Growthink Blog

Turning Good Strategy into GREAT Execution


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Last week, I wrote about the connection between vision, strategy, and action in a business, and how all three are made possible through and with Tough Love.

And essential to effective Tough Love is Balance.  Great organizations find the balance between:

a) Making the right changes at the right time and

b) Having the discipline to “keep on keeping on” and just doing more of what is working.

Note well that b) is particularly hard to maintain when the tasks and activities that ARE working become repetitive and lack in excitement and drama.

So how do executives find this balance - between being creative and just keeping their heads down and plowing forward?

Well, luckily in the past few years a large and impressive business literature has sprung up that codifies best practices of how to find this all-important balance.

It can best be summarized by the phrase “immersion plus spaced repetition” and goes like this:

1. Everything, of course, begins with ideas, with the best ones arising from a series of introspective strategic planning and goal-setting sessions that clarify objectives and the obstacles standing in the way of their accomplishment.

This immersive process - done at least annually but at the best companies quarterly - both defines what needs to be done and inspires all to take on the hard work of getting it done.

The value of inspiration cannot be underestimated – Thomas Edison famously said that “genius was 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration” but that 1% “spark” is uber-critical in propelling an organization through the various thresholds of change.

2. But, as anyone that attended an exciting or invigorating conference or strategic planning session can attest (and as I am sure Mr. Edison reflected on often during long nights at the lab), inspiration fades over time.

Even worse, when the inspiration is not followed through on, cynicism can set in and actually leave an organization worse off than if the planning sessions were never done in the first place!

So how to avoid this distressing fate?

3. Well, by keeping the ideas, goals, and objectives of the planning session alive through their regular review and adjustment.

Think of it this way - if a well-run strategic planning session is the essence of good leadership, then repetitive goals reviews are the essence of good management.

Great managers check in with their teams as often as daily - if only for 5 or 10 minutes - to review the day’s objectives and to keep the shorter term work flow aligned with the longer term planning and mission objectives.

The old adage that the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time is never more true than when is comes to these spaced and repetitive management check-ins.

When done right, they measure, acknowledge, and reward incremental progress and prevent the desire for the perfect from getting in the way of the doable and the done.

Then, the organization reconvenes and reviews progress against stated goals, assesses what worked and what didn’t, and then refines and updates the key goals and objectives.

And after this next round of strategic planning, what is done?

Well, the spaced and repetitive management check-ins begin anew.

Wood is chopped, water is carried.

Following this simple but disciplined formula, over time great ideas become great realities, businesses are built, and legacies and fortunes are made.

And for investors, far more than technology these “above the line” leadership, management, and company culture disciplines separate the well-run companies to back from the disorganized ones to avoid.

So what are you waiting for?


Vision to Strategy to Action (All with and through Tough Love)


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Every business needs a vision - a clear definition of what its leadership seeks the business to become.

And every business needs a strategy - a roadmap of how the business will reach its vision.

Once the vision and strategy are clear (and yes, this is hard), the next step is action planning – the day-by-day mapping of how all of this good but sometimes theoretical “stuff” will actually get done.

This, involves determining which projects will be completed (and as importantly, which ones will NOT be done), by whom and when, and how many resources - work hours, money, and assets - will be required.

Now, this is lovely for the whiteboard but what business more often than not looks like is this:

Unclear, Unshared Vision. With all the time most management teams spend talking to each other, it's surprising how often they have different pictures of what everyone is supposed to be doing and in what direction they are supposed to be heading.

It's the hard and repetitive job of leadership to repeatedly communicate the plan (i.e. the vision, the strategy, and the day-to-day roadmap of how to get there) until all are on the same page.

And then rinse and repeat.

Planning Once Per Year, Out Of Routine. So many of us, in January, think about our personal goals for the year ahead.

Similarly, many businesses work on their yearly plan during the same month of every year.

And then they forget about it.

The best businesses, in contrast, create, refine, and live their business plans in real time, every day.
Yes, this is hard, now more than ever because of…

The Tyranny of the Urgent. A HUGE challenge to executives and businesses attaining greatness is how difficult it is, because of technology, to not let those “urgent, but NOT important" activities dominate our days.

More than ever, we must fight for the time and attention to do the great and important work, and block out those insidious distractions everywhere and always around us.

No Process or Methodology For Strategic Planning. A best practice is to focus on vision and strategy in one set of sessions, and then on the day-to-day action planning, accountabilities, and progress measurements in another.

In discussing vision and strategy, we are in creative mode, exploring any and all options and ideas.

In contrast, figuring out action plans and accountabilities are best suited for separate, more “Tough Love” and analytical-type meetings.

With appropriate time set aside for vision, strategy, and action planning, a business can experience the collective joy that comes from knowing exactly what it is striving toward and how it will get there.

Everyone at the business will feel more grounded, balanced, and centered.

Being so all will come to work with greater purpose and passion.

And, at the end of the year, will have far more to show for their efforts.


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


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“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,



H.A.P.P.Y Business Intelligence


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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.


Where Do $2 Billion Startup Valuations Come From?


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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.


Improved Liquidity, Investment Flexibility, and Labor Arbitrage


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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.


Who are the Investor – Entrepreneurs?


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A joy of my work is that I get to connect often with smart, “out-of-the box” businesspeople that can be best described as "Investor – Entrepreneurs.”

The most talented of these fine folks evaluate opportunities through the complementary perspectives of the two mindsets.

As investors, they do so dispassionately - with the lenses of risk and reward, and of expected value.

As entrepreneurs, they are more operational, more tactical.

They know that numbers on financial statements are byproducts of collective, human effort - of sales, marketing, and operational strategies and project plans, all underpinned by cultural commitments to excellence and to winning.

Now, when things get dicey is when these Investor - Entrepreneurs don't properly distinguish in their otherwise able minds where investing and entrepreneurship do NOT intersect.

The problem reveals itself in a number of ways.

For the entrepreneur, it is a Cognitive Dissonance, a denial of the simple fact that an incredibly large percentage of their net worth and earnings power is often concentrated in a single, and very high risk asset - i.e. their own business.

For the investor, it is the dark and dangerous side of that usually, admirable human quality of Commitment and Consistency.

This is the tendency we all have to stick to decisions that we have made in the past even if and when the original evidence that underpinned those decisions has changed dramatically.

The classic example of this is basing an investment decision on the original purchase price of an asset, its sunk cost, even though the faulty logic of doing so is almost self-evident.

Yet, following this truism, because of our emotional human wiring, is always far harder to do in practice than in theory.

So, how should - let’s call them “Entrepreneur Mind” and “Investor Mind” - properly work together?

Here are three ideas:

1. For Investors, view with an extremely jaundiced eye records and claims of past performance.

Let's be clear, doing so is extremely hard.

Both because of the aforementioned “human wiring” matter, and because the brokerage and insurance industries have a massive, vested interest in manipulating and exploiting this wiring to prevent us from doing so.

To best resist this manipulation, invest like an entrepreneur - pointed toward the future and leaving the past where it rightfully belongs, in the past. 

2. For Entrepreneurs, just for a few moments, step in the space of not believing one’s own “propaganda.”

This too, is hard as of what makes entrepreneurs who they are is their unshakeable and often irrational self-belief, in spite of often much evidence to the contrary.

This self-belief serves them well as leaders and as creators, but as shareholders not so much.

And as shareholders, the irrefutable principles of diversification, of long-term and global planning, and of the overriding importance of small differences in return, multiplied over time, so fundamentally apply.

3. And finally, as Investors - Entrepreneurs, to recognize good professional guidance as a success requirement, for the simple reason that our most dynamic competitors are getting it.

And if you are not, then you are wanting.

And in both investing and entrepreneurship, this wanting, this disadvantage, even if small, multiplied over time is usually the difference between failure and success.

What does this look like in practice?

Well, for one, a best-functioning team of professional advisors should include a great strategy and exit planning advisor, a great accountability coach, and a great wealth manager.

And they should all work together, especially and effectively toward that most natural and glorious and appropriate goal of all entrepreneurs and of all investors.

Which, of course, is asset building and earning power.

Built both slowly and methodically over time as an investor and in sudden, large green and creative shoots as an entrepreneur.

 


Are You a Business Contender or Pretender?


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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.


Why Business Intelligence is So Hard [And What to do About It]


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Over the past few weeks, I have written about the amazing growth and financial progress of Business Intelligence (BI) companies like Domo, Birst, and Looker and how their rise to prominence and value signifies a shift in how we think about the best way to manage and value an enterprise.

I described this shift as "changing the world of business from one done by gut and hand to one done by statistics and evidence," and how this next generation of software companies can "finish the job" of the IT revolution and enable a level of predictability and automation to business and investment processes like never before.

There is one big problem, however.

A problem that threatens the ability of these companies to deliver on the promise of their amazing technologies…

…and along with it any meaningful ROI for their customers.

That problem is people.

You see, the vast majority of us are a combination of unable and unexcited to actually use business intelligence tools and technologies on a regular and consistent basis.

Because doing so is hard.

And harder still when one does not have a rigorous quantitative background in things like statistics, cost accounting, behavioral economics, and managerial finance.

As tough, managing by data requires a lot of “pig-headedness”- not getting distracted by the "noise in the numbers" and a deep humility that when the inevitable conflicts between and our gut and the numbers arise to consistently choose the latter.

None of this sounds like much fun. So we avoid it.

However…let's juxtapose this difficult reality against why so many very smart people and investors are so excited about BI.

Because when Business Intelligence is done right, everyone makes a LOT more money.

A good analogy is eating better and exercising more – we all know it is really good for us but doing it requires education, habits re-training, and consistent, diligent work.

And those most successful at eating great and being in awesome shape usually have coaches – personal trainers, chefs, nutritionists - to help them define goals, put action plans together, and provide ongoing measurements, accountability, and course corrections to achieve success.

And enabling Business Intelligence tools and technologies within organizations is no different.

Luckily, a whole generation of companies have arisen to help companies implement and integrate BI into their management practices and work processes, and to train, teach and coach managers how to use and profit from them.

For sure, some day using BI to drive our daily work and business decision making will become, for most of us, as simple and natural as using a word processor or a spreadsheet.

But that day is a long way off.

And between now and then, the best managers looking to get BI working in their organizations quickly and correctly will hire coaches and consultants to help them.

And the values of the firms that do this work right and truly help managers and companies unlock the huge profit potential of Business Intelligence could someday approach that of the companies that build the software empowering it all.


The Best Place to Invest? Other People's Businesses.


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An endearing, but dangerous quality of entrepreneurs and small business owners is their propensity to go all-in -- not only pouring all of their lives, hearts and souls into their business, but all of their money too.

Of course, many entrepreneurs simply need every penny they have and more to fund their businesses and there just isn't any money left to invest in anything else.

But once an entrepreneur gets beyond the survival stage, they need to think about how and where money is working for them in their own business, and where it could do better.

Often times, a lot better.

The first challenge: Entrepreneurs live, breathe, and too often suffer their own businesses so much that when it comes to investing, they can’t think straight.  

I encounter a lot of entrepreneurs who have this massive built-in bias toward ongoing, disproportionate investment in their own businesses and correspondingly are often just blasé, disinterested, and even, dare I say lazy when it comes to thinking about money and investments outside of their “baby.” 

So they take one of two approaches. The first is the passive one -- outsourcing money and investment decisions outside of one’s business to a wealth “manager.” While there are compelling financial planning reasons to do this -- i.e. "we need to save and invest this much and earn this rate of return by this date to comfortably retire" -- the expectation for actual investment returns via this approach should be kept pretty low. 

In fact, the S&P Indices Versus Active Funds Scorecard (SPIVA) shows that average "managed money" returns trail the index averages by almost the exact percentages of the fees charged for managing the money.

The second approach is more scatter shot - whereby investments in “one-off” real estate, startups, oil and gas, and collectables opportunities, among others, are presented to the entrepreneur by a varying lot of well-meaning and potentially pilfering parties.

And entrepreneurs, as they are wired fundamentally as optimists, find these opportunities naturally appealing.

So they invest – sometimes to good and lucky effect, but often disastrously so.

Is there a better way?

Can the hard-working entrepreneur have his or her money earn a good rate of return? While managing risk? 

And dare we dream – adoing so in a way that is in alignment with their entrepreneurial values and leverages their entrepreneurial skill sets, experiences, and industry knowledge?

Of course there is!

An approach built on diversification and one that leverages traditional managed money vehicles like public market stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, but also offers the opportunity for above average, and with a little good fortune, potentially excellent investment returns.

It looks, quite simply, like this: Invest in what you know

Or, in other words, a restaurateur could invest in other people’s restaurants and food service businesses. 

Healthcare entrepreneurs could evaluate investment opportunities in healthcare. 

Those owning distribution or light manufacturing businesses, look at other people’s distribution and light manufacturing businesses.  

Now, of course there are caveats to this approach.

The first is to be cautious and conscious as to industry risk – factors such as an uncertain regulatory environment or perilously fast changing technological change that create risks beyond the control of any one or several companies in an industry.

Secondly, to undertake this form of investment, especially when owning minority positions in private companies, transactional and deal term sophistication is a must.

So if you don't understand aspects of private equity investing like valuation, capital structure, control and anti-dilution provisions, it is probably better to either avoid this form of investing, or do so through a managed or private equity fund vehicle approach.

You may be asking: Why go through all the trouble? 

Well, when done right, a properly executed and diversified "angel" investment approach like this can earn a very high investment return. 

Research from the Kauffman Foundation Angel Returns Study and the Nesta Angel Investing Study, compiled by Dr. Robert Wiltbank, have demonstrated that the "…average angel investor (across the U.S. and UK) produced a gross multiple of 2.5 times their investment, in a mean time of about four years."

Returns like this will not be found via traditional managed money approaches, and rarely -- especially when accounting for the huge opportunity costs of running a company -- in one’s own business. 

So for those entrepreneurs with the stomach and the work ethic for it, an "Other People’s Business" investment strategy like this is one well-worth considering. 

To Your Success,

P.S. To listen to a replay of my Friday Webinar, “Characteristics of SaaS Companies with Breakout Potential,”, click here.

A version of this article originally appeared in Entrepreneur Magazine and can be seen here.

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