Written by Jay Turo on Friday, May 22, 2015
Last month, data management and dashboard start up Domo announced it had raised an additional $200 million in growth capital, bringing its total haul over the past four years to a truly remarkable $450 million.
Now given that the company has yet to even come close to breaking even, this can be viewed as either a great validation of Domo's business model, or as more evidence of the “Bubble Mania” of the current technology financing landscape and a screaming signal to get out while you still can.
For those in the bubble camp, Domo is a “Tech Unicorn,” a recent start-up worth, either through a financing, an acquisition or IPO, more than $1 billion usually without any meaningful profits to speak of and thus instead valued via reasonings and justifications far outside of the pale of traditional finance and accounting.
On the other hand, while financings for companies at Domo's stage of development have never been as large and audacious as they are now, do remember that valuing technology companies on a combination of their future earnings promise, the intonations of their charismatic founders, and just the out and out coolness of their technology is nothing new, and that much more money has been earned than lost on these kinds of bets.
From this perspective, Domo is just another in a long line of American software companies - like Uber, Palantir, Airbnb, Dropbox, and Slack - with the ability and promise to transform and disrupt “Business as Usual” for core life and work processes across markets and industries.
And investors just can't enough of them.
On a macro level, this has a lot to do with simple supply and demand. Globally, most investors only feel comfortable putting money to work in places with stable political systems, stable currencies, liquid exit markets, and ones that have protections against expropriations of wealth once earned. So both crossed off are domains where 80%+ of the world’s population’s live and work, and characteristics that the U.S. in general and California in particular have in unique abundance.
And so it is potentially true with Domo and its promise: The better organization, visualization, and analysis of data, toward the end of changing the world of business done by gut and hand to one done by statistics and evidence.
And because this value when delivered to customers is so potentially significant - making their enterprises more efficient and predictably profitable - Domo's ability to both charge a lot for its services and have customers stay with them for a very long time is again...
...easy to understand and believe in.
And that's why that $2 billion valuation may not be so high after all.
Written by Jay Turo on Thursday, May 21, 2015
There were some great responses to my post last week as to the poor returns experienced by venture capital fund investors.
Some suggested that the blame for this lied more with the very difficult market and deal conditions of the past decade than with the VC investment model itself.
Typical was this comment submitted by a San Diego VC: "I agree that the VC fund industry is guilty as charged when it comes to being opaque as to real returns data, but I challenge you to revisit your analysis in 24 to 36 months, when we all will have had time to benefit from today’s strong M&A and IPO markets."
One reader reference Gust Founder David Rose’s new book - “Angel Investing: The Gust Guide to Making Money and Having Fun Investing in Startups” and to Rose’s main contention that to access the 25% IRR potential of the asset class one must hold positions in not less than 20 companies.
He asked, “Is this practical advice? I mean - who really has the time to find, diligence, and invest in dozens of companies? And for those that don’t, are there really any “Warren Buffet-types” to back in this asset class?”
This is the billion dollar question, is it not?
And while of course anyone will be very hard-pressed to even approach Warren Buffett’s other-worldly track record, there are some powerful forces right now driving the timeliness of venture investing via the “Berkshire Model.”
These forces fall into three main categories – Improved Liquidity, Investment Flexibility, and what let’s call “Labor Arbitrage.”
Improved Liquidity. Illiquidity is a huge elephant in the room when it comes to startup and emerging company investing. Most startups and early stage companies that seek outside investors are years away from investor liquidity – either via sale to a strategic or financial acquirer, or far more rarely via a Public Offering of the Company’s stock.
Now Berkshire Model companies, as entities with fundamentally investment vs. operating mindsets more naturally position, language, and network their businesses in finance contexts.
While doing so by no means assures successful outcomes, it does create the far more likely possibility of secondary market liquidity alternatives for investors that “want out” in the interim before the final exit.
Investment Flexibility. Investment companies in the Berkshire mold have great flexibility to structure investments of various types: traditional straight cash-for-equity, warrants, contingent warrants, revenue certificates, convertibles, in exchange for professional services, on project-by project bases, and more.
This flexibility is a game changer, as when done right it can provide managed, diversified exposure to a portfolio of deals and opportunities inaccessible via more “traditional” means.
Labor Arbitrage. A wise man once said that all businesses fundamentally do is “bridge the gap” between markets for labor and those for products and services.
Relatedly, one of the best advantages of the Berkshire model is the ability it affords to "Mark Up" the labor involved in effecting deals and transactions.
Let’s explain this by example.
Say a finance or advisory services professional is paid a salary of $80,000 per year, plus bonuses and incentives based on deals, transaction closings, and successful exits (not atypical terms).
Let’s then utilize a 20% load factor and assume that this worker’s fully loaded cost is $100,000 per year. Let’s then assume a 2,000 hour work year (we hope they work harder than this, as this is such an opportunity filled industry!).
Then, on a hourly basis, this professional’s fixed cost is approximately $50 per hour.
Now it is neither unusual nor unreasonable for even midlevel management consultants and investment bankers to bill out at $250 an hour and more on a cash basis, and much more than this on a cash equivalent basis when services are performed in exchange for contingent and / or equity compensation pay structures.
The critical point here is that when services are performed in exchange for equity compensation , even with average deal “picking” there is a natural Deal Arbitrage Effect that can easily create positive expected value on each and every deal.
A massive advantage.
Like everything associated with startup and emerging company investing, a lot of hard and smart work is needed to do it right.
But when done so, the payoffs can be enormous.
Just ask any Early Berkshire investor for confirmation.
To Your Success,
P.S. Like to learn how to apply these principles to your portfolio? Then attend my webinar this Thursday, “What the Super Angels Know about Investing and What You Should Too.”
Click Here to learn more.
Written by Jay Turo on Wednesday, May 20, 2015
A joy of my work is that I get to connect often with smart, “out-of-the box” businesspeople that can be best described as "Investor – Entrepreneurs.”
Written by Jay Turo on Wednesday, May 13, 2015
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.
Written by Jay Turo on Wednesday, May 6, 2015
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.
Written by Jay Turo on Wednesday, April 29, 2015
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.
A version of this article originally appeared in Entrepreneur Magazine and can be seen here.
Written by Jay Turo on Wednesday, April 22, 2015
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:
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:
Written by Jay Turo on Wednesday, April 8, 2015
I regularly engage with entrepreneurs and executives to help them determine the right long-term strategic plans and goals to pursue, toward the end of maximizing their businesses’ valuations and their likelihoods of selling their companies down the road.
This, as I have discussed before, is the highest ROI work that a business manager can do, yet most of us invest way too little time in it, and even more vexingly the results we get from the time we do spend are middling at best.
Now, in addition to just not knowing how to strategic plan (and for those interested in a quick primer, I recommend Dave Lavinsky’s excellent book Start at the End), an under-rated reason why otherwise talented businesspeople are poor strategists is because of what I would describe as Business Dissonance - the sad feeling that even if we do manage to arrive at the right plan, it won't make any difference.
Why not? Well, at least partly because for too many of us and the organizations we lead feel incapable of implementing and maintaining the big changes that are almost always required to attain the long-term plan.
Yes, to paraphrase a famous scene from The Godfather, it can often feel like every time we think we have freed ourselves from Business as Usual, we are pulled back in and nothing changes.
As a result, we sabotage our grand plans by frittering away our precious time and energy on the mundane, the petty, and on the "urgent" but not really important stuff that can so easily consume our day.
Like round and piles and endless streams of email.
Meetings with weak agendas and even weaker follow-up.
The daily "just getting through” client and customer “crises” (versus finding and fixing their root causes).
On chatter, and on frenetic activity that feels like hard work, but doesn’t progress us toward important goals.
Paradoxically, this state of affairs does point us to the strategic breakthrough: by gaining control of our day to day schedules and to dos, we will free up time and space to focus on the important projects as dictated by our strategic plan.
And how can we empower ourselves in such a glorious way?
Well, for those that can describe themselves as Knowledge Workers (almost all of us these days), here’s an extremely simple daily “hack”: For the first hour of our day, shut off the technology.
No email. No text. No tweets. No posts.
And if an hour feels too much, then start with 15 minutes.
Sound simple? Well, it is, but not easy. (Try it, and if you can keep it up for just a month write me back, and I'll send you a card for a free cup of coffee on me).
When we clear our minds and spirits like this to start our day, almost magically will our capacity grow to make steady progress toward our most important (and almost always extremely proactive) projects and goals.
And the deep peace of mind of knowing that today’s work is in sync feels really, really good, too.
Written by Jay Turo on Wednesday, April 1, 2015
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.
Written by Jay Turo on Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Last week, I shared the depressing statistic on how less than 1 out of 5 companies marketed for sale are able to find a buyer and to consummate a successful sale transaction.
And how even this depressing statistic vastly under-estimates how few companies are able to attain a successful exit, as the great majority of the over 6 million U.S. business owners because of how they are structured and run can’t even contemplate commencing a “business-for-sale” process.
What did they do / do they have that your company does not?
Well, from my more than 15 years of helping companies of all types and sizes breakthrough to new plateaus of growth and value, I have discovered three universal truths:
1. Most entrepreneurs and executives make the same strategic and tactical errors over and over again.
Webinar Invitation: The Five Steps to Maximize Your Valuation
I would like to cordially invite you to join me on Friday, March 20th at 1 pm ET / 10 am PT for a brand new webinar - The 5 Steps to Maximize Your Valuation - where I'll reveal the 5 steps you can take to dramatically increase the sale price of your business, and dramatically decrease the time needed to achieve it, including:
• The 3 Mistakes that most Entrepreneurs and executives make that effectively render their businesses unsellable
I assembled this webinar presentation in conjunction with both the Growthink Research team, which over the past year has performed industry, market, and competitive analyses for hundreds of high growth companies…
…and with the predictive analytics team at Guiding Metrics, who have are currently working with dozens of companies in automating and optimizing their key marketing, sales, operational and financial metrics.
The combined statistical insights of all of this “on-the-ground” business fieldwork are the basis of the to-be presented webinar findings and insights.
Market and economic conditions will probably never be better than they are right now. I encourage all leaders of companies frustrated with their low growth rate and unclear pathways to exit to attend, listen intently, and then act on this awesome webinar content.
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