Saturday, February 28, 2015

Add Real Value To Your Startup With A Financial Model

businessman-unknowns If you think that financial modeling for a new business is arcane magic, limited in value to financial wizards and professional investors, then you have been listening to the wrong advisors. In reality, a simple Excel spreadsheet model customized around your assumptions can save you hours and avoid a wasted expense in validating alternative vendor and marketing decisions.

The way to start is with a sample financial model, freely available from many sources on the Internet, such as this one from Entrepreneur. Another alternative is to build one yourself, starting with a few formulas to extrapolate early revenues and expenses into the five-year projections normally requested by banks and investors.

Don’t try to build the “ultimate” business model, for all possible alternatives, in multiple business domains. For maximum value with the least effort, focus on only the “what ifs” that are the highest priority in your mind for your own startup. In my experience, the top candidates will include the following:

  1. What if you have to cut your targeted price? Pricing is always a tricky issue. Vendor costs are subject to change, customers are fickle, competitors come out of the woodwork and the economy can take a downturn. You need to quickly calculate the long-term impact on profitability of pricing and business model changes.

  2. What if you need to change your market size and volume projections? The manual calculations to translate market assumptions into costs, volumes, expenses and net return are massive. Yet they can be done by a simple financial model in a few milliseconds. Investors will test your savvy by asking where your business breaks.

  3. What if your growth and scaling projections are too aggressive? Most entrepreneurs realize that doubling their revenue each year puts them in a premium category with investors, so that may be your first target. But targets need to be adjusted as the reality of early returns sets in. Projections you know to be wrong won’t help you.

  4. What if investors offer you only half, or double, what you ask for? With a financial model, it’s relatively easy to apply these amounts to your marketing, manufacturing and administrative costs, as well as business volumes, to predict the impact. Your credibility with investors, and your confidence in any request, depends on these answers.

  5. What if your customer acquisition cost assumptions have to change? The cost to acquire a customer, or traffic to conversion ratios, are critical to the success of most startups. This can be projected top down from market share assumptions, or bottom up from actual costs and sales results.

The time to start building your model is even before you incorporate the business and spend real money on building products. Just like planning a long trip with your car, you need to know where you are going before your start, or you probably won’t get there. If you are not computer literate, it’s never too early to find a partner or learn tackle this critical element of every business.

The financial model obviously has to be built in concert that the overall business and pricing model that you are implementing. The most common business models these days include the subscription model, freemium model and ecommerce. Each has a different set of variables for sales, revenue flow, marketing costs and personnel.

Creating a financial model is perhaps the only way for you to see key areas of strength and weakness in your business, before the money is spent and it’s too late to recover. It’s a great learning experience and is not rocket science, so you can do it yourself. But don’t hesitate to ask for help from a professional if you need it.

You may be surprised how clear the relationship appears between product pricing, cost and customer count. You will quickly understand the old adage that if you lose money on every customer, it’s hard to make it up in volume.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Entrepreneur.com on 2/20/2015 ***

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Friday, February 27, 2015

10 Tips For Managing Entrepreneur Startup Overload

stress-business One of the most common complaints I hear from entrepreneurs is that they are overwhelmed by the workload and stress of starting their company. Then there are the additional challenges of balancing the demands of family and friends. Having too much on your plate can turn your dream into a nightmare.

Some people will tell you to just get a bigger plate, meaning hire some help. But with the pressures of the economy, and limited access to outside funding, we all know this isn’t always possible or appropriate. I recommend the opposite, or getting things off your plate that shouldn’t be there in the first place.

In reality, many entrepreneurs are their own worst enemy, trying to do everything, working inefficiently, and imagining things that need doing which will never happen. Here are some tips on how to look at work, make some hard decisions, and keep your health and sanity:

  1. Maintain a big picture perspective. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by day-to-day details, to the degree that they all seem like big items, driving up your imagined workload. Take a few minutes each day to reflect on your real goals, and eliminate items which don’t relate.

  2. Set realistic deadlines. The more your workload grows, the greater is your temptation to set unrealistic deadlines for yourself. This results in poor quality work, which generates more work to fix previous efforts. Allow some buffer on every item.

  3. Prioritize the work items. Relentlessly reprioritize your list and complete them in order, resisting the urge to skip over the tough ones. The longer that high-priority items stay on your list, the more stress you will feel, and consequences will add new items.

  4. Keep a written to-do list. Most people can’t manage more than five items in their head, and when your list gets longer, it seems infinite. Write it down, but even then, keep it to the top ten priority items or less. Multiple pages of work items won’t get done anyway.

  5. Block out time for priority work items. Don’t allow your day to be monopolized by distractions and the crisis of the moment. Close your door, or move to another location where you will not be interrupted so that you will complete the top item on your list today.

  6. Count the completions. At the end of each day, check off, count, and celebrate your positives. A sense of progress is important here. Look positively at your progress as a glass half full, rather than half empty.

  7. Take a break to recharge. Even a few minutes each hour to relax will re-energize you. Regular non-work breaks, like a trip to the gym, or time with family will be ultimately more productive than slugging it out all night on a given problem. Get a good night’s sleep.

  8. Discuss the tough ones with a mentor. Don’t be afraid to discuss your challenges with a trusted friend, or business advisor. This will clarify the issue in your own mind, and let you see it from other angles. You need to stop and regroup when you hit a brick wall.

  9. Stay in control of your emotions. Stress is a normal part of life. Don’t let it lead to anger and frustration, or loss of productivity. We can choose how we handle tough situations, and the best approach is always to stay calm and in control.

  10. Eliminate phantom work items. These are items that you never intend to do, and probably don’t need, but you carry them on your list because of guilt or direction from someone else. You can’t complete an item that you don’t understand.

Wearing all the hats required to initiate a startup is tough in the best of situations. Then your business really starts to take off, and it gets even more challenging. As an entrepreneur, you need to seriously apply the discipline of these principles early and always to survive, and hopefully even enjoy the journey.

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, February 23, 2015

10 Business Courses You May Have Missed In School

Texting_in_cube_at_work I’m sure that every one of us who has been out in the business world for a few years can look back with perfect hindsight and name a few college courses that we should have taken. What’s more disconcerting to me is that I can name a few that aren’t usually even offered, resulting in more than a few students graduating ill-prepared for the real business world!

I won’t even try to cover here the ones you didn’t find for your personal life, like managing personal finances and credit. But on the business side, here is my list of useful courses that we wish existed, but as far as I know, still aren’t generally available:

  1. Basic Office Politics. Office politics involves the complex network of power and status that exists within every business, large and small. Don’t you wish that someone had prepped you on how to read the body language, interpret office gossip, and when to hit the delete key on your email rather than the send key?

  2. Business Email and Texting. Writing in business is not the same as in an academic environment. In school, you're taught to stretch weak ideas to reach your document page limit. The business world expects exactly the opposite. The challenge is to communicate your idea in one page, and close the deal quickly. As for business texting – don’t do it.

  3. Touch-Typing for Business. How many hours a day does the average professional and executive today spend hunched over a computer keyboard “hunting and pecking”? Throughout a career lifetime, just think of the return on that investment. Any symbols you can’t find on a typewriter, like smiley faces, should never be used in business.

  4. Business Dress for Success. “You are what you wear” works in business, just like it did in high school. But no one tells you the business norms, so some continue to come to work in jeans, baseball caps, tattoos, flip-flops and expect to be treated as executives. A basic benchmark is to dress better than the executives who hold the positions you want.

  5. Demystifying Employee Logic. Another term for this is how to be a skeptic. Understand the ways people can mislead deliberately or accidentally with numbers, bad logic and rhetoric. There's some untruth hidden in 99% of everything you're told. Can you find it, and do you know how to respond?

  6. Business Budgets and Benefits. The focus here would be on the actual nuts and bolts of how things get budgeted and financed in business. This will pay big dividends in getting your favorite project funded, or justifying your own salary, or negotiating a bonus. The tenets of entitlement do not apply.

  7. The Art of Selling and Closing Business. We can find tons of "marketing' courses in colleges and universities but everyone must think that “selling” is intuitively obvious. The art of selling is complex blend of relationships, persuasion techniques, negotiation, and knowledge. Follow-up and persistence are a rare natural phenomenon.

  8. Root-Cause Problem Analysis. Business professionals need to analyze problems from a big picture perspective. Most classes in college focus on a narrow area of interest, which just teach students to focus on problems through one lens. That's how unforeseen consequences stay unforeseen, and happen repeatedly in business.

  9. Maximizing Business Productivity. In the office world there is always far more work than there is time to do it. You need to be able to figure out what not to do, and how to not do it, by organizing and prioritizing, and still impress your boss with your thoroughness. Productivity is much more than doing everything faster.

  10. Job Hunting Basics. People need realistic expectations about how much effort and time it takes to get just about any job. Atrocious resumes and social network antics will kill your career. The difference between job descriptions and accomplishments seems to elude most business professionals.

The real problem for many of these, I suspect, is finding qualified instructors to teach. Until then, the best alternative I can recommend is to sign up for job internships at every opportunity, while still in school. You might find on-the-job experiences more valuable than all your other courses, or you might change your major.

Amazingly, it seems that people in business are more highly educated these days, but less well prepared than ever before. What’s another course that you wish you had taken in school, but didn’t realize was missing until too late? There’s another generation right behind us that needs to know.

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Large Corporations Fail To Innovate Like Startups

General_Motors_building Large corporations and conglomerates, the engines of growth and vitality in the twentieth century, have lost their edge and their image. They have proven themselves unable to innovate, and they have lost more jobs than they create. My friends who “grew up” with lifetime careers in General Motors, Exxon Mobil, or even IBM, are now often too embarrassed to even mention it.

On the other hand, everyone wants to be an entrepreneur. We can all aspire to grow companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple, which have the aura of fun, while still improving your lifestyle and offering the dream of untold riches.

In his recent book “The 3rd American Dream,” thought leader Suresh Sharma summarizes the large corporate accomplishments of the 19th and 20th centuries, and then lays out the potential of a new entrepreneurial business ecosystem for the 21st century. His focus is on entrepreneurs in America, but what he says applies to every other country as well.

I agree with Sharma that it’s time to move on to a new way of thinking, living, and doing business, especially after the recent demoralizing recessionary times. This next frontier lies in building enterprises as an entrepreneur, rather than waiting for innovation and opportunity from large corporations. They have become a by-product of innovation rather than the cause of it:

  1. Conglomerates grew from industrialization, not innovation. Most of their new claims to innovation are acquired through mergers and acquisitions from the entrepreneurial pipeline. Internal corporate processes thwart innovation due to inherent inefficiencies of scale, high overhead, and the risk of impact on the corporate bottom line.

  2. Existing technologies have been “commoditized” globally. Many countries have learned to make products cheaper and better. Competitive advantages are rapidly vaporizing on these. Having only a large capital base and distribution channels, with no innovation, is not a sustainable business model.

  3. Large corporations no longer create jobs in their home location. There is no shortage of data to support the assertion that the old large corporations have lost more jobs than they’ve created at home. Outsourcing and manufacturing “offshore” have become the norm. Entrepreneurs growing companies create more value and more jobs.

  4. Non-industrial large organizations cling to outdated business models. Financial institutions, for example, count on pure capital plays without innovation that can disappear quickly. Government bail-outs do not promote innovation. These companies usually end up going extinct, like Lehman Brothers, WorldCom, and Enron.

The new corporate model is a distributed entrepreneurial model. Customers today demand products and services personalized or tailored to local needs with embedded quality of life services. Scaling is done first by customer alliances through social media, and later by distributed joint ventures and coopetition. We need the new wave of entrepreneurs to facilitate:

  1. A new era for manufacturing enterprises. New emerging manufacturing technologies (e.g., digital and 3D printing) in small shops or a town’s industrial and innovation hub can bring manufacturing back home. The new twenty-first century corporation can be born virtually anywhere. Single-node factories may be home-based with a global market.

  2. New goldmine of innovations and technology. Universities and other R&D groups have created a large number of new inventions and innovations, mostly lying dormant on the shelves of our researchers and labs, waiting to be commercialized by aspiring entrepreneurs, with minimal up-front costs for licensing.

  3. Next wave of economic expansion. The time is ripe for the new entrepreneurial dream. People are emerging from recent economic disasters with a new appetite for change, and making the world a better place. Gen-Y is approaching the business world with solid personal goals, and expect to create something that is creative, fun, and rewarding.

  4. The cost of entrepreneur entry is at an all-time low. With e-commerce, Internet, and smartphone apps, anyone can be an entrepreneur today for a few hundred dollars, without a huge investment, bank loans, venture capitalists, or Angels. With the global market, the growth opportunity is huge, starting local and scaling at any pace.

If you are already in the entrepreneur lifestyle, you probably realize that it’s hard work and very risky. Nobody said it would be easy, but nothing that is easy satisfies for long. The days of easy and safe jobs in the large corporate world are over, and certainly not very satisfying either.

We need this new generation of entrepreneurs who relish the challenge and the opportunity of rebuilding our business engine to fit the culture and the global needs of the twenty-first century. What’s holding you back from jumping on the wave?

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Will Crowdfunding Replace Angel And VC Investors?

Geefunding_crowdfunding Even if you ignore all the hype around crowdfunding, there can be no doubt that it is a real alternative for entrepreneurs to achieve visibility and funding today. According to articles on Entrepreneur last year, there are now almost 1,000 crowdfunding platforms in existence, currently estimated to add more than $65 billion and 270,000 jobs to the economy.

Yet as I mentor entrepreneurs around the country, it still seems to be one of the least understood approaches to startup funding, with more myths than accredited angels and professional venture capital investors combined. The primary challenge seems to be that the crowdfunding term is used to encompass so many different concepts that everyone is confused.

In fact, perhaps the most important model, equity crowdfunding for non-accredited investors, is still not legal in the U.S., despite having been passed into law in early 2012 via the JOBS Act, and still has no scheduled date for availability, waiting for the rules to be finalized by the SEC. Even with this, crowdfunding today means any one of the following five quite different models:

  1. Rewards model. Many platforms, such as IndieGoGo, allow startups to solicit funding commitments from non-professional investors in exchange for a pre-defined reward or perk, such as a T-shirt or other recognition, but no ownership in the company. The crowd gets the satisfaction of helping, with minimal risk, and no expectation of any high return.

  2. Product pre-order model. With this model, a startup pre-sells their product early, at a cheaper price, in exchange for a pledge. A much-touted success was the Pebble Watch on Kickstarter, with orders exceeding $10 million. Of course, there are thousands of other companies that don’t achieve their minimum goal, requiring all contributions to be returned.

  3. Donation good-cause model. This model facilitates donations to charities and creative projects, and has been around for a long time via sites such as Rockethub. No startup ownership or financial return should be expected, but contributors can enjoy the satisfaction of furthering non-profits or causes with a passion to change the world.

  4. Interest on debt model. In this model, often called micro-financing or peer-to-peer lending (P2P), people contribute with the intent to create a pool for all to borrow against. This model been popular in many countries for years, where banks loans are not available, via sites such as LendingClub and Kiva. The allure is the ability to get small loans easily, or excellent returns from the interest, but the risks are high.

  5. Startup equity model. In the U.S., only accredited investors can use crowdfunding sites such as EquityNet to buy ownership in their favorite startup. In Europe, other investors can buy equity, with platforms such as Seedrs. Equity investing is very risky, but huge returns are possible if you pick the next Facebook, but failure means your entire investment is lost.

Beyond these models, the crowdfunding term is often used interchangeably or confused with crowdsourcing sites, such as IdeaBounty, to get your ideas off the shelf and give you the wisdom of the crowds, or IdeaScale to facilitate the outsourcing of application development in an open source call to others on the Internet.

Other popular funding assistance sites for startups, including StartupAmerica and Startups.co are actually matchmaking sites between entrepreneurs and professional investors or banks. These sites often sponsor pitch contests with small cash prizes for funding, as well as other valuable services to support entrepreneurs.

In fact, entrepreneurs can and do gain from any and all of these approaches, either by achieving some funding, or at least testing their approach and the level of public interest in their startup idea. Smart entrepreneurs often learn the most from their failures, using the feedback to pivot their solutions before squandering a large investment from friends, angels or VCs.

Concurrently, I am seeing an upswing in the number of entrepreneurs and startups, with the cost of entry at an all-time low, and the new focus on entrepreneurship in every university and every community development organization. Since there is never enough money to feed the startup beast, I don’t see crowdfunding replacing or crowding out angels or VCs in the near future.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Entrepreneur.com on 2/13/2015 ***

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Monday, February 16, 2015

8 Insights For Startups To Attract Angel Investors

angel-wings Most entrepreneurs have found by now one or more of the many popular crowdfunding sites, and have the name and contact information for at least one of the big venture capital firms. But many have no insight or connections to the ethereal angel investment community, which actually funds more startups then all other venture sources combined (over $25 billion annually).

In fact, there are a few key sites to help you find angels, including AngelList and Gust, but these don’t tell you very much about how Angels work, and how to find the right ones for your startup. As an active angel investor, I can tell you what doesn’t work is broadcasting your idea description to flocks of angels, hoping that one will swoop down to anoint you with funding.

A better approach is to first understand who these people are, why and how they invest, and then focus on the ones who are the best match for your particular startup stage, location and industry. Here are eight key insights that will help you find a productive match:

  1. Angels want equity ownership, not causes. By definition, angels are accredited investors, who invest their own money for a percentage of the business. Each has met legal securities minimums for net worth and professionalism, to reduce the risk to entrepreneurs. Their realm fits between crowdfunding and venture capital sources.

  2. Most share expertise as well as money. Angels are typically current or former entrepreneurs who want to bring more than money to your startup. They prefer local opportunities where they can meet and work face-to-face with your team. Thus, angel investments from across the country or internationally are rare.

  3. Individual investments are limited to less than $100,000. Groups of angels may syndicate multiple individual amounts, but if your total request exceeds $1 million, you need to focus on the venture capital alternatives. On the other end of the spectrum, crowdfunding or “friends and family” amounts might be as low as a few dollars.

  4. Angels prefer strong teams to big ideas. That means you need to lead with your credentials, rather than your disruptive technology. Warm introductions from common friends are even better, so networking with potential peers and future investors is highly recommended well before it’s time to ask for money.

  5. Your pitch and business plan are important. Perhaps you can get money from friends and crowdfunding with no plan, but angels look for the extra discipline and effort demonstrated in a written plan. Make sure these cover your business model and exit strategy, so the angels see how both of you will make a reasonable return.

  6. Opportunity sizing and financial projections must be credible. Every investor likes to see opportunities that are large, with double-digit growth. To be fundable, fifth year revenue projections need to be in the $20-$100 million range. Larger numbers are not credible, and smaller ones may make a great business, but won’t attract angels.

  7. Avoid risky or questionable business domains. Don’t expect angels to invest in work-at-home schemes, gambling sites or debt-collection type business proposals. Other notoriously risky or specialized businesses usually avoided by angels include brick-and-mortar retail, restaurants, telemarketing and consulting.

  8. Early stage research and development won’t excite angels. Every angel looks to scale the business after you have funded product design, perhaps with friends and family. Angels need to see a proven business model, with a working prototype and preferably a real customer or two. Look to grants and strategic partners for seed funding.

Above all, remember that angels are really business people, just like you and me. They expect you to always show integrity and respect for their position, just as they respect yours, since they were likely once in your situation. They probably won’t respond well to large egos, failure to do your homework or pressure tactics.

Persistence and passion are seen as virtues by angels, so rejection should be only a temporary setback. The common response of “come back when you have more traction” means exactly that. But before you return to the same angel, remember there are more than 250,000 others in the U.S. alone. That’s the real reason that more startups get funded this way than any other.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Entrepreneur.com on 2/06/2015 ***

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Angel Investors Skip Startups With No Profit Motive

Carnegie-philantropist Angel investors and venture capitalists don’t make equity investments in non-profits. The simple reason is that it’s impossible to make money for investors when the goal of the company is to not make money. Yet as an active Angel investor, I still get this question on a regular basis, so I’ll try to outline the considerations in common-sense terms.

A non-profit organization is generally defined as an organization that does not distribute its surplus funds to owners or shareholders, but instead uses them to help pursue its goals. Examples include charitable organizations, trade unions, and public arts organizations. In the US, a non-profit is technically any company who qualifies as tax exempt through IRS Section 501(c).

Obviously, these companies still need money to get started, or finance growth, just like a for-profit company. What options do they have available to them, since they can’t sell a share of the company (no equity investment)?

  • Individual and institutional philanthropy. For a non-profit, bootstrapping is self-funding from donations and fund-raising. The advantage is no time and effort is spent searching and preparing for the other alternatives, and no repayment terms or collateral are required. There is no discussion of equity, or return on investment.
  • Loans from a bank or other financial institution. Non-profits can apply for a bank loan or line-of-credit, just like any other individual or company. However, like anyone else, they will first need some collateral, or someone to guarantee the loan, and some evidence of a viable business, like receivables and inventory.
  • Personal loans from individuals, employees and board members. Personal loans are certainly an option, but should be avoided if possible. As in any company, they can lead to employee problems, or messy legal issues. A non-profit can also issue bonds to board members and members as a way of borrowing funds from those same people.
  • Government grants. The grant source often gets overlooked, but it should be a major focus these days when relevant due to the Obama administration initiatives on alternative energy and healthcare. The down side here is that real work is required to put in a winning application, and the award may be a long time in coming.
  • Private endowments. This is a funding source for non-profits that is made up of gifts and bequests subject to a requirement that the principal be maintained intact and invested to create a source of income for an organization. Endowments are usually limited to a specific area of interest by a philanthropist, and have many qualifications, so be careful.
  • Bartering services. Bartering occurs when you exchange goods or services without exchanging money. An example would be getting free office space by agreeing to be the property manager for the owner. This could work to get you legal or accounting services, but won’t get you cash to pay employee salaries.

Hopefully you can see from this list that the people and processes involved in financing a non-profit have little in common with Angel investors, or the venture capital process. You still start the process with a business plan, but then you look for a philanthropist rather than an investor.

Some non-profit entrepreneurs think they can skip the whole plan, rather than just the sections on valuation, equity offered, and exit strategy. All other sections, starting with a definition of the problem and the solution, opportunity sizing, business model, competition, executive team, and financial projections, are just as critical for non-profits as for-profits.

A non-profit is still a business, maybe even tougher than for-profit to run successfully, so the best angel is a great entrepreneur at the helm for fund-raising, as well as operations. In addition, the best non-profits turn out to be the angel, rather than require one. That’s a higher calling.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Smart Entrepreneurs Use Resource Constraints To Win

failure-success Most entrepreneur that fail are quick to offer a litany of constraints that caused their demise – not enough money, time, customers, or support from the right players. Ironically, as a startup investor and mentor, I have seen too many failures caused by just the opposite – too much money spent too soon, taking time to get product perfection, and assuming customers will wait.

In reality, resource constraints should be seen by startups a competitive advantage, by forcing them to develop new markets, and to think differently and act differently than existing players. The result, called resourcefulness, allows entrepreneurs to create opportunities in the face of scarcity. It allows them turn resource constraints into stunning new businesses.

In this context, constraints might more reasonably be seen as beautiful by entrepreneurs, just as they are described in a new book, “A Beautiful Constraint,” by renowned marketing consultants Adam Morgan and Mark Barden. I like the way the authors outline how to see and turn constraints from punitive to liberators of new possibilities and opportunities, as follows:

  1. Look for ways to improve productivity. Every startup needs to think hard daily about what problem or challenge is holding back progress, what really matters today, and what entirely new possibilities exist. How many times have you actually made up work to keep an idle person busy? Startups funded by rich uncles rarely think about productivity.

  2. Rethink or reframe the challenge. Constraints are the best motivators for finding new approaches to solving a problem, building a product, or crafting an effective marketing campaign. Perhaps success itself needs to be redefined or reframed. Every entrepreneur needs to avoid locked-in ways of thinking. Let your constraints drive innovation.

  3. Find the benefit in subtraction. Isn’t it amazing how often all the necessary work gets done, even when resources are removed or the budget is reduced in an ongoing project? The benefit of working harder and more efficiently is success despite constraints. Subtraction leads to simplicity, better usability, and easier education of your customers.

  4. Find new ways to augment. The fastest way to grow your business is to find partners who can amplify or sell what you already have, and you can sell what they have. That’s a win-win relationship, which almost always takes less time and money than building something new. Adding priced services is another way to augment a product business.

  5. Create new kinds of solutions. Using the solution technology that you already have, in new ways, takes fewer resources than inventing or sourcing new technologies. That’s why computer makers offer desktops, laptops, notepads, and now even smartphones. Without constraints at the forefront, computers tend to get complex and more expensive.

  6. Build entirely new business models and systems. Pricing constraints and the need to attract consumers drove the invention by startups of the freemium model, subscription model, razor-blade model, and others. Today we see whole new ecosystems and opportunities driven by environmental constraints, safety concerns, and social issues.

Some entrepreneurs never get past the victim stage for constraints. They see every constraint as an inhibitor to their ability to realize their ambition, and an excuse for not persevering. Others proceed to the neutralizing stage, which means they tackle problems as they are encountered, and get some satisfaction by finding a way around each one. It’s still a hard road to success.

The smarter entrepreneurs jump quickly to the transformer stage, where constraints are proactively or responsively used to prompt wholly different and potentially breakthrough new approaches and solutions. They even impose constraints on themselves and their team to stimulate better thinking and new possibilities. Then they size the potential in the constraint.

We live in a world of over-abundance of choices, yet seemingly ever-increasing constraints, driven by a scarcity of time, expertise, and money. How entrepreneurs respond to these will become a larger and larger determinant of startup growth, competitive position, and success. What is your resource constraint mindset and action plan today?

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

8 Entrepreneur Mindsets That Investors Seek Out

imagine-entrepreneur An entrepreneur is literally “one who creates a new business.” The best new businesses are ones that have never been done before, so mastering creativity and recognizing creativity are key skills and mind-sets. But how does one recognize and nurture creativity in a person or team?

In researching this question, I found a book by Bryan Mattimore, “Idea Stormers: How to Lead and Inspire Creative Breakthroughs,” which outlines well eight attributes of the most creative people, which seem to match the mind-sets of some of the best entrepreneurs I know. Investors look for these in the people they fund, and you should be looking for them in yourself:

  1. Forever curious. Endless curiosity is the number one indication of the creative mind-set. It allows entrepreneurs to challenge what is already “known” to extrapolate that to an original idea. Curiosity infuses you with the determination needed to figure out or learn how to turn an original or innovative idea into a reality.

  2. Always open to new things. Thinking this way can be viewed as quieting the opinions of the judgmental mind long enough to allow the creative mind the time and space it needs to generate interesting insights, associations, and connections. This opens creative possibilities, rather than categorizing new things into self-limited dead-ends.

  3. Embrace ambiguity. This is the capacity to entertain contradictory or incomplete information without discomfort and anxiety. To the creative mind-set, contradictions are an invitation to more focused creative thought, to resolve the paradox, and derive a new un-ambiguous potentially great idea.

  4. Finding and transferring principles. There are two parts to this mind-set. First is the mental habit or discipline of continually identifying the creative principles inherent in an idea in a given context. The second part is adapting the principle to another context to create a new idea. It’s the ability to work from the specific to the general.

  5. Searching for integrity. This is the desire to discover, and the belief that there exists, an insight or connection that will unite seemingly disparate elements into a single integrated whole. When it happens, it’s exciting and magical, and it feels absolutely, positively, and completely right. Integrity doesn’t need to explain itself.

  6. Knowing you can solve the problem. This is the confidence that you can tackle the difficult, even seemingly impossible challenges, with inevitable dead-ends, to make a creative breakthrough. As with a success mentality, knowingness is the persistence to make creativity a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  7. Able to visualize other worlds. This is the most imaginative mind-set, with the ability to visualize whole new worlds and everything in them. It’s the province of game designers and creators of new social media platforms. It’s imagining original themes, people with new roles, and things with unique designs.

  8. Think the opposite. Some of the most creative entrepreneurs (and teenagers) always seem jump to opposite end of the spectrum from conventional wisdom. But many times, to think differently and creatively, you have to think illogically. Logic and common sense have a habit of leading us to the same conclusions.

Of course, it normally takes more than the right mind-set to master the creative mind. Smart entrepreneurs leverage their startup creativity with techniques like involving everyone early and often, ideation, and attending to the details. Professional facilitation also helps. Most often, it’s a long hard road from a good idea to successful innovation.

The most creative entrepreneurs create more value and wealth, not only in physical products and services, but also in their intangible assets such as their brand, reputation, network and intellectual property. Of course, they are always looking to free up time and money for their next big idea. That’s really the best indication of a true entrepreneur.

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Smart Entrepreneurs Make Better Decisions Faster

decision-making Every so often a promising entrepreneur seems to freeze in the oncoming headlights and gets run over by his competition. Why is it that his idea which seemed so fundable only months ago fails to attract investors today? The team is the same. The company's market is the same.

The only change might be a visible new competitor, or another economy downturn, resulting in investors holding their money, and that makes all the difference. Herein lies a key principle of decision making - “Any decision is better than no decision.”

Even better than any decision is a good decision made quickly. What separates good decision-making from bad decision-making? H.W. Lewis, author of the classic book “Why Flip A Coin? The Art and Science of Good Decisions,” summarizes good decision making as:

  • Identifying all reasonable actions.
  • Listing the potential consequences of each action and the utility of each consequence.
  • Evaluating the probability that each action will lead to a given consequence.
  • Choosing the action quickly which has the best expected outcome or positive contribution.

These points may sound obvious, but the process is certainly contrary to the popular “shoot from the hip” approach that is practiced by some entrepreneurs. The idea here is following a process can actually force you to think. You don't have to do it perfectly to stay ahead of the game.

Beyond not thinking, another failure is not really knowing what you want to achieve through the decision. This is a problem with many product-based companies. Their goal is to create profitable products, but too often they don’t research what their customers really want, and what they are willing to pay. It's difficult to create a high-demand product by guessing.

In all cases, be sure to distinguish between ideas and opportunities. A business idea is not a business opportunity until it is evaluated objectively in the context of a specific business plan. I like focus, but if you focus too early on only one business idea without a plan, you are more likely to become attached to it, and lose your objectivity.

Some entrepreneurs seem to know instinctively that a certain product or service has great potential for success. This comes from much industry experience, and is not irrational. On the other hand many unsuccessful would-be entrepreneurs are unsuccessful precisely because they were irrational, so avoid that pitfall.

Decision-making in the face of risk is one of only a handful of unique characteristics that successful entrepreneurs possess. After all, the very nature of a true entrepreneur is one that embraces risk. Often this risk-taking is mistaken in part to be “the reason” the entrepreneur succeeds in their business.

Some decisions involve risk, at times a great deal of it, but there are a greater number of decisions that can be thought through and analyzed to determine on some basic facts, whether or not they are good or bad ideas. Smart entrepreneurs always use facts, when they have them, rather than their gut.

If you are someone who never uses your gut, and exhaustively researches a purchase prior to making it, you are most likely not cut out to be an entrepreneur. This type of decision making, careful and cautious, is certainly a great attribute to have in the corporate business world, but it’s a killer in startups.

Making no decision doesn’t work in any business. So your first test here is to see if you can decide which category of decision maker you best fit. The headlights are approaching…

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, February 8, 2015

4 New Customer Loyalty Rules Drive Business Success

customer-loyalty Many startups and mature businesses have not yet accepted the fact that customer satisfaction and loyalty in this “always connected” age are about more than product and service quality. They are all about how customers broadcast their pleasure or unhappiness to others. With incredible ease, they can influence thousands or millions of potential new customers, or say nothing.

Most existing metrics and analytics for measuring customer satisfaction and loyalty, including the popular Net Promoter Score (NPS), don’t distinguish between recommend messages to others (word-of-mouth), detract messages or no message at all.

In his recent book, Innovating Analytics, Larry Freed, a customer experience and analytics expert, makes some convincing points on the drivers for business loyalty and success that every business owner should commit to memory. I believe his four basic rules should always come first:

  1. Customer retention is priority number one. Keeping your current customers is one of the most important keys to revenue growth. According to Inc. magazine, acquiring a new customer costs about five to nine times more than it does to sell to an existing one, and on average, current customers spend 67 percent more than new ones.

  2. Customer upsell: Sell more to existing customers. Selling more to loyal customers is a great success strategy. But to engender loyalty, you have to be delivering a good experience and keeping satisfaction high. Existing customers today are fickle and will leave you quickly if they get word-of-mouth negative messages from their connected sources.

  3. Marketing-driven customer acquisition. Traditional marketing efforts (advertising and promotions) are still important. In this context, the palette of channels for reaching customers has greatly expanded, to now include social media, digital, mobile and new online options. The challenge is to measure resources spent against return.

  4. Word-of-mouth driven customer acquisition. The new dominant method of acquisition is engaging potential customers through social media and key influencers, and converting these prospects into customers with a satisfying experience. Here the satisfaction experience does double duty, as it is messaged down-line to other prospects.

In the past, retention and loyalty were often used interchangeably. Today, true loyalty, earned by incredible experiences and satisfaction, also does that double duty of bringing in multiple additional customers through broadcast and interaction with the huge connected community.

The more traditional purchased loyalty (coupons, rebates), convenience loyalty (corner market, coffee shop) and restricted loyalty (no other game in town) only work for single customer retention. They operate like competitive retention, forcing you to win every transaction over competitors.

Another reality is that today’s consumers are multichannel, or “omnichannel.” This simply means that they may start a product search on a computer at work, continue on their home computer, visit a store for touch and feel activity, and then close the transaction on their smartphone. It really complicates the measuring process.

Others are walking the aisles in one store, while scanning for better deals on their smartphone in other stores or online. Concurrently, they are asking for the experiences of the community through FourSquare or Yelp, and broadcasting their own experiences on Facebook and Twitter.

The common thread here is quality of the customer experience, more so than the quality of customer service, and the impact of that experience on other current and potential customers. Simple customer satisfaction surveys and analytics miss several of these dimensions, and simply are no longer adequate.

You need to take advantage of innovative new tools, like the Word of Mouth Index (WoMI) from ForeSee, and the analytic power of Big Data to gain a competitive advantage today, and predict customer behavior for tomorrow. Nobody said it would be easy. How much do you really know about your company’s customer experience? Get busy and find out.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, February 7, 2015

7 Steps For Establishing The Right Business Model

The_Price_Is_Right Most technical entrepreneurs focus hard on building an innovative product, but forget that an elegant solution doesn’t automatically translate into a successful business. Businesses require an equally elegant business model, with the right price, messaging and delivery channel to the right target customers to keep the dream alive and growing.

Defining the right business model requires the same diligence as designing the right product, but the approach and skills required are different. That’s why investors acknowledge that two co-founders are often better than one -- with one focusing on the technical solution, and the other focusing on defining and building the business model. These two jobs need to be done in parallel.

This dual-leadership approach would have avoided the frustration I felt in a startup a few years ago where beta customers loved our software solution as a free prototype, but we couldn’t sell one in the first few months for a price that seemed reasonable for all our work and innovation. The founder had simply not done the work to validate a price and customer segment.

In the investment community, this work is called proving the business model. It starts with validating a business opportunity (a large customer segment willing to pay money to solve a real problem), in much the same way as your proof of concept or prototype validates your technical solution. Here are seven steps I recommend for establishing the right business model:

  1. Size the value of your solution in the target segment. Customers often complain that existing approaches are not intuitive or integrated, but old solutions may be familiar and locked in. Estimate your costs, including a 50 percent gross margin, as a lower bound on a price. Products too expensive for the market won’t succeed, and prices too low will leave you exposed. Match with competitor prices and market demographics.

  2. Confirm that your product or service solves the problem. Once you have a prototype or alpha version, expose it to real customers to see if you get the same excitement and delight that you feel. Look for feedback on how to make it a better fit. If it doesn’t relieve the pain, or doesn’t work, no business model will save you.

  3. Test your channel and support strategy. Now is the time to pitch the entire business model to a group of customers or a specially selected focus group. This is not just a product pitch, but must include all elements of your pricing, marketing, distribution and maintenance. Here again is your chance to make pivots for almost no cost.

  4. Talk to industry experts and investors. A small advisory board of outside people with experience in your domain can give you the unbiased feedback you need, as well as connections for setting up distribution and sales channels. It’s also valuable to talk to potential investors for their views, even if you are bootstrapping the effort.

  5. Plan and execute a pilot or local rollout. Good traction on a limited rollout is great validation of a business model. It allows you to test costs, quality and pricing in a few stores or a single city, with minimum jeopardy and maximum speed for recovery and corrections. Save your viral campaign and major inventory buildup for later.

  6. Focus on collecting customer references. Give extra attention to those first few customers, and ask for publishable testimonials and word-of-mouth support in return. If you can’t get their support, even with your personal efforts, take it as a red flag that the business will probably not scale at the rate you projected.

  7. Target national trade shows and industry association groups. You need positive visibility, credibility and feedback from these organizations as a final validation of your business model, as well as your product model, in the context of major competitors. This may also be a great source for leads as a key part of that final rollout and scale-up effort.

Your business model can be a better sustainable competitive advantage than your product features, or it can be your biggest risk exposure. Too many of the business plans I see are heavy on competitive product features, but light on business model details and innovations.

If you or someone on your team hasn’t spent at least the same effort on the business model as on the product service, you are only half prepared for the real world of business today. It’s hard to win by doing half the job, especially if that is the easier half.

Marty Zwilling

** First published on Entrepreneur.com on 1/30/2015 ***

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Friday, February 6, 2015

10 Keys To Giving The Right Entrepreneur Your Money

business-entrepreneur-money Investing in entrepreneurs and startups is a fun but different world from investing in conventional stocks, bonds, and commodities. First of all, it’s more of an investment in people than in a business, since the startup is usually an idea barely half-baked when they need your money. Secondly, the risk is very high, since as many as 90% of startups fail in the first five years.

On the plus side, it’s an opportunity to get in early and really help make things happen that will change an industry, or change the world. It’s an opportunity for that “big bang” return of 10X to 100 times your initial investment, like early investors in Google, Microsoft, and Apple. Finally, it’s an opportunity to “give back” what you have learned in your own career for the next generation.

Today you still need to be registered with the SEC as an “accredited” investor to legally buy any startup equity in the U.S. This requires a simple signature that you have a net worth of at least $1M or have made at least $200K each year for the last two years. But these requirements may go away with the Crowdfunding JOBS Act passed into law back in 2012.

With all these considerations, I recommend the following steps and considerations for investors newly interested in startups:clip_image001

  1. Build a balanced investment portfolio. Just like a seasoned stock investor would never put all his investible resources into a single stock, don’t put all your money into startups. Begin with perhaps 5-10% of your total investment base, and be prepared to lose it all. The growth target should be 5-10 times your initial investment in five years.

  2. Start in a business domain you know well. Since there are no bellwethers like Apple or IBM in the startup arena, your best bet is to pick one in a business area you know well. Don’t be fooled by thinking that social networks are hot, so you should invest in the next startup you see in that realm. Remember that 9 out of 10 startups fail in every realm.

  3. Fund an entrepreneur you know and trust. In the business, this is called investing at the first tier for startups - “Friends, Family, and Fools (FFF).” Most entrepreneurs start asking for money from this tier, when they have very little more than an idea. Here you are definitely betting on the person, rather than the idea, but the upside potential is huge.

  4. Join an existing Angel investor group. This is the second tier of startup investors, and offers the comfort of working with more experienced investors with similar interests, to help gather and vet startup investment proposals. Some of these groups also offer you the option of putting your money into a multiple-startup fund to spread your risk.

  5. Diversify your total investment across several startups. Angel investment amounts per startup per investor usually range from $25K to $250K. These may be aggregated by an Angel group up to about $1M for an Angel round. If a startup needs more than this in a single round, they should talk to venture capitalists, who invest institutional money rather than their own personal money.

  6. Use the new Crowdfunding sites for small amounts. The hottest new way of investing in startups to go to popular online sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. There you can get in for as little as $20, or even less. Today these are only legal in the USA for non-equity rewards or pre-orders, but the JOBS Act may relax the accredited investor rule soon.

  7. Participate as a mentor in local startup incubators. Incubators are a great place to learn about potentially great startups, and participating as a mentor helps you learn which ones are a good fit for you. The best known ones, like YCombinator, led by Paul Graham in Silicon Valley, and TechStars, located in Boston, provide excellent networking to investors, and on-site technical leadership, which can make your investment less risky.

  8. Do your homework before investing. Public companies with stock usually have industry analysts and SEC filings to give investors a quick view of the company stock value. Startups are private companies with no common document filing requirements. Thus it is incumbent on every potential startup investor to ask for and read their business plans, current financial statements, and investor presentations.

  9. Invest local and take an active role. Most Angel investors only invest in companies and people local to their geography. Skip international and other opportunities you can’t touch and feel. Many negotiate a Board Seat for themselves as part of the investment Term Sheet. This allows them to ask for and get regular updates from the company, and allows them to have a say on how their money is used.

  10. Think long-term. It’s a lot easier to buy stock in a startup than it is to sell it. Once invested, you should expect no return until the first “liquidity” event in 3-5 years, maybe longer. Liquidity events include merger or acquisition (M&A), or Initial Public Offering (IPO) when the stock goes public. There is no “exchange,” so you can’t sell the stock at will.

In summary, investing in startups can be very rewarding, both financially, and in your ability to really help someone who needs help. But it’s always a risky proposition, probably well beyond the risk of the commodities market, since there are so many unknowns and few controls.

My advice to new startup investors is to start slowly, stick to business areas that you know well, and put more weight on your assessment of the entrepreneur and the team, than on the idea. Successful startups are all about the execution. You don’t want to end up on the wrong side of that equation, but you do want a bite of the next Apple.

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

10 Keys To Evolution From A Startup To An Enterprise

growth-enterprise Early-stage entrepreneurs rightly keep their focus on creating an innovative product or service. After celebrating success at that level, they often find themselves ill-prepared to move to the next stage, for scaling their business into a high-performing enterprise. That’s where I see too much entrepreneur burnout, growth plateaus, and founders being replaced, to their chagrin.

By definition, second-stage ventures generally have 10 to 99 employees and/or $750,000 to $50 million in revenue, and see that as just the beginning. Of course, not every entrepreneur wants to tackle this challenge. According to one study a while back, only 45% of founders plan to exit after stage one, and my guess is that less than half the remainder survive the next stage in their own company.

If you are one of the many entrepreneurs who aspire to get beyond the “art of the start,” there are some proven principles to follow. In his recent book, “Second Stage Entrepreneurship,” Daniel J. Weinfurter, talks about making the leap a couple of times himself, and the perspective he gained from many years of consulting with other companies who have done the same. I like the ten steps he outlines, which I characterize here as follows:

  1. Seek major capital infusion. Very few startups are cash-rich enough to self-finance aggressive second-stage growth. They need a large infusion from venture capitalists, private equity, bank loans, or mezzanine financing. Of course, that means a new level of risk, giving up some control, and a new business plan. There is no free lunch.

  2. Install a real board of directors. Most entrepreneurs are mavericks, and their passion drove their new business. But to scale the business, they need the complementary expertise, experience, connections, oversight, and new capital connections of a formal board of directors. Recruiting, compensating, and engaging the board is a critical priority.

  3. Focus on creativity more than smashing competitors. To achieve second-stage growth you need to stay at the top of your creative game, more than a focus on beating competitors. Growth is more than simply repackaging existing products, and adding bells and whistles or slick incentives. Keep delivering something new and fresh.

  4. Hire more help than helpers. Smart staffing is a key step to ensure your success at the second stage. In addition to fresh products, you need people smarter than you for real help, with the right combination of skills, experience, and passion to foster and manage new growth. You don’t have the bandwidth to keep filling positions with more helpers.

  5. Switch your attention from product development to sales. Second-stage growth usually requires a formal sales model, an experienced and disciplined sales team, and a well-defined process to meet your new goals and demands. These only come with the proper training, investment in tools, and focus on customer relationships.

  6. Managing business growth is more than metrics. You can hire the best salespeople, have great products and define good metrics, but without decisive and innovative managers, the sales organization will not reach its full potential. Leaders are needed to coach each salesperson, keep the team on message, and spur new growth and goals.

  7. Separate marketing from sales for further leverage. In the second stage, marketing and sales are highly specialized functions. Marketing shapes the concept, branding, packaging, pricing, and positioning. Sales builds relationships, translates needs, makes proposals, and closes the deal. The skills required are complementary, but not the same.

  8. Optimize the total customer experience. Successful second-stage companies often create an entire organization devoted to one-on-one relationships with their customers, not just customer service for exceptions. Delivering a superlative experience is the only way to get truly loyal clients, repeat business, and expansion through social networks.

  9. Build a winning culture and make it pervasive. In these rapidly changing times, in your own rapidly evolving company, culture will be the rudder that guides your path in a fashion that is consistent with your vision and values. Reinforce the values and operating principles with clear behaviors and guidelines to keep the culture healthy and thriving.

  10. Separate management from leadership, and provide both. Leadership is the quality that inspires people to do their best every day. Management guides people in what needs to be done, by creating sustainable and repeatable systems, with education and guidance to make sure all efforts are productive. Neither is effective without the other.

Many startups are family businesses, and these don’t need to be grown into large enterprises. Yet the steps outlined here still have value in building a business that lets you enjoy the entrepreneur lifestyle, and lets you work “on the business” once in a while, rather than “in the business” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

On the other hand, if you aspire to be the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, these principles for aggressive growth to the enterprise level are absolutely required for survival. It really is a decision to grow and have fun, or die. Are you enjoying your entrepreneur lifestyle today?

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, February 1, 2015

Taking Your Startup Public Is Fraught With Negatives

NewYorkStockExchangeByLuigiNovi In the old days, every entrepreneur dreamed of easily taking their startup public, and making it big. Today the rate of startups going public (IPO – Initial Public Offering) is up from the dead zone, but is still less than half the rate of 15 years ago. Smart entrepreneurs now avoid this option like the plague, due to its unpredictability and the challenges of running a public company.

According to a recent Ernst & Young global report, 2014 was a strong year with IPOs actually outperforming other indices by 10 percent. Yet they see warning lights flashing, based on a still fragile global economy, and volatile markets ahead. Today 70 percent of successful startups are still acquired by bigger companies, as the safer and preferred method of growth and funding.

The reasons are a lot more complex than the meltdown of key investment banks in the US a few years ago, so don’t expect a big change in the numbers soon, even with recent stock market rallies. In my view, the key reasons that IPOs have lost their luster from an entrepreneur and investor perspective include the following:

  1. The US IPO process is still stumbling. Too many startups have experienced early financial losses and technical glitches, like King Digital Entertainment and the Facebook IPO a while back, which antagonized individual investors and startup executives as well. In addition, most ordinary investors are convinced that IPO rewards only go to insiders.

  2. Going public is an expensive process. Typical costs for startups today range from $250,000 to $1 million, even if the offering does not go through. In addition, huge amounts of executive time are required, as well as hits to key operational, accounting, and communication processes. The M&A alternative looks simple by comparison.

  3. Constant pressure to increase earnings. Because public shareholders usually take the short-term view, they want to see constant rises in the stock's price so they can sell their shares for a profit. Thus, there is tremendous pressure to increase current earnings, and little appetite for strategic investments.

  4. Startups going public are laid open to competitors and critics. Startups are typically run by a couple of executives who are reluctant to disclose via the prospectus and SEC reports all the decision-making criteria, operational financial details, and compensation formulas. With thousands of shareholders, dealing with critics is an onerous challenge.

  5. Complying with Sarbanes-Oxley requirements is a heavy burden. Public companies of any size must comply immediately with the full reporting requirements of the SEC. There is no accommodation for smaller public companies, who can’t be competitive in their space with the new accounting, documenting, and reporting processes required.

  6. Public companies are always at risk for takeovers. Friendly or hostile takeover attempts are just a couple of the many ways that company founders sense a loss of control of their own destiny. The board of directors, as well as public stockholders, are no longer part of the inside team focused on the founder’s vision to change the world.

  7. Increased liability risk exposure. Public company executives and directors are at civil and even criminal risk for false or misleading statements in the registration statement. In addition, officers may face liability for misrepresentations in public communications and SEC reports. Executives are also at risk for insider trading and employment practices.

  8. Violent market swings usually hit public companies first. Private companies in less-relevant market segments can often fly under the radar in turbulent times like the recent recession. Public stockholders are more easily swayed by emotion and the activities of the crowd, than real market conditions.

  9. Startup founders don’t fit in a public company. Most just don’t enjoy all the challenges of communicating to analysts, placating demanding stockholders, and keeping up with legal reporting requirement. They know they can be quickly tossed aside for not maintaining the right image and the right relationships with people they don’t like.

  10. The image of large public companies is negative. In the last couple of decades, the paternal image of large multi-national company leaders like Thomas Watson at IBM and Henry Ford is gone. Now the mistakes of large companies like Enron and BP have set a new image of public companies as being led by greedy and uncaring executives.

These negatives have largely overshadowed the potential IPO positives of increased capital for the startup, possible huge increase in personal net worth, broader access to investors, market for their stock, the ability to attract top-notch professionals, and the peer prestige of running a public company.

Thus most startups I know don’t even mention the IPO exit option, when applying for Angel funding, and most Angel investors will react negatively if you do mention it. As best, you should reserve this option for later stage VC discussions, once you have a well-proven business model, large market following, and substantial revenue.

More importantly, make sure first that you really want to give up the entrepreneur lifestyle for the challenges of a public company executive. I’m betting that Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame still has second thoughts from time to time, despite being worth $33 billion as a result.

Marty Zwilling

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