One of the great joys of my work is the unique opportunity it affords to meet and to learn from talented, committed, and effective executives - working hard and long on their entrepreneurial journeys.
Men and women like Mike Kovaleski and Carrie Kessel of Mahar Tool, a Michigan-based, mid-sized automotive technology distributor that is reinventing how vendor partnerships are structured and maintained in the global, high-tech, and oh-so competitive modern car business.
And as they do, they are creating both good jobs and an inspiring culture that's reflected in both the great longevity of their company (68 years young and counting!) and in the average tenure of their executive team (12+ years and increasing daily!).
Leaders like Dr. Ezat Parnia - President of Pacific Oaks - a small and fast growing Pasadena-based college that under his leadership is merging traditional offline educational values with the promise and power of online learning.
And as he does so, everyday demonstrating his fierce commitment to his students, mostly adults going back to school mid-life to earn training and degrees in early childhood education…
…who armed with their Pacific Oaks’ educations go out into the world and effect the school’s mission of seeing every child - no matter race, gender, or economic circumstance - be treated as a unique, special, and able learner.
And leaders like Good Samaritan Hospital’s CEO Andy Leeka, with his so articulate commitment to seeing his 1,400 employee strong, inner city Los Angeles Hospital become both a leader in care giving and a place that shows that even budget and regulatory-strained hospitals can be places of high staff camaraderie, great patient care, and dare we say, even a little fun, too.
What do these executives all have in common?
Well, first of all, in spite of them all leading very different organizations, with different reasons for being, competing in very different marketplaces, with very different sets of challenges and opportunities, they all think and act fundamentally the same.
Recognizing that even though they lead organizations that are on average more than 80 years old, that their fundamental business reality today is constant, unrelenting, everlasting, and fundamental change.
And that their job as leaders is to respond, pivot, profit, and win in the midst of all of it.
Second, they all "get" strategy.
Not as some academic or consultant’s exercise, but strategy as at the core of why their organizations exist and what their mandates are to lead them.
Strategies that are big, as in where do they want their organizations to be 5, 10, 20 years hence? (And how to best utilize data and Business Intelligence to get there).
And strategies that are “small,” as in grappling with what is the best CRM, the best eCommerce platform, the best project management software for their organizations.
And yes, they are all definitely contenders.
They just don't talk about reaching for the brass ring, they sacrifice every day to actually do so.
They plan their work.
And then they work their plans.
They (and everyone around them) know that it is not about them. Their glory, their rewards.
They’re in it for the mission.
Because they are blessed to be given the opportunity, and now by golly they are going to strive and strain with every fiber of their being to make the most of it.
To contenders like them, I have only one thing to say: Thank You.
For making all of our lives healthier, smarter, richer, and all in all just better.
Oh, and maybe a quick word of advice for these business and organizational heroes: Every now and again do come up for air and give yourself a pat on the back.
Because you've earned it and more.
I grew up watching Larry Bird. My dad was a huge Boston Celtics fan (which is relatively odd considering he grew up in New York City). So, I became a huge Celtics fan too. And I was a big fan of the heart of the Celtics’ Larry Bird.
This guy never gave up.
In fact, if you watch this 40 second video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_RJ5XN8TK8 - you’ll see what I consider the greatest steal ever...
The Celtics were losing by 1 point with only 5 seconds left. And the other team had the ball. The game was essentially lost. But then Larry Bird intercepted the inbound pass and passed the ball to Dennis Johnson. Johnson scored the basket and they won the game.
While Larry Bird’s steal was phenomenal, if his teammate Dennis Johnson wasn’t in the right place and didn’t execute on his layup, Larry Bird’s efforts wouldn’t have resulted in a win.
As an entrepreneur, you also need great teammates. Since you can’t possibly build a great company by yourself.
In fact, great entrepreneurs are more like Larry Bird the coach (who “hired” and coached his players into being the best they could be) than Larry Bird the player (who performed key tasks and made his co-players better).
The key is this -- you need to find, hire and then train and coach the best people. Because there are TONS of bad people. I learned this very early on at Growthink. Years ago, I generally gave people the benefit of the doubt. If they said they could do something, I figured they could. And then I quickly realized that some people “have it” and some people don’t.
I think “having it” is the quality of people who “do what they say and say what they do” and always try to do their best. You want people who “have it” and at the same time people who are qualified and uniquely skilled at the position you need to fill. For example, while I believe I “have it,” there’s a whole bunch of positions that I’m not qualified to fulfill or which wouldn’t inspire me to do my best work.
So, how do you find these great people who “have it” and possess the skills you need. Here are my recommendations:
1. Event Networking: great people have several common traits, one of which is their dedication to ongoing education. That’s why great people generally go to events and conferences. You also need to go to these events, where you’ll find some very talented individuals.
2. Being Sociable: I’ve heard lots of stories of people meeting people at sports events, supermarkets, on a plane, etc., and striking up conversations that results in great hiring decisions. I must admit that I’m not the most sociable person outside of work; but I’m getting better at this.
3. LinkedIn: LinkedIn is a great online network to find qualified people to come work for you. Join relevant LinkedIn groups to find folks with similar interests and who are looking to further their careers. And reach out to the best ones.
4. Recommendations & Referrals: Oftentimes the best hires are the ones that were recommended to you by friends and colleagues. Send emails out to your network and advisors asking if they know someone with the skills you need. People generally only recommend people that they believe are competent, since their own reputations are on the line.
5. Executive Recruiters: while this will cost more money in the short-term, executive recruiters (also known as “headhunters”) can find you great candidates. This is what they do. Importantly, they will often find you people who aren’t actively looking for a new job. These are often the best folks. I mean, would you rather hire an unemployed person looking for any company that will take them, or someone who’s thriving at a company but sees great opportunity in helping you grow your venture?
Importantly, in its relative infancy, eBay used executive recruiting firm Kindred Partners to find and hire Meg Whitman. Whitman turned eBay into a multi-billion dollar company and herself into a billionaire.
Using one or more of these five tactics will get you qualified job candidates. But, before you hire any, I highly suggest you give them two tests as follows:
1. A skills test: whenever possible, you should test the skills of the job candidate. If you are hiring someone for a research job, give them a research assignment. If you are hiring someone to be a receptionist, do mock calls with them. Etc. I realize that for some jobs, it may be harder to test, but get creative since you want to make sure they will be able to perform.
2. A culture test: if someone comes highly recommended and passes a skills test, it still doesn’t mean they’re the right hire. They MUST match with your company’s culture. For instance, if they’re a stiff, and your company thrives on fun and creativity, then they’re not the right match. Your company culture is critical, so don’t ignore this key test.
Hiring the right players for your team is critical to your success. There are no wildly successful 1-person companies that I know of. Imagine for a moment if you had a dream team; a group of employees that were so talented your competitors would be in awe. How good would your company become? How much faster would you accomplish your goals? How great would it be to come to work every day? Think about your answers to these questions, and then start building a great team and a great company today.
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.
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!
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?
Even billionaires need to raise money. Take Donald Trump. Each time he launches a new real estate project, he raises outside money for it. Why? Because why should he only invest his own money? Rather, Trump and other billionaires understand the importance of leveraging other people’s money.
So, what do billionaires like Donald Trump do to raise money? Below are five key tactics billionaires use, and perhaps more importantly, that you can too.
1. Leverage Relationships
Billionaires have lots of relationships that they leverage when seeking capital. They access their networks by telling them about their latest project and their funding needs.
You too have relationships. You have current and/or former bosses, co-workers, counsel (e.g., accountants, lawyers, etc.), family friends and so on. Leverage these relationships when seeking funding. Even if none of your current relationships can invest directly, some certainly know and can introduce you to others who can.
2. Get Creative on Deal Terms
A great investment makes sense for both the investor/lender and the entrepreneur. Oftentimes, in ensuring the investment works, you need to get creative on the deal terms.
For example, maybe you give the investor a small equity percentage in your business, monthly repayment of some of their investment, AND a small percentage of your venture’s future sales. While most investments only include one of these funding options (e.g., debt/loan, equity, or royalty payments), there’s no rule that you can’t get creative and combine deal terms. And when you do, you often make your deal/company more appealing to investors.
3. Sell Investors on the Opportunity
Regardless of how good your company or investment opportunity is, you need to “sell” it to investors and lenders. Billionaires like Donald Trump must also do this. For instance, Trump constantly convinces investors why his newest venture will be a huge success.
Marketing yourself and your company to investors is a crucial part of raising capital. You must prove to investors why your company will be successful and that they will get a solid return on their investment. Importantly, when “selling” investors, get specific. For example, don’t just say you will succeed because you have the best management team. Rather, explain the precise credentials of your team that make you the best.
4. Don’t Take Rejection Personally
Billionaires like Donald Trump have been rejected hundreds of times in their money-raising careers. The fact is that your investment is never right for everyone.
You must accept that you will get more “no’s” than “yes's” when raising money. Importantly, don’t let the “no’s” get to you. Remember that you only need one “yes.” So, even after 10 “no’s” or 25 “no’s” or even 50 or 100 “no’s” you need to keep going and persevere.
If you truly believe you have a great company or opportunity, and that it can provide a solid return to your investors/lenders, then never back down.
5. Strategically Incorporate Investor Feedback
When investors say “no,” use the opportunity to gain feedback. Specifically, ask them why they didn’t want to invest. Sometimes it has to do with your deal terms. Other times it has to do with concerns about your business or business model.
It is important for you to strategically assess this feedback. Don’t blindly follow the feedback or advice, as it may or may not be correct. But particularly if you hear the same feedback from multiple investors, you must strongly consider what they are saying. If multiple investors, for example, say your management team isn’t strong enough, then it’s generally time to agree with them and immediately start to bolster your team.
Similarly, when billionaires like Donald Trump have trouble raising funding, they modify their project and/or deal terms to better adhere to the needs of investors and/or lenders.
In summary, raising capital is essentially a partnership between you the entrepreneur and the sources of funding you seek.
The larger your network, the more potential funders or referrals to funders you have. After that, it’s about creating and selling an opportunity that funders can’t resist. Never give up, but also, don’t be stubborn -- realize that feedback from those who say “no” can often be invaluable to your ultimate success!