Posts Tagged ‘investors’

Framing Your Ideal Investor

Monday, 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.

Hot Airbnb

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

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A rocket-propelled growth trajectory creates a “siren call” to investors and garners predictable and less predictable media comment. Executives ride the bandwagon of super valuations (fame, inflated bonuses, celebrity) but all too often the focus on dramatic market expansion and top line growth outpaces risk mitigation initiatives (the boring stuff). Heat melts the shell of the rocket on re-entry and the business becomes highly vulnerable.

This past week, Airbnb came in to sharp focus with me. (1) A European CEO of a “bricks and mortar” global serviced apartment business pointing out that Airbnb is flagrantly allowing its’ hosts in many key European gateway cities to run full-time hospitality businesses (83,000 room listings in Paris) and (2) Personally experiencing their underwhelming response to a cyber hack on my own Airbnb account.

My observation is Airbnb are playing too fast and too loose. They are tripping up on common sense responses to foreseen risks (cyber hacks, hosts flouting local trading rules), not just unforeseen risks. I don’t believe they are alone, there are hundreds of “celebrity” high growth businesses, whose risk mitigation strategies are being lapped by their growth plans.

I am all for disruptive businesses helping raise the levels of customer service. That is capitalism. No business or industry has a “right” to survive. What isn’t acceptable is when a business is acquiescent or adopts approaches (cyber hack) that are so inadequate that trust and integrity is destroyed. Are management asleep while cyber thieves roam freely in their booking system, setting up fake bookings, lifting credit card information, conversing brazenly with hosts and potentially putting “hosts” in physical harm’s way with bogus guests? Are their customers solely responsible for alerting Airbnb to breaches and mitigating the immediate risks (financial theft, loss of personal data, potential physical harm to hosts)? Should  this matter to investors?

Yes, if you are an investor for whom reputational risk is equally as important as financial risk.

There are plenty of disruptive businesses (Ryanair), where executives have assailed their competitors, regulators and their customers for years while the growth trajectory dramatically outpaces the risk mitigation strategies.

The difficulty arises when growth slows, investors ask “why”?

Businesses aren’t in existence to be liked, they are in business to be respected. If you don’t believe that look at Apple, GE, Singapore Airlines and Virgin. When respect is destroyed by leaders failing to prioritise managing risk effectively, customers, shareholders, employees and business partners walk. No one individual or brand is insulated from that certainty.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Compelling Investors

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

“Please feel free to share investment opportunities in the future….” or “This isn’t right for us at this stage we have a prefer businesses with positive EBITDA” The problem with so many investors is there is no “siren call” to them. Their language is weak, their feedback is meaningless, and there is visibly close to zero commitment to a future relationship with the introduction source. In return, there is no compulsion to make you THEIR priority. To put you at the top of their call list. To keep you uppermost in their thoughts. To reciprocate, in a meaningful manner.

If the game is about identifying, attracting, evaluating, and applying impressive levels of knowledge to high-quality investment opportunities and making wise decisions consistent with an investor’s strategic goals, there is a need to constantly nurture referral sources. You don’t achieve that with bland throwaway sentences or anaemic feedback. You do that best by providing something of value to the introducer quickly (ideas, insights, other investor names, a promotional opportunity and so forth). Of course, that assumes your real intention is to have an ongoing relationship and not banish the referral source to Siberia.

© James Berkeley. 2016 All Rights Reserved.

Stanford for Start-Ups

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

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“There is nothing special about Stanford, everyone around the Bay Area tech scene has been there”.

Those were the throwaway words from a West Coast adviser, when I first mentioned that I had been asked to speak to this year’s class in Stanford’s Continuing Education program. Of course, those comments were directed to the university students, not the global audience of largely mature students and entrepreneurs enthusiastically engaged in a discussion about capital raising. Here is my findings from a really informative session:

  1. The dynamics of raising money at any stage are largely similar but the consequences vary immensely. When less than 25% of seed-funded startups fail to get to the third funding round (they have died, been acquired or are self-sustaining), many entrepreneurs overlook the importance of building and nurturing really strong personal support systems. Family, friends and wise counsellors, who have your best interests at heart, are willing to provide frank solicited advice and a supportive shoulder, when it doesn’t work out.
  2. The in vogue buzzwords are “agile money”. I prefer to talk about “resilient money.” Finding investors sufficiently agile to adapt to your changing needs is helpful but finding those that are sufficiently resilient in the tough and the good times, is really the gold standard.
  3. More than 80% of the class are positive about tech investment in the next 12 months and don’t believe we are in a tech bubble.
  4. Students often ask tougher questions of themselves than serial entrepreneurs. “How do I give myself the best shot at being a successful entrepreneur?” Perhaps it is the desire not to repeat others mistakes or the willingness to readily invest in improving their own skills, behavioural traits and expertise. Too often the mindset flips for the entrepreneur in the real world, “let’s save every cent”, when investing in their own personal needs (mentor, coach, advisor) is critical to their success.
  5. More than 60% are intrigued by corporate venture capital but certainly not beholden to its’ charms. Great question, “Why are corporate businesses suddenly experts in startup investing?” Many believe that CVCs remain highly susceptible to short-term changes in executive decision-making.
  6. Entrepreneurs learn best when they are willing to be vulnerable. In our case, to jump into the role play seat with little preparation and test their abilities to direct the conversation with an investor towards their desired goal.
  7. Understanding the distinctions between public and private investors such as a traditional VC Fund, a Family Office and a Corporate Venture Capital fund requires thinking about the future, not just the present or the past. What are their highest potential future needs? How are you uniquely qualified to address those needs?
  8. We over estimate geographical differences. A multi-lingual global audience of 75 entrepreneurs drawn from 5 continents, brought together by a singular objective, to learn the shortest quickest route to their desired objectives.
  9. Technology won’t replace “in the classroom” learning but tools such as Zoom, enable an increasingly intimate learning experience that certainly narrows the gap, at a a fraction of the cost for the host, guest lecturer and students.
  10. There is something special about Stanford – its’ global brand power. The ability to charge a premium price for global learning, to attract globally re-known lecturers and a culturally diverse group of students. I learn more than the students at these events and I can highly recommend it to others.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

FOG

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

 

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Time and again, particularly in growth businesses, I see leaders proudly trumpeting their unplanned but hugely gratifying successes that they have achieved. When I ask about what decisions they will make today about planned future growth, their default is to say that we are in “pause mode”, and recall past stories of investing too early in entirely different businesses, at entirely different stages of growth. “I know it sounds silly, we know that we need to invest first and then enjoy the returns but we are not in that mindset, at present.”

The effects are the “stop-start” impact of growth on the top and bottom line. Sales pipelines that are at one moment overflowing and another running dry, revenues that have a strong couple of quarters followed by leaner quarters and increased volatility in profits. The volatility creates a sense of unease in management’s own thinking and often investor unease in management’s ability to achieve their projected profitable growth targets, as originally agreed. Confidence is a fragile vase, once shattered hard to put back again.

We all know that we must grow our businesses but coming to terms with the consequences of growth is seismic for some entrepreneurs and executives. From an investor’s perspective, management’s fear of growth (“FOG“), is as debilitating a condition for an organisation’s future as the actual consequences of the growth investments made. The consequences of investing too late or not at all, are rarely even considered after the event by management (the great business development hire you never made, the business you could have acquired, the market opportunity you could have secured and so on).

Understanding what are the causes of “FOG”, are fundamental to growing a thriving business. Why is it that management are unable to take prudent risk? Why cannot they put in place appropriate preventative and contingent actions? Why have they stopped trusting their own judgement?

The answers give you a more profound understanding of the management team, the beliefs that govern their actions and the results that in all probability will arise for investors.

There are, of course, rational consolidation moments in periods of high growth, to ensure growth is manageable and healthy or when there are dramatic macro environmental changes taking place in a designated market. What I am suggesting entrepreneurs and executives think about is the irrational moments, management’s self-inflicted fear of growth and the consequences for their key constituents. Are they afraid of the dark or the “monsters” that may appear in the dark?

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Interview with Me: Financial Times

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

The Financial Times Wealth Correspondent, Hugo Greenhalgh, sat down with James to discuss the impact of wealth creation, investment and the stark changes occurring in parts of London’s fabric since he first arrived in 1986.

Dickens’ “Greatest Thoroughfare in London” Subsumed By Coffee Chains

https://www.ft.com/content/328a7ccc-7bfa-11e6-b837-eb4b4333ee43

Interview With Me: Do’s and Don’ts of Investing in Private Comanies

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

In an interview for U.S. News & World Report with the former longtime staff writer, editor and columnist at the Chicago Tribune, Lou Carlozo, James talks about why many investors in private companies jump on the bandwagon of out-sized returns while overlooking the inherent risks.

http://money.usnews.com/investing/articles/2016-09-20/dos-and-donts-of-investing-in-private-companies 

 

 

Fishing For Investors

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

 

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In August the docksides and inlets in North Norfolk are lined with kids casting bait (bacon or salami are highly effective) on primitive fishing lines to catch the abundant crabs that lie close to the surface. Perhaps the crabs know the odds are stacked in their favour or they are so greedy but little boys and girls pluck them out at will before returning them to the sea.

What would entrepreneurs and executives give for a similar ease with the capital raising process? The reality today is that unless you are a well known “brand” with a powerful investor network, raising money is hard. Investors can be very choosy, they largely congregate in locations with big clusters of potential businesses to invest in and they are drawn to people, who have demonstrably made investors serious cash on cash on multiple occasions.

1. What are you doing to dramatise your value to your ideal investor(s) and the singularity of your investment proposition? (Use of powerful language, a peer of opinion makers, harnessing evangelists, creating excitement and so forth)
2. Why invest in you? (“Hot” proposition in the investor’s sweet spot)
3. Why invest now? (Brief window of opportunity)
4. Why invest in the manner you are proposing? (Special circumstances).

Time is the most precious commodity. You cannot rely on the kids fishing line, you must caste a fishing net to attract potential investors. You need to know where the high potentials reside. You need compelling “bait”. You need multiple conversations to be constantly moving in parallel, not sequential stages. You need to be constantly replenishing the investor pipeline with high quality leads. This is not a kids sport, this is your wealth at stake. Time to get serious.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Trusting Your Fundraising Technique

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

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The crucible of the Olympics separates those, who implicitly trust their technique honed over early mornings and thousands of hours of practice and those, who fear the headlines that will be writ large about their despair. The “mental toughness” commentators talk about is really a mindset issue. A “fear of failure” cripples talent. A “no fear” mindset allows talent to flow.

Owners and top managers in growth businesses don’t have to wait four years for their golden opportunity. Rarely is your failure final, nor are you likely to be written off publicly.

Why cannot you walk into that investor meeting knowing you have tremendous value to bring and do your absolute best without fear? Why cannot you exude implicit confidence in your recommendations and demonstrate absolute credibility? If you knew you couldn’t fail what would you say to the current or prospective investor and how would you direct the conversation to convert the opportunity?

Many entrepreneurs and executives tell me hundreds of reasons why the investor passed on the opportunity. Most have reasonable language techniques but they don’t trust themselves in the moment. They freeze, their mind becomes scrambled and they default to “selling” (proving their worth) rather providing value (showing their worth) to the other party. When their conversation is subordinated to a sales pitch, which is quickly rejected, it is game over.

Believe in your skills and expertise implicitly and maintain a mindset that failure is temporary at worst. Your audience want you to succeed. They are investing 60 minutes of time because they believe it will be time well spent building a formal or informal relationship with you.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

Avoiding The Regulatory Tailspin

Friday, July 29th, 2016

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Countless businesses today are being thrown miles off course in accomplishing their profitable growth goals (banks, financial services, insurance, gaming, healthcare, energy and so forth) largely because of their own inadequacies. They are like the pilot who hits turbulence at 30,000 feet, loses their bearings and temporarily or permanently is sent into a tailspin. If you are going to fly, you accept there is a high probability of turbulence. If you are providing essential products, services and relationships in society today, expect to be held to account for your standards and behaviour. Stop moaning.

Leaders have two options: embrace or resist regulation. Then adjust the speed, direction and ascent of the profitable growth plans to accommodate the proposed changes. Here is what sets apart my very best clients:

  1. Positive Regulatory Mindset. Business leaders, who maintain a perspective that says “there are abundant opportunities in front of us, we didn’t wish the regulation but we will learn to live with it”, empirical evidence suggests dramatically outperform others. Change is a constant and our futures are about embracing change (biotech, pharma). Contrast this with those business leaders, who only see fear, limited opportunities on the horizon, vent loudly at the negative consequences and create Domesday predictions (airlines, agriculture, bookmakers). Change is a threat to their cosy status quo and they do their level best to resist it until such that they wearily accept it or fold their cards.
  2. Impressive Regulatory Engagement. Seek to be on the front foot with regulators, actively maintain a presence in the regulatory dialogue within the industry, take positions on regulatory boards and consumer watchdogs.
  3. Superb Regulatory Antennae. Most regulation is reactive to events, changes in consumer perception, media perception and political perceptions. Rarely can you accurately predict the timing but you can sense the shifting of opinions and the force fields (changes in critical factors ‘+’, ‘-‘ or ‘neutral’) that create the momentum for change.
  4. Rapidly Mine Regulatory Motives. Behind every regulation lies an emotional imperative. Understand why a powerful voice(s) at the regulator or consumer body discernibly sees their self-interests best served in implementing the new policies and procedures, in the proposed time frame and manner (increased power, greater influence, greater control, greater political influence, greater credibility and so forth).
  5. Quantify Regulatory Value. “Value” in the form of tangible, intangible and peripheral benefits that arise from regulation (although sometimes they may be hard to discern) and the investment required to enact it. Tangible benefits over a defined time period (clawing back funds over trading or market abuse scandals). Intangible benefits and the breadth of scope (bankers behavioural changes and sweeping industrywide cultural changes to treating their customers fairly). Peripheral benefits (structural market changes such as the Dodd Frank Financial Regulatory Reform Bill and the impact on proprietary trading businesses in investment banks). Lawmakers and regulators are typically prudent risk takers, smart business leaders are keenly attuned to how they weigh up the risks and rewards (personal and professional) and act.
  6. Anticipate Regulatory Opportunity. Outstanding businesses have a regulatory radar system (Corporate Affairs) embedded into the upper and mid-level line management tiers that excels at alerting them to: Why there is a need for regulation? (public sentiment) Why now? (window of opportunity) Why on the basis proposed? (tried and failed with other legislative tools)
  7. Acute Sense of Regulatory Timing. Can you identify the priority that is driving the need to enact the regulation (political fall out, media outcry, changes in public opinion etc)? Timing is about regulators and lawmakers priorities. Stuff gets done because they need to be seen to be doing something (seriousness, urgency and gravity behind the issue). Inevitably, it is almost overpowering, ill-conceived and often off target but that is not the point. Lawmakers and regulators can show they acted. Don’t blame us.

Large or small businesses, the dynamics are largely the same but the consequences are often dramatically different. How many of these skills, traits and expertise do you Managers possess today? What do your profitable growth plans demand that you possess in future in order arrive safely at your desired destination? How do you best upgrade your regulatory response toolkit and when?

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.