The Real Secret to Great Financial Projections


 

As any venture capitalist worth his salt will tell you, there is a chasm of difference between the mostly grounded-in-reality financial forecasts offered by public companies, and the almost never to come true "rosy scenario" projections offered as a matter of course by startups and small businesses.

And while large public company CEOs and CFOs are judged as a matter of the highest honor on their ability to deliver on projections, exceedingly rare is the entrepreneurial executive that comes anywhere close to meeting forecasted results.

For a sense of the extent of how bad this problem is, a partner I know at a prominent venture capital firm estimates that of the 30+ companies that his firm has invested in, only two have consistently met or exceeded their financial projections.

And let me add that it isn’t like the inmates are running the asylum at my friend’s fund - as a prerequisite of having them as an investor, each of their portfolio company CEOs are required to undertake and report on a vigorous, quarterly budgeting and forecasting cycle.

And also let’s not assume that my friend is just a lousy investor. Lack of consistent financial performance is pretty much par for the course for startups and small businesses.

So what is going on?

Are the entrepreneurs just not ready for prime time? Are their managerial skill levels that many levels below their big company brethren?

I’ll say this - it is certainly not for lack of trying.

Most small technology company executives work longer hours than businesspeople have at any time in history.

If you doubt this, pick up Ron Chernow’s masterful biography of John Rockefeller.

In it, we read enviously of Mr. Rockefeller's daily 9:15am visits to his barber, his afternoon naps, and his unwavering commitment to always leave the office each day, no matter the season, so he could be home before dark.

And it is not for a lack of know how.

Modern entrepreneurs - with their always-on, “click of a button” best practice knowledge and connections base - are a better informed and more globally networked lot than at any time in history.

So if they aren’t the problem, is it modern business itself?

Has it just become - with all of its technological bells and whistles, all its globalization and pricing pressures, all of its customer unpredictability and fickleness - just too unwieldy a beast for any small company to ever consistently ride?

And concurrently, has accurate financial forecasting become equivalent to throwing dice?

Or more disturbingly - is it not even worth doing as even when they do turn out to be accurate it just falls into the category of the blind mouse getting some cheese every now and then?

For better or for worse, modern business demands that we take a more “Balanced Scorecard” approach in judging managerial effectiveness and entrepreneurial progress.

Factors like intellectual property development speed, organizational design, and client satisfaction as measured by a companies’ Net Promoter Score are proving to be just as important predictors of a business’ value creation as is its forecasted-to-plan accuracy.

Please let me clear: On their own these factors do NOT make a business valuable.  

Rather, the right matrix of them, properly prioritized, IS highly correlated with businesses that attain high profit exit and investment outcomes.

As an added bonus, these non-financial key performance indicators (KPIs) can be designed to be far more consistently predictable than traditional projections.

As such, they are usually far better measures of executive effectiveness than budgeting and forecasting “gap analysis.”

You just have to have the guts to forget about the numbers for a quarter or two.

Or, if you are really get good at defining, tracking, and accomplishing the right non-financial KPIs, to forget about them permanently as they will just take care of themselves.

To Your Success,

 

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Want to Sell Your Company for a High Price? Do these Six Things


 

The saddest lament of entrepreneurs and owners of private companies seeking to sell and exit their companies is that they want their businesses to be valued on their future potential, and not its CURRENT profitability.

Given that the typical, offered purchase multiples for smaller businesses – as in those with less than $5 million in EBITDA – can be as low as 1 or 2 times last year’s tax return profits, this is understandable.

In fact, we often see purchase offers based on multiples of MONTHLY earnings – not exactly the “happily ever after” exit dreamed of when these businesses were founded!

Yes, getting a business valued and sold based on factors other than its earnings while by no means impossible nor uncommon, is HARD.

Yet…every month there are literally hundreds of companies that sell for very high multiples of profits, for multiples of revenue, and even companies that are in a pre-revenue stage that sell every day just on the value of their technology, their people, and their work processes.

What do they?

Well, here are six things that companies that sell for high multiples do that you can and should too.

1. They Are Technology Rich. Companies rich in proprietary technology in all its forms – patents, processes, and people – are far more likely to be valued on factors other than profitability and correspondingly attain purchase prices beyond a few times current year’s earnings.

As an example, the likelihood of a medical device company being sold or taken public is twenty times greater than that for a services - or a low-to-no proprietary technology company - doing so.

2.They Have Gold at the End of their Rainbows. Businesses that sell for high multiples communicate exciting and profitable future growth.

Their managers demonstrate understanding of the big 21st century “macros” - i.e. how technology evolutions and globalization will impact positively and negatively their industry, market, customers, and competition.

Concurrently, these managers understand the micros well too, especially how their business’ human capital will adapt and grow as change happens. 

All this translates into well-developed stories that if their businesses aren’t making it now, there is gold (and a lot of it!) at the end of their rainbows.

3. They Are Great Places to Work. Businesses that sell are usually characterized by that good stuff that we all seek in our professional environments.

They are culturally cohesive. If they don’t have low employee turnover, they at least have well - defined career progression paths. And their compensation policies align and pay well with desired performance.

Quite simply, they are great places to work and are reputationally strong within their industries.

4. They are Process and NOT People Dependent. Businesses that are overly dependent on charismatic owners or a few dynamic salespeople or engineers rarely sell because the majority of their value can simply walk out the door tomorrow and never come back.

Important aside: for those entrepreneurs that harbor the desire to sell but not the ambition to build a meaningfully sized, process-based organization should then focus their exit planning almost exclusively on technology and intellectual property development.

If they are unwilling / unable to do this, then they should put the idea out of their head for now and invest this energy into more meaningful pursuits.

Like my favorite - making absolutely as much money today as one possibly can.

5. They Have Good Advisors. Businesses that do everything right but have messy financial statements because of poor accounting, messy corporate records because of poor or non-existent legal counsel, and messy “future stories” because of poor exit planning and investment banking advice, simply do not sell.

Sure, they may get offers, but invariably these deals fall apart in diligence and at closing.

And as anyone that has ever been through a substantial business sale process knows, almost nothing in business is as time and energy-draining as is getting close to a business sale and not getting it done.

6. They Get Lucky. Luck remains a fundamental and often dominant factor that separates the businesses that successfully sell from those that don’t.

The best entrepreneurs and executives don’t get philosophical nor discouraged by this but rather they embrace it.

They try new things. They follow hunches. They make connections.

They start from the pre-supposition of “accepting all offers” and work backward from there.

They and their companies can be best described as “happy warriors” – modern day action heroes ready for the fight. When they get knocked down, they smile, wipe their brow, and get right back in the fray.

And you know what? Our happy warriors, living and thinking and working like this day after day channel some mystical power and draw great luck and more to themselves and their companies.

Yes, companies that sell are the good and lucky ones.

Follow the advice above and fortune just may smile on your company and those you invest in too.

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Why One for Three is So Much Better than Zero for Zero


 

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
- Winston Churchill

At the very heart of entrepreneurship, small business, and investing sit risks, roadblocks, challenges, and delays.

The statistics are only debated to their degree but not their overall thrust - a small percentage of businesses ever become meaningfully profitable and a smaller percentage still are ever sold for a meaningful price.

In other words, the vast majority of businesses - by objective, financial measures - do not achieve their desired and sought after objectives..

Even worse, a lot them do so badly - never achieving even one dollar in revenue and / or go so deeply in the hole that they have significant and negative financial spillover effects.

Like business and personal bankruptcies and investors losing all of their money. 

In a word, the trials and tribulations of business are and can be traumatic.

Now it is not the kind of trauma that survivors of war and natural disasters experience, but in the world of work it can be about as bad as it gets.

Yet both domestically and around the world entrepreneurs are starting and growing businesses at a greater rate than at any time in the last 15 years…3% of the U.S. adult population annually start one, and a multiple of that contemplate doing so.

And investors make more money investing in startups and small businesses than in any other asset class.

So what gives?

Well, there is the financial view, namely that the rewards of a business sale are so great and life-changing that having any probability of its occurrence make the grave financial risks of business - building more than worth taking.

But this at best only explains half of the story. 

No, there is something else going on here, and research regarding of all things - Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome - points to what it is.

Research done by among others Dr. Richard Tedeschi of the University of North Carolina shows that strong, negative experiences like war and natural disasters are NOT as scarring as once thought.

In fact, the opposite is true.

Statistically, most survivors of traumatic experiences - like prisoners-of-war and victims of natural disasters - come out of them stronger and on most measures, out-perform those in their peer groups unaffected by the awful events.

Now everyday all of us should count our blessings dozens of times as “there but for fortune go I’ and offer nothing but great compassion and empathy for those suffering trauma, especially when it comes through no fault of their own.

But we also should take significant solace and inspiration from the rest of the story.

Life, as it does, goes on.

And according to the latest research, the old adage is true of that which does not kill you REALLY does make you stronger.

Now it would not be proper to equate a business failure with the physical and emotional traumas experienced by survivors of war and disaster, but entrepreneurs and executives can and should draw important wisdom from them.

Such as if you “fail” at this particular business, you won’t be broken and scarred forever.

And that professional and entrepreneurial growth is a participatory sport – learned only by doing and trying and striving and not by watching and fretting and waiting.

And then there are the related ideas of diversification and iteration. 

Such as, in business, it is almost always far better to have two business “failures” and ONE success than it is to go zero for zero.

For the entrepreneur this does not necessarily mean running multiple businesses concurrently, but it does mean that the business strategy should be iterative and testing based.

Successful Internet companies get this intuitively - see Amazon and eBay and thousands of others - and you should too.

As for investors, they should take advantage of the incredible opportunity that the modern financial system offers to back multiple entrepreneurial companies, and not just one or a handful.

With the average return of the startup company asset class being 2.5X in a mean time of about four years, the odds are strongly in your favor if you both invest right and diversify properly.

So entrepreneurs and investors get in the game!

Failure is no way near as bad as advertised and if approached with the right spirit and strategy, it can truly be the ultimate blessing in disguise.

To Your Success,


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H.A.P.P.Y Business Intelligence


 

The power of business intelligence tools and technologies (BI) to provide managers and leaders accurate, real time visibility to the performance of all aspects of their companies - marketing, sales, operational financial - along with "automated" insight as to how to improve them has made BI one of the highest ROI arenas of business management in the world today.

This is evidenced by both the huge sums of money companies are investing in BI (forecast by IDC to grow to over $52B in 2016) and by the research that show "BI Best in Class" companies enjoy double the revenue growth and triple the profit growth relative to their “BI Average” competitors (Gartner Group).

Yet…for the executive looking to put the power of BI to work in their companies it can be a very noisy and confusing (see terms like predictive analytics, Internet of Things, Hadoop, Executive Management Platforms, etc.) buying marketplace to navigate.

So here is a short-hand primer on how to start putting BI to work in any company in just a few short days…I call it being BI H.A.P.P.Y and it goes like this:

High ROI is Everything. When it comes to BI, the first place to look is at it should be - cutting through all the noise and clutter and asking any BI provider a simple question: Show me how your tools will generate high ROI and make my business money right away.

This should of course be the first question asked for any business investment, but especially so in a burgeoning arena like BI, where a lot of the providers are new companies themselves and when you cut through their marketing veneers don’t really have documented proof for their stated value propositions.

Press them on it, and if they just keep coming back with platitudes versus ROI proof then move on.

Agnostic is Best. A key distinction when it comes to BI tools and approaches is whether they are agnostic / open-source or closed / focused on a specific business process / industry application.
 
My strong recommendation is at this early BI juncture is to take the agnostic / open-source approach, because no matter what BI tool one chooses, in just a few months there will be a next generation option that will be cleaner (i.e. less riddled with bugs), probably less expensive, and more naturally business intuitive than the current crop.

This does not mean that one should wait to get started until these next generation tools arrive, only that the systems and platforms that one commits to now should be easy to upgrade / port over to / connect with the next generation systems as they become available.

As importantly, agnostic / open-source BI systems also allow for a standardized, company-wide “Manage by Data” look and feel unavailable in industry / process specific systems.

The Best BI is Prescriptive AND Predictive. BI at its best should be both Prescriptive - interpreting for us the meaning and importance of historical results and how to improve them and Predictive –performing the regression analyses for us as to what the future is mostly like to hold.

Is the technology to do this fully there yet? No, but it is getting close, and the smart executive recognizes the value of building these prescriptive and predictive BI muscles now because when the technology does gets there, the companies that can’t run this “analytics race” will be lapped by those that can.

DFY. A fundamental BI dimension is the Done-For-You (DFY) to Do-It-Yourself (DIY) spectrum.

While it is important to develop strong DIY BI competencies, we also should recognize that because BI tools and technologies are so new and because so much of the value of them is found "On the Margin," that working with a BI skills-specific service provider is almost always a necessary best practice.

A skilled BI service provider helps us:

•    Decide which BI analytics and dashboard tools and technologies are most appropriate for our business
•    Finds the data in our organizations - on our desktops, in our spreadsheets, and through the various SaaS programs and platforms on which our companies run
•    Visualize and parse the data in ways that work for us as managers and leaders
•    Interpret what the data means and what to do about it
•    Make sure that all of the above doesn't “break” and that the “BI muscles” within our organization are built and remain strong

So again,

H is for High ROI
A is for Agnostic / Open-Sourced
P is for Prescriptive
P is for Predictive
Y is for DFY (Done-for-You)

Follow this simple meme and watch the results from your BI Investments and for your company soar.

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Where Do $2 Billion Startup Valuations Come From?


 

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.

On a micro level, most investors prefer to deploy capital without taking Technology Risk (as would be typical in say - a biotech start up).

So easy to understand and believe in are Software-as-Services Models like Domo's, with business models often boiling  down to a simple cost of customer acquisition cost divided by lifetime customer value metric (in Domo's case, over $50,000 per customer!).

And most importantly, investors have and will always love to back Disruptive Technologies - which, to be clear, is different from Technology Risk.

This has been true from the days of Rockefeller with Oil, to  Ellison, Gates, and Jobs with the computer and software, through Zuckerberg with social media to Kalanick and Chesky with Uber and Airbnb and The Sharing Economy.

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.

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Improved Liquidity, Investment Flexibility, and Labor Arbitrage


 

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.

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Are You a Business Contender or Pretender?


 

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.

Entrepreneurially.

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.

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5 Characteristics of SaaS Companies with Breakout Potential [Webinar Invitation]


 

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?

Friday 1:30 pm ET / 10:30 am PT Webinar

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, UberAirbnbDropbox, 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.

Participant Limitation

To preserve the intimacy of the presentation, we are limiting attendees to the first 35 registrants, so Reserve Your Seat today!

Sign up here:
 

https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/346963354431820033

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Tech is Booming: Time to Invest in a VC Fund?


 

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,

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Big Data, Dashboards, and Exits


 

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.”

For Customers, tools like Survey Monkey, Cint, or Zoomerang to measure their satisfaction.

For Employees, tools like LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Salary.com, and Great Places to Work to compare how happy and energized our people are versus Best-of-Class.

For Shareholders, data and intelligence providers like CapIQ, Compete.com, IBIS, and Axial to rate ourselves against competitive and comparable companies.

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?

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