Situation: A CEO wants to fund future growth through better management of cash flow. Cash flow has been positive for several years, and the company uses a bank line to fund receivables. How to you manage cash flow to fund growth?
Advice from the CEOs:
Since the company is cash flow positive, go to the bank with the assistance of a connected Board member and ask for better terms on your line. This will reduce financing expense.
What are the company’s Days Sales Outstanding (DSO = accounts receivable (AR) divided by average daily revenue)? Reducing this will have an immediate positive impact on cash flow.
Normal up-front payment is 20%. With 35% gross margins and 20% up-front, the company is funding profits through the bank line. The adjusted gross margin (GM) is the company’s Operating GM less the cost of the bank line.
Solutions: Reduce DSO by offering a 1% discount for payment in 15 days and increase up front retainers from 20% to 50%. This takes time but is doable by working with customers.
Some customers have seen AR slip from 30 to 45 days. Offering a 1% discount for payment in 15 days is an inexpensive way to decrease AR and increase cash flow.
What is the most immediate need?
The company has positive cash flow, marquee accounts and proof of concept.
What is needed is additional referenceability. Can reference accounts come from exiting marquee accounts? What would this take? Can the Board help to identify and develop additional reference accounts?
The company is resource limited in sales. At this point people are needed. How can this be done without extending current resources?
Shift resources from other departments to sales to boost sales efforts. Another CEO did this very successfully and generated a substantial pick-up in revenue growth.
Increase the incentive for service people to come up with new revenue opportunities. Consider teaming them with the salespeople to generate opportunities.
Consider independent rep firms. Ask key customers who they respect among the independent rep firms.
Develop a joint venture or strategic partnership to feed sales – a situation where this is a strong win-win for both parties.
Leverage the Board to create opportunities. Another CEO has a Board objective of 3 new accounts per year. This comes from 10 leads/connections per year (2 per Board member). Board members who can’t produce leads are turned over.
Situation: The founding
CEO of a technology company is considering options for the future. The company
is doing well, with two options for future development either within or outside
the company. How do you choose between strategic options?
from the CEOs:
expertise is less important than business experience, P&L experience, and fund-raising
success. A diversified background and successful experience as a CEO are as
important as specialty industry experience.
to pursue all options for the time being. See how the new opportunities mature
before making final choices, and either split time between the options or
assign good managers to oversee each.
agreements should be based on cash investment of the parties – not time and
#1 – Focus on the primary company.
challenge is that most of the Board members just see the numbers, not the
dynamics of day-to-day operations. They don’t know the CEO’s contribution.
that the Board understands the CEO’s contribution and is rewarding the CEO appropriately.
#2 – Focus on New Opportunity #1.
this option more like a product or a company?
this option as a product incubator rather than a single product company –
producing and spinning off a series of ideas for development.
can be done either within the primary company or as an outside effort.
#3 – Focus on New Opportunity #2.
development can be self-funding. Compared with manufacturing, software is
inexpensive to develop and requires little investment to scale and sell once
the code is written.
trick is to rigorously focus on market opportunity while minimizing cost.
staffing commitments. Use scarce resources to lock up irreplaceable
capabilities. Hire or offer equity only for significant contributions such as
IP development. For labor, use consultants, independent contract arrangements,
or look for what can be outsourced.
Option #2 this can be done either within the primary company or as an outside
Situation: A company has done very well providing goods and services to the local community. In the process they have made good money for the owners and employees. Still, they are aware that they only serve a portion of the community in which they operate. How can they reach out and benefit members of the community who do not necessarily require their services? How do you give back to the community?
Advice from the CEOs:
When employees have children or children of friends who are selling fundraising items, like Girl Scout Cookies, make a large purchase. Give the cookies away as gifts to clients and key contacts.
Conduct educational sessions to help the community become more versed in and aware of the products or services in which you specialize. These won’t be sales or marketing presentations but rather information sessions with no sales pitch attached. Talks can be given at schools, community organizations, or other venues that seek speakers.
Create a gift-matching program for employees. Make a gift to your favorite charity and the company will match your gift.
Try a fun variation on gift-matching: “Make Joe Pay!” Make a gift to a charity, and Joe, the CEO, will match it 3 to 1!
One company has a policy that employees are not to pressure other employees into supporting their or their kids’ fundraising. Instead, the company steps in and does this.
Work with the Angel Tree Foundation. Set up a Christmas or Holiday Tree prior to the holidays. Employees or others pick cards, and then buy a gift for someone in need within in the community.
Support national charities, e.g., the Heart Foundation or Cancer Society.
Create a formula-based program whereby based on company profitability or some other metric the company creates a donation pool. Have customers vote on the charities to be supported from this fund.
Encourage management and employee involvement on Boards of community organizations. Create guidelines and allow them paid time off to participate.
Create a mentor program. Contact the local school system and ask about clubs or classes at local schools that the company can sponsor or mentor.
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:
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.
Situation: A CEO is involved in a number of outside Boards and organizations, both because this involvement helps the company, and for personal reasons. Recent changes in family demands are now prompting reconsideration of this level of involvement. How do you prioritize demands on your time?
Advice from the CEOs:
List all of your priorities – both business and personal – and the amount of time that they require on a weekly or monthly basis. For non-family activities, rate each in terms of importance both to your organization, and to your heart.
Decide how many outside Boards or organizations you are willing to participate in and how many hours of the week or month you are willing to allocate to this.
Reduce your involvement in outside boards and organizations so that you get the time commitment down to what you are willing to allocate. Thereafter, to maintain control of your time. If you add a new commitment, drop an existing commitment.
Where you have commitments that are important to the company, but lower priority in terms of your own passion, delegate representation to good people within your company. This both maintains company presence and enhances their professional growth.
Where you want to terminate involvement let the organization know of your plans in advance, and negotiate a phase out schedule and timeline. They will appreciate your working with them.
Consider putting someone between you and your calendar to communicate with those making new requests for your time. This person can say no more easily than you can.
Situation: An early-stage company has a key advisor who is helping them to build a 3-5 year vision and plan. The company can’t afford to pay the advisor full-time but he’s interested in working one day a week or becoming a Board member. Should they give him equity as a Board member and under what conditions?
Advice from the CEOs:
Adding Board members increases complexity, especially when it comes to big decisions. Once an early stage company transitions from their start-up Board to a more formal Board with non-founder members, particularly when a significant number of the new members have strong corporate experience, the Board will take on a certain level of independence in corporate and compensation decisions. Be aware of this, as a larger more independent Board may make decisions that the founders would not make.
It is not irregular for Board Members to receive equity or options. If you want to grant options, you must undertake an initial company valuation exercise, followed by annual valuations. It is common to grant options with 4 year vesting on a monthly basis. Vested shares can be purchased at Day 0 price, with some period to exercise options following departure from company.
Seek an expert in Board operation and compensation. There are a number of advisors with deep experience in this area who can advise the company on standard practices for Board operation and compensation.
If the company decides that they are not yet ready for an expanded Board of Directors, another alternative is a Board of Advisors.
Situation: An early-stage company is in discussions with a high-powered individual who could invest, join their Board, or help them more directly as an executive. They want to involve him enough so that he is interested in working with them. How do you attract a high powered individual?
Advice from the CEOs:
You are still in fact finding mode. Get an NDA ASAP! Backdate the NDA to your first conversations.
o This individual needs to meet face to face with your current team. See how the dynamics work; be very sensitive to conflicts and jealousies. These can wreck an early stage company.
o You need to see how the new individual interacts with your current team to check chemistry before you go too far.
o Be gingerly with your co-founders about adding another “founder.”
Create a high level straw man for this person’s roles and responsibilities.
o Ask the individual what he sees as the potential for the company and how he foresees being able to contribute.
o Develop a business plan for this individual – with the appropriate title. Spell out roles and expectations.
If you offer an equity position, be sure that shares are on a vesting schedule and that you have a shareholder’s agreement.
o Be creative in your vesting. Rather than vesting on time, consider vesting on individual and company performance against milestones. If the company doesn’t hit the milestones what is the value of the shares? Make the milestones consistent with the individual’s objectives – bringing dollars into the company based on investment or revenue hurdles.
o If this individual wants to come in as a “founder” insist on some investment to demonstrate commitment – you and your co-founders have funded the company to date.
Situation: A company wants to recruit outside members to its Board of Directors. Currently, all Board members are founders except for a single early investor. How do you recruit outside Board members?
Advice from the CEOs:
Board Member selection is a strategic matter. You want to have people on your Board who have done what you want to do strategically with the company.
A Board does not run the company. Board Members provide input and perspective to help the CEO make better choices while running the company.
Board Members have fiduciary responsibility – to the Shareholders, the government (to assure that the company is being run legally), to customers, to employees, and to vendors. Their role is to assure that the company does what it says it plans to do.
How affordable are Board Members?
Stock options are very feasible if you have little cash to pay salaries. Much will have to do with the prospective member’s buying into your vision.
You will need to secure Directors and Officers Insurance for Board Members – $3K+ per year per member.
The rationale behind payment in stock is for Board Members to have the same incentives for company success as shareholders.
Target remuneration of Board Members is, for a pre-IPO company $100K per year if the company is successful, but if not then $100K over 5 years. Members of the Audit Committee are generally paid about double what other Board Members receive.
Is there a downside of having numerous minor shareholders?
Not really, except perhaps nuisance. You run the company. As long as you retain majority share ownership, Board members can only advise.
Sitting on another Board is one of the best ways to improve your own abilities as CEO. Advising another CEO on how to run their company is a learning experience.
Special thanks for input on this topic to Bill Rusher, founder of Rusher, Loscavio and LoPresto.
Situation: A company has been advised to augment their Board of Directors. The principal objective is to access mentorship and advice, particularly in the areas of gaining critical mass and marketing. How do you select and pay Board members?
Advice from the CEOs:
If the principal needs are mentorship and advice in growth and marketing, pursue an Advisory Board first. Compensation for Advisory Board members is much lower and saves the need to purchase expensive Directors and Officers Insurance for Board Members. If, in the future, you decide to expand your Board, you can elevate your best Advisory Board members to your Board.
Offer Advisory Board members one-year service commitments. Particularly if the company is early-stage needs may change rapidly.
As to specific members, select Board members who will help you hold the company to its vision and mission, including a member who offers financial advice and experience for the CFO, a resources and benefits expert, and industry leaders. Align these selections with the business model of the company.
If your patent portfolio is a critical asset, consider an attorney with experience in infringement issues – as distinct from expertise in IP.
Compensation for Advisory Board or BOD members need not be uniform. Key advisors often are compensated more than strategic advisors. Enthusiasts may serve as advisors for free.
Stock compensation for Board members may be as low as 1%, pre-funding. They will be diluted as you go through successive rounds of funding. You may offer your chairperson more than regular members.
Situation: A company’s founders will be fully vested in their options by the end of the year. Also, the option pool for founders and employees has been exhausted. The CEO has spoken with the Board Chair and Compensation Committee about this in terms of fairness and incentives for future work to both founders and employees, while making it clear that the Founders are not unhappy. The Chair listened sympathetically and promised to get back to the CEO. Is there anything more that the CEO should do to negotiate new shares for founders and employees?
Advice from the CEOs:
Seek a letter of understanding from the Board that the founders and employees will have access to future stock incentives, and a timeline as to when this might occur – either in the near future or at the next financing round.
Wait a few weeks and have an informal follow-up conversation with the Chair about his current thinking. Ask whether he would like any further supporting information on the issue.
So far, your approach has been non-threatening. Keep it this way.
Maintain focus on fairness and your tone supportive of the best interests of the company.