Posts Tagged ‘judgement’

It Is Really Not About You

Friday, November 10th, 2017

 

Why do so many seasoned, and less seasoned entrepreneurs seeking to attract new investment shoot themselves in the foot? They are rarely short of industry knowledge but they are woefully lacking the process skills and critical thinking to attract serious investors. Acquiring investment is about investors. An investor validating their own judgement, no one else’s.

Yet all I here at the outset, is how great the entrepreneur’s business skills and judgement are, wrapped up in their business model and growth plans.

When I push back and ask, “what” (strategy) have/are you doing to help your ideal investor validate their own skills and judgement after they are done with your investment? I am invariably met by a blank stare. That is compounded by my supplemental question, “how” (tactics) have/are you planning to help your ideal investor validate their own skills and judgement when they are done with your investment?

In the absence of a strategy and tactics for creating powerful, sustainable and profitable partnerships with  investors, an entrepreneur’s mission will never be met and manifest. Here is three powerful lessons from my most successful clients:

  1. Raising, deploying and realising capital is a “process”, not a small number of events. It has a “before” (trust, relationship building, conceptual agreement culminating in agreed terms), “during” (effective implementation, impressive value creation, robust risk mitigation) and “after” (planned disengagement, rapid realisation of committed capital plus impressive gains, efficient remittance of resources). Or to put it crudely, cash and resources “in”, cash and resources “out” / time period.
  2. Timing has a “hierarchy of priorities”. (1) the investor’s financial, intellectual, social and cultural needs (most only think about the first need and rarely consider how those are changing in the lifetime of the investment), (2) the availability of an appropriate exit to ensure the investor’s objectives are met and (3) the  future of the business.
  3. They think and act like a successful investor. An investor thinks with logic but acts on emotion, although in some cases the latter might be as heard to discern as Robert Shaw’s face in that infamous card game on the smoke-filled train carriage to Chicago, in my personal favourite, The Sting.

Uncovering The Investor’s Logic and Emotional Reasoning

  1. The reward logic behind the deal. How might it meet or exceed the investor’s need for capital preservation and capital gain, the return on the investor’s intellectual time invested, the social impact met and the cultural benefits accrued (for example, greater affinity with like-minded investors)?
  2. The risk logic behind the deal. What is the seriousness and probability of foreseen and unforeseen obstacles with the deal preventing the investor meeting or exceeding their desired outcomes? Then, what preventative and contingent actions can realistically be applied to arrive at the deal’s “ultimate net risk”?
  3. The sum of the above is the investor’s “great deal” logically. We are not finished yet!
  4. The emotional rewards behind the deal. How might the emotional imperatives of the investor (“reward”) be transformed (repute, peer recognition, trusting relationship with the General Partners and co-investors, promotion prospects, larger bonus and share of carried interest, ego, greater responsibilities, career development, future capital made available, new fund created, more impressive future dealflow presented and so on)?
  5. The emotional risks behind the deal. What is the seriousness and probability of foreseen and unforeseen obstacles with the deal preventing the investor meeting or exceeding those desired outcomes? Then, what preventative and contingent actions can realistically be applied to arrive at the deal’s “ultimate net risk”?
  6. The sum of the above is the investor’s “great deal” emotionally. That is what they are going to make their final decision based on. Are you investing sufficient time and energy in the right area? Are you thinking it through smartly? My guess is most entrepreneurs are spending 90% of their time on the logical reasoning and perhaps 10% on the emotional reasoning when it probably needs to be inverse. Why would you do that?

The smart readers will quickly grasp that a PowerPoint deck or teaser is largely worthless at addressing the latter. You need absolute credibility. You need to take time to build a peer-level trusting relationship. You need to ask powerful questions in a way that the investor is willing to reveal his or her priorities. The shorter the question, the more the investor will reveal. It crystallises it for them. “What are your hopes? Why? What are you fearful of? How did you get to your position?” Frame the question, listen and follow up in a smart way. You cannot coerce or motivate them.

Your job, as an entrepreneur, is to aggregate and connect the dots for the investor. To convert, the credibility and seductive rapport into committed capital with the use of powerful language and a compelling interface for the  investor.

After reading this you may very well panic and spot a yawning gap in your skills and techniques. That is OK, find an entrepreneur, who has done what you successfully seek to do and who can translate and transfer it to you.

A word of warning, a great many advisers don’t qualify, nor do a great many entrepreneurs, who are inept at the translation and transference. Hire qualified advice sparingly.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

Profit In A False Sense of Security

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

 

I am fascinated by the probable cause when owners, Boards and top management in mid-market businesses (US$10M to US$Bn), “don’t take the money” and shortly thereafter, end up with a failing or failed business. Specifically, when a serious offer is made for growth capital or even an outright sale of the business, and in the next 6-12 months after the refusal, the fortunes of the business partially or totally collapse. Nowhere is this more visible than today’s high growth private tech businesses (the infamous “unicorns”) and in an often overlooked area, service businesses with a powerful owner-operator or managing partner in a partnership structure.

The decision-making factors are consistent throughout. The business has deliberated carefully or taken an opportunistic approach to accepting external capital or key talent. What has varied is the owners’, the Board’s  and/or top management’s judgement, resilience or trust over time. Faced with changing market conditions (regulation, technological and other convergent forces), a key client “win” or “loss”, rising/declining investor or trade interest and so on, there is a discernible change. They consciously ignore other’s prudent advice that they have implicitly trusted in the past (mitigating risk). They increasingly believe that they are “impregnable” in their market position (market hype or vanity investments). They allow common sense to be distorted by inflated but unsubstantiated talk (valuations, growth prospects, barriers to entry, unique technology etc.).

Having worked with six privately-held mid-market businesses over the past 3 years around the globe, who turned down offers and subsequently, experienced very public falls from grace (legal, e-commerce, hotels, gaming, financial services), the underlying “cause” in my experience is ultimately, poor leadership. It is people, not the business that have screwed up.

For my current and prospective clients reading this, who fear my strategic advice comes with a poison in the tail, rest assured I have had a great many more winners than losers!

Yet in the immediate aftermath of a partial or total business failure, there is a rush to assume that the firm’s opportunistic or conservative approach to accepting new capital or talent is the “cause”. That is inaccurate, and here is why. There are a great many successful businesses, who have been consistent in adopting diametrically opposed approaches to accepting external capital or ownership (in insurance, AJ Gallagher vs Hub International, in hotels, Peninsula vs. Fairmont Raffles, or in the premium art business, Christie’s vs Sotheby’s). In just the same way, sticking to niche products, services or geographies or constantly, adopting a diversification approach, is rarely the “cause” of failure.

Take great care in jumping to a conclusion. Profit is to be found, as many smart long-short investors have found, in looking out for a business owner’s, the Board’s and/or top management’s increasing false sense of security, the resulting changes in their behaviour and the positive/negative impact on their business and the competition.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

Judging People

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

woman-using-her-smartphone-while-working-remotely-on-laptop-picjumbo-com

 

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.

Learning About Money

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

 

euro-coins-close-up-picjumbo-com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where did you learn about money?

This might sound odd to my “foreign” readers in perhaps US, Canada and Australia but I cannot ever remember a conversation with a parent or indeed, a child, who had a formal personal finance “lesson” or training. Yes, they received informal advice about earning, preserving and spending money but not much more. Yet when you think about the life skills that have got us to where we are today and where we probably need to get to tomorrow and the day after, personal finance must rank pretty close to sex education and the hidden dangers of using social media.

  • What common sense advice would you pass onto your son and daughter?
  • Where would you suggest they go for trusted advice?
  • When should they start learning about the prudent use of money?
  • Why is it important at that particular stage of their life?
  • How do you ensure that they never repeat the same mistake twice or an earlier generation’s foible with money?

I thought about my own experiences. There was very little explicit advice about three pools of money: cash, credit and investment. I learned “on the job” through teenage years from the pocket money days, to work experience and part-time jobs in the student days. Thereafter in the early years of my career, it was mostly friends talking about what they were choosing to invest in or acquire. Some friends were inculcated to save up to by a first home. Others, the entrepreneurs, serially invested in start ups and early stage businesses and the bankers pursued stocks and funds. The majority invested in having fun on a Thursday night, a weekend or a boys or girls trip.

There are five lessons about personal financial decision-making we should reflect on:

  1. The Power of Early Years Learning: What is most interesting, is how so many friends of my age group’s beliefs about wealth and personal financial freedom were formed at a very early point in their lives. A great many of those beliefs still inform their behaviour today (saving, spending, preferred asset classes, self-confidence, risk appetite and so on). For example, the friends, who were immersed in buying a first home at all costs, have often led onto acquiring second and third homes or buy-to-let portfolios of residential property.
  2. Geographic Distinctions Narrowing: As a 24 year old, thrust into a group of middle class American college kids on a an insurance underwriting trainee programme in Minnesota, I vividly recall how self-confident and proficient they were in mastering substantial five figure college overdrafts. They had learned something I hadn’t although I was relieved not to have their problem, save for overextending myself on the purchase of a VW Golf. Yet even those distinctions are narrowing, as the cost of university education rises exponentially and kids in the UK leave with substantial debt burdens.
  3. Mindset Before Wealth: You can be rich or poor but your mindset is the “rudder” for your life and the personal choices that you make with your cash, credit and investment alternatives. You can adopt a mindset that there is abundant opportunity in life and I would be remiss in not pursuing it or you can adopt a poverty mindset, I must live in fear of the wolf stealing my wealth. Rarely is anyone taught about personal financial decisions in those terms.
  4. Learning From Our Omissions Trumps Our Failures: We applaud the great decisions we made with money and we beat ourselves up about the poor decisions but we rarely study why we omitted to spend, save or invest money on what turned out to be good investments. Coming to terms with the fears that inhibit clear thinking is fundamental to better decision-making. Wouldn’t our kids be better off if we took note and we passed those lessons on?
  5. Financial Technology Not A Nirvana: Technology is a huge boon to teaching kids today about their desired financial outcomes, alternatives, risk and rewards and selecting the best option in record time but it is not an exact science. Robo-advisers serve a purpose but there is an “art” to making smart personal financial decisions that is set in the answer to the question, “what is the life we want to lead?” and “how do we best adapt to those changing needs?” Only your kids can answer those questions.

Our kids in all likelihood may not turn out to be personal finance geniuses, nor can we motivate them to have an awareness of money. What we can do is create an environment where they are wiser than we were, where they learn not just from our successes and failures and where they learn to create an approach that works uniquely for them, not us.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.