas other areas of the stimulus package will be distributed through company applications and competitions to receive the funds, the money attributed to the energy sector will be primarily dispersed through tax credits and purchase incentives. For example, within solar and wind energy, the government is now offering a 30% tax credit to offset the cost of installing a solar energy system or wind farm, whereas previously the tax credits had a cap of $2,000 and $4,000, respectively. Some additional credits include up to $7,500 for buying a plug-in hybrid electric car or a 50% tax credit for gas stations or other businesses that install alternative fueling pumps. For more information on the specific types of grants or tax credits offered, please find more information at the following website: http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/obama-signs-stimulus-package-5736.html.
So What Does This Mean for You?
If you are involved in the clean energy sector, Growthink recommends additional research into the specific provisions of the stimulus to see if your business will qualify for federal subsidies or research grants. Additionally, Growthink suggests putting together a strong marketing campaign that highlights government support and tax credits for purchasing your products. This will educate the many unaware businesses and consumers that believe switching to alternative energies is outside of their affordability. Additionally, it is a wonderful way to draw positive publicity for your business. Growthink is happy to provide you with complimentary feedback on your current marketing program. We can also assist you by utilizing our expert group of marketing professionals to work with you on creating a Marketing Plan to target your customers in the most effective way possible.
Contracting, Construction, Eco-Friendly Transportation, and Electrical Infrastructure Companies
If you own a contracting, construction, eco-friendly transportation, or electrical infrastructure company, Growthink recommends seeking additional information on how you may bid for funds allocated to electricity grid design, weatherization, environmentally friendly transportation development, energy efficient housing, and building renovations. Growthink can help you with conducting this research and help articulate how your business is the most suited to perform the specified work or receive a government grant.
As a consumer, you can reap the benefits of the energy sector stimulus by utilizing the tax incentives to switch to renewable energy systems, such as installation of a solar or wind energy system in your home. The government is also offering customer rebates for those who purchase energy efficient appliances for their homes.
The Obama Stimulus Plan is an unprecedented program that has created unique opportunities for tremendous innovation and growth within energy efficiency. Please contact Growthink for more information on how we can help you position your company to benefit from the billions of dollars allocated to this sector and within your reach.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Yesterday I had the privilege of interviewing Matt Ocken, one of the founders of Kindred Partners.
And here is a preview of the first few minutes of the interview (click the blue triangle to play):
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, April 27, 2009
Adobe. Akamai. Amazon. Amgen. Apple. Baidu. Bed Bath & Beyond. Biogen. Broadcom. Check Point. Cintas. Cisco. Citrix Systems. Dell. eBay. Electronic Arts. First Solar. Flextronics. Garmin. Genzyme. Gilead Sciences. Google. Hansen Natural. Infosys Technologies. Intuit. Juniper Networks. Logitech. Maxim Integrated Products. Microsoft. NVIDIA. Oracle. Paychex. QUALCOMM. Research in Motion. Seagate Technology. Sigma-Aldrich. Starbucks. Symantec. Urban Outfitters. VeriSign. Xilinx. Yahoo!
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Thursday, April 23, 2009
The sky is falling. The sky is falling. While that's the news the media is telling us everyday, it's not necessarily all true.
While the economy is clearly not doing so well, there is still tons of money available to organizations via loans, investments and grants.
In fact, with regards to grants, last year more than 75,000 U.S. foundations gave $45.6 billion to organizations and individuals, according to Foundation Growth and Giving Estimates: Current Outlook (2009 Edition). That's $45.6 BILLION!
Do you want a piece of that money? Well, if you do, there is one site that you MUST visit: FoundationCenter.org. Right on FoundationCenter.org's homepage you can start searching thousands of foundations that provide grants. You can even search by factors such as your zip code and market sector to zero in on the most appropriate grants for you.
But, before you rush to give FoundationCenter.org a try, you need to know the one key fact about private grants that no one seems to tell you. Foundation grants are only for non-profit organizations.
So, if you are a non-profit organization, you should definitely stop what you're doing and go to FoundationCenter.org to see what grants might be available to you.
I know what you may be thinking right now...How does this help me? I'm running or starting a for-profit business.
I gotcha. And fortunately, there are also billions of grant dollars available for you too. However, getting these dollars is a bit more tricky. Your business needs to be in certain sectors. You need to know where to look. You need to know how to apply and the secrets to making sure your application succeeds.
To answer these questions and make winning grants for your business a whole lot easier, my team and I just completed Growthink's "Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capital for Your Business from Grants."
The guide is focused on teaching for-profit businesses how to raise capital via grants. Growthink University members have already been sent their copy of this special report. Others can learn more and download it today by clicking here.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, April 21, 2009
As you may have figured by now, I'm on a quest to help all business owners and entrepreneurs get funding for their businesses.
I believe that all entrepreneurs who are willing to invest their time and their lives into starting a new or growing an existing venture should be given the opportunity to do so. Clearly, their business concept must be viable, their business plan must lay out a pathway to success, and they must invest the resources in learning how to raise capital. But once these conditions are satisfied, I find it very saddening when entrepreneurs put in a solid effort but are still unable to raise the capital they need.
In my quest to solve the eternal funding issue, my team and I have been working on really figuring out an elusive form of capital: grants.
Grants, as you may know, are given to thousands upon thousands of companies each year totaling billions of dollars. Furthermore, they don't need to be paid back. So, on the surface, grants are a really interesting funding source for businesses. As you can imagine, when we started putting together our report entitled the "Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capital for Your Business from Grants," we were really excited.
But, the excitement faded a bit when we learned about all the lies and misinformation there is out there regarding grants. Let me tell you the two that frustrated me the most.
Myth 1: Grants are offered to businesses owned by women, minorities and the disabled. This statement is 100% FALSE. In fact, NO grants are set aside specifically for small businesses run by women, minorities and the disabled; all grants from the federal government are open to a multitude of groups which include these businesses.
There ARE loans and government contracts reserved for women, minorities and the disabled, but NOT grants.
Myth 2: Grants for businesses are available from both the government (federal, state and local) and private and public foundations.
This too is false. The truth is that with few exceptions, grants offered by private or public foundations are NOT available to for-profit businesses. They are exclusively reserved for non-profits.
There is a silver lining here however. While we have found all the misinformation discouraging, we have uncovered that billions of dollars ARE given to small businesses each year via federal, state and local government grants, and more importantly, we've uncovered the formula that entrepreneurs and business owners can use to gain these dollars.
My team and I have been hard at work finishing the "Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capital for Your Business from Grants." The report is now available, and you can download it here.
Written by Jay Turo on Saturday, April 11, 2009
Over the years, descriptions, or "boxes," for various type of privately-held companies like "middle market," "venture-backed," "startups," "small and medium-sized enterprises (SME's)," to name a few, have been tossed around so much as to obscure and confuse their original meaning and intent.
This is highly unfortunate, as it creates opaqueness and inefficiency in an asset class already plagued with too much of both.
Let's leave the official classifications aside for now and focus on developing an identification process for the kinds of private companies that are worthwhile for the growth investor to consider for their portfolio.
At Growthink the catch-all term we use for the private companies we like best is "emerging." It does not suffer from "commentary fatigue" as do private equity and venture capital, and it effectively carves out the large mass of startups and small businesses destined to stay small.
Webster defines "emerging" as follows:
1. To rise from an obscure or inferior position or condition
2. To rise from or to come out into view
3. To become manifest
4. To come into being through evolution
Let's elaborate on these definitions in the context of an investable company.
1. To Rise From an Obscure or Inferior Position or Condition: Emerging companies are, in their most common and interesting form, small and obscure. Microsoft and Google were once just a small group of programmers and were deep under-the-radar. And if you were invested in them then, your life changed dramatically for the better as they emerged. Less famously but still extremely lucrative were companies like the below that emerged to significant exits for themselves and their investors:
2. To Rise From or To Come Into View: Emerging companies are often ones that have fallen on hard times and are seeking to "rise from" their current distress via turning around and restructuring their businesses. The banking and real estate sectors are right now treasure troves of fantastic distress and turnaround opportunities, as are arenas like publishing and the automotive industry. As adversity intensifies, so does emerging opportunity.
3. To Become Manifest: Here we need Webster's help again - to become manifest, or to be "readily perceived," or to be "easily understood or recognized." Emerging company businesses are SIMPLE businesses. They make things or provide services, and sell them for more than they cost to make or deliver. And every quarter and every year, they just "chop more wood" and "carry more water," and thus drive revenue and earnings growth. It usually isn't fancy nor often even terribly interesting. But it almost always is easy-to-understand and recognizable in the company's financial statements. An important note here is that emerging companies, contrary to popular belief, are usually NOT venture capital-backed companies. Why? Because they don't need to deficit finance their businesses because they are cash flow positive. In fact, the very sign that a company needs outside financing (see GM, AIG, et al.) is often the best sign that it is NOT an emerging company because they can't make any money.
4. To Come Into Being Through Evolution: This is perhaps my favorite because it references the essence of any business - the talent of its people and the quality of its corporate culture. The best emerging companies are always run by a group of hard-working, thoughtful, creative, persistent, and fantastically committed owner-operators. They devote their lives to their businesses for multiple, non-contradictory motives. They want to offer true value to the marketplace with their product and service offerings. They want to leave a legacy via building enterprises of lasting value and character. And they want to make a lot of money. Accomplishing these 3 objectives in a big way involves a lot of trial-and-error and a lot of figuring out all of the ways not to invent the light bulb. While popular business culture is fascinated with the "golden boy entrepreneur" stories (i.e. Microsoft and Google), these are much more the exceptions than the rule. Far more common are stories like Amazon, Kinkos, The Body Shop, Outback Steakhouse, or even Wal-Mart and Hewlett-Packard - companies that had reasonably long gestation periods, and a lot of slow or no growth periods, before evolving to successful forms. And then continuing to evolve as market and competitive conditions dictate.
If you are a fundamental investor, look for the above qualities in companies you are considering for your portfolio. Look for them quantitatively with the key metric of operating cash flow growth (everything else is subject to accounting whim) and look for them qualitatively in the mindset of management and in the tenor of the corporate culture. If both the numbers and the business tone align and you can get in before the whole world knows about it, then you have yourself a money-maker. Or, another way of saying it, an emerging company.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Thursday, April 9, 2009
We could all use tools to increase our productivity, creativity and efficiency. Below are five tools that I have either been using for years, or just adopted, that have helped me, as I'm sure they can help you too.
99designs is a site that I was recently turned onto and it's really cool. If you need a great logo designed for your business, this is the way to go. Before I tell you how it works, let me tell you about the old way of getting a new logo. The old way was to first look at several designers' portfolios to see which one had created logos that you liked. Then you would hire one designer. Next you would write down and give them your design specifications. Then, you would hope that they came back to you with a solid design, or one that was good enough that with a few tweaks could be improved.
Needless to say, the process took a long time, and more times than not (I say this from lots of experience) produced less than optimal designs.
Now, let me tell you how 99designs.com does it. First, you post a design brief, which is easy to do since the site leads you through some questions.
Next, you set your budget (amounts generally range from $100 to $600). Then, designers from around the world submit design concepts to compete for your business. During this process, you can rate the designs and provide feedback to help the designers deliver what you want. In the final step, you choose the winning design and pay the designer the amount you set, and the designer sends you their completed design (along with copyright to the original art work).
So the key points are 1) you don't have to spend hours finding designers and judging portfolios, 2) you don't pay anything (except the $39 fee to 99designs.com) until AFTER you see the design you want, 3) you get lots of designs to choose from, at least one of which is usually great (the higher your budget the more designs you get; for $300 you can get up to 100 submissions usually).
PDF995, located at pdf995.com allows you to transform any document (e.g., Word file, Excel file, web page, etc.) into a PDF document. Best of all, there's no cost to download it. I used to use the official program from Adobe, but it's expensive and constantly crashed my computer.
I often use PDF995 to convert Word files to PDF files. This usually makes the file size smaller and ensures compatibility for whoever wants to view the file. It is also good for copyright protection (makes it harder for others to copy your work). I also use PDF995 a lot for converting web pages into PDF files. A lot of times I come across web pages that I want to reference later. Sometimes I bookmark them, but oftentimes the page may change. So, I PDF the page and file it away so I can access it whenever I want in the future.
3. Firefox Plugins
For those who have not yet tried the Firefox browser, I highly recommend it. Not only is it very fast and stable, but there are tons of plugins that make it more productive. A few plugins that I use are MeasureIt (allows you to quickly measure the dimensions of anything on the web page you are visiting), ColorZilla (allows you to click on any pixel on the web page to see its precise color) and FireShot (allows you to quickly take a screen shot and manipulate it (e.g., crop out sections; add comments; save file).
These are just the tip of the iceberg. Here is a full directory of Firefox plugins: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/
A mind map is a visual diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged radially around a central key word or idea. Creating mind maps are great for mapping out new projects or ideas, particularly if they are not linear. For example, if you want to create a new ebook, you may start with the word ebook in the center. Then you may draw a line to "creation" which will then have sub-sections for research, writing, etc. Another sub-section of the word ebook would be marketing, which would then have its own sub-sections. Etc.
My frustration with mind mapping is that, while easily done using pen and paper, I prefer a digital copy so that I can distribute it to my colleagues and/or modify it over time. And traditionally, creating mind maps with programs such as PowerPoint, took forever.
Enter Bubbl.us, a new online tool that allows you to create, save and modify mind maps REALLY easily. Give it a try. You'll be amazed at how easily it works and it's totally intuitive to use. And currently there are no fees.
The final tool I'd like to tell you about today is Springwise.com. Springwise has created a network of 8,000 "spotters" from around the world who "scan the globe for smart new business ideas, delivering instant inspiration to entrepreneurial minds." On the site, you'll learn about businesses like Wonderpizza, a pizza vending machine developed in Italy, and Dogtree (dogtree.com.au), an Australian social network that helps dog owners find playmates and walking friends for their dogs.
Springwise is great for inspiration and brainstorming. It gives you unique concepts and ideas that can really get your creative juices flowing.
I hope you can use these tools and ideas to help you and your business. If you have any comments or questions, or want to post your own tips to help your fellow entrepreneurs, please add them in the comment section below.
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