Category Archives: Finance

How Do You Build International Sales? Five Observations

Situation: A CEO wants to create new markets outside the US. They have investigated options and locations and are starting to plan. One question is how long it will take to start seeing results, so that they budget accordingly. How do you build international sales?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Decision timelines internationally are longer than they are in the US. For example, in Europe timelines are easily twice as long. This means that new entrants must budget for a sustained effort.
    • It took another company three years to develop traction in Europe. They have an office in Germany, but most new sales are coming from Eastern Europe. After three years their European operation is now break-even.
  • International markets, especially in Europe, can be very conservative. Job security and maintaining cash flow are the focus.
    • Labor laws encourage companies to do things themselves rather than outsource. The result is that a new entrant will face competition from internal departments of potential prospects.
  • In European the emphasis is not growth, but on conservative steady operation. Growth tends to come from acquisition.
    • Sales pitches should be tweaked for international audiences. For example, highlight reduced need for additional personnel to manage the systems, fewer breakdowns and glitches, and the ability to count on seasoned outside expertise to quickly address complications.
  • Relationship selling is very important internationally. Sales and tech support are best provided, and in some cases required to be provided in the local language.
  • In Europe, Italy can be an important lever to sales with the right partner. Italian companies can be excellent at marketing and can jump-start European sales. This will be a very personal relationship.

How Do You Create an Incentive-based Compensation Plan? Seven Ideas

Situation: A CEO wants to build additional incentives into the company’s compensation plan. The objective is to add group incentives to the pay mix – to focus more attention on group performance rather than just company goals. How do you create an incentive-based compensation plan?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The best policy is to be upfront, open, and transparent as the plan is presented.
  • Communication is the key to success, including the following bullet points:
    • Pay starts at a base which is 75th percentile – a generous base in our industry.
    • Group bonuses, which reflect the results of the group’s efforts, allow you allow to reach the 90th percentile or higher.
    • On top of this, profit sharing enables the addition of 10-20% of your base.
    • Altogether, management thinks that this is a generous package. The difference from the old system is that employees will be rewarded for making decisions which will benefit the group as well as the company – and you will be generously rewarded for this.
  • Once plans are communicated to employees 1-on-1, reinforce the message with a group presentation and open discussion at monthly company meetings.
  • Consider: significant changes in compensation may be best taken in small rather than large increments. Start with small incremental adjustments. If these are effective proceed to larger increments on a planned and open schedule. This is particularly true if the historic culture has been that we all win or lose together.
  • A downside of rewarding by team is that some will get rewarded for producing minimal results. Consider some percentage of discretionary payments to recognize and reward effort instead of pure parity within the team.
  • Consider longer-term results within the payment scheme – not just quarterly results.
  • People need to know that they are accountable. Let them know that a 75% base is reasonable but that the significant rewards will be for producing results above this level.

How Do You Implement a Process Change? Six Suggestions

Situation: The CEO of a service company is concerned about lost income from uncaptured billing. He has identified the cause – failure to capture extra hours that haven’t been billed – but is struggling to get employees to monitor this more effectively. How do you implement a process change?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The group presented two options for growth: bring in experienced outside people to develop additional systems to run the company, or a hybrid model using internal resources, augmented with outside expertise.
  • Bring in Experienced Outside Resources: Hire an experienced outsider with a track record in your industry to design and implement the needed systems.
    • Pros for this solution: the outsider will bring a fresh vision and new energy, plus the experience and know-how to make the desired changes.
    • Cons: impact on current business culture. This may generate resentment among employees who can no longer make decisions on the spot and may remove a path to management for existing staff. Possible negative impact on customers who receive larger bills due to change orders.
  • Hybrid Model: Outside person creates model and trains employees to implement it, then monitors the system and progress long-term. The key is to change expectations and behavior within the team.
    • Pros for this solution: more opportunity for current employee participation; involves employees in the design of the system, providing better buy-in to the solution.
    • Cons: as with any change, this won’t provide the full expected return. Just the fact that things are being changed impacts the efficiency of implementation. Unanticipated blocks and resistance may hinder progress – don’t be surprised by this, it is predictable.
  • Implement SOPs that facilitate rapid response to change orders – starting now and with whichever option is chosen.
  • Generate a pick list of all possible change orders with pre-calculated costs to guide employee choices and keep customers informed.
  • Whatever solution is chosen, be sure to communicate frequently and consistently with employees to facilitate the change.

How Do You Monetize Your Business Model? Five Suggestions

Situation: The CEO of a start-up software company focuses on connecting potential parties to business opportunities. Early signs are that this offering has legs and potential parties have responded positively. The critical question for the CEO is how best to turn interest into revenue. How to you monetize your business model?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The first step is to segment the audience and determine both the potential for each segment to both benefit from and fund the service that they receive.
    • Individual contributors may not have a lot of financial resources but may be interested in participating as employees or providers of expertise or services. They also may know others and can spread the word.
    • Collaborating organizations may be able to offer both funding and services to help build and sustain momentum.
    • Companies have funds to support the effort provided they see value to their bottom lines as a result.
  • Suggest a fee or contribution for services from companies who will benefit. Provide guidelines or a sliding scale of fees depending upon duration of services provided to the company. Make it clear that moneys earned will be reinvested to increase the range and depth of services offered.
  • Suggest a sliding fee scale for individual contributors based on the financial benefit that they receive.
  • For companies and collaborating organizations offer levels of membership or recognition for support based on benefit received.
  • For all segments – start with small, timed fees and increase these as the model proves its benefit to them.

How do You Minimize Inventory Damage by an Outsourced Manufacturer? Five Points

Situation: A company uses outsourced manufacturing but is concerned about inventory damage by the manufacturer. Tests have been established to assure both visual compliance and functional performance, overseen by a company employee. Still the company is receiving too many unacceptable parts. How do you minimize inventory damage by an outsourced manufacturer?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • It is perfectly acceptable for a vendor of consigned materials to bear the risk of product that is not to specification.
    • In any contract for manufacturing, require that the vendor carry insurance to cover the full cost of materials and processing in case of damage either during manufacturing or shipping.
  • It sounds like this is a new opportunity and situation for the company. In the process they have not guaranteed that both cost and risk are covered.
    • There is no point in assuming all this risk.
    • For future opportunities like this, take on the work as a time and materials project at an appropriate hourly rate for the market, and with a significant mark-up to cover risk as the project is transferred to a contract manufacturer.
    • Another option is to take on the project under a project management contract, and to bill engineering separately.
  • This situation sounds familiar for an evolving project. In the future try to unhitch the manufacturing piece from the engineering. Engineering should be more profitable, which will allow the company to more successfully manage the project into early manufacturing.
  • Strategically, this could be a good move for the company provided they partner with a reliable vendor to facilitate early stage manufacturing. One option for paying sub-vendors is to pay for yield – particularly if early stage work has a high failure rate.
  • If the market opportunity is there do two things:
    • Set up an organization with professionals who know early stage manufacturing.
    • Be aware this group will have a different culture and approach compared to design engineers.

How Do You Evaluate an Acquisition? Five Points

Situation: A CEO is evaluating an acquisition which could significantly contribute to his company’s financial position. Patented technology may add value to the deal. The founders of the acquisition target are willing to work part-time to facilitate the transition of their technology to the acquirer. How do you evaluate an acquisition?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Set a timetable to close the deal or walk.
  • Two key factors in the due diligence process will be strength of the intellectual property and cost of the acquisition long term.
  • Another key factor to evaluation will be how this opportunity fits into the company’s larger financing plan. Currently the company is undertaking a financing round. How much will this acquisition contribute to or distract from the financing round?
    • If this is a primarily a value-add opportunity, will it add to the larger financing round?
    • Can the larger financing round be completed on time while pursuing this opportunity?
    • An option is to negotiate a white label agreement – an agreement that will keep the company in the game while completing the larger round.
    • If the founders are not amenable to a delay, what is the cost in terms of funds and effort versus the larger round.
  • The technology appears interesting, but the timing is bad given your need for the larger financing round. Here’s an option.
    • Go to the founders and start the discussion. Secure a license or hire their programmer. Let the technology go dark until the financing round is completed.
    • There is value here – but do this as a side focus if it’s not too expensive. Assure that the deal includes both rights and the underlying algorithms.
  • Delegate this to someone else in the organization. The CEO’s focus is the larger financing round.

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What are the Best Options to Obtain Financing? Six Thoughts

Situation: A CEO has been the principal source of financing for her company. She is looking for Round #1 financing of $800K to $1 million to take the company through the next two years, followed by an additional two rounds of financing to take the company to profitability. What are the best options to obtain financing?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Given the company’s size, it’s too risky to put all eggs in one basket. Also, it is difficult to simultaneously pursue all options. List and rank all financing options, and limit efforts to the top 3-5 options, forgetting the rest for now. The company is more likely to be successful with a limited number of targets.
  • The big question is which avenues to pursue? Current preferences are:
    • Sell what the company can sell now – focus on collaborators and bootstrap the company as much as possible.
    • Angel funding, if the company can find the right angel.
    • Avoid venture capital unless there are no other options.
  • Given these, where does the company have live contacts? What conversations can be pursued to a successful conclusion in the next 1-2 months?
  • For the Angel option, the company’s model is easy to explain and has appeal. Which potential Angels could be approached in the next 1-2 months?
    • An option is to bring an Angel in slowly – creative input, perhaps a Board seat.
    • Once the Angel is on-board, put together a list of your funding priorities and a list of 4-5 top prospects in a Board discussion. Ask this individual’s advice and assistance contacting some of the prospects. He may ask at that meeting or later why he hasn’t been asked.
  • For the first $1million – consider an SBA loan.
      • Under new guidelines, the application fee has been reduced.
      • Approval cycle – 30 days or less.
      • The trade-off between bootstrap and Angel funding and SBA is personal risk. Look at this as a fallback option.
  • VC funding is very time consuming. Also, VCs prefer that their clients are somewhat desperate, so that they will receive a larger piece of the company for their money.

How Do You Best Exploit a New Opportunity? Three Observations

Situation: A service company has developed the capacity to produce and sell a product. The CEO is considering two options for this new opportunity: create a separate entity for the new business or run the businesses in parallel under the current umbrella. How do you best exploit a new opportunity?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Option 1: Create separate entity for the new business while the existing business continues in parallel.
    • How big is the potential win? The current company competes successfully for about 10% of the market. The new capability would allow the company to potentially compete for 100% of a larger market.
    • How different are the two opportunities? The current business requires specialized talent – it is a low volume, high margin business. The new opportunity is the reverse – high potential volume but lower margin. It is a more generic market with fewer specialized needs.
    • The separate entity option provides the most flexibility. The current model already functions well. A spin-off provides an additional option without losing what already exists.
    • Bring in another individual to develop and run the new entity. It’s a different game and requires a different focus. However, it will be a great opportunity for the right person.
    • The spin-off model will be more sustainable under separate management than under the current company.
  • Option 2: Operate both businesses under a single entity.
    • This option looks like a double compromise – it alters both the company’s current strengths and the fundamental business model.
  • A long-term alternative is to look for a financial acquisition for the current company. It produces good net margins, has good cash flow, a and spins off cash. This can be valuable to a financial buyer.

How Do You Expand Business Development Efforts? Four Thoughts

Situation: The CEO of a software company needs to increase revenue to cover expenses. He doesn’t want to cut salaries because if employees leave it will be hard to find replacements with the required skills. The better solution is to increase revenue. How do you expand business development efforts?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Look at the markets which are growing rapidly:
    • Gaming. This is currently a good investment area. Large casinos are spending heavily on high end projects, and people just keep gambling!
    • Medical imaging. Potential targets include:
      • Pharma and Biotech R&D and Marketing/Sales – the ability to show how a drug binds with the cell receptors and how this impacts the cell is interesting to both groups. Also look at Medical schools. This is where you find the top researchers and they love teaching and presentation aids.
    • Military markets, particularly simulation spaces and unmanned vehicles. They value realistic simulated environments. Also look at training programs that value visually intensive simulations including marine and naval applications, aircraft, and battlefield simulations.
  • Consider the company’s business focus and strategy. How can it move from a “next project” model to a recurring revenue model? Is it possible to write client agreements to include a piece of the recurring revenue stream from client products?
    • Look at what the company does and package this as a product/service vs.an hourly problem-solving model. Focus on where the market is going. For example, iPhone apps – cheap to the customer, so millions buy them People now interact differently using electronic media. This opens new options.
  • What is the company’s key focus – Product Leadership, Operational Excellence or Customer Intimacy? How is the company’s differentiating strength presented consistently to client audiences?
    • It is important to clearly define the company’s niche – what makes it truly different. The communication must be clearly understood both by the engineers, and the business development and marketing people.
  • Invest additional funds in business development – with payments highly weighted on success.

Do You Sell the Company or Grow Bigger? Four Options

Situation: The CEO of a successful company is considering two options: sell the company or grow to the next level. She believes that the company could be sold for an amount that would satisfy her financial needs. Also, the prospect of a long vacation and more time for family is appealing. Do you sell the company or grow bigger?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • First Option: Pursue funding to take the company to the next level – through either private equity or venture capital. Present an optimistic, but credible, upside return for the investment; back this up with a realistic lower estimate to cover exposure.
    • Both funding sources only buy the home-run model. Two reasons:
      • They need potential and credible home runs to sell to their investors; nobody invests in solid base hits because the return is insufficient for the risk.
      • They assume that the funds recipient is overestimating what they can do.
      • Given the existence of new technology to expand the company’s presence, it has a legitimate home-run model.
    • Hire a pro to help obtain funding.
  • Second Option: Take a shot at buying the company’s principal competitor – this provides the opportunity for rapid growth at low risk in the existing market and will make the company more appealing at a higher price.
  • Third Option: Based on personal goals, if the company can be sold now at a good price – do it. This will enable you to fulfill your life goals.
  • Give the first two options 12 months. If there is no or limited progress in 12 months start taking two successive months off on vacation – allowing minimal time to monitor the company. If vacations are satisfying, sell the company.
  • Ask yourself a serious question – do you really want to be on extended vacation now or is this an objective for 3-5 years out? If the company already has strong momentum, why not see what can be built and then sell. There may be more adventure in this.
  • Fourth Option: Take some money off the table – enough to build your dream – but continue to own controlling interest in the company. This offers both choices.