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:
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.
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.
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.
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.