The 4 Brutal Questions

As requested, here are the 4 Brutal Questions I spoke about on BNN's The Pitch.  These four questions are taken from Warren Buffet: he uses these points to analyze any business in order to see if it will be profitable over the long term, making it an attractive investment. This list is very useful for the start-up right up to the mature owner-operated business looking for private equity. As adapted from Money Magnet: How to Attract Investors to Your Business. (Now available in Kindle too). The 4 Brutal Questions:
  1. Are you the right people to make this happen? While there is a place for planning, successful businesses rely on the execution. The teams most likely to attract money will be those that demonstrate they will roll up their sleeves, get on with the unglamorous grunt work of operating plans and do things just a little bit better. Anyone new to running a company who has a good idea and now wants funding, probably will not get the money, no matter how smooth they appear. No one, except your mom, is going to fund your learning curve.
  2. What is the investment opportunity? Next up, once you have jumped the people hurdle, it's the investment opportunity. Is there a real business? Are there people digging into their wallets to pay for what you produce? What is going to bring in beaucoup cash? as the French say. To illustrate the business, begin by defining your company around the customer and theirpain. Then position your company to solve that problem. Remember to do the math, because your investors will.
  3. Is it sustainable? Do you have a unique and sustainable competitive advantage? If your intellectual property or technology is similar to what's already in the market, that will pop the profit balloon.

    Demonstrate that customers will reach out to your basket of goodies, pushing aside the competitor's basket each and every time. Your competitive advantage is the cornerstone of your presentation. But be prepared to identify the risks. What could be the worst thing competitors could do over the next two years? If you are vague on the answers, do not start the conversation.
  4. What's the return on investment? If you've gotten through the first three questions, investors are ready to get serious and decide if they are going to give you the money. Do not make the mistake of going with your story and expecting them to figure out the amount of money you need and how you are going to pay them back. To get the chequebooks flipping open, you will have to prove three things:
  • What is the growth rate to make the business worth backing? 
  • What is the return on investment? This depends on company size, but can range from 8% to 25% to 40% plus.
  • How will your investor get out his money (exit) within his desired time frame? Demonstrate that you get the importance of an exit plan for the investor

The Pitch - Business News Network with Andrew Bell

Business owners looking for capital should look for the Business News Network's new weekly show on Wednesdays called “The Pitch”, hosted by the positive Andrew Bell. I was on this past week and was impressed with the courage of these business owners to pitch. Here were the two companies both seeking under $2M in capital.
  • First up was Gary McCone, President & CEO, Preo Software, who discussed his software management system, which helps large companies save money and trees by printing less. It is a public company and has signedon some big name clients.
  • Then there was Marcus Anderson, President, Broadplay, who has a mobile marketing and application development company looking to expand vertically and geographically.
Each firm is looking for between $750k and $1 million.

5 Factors to Make You Happy


Keeping yourself motivated for business is critical. Does your personal happiness levels have an impact on your company's performance. It seems logical that happiness and motivation go hand in hand. But business people are struggling along and it is very 1982 right now. Is happiness also elusive? You may have heard about The Happiness Project best seller helping people maximize their own joy, and hopefully those around them too - Tiger Woods had his own Happiness Project and we know how that impacted on his family...
Researching how to get happy, expert Gretchen Rubin, writes:
I recently read the very interesting collection, C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters. In 1960, Jung was interviewed by journalist Gordon Young, who asked, "What do you consider to be more or less basic factors making for happiness in the human mind?" Jung answered:
 "1. Good physical and mental health.
2. Good personal and intimate relationships, such as those of marriage, the family, and friendships.
3. The faculty for perceiving beauty in art and nature.
4. Reasonable standards of living and satisfactory work.
5. A philosophic or religious point of view capable of coping successfully with the vicissitudes of life."
Jung also added, “All factors which are generally assumed to make for happiness can, under certain circumstances, produce the contrary. No matter how ideal your situation may be, it does not necessarily guarantee happiness.”

10 Steps to Get Your Staff Ready for A New Hire

With a new hire, the people within the company may get their feathers ruffled by not being involved early enough. Managers are busy and sometimes it is easier at the time not to bother with managing the human emotions of new hires. I was reminded by Jocelyn Cossar, an expert in managing change, of the importance of getting organized and it really takes such a small amount of time with big pay-offs. Cossar gives The 10 Steps For Good Change. These were appreciated by my client, and I asked Jocelyn if I could share her process:
"Many have said, although sometimes hard to believe, that change is a good thing. We all know that employees resist change because they feel they stand to lose once the change goes through.  A good approach to resistance to change is to see it as an opportunity for engagement. Below you will find a step-by-step guide to change management."
  1.  Consult with employees during the decision-making stage
  2. Discuss with employees the reasons for the change
  3. Ask for feedback on the proposed change
  4. Clarify everyone's role in the change process
  5. Involve employees in the implementation strategy
  6. Develop a timeline on specific actions of implementation
  7. Determine the priority of actions
  8. Provide training on new systems or procedures
  9. Review the progress of the change
  10. Maintain open lines of communication
Jocelyne Cossar, CHRP
HR ON DEMAND
office: 905.582.4379
mobile: 416.333.7081

10 Steps to Get Your Staff Ready for New Hire

With a new hire, the people within the company may get their feathers ruffled by not being involved enough. I was reminded by Jocelyn Cossar, an expert in managing change, the importance of getting organized and who gave Human Resource input about the 10 steps I needed to get in place. These were appreciated by the client and I asked Jocelyn if I could share her process:
"Many have said, although sometimes hard to believe, that change is a good thing. We all know that employees resist change because they feel they stand to lose once the change goes through.  A good approach to resistance to change is to see it as an opportunity for engagement. Below you will find a step-by-step guide to change management."
  1.  Consult with employees during the decision-making stage
  2. Discuss with employees the reasons for the change
  3. Ask for feedback on the proposed change
  4. Clarify everyone's role in the change process
  5. Involve employees in the implementation strategy
  6. Develop a timeline on specific actions of implementation
  7. Determine the priority of actions
  8. Provide training on new systems or procedures
  9. Review the progress of the change
  10. Maintain open lines of communication
Jocelyne Cossar, CHRP
HR ON DEMAND
office: 905.582.4379
mobile: 416.333.7081

What Extras Helped Those Who Rose to Leadership?

Why take the time to meet new people and introduce them to others in your network?
High achievers don't turn into leaders, even if they seem to have the right skills, without the power that comes from going beyond the letter of the job and doing what Harvard Business School professor, Moss Kanter, calls "The Extras". 
One that caught my eye is  being a connector. Malcolm Gladwell explored this skill set in his best seller, Blink, and explains why it makes such a huge difference in rising up the business ladder of influence and success. Here's Moss Kanter's comment on being a connector:
Opening doors. Power to the connectors! Those who rise to leadership keep their virtual Rolodex rolling. They know enough about others to spot something of interest to them and pass it on, opening doors or making key introductions. In the new networked companies, connectors are the go-to people, the must-haves at meetings. The effects are viral. The more they connect, the more connections come to them.

5 Thoughts to Help Entrepreneurs

Why are the big AHAs of entrepreneurs who kept it going so meaningful? When this recession hit like Hurrican Katrina, we all need voices ahead of us to keep us going. Here is a great list of 5 quotes by Om Malik.
As an entrepreneur, one gets to get too preoccupied with the tactical stuff on a daily basis. So much so that we miss the big picture. In many ways, that is the single biggest mistake we make. When thinking about the big picture, we need to remember a few things. Here is a short list of some of the words of wisdom that have been helpful to me in the recent few weeks. 

4 Leaders every team needs

Owners of companies can be very touchy at being boxed or labelled, yet since Aristotle, humans have been put into 4 categories. Here is Paul Maritz, president and C.E.O. of the software firm VMware, a former leader of 10,000 people at IBM chatting about his 4 types he wants on all the teams he manages.
I think that in any great leadership team, you find at least four personalities, and you never find all four of those personalities in a single person.
You need to have somebody who is a strategist or visionary, who sets the goals for where the organization needs to go.
You need to have somebody who is the classic manager — somebody who takes care of the organization, in terms of making sure that everybody knows what they need to do and making sure that tasks are broken up into manageable actions and how they’re going to be measured.
You need a champion for the customer, because you are trying to translate your product into something that customers are going to pay for. So it’s important to have somebody who empathizes and understands how customers will see it. I’ve seen many endeavors fail because people weren’t able to connect the strategy to the way the customers would see the issue.
Then, lastly, you need the enforcer. You need somebody who says: “We’ve stared at this issue long enough. We’re not going to stare at it anymore. We’re going to do something about it. We’re going to make a decision. We’re going to deal with whatever conflict we have.”
You very rarely find more than two of those personalities in one person. I’ve never seen it. And really great teams are where you have a group of people who provide those functions and who respect each other and, equally importantly, both know who they are and who they are not. Often, I’ve seen people get into trouble when they think they’re the strategist and they’re not, or they think they’re the decision maker and they’re not.

Letter of Intent Sample That Watches for Bear Traps

The Letter of Intent for Merger and Acquisitions is a document between a purchaser and a seller used to outline the initial terms of a merger and acquisition transaction between two companies. The Letter of Intent Sample details the purchase of stock, price, closing date, etc. and often helps streamline negotiations when the transaction is complex. This document is essential for protecting your interests during negotiations.

Private equity accessing debt again

Private equity is using debt again. While it is harder to get a home loan or small business loan, large companies and private equity, established players can access cheap bank debt. The US is showing how with its large players - Carlyle and Blackstone. There is a radically different view by each of these giants, but I believe that shows the health of PE and its ability to bring different views to their business. Take a look:

Blackstone, in reporting a 23 percent jump in third-quarter earnings, said it had found the market to buy out companies unappetizing. “There are some good companies being sold, but we just can’t get to the prices that are required,” Hamilton E. James, the company’s president, said Thursday morning.
Carlyle, though, is gobbling up companies. Not long after Mr. James’s bearish comments, Carlyle announced a $2.6 billion deal for Syniverse Technologies, a voice and data services provider for telecommunications companies. On Wednesday, it completed a $3 billion takeover of CommScope, a maker of telecommunications equipment.
The divergent approaches highlight how cheap corporate debt is fueling the recovery of the private equity business. While it remains difficult to get a mortgage to buy a home or to get a loan to fund a small business, yield-starved investors are creating a robust market for corporate bonds and loans.
Private equity firms are seizing upon the corporate-debt boom in myriad ways. For the debt-heavy companies they already own, Blackstone and Carlyle are improving their balance sheets through aggressive refinancing. Corporate loans are now available to do multibillion-dollar buyouts, too, but the easy lending environment has created fierce competition for takeover targets, driving up prices. The corporate loan market “is almost hard to believe,” Mr. James of Blackstone said.
Private equity’s outlook is certainly brighter today than it was one year ago. Buyout firms have made $173 billion worth of deals this year, up 95 percent from last year, according to data from Thomson Reuters.
Blackstone, co-founded by Stephen A. Schwarzman, may be reluctant to do deals at the moment, but its earnings report underscored just how favorable the environment has become. The New York-based firm, with $119 billion in assets under management, said its third-quarter profits were bolstered by sharp increases in the value of its real estate holdings.

Public companies have become enslaved

Top Silicon Valley player, Gordon Davidson, says that tech companies should drop the IPO goal and focus on private equity and staying as a private business. Davidson is the lawyer behind the mega deals of the past so his views are important to note. Let's look at his reasoning:

The soft-spoken Davidson, chairman of powerhouse law firm Fenwick & West, has had a hand in more than 100 mergers and acquisitions and some 30 initial public offerings — most of them in tech. He's also a lawyer for Cisco Systems, venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and others.
So it's a bit shocking to hear him downplay the importance of tech IPOs today. For proof, he cites Facebook, Zynga, TwitterYelp and others: None is in a particular hurry to sell shares via the stock market.
"Good companies can go public in any market," Davidson says. "Today, it is easier to be a private company than a public one." Public companies "have become enslaved by the expectations of analysts and shareholders," he says.
Those forestalling public offerings are older, better-known companies that have yet to be enticed by a recent uptick in tech IPOs. For older start-ups, a new breed of private-equity investments are an attractive substitute, especially in the face of the weak advertising market that so many social-media companies depend on for revenue.
Such investments in late-stage start-ups such as 6-year-old Facebook, nicknamed "DST deals" — after Russian investment firm Digital Sky Technologies, which started the trend by funneling tens of millions into Facebook and Zynga — are a recent phenomenon. The money goes to buying shares owned by employees or early investors.
The strategy has been accentuated by several crosscurrents: the lingering effects of the worst bear market since the Great Depression; readily available private equity, in the form of investments by firms such as Andreessen Horowitz and DST; and the costs of complying with public company regulations such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act,which established new standards for boards, management and accounting firms following accounting scandals at EnronWorldCom and others.
"It is undeniably harder to be public today than 20 years ago," says Bill Gurley, a partner at venture-capital firm Benchmark Capital.

Consumer spending data is misleading for Canada

With Canada's GST and HST, Economist Michael Mandel's article Consumer Spending is *Not* 70% of GDP may not completely apply. Mandel does go through why shopping is not the be-all and end-all, he also explains the apparent discrepancy between retail sales and consumer spending. Let's take a look.
I opened up this morning’s NYT and see the big headline “Retailers See Slowing Sales in a Key Season.” And I just know that we are about to have another round of “consumer spending is 70% of gross domestic product, so blah blah blah blah of course we can’t recover unless consumers start spending again.” (Not in the NYT story, to their credit, but you can find similar quotes everywhere you look).

Blah blah indeed. As a textbook author, there are few things that frost me more than hearing “consumer spending is 70% of gross domestic product,” because it perpetuates two very large and very misleading untruths.

First, the category of “personal consumption expenditures” includes pretty much all of the $2.5 trillion healthcare spending, including the roughly half which comes via government. When Medicare writes a check for your mom’s knee replacement, that gets counted as consumer spending in the GDP stats.

At a time when we are wrangling over health care reform, it’s misleading to say that “consumer spending is 70% of GDP”, when what we really mean is that “consumer spending plus government health care spending is 70% of GDP.”

Second, an awful lot of those back-to-school dollars are going to imported clothing and school supplies (how many of those laptops and iPods do you think are made in the U.S.?). A dollar of consumer spending does not translate into a dollar of domestic production.

In fact, the whole way that the BEA presents the GDP statistics points the public debate in the wrong direction. GDP stands for “gross domestic product”—that is, domestic production. But the breakdown of GDP is into expenditures categories—personal consumption expenditures, government consumption expenditures, etc.

I think we need to move towards presenting GDP in terms of production, rather than spending. We need a shift from the consumer to the producer as our main unit of analysis.

But for now, we need to stop being so darned obsessed with consumer spending.