Posts Tagged ‘investors’

The InsurTech Deficit

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

Who has done anywhere in the world what you would ideally like to accomplish? Who can help you translate that knowledge into wise decision-making consistent with your own strategic direction and goals? Who can help you acquire the skills, behaviours and expertise to institutionalise that learning?

We have reached a point in certain areas of tech, not least insurtech, where the numbers of entrepreneurs and advisers entering the arena weekly are greater than the number of entrepreneurs and businesses globally progressing from Seed stage to Series C stage. This week in Las Vegas and London, predictably, there will be thousands of promises made. The reality is that there are very few qualified advisers or investors. Certainly those that pass the above “litmus test”. Be careful, very careful.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Warning Light!

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

 

When an entrepreneur or his/her Adviser overlook or cannot clearly articulate in 3 or 4 sentences, the greatest anticipated weaknesses in their business growth plans (markets, products, technology and relationships) given competitive market trends, you have a plan that won’t survive serious investor scrutiny. To pretend otherwise is to start driving a car where the wheel nuts lie strewn on the ground.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

In The Eye of A Private Investor

Monday, June 5th, 2017

 

You are a C-suite executive or senior manager (probably with a successful career in a mid and large organisation) flirting with future advisory roles (Operating Partners, Senior Advisers and so forth) with private investors (Family Offices, Ultra High Net Worth individuals and some funds) and their portfolio companies. I meet half a dozen a month. Are you looking through your lens or that of the investor’s? When I ask bluntly, “why would a private investor be interested in you?”, most default to regaling their past (skills, expertise, accomplishments) or they way they like to work (imparting advice, influence, guidance). Here is the tough news, most private investors really don’t care. They want to know about

  • the “transformative value” (TV) for the investor after the Adviser has applied their past to the future of their investee businesses (logical reasoning – increased revenues, stronger brand, faster growth etc.)
  • the speed and quality of the “validation” (V) for the investor’s own reasons to back or not, a specific business (emotional reasoning – “am I going to look good”, enhanced credibility, mitigate personal risks, obtain future opportunities or relationships with peers, other investors, investee businesses etc.).

TV * V = Private Investor’s return on investment or “Great Deal”

“What”, “where”, “when” do you score highest as a potential Senior Adviser? Why? How do you get to those private investors with the highest need for that value?

Keep that equation and those critical questions uppermost in mind BEFORE you walk into your first meeting with a private investor.

© James Berkeley 2017

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