Situation: A growing technology company is faced with several opportunities. The CEO is too busy to devote the time to analyze each of these. In addition, the CEO wants to develop her staff so that they can take on more responsibility and mature into a full organization. How do you choose between opportunities?
Advice from the CEOs:
Everything starts with a strategic plan for the company. Either the CEO or an outside consultant should coordinate a strategic planning session to develop and rank the opportunities facing the company. The ranking exercise is best done as an open departmental or company-wide exercise so that everyone is involved in the process. This helps to build consensus and commitment to the opportunities developed.
Once the opportunities have been identified assign one to each of the employees that you want to develop. Each of the employees will be the champion for that opportunity.
Ask each champion to develop a business case and plan for their opportunity. This will include a development plan and ROI analysis. Allow each champion to access all company resources as they develop their plans. Set a deadline for all champions to complete their plans.
Once the plans have been completed, reconvene the group that participated in the strategic planning session and have the champions pitch their plans to the group. The group will provide feedback and suggestions for each plan. At the end of the session repeat the ranking exercise based on the new information developed and presented.
This will provide a wonderful training opportunity for the champions as well as valuable insight into their talents and potential for future development. In addition. Because the strategic planning sessions will be conducted as a company-wide exercise, they will act as team-building exercises and excite everyone about the potential facing the company.
Situation: A CEO is considering a new revenue model for his company. The existing model is profitable and stable, but not scalable. A new model, and perhaps additional locations may be needed to add scalability. How do you assess the risks of the model? What steps can be taken to reduce these risks. How to you evaluate a new revenue model?
Advice from the CEOs:
Project both the current and new models on a spreadsheet. What do profitability and return look like over time based on current trends?
Include assumptions about adding new customers within the model. Consider capacity constraints at the present location. Add start-up investment needed for the new model. Does overall profitability increase in the projections and will this adequately cover new customer acquisition costs?
Are performance standards for the current and new models different? Would it make sense to have different teams managing the models? What kind of experience will be required in the people who will build the new business? Account for personnel additions and start-up costs in the financial projections.
Critically evaluate the upfront financial exposure as new clients are signed up for the new model. Consider hybrid options which can be added to customer contracts. Examples include:
A variable flat fee model. Customers contracted under the new model will receive services up to X hours per month for the flat fee, with hours over this billed separately.
How do current time and materials rates compare with industry averages? If they are high, it is not necessary to quote existing rates to new model customers. Create a new rate schedule just for new model customers. Taking a lower rate under the flat fee model will not cover all costs and profit; however, it will at least partially cover utilization exposure and a higher rate for additional hours can make up the difference.
During the ramp up period of a new operating unit, client choice is critical. If, based on observations and responses in client questionnaires, heavy early work is anticipated, charge an initial set-up fee. Alternatively, ask for a deposit of 3-4 months to cover set-up exposure. If either at the end of the service contract or after a burn-in period some or all these funds have not been used, the client is refunded the unused deposit. This can both cover early exposure and make it easier to sign new customers for the new unit.
Draft contracts under the new model to include one-time fees in the case of certain events – e.g., a server crashes in the first 9 months of the contract, or an unplanned move within the first X months of the contract. These resemble the exceptions written into standard insurance policies. They can be explained as necessary because standard contract pricing is competitive and does not anticipate these events within the first X months of the contract. Most companies will bet against this risk. Those who do not may know something about their situation that they are not revealing. In the latter case you will be alerted to potential exposure.
Consider a variable declining rate for the new model. The contract price is X for the first year, and, assuming there are no hiccups, will be reduced by some percent in following years. This resembles auto insurance discounts for long term policy holders with good driver records.
Adding hybrid options may make it easier to sign new clients while covering cost exposure. The view of the CEOs is that most clients will underestimate their IT labor needs and will bet against their true level of risk. Provided that the new model delivers the same service that supports the company’s reputation, once clients experience the company’s service, they will be hooked.
An additional benefit to hybrid options may be faster client acquisition ramps within new satellite units and faster attainment of positive ROI.
Situation: A company is considering purchasing a line from another company to complement its existing product line. They would split commissions with the current owner, and gain an additional employee with knowledge of the products to be acquired. The purchase would add to the company’s offering, as well as rights to additional products. The CEO sees this as a low risk move. How do you evaluate an acquisition opportunity?
Advice from the CEOs:
In evaluating a commission split opportunity, will the commissions that you would receive exceed the cost of both the additional employee which you will add, plus the support that it will require to maintain the new business? Do the new commissions cover the anticipated costs, plus a reasonable profit?
Have you vetted the numbers to demonstrate that this purchase provides a suitable return on investment vs. other potential investments that you could make? Is the marginal revenue that you will receive greater than the marginal cost that you will bear? Is the ROI of the new line greater than your cost of capital? If not, what can you do to improve the return?
Looking at your current operations, do you have your existing shop in order? Have you calculated the metrics that will allow you to understand, where you’ve been, where you are, and which provide a clear vision of where you want to go? If not, the question is whether you are ready to take on another line.
The bottom line question is – how do you know that this acquisition is the best use of your funds?
Situation: A company is drafting a pitch for their next round of funding. They want to reach both current and a new set of investors and highlight the improvements that they’ve made since their last round of funding. How do you optimize a financing pitch?
Advice from the CEOs:
Work on a quick demo of the site. This is critical for a software company. The site must clearly and quickly show what differentiates you.
When you sit down with potential investors, start your pitch with a catchy statement, e.g., “We’ve all heard about ‘pay it forwards’. I want to talk to you about ‘Job-It Forward’.”
Start the presentation with an overview and a simple illustrative explanation so that the audience instantly gets what you are doing. For example, “we’re about generating social capital and here’s an example of how we do this.”
Be careful not to drown your audience in detail. Limit yourself to 3 bullets per page. Use graphics rather than words as much as possible. Most people can only absorb a limited amount of verbal information, but they remember pictures.
If you’ve already started talking to potential investors, what are your results? What feedback have you received to date? Analyze this and adjust your presentation and pitch accordingly.
Can you show a potential funder ROI? For example, if you give us $X, we will generate $Y in terms of return. You want to demonstrate IMPACT! Those who will support you want to see the advantage of investing in you vs. other options available to them.
Include a slide showing sources and uses of money spent to date. Show how you will use the money that you wish to raise.
Situation: A company’s clients are demanding increasingly faster response times, particularly in areas that historically have not been considered mission critical. Clients also want faster answers to technical questions. Is this a common occurrence, and would you adjust pricing in response? How do you handle demands for faster delivery?
Advice from the CEOs:
If clients are demanding faster delivery, it’s entirely reasonable to tier your rates for different levels of service and delivery. Create cost / ROI breakdowns for different options, and let your clients make a business decision about the level of responsiveness that they need.
When brining on new clients, do a worst case down time analysis for the prospect as part of your evaluation process, then provide price options and let the prospect evaluate what is important to them. This is similar to different price / deductible levels with health or car insurance.
You will need to educate your current client base on what you are doing for them, and when they are reaching the upper levels of service provision under their current contract.
When you provide remote service, communicate what you have done.
Email individualized update reports to client contacts.
When you meet clients face to face, have a printout of service provided and toot your own horn about your service and delivery.
Be aware of the needs of clients who have distributed locations across time zones. A two-hour response time on the West Coast at 8:00 in the morning, translates to a half day for an East Coast location because they can’t call you until 11:00am Eastern time.
Situation: A company’s major competitor is closing shop. When this happens the company will be the sole large local service provider. Municipal and many large projects require multiple bids. The CEO is concerned that out-of-area companies will underbid the company’s union scale operation. How do you maintain your position in a changing local market?
Advice from the CEOs:
If your municipality has union scale wage rules, find a way to monitor wage compliance of out-of-area operations. These companies may say that they pay union scale, but the municipalities and others won’t have the staff to monitor them. This will be up to you.
Talk to local elected authorities and impress upon them the importance of supporting local businesses. Remind them of wage compliance problems that localities have seen in the past. Suggest that they look at local content requirements to help keep business and business revenue funding in the local economy.
Emphasize the maintenance aspect of your jobs. If a local company both builds and later maintains the project, they will know the subtleties of the design and will be able to provide better and more cost-effecting ongoing maintenance.
Educate clients with monitoring, measurement and compliance checklists that highlight the benefits of using local contractors and maintenance service.
If the other company approaches you about buying his business focus on the ROI produced by the other company’s costs and profits, but under your pay-scale. If this looks promising, have a conversation with the owner and see what he wants. Prompt the owner to talk and listen carefully to what he has to say. If you don’t want to buy the full business, there are other options:
Hire his key employees on a $/hour plus commission basis on retained sales.
Purchase his customer list, or giving him something for any maintenance contracts that come over to you within a set time period.
Situation: A company, an S Corporation, produced substantial profits during the first 6 months of their fiscal year. This becomes taxable personal income to the owners if it remains profits. How would you advise the CEO and owners to make best use of these excess profits?
Advice from the CEOs:
Use some of the funds to invest in new opportunities for the future growth of the company.
Prepay significant costs like software licenses multiple years in advance. Make sure that you attend to your accounting so that you properly reflect the ongoing profitability of the business. Otherwise, what you may believe is profitable in future years will not reflect true profitability because you will not be accounting for all of your true expenses.
Is anyone in the company deserving of a one-time special bonus for performance or a salary increase?
It may make sense to take dollars out of the company and to diversify owners’ investments by investing in real estate, stocks, etc.
Check out the current rules around 401K programs that may allow you to invest increased amounts per year per person. Talk to your financial advisor about the details and regulations surrounding these programs.
List your alternatives and compare the anticipated ROI, on an after-tax basis, of the various options. This will help you to evaluation options including:
Reinvesting in the business – various options.
Investing outside of the business – various options.
Interview with Luosheng Peng, CEO & President, GageIn
Situation: A fast-growing company is working to engage new users on their platform. They are leveraging ease of use, demonstrated ROI, and fit within an existing ecosystem as their levers to attract and engage new users. What have you found effective to attract and engage new users in a new platform or service?
Advice from Luosheng Peng:
The most important factors to attract new users are ease of use and a demonstrable ROI. It is important to address a complex value proposition simply and easily.
You must know, ahead of time, the single most important value for your target user. Your examples must be clearly tied to your target user’s most important need.
Quick, simple, visual and verbal illustrations are effective. For example, we used short and fun videos like Tracker the dog to explain our products.
You must demonstrate a clear ROI and increased productivity. Your ROI must be real if you want to gain users attention – particularly if you want to gain viral levels of attention.
In business intelligence, finding information is not a problem. The challenge is finding the right information, filling the gaps in information from standard sources, and delivering it at the right time. We spent a great deal of development time getting this part of our product right.
To improve understanding of your ROI, engage early adopters and get their feedback on your current features and how to improve your platform. Early adopters are more analytical and passionate than other users. They want to be acknowledged so be responsive to them.
Offer a freemium model so that new users can try you out and test your value proposition. If they like what they experience, offer a low cost limited premium model with incrementally scaled pricing for additional features or functionality.
Manage your ecosystem. Building a new ecosystem takes a lot of effort and expense. Most small ventures will want to compliment or fit into an existing ecosystem.
Existing ecosystems may already be crowded. Small companies have to be able to break through the crowd and be seen. We completed major integrations with Yammer’s Enterprise Social Network and Salesforce.com’s CRM. Your platform will have the most success if you address a gap or unmet need within the existing ecosystem.
Interview with Peter Koeppel, President, Koeppel Direct
Situation: The media industry is increasingly challenged trying to reach its audience. Media choices are fragmented, and the proliferation of new devices makes reaching purchasing audiences difficult. How do you best reach your target audience in this environment?
Historically placement of advertising and pricing of media ad buys were driven by calculations of audience impressions – how many eyeballs a particular ad would reach. With the media market now highly fragmented this measure is no longer as effective. Sophisticated marketers now seek ROI driven media buy models to justify their advertising purchases.
Two companies, Facebook and TiVo, are in the lead in terms of potential to assist marketers in targeting distinct audiences, because they collect rich data on individual consumers, but this information must be balanced with privacy concerns.
Non-conventional channels like TiVo or Google TV and other research services can selectively present marketing messages to specific customer demographics.
The mobile search market represented approximately $2 billion in revenue in 2010. As more people consume media through mobile devices, this market will grow. The leader in this market is Google.
A growing format is longer length spots. These include short-form infomercials which are typically seen for insurance, legal services, and spots that drive consumers to web sites or an 800 number. Long-form infomercials are typically 30 minutes in length, composed of three to four 7 or 8 minute segments separated by commercials, which serve as calls to action. Infomercial marketing is not for every product, but is most applicable to higher priced products where specific demographic information is worth the investment and where the consumer needs more education about the product,in order to make a purchase decision.
Cable TV, print and radio, remain an effective way to target niche audiences. Television, among the traditional media, still drives the largest number of consumers to online purchases.
For the future, we predict a convergence between TV and online marketing and purchases. Many HDMI TVs and current Blu-Ray sets are already configured for both cable and either WiFi or Ethernet connections. Google and Apple sell devices that combine TV and online access. Netflix and Hulu serve content through either TV or online devices.
We see the future of TV as a device which will consume all media. As access to rich databases of consumer preferences and purchasing proliferates we see growth in content which will be increasingly tailored to personal preferences and desires of highly fragmented consumer demographics.
Situation: The Company plans to open their first branch office. There are considering several possible locations. What are the most important considerations as they prepare?
Advice from the CEOs:
Perform an ROI analysis for the planned office. How is the ROI for the branch office different from your primary office? Look for potential economies of scale in your business model. This may prompt a rethinking of how you generate your products or services.
Simultaneously, look at your potential costs per location and the level of business required to (1) break even and (2) to match/exceed home office return in the new location. As you consider different geographical locations, compare costs and potential contribution of each against the others.
Decide whether you need to build full operations in your branch offices, or whether you can use a distributed services model, working from a central hub that performs some operations that need not be replicated in the branch offices.
Once you have completed these three analyses, perform a make/buy analysis to determine whether you get a better return from setting up your own office or purchasing a local company, if one exists.
Lower risk by starting with a relatively low cost operation – essentially a satellite office with minimal staff. As the new office develops initial business, they can be supported by your home office operations. They will serve as local feet on the street to evaluate the true potential and local barriers to entry within the new market.
Key Words: Branch Office, Location, ROI, Economies of Scale, Make/Buy, Barriers to Entry