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.
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.
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,
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?
Yesterday, TechCrunch posted a neat slideshow on the nine largest venture capital and private equity financing rounds of the past 24 months.
It is an extremely cool piece - profiling seven (two companies on the list had multiple rounds) of the highest flying technology companies in the world.
Let's start with Uber, both because it tops the list, with over $4.6 billion in capital raised, and because most of us can easily understand and relate to the Simplicity, Power, and Promise of its business model.
First, the Simplicity. At its core, Uber utilizes pretty basic technology to better deliver a basic service - a hired ride from point A to point B - that has been in existence since the beginning of time.
It is simple in such an eye opening way that for many folks the first time they download the app, press “Request Uber X,” and magically then a few minutes later a ride appears they are taken with a giddy excitement.
This simplicity masks the Power unleashed by Uber's technology: the initiative of the now over 162,000 and growing Uber Drivers.
There are various reasons (many controversial) why these drivers see Uber as a good and worthwhile use of their time and work energy, and whether or not it is good for our economy and society as a whole.
However, what is clearly not in doubt, is how Uber is massively profiting by harnessing and channeling the entrepreneurial, Sharing Economy Power of these tens of thousands.
That Power in turn leads to the Promise of Uber: To transform our notion of what transportation is, including whether or not it even makes economic and quality of life sense to own an automobile anymore...
…and in an even grander vision how Uber could up-end the shipping industry (and even the mail, too!).
Simplicity, Power, Promise - better and more cinematically embodied in Uber than perhaps in the other six companies profiled, but as you dig into those you will find similar themes.
Didi Dache, which just raised $700 million, is the Uber of China. The core business of SpaceX, which just raised $1 billion from Google, is as Simple and Powerful as they get: shooting rockets into space.
Xiaomi, to bring the promise of high-end “Apple-like” smartphones, to China’s 1.2 billion mobile customers.
The vision of Cloudera, which has raised over $1 billion from investors (and is contemplating an IPO in the near future) is nothing less than to give “all businesses a…360-degree view of their customers, their products, and their business.”
The obvious suggestion is to work to bake these qualities into our business models and entrepreneurial endeavors.
Perhaps less obviously, in my experience these qualities do exist in most businesses, but to find them requires a boiling away of the Complex Excess to get to the essential core.
When you do, while you might not raise $4.6 billion at a $40 billion+ valuation like Uber, my gut is that you will find the path to meaningful growth and a High Value Exit more clearly and easily defined.
This weekend, I read The 80% Solution – a great e-book by famed business coach Dan Sullivan in which he makes the case that “perfectionism” is a misunderstood and under-reported “enemy” of successful entrepreneurship.
Per the title of his book, Sullivan's suggestion to combat this is simple yet profound - just work to get a task / a project / an idea to “80% done and out” and far more often than not that will be more than good enough.
Now, of course, the author makes the necessary disclaimers.
Like an “80% done right” heart surgery or an “80% safe” airplane, or products with 20% defect rates are obviously recipes for disaster.
But for the vast majority of us, cultivating this 80% mindset will do us a world of entrepreneurial good.
1. Most Stuff Doesn't Work. The sad reality is that most business initiatives - no matter how good our intentions or how brilliant we might think they are, and whether they be new products, new marketing strategies, new hires, process improvements - don't work.
The market greets new products with apathy (big yawns).
Process improvements don’t move the bottom line. The most likely return on a new hire…is exactly what you pay him or her.
For sure, some ideas are revolutionary and transformative, but everyone has to cycle through a lot of duds.
So the more we are able to increase our throughput - to throw spaghetti against the wall as fast and furiously as possible - far more often than not, we are the better for it.
2. Energy. Modern knowledge work, with its infinite distractions and always-on nature, is exhausting.
Maybe not so obviously as exhausting as hard physical labor, but exhausting nonetheless.
And, given that so much of it involves a series of virtual interactions with other knowledge workers facing similarly exhausting electronic loads, accelerating our “personal supply chain” via an “80% and out” mindset reduces insidious energy drains like long e-mail back-and-forths, projects extending beyond timelines and conference calls that just drone on and on.
Taking the “80% is Enough” mindset to all of it can free our energy and re-create a lightness and fluidity to our work like when it was fresh and new.
3. 80% is Fun. A great read in this same vein is Happy Brain Chemicals by Lorreta Breuning. Among its eye-opening findings as to the nature of our “mammalian brains,” Breuning talks about the power of the neurochemical dopamine and its influence on our wants and decision-making.
Dopamine can best be described as the neurochemical of anticipation and excitement.
It is that feeling one has right before one takes a bite of a chocolate cake, or the moment right before the kickoff of the Super Bowl (or for those Patriots fans of ours, the moment right when Malcolm Butler makes that interception!).
We all crave dopamine, and as such, we all crave excitement.
And excitement, because of dopamine, is dependent on “new stuff” - new projects, tasks, relationships, and the like.
“80% is Good Enough” frees up bandwidth for more new stuff to be anticipated and experienced.
And thus more fun.
So think “80% is Good Enough” and be more productive, and have more energy and more fun each and every day.
What beats that?
This week, Axial came out with a great report on the challenges and opportunities facing small and middle market businesses in 2015.
Compiled from interviews with over 100 CEOs, it is chalk full of great nuggets like:
The #1 Thing keeping CEOs up at night is "finding capital to grow their businesses." This challenge has many dimensions - from receivables and cash flow, to commercial banks (in spite of the strong economy) still mostly on the sidelines, to the availability of private equity and other forms of risk capital to fund growth initiatives.
Also ranked high on the list was properly "training, educating, and rewarding" employees.
A great white paper by AGC Partners sheds modern light on this challenge, specifically how technology innovations are “incentivizing and enabling individuals to monetize their skills, time, and possessions like never before.”
Companies like Odesk, 99Designs, and Guru are empowering skilled designers, coders, consultants, and marketers to offer their services to buyers directly, on an as needed, per project basis.
How does this relate to the talent challenges of small businesses?
First, by the simple fact that a lot of talented people - who 10 to 15 years ago would have been available for / interested in traditional W-2 employment - are now effectively out of the traditional work force.
Second, the ease with which buyers (business & consumer) can contract for services with providers and cut out “middlemen” companies that "hire and mark up" creates a whole other level of pricing and other competitive pressures.
Luckily, far outweighing these two challenges is the massive opportunity created by this “collaborative economy” for smaller businesses to access types and qualities of talent like never before.
As I have talked about previously, entrepreneurs and executives that master the art of finding and utilizing outsourced, "shared talent" from around the world - and that let go of fixed ideas of what a company is / should be - will have business model and market opportunities open to them like never before.
Finally, the Axial report shares the startling fact, even though the overall economic prognosis for 2015 is about as good as it can get, that 66% of the CEO’s surveyed rank "market forces” and the overall buoyancies of the US and abroad economies as a top worry.
To this, I would suggest a reading of Nobel Laureate psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s seminal work on negativity bias, where he found “that people regret mistakes twice as keenly as they relish successes.”
When it comes to growth planning, Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, summed it up best when he noted that "When you point out what can go wrong, you sound smart and sophisticated, and when you emphasize what might go right, you sound naive."
It all kind of fits together: exude and embody optimism (and fight the natural propensity we all have to the opposite), conceptualize and take chances on new business models, and the money will follow.
And this is what CEOs really want, isn't it?
With a little luck, 2015 could go down as one of the best years ever for American business.
Here are seven reasons why:
7. Low Oil Prices. For both businesses and consumers, $50 per barrel oil and $3 per gallon gas have both strong real and psychological benefits.
Real, as in lower input costs for businesses and more disposable income for consumers, and psychological in removing that sense of scarcity and dread that high prices at the pump bring.
6. And It’s U.S. Oil. And, oh yes, as opposed to that oil coming mostly from a collection of unsavory, overseas actors (see Putin, Vladimir), now for the first time in decades the U.S. is poised to be a net oil exporter. These dollars staying home naturally multiply themselves - perking up manufacturing, construction, real estate, travel, tourism, etc.
5. Low Interest Rates. Predicting the direction of interest rates is one of the great fool’s errands, but it does certainly feel like we have made a long-term transition to permanently low rates.
A key factor driving this is Federal Reserve's Chair Janet Yellen’s political philosophy - well-documented over decades - that employment is the most important matter of monetary policy and any “tightening” that might lead to rising unemployment is to be avoided at all costs.
And then there is simple supply and demand -- all the “safe” world currencies (Euro, Yen, Pound) sport extraordinarily low rates too so there is no “currency flight” pressure to drive tightening.
4. U.S. Technology Leads the World. In so many of the growth industries of the 21st century - Mobile, BioTech, HealthcareIT, Robotics, Social Media, Internet of Things - U.S. companies continue to lead the way.
In addition to the massive flows of capital and wealth created and distributed by the top tech. companies (to employees, vendors, shareholders et al.), this leadership also attracts the best and the brightest scientists, engineers, and developers from around to the world to our shores.
And from this human capital new technologies and new companies are born. And new wealth created.
3. Record Exports. U.S. Exports reached $2.3 trillion in 2013, both a new record and up more than $700 billion since 2009. And the soon to be in 2014 numbers will show another record year.
Why? Well for one, U.S. companies, aided greatly by an English language and America-dominated Internet, every year become more and more effective in marketing and selling to global customers (while global customers in turn become far more comfortable in purchasing across the wires).
This powerful trend will only continue to accelerate in the years to come – opening new markets and profit opportunities for U.S companies big and small.
2. Cash Piles on Sidelines. With $1 trillion in cash sitting in the coffers of U.S. private equity firms and $515 billion on the balance sheets of leading tech. companies (try Microsoft with $88 billion, Google with $60 billion, and Cisco with $52 billion), and with this cash in our low interest rate environment earning only fractions of pennies of return, there is a high probability we will see a lot of it pour into growth opportunities this year.
And there are no better growth investments than U.S. entrepreneurial companies, especially the smaller, private ones, that over decades have consistently yielded double digit returns for those brave and foresighted enough to invest in them.
1. Momentum. Good times beget more good times. The solid, economic, political, and social news and results we have had for a few years running now are building themselves into a powerful crescendo for the new year.
Yes, more than a little luck is always needed - mostly in the form of no large, negative political or environmental shocks.
Barring that, on balance for entrepreneurs and executives out there seeking to make their mark, 2015 is looking nice and juicy.
Here's hoping we all make the most of it!
The ending of one year and the beginning of another is a natural time to take stock of all that was accomplished in the past 12 months, and more excitedly, to dream and plan on the great promise of the New Year.
In this spirit, below are a few of my favorite quotes regarding dreaming, planning, goal-setting, and "Going for It!”
"You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, 'Why not?'"
- George Bernard Shaw
(My comment: reflects the essence of the entrepreneurial spirit)
"What is not started today is never finished tomorrow."
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
(My comment: the "fierce urgency of now" must always inform and drive us. We live in too fast-moving a world, too merciless a marketplace, to in any way dawdle or delay.)
"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."
- Winston Churchill
(My comment: The most accomplished executives and entrepreneurs that I have worked with have impressed me as much with their fortitude and resiliency as they have with their “glamorous” attributes - brilliance, connections, salesmanship, etc.
"Really great people make you feel that you, too, can become great."
- Mark Twain
(My comment: This is the essence of leadership in modern, collaboration-driven organizations. The best managers build alignment and focused energy around shared goals and objectives.
"Goals are dreams with deadlines."
- Diana Scharf Hunt
(Our comment: The great ones dream it and do it NOW!)
Happy New Year, and may 2015 be the best year of all of our lives!