Last week, I wrote about all of the amazing lessons of the world and science of Sports Metrics has to offer business.
Well, with the 2016 Presidential Campaign heating up, let's talk how just as in sports the use of metrics in politics has jumped a full generation ahead of business.
First, a little history and how perhaps the most famous use of metrics in politics is the one where the experts clearly got it wrong.
The 1948 Presidential Election was famous for many reasons - for being the last pre-television election, for being the last election contested between candidates born in the 19th century, for President Harry “give ‘em hell!” Truman's whistle-stop campaign against the “Do-Nothing” 80th Republican Congress, and…
…for the Chicago Tribune's famous headline proclaiming "Dewey Beats Truman" the morning after the election when in fact New York governor Thomas Dewey had handily lost the race.
The problem was that way back then poorer Americans – the heart of Truman’s constituency – didn’t have telephones, thus greatly skewing the polling data to predict an overwhelming Dewey win.
Obviously, since 1948, political polling has come a long way, highlighted by famed “Big Data Nerd” Nate Silver and his “FiveThirtyEight” mathematical model correctly calling 50 out of 50 states in the 2012 Presidential Election (after correctly predicting 49 out of 50 states in the 2008 election!).
Because of the power of predictive models like these, politicians across the ideological spectrum now more than ever rely on polling to shape messaging while campaigning, and once elected governing priorities and principles.
Now I know many of you at that last sentence are saying “Wait a Second!”
Isn't this the whole problem with politics?
How pols rely on polling to measure what voters think, want, and fear, and then either work (or pretend to!) to give them, both convictions and what is good for The Nation be darned?
Golly, they say, did Thomas Jefferson and John Adams take polls before they signed the Declaration of Independence?
To which I say, give it a rest. Please.
I have found that those that are usually crying loudest about “principles and convictions" in politics are those that when they or their chosen candidate run for office, just get right on doing that most Un-American thing of all.
Sure, they give nice and flowery concession speeches where they drone on about virtue and about how they lost with “dignity ”and “honor” and ya-di-ya-di-ya.
A loss is a loss.
Now, the really nice thing about business when compared to politics is that there is general agreement on overall goals and values. Nicely, there isn't a “Left versus Right” divide with the majority of business people – i.e. most of us are striving for the same thing: More, more, and more.
More sales, more profits, more company value.
In business, these are the “elections” we seek to win, the “policies” to pass.
And just like in politics, we can strive to do so via standing high on our horses and saying silly things like “If the customer doesn't appreciate what a better product I to offer than my competitor, well shame on them."
Or as good, "If that great employee left my company to work someplace else, I don't need or want them anyway."
Sure, statements and testaments like these sound good and noble, but really when you reflect on it (and not wanting to be too harsh) is just Loser Talk.
No, the winners in business, like those in politics, are truly “In the Arena.”
And, in this Internet of Things, SaaS, and Big Data World of Ours, being “In the Business Arena” means above all else being elbow deep in the numbers and in the conversion metrics in all of their intricacy, subtlety, detail and glory.
And just like politicians win by measuring what the people really want and giving it to them, so do business people win by measuring what the market is really saying and what customers really want.
And figuring it out above all else through our data and through our metrics.
Yes, as Harry Truman would say, The Buck Does Stops Here, with and in the numbers.
The lessons and inspirations of sports and the sporting life have always had a deep hold on the business psyche.
Some of my favorites here include the joy of competition, the virtues of teamwork, and of reaching Peak Performance through overcoming adversity and then sharing our “Best Stuff” with the world.
And these days the “Hot Lesson” that sports has to offer business is the power of measurement and data - driven decision making.
Some of this is obviously not new. Sports like running, swimming, and lifting has always been fundamentally defined and accomplished via tracking data - by how fast we go, how much weight we lift - and then from these data points developing specific training and improvement plans.
What is new is how data has come to permeate and dominate the world of team sports - baseball, basketball, soccer, et al. - and how now the most successful teams are managed not by pep talks and gut but by and through data and metrics.
FIFA. Germany's 2014 National Soccer Team found that one of the highest correlated data points with wins and losses was how much the players on the field ran and moved per minute of game time.
So they placed chips in all of the player’s shoes to measure and maximize this number. The German Team averaged so much more movement than any of their World Cup competitors that it ended up being equivalent to one half an extra player on the field. And to the country’s fourth World Cup.
The NBA. In professional basketball, the explosion of readily available digital video has allowed for detailed tracking of how every player in the league fares against every other player, on a play-by-play "Plus/Minus" basis.
Teams like the San Antonio Spurs that most effectively harvest and use this data are able to both identify under-valued players (critical in a Salary Cap league) and empower their coaching staffs with key insights as to the best game lineups and player substitution patterns.
Building on this long-term attention to detail and metrics, last year the Spurs became the winningest team in NBA history (to go along with their five league championships in 16 years).
Major League Baseball. Baseball, with its extended season and its fundamental “One-on-One Matchups” game structure has long been the most advanced team sport when it comes to metrics driving player values, roster composition, and in-game tactics and strategies.
While its most famous proponent - Billy Beane - is rightly lauded for making his Oakland A's team a consistent contender in spite of having a player’s salary budget sometimes only one quarter that of big market competitors like the Yankees and the Dodgers, in recent years “Sabermetrics” has leaped to a whole new level of intricacy and sophistication.
Key competitive innovations run from metrics like Fielding Shifts on a pitch-by-pitch basis, lineup changes based on time of day (and even time zone!), and the statistical value of "good outs."
Now, this is where some folks say "enough is enough" and that they long for baseball as it was played and managed in the good old days, by the Tommy Lasordas and Casey Stengels of the world.
Yes – a harkening back to a simple and more “human” time.
This is a noble, but naïve, sentiment.
Because being able to work with great people and on great teams and at great places, well all of that wonderful and simpler time stuff in this year 2015 of ours can only be had via leading and managing by data…
Because doing so gets us that one magical thing that in both sports and business makes everything else possible:
Dave Allen, author of the great productivity best seller "Getting Things Done," has developed an almost cult-like following for his ideas, structures, and best practices around to-do list management, prioritization, and metrics and schematics that define what an effective and productive day should be.
Without question, there are great benefits to his methods, and I especially like his best practice of always ending a meeting, conversation, or work on an open-ended project with the simple question of "What is the Next Action?"
This discipline alone can greatly improve daily and meeting productivity, and perhaps more importantly reduce that sometimes suffocating sense of anxiety common to knowledge and entrepreneurial work that there is always way more that must be done than there are hours in the day.
But a focus on simple to do list management is far from sufficient.
You see, the dirty little secret that all of the self-help masters, all of the highly paid management consultants fail to tell you is that in our incredibly fast-moving, changing, competition from everywhere modern economy it is virtually impossible to design a plan or strategy that is in any way close to being assured of success.
The reason why is simple. Plans and strategies, by their nature, are speculative and assumptive.
They require the planner to survey the current market and competitive landscape along with assessing the current strengths and assets of their enterprise.
And then, from those assessments, forecast how a course of specific decisions or investments will be received by the market, by current or perspective customers, and responded to by the competition.
When stated this way, it becomes obvious that there is a very high likelihood that a plan as designed will not work.
It really doesn't matter if that plan is to introduce a new product or service offering, a new marketing or advertising campaign, a website re-launch, or an internal re-organization.
So, does this mean that planning is worthless? Of course not!
But it does point to a pair of strategic best practices:
1. Before commencing any planning process, first reflect deeply and document extensively what is working now.
These could be the practices and habits of a top sales person, a pay-per-click advertising campaign with positive ROI, an invoice collections best practice, a particularly profitable partner or affiliate.
Now to do more of these things that work, productivity and accountability best practices as outlined by the Dave Allens of the world are incredibly valuable and should be incorporated aggressively into the daily work habits and disciplines of the modern professional.
2. But for everything else that falls outside of this realm, the right mindset is one of testing and exploration, of brainstorming, of speculation and possibility. Of open-ended questions.
AND it should be noted extremely well that it is usually in this mode that the big outlier, “black swan” ideas and strategies and relationships are usually discovered.
As for the question as to how much of #1, or playing more of the existing game better, we should do, versus #2, playing a new game…
…well that is a decision that the best managers, the best consultants and the most renowned self-help masters are paid a lot of money to answer.
My answer is - no surprise here if you've ever met me at a party - is to have my cake and eat it too!
Schedule time for to-dos and accountabilities to accomplish more of the stuff that you know works and leave plenty of open space to step out of the safe harbor and into the big sea and dream!
And when you balance doing and dreaming like this - and sprinkle in a little luck, you will very soon find yourself every day getting more of the Right Things Done.
How do the best dealmakers and investors make go / no decisions? How do they handicap the probability of a company or project’s return projections actually coming to pass?
And once they do, how do they determine fair terms and pricing upon which to do a deal?
It is upon these “Due Diligence” matters where the real - as opposed to the theoretical - money on deals is made.
Now, due diligence - as it is done by serious, professional dealmakers and investors - is an enormous undertaking.
It often requires hundreds and sometimes thousands of hours of accounting, legal and background reviews and checks, along with third party validation and research as to claims regarding market opportunity, competitive landscape and customer pipeline, traction, and satisfaction.
It can be as time and energy intense as any business process or project one could possibly imagine.
And because it is so, for those without very significant analytical resources and expertise, it is often also unrealistic to do it thoroughly and right.
Luckily, there are some shortcuts that can yield impressive similar insight and results.
I call them the “Who, Why, and When” 15 minute Modern Due Diligence Checklist.
Who. Easily the most important question to ask of any endeavor of importance: Who is involved? What are their personal and professional histories and backgrounds? Of leadership, business, investment and life success? Who are the professional partners (Law, Accounting, Banking, etc.)? Who is on the Board? (Is there a Board at all)? Who are the Customers? The Partners? The Employees?
When it comes to whether a deal is good or not, the answers to these “Who” questions is as often as not all you need to know.
Why. Why is a deal happening? Why are who are involved in fact…involved? Why is the deal being offered to you? Start with Why.
When. The old adage that “Time kills all deals” is also a great harbinger into the likelihood of a successful investment outcome.
How long has the deal been shopped? How urgent/desperate are those involved to get the deal done?
Now, these question cuts both ways. I as much want to see principals that need to get a deal get done versus those that perhaps just want it to be so.
Need, in its best sense, drives urgency and action.
Want is often lighter, less substantial, and thus more prone to delays and “almosts” versus results and return.
Who. Why. When.
Mediocre answers to any of these and almost certainly the deal is not right.
But as they are all spot on, well then the next question to ask is often “What are you waiting for?”
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,
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.
“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,
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
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.
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.
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.