Monthly Archives: August 2011

Do You Need To Rely on Venture Capital Funding? Three Questions

Interview with Charles Bellavia, CEO, ElectraDrive

Situation: High tech entrepreneurs frequently see venture capital funding as a quick route to enabling their ventures. However VC funding is highly variable by tech sector and company cash needs, and few companies are ever funded. Do you need to rely on VC funding and what are the alternatives?

Advice from Charles Bellavia:

  • The first question to ask is what you want from VCs. In the past they brought both contacts and funding. Now, generally, they just bring funding. So ask three questions.
  • Can you fund the company out of your own pocket?
    • Far more companies are funded by founders, friends and families than by VCs. However self-funding demands conditions.
    • Cofounders should have alternate income sources so that they can operate without salaries for periods of time.
    • Watch the life stages of start-up cofounders. Avoid joining a start-up when your kids need your attention, especially during their teen years. Can you forgo regular income if you are paying for college? If an annual 2-week summer vacation is important, don’t join a start-up.
  •  What is the minimum funding needed for the company?
    • What funding do you need just to prove your technology and generate cash?
    • Focus is key. People will suggest variations. You have to know your path and whether variations will help or distract.
    • Stay with your core idea and think in terms of product generations. Build fitting variations into future plans if they will delay initial launch.
  •  How do you keep project workers motivated?
    • Plan for turnover. Know who is key to the project, and where you need back-ups.
    • Start-up life is all consuming. When the picture on the wall is crooked, everyone jumps to straighten it out.
    • Have fun and make it fun. This needn’t be expensive, like parking lot pot-luck barbeques with a CD deck and music.
    • Be generous with simple, low cost recognition. Acknowledge employees for who they are and where they came from. This is especially important when you have diverse employees and builds camaraderie. One company has pot luck lunches and employees are asked to bring their national dish; the food is wonderful and helps employees to appreciate one another.

You can contact Charles Bellavia at cfb@electradrive.net

Key Words: Funding, Venture Capital, VC, Bootstrap, Self-fund, Friends, Family, Income, Salary, Founder, Life Stage, Focus, Core, Iteration, Turnover, Fun, Recognition

How Do You Fund Growth? Five Points of Focus

Interview with Hannah Kain, President & CEO, ALOM

Situation: While funding from banks and institutional sources has been challenging in recent years, growing companies need to fund their growth. How have you funded your company’s growth?

Advice from Hannah Kain:

  • We focus on frugality and prevent wWhile funding from banks and institutional sources has been challenging in recent years, growing companies need to fund their growth. How have you funded your company’s growthasteful spending. However we invest in tools that enable staff to purchase wisely and stay ahead of customer demands. We also collaborate with vendors to manage costs.
  • As a result, the last two years have not forced us to change how we fund growth. We are getting large contracts and work globally to solve customers’ logistics challenges. Our challenge has been moving from centralized distribution to strategically placed centers around the globe, increasing inventory costs and cash needs.
  • Where we have changed is in how we negotiate terms and credit with our customers. We manage vendor accounts payable to maximize cash flow while treating them as business partners. This requires close vendor communications to assure that everyone’s needs are met.
  • We have been cautious with our banks and seldom dip into credit lines. Managing vendor payments has been more effective.
  • Essential to vendor communications are open sharing of information and goal setting. We work to create a team atmosphere. This is similar to what we do in our offices. In our experience, instilling the right culture is far more powerful than financial incentives.
    • We share information through all-hands company meetings and regular updates so that everyone gets the full picture.
    • We also share information with our vendors so that each side is aware of the other’s needs.
    • We create an annual one-page business plan for the company, and parallel plans down to the supervisor level. Performance against plans is updated regularly to assure that we remain on top of situations.
  • We focus training on new tools. Our staff gets technology they need to be successful.
    • We generously provide technology to our employees, provided that they give a logical business rationale. This includes home computers, iPhones or Applets to help them do their jobs.
    • Similarly, when a vendor or customer asks for a service improvement or a new service with a good business rationale, we invest to support this.
  • These methods have allowed us to finance most of our growth internally.

You can contact Hannah Kain at hannah@alom.com

Key Words: Funding, Bank, Institutional, Growth, Spending, Tools, Empower, Customer, Demand, Costs, Vendor, Cash, Needs, Terms, Credit, AP, Partner, Payment, Information, Sharing, Goal, Culture, Performance, Technology, Service

What are Best Practices for Emergency Preparedness? Three Guidelines

Situation: Local and world events continually remind us that both nature and events are unpredictable. At any time we may have to deal with emergencies including water, fire, earthquakes, and the possibility that we or our employees may not be able to get to or communicate with our offices for a period. It is prudent for all of us to have plans in place that will enable us to deal with emergencies. What are best practices for emergency preparedness?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • You must have an extensive business continuity plan. This includes:
    • An outline of potential situations that you may face in your locations, potential losses associated with these situations, and plans for responding to each.
    • Redundant remote data back-up.
    • Manufacturing continuity planning.
    • Personnel contingencies.
    • Alternate vendor and service arrangements.
  • Drafting a full emergency plan takes time and work. However, it is essential. Start simply:
    • Look at the obvious risks in your locations.
    • For each, develop your back up or continuity strategy and start to put it in place.
    • Let the list of contingencies grow with time as you recognize more risks.
    • Start this exercise NOW.
  • Once you have a plan, drill the plan. Make sure that your people know what to do in each case so that if something happens they are prepared. It is amazing how this can build the confidence of your employees that they will be able to handle emergency situations.

Key Words: Emergency, Preparedness, Plan, Best Practice, Continuity, Data Back-up, Contingency, Confidence

What is Your Experience Outsourcing to Eastern Europe? Five Factors

Situation: A company is in contact with an Eastern European company that seeks outsourced business from the US. The CEO seeks guidance on challenges managing as well as formalizing this relationship. What is your experience outsourcing to Eastern Europe?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Location in Eastern Europe is important. There have been concerns with both corruption and IP protection in Russia. Some other Eastern European are more aligned with US/European values and farther up the ramp as outsource partners.
  • Experience of other US companies suggests that your spec must be written much more tightly than if you were doing the work here. If you can’t write a tight spec on the work, don’t outsource it!
  • Contract outsourced work on a fixed fee basis with the bulk of payment due on completion. This helps to assure that you receive timely delivery and the quality of work required.
  • Set up thresholds for the circumstances to engage an outsource partner.
    • Say one US worker is economically worth 5 foreign workers in your domain. Do you have enough work to support this?
    • Determine who will manage the outsourced work. A European is fine, as long as they have experience managing outsourced work.
    • Someone on your team will become their Project Manager. This can be VERY time consuming.
  • Consider setting up an offshore company to shelter some of the revenue from the outsourced work.
    • You want to locate the offshore company in a tax-free country, and to have them handle the funds connected with the outsourced work.
    • The contact in the tax-free country will likely be an accountant, lawyer or both. There are many reputable individuals who do this in tax-free countries, but be sure to check references and background carefully.

Key Words: Outsource, Eastern Europe, Challenges, Manage, Relationship, Experience, Concerns, Alignment, IP, Corruption, Contract, Protect, Spec, Fee Basis, Delivery, Quality, Parameters, Tax Shelter

What Have You Done to Manage Rapid Growth? Five Foci

Situation: A company has experienced rapid growth. This is creating stress for the staff and CEO, who finds it difficult to break away from the day to day to focus on strategy. Employees are not keeping pace with the evolving needs of the company and turnover has increased. What have you done to manage rapid growth?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The first task is to improve forecasting of business growth, and the infrastructure needed to support this growth. This includes:
    • Regularly updating your sales and production forecasts.
    • Updating staff and training plans to meet growth forecasts.
    • Updating infrastructure and support plans.
    • Without these, the organization will whipsaw in response to market demands.
  • Take a critical look at your staff development plans and staff training.
    • Look at those areas that are most impacted by business growth. Determine whether you have the right managers and support in place.
    • Evaluate whether you have the right people and whether they have the skills to handle new demands of their positions.
  • Critically evaluate each now job that you take on. Assure that you have the staff and infrastructure to meet client demands.
    • Always assure that you deliver on your company’s integrity, reputation and core values.
  • In addition to addressing immediate needs, look at long-term plans strategically. Ask where you will be in 10 years. Articulate this vision in detail, and drive plans down through the organization. Make sure that everyone is on the same page, aligned with the same values, aiming at the same targets.
  • Also differentiate your vision from your mission:
    • You vision is a 10 year time frame, not one year.
    • Your mission is what you will be doing this year and in 5 years – the activities you will undertake to realize your longer term vision.
    • Fine tune your vision and mission and drive these through the organization. This will give you clarity on how you wish to do business and will help you to make hard choices as you handle rapid growth.

Key Words: Growth, Rapid, Stress, Focus, Turnover, Forecast, Infrastructure, Training, Support, Values, Staff, Development, Skill, Plan, Align, Vision, Mission

How Do You Focus on Positive Responses to Stress? Ten Techniques

Interview with Janis Pullen, Transformational Coach

Situation: When we encounter stress, like financial, economic or business stress, we may respond positively and proactively or negatively. Negative responses include drinking, smoking and comfort eating which can damage our health. How do you focus on positive responses to stress?

Advice from Janis Pullen:

  • It is important to understand that there are two aspects to stress management – the ontological or being side and the facilitative or doing side. These are different but related.
  • When people experience stress they seek comfort in activities that they associate with relaxation. This includes alcohol, tobacco and eating. These reactions are automatic, habitual and predictable and can lead to unhealthy consequences.
  • Ontological techniques to counter habitual, automatic reactions and to positively respond to stressors include:
    • Recreate our relationship to time. In the US we are deadline oriented and multitask. These increase stress.
    • Arrive at meetings 5 minutes early so that we give ourselves time to get settled instead of entering the meeting in a rush.
    • Plan time for nothing – even a 5-minute break with no pressure to “do” anything increases ease and relaxation.
    • Become more aware of our needs and what we have to do to meet them. Often we are not in tune with our needs and operate on top of them. The positive alternative is to slow down, notice more of what is within and around us, and have the courage to fulfill our real, deeper needs.
    • Take responsibility. When we blame external causes for situations, we give up power and control. The alternative is to be “at cause” rather than “at effect” to produce constructive results.
    • Realize you are not alone.  Employ assistance/guidance/mentorship to lighten your load.
  • On the facilitative side, these practices can alleviate or reduce stress:
    • Simply take a few deep breaths when we become aware of stress. This increases blood oxygen, helps us to relax and cools our reaction.
    • Exercise – even a short walk – does wonders for changing moods from negative to positive. Under stress, the body releases cortisol and adrenalin – the fight or flight hormones. Exercise increases endorphins, which help us to relax and reduces cortisol and adrenalin levels.
    • Consciously eat whole versus processed foods and drink more water to help our bodies to function more efficiently and to respond more effectively to stress. Berries and nuts are much healthier snacks than sugar or other simple carbohydrates.
    • Sufficient sleep is critical to effective physical and mental function. Alcohol impairs sleep by reducing deep sleep cycles so we do not wake up refreshed.
  • The effective solution to stress is to focus on our real needs and to replace destructive behavior patterns with constructive alternatives.

You can contact Janis Pullen at Janis@CoachJanisPullen.com

Key Words: Stress, Response, Positive, Proactive, Negative, Alcohol, Tobacco, Eating, Food, Ontological, Facilitative, Comfort, Habit, Healthy, Unhealthy, Real Needs, Time Management, Deadline, Act, Control, Responsibility, Blame, Breath, Cortisol, Adrenalin, Endorphins, Whole Foods, Sugar, Carbohydrates, Focus

In Challenging Times Do You Cut Losses? Three Considerations

Situation: A company lost money last year, but turned the corner with a profitable final quarter. One of the company’s divisions continues to lose money, though the losses are small compared to the total picture. The CEO is considering cutting this business. What factors should the CEO consider in making this decision?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • What expense factors contributed to the loss?
    • The biggest factor was allocation of vehicle and space expense. This division has seasonal revenue but carries the allocated expenses for the full year.
  • Make sure that your allocated expenses are fair to the business. Do overhead allocations reflect utilization? Unless closing the business eliminates vehicles or space, if you terminate this business these expenses will be borne by the rest of the company.
    • Study your allocations by shifting the allocation made to this business to other businesses. What is the impact on their profitability?
    • If you find that the current allocation does not reflect utilization and adjust accordingly, does the business still lose money?
    • If this division covers its direct expenses along with most of its allocated expenses, a small loss in this division may be preferable to a reduction in profitability of other businesses from closing the division.
  • How strategic is this division to the overall business mix?
    • Is this business essential to your product/service mix or just a customer convenience? If you terminated the business will customers be upset?
    • Do competitors offer this service, and would you be disadvantaged by discontinuing it?
  • What are the alternatives?
    • Can you raise prices to increase profitability and refuse business that does not meet this pricing?
    • Can you restrict the offering to less price sensitive customers?
    • Can you refer customers to other vendors or sub out this business?
    • Can you reduce the scope of the offering while adjusting pricing to enhance profitability?
    • Can you source other labor alternatives to reduce cost?

Category: Strategy, Service

Key Words: Profitable, Loss, Division, Business, Critical, Factors, Expense, Allocation, Seasonal, Overhead, Loss Limit, Customer, Price, Competition, Offering, Scope, Labor, Skilled, Contractor

How Do You Resolve a Conflict Involving a New Employee? Four Considerations

Situation: A company has hired a new employee with excellent skills who reports to a Director. This person is a self starter who prefers little supervision. Friction is starting to develop between the new employee and the Director. How do you resolve this conflict?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This person was hired for their talent. However a successful hire takes account of talent, but also role, cultural fit, organizational placement and the needs of the company.
    • For example, if this person is strong in operations but they are now in client services, is this the right role?
    • Similarly, if the culture of the office emphasizes teamwork, collaboration and support, is this the right culture for this individual?
  • Be cautious before tweaking the org chart to create a new role for this person..
    • Consider both your current staff and the new person. You may be creating additional conflict if your actions appear as favoritism.
    • The dominant factor is YOUR plan. If the employee is wrong, replace the employee.
  • If an employee can’t get along with others it is a difficult situation to repair.
  • When you meet with the employee what should be said?
    • First, don’t try to solve the situation before you have a clear strategy.
    • Question and listen. “You’ve been with us a short time, and I want to check in with you. What do you think of your role?” Let the employee talk, probe for clarification of what is said. Take note of what is said. Acknowledge any requests but indicate that you will put them under advisement.
    • Do the same in discussion with the Director.
    • The key is that you are in control. Look at your objectives, and where you fit resources best within the org chart. Once you have your plan, communicate it.

Key Words: New Employee, Conflict, Friction, Talent, Role, Fit, Organization, Company, Needs, Strengths, Skills, Report, Personality, Act, Direct, Concerns, Boundaries, Response, Conversation