How Do You Evaluate Business Opportunities? Five Guidelines

Situation: A company is planning for growth and is considering several business opportunities. None are fully baked, but broadly speaking the CEO is interested in a list of pros and cons that will help her team to evaluate the opportunities before them. What questions should the management team be asking? How do you evaluate business opportunities?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Which of the opportunities do you find exciting? Which opportunities ignite your passion? Which opportunities would be exciting to pursue on a daily basis? Use this to create your first cut.
    • When you meet with your team, prompt discussion by asking: why do you come to work each day? What drives you now?
    • Now look at each of the opportunities that you are considering. Which opportunities best reflect your answers?
  • Rank the opportunities in terms of probability of success. For each, do a SWOT analysis – how does each address your current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats? How could each make the company stronger or address potential threats that you foresee?
  • Which opportunity provides the best segue to your long-term strategic opportunities over the next 2-3 or 3-5 years?
  • On a personal basis, how important is power and authority to you? What about the personal and work time that is available to you? What is your role, as CEO, in each opportunity? For each opportunity, does this role reflect your personal priorities? Finally, what is your ideal opportunity, in personal terms?
  • Once you have evaluated all of your opportunities – including your personal ideal opportunity – perform a weighted scoring of the opportunities to test your assumptions. Among the opportunities available, which is closest in score to your ideal opportunity?

How Do You Recruit an Outside Director? Five Suggestions

Situation: A company’s current directors are all insiders. The CEO wants to bring in an outside director for greater perspective, someone who can help the company grow to the next level. What should they look for?  How do you recruit an outside director?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Look for an individual at a company in a similar market segment that is the revenue size that you want to be and which is selling to the same customers that you do. You want their sales process to be similar in type and complexity of sale but non-competitive with your company.
    • This can be an inactive founder or past employee who has been in GM role with P&L responsibility.
  • Write a list of the needs that you want this person to fulfill. Use this to evaluate prospective candidates.
  • Is it OK to hire a stranger?
    • Before you speak with a candidate, research their background and reputation.
    • You want someone who can provide information and a perspective that you don’t have now. During the selection process you will get to know the person.
  • Consider a high level individual from a company that has been a top customer. This individual can help you understand how you are viewed in the market, and how you can enhance your positioning and competitiveness.
  • Have lunch with a local recruiter who regularly recruits directors for companies. Get their perspective on how to select an outside director and what to look for in a candidate.

How Do You Forecast Sales & Revenue? Six Suggestions

Situation: A company is developing new forecasting metrics for both sales and revenue. The immediate future does not look robust, and they are concerned about mid-term future revenue. Ideally they want to extend a 3 month forecast window out to 6 months. What is an effective methodology for forecasting revenue out 6 months? How do you forecast sales and revenue?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Get your team together and gather impressions on the direction of business through the end of year. How many see sales going up, staying the same or declining through the end of the year. Discuss the rationale behind each member’s estimate so that you fully understand their thinking and what metrics each sees as important to their forecast. Work to make the estimates and metrics as rigorous as possible.
  • Based on the metrics discussed, develop an algorithm that you can monitor on a monthly or quarterly basis, depending upon your needs.
  • As you develop your algorithm, test it against past sales forecasts and history. Can it accurately plot past performance based on the metrics that you had at the time. If not, what needs to be adjusted or better understood.
  • Do you ask clients for forecasts of their purchase needs and do you track the accuracy of their forecasts? Weigh their responses by the quality of their past predictions.
  • As an alternative to trying to predict demand, assemble your resources to fit the needs of your market and customers and arrange your resources for flexibility.
  • Look at industry resources. How far out do experts in your industry claim to be able to forecast demand and sales or purchases? How reliable are these forecasts? What can you learn from this exercise that will improve your own forecasts?

How Do You Create Values, Mission and Vision? Four Ideas

Situation: An early stage company wants to create core values, vision, mission, and a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) to guide the company and inspire employees for the next five years. What are the most important aspects of this process? How have other companies done it? How do you create core values, mission and vision?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • As the founding CEO of an early stage company, define yourself first. What are your skill sets and talents? Start from the beginning: why did you start your company? What motivates you and what do you want to build or accomplish? What are you passionate about? What really turns you on? You are the individual who, in an early stage company, must inspire your employees. What inspires you and what has attracted your employees to the opportunity presented by your company?
  • Create your business plan around your dream. If creating something exciting and new or making money is important, how can you make creating something exciting or making money living your dream? If the most important factor is something else, how can you achieve this living your dream?
  • The US Government is desperate for export opportunities involving high tech products which will employ Americans. The opportunities are in new innovations, not commodities. For example, solar panels are high tech but they have become commodities at least in their current configurations. Look for something that is unique and new – for example software that helps to increase the efficiency and security of the grid.
  • Entrepreneurship is not about having a steady income. It’s about creating something new. If what you develop works, you will make money. However, if you want a steady income – go get a job.

How Do You Manage Multiple Priorities? Six Suggestions

Situation: A company has developed a number of initiatives and priorities which are important to the success of the company. All of the initiatives are daunting.  What do they need to do to get all of these accomplished? How do you manage multiple priorities?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Start with corporate level objectives and set these independently from your initiatives. Pick your top corporate goals and objectives – financial, performance, and so on. Once this is in place, rate your initiatives in terms of how they help to meet your company objectives.
  • Create an initiative list. Measure the upside and risk for each initiative. Based on the results of your analysis classify each initiative: critical, important, or nice to have. This, plus alignment between initiatives your corporate objectives will indicate which initiatives are most critical to company success.
  • Every company needs long and short term goals. Use these to align and prioritize initiatives. Only and your team you can tell what is important and importance is a matter of your strategic focus and objectives.
  • They key to accomplishing multiple objectives is focus. Focus on your top 2-3 initiatives first – if you can reasonably handle this many. Once these are accomplished, focus on the next 2-3, and so forth.
  • Look at your competitors – where are the opportunities in the marketplace. How will your initiatives make you more competitive?
  • What does your leadership development plan look like? If you plan to add new leadership, include in your thinking a transition plan to new leadership, taking into account your multi-year timeline.

How Do You Make the Most of Changing Your BHAG? Eight Points

Situation: A company recently changed their BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) to focus on premium customer acquisition, but as a small-to-medium sized company has a 3-year focus instead of the typical 10-20 year focus of a larger company. They want to make this a company-wide effort. How do you make the most of changing your BHAG?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • First, it is measurable and specific – grow to 10 times your premium current customer base in 3 years. Your marketplace is changing quickly, so a shorter-term BHAG makes sense. Call it your 10/3 Program or 10/3 Challenge.
  • Is it too shallow? No – this is something that people can rally around. It represents significant company growth.
  • What happens when you achieve the goal? Celebrate in a big way, and then set the next BHAG.
  • How do you create excitement? Every time you hit a milestone, bring in pizza, or conduct a special event. Celebrate.
  • Success = Change. What does that next milestone mean for the company and your capabilities? This isn’t just about new clients, but also includes scaling your delivery systems and customer service. Rally your non-sales staff around these important tasks.
  • Create milestones not just around sales numbers but also around timelines. Tie incentives to achievement of BHAG milestones.
  • Conduct a company meeting to announce the BHAG, and announce progress in future company meetings.
    • Progress against milestones.
    • Share pipeline data to maintain excitement.
    • Develop scale-up programs and share progress of non-sales departments as they ramp up services.
  • Think about building a competition around the goal. As long as this fits your culture it can add excitement to achieving both milestones and the BHAG itself.

Note: The term ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goal’ was proposed by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their 1994 book entitled Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.

Where Should You Focus – Eyeballs or Dollars? Six Thoughts

Situation: A company sells personalized content as well as a tool kit. The long-term plan is to monetize storage of personalized content. When they speak to venture capitalists, the VCs advise them to focus on just building their user base and not to worry about revenue.  What would you do? Where should you focus – eyeballs or dollars?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Take advice from venture capitalists with a grain of salt. Remember that their game is to fund companies that they like incrementally, taking a greater share of ownership of the company with each increment in funding. The more you lack revenue, the more you’re dependent upon them.
  • Gain traction by offering free content with up-sell opportunities for premium access.
  • The give-away strategy is a great model to build your initial user audience. Consider micropayment options for special features, content storage, and so forth.
  • Going slow and steady may not be the right model for this space. Company growth for a web-based platform is different from the typical bootstrap model.
  • It’s hard to get good advice for viral marketing opportunities from CEOs who have bootstrapped their companies. Look for other input. Seek the advice of CEOs who have been successful in the viral online marketing space and learn as much as you can about their business models.
  • Gaming is another opportunity – premium or virtual world sales.

How Do You Recruit a VP of Sales & Marketing? Seven Thoughts

Situation: A company has grown to five times the size that that were when they hired their last Vice President of Sales & Marketing, and are looking for a new VP of Sales & Marketing. What is your advice as they embark on this search? How do you recruit a VP of Sales & Marketing?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Think coach as opposed to star player. You are a much larger company, and at this phase of growth you need an individual with good marketing skills combined with sales management skills. You need a brand builder.
  • Recently, another CEO went through a similar process. His mistake was hiring a person with deep domain experience, when what they really needed was a person with process/methodology experience in complex sales. In your case, consider an individual from a larger company in your industry, or an allied industry. Somebody with knowledge of similar technical sales processes to your company with similar complexity and similar lead flows.
  • Skip head hunters. Based on your knowledge of good companies in your industry use LinkedIn to find who’s who. You can look at three pools of candidates – those that you can hire away from these companies, those who have worked there but are out of work, and early retirees who have found that they now need to go back to work.
  • Research current salary ranges in your industry and plan to be competitive, both base and bonus target.
    • As this individual will be a doer-manager make bonus qualification a combination of personal quota and team performance (overall new sales growth vs. existing projects).
  • While another CEO agrees that you don’t need a head hunter, find someone who can organize the process – review resumes, perform screening interviews, schedule higher level interviews, follow-ups, etc. – and who will work on an hourly basis.
  • Have a job application and be sure to ask for the following:
    • Criminal records,
    • Copies of last W-2s.
    • State on the application: falsehood is grounds for immediate termination.
    • Do or outsource formal background checks including verification of education and degrees.
  • Personally call references for your finalists. Ask these references who else knows this person and speak to them, as well.

How Do You Make Time for Priorities? Eleven Recommendations

Situation: A CEO is building a new company. She has a small, highly qualified team, and much of the work is hands-on. In addition, there is fund raising to support the venture. The CEO also makes time for exercise and keeping in shape. With all of this on her plate she is getting overwhelmed. How do you focus on priorities in an early stage company? How do you make time for priorities?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Maintain your exercise and health – this makes everything else easier.
  • Decide on your strategic platform. This creates a larger conceptual framework and helps to clarify priorities.
  • Identify the gating items. Focus effort here and spend scarce resources strategically to push your goal.
  • Within your gating items, identify the factors that make you scalable. Focus most of your effort here.
  • Create a weekly focus.
  • Lay out your to-do list in a Covey quadrant – most and least important vs. urgent and not urgent. Review this weekly to eliminate or delegate less important priorities.
  • Operational issues are usually symptoms – identify the causes and fix them.
  • Daily, list what you’ve done. Look back every 1-2 weeks and assess how you spent your time. Eliminate time wasters.
  • Don’t let you passion be undermined by the drudgery.
  • As an early stage company, you have to react – understand and appreciate that some aspects of early stage company life will not be very strategic.
  • Fix things rather than adding people and complexity. This compliments Fisher’s Stages of Growth recommendations for a company of under 11 people.

How Do You Fund a Start-Up? Four Suggestions

Situation: Early stage companies often find it difficult to raise funds from traditional sources. An experienced CEO wants to help certain new companies of which she is aware in two ways – assisting them in receiving funding, and then helping to assure that they reach key milestones.  What is the best way to profitably address this ambition? How do you fund a start-up?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Build relationships with a few select sets of local investors – venture capitalists, angels, and private investors – with whom you have strong credibility. For a retainer or fee, agree to bring them a number of new pre-vetted companies in the next year, and post-finding, help the companies to succeed and hit milestones. From the companies that you bring to funders, ask for equity in return for securing funding and providing guidance.
  • Put yourself in the shoes of the person who will pay you – what do they want and how do you deliver this for them? Develop statistics from your past successes that highlight your capabilities. Don’t be shy about your accomplishments.
  • What are you passionate about? If the answer is development – linking technology entrepreneurs to strategic partners and then being an accountability partner to assure that milestones are met – this will be your focus and your pitch to both funders and tech companies.
  • Your value is linking the entrepreneur to the funding source and being an accountability partner.