Growthink Blog

Tech M+A: $65.2 Billion and Counting


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Global Technology Mergers & Acquisitions Activity is now at its highest year-to-date level since 2000 (in terms of both dollar volume and deal number).

Overall there has been $65.2 billion of M&A activity announced year-to-date (Thomson Reuters).

And then layer in the the crowdfunding boom (both donations and investment-based) and the exploding growth of peer-to-peer lending sites like Lending Club and Prosper.com, and never before have there been so many and so good “digital” places for those seeking and those providing capital to connect and transact.

The result?

More entrepreneurs and businesses having access to outside capital than ever before and...

…for the first time investors having the ability to efficiently build diversified portfolios of private equity and debt investments with strong, positive expected value.

Now compare all of this freshness and innovation against the ongoing dreariness of the “public” markets.

From 2000 to today, the Dow Jones has risen from 11,078 to approximately 16,268 (as of 03/26), or approximately 42%.

During that same time inflation has reduced the dollar’s purchasing power by almost exactly that same amount (38%).

So basically 15 years and ZERO real investment return.

Now what do these two fast diverging worlds, the increasingly innovative and transparent one of private investing on the one hand, and the flat and more opaque than ever one of the traditional public market returns on the other, mean for the entrepreneur and for the smaller investor?

Quite simply, it is all good.

For investors, it means access to higher returns.

Research from the Kauffman Foundation Angel Returns Study and the Nesta Angel Investing study, compiled by 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.

And for the entrepreneur, it means more, quicker, and cheaper access to capital, especially in smaller amounts.

Which leaves more time and energy for what entrepreneurs want to do and what we all need them to do…

starting and growing profitable and innovative companies that make the world a better place.

Amen to that. 

To Your Success, 


 

 

 

P.S.  To listen to a replay of my Thursday webinar, where I explored some of the key lessons learned from Sequoia Capital's $58 million investment into WhatsApp - and subsequent $3 billion windfall - upon Facebook's purchase of the messaging app last month, click here.

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


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


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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.

Oftentimes, a lot better.

The first challenge: Entrepreneurs live, breath, 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 are 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. Rober 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 Thursday webinar, What's Up with WhatsApp?, where I explored some of the key lessons learned from Sequoia Capital's $58 million investment - and subsequent $3 billion windfall - upon Facebook's purchase of the messaging app last month, click here.

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

What’s up with WhatsApp – Part Deux


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Last week, I shared how between 2011 and 2013, Sequoia Capital invested approximately $60 million in WhatsApp – the instant messaging subscription service bought last month by Facebook for $19 billion.

 

And how Sequoia’s return on that $60 million was close to $3 billion, or more than 50 times its original investment.

 

I then offered to share some of our research findings as to the selection strategies that early-stage technology investors like Sequoia now utilize to identify companies with this kind of return potential.

 

Not surprisingly, the response was overwhelming.

 

So much so that only a very of those who wanted to learn more were able to get in before registration sold out.

 

So to accommodate all of the requests I have agreed to re-present our findings and will do so via web conference tomorrow at 7 pm ET / 4 pm PT.

 

To register, click here: https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/647747626

 

On it, I will share:

 

• Why the majority of investors presented the opportunity to invest in WhatsApp declined to do so

 

• How Sequoia partner Jim Goetz diligence the deal and decided to invest in WhatsApp instead of the literally hundreds of comparable messaging applications then and now in the marketplace

 

• How Big Data and Black Swan portfolio theory and modeling were critical to Sequoia’s valuation analysis on the deal

 

• How today’s booming IPO market, with through March 1st more than 42 IPOs raising $8.2 billion – the highest YTD activity since 2007 – is affecting (positively and negatively) the technology deal marketplace

 

• And much, much more

 

Register now via the below link:

 

https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/647747626

 

To Your Success,

JaySig


Exporting Services: Bursting Opportunities for U.S. Startups and SMEs


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Almost completely shrouded in the drumbeat of negativity that passes as business reporting these days has been the bursting growth in U.S. service exports – increasingly from U.S. startups and small businesses.

Contrary to the image of imports and exports being only “stuff” flowing in and out of places like the Port of Long Beach, last week's Census Bureau noted that services accounted for 30%, or $57.4 billion of total U.S. exports in October.  And unlike our huge “hard goods” trade deficit, in the value of U.S. service exports was 51% greater than that of imports. 

Business, professional, and technical services were the fifth largest U.S. export category in 2008, and half of the top 10 major export categories were services.   And with U.S. service companies representing close to 15% of global commercial service exports, the United States is hands-down the world’s dominant service exporter.

Of many, let me flag three main drivers:

1.    Purchasing Power Parity. Purchasing power parity (PPP) posits that with free-flowing markets wages and prices worldwide approach parity.

Protectionist types of course interpret this to mean that “our wages will get pushed down to “their” levels – or more viscerally, “if this keeps up we’ll all soon be making $2 dollars per hour.”

Well, let’s leave for now the huge economic fallacy of this thinking and concentrate on the fact that the narrowing of the relative wealth differential between the U.S. and the rest of the world has allowed for phenomena like a Ukranian manufacturing company hiring U.S. advisors (i.e. Growthink) to help them define strategic growth opportunities in Poland .

Why? Because on a dollar-for-dollar (or better yet, zioty-to-zioty) basis, it was a better value for them to import services like these from the U.S.  The world is changing, isn’t it?

2.    U.S. Services are Increasingly Exportable. The drumbeat always goes on how “we here in the U.S. don’t “make anything.” Well, beyond the fact, that I note in my “Made In China” post that very few Americans dream that their children will grow-up and work in a factory, we here in America “make” the most important stuff that has ever existed we do it better than any society has ever done so.

That stuff? Ideas and Innovations. Strategies.

Or more prosaically, Brands. Websites. Entertainments in all their wondrous forms – Movies, Video Games, Social Networks.

Even our current favorite whipping boy industry – financial services – continues to bring us world-bettering innovations like venture philanthropy (i.e. applying market principles to solve the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges), super angel funds (overcoming the “outlier” or “Black Swan” conundrum of startup investing) and of course crowdfunding (democratizing fund-raising and investing in ways never before even dreamed possible.)


3.    Global Best Practices. Perhaps my favorite, namely that business best practices worldwide are visible and replicable to and for all.  And the corollary, the really screwed-up and ineffective ways of doing things are also blatantly transparent. 

From lists like the “most business friendly” countries to California now having a portal where parents can see teacher’s ratings to the U.S. Senate studying Chinese technocrats to the simple reality that the Internet and mobile phones make it crystal-clear to all who is winning and losing in the world (see North Korea, Iran, et al.), the modern world has become a rickly competitive market in all its best senses.

The cream rises, and the inefficient, the bureaucratic, the regulatory dead-enders get left on the dustbin of history.

And guess who, when it comes down to doing business right, is the richest cream, the sweetest soup?

It is, of course, American startups and smaller and emerging companies.

And as they, like the U.S. economy as a whole, become almost exclusively services-focused, they will both lead and profit from their exploding opportunities worldwide.


Raising Money in 2014: Resetting the Frame


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As has always been the case, most commercial and neighborhood banks only lend against quickly “liquidatable” assets or at a small multiple of historical cash flow.

Given that most startups and small businesses have neither of these, for them attaining traditional bank financing has such a low probability of success that it is rarely even worth the time to pursue.

So, where should the creative and committed small business owner go for funding when the banks say no?

Here are three places to look:

1. Crowdfunding. Donation - based crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter allow entrepreneurs to raise capital from one's social and professional networks.  

And Equity-Based Crowdfunding, approved by Congress in April 2012, is very close to being through SEC rule-making.

While investor appetite will take time to develop, as it does the available pool of investable angel and venture capital (currently approximately $50 billion annually) will expand dramatically, and in turn closing the gap between the tens of thousands of companies seeking capital and the investors interested in providing it.  

2. Family and Friends.  Since time immemorial by far the most popular funding source for new and small businesses is to ask those that know you best to stake your entrepreneurial journey.

For sure it is emotionally loaded, as so many of us don't want to mix our personal and professional lives, but it does provide a great “gut check” as to how serious, committed, and “sold” you really are on your business.

Why?

Well, it is one thing to lose the money of strangers, quite another to do so of Uncle Jed who you'll be seeing each holiday season.

A way to “reverse the frame” in these family and friends dialogues is to recognize that while yes, a relative or friend is doing you a big favor by investing in your business, you in turn are returning the favor and more by providing an opportunity for an outsized investment return along with the unique excitement of being a stakeholder in a small business.

3. Sell Services. Especially for technology and consumer product companies, the long pathway of research, product development, and establishing distribution mean that often years can go by in the dreaded “pre-revenue” stage.

So as opposed to relying solely on investment capital to “deficit finance” this gestation period, how about generating some cash through selling consulting services in the interim?

As examples, a company building a new and proprietary mobile application could in parallel build apps for others, a new restaurant could do catering, or a consumer product business could sell research services regarding their market niche.

And, if structured right, in addition to paying the bills, consulting projects like these can also be utilized to iterate one’s product development forward.

Use these three strategies - and do so as with all matters related to starting and growing a business with creativity, determination, and persistence - and soon you will be laughing all the way to the bank.

This blog post is a reprint of an article written by Jay Turo in Vistaprint.com’s Small Business Blog.


Brooks, Lengyel, Lombardi, and Wooden


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This time of year offers many blessings - one of them being the pageantry of New Year’s Day college football.

I am excited to be rising before the sun on Wednesday and traveling to Pasadena with my six and seven-year old sons to their 1st Rose Bowl parade.

In the spirit of the day and of the year soon to be left in our care, here are a few of my favorite sports quotes that apply so well to the challenges and opportunities of life and business.

"Great moments are born from great opportunity…You were born to be hockey players -- every one of you. And you were meant to be here tonight. This is YOUR time.

 - Coach Herb Brooks, 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team Soviet Pre-Game Speech

My comment: this is the time and age of Entrepreneurs! Go for it!

"Funerals End Today”

 - Marshall Coach Jack Lengyel, addressing the remaining members of his football team not long after 75 people, including most of the team and coaching staff - died in a 1970 plane crash.

My comment: Lengyel reminds us that the best to way to honor those that have passed is to live, to strive, to win.

"Leaders aren't born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that's the price we'll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal."

 - Vince Lombardi

My comment: Hard work is the given, the base. It is a high value in itself and accomplishments of greatness and meaning are impossible without it.

"Don't measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.”

 - John Wooden

My comment: To those to whom much is given, much is rightfully expected. We live in a global, golden age of opportunity. Think, dream, and do BIG!

Happy New Year, and may 2014 be the best year of all of our lives!



Placing Bets When Making Risky Business Decisions


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To read Growthink CEO Jay Turo's article from this week’s Entrepreneur Magazine as to how to make the right bets when making risky business decisions, click here.


Jeff Bezos: Put Down the PowerPoint and Pull Out the Pen!


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Jeff Bezos is a great hero and role model for all entrepreneurs that dream of doing something really, really big, and…pulling it off.

Like all legendary business leaders, he also has a number of management and creative peculiarities well worth studying and emulating.

One of my favorites is how Jeff manages the meetings of Amazon’s senior executive team, as described last year when Fortune named him Businessman of the Year:

“…the Amazon CEO's fondness for the written word drives one of his primary, and peculiar, tools for managing his company: Meetings of his "S-team" of senior executives begin with participants quietly absorbing the written word. Specifically, before any discussion begins, members of the team -- including Bezos -- consume six-page printed memos in total silence for as long as 30 minutes”

Bezos goes on to note that “Writing a memo is an even more important skill to master." Full sentences are harder to write," he says. "They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking." 

Now when I learn of things like this, I understand why the success of a Jeff Bezos is no accident.

Remember, in addition to founding and leading one of the most successful technology companies of all times, Jeff Bezos also made arguably the greatest investment of all time. 

The story is well-known but worth re-telling. In 1998 when Larry Page’s and Sergey Brin’s Google offices were a Menlo Park, California garage, Bezos invested $250,000 of personal funds into the fledgling startup.

When Google went public in 2004 that $250,000 investment translated into 3.3 million shares of Google stock. At Google’s IPO that represented a stock share position worth over $280 million.

While he doesn’t disclose how many of those shares he still holds, at the current price of Google stock they would represent an investment position worth over $2 billion.

So, what is it about what makes Jeff Bezos tick that allows him to have such great success when so, so many others - with similar ambition and arguably even greater talent - fall by the wayside? 

I recently read a great book (bought on Amazon, of course) by Mark Helprin called "A Soldier of the Great War."

It is the amazing story of an Italian PhD student in aesthetics who was drafted into the Italian Army in World War I.  In addition to being an unbelievable barnburner of a read and a tale of love and heroism and adventure, it is also the story of a young man trained as an "effete" intellectual struggling to come to grips / find wisdom from and peace with the horrors of war.

The story ends with its hero - Alesandro Giuliani - as an old man looking back on his life of books, of art, of family, of adventure, and of war and loss.

In the end it is the intersection of these two - of his great intellectual journeys tempered into character and resolve via the various "mortifications of the flesh" of his life - hard work, self-sacrificing, courageous deeds and words, and the willingness to push himself to the limits of one's endurance.

And from this coupling of intellectualism and ideas with a life of action and a love of the fight does flow the genius, power and magic of a Jeff Bezos.

So at your next meeting, do like Jeff and put down the PowerPoint and pull out the pen!


The Real Cost of Poor Strategy


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It is hard not to laugh when I hear tired old refrains like "Nobody reads business plans anymore" or "In the world of lean startups, there is no time for strategic planning."

Why do otherwise intelligent and well-meaning businesspeople say and think things like this?

Well, for starters as human beings we all struggle to emotionally grasp the impact of the history not made, of the things that don't happen.

You see, poor strategy does not manifest itself as much in high profile flame-outs as perhaps it did in days of yore (see Pets.com, eToys, etc.) as much as it does in nothing of note ever being accomplished.

As in companies that grow slowly, if at all.

And make no profits.

And are led by entrepreneurs whose talent and work ethic doesn’t translate into the kind of pay and lifestyle they seemingly deserve.

Missed opportunities, lost years, unrewarded work.

These are the real but hidden costs of poor strategy.

Now, the other big misconception around strategic plans is confusing the “form of deliverable” with the process itself.

Again, this is a case where otherwise smart and well-meaning businesspeople make an obvious, but critical error: They equate the plan with a physical document.

And when done poorly, more often than not a document that is only tangentially connected to the “real business” it supposedly represents.

Now, the good news is that the literature is filled with great best practices - tested over thousands of businesses - as to how to lead strategic planning processes that are connected to the actual marketing, sales, operations, and finances of a company.

Even better news: Inexpensive, effective, and everywhere accessible business software-as-services are connecting the dots between “big” strategy and the “small” to do’s, tactics and action items at the living, breathing heart of a business.

Software like Basecamp, Klipfolio, Crisply, Results.com, Posthaven, Chatter, Copytalk, Nudgemail, Evernote, Survey Monkey, MVPSocial, and dozens of others (especially the Growthink Dashboard).

This is where 21st Century strategy lives. How 21st Century businesses win.

Now, as for those who prefer to cling to their tired clichés, well I guess they can always reminisce about how things were back in the 20th Century.

But for those who need more than nostalgia to sustain them, there has never been a better time to get on the technologically win by doing strategy right.

 


Entrepreneurial America - NOT Shutdown


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Watching the disaster of a process that is the D.C. budget drama, I found myself with a curious reaction.

And maybe even a little bit of a selfish one.

It was, by golly, how happy I am that I get to work in this so dignifying world of business and free enterprise and not have to waste my precious life energy on such nonsense.

And then feeling a bit more generous, I felt happiness for the hundreds of millions if not now billions of people worldwide that are able to do likewise.

To work in or at a business, just a plain old simple business.

A restaurant.

A software development firm. A medical device company.

An accounting firm. A roofing company. An insurance agency.

A tanning salon. A yoga studio. A specialty retailer. A freight forwarding company.

Walmart. A donut shop.

Now don't get me wrong, government is important.

And that those that work in it often are mostly truly public servants and we should be thankful for their service.

And yes, our vexing public policy challenges require our attention and concern.

But it isn’t that important.

So much of the real action in this world of ours takes place in the micro.

In that wonderful world of business production.

The world of multi-billion dollar companies like Cisco utilizing information technology to accomplish the accounting miracle of closing their books each and every day.

The world of General Electric growing great managers and business leaders time and time again.
 
The world of amazing customer service at places like Zappos and how that service dedication translates to strong profits that fuel our world.

The world of that sumptuous donut fresh out of the oven.

The world where, with a click of a button on my phone, I can buy a mobile app that sends me my text messages as e-mails (but don't ask me why I want this).

The world where I order new leather seat covers for my car, from Greece, on Ebay, and at a fraction of the price of what the dealership is asking.

And oh yes, by doing so making a small dent in that nation's debt and fiscal crisis.

And it is the world of my own business’ unique processes and project tasks and how we will profit from this burgeoning new world of global service exports.

Yes, the real and meaningful action is in this amazing 21st century global world of ours of hundreds of millions of points and more of concentrated business production.

That creates for all of us, this transcendent potpourri, this never-ending buffet, of essential, helpful, frivolous, sometimes conspicuous, but so blessedly diversified consumption.

And you know what else? 

History has taught that the more folks focus on getting great at what they particularly produce, no matter how great and glamorous or small and prosaic it might be.

Well, it is by so doing that all of our fiscal cliff and other challenges as if by some magical hand just seem to take care of themselves.


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Jay Turo

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