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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Lesson #274: Do You Need a RE-Founder for Your Business?

Posted By: George Deeb - 9/19/2017

Oftentimes, startup entrepreneurs are simply too close to their businesses to get a clear, non-biased look at what may be holding them b...



Oftentimes, startup entrepreneurs are simply too close to their businesses to get a clear, non-biased look at what may be holding them back from ultimate success.  Maybe they lack the required skills or business experience required to identify or correct problems inside their product, process or team.  And, more often that not, as a new entrepreneur  “you just don’t know, what you don’t know”.  And, when the problems become material enough that it could potentially put the company out of business, maybe it is time to hire what I call a RE-founder for your company, to help put it back on the right course.

WHAT IS A RE-FOUNDER?

Everyone knows what a founder or co-founder of a company is; it is the person or persons who formed the business in the very beginning of the company.  It was often their business idea that they birthed from a piece of paper, into an up-and-running product and business.  Think what Mark Zuckerberg is to Facebook or Jeff Bezos is to Amazon or Bill Gates is to Microsoft.

But, nine times out of ten, a startup is not successful in achieving mass customer adoption of their product or service.  And, then, they have to make some important decisions?  Is the problem so bad they need to close up shop?  Or, they need to reset their sights from building a big venture-backed company, to only building a small lifestyle business?  Or, they potentially need to get a new strategy and leadership to pivot the company into a different direction that has a higher odds of seeing scalable success.

It is this last route where I am suggesting you need to hire a RE-founder of the company.  The RE-founder will be responsible for doing a critically-needed and non-biased strategic planning process, to thoroughly understand the company’s core strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.  And, then they will produce a 3-5 year long term vision and action plan for which the company to follow in hopefully pivoting the business to new heights.

WHERE TO FIND A RE-FOUNDER

In terms of how best to find a RE-Founder for your business, the process is quite similar to the Where to Find a Co-Founder process I wrote in the past.  The only differences this time around: (1) you are looking for more of a turnaround expert to help you solve your known pain points; and (2) you are looking to reinvent an existing business, including any or all of the people, product or process.  So, instead of starting with a clean piece of paper, you have to rework what you have.  Which is more like building a foundation and framing for a new 4,000 square foot two-story single family home, and having to re-architect it to a 4,000 square foot four-family apartment building.  You need someone that is good with implementing change within the organization.

HOW TO WORK WITH THE RE-FOUNDER

As the company’s founder, taking on a RE-Founder will require a material shift in the way you have been operating to date.  Now, you need to be prepared to get in the “back seat” and go along for the ride.  Don’t weigh down the newcomer with legacy thinking or sacred cows—let them do the job you are engaging them to do, to fix the business.  This will be a really hard, but necessary, process for most entrepreneurs who like to control every aspect of their business.  But, you need to be honest with yourself—there is a reason the business is struggling, and you will most likely have a better outcome (and equity value) if you simply get out of the way of the new expert.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I have previously written about the importance of failing fast as a startup, so you don’t waste a lot of unnecessary capital.  I guess what I am suggesting in this post is once you have hit that fail point on your own, you now have a second option to consider.  Instead of simply shuttering the doors, maybe it is as simple as handing the keys off to a different proven executive to take a crack at fixing your business before you close it down.  You can never underestimate the importance of leveraging a fresh set of eyes, as the potentially perfect prescription to your woes.

So, after a critical assessment of your business, do you think you need a RE-Founder for your business?  If so, let’s do this thing, as time is clearly of the essence.


For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.



Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Don't Start Marketing Until You Are Ready

Posted By: George Deeb - 9/12/2017

A solid marketing plan is crucial to support growth as you're scaling a company . But how do you know when you should flip the marke...



A solid marketing plan is crucial to support growth as you're scaling a company. But how do you know when you should flip the marketing switch and go live?  The answer is pretty intuitive: not until you're ready. The secret is knowing what that means for your business model, internal processes and external branding. Read on.

Read the rest of this post in Entrepreneur, which I guest authored this week.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The 9 Types of Leadership

Posted By: George Deeb - 9/06/2017

I recently read a great book called The 9 Types of Leadership , written by Beatrice Chestnut, an authority on the topic of leadership.  ...



I recently read a great book called The 9 Types of Leadership, written by Beatrice Chestnut, an authority on the topic of leadership.  Below is a summary of those 9 leadership styles, including some thoughts thereon.  After you are done reading this list, figure out what type of leader you are, and what strengths and weaknesses that brings to your business.  I can see elements of each of these nine types in my own leadership style, so it is not necessarily "one size fits all".  But, if I was forced to pick only one, I am a Type Seven.  Why type are you?

Read the rest of this post here.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.



Lesson #273: Benchmarking SaaS Financial Metrics

Posted By: George Deeb - 9/06/2017

My colleagues at River Cities Capital Funds , a Cincinnati and Raleigh based growth-stage venture capital fund with deep expertise in th...



My colleagues at River Cities Capital Funds, a Cincinnati and Raleigh based growth-stage venture capital fund with deep expertise in the SaaS technology industry, has recently published a terrific new report with a treasure trove of operating and valuation benchmarking data in the SaaS space.  The report was based on studying the financial reports of 92 publicly-traded SaaS companies, to see how those companies grew over time.  For purposes of this blog post, I focused on the operating metrics only, to help give earlier stage entrepreneurs a blueprint on how to grow their businesses.

THE KEY DATA

To simplify reading the full 30 page report, I curated the most-relevant median financial metrics for the 92 companies studied into the below chart.


Now, you have a better understanding of what it takes to plan and budget for your own SaaS business, along every step of the revenue curve.  Especially, if you are venture capital backed, or plan to go head-to-head against other venture capital backed companies (and the deep pockets they will have in shooting bullets in your direction).

LEARNINGS FROM THE DATA

Growth:  Buckle your seat belts, and get ready for a wild ride.  These companies were averaging some pretty fast 40-50% growth rates, over time.  It only took these 92 companies an average of 6 years to grow from under $5MM in revenues to over $100MM in revenues. And, while growth is exciting, it sure brings a lot of headaches when trying to scale your business and processes along the way.  So, plan ahead.

Gross Margin:  I was surprised the 60-70% gross margins were as low as they were here.  You hear about how much venture capitalists like the SaaS space because of their high margins, but that is much harder to see in the above chart.  So, if you were planning to strike it rich with 80-90% margins, think again, as it looks like prices are coming down.

Sales & Marketing Investment:  In order to get to their first $1MM in revenues, they needed to invest $1.5MM in sales and marketing, on average.  To get to their first $1MM in gross profit, they needed to invest $2.4MM in sales and marketing, on average.  Hopefully, you have raised enough capital to put enough sales and marketing muscle behind your business, and fund these startup losses.  The investment here is material in the 40-50% range, and maintains itself at very high levels over time, resulting in almost a two year payback period!!  Don't forget to read this post on metrics specifically related to SaaS sales team metrics, for deeper-level benchmarks.

R&D and Capex:  Don't think you build a product and you are done with it.  These companies are plowing in tons of monies into improving their products over time.  Think 25% of revenues long term, and that takes a lot of capital backing in the absence of material profits.

EBITDA:  I understand that investing in long term growth requires a material investment, often resulting in near term losses.  But, I was surprised how long the losses continue, over many years.  These companies didn't really break even until they got to $75MM in revenues, on average.  And, even then, the bottom line profits were not all that exciting, at 4% of sales.  Yes, I know, the numbers will look a lot better at $200MM in revenues, than they do at $100MM in revenues, but that is a really a long time to have investors wait for a meaningful return on their investment.

Valuation:  Think about this--a $100MM revenue SaaS business is worth $380MM at the 3.8x average multiplier cited in the report, which means it is trading at a whopping 95x cash flow.  I'm sorry, I just don't see the logic in that.  There are tons of other cash-generating businesses you can buy for a lot less money, and actually have a lot more to show for it. So, buyer beware!

Thanks again to the River Cities team to putting all that hard work into their research report.  Now we all can benefit from it, in terms of modeling our own SaaS businesses.


For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.



Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Raleigh-Durham's Best Lawyers for Startups

Posted By: George Deeb - 8/29/2017

Getting a good startup lawyer right from the beginning, can often be the difference between "off to the races" and "oops,...



Getting a good startup lawyer right from the beginning, can often be the difference between "off to the races" and "oops, why didn't we think of that before".  Picking a good lawyer often revolves around their expertise with startups, expertise in your industry, expertise for your specific project, bench strength of their firm, affordability, references and personality fit with your organization.  So, speak with several, to assess who is best for your business and liking, before making your decision.

There are several worthy full-service lawyers in the Raleigh-Durham area, with deep expertise in serving the startup community.  Below is a list of some of my favorites (in alphabetical order of law firm name), having met with most of them.  You will be well-served by any of their counsel.

Neil Bagchi at Bagchi Law
Location:  Chapel Hill

Online Bio:  http://bagchilaw.com/team/
Contact:  (919) 537-8159 or neil@ bagchilaw .com
Firm Size: 5 attorneys ($)
Industries:  technology and life sciences

Involvement:  CED, Idea Fund

James Forrest at Forrest Firm
Location:  Chapel Hill, Raleigh, and Durham
Online Bio:  http://forrestfirm.com/people/james-r-forrest/
Contact:  919.267.1646 or james@ forrestfirm .com
Firm Size: 20 attorneys ($$)
Industries:  technology and life sciences


Jesse Jones at Fourscore Business Law 
Location:  Raleigh
Online Bio:  https://fourscorelaw.com/team/
Contact: 919-307-5356 or jesse@ fourscorelaw .com
Firm Size: 2 attorneys ($)
Industries:  technology and life sciences


Fred Hutchison or Justyn Kasierski at Hutchison PLLC
Location:  Raleigh
Fred's Online Bio: http://www.hutchlaw.com/people/attorneys/fred-d-hutchison
Justyn's Online Bio: http://www.hutchlaw.com/people/attorneys/justyn-j-kasierski 
Fred's Contact:  919.829.4300 or fhutchison@ hutchlaw .com 
Justyn's Contact:  919.829.4337 or jkasierski@ hutchlaw .com
Firm Size: 21 attorneys ($$)
Industries:  technology and life sciences

Involvement:  CED, First Flight, NC IDEA, UNC, NC State, Duke, Launch Chapel Hill, Triangle TechBreakfast, HQ Community, LaunchBio/BioLabs NC

Randy Whitmeyer at Morningstar Law Group
Location:  Raleigh
Online Bio:  http://morningstarlawgroup.com/author/rwhitmeyer/
Contact:  919-590-0369 or rwhitmeyer@ morningstarlawgroup .com
Firm Size: 26 attorneys ($$)
Industries:  technology and life sciences

Involvement:  UNC, Raleigh Chamber, CED, NCTA

Glen Caplan or John Fogg at Robinson Bradshaw
Location:  Chapel Hill and Durham
Glen's Online Bio:  http://www.robinsonbradshaw.com/professionals-Glen-Caplan.html
John's Online Bio:  http://www.robinsonbradshaw.com/professionals-John-Fogg.html
Glen's Contact:  (919) 328-8807 or gcaplan@ robinsonbradshaw .com
John's Contact:  
(919) 328-8806 or jfogg@ robinsonbradshaw .com
Firm Size: 130 attorneys ($$$$)
Industries:  technology and life sciences
Involvement:  CED, Duke, UNC, NC State, Exit Event & Groundwork Labs

Some Clients:  Dude Solutions, Automated Insights, Distil Networks, Validic, WedPics, IDEA Fund, Cofounders Capital, Sony Ericsson, Digitalsmiths, Cloupia, ExtraOrtho, Bull City Ventures, River Cities, RTI, Inlet Technologies, Get Spiffy, Filter Easy and Valencell.
Other:  Glen and John both have past experience working in Silicon Valley for Wilson Sonsini (Glen) and DLA Piper (John).

Merrill Mason at Smith Anderson
Location:  Raleigh
Online Bio:  http://www.smithlaw.com/professionals-Merrill-Mason
Contact:  (919) 821-6733 or mmason@ smithlaw .com
Firm Size: 81 attorneys ($$$)
Industries:  technology and life sciences

Involvement:  UNC, TAP, Idea Fund, CED

Jim Verdonik or Benji Taylor Jones at Ward & Smith
Location:  Raleigh
Jim's Online Bio:  http://www.wardandsmith.com/attorneys/james-verdonik
Benji's Online Bio:  http://www.wardandsmith.com/attorneys/benji-jones
Jim's Contact:  (919) 277-9188 or  jfv@ wardandsmith .com
Benji's Contact:  (919) 277-9142 or btjones@ wardandsmith .com
Firm Size: 95 attorneys ($$$)
Industries:  technology and life sciences

Involvement:  CED, Raleigh Chamber, NCTA, Duke
Other:  Jim wrote the book on crowdfunding.

Rob Tyler at Williams Mullen
Location:  Raleigh
Online Bio:  http://www.williamsmullen.com/people/j-robert-rob-tyler-iii
Contact:  (919) 981-4085 or robtyler@ williamsmullen .com
Firm Size: 230 attorneys ($$$$)

Industries:  technology and life sciences 
Involvement:  CED, NC Idea, NC State

Larry Robbins or Chris Lynch at Wyrick Robbins
Location:  Raleigh and Durham
Larry's Online Bio:  http://www.wyrick.com/our-people/larry-e-robbins
Chris's Online Bio:  http://www.wyrick.com/our-people/j-christopher-lynch
Larry's Contact:  (919) 865-2800 or lrobbins@ wyrick .com
Chris's Contact:  
(919) 865-2807 or clynch@ wyrick .com
Firm Size: 90 attorneys ($$$, but flexible for lower budgets)
Industries:  technology and life sciences

Involvement:  CED, BB&T, NCTA
Other:  Chris is a former Silicon Valley lawyer with Wilson Sonsini and Harvard Law grad.


If you think I am missing anybody, or think you should be included in this discussion, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments field below.

For future posts, please follow me at:  @georgedeeb.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Lesson #272: Do You Bet on the Jockey or the Horse

Posted By: George Deeb - 8/14/2017

Secretariat Wins the Triple Crown in 1973, with Ron Turcotte as Jockey There have been several articles written that talk about how ve...

Secretariat Wins the Triple Crown in 1973, with Ron Turcotte as Jockey

There have been several articles written that talk about how venture capital investors prefer to bet on the jockey (the entrepreneur), over the horse (the startup idea).  As I have often said, I would much rather invest in an A+ team with a B+ idea, than a B+ Team with an A+ idea.  So, I agree with this premise of the jockey being more important than the horse, usually.  This post will tell you when one outweighs the other.

WHEN THE HORSE OUTSHINES THE JOCKEY

Unless the idea is a material one in the first place (e.g., it has a chance to become a billion dollar business), why waste your time when shooting for VC types of returns.  Said another way, would you rather invest in Jeff Bezos, one of my entrepreneurial heroes, building a white water rafting business in the arid Sahara Desert, or me, a proven serial entrepreneur (albeit a fraction the talent of Jeff Bezos) trying to build a next-generation artificial intelligence technology disrupting a $200BN industry?  The former has very little prospect for driving material revenues, and the latter could become the next unicorn size startup, so a relatively easy decision.

So, there is an inflection point, where the idea is worth betting on, more than the entrepreneur.  But, the reality is, a smart venture investor would try to convince me that I am not nearly as qualified as someone like Jeff Bezos to actually pull off this grandiose vision, and to have me hand him the reins to take my business to meteoric heights.  Which I may or may not do, depending how confident I was in my own abilities vs. the equity value upside I could realize from getting someone like Jeff Bezos in charge.

Which is exactly my point of this piece.  It is not the jockey OR the horse.  It is the jockey AND the horse.  That is how to build terrific venture returns—with A+ teams building A+ ideas.  And, whatever you can do to make that happen, is the Holy Grail of venture investing.

SOME INSIGHTS FROM HORSE RACING

As a little fun, to help me further illustrate this point, I took a look at some horse racing data to see if I could glean some insights on this topic.  First, I looked at the last four Triple Crown winning horses: Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), Affirmed (1978) and American Pharoah (2015).  And, compared them to a typical Top 100 winning race horse in 2016.  The data was pretty incredible—the Triple Crown winners won their races 79% of the time (compared to the Top 100 that won 48% time).  That is a pretty good argument for the horse.

Then, I looked at the last four Triple Crown winning jockeys:  Ron Turcotte (1973), Jean Cruguet (1977), Steve Cauthen (1978) and Victor Espinoza (2015).  And, compared them to a typical Top 100 jockey in 2016.  I was surprised to see the Triple Crown jockeys won 15% of the time, a little less than the Top 100 jockeys who won 16% of the time.  That basically suggested, the jockey didn’t matter at all, as long as they were a good one.  Said another way, any of the Top 100 jockeys could have lead any of the Triple Crown horses to their wins.  Another data point speaking to the importance of the horse.

But, as an entrepreneurial leader rooting for the jockey, that left me unsatisfied, so I dug a little deeper.  There I learned, Steve Cauthen’s better than average 19% win rate (twenty percent better than the average Top 100 jockey win rate of 16%), could have been a major contributor to Affirmed’s Triple Crown win—as the horse’s 76% win rate was below the 80% win rate of the other Triple Crown winning horses.  A good argument for the jockey taking a great horse, and making him even better.

Until I learned, Jean Cruguet only won 12% of his races, far behind the 16% average of the Top 100 jockeys.  But, Seattle Slew, the horse he lead to a Triple Crown, had won 82% of his races, in excess of the 78% average win rate for the three other Triple Crown winning horses.  Chalk one up for the horse, making a jockey look better than he really was.

WHAT IS THE POINT OF ALL OF THIS?

Based on the above examples, from both the business world and the horse racing world, there are times where the jockey is more important and there are other times where the horse is more important for driving success.  With all other things being equal, always bet on the jockey to take a good idea and make it better.  But, when the idea is so big, you have no choice but to bet on it, assuming a competent leader is in charge.  But, if need be, upgrade an average entrepreneur for a proven winner, and that will be like putting gravy on top of your turkey dinner (one that is guaranteed to fully cook and taste great in the end).

A key lesson here for most of you entrepreneurs: lose the ego and the pride of feeling you are the only person who can build your startup, as your personal equity value from your big idea could become worth materially more money in somebody else’s hands.  Separate your CEO hat from your Chairman hat, and figure out what would truly be best for your shareholders (of which you are presumably the largest).

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.


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