Wall Street, Football, and The Great Deception


Watching my beloved New England Patriots barely escape with a victory this Sunday, I was both amused and appalled by the constant T.D. Ameritrade advertisements touting their “great selection of ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds).”

Now while I have a very high regard for the intellectual capacity and market savvy of the typical football fan, these ads did beg the question – “Are football fans, between commercials on Sundays, really out there checking the opening of the Nikkei, gathering market intelligence, and placing their buys and sells before the game action returns?”

And of course its corollary, in the annals of bad ideas, where exactly would such a strategy rank? Alongside the Edsel? New Coke?  Sub-prime mortgage lending?

How about with Decca Recording in 1962 turning the Beatles with this famous line: “We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out."

Let’s take a step back. Now there once was a very special time when everyone made money in the stock market. It was the great golden age of mutual funds, of variable annuities, of the brokerage firm.

It was also the golden age of heavy metal, of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, and the VCR.

It was known as the 1980’s.

Starting in August 1982, the average annual returns on the Dow were as follows:

1982: 19.61%
1983: 20.27%
1984: -3.74%
1985: 27.66%
1986: 25.58%
1987: 2.26%(!)
1988: 11.85%
1989: 26.96%

Wall Street bankers made billions.

But even better, that Joe Six-Pack investor made money too.

He mostly followed the “buy and hold” principles of Warren Buffet, John Templeton, and Peter Lynch and his portfolio just went up and up.

And in the 90’s, the good times rolled, with the Dow skyrocketing from 777 in August 1982 to 11,028 in September 1999.

But as the century turned, the music stopped. And for the last eleven years it hasn’t played again.

BUT when the music stopped, some got to keep on dancing.

In football, that would be what we call a misdirection, a fake, or even a quarterback sneak.

Or to be more blunt, the reason why Ameritrade focuses their ads on buzzwords like ETF selection is because Wall Street CAN’T talk about any recent track record of investment return for the Main Street investor.

Because there isn’t one.

So they advertise ETF selection. As if that is going to work.

Now, there are MANY better ways:

1). NEVER listen to a brokerage firm advertisement ever again. Or if you love football and must watch, then treat them with the same wariness that we once gave used car salesmen before public and competitive pressure forced them to clean up their act.

2). Start Your Own Business. In the history of humanity, no form of investment has ever approached the return on time and money that investing in one’s own business has.

Easy? Heck no. But when compared to the stock market at least it is a fair fight.

3). Invest in a Portfolio of Startup Businesses. Prediction: portfolio startup investing, either in the form of super-angel funds like Right Side Capital, SoftTech, and Floodgate or incubators like Y Combinator and Tech Stars will be the KEY financial innovation of the next decade.

Like starting a business, not for everyone of course, but many of the best thinkers in academia and entrepreneurship have arrived at it independently and are hitching their wagons to it.

And unlike the public markets it remains human-sized enough to follow investment cause and effect.

And that, of course, is much better than following the herd.

Looking for Opportunities Now?

Each year, Growthink reviews hundreds of startup and emerging company opportunities and selects those with the best management teams, market opportunities, and financial prospects.

To learn more about opportunities we are following now, click here.

To your success,

Jay Turo

Jay Turo


Be Careful Who You Ask Your Questions To


I spent the last hour or two looking at different Q&A websites where entrepreneurs ask their questions and get answers from other members.

And I left pretty frustrated.

You see, a lot of times good questions are being answered by other newbie entrepreneurs who don't have a clue.

Now, I don't want to mention the sites where I read these questions and answers, as I don't want to create any new enemies. But I want you to be warned that a lot of the answers on these sites are really bad. And following some of this poor advice could get you in trouble.

So, as always, I strongly suggest that you get at least one Advisor who's "been there, done that" and can help you on your entrepreneurial journey by expertly answering your key questions. Read this blog post for more on the importance of Advisors. Also, as a shameless plug, you can join Growthink University, which, as one of its benefits gives you the ability to email, 24/7, all of your key questions and get answers from me and my colleagues at Growthink.

So, here is one question that I just read on a Q&A website that got butchered.

The question was "What percentage of my company should I give to matchmakers that introduce me to venture capitalists?"

One of the answers was as follows:

In the words of Michael Corleone:

"Senator? You can have my answer now, if you like. My final offer is this: nothing. Not even the fee for the gaming license, which I would appreciate if you would put up personally."

Give them nothing. They want equity just to make an introduction? That is ridiculous.

Now, I'm a big fan of the Godfather movies where this quote came from, so I have to admit that reading the answer made me smile at first. But the answer is dead wrong.

I can't reiterate how important it is to raise the money you need for your business. In general, without money, there is no business. Do you want to own 100% of an idea, or 20% of a $50 million company (realizing that an idea that's not now or soon generating revenues is pretty much worthless)? I'll take the $10 million over nothing.

Vince Lombardi once said "We didn't lose the game; we just ran out of time." My feeling is that if you're able to raise enough funding, you can NEVER run out of time. And in fact, most of the time your game can't even really START without funding.

So, if you have to pay someone to introduce you to investors, then do it. Likewise, if an investor wants a little more equity than you'd like to give them, give it to them anyway so you can raise the money (that being said, if you raise money properly, you'll have multiple investors interested in funding you and you'll be much better able to dictate the terms).

Once again, you absolutely positively MUST raise the funding. So you need to be flexible.

Finally, with regards to matchmakers, I'd like to add that you generally never pay them too much. For example, even if a matchmaker requires you to pay them 25% of the proceeds of the money they raise for you, most likely the funding source won't like this (because they want the money to go to you to grow your company). As a result, if the matchmaker's fee is too high, it likely will get negotiated down during the final transaction negotiations.

So focus on raising money. And don't be greedy. If it costs a little more (in cash and/or equity) to raise the money, so be it. Use the money to grow an enormously successful business. And when you cash out, you can start another business. And this time, you'll have plenty of your own money to do it with.



363 CEOs All Can’t Be Wrong


A fantastic October 2010 survey of 363 emerging technology company CEOs by the law firm Dorsey and Whitney is a fantastic snapshot of how the “old Silicon Valley boys club” world is gone forever.  Highlights:

The Super Angel Funds Are Coming. While individual angel investors still account for the largest percentage of funding for startup entrepreneurs, the new portfolio-based funding models – either in the form of incubators like Y Combinator and Techstars or in the form of Super Angel funds like Right Side Capital, SoftTech, and Floodgate are coming fast.

Close to 50% of the CEOs surveyed expected to get funding from portfolio angels in the next 12 month, up from less than 20% this year.

Sequoia, Kleiner, et al – Your Best Days are Behind You.
Quoting the report, “The perception of the investor’s brand no longer appears to carry the same prestige and value, with slightly more than 75% surveyed thinking that a tier-one “brand name” VC was only “somewhat important” to “not important.”

Speed, in the Internet Age, is EVERYTHING. Fully 92% of the CEO respondents expressed frustration with the slowness of the funding process. In a word where one can buy a car, get a mortgage, and trade millions of dollars of securities with a few clicks of a button, why does it still take 6 months for a venture fund to make a decision?

As the “super-angel” fund model begins more and more to more to displace the traditional VC model, look for speed to funding to greatly accelerate. Hallelujah!

Small Funding Rounds Dominate. As always, the most interesting companies from a growth and return potential standpoint raise relatively small rounds, with less than 2% of all of the CEOs surveyed had raised more than $5 million.

The World Needs Leaders. My favorite CEO comment from the survey, “They were willing to take the lead, and not simply wait around for someone else to take the lead. I want an alpha investor.”

Aint that the truth. Both being an entrepreneur and backing one requires all of those human qualities we celebrate in art and in life: foresight, guts, rugged optimism, a can do spirit, and laughing charitably at the naysayers.

21st Century entrepreneurship is all that and more. Yes, it is risky, but the opposite is far, far worse. As Teddy Roosevelt put it, it is that grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

And as this great CEO survey shows, luckily our world is filled like never before with men and women truly in the arena.

And about to make lots of money for themselves, their families, and those that back them.

Looking for Opportunities Now?

Each year, Growthink reviews hundreds of startup and emerging company opportunities and selects those with the best management teams, market opportunities, and financial prospects.

To learn more about opportunities we are following now, click here.

To your success,

Jay Turo

Jay Turo


The #1 Predictor of Startup Success


I just read an interesting study about business failures commissioned by the U.S. Small Business Administration. You can access the study here.

The study aimed to see why businesses fail, and to understand the difference between businesses that fail versus businesses that close for other reasons.

And, as the chart below indicates, the number one reason why businesses fail is lack of funding. In fact, nearly half of the businesses that failed attributed lack of funding to their downfall.


SBA Failure Chart

Another factor that significantly influenced failure rates was the age of the entrepreneur. The study indicated that entrepreneurs below the age of 35 are more likely to fail than older entrepreneurs.

I've always considered age to be an interesting factor in regards to entrepreneurial success. Here's my thinking:

Oftentimes younger entrepreneurs have an advantage in terms of time, energy and freedom. With regards to time, they often don't have families and thus can work later and on weekends. And they might have a little more energy, or be a little "hungrier," since they haven't achieved as much business success as older entrepreneurs. And finally, because they may not have mortgages and other financial obligations and assets, they may have a little more freedom to take risks than older entrepreneurs.

Older entrepreneurs, on the other hand, are probably more successful due to experience and expertise.  Older entrepreneurs generally have more maturity and experience, allowing them to make more informed decisions and to learn from past mistakes. They typically also have more domain expertise (i.e., a deep knowledge of their market from working in it for so long).

Fortunately for young entrepreneurs, there is a great solution to their lack of experience, which is to get Advisors and/or build an Advisory Board. (Note that I define Advisors as successful people that you respect and that agree to help your company. Advisors are generally successful and/or retired executives, business owners, service providers, professors, or others that could help your business. An Advisory Board is simply a group of Advisors.)

In fact, I often site the following four reasons why ALL entrepreneurs (young and old) should have Advisors:

1. Practice: if you can't successfully pitch an advisor to invest time in your business, then you are not going to successfully pitch anyone to invest money in your business. So, practice your pitch on prospective advisors first, and use that practice to perfect it.

2. Connections to capital: as successful individuals, advisors often have the ability to invest directly in your company; and/or they tend to have large, high quality networks of individuals that they can introduce you to.

3. Credibility: having quality advisors gives your company instant credibility in the eyes of lenders and investors.  For example, if you started a new hockey stick company, having Wayne Gretzky as an advisor would certainly give you great credibility (and connections).

4. Operational success: mentors and advisors are an entrepreneur's "single most controllable success factor" according to Dr. Basil Peters, a successful entrepreneur, angel investor, venture capitalist. Having Advisors with whom you can discuss key business matters as you grow your venture will help ensure you make the right decisions, particularly if they have encountered and dealt with the same challenges already in their careers.

So, while the #1 predictor of startup success may be funding, you may want to focus first on getting Advisors. Since this will help not only with getting funding, but with giving your organization an experienced sounding board to make high quality decisions.



The Luckiest People On Earth


This two-and-a-half-minute video has had 5 million views on YouTube so far.

My sister had to stop watching it half way; it made her anxious.

I looked at it VERY differently -- from the perspective of an entrepreneur.

Here it is:

As an entrepreneur, watching this video made me think of the great quote from Samuel Goldwyn: "The harder I work, the luckier I get."

You see, that's what frustrates me about the video. I'm not a big fan of luck that's not predicated by hard work.

Because it sends the wrong message. It sends the message that you can attain success via luck. Which is sometimes, but rarely, true.

To be a successful entrepreneur, you need to create your own luck like Goldwyn did (Goldwyn was born in Warsaw, Poland without a penny to his name). 

You need to work hard and try lots of things. Importantly, you must realize that MOST of the things you try will fail. But with persistence, success will come. Funny enough, a lot of people consider this "luck." 

Was Edison "lucky" when he created the light bulb? Sure he was. In each of his experiments, I'm sure he hoped that he would get "lucky" and invent one which worked. If his first try would have worked, it clearly would have been at least a little lucky. But what about his second, his tenth, or his hundredth tries? Clearly, when he experimented over 1,000 times, it was hard work and not luck that prevailed.

I think that a simple timeline is one of an entrepreneur's greatest tools, and one that helps ensure that you will get "lucky" from good planning and hard work.

This timeline should start with where your business is right now. And it should end with where you want your business to be in 5 years. In creating your timeline, you should provide much more detail for the next 12 months, as you have more control over this time period. What do you hope to accomplish? What dates should you set to accomplish each goal? And so on.

By going through this exercise, you start to realize the numerous steps you'll need to take to achieve your goals. You'll start to better understand the things that might go wrong, or that might be more challenging than you initially thought. And you will have a roadmap to follow. But importantly, remember that many of your attempts will fail or take longer than planned. So build this into your timeline.

And when time passes and you attain your goals at the end of the timeline, many people will call you lucky. But you and I will know that luck had nothing to do with it!



Raise Money For Your Business by Heeding Lessons from an FBI Hostage Negotiator


NegotiationLooking for money for your business?

Well, you may want to take some advice from an FBI hostage negotiator.

That's right. I recently came across an article detailing the chronicles of a former FBI hostage negotiator, and noticed several parallels between hostage negotiations and raising money.

Here are the key lessons and parallels:

1. Determine what is a negotiable situation and what is not

In the infamous 1993 Waco, TX negotiations, it was determined that leader David Koresh would not negotiate and that the only way to save lives was via raiding the compound.

When raising money, you'll learn that some investors are interested in your venture, and others aren't. You generally are going to have a really tough time changing the minds of investors who initially are not interested in you. So when this is the case, move on.

2. Everyone on your team who communicates to the other side is a negotiator

This is a really interesting point. If any FBI agent communicates with the other side (even if it's not the leader of the FBI team), it is treated by the other side as an official communication. As you can imagine, lots can go wrong here.

Likewise with raising money. If you have a team, investors will surely ask questions to the other team members. Make sure you are all on the same page and have the same vision and answers to key questions.

3. What the other side sees is key

In Waco, TX, the FBI agents said they wanted to peacefully negotiate. But when David Koresh looked out the window, he saw tanks. Clearly, this visual didn't match the message the FBI was trying to send him.

The same holds true when raising money, you need to match and support your claims. If you say that customers are going to love your solution, provide testimonials from prospective customers. If you say that you're going to progress your company week after week, then make sure to follow up with investors every week after your initial meeting to keep them aware of your progress (and actually make real progress).

4. Keep it Simple

Years ago, during an airplane hijacking, FBI agents were concerned about the fact that the hijacker was wearing a long coat. They guessed that a bomb was being hidden under it, and started thinking of complex solutions. Later the hijacker revealed "It was cold and it is the only coat I own." (pretty funny, huh)

Likewise, when raising money, keep it simple. Investors can't invest in what they don't understand. Lay down the key facts about your venture -- why it's unique and why it will make investors money. You don't need to get into all the tiny details unless they specifically ask about them.

5. Listen to the Other Side's Needs

In virtually all hostage situations, the 'bad guys' have specific needs. Maybe it's money. Maybe it's power. Maybe it's the release of a prisoner. Etc.

Likewise, all investors have needs. Venture capitalists are typically driven by an ROI need, or a need to get a high return on their investment. Angel investors also have other needs like ego and interest in helping an entrepreneur. And strategic investors may invest out of fear that their competitor invests in your company before them. And so on.

So, take the time to understand the needs of your prospective investors, and sell into them.

I trust that these lessons will help you raise money for your business. But realize, they'll only help you after you take the first steps....mainly getting in touch with potential investors and securing meetings.


Foursquare? A Bakery?


Picasso once famously said, “Work is the Ultimate Seduction.”

Well, when it comes to the debt we all owe the world’s entrepreneurs and innovators, we should all thank our lucky stars that he was right.

Why? Because never before in human history has there been as much opportunity to make as much money as fast as there is right now.

This fact may be hard for many to see – blinded as they are by the constant drumbeat of negativity that passes as economic news these days, but it is true.

Here’s why:

1. Today’s Startups grow faster and with less investment needed than ever before. Google’s growth velocity blew away that of Microsoft’s. Facebook that of Google. Twitter that of Facebook. And now Groupon and a host of others that of Twitter.

Sure, these new breed Internet companies far more often than not flame out than make it but, but ignore them at your peril as they will continue to be the big growth stories of our age.

2. Growing Globally Has Never Been Easier.
The teapot dictators in Iran and North Korea may get all the ink, but it is the Chinese, Indian, and Brazilian technocrats with their quiet defense of free markets and trade that make hay.

And it is they, by leading their once developing economies into huge import markets, that have made America’s service exports – scientific, engineering, financial – be in greater demand worldwide than at any time, ever.

U.S. Companies are generating, on average, close to $50 billion per month in service export revenues, and this number is trending up fast.

And unlike our huge “hard goods” trade deficit, the value of service exports is running on average 40% greater than that of service imports.

3. Who Needs the Stock Market? Someday soon we will talk about the New York Stock Exchange the same way we do about travel agencies, real estate agents, and going to the racetrack to place a wager. Maybe with nostalgia, but also saying how the heck did we ever get by doing things so inefficiently?

Traditional public markets, with their arcane pricing and regulatory mechanisms simply can’t keep up with the new speed of information.

Look at it this way – who does a better job of market-making – your Power Seller on eBay with their thousands of reliability comments and cutthroat pricing competition…

…Or your pot-bellied 70-year old NYSE specialist signing out at 1 pm in the West, vacationing in the Hamptons, and who thinks Foursquare is a bakery?

Yes, the future that is here now is investing the same way you buy over-stocked tube socks.  On fully efficient, 100% transparent, and vigilantly monitored buying and selling private exchanges like Second Market, Prosper.com, and Lending Club. 

And soon to be here, via even more liquid and efficient exchanges like eBay and Amazon Marketplace.

Scary, you say? Maybe, but anymore than the way things are done now?

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take my chances on eBay as opposed to the unholy alliance of hedge fund speculators, the plaintiff’s bar, and the fatigue inducing regulatory scheme that passes as vibrant public markets these days.

And oh yeah, nobody has made a dime in those public markets than the above parties in eleven long years.

Luckily for all of us, their time has past.

For this is the age of the global entrepreneur. Those whose hearts are fully seduced by their work.

They are the ones who really run things now. And they are both all around us, and all around the world.

Back the best of them wherever and however you find them.

And you and the world will be richer for it.

Looking for Opportunities Now?

Each year, Growthink reviews hundreds of startup and emerging company investing opportunities and selects those with the best management teams, market opportunities, and financial prospects.

To learn more about opportunities we are following now, click here.

To your success,

Jay Turo

Jay Turo


Crowdfunding: Still Working Like a Charm


I predicted that Crowdfunding would be big, and I love to see that more and more new ventures are using it to quickly and easily raise funding.

My favorite recent example is Glif.

Glif's founders came up with an idea - a simple iPhone 4 accessory with two primary functions: mounting your iPhone to a standard tripod, and acting as a kickstand to prop your iPhone up at an angle.

Next, they created a prototype. But they had no money to actually build it and distribute it.

So, they turned to Crowdfunding. They posted their company on one of the several Crowdfunding platforms (Kickstarter). They set it up so that donators receive, among other things, a Glif when they are eventually manufactured (after the company has raised enough money to allow them to manufacture).

The result: within just 5 days, Glif raised over $80,000.

Now, before you rush to post your venture on Kickstarter, note that the vast majority of those that do so fail to raise any money.

Because there is a specific strategy you must follow in order to successfully raise money from Crowdfunding.

I have detailed the strategies in this video and in my Crowdfunding Formula.

Check it out.


$43.2 Million That Can Help You


Now that summer is officially over, venture capital activity is picking up.

I just reviewed the many companies who recently raised venture capital with an eye towards those that are offering products and services that could benefit other entrepreneurs and business owners.

These following six companies fell into this category. Collectively these companies just raised $43.2 million.

Get Satisfaction Inc. (http://www.getsatisfaction.com) raised $6 million led by Azure Capital Partners. Previous investors O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures and First Round Capital also participated. Get Satisfaction has developed a private label social network platform for businesses to use to communicate with their customers, and to help customers communicate with each other. This helps companies bond with customers and provide customer service, and is a much easier and faster solution than building your own system.

Ixtens (http://www.ixtens.com/) raised $4.6 million led by Greycroft Partners and BV Capital. Ixtens offers a comprehensive ecommerce solution for businesses. It enables merchants to sell their products anywhere by syndicating goods to multiple marketplaces. It also provides the necessary infrastructure for a merchant to turn any online store into a marketplace, selling integrated third-party inventory from any supplier.

Rypple (http://www.rypple.com) raised $7 million in a financing round led by Bridgescale Partners.  Additional investors included Edgestone Capital Ventures and Extreme Venture Partners, as well as angel investors Peter Thiel, Seymour Schulich, Roger Martin and Joe Sigelman. Rypple makes HR software that helps companies run better. It solicits feedback from employees, helps teams share information and accomplish goals, and allows managers to review and improve employee performance more easily. To me, it looks very similar to Basecamp, but focused on HR applications; it seems very cool.

TimeTrade Systems (http://www.timetrade.com) raised $5.6 million led by Ascent Venture Partners with participation by CommonAngels and other returning investors. TimeTrade, which I have used myself, is an online appointment scheduling solution. It allows prospects or customers to automatically schedule meeting times with you, governed by rules that you set. I find it very easy to use and worthwhile (and they offer a 30 day free trial).

(http://www.utest.com/) raised $13 million led by Scale Venture Partners. Previous investors Longworth Venture Partners and Egan-Managed Capital also invested in this round. uTest is the world's largest software testing marketplace; it has created a community of 30,000 professional testers from more than 165 countries around the world. Startups to global software companies have used the uTest marketplace to get their web, desktop and mobile applications tested. This is the quickest and easiest way to test something.

Verve Wireless Inc. (http://www.vervewireless.com) raised $7 million from BlueRun Ventures and The Associated Press. Verve Wireless helps manage the mobile content platforms for over 750 leading media companies, and importantly allows businesses to do targeted mobile advertising on its network.

Key Tip: These companies did NOT raise venture capital by luck. Nor did they buy a list of venture capital firms and email their business plans to all of them. Rather, they followed a proven, methodical process. Check out my Venture Capital Pitch Formula for a proven process for you to follow to raise venture capital. This video explains more.


Entrepreneurial Malpractice


MalpracticeA few weeks ago I went to the doctor. My throat had been bothering me for a while and I figured it was time to get it checked out.

It turns out that I had strep throat, and after 10 days of antibiotics I was fine.

Now, before the doctor gave me the antibiotics, he asked me a bunch of questions and took at look at my throat. And he gave me a strep throat test to confirm his diagnosis.

And the doctor's experience along with his diagnosis allowed him to solve the problem.

Let's consider a scenario though where the doctor was too busy to diagnose my condition. Perhaps I walked into his office and he didn't let me say a word. Maybe he looked me up and down and said, "I know what the problem is. It's this, and so I'm going to give you a prescription for this." Now, if this happened, chances are that he wouldn't have properly diagnosed my condition, he wouldn't have prescribed the right solution, and I wouldn't have gotten better.

And in the medical profession, this clearly would be serious. Because in the medical profession, the formula D < C = M holds true. Specifically, the formula is Diagnosis before Consultation equals Malpractice. And if my doctor tried to diagnose my problem and give me a prescription before doing a consultation, he could have landed in pretty hot water. In fact, he could have gone to jail.

So what's my point here? Because I think we all know that doctors shouldn't offer a diagnosis before doing a consultation.

Well, the point is that too many entrepreneurs commit this error. They diagnose the needs of their market without doing a thorough consultation. Many times, their consultation is simply on their OWN needs. Perhaps, they think, "what I would really like is an Italian restaurant in my town." And they think that just because they want it, that everyone else wants it. This is a common flaw in both marketing and entrepreneurship.

Rather, the entrepreneur destined for success is one who spends time consulting with their target customers. First they identify a need. But then, they really assess it. They speak to prospective customers. And figure out their true needs. What are they doing or buying currently to solve the need? What do they like about the current solution? What do they dislike? And so on.

Importantly, note that asking your friends what they think about your idea also tends to lead to faulty results. First, your friends probably think very similarly to you, and may not represent a good sample of the general population who will consider buying your product or service. And, oftentimes friends will say they like something just to make you feel good, rather than really scrutinizing the idea.

So, don't commit entrepreneurial malpractice. Do your homework. Really research the needs of your customers and/or prospective customers. And only launch products and services that truly solve these needs.

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