Situation: A company is transitioning from a service model to a product model. A major challenge is meeting funding needs during the transition. Funding sources perceive the current service model as heavy on cost of sales vs. implementation and this hinders acquisition of funds. The CEO sees this as a short-term problem as the company will quickly start to generate more cash through the product model. How do you transition from service to product?
Advice from the CEOs:
In a competitive funding environment, it is important that the offering be credible. While others may be offering similar solutions, believability will prove to be a strong differentiator.
Where to focus over the short term?
Create a hybrid model as a transition between the current service offering and the planned product offering. Demonstrate that current customers have responded favorably to the product/hybrid opportunity.
Test this concept with an investor. The story is that the company needs funding to get to a saleable product model.
What is the message to investors?
Helping the company to achieve a short-term and very feasible objective gives the investor the following advantages: purchasing at a lower valuation, getting a larger share of the company for less, and at a low risk.
As the valuation of the company increases, the earliest investors will get the best deal!
During meetings with investors, ask them for advice on the current and following rounds and financing, and what they will find most appealing.
How do you mitigate the risk to the first investor?
Have a solid business plan and projections that have been vetted by others.
Have a list of referenceable clients.
Utilize the current service model and demonstrate the product/hybrid Package. Build a case on the advantages of the hybrid model including the financial case. The company is always there to provide back-up assistance to meet customer needs in the hybrid model.
Demonstrate flexibility – the customer can always choose the service model or convert to this if they wish.
A Key Point: You are selling yourself as the trustable resource, not the product or service.
Reference previous investment including founders’ investments. The founders did not invest to fail!
Situation: A CEO feels like he is on a roller coaster ride with unpredictable revenue and processes month to month. His ideal outcome will be to be able to go on vacation for 4-6 weeks, and have the business running better when he returns than when he left. Have you managed to achieve this? How do you create consistency in a business?
Advice from the CEOs:
Make your managers live up to their titles.
Insist that they go to each other to solve problems first, instead of always asking you.
When they ask a question, answer how to solve it – but don’t give them the solution.
Require them to present solutions rather than problems.
Be willing to spend money on their solutions.
Answer all questions with questions.
Ask them for their recommendation.
Keep asking until they come up with the answer.
You should not be doing jobs or tasks that are really your employees’ responsibilities.
When you start to delegate, it hurts for a while but it will work itself out.
What has been the impact on other companies when they’ve made these changes?
Businesses have become more diversified.
CEOs are focused strategically vs. tactically.
Businesses are more successful and profitable.
CEOs enjoy coming to work again.
How do you work with younger workers, millennials?
Allow flexibility – where appropriate – on hours and how they do their jobs.
Responsibility will vary by pay level – with the understanding that higher pay equals more responsibility and most likely longer hours.
Situation: A CEO’s “Number 2” is returning from maternity leave. He sees a role for her helping him grow the business and wants to give her an incentive for taking on that role. What is an appropriate incentive? What incentives do you offer your #2?
Advice from the CEOs:
Remember, first, that your #2 is a person with a new baby. Remember what it was like when you and your wife had your first child. How did your priorities change? How did your wife’s priorities change?
Never make her choose between child and job – you will lose. Offer her lots of flexibility. For example, allow her flexibility in hours to accommodate the needs of her child. This will mean a lot to her.
Find out what is important to her – what does she see as her role and goals. Be sensitive to the possibility that the birth of her first baby may have changed her priorities.
Here’s the message: “You’re valuable and I want you on my team. I appreciate your responsibilities with a newborn. How can we make this work for both of us?” Build a role around this – not an incentive program.
Many Silicon Valley and other urban families need two incomes. Work out something that works for her.
Have a Plan B in case it turns out that her priorities no longer align with yours.
Situation: A CEO has observed an increase in the frequency of demands for last minute meetings from an important foreign client – sometimes with 12-18 hours’ notice. Requests for these meetings are often the evening before the requested meeting and with no regard to preexisting calendars. The client always says that they have sound reasons for the request. What are the likely consequences of push-back? How do you respond to unreasonable client demands?
Advice from the CEOs:
While allowance must be made for specific circumstances, there is a tendency within some cultures to press for special consideration. Part of this may be a negotiating tactic. One CEO has found that when he pushes back, the side requesting special consideration often yields to his needs and backs off the special request.
Treat these as you would similar requests from a domestic investor or client. Point out the late call and that you are already booked for the time requested. Ask whether there is any flexibility to the requester schedule and offer available time alternatives. Listen closely to the response and proceed accordingly.
Depending on the importance of the client and individual calling, some CEOs prefer to comply with requests like this, at least the first few times that such requests are made. However, when the requests become a regular occurrence, as described above, they rely on the recommendations outlined above.
Situation: A company’s top customer has approached one of the company’s suppliers with a request that the supplier sell directly to them rather than through the company. The supplier normally does not sell directly to OEMs, and has neither the sales force nor the customer service capacity to work with these companies. Nevertheless, following the customer’s request, the supplier has asked the company’s CEO for a meeting. How should the CEO plan for this meeting? How do you address a customer-supplier end run?
Advice from the CEOs:
You need well-placed advocates both within the customer company and your supplier company. These advocates can help you to better understand what is behind the customers approach to your supplier, and what the true issues are. You will also better understand how the supplier is reacting to this request.
Talk to the boss of the purchasing manager who initiated this and let him know how this will impact your ability to supply other critical parts for their operation.
Ask for fast track approval as a preferred supplier.
Try to cut this off before the supplier representative arrives for your meeting.
You know from your history with this customer that you have had to make frequent delivery adjustments to meet their needs. Further, as a value add you make modifications to the parts supplied to meet the customer’s engineering specs. This level of flexibility is not part of your supplier’s business model. When you meet with the supplier, paint a picture of the downside of working directly with this customer to convince them that they don’t want to take this business direct.
Situation: A company’s accountant advises them to transition from a C Corporation to an S Corporation. Remaining a C Corp would force them into accrual accounting with significant tax consequences. The accountant also advises that it is easier to sell an S Corp to a buyer, and S Corp status would relieve problems with retained earnings. Which do you think is preferable, C or S Corp status?
Advice from the CEOs:
Accountants disagree. Get a second opinion. Also consult a tax or corporate lawyer who will provide another perspective.
Another company looked at S vs. C status and found two key factors:
S Corp status is great if you expect to lose money for a few years because of the benefit that it can offer to personal taxes. Over the long-term you should look at the difference between personal and corporate tax rates and set your strategy so that it makes the most sense.
An S Corp cannot have non-U.S. shareholders.
There is more flexibility with C Corp status in your ability to grant options, sell shares, etc. For a suitor, purchase of C Corp shares prior to a full acquisition is like a date before deciding on marriage.
C Corp status is good if you are building an empire. S Corp status is better if want to have employee ownership under an ESOP as an option for exit.
Since taxes are a significant part of this decision, think carefully before you shift from cash accounting.
Once you commit to accrual accounting you can’t go back to cash basis.
To the extent have an accrued tax liability you can extend payment of this liability over multiple years.
You also may want to consider a hybrid accounting method:
Accrual for sales
Cash for service
Look at whether there are tax advantages to a hybrid model.
Situation: A company has received an inquiry from a large client requesting that they dedicate a significant portion of their staff to that client. The company hasn’t done this in the past, and the CEO seeks advice on the advisability of this choice. Would you dedicate significant staff to a single client?
Advice from the CEOs:
Provided that the terms offered by the client are favorable, the proposition may make sense. However, there are certain terms that you may want to assure are included in the contract:
In return for your dedicating choice staff to this project, ask for a substantial upfront payment – perhaps 50% of the total contract – to reimburse you for the opportunity costs that you incur committing your resources to the project.
Insist that the contract allows interchangeability of personnel if circumstances prevent initial personnel from continuing with the project.
Internally, work to assure that this project does not adversely impact your culture.
Talk to other companies that you know who have had similar arrangements with large clients. This will give you an understanding of the benefits and pitfalls of the arrangements.
Do everything that you can to assure that this project does not distract from your broader business strategy. Cash from the project may be nice, but if it inhibits your overall business strategy it may not be worth it.
If the employees assigned to this project are not happy with their assignment, the project may lead to unwanted turnover.
Interview with Sai Gundavelli, CEO, Solix Technologies
Situation: A company has top talent and a better technology solution. However their large competitors continue to compete by discrediting them – “nobody was every fired for choosing IBM!” How do you compete effectively against large incumbents?
Advice from Sai Gundavelli:
Invest in your product.
Work to attain best-of-breed status in your industry with a constant focus on and investment in building a great technology. Solix’s constant goal is to be the technology leader in information lifecycle management and Data Privacy.
Be organic and focus on integration, smooth operation and scalability. Build your system from the ground up. An organically designed solution where the pieces work seamlessly offers higher and more efficient performance.
Invest in alliances.
Solix continually invests in our partnerships, including our OEM relationship with Oracle Financial Services, and we have more such partnerships in the works that will help us expand our presence in the market. Partnerships increase your presence and visibility as you scale your own organization.
Focus your efforts.
We at Solix are 100% focused on our product, whereas our large competitors are juggling multiple priorities, like a juggler trying to keep a large number of balls in the air. While we are smaller, this allows us to more effectively focus our efforts without lots of conflicting priorities. We focus exclusively on information life cycle management and Data Privacy.
Have others talk about you.
Solix’s answer to our competition is let our customers speak for us. We have many happy customers such as Honeywell, Duke Energy, American Tires, who are happy to participate in joint webinars and customer case studies. We work closely with them on the latest developments and direction and use their feedback to guide future product direction.