Archive for April, 2018

Calling UK Entrepreneurs

Monday, April 30th, 2018

 

I am a current judge of “The Inflexion Entrepreneur of the Year Award”, one of 16 categories, at the Lloyd’s Bank UK National Business Awards, which was a great success last year. Would you, your clients, your investee companies or acquaintances have a use for participating in one of the categories, and hopefully, winning this year? If so, who should I address this to? The immediate deadline for submissions is 1st June, 2018. I’d be happy to offer some friendly guidance on the submission/judging process and the “value” they might reasonably walk away with.

Leadership Trumps Innovation

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

Back in 2014, HSBC triumphantly announced a dedicated pool of $200 million to fund an innovation team and direct capital to young entrepreneurial fintech businesses. It has made some small bets in the intervening years and housed 3,000 digital techies in a separate London building because in the words of then CEO-Stuart Gulliver “we have a cultural issue.” Yet these actions masquerade a more profound Board and Senior Management issue: a fierce split has persisted for over 5 years about the priority that should be given to innovation, and the probable return on the time invested.

If innovation, internal or external, is truly critical to the business or profit centre’s future, why wouldn’t it sit within individual P&L’s, and the accountability reside with the appropriate P&L leader? When large organisations persist in setting up innovation labs, accelerators and dedicated corporate venture units too often they are “divorced” from the cut and thrust of the day-to-day business. They point to an unspoken truth,  innovation isn’t really a strategic priority for certain powerful voices and/or the environment is insufficiently supportive of bold ideas or foreign bodies.  Which is it? Common sense dictates that those leadership issues must be fixed first BEFORE investing a dime on innovation initiatives.

© James Berkeley 2018. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

3 Deadly Sins First-Time Venture Capital Fund Managers Rarely Avoid

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

Why do so many first-time venture capital fund managers, who have been a success in their past, cease to act like a success when raising their first fund? Undoubtedly, the fundraising journey is long, on average somewhere between 15 to 24 months for funds under $150 million from firing the gun until the final close. Nowhere is that harder for General Partners, who are new to the investment game and of limited interest to institutional money. Over the past 10 months, I have had first-hand experiences with 6 fund managers in US and Europe and talked to a multitude of placement agents, who have shared their experiences from over 120 such fundraises. Three deadly sins:

  1. General Partners underestimate the three pools of personal capital (cash, credit and investment) that they need to successfully arrive at their desired destination and thrive. They over invest in non-essentials (expensive office space, hiring employees), at the outset, and under invest in external expertise (fundraising, skills development) when they most need it, typically, in the tough grind that follows some immediate success  securing a cornerstone investor.
  2. General Partners underestimate the importance of maintaining a high level of self-worth. They allow a “poverty mindset” to quickly become their default position. They jump on the first offer of committed capital driven by a fear of failure, they beg for favours (introductions, expertise) on terms they’d never accept and they fail to act like a peer in front of investors (constantly “pitching” rather than investing appropriate time building a peer-level trusting relationship).
  3. General Partners underestimate the return on their time invested in accomplishing various activities along the “journey”. They spend excessive amounts of time “fine-tuning” their methodology at the expense of articulating the results and value the potential limited partner walks away with. They allow their intellectual curiosity and ego, to lead them into targeting investors, who are highly unlikely to commit, in their desired timeframe. Why? They consciously ignore who they are today (an ambitious first-time manager with an investment thesis yet to be proven, and zero successful exits) and they are overly pre-occupied with who they imagine themselves to be in future for ego reasons (the next Fred Wilson, Bill Gurley, Josh Kopelman).

The final thought: You might be a great investor but first, can you actually create and build a successful business (skills, behaviours, expertise)? I am not talking about a division of a large VC firm, a global bank, a management consulting firm or something you did on the side in university. I am talking about a boutique asset management business.  That is the first question your highest potential limited partners are trying to convince themselves about.

© James Berkeley 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Seed-Stage Investing: Time, Not Money

Monday, April 16th, 2018

If we don’t value our time, why should others? I have spent a good chunk of the past 3 years, inundated by entrepreneurs largely seeking help accessing global pools of predominantly private capital, at the seed stage. A timely blogpost yesterday by the insightful venture capitalist Fred Wilson reaffirmed a point that I have been reminding hundreds of individuals – “what is the return on your time invested, not your money”?

Here is what I see:

  • The Poverty Entrepreneur“: A majority of individuals, who have been a success in their “past” but they don’t act like a success today (forever claiming poverty, reluctant to hire external expertise on equitable terms, seeking endless “free” favours without regard to others’ time). Often relics of large management consultants or banking.
  • “The Abundant Entrepreneur”: the rare, hidden gem, more often than not a seasoned entrepreneur, who is respectful of others’ time, willing to pay equitably for high quality advice and has a high level of self-worth.
  • The Acquiescent Board Chair“: the well-known business person, who dabbles in young businesses either for affiliation needs with other impressive figures or the rare chance of a jackpot outcome. Very much a discretionary investment of their time, they are prone to ask apologetically for extended favours (contingent fee basis) from advisers, knowing in all probability it is a low return on everyone’s time invested but we are all in the “hope factory” together.
  • “The Scrambling Adviser”: A cohort of financial and corporate advisors (often solo and boutiques), who this IS their prime source of wealth. They are invariably failing to balance time invested, a sustainable business and a career successfully.  Few survive for long without exploring alternatives.
  • “The Luxury Adviser”: A cohort of financial and corporate advisors, whose principle source of wealth (founding business, a banking career etc.) affords them the luxury of dabbling as advisors and investors in the seed area without regard to the actual return on their time invested.
  • “The Blunt Investor”: A cohort of professional investors, whose prime source of wealth arises from seed stage investing, time is precious and they are wont to give very blunt responses to requests for their time or flatly ignore them.
  • The Luxury Investor“: A cohort of angel and high net worth individuals, whose prior success affords them the luxury of significant discretionary time. Driven by their intellectual curiosity and wealth (time and resources), they are more relaxed about time given to seed investments (an interesting alternative to “pro bono” advice and charitable giving).
  • The Tax Investor“: A cohort of angel and high net worth individuals, whose tax structuring particularly in the UK attracts them to seed investing. They are cogniscent of time in so much as it enables them to understand the net financial consequences of seed investments.

You undoubtedly recognise some of these individuals if you have got this far, perhaps yourself. I am not here to tell you what you should do but I am here to urge you to apply critical thinking, and to ask, “is this a great way to surrender my scarce time, not just my money?”

© James Berkeley 2018. All Rights Reserved.

 

Facebook’s Mousetrap

Monday, April 16th, 2018

Over a crackled, and clearly excruciatingly cheap phone line, “Hello, I am Anand, I am not trying to sell anything but one of your Facebook friends has suggested that I call you….” Just ridiculous. If this was an isolated incident, you’d ignore it but when it is the 17th call in two weeks, you ask yourself to what extent is one of the world’s 5 largest companies taking the defense of its’ customers data seriously. Judging by this weekend’s Sunday newspapers, full page advertorials, the company is keen to be seen on the right side of the data protection and ownership wave sweeping through Europe. Great but wouldn’t a more meaningful response rather symbolic gestures with public demonstrations of visible scammers snared in their mousetrap, reassure users that they are really serious and on their side?

©  James Berkeley 2018. All Rights Reserved.