Over the past few weeks, I have written about the amazing growth and financial progress of Business Intelligence (BI) companies like Domo, Birst, and Looker and how their rise to prominence and value signifies a shift in how we think about the best way to manage and value an enterprise.
I described this shift as "changing the world of business from one done by gut and hand to one done by statistics and evidence," and how this next generation of software companies can "finish the job" of the IT revolution and enable a level of predictability and automation to business and investment processes like never before.
There is one big problem, however.
A problem that threatens the ability of these companies to deliver on the promise of their amazing technologies…
…and along with it any meaningful ROI for their customers.
That problem is people.
You see, the vast majority of us are a combination of unable and unexcited to actually use business intelligence tools and technologies on a regular and consistent basis.
Because doing so is hard.
And harder still when one does not have a rigorous quantitative background in things like statistics, cost accounting, behavioral economics, and managerial finance.
As tough, managing by data requires a lot of “pig-headedness”- not getting distracted by the "noise in the numbers" and a deep humility that when the inevitable conflicts between and our gut and the numbers arise to consistently choose the latter.
None of this sounds like much fun. So we avoid it.
However…let's juxtapose this difficult reality against why so many very smart people and investors are so excited about BI.
Because when Business Intelligence is done right, everyone makes a LOT more money.
A good analogy is eating better and exercising more – we all know it is really good for us but doing it requires education, habits re-training, and consistent, diligent work.
And those most successful at eating great and being in awesome shape usually have coaches – personal trainers, chefs, nutritionists - to help them define goals, put action plans together, and provide ongoing measurements, accountability, and course corrections to achieve success.
And enabling Business Intelligence tools and technologies within organizations is no different.
Luckily, a whole generation of companies have arisen to help companies implement and integrate BI into their management practices and work processes, and to train, teach and coach managers how to use and profit from them.
For sure, some day using BI to drive our daily work and business decision making will become, for most of us, as simple and natural as using a word processor or a spreadsheet.
But that day is a long way off.
And between now and then, the best managers looking to get BI working in their organizations quickly and correctly will hire coaches and consultants to help them.
And the values of the firms that do this work right and truly help managers and companies unlock the huge profit potential of Business Intelligence could someday approach that of the companies that build the software empowering it all.
Earlier this month, the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team was sold by Herb Kohl for $550 million. What’s interesting was that in 2003, Michael Jordan was interested in investing in both the Milwaukee Bucks and the Charlotte Bobcats. However, for his $50 million, neither organization would give him managerial control.
So, Jordan passed on the opportunity to invest in either. However, over the following seven years, the Bobcats imploded and Jordan was able to purchase the entire team for $175 million in 2010. Since then, with full managerial control, Jordan has turned around the Bobcats team (the team made the playoffs this year for just the second time in history). As a result, the value of Jordan’s investment has gone way up. In fact, it’s most likely considerably higher than the $550 million just paid for the Bucks.
So what is it about Michael Jordan that’s made him succeed in both sports and business?
My answer: Preparation and Practice
According to the book "How To Be Like Mike: Life Lessons About Basketball's Best," as a player, Michael Jordan's practice habits and conditioning regimen amounted to an "almost alarming harshness."
In fact, many experts, such as Florida State University professor K. Anders Ericsson, argue that practice continually trumps talent.
Prominent examples of success attributed to continuous practice besides Michael Jordan include:
As you can see, and as is pretty intuitive, preparation and practice are keys to success in sports. And in business, it’s the same.
Consider these examples that entrepreneurs often face:
Importantly, for these and other business situations, think about your goals. What is the goal of developing your business plan? What is your goal of presenting to an investor or prospective customer? And so on. Having these goals clearly in mind when you prepare and practice ensures you prepare for the right outcomes.
Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” Perfect practice means you’ve done your preparation, for instance, learned what perfection is. And both on the sports field and in your business, doing the right preparation and practice will pay significant dividends. So, be sure to make preparation and practice a part of your daily routine.
An endearing, but dangerous quality of entrepreneurs and small business owners is their propensity to go all-in -- not only pouring all of their lives, hearts and souls into their business, but all of their money too.
Of course, many entrepreneurs simply need every penny they have and more to fund their businesses and there just isn't any money left to invest in anything else.
But once an entrepreneur gets beyond the survival stage, they need to think about how and where money is working for them in their own business, and where it could do better.
Often times, a lot better.
The first challenge: Entrepreneurs live, breathe, and too often suffer their own businesses so much that when it comes to investing, they can’t think straight.
I encounter a lot of entrepreneurs who have this massive built-in bias toward ongoing, disproportionate investment in their own businesses and correspondingly are often just blasé, disinterested, and even, dare I say lazy when it comes to thinking about money and investments outside of their “baby.”
So they take one of two approaches. The first is the passive one -- outsourcing money and investment decisions outside of one’s business to a wealth “manager.” While there are compelling financial planning reasons to do this -- i.e. "we need to save and invest this much and earn this rate of return by this date to comfortably retire" -- the expectation for actual investment returns via this approach should be kept pretty low.
In fact, the S&P Indices Versus Active Funds Scorecard (SPIVA) shows that average "managed money" returns trail the index averages by almost the exact percentages of the fees charged for managing the money.
The second approach is more scatter shot - whereby investments in “one-off” real estate, startups, oil and gas, and collectables opportunities, among others, are presented to the entrepreneur by a varying lot of well-meaning and potentially pilfering parties.
And entrepreneurs, as they are wired fundamentally as optimists, find these opportunities naturally appealing.
So they invest – sometimes to good and lucky effect, but often disastrously so.
Is there a better way?
Can the hard-working entrepreneur have his or her money earn a good rate of return? While managing risk?
And dare we dream – adoing so in a way that is in alignment with their entrepreneurial values and leverages their entrepreneurial skill sets, experiences, and industry knowledge?
Of course there is!
An approach built on diversification and one that leverages traditional managed money vehicles like public market stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, but also offers the opportunity for above average, and with a little good fortune, potentially excellent investment returns.
It looks, quite simply, like this: Invest in what you know.
Or, in other words, a restaurateur could invest in other people’s restaurants and food service businesses.
Healthcare entrepreneurs could evaluate investment opportunities in healthcare.
Those owning distribution or light manufacturing businesses, look at other people’s distribution and light manufacturing businesses.
Now, of course there are caveats to this approach.
The first is to be cautious and conscious as to industry risk – factors such as an uncertain regulatory environment or perilously fast changing technological change that create risks beyond the control of any one or several companies in an industry.
Secondly, to undertake this form of investment, especially when owning minority positions in private companies, transactional and deal term sophistication is a must.
So if you don't understand aspects of private equity investing like valuation, capital structure, control and anti-dilution provisions, it is probably better to either avoid this form of investing, or do so through a managed or private equity fund vehicle approach.
You may be asking: Why go through all the trouble?
Well, when done right, a properly executed and diversified "angel" investment approach like this can earn a very high investment return.
Research from the Kauffman Foundation Angel Returns Study and the Nesta Angel Investing Study, compiled by Dr. Robert Wiltbank, have demonstrated that the "…average angel investor (across the U.S. and UK) produced a gross multiple of 2.5 times their investment, in a mean time of about four years."
Returns like this will not be found via traditional managed money approaches, and rarely -- especially when accounting for the huge opportunity costs of running a company -- in one’s own business.
So for those entrepreneurs with the stomach and the work ethic for it, an "Other People’s Business" investment strategy like this is one well-worth considering.
To Your Success,
P.S. To listen to a replay of my Friday Webinar, “Characteristics of SaaS Companies with Breakout Potential,”, click here.
My Post last week on the fast funding and growth success of Domo (over $450 million in capital raised at a $2 billion valuation), generated a lot of great responses - some whimsical, some skeptical, but with the most interesting being variants of:
"How can the lessons of Domo (and those of the other Tech Unicorn's profiled), be best applied to my business and investment plans?
This is such an important and in so many ways misunderstood topic that I decided to share, via live Webinar, key insights from the business models and investment strategies of Unicorns like Domo, Uber, Airbnb, Dropbox, and Slack and why some of the smartest business and investment minds in the world today consider what these companies do so important and valuable.
What Will Be Covered
On the webinar, I will reveal:
• Why the valuations for SaaS companies have grown so exponentially
• What aspects of their business models can be ported to virtually any business in any industry
• Why emulating what Tech Unicorns do and how they do it can be so high ROI for virtually any business
• Where companies with Unicorn Potential can be found in today's markets
• And much, much more!
Who Should Attend
I have designed the webinar with two main audiences in mind:
1. Entrepreneurs and Business Owners seeking transformational ideas to quickly increase the growth and value of their companies.
2. Investors interested in aggregating positions in Disruptive Technology Companies at their most opportune moments: after the highly unpredictable Startup stage, but before they become widely known and priced to market.
To preserve the intimacy of the presentation, we are limiting attendees to the first 35 registrants, so Reserve Your Seat today!
Sign up here:
This is clearly one of the great boom times in the history of Venture Capital, with more than $29 billion in fresh capital being raised by more than 250 funds over the past year. This represents a 70% jump from the comparable, previous year’s period, and more than a 225% jump from the “nadir” numbers of 2009-2010 (all stats here from the NVCA).
And VCs have seen a lot of successful exits, too (hooray!), with in 2014 more than 115 venture backed companies going public and more than 455 exits via M&A.
Probably most importantly, long term (3, 5, 10, and 20 year) VC returns continue to significantly out-perform the major public equity indices (DJIA, NASDAQ, S&P 500).
All very, very good and exciting stuff, but for the individual investor, is investing in a VC fund a good idea?
It can be, as the return examples above attest, but because of regulatory and technology changes, there are now far better ways to deploy capital into high potential, privately held companies (i.e. the VC investment sweet spot). Here’s why and how:
Market Efficiency. With now over twelve hundred active U.S. venture funds - and in general with them pursuing mostly the same deal sourcing strategies and approaches - it has become extremely difficult for VCs to consistently find and secure high potential, well priced deals.
The result has been a “regression to the mean” - with alpha performance by fund managers being driven as much by randomness and luck (as it has been with public market mutual funds for decades) as by coherent design.
Fees. The world of low and no load management fees that so transformed mutual fund investing for in the 80's and 90's is far from being on the VC radar.
In fact, as opposed going down, venture fund fees have been going in the other direction, with a number of higher profile funds upping their annual fees to 3% (along with asking for a greater share of the returns) versus the standard 2-2.5%.
These high fees obviously eat away at return, and more profoundly are in contrast to the “disintermediation spirit” so at the heart of modern investing.
Friction. Little discussed in most venture fund models are the high costs of deal sourcing, diligence, and oversight.
It is not unusual for a venture fund to sort through thousands of possible investments, deeply diligence a few hundred, prepare and submit term sheets on a few dozen, and then do zero deals.
This all costs money.
And all this doesn’t even begin to measure the management and oversight costs on the deals that are done – which at their barest minimum range from quarterly board meeting attendance to monthly, weekly, and sometimes daily calls and meetings with portfolio companies.
All this work is necessary to do VC investing right, but is also expense and friction filled.
Now, funds do work to charge some of these costs back to their portfolio companies, but usually these offsets flow to the fund’s General and not its Limited Partners.
So what to do?
Well, for those that want access to the unique returns of the asset class, but are reluctant to either a) put all of their eggs in one basket via investing in one particular startup directly and / or b) get the problems with the current VC model per the above, here are two ideas:
1. Explore peer-to-peer lending sites like Prosper.com and LendingClub, all of which offer various forms of fractionalized and securitized investing into the asset class.
And, with the SEC greenlighting equity-based crowdfunding last week, keep a careful eye on crowdfunding sites like Crowdfunder.com that will now be able to directly process smaller-denomination private company investments over the Net.
2. Do Like Warren Does. The Berkshire Hathaway Model of an “operating company owning other operating companies” can be a great gateway to the asset class, combining both diversification along with the the “pop” and fast liquidity potential that a single company investments allows. Well-run companies like this that focus on the startup space are hard to find, but when one does they are definitely worth a closer look.
In short, when it comes to this asset class, the advice here is to avoid the VCs and explore investment models – some new and some old – that provide access to it in a lower cost, higher expected return, and all-around more modern way.
To Your Success,
In my Crowdfunding Formula program, I teach the 14 steps you must follow to successfully raise money from Crowdfunding.
It turns out that Jeremy Smith from Provo, Utah, not only followed these 14 steps to a "t", but really perfected them.
The result: while he set out to only raise $12,000 for his new night light product (the SnapRays Guidelight), he ended up raising over $430,000 (he raised the $12,000 he needed in just 2 hours).
You can see the Crowdfunding raise for yourself at Kickstarter here.
Here are the key reasons Jeremy and the SnapRays Guidelight were successful in their Crowdfunding raise. Make sure you keep these points in mind if/when you use this great new funding source.
The video explaining the product and the Crowdfunding raise was excellent. It starts by explaining the problem (i.e., existing nightlights have lots of issues such as bulkiness, etc.). It goes on to explain the benefits of his solution (e.g., ease of install, energy efficient, etc.). It even does a side-by-side comparison versus an existing solution showing how much better it is.
Then, about 2 minutes into the 2:45 minute video, co-founder Sean appears and says “thanks for watching” and explains how he and his team has “poured their lives” into the project or years. This personalizes the video, makes you like him, and thus makes you want to fund the project more.
Finally, the video has inspiring music in the background. While it’s just “stock” music footage, it gets the viewer excited.
Beneath the video, there are tons of pictures of the product, a great description, and answers to all the frequently asked questions people have about it. Where did they uncover what frequently asked questions to answer? Well, from previously presenting to potential investors and partners they developed a list of all the key questions people have.
Variety of Reward Options
When doing a Crowdfunding raise, you offer rewards to those who back you. This company wisely created 11 different types of rewards based on contributions of just $12 to $120. By having this variety, they were essentially able to price discriminate. People who were only able to offer $12, spent that amount, while those with deeper pockets provided more support.
Quality Social Media Marketing
Everything I’ve mentioned so far about this Crowdfunding raise would have been a waste had the founders been unable to drive people to their page. And that’s just what they did. Via a very effective and concerted effort, they took to Facebook and Twitter and generated a big buzz for their raise. As a result, they drove a lot of people to their Crowdfunding page, and those people often funded the company and/or told even more people about it.
Like everything else, it’s all about execution. Having a great idea is one thing. But the magic is when you perfectly execute on it, and raise over $430,000 in under 30 days!
The right story can grow your business into an amazing success. That being said, consider this great story:
The above story/sales letter, written by Martin Conroy, was used by the Wall Street Journal for 25 years starting in 1974. Doing the math regarding how many people this letter was sent to, the percentage of orders that came from it, and the subscription prices, it is estimated that this story resulted in $1 billion in sales for the paper.
So, what’s the point?
The point is that stories are an extremely effective, but often overlooked, sales tool that can allow emerging ventures to compete with large established companies. Stories allow companies to get their prospects involved in their message. It gets them excited. And then they want to learn more.
Here's an example of another startup who crafted a great story...
The story goes on to discuss all the benefits of Joe Sugarman’s BluBocker sunglasses… over 20 million pairs of which have now been sold!
Does your company have a great story? If you do, great. If not, create one.
And once you have a story, where should it go? To start, it should go in your business plan. Use your story to excite investors, and others like potential partners and employees. And use your story in your marketing like the Wall Street Journal and BluBocker sunglasses did.
Success can be a simple as crafting a great story (and then delivering on the story’s promise of course). So start crafting today!
A venture capital firm is a financial institution that focuses on providing capital, in the form of equity, to companies who offer them the prospects of significant growth.
The partners and associates at venture capital firms are known as venture capitalists. The term "VC" or "VCs" applies to both venture capital firms and venture capitalists.
Unlike angel investors, who invest their own money, VCs are professional institutions that invest other people's money. VC firms raise capital for their own funds from sources which primarily include pension funds, financial and insurance companies, endowments and foundations, individuals and families, and corporations.
The VCs are then charged with providing a solid return on investment on this money. This is the one thing that every VC wants. By providing a solid ROI to their investors, VCs earn bonuses and raise more funds so they can stay in business.
VCs earn returns for their investors by finding high growth companies, making investments in them at favorable terms, guiding and nurturing them, and enacting a liquidity event (e.g., selling the company or having it complete an initial public offering).
Because they are utilizing other people's money, and are judged and compensated by the performance of their investments, venture capitalists are extremely rigorous in their investment decision-making process.
Importantly, VCs tend to only invest in companies with significant market potential of $50 million, $100 million or more. This is because even with all their relevant experience, the average venture capital firm will lose money on half the companies they invest in and only break even on a third.
Where VCs make their money is on the approximately 20% of companies they invest in that see explosive growth and provide remarkable returns of 10 times to 100 times or more on their investment.
Industry insiders sometimes refer to the 2:6:2 rule. This rule is that an average portfolio of ten VC investments will include two losses (e.g., companies go bankrupt), six moderately performing companies (may break-even on the investment or lose a little) and two very successful returns.
In fact, an analysis by Bygrave and Timmons of VC funding found that just 6.8% of investments returned ten times or more on the invested capital (these "home runs" are what give VCs high overall returns). Conversely over 60% of investments lost money or failed to exceed the amount of money earned if the capital had been put in an interest-bearing bank account.
The result of this analysis is that typically a venture capitalist will want to see the ability to get 10X their money back or more from investing in your company (they are seeking "home run" investments which compensate for the 60% of their investments that don't pan out) . As such, for every $1 million you are seeking from VCs, you must show them a realistic scenario where you can turn it into $10 million.
So, importantly, when approaching venture capitalists, remember 1) their primary goal is to make significant money from investing in you; and 2) you need to show them how they can earn a 10X return.
Now, if your company can potentially give VCs a 10X return, then seeking venture capital might be right for you. However, raising it is virtually impossible if you don't know what you're doing and haven't done it before. So follow this plan:
1. Develop a list of VC firms.
Start by creating a list of venture capital firms.
2. Narrow your list.
Each venture capital firm invests based on particular characteristics (e.g., some only invest in software firms), so you need to make sure your list only includes VCs that are interested in your type of venture.
3. Make sure the VC is active.
Many VC firms that have websites aren't active. That is, they aren't making new investments. You don't want to waste your time contacting and talking with these firms.
4. Find the appropriate person to contact.
This is critical. Venture capital firms are comprised of individual partners and associates. If you contact the wrong one, you'll be dead in the water.
5. Send the VC partner or associate a "teaser" email.
You don't want to send the VC a full business plan or executive summary initially. Rather, you need to send them a "teaser" email to see if they are interested. You don't want to "over shop" your deal.
Once the VC "bites" on your teaser email, the next step is generally to send them your business plan. Following that you'll do an in-person presentation(s), receive and negotiate a term sheet, and then sign a formal agreement and receive your funding check.
The process is a lot of work, but once you receive their multi-million check with which you can dramatically grow your company, you'll agree it's worth the effort.
Suggested Resource: In Venture Capital Pitch Formula, you'll learn exactly how to find and contact venture capitalists, exactly what information to include in your presentations, and how to secure your financing. This video explains more.
On March 3rd, Crowdfunding platform Kickstarter announced that is surpassed $1 BILLION in funding pledges. That’s $1,000,000,000 in funding for entrepreneurs.
Very interestingly, Kickstarter included lots of interesting statistics on these crowdfundings as follows:
Those are some very impressive numbers. And they ONLY represent one Crowdfunding platform. If we start adding other platforms, like IndieGogo, RocketHub, etc., the amount of Crowdfunding dollars raised and the number of backers skyrockets further.
And, perhaps most importantly, the trend for entrepreneurs is extremely positive as Crowdfunding is growing rapidly. Recall what I wrote above -- “more than half of the $1 billion was pledged in the last 12 months alone.” Now consider that Kickstarter launched on April 28, 2009.
That means that from April 28, 2009 to March 2, 2013, a nearly 4 year period, a half-billion dollars was raised on Kickstarter. They then raised the same amount in just the last year.
The fact remains that Crowdfunding is here, is here to stay, and is only growing. This is truly a blessing for entrepreneurs and is probably making right now the best time in history to raise money for any company. So, if you need funding, what are you waiting for?
The confluence of Big Data and high quality, low cost software-as- service (SaaS) programs and applications for virtually every business purpose has made the path clearer than ever as to what entrepreneurs and executives must do to build real equity value in their companies.
It looks like this:
First, utilizing great tools like John Warrilow’s Sellability Score or Dave Lavinsky's Start at the End we define exactly what we seek for our key stakeholders: Customers, Employees, Partners, Vendors, and Shareholders.
For customers, it might be the efficacy / benefits of our products and services.
For Employees, it might be their opportunities for contribution, professional growth, enjoyment and income.
For Partners and Vendors, it might be what we wish our reputation to be, our brand to represent.
And for our Shareholders, it is the equity value we seek to attain, through our stock price, our sale price (to a strategic or financial acquirer), and / or the future value of our cash flows.
With these end points clearly defined, we then score ourselves - i.e. measure the size and nature of the “gaps” between where we are and where we want to be.
Now, for almost all businesses, completing this scorecard requires accessing various SaaS programs, both paid and free, to “get the data.”
We then turn to “the Micro SaaS” – the various “Cloud” programs and applications on which our business partially, mostly, or completely runs.
Programs and applications like Google Analytics, PIWIK, Clicky, and KISSmetrics for our web marketing performance, Salesforce, SugarCRM, Infusionsoft, and Marketo for lead conversion and sales teams, ECI, Sage, Intacct, and Basecamp for operations and project management, and QuickBooks, NetSuite, and Xero for accounting and finance.
Now, here is where, in the last 18 months, the game has really changed.
For the first time ever, we can now automate both the measurement of where we stand against our goals and the Gap Analysis of what we need to do improve results.
This is because the long hoped for promise of business intelligence dashboards, tools and services has reached a tipping point, as best evidenced by the massive financing attained by companies like Cloudera and Domo, and by the incredible traction that smaller company-focused business intelligence dashboard tools like Geckoboard, Leftronic, and my company's product Guiding Metrics have gained.
Combining Exit Planning, SaaS, and Dashboards allows us to automate our strategy, defining what we want to achieve and understanding the industry, market, and competitive landscape we must prevail in…
…and our tactics, the day-to-day marketing, sales, operations, and financial nitty-gritty needing to be done to get there.
And as we attain this seamless integration and automation, we in turn get closer to realizing the ultimate business dream...
…sitting back and watching the dollars and the victories roll in while enjoying and not killing ourselves in the process!
Pretty cool, eh?