Situation: An early-stage software company is expanding internationally, both offering services to international companies from their Silicon Valley base, and building a presence overseas. What land mines should they avoid? How do you expand internationally?
Advice from the CEOs:
Be more strategic than opportunistic. Europe is very interested in start-ups. Investigate potential locations thoroughly. For example, Luxembourg and Spain are not the most reliable markets or locations for basing a business.
There are already good networks in Europe that you can plug into so that you don’t have to build everything yourself.
There is a European organization called Open Coffee Club that attracts high tech and social media start-ups. You might consider either partnering with them or buying into their network.
You can set up a corporation in Cyprus to leverage tax advantages and build a network covering Europe.
To have geographic reach across Europe, you probably want two locations in Europe and one in Russia. Look at Ireland and Romania.
Many Russian oligarchs have their investments in Cyprus and may provide a source of investment funds.
Investigate the European Investment Fund and their sub-funds like the JEREMIE Holding Fund. This is a large government-funded investment pool focused on technology, innovation and start-ups.
Foreign companies are attracted to the US because we have the right ecosystem for technology development. However, a bridge strategy for European companies who want access to US funding is tricky. The key issue is visas which have limited duration and may be difficult to renew. Also, immigration frowns on foreign business people who visit the US too frequently.
Have you considered helping start-ups build through their early stages – reducing risk of early failure – before helping them come to the US?
Situation: A CEO has hired a banker to advise on the potential sale of a privately-held company. What else should she be doing in advance of the sale? How do you prepare to sell a company?
Advice from the CEOs:
Prior to moving forward with a banker, it is necessary to prepare a privately-held company for sale. Get an advisor – not a banker – to assist you. Search online for a good mergers and acquisitions advisor. If you know CEOs from other local companies, network with them to discover high quality advisors.
In selling a company, the final deal must provide for the survival and continuing effective operation of the company. A buyer may want assurances from you, or assistance in the transition. This can have a significant impact on your final payout.
Be prepared for the reality that you or someone else within the company will have to remain with the company post-sale. If this is to be another person, this individual will be very important to you during the negotiation process with potential buyers. Keep this individual up-to-date with your intentions and plans.
A company is more than numbers – it is a story. The story must be very crisp and compelling.
The buyer will want to perform due diligence before offering you a price and setting conditions on a purchase. This may involve more than you and your top managers. Communications within the company will be critical to keeping managers and employees informed and on-board.
You will want to have two or three potential buyers, both in case a top prospect fails, and to assure competition and a higher sale price.
Think carefully about your next move from a personal standpoint. Being at leisure may not fulfill you. What do you really want to do for the next segment of your life? This is far more important for you, personally, than you may estimate.
Situation: A company is in the process of shifting their business model to better address customer needs. They have three different models under consideration. Management is split between these models, but must arrive at a consensus. How do you optimize your business model?
Advice from the CEOs:
Right now, you are considering three different potential models:
Tools – your old model
Data – produced by your old model
Service – your new model
These are different models with different prospects.
The money makers in marketing focus on data, not tools. Data is information, and this is what is valuable to clients. If you want to focus on the data component of your offering.
Currently, you are scraping data from social media and matching this to your client’s database on a real-time basis. There’s a model and value here because you are enhancing your client’s current database by making it more useful and actionable to them.
You have tools to enable and add value to existing client databases by allowing them to better segment their database. Again, there is value here.
Your core IP is the ability to correlate diverse data sources. Have you protected this IP? If not, this needs to be a top priority.
How much information that you scrape from social media sources can you share without violating privacy? This is something to think about because people are becoming increasingly sensitive about companies collecting their private information.
Situation: A company wants to add additional apps to its current service. One possible source is a website that aggregates and publicizes relevant information. The CEO is concerned about whether these data can be used by the company and whether using these data will expose the company to legal action. What are your obligations for use of data?
Advice from the CEOs:
Under fair use you can use data processed from other sources and resell this. The key term is “processed.” This means that you must add some of your own value to the data. You cannot just republish data through your site as though you had collected and analyzed it yourself.
You cannot copy and repost a copyrighted article. Text is copyrighted, but extracted facts are not. If you want to use text from a copyrighted source, you must get permission from the author or publisher. You can quote a source by providing appropriate references.
You can include a link to a relevant site without taking copyrighted information.
If the data that you wish to use from another site contains information that includes personally identifiable data – data that would allow a third party to identify personal information about an individual and misuse that personal data to the detriment of the individual – then a distinct set of regulations apply. If you even suspect that this could be the case, seek legal counsel on your obligations.
When you are using the Internet, your audience is international. The rules for use of data derived from other sources differ by country or region. Consult your lawyer for general guidelines that will allow you to use data from other sources.
Situation: A founding CEO is evaluating a purchase offer for his company. The buyer wants the CEO to retain some ownership interest to assure a smooth transition post sale, and ongoing assistance from the CEO so that the company continues to succeed post-sale. Should the CEO retain a minority share of the company? How do you structure an earn-out?
Advice from the CEOs:
The ideal option is full payment up-front. However, if the CEO is perceived by the buyer as critical to the company the buyer will want to have some assurance of continued services for some period.
An earn-out of fixed payments over time is acceptable provided that the language of the agreement is acceptable. However, performance-based earn-outs make no sense if the CEO no longer has control over the decisions that will impact performance. Don’t structure the payment as an earn-out, but as a retention bonus and assure that the terms are favorable.
Post-sale a minority share of your old company holds no value if you can’t monetize it. Holding a small share of a non-traded company has the same challenges.
It is all about liquidity.
If the other party offers this, ask what is the value is to you of the retained share.
Minimize the earn-out if one is demanded, but don’t count on it.
If there isn’t a strategic fit between the buyer and the company, the value of the company in a sale will be lower.
Situation: Edgar Allen Poe’s “Surviving the Maelström,” is a tale is of three brothers whose fishing boat is caught in a monstrous whirlpool, and how the reaction of each brother determines his fate. Similarly, in times of uncertainty, our ability to react with either panic or a rational, reasoned response determines our fate. How do you survive a maelström?
Advice of the CEOs:
Based on Poe’s story, you need to replace fear with assurance, uncertainty with boldness, and doubt with conviction.
There are several potential financial bubbles forming including student loans and negative interest rate loans to sovereign governments. Both, in their own way, pose a threat to the international and domestic financial systems and could rapidly impact borrowing costs for companies. The solutions are to stay in ongoing contact with customers, and to stay light and flexible as companies so that you can adapt to market changes.
For Internet companies, the shift to Freemium offerings (a base product for free with pay as you go functional add-ons) makes it more difficult to design viable business models, and means new competition for established companies in low capital cost businesses. Again, a solution is to stay in ongoing contact with customers, constantly reinforcing your value proposition and the reality of switching costs.
Creative Destruction – particularly the emergence of new companies that threaten large customers and can change the value perception of suppliers’ core competencies. Solutions include ongoing communication with customers seeing what they see as “the next big thing,” focusing on continually improving our own core competencies, and possibly teaming with the more promising emerging companies.
The illusion that advertising will pay for everything – in reality, advertising dollars are a scarce resource like all other resources. Solutions include testing our own value-adds as an ongoing process, and creating fast-fail models to cost-effectively test our own promotions.
Definitions of value and productivity are no longer stable; all depends on the method of measurement. A solution is to remain aware of the innovator’s dilemma and to continually renew our value propositions.
A workforce in flux where young people don’t want to work for what they perceive as “old line” companies, as well as early-retiring baby boomers who may learn in 3-5 years that they can’t afford retirement. Solutions include focusing on employee engagement, building more flexible and “liberating” business models, and teaming younger with more experienced workers to cross-train each other.
Situation: A company serves a market with a lot of new small entrants. Clients purchase from these other companies as well as the CEO’s company. They are continuing to call and network with their client base to retain clients and build new customers. What else should they be doing? How do you deal with cut-throat competition?
Advice from the CEOs:
Make a list of those clients who are no longer purchasing from you or referring new clients. Go talk to them. Ask why they are no longer purchasing from you or referring new clients. This may open new options. You may find something new or unexpected that you can offer.
Work with an outside service to follow up with on clients lost and won. The key question for them to ask clients is why. Learn from the responses what is most important about the clients’ purchase and referral decisions.
Consider a new service. A health/happiness outcome would be a nice value-add: a quarterly report back to referral sources on how happy the clients that they referred are. The last question on the survey should be – Would you work with our firm again? Why or why not?
Consider using an outside source to gather the data for these surveys. To get more valuable responses, don’t just ask about your company, but also several of your top competitors; this will produce a richer set of responses.
There are two ways to compete: either you are low cost or have established a unique value proposition. Whatever this is, sustainability of your critical point of differentiation is essential.
Health care legislation is now in flux. Whatever the outcome, it will have an impact on your market. Become an expert resource on the implications of various outcomes.
Look at social media resources – feed valuable information to your audience via blog.
Situation: A company has a crowd sourcing solution which is co-creational. You ask a question and get multiple answers. The company then uses technology to select the best answers. The challenge is developing a business model. What parameters are predictable and dependable? How do you develop a revenue model?
Advice from the CEOs:
Revenue is always, in the end, a matter of value received – both potential and actual.
High dollar per click comes from delivering better responses, particularly if you can demonstrate higher sales conversion rates.
High value responses are valuable. If you can deliver these consistently, consider charging a subscription instead of pay-per-click. Pay per click is fine for attracting first-time users, but move to subscription for ongoing access.
Limit your initial audience to crowd source participants who have knowledge and experience – like CXOs on LinkedIn. Create relevant communities.
In addition to best practice answers, provide an opportunity for participants to share failures – experiences from which they learned. Simply Hired created an early, and lasting audience by creating a companion site called Simply Fired when they started. Based on the responses to this site, they created a Top Five Reasons for getting fired, with inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment at the top. This exercise helped them to create a lasting presence.
Make your site clean and show clear steps to a revenue model for users. This will take time and you won’t see results immediately. Over time it will pay off for you.
Situation: A company that provides personnel services wants to adjust their business model to make it more appealing to employers. They are unique in that they focus on social issues, rather than purely on business services. From the perspective of a hiring Manager, what would you want to see? What’s the next version of our business solution?
Advice from the CEOs:
The idea of a social issues-based brand is unique. To some employers this may have appeal.
Your obvious differentiator is the tie between existing communities and social networking. Emphasize this.
As an employer, the focus is on finding quality employees for the right price. This will always take precedence over other factors for most businesses. In fact, over-emphasis on social issue-based hiring could subject an employer to discrimination issues. It also will not appeal to everyone. How can you address quality employee for the right price through your service? Here are some things to consider:
The employers’ challenge is finding good candidates. How do you solve this problem?
Employers have specific needs to fill. Help them by identifying and screening candidates so that it makes their job easier.
The question for the employer is whether your helper audience can crowd source the screening function. Screening is the challenge of the employer. Solve this and I as an employer want to talk to you!
Within your model, instead of asking for monetary contributions from your helper audience ask them to donate time to screen candidates. Not being a recruiter is a plus.
Pitch your new ideas to your company insiders – see what they say.
Situation: An early stage company is positioning itself for growth. The CEO believes that they need to adopt a new model to grow. She is focused on a new channel – an affiliate model using the web. How do you build a young company?
Advice from the CEOs:
Introducing a new product to a new market is very difficult, especially for an early stage business that is still establishing itself. Shifting from direct sales to ancillary services presents a new challenge and a new demographic. In addition, in your market there are low barriers to entry so it may be too early to diversify. You are more likely to be successful marketing to your core.
Evaluate and decide whether there is growth in your core business. If so, stick with your core plan. If not, then you either must change or decide that your core market is not what you thought it would be.
You offer a valuable, important service. The issue is branding and a clear vision of what you want to be. Start by identifying your revenue stream. Then assess ways that you can move from one-time sales to an annuity revenue stream without major adjustments to your model.
Is it feasible to build a revenue share model for ancillary services with your core business partners? Here are the steps:
Develop a model.
Talk to both your business partners and customers – test the concept. See how they respond.
There are two things to look for: does it turn out that that the model is easy to sell and implement, with little effort or distraction from our core business, or does it compliment your core business. If either or both is the case, you may want to pursue it.