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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Reflections After a Year in Raleigh-Durham

Posted By: George Deeb - 6/06/2018

As you know, Red Rocket opened an office in the Raleigh-Durham area a year ago.  As I was reminiscing on my life changes over the last ye...


As you know, Red Rocket opened an office in the Raleigh-Durham area a year ago.  As I was reminiscing on my life changes over the last year, I thought it would make for a good blog post for any of you looking to break into a new market, or perhaps considering a move of your own.

RALEIGH-DURHAM VS. CHICAGO, AS CITIES

  • Chicago is one of the most world-class cities, with around 9MM in the metro region, and the business community largely centralized in or near downtown Chicago.  The RDU area, in comparison has 2MM people in the metro market, geographically spread across very disparate cities (e.g., Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Cary, Morrisville).  The RDU area lacks the identity of being one central city, and the competition between the cities that comes with that.

  • The Chicago economy has a lot of challenges with Cook County and the State of Illinois near bankruptcy, with rising taxes resulting in a leaky bucket of a slowly declining population.  The Raleigh-Durham area, on the otherhand, is exploding.  The population is forecasted to approximately double to 3.5MM over the next 20 years, creating new tax revenues.  Both Amazon and Apple are giving Raleigh a serious look for adding tens of thousands of jobs in the region, with new second headquarters locations.

  • Chicago is a pretty diverse city in terms of industries served, including companies the technology, advertising, financial, retail, manufacturing, hospitality, consumer products, aerospace and other industries.  The Triangle area is very deep in technology and life sciences, as their primary industries served. And, the technology here is much more B2B facing, with a much smaller B2C community.

  • The pace of business is a lot faster in Chicago, with a bigger sense of urgency to move at light speed.  People moving to the Triangle area, often do so to create a better lifestyle.  So, a lot less late nights and rush to get things done quickly in the area.  Which can be a good thing, or a bad thing, depending on your perspective.

RALEIGH-DURHAM VS. CHICAGO, AS STARTUP ECOSYSTEMS

  • Chicago is a much more mature startup ecosystem, built over decades.  You have seen serial entrepreneurs build one successful startup after another, and reinvesting their "winnings" from their prior companies, back into the ecosystem with their next companies, spreading equity deep and creating hundreds of millionaires in the process.  Chicago has clear leadership propeling the ecosystem forward, in terms of what it wants to become in future years, and is flush with capital from investors across all stages of investment.

  • The Triangle feels like Chicago about 10-15 years ago.  It has all the ingredients to make for a successful startup ecosystem, with a lot of key players in town trying to take the region to the next level.  But, the region is desperately short on capital, and needs more funds in town to support the local startups.  And, only a handful of entrepreneurs have built unicorn scale companies, with equity largely concentrated with the founders, many of which have not reinvested their "winnings" back into the startup community.  For this reason, many of the successful startups, typically sell much earlier in their growth curve, than their Chicago counterparts, and include a lot more "first timers".

  • Both markets have world-class universities to lean on for talent and research innovation.  Chicago with greats like Northwestern and the University of Chicago. And, the Triangle with greats like Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State.

  • Both markets are equally conservative, not wanting to make mistakes with their venture capital investments.  Both markets equally unlike Silicon Valley with their "failure is a badge of honor" mindset, not afraid to swing for the fences on long shot game-changing ideas that may explode to success, or miserably flame out.

  • Chicago invests about 2x the amount of venture capital into startups than the Triangle area does each year, most of which into the technology industry.  Raleigh-Durham splits its investments between the technology and life sciences industry.  So, that means there is about 25% of the capital going into tech startups in the Triangle area, as compared to Chicago.

  • Both markets have equally warm and welcoming members of the startup ecosystem.  I had no trouble meeting about 200 key influencers in town over the last year, all willing to welcome me to the market and offer whatever assistance the could.  Just as easily as I could in Chicago.

MY PROFESSIONAL LIFE

  • I typically like to work with growth stage B2C companies.  Those basically don't exist here in any material quantity.  Many of the B2C startups that have to gotten to that point, are sold beforehand.  So, it is like looking for needle in the haystack for B2C.  But, there is plenty of B2B here to keep me busy.

  • I am loving running our newest acquisition, Restaurant Furniture Plus.  I am glad I was able to find a good business, that was not in the region, that could easily be managed virtually from here.  It is so much fun building another business of my own, in addition to my Red Rocket work.

MY PERSONAL LIFE

  • I moved to a bigger, newer home for half the price of what I was paying in Chicago.  For example, my real estate taxes dropped from $20,000 to $5,000 a year.  So, I love the cost of living advantages, for largely the same nice suburban lifestyle I left behind.

  • Our neighbors are all friendly and welcoming.  We live in the Cary area.  So, there are a lot of transplants from the north, like us.  Both regions lean liberal, politically (which is an outlier within the more broadly conservative state of North Carolina).  And, both regions are very diversified, ethnically and racially.  The people are down to earth here, and less concerned with competing for material things.

  • Because the population is growing so quickly, the schools are having a hard time keeping up with the growth, which creates overcrowded classrooms and constant redistricting as they add new schools, in many areas.  But, overall, I think the education experience is actually equal or better to what we left behind, forcing the kids to compete on a bigger stage, sooner than they normally would have, with less hand holding in the process.  We also like how much more diverse the schools are, more representative of the real world.

  • Chicago winters were so depressing--six months of grey, cold and snow.  I love the warmer climate here.  Winters rarely have high temperatures below 50 degrees and the sun is always out.  Which means I can workout outside year round.

  • The Raleigh-Durham area is surrounded by a lot of great roadtrip opportunities with the kids--two hours from the ocean, three hours from the mountains, four hours from Charleston or Washington DC, etc.  So, we are loving the close proximity to a lot more great weekend trips.  Chicago was largely an island of itself, with not much to do within a few hours of the city.


CONCLUSION
  • Both cities have so much to offer.  Chicago a world-class city, and the Triangle a world-class lifestyle.  I love both for very different reasons.  And, startups can succeed in both regions, with a supporting ecosystem.  I am very excited to see how Raleigh-Durham evolves in the coming decade as all the new people and companies move into the region.

  • Both cities are ripe with terrificly skilled people to work with, across all needs of the community (e.g., entrepreneurs, lawyers, accountants, bankers, investors, accelerators, community leaders).  So, you can't go wrong professionally or personally.  I am glad we have a presence in both markets.

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


Friday, June 1, 2018

To Find the Holy Grail of Product-Market Fit

Posted By: George Deeb - 6/01/2018

Every entrepreneur believes they have the product that is going to revolutionalize the world, worthy of venture capitalists bathing the...




Every entrepreneur believes they have the product that is going to revolutionalize the world, worthy of venture capitalists bathing them in piles of cash to achieve their dream. But, venture capitalists don’t back products; they back winning business models. And, winning business models are anchored by companies that have the potential to generate lots of revenue with easily scalable, repeatable and profitable sales and marketing strategies. And none of that will be truly determined until you successfully test and optimize your product-market fit with potential customers. This post will help you learn exactly how to do that.

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

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


Thursday, May 24, 2018

Lesson #293: Don’t Be Afraid of Hiring Former CEOs as Employees

Posted By: George Deeb - 5/24/2018

The common mistake that most entrepreneurs make when setting up their management team is filling it with people that they feel are easi...




The common mistake that most entrepreneurs make when setting up their management team is filling it with people that they feel are easier to control or won’t make them look stupid.  That typically means an older, former CEO would never get a reasonable look as a direct report into the CEO of most early stage companies.  But, is that fear justified?

WHY MOST ENTREPRENEURS TYPICALLY AVOID HIRING FORMER CEOs

First, their inferiority complex kicks in.  I don’t want a former CEO to come in and identify all my shortfallings, or tell me how to do my job.  Second, they think there must be something wrong with the candidate.  Why would a former CEO be interested in this non-CEO position?  Third, they think the former CEO likes to manage others, and won’t get his or her hands dirty rolling up their sleeves with the execution work that is required.  Or, lastly, they simply conclude that an older person, simply doesn’t have the energy to put in the work required at an early-stage startup.

WHY THAT IS THE WRONG PERSPECTIVE

My immediate reaction:  that is rubbish.  Yes, there may be some candidates that could validate the above hypotheticals.  But, in recruiting, there is never a “one size fits all” perspective, as everyone is truly different, and should be assessed on an individual basis.  Have confidence in yourself, to keep your new hire in check.  Maybe the CEO just prefers the marketing tasks, and has no problem focusing on one department.  Maybe that candidate likes getting early stage businesses off the ground, and has no problem putting in the long hours required.  Don’t forget, there is only room for one CEO in a company at a time, so when CEOs are looking to make a move, they may have no choice but looking at other executive positions if the right CEO positions are not open.

WHY PAST CEOs CAN BE GREAT HIRES

First of all, only a CEO truly understands all the different areas of the business, and how they work together.  So, for example, hiring a CTO that used to wear the CEO hat, not only understands the needs of the technology department, they also know how those needs impact financial budgets, recruiting, product marketing, etc.  So, instead of having an executive that has lived in a vacuum of one department their entire career, it can often be better to find someone that has a broader vantage point when making decisions.

Secondly, former CEOs are not threats to you, they can be material assets for you.  Your business is bound to go through uncharted waters in your growth curve.  Who better to help you navigate those waters, than someone that has been there and done that before.  So, instead of taking time to assess various routes (with  potentially wasted investment dollars), now you can confidently move much faster and waste less “experimenting dollars” in the process.

Thirdly, with lots of CEOs being a jack-of-all-trades, they are great utility players to put out fires as needed in other areas of the business, for which they were not originally hired.  Maybe your COO just quit, and he or she can fill in on that role until a new person is hired.  Or, maybe your head of HR is struggling with creating the right culture or dealing with lots of employee turnover, and this person can help share how they solved those same problems in their last company.  Former CEOs often have lots of tools in their tool box, to help you fix whatever needs fixing.

WHY YOU SHOULDN’T BE INTIMIDATED BY FORMER CEOs

Whose problem is it if you are worried about being intimidated by hiring a former CEO?  Yours!!  Hiring a former CEO doesn’t mean you are losing control.  You are still the boss!  Be confident in yourself and your decision making, just as before.  Only now, you have someone with experience in the office that can help you toss around new ideas . . . not hurt or impede your efforts.  They aren’t here to make you look stupid or take your job, they are here to help you.  And, if it doesn’t work out, you can always make a change down the road.  Remember, always hire people smarter and more experienced than you are.  If you are the smartest person in the room, you have a problem!!

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

To be clear, I am not saying there isn’t any justified merit to the entrepreneurs’ concerns raised above.  Those concerns are often very real for several candidates you will meet.  But, that doesn’t mean those concerns should prevent you from interviewing other candidates, who can impress upon you that those concerns are nothing to worry about.  And, more importantly, can impress upon you that you are hiring somebody with the proven skillsets who can help you take your business to the next level, having done exactly that, in a prior company.  So, don’t be afraid of hiring someone smarter or more experienced than yourself . . . that is the holy grail of hiring, when you can find them.

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



Saturday, May 5, 2018

5 Cheapest-to-Most-Expensive Options for Marketing at Trade Shows

Posted By: George Deeb - 5/05/2018

If you are a B2B marketer, industry trade shows are often the ideal meeting place to network with your industry peers, all in one centr...




If you are a B2B marketer, industry trade shows are often the ideal meeting place to network with your industry peers, all in one central place. So, incorporating trade shows into your marketing plans is often a terrific way to get in front of your target customers.  There are many ways to get the word out about your company at trade shows, with varying degrees of cost. Here are the top five options to consider, in order of cost, from least expense to most expensive.

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, April 25, 2018

Lesson #292: Should You Clone Yourself When Hiring?

Posted By: George Deeb - 4/25/2018

Come on, we have all thought it as entrepreneurs, at one point or another in our careers:  “I just wished I could clone myself in findin...



Come on, we have all thought it as entrepreneurs, at one point or another in our careers:  “I just wished I could clone myself in finding new employees for my business.  Nobody works harder than me.  Nobody is as smart as me.  I don’t trust anybody to make decisions or manage teams better that I do.”  Sound familiar?  But, is cloning yourself really the right solution for your hiring goals?  There are clear advantages and disadvantages of a strategy like this, so you will need to figure out if cloning yourself will help or hurt your business, based on your business’s specific needs.  Read on.

WHAT EXACTLY IS CLONING YOURSELF?

Any of you fans of the Alien movie series?  Remember in the fourth installment, Alien: Resurrection, when they manufacture a clone of Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley character 200 years after her death (from DNA samples of her blood saved in storage), to go kick some alien butt again?  It is pretty much that, only for yourself, while you are still alive, building an army of lookalike “Yous” to go kick some competitors’ butts.

HOW DOES CLONING MANIFEST ITSELF IN YOUR BUSINESS?

Your clones are typically identified by you, personally or through your direction of your HR teams, during your recruiting process.  First, through the job descriptions, with every bullet point sounding like you were actually describing yourself.  Second, through the interview process, with you assessing every candidate as “is this person exactly like me”?  And, third, through the onboarding process, with you training your new “Mini Me” (think Austin Powers), to do the job exactly the way you would do the job.

THE ADVANTAGES OF CLONING YOURSELF?

There are many good reasons to try and clone yourself during your hiring process.  Looking for another similar personality that will fit with yourself and the team culture you are trying to create.  Looking for someone with exactly your same skillsets, that you trust to do the job required and potentially replace you down the road as your succession plan.  Looking for someone who is an optimist on the prospects for your business and can cheerlead that vision to your team with the same fervor and passion that you would.  As a few examples.

THE DISADVANTAGES OF CLONING YOURSELF?

For as many reasons you think cloning yourself is a good idea, I can envision an equal number of reasons cloning yourself could actually be a bad idea.  Maybe you don’t need a “glass half full” optimist like yourself, that is going to tell you everything you want to hear.  Maybe you need a “glass half empty” realist, who will bring a sense of caution to your investment decisions.  Or, you may need a similar “A-Type Personality” to lead your sales team efforts, to help jazz up potential clients.  But, maybe a “B-Type Personality” may be a better fit to manage your more introverted team of technology developers.  Or, why hire someone with your exact same experiences or vantage point, because maybe someone else can help you better identify a better process or avoid known potential pitfalls based on their different past experiences.  As a few examples.

WHAT IS THE RIGHT PATH FOR YOUR BUSINESS?

To me, the decision whether or not to clone yourself comes down to a couple key things.  First of all, what the business needs to be successful should outweigh everything else.  Let’s say you are hiring a head of finance, and one candidate has a dream resume and a track record of proven success for the position, but perhaps the personality is not as outgoing as yourself.  But, another candidate has an okay resume, but a great personality fit.  At the end of the day, who do you trust more to “have their hands on the steering wheel of your business”?  The person that has solid experience and references, or the person that could do the job, but you would rather have a beer with?  In a perfect world, you want everything you are looking for in one candidate.  But, more times than not, you will only get 80% of what you are looking for in one candidate, and you have to be careful to prioritize what of the 20% they are missing is going to do the least damage.

Secondly, it comes down to what do you need personally.  If you did a critical assessment of yourself, are you sure you really need a bunch of “Yous” running around the office.  What do people say about you in your employee reviews from your peers?  Are you creating more chaos than calm?  Are you pulling the company in different directions all the time, without a clear focus?  Maybe what you really need is the opposite of yourself.  You need your Anti-Me to help keep yourself organized, on plan and in check.  It really comes down to what you see as your personal strengths and weaknesses, and filling in any voids in your skillsets.  And, better yet, maybe it is less what you think about yourself, and more what your team thinks about you.  So, man up, ask the tough questions, and get honest feedback from your peers, when needed.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

I have tried to present both the plusses and minuses of cloning yourself in your business, and gave examples of when to do it, when not to do it.  But, if you forced me to side one way or the other on this topic, with all other things being equal, if you can find people that share your same passion, vision, energy, work ethic and skillset, good things should surely follow.  But, if you can’t find more “Yous”, that can be perfectly fine too, as greatness comes in many different shapes and sizes, and having new ideas and fresh perspectives can be equally invigorating for your business.


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



Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Lesson #291: Properly Classify 1099 Contractors vs. W-2 Employees to Avoid Legal Troubles

Posted By: George Deeb - 4/17/2018

Back in Lesson #30, we talked about when it is appropriate to hire employees vs. contractors .  But, often times, small businesses try ...




Back in Lesson #30, we talked about when it is appropriate to hire employees vs. contractors.  But, often times, small businesses try to permanently take the contractor path instead of hiring employees, to try to permanently avoid paying employee benefits and payroll taxes.  That can get you into a lot of trouble.  This post will help you know when staff members will legally be classified as employees vs. contractors in the eyes of the IRS, to help you avoid costly penalities down the road.  To help me with this post, I solicited the input of Maria O. Hart, a member of the employment litigation, trials, and appeals practice group at Parsons Behle & Latimer.

For most small businesses, labor is the biggest line item on their P&L statement — and it can be a vicious circle of needing employees but not being able to afford them. These businesses need employees to scale (and, in some cases, survive), but the true cost of an employee can push even the lowest paid workers off the budget. When that happens, business owners turn to 1099 contractors to fill in the blanks. But expecting these contractors (workers who aren’t entitled to the same benefits as full-time employees) to act as employees, and be treated as such, could result in a major Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) violation or, at the very least, some substantial tax fraud accusations.

So, how can you comply with federal labor laws? It starts with knowing the difference between 1099 contractors and W-2 employees. It’s not black and white, but there are a few ways to determine a worker’s correct classification, as you can read at this link at the IRS website and the summary chart below from Law Gives:



 Ask yourself, do they work on site? Do you control their schedule? Do they use the company’s tools and equipment to get their job done? Do you discourage or prohibit them from taking on more jobs or other jobs in your niche or industry? Do they work more than 30 hours per week? If you answered yes to one or more of the above questions, you might need to consider that contractor a full-blown employee.

Misclassifying an employee as a 1099 contractor could land you in some hot water with the U.S. Department of Labor, or you may find yourself defending against an FLSA lawsuit from an unhappy employee or contractor — after all, misclassification lawsuits are on the rise. That’s because the line between employee and contractor is blurrier than ever. More and more workers are able to work remotely using their own devices and equipment. It’s a technological loophole the FLSA’s creators couldn’t have imagined when they drafted the statute in 1938 — and more business owners are falling prey to this deadly sin.

Avoid a potentially catastrophic lawsuit by classifying your workers correctly from the start and reclassifying them as needed. Know what your workers are doing and how they’re doing they’re assigned duties. Circle back frequently and perform annual audits to ensure everyone is classified as they should be. When in doubt, put yourself in their shoes. Would you feel taken advantage of if you were in their situation? And, of course, always check with your attorney or employment counsel.  Because if you don't, the price could be steep, including penalty payments plus unpaid past taxes all coming due obligations of the business and its owners (even if they think they are protected from limited liability company structures).

Thanks again, Maria, for your help with this post.  If you have any further questions on this topic, feel free to reach out to Maria at  208-562-4893 or mhart@ parsonsbehle .com.

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


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