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.
Situation: A US-based company is in the process of merging with a foreign company. The US company has multiple locations across the US, and there are cultural differences between these locations. The CEO has worked diligently to mitigate these differences. The foreign merger presents new challenges. How do you maintain company culture in a merger?
Advice from the CEOs:
Between some of the US locations, there has been a “we make money, but you spend money” perception. How did the company get past this?
The company adjusted metrics to demonstrate the contribution of each division to short and long-term profitability.
This information was communicated selectively to key opinion leaders within the company.
Use the lessons from this experience to plan post-merger communications and protocols that will contribute to team integration post-merger and improve the chances of merger success.
Focus on the common vision and interdependency of the teams. This accommodates differences in culture and encourages teams to appreciate each other’s contribution. Use the same technique during the merger.
Have lunch with CEOs of other companies that have been bought by foreign firms. Learn how they adapted to the new reality. Ask what worked or didn’t work. Seek specific details of solutions that were developed that could be applicable to the planned merger.
Become better educated on business culture in the country of the company with which you will merge. Seek experts who can give seminars to company employees on what to expect and how to work most effectively with workers and executives of the foreign company.
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.
Situation: A technology company has established a leadership position in their niche. Nevertheless, they struggle with individual performance and buy-in to company performance. The CEO asks whether increasing ownership through stock incentives in a non-public company is an effective incentive for employees. How do you strengthen internal incentives and ownership?
Advice from the CEOs:
In the past, employees voiced a strong predilection for share ownership as recompense for the personal risk and sweat that they have put into the company.
It may be advisable to revisit this, particularly given the increased risk that comes with share ownership as a result of regulatory changes of the last 10 years.
As a substitute for share ownership, they may be open to some proxy that will provide them with value and the opportunity to have their opinions heard in the case of a buy-out.
Another company looked at this closely at the time of formation. They decided that proper recognition for contribution did not equal ownership. Ownership also entails personal liability and risk, which many don’t realize and, once they understand the implications of owners’ liability, don’t want. As an alternative they adopted a liberal profit-sharing structure that has met with employee enthusiasm.
Think about this discussion in terms of incentives:
Short Term – Annual-type incentives
Make sure that incentives align with desired behaviors so that individuals’ contributions contribute to business plan objectives and the next step for the company.
Long Term – consider the trade-offs
Broadly distributed share ownership not only complicates future flexibility but may also complicate a buy-out or merger opportunity. Consider the implications of a situation where most shares are in the hands of past rather than current employees.
Strategic Partners wishing to invest may be reticent to work with a company with broadly distributed ownership.
ESOPs, while frequently referenced, tend to eat their children. They have several complications:
They are governed by ERISA, so you cannot discriminate. All must be able to participate.
Ownership is prescribed – with a maximum of 10% per employee. Will a future CEO candidate be happy with 10% when the admin assistant gets 3%? In this way ESOPs can impair succession and recruitment plans.
Annual valuations can be expensive.
Phantom or Synthetic Equity Programs
A company can tailor these to meet changing objectives.
Valuations are cheap and valuation metrics are easy to monitor.
To work through the options, sit and talk with the employees, and listen. Ask what concerns them. Don’t try to come up with a solution until their concerns are understood. There is an array of options available.
Situation: A CEO wants to build network of highly placed contacts. One method that she is considering is joining a not-for-profit Board. What are good organizations? Is it reasonable to expect a quid pro quo? How do you join a not-for-profit Board?
Advice from the CEOs:
Do your homework. Find out what the most influential Boards are in your community. For example, the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce is very active and includes in its membership many very well connected people.
Influential groups and boards will vary by community. In Silicon Valley, the Silicon Valley Association of Start-up Entrepreneurs (SVASE) is a good organization to consider. This and other Angel groups know small companies that need help. Others include the Sand Hill Angels and the Asian-American Multi-Technology Association. In other communities Chambers of Commerce or similar organizations are the movers and shakers.
Don’t count out Rotary, Lions, and similar organizations. All these organizations are struggling to recruit new members and some have movers and shakers.
Rather than thinking about the meetings, volunteer to join a committee. For example, volunteer to join the Finance Committee. Once the members get to know you, you may be invited to join the Board.
Raise money for an organization, this will bring invitations to join the Boards of other organizations.
Follow your passions in selecting an organization, you will be more enthusiastic.
It is reasonable to expect a quid pro quo? Yes, if you make a significant contribution and demonstrate your competence.
Situation: For a CEO to lead effectively, she or he needs to be able use both dominant and facilitative modalities of leadership. James Church, in Navigating the Growth Curve, ties the use of each mode to the growth stage of the company. A CEO asks whether the use of each modality is purely a question of growth stage, or whether there are situational guidelines for the use of each modality. When are you dominant and when do you facilitate?
Advice from the CEOs:
The Dominant Mode is appropriate when there is an immediate situation with a clear desired outcome; whereas the Facilitative Mode is appropriate when fixing a broken system that produces issues, or to increase team communication and contribution. As examples:
The Dominant Mode is appropriate when there is an immediate issue to be resolved, with clear legal implications and a clear response based on established policy.
The Facilitative Mode is appropriate when you want to develop and institute policies and procedures to handle issues ahead of time, or to establish guidelines for action. In these cases you want both input from the team as well as buy-in to institute the resulting decisions.
Strategic Planning shifts from Dominant to Facilitative Mode as the organization grows and becomes more complex. Early on, strategy needs to come with a single, decisive voice. In larger companies strategy becomes a group exercise because there are many moving parts and teams.
Another way to think about this is that Dominant is appropriate when “the buck stops here,” and will shift from CEO to managers for specific decisions when you reach a stage where the managers are now dominant. Facilitative becomes appropriate when managers and employees – those below the level of company or division leader – need to make the decision instead of the leader.
Situation: A company was recently acquired. The acquirer wants to merge benefit structures between the two entities. Both contribute a similar amount toward benefits; however the distribution of benefits between retirement and health plans, and other benefits varies considerably. How do you approach the staff to communicate changes in benefits following an acquisition?
Advice from the CEOs:
Ideally, you want to gather employee input on what benefits are important to them before the overall package is finalized. This will help you to negotiate in your employees’ interest.
Make sure that the acquiring entity is aware of state regulatory requirements that may force them to retain state-specific benefits.
National companies often employ a cafeteria benefit strategy that allows the employees to make choices among benefit options, and fund these choices either at a company-paid base level or allow employees to supplement their choices through pre- or post-tax payroll deductions. There are numerous providers who offer cafeteria plans.
What’s the best way to have a conversation with employees once the new benefit package has been finalized?
Emphasize that the company is offering and funding this benefit and specify the amount that the company is funding as a percent of salary.
Create a grid mapping the full program:
Amount of company contribution
Old Program and benefits
New Program and benefits
Changes in allocation and changes in the total value of benefits offered.
If you have access to industry or regional comparisons for like-sized companies, and those comparisons put your company in a favorable light, share these as part of the communications package.
If you know that a highly valued benefit is being reduced, consider a short-term subsidy to ease the shift.
Be sure that you are clear and concise in your communications of the new plan and changes to the employees. You may want to have an outside consultant on hand to cover specific questions.
Be sure that any decisions your employees must make in the new program are fully and clearly explained.
Situation: A company has a long-term loyal employee who has served in a number of roles. The company is growing, and no longer has a clear role for this individual. This individual can’t and doesn’t want manage either other employees or projects. The CEO wants to be compassionate with this individual to honor their loyalty, but finds himself in a quandary. How would you handle a loyal employee who no longer fits the company’s needs?
Advice from the CEOs:
Your desire to treat this individual compassionately is commendable. This individual has been loyal and has served you well. There are a couple of questions to ask: is there a valuable function that this individual can serve within the company, and is this individual essential to the company?
What happens when this individual goes on vacation? Are there gaps in service or function?
Who handles this individual’s duties while they are on vacation?
If the answer to these questions is that others fill in easily and not a beat is missed, particularly when this individual is absent for long vacations, then either they have made excellent preparations prior to their vacation absence, or they may not be essential to the team.
As a business grows, it changes. Not everyone who came onboard early will have a place as the company grows. Think of a pick-up basketball team on the local playground. In pick-up basketball, you play with whoever is available. Let’s say that the team starts to improve, and they decide to join a competitive league. Now the game starts to change, and some of the buddies who played pick-up ball won’t be able to make the shift to competitive ball. They aren’t bad people; they just no longer fit the game that the team is playing.
You may need to sit down with this individual and have a heart-to-heart discussion about the needs of the company and their ability to serve these needs. This is difficult, but if there is truly no longer a role for this person, then you need to be honest with them while at the same time honoring their past contribution.
Situation: While women comprise the majority of US society and business customers, they continue to be underrepresented in business and government. For girls growing up, it’s hard to be what you can’t see, so girls and young women don’t see the opportunities that business offers them. What can SMBs do to empower women?
Advice from Linda Gold:
Women contribute greatly to the business community, particularly in small and medium-sized businesses which are the principal job creators in the US. For example, in tough times, smart companies and CEOs face outward rather than retreat inward. Women are naturally more collaborative and can be better at networking and building communities of interest that can open up new opportunities. Smart CEOs will leverage this talent.
Dr. John Gray (“Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus”) points out that business is like a football game—it’s about getting the ball and running with it. While women know we should be given more credit for our contributions, we need to learn how to take more credit. We need to accept the credit and accolades we receive and deserve. And if a male team member takes “our ball” and runs with it, defense needs to “kick in” and recover the ball. You can only score if the ball is in your possession.
Dee Dee Myers, President Clinton’s former Press Secretary gives an example of how to gracefully take credit. When a colleague told her she had done a great job, instead of deflecting the credit, Myers simply and elegantly replied “Thank-you.”
Small and medium-sized businesses employ a significant population of women. This gives them the opportunity to raise the profile of their women employees both in the local press, at local social business events, and through social media.
The YWCA TWIN Awards – Tribute to Women and Industry – recognize women for excellence in their area of expertise, and for giving back to the community. In Silicon Valley, CEOs nominate their high-achieving executive women for this prestigious TWIN award each year.
Girls For A Change (GFC) is a national organization that empowers girls to create social change. GFC encourages young women to design, lead, fund and implement social change projects that tackle issues girls face in their own neighborhoods. The program depends on volunteer coaches – local business, professional and career women – who receive coach training and meet with girls for a 12-week period after school. By publicizing this opportunity within your company or sponsoring a GFC team, SMBs can make a significant contribution.
SMBs have a vested interest in encouraging public education to adopt more relevant curriculum and teaching methods. We are in the information age, not the industrial age. We can learn more about opportunities to offer services to and partner with local schools and educational foundations like the Silicon Valley Educational Foundation. We can also lobby for more H-1B visas.