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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Avoiding sticker shock from service providers

I do not have the funds to pay this !

Few companies will operate with employees as the sole source of workers for your company.  Your mentors, advisors, and board members may work on a fixed fee, or may require billing per time worked.  Legal, accounting, and other contracts are least likely to work on a fixed fee basis and will bill by time spent.  Getting those bills in the mail with totals that make you feel like passing out are difficult.  Debt generally increases and becomes a larger problem while raising added capital.  Legal fees alone work leading to a closing can become very large.

Investors will require you to provide financials for review prior to closing.  One of the areas of concern is outstanding debt or fees due.  Owing fees for services payable at the close of a financing is more common than you think.  Having the debt portion being too high becomes a concern because no one wants to invest in past work!  In addition, the amount of residual cash after payment must be enough to conduct the work promised to the investors.

It is possible to swap some of the debt for equity.  This can cause dilution that may be more acceptable than spending the cash.  Assuming the service provider is willing to take the equity, the reduced debt translates to a reduced cash payment.  The investors may want a discount from the negotiated price to deal with the dilution.  Basically, any dilution causes a reduction in your holding percentage and you take a haircut too.

Most likely, you will have times when debt accrual must happen.  As an entrepreneur in a startup, there is no cash to work with except from personal savings.  Certain providers are essential and working a pay it later arrangement is required.  There are things you can do to monitor and limit the debt accrual, but these should not be at the expense of the quality of work required.  For example, having a poor job on legal agreements will create pain and cost you money later.  Inferior manufacturing work will cause loss in product quality and poor market acceptance.  Some areas require quality work and costs accrued and compromise is not acceptable. 

The best you can do is to identify the areas where cuts are acceptable and areas where they are not.  Secondly, you must develop a mechanism to track the expense accruals so you do not have sticker shock.  You can slow work down or defer it if costs get too high, but this only works if you know the expenses and the projected rates of accrual.

Managing many times includes managing expectations.  In the case of expenses, your expectations need the management.  Knowing where you are in expenditures is your only tool to knowing when to manage the workflow and alter accruals or payment methods.  Discussions with your service providers early along with constant monitoring will save you a lot of pain later.  Working out alternate payment methods or stock swap alternatives up front will provide for an easier time later.  In short, avoid sticker shock by monitoring.  Develop payment alternatives early or later by negotiating with the providers.  Surprises on amounts owed are never funny!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Investors may be attracted to a startup for one of these

I do not care what you are selling, let's talk about what I need!

Investments come in different forms.  Entrepreneurs think mostly in terms of money.  Investors see investments as money, time, technology, contacts, and resources.  Early stage companies need seasoned professionals to contribute to the build out of the business.  The professionals see the opportunity as a means of investing, giving back, and obtaining upside from their time commitment.  There is a different view from the window depending on what it desired by each investor.

No one ever makes an investment to lose money.  There is a minimal requirement of return of the investment cash component.  Time losses are not bad if the investor has an interest in learning more about the field, enjoys working with the entrepreneur, and/or made new contact connections.  The return on investment for each investor may be more than the cash component.

Investors in the public equities have differing goals for their investment.  Earlier in age, there is often a desire to take greater risk for greater upside.  A shift develops as investors’ age and start to see retirement.  At this time, capital stability is important and annual income takes a higher level of importance; i.e. more stable cash producing assets.  Investors depending on age and resources see investments differently.

Entrepreneurs need to understand what drives the investors they wish to attract in order to pitch the company appropriately.  The investors may fall in groupings, but each grouping may have differing needs and desires.  Even in the VC arena, there are differences in the needs annually.  They selected areas they feel are high priorities or an investor expresses interest in a field.   It is common to find new partners or investors in a fund seeking to develop better awareness about a new field. Investors always want to make money, but if the fund promises to report on technology advances, having the right technologies becomes an important consideration. 

Angel investors may wish to have hands on participation.  They may want to have the feeling of helping build a great company.  A sense of accomplishment has value to many people.

Some former executives love to work with exciting technologies and help build companies.  They may be ultraconservative with their cash investments in order to splurge on risky ventures by a time commitment.  Using their contacts and experience to help grow a new company can be an exciting activity.  While they do not contribute cash, do not underestimate the value of their experience and time.  These are real investments.

In building your company, the needs and types of investment will vary.  Understanding the value of each type of investment is important as is the drivers of the group or individual making the investment.  The ability to attract the right types of investment is partly due to your ability to sell the business model.  The other very important part is the recognition of selling something that fits the needs of the investor.  In some respects, it is not much different from purchasing goods or services.  You are selling something to someone that wants it and believe it fits his or her goals.  Try to understand their goals because it may help you improve the sales pitch and get a better reception from the investor!

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

Monday, August 20, 2012

The best guru for entrepreneurship and startup for your company

There is Magic In Your Head, USE IT.

There is no shortage of advice on the web by all the great gurus providing management, entrepreneurship, and startup guidance.  If you are reading this article, you are in one such site now.  The experience levels of the different “EXPERTS” vary over a wide range from having received a degree in school to the super experienced former executive having run a very large company. 

When you started your company, you may have identified people to serve as advisors, mentors, and board members.  You based the selections of these individuals on backgrounds and relationships and you feel they complement the business and bring value.  The decision to bring this level of expertise is the correct thing to do and they will add value.

Many of the online gurus discuss innovation and creativity and carry articles on their blogs on the topics.  The numerous gurus on startups cover many of the same topics because the topics are so common to all companies.  It can be rather daunting to determine which of these people are the best or even have relevant experience to their discussion topics.

You may recall other posts discussing how to add innovation and creativity to your business.  The key topics are: 1) Identify the problem, 2) Encourage the team, 3) Problems should have markets, 4) Engineer or re-engineer for performance, 5) Move quickly, and 6) Develop IP strategy.  These topics relate to creating and developing new products. Related topics may go for solving problems or re-engineering your company. 

When your company has needs for change or problem solving, identification of the problem is the first step.  Gathering all the information needed to evaluate the problems and potential solutions are next.  This is where all your resources provide you with information, discussion and feedback.   The online gurus may even be great sources of information at this point. 

Solving any problem or being inventive in finding solutions requires careful analysis and evaluation of all the possibilities that exist.  The advice you receive will be from individuals with prior experiences that may vary greatly from the issues you are currently facing.  This is the time to put the advice in perspective and analyze the data relative to your situation.  All that great advice may not even apply to your issues!  You will learn in building your company that many people are willing to help.  They are all well intended.  Some will have better credentials and more relevant experiences than others will. The application of the advice to your unique issues may never be part of anyone’s experiences.

Problem solving, inventiveness, and creativity tend to come from proper analysis and that little bit of inspiration that hits you in the middle of the night or when you least expect it.  Your solutions or new products come from the novel ideas generated when you really understand all the issues and have the appropriate understanding of where the company needs to go.  Great solutions may be suggested, but the determination of their applicability must come from the leader of the company.

In short, the real guru is YOU and not all those people that are providing the advice.  They cannot possibly be in your shoes and take your company forward.  They will not live with the aftermath of a decision or a failed product.  In the end, the person running the business that must weigh all the facts, make the decisions, and PIVOT when the decisions are not optimal.  YOU are or will become the GURU for your company or the company will never be what you envisioned.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Mergers and acquisitions take thought and planning

In a recent discussion with the CEO of a private company, an acquisition became the dominate topic.  Starting a company and spending years building a business means the founders put their lives into the business.  They want the business to succeed and the team to participate in the rewards of any successes.  Time is always a factor and when the time reflects on your age and considerations of retirement, succession planning or selling the business become a stronger consideration than in the earlier years.

The business becomes part of your family and you see the business as something you grew from infancy.  Those that supported you in the business growth are friends and family.  When two business owners initiate a discussion regarding a business combination, many considerations beyond valuation become topics.  A few examples are:

·        Will the current team remain for some period to facilitate building the combined businesses?

·        How will the acquiring party pay the departing parties for the business?

·        Will a workout be part of the acquisition strategy?

·        Can the parties get along and work together and for how long?

·        Can they get out of the deal if it seems not to be working?

The decision to combine businesses is a serious one and requires a lot of thought and planning.  The finances and valuations must provide the desired exit(s) for all of the founders.  Considerations of who remains and for how long is important.  Two aging founders creating a combined company need to have succession planning for the remaining business.

A few topics that must be considered before your enter the discussions and began finalizing the details of a combination are more personal.  The following topics are just a few:

Define your goals - Deciding to combine your business with another means one of you will likely depart at some point.  At a minimum, one of you will be running the combined business.  Thoughtful consideration of whether you can be the departing party or no longer running the business is a consideration.  In addition, you may be planning an exit.  What are your goals in the combination and what are you seeking as a return on your years of investment.

Integrating the businesses – Integrating the businesses needs to make sense and there needs to be a purposeful objective.  In combining the businesses, two teams must come together and the cash flows must work.  Combining businesses and not achieving positive cash flows could be a recipe for disaster.   

Valuations – Consideration of individual valuations will take place no matter what.  One company will buy the other or merge.  The relative valuations will determine the final ownership percentages or price to pay. However, the valuations of the combined businesses must make sense.  This is where the sum of the parts should be vastly different from the combined company.  Many utilize the terminology of 1 + 1 is equal or greater than 3. This means that the combined entities should have a significantly higher value than the sum of the two companies.

Future business – Defining the goals of the combined business are important.  The ability of the new business may be able to enter markets neither was able to access before.  Perhaps, they have a difference in sales strategy that will allow for a greater market capture.  There should be discussions and thought on where the newly combined businesses will go in the future.  This is part of developing a combined business plan!  Do you remember the business plan?  You will want one for the new company.

 Have you considered how you feel about not being the BIG DOG?
  Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

There is life after the Sigma Walk

Get ready for the up hill climb!

As hard as it is to imagine, there is life after the Sigma Walk.  Your first days will really SUCK!  Gradually they will improve and you will move toward a new life.  The greatest lessons come from embracing the departure and recognizing it is not the end of life, but the start of a new chapter; the chapter of remodeling and forming the new YOU.

The first days are often spent sulking and being angry.  After the anger comes depression and eventually the acceptance of your circumstances.  Perhaps you will experience real physical shock; the kind you get in a hospital!  You be caught off guard and the fear of the unknown grips you.  Sitting in a room and making no contact with the outside world is one of your fist impulses.  Alternatively, you are so angry with everyone and everything you want to do nothing but get even.  None of these emotions helps you.

Your first objectives must be to get a grip and decide you are not going to be beaten.  You are going to remodel and build a NEW YOU; the YOU that will build businesses and become a great LEADER.  Your leaving gives you the time to write a book, take a vacation, or be that entrepreneur building a new company.  You can exercise and get in shape.  Network and meet huge numbers of new people.  Your remodeling can take the direction you select with no outside interference.  Develop your own plan that covers your remodeling of you and leads you to the success you want to achieve.

It is from the adversity that the great things come from within.  Your desires to succeed can the top objective on your list.  You can decide to be extremely successful.  One of the greatest benefits of your future massive success is the enhanced self-confidence and recognition from all those that wish they had kept you.  Success has a way of evening the emotions and making you the person you should be.  Not the one you could have been. YOU WILL BECOME A WINNER!

It is an uphill climb and you will need every bit of strength you can muster.  Developing actions and activities that lead to the success are critical.  Your ego needs the boost because you must network and build a company with enthusiasm.  Your network will rally around you and provide support and added contacts if they believe you are serious and can succeed.  You must enhance your confidence and desire to become the winner you are destined to be.

Does this sound like a motivational take to you?  Well, it is!  I have encouraged many new entrepreneurs and have been lectured to as well.  The goals are the same in all cases.  Determine what you want to do, then develop a plan and DO IT.  You will succeed only through hard work and countless hours of trying. 

Some of the younger generation have asked for help creating a company.  When asked what type of company, the response is “anything that makes them a lot of money.”  THIS IS A BAD WAY TO START! Your goal should be to identify a real business that addresses a consumer need or desire.  Maybe identify a new field or technology needing development.  Start with a real business concept, a plan, well-defined goals, and get advice from your network. 

When asked to do the Sigma Walk, think of it as a blessing.  You can NOW LET THE ENTREPRENEUR WITHIN YOU OUT TO PLAY.  Embrace change and go for the gold!  You can do it.
 Let the champion out.  You are a winner!
Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon

Monday, August 13, 2012

Always be prepared for the sigma walk

The topic does not relate to the YouTube version of the sigma walk but one coined by a company previously called Sigma.  The corporate sigma walk is one of the most difficult and depressing situations, you may ever face.  On the other hand, the sigma walk may be an exhilarating event that makes you want to do the dance seen in the YouTube video.   The corporate walk can come with parting gifts or with lots of grief.  You just never know, but you can always have some preparedness by thinking ahead.

So what is the corporate sigma walk?  The following is based on a true story, but the names are changed.

About 15 years ago, a friend (Bob) was the president of a company (Sigma) doing a great business.  Sigma was a well-run company with more than 500 employees. 

One day Bob came in to work and was to meet a Board member in the conference room.  As Bob entered, a police officer greeted him and then proceeded to escort Bob out of the building and off the grounds.   The message delivered to Bob was not return and his belongings would be sent to him. Yes, Bob, the president was terminated without cause!

Bob did not have a termination agreement.  All his personal effects and information for his network contacts were in his office.  It took several months for the materials to arrive to Bob.  Bob had no salary or termination provisions.  He had been a valued employee for more than 20 years. He was treated poorly and unfairly, but that happens to lots of people.

This story is sad but factual.  I can change a few parameters and it would fit the stories of a number of friends, employees, and company founders I have known over a long period.  In the environment of today, people are terminated for no reason when the company is trying to conserve on cash flow.  Sometimes, the terminated individual receives outplacement assistance and severance.  Others are escorted to the door and must fend for themselves.  In rare cases, the individuals feel like a great weight has been lifted because they wanted out anyway.

There are things you can do to be prepared for this terrible day.  I hope that it will never come to you, but nearly all Senior Executives will experience it eventually.  As companies change requirements as they develop, new skills are needed.  Losses in revenues can cause termination of employment status. 

Just look around.  I bet you already know people that have lost their jobs.  Here are just a few things you might consider:

Develop and maintain your network:  Networking is one of the best ways to find a new job.  Newly created jobs are often filled before being advertised.  Knowing someone that hears of a need can help you get the early intro to the person with the need.  Continue to network after you are unemployed and do not give up.  Your network will be a valuable asset throughout your life!

Maintain two databases of your contacts:  Any computer person will tell you to back up your files in case of a disc drive loss.  Having your computer locked in an office and not getting access for several months is like a drive loss!  Keep a copy of your database in a location outside of the office.  You will be able to contact your friends sooner and not have to reconstruct the contact listings.

Maintain your resume:  Review and update your resume on a regular basis.  Maybe you will decide to seek a new job while you are employed.  Having a current resume will provide you with a quicker start to searching for a new opportunity.

Negotiate hard for termination provisions:  Having a termination provision in your employment letter or contract is possible.  You may have to negotiate to get it.  It is easier to have it in the original agreement than find out you need something once in the job.  Try to have the agreement cover vesting and duration of your options in addition to some time for salary.  Try to get COBRA coverage if you can.

Maintain separate phone lines at home:  If you can afford it, having a business line at home has value.  You can make and receive all business calls on that line and leave the home phone for personal calls.  The business number is something you can add to a business card along with an email address.  This allows you to have more of a business approach to new employers or in starting a new company.

The road does not have to be so lonely!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Risk and uncertainty stymies decision making

No cats where harmed in preparing this blog!

One of the most critical tasks for the leader is decision making.  The ability to choose rightly or wrongly is essential and greatly affects the performance of any company.  Any decision-making process relies on a basis the leader selects as a mode of operation and the use of the process tends to be rather consistent.  Some decisions stem from a pure gut feel.  There is a tendency for much of these decisions to have a good outcome even though the in depth analysis is missing.  The reason is that prior experiences weigh heavily into the gut feel.  Waiting a while and performing an analysis may yield a superior result but the time lost can result in loss of deals or other benefits. 

The decision making process is critical and great leaders realize making decisions as an essential part of their job.  The decision must consider all risks and any uncertainty that has a potential to affect the outcome.  As an example, the following description of the Schrödinger's Cat thought experiment is provided  and I am certain you are wondering what a quantum mechanics thought experiment has to do with decision making. 

“Schrödinger's Cat: A cat, a flask of poison and a radioactive source are placed in a sealed box. If an internal monitor detects radioactivity, the flask is shattered, releasing the poison that kills the cat. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics implies that after a while, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. Yet, when we look in the box, we see the cat either alive or dead, not both alive and dead.”

There is uncertainty as to whether a cat is alive or dead in the experiment.  However, there is a risk that opening the box will expose the observer to radiation that will be harmful.  Any decision would weigh the curiosity and need to evaluate the cat’s wellbeing with the risk of radiation poising.   This decision would be very easy for people today because of the knowledge of radiation.  If you knew nothing about the toxicity of radiation, perhaps your desire to help the cat would over compensate and you would open the box only to find out years later you were dosed with high levels of radiation. The risk of exposure was not a problem due to lack of knowledge.  The desire to help the cat took over.  You could not have done a complete analysis of the problem because the research on radiation was too new at the time. 

Similar risks and uncertainties occur in all decision making.  Your knowledge can be used to the best possible but the unknown always has the ability to affect the future outcome.  Many times, it is better to perform the best analysis possible and just decided on a direction.  Learning how to monitor and PIVOT makes a huge difference in altering the course of the future.  Fear of making the decision can have a greater negative when it causes stagnation. 

So when faced with your version of a Schrödinger's Cat decision, weigh the risks and uncertainties.  After careful thought, decide what you must do.  Monitor the results and adjust as needed.  You will come out just fine!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Indecision can kill your business


One of the most difficult problems to tackle is deciding between multiple options.  Complicating the decision may be playing one option against others in an attempt to optimize the outcome.  For example, suppose you have multiple investor groups with different term sheets for your financing.  You may want all of the investors in the next round.  Maybe you want to negotiate on the valuation or other terms to improve the deal(s).  The desire to improve your economic benefit is part of your fiduciary responsibility, but failing to end the selection and negotiating dilemma and close on something is counterproductive.  In fact, it may just make the investors angry and they will not return at any price.

The same arguments fit with indecisions for your suppliers, new hires, possible fires, and events that are important to running the company.  The in ability to decide a direction and implement the actions can leave the company in a middle ground of no man’s land.  You cannot move forward or backward, resulting in maintaining the status quo. 

There is no problem with maintaining the status quo, unless it results in hindering real progress.  The lack of progress often has a negative effect since your team likely figured out a decision would have resulted in a benefit and enhances your business.  I have been guilty of suffering in the middle ground and having problems with direction.  The inability to decide is a larger problem than one might expect.  When looking at choices, it is always possible one of the choices can do harm even if it looks fantastic.  This is the law of “Unintended Consequences.”  I have mentioned it before in a previous blog.

It turns out that most of the indecision stems from a fear of picking the wrong thing or getting the wrong deal terms.  The problem comes in making decisions on whether to buy or sell a stock, maybe whether to trade up in value on your home or car, or whether to change jobs.  Often many unknown factors contribute to the increase in risk of the decision.  The economy could turn up and my stock would have done better.  I held the stock and the company did something bad causing the share price to tank leaving me with a loss.  I took the investment from a group and now they are agitating on my Board.  UNCERTAINTY is the issue causing conflicts in the decision process and uncertainty is usually going to be present.

You can lay out all the factors of plus and minus that may define the choices.  An analysis will help with the decision process.  Your primary concern is to drain the risk of the decision to a minimum and then CHOOSE!  You may be wrong or right in the choice.  Usually, the negative is fixable and the positive needs minor adjustment to make it even better.  No matter what, it is often better to decide on something than sit in limbo.  The decision process is critical to you, your team, and your company.  Get as much intelligence as possible, perform your thoughtful analysis, and then decide.  By the way, a real decision option is that you will maintain the status quo, but at least you decided!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Beware of the boss

The title may a bit off from the actual content, but the point is the same.  Running a company as the new or experienced entrepreneur does not give one the right to be horrible to the team.  Actually, that right belongs to NO ONE.  Treating your team with respect and confidence is more in the realm of your right of passage.  It is just that many entrepreneurs have egos and a short temper.  They sometimes forget and starting team members like the wicked stepmother treated Cinderella.

There is a real need to convey a sense of urgency.   It is also true that obtaining the ultimate performance and ensuring accountability is part of the CEO entrepreneur’s role.  It is possible to convey these issues without being ugly.  Have you ever been in meetings where the boss says, “get it done or I will find someone else to do it?”  Maybe you have seen the boss belittle an employee in a meeting.  The actions actually provide the team with a poor image of the boss and the company.  You can bet they will tell potential new hires to watch out or even convince them they should not work there.

As the new boss, what do you do to help your employees achieve their optimal performance?  Remember a few of these:

·        Sitting down with them and determining steps you can take to ensure their success can make the difference in their results and desire to achieve the goals. 

·        Listening to their issues and views can help you provide alternate strategies leading to a successful outcome.

·        Providing them with assistance and training may turn them in to better employees with a greater productivity and desire to see the company successful.

·        Keeping your temper in check and not yelling will help them to share their problems and provide their ideas more freely.

·        There is a fine line between looking frugal and CHEAP!  Fair compensation (pay & equity) is warranted for quality work and commitment.

If you are not careful, you may see this sign on your door one day.

Plus, your team may respond this way

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Do not create frustration by looking in the past

One of the hardest lessons to learn is that the past is GONE!  What happened yesterday you may learn from but you will never change it.  Dwelling on the past is a very common issue that nearly everyone does.  The frustration caused by the constant looking behind you can change how you move forward.  Sometimes that is OK, but in many cases, it is not. 

I am as guilty as the next when focusing on lost opportunities or past mistakes.  It is easier to be pleased about all the great accomplishments but those bad things are what seem to take over your mind if you are not careful.  Things like “if I had only sold my stock a few months later, I would have doubled my money.”   Maybe you did not sell stock and you lost money rather than made it.  How about the, “I got a call to participate in an event, but said NO.”  Yes, I will never get a call back and missed an opportunity could have changed things forever.  It is hard to forget lost opportunities or missteps that cause you pain, but you cannot change the past.  You can only alter your future.

Maybe you went to work today feeling out of sorts and told your boss to take a hike or something worse.  You really did not mean it, but the impression you left is likely to stick forever in the bosses mind.  You may be able to dull the impression by future stellar performances, but the boss will not forget the past confrontation.  

Perhaps, you are starting your 5th company and decided to take a different route in financing the company because you were so diluted in the last 5 companies you will never make money.  The new path you selected for company #6 did not work and you must close the business.  You based decisions on solid information, but you never revisited the decisions or pivoted to change course.  You lost another one but for different reasons.  Are you going to stop short on corrective actions on the 7th one that may be highly successful?

Sitting at home and dwelling on the losses and forgetting your successes will only make you unhappy.  Being a little discontent is ok because it makes you strive harder to succeed, but when the discontent becomes excessive it may sway your forward decisions and negatively affect your business. 

Next time you find yourself dwelling on your past mistakes try a few of these:

Focus more on your successes – Everyone has them.  People tend to forget the positive and focus on the bad.  Determine how you achieved the successes and stay positive.

Talk with someone – Friends often see your successes and forget your failings.  Discussions can help bring you back to a positive attitude.

Exercise or meditate – Often working through your problems while doing something invigorating will change your perception or help you focus on a solution.

Help someone – When you focus on your problems, you become too self-aware.  Focusing on other peoples’ problems will help you be more appreciative of what have and you may feel better by helping.

If all else fails, try to remember, “Don’t be an Ass by focusing on the past.”  Maybe it will not help, but if you remember the photo, it might make you smile!