In a recent post, I talked about what businesspeople can learn from the world of sports as to leveraging data and metrics to improve decision-making and get a leg up on the competition.
The discussion that followed piqued that age-old question always asked by Sport-Crazy Businesspeople: How much from can we really learn and put to use in our businesses the various lessons and principles from sports and games?
Usually this question is answered at the “meta” level - with somewhat clichéd bromides like the importance of hard work, of practice making perfect, and of viewing all adversities as learning moments.
For sure, these are powerful and important lessons, but I think the question more interestingly can be tackled on a Sport-by-Sport basis, as in what are the best business lessons to be gleaned from the games of soccer, or from football, or golf or tennis?
And relatedly, how do these various sports teach us different lessons?
Let's start out with what I would bucket the "Win by any Means Necessary Sports."
Drawing from personal experience and great loves for these games I would put soccer, football, basketball, and baseball into this category.
In these sports, yes all of the inspirational principles of intensity, teamwork, dedication, and relentless practice certainly apply, but are also in them rarely is a second’s hesitation given to actions that in most other domains would be considered highly unethical.
Like pleading to the umpire that you are safe when you know that you are out. Or claiming to have caught a ball you have not. Or perhaps most disturbingly to the American sentiment, “Flopping” or faking a foul as is so commonly done in basketball and soccer.
Now so let's compare this mindset with that found in games like tennis and golf.
In tournament golf, the vast majority of players would never dream of bending the game’s rules to their advantage and in the rare circumstances where a player is found to have done so, their reputation is badly tarnished.
Similarly, in tennis, it is considered a matter of honor to give one’s opponent the benefit of the doubt on close line’s calls, and players that do not do so are branded unkindly.
The point is not to claim that golfers and tennis players are ethically “superior,” but rather to note that many things considered well within the spirit of the rules in some domains are viewed in others as dastardly to the extreme.
A great example of this is the Deflategate football controversy with the New England Patriots and their star quarterback Tom Brady.
For many non-Patriots fans, it is very easy to get up on one’s High Horse and virulently condemn the Patriots' admitted philosophy of pushing the competitive envelope as absolutely far as possible.
Yes, just as easily the Patriots’ win-by-any-means necessary can be defended within the general construct of the game of football, which is that anything and everything goes, unless and until the referee, umpire or official says otherwise.
And oh yes, many times in these sports it is considered excellent strategy to break the rules, like as in with holding a wide-open receiver or fouling a streaking striker because it is the highest Expected Value Choice to do so.
In contrast, for anyone who has played golf even somewhat competitively such a "practical” mindset to purposely break the rules would be anathema.
Again, this does not mean golfers are more fundamentally ethical, only that the nature and ethos of their respective game is just...different.
And this different nature and ethos reality ports very clearly to business decision-making and competition, as well.
Yes, depending the industry/market you compete in - Real Estate, Retail, Consumer Products, Professional Services, etc. - the ground rules and the boundaries of what is and is not considered acceptable, fair and my favorite, effective - is just different.
So the firm advice for those executives that wish to maximize their chance of victory is to yes remember of course that Fundamental Values no matter the field of endeavor always apply, but…
…to also take into firm account the competitive ethos of one's particular industry and market condition and structure, and to yes then strive to win by Any Means Necessary within it.
And as you do this maybe someday your organization will win Four Super Bowls, or a Closetful of Green Jackets, but highly unlikely will you do both.
Last week, I wrote about how to fight through the natural slowdown of the pre-Labor Day period (compounded by the Recent Market Gyrations) and Get Business Done.
With Labor Day behind us, we should now all be in full flight in getting our most important projects and initiatives Fast-Tracked and on course to be completed by the end of the year.
These could include:
• Starting a New Business.
• Pursuing a New Business Initiative within an existing business.
• Developing a Work Plan and Budget for that business initiative and getting that budget funded (either internally or by an outside investor).
• Re-invigorating an existing business' Organization Chart and Design via the development of new job descriptions, reporting structures, new employees and contractors.
• Deciding upon, green lighting, and “Spinning Up” new technologies and SaaS platforms that make our businesses run leaner, faster, and through and on Better Data and Intelligence.
• Buying a competitive or complementary business.
• Selling and exiting from your business (and if this is something you want to get done in 2015, it is time to get going now).
So what do the most Effective Executives do to shake off the summer rust and make more and better things happen than the competition?
They Decide, They Act, and They Course Correct.
They Decide. Now more than ever, the ability to make rapid business decisions and then execute on the project action items and to-dos that flow from them is a fundamental success factor for any modern executive.
Why? Because never before has the information to make great business decisions been as quickly and completely available as it is right now. And if you don't have fast and good enough access to the information you need to make these decisions, then find and invest in one of the amazing array of Business Intelligence Software platforms that will do it for you.
They Act. In Ken Burns' great PBS series "The Roosevelts: An Intimate History," there is a segment on Teddy Roosevelt's (one of the great doers in American history) favorite expressions, "Get Action."
Roosevelt, who wrote more than 150,000 letters in his lifetime (do the math, that is more than 10 per day), was above all else a leader of great decisiveness and action, and it was this quality above all else that made him one of the greatest leaders in American history.
This Will to Act - to make that call, to put out that beta, to find the reasons to do the deal and fight through and fix the reasons not to - is a business muscle that all the greatest leaders and executives have and is one that can only be developed through consistent, vigorous and exhaustive application. Yes, in the great words of Thomas Jefferson if you want to know who you are “Don't ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.”
They Course Correct. Because of technology never has it been easier to decide, to act, and then rapidly course correct as needed. In this respect, the most effective executives I know have the healthy egos to decide and act, but also the discipline, detachment, and humility to rigorously measure which of their decisions and actions are not working…
...and then rapidly adjust and/or abandon them as the data dictates.
Decide. Act. Course Correct. Rinse and Repeat.
Follow this simple but powerful formula and 2015 can still be the best year of all of our business lives.
For many businesses, in these pre-Labor Day workdays and the unofficial “End of Summer” things slow painfully down.
Projects and deals take twice as long and sometimes feel twice as hard.
This year, compounding the challenge has been the rollicking Market Gyrations of these past few weeks, amplified by "The Sky is Falling" financial and political media blaring forebodings of doom and demise.
So how does our ambitious and goal-oriented executive block out the negative noise and focus on the Mission Critical Business Tasks and Projects at hand?
How does he or she be cognizant of / sensitive to current events, while remaining ever undistracted and undeterred by them?
Well, the most Effective Executives I know do this: They reframe everything as an opportunity, and everything as a positive.
Markets going up? These are boom times so let’s get on the bus and go for the ride.
Markets going down? What a buying opportunity! If I liked it at 50, I love it at 30!
Summer doldrums: As a buyer, a great time to press sellers for discounts. As a seller, with my competition loafing on the beach, I make hay.
Now, this can’t just be Hot Air / Pollyanna Self-Talk.
No, it has to be real and serious and buttressed by what famed Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight calls in his best-selling book The Power of Negative Thinking.
In it, Coach Knight makes the simple but powerful point that in any competitive pursuit, everyone wants to win, so just thinking positively about it rarely yields competitive advantage.
Far more relevant is the willingness to sacrifice to Prepare to Win: to learn how to stop making the mistakes that losers make in abundance and that winners have trained themselves through hard work to avoid.
For athletes, this means practice, practice, practice to stop Missing Free Throws, or Three Foot Putts, or Second Serves, or The Cutoff Man.
For business people, this means the daily discipline to prepare for meetings, to start critical projects far before their due date, and consistently doing the Quantitative and Data Analysis to determine what is actually working in our business versus going by gut and feel.
Combine these two philosophies, the Power of Positive Thinking and of everyone and everything no matter what being good and an opportunity...
...With the Power of Negative Thinking and the daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, on a career basis of making of the sacrifices and of taking the time to do things right.
Of such combined mindsets and disciplines are legends and fortunes made.
Last week, I wrote about all of the amazing lessons of the world and science of Sports Metrics has to offer business.
Well, with the 2016 Presidential Campaign heating up, let's talk how just as in sports the use of metrics in politics has jumped a full generation ahead of business.
First, a little history and how perhaps the most famous use of metrics in politics is the one where the experts clearly got it wrong.
The 1948 Presidential Election was famous for many reasons - for being the last pre-television election, for being the last election contested between candidates born in the 19th century, for President Harry “give ‘em hell!” Truman's whistle-stop campaign against the “Do-Nothing” 80th Republican Congress, and…
…for the Chicago Tribune's famous headline proclaiming "Dewey Beats Truman" the morning after the election when in fact New York governor Thomas Dewey had handily lost the race.
The problem was that way back then poorer Americans – the heart of Truman’s constituency – didn’t have telephones, thus greatly skewing the polling data to predict an overwhelming Dewey win.
Obviously, since 1948, political polling has come a long way, highlighted by famed “Big Data Nerd” Nate Silver and his “FiveThirtyEight” mathematical model correctly calling 50 out of 50 states in the 2012 Presidential Election (after correctly predicting 49 out of 50 states in the 2008 election!).
Because of the power of predictive models like these, politicians across the ideological spectrum now more than ever rely on polling to shape messaging while campaigning, and once elected governing priorities and principles.
Now I know many of you at that last sentence are saying “Wait a Second!”
Isn't this the whole problem with politics?
How pols rely on polling to measure what voters think, want, and fear, and then either work (or pretend to!) to give them, both convictions and what is good for The Nation be darned?
Golly, they say, did Thomas Jefferson and John Adams take polls before they signed the Declaration of Independence?
To which I say, give it a rest. Please.
I have found that those that are usually crying loudest about “principles and convictions" in politics are those that when they or their chosen candidate run for office, just get right on doing that most Un-American thing of all.
Sure, they give nice and flowery concession speeches where they drone on about virtue and about how they lost with “dignity ”and “honor” and ya-di-ya-di-ya.
A loss is a loss.
Now, the really nice thing about business when compared to politics is that there is general agreement on overall goals and values. Nicely, there isn't a “Left versus Right” divide with the majority of business people – i.e. most of us are striving for the same thing: More, more, and more.
More sales, more profits, more company value.
In business, these are the “elections” we seek to win, the “policies” to pass.
And just like in politics, we can strive to do so via standing high on our horses and saying silly things like “If the customer doesn't appreciate what a better product I to offer than my competitor, well shame on them."
Or as good, "If that great employee left my company to work someplace else, I don't need or want them anyway."
Sure, statements and testaments like these sound good and noble, but really when you reflect on it (and not wanting to be too harsh) is just Loser Talk.
No, the winners in business, like those in politics, are truly “In the Arena.”
And, in this Internet of Things, SaaS, and Big Data World of Ours, being “In the Business Arena” means above all else being elbow deep in the numbers and in the conversion metrics in all of their intricacy, subtlety, detail and glory.
And just like politicians win by measuring what the people really want and giving it to them, so do business people win by measuring what the market is really saying and what customers really want.
And figuring it out above all else through our data and through our metrics.
Yes, as Harry Truman would say, The Buck Does Stops Here, with and in the numbers.
The lessons and inspirations of sports and the sporting life have always had a deep hold on the business psyche.
Some of my favorites here include the joy of competition, the virtues of teamwork, and of reaching Peak Performance through overcoming adversity and then sharing our “Best Stuff” with the world.
And these days the “Hot Lesson” that sports has to offer business is the power of measurement and data - driven decision making.
Some of this is obviously not new. Sports like running, swimming, and lifting has always been fundamentally defined and accomplished via tracking data - by how fast we go, how much weight we lift - and then from these data points developing specific training and improvement plans.
What is new is how data has come to permeate and dominate the world of team sports - baseball, basketball, soccer, et al. - and how now the most successful teams are managed not by pep talks and gut but by and through data and metrics.
FIFA. Germany's 2014 National Soccer Team found that one of the highest correlated data points with wins and losses was how much the players on the field ran and moved per minute of game time.
So they placed chips in all of the player’s shoes to measure and maximize this number. The German Team averaged so much more movement than any of their World Cup competitors that it ended up being equivalent to one half an extra player on the field. And to the country’s fourth World Cup.
The NBA. In professional basketball, the explosion of readily available digital video has allowed for detailed tracking of how every player in the league fares against every other player, on a play-by-play "Plus/Minus" basis.
Teams like the San Antonio Spurs that most effectively harvest and use this data are able to both identify under-valued players (critical in a Salary Cap league) and empower their coaching staffs with key insights as to the best game lineups and player substitution patterns.
Building on this long-term attention to detail and metrics, last year the Spurs became the winningest team in NBA history (to go along with their five league championships in 16 years).
Major League Baseball. Baseball, with its extended season and its fundamental “One-on-One Matchups” game structure has long been the most advanced team sport when it comes to metrics driving player values, roster composition, and in-game tactics and strategies.
While its most famous proponent - Billy Beane - is rightly lauded for making his Oakland A's team a consistent contender in spite of having a player’s salary budget sometimes only one quarter that of big market competitors like the Yankees and the Dodgers, in recent years “Sabermetrics” has leaped to a whole new level of intricacy and sophistication.
Key competitive innovations run from metrics like Fielding Shifts on a pitch-by-pitch basis, lineup changes based on time of day (and even time zone!), and the statistical value of "good outs."
Now, this is where some folks say "enough is enough" and that they long for baseball as it was played and managed in the good old days, by the Tommy Lasordas and Casey Stengels of the world.
Yes – a harkening back to a simple and more “human” time.
This is a noble, but naïve, sentiment.
Because being able to work with great people and on great teams and at great places, well all of that wonderful and simpler time stuff in this year 2015 of ours can only be had via leading and managing by data…
Because doing so gets us that one magical thing that in both sports and business makes everything else possible:
Dave Allen, author of the great productivity best seller "Getting Things Done," has developed an almost cult-like following for his ideas, structures, and best practices around to-do list management, prioritization, and metrics and schematics that define what an effective and productive day should be.
Without question, there are great benefits to his methods, and I especially like his best practice of always ending a meeting, conversation, or work on an open-ended project with the simple question of "What is the Next Action?"
This discipline alone can greatly improve daily and meeting productivity, and perhaps more importantly reduce that sometimes suffocating sense of anxiety common to knowledge and entrepreneurial work that there is always way more that must be done than there are hours in the day.
But a focus on simple to do list management is far from sufficient.
You see, the dirty little secret that all of the self-help masters, all of the highly paid management consultants fail to tell you is that in our incredibly fast-moving, changing, competition from everywhere modern economy it is virtually impossible to design a plan or strategy that is in any way close to being assured of success.
The reason why is simple. Plans and strategies, by their nature, are speculative and assumptive.
They require the planner to survey the current market and competitive landscape along with assessing the current strengths and assets of their enterprise.
And then, from those assessments, forecast how a course of specific decisions or investments will be received by the market, by current or perspective customers, and responded to by the competition.
When stated this way, it becomes obvious that there is a very high likelihood that a plan as designed will not work.
It really doesn't matter if that plan is to introduce a new product or service offering, a new marketing or advertising campaign, a website re-launch, or an internal re-organization.
So, does this mean that planning is worthless? Of course not!
But it does point to a pair of strategic best practices:
1. Before commencing any planning process, first reflect deeply and document extensively what is working now.
These could be the practices and habits of a top sales person, a pay-per-click advertising campaign with positive ROI, an invoice collections best practice, a particularly profitable partner or affiliate.
Now to do more of these things that work, productivity and accountability best practices as outlined by the Dave Allens of the world are incredibly valuable and should be incorporated aggressively into the daily work habits and disciplines of the modern professional.
2. But for everything else that falls outside of this realm, the right mindset is one of testing and exploration, of brainstorming, of speculation and possibility. Of open-ended questions.
AND it should be noted extremely well that it is usually in this mode that the big outlier, “black swan” ideas and strategies and relationships are usually discovered.
As for the question as to how much of #1, or playing more of the existing game better, we should do, versus #2, playing a new game…
…well that is a decision that the best managers, the best consultants and the most renowned self-help masters are paid a lot of money to answer.
My answer is - no surprise here if you've ever met me at a party - is to have my cake and eat it too!
Schedule time for to-dos and accountabilities to accomplish more of the stuff that you know works and leave plenty of open space to step out of the safe harbor and into the big sea and dream!
And when you balance doing and dreaming like this - and sprinkle in a little luck, you will very soon find yourself every day getting more of the Right Things Done.
How do the best dealmakers and investors make go / no decisions? How do they handicap the probability of a company or project’s return projections actually coming to pass?
And once they do, how do they determine fair terms and pricing upon which to do a deal?
It is upon these “Due Diligence” matters where the real - as opposed to the theoretical - money on deals is made.
Now, due diligence - as it is done by serious, professional dealmakers and investors - is an enormous undertaking.
It often requires hundreds and sometimes thousands of hours of accounting, legal and background reviews and checks, along with third party validation and research as to claims regarding market opportunity, competitive landscape and customer pipeline, traction, and satisfaction.
It can be as time and energy intense as any business process or project one could possibly imagine.
And because it is so, for those without very significant analytical resources and expertise, it is often also unrealistic to do it thoroughly and right.
Luckily, there are some shortcuts that can yield impressive similar insight and results.
I call them the “Who, Why, and When” 15 minute Modern Due Diligence Checklist.
Who. Easily the most important question to ask of any endeavor of importance: Who is involved? What are their personal and professional histories and backgrounds? Of leadership, business, investment and life success? Who are the professional partners (Law, Accounting, Banking, etc.)? Who is on the Board? (Is there a Board at all)? Who are the Customers? The Partners? The Employees?
When it comes to whether a deal is good or not, the answers to these “Who” questions is as often as not all you need to know.
Why. Why is a deal happening? Why are who are involved in fact…involved? Why is the deal being offered to you? Start with Why.
When. The old adage that “Time kills all deals” is also a great harbinger into the likelihood of a successful investment outcome.
How long has the deal been shopped? How urgent/desperate are those involved to get the deal done?
Now, these question cuts both ways. I as much want to see principals that need to get a deal get done versus those that perhaps just want it to be so.
Need, in its best sense, drives urgency and action.
Want is often lighter, less substantial, and thus more prone to delays and “almosts” versus results and return.
Who. Why. When.
Mediocre answers to any of these and almost certainly the deal is not right.
But as they are all spot on, well then the next question to ask is often “What are you waiting for?”
As any venture capitalist worth his salt will tell you, there is a chasm of difference between the mostly grounded-in-reality financial forecasts offered by public companies, and the almost never to come true "rosy scenario" projections offered as a matter of course by startups and small businesses.
And while large public company CEOs and CFOs are judged as a matter of the highest honor on their ability to deliver on projections, exceedingly rare is the entrepreneurial executive that comes anywhere close to meeting forecasted results.
For a sense of the extent of how bad this problem is, a partner I know at a prominent venture capital firm estimates that of the 30+ companies that his firm has invested in, only two have consistently met or exceeded their financial projections.
And let me add that it isn’t like the inmates are running the asylum at my friend’s fund - as a prerequisite of having them as an investor, each of their portfolio company CEOs are required to undertake and report on a vigorous, quarterly budgeting and forecasting cycle.
And also let’s not assume that my friend is just a lousy investor. Lack of consistent financial performance is pretty much par for the course for startups and small businesses.
So what is going on?
Are the entrepreneurs just not ready for prime time? Are their managerial skill levels that many levels below their big company brethren?
I’ll say this - it is certainly not for lack of trying.
Most small technology company executives work longer hours than businesspeople have at any time in history.
If you doubt this, pick up Ron Chernow’s masterful biography of John Rockefeller.
In it, we read enviously of Mr. Rockefeller's daily 9:15am visits to his barber, his afternoon naps, and his unwavering commitment to always leave the office each day, no matter the season, so he could be home before dark.
And it is not for a lack of know how.
Modern entrepreneurs - with their always-on, “click of a button” best practice knowledge and connections base - are a better informed and more globally networked lot than at any time in history.
So if they aren’t the problem, is it modern business itself?
Has it just become - with all of its technological bells and whistles, all its globalization and pricing pressures, all of its customer unpredictability and fickleness - just too unwieldy a beast for any small company to ever consistently ride?
And concurrently, has accurate financial forecasting become equivalent to throwing dice?
Or more disturbingly - is it not even worth doing as even when they do turn out to be accurate it just falls into the category of the blind mouse getting some cheese every now and then?
For better or for worse, modern business demands that we take a more “Balanced Scorecard” approach in judging managerial effectiveness and entrepreneurial progress.
Factors like intellectual property development speed, organizational design, and client satisfaction as measured by a companies’ Net Promoter Score are proving to be just as important predictors of a business’ value creation as is its forecasted-to-plan accuracy.
Please let me clear: On their own these factors do NOT make a business valuable.
Rather, the right matrix of them, properly prioritized, IS highly correlated with businesses that attain high profit exit and investment outcomes.
As an added bonus, these non-financial key performance indicators (KPIs) can be designed to be far more consistently predictable than traditional projections.
As such, they are usually far better measures of executive effectiveness than budgeting and forecasting “gap analysis.”
You just have to have the guts to forget about the numbers for a quarter or two.
Or, if you are really get good at defining, tracking, and accomplishing the right non-financial KPIs, to forget about them permanently as they will just take care of themselves.
To Your Success,
The saddest lament of entrepreneurs and owners of private companies seeking to sell and exit their companies is that they want their businesses to be valued on their future potential, and not its CURRENT profitability.
Given that the typical, offered purchase multiples for smaller businesses – as in those with less than $5 million in EBITDA – can be as low as 1 or 2 times last year’s tax return profits, this is understandable.
In fact, we often see purchase offers based on multiples of MONTHLY earnings – not exactly the “happily ever after” exit dreamed of when these businesses were founded!
Yes, getting a business valued and sold based on factors other than its earnings while by no means impossible nor uncommon, is HARD.
Yet…every month there are literally hundreds of companies that sell for very high multiples of profits, for multiples of revenue, and even companies that are in a pre-revenue stage that sell every day just on the value of their technology, their people, and their work processes.
What do they?
Well, here are six things that companies that sell for high multiples do that you can and should too.
1. They Are Technology Rich. Companies rich in proprietary technology in all its forms – patents, processes, and people – are far more likely to be valued on factors other than profitability and correspondingly attain purchase prices beyond a few times current year’s earnings.
As an example, the likelihood of a medical device company being sold or taken public is twenty times greater than that for a services - or a low-to-no proprietary technology company - doing so.
2.They Have Gold at the End of their Rainbows. Businesses that sell for high multiples communicate exciting and profitable future growth.
Their managers demonstrate understanding of the big 21st century “macros” - i.e. how technology evolutions and globalization will impact positively and negatively their industry, market, customers, and competition.
Concurrently, these managers understand the micros well too, especially how their business’ human capital will adapt and grow as change happens.
All this translates into well-developed stories that if their businesses aren’t making it now, there is gold (and a lot of it!) at the end of their rainbows.
3. They Are Great Places to Work. Businesses that sell are usually characterized by that good stuff that we all seek in our professional environments.
They are culturally cohesive. If they don’t have low employee turnover, they at least have well - defined career progression paths. And their compensation policies align and pay well with desired performance.
Quite simply, they are great places to work and are reputationally strong within their industries.
4. They are Process and NOT People Dependent. Businesses that are overly dependent on charismatic owners or a few dynamic salespeople or engineers rarely sell because the majority of their value can simply walk out the door tomorrow and never come back.
Important aside: for those entrepreneurs that harbor the desire to sell but not the ambition to build a meaningfully sized, process-based organization should then focus their exit planning almost exclusively on technology and intellectual property development.
If they are unwilling / unable to do this, then they should put the idea out of their head for now and invest this energy into more meaningful pursuits.
Like my favorite - making absolutely as much money today as one possibly can.
5. They Have Good Advisors. Businesses that do everything right but have messy financial statements because of poor accounting, messy corporate records because of poor or non-existent legal counsel, and messy “future stories” because of poor exit planning and investment banking advice, simply do not sell.
Sure, they may get offers, but invariably these deals fall apart in diligence and at closing.
And as anyone that has ever been through a substantial business sale process knows, almost nothing in business is as time and energy-draining as is getting close to a business sale and not getting it done.
6. They Get Lucky. Luck remains a fundamental and often dominant factor that separates the businesses that successfully sell from those that don’t.
The best entrepreneurs and executives don’t get philosophical nor discouraged by this but rather they embrace it.
They try new things. They follow hunches. They make connections.
They start from the pre-supposition of “accepting all offers” and work backward from there.
They and their companies can be best described as “happy warriors” – modern day action heroes ready for the fight. When they get knocked down, they smile, wipe their brow, and get right back in the fray.
And you know what? Our happy warriors, living and thinking and working like this day after day channel some mystical power and draw great luck and more to themselves and their companies.
Yes, companies that sell are the good and lucky ones.
Follow the advice above and fortune just may smile on your company and those you invest in too.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
- Winston Churchill
At the very heart of entrepreneurship, small business, and investing sit risks, roadblocks, challenges, and delays.
The statistics are only debated to their degree but not their overall thrust - a small percentage of businesses ever become meaningfully profitable and a smaller percentage still are ever sold for a meaningful price.
In other words, the vast majority of businesses - by objective, financial measures - do not achieve their desired and sought after objectives..
Even worse, a lot them do so badly - never achieving even one dollar in revenue and / or go so deeply in the hole that they have significant and negative financial spillover effects.
Like business and personal bankruptcies and investors losing all of their money.
In a word, the trials and tribulations of business are and can be traumatic.
Now it is not the kind of trauma that survivors of war and natural disasters experience, but in the world of work it can be about as bad as it gets.
Yet both domestically and around the world entrepreneurs are starting and growing businesses at a greater rate than at any time in the last 15 years…3% of the U.S. adult population annually start one, and a multiple of that contemplate doing so.
And investors make more money investing in startups and small businesses than in any other asset class.
So what gives?
Well, there is the financial view, namely that the rewards of a business sale are so great and life-changing that having any probability of its occurrence make the grave financial risks of business - building more than worth taking.
But this at best only explains half of the story.
No, there is something else going on here, and research regarding of all things - Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome - points to what it is.
Research done by among others Dr. Richard Tedeschi of the University of North Carolina shows that strong, negative experiences like war and natural disasters are NOT as scarring as once thought.
In fact, the opposite is true.
Statistically, most survivors of traumatic experiences - like prisoners-of-war and victims of natural disasters - come out of them stronger and on most measures, out-perform those in their peer groups unaffected by the awful events.
Now everyday all of us should count our blessings dozens of times as “there but for fortune go I’ and offer nothing but great compassion and empathy for those suffering trauma, especially when it comes through no fault of their own.
But we also should take significant solace and inspiration from the rest of the story.
Life, as it does, goes on.
And according to the latest research, the old adage is true of that which does not kill you REALLY does make you stronger.
Now it would not be proper to equate a business failure with the physical and emotional traumas experienced by survivors of war and disaster, but entrepreneurs and executives can and should draw important wisdom from them.
Such as if you “fail” at this particular business, you won’t be broken and scarred forever.
And that professional and entrepreneurial growth is a participatory sport – learned only by doing and trying and striving and not by watching and fretting and waiting.
And then there are the related ideas of diversification and iteration.
Such as, in business, it is almost always far better to have two business “failures” and ONE success than it is to go zero for zero.
For the entrepreneur this does not necessarily mean running multiple businesses concurrently, but it does mean that the business strategy should be iterative and testing based.
Successful Internet companies get this intuitively - see Amazon and eBay and thousands of others - and you should too.
As for investors, they should take advantage of the incredible opportunity that the modern financial system offers to back multiple entrepreneurial companies, and not just one or a handful.
With the average return of the startup company asset class being 2.5X in a mean time of about four years, the odds are strongly in your favor if you both invest right and diversify properly.
So entrepreneurs and investors get in the game!
Failure is no way near as bad as advertised and if approached with the right spirit and strategy, it can truly be the ultimate blessing in disguise.
To Your Success,