Endeavor Catalyst recently joined the funding round for Uruguay’s Scanntech, a leading technology platform that connects retailers in emerging markets to consumer products companies, financial institutions and more. Marking Endeavor Catalyst’s sixteenth investment, the Scanntech news demonstrates how innovative […]
Endeavor has worked with corporate partner EY to provide tailored business services to Endeavor Entrepreneurs through the EY Corporate Responsibility Fellows Program, which recently welcomed back its 2013 class from their time abroad. Through the program, EY dedicates […]
VC’s keep different titles but the most common that I’ve come across that are investment professionals are (in ascending order of seniority): analyst, associate, principal and partner.
These are the permanent members of a VC. Then there is the EIR (entrepreneur in residence) who is usually at a VC for a temporary period of time and other individuals such as venture partners or operating partners.
The process for raising money from a VC is a sales process and as such much of what is taught in enterprise sales can be applied. While this post is written about raising venture capital (which I always remind entrepreneurs IS a sales process) the lessons can be applied to any sale or biz dev deal.
This lesson on NINAs applies to VC pitches as well as any sale.
Reprinted from FeldThoughts. Original article here.
By Brad Feld
This week I had two meetings with CEOs of companies we’ve recently invested in where the question of “what is an ideal board meeting” came up. I’m writing an entire book on it called Startup Boards: Reinventing the Board of Directors to Better Support the Entrepreneur so it’s easy for me to define my ideal board meeting at this point since my head is pretty deep into it intellectually.
One of the things I always suggest to CEOs is that they be an outside director for one company that is not their own. I don’t care how big or small the company is, whether or not I have an involvement in the company, or if the CEO knows the entrepreneurs involved. I’m much more interested in the CEO having the experience of being a board member for someone else’s company.
Being CEO of a fast growing startup is a tough job. There are awesome days, dismal days, and lots of in-between days. I’ve never been in a startup that was a straight line of progress over time and I’ve never worked with a CEO who didn’t regularly learn new things, have stuff not work, and go through stretches of huge uncertainty and struggle.
Given that I am no longer a CEO (although I was once – for seven years) I don’t feel the pressure of being CEO. As a result I’ve spent a lot of the past 17 years being able to provide perspective for the CEOs I work with. Even when I’m deeply invested in the company, I can be emotionally and functionally detached from the pressure and dynamics of what the CEO is going through on a daily basis while still understanding the issues since I’ve had the experience.
Now, imagine you are a CEO of a fast growing startup. Wouldn’t it be awesome to be able to spend a small amount of your time in that same emotional and functional detachment for someone else’s company? Not only would it stretch some new muscles for you, it’d give you a much broader perspective on how “the job of a CEO” works. You might have new empathy for a CEO, which could include self-empathy (since you are also a CEO) – which is a tough concept for some, but is fundamentally about understanding yourself better, especially when you are under emotional distress of some sort. You’d have empathy for other board members and would either appreciate your own board members more, or learn tools and approaches to develop a more effective relationship with them, or decide you need different ones.
There are lots of other subtle benefits. You’ll extend your network. You’ll view a company from a different vantage point. You’ll be on the other side of the financing discussions (a board member, rather than the CEO). You’ll understand “fiduciary responsibility” more deeply. You’ll have a peer relationship with another CEO that you have a vested interest in that crosses over to a board – CEO relationship. You’ll get exposed to new management styles. You’ll experience different conflicts that you won’t have the same type of pressure from. The list goes on and on.
I usually recommend only one outside board. Not two, not three – just one. Any more than one is too many – as an active CEO you just won’t have time to be serious and deliberate about it. While you might feel like you have capacity for more, your company needs your attention first. There are exceptions, especially with serial entrepreneurs who have a unique relationship with an investor where it’s a deeper, collaborative relationship across multiple companies (I have a few of these), but generally one is plenty.
I don’t count non-profit boards in this mix. Do as much non-profit stuff as you want. The dynamics, incentives, motivations, and things you’ll learn and experience are totally different. That’s not what this is about.
If you are a CEO of a startup company and you aren’t on one other board as an outside director, think hard about doing it. And, if you are in my world and aren’t on an outside board, holler if you want my help getting you connected up with some folks.
Three years ago, Fred Wilson wrote a great blog post called When Talking About Business Models, Remember that Profits Equal Revenues Minus Costs. The point he made was both simple and profound. The simple part is summed up in the post’s title. The profound part is that high growth, early-stage tech companies often have a choice about how to become exceptionally valuable businesses: they can focus on growing revenues at the expense of margins, or margins at the expense of revenues.
Most recent successful tech companies seem to have chosen the former: growing revenues at the expense of margins. Again and again, we see S-1 filings with revenues growing rapidly but profit margins that are low to negative. The same is true for the rumored financials of private companies. I think I understand why they made this choice, but wonder if it was a mistake.
To understand why these companies made this choice, you need to look at their formative stages. Many of them raised money from VC’s at multi-hundred-million to multi-billion dollar valuations, often before the companies were profitable or had even settled on a business model. In most cases, the companies and investors were acting reasonably. But the end results might have been to unwittingly commit themselves to revenue over margin growth.
Why? Money has its own inertia and somehow always seems to get spent. Some of this spending is reasonable and even necessary (infrastructure, defensive expansion to international markets). But then there are harder choices. For example, do you invest heavily in sales and marketing to grow your revenue faster? Do you stay open and try to become a platform and therefore force yourself to experiment with new business models? Or do you become closed to “own the user” and therefore benefit from existing business models like advertising? Fast revenue growth seems to be the best way to justify your valuation. But the next thing you know you have a high cost structure that requires you to raise even more money and grow revenue even faster.
The root cause here is a deeply held belief throughout the business world that exceptional revenue growth is more likely than exceptional margins. For example, if you talk to professional public market investors and analysts you’ll often hear statements like “that’s a low margin industry” – implying that every industry has “natural” profit margins which companies can only defy for short periods of time. This belief is also reflected in public market valuations for recent tech IPOs: companies like Groupon that put revenue over margins command very healthy valuations.
The problem is that this deeply held belief in “revenue exceptionalism” over “margin exceptionalism” is a hangover from the industrial era. Unlike industrial era companies, information businesses tend to be deflationary, shrinking the overall revenue of an industry. They also tend to have network effects (and complementary network effects), making them more defensible and therefore higher margin than non tech businesses. Given this, why do companies continue seeking revenue at the expense of margins? Fred made this same point in his original post, but people didn’t seem to listen.
 Companies (like all cash generating assets) are ultimately valued at a multiple of present and projected future profits. The historical average P/E ratio of the DJIA is about 15, meaning that (on average) if a company is generating $100M in profit, it is valued at $1.5B (Fred prefers to use a 10 multiple, perhaps to be conservative?). One way to understand this is to imagine that companies dividend out all their profits every year. If you bought something for $1.5B and it dividended out $100M every year, that would be a 6.6% annual return.
 Why are these high-priced financings reasonable? From the company’s perspective: your traffic is growing so fast you need to invest millions of dollars in infrastructure. Meanwhile copycats are popping up in other countries. You don’t know if the financial markets will suddenly dry up. Someone offers you, say, $50M for minimal dilution. Seems like a reasonable hedge. From the investor’s perspective: the history of venture capital shows that almost all the returns are generated from big hits like Amazon, eBay, Facebook and Google. (As Paul Graham once put it: “The difference between a bad VC fund and a great VC fund is one big hit”).
My friend, Carmine Gallo, has written a book called The Apple Experience: Secrets to Building Insanely Great Customer Loyalty. The Apple Store is the most profitable retailer in America, generating an average of $5,600 per square foot and attracting more than 20,000 visitors a week.
In the decade since Steve Jobs and former head of retail, Ron Johnson, decided to reimagine the retail experience, the Apple Store not only reimagined and reinvented retail, it blew up the model entirely and started from scratch. In his research for The Apple Experience, Carmine discovered ten things that the Apple Store can teach any business in any industry to be more successful:
1. Stop selling stuff. When Steve Jobs first started the Apple Store he did not ask the question, “How will we grow our market share from 5 to 10 percent?” Instead he asked, “How do we enrich people’s lives?” Think about your vision. If you were to examine the business model for most brands and retailers and develop a vision around it, the vision would be to “sell more stuff.” A vision based on selling stuff isn’t very inspiring and leads to a very different experience than the Apple Retail Store created.
2. Enrich lives. The vision behind the Apple Store is “enrich lives,” the first two words on a wallet-sized credo card employees are encouraged to carry. When you enrich lives magical things start to happen. For example, enriching lives convinced Apple to have a non-commissioned sales floor where employees feel comfortable spending as much time with a customer as the customer desires. Enriching lives led Apple to build play areas (the “family room”) where kids could see, touch and play on computers. Enriching lives led to the creation of a “Genius Bar” where trained experts are focused on “rebuilding relationships” as much as fixing problems.
3. Hire for smiles. The soul of the Apple Store is in its people. They are hired, trained, motivated and taught to create magical and memorable moments for their customers. The Apple Store values a magnetic personality as much, if not more so, than technical proficiency. The Apple Store cares less about what you know than it cares about how much you love people.
4. Celebrate diversity. Mohawks, tattoos, piercings are all acceptable among Apple Store employees. Apple hires people who reflect the diversity of their customers. Since they are more interested in how passionate you are, your hairstyle doesn’t matter. Early in the Apple Store history, they also learned that former teachers make the best salespeople because they ask a lot of questions. It’s not uncommon to find former teachers, engineers, and artists at an Apple Store. Apple doesn’t look for someone who fits a mold.
5. Unleash inner genius. Teach your customers something they never knew they could do before, and they’ll reward you with their loyalty. For example, the Apple Store offers a unique program to help people understand and enjoy their computers: One to One. The $99 one-year membership program is available with the purchase of a Mac. Apple Store instructors called “creatives” offer personalized instruction inside the Apple Store. Customers can learn just about anything: basics about the Mac operating system; how to design a website; enjoying, sharing, and editing photos or movies; creating a presentation; and much more. The One to One program was created to help build customers for life. It was designed on the premise that the more you understand a product, the more you enjoy it, and the more likely you are to build a long-term relationship with the company. Instructors are trained to provide guidance and instruction, but also to inspire customers, giving them the tools to make them more creative than they ever imagined.
6. Empower employees. I spent one hour talking to an Apple Store specialist about kids, golf, and my business. We spent about ten minutes talking about the product (a MacBook Air). I asked the employee whether he would be reprimanded for spending so much time with one customer. “Not at all,” he replied. “If you have a great experience, that’s all that matters.” Apple has a non-commissioned sales floor for a reason—employees are not pressured to “make a sale.” Instead they are empowered to do what they believe is the right thing to do.
7. Sell the benefit. Apple Store specialists are taught to sell the benefit behind products and to customize those benefits for the customer. For example, I walked to the iPad table with my two young daughters and told the specialist I was considering my first iPad. In a brilliant move, the specialist focused on my two daughters, the ‘secondary’ customer who can influence a purchase. He let the girls play on separate devices. On one device he played the movie, Tangled, and on the other device he brought up a Disney Princess coloring app. My girls were thrilled and, in one memorable moment, my 6-year-old turned me to and said, “I love this store!” It’s easy to see why. Instead of touting “speeds and feeds,” the specialist taught us how the device could improve our lives.
8. Follow the steps of service. The Apple Store teaches its employees to follow five steps in each and every interaction. These are called the Apple five steps of service. They are outlined by the acronym A-P-P-L-E. They are: Approach with a customized, warm greeting. Probe politely to understand the customer’s needs. Present a solution the customer can take home today. Listen for and address unresolved questions. End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return.
9. Create multisensory experiences. The brain loves multi-sensory experiences. In other words, people enjoy being able to see, touch, and play with products. Walk into an Apple Store upon opening and you’ll see all the notebook computer screens perfectly positioned slightly beyond 90-degree angles. The position of the computer lets you see the screen (which is on and loaded with content) but forces you to touch the computer in order to adjust it. Every device in the store is working and connected to the Internet. Spend as much time as you’d like playing with the products—nobody will kick you out. Creatives who give One-to-One workshops do not touch the computer without asking for permission. They want you to do it. The sense of touch helps create an emotional connection with a product.
10. Appeal to the buying brain. Clutter forces the brain to consume energy. Create uncluttered environments instead. The Apple Store is spacious, clean, well-lit, and uncluttered. Cables are hidden from view and no posters on placed on the iconic glass entrances. Computer screens are cleaned constantly. Keep the environment clean, open, and uncluttered.
The three pillars of enchantment are likability, trustworthiness, and quality. Apple’s engineers take care of quality, and the Apple Store experience personifies likability and trustworthiness. I’ve never left an Apple store without being enchanted—in fact, I seldom leave the Apple Store on University Avenue in Palo Alto without being enchanted and buying something too!
Published in Thomson Reuter’s Venture Equity Latin America on July 31, 2012, Volume XI, No. 13. Interview conducted by Dan Weil.
Entrepreneurship is growing by leaps and bounds in Latin America, and the trend is only going to intensify.
So says Allen Taylor, Director of Global Markets for Endeavor, a non-profit group that assists entrepreneurs in Latin America and other emerging markets. (See VELA’s June 15 issue for a story about Endeavor’s investment fund.)
Of the approximately 700 entrepreneurs Endeavor has supported since its 1998 inception, about two-thirds are in Latin America. The organization has offices in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Colombia.
VELA recently spoke with Taylor about entrepreneurship in the region. (more…)
There is a dark cloud over the internet sector due to the weak performance of the Facebook IPO. It’s not horribly dramatic by any means – Facebook is clearly an important company (even if it’s not worth $90B+). But a lot of entrepreneurs and investors were hoping for a really strong showing to drive more liquidity in the market and continue the surge in hype around internet companies (both start-ups and later stage companies).
The interesting thing is that while many entrepreneurs, tech executives, and investors are short-term nervous about the fate of internet-enabled startups, most are incredibly long-term bullish. Personally, I’m more bullish about the prospects of internet-enabled innovation than I have been my entire career.
The reason is that I’m convinced that we are on the ground floor of a new innovation wave that is going to be at least as disruptive as the first wave of the internet. It feels like we are in the early/mid 1990’s again, or, more appropriately, like we are on the cusp on the second industrial revolution where we saw massive developments centered around the foundational innovations of steel, the internal combustion engine, and electricity. Arguably, the second industrial revolution was more impactful to humanity than the first, and I feel the same about what is ahead compared to the first internet innovation wave.
I’m not enough of a tech pundit to create a cohesive theory about the current state of things like Roger McNamee and Mike Maples, nor am I going to rehash the excellent collection of data that Mary Meekerhas graciously assembled (both required reading IMHO), but here are four foundational pieces of infrastructure that is getting me most excited about where the tech industry is today and where it is headed.
Reprinted from The Entrepreneurial Mind. Original article here.
By Dr. Jeff Cornwall, the Jack C. Massey Chair in Entrepreneurship at Belmont University.
“You are gnats! You are like annoying little gnats flying around in the face of consumers.”
This is a message that I consistently tell aspiring first-time entrepreneurs.
Why the harsh words? Most first-time entrepreneurs have so much enthusiasm that they can become blinded to the reality of the challenges that every new business faces.
I tell them to think about the last few hours. How many small businesses did you go past without even really noticing them? What about all of the products in the convenience store where you got gas this morning?
How many of the service businesses that had logos and advertisements on the sides of their trucks did you actually pay attention to?
Many of those products on the shelves are the result of someone’s entrepreneurial dreams. A small-business owner spent hours agonizing over the business name and a logo, and yet most passersby barely notice it.
New business owners need to adjust their expectations. While starting a new venture is one of the most important and exciting things you’ve ever done, to the market your product is just one more in an already overcrowded sea.
So, new business owners need to get a sense of urgency. They need to develop a plan to become more than just another annoying little gnat!
To successfully launch a new business the entrepreneur needs a clear entry strategy, which is a plan for how the business is going to gain the attention of the market and start attracting customers.
If your business is going to take existing market share away from established businesses, you are going to have to do something better, faster or cheaper than the competition. Give people a compelling reason to change their buying habits.
Start small: Consider a niche strategy. This simply means the entrepreneur finds a small part of a market that’s not being served or that has been significantly under-served. It gives the entrepreneur a safer market to conquer a bit hidden away from established businesses.
But establishing a niche requires that you find ways to let the customers in that niche market know that your new business is now open and is ready to fill their specific unmet need.
Getting the market’s attention for a completely new product that has the potential to impress the mass market is the most difficult and expensive market entry. It requires extensive investment in advertising and other forms of promotion to build awareness for your new product and to educate the public about the benefits it offers.
No matter which type of entry strategy you pursue — and as excited as you may be about your new business — remember this: If you build it they may, or they may not, come.
You will need to work hard to find the most effective means to attract those initial customers.
What’s your startup funding strategy? Bootstrapped? True Angel? Super Angel? Venture Capital? There are a lot things to consider before deciding what funding strategy is right for you and your startup. (more…)
The following interview was conducted with Omar Koudsi, who, along with Laith Zraikat, founded Jeeran and was selected as an Endeavor Entrepreneur in 2010. The key to answering the interview’s title involves, as the original post states, “A dash of subterfuge, a sprinkling of Koranic insight, and plenty of pavement-pounding.”
By David Zax
Omar Koudsi is the CEO of the freshly-funded Jeeran, sometimes called the “Yelp of the Arab world.” Koudsi says his ambitions are more grand, with an eye on all emerging markets: “We want to be a company not for the Arab world, but from the Arab world.” Jeeran is live in five countries now, and with a focus on Jordan and Saudi Arabia. We caught up with Koudsi to learn about the unique challenges of bringing a culture of a reviewing to parts of the world where digital penetration is low, and concern with face-saving high.
FAST COMPANY: What’s Jeeran?
OMAR KOUDSI: Jeeran is a local platform centered around places and reviews.
You’ve been called the Yelp of the Arab world.
I think that’s kind of an oversimplification. The problems we’re solving in our part of the world are much bigger than our counterparts in developed markets. The lack of data is a big issue we tackle, as well as the lack of a review culture where people feel the need to talk about their experiences.
Lack of data?
In our part of the world, a lot of places don’t have websites. There’s a statistic from Google–that 80% of small and medium businesses don’t have a web presence in the emerging or developing world.
But if I wanted the best falafel in Amman, I’d go to Jeeran, or not?
Yes, you’d go to Jeeran for that. But the kind of problems we’re solving go beyond that. The first problem we’re solving is compiling a data layer through various sources, and that’s pretty tough to do.
How do you do it?
Various sources–publicly available data, government agencies, data you can buy. It’s scraps here and there. More importantly, we have to go on the street and write down data. We can’t get the majority of it, but we have to get a significant nucleus which we can launch and then incentivize people to add data themselves.
You’ve gone out knocking on doors?
Yes. You get various weird things. Some people think we’re from the tax authority. There’s cultural challenges everywhere. In Saudi Arabia, there’s a suspicion of people walking down the street and taking pictures. We had someone there get stopped several times, whether by shop owners or by the police. He had to figure out a creative way of being able to take pictures, so he got his kid, and started taking pictures of his kid at every place. He basically put his kid in front of places and took the picture.
What other challenges have there been?
In the emerging world, customer service is not very centric. We have a lot of initial negative reactions, where people want to sue us. One time, we put the wrong phone number for a cake shop, it was the phone number for a competitor. He wasn’t too happy about that. But we converted him to a happy business customer with a Jeeran sticker on his window. [Pictured up top.] We educated him and told him he can claim his page and edit the info himself.
So for many of these businesses, you’re their only web presence?
Yes. Sometimes people send CVs to us, wanting to apply to these places. They think we are their site. At our business contact email, we get a lot of people thinking that we are actually the business itself.
Since you’re tackling more than Yelp did in the U.S., you could be way ahead of the curve in your markets.
I think so, and it’s a lot harder. It goes both ways. It’s hard, so nobody’s doing it. But nobody’s doing it because it’s very hard. We do have an advantage because we’re solving a big problem. We consider ourselves as much an offline as an online business. A lot of our energy is literally on the streets. If you take the average street person–not the elite that use Foursquare–their first reaction is, “Why the hell would I put time into writing a review?”
In many parts of the world, there’s also a concern over saving face.
In our early days in Jordan, we brought a bunch of users–good users who we thought had really figured out how to use the site–to a café. Everything in this café was a negative experience, but when everybody went home, they put up positive reviews. Later our community manager asked them, “How come you wrote good reviews? The waiter was slow, the food wasn’t good–you all agreed it wasn’t good.” The response from the majority of them was: We couldn’t write a negative review when you had invited us to this place.
They were worried about offending you, Jeeran?
Their main priority was not about writing an objective review.
So how do you foster a review culture in traditional societies?
Meetups, education, reaching out. We try to focus on universal themes. There are religious sayings.
Where in the Koran does it say, “Thou shalt Yelp”?
There’s one saying from the prophet Muhammad: “Removing harm from other people’s way is pious work.” We do talk about this, depending on the context. You have to say things people connect to and understand. Writing a review is removing harm from other people’s way, right? Another thing we talk about is the concept of hearing the individual voice. I would say in our part of the world, there’s a kind of self-defeatism: The notion that one person cannot make a difference is prevalent. I think the Arab Spring did show that you can control your destiny, you can make a difference. So we tie that to our small angle: Your own review can make a difference. When combined, small voices do have an impact.
When you work inside a startup with lots of clever and motivated staff you’re never short of good ideas that you can implement.
It’s tempting to take on new projects, new features, new geographies, new speaking opportunities, whatever. Each one incrementally sounds like a good idea, yet collectively they end up punishing undisciplined teams. I like to counsel that the best teams are often defined by what they choose not to do.
Let me explain.
As a VC I regularly meet with companies and listen to their plans. It’s a very common occurrence that a young startup with sub 20 staff and sub $2m in financing is racing around doing too many things. This level of complexity always worries me. A significant number of the companies I meet with get some form of feedback from me that:
“I’m a bit worried that you’re doing too many THINGS. You run the risk of being a mile wide and an inch deep. It’s hard enough to do X really well and succeed. I’m not sure how you do all these other things and yet I think they may end up being a distraction to X.”
I already know your response. Trust me. I hear it every week
“Yeah, but I’m just going to execute this [channel sales deal, international license of my product, new industry, new operating system, biz dev deal] and then it will pretty much run itself.”
It never does. That channel deal that you thought would take no times ends up burning scarce calories. The 3rd-party tries to sell your software – they just need your help with tech assistance to close the deal. They just need you to update your marketing materials. They got your last version working but since your latest release they couldn’t get it to work. That test you did on launching a RIM version of your product – it was only beta – now has 20 users who need a patch because it’s not working properly.
Every extra set of features that you added that served one narrow use case end up being features you need to support in future releases adding complexity to future development, usability testing, regression testing, etc.
Every team I fund comes across as laser focused on their core mission.
I always tell teams I meet with, “The scarcest resource in your company is management bandwidth. Spend it wisely.”
Every company is built by a team and every team member matters. But as you know, a few key people in any business have disproportionate impact on the company’s ultimate success. And nobody is more important in this regard than senior management. These people need need to be hyper focused on those things that matter the most to the company’s success. It’s why I don’t invest in Conference Ho’s.
Examples from discussions I’ve had this month that might resonate with your internal debates about how to prioritize
• We are giving a version of our product to a team in Europe who will start selling our product internationally
• We are signing up a channel partner to sell our product since we haven’t scaled our internal telesales team yet [yes, we know that they don't have experience selling IT, but they have customer relationships]
• We’re going to put a guy on the ground in the UK to address early leads we’re getting from ad agencies there [true, we haven't thought about employment laws, taxation, currency management, etc.]
• I know our product seems complex but we felt we needed to test lots of features to be sure we knew what would resonate with users … or … we aren’t committed to features x, y, z yet but we know our competitors are planning to so we wanted to be first to market
• We need to hire a team in financial services now to address the needs of that industry [yeah, I know we don't yet have big customers there. ok, I know our product isn't yet verticalized. still, we need to start now or we'll be behind.]
And so on. Trust me – each additional complexity you add before you’re ready decreases your probability of being truly excellent at the things you want to do extraordinarily well.
Instagram didn’t rush to Android. They also didn’t do video. They were truly excellent at what they did do.
What do you want to excel at? How will today’s “toe in the water” initiatives distract you or take your management’s time or attention off of your core business? How likely is your, “won’t take too much time” initiative to come back and bite you in the butt?