Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday.
It acknowledges the best qualities of our great land - hard work, diversity as strength, and a focus on solutions not problems.
Whenever I am feeling down about America’s prospects in this brave new world of ours, I reflect on Thanksgiving’s timeless lessons.
As every school boy and girl knows, Thanksgiving traces its origin from a 1621 Pilgrim harvest feast to celebrate surviving an extremely difficult first winter in the New World.
The Pilgrims owed their survival to the goodwill of the Wampanoag Indians – the original inhabitants of the area - who taught them how to grow corn and how to fish in the very unfamiliar New England soil and seas.
As a gesture of thanks and goodwill, the Pilgrims invited the Wampanoags to sit down and break bread in a spirit of friendship and camaraderie.
What a story. First, let's reflect on the guts, tenacity, sense of adventure, and just “never say die” hard work and perseverance of the Pilgrims.
Think about it - if they can make it then with their oh-so limited 17th Century resources, what can we do, where can we go with our virtually limitless 21st Century ones?
And let's reflect on that happy day of brotherhood and be justifiably proud of the powerful diversity of modern America.
Doubt me? Then spend a Saturday with my 5 year-old son Jay Jay’s AYSO soccer team.
With its Hawaiian coach.
Its son of Ethiopian refugees star player.
And its African - American, Mexican - American and suburban white kid players all happily frolicking in a melting pot scene not to be duplicated virtually anywhere in the world.
Soccer with my sons is a welcome break from what I am sad to say has become a bad, gossipy vice – keeping up with the “news.”
Between the dire talk of deficits, debt crises, unemployment, crime dramas, and natural disasters, if you don't catch yourself you can't help but feel sorry for yourself, the country, and the planet.
It is 99% bunk.
Both the world and America have NEVER offered more opportunities for a larger percentage of
us to live affluent lives, to do self-expressive, remunerative work, and to be amazed daily by the wonders of modern technology and entertainment than it does right now.
This Thursday, let’s give thanks for all that and more.
Happy Thanksgiving to all.
Last week I had the distinct pleasure of visiting with Mr. Rich Correll. Rich’s father, Charles Correll, was “Andy” of the famous radio duo, “Amos ‘n’ Andy”, which at its peak in the 1930’s was the most popular radio show in America.
To get a sense of how famous Rich’s dad was, in the early 1930’s Amos ‘n’ Andy had over 40 million listeners, at a time when the U.S. population was only 122 million!
So Rich grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s surrounded by the movie stars of the day. His neighbor was Judy Garland, and a great friend of the family and hero to young Rich was Harold Lloyd, one of the most famous stars of the silent film era. As Rich tells it, Harold Lloyd’s Beverly Hills home was so large that “The Playboy Mansion could fit in its garage.”
Visiting with Rich at his home is memorable to say the least. And not just because he is an incredibly gracious host and wonderful teller of Hollywood stories old and new. You see, Rich also happens to own one of the largest and best collections of science fiction, fantasy, and horror memorabilia in the world.
And what a collection it is. From old school Draculas and Frankensteins, through Freddy Krueger and Saw, to Health Ledger’s famous Joker, Rich has it all, knows it all, and shares with great passion the history and importance of every piece.
Rich’s collection is so renowned that when he sometimes opens it for display on Halloween, more than seven thousand trick or treaters parade across his lawn. It is so amazing that he helps his good friend Hugh Hefner decorate his famous Halloween party with it.
Even better, Rich has an idea for a new business. And as a guy that hears a lot of ideas for new businesses every day, I can credibly say that Rich’s is a truly GREAT one.
And no, I am not going to share what it is, but suffice to say that because of who Rich Correll is and how he has lived his remarkable life, that he is the perfect person to pull it off. And I hope and believe that he will.
Now meeting with Rich got me to thinking about the big “why” questions of entrepreneurship. Why take the risks? Why put up with the hassles, the heartaches?
Well, to make a lot of money is more than a good enough reason for sure. And praise the United States of America and our way of life for the incredible blessing and opportunity this is.
But inspiration takes many forms, and I know that this nation and this planet depends upon the best among us, the most fortunate among us, to make this world more technologically fluid, more materially rich, more interesting, more beautiful.
And starting and making a business grow and prosper – whether it is a nice, little new restaurant, or a small IT business, or a really big and inspirational idea like Rich Correll’s, is the best way to make all of this good stuff happen.
And so I’ll say it – beyond making money, I believe that those with entrepreneurial gifts and ambitions should and must – risks be damned – be “all in” and use them.
Not an obligation from guilt, but one from possibility. Because if you, Mr. / Ms. Entrepreneur, have the chance to touch the stars and lift all of our gazes while so doing, then why wouldn’t you?
Whatever one's politics, those interested in seeing entrepreneurs prosper in America have to be heartened by the sea of change in “regulatory attitude” emanating from Washington.
Across the ideological spectrum, I hear near universal agreement that “cutting the red tape” is the fastest way to re-ignite the nation’s economy and best position the country for 21st century global competitiveness.
Let’s have an amen for that!
As both the CEO of a fast growing middle market company, and as an advisor to emerging companies across the industry spectrum, I have first hand experience of the debilitating cost of regulation.
And let me tell you, it aint pretty.
What I want to do - what my company's clients, employees, investors, and partners need me to do - is to stay laser-focused on leading Growthink to its next plateau of growth.
And as it is for all leaders of companies of promise and ambition, this is a huge job.
It requires one - among other challenges - to be constantly vigilant and prescient as to evolving competitive conditions, consumer preferences, and the dizzying speed of technological change.
But that is not all.
Leading a growing company in the 21st century also requires the discipline, the artistry, and the relationship - focus of a master sales person.
It requires the emotional intelligence and fortitude to mentor and develop leaders from within an organization, more often than not these days comprised of somewhat high maintenance "millennials."
And it requires the toughness, the consistency, and the exactitude to connect the strategic and operational dots with the bottom line to grow both fast and profitably.
And oh yes, while doing all of this - which for the significant majority of entrepreneurs is a 75 hour+ per week undertaking - extreme care must also be taken to maintain one's physical and emotional health.
And most importantly of all, while doing all this for many of us it also requires “being there” everyday in every way for one's spouse and family.
A huge undertaking, to say the least.
And one that I - like most entrepreneurs - feel incredibly blessed and grateful to live in a country and a world where such an opportunity, a possibility, a sacred trusteeship, is there for the doing.
But the one thing that the entrepreneur has in very short supply is time.
To be more exact about it, what all entrepreneurs need to vigilantly protect and nurture above all else is their positive and forward-focused energy.
And the one thing that distracts, dampens, and just outright kills good positive energy is confronting and trying to unravel unnecessarily complex, obtuse, and anachronistic rules and regulations.
Now, the exciting thing is that for the first time in my 25 years in business I sense that politicians – across the ideological spectrum and at the federal, state, county, and city level – fully agree with me on this!
This change in “regulatory tone” can be best summed up as the truism that the private sector is the only real driver of the nation’s prosperity and way of life.
And furthermore, given the realities of government budget shortfalls for as far as the eye can see, that the only way for government to make a meaningful economic difference these days is by cutting red tape.
Now for those of you that worry that cutting too much red tape too fast will lead to the kind of excesses that precipitated the 2008 recession, I wouldn’t.
Because the real protection for the consumer these days is our always-on, “you are only as good and trustworthy as that last Tweet about you” modern world.
So government - as opposed to sending yet another notice in the mail regarding yet another distracting and purposeless regulation - how about giving that entrepreneur a pat on the back?
A word of praise?
A thank you?
You can even tweet it.
One of the great joys and blessings of modern business is the opportunity to connect and transact with dynamic, emerging growth companies all over the world.
I recently had the great pleasure of meeting Mr. Vladimir Lempert CEO and founder of Spetztekhosnastka, or “STO”, a plastics design and manufacturing company headquartered in Dniprodzerzhins'k (about 200 miles Southeast of Kiev), in the Ukraine.
Vladimir is a great example of the both "tough as nails” and visionary global entrepreneur that make this by far the most exciting time in human history to start and build a business.
While the media focuses on various distractions - debt crises, currency swings, the price of gold, deficit super-committees - that passes as business news these days, Vladimir is just laser focused on profiting from the new world of opportunity exploding all around him.
Like the unique combination of high-quality engineering talent, low labor costs, and a surprisingly stable tax and regulatory environment that is the modern Ukraine.
Like the increasing consumer purchasing power throughout Eastern Europe that is exploding demand for STO's innovative packaging technology, creating for Vladimir the very "high class problem" of managing and financing hyper - growth.
And like his opportunity - even though STO is a relatively small 300 person company - to credibly compete for and win business all over this 7 billion person world of ours.
Does Vladimir have his challenges? Of course.
But the eye-opening thing is that even though his business is located in a place that, for a lot of us, our first reaction to it is some combination of "too business unfriendly," "too out of the way," and "you have to be kidding me," if you got under the hood of Vladimir’s business as we have these last few weeks those challenges would seem very familiar to a business near you.
Or one in Shanghai. Or Rio. Or Seoul.
Or Lagos or Monterrey.
Or Prague or Peoria.
Like entrepreneurs everywhere, Vladimir needs to manage his cash flow, motivate and develop his employees, balance his focus between new and existing customers, and incorporate Internet and cloud technologies into his business practices.
And while doing all of that, he also has to constantly adjust his strategy and tactics in response to the ever-swirling, always storming competitive seas that is modern, global business.
Now, I won't get into the macroeconomics or the geopolitics as to the effect of new entrants like Vladimir into an old-line industry like plastics, other than to say to Vladimir’s "first-world” competitors simply that it is high time to either get better or get left behind.
And heck, isn’t this true for the competitors of the literally tens of thousands of companies like STO that are flowering in emerging economies around the world?
As for the rest of us, we all win.
My firm has a new client 7,000 miles away, a lucky financier will be connected with STO and make a very pretty return on capital, jobs and prosperity will be created in a locale where until recently there has been mostly heartache, and consumers the world over will benefit from innovation on products and services that improve their quality of life.
As for Vladimir, well this new, blessed world of ours – with new customers and technologies and management and competitive best practices always just a click away - is just one massive life-changing boon.
As it is, if we just let it be so, for the rest of us too.
Saturday night, I had the distinct pleasure of attending Jamie Wheal’s and Steven Kotler’s “Flow Salon” at the Summit Series’ awesome home in Malibu, California.
The evening was memorable - to say the least - on many levels.
First, by whatever name you call it - "the runner's high," being "in the moment," "in the zone", "when time slows down," "the opposite of writer's block,” flow has been studied and celebrated by mystics, athletes, artists and their coaches and guides for centuries.
While even the most articulate among us struggle to put into words exactly what flow is, where it comes from, and what it means, simply hearing the Saturday night tales of “flow states” from Jamie and Steven’s assembled group was beyond exhilarating.
Steven shared his story of how attaining flow through surfing cured him of the Lyme Disease that had left him bed-ridden for three years.
Jamie shared flow states from various vignettes in his life – from skateboarding as a young boy that ignited in him a lifelong love of the outdoors and action sports, to being at the bedside of his dying mother and having his hand on her heart for her last breath, to when as a management consultant he had facilitated moments of great group creativity and common cause that are the emblems of high-performing teams and organizations.
And the stories went on - from world class cyclists, skiers, tennis and soccer players, to writers, musicians, and artists, to entrepreneurs and executives - of fleeting moments of full “aliveness,” of “oneness,” of pure joy and peak productivity – that alternately inspired, intrigued, and thrilled the gathering.
Now, while the evening could have stood on its own as just a great Saturday night out on the town, what saved it from descending into psycho babble and even a bit of self-congratulation was Jamie and Steven's inspiring vision.
You see, the goal of their Flow Genome Project is to do nothing less than to distill flow - this so enchanting elixir of human experience - into its component parts.
To fully understand and document the neuroscience and biochemistry and maybe even the quantum mechanics underlying it.
And then, to make it available - on demand - to anyone with the requisite amount of courage and commitment to seek it.
Now, let me be clear. Even though everyone at the salon agreed that "being in flow" is the most fun they have ever had, Jaime and Steven are not narcissists, nor pleasure seekers for its own sake.
Far from it.
Rather, they are inspired by the power of flow to shift paradigms, to spur innovation, and to allow access to previously undiscovered paths and creative avenues to solutions to some of humanity’s most vexing problems.
Like cancer, depression, and addiction.
Like dysfunctions of family, team, company, and nation.
Heck, about how answering - experientially - those vexing questions of meaning, purpose, and journey that are part and parcel of the global, 21st century life experience.
Their goal is to do so - through a quintessentially modern, public/private, profit/non-profit business plan - by the year 2020.
Will they / can they do it?
Time and experience will tell, of course.
But, either way, on Saturday night an eclectic group of seekers, strivers, athletes, writers, artists, and entrepreneurs were very inspired by Jamie and Steven’s courage and commitment to share the early steps of their journey.
So Jamie and Steven, godspeed, and may the force - and the flow - be with you.
A very bright spot in the U.S. economy right now is angel investing. According to the Center for Venture Research, angel funding activity in the 1st 6 months of 2011 totaled $8.9 billion, an increase of 4.7% over the same period in 2010.
The numbers tell the inspiring story of entrepreneurial, “can do” America – more than 26,000 companies raising capital from more than 124,000 individual investors.
Some nuggets of interest from the report:
• 39/61: The percent of angel capital that went to seed stage companies and the percent that went to more mature companies, respectively
• 39 (again): Percent of angel funding that went to healthcare / life sciences-related companies
• 5: From the report: “Angel investments continue to be a significant contributor to job growth with the creation of 134,130 new jobs in the United States in 2011, or 5 jobs per angel investment”
Not included in this report are the changing rationales / reasons as to why angels invest.
Making a lot of money, obviously, is at the top of this list. There is no form of investment - not the stock market, not real estate, not gold, not commodities nor art nor collectibles - that can even remotely compare to the life-changing returns that a successful angel investment can yield.
I have a friend who was one of the first investors in a startup media and entertainment company that grew to become one of the largest firms in Europe in its market niche.
Even though his investment into that company was only in the mid five figures, and even though he had been otherwise unfortunate with a slew of other angel investments and with his own business ventures (and unlucky in love to boot!), that one successful angel investment transformed his life.
He now lives on a spectacular hundreds of acre estate with its own lake, multiple guest houses, and with panoramic views to five different states from his master bedroom.
He has gone on to invest in dozens more startups and early - stage companies, and puts most of his “work” time into various charitable and philanthropic efforts.
And oh yes, he is also now very happily married with a wonderful, young family.
And all of this because he carefully listened to everyone that told him that most companies fail.
That investing in early-stage companies is extremely risky.
That the CEO of the company he invested in had never had a successful exit before.
That the “economy” was unstable and that a recession was looming.
My friend listened very carefully to all of this well-meaning advice.
And, praise to be, he ignored it all and invested anyway.
Now who knows how many of the 124,000 brave souls who were angel investors in the 1st 6 months of 2011 will have outcomes as life-changing as my friend’s.
But, unlike the 300+ million Americans that have NOT made an angel investment this year, our 124,000 at least are in the game.
They both are and they are enabling the “doers” of our entrepreneurial land.
And win or lose, for that they deserve our thanks and our praise.
And hopefully a lot of them will, like my fortunate friend, have one or a few of their angel investments transform their lives.
Like so many, when I heard that Steve Jobs had died, I was both greatly saddened and worried for how the heck were the rest of us going to get by without him.
And isn't that the ultimate compliment?
For in addition to bringing so much beauty and joy into the world and to creating one of the most admired and profitable companies of all time, Steve Jobs was one of the few leaders in this incredibly complex global business world of ours who really seemed to know what he was doing.
Didn’t he have that supremely important sense of how to design, market, and deliver products and services that we all really wanted?
And in his greatest trick of them all, didn’t he and Apple really give us products and services that we then found out that we really needed as well?
Steve Jobs' ability to do this again and again in the "TED" industries that so define our modern world - technology, entertainment, and design - make him if not the greatest businessman in history, then certainly in that so rarified conversation.
Now the challenge for the rest of us is to a) create market and societal conditions so that the next Steve Jobs is as likely to happen as possible and then b) to find and back him or her with every penny we've got.
Let’s leave a) to the sociologists and focus ourselves on b), or How to identify the right entrepreneurs to back.
Ok, say it: Identifying the next Steve Jobs is an absurd and impossible undertaking. Statistically speaking, it is way too needle in a haystack.
But if Steve Jobs ever let statistics decide for him, he would not have accomplished 1/1000 of everything he did.
No, as opposed to statistics, let's evaluate three meta-themes that embody much of the “Steve Jobs way:”
#1. Have a maniacally consumer-centric vision and approach;
#2. Be confident and even arrogant enough to believe that you can play and win in big, global markets;, and
#3. Be a great organization-builder.
For better or for worse, #1 and #2 above fall into the category of “you know it when you see it.”
So for our purposes here, let's focus on Steve Jobs as an organization-builder – arguably both the most under-rated and important part of his legacy.
Steve Jobs as an organization-builder can be best summed up by Robert Pirsig’s famous definition of quality as being "the result of care."
Wasn’t everything about Steve Jobs the result of care?
The way he meticulously prepared for presentations.
How involved he was in Apple's recruiting processes - personally conducting thousands of hiring interviews.
And, of course, his famously exacting design standards and his exhortations to Apple's engineers to do their best work.
And then go and to do better work still.
While times and products and markets and strategies radically changed over his long and storied career, his paying attention, his caring, did not.
So in the entrepreneurs we choose to back, let’s look for this caring above all else.
It is a good for its own sake.
And oh yes, when Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 its stock was trading at $3/share.
"If you grow up in the suburbs of anywhere, a dream like this seems kind of vaguely ludicrous and completely unattainable. But this moment is directly connected to those childhood imaginings. And for anybody who's on the downside of advantage, and relying purely on courage, it's possible."
- Russell Crowe, Academy Award acceptance speech (2001)
Last week, I had the unique pleasure of attending my first parent-teacher conference for my five-year-old son, Jay Jay.
As any parent can attest, it was touching on many levels, and sitting in my little boy's classroom brought me pleasantly back to my early school days so long ago.
And as I looked at the artwork on the classroom wall, where the children, as they have done since time immemorial, had painted pictures of who they were going to be when they grew up - firemen and astronauts and princesses and super heroes - it struck me in a whole new way where the wellspring of the entrepreneurial spirit truly lies.
For our children - with their infinite enthusiasms and imaginations, their unwillingness to accept no for an answer, their so natural proclivity to dream very, very big - aren't they who we strive to be when we embark on a new project, start a new company?
Now, you may say that innocence and idealism is all well and good, but in the hard and tough world of global business let's put our childish ways aside.
Let's accept limits.
Let's quote statistics - heck, isn't it great to quote statistics?
Especially those that show how long the odds really are.
With, of course, the unspoken being why even bother to try?
But sitting in little Jay Jay’s class and imbibing his upward-looking world of "Why not?” and even better his world of “Why not me?” I don't think so.
No, in the entrepreneurs I choose to back, I’ll take Jay Jay’s take on things.
I want men and women that dream and act big.
Ones that make the businesses they are building, the projects they are working on, the most important things in the whole wide world.
And golly – you either chip in to help or just get out of the way.
And you know what else? When these entrepreneurs come to me and my firm with their big, crazy dreams, ideas and plans and visions, I'm not going to quote statistics back to them.
And if I do, only to make the point that they are not going to end up a statistic if I have anything to say about it.
Because just like it is not the right thing to do to tell a five-year-old that in all likelihood they're not going to grow up to be that fireman, that astronaut, or a princess, or a super hero, so it is also not the right thing to tell an entrepreneur of any age that they are destined to fail, that they have no shot.
No, our duty is to meet them where they are, to dance in the possible, to dream with them of a better world, and their very important part in bringing that world to be.
And if that dream never comes - and does it ever really just as we dream it?
Well, that is just fine, too.
Because, like my little boy Jay Jay’s, our futures will be different from how we dream them.
But it is only by honoring that space of childhood imaginings does anything truly great come to pass.
Healthcare makes up a full 20 percent of the American economy.
Accordingly, small changes in regulations or technology create massive opportunities.
Today, billions of healthcare spending is moving to a handful of new companies because of a single new technology: Genetic Diagnostics.
In the past 24 months, the cost of genetic testing has dropped dramatically, and the diagnostic business is booming.
Nearly all the traditional drug and healthcare companies are unprepared for this transition, and will see their businesses disrupted.
Why? Well, genetic diagnostics – when done right – offers a revolutionary value proposition.
Genomic information can indicate your susceptibility to diseases including cancer, diabetes, and cystic fibrosis.
And not only can genetic tests predict disease, they can also predict the effectiveness of common drug treatments, including pain and diabetes medications, and treatments for obesity and hypertension.
Quite simply, doctors, clinics, hospitals, patients, and diagnostic labs need genetic tests to make major healthcare decisions for patients.
And the companies – many of them still in their startup and early, emerging growth phases - that create, distribute, and conduct these tests are having rocket ship growth.
The news that Congress is seriously considering major re-writes of the painfully anachronistic rules on small securities offerings could just be the straw that breaks the back of this now 12 year equity investing return drought.
Two bills currently being considered in Congress – the Entrepreneur Access to Capital Act and the Access to Capital for Job Creators Act – shows that Washington is finally starting to grasp the chasm that separates the financial services industry as embodied in soulless and too big to understand banking institutions, and the action hero worlds of emerging company entrepreneurs and the investors that back them.
And that our fair regulators have at least an implicit understanding that very real (and real time) reputation and compliance checks and balances of our always on, always connected, online world is just better than the Feds’ analog and antiquated regulatory regime.
Heck, even consideration of these bills is a welcome sign that a consensus has formed that out-of-date and ineffective regulations - far more so than taxes - are the worst inhibitors of job growth and economic vitality.
How so? Well, the proposed bills would update core aspects of the securities laws – most of which were written in the 1930’s - to reflect how 21st Century business is actually done.
As in over e-mail. With relationships initiated, cultivated and maintained online.
They would exempt companies looking to raise $5 million or less from standard SEC filing requirements and lighten the virtually impossible to follow rules on utilizing social networking and other Internet-based communications to market offerings.
As a patriotic American, I say "hooray."
As an angel investor, I say “how can I get in on the fun!”
If these bills pass, I would predict that the value of all private companies would jump at least 10% simply because their pathways to liquidity would be far, far less.
Now attaining liquidity is almost always only possible via either a rare and difficult whole company sale or a public offering.
In contrast, these bills would remove many of the regulatory shackles that prevent secondary markets powered by inexpensive online deal syndication and transaction tools like Profounder, SecondMarket, and Prosper.com from flourishing.
And because they would allow smaller investments in private companies to be made almost as easily as into public stocks, they would address one of the biggest challenges of the Main Street investor –how to get pieces of the best deals.
Quite simply, the result would be more investors getting more of what they want - liquid, high performing equity investments.
Now what could be better than that?
So congress pass these bills!