Written by Jay Turo on Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Accelerant. C8 Medisensors. Dakim. DCIP. Free Conference. Fresh Games. Green Medical. Helix Wind. InfoSpace. Integreon. L3D3. Mobeze. MyPublicInfo. Nolatek. Ometric. Pocketsonics. Precision Time. Raise Capital. Recoup IT. Research Scientists. Sandel Medical. Spring Medical. Telverse. Thrombovision. XCOM Wireless. Xorbent.
These companies all share a few things in common:
1. They are either past or current Growthink clients and/or investments (though this is by no means a complete list).
2. They all either achieved - or are on the path to achieve - successful exits through a public offering or a company sale.
3. They are all led by CEO's and senior executives that are a cut above. Men and women that are entrepreneurs and business-builders in the best and highest sense - the kind of managers and visionaries that are the bedrock of America's vibrant, free enterprise system and way of life.
I have been privileged to work and get to know inspirational, entrepreneurial leaders like Dan Michel at Dakim, Liam Brown at Integreon, Walter Alessandrini at Ometric, Brian Ashton at Precision Time, Rick Singer at Raise Capital, Peter Sobotta from RecoupIT. Jack Smyth at Spring Medical Systems, Ed Teitel at Thrombovision, and Dan Hyman at XCOM Wireless.
Here are 5 qualities they all share:
1. Their Work Ethic is Off The Charts. This may sound really obvious, but the great entrepreneurs are extremely disciplined and organized and make the sacrifices to commit themselves fully to their business. Work - life balance is a nice theory, but in entrepreneurs to back, the more zealous the better.
2. They Have Great Numbers Fluency. As Guy Kawaski so eloquently puts it, we live in the age of excel, not of PowerPoint. Great 21st century leaders are "Super Crunchers," - they undertand the power of statistics, of "evidence-based" decision-making, of testing, and of managing by the numbers. They are not enslaved by the numbers nor do they lose sight of their human and qualitative aspects, but they are highly informed by them. They are hungry for unbiased, third-party information about their markets, their customers, their competitors.
3. They Have Done it Before. Following up on #2, the entrepreneurs most likely, statistically, to be successful are those that track records of success. It doesn't mean that just because they have succeeded in a past company mean that they will necessarily succeed in the next one. Nor do this mean that those who have failed in the past will fail in the future. Only that the probabilities are that this be the case. All of the managers above had track records before their existing business of successes - entrepreneurial successes, corporate successes, educational successes. Success follows them, not the other way around.
4. They Know When To Manage and When To Lead. Successful business exits require first and foremost, organization-building. Teams of people need to be assembled and directed to accomplish a common objective that can be quantified on the scorecards of business - revenues, profits, and cash flow. Balancing these left and right brain objectives require a sense of knowing when to manage and when to lead. Management is left-brained - it is analytical, numbers-driven, and dispassionate. It see business as a black box, with the sole objective of turning cash into more cash as fast as possible. Leadership is right-brained - it is conceptual, more long-term focused, and sees the business more as an organism as opposed to a collection of individual parts. Leaders sometimes will sacrifice short-term results for long-term gain, but do so carefully, deliberately, and warily. They are soft-hearted but hard-headed.
5. They are Proud and Humble. Great entrepreneurs are proud of their accomplishments and greatly desire more of them. They are confident in their vision and their abilities, and do not let adversity, criticism, objections or rejections deter them from their chosen path. They are not, however, headstrong nor arrogant. They respect facts, statistics, and informed opinions. And when these are in conflict with even their most dearly-held beliefs and strategies, they change. Not with the wind, but nor only at the point of a gun.
If you find these 5 attributes in an entrepreneur, savor them, appreciate them, learn from them, and back them. Till the cows come home. And then some more.
Written by Jay Turo on Tuesday, June 16, 2009
The typical wisdom regarding the appropriate financing course for startup goes as follows:
It all sounds wonderful and it is. The only problem is that it mostly a fairy tale. Here is what really happens:
New, groundbreaking research from the Ewing Merion Kauffman Foundation on Entrepreneurship shows that the #1 key for the angel investor returns in emerging technology deals is that there is never any venture capital invested in the company!
As interestingly, the data shows that when you remove a follow-on venture capital round from angel invested deals that expected returns skyrocket.
The data is somewhat inclusive as to why this is. I surmise three main reasons:
My suggestions for the angel investor looking to make money? First, look for "one and done" deals - companies that need just one round of outside capital to get them to positive cash flow. Second, look for companies that have short and realistic liquidity (exit, IPO) timelines. And third, don’t get star-struck by big VC interest in your deal. It can often be a double-edged and very sharp sword.
Written by Jay Turo on Wednesday, June 10, 2009
With the Dow Jones up more than 35% from its early March lows of 6,440, the investing mood has undergone a 180 degree turn for the better. How does this rebound affect the angel investing returns?
Here are the negatives and the positives:
But we are getting our groove back. Consumer and business confidence have skyrocketed since March. Bank lending is up. Business capital expenditures are increasing. The real estate market, in most parts of the country, has at least stabilized (and in many places, greatly rebounded). Jobless claims are down. Most importantly, corporate profit forecasts are up.
All of this drives deal-making. It drives big companies to buy small companies to gain access to their people and their technology. It drives venture capitalists to agree to bridge financings. It drives entrepreneurs to get back to pushing the envelope with their growth plans. And all of this positive, forward-looking acting and thinking drives angel investing returns. Entrepreneurs grow their businesses faster, they exit faster, and investors turn their money faster and at great multiples.
All these factors have turned 180 degrees since March. And for those that love America and its entrepreneurial spirit, not a moment too soon.
Written by Jay Turo on Wednesday, June 3, 2009
The next big private equity investment idea is the “Early Exit.” The best articulation of it comes from Basil Peters, a serial technology entrepreneur, co-Founder of Nexus Engineering, former Canada Entrepreneur of the Year, and Managing Partner at 3 venture capital funds – Fundamental Technologies I and II and the BC Advantage Funds. His blog is one of the best resources on technology investing out there.
Aptly to the point, Basil is the author of a great new book – “Early Exits: Exit Strategies for Entrepreneurs and Angel Investors.” His core thesis is that successful private equity investing is now driven by quickly getting to the smaller investment exit. Or, as he says it, "Today, the optimum financial strategy for most technology entrepreneurs is to raise money from angels and plan for an early exit to a large company in just a few years for under $30 million."
I love this strategy because it is realistically attainable for the individual investor. Here's why:
You, Mr. or Ms. Main Street Investor, are NOT getting a piece of the next big IPO: The 2 best known venture capital funds –Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins - because of their reputations and massive bankrolls – will continue to get the lion’s share of the deals with rockstar IPO potential. Try these names on for size – Electronic Arts, Apple, Google, NVIDIA, Rackspace, Yahoo!, Paypal, Amazon.com, America Online, Intuit, Macromedia, Netscape, Sun Microsystems.
They were all Sequoia and/or Kleiner investments that became mega-successful IPOs. To give a feel for the power of their investment model, estimates are that Kleiner’s investment in Amazon scored returns of 55,000%!
YOUR big problem – your friendly neighborhood stockbroker (if they exist anymore) isn’t getting you in on any of these deals anytime soon. And if you don’t have a $100 million bankroll and the very right connections to become a Kleiner or Sequoia LP, you’re not joining their club.
Hit’em Where They Ain't: The size of most modern venture capital funds has increased, with the average sized fund now having more than $160 million under management. As a result, the vast majority of professional investors simply can’t and won’t invest in smaller deals. The new VC model has, for better or for worse, become “Go big or go home.” As such, competition for smaller deals is much less and the deal pricing on them far more favorable.
Small Deals Rock: You don’t need a lot of money anymore to build a technology startup – not with outsourcing, viral marketing, and the Software as a Service (SaaS) revolution. And if your business isn’t cash flow positive REAL FAST, you probably don’t have a very good business.
So the new technology investment model is to place small amounts (under $1 million) into companies that a) develop intellectual property and compete in markets with lots of active strategic acquirers (think Internet, software, biotechnology, digital media, and energy) and b) have management with the mindset and track records to ramp-up and exit FAST and at very attractive but not pie-in-the sky multiples.
Not a game that big private equity or venture capitalists are interested in playing because it is just too hard to put large amounts of money to work in such a fragmented marketplace.
But if done right, an EXTREMELY lucrative one for thoughtful entrepreneurs and the investors that back them.
Written by Jay Turo on Thursday, May 28, 2009
In my role as the CEO of Growthink, I get asked variants of the same questions a lot, namely: "What do you think about this economy?” “Do you see things turning around?” “Are there any deals getting done out there?” I answer these questions based on a number of factors:
What does this all sum up to? The Beatles say it much better than I ever could:
Written by Jay Turo on Wednesday, May 20, 2009
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" - George Santayana
The financial panic of 1873, which set off a severe nationwide economic depression that lasted for 6 years, included The New York Stock Exchange closing for 10 days, 89 of the country's 364 railroads going bankrupt, and unemployment as high as 14%. During this extremely challenging time, a gentleman by the name of Thomas Edison started a company called General Electric. You may have heard of both of them.
The Great Depression of the 1930's is even scarier in statistics than in legend. Industrial production fell by 45% between 1929 and 1932. Homebuilding dropped by 80%. 1,000 of the nation's 25,000 banks failed. US GDP fell by 30%.
And during these dark days, DuPont created new products and indsutries including rayon, enamels, and cellulose film. RCA invented television. And a little company called IBM started pouring research dollars into something called the computer.
The 1970's are commonly remembered as a dark period for American finance and business - stagflation, negative stock market returns for the decade, and hits to the national psyche including Vietnam, Watergate, and the Hostage Crisis. It was also the era that 2 ambitious and visionary young men named Bill Gates and Steve Jobs got their start.
My 20 years in angel investing, small business and entrepreneurship have taught me to separate the world into two kinds of people: Those that comment and complain on how things are and those that do something about it.
Unluckily for all of us, television and the always on Internet give those that comment and complain bigger megaphones than ever to spread their false prophesies of doom. It is only human nature to be affected, depressed, and even scared by their strident negativity.
Very, very luckily for all of us, however, there always be budding Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and Thomas Edisons and Thomas J. Watsons amongst us. And where are these future shining stars devoting their prodigious energies to these days? I promise you that most of them aren't working at General Motors, nor are they drawn to politics or working in the public sector, nor to non-profits.
No, they are capitalists. They are entrepreneurs. They start and work at Internet companies, they research alternative energy technologies they discover new drugs to make us all live longer and healthier lives. They are and they discover Black Swans. They - in the words of Voltaire - make "life throb to a swifter, stronger beat."
And you know what else? They're in it for the money. They want to build companies like Pure Digital (makers of the FlipCam) did and sell out to Cisco Systems for $590 million. Or Facebook, on the verge of a public offering that will make its early investors billions. Or Integreon, whose business plan was perfected in a small Growthink conference room 10 years ago, and is now the largest legal outsourcing firm in the world (and saving a lot of folks a lot of money on their legal bills).
With apologies to Doris Day, the future is in fact ours to see. As long as little boys and girls are raised to grow up to do something great with their lives, progress will march on. Technologies will be commercialized. New industries will arise. Companies will be born and will grow and grow and grow. Fortunes will be made.
The question, of course, is what will be in it for you? Will you be on the couch with the critics? Or will you be in the game with the builders and the doers?
Written by Jay Turo on Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Scott Shane, one of the world's most respected statisticians regarding entrepreneurship and angel investing, has a new book out - "Fools Gold? The Truth Behind Angel Investing in America." It is without question the finest compilation of statistics and cold, hard facts regarding the REALITIES - as opposed to the myths - of the keys to successful angel and emerging company investing. Some amazing statistical nuggets from Scott's book:
My overall takeaway: If you want to invest in private company deals, only do so via one of two avenues: 1) Via a GOOD angel investment group like The Band of Angels or the Tech Coast Angels (if you can get in) or via a managed portfolio approach such as a private equity or venture capital fund targeted toward the space or via a hybrid, operational approach like Growthink.
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, April 27, 2009
Adobe. Akamai. Amazon. Amgen. Apple. Baidu. Bed Bath & Beyond. Biogen. Broadcom. Check Point. Cintas. Cisco. Citrix Systems. Dell. eBay. Electronic Arts. First Solar. Flextronics. Garmin. Genzyme. Gilead Sciences. Google. Hansen Natural. Infosys Technologies. Intuit. Juniper Networks. Logitech. Maxim Integrated Products. Microsoft. NVIDIA. Oracle. Paychex. QUALCOMM. Research in Motion. Seagate Technology. Sigma-Aldrich. Starbucks. Symantec. Urban Outfitters. VeriSign. Xilinx. Yahoo!
Written by Jay Turo on Saturday, April 11, 2009
Over the years, descriptions, or "boxes," for various type of privately-held companies like "middle market," "venture-backed," "startups," "small and medium-sized enterprises (SME's)," to name a few, have been tossed around so much as to obscure and confuse their original meaning and intent.
This is highly unfortunate, as it creates opaqueness and inefficiency in an asset class already plagued with too much of both.
Let's leave the official classifications aside for now and focus on developing an identification process for the kinds of private companies that are worthwhile for the growth investor to consider for their portfolio.
At Growthink the catch-all term we use for the private companies we like best is "emerging." It does not suffer from "commentary fatigue" as do private equity and venture capital, and it effectively carves out the large mass of startups and small businesses destined to stay small.
Webster defines "emerging" as follows:
1. To rise from an obscure or inferior position or condition
2. To rise from or to come out into view
3. To become manifest
4. To come into being through evolution
Let's elaborate on these definitions in the context of an investable company.
1. To Rise From an Obscure or Inferior Position or Condition: Emerging companies are, in their most common and interesting form, small and obscure. Microsoft and Google were once just a small group of programmers and were deep under-the-radar. And if you were invested in them then, your life changed dramatically for the better as they emerged. Less famously but still extremely lucrative were companies like the below that emerged to significant exits for themselves and their investors:
2. To Rise From or To Come Into View: Emerging companies are often ones that have fallen on hard times and are seeking to "rise from" their current distress via turning around and restructuring their businesses. The banking and real estate sectors are right now treasure troves of fantastic distress and turnaround opportunities, as are arenas like publishing and the automotive industry. As adversity intensifies, so does emerging opportunity.
3. To Become Manifest: Here we need Webster's help again - to become manifest, or to be "readily perceived," or to be "easily understood or recognized." Emerging company businesses are SIMPLE businesses. They make things or provide services, and sell them for more than they cost to make or deliver. And every quarter and every year, they just "chop more wood" and "carry more water," and thus drive revenue and earnings growth. It usually isn't fancy nor often even terribly interesting. But it almost always is easy-to-understand and recognizable in the company's financial statements. An important note here is that emerging companies, contrary to popular belief, are usually NOT venture capital-backed companies. Why? Because they don't need to deficit finance their businesses because they are cash flow positive. In fact, the very sign that a company needs outside financing (see GM, AIG, et al.) is often the best sign that it is NOT an emerging company because they can't make any money.
4. To Come Into Being Through Evolution: This is perhaps my favorite because it references the essence of any business - the talent of its people and the quality of its corporate culture. The best emerging companies are always run by a group of hard-working, thoughtful, creative, persistent, and fantastically committed owner-operators. They devote their lives to their businesses for multiple, non-contradictory motives. They want to offer true value to the marketplace with their product and service offerings. They want to leave a legacy via building enterprises of lasting value and character. And they want to make a lot of money. Accomplishing these 3 objectives in a big way involves a lot of trial-and-error and a lot of figuring out all of the ways not to invent the light bulb. While popular business culture is fascinated with the "golden boy entrepreneur" stories (i.e. Microsoft and Google), these are much more the exceptions than the rule. Far more common are stories like Amazon, Kinkos, The Body Shop, Outback Steakhouse, or even Wal-Mart and Hewlett-Packard - companies that had reasonably long gestation periods, and a lot of slow or no growth periods, before evolving to successful forms. And then continuing to evolve as market and competitive conditions dictate.
If you are a fundamental investor, look for the above qualities in companies you are considering for your portfolio. Look for them quantitatively with the key metric of operating cash flow growth (everything else is subject to accounting whim) and look for them qualitatively in the mindset of management and in the tenor of the corporate culture. If both the numbers and the business tone align and you can get in before the whole world knows about it, then you have yourself a money-maker. Or, another way of saying it, an emerging company.
Written by Jay Turo on Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Investing in startups and emerging companies is the process of identifying and backing the entrepreneurs and executives with the best ability to move efficiently and profitably from ideas to execution, and then from execution back to ideas and then back to re-focused execution. And finding those that do so on all aspects of their businesses -- marketing and sales, operations and finance.
The entrepreneurs to avoid are those overly focused only on ideas or only on execution. Those focused only on ideas often let the desire for the perfect negate the doable. They don’t quickly and rigorously subject their ideas to the rumble and tumble of the marketplace. Here we are referring to the great idea person that never gets around to actually executing upon an action plan.
On the other hand, those entrepreneurs focused on just execution, while at some levels far more effective than the ideas set, are often too slow to react to changing technological, marketplace or competitive conditions. They often define their value offerings so narrowly that they miss adjacent opportunities. Classic examples of this include IBM defining themselves as a computer hardware as opposed to a technology solutions company in the 1980s, thereby ceding the operating system software market opportunity to Microsoft. Or the traditional phone companies in the 1990’s not leveraging their huge patent portfolios to profit in the emerging mobile communications and Internet marketplaces.
Contrastingly, the best entrepreneurs and successful executives are constantly finding the balance between ideas and execution. They are masters at what we at Growthink like to call, “The Business of Ideas.” They are both creative and task-focused, but not too little or too much of either. They make plans and they work them, but they are not slaves to them. They understand that great businesses are inspired by ideas, but their success is counted in cash. They are, in essence, “idealistic capitalists,” believing that the best ideas, the best products, and the best services make the most money.
Entrepreneurs running businesses like these are few and far between for sure. But when it all comes together, legends are born and fortunes are made.
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