Chasing An Entrepreneur’s Dream

March 21st, 2017

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I ‘ve had a 40 year passion for the sport of horse racing, in particular national hunt or steeplechase racing. The global heartbeat of the sport lies in Ireland, UK and France. For four days in March, the very best horses and horsemen gather in a natural amphitheatre in the Cotswolds, 100 miles west of London, to compete for 28 races and prize money totalling £5 million. Cheltenham is Glastonbury, Burning Man and the Mid-Autumn Festival wrapped up in a visceral connection with a sport that breaks hearts and delights in equal measure. 260,000 racegoers passed through the gates last week, a great many Irish, to bet, roar approval and dance the night away in the local inns and hostelries until dawn. Male and female, men of the clergy, the soil and the City, grandparents telling tales of old to the young, and the carefree exhibiting their party tricks to any willing audience. Year after year, it is a rite of passage to have “done Cheltenham” from Roscommon to Newbury.

Yet behind this beguiling sport and its’ pinnacle, lies a modern story applicable to any growth business or industry, a tale of a sport where the elite level has created a gargantuan gulf between itself and the rest of the sport (Formula One, America’s Cup). Resilience, separates those who thrive from those who merely survive or throw it in.

Billionaire and multi-millionaire owners, who are willing to satiate their passion “blowing” £10 million a year after-tax in the hope of their horses achieving glory, albeit with zero residual value. Gucci-loafer clad bloodstock agents, trainers, jockeys and vets only too happy to help.

Dramatic scientific and technological improvements (breeding, procurement, nutrition, strength and conditioning) over the past 25 years have enabled the very best trainers to create very powerful systems, backed up by dominant levels of financial capital. Competition at the elite level, will always be sustained because the nature of animals racing against each other and jumping 20 fences is not an exact science. Yet many of those in the “squeezed” middle and the lower rungs of the sport complain that their businesses are near, or at breaking point. The patronage of five powerful men has created a concentration of power and influence in the hands of a very small pool of horsemen. They are paying for glory, the big race winners. Success has bred success and breaking into the chosen clique has become extremely difficult.

Yet there is no shortage of young aspiring horsemen willing to go “all in” chasing their dreams of breeding, selling, training or riding a big race winner. Their passion is such that just like a jobbing Hollywood “runner”, they are willing to embrace the 85 hour working week on a very modest wage, and menial tasks, to work their way up the ladder. Most won’t make it, some will leave the sport with their ego dented and in good health, others won’t be so lucky, retired jockeys with broken bodies, and “burnt out” trainers with deep levels of personal debt. The sport has an incredible level of camaraderie and philanthropy, largely hidden offers of future employment, re-training or housing. It is a sport where attendance at church in the major training centres on a Sunday remains exceedingly high. Thankful for the good life, if not the good luck.

It is a sport like many industries that takes no prisoners, where no one is guaranteed success, billionaire or horse groom. It teaches us that resilience, resilient people and resilient support systems (family, friends and mentors) are key when chasing our passion and ideal career.

The black days, for they will come as certain as the sun will rise over Cheltenham’s Cleave Hill in March 2018. The hopes of many resting precariously on the back of a four-legged animal jig jogging to the start, thousands disappearing into the satchels of on-course bookies pitched in a fierce four-day battle with punters and a great many in the game, acutely aware that fate may deal them a glorious hand or consign them to the “has-been” tray forever. As entrepreneurs, we take many of the same risks and experience similar highs and lows, yet by and large, we are only humbled by defeat if we choose that pathway. Yet, we too must be realistic about the nature of our business, our ideal future and the growth journey we choose. It is great to dream but without resilience, talent and discipline, we won’t get there.  Are you willing to bet sufficiently big on yourself?

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

Uncommon Leverage

March 17th, 2017

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On a small number of occasions, I am in a position to, and I have the volition to introduce one of my clients (corporate executive or a HNW private investor) to another member of my global professional communities. My litmus test is a belief that there is a high potential of a mutually-rewarding relationship, formal or informal. My motivation is reciprocal value. The two-way goodwill and value generated between the client and member of my global processional community and both parties with me.

Sometimes there is an immediate reward (a referral, an offer of help or a polite thank you) and on other occasions, a longer-term reward (consideration paid for the value created, more referrals and other non-financial benefits).  I’d say less than 5% of my global communities (circa 2,500 people) ask for my help, unprompted. Of those perhaps only 30% reciprocate with a non-financial reward (referral, reciprocal help, thank you). Less than 20% provide unsolicited feedback on the accuracy of my suggestion and the results that unfolded after the introduction. Only 10% ask for further help unprompted (introductions to others). Yet here is some examples of the reciprocal value created amongst members of my communities with my help in the past 12 months:

  • CEO of a mid-sized European hospitality company introduced to seller of hotel chain, valued at £162M
  • US restaurant franchising business introduced to 6 potential strategic franchising partners in the EMEA region
  • Assertive US buyer of  high growth insurance businesses, introduced to 4 potential sellers, 2 advanced negotiations
  • Asian Family Office introduced to 14 target businesses and 4 direct/co-investors in US and Europe
  • Global insurance executive introduced to 3 new career roles and 4 potential NED roles
  • Publisher of leading financial publication introduced to 3 sponsors and 7 contributors
  • Leading European private equity event host introduced to 3 speakers, and event promoted to 350 potential attendees
  • Real estate advisory firm introduced to 6 sellers of off-market assets totalling $1.9bn
  • Family Office direct investor introduced to 11 potential co-investors
  • 14 high growth entrepreneurs introduced to 33 investors, 4 providers of serviced office space, 22 bankers, 11 lawyers, 14 accountants, 4 graphic designers, 2 web designers and 22 other advisers.

My point here is there are “high potential” people in all our contact databases, who can, and in the right circumstances, have the volition to provide you tremendous reciprocal value. What is there to fear? We know them personally or professionally, we may have spoken this week or perhaps 3 years ago. They have helped others, and you have helped others. They have risen to where they are because they had the volition to ask for help, why should you be any any different? They are not providing reciprocal value to you because

  • In 90% of occasions, you haven’t asked them or in the right way.
  • You lack the discipline and organisation to create leverage.
  • You lack the skills (what language to use) to create leverage
  • You have an attitude problem (“I am too busy”)
  • You seek comfort in pseudo “connectivity” (burgeoning connections or followers on LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram) and forego nurturing real relationships (reciprocal value).
  • You don’t hold yourself accountable or accept accountability from others.

All of us have a need to grow our career, our job, our client work, our investor base, our learning and development, our lives, our personal interests and so on. For a great many that is “stop-start”. The problem is nurturing a sufficiently large group of high potential people and gaining their agreement to help (“powerful leverage”) is rarely something that can be accomplished by a shake of the reins. It needs constant nurturing daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly.

Ask yourself a simple question, “Who are the 6 people in my contact database, who can have the greatest impact on me getting to where I want to be in 12 months time?” Then, “How do I best elicit their support? (give to get). “What do I need to do more of, stop doing, do in a different way or start afresh, today?” Schedule that in you diary this week. Take action.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Judging People

March 2nd, 2017

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An Asian investor says to me last week, in response to a rare suggestion that he might want to meet a particular individual, “I have so many people asking to meet me when they are in town, I have to decline most offers. Can you send me a few details.” This just after he has taken 15 minutes to frame, who ideally he would like to meet. We have reached a point where we don’t trust our own judgement and those we invest time soliciting advice from. We are constantly second-guessing ourselves in the belief that a better alternative or use of our time will arise. By all means, be judicious with unsolicited requests to meet but stop procrastinating, start having more faith in your own judgement and those around you. You’ll surprise yourself how much faster you will move towards your goals.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Framing Your Ideal Investor

February 27th, 2017

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“We need more investors, can you help?” is a request I hear daily from entrepreneurs and executives, co-investors and seasoned corporate finance experts. The obvious response is “yes, maybe or no”. Sometimes the obvious is not the most helpful to gain control of the conversation and kick start movement. Let’s frame the real “need”. Remove the irrelevant, focus on the relevant information. You will get dramatically quicker towards your goal.

  1. You’ve asked for capital raising assistance. Are you talking about your ability to attract follow-on investments from your current investors, new investments from your current investors, new investors for your current businesses or new investors for new businesses? What is it exactly?
  2. Then, I am curious where is your current marketing time and money being deployed? Is it being directed to all investors, or those within a specific geography, deal size, stage, investor type? There are 5 generic types of investor for you. Those that are apathetic, pretenders, aspirants, serial developers and leading-edge investors. The first three make up the majority of your audience and are the most price-sensitive, the final two are highly value-driven. Who exactly are you currently talking to? Would you recognise the differences (past relationships, capabilities, substance, style etc)? Let’s agree who you should be talking to?
  3. Then, what are the existing or anticipated needs or needs that you can create for your ideal investors that you are uniquely able to address? How is your investor better off or personally better supported after realising their investment with your help? (Financial, intellectual, social, cultural improvements)
  4. Then, who ideally has a need now or one that could be readily developed for that “return” on their investment? Who has the means and authority to approve the investment? Who can move quickly? Who is not overly prescriptive about the your “past”?
  5. How do you best reach those investors and they you? (referrals, networking, publishing, speaking, awards, media interviews etc)
  6. How do you create the ideal conditions? (eager to meet you, strong word-of-mouth)
  7. How do you create the ideal time? (no disruptions, no delays)
  8. How do you create the ideal location? (neutral, zero distractions)
  9. How do you create the strongest first impression? (impressive content, credibility, rapport)
  10. What competitive, distinctive or leading-edge offerings do you have to draw them in as a current or a future investor? (increasing investment, intimacy)
  11. Are there gaps where you need to add new offerings or to create greater differentiation (value) between existing investor offerings?
  12. What have you jointly agreed to do next? (exchange information, call, meeting)

You can see quickly here that framing your investor question, creates a dramatically sharper point on your arrow.

 

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Five Family Office Traits That Throttle Success In Portfolio Companies

February 27th, 2017

Patient private capital is arguably more in demand today as a source of growth capital than at any time this century. CEO roles in businesses backed by ultra high net worth family offices (Michael Dell’s MSD Capital, Jorge Paolo Lemann’s 3G or Azim Premji’s (founder of Wipro) Premji Investment) are arguably more in demand than at any point in recent history. Free from the demands of quarterly reporting for public stockholders and the constraints of the private equity investing model, why, here is the “perfect” career option surely? All we need to do is focus solely on growing and nurturing the business and its’ brand, take prudent risk and never have to worry about the cost or availability of capital. Wonderful. What am I missing? Actually a huge amount. In an article published today, in the market-leading Family Office media publication, Family Capital, James draws upon his experiences with over a dozen families around the globe. Learn about the Family Office/CEO relationship dynamics and the consequences that are often overlooked by many Family Offices and CEOs until it is too late.

http://www.famcap.com/articles/2017/2/27/insight-five-family-office-traits-that-throttle-success-in-portfolio-companies

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Are You Thinking What I Was Thinking

February 17th, 2017
  • In all the nonsense about fake news, are we really saying the audience is permanently stuck second-guessing themselves or the decisions that they are making are not our preferred ones? (Brexit, Trump etc.)
  • Is there anything more unappealing than awards events, where people who have been successful in a singular profession and insulate themselves from the real world are suddenly “experts” on geopolitics, leadership, social issues and so on?
  • No one knows what the Trump presidency will have in store for us but the sun will rise and set each day, businesses around the world will trade with each other and culturally diverse communities will continue to interact. Perspective is more important than ever.
  • Watching the first 10 minutes of Bridget Jones’s Baby is a reminder that gratuitous use of swear words, displays a startling lack of intellect and a sign in neon lights to “move on”. The shame is the movie ending is worth watching but I wonder how many people stuck around.
  • Why do celebrities post naked or near-naked pictures of themselves on their social media accounts? If their objective is to protect their privacy, aren’t they throwing fuel on a fire that they have limited prospect of controlling?
  • Why are we “shocked” when a politician (Andy Puzder), a celebrity (David Beckham) or a business executive’s (Vice-Chair of Samsung) leaked private messages doesn’t caste them in a flattering light? They are normal human beings with the very same weaknesses and insecurities, prone to making dumb decisions.
  • The word “great” in business, science, sport, culture and so forth is so abused when describing individual performance that moments like Tom Brady’s Superbowl climax quickly become yesterday’s news.
  • If Americans needed reminding of why infrastructure spending is a priority take a walk through JFK, LAX or Miami airport and compare the experience with that in London Heathrow, Schipol, Dubai, Hong Kong or Shanghai.
  • Do CEO’s shop their own business on a sufficiently regular basis? Here in the UK, the major banks’ knee-jerk response to internet banking has been to slash the number of branches and make it exponentially more time-consuming for their customers to perform routine tasks (cashing a cheque). It is hard to see how that is in the customers best interest?
  • There is another high street presence, which is on a “life support machine” as societal mores change and the internet disrupts the sector. Thousands of bookies or sports betting shops solely exist on high-stakes fixed odds betting terminals preying on the most vulnerable members of society. In a town of 40,000 people there might be 3 or 4, thirty years ago, today in a deprived square mile of an inner city, there is probably 25 shops.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Interview With Me: Forbes

February 8th, 2017

Forbes contributor and former Reuters reporter, Ralph Jennings, interviewed James on the discrete “welcome mat” likely to be laid out by the Trump presidency for ultra high net worth Chinese entrepreneurs directly investing into the United States. Politics aside, expect pragmatism to prevail.

Why Trump Will Let China’s Smart Elite Invest In The U.S. 

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ralphjennings/2017/02/07/trump-is-open-to-investment-from-chinas-smart-elite/#4a7d1a135fcb

Social Media: The Investors Perspective

February 1st, 2017

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I get asked by investors about the role of social media in stimulating the profitable growth of mid-market business-to-consumer and business-to-business targets seeking growth capital. My default response is ‘why does someone want to share their video, tweet, blog? Then, how does it help them (entrepreneur) and you (investor) achieve your goals in the next 12 months?’ If you don’t have a compelling answer to that question, it is probably a waste of time and going to have zero impact on the firm’s growth. Review any YouTube, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook listing of most popular videos, tweets, images or blog posts and there is always that one thing that made people share it. That is the secret sauce. The son of one of my old bosses, Sam Tsui, an American songwriter, has had incredible success attracting 2.5 million subscribers to his YouTube channel. Sam is talented (Yale-educated). He possesses a great voice. He has learned to leverage the medium with great effect (singing duets with himself) in order to create a strong brand.

However, sharing alone is insufficient for Sam and the businesses I describe because there is no taste or noise filter, think of profane rants from soccer fans, product disasters and compromising personal photos, dressed up as “comedy” or black humour.

There needs to be a “gravity” pull for your target audience and a reason to keep returning. That requires volume, value and consistent messaging (“VVM”) to create engagement. Paid promotion works to raise “conscious” awareness of your product or service for a millisecond but it does little to stimulate someone to act (subscribe, make the call, visit the store, buy). So long as you put the marketing investment in the appropriate context, there is little to worry about but you must be willing to be intellectually honest about the results.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

A Racing Certainty

January 23rd, 2017

In a letter to the Editor of the UK’s leading horse racing daily newspaper, Racing Post, James points out that without a “profitable growth” mindset and an investment alternative that reflects it, the industry is accepting certain decline. There is no “plateau”. In this case, The Jockey Club has chosen to sell a profitable business and an iconic racecourse, Kempton Park, for housing development under the smokescreen of further investment in the sport’s “new heritage”. What is really happening is a lack of vision, a lack of bold new ideas and a lack of leadership.  Yet that doesn’t have to be the case, if racing’s rulers want to leave a meaningful legacy.

“Seeking Private Investment” 

170114 Racing Post Ltr1

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Startup, Startdown

January 23rd, 2017

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Are you taking advice from an experienced entrepreneur as you proceed (business growth, raising capital, building partnerships and so forth)? Have they done what you want to accomplish successfully? Can they translate and transfer their expertise, knowledge and contacts to me? Never hire anyone who you cannot confidently answer a firm “YES” to those questions. There is a huge cottage industry of fawning advisers, business brokers and connectors, prying on startup and early-stage entrepreneurs with lousy and unproven advice. A great many entrepreneurs are drawn to these individuals by people they assiduously trust (family, friends, past colleagues and so on).  The giveaway is a promise to introduce the entrepreneur to a “celebrity” investor, adviser, potential client etc. The entrepreneur signs away a monthly retainer, and lo and behold they are taken on a merry ground, laced with excuses and failure. There is close to zero commitment because the economics don’t justify it.

You are building a “start-up”. Make sure that you are not consciously or unconsciously now in a “start-down”.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.