How Do You Make The Best Use of Your Board? Eight Thoughts

Situation: A private company has a Board of Directors that functions more as an Advisory Board than a traditional Board. For example, they do not have the power to fire or replace the CEO. The CEO wants feedback on how to interact with the Board, and how to work with them between meetings. How do you make the best use of your Board?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Decide what you want from the Board, and clearly communicate this to the Members.
  • Treat the Board as a single entity – not as individuals. Avoid politicking individual members between meetings. Use the Board to drive decisions.
  • At your next Board meeting have a discussion with the Board:
    • Let the members know that you are concerned about whether you are using them effectively as a resource.
    • Lay out strategic elements to be dealt with over next period, and ask for their advice.
    • For example, if you are moving into a new market you need advice on how to succeed. Are they the right group to provide this advice? If not, what other expertise should be added to the Board?
    • Consider having this conversation in a special session of the Board.
  • Bring in expertise – if your industry has shifted, adjust the make-up of the Board to reflect the new realities. If you need to raise capital, look for expertise in this area.
  • Eliminate less productive members from the Board.
  • If you are looking at a new market, build an Advisory Board that is knowledgeable about this space, but who are not necessarily customers. Consider retired executives from companies in this market.
  • Additional needs that you might want to address either through your Board or an Advisory Board:
    • Financial expertise in new markets.
    • Where should you partner to make a complete offering or to supplement your offering?
  • Another CEO has a similar Board situation. In this case, the CEO makes it clear that Board members are expected to:
    • Make connections.
    • Assist in bringing in business.
    • Members are expected either to produce or they are off the Board.
    • Meetings are driven to a specific agenda with expectations of deliverables.

How Do You Raise Cash Short Term? Seven Suggestions

Situation: A CEO has identified a new business opportunity that looks promising but will require raising additional cash short term. What are good sources of short term cash, and what will simplify access to these resources? How do you raise cash short term?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • You must be the biggest critic of this opportunity. If it doesn’t fly to your critical eye, it will be hard to sell to others. As a reality check, ask yourself whether the opportunity is something on which you’d bet your house.
  • Build the new capability around a web distribution system that compliments your other capabilities. This broadens the appeal of the offer.
  • Generate an investment proforma and revenue stream. Most investors or debt financers will want to see this. You can position it as an immature business plan backed by your best estimate of the numbers.
  • You’ll need a business plan unless you’re lucky enough to find someone who believes that you can turn any opportunity into gold.
  • Presell subscriptions to target clients to prove the value of the offer – both to you and for investors.
  • Assure that any payments due from you go into an escrow account, to be released on a quarterly or other phased basis pending performance from the other parties within this deal.
  • This is not a venture capital story. Angel investors will seek a lower return for lower risk than VCs. Set some milestones for the Angels that will help them to see that you are monitoring their risk.

How Do Small Companies Outsource Infrastructure? Eight Ideas

Situation: Start-ups and early-stage enterprises are typically both resource and talent constrained. The CEO of a start-up asks how others successfully outsourced infrastructure cost effectively and when they were early-stage so that they could focus on critical success factors and improve their opportunity to succeed. How do small companies outsource infrastructure?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • In the early stages of company development, outsource everything possible and focus our efforts only on the key functions.
  • In order to focus on the most important things first, decide what must be accomplished and when. Set priorities, establish key milestones and create a timeline to measure achievement. Celebrate your successes!
  • Identify the most important strategic foci within your business model and outsource everything else.
    • For example, use outside data centers instead of developing these yourself.
    • With the increase in Cloud-based options, early stage companies can do without the IT infrastructure that they used to need. Just be careful to safeguard your intellectual property!
  • Attend relevant meetings and functions to learn about existing and available capabilities. Look for local networking opportunities relevant to your market.
  • Incubator sites have developed in a number of high tech centers. These are designed to cover infrastructure needs at a reasonable cost so that founders can focus on product and service development.
  • Hire a virtual assistant – you can find these locally using a Google search.
  • Take advantage of lower cost labor and enlist younger, less experienced labor to manage databases and clean records.
  • Set up a wiki for information. This exchange is free and you can tailor it to your needs. It is permission-based; you can find it at pbwiki.com.

How Do You Set Up Co-Development Partnerships? Five Thoughts

Situation: A company has clients who are interested in projects for which the company’s partners already have partial designs. There is an opportunity to leverage these partial designs into development of full solutions for their clients. How should the company approach this in a way that satisfies their customers and is fair to their partners? How do you set up co-development partnerships?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Given this opportunity it is no longer important who performed what part of the development. As long as your partners have quoted you what they believe to be a fair price for their development pieces, you are free to accept their price, complete development to your clients’ specifications, and sell the full solution to the client at market prices.
  • What you bring to the table is the opportunity to rapidly monetize the technology. This is something that your partners can’t do, so by filling this role you are acting in the interest of all parties.
  • What you charge for your work and the full solution depends on the potential value to the client. Time is money, and delivery now is worth a premium price to a client who needs your solution and wants to release their product as soon as possible.
  • This strategy is particularly applicable to early stage companies who need to release their initial products and start generating revenue.
  • Take a note from Bill Gates – sell the product for a good price and then buy or acquire the supply.

How Do You Pitch a Blue Ocean Service? Six Recommendations

Situation: A company is planning to pitch a Blue Ocean service to a major prospect. The service has a proven track record with industry leaders and is not being offered by other vendors. How do you pitch a Blue Ocean service?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Start by listening to the client’s current situation. Here are some opening questions:
    • How did you get here? Just the 2-3 minute version. As a follow-up question, ask what their past performance has been.
    • What is your most important competitive strategic advantage? Follow-up: what is your future competitive advantage – the same or different?
    • If everything goes right, where do you see things in 2-3 years?
    • What obstacles, roadblocks and constraints will keep you from getting there?
  • Include graphics in your presentation on both the prospect’s current situation and how your proposal differentially impacts their ability to reach their future objectives.
  • In your presentation, highlight your ability to offer a very competitive overall cost proposal based on your ability to outsource work to lower cost subsidiaries or partners.
  • Emphasize your track record providing the proposed service to industry leaders.
  • Be sure that your overall proposal looks sound and responsive to the prospect’s need as you understand it. It will be important to understand whether the individual with whom you are meeting next has the same perspective. Try to determine this before your next meeting.
  • Adding an additional vendor within your proposed framework doesn’t upset the apple cart. It probably benefits everyone as long as it benefits the prospect.

Note: The term Blue Ocean Strategy comes from a book published in 2005 and written by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, professors at INSEAD and co-directors of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute. The authors argue that companies can succeed not by battling competitors, but rather by creating ″blue oceans″ of uncontested market space through the simultaneous pursuit of differentiation and low cost to open up a new market space and create new demand.

How Do You Set Up an Office in China? Seven Suggestions

Situation: A company has an opportunity to build an office in China. Their principal objective is to reduce their cost of providing services. A partner company has offered them space in its existing office in China. What is your experience working with Chinese culture? How do you set up an office in China?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Hire someone in your US office with an engineering background who is fluent both in Mandarin and in the subtleties of Chinese language and culture. Fluency in Chinese language and culture is particularly critical when you are dealing with difficult process issues.
    • Investigate local organizations such as the Silicon Valley Chinese Engineers Association. Through these organizations you may find candidates for this role who are also excellent engineers and additions to your team.
  • Employee loyalty issues in China will be more challenging than in the US. Chinese employees want to build their resumes as quickly as possible and perceive that job-hopping will facilitate this, just as was the case during the dot.com boom in Silicon Valley.
  • Offer a significant carrot to Chinese employees – after X years of work for us in China, you get Y months of work, at our expense, in our US office. This is a much sought-after experience for Chinese employees.
    • Be prepared to deal with departure soon after return to China, or employees declining to return to China at the end of their US stint.
  • Build a stronger process documentation system than you need in the US to assure both that work is done to your standards, and so that you can easily replace talent lost to turnover.
  • Have a recruiting program based in China to fill your personnel needs.
  • You will experience a culture clash when it comes to the value placed on equity and in understanding the meaning of a contract. For China in its current state of development, neither term is well-established by US standards.
  • Time tracking is not clean cut in China and vacation time needs differ. An example is the month of February for Chinese New Year.

How Do You Sell Both Standard and Custom Products? Six Ideas

Situation: A company is rapidly ramping sales of standard products. However, the rep network that sells the company’s products has had more difficulty selling higher dollar / higher margin custom products. How do you sell both standard and custom products?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Make the custom products look more like spec products with adaptability. Create a grid that allows the customer to easily spec the specific product that they need and quickly determine the price of the product. This price can be overestimated at first blush, or scaled depending on the number of units wanted. Consider using a laptop or PDA spreadsheet.
  • Consider the combination specialist / generalist approach that companies have used successfully for highly technical sales. Put a significantly higher commission on the higher price / margin custom product, and have your own “specialist” reps do joint calls with the distributor reps who have relationships with the customer. With the incentive of higher commissions, a percentage of the distributor reps will take the initiative to learn from your inside reps how to sell the custom product to boost their sales and commission income.
  • For your distributor reps, separate and optimize lead generation and deal closing from a compensation standpoint to encourage both.
  • Reps with consultative sales experience, for example selling intangibles such as insurance, may be the best candidates to sell your custom offering.
  • Offer quarterly training of your reps and distributors to encourage them to sell the custom products.
  • Consider telemarketing. Support your telemarketers with a well-prepared script to assist them in qualifying prospects and setting appointments for your own reps.

How Do You Structure an International Deal? Six Points

Situation: A CEO is evaluating a potential deal with an Asian company that is synergistic with the strategy of the CEO’s company. The structure would include a US entity, run by the CEO, and an Asian entity that would provide essential technology. How do you structure an international deal?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Before you agree to a deal, raise your own level of trust with the key players of the Asian company so that you are comfortable with the investment of time and money that you will make.
  • Assure that you will have the focus and attention of talent that you will need within the Asian company. This is better done through mutual understanding and agreement than through contract. In Asia, relationships are personal, not contractual, though for legal reasons personal understandings must be backed by a good written contract. This will likely mean that you will have to travel to Asia to spend time with the key personnel upon whom you will rely.
  • Make sure that there is agreement on a clear road map for both the US and Asian entities.
  • You will need a solid bridge person who can speak both the language and culture of your Asian counterpart – not just someone who says that they can, but who can deliver. Test this relationship before agreeing to the deal.
  • Structure the deal so that the US entity owns exclusive rights to the technology world-wide with the exception of the home country of the Asian firm. Assure that you own an acceptable piece of the US entity.
  • Don’t complicate the exercise by creating additional shell companies in Asia. Shell companies can make it difficult to maintain accountability and assure that you gain the value that you seek.

How Do You Finance a Ramp-up? Five Suggestions

Situation: A company has been growing within budget. In the near-term they anticipate an opportunity for significant growth. The challenge of this ramp-up is that it will sap existing financial resources as expenses associated with the ramp outpace revenues. In growth terms this challenge is known as financing the inflection point of the hockey stick. How do you finance a ramp-up?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Investigate a number of different financing options and combinations of options. While historically the company has been financed by venture capital, as you finance your ramp think beyond venture capital as the sole source of funds.
  • Investigate corporate partners who would consider the company a strategic investment. This creates a higher valuation for the company than you will find with VCs alone.
  • Within the VC community, to raise a modest level of funds focus on 2nd and 3rd tier funds – particularly those who specialize in the company’s technology and market and who will see this opportunity as fitting their portfolio strategy.
  • Outside of the VC community, look at banking and fund options that offer creative ways of using both investment and debt to fund the company through the inflection until you are again cash positive. Examples are Comerica Bank that has been building its position among Silicon Valley start-ups and venture capital firms, and Paradigm Capital that will provide loans by collateralizing your IP.
  • Look closely at your IP portfolio to maximize IP value to either VCs or other funding sources. If your IP position is strong it boosts your ability to attract funding.

What Process Do Use to Add a New Sales Person? Five Thoughts

Situation: A CEO wants to add a key person in sales. For a long time most sales have been handled by a long-term employee with a strong sales background in the company’s market, often working closely with the CEO. This sales person is nearing retirement. What process do you use to add a new sales person?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Involve non-sales personnel in the interview process. These individuals are important to your company culture, and will necessarily be working with the sales person. They may bring insights to the interview process that you do not see. In addition, involving them in the selection process will smooth the on-boarding process of your eventual hire.
  • Work with current staff to create a 90-day on-boarding plan for the new person. This helps in two ways: it identifies important characteristics that you will want to see in a good candidate, and it provides an on-boarding road map that will help the new hire to succeed.
  • Consider going one step further and have current personnel identify and pre-qualify candidates for you.
  • Use creative as well as traditional methods to identify potential candidates. In the process, make sure that you are not misrepresenting your situation or creating legal or ethical problems.
  • Have your options in place when you are ready to move on a particular candidate.