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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Take a Stand!

The time will come in every entrepreneur’s company existence when a critical decision must be made about direction of the business.  It may be around deal structure, testing or design of product, new hires, downsizing or firing, how much to spend on a program or some other issue.  The entrepreneur founder may or may not be the CEO, but for sure has put enormous energy, thought, and time already invested in the company. 

Most often the company is like having a child to the entrepreneur.  This can make it difficult to make strategic business decisions because of this conflicting emotion.  Secondly, decisions can be affected by the concerns over having a job and a salary; this even the case for the employees.  The security of having an income to pay the bills is a pretty big issue when it comes to the decision process.  It may cause your team to not provide their best feedback due to fear or concerns of loss of a job.

Decisions of significant level of importance are not made by one person.  The Board of Directors may be involved along with senior management; hence, the problem. Large groups do not always think alike or act alike. This can lead to a group dynamic that does not result in the best decisions or directions in the end.  They may be ok for some, but not for others.  

Sooner or later, the time will come when a decision is being driven toward a final answer where you are not just in disagreement with the approach, but you know in your gut it is the wrong way to go.  This is when all of the factors of income, security, relationships, ownership, and everything else become a variable as to how you respond.

Take for example a situation where a Board Member has become heavily involved in a negotiation on a deal and is sanctioned by the Board to do so.  The deal terms are ones you as the CEO, entrepreneur, or employee know will cause great stress and even the possible demise of the company.  Will you go to battle with the Board and/or management to try and convince them they are wrong?  Will you shy away and just allow things to go the way the Board or management is pushing them?  This WILL lead to a most difficult decision on your part.

A few rules can help guide you, but in the end you have to decide what is right for you.

Review:  Your first step might be to completely review the situation and possible outcomes.  It is critical you understand the ALL issues and proposed directions.  Collecting the data is essential at this point. Don’t skimp on this part in time or information.

Analyze:  Once you have the data and understand all the parameters of the proposed directions, reanalyze the situation.  Keep in mind there is a real possibility you could be wrong in your assessment.  There is always several ways to address directions and sometimes no one is perfect.  Keep in mind that on an occasion the collective does know better, and sometimes they just get it wrong.  Make sure of your facts and the potential results. Firm up your resolve as to what you believe to be the best way to proceed.

Persuade: If you find yourself in this position, clearly you are not the sole decision maker and you are not 100% control; yes, you still could be the CEO.  One of the best ways to persuade people is with facts and thoughtful analysis.  This is why you needed to review and analyze.  You cannot persuade if you do not have adequate information.  Persuading people sometimes may include negotiating; possibly with the Board or management.  Maybe there is middle ground that you can convince them would work equally as well or better.  If you are able to devise an alternative which is superior, this is the time to present it.  In the end, you must convince the Board or Management to change what they propose, or it will likely go the way they originally planned.

Decision Time: This may be where the line “Are You a Man or a Mouse” comes into play.  There may come a time when you have to make a serious decision whether to go against the masses and just say NO.  You recognize it may have an impact on you and your career with the company.  If you are so violently against the impending direction, maybe you should not be there anyway.  You will have the difficult issues of income and stability contributing to your anxiety, but what if you are right and the whole direction leads to a catastrophic event in the company.  Do you want to watch from the outside or inside the company?  That may be important to your decision.

On a personal note: I have faced these issues several times over many years.  The complexity of each situation was different as were the outcomes.  In early years, my decisions were heavily weighted by need to provide income for the family.   As time progressed, greater stability allowed for a greater ability to try changing events.  In the end, there is never a simple answer. But, I have resolved for myself, that I will never again stay affiliated with a business where planned directions are vastly out-of-line with my thinking and what I believe to be right. Or, at least until the Next Time I am confronted with such a decision.

  Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

It’s a Meltdown! Now what?

Unless your company is one of the rare instant successes which do occur, you are going to have to build and develop the startup.  This takes time, energy, planning, and a lot of luck.  Don’t expect to have everyday being a positive move forward.  You are going to have setbacks that are totally unexpected; hence the Black Swan.  It seems like a simple concept, but when you are in the middle of what seems like a total melt-down, it will be time for you to: stop, regain your composure, plan alternate strategies, reinvent (if required), and learn.

Stop: Before you react, stop and carefully examine the issues.  Sometimes they are not as bad as first thought, sometimes they come with a workaround which is obvious. Sometimes, they seem like dead ends.  Try to wait a reasonable time before taking the next steps so that you do not act out of haste or under duress. 

Composure:   Whether it is your first time or you are quite experienced, your stress level, anxiety, and anger are likely to peak.  It is rarely a good time to make an important decision.  Regaining your composure and ensuring you can tackle the situation with the care and thoughtfulness which is required is a must.   Try to not blurt out things which you are certainly going to regret or to make a decision you must retract.  None of these will help the situation.

Alternate Strategies: One way to reduce the risk of total melt-down is to have parallel strategies planned in advance and be ready to execute them.  When your major catastrophe occurs, having developed advanced plans to overcome potential problems lessens the effect and provides a rapid way to move around the issue. Sometimes, there is no advanced plan that will address the situation which has just come up.  In these cases, you will want to consider all options, speak with your advisors, and do the best planning to overcome the issues.

Reinvent: There are situations which arise for which you cannot work around and the issues have a potential to bring the company to a dead-end and a rapid demise.  In these cases, it is the management team that must spring to action determining how to reinvent the company.  There are countless cases of this to learn from in the public company sector.  It is possible to rise to the occasion and develop a totally new company as long as you have a great team.  The key is to not give up and to map the paths as carefully as you can.

Learn: No matter what the problem or the outcome you have been presented with a learning experience.  What you take from this event will hopefully help you to improve responses and plans for the future.  This is the case with your current company or your next company.  So, make sure you identify the take home lesson and make use of it next time.

  Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Where is Your Market? Adjust Your Pitch to Fit.

The first thought that comes to mind when addressing a market is your product and end users.  That is where you will ultimately make your money.  Defining that market and developing your products for the end user is an essential step in the growth of a startup.  Your business plan, slide presentations and most all discussions will have this as a central part of the evaluation of the business.  But are they your only market? Not really!

As a startup, you actually have more markets to consider, each requiring a different sales strategy.  Most of the time the other markets are not thought of as such, but you are selling and the buyers are not ones you will want to ignore.   A few considerations are listed below:

·       End User:  This is the person, group, business or other entity being targeted to purchase your manufactured products or your services; i.e., your startup plans to produce and sell to them.  This market is critical to your business and should be identified very early in your development process.  This is the market that will contribute to your profit and loss column.

·       Investor:  They are a different sort of market.  These are the individuals or groups you will be approaching for funds to build your company.  You are selling to them just as you would to an end product user, but you are selling them on the concept of your business and your management team.  You need their money and they want to make money from an investment in your company.  They will want to know how you plan to sell your products to the end user.  You will need to sell them on the business concepts to get the money to make products for the end user.

·       Partners: These are the companies that you may decide to work with, license to, sell the company to, or other activities.  They will want to know about the end user and your investors.  More importantly they will want to know how they can benefit from working with you.  They could ultimately be a future M&A candidate, acquirer, or maybe you want to acquire them.

Your sales approach to each of these markets will be different!  You need to determine what they want and how you can convince them to buy what you are selling to them.  In each case, you will be selling some feature of your company; your ability, technology, or products.  The investors will likely be buying stock or loaning money.  The potential partners will consider buying your company or obtaining rights to use or sell your products.  Your end user will actually be using the products.  Different slants may work, or you may need a totally different pitch to make sale. 

Think ahead and be ready.  Consider modifying your slide deck and creating different versions.  One to be used for each of the possible markets you will be approaching.  Sometimes, you only get a single short notice chance to present or make your pitch.  Being ready can make a big difference.

  Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Yep, You and Your Startup Are Topics in the Rumor Mill

Networking is extremely important to entrepreneurs because it helps to identify individuals that can help you and your company now and in the future.  Some of the people you meet along the way will become life-long friends, business associates, investors and many other things.  Your method of networking can take many forms and all of them can be important.  In fact, even the art of raising capital is a form of networking with investors.  This is why you really need to recognize you are part of a rumor mill that you may not know is taking place.  Most important is that you are always on your best behavior and ensure your interactions are always first class.

The networking process is always going to be the same but the affiliation of the individuals will differ as will their behind the scenes motives.  Take for example sophisticated investors like VCs.  Almost as soon as you leave a meeting expect them to have someone contact all of their investor friends to get their opinions and to determine if their group is going to invest in your company; be certain they will discuss you personally as well.  If you are on the road, these investors may have even contact your next in line visits and request a follow up from them after you leave.  In addition, some will contact companies they are already invested in and suggest the company start collecting info on you and your business since you may be a competitor or a possible partner. The investors will also speak to neighbors, their network, and new contacts if the believe business info can help validate your technology or steer them to not invest.  Point is, make sure you are ready and polished for even your first visit; it will make an impact all the way down the rumor mill line.

What if it is a business networking event?  You meet someone that you want to have a follow up meeting with and mention you know so & so.  The new contact will likely reach out to the person you mentioned and get as much info as possible about you.  They will want to know if you are on the up & up and if your business makes sense.  If either of them suspects you may be going to speak with others in their network, other contacts will likely be made as well.

On more than one occasion, contacts, investors, and business associates will play the “do you know so & so” game.  This will generate a discussion that could cover most any aspect of your business, personality, flaws, and strengths once they find out both know or have met you.  If you were a jackass in a meeting or the most gifted and polite person in the world, the word will get around.  The rumor mill can have an impact on your future success.

The bottom line is don’t forget that you only get a one chance to make a first impression.  This goes for you personally and for your business.  Put the effort into making sure you do the best you can and behave like a professional.  It may make a big difference in a present or future transaction or relationship.

  Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Got Money or Need Money? Doesn’t Matter. Focus, Focus, Focus!

A common issue encountered by new and experienced entrepreneurs is entropy; “Lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.”  Translating the physics term into English is best described as the continual spreading and expanding of projects and directions.  Take for example, a small company with a “platform technology.”  The platform allows for multiple projects and products that can be created and protected by the Intellectual Property (IP). The tendency is to try and create a long pipeline of products that will allow for potential investors to have a product flow in the future.  This is a great idea, but has possible resource problems if not managed well.

Small and large companies can easily get caught in a trap of having many more projects than their resources allow to be managed efficiently or well.  These resources are people, money, and/or facilities.  Focusing only on select key product development assets has benefits and risks.  But, not doing so has benefits and risks as well.

Many small companies have limited financial resources.  They will seek to increase the funding by applying for grants.  The result is the companies are required to focus on the work in grants and the employees are tasked accordingly.  With multiple grants, it is quite possible to have several product development programs and none of them advancing very well.  This can occur with funding from private sources like angels, friends, and families.  Everyone wants to see their pet product advanced but if funds and people are spread over several products the development can take longer than originally anticipated.

As hard as it may be, the CEO entrepreneur must learn to stay focused on what creates the greatest value for the company.  Many believe this comes from advancing the potentially best product as far as possible with the funds available.  Also, it implies that little or no resources are used to advance other products in the pipeline. 

Focus relates to all key aspects of the company.  As the Army states in their advertisements “BE All YOU CAN BE.”  So what are some considerations that can help Focus, Focus, and Focus on creating your value, and what areas should be considered?  Here are a few thoughts:

Product Market Potential:  If you are starting from the beginning, selecting the lead product for your pipeline may occur by identifying which product has the shortest time to market with the largest market potential.  Starting from a license with a product already in the development, one might focus on advancing the product closest to a product launch.  Either way, do an internal analysis and identify what your lead product candidate is and develop your timelines around that product.  If you believe there are extra resources that can be committed, pick your second and possibly third pipeline product and allocate resources carefully.  Take care to not take on too much work or over promise results to investors.

Competing Technologies:  A common issue with small companies is the ownership of several unrelated technologies; all of which have product opportunities.  The feeling is that all must be developed and this can lead to dilution of resources and slow advancement of your best products.  Conduct an analysis of what products are most important to the company.  Select the most important products to develop based on your analysis.  You may want to seek partners for the technologies that are not selected.  These product opportunities could allow for the company to find a partner that will bring money to the program and facilitate getting a lower ranked pipeline product to market.

Development:  Establishing timelines and milestones are absolutely critical.  This form of goal setting helps to get the team focused and identifies the timings of events.  It helps keep the focus on the product development and allows for better estimates of product launch.  The latter will allow for better preparation of development of marketing and sales programs in a timely manner prior to launch.

Innovation, Creativity, and Leadership: One of the greatest turnaround stories of late is in the auto industry.  Aside from the fact that the government allowed for a reset of the business, innovation, creativity and leadership are major factors in the turnaround.  Getting your entire team on the same page and getting them to go where you want to go without daily ordering of tasks, creating confusion, and increasing frustration requires leadership.  Hiring based on innovating and creativity ensures potential for future growth and new advances which were not predicted originally.   Continued focus on developing and/or encouraging these skills in your team will ensure a brighter future.

People & Partners:  From the very start, keep a high focus on your end user or customers.  They are going to be the ones that will make or break your company in the end.  If customers do not buy or are unhappy, the company will not last long.  The attention to the market and buyers is essential.  Your employees need loving care as well. One of the responsibilities of a leader is team building and extracting the most of from their creativity, innovation, and management capability.  Spend time focused on their growth, education, and participation.  Finally, do not forget your partners.  They may need continuous handholding!

Budget:  With all the activity, it is easy to allow funds to be spent too fast or unwisely.  Focus on stretching the money as far as you can while achieving the maximal result is a difficult and critical task.

  Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Need Investment? Increase the Chances by Beefing Up These 4 Areas!

Investors come in a wide range of types and backgrounds.  There is the group sometimes classified as “Dumb Money”; i.e., those that do not know your business and typically do not do extensive diligence.  The fund managers that fall into Hedge Funds, Cross-Over funds, and Venture Capital, will certainly do more of an examination of you and your company.  Beefing up your company to entice the big money from the more sophisticated investors is a must; that is if you really want their money.

The Business Plan you prepared for a technology company or different type of business was a great first step.  Now that you are in the execution phase and building the business, enhancing the various parts become important.  There is no question you will be graded on all aspects and, be required to deliver nearly every document you ever prepared for the business plus some as part of a full review.

Be prepared in advance of your search for funding.  Spend the time to get things optimized because it will pay off later.  A few areas that can help improve the odds of getting funded are:

Management Team:  Investors will review every key employee and their backgrounds.  It is often said that investors prefer an A-Team and will sacrifice a bit on the technology if they must.  Many companies with A-teams can better overcome obstacles, get deals done, find partners, and re-invent the company when disaster hits.  Some investors have even invested in companies because of the team, even though they did not like the technology.  So, try to get the best management team you can.  By the way, the CEO/founder is a key member.  If you are the weak link, you may want to consider alternatives.

Technology: The technology needs to be exciting. If you have a “Platform Technology” that has added value.  A platform technology is one which allows for multiple product opportunities from the same technology.  A second consideration is the speed and cost which you can convert the technology to a product.  Spend the time to explore these aspects so you can properly present them to investors.  Also, do the best you can on your limited budget to shore up the IP situation.  Demonstrate you can develop a “Moat” around your company!

Budget:   Plan to demonstrate that a product will make it to market in the most efficient way possible.  Do not add lots of extras to your budget and inflate the expenses; keep it “Lean and Mean.”  Be prepared to show or discuss the valuation inflection points relative to your projected spend.  Investors will often seek to invest lesser money and try to get to an inflection point before having the company raise added capital.  This increases the chances of profit and lowers the investment risk.  Also, DO NOT request too little capital.  A rule of thumb is to raise enough money in a given round to get to a valuation inflection and still have enough capital remaining to seek an added financing round.  You will be in a difficult position if new investors know you are desperate.  Most likely you will experience a “CRAM DOWN ROUND” if you get money at all. The investor you pitch for funding will be aware of your projections, timelines, and when you plan to seek new funds.  They do not like the Down Rounds.  Make sure you can justify the numbers in your budget and demonstrate your understanding of the business.

Product Potential:  It really does help to understand your market(s).  You will be questioned and your facts will be checked and cross checked.  Do you know if your projected end users will actually want the product? How will you market to them and what kind of sales program is required?  Understanding the market will become a part of demonstrating the size of the market which becomes very important.  The market potential will help with your overall valuation and can help create more enthusiasm for your company.  Be able to explain why you believe the customers will buy and demonstrate an ability to capture significant market share.  Finally, you will want to really spend time planning the development timeline.  The product needs to make it to market as quickly as humanly possible.  Every day the product is off the market is a day of lost sales while your IP is still protecting it.

Don’t be surprised if you have the greatest product, management team, and plans and the investor does not make an investment.  Keep in mind that they see hundreds of prospects each year and make select investments annually.  For each investment, some of the sophisticated investors will set aside additional funds for follow on investments.  Also, the investment group may have decided to only invest in a few key areas in this year, because they invested in your area last year.  The key is to keep up the search and not give up.  It only takes one right type of investor or investment, to put the wind in your sails!

  Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Stuck? Mix it up a bit!

You can make flawless business or operating plans. You can excite and lead your team to achieve your well thought out goals. And, for no obvious reasons, the company is not moving at the pace expected, you are just not getting funding, or some game changing event has occurred.  Focus is highly important to any business, but so is having backup plans, parallel strategies to achieve a goal, or shifting the plans to new goals in order to be the best result.  Developing an ability to hear and see what is taking place, and changing your mind is important in the fast pace development of a startup. 

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results." (quote possibly by Rita Mae Brown)

In two recent discussions, both company described that they continued to believe that closing on a financing was imminent.  Some funds had been received, but the big check had not arrived and there was no date defined for the receipt.  Both companies had activities in progress and contracts of different types, but they were mired by lack of funds.  They were holding fast to the fund raising strategy and not effectively considering their alternatives.

The scenario is not only related to funding.  It can occur with most any operation in the company.  The issue is that continuation of the activity being conducted to achieve the goal in question may not be yielding the desired results.  At some point, it is worth considering shaking things up a bit or changing tactics all together.

Here are a few ideas for consideration:

Review the Situation:  It does no good to stay locked into a mode of operating assuming that it has to work when it is not producing results.  One of the best things you can do is continually monitor the issues and strategy and adjust or switch if it makes sense.  Secondly, identifying alternatives to achieve the same goals, or selecting alternate goals that may be just as beneficial and can be more easily reached may be just the thing to jump start the business.  Preparing a parallel strategy from the start may increase your chances of reaching the original goal.  Don’t be so rigid as to not be willing to change.

Consider Getting Help:  Advisors can sometimes see what you are missing.  This is why it is critical to have people in your network that can provide counsel.  Including your advisors in an internal team meeting where issues are defined and brainstorming on solutions allows you to obtain input from the whole team.  As a friend once said “Even a Blind Squirrel Can Find Nuts;” the point being your team may just surprise you.  You do not have to take their advice, but you may get some great ideas that could augment your plans.

Change the Pitch:  Convincing people to invest, partner, or buy a product usually involves telling them a story and pressing for closure.  The story can get stale after a while, or may have holes.  Collecting more solid information to add to the story like new sales statistics, latest data, addition of key management, may help. Changing the presentation order and being more focused on how the pitch is being given may help. Getting a vendor to sign up as a partner, executing on strategic events, initiating limited sales and getting customer feedback and other such accomplishments can make a big difference.  Give thoughts to how you can make the business pitch more inviting to the intended listener and adjust accordingly.

Consider Getting a Partner:  It is rather common that startups have little or no money and resources are tight.  You cannot sell products or services without development, manufacturing, marketing, and a sells team.  Some of the vendors may be willing to partner with your startup for a potential share of the upside.  Many times entrepreneurs are afraid to ask whether such opportunities are possible.  Asking for the vendor to develop a formal relationship with some risk sharing may help the startup.  A deal of this type changes the pitch and makes the startup look more solid.  There is an old joke that goes like, “Why do the ugly guys always get the prettiest girls to go with them to the Prom?”  The answer is; “They Asked.”  Don’t decide in advance what your vendors will say, ASK and let them respond.  You may get a surprise and the extra oomph you are looking for the company.

Punt:  It is no one’s fault that the strategy did not work if the proper thought went into the planning.  Sometimes no one knows your competitor will launch a product that will take your market away.  A restaurant does not know in advance that city is deciding to change the street routing, the exit ramp, or that several of the shops that draw traffic are leaving.  Sometimes, you need to drop your current plans and consider all alternatives.  You may find that your computer company will come up with iTUNES, iPhone, and an iPOD, turning the business into a stronger than expected company making products you did not originally envision.

  Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon 

Friday, June 10, 2011

On the Importance of Proper Goal Setting (by Tony Brazzale)

"If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else."- Yogi Berra

A recent startup piece on "Why Passion and Creativity Are Not Enough - You Need Goals, Too" reminded me of something I learned from my years growing up as a competitive swimmer and later coach - most people do not properly set goals. This happens mainly because they were never taught how, it's not a common subject taught in school and often times not even in sport.

The Merriam-Webster OnLine Dictionary defines a goal as "the end toward which effort is directed."  This is a very simplistic definition, and only barely scratches the surface.

How many times have we seen a driven professional sports team accomplish the near Herculean achievement of getting to the penultimate championship game and then completely falling apart in the final game? What went wrong? Did they have a goal - probably. Was it the right goal - probably not.  Was their goal to get to the championship, or to win the championship?  By all means, make certain your goal is high enough. Goals that are difficult to achieve and specific tend to increase performance more than goals that are not. In fact, studies have shown that 90% of laboratory and field studies involving specific and challenging goals led to higher performance than did easy or no goals.

Passion, circumstance or perhaps an exciting idea lead many of us into business - but forgetting about the end game can be fatal to that business. Goals are a very important foundation upon which every good business plan and executive summary are built as they are defining. So what makes a good goal, and how do you go about setting it?

"The great and glorious masterpiece of man is to know how to live to purpose." -Michel de Montaigne

In my experience the best way to set these goals is to make them SMART: S = Specific, M = Measurable, A = Achievable, R = Relative, T = Time-determined.  Let's break these down individually.

Specifics are the What, Why, and How of the SMART model.
What are you going to do? Ensure that you use action words in this section.  Ask yourself why is this important to and how are you going to do it. Specificity in your goal defines the end-point as opposed to just heading you in a direction. "Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind." -Seneca

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it - it becomes abstract instead of something real. If you can measure it you can measure your progress towards it as well.  Ensuring your goal is measurable supplies the feedback requirement of goals.  Goal-setting may have little effect if individuals cannot check where the state of their performance is in relation to their goal.  When you measure your progress, you stay on track and experience the exhilaration of achievement that spurs you on to continued effort required to reach your goals.  "There is no happiness except in the realization that we have accomplished something." -Henry Ford

You could also say "Realistic." While you want to set your goal as high as possible, it has to be realistically achievable. Goals you set which are too far out of your reach, you probably won’t commit to doing. Although you may start with the good intentions and energy, the knowledge that it’s too much for you means you will subconsciously remind yourself of this fact and that will stop you from giving it your best.

A goal can not contradict any of your other goals. When setting goals it is very important to remember that your goals must be consistent with your values, and that the goal is set relative to this constant.  Make sure the goal you are working for is something you really want, that you can be proud of for doing. Anything that runs contrary to your primary hardwiring will fail and have negative effects on you and your performance. 

It has been said that a goal is a dream with a deadline. Putting an end point on your goal gives you a clear target to work towards. If you don’t set a time, the commitment is too vague. Without a time limit, there’s no urgency to start taking action now.

In writing your goal down (make sure you do this) make certain it is written in the positive instead of the negative.  Work for what you want, not for what you want to leave behind.  A goal is something you work and run toward, not away from.

So why is all of this important for the entrepreneur? Firstly, your goals define your business to others - whether they be investors, competitors, employees, or the media.  Our goals define who we are, what we do, and how we are going to get there.  Sounds a bit like a business plan, doesn't it?  In business, goal setting has the further advantages of encouraging participants to put in substantial effort because every member has defined expectations set upon him or her.  Goals provide common purpose which crystallizes and energizes the team.  Goals focus attention towards relevant activities and away from extraneous activities.

In closing, make certain you set high reaching, challenging goals that you have a reasonable hope of achieving; make them specific; make them consistent with your other goals; and give them a deadline.

" this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth."

" We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win."
- John Fitzgerald Kennedy

About the author:  Tony Brazzale is a medicinal scientist turned business development executive.  He is the President of Biotech Business Development, Inc., an Associate of Katan Associates International. Katan Associates is a strategic business development and finance advisory consultancy group focused on the global life sciences industry whose mission is to add and create value for therapeutic and technology-based companies by implementing operational improvements and corporate capitalization strategies.  Prior to his professional career he spent 16 years as a competitive swimmer where he was a Texas high school state champion, NCAA Division I scholarshiped athlete, top 100 World Rank achiever, and Olympic Trials qualifier.  After retiring from competing, he coached a number of teams, successfully training athletes to compete at the national level. He can be followed on Twitter @biotechbusdev, e-mailed at katanassoc@gmail.com, or via telephone at 863-272-9925.

I recently met Tony and have enjoyed my interactions.  He has demonstrated skill in business and science.  His contributions cover both large and small companies ranging from the science to the business of the organizations.  He graciously offered to prepare an article relating to goals and sports, and I am thankful.  This is a very pointed piece and worthwhile advice.  Thank you Tony!

You can follow Taffy Williams on Twitter by @twilli2861 and you can email him with questions at twilli2861@aol.com and his company website  or photo website. You can also find him in the group Startup Group on Linkedin. Other articles can be found in the Charlotte, NC- small business section of Examiner.com. This blog is now listed on Alltop®.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Startup Basics Recap from Interview

Startup companies can be fun and fulfilling for many entrepreneurs.  As an example, note the enthusiasm exhibited by a local business owner as highlighted in the Fox News in Charlotte, NC June 5, 2011 in a story covered by Renee LaSalle.  Renee’s interview of Robert Sparks at Right Click  and her resource summary are most helpful.  The list included:

·       Use local Colleges/ Universities
·       Don’t be afraid to out-source
·       Have good counsel
·       Network, network, network.

In addition, Rene went on to highlight the need for thorough research (most can be done via internet).

If you are thinking of starting a company, these are some important resources that will benefit the endeavor.  Here are a few of the reasons:

Use local learning institutions:  Many local institutions have entrepreneurship, MBA, or help programs for local entrepreneurs and small businesses.  Some offer reviews of business plans and coaching to facilitate economic development in the region.  Costs will vary, but sometimes the services are free or can be bartered.  In addition, many faculty members have strong backgrounds that can augment aspect of the business from the science to the business.  Making contacts and meeting the people involved can be most helpful and sometimes, you can get an education just by speaking with these professionals for a short while.

Networking: In an article posted May 23, 2011, examples were provides that demonstrate the real benefit of advisors and luck in business.  Most important is the network and advisors you build around you because they can help you see what you may miss, learn what you do not know, provide feedback, and much more.  Most people are not aware that more than 90% of the job market is never posted or advertised.  Networking is the best way to find these jobs.  In addition, a strong network will help in being introduced to funds line the IMAF-fund in Charlotte, NC and this is the case for many Venture funds. In fact, Renee learned of the connections to those interviewed via networking after learning of publications in the Examiner.com on Startups in Charlotte, NC.  You should always seek to improve and expand your network, the benefits are immeasurable.

Thorough Research:  This is an extremely important part of any startup.  The strategy of “Build It and They Will Come” is a really bad way to start a business.  The market, end users, development plans, strategy for growth, analysis of potential revenue, goals and milestones, timelines to product launch and much more must be defined.  It is hard to do justice without doing the research to define the parameters in a well written business plan.  Much is available on line, more via your network, and still more via the local institutions.  Whether you are building a local business or a multi-national one, learn all you can before starting.

Outsourcing:  Startups often begin with an idea and no CASH.  A particularly good way to keep staff low and be able to make vertical cuts in expenses is outsourcing.  A contract can be terminated and you have minimal impact on your employees in house.  Secondly, outsourcing can get prototypes, marketing, development, sales, or most any other part of the business done.  Some of these sources will even consider taking a position in the business rather than complete cash payments.  Explore the outsourcing and other angles when constructing the business plan.  Some of these sources may be just the thing to help propel your business.

Have good counsel:  There are many great business attorneys; GET ONE EARLY.  They can help with all of the documents, agreements, and provide advice.  They are part of your network.  They can make introductions to funds or angel investors.  Counsel and advice can also be provided via your network.  Getting great feedback on what you are planning is very important and will help you formulate the best and most likely path to succeed. 

  Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon 

Friday, June 3, 2011

Introduction to Links for Capital Market Articles (by S. Boyko & W. Rappleye)

In a series of four articles written for “Startup Blog,” we argue that the underlying troubling trend of larger and more frequent boom-bust cycles was caused by randomness resulting from conflating of risk and uncertainty. To illustrate, the Crash of 1987 experienced a $1trillion decline of wealth. Fourteen years later, in 2001, the Dot-com Crash witnessed a decline of wealth of $4 trillion. Seven years later, in 2008, the Subprime Crash saw an $8 trillion decline of wealth.

Notwithstanding Einstein’s admonition that it is insane to repeat the same activity while hoping for a different result, the government’s economic stimulus proposal was entrusted to the same deterministic econometric models that missed the real estate crash. We posit that a rarely identified factor that stands as a constant obstacle to the effective and efficient capital market management is the relationship of the component parts – predictability, risk, and uncertainty – to the connective concept of randomness.

To this end, “Beyond Rumsfeld,” reflexively provides the subjects to Rumsfeldian predicates for the construction of randomness sentences where:
·       Predictability is the known-knowns.
·       Risk is the known-unknowns. and,
·       Uncertainty is the unknown-unknowns.
Randomness sentences are complete thoughts that are more robust than foundational listings. The “Engine of Economic Growth” describes how entrepreneurs confront uncertainty to deal with unknown cash flow and unknown product demand in the real good and service sector of the economy. Correspondingly, the “Parallel Paper Economy” asks how could uncertain mortgage-backed securities with unknown cash flow and unknown market demand receive an AAA-rating? Lastly, “Financial Storm Hunters: In search of remedies for capital market crashes and crises” concludes by developing financial models from which economic crashes and crises could be better identified and governed.

We welcome any questions and/or discussions.

Stephen A. Boyko

Author of “We’re All Screwed! How toxic regulation will crush the free market system”
Twitter @n2k2695

I want to thank the authors for their excellent article for the Blog. They continue to publish articles and books of importance to the financial and regulatory sector. Steve published the book "We're all Screwed!" and has been on active speaking engagements. I am pleased to call him a friend and he has agreed to be an active contributor to the blog!

You can follow Taffy Williams on Twitter by @twilli2861 and you can email him with questions at twilli2861@aol.com. He can also be reached via his company website.  He writes for the local Examiner Paper and he is a member of the group Startup Group on Linkedin. The blog is now listed on Alltop®. 

Financial Storm Hunters: In search of remedies for capital market crashes and crises (by S. Boyko & W. Rappleye)


The Subprime Crash of 2008 has been called the capital market’s perfect storm. Not since the Great Depression has the financial system faced such severe challenges. The real estate bubble burst when the economy was weak with massive levels of personal, corporate, and sovereign debt that rendered remedial metrics uncertain.

But unlike natural storms where storm chasers try to reduce the number of potential victims by giving them early warning of the dangers they see coming, or where hurricane-hunter aircraft fly into tropical depressions to collect weather data for models that forecast the time and location of the storm’s landfall and the maximum intensity of wind and storm surge, no financial storm hunters built models to better-manage capital market activity surrounding market crashes and crises. To the contrary, there has been a troubling trend of larger and more frequent financial storms that have negatively affected a greater percentage of people.

Why? You can't manage what you don't measure. It is an old management adage that William Edwards Deming made famous in the early 1950s, but unless you categorize and measure something—it is hard to tell what it is and whether governance is getting better or worse.[1]  For example, was the subprime bubble a crash or a crisis? Was the subprime bubble caused by governance ineffectiveness or inefficiency? We address these questions by arguing that not only does one-size-fits-all (OSFA) deterministic metrics create errors of conflation resulting in vapor assets,[2] but such mischaracterization is the foundation upon which future boom-bust business cycles are built. The critical flaw lies in the preoccupation with scale as in Too-Big-To-Fail (TBTF) financial institutions. These institutions are, in reality, Too-Random-To-Regulate (TRTR) because the underlying economic condition of uncertainty is omitted from the analysis.

Financial storms: crashes and crises

Although the terms “crash” and “crisis” are treated synonymously in much of financial literature, we differentiate the two for better governance. Stock market crashes are a sudden, dramatic, double-digit decline of stock prices. Crashes are a broad-based like a hurricane, their decline measured across a significant cross-section of the stock market. The 2008 Subprime Bubble, for example, is a crash because virtually every U.S. citizen was somehow affected.[3]  “Crises,” by comparison, are issue specific with their decline limited to a particular event or institution. They are localized like a tornado. Madoff’s Ponzi scheme[4] is considered a crisis; if you were not a client of the firm there is little likelihood of contagion.

Vapor assets that caused valuation distortions and trading halts are present in virtually every financial storm to the consternation of policymakers who have to group crash and crisis malfunctions as the result of either:
  1. Ineffectiveness that requires doing things differently because of a dysfunctional market that failed to trade as in the Subprime and 1970 Paper Crunch; and/or,
  2. Inefficiency that requires doing the same things better because of discontinuous pricing as in the 1987 crash.

A fundamental failure of the one-size-fits-all (OSFA) approach to governance stems from a lack of accurate information as measurements tend to be biased in support of the legacy system. Specifically, there were three corruptive information errors that were causal to the Subprime Crash:

  1. Misdiagnosis of renters as owners where renters received property rights that created perverse incentives relative to property foreclosures.
  2. Mischaracterization of the underlying economic environment that conflated risk and uncertainty resulting in mispriced subprime debt. Uncertain issues such as no-money down, NINJA MBSs[5] have neither mark-to-market valuations nor positive cash flow from which to price investments. How could uncertain securities receive an AAA-rating?
  3. Misapplication of governance where policymakers responded to market excesses of the Enron crisis with regulatory excesses contained in Sarbanes-Oxley of 2002. Treating an issue-specific crisis as though it were a systemic crash resulted in disproportionate governance causing normative market commerce to migrate to economic externalities that encumbered the implementation of Dodd-Frank.


The conceptual thread that ties the governance of natural storms and capital market storms is “chaos theory.” It is a subset of complexity theory that finds underlying order from randomness. Chaos theory was formulated in 1960 by meteorologist, Edward Lorenz, while working on a weather prediction model. Thereafter, investment managers like Edgar Peters ported these concepts to the capital market. In Chaos and Order in the Capital Markets, Peters posited that market statistics do not necessarily follow Gaussian distributions. Rather, they sometime have fat tails for profit opportunities where the so-called butterfly effect shows that a small change at one place in a nonlinear, dynamic system can result in large differences to a later state.

While the body of the price curve is a Gaussian function, the tail of the curve may follow a power law that is like GAAMA Model externalities that are fractal dimensions. The GAAMA Model links neoclassical economics with Chaos Theory to analyze far-from-equilibrium commercial activity where a large number of seemingly independent elements act coherently. Neoclassical economics is devoted to the study of equilibrium. The concept of equilibrium is instructive in determining a unique end-condition, but the precision of the procedural process is misleading in that true equilibrium is difficult to achieve in volatile market conditions. Equilibrium is an axiomatic system where supply and demand functions are given to produce a unique market-clearing price for normative markets. The idea that supply and demand may be price driven was not considered by neoclassical economists; yet that is what capital market crashes and crises demonstrates.[6]

The GAAMA Model’s calculus can differentiate its 3-dimensional, orthogonal structure into a 2-dimensional, 3x3 matrix. The matrix’s conceptual construct located in the upper left corner of the matrix (A1) illustrates how capital market catastrophes (crashes and crises) and their related causal market malfunctions (ineffective and inefficient transactions) are integrated to form financial storm categories.

Storm Hunter Matrix


Malfunction (A1)
Issue Specific

Ineffective: not trading


Back-office Paper Crunch

Inefficient: bad pricing



Below is a brief description of Storm Hunter Matrix events and their related best-practice (or lack thereof) rules that arose in support of capital market standards.[7]

Subprime Crash: things began to look bleak for the American stock market in 2008 thanks in large part to the subprime mortgage fallout. Subprime mortgages offered home loans to borrowers who posed a high credit risk. These loans were given with attractive terms, like low initial interest rates, and no down payment. In many cases, loans were made for amounts people could not otherwise afford. Notwithstanding that home foreclosures in the United States increased 75 percent from 2006 to 2007, subprime mortgages were packaged as mortgage-backed securities (MBSs) and sold through financial institutions.

1987 Crash: from October 14, to October 19, 1987, major indexes of market valuation in the United States dropped 30 percent or more. On October 20, these indexes recovered part of their loss. However, for the next four months, they were often subject to moderately large daily variation. From the close of trading on Tuesday, October 13, to the close of trading on Monday, October 19, the Dow fell by almost one third, indicating a loss in value of all outstanding United States stocks of approximately one trillion dollars. Although a number of people tried to account for the 1987 Crash, no one has yet provided a complete explanation.  Blame largely focuses on: computerized trading and derivative securities, a lack of liquidity, US budget deficits, and market overvaluation.

As for best-practice corrective action enter the concept of “circuit breakers,” which the SEC approved on April 15, 1998 in amendments to NYSE Rule 80B (Trading Halts Due to Extraordinary Market Volatility). By implementing a pause in trading at specified price points, investors are given time to assimilate incoming information and then have the ability to make informed choices during periods of high market volatility without falling victim to herd behavior.

Back-office paper crunch: during the period 1967-to-1970, the back offices of US securities brokers were not able to handle the sharp increase in trading volumes. The number of "fails" (i.e. failures to deliver securities on the settlement date) soared and so did losses from back-office errors. Some firms tried to resolve the problems by abruptly switching to computerized systems, with generally disappointing results. Likewise, the SEC initially reacted to the back office problems by shortening the trading day in August 1967 and in early 1968, but with little success. During this period approximately 160 members of the New York Stock Exchange failed with roughly the same number either taken over or disbanded.

Where 10 million share-volume days once caused trade-halting backlogs from piles of unmatched and phantom trades, there emerged the formation of the National Clearing Corporation (NCC) that immobilized stock certificates through a continuous net settlement (CNS) process that enables the market to now settle and clear volume of two billion shares a day.

Enron: collapsed on December 2, 2001—the largest bankruptcy in US corporate history. Policymakers while reviewing the extent of the collapse and the corrupt and possibly criminal activity, did not ask, let alone answer, what were the driving forces within the company that led to such questionable behavior? Policymakers responded to market excesses of the Enron crisis with regulatory excesses contained in Sarbanes-Oxley of 2002. Treating an issue-specific crisis as though it were a systemic crash resulted in disproportionate governance causing normative market commerce to migrate to economic externalities. But where are the best-practices from this rule-writing exercise?[8]


For effective and efficient governance, randomness components must be segmented into predictable, risky, and uncertain regimes. It is Too-Random-To-Regulate (TRTR) not Too-Big-To-Fail (TBTF) that has resulted in flawed governance functions for crashes and crises. It is the accepted distinction between risk and uncertainty that is key. Risk is quantifiable and has foreseeable consequences; uncertainty is indeterminate and has unforeseeable consequences. When uncertainty becomes risk, that’s learning or innovation; you have greater control over your underlying economic environment. On the other hand, when risk becomes uncertainty, there is either confusion (too much information), or ambiguity (too little information). Should the uncertainty become unstable as in the Subprime Crash you have chaos when the capital markets froze.[9]


Stephen A.  Boyko is the author of "We're All Screwed! How Toxic Regulation Will Crush the Free Market System" http://readingthemarkets.blogspot.com/2009/10/boyko-were-all-screwed.html . He has over forty years of financial services industry experience that include formulating regulatory policy for the National Association of Securities Dealers (now FINRA) and providing a practitioner's perspective for the privatization of the former Soviet Union in corporate governance and regulatory development of the Ukrainian Capital Market. Contact: n2keco@bellsouth.net

Willard C. Rappleye Jr. has spent a lifetime as a financial journalist. He was the National Economic Correspondent for Time, Editor of American Banker, Founding Editor of Financier, the Journal of Private-Sector Policy, and Vice Chairman of FinancialWorld.

I want to thank the authors for their excellent article for the Blog. They continue to publish articles and books of importance to the financial and regulatory sector. Steve published the book "We're all Screwed!" and has been on active speaking engagements. I am pleased to call him a friend and he has agreed to be an active contributor to the blog!

You can follow Taffy Williams on Twitter by @twilli2861 and you can email him with questions at twilli2861@aol.com. He can also be reached via his company website.  He writes for the local Examiner Paper and he is a member of the group Startup Group on Linkedin. The blog is now listed on Alltop®. 


[1] The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale and the Fujita Tornado Scale separates tornados into five different categories based on wind and related damage potential.       

[2] With the exception of the 9/11 disaster, all financial storms involved the creation of vapor assets that led to excesses and an overvaluation. For a more detailed analysis see “We’re All Screwed: How toxic Regulation Will Crush the Free Market System,” Stephen Boyko, p. 8-42.

[3] “We’re All Screwed: How toxic Regulation Will Crush the Free Market System,” Stephen Boyko, p. 8-9.

[4] A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation that pays returns to investors from their own money or money paid by subsequent investors rather than from any actual profit earned. The Ponzi scheme usually offers returns that other investments cannot guarantee in order to entice new investors, in the form of short-term returns that are either abnormally high or unusually consistent. The perpetuation of the returns that a Ponzi scheme advertises and pays requires an ever-increasing flow of money from investors in order to keep the scheme going.

[5] NINJA is an acronym for “No Income, No Job or Assets and MBSs is an acronym for Mortgage-Backed Securities.

[6] GAAMA: A New Perspective for Emerging Markets (Volume IV, Number 2)

[7] Capital market standards are represented by the FLITE model of Fairness, Liquidity, Integration, Transparency and Efficiency. See: Think before you regulate: Choose a better model, SFO Magazine, May 2009, Stephen A. Boyko, http://www.sfomag.com/article.aspx?ID=1338&issueID=c

[8] Rule-writing is the proscriptive description of an undesirable situation. It is ad hoc policymaking that Band-Aids over the current problem. It expects buy-in from society by describing the undesirable situation and prefacing it by saying “don’t do this.”

[9] “We’re All Screwed: How toxic Regulation Will Crush the Free Market System,” Stephen Boyko, p. 61.