Written by Jay Turo on Monday, January 11, 2010
Of all of the variables to evaluate in handicapping the likelihood of success of a business, by far the most important is its "human DNA" - that killer combination of people smarts, vision, creativity, integrity and work ethic present in all great companies.
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, January 4, 2010
Look to the right for a fantastic chart that tracks investment returns for various asset classes over the past 10 and 20 years.
A few points immediately jump off the page:
So that is past. What will the next 10 years hold? Here are three predictions:
My answer - yes but. Yes - because the 2 key factors that drive angel investing outperformance remain the same. One, returns have to be very high as compensation for illiquidity - most angel investments are in private-held, small companies years away from a sale or an IPO. And two, returns are high as compensation for the EXTREME variance of the asset class.
Now for the but. While the asset class returned an average of 30%+, it was attained via the sum of a very, very few winners (aka Google), and lots and lots of losers.
Quite simply, a few investors made a killing, and a giant many got killed.
But here is where it gets interesting. The one thing that has and will continue to drive angel investing returns - namely technology advancements - now allows investors, for the first time, access to smoothed-out returns (i.e. higher likelhood of hitting the 30% average versus the extreme highs and lows).
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, December 21, 2009
Barring a massive rally between now and the end of the year, the "00's" will be the worst decade in the history of the stock market.
Very, very tough. Trillions lost. Retirement plans delayed. Heartache and heartbreak.
Given the amazing and world-changing advances in human productivity and connectivity over the last 10 years, may the venture capital industry, and correspondingly the world of emerging technology - re-find its return footing.
This falls into the category of the equity markets being "due" for a big returns decade. A simple, but defensible premise.
3. May The Nation's Entrepreneurs Lead The Way. Never has there been more productive, focused, mature, and cause-driven entrepreneurs alive in the world than there are today.
Take a look at the below list of the top performing stocks of the past 10 year (1999-2008):
Symbol Company 10 Yr. Cum. Return
And you know what? Come 2019 there will be TEN DIFFERENT obscure and small companies that will make this list.
Noone knows who these companies will be. But to attain alpha, you MUST find them.
One thing is for sure - a few investors WILL find them.
The more interesting question of course is - will you be one of them?
I look forward to your attendance and feedback.
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, December 14, 2009
Showing once again where our modern media priorities are, shoved off the front page last week by more lurid Tiger Woods talk, was the very under-reported but potentially game-changing proposal that President Obama made last week regarding eliminating all capital gains taxes on startup and small business investments.
There are so my ways that this is good for small business, for America, and for private company investing. Let me note three:
1. Simple Fairness. It has been a very tough couple of years for startups and small businesses. Unlike automakers and big banks, the nation's entrepreneurs were left to completely fend for themselves through the recent economic tsunami.
And, as befits a class of people that can only be described as modern-day action heroes, given their massive and unsung contributions to the American way of life, the entrepreneurs among us have handled their adversities as they always do - with stoicism, with grace, and with the simple coda that nothing is immutable to hard work.
But it is beyond time that someone lend them a hand. If, miracle of miracle, Congress follows the President's lead and makes this proposal law (and given how lower capital gains has been a Republican mantra since I was in high school, the probability is high that it will), it will unleash a huge investment bull market across the entrepreneurial landscape.
And let's not forget how overdue this is - for the 1st time in history this last decade will go down as the only one where more money was invested INTO venture capital than was earned out. While early-stage private equity investing did much better in the decade than VC's, it has still been a very rough go of it.
The hope here is that this tax break will be a catalyst for capital move from do-nothing and know-nothing investments like gold and into productive ones like technology startups and small businesses.
2. Startup and Small Business Tax Breaks Spur Innovation. The proposed capital gains tax break, when coupled with the proposed tax credits for small business hiring and investment, will provide a much-needed boost to entrepreneurial risk-taking and innovation.
Remember, this information age of ours is a story of "guys in garages." Gates and Allen, Jobs and Wozniak, Page and Brin.
Similarly, the big ideas of the coming "Energy Age" - in battery technology, in cold fusion, in greenhouse gas reversal, will NOT come from the federal government or big business.
Why? Because very simply the most creative people do NOT want to work within any kind of bureaucracy. Rather, they will come from the yet to-be-founded startup, that fluid and flexible small business about to break-out.
Anything that makes it easier for these innovators to have cheaper access to capital - which a waiver of the tax on capital gains effects - is a HUGE positive.
3. Let's Get the Best and Brightest to be More Entrepreneurial. Finally and tied to this point, the central economic and investment issue of our age is not inflation, it is not big bank bailouts, it is not health care reform, it is not Democrat versus Republican and it is not liberal versus conservative.
No, it is what can and needs to be done to spur the "best and brightest" among us to be more entrepreneurial and more successful when they are.
Why? Because entrepreneurs create the innovations that create the jobs that create the wealth that create our whole, cherished American way of life.
So we need everyone in positions of influence in our society - government, media, education, entertainment - to stand-up for the entrepreneurs.
The proposed capital gains tax break in this context is as important in what it signals as its direct stimulus effect.
And for you investors out there, the best thing is that if YOU do the best thing for the economy and the country and invest in entrepreneurs, well guess what?
If you do it right, you will make far more on your money that you could ever imagine.
This is called doing well while doing good. And it is highly recommended.
I look forward to your attendance and feedback.
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Written by Jay Turo on Monday, December 7, 2009
As many of you I am sure are aware, there has been a major gold bull run since the start of the year. While pulling back slightly in the last few days, the price of an ounce of gold touched a record $1,227.50 on Thursday, December 3rd.
Most of the rally has been driven by widespread inflation fears, which in turn are driven by the massive and unprecedented deficits that most of the major industrial governments (save China, of course) seem committed to running for as far as the eye can see.
Gold - say the wise men - is the ideal inflation hedge, which of course is another way of saying that it is the ideal hedge against governments acting badly and confiscating the well-earned wealth of its productive citizens.
Now I would never begrudge anyone that likes betting against government as an investment strategy, but by golly if there ever was an investment that just outright appeals to the uninformed (and those who prey on them), it is gold.
Let's take a step back here, folks, and think a bit about the word "investing," defined by Webster's as "the active redirection of resources/assets to creating benefits in the future."
Now can someone please explain to me how an asset that doesn't yield or produce ANYTHING, and costs money to store, could possibly be considered an investment?
The answer, quite simply, is that gold isn't an investment. Gold, as jewelry or decoration, or accoutrement, is beautiful. Gold as investment is a cult.
A cult of negativity and pessimism, to be more precise. And one in which it would be funny if it is wasn't so sad how many of the older generation in this great country of ours are caught up.
Spend a little time amongst the retired set talking about both investing and the future of America and the amount of fear, negativity, and of an all-consuming mindset of concern for one's own hide and to heck with everyone else falls somewhere between depressing and appalling.
A particularly galling trick of the gold huckster industry (coming to a talk radio or billboard ad near you) is to first promote with great fury their "sky is falling" shtick, then suggest that the only solution is not to just buy gold (that would be bad enough), but to buy gold COINS versus the bullion itself (or far more efficiently, a gold ETF like State Street's Gold Spider (NYSE: GLD)).
What they don't tell you is that they mark these coins up as much as 30% - making almost as much money for themselves as the Pirates of old. And oh yes, if gold bullion and coins were regulated investment assets as they should be, they would call that amount of markup a crime.
How About Actually Investing?
Now let's look at the polar opposite of investing in gold - namely investing in the most productive, most effective, most wealth-building sector of our economy.
I am talking of course about investing in the modern-day action heroes that are the world's entrepreneurs. The men and women who right now are starting and building the Googles, the LinkedIns, the Facebooks, the Twitters, the Apples, the Microsofts, the Amazons, of the next 20 years.
They are passionately at work at the new and young companies where the ideas are freshest, where the work ethic is most profound, and where the innovation breakthroughs are most world-changing.
And unlike investors in gold, who have gotten a negative long-term return since 1980 (on an inflation adjusted-basis, gold's $599/ounce price peak in 1981 price translates in today's $ to $1,417/ounce, investors in entrepreneurial and small companies have killed it - earning a whopping 21.4% annually during that same time frame.
So this holiday season, buy that special someone a gold necklace, or earrings, or bracelet, or gold-plated watch, for sure.
But if you want to give yourself a gift, hang up on the gold hucksters and instead find and back the entrepreneurs in your midst.
They will TRULY be the gift that keeps on giving.
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, November 30, 2009
A very, important study of U.S. Economic Census Data conducted by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, was published last week that statistically demonstrates who really creates jobs in the American economy.
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, November 23, 2009
Thanksgiving is thequintessential American holiday. It acknowledges the best qualities ofour blessed land - rewards for hard work, diversity as strength, andthe "attitude of gratitude" toward which all of us strive.
Asevery school boy and girl knows (or, in our 21st century world of videogames and politically correct education, should know), Thanksgivingtraces its origin from a 1621 Pilgrim harvest feast to celebrate a successfulgrowing season and survival after an extremely difficult first winterin the New World.
And at that harvest feast these Pilgrims from England and the original inhabitants of the area - the Wampanoag Indians - sat down and ate together in a spirit of friendship and camaraderie. The Pilgrims owed their survival to the goodwill of the Indians, whohad taught them how to grow corn and how to fish in the very unfamiliarNew England (now) soil and seas.
What a story. If it doesn't get you going, then you aren't even trying. Let me help:
First, let's reflecton the incredible guts, tenacity, sense of adventure, and justunbelievable hard work and perseverance of the Pilgrims. It beyonddefies our modern, cushy-soft sensibilities. Let's channel thetoughness of the Pilgrims when tackling the challenges of our modernday - health care, deficits, China, et al.
Next, while thehistory of the white man's treatment of the native peoples of Americain the last 500 years has been mostly shameful, let's reflect onthat happy day of brotherhood.
Let's all be proud of thehistorically unique diversity of modern America. Doubt me? Spend theday as I did yesterday with my 2 and 3 - year old boys at LegoLandin Carlsbad.
As we sat building towers and cars and the kinds ofplanes that only fly in little boy's imaginations, I looked to my leftand I saw an intent Indian boy and his father hard at work.
To myright, an African-American girl directing her Daddy how she we wantedit done. Behind me, a family with Asiatic features happily building.
As for language, only me with my thick Massachusetts accent spokeanything but perfect English.
There is NOWHERE on Earth this scenerepeats itself as often and as peaceably and as productively as it doesin America. Japan? China? The Middle East? Europe? Hah!Still mostly medieval in their perspectives on these matters, and inour information age America has a MASSIVE leg-up because of it.
And finally, let's give thanks. Iam not proud of it, but I am still addicted to reading the Sunday NewYork Times. And what a tale of woe it is. And while I know the #1 ruleof modern media - "if it bleeds, it leads," please just stop.
Betweenthe dire talk of global warming, global terrorism, and global finance,if you don't catch yourself you can't help but feel sorry for not justyou, but for all of humanity.
It is 99% bunk. The world has NEVER offered more opportunities for a larger percentage of us tolive affluent lives, to do self-expressive, remunerative work, and tobe amazed daily by the wonders of modern technology and entertainment than it does right now.Be grateful for all that and more.
Happy Thanksgiving to all. May your holiday be blessed withthe rewards of hard work, of breaking bread with family and friends newand old, and with an attitude of gratitude for the bounties the futurewill most definitely hold.
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Written by Jay Turo on Monday, November 23, 2009
At Growthink, our mission is "to serve the world's entrepreneurs." When I share this with folks, they often come back to me with "Who are these entrepreneurs that are your mission to serve?" Touché.
So who is and who isn't an entrepreneur?
I like Professor Arthur O'Sullivan's definition, from "Economics: Principles in Action" the best - "An entrepreneur is a person who has possession of an new enterprise, venture or idea, and assumes significant accountability for the inherent risks and the outcome. He or she is an ambitious leader who combines land, labor, and capital to often create and market new goods or services."
In the U.S. alone, this represents the more than 6 million new businesses started every year, and the many, many millions more contemplated. The figure worldwide is a BIG multiple of this.
Thank heavens for all of them - according to a famous M.I.T study new business starts account for more than 2/3 of all net new job creation. Especially as by far the biggest economic issue facing America (and the world, for that matter) is job creation, these entrepreneurs truly hold the key to our nation's and the world's long-term prosperity more than any other group.
Individuals LEADING Small Companies. Per that M.I.T study, the other 1/3 of net new job creation comes from the so-called "gazelles," - rapidly growing, emerging companies. The most common statistical definition of these are the 641,000 U.S. firms with between 20 to 1,000 employees. They, along with startups, account for more than 62% of all private sector employment.
Anyone that has spent even a day at a gazelle can literally breathe the entrepreneurship in the air. The best of them are led by deeply ambitious men and women walking the talk of American business. The President, in his inaugural speech, described them best:
"Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated, but more often, men and women obscure in their labour, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom."
Let us hope he and our Washington leaders think often of these inspirationally hard-working folks when crafting governmental policy in the months and years to come.
All of us know small business men and women - that while certainly possessing of many wonderful attributes - for whom it would be a big stretch to describe them as "ambitious leaders."
To best illustrate, I suggest you attend a meeting of your local chamber of commerce and hear how much of the debate is focused on problems and grievances versus vision and possibility. Sad, but true.
The "Non-obvious" Entrepreneurs
I find the startup and small business entrepreneurs worthy of great praise and respect. In some ways, I am even MORE impressed with those that demonstrate strong, ambitious, principled entrepreneurial leadership in the contexts of bureaucracy, politics, and vexing social challenges.
Here are a few:
Bono, arguably the world's best known philanthropic celebrity, is an entrepreneur on two fronts. First, via his commitment to world-class creative output as the leader of the mega-rock band U2. And he is an entrepreneur, via his unique effectiveness as an activist and spokesperson and doer of big projects for causes close to his heart - human rights, third world debt relief, and AIDS and African development issues. If you think it is tough to get a city business permit, try getting governments of affluent nations to work together to solve global social challenges that barely garner a back-page sentence or two in the "it bleeds, it leads media" that voters back home call news.
Because entrepreneurship as its essence is about creation, and the success of one entrepreneur ANYWHERE results in a better life for everyone EVERYWHERE.
I look forward to your attendance and feedback.
Written by Jay Turo on Sunday, November 15, 2009
Two pieces of startling news to consider when thinking about how money is really made in our brand-driven 21st century economy:
Director Cameron, of Titanic, is blowing away ALL movie cost records here. To give a feel of the size of the bet that Cameron, Fox, and private equity partners Dune Entertainment and Ingenious Media, are taking on the film, Avatar may have to become one of the top-twenty grossing movies of ALL time just to break-even!
2. Ms. Kim Kardashian, kindly described by Wikipedia as "an American celebutante, socialite, model, actress, businesswoman, and television personality" is the 8th most followed person on Twitter. She trails only Ashton Kutcher, Britney Spears, Ellen Degeneres, Oprah Winfrey, and oh yes, the President of the United States.
This is relevant only because, whatever you think about the quality/lines of work and political leanings of others on the list, at least they have actually DONE SOMETHING to become famous.
Ms. Kardashian, for all of her obvious charms, is that particular modern phenomenon of seemingly being famous because she is, well, famous.
The logicians of the time - most prominently John Stuart Mill- associated the term "Black Swan" to the concept that a "previously perceived impossibility may actually come to pass."
Bringing it to November 2009, man who would have thought that a) a movie featuring a love story between 2 ten-foot tall blue aliens and b) a 29-year old actress with no major film or television credits or awards would have far more brand and marketing dollars and reach behind them than every single technology startup in the United States combined?
The answer: Nobody. And more importantly, the phenomenons of Avatar and Ms. Khardashian CANNOT - I repeat CANNOT - be retroactively analyzed for guidance as to what the next new thing will be. As Kim might say - "just don't go there."
So the true Black Swan acolyte does not look for guidance from past, outlier events, he or she does seek lessons. Here are three:
It is what getting rich in America SHOULD be about. But the statistics tell a far different story.
Think about the size of Avatar's reach - a $300 million production budget? $200 million for marketing? There probably aren't 10 technology startups in the whole world with these kinds of numbers behind them.
And the nice thing about a movie versus a startup is that you can usually find out in real-time if you have something. Don't you think the VC's with their full portfolios of "waking dead" startups would like to find out as Fox will with Avatar, in like 2 weeks, if they have something?
2) "Vanilla" investment in business models, in corporations, LLCs and the like, are almost passing into the realm of quaintness. I come back to my good friend Rafe Furst and his brilliant idea of the personal investment contract.
Investing in any one of Ms. Kardashian's various companies (perfume, clothing, DVD projects) is highly risky and on the surface, not all that attractive. But being able to invest in the Kim Khardasian personality brand itself - with her top 1,000 website and 2.8 million Twitter followers (put this in perspective - Jim Kramer's Mad Money gets about 300,000 viewers/day) - is a sure-fire moneymaker.
That is philosophy - here is money-making: The big, big outlier events - the 1,000 to 1 shots and beyond - are always, always, always, UNDER-PRICED in the marketplace.
Bet on them.
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, November 9, 2009
Passing with surprisingly little fanfare, today is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
One of my most enduring memories of my college days (I was an International Relations Major at Stanford, Class of 1990) was a class that I took from an extremely engaging and charismatic young professor on Soviet Foreign Policy.
One statement that my professor made stayed with me - that probably none of us in our lifetimes would see the Berlin Wall fall.
a) The inevitable brain and talent drain that an opening of the wall would bring about
b) The more that people in the old Soviet republics and in Eastern Europe were allowed to see with their own eyes the freedom and prosperity that liberal capitalism creates, the more likely they would be to rebel against their masters.
Thus, the Soviet leadership, out of pure and obvious self-interest, would never allow it to happen.
Well, the rest is history. Six months after this perhaps off-hand classroom statement, the Berlin Wall came down. And 15 years later, my young and charismatic professor - Condoleezza Rice - was named the 66th United States Secretary of State.
I am not exaggerating when I say that of all of my college experiences and memories (at least the ones I can remember..:), that that day and that class and Professor Rice's statement stayed with me. Why?
1. It inculcated in me at a very early age that the future is very, very uncertain, and that there is often little correlation between the depth of one's understanding of a topic and the ability to PREDICT about it.
Professor Rice KNEW the Soviet Union - even then she was considered one of the nation's most knowledgeable and versed thinkers and commentators on topic. And yet she, like so many others, was wildly wrong here.
2. While I could not put it into words until last year when my good friend and perhaps best thinker on "systems of prediction" I know - Rafe Furst - introduced me to Nicholas Taleb's masterpiece "The Black Swan," I and many others intuitively felt that something VERY, VERY, VERY outside of the realm of prediction took place the day the wall fell.
3. And more deeply, BECAUSE it fell outside the realm of prediction, it MATTERED. The "smell test" on these kinds of moments are simple - they are the ones we remember where we were when we first heard about them.
For my generation - The Space Shuttle Disaster (and Reagan's incredible speech that night), The 1987 Stock Market Crash, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Clinton's impeachment, September 11th, the capture of Saddam, and the fall of Lehman (for those of more business/financially-minded) fall into this category.
My friend Rafe and Taleb tie this core life insight to business and investing.
How? By only wagering on the unpredictable. Raynor in the Strategy Paradox makes the same point. BIG success and BIG money are only made on the BIG outliers - everything else is just transom.
In a strange way, the fall of the Berlin Wall was a seminal event in my youth that pointed me to my life's work. It affirmed by belief in liberal capitalism and in the "way of the West" as the right and proper end of history.
And in business, it led me to entrepreneurship and to private equity.
Why? Because it is in the aspirations of the entrepreneur and of their backers that the power of the unpredictable is made most real in business.
Those that grasp it - the Bezos, the Brins, the Pages, the Josh James of Omniture, the Aaron Patzers of Mint.com, the Kevin Planks of Under Armour, MAKE history.
And hopefully take the rest of us along for the ride.
I look forward to your attendance and feedback.
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