Thursday, June 8, 2017

Lesson #268: The Art of the Follow-Up

Posted By: George Deeb - 6/08/2017

Given how important good selling techniques are to driving revenues, I am shocked how many entrepreneurs and salespeople are just bad at...



Given how important good selling techniques are to driving revenues, I am shocked how many entrepreneurs and salespeople are just bad at working their leads. This includes things like not following up on leads (or following up too much) and not knowing how to break down barriers, to get the lead to actually listen to your pitch. This post will help you become a master at properly working your sales prospects.

CONTACT THE RIGHT PERSON IN THE FIRST PLACE

If somebody is not getting back to you, often times it is because they are the wrong person in their organization to make decisions about your product or service. So, before you even send your first outreach, make sure the person you are reaching out to has decision making control for your solution. For example, if you are selling a social media management software, it is most likely the head of social media communications at that company—not social media advertising, not their head of marketing, not their CEO, etc. And, if you are unclear who is the right person—ask to be pointed in the right direction, or send outreach to all logical candidates, until you find the right person to engage with you.

MAKE THE RIGHT FIRST IMPRESSION

Another reason people don’t get back to you, is they don’t like what you have to say. Often times salespeople are so excited about the “what” they are selling, that they don’t focus on the more important benefits of “why” a customer would want to buy it. Simplify your pitch to the point you are helping them understand you are selling a need-to-have “painkiller” for their problems, not a nice-to-have “vitamin”. As an example, for the social media management software, it is less about how it integrates with Facebook and Twitter for easy communications, and more about how it will help them double their base of social media followers and help them generate more revenues. So, put on their hat, not yours, to figure out would resonate most with them.

FOLLOW UP IN THE RIGHT FREQUENCY AND RIGHT FORMAT

It shocks me how many times a salesperson forgets to follow up with their old leads. Thankfully, marketing automation software (e.g., Pardot, Eloqua, Marketo, Hubspot) has helped bring automated follow-ups to a formerly manual process. But, you need to know how to program that software with the right business rules. I typically live by the three strike rule within a once-per-week follow-up schedule. So, for example, if you first email them on March 1st, your first follow-up will be on March 8th and your second follow up with be on March 16th. If they don’t get back to you after three tries, it is time to move on, but don’t forget about them. Put them into a long-term nurturing schedule, sending along interesting research or insights that shows them you are smart on their space, for them to want to engage with you in the future. Then you can restart a more direct selling effort again in the following quarter.

And, shake up the methods is which you make your outreach. Email is easy and can be automated. But, it is a lot less personable than a phone call, where they can better hear your voice and personality shine through. And, you never know, you may call and they just might actually pick up their phone. This is particularly effective in the 8-9am or 5-6pm range, while they are most likely in the office, but their assistants are away.

SHAKE UP YOUR MESSAGING

You can only browbeat a person so many times with the same message before it falls on deaf ears. You need to shake up your messaging. Start with an introduction about your business and its benefits to them. If that doesn’t work, send them some interesting market research, that shows you are smart on their space. If that doesn’t work, invite them as your guest to some key industry event. And, if all else fails, everybody loves a free lunch, golf invitation or tickets to the ballgame. An unexpected gift sent to their office also works well, where they will hopefully call to say thank you. Do whatever you need to do, to get them on the phone or to a meeting, to hear what you have to say. Persistence without being annoying is the key here.

BREAK DOWN BARRIERS

It also surprises me that when a salesperson hits a wall, they stop trying, instead of tearing down that wall. For example, if a target lead is not responding to you, try to develop a relationship with their assistant or co-workers. If you get to a dead end with one person in the department, start again with another person in the department. Or, if the CMO won’t listen to your pitch, try calling their CFO to talk about the cost savings or revenue lift they can expect from your product, so the CFO can help you get the attention of their CMO. Or, if there is an entrenched competitor, cut them out of the equation with a materially better price. And, as always, leverage mutual connections -- especially if they are your customers that can help sing your praises as a credible third party. To me, there is no such thing as a dead end -- keep trying until someone gives you a chance.

Hopefully, now you are better armed to put your outreach efforts on steroids -- and drive your qualified sales leads and revenues in the process.  Happy hunting!

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.



Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Case for Hiring a Re-Founder Before You Pull the Plug on Your Startup

Posted By: George Deeb - 6/03/2017

Oftentimes, startup entrepreneurs are simply too close to their businesses to get a clear, non-biased look at what may be holding it bac...



Oftentimes, startup entrepreneurs are simply too close to their businesses to get a clear, non-biased look at what may be holding it back from ultimate success. Maybe they lack the required skills or business experience required to identify or correct problems inside their product, process or team. More often that not, as a new entrepreneur  “you just don’t know, what you don’t know.” When the problems become material enough to potentially put the company out of business, maybe it is time to hire what I call a RE-founder to help put it back on the right course.

Read the rest of this post in Entrepreneur, which I guest authored this week.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Marketing ROI--The Metric That Matters Most To Investors

Posted By: George Deeb - 6/01/2017

For all you entrepreneurs trying to attract investment capital, this post will be the most important one you read.  If you cannot answer...



For all you entrepreneurs trying to attract investment capital, this post will be the most important one you read.  If you cannot answer the following customer acquisition related questions for your target investors, your fund raising process is over, before it even started.  Below will walk you through the inputs required to calculate the most important marketing metric for investors:  your return on marketing investment ("ROMI").

Read the rest of this post in Forbes, which I guest authored this week.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter: @georgedeeb.


Lesson #267: Score One for Brick and Mortar Retail--An EZContacts.com Disaster Case Study

Posted By: George Deeb - 6/01/2017

It is no surprise that the internet has been killing offline retail.  Gone are chains like Blockbuster, Borders, and Sports Authority, t...



It is no surprise that the internet has been killing offline retail.  Gone are chains like Blockbuster, Borders, and Sports Authority, to name a few. And, the blodshed is far from over, with chains like Sears, Macy's and JC Penney hanging on for dear life.  They just can't compete with the internet prices, that don't have to cover the huge investment in brick and mortar real estate, inventory and employees.  Is there any retail category that is safe from the internet's death grip . . . I may have found one!!

THE BACKGROUND

I recently needed a new pair of eyeglasses.  I went to my local LensCrafters store for my eye exam and to browse new frames.  But, I did something I had never done before at an optical store, which I always had done in other stores . . . I wrote down the SKU of the frames and started searching for them online when I got home.

And, for good reason.  The same Polo brand frames I has seen at LensCrafters for $250, were available online for half the price of $125 from several vendors I had never heard of.  After doing a little online research, I felt EZContacts.com was worth giving a shot (despite their brand name, as I assumed they started in contacts and evolved into glasses too).  Online they made it pretty simple.  I could easily enter my prescription, they showed me how to measure my pupil distance and gave me a wide range of lenses to choose from.

I picked their most expensive lenses, at $199, assuming they were going to be the best, with all the bells and whistles needed, like anti-reflective coatings, thin construction and crystal clear definition.  I paid for the transaction on March 23, sat back and waited for my new glasses to arrive.

WHAT HAPPENED AFTERWARDS

I got a call the next day from an optometrist that said he worked for EZContacts.com saying that he had my prescription and all looked good, and asked if I had any questions.  I thought that was a nice touch, and I felt that I was in good hands.  Although, I did find it strange that the caller ID came in as a different company name called Sharper Image.  I assumed EZContacts.com had subcontracted the fulfillment to a local optometrist, which was fine given the price savings I was getting.

But, after the 5 business days of advertised delivery time, nothing showed up.  I gave them another week, and called them on April 6th asking why they were more than a week late; as I needed these glasses to see!!  They apologized, said there were abnormally busy, and shipped them out on April 9th, which I received the next day.

Excited to finally get my new glasses, I opened the box and tried them on.  And, I couldn't see clearly through them at all.  The prescription didn't feel accurate.  There was no anti-reflective coating, which distracted my vision.  And, they felt like a crappy lens--with a cloudy haze.  Anything but what I was expecting.

CUSTOMER SERVICE BREAKS

I called to complain, and was greeted by a message that their office was closed on April 11th and 12th for the Passover holiday break (even though every major retail optical chain were open those days).  And, when I called back on April 13th, there was such a back log of customer service calls that I ended up on hold for over two hours behind around 100 other callers.  Probably people like me, disappointed with their purchases??

When I finally spoke to the company, they said to ship them back and gave me a link to their returns page, which was not easily found on their website (forcing me to lose two hours on the phone hunting it down).  It was like they were intentionally hiding it, so people couldn't send back their purchases.  About a week or two after shipping back my glasses, I got a call from their support team saying my lenses were missing the anti-reflective coating by mistake, and that they would send a new pair.  To which I said, I don't really trust you guys anymore with my eyesight, and asked for a full refund, given how bad my customer experience was with them.

But, they told me they could only refund 50% of the $199 lens cost, since they were already cut.  So, I was going to have to eat around $100 for giving this online retailer a chance: an amount that was elevated by the fact I thought I was buying the best lenses possible to avoid exactly this situation.

THE OUTCOME

Given the bad experience I had online, I marched right back into LensCrafters, where I could physically see the quality of the lenses before buying them, and have them professionally measured (as I wasn't exactly sure I was doing it right on my own, from home).  I didn't end up buying new frames, I re-used my old frames to save on the costs, given the above out-of-pocket costs I incurred.  So, instead of getting new glasses and frames for around $300, saving $100 versus retail.  I ended up paying $300 for lenses only, including the $100 I lost from EZContacts.com.  Not the outcome I had in mind by going to the internet to save money.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

I may or may not buy frames only online, depending on how high the lenses costs are alone.  The offline retailers are smart--they deeply discount lenses by 50% if you buy frames from them, but you have to pay full price for the lenses if you don't.  So, whatever savings you are getting from buying frames online, you are most likely giving it back in the form of higher lenses prices offline.  So, until an online optical store can more seemlessly replicate the offline buying experience, I think the brick and mortar optical stores will survive to live another day.  Score one for brick and mortar retail, in the sea of otherwise carnage.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU

If you are in the brick and mortar retail business, you are most likely going to lose on price to the internet retailers every time.  And, price is a huge driver of a consumer's purchase decision.  You are going to have to figure out how to offer something unique and different, that the online guys don't have to compete.  In this case study, that included things like the onsite doctors, physical lenses to look through before you buy (privately branded and unique to them, so you couldn't hunt them down online) and pricing models that make the consumers feel indifference whether they buy online or offline.

And, as for EZContacts.com . . . buyer beware!!  I should have know better to buy eyeglasses from a company branded as a contacts seller.


For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.




Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Raleigh-Durham Venture Capital Firms & Angel Investor Networks

Posted By: George Deeb - 5/23/2017

Below is a list of selected venture capital firms and angel investor networks that are actively investing in the Raleigh-Durham area.  Mo...


Below is a list of selected venture capital firms and angel investor networks that are actively investing in the Raleigh-Durham area.  Most are split between a technology or life sciences focus, although many invest in additional industries, as well.  Please research them at their linked websites, to see who may be the best fit for you.  I organized this list in terms of stage of investment focus, from early to late stage investors.  So, please don't reach out to VC's if you do not fit their target criteria.  And, be sure to research their specific technology focus on their websites (e.g., healthcare, education, digital media, SaaS), to make sure your business is a fit for them.  Also, as a reminder, don't blindly cold call these companies.  It is always best to have a warm intro into one of their partners, where Red Rocket or others may be able to help here.

ANGEL INVESTOR NETWORKS IN RALEIGH-DURHAM

Carolina Angel Network --  UNC angels for UNC related entrepreneurs

Carolina Seed Investors --  life sciences focus

Duke Angel Network --  Duke angels for Duke related entrepreneurs

Investors' Circle --  impact investing

RTP Capital Associates --  technology centric, or low-tech execution driven

Triangle Angel Partners --  high tech and life sciences

Wolfpack Investor Network --  NC State angels for NC State related entrepreneurs


SEED STAGE (Up to $250K checks from $0 revenues)

Cofounders Capital --  software focus

Contender Capital --  technology focus

Full Tilt Capital --  technology focus

Inception Micro Angel Fund (IMAF) -- generalists

Madison River Ventures -- ecommerce, SaaS focus

Solidarity Capital Group --  social impact (community dev, economic dev, sustainable agric., energy/environmental, social finance)


EARLY STAGE (Up to $1MM checks in up to $1MM revenues) 

IDEA Fund Partners --  technology focus

Bull City Venture Partners --  software, internet focus


SERIES A STAGE ($1MM-$5MM checks in $1MM-$5MM revenues)

Cato BioVentures --  life sciences focus

Cherokee Investment Partners --  real estate, environmental, energy, others

SJF Ventures --  impact investing


SERIES B  STAGE ($5MM-$20MM checks in over $5MM revenues)

Hatteras Venture Partners --  life sciences focus

River Cities Capital Funds --  healthcare and technology focus

True Bridge Capital Partners --  into funds early or mid-to-late stage direct, tech focus


ALL STAGES

Echo Health Ventures --  healthcare focus

Pappas Ventures -- life sciences focus


STARTUP STUDIOS

Bootstrap Advisors --  consumer products

8 Rivers -- sustainable infrastructure innovations in future-critical areas

Excelerate Health Ventures -- healthcare focus

Golden Pine Ventures --  biotechnology and biomedical focus

Rex Health Ventures --  UNC related, healthcare focus


OTHER NORTH CAROLINA FIRMS WHO INVEST IN RALEIGH-DURHAM

Asheville Angels (seed stage, Asheville)

Blue Ridge Angel Investor Network (seed stage, Asheville)

Charlotte Angel Fund (seed stage, Charlotte)

Double Time Capital (growth stage, Charlotte, sustainable energy)

ECU Investor Network (seed stage, Greenville)

Frontier Capital (growth stage, Charlotte)

Lowe's Ventures (all stages, Mooresville, emerging tech, retail tech, home tech)

North Carolina Innovation Funds (Charlotte, state fund co-invests behind other VCs)

Piedmont Angel Network (seed stage, Winston-Salem)

SunBridge Partners (early stage, Charlotte, technology with global applications)

Wilmington Investor Network (seed stage, Wilmington)


OTHER FIRMS

I would also recommend reaching out to investors outside of North Carolina who are open to investing in the region.  So, research venture investors in the surrounding states in the Southeast.  Or, even further beyond, as I know a lot of Chicago venture capitalists are open to investing in smart companies, wherever they are located, and for the right companies, Red Rocket can make introductions to our relationships there.


For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.


Monday, May 15, 2017

Lesson #266: Managing for Net Cash Flow vs Net Profit

Posted By: George Deeb - 5/15/2017

As many of you know, Red Rocket has been looking for a businesses to buy.  We have previously written about all the challenges that come...



As many of you know, Red Rocket has been looking for a businesses to buy.  We have previously written about all the challenges that come with buy-side mergers and acquisitions work.   But, there is a new wrinkle we have been running into, that is worth talking about.  Most businesses we have looked at were managed to maximize net profit, which is typically a good thing.  But, when trying to attract an acquirer, they really should have been managed to maximize net cash flow.  As at the end of the day, that is really want matters most to investors--getting visibility into a near term return of their invested capital, that hopefully can pay back in 12-18 months, not 4-5 years.  Let me explain further.

DEFINING THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NET PROFIT AND NET CASH FLOW

Net profit is a pretty straight forward calculation; it takes all the revenues of the business collected from customers in a time period and subtracts all the expenses of the business in that same period.  Those expenses include things like the cost of goods sold and all the selling, general and administrative costs of the business (e.g., marketing, payroll, home office).  Net profit is an income statement output.

Net cashflow is a cash flow statement output.  It starts with the net profit calculated above and then adds back non-cash items like depreciation and amortization, and then subtracts other longer term investments made in the business, like build-up of inventory for future months' sales, research and development costs made for future product offerings and other capital expenditures (e.g., for new equipment or capitalized software investments).

WHY MANAGING TO CASH FLOW MATTERS

Let's say we had a business with $5MM in revenues generating $800K in profit before taxes and $1MM in EBITDA when you add back $200K of non-cash items, like depreciation.  Since most businesses are valued on a multiple of EBITDA, this business may be worth 4x cash flow, or $3.2MM to a potential acquiror, depending on how fast it is growing.

But, then the potential buyer of that business starts to peel back the layers of the onion on the cash flow statement, and uncovers the business is making $1MM of off-income statement investments to support their growth, into things like building up inventory for future months and R&D investments into future products.  That takes the net cash flow of the business down to zero.

So, with most acquirers looking for businesses with high net cash flow, with which to attract bank financing and to have funds from operations with which to pay down their loan and interest over time, this presents a major challenge for the buyer.  Instead of getting a business that they thought was generation a lot of profits (which is valuable to them), they are getting a business which is cash flow neutral (which is not that valuable to them, given the nature of their business).  What worked well for the entrepreneur in growing their revenues at the expense of short term distributions, does not work well for most private equity investors or acquirers of your business.

WHEN THIS IS NOT THE CASE

Obviously, if you are not trying to sell your business, making potential investors or acquirers happy doesn't matter.  You can do what you like in those cases.  And, the reason most businesses don't care about not driving huge positive cash flow, is because they are more focused on re-investing all cash flow into the company, to help propel the business to new heights in future years (not caring about the impact to profits or cash flow in the current year).  Amazon is a great example of a company that has had major success with a strategy like this, although it ruffled the feather of many of their early investors as a public company, since it was counter to the norm of maximizing near term profits.

CASE STUDY

We were studying the potential acquisition of an ecommerce seller of branded shoes.  They were showing very impressive revenue growth from $5MM to $10MM to $15MM over a three year period, and net profits were growing right along with it, from $1MM to $2MM to $3MM.  That would attract the excitement of most any investor or buyer.

Until, we looked at the cash flow statement in more detail.  And, we learned, they needed to invest the full $3MM of profit into their future inventory investment required to support the next year's expected revenues of $20MM.  With a 50% cost of sales ($10MM) and a 3x inventory turnover ratio ($3.3MM of inventory needed for next four months), they needed every penny of the prior year profits, and more, to fund their growth.

So, yes, if the plan was to shut off the growth at $15MM, and milk the $3MM of profits out of the business in perpetuity, that would appeal to certain buyers.  But, if the plan, was to grow a $15MM business into a $50MM business, all while distributing a portion of profits to the shareholders or the lenders along the way, this business wouldn't attract anyone.

WHAT THIS MEANS TO YOU

Yes, profits are important and should be maximized.  Especially since they are the root driver of EBITDA which is relied on heavily in valuing companies.  But, if at the same time, you are not being sensitive to maximizing cash flow during growth periods of your business, you are going to have a hard time attracting new investors, lenders or acquirers for your business.  At the end of the day, there has to be enough cash left to distribute out to the investment partners in a business (e.g., banks, private equity firms), along the way, in order to get their upfront attention.  So, plan accordingly.


For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.


Friday, May 5, 2017

For Startups, Do You Bet on the Jockey or the Horse

Posted By: George Deeb - 5/05/2017

There have been several articles written that talk about how venture capital investors prefer to bet on the jockey (the entrepreneur), o...



There have been several articles written that talk about how venture capital investors prefer to bet on the jockey (the entrepreneur), over the horse (the startup idea). As I have often said, I would much rather invest in an A+ team with a B+ idea, than a B+ team with an A+ idea. So I agree with this premise of the jockey being more important than the horse, usually. This post will tell you when one outweighs the other.

Read the rest of this post in Entrepreneur, which I guest authored this week.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.


[NEWS] Red Rocket Looking for Broken Businesses To Fix

Posted By: George Deeb - 5/05/2017

Spring cleaning time is the perfect time to fix broken businesses.  Is your business broken?  Revenues not scaling?  Team not gelling?  ...



Spring cleaning time is the perfect time to fix broken businesses.  Is your business broken?  Revenues not scaling?  Team not gelling?  Product keeps breaking?  Getting bad customer reviews?  Can't attract capital?  At your wits end and contemplating throwing in the towel?  Pretty much sounds like most early stage businesses!!  But, there is a way out.  Red Rocket is looking for broken businesses to fix.

We are looking for companies that:

  • Are preferably a B2C company (although we would consider B2B)
  • Have a solid product or service offering that is up and running (not a piece of paper startup)
  • Have some base level of customer adoption (e.g., $1MM of revenues)
  • Sales & marketing is the company's biggest weakness (revenues not growing)
  • Has compelling unit economics--high average ticket/high margin vs. marketing costs
  • The business must be cash flow neutral--not burning cash today
  • Can be a newer company trying to scale, or a turnaround of former high flyer

We are looking for scenarios where we can:

  • Invest our time as the new "proven CEO" of the business
  • Invest our cash, as needed, for scaling sales/marketing needs
  • Get a material (and preferably majority) stake in business we are excited about
As we have written about in the past, sometimes the best medicine for a broken business, is a fresh set of eyes.  If you are open to handing "your baby" off to a more experienced team to help you raise it, we want to talk to you.  It is always better to own 50% of a potential home run, than 100% of a potential strike out.  And, Red Rocket can be that Babe Ruth for your business.

If interested in learning more, please contact us via the form at the bottom of this page.  Be as specific as you can about your business, revenues, unit level economics, painpoints, team, location, etc., so we are can be sure we can help.  We won't be able to work with everyone under this model, and we appreciate your understanding, if we can't get to the finish line together.

For future posts, please follow us on Twitter at: @RedRocketVC.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Lesson #265: Top 10 Traits of Good Sales Managers

Posted By: George Deeb - 5/03/2017

I was recently introduced to Kevin Davis , the author of The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness , a new business book currently availab...



I was recently introduced to Kevin Davis, the author of The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness, a new business book currently available on Amazon.  Kevin is the President of TopLine Leadership, a sales management training company, and is an authority on the sales management topic.  Kevin identified 10 key traits of good sales managers, summarized below.  He was kind enough to allow me to share them with all of you in this post.
_________________________

1. Managing and leading a sales team requires a completely different mindset from selling.

It’s a common refrain from sales organizations: “We promoted our top salesperson to sales manager, and it didn’t work out like we thought it would.” Being a leader of a sales team requires different skills and mindsets from being a successful sales rep. The first step is identifying sales instincts that may be holding you back as a manager. 1) I want to be a player. But sales managers are not put in the job to keep selling. They are put in the job so they can help others become the best salespeople they can be. 2) I’d rather close than coach. But that instinct for the chase and closing deals can lead us awry once we’re in management. 3) I’m very focused on getting stuff done. Not so fast. A sales manager who is overly task oriented can spend too much time making sure mundane to-do items get done while ignoring the development needs of their salespeople. 4) I don’t care how people get results, as long as they get results. The dilemma for sales managers, however, is that a constant push to reach a sales number can keep them and their teams so focused on end goals that they miss opportunities to identify problems with skills and processes so they can improve future results. To be a more effective sales manager, you have to replace those attitudes with more powerful leadership mindsets. Whether trained or untrained, novice or experienced, all sales managers run the risk of falling back on old habits and acting more like a super-salesperson than a leader. Learn how to think more like a proactive leader and less like a reactive firefighter.

2. Time = Priorities

The single most common complaint from sales managers: “I don’t have time to coach.” In one company, 85 percent of the sales managers’ responsibilities were related to sales coaching. In interviews, this company’s regional sales managers said that in reality, none spent more than 10 percent of their time coaching. These managers, like most sales managers, spend 90 percent of their time involved in activities unrelated to their highest priorities. Being able to manage time (and thus your priorities) effectively is a prerequisite for being a great sales team leader. You simply cannot achieve your full potential as a sales team leader if you spend the bulk of your time in reactive mode—solving everyone else’s problems, holding ineffective meetings, shuffling through papers, or dealing with any other number of timewasters. You need to make sure you have plenty of time to plan, coach, measure, and manage. These are the priorities for sales management leadership.

3. Drive Rep Accountability for Breakthrough Sales Performance

It is impossible to hold reps fully accountable for their performance unless there is a clear description of what exactly excellence should look like. High expectations that are well communicated to your team are an essential component of a high-performance culture. You need a success profile that captures both the skills and wills needed for success in your company, plus a third element: the performance standards you want to establish for sales results and activity levels. When you are clear about what reps need to achieve, you can communicate more effectively with sales reps about what they need to do to improve.

4. Hire Smarter

Address the fundamental dilemma all sales managers face, namely that the best coaching in the world is not going to rescue someone who is ill-suited for the job. You have to evaluate not just the skills and wills of likely candidates but their cultural fit and their coachability. Why? While it’s true that some sales reps are naturals and likely will succeed in almost all situations, those self-driven top performers are more the exception than the rule. Most reps require sales coaching to attain top skills and performance levels.

5. Insert the Customer In Your Sales Process

Every company has a sales process whether or not it’s formalized. Ideally, a sales process provides salespeople with a consistent, repeatable path to follow that leads to a higher probability of sales success. But though many sales organizations think of themselves as customer-focused because they truly care about the customer, their sales process is seller-focused. Further, their systems—sales models, CRM, funnel structure, and pipeline—are set up to track sales rep activities, not customer actions. What too few companies realize is that selling activities are an inaccurate metric of progress because sales reps are so often out of sync with customers’ views. It’s not necessarily that salespeople are doing the wrong things. They could be doing the right things—identifying needs, delivering proposals, doing demonstrations—but at the wrong time in terms of the customer’s buying process. In short, any tracking or forecasts based on a selling-focused model are actually based on sales rep intuition, not on evidence that a prospect is making progress toward a decision. And it’s this disconnect between “sales rep actions” and “customer actions” that contributes to lost sales and missed forecasts. 

6. Be more strategic about your coaching time

When it comes to coaching, most sales managers have natural instincts to either rescue the worst players (because obviously they need the most help) or gravitate to the best players (because they will likely have the biggest, most exciting deal opportunities). If either of these sounds like you, the results of a study reported in the Harvard Business Review might come as a surprise. “In research involving thousands of reps, we found that coaching—even world-class coaching—has a marginal impact on either the weakest or the strongest performers in the sales organization.”That’s right. Your biggest payoff from coaching will come from working with the people you might think of as your “B” players. Your mindset needs to be focusing your one-on-one coaching time on the people with the biggest potential, not those with the biggest problems or biggest deals.

7. Commit to consistent coaching

Think about the best manager or coach you’ve had, whether in or out of sales. The answer that occurs to most people is someone who was truly committed to their success. People don’t remember a manager or coach so much for the step-by-step coaching process that person used (though they probably had one). They remember coaches more for how those managers interacted and communicated and the effort they put in to connecting with their team.

8. Motivate the Demotivated

The vast majority of sales managers that I deal with think as high as 75 percent of the performance issues on their team are due to bad attitudes or “willingness problems”. Deficiencies in will—a rep’s attitude and mental approach to the job—are much more difficult to solve, and this is perhaps one reason why they get ignored so often. Yet taking action is imperative. Just one bad apple can bring a team’s performance down by more than 30 percent, no matter how good the rest of the group is. Poor behavior has a much stronger negative effect on a team than the positive effect of good behavior. Dealing with this wide range of willingness problems takes finesse. You can’t send someone to a class to improve an attitude. You can’t force someone to be more motivated simply by telling them what to do or cheerleading from the sidelines. Instead, you have to think about what will motivate—or what has demotivated—the person. Focus on the difference between motivators that raise the natural level of motivation (providing incentives for people to improve and get better), and demotivators that rob people of their enthusiasm for the job. As a manager, you have to be able to distinguish between these two so you know whether your job is increasing motivators or trying to diminish the impact of demotivators.

9. Increase Win Rates with Buy Cycle Coaching

When a company adopts a buying-process focus, part of a sales manager’s responsibility becomes reinforcing that perspective in their dealings with sales reps. See the process through the customer’s eyes. Learn to appreciate the steps a customer goes through when making a buying decision. And, resist the urge to “prematurely pitch.” Talking about features and benefits of a solution does no good if the customer has not even decided to buy yet. Pitching benefits too soon is one main way that reps get out of sync with customer buying. And, do so as a "helper", not a "critic", to not make your sales rep defensive and preserve your relationship with them.  Usher the person to the intersection of choice. Be very clear about consequences: negative if the person does not change, and positive if they do. Focus on questions that get at the customer’s go-forward actions. Ask reps the questions those reps should be asking themselves, such as “Where is this prospect at in their decision-making process?” and “What does this customer need to learn in order to take their next buying step?” and “What action do I want the customer to take after this call (or meeting)?” You can’t improve closing ratios by going in at the end of the sales process. You have to fix what your salespeople are doing at the very beginning—what they are doing to understand the customer’s buying process. Those first few meetings are when a customer decides whether they have a problem that you can fix and whether it’s worth their time to fix it. It’s also where, from the customer’s perspective, the size of the sale is determined. 

10. Think and Act Like a Champion

David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene, has devoted much of his career to studying the behavior of elite athletes and champions. He discussed a pattern he noticed in how champions set their goals. All of the champions he studied, said Epstein, have major goals they want to accomplish, such as winning a race or an Olympic medal. But on a daily basis they aren’t thinking about that end point. Rather, every day will be devoted to something very specific, such as “today in my workout, between mile three and four, I’m going to push hard.” In other words, these champions are really good at setting proximate (near-term) objectives that tell them what to do today. How can you do the same?


Thanks again, Kevin, for sharing your wisdom with our readers.  Hopefully, you are all now better educated on how best to manage your sales teams.  Be sure to read Kevin’s full book, for more details.


For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Lesson #264: Financing Mergers & Acquisitions

Posted By: George Deeb - 4/26/2017

We have previously talked about How to Set Your Mergers & Acquisitions Goals .  But, once those goals have been set, and targets hav...



We have previously talked about How to Set Your Mergers & Acquisitions Goals.  But, once those goals have been set, and targets have been identified, how exactly do you fund those transactions?  As you will read, financing M&A activity is very different than funding stand-alone growth with venture capital, as the investors are largely very different--mostly banks, private equity firms and family offices, instead of venture capital firms.  This post will help you better learn your M&A financing options.

EQUITY ONLY--NO CASH NEEDED

M&A activity doesn't always mean that cash needs to trade hands.  Sometimes you can implement a merger by basically using your equity as a currency, and negotiating a pro rata stake in the combined company.  For example, if you have two equal sized businesses both valued at about the same valuation stand-alone,  you can merge the companies together and your original shareholders would own 50% of Newco and the other company's shareholders would own the other 50% of Newco.  If they are not the same size, use a metric like relative revenues or relative EBITDA and set the relative ownership that way (e.g., if one business generates 75% of the combined profits day one, they could own 75% of the combined equity in Newco).

CASH ON HAND OR COMPANY PROFITS

If cash is needed, maybe your business has cash on its balance sheet or it is generating material profits, and you can fund your M&A activity that way, with no outside capital.  Since companies are typically valued as a multiple of EBITDA,  you may need to save up a few years of profits, in order to afford the other company you are trying to buy, if they are the same size as you.

SELLER NOTES

The easiest way to finance an M&A transaction is to have the seller agree to not take all of their cash up front.  As an example, maybe you pay them 80% at closing, and  you pay them 20% in a seller note a year or two down the road.  Any seller that has confidence in their business, should be willing to agree to at least a small amount of seller note to help you afford the upfront transaction.

SELLER EQUITY

In many scenarios, having the seller involved with the future of Newco can be very helpful.  Maybe you don't know their industry very well?  Or, they bring some specific skillset to the table, and they would enjoy keeping part ownership and future involvement in "their baby".  That helps them to get some upfront liquidity by selling a large portion of their ownership, but at the same time, let's them participate in the long term growth that is created, as a minority shareholder.  So, as an example, if you give the seller a 10% stake in Newco, you only need to fund the 90% of the company's valuation upfront.

BANKS & SBA BACKED LOANS

Banks are often the first call for funding M&A.  But, with banks, there are several hurdles you need to get through.  They need to like the industry, the team, the historical cash flow trends, the underlying assets of the business they can secure, the financial covenants, etc.  And, the more cash flow you have as a combined company, the higher odds a bank with lend to  you.  There are some banks that will lend to companies as small as $500K of cash flow, but the vast majority don't really get excited until you are generating $2-$3MM in cash flow.  So, look for targets that can help you get to that threshold, to simplify your M&A fund raising efforts.  And, keep in mind, bank finance will be the most senior loan in your capitalization table, and banks will need to be repaid within a couple years (and will be senior to any other note holders, including the seller note above).  So, plan accordingly.

In addition, the banks are often conduits to loans backed by the Small Business Association, where they will lend up to 90% of the transaction.  But, the price is steep with the mandatory personal guarantees that will be required, putting you personally on the hook for any defaults by the company.  Personal guarantees can often be avoided in typical bank loans for companies generating enough annual cash flow, so only go down the SBA-backed road if it is your only option.

PRIVATE EQUITY FIRMS

The lion's share of the capital needed for M&A will most likely come from private equity firms or family offices, likes these linked examples in Chicago.  There is a shortage of really good companies for sale, and these investment companies are more than willing to back good teams building good ideas, assuming the combined company is generating a lot of cash flow (which they can take to the banks and finance a portion of the deal with debt, to reduce their equity investment need).  Again, because they are looking to the banks for help, they too will bias companies with over $2-$3MM of combined cash flow (although many will look at deals smaller than this, if only investing equity).  Before you reach out to PE firms, make sure to research if they like to invest in deals within your industry and revenue stage on their websites.

EXAMPLE DEAL

So, let's put this all together in an example deal.  Let's say you found an ecommerce company to buy, that is generating $2MM in cash flow.  Assuming that company is growing 20% a year, it could be worth 5x cash flow, or $10MM.  You think it is important to keep the founder involved, and you are willing to have him take a 10% stake in Newco, so you really only need to finance $9MM to buy the 90% stake.  That could be funded $3MM by a private equity firm, $3MM by a bank and $3MM by a seller note (if amenable to the seller).  And, the private equity firm would most likely want you to have some "skin in the game", so maybe their portion is split $300K from you and $2.7MM from them.  Ninety days and lots of negotiations later, you should be ready to close.  This is an example only, as the multiples, amounts and percentages can vary substantially by deal, company, growth rate and industry.

Hopefully, you are now ready to put on your M&A hats, and get that transaction funded.  But, don't forget about all the potential M&A pitfalls along the way, as we have discussed in the past.  At all times, buyer beware, and exercise conservative caution throughout each step of the process.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.



Monday, April 17, 2017

Lesson #263: Having Laser-Focus Increases Odds of Success

Posted By: George Deeb - 4/17/2017

Do you remember the scene during the credits of the movie Forrest Gump , where the feather was floating through the sky, being carried i...



Do you remember the scene during the credits of the movie Forrest Gump, where the feather was floating through the sky, being carried in whatever direction the wind would take it?  That is a perfect visual of what not to do, when trying to build a business.  Business success requires an almost religious level of focus on the goal at hand, and not letting the whims or pet projects of our customers, investors or employees blow us in different directions.  The entrepreneur that can keep the team focused, and not easily distracted, is the one that will most likely and successfully get to the finish line.

WHAT IS FOCUS—A PERSONAL CASE STUDY

The best way to define focus, is to give you a personal example of what focus is not.  Yes, even yours truly has fallen victim to a loss of focus during the early days of my executive career.  And, this example from my iExplore days will pound home the point.  iExplore was a consumer portal to research and purchase adventure tours, where our primary strength was consumer marketing online, relying on ground operator partners to run the trips.  But, in our early days, we got lured into the corporate incentive travel business by one of our customers.  The idea of selling 100 passengers per booking, instead of 2 passengers per booking, sounded like it was worth it, to a startup trying to scale its business.

But, in chasing that business, we quickly learned that the corporate incentive business is driven by a B2B sales team, not consumer marketers (and we didn’t have the right team with meeting planner relationships to be successful).  And, the skillsets required for customer success, were a lot more than marketing; we need professional event planners and boots on the ground to be really successful.  And, that just wasn’t our consumer model (since we didn’t actually have to run the trips ourselves).

Attempting to get into the corporate incentive business for iExplore, was the equivalent of me leading the team down a rabbit hole.  That “flavor of the month” looked like a good move, based on the financial upside of a business like that, but without the right sales and operations team involved, it was simply a fool’s errand.  Which ultimately distracted us from focusing on continued success in our consumer business.  So, the point here:  don’t let your “flavor of the month” lead you down any rabbit holes, as those rarely bear fruit long term.

DON’T CONFUSE FOCUS WITH BEING STUBBORN—CASE STUDY PART 2

Continuing with another story from iExplore, there was a major pivot point in our history, when iExplore began to sell advertising on our website.  I really wanted to stay focused on being a travel revenue business only, as I thought the ads were going to clutter up the site and hurt the user experience.  But, my fellow executives passionately made their case to do a small advertising test on our website.  And, the result was a  new found revenue stream and a 75% profit margin business that far exceeded the 10% profits margins we were getting from our travel revenues.

The point here was, had I stay solely focused on being a good travel business, we would have missed an even bigger opportunity to evolve the business into a big travel media business.  Once we learned that 30% of our revenues were driving 75% of our bottom line profits, the team shifted directions on what we saw as the future of our business success.

YOU CAN ONLY BUILD ONE BUSINESS AT A TIME—CASE STUDY PART 3

Once iExplore made the decision we were shifting our focus to being a media business, from a travel business, that changed everything from a website design perspective.  And, that ruffled a lot of feathers internally from our travel department, that thought that the media business was actually hurting the company.  There was a constant tug-of-war between the travel business and media business fighting from prominence and positioning on the web pages, as what was good for one, was bad for the other.

I actually thought having the two business lines fighting with each other would create a good balance on the website, in terms of not letting the user experience get too gummed down by too many ads on the page.  But, what I should have done, was pulled the plug on the travel business altogether, and let the high margin media business drive the train.  The media business required less people to build, drove 3x the profitability and was very sticky with a high level of repeat clients.  Hindsight is 20/20, but we should have had better focus on that one business line to truly maximize our success.
But, it was a scary thing to do, exiting the core of the business of which the company was founded.  Don’t be scared to make the right business decision, even if it means killing your sacred cows.

DEFINING THE GOALS TO FOCUS ON

In order to define the key business goals that the management team needs to focus on, that requires a more formal strategic business planning process.  And, most entrepreneurs don’t know how, or don’t take the time, to run that process.  Here is a link to how to run a strategic planning process like this.  Even if you do it in an abbreviated fashion, taking the time to define your strategic plan, will make sure the voices of all stakeholders are heard and ensure you are truly focused on the right objectives to maximize success for your business long term.

KEEPING THE TEAM FOCUSED ON THOSE GOALS

And, once the plan is set, your job as the CEO is to make sure your entire management team is staying focused on hitting those goals and not running down any new rabbit holes that come along over time.  At least until your next strategic planning process, where all new ideas can be considered at that time.  You can’t have your CFO building a sedan, your COO building a minivan and your CTO building an SUV, when you all agreed during the planning process you were going to build a luxury coupe. Focus, focus, more focus, will help you achieve your business goals a lot faster.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.



Friday, April 7, 2017

The Art of the Follow-Up

Posted By: George Deeb - 4/07/2017

Given how important good selling techniques are to driving revenues, I am shocked how many entrepreneurs and salespeople are just bad at...



Given how important good selling techniques are to driving revenues, I am shocked how many entrepreneurs and salespeople are just bad at working their leads. This includes things like not following up on leads (or following up too much) and not knowing how to break down barriers, to get the lead to actually listen to your pitch. This post will help you become a master at properly working your sales prospects.

Read the rest of this post in Entrepreneur, which I guest authored this week.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.


Lesson #262: A Venture Capital Playbook Over Time

Posted By: George Deeb - 4/07/2017

I read two terrific articles this month that summarized venture capital trends over the last several years.  The first was Pitchbook'...



I read two terrific articles this month that summarized venture capital trends over the last several years.  The first was Pitchbook's 2016 VC Valuations Report and the second was CB Insights's Venture Capital Funnel.  They are a must read for anyone thinking about going down the venture capital route, in terms of financing their growth.  Read together, they help you better understand what you can expect along the way.  Below is my summary of these two articles that are most relevant to you.

Starting with the CB Insights data, they looked at 1,098 companies that raised seed stage capital between 2008 and 2010, and then tracked the outcome of those companies over the following years.  Approximately 46% raised a following Series A, 28% a Series B, 14% a Series C, 6% a Series D and 2% a Series E round.  And, of this group, only 28% of them got to an M&A exit for their investors.  And, of those exits, 71% where under $50MM, 10% were $50-$100MM, 8% were $100-$200MM, 6% were $200-$500MM, 3% were $500MM-$1BN and only 2% were over $1BN.

So, what's the conclusion from this data.  Entrepreneurs think they have the best idea in the world and they are on their way to building the next unicorn level company.  But, only 1% do.  So, know going into the process, that there is a big drop off from one step of your growth to the next, with a lot of headwind along the way.  The odds to getting to a huge payday is very low.  And, the odds to getting to any exit are not great, with only 3 in 10 getting to that point.  So, most of you are going to end up either with self sustaining businesses that can't be sold, or more likely, out of business.  A pretty depressing concept before you even get started!!

Now moving on to the Pitchbook data, I put this chart together to help me better look at it:


There were so many nuggets to learn from this chart.  First of all, you are going to have 1-2 years of history before you raise penny number one from professional investors.  So, be prepared to bootstrap finance your business until you get to your proof-of-concept point the investors are looking for.  Second, look how fast the process moves, which says two things: (i) buckle your seat belt, it is going to be a helluva ride; and (ii) you are never going to get out of fund raising mode, which sucks if you prefer to be focusing on the business.  Third, you get some good data here on how much you should raise and how much you should value your company for, at each stage of its development.  And, lastly, when you add up all the dilution from the multiple rounds, the founder's stake is going to dilute itself down from 100% day one to 33% after the Series D.  And, if there are multiple founders that gets split between you.  So, you will be doing a ton of work that the investors are going to see 67% of the benefit.

There were some other interesting data points in the Pitchbook article: (1) valuations are pretty lofty right now, steadily rising in each round level since 2010 (up about 2x over the last several years)--that can't last for much longer; (2) flat or down rounds make up a healthy 26% of the market, so even if you are raising new funds, valuations don't always go up; and (3)  if you have a strategic corporate investor as part of your investor group, the VC's like that, as evidenced by them paying a 54%-65% premium valuation for companies with a corporate backer vs. companies without one (so figure out how to get a corporate investor to take a liking to your business, if you can).

So, there you have it--everything you need to know to in terms of raising venture capital for your business over time, and what to expect along the way.  What do you think?  Still interested in taking the leap, after studying this data??

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Lesson #261: Leadership 101--Narrow Your Say-Do Gap

Posted By: George Deeb - 3/30/2017

I recently was in a client’s office and they had an interesting collage of words and images hung on their wall, trying to summarize the ...



I recently was in a client’s office and they had an interesting collage of words and images hung on their wall, trying to summarize the culture they wanted to create for their employees.  One section stood out to me, it said, “Narrow Your Say-Do Gap” next to the word “Commitment”.  Not only did I think that was a great way to manage your team’s expectations by, it must be working, as the company has a “love affair” with their leadership team, as evidenced by their employees long tenure with the company and the very high reviews of their CEO on Glassdoor.  There are some juicy nuggets in here, that we can all learn from in trying to be good leaders with a narrow Say-Do Gap.

WHAT IS THE SAY-DO GAP?

Let’s first define the Say-Do Gap, so we know exactly what we are trying to narrow.  Just as the name suggests, as a good leader and fellow employee, it is important that you “practice what you preach”.  If you tell your team you are going to do something, DO IT!!  The better you follow through on your stated promises with visible actions, the narrower your Say-Do Gap.

WHY A WIDE SAY-DO GAP IS BAD?

A lot of bad managers may give lip service to saying they are going to do something, and never follow through.  And, all that does is irritate everyone in the office that was relying on that project to get completed.   While at the same time, delivers a deadly blow to your credibility as a leader.  If your employees can’t trust you to honor your word, they will never remain loyal to you.  Companies with a wide Say-Do Gap typically have a very poor morale in the office and experience high levels of employee turnover, as employees become disgruntled by mismanagement of unrealized expectations.

A WIDE-GAP CASE STUDY

I have been exposed to a lot of poor leaders, during my work at Red Rocket.  The relationship with that CEO typically starts out fine.  They say they have a problem they want to fix, and they are committed to doing whatever is necessary to fix the problem (e.g., capital investment, new incentives, new hires).  But, after the project starts and recommendations are made, when it is time to pull the trigger they never follow through.  And, worse yet, they say they are working on it, but really have no intention of actually doing it.

Maybe they are concerned about the resulting dilution to their ownership that would come from a financing or new stock option plan, or maybe they are debt averse, or maybe they just don’t agree with their team’s recommendations and prefer to avoid conflict.  Whatever the reason, they get the “engines of change” up and running, which gets their team excited.  But, then when push comes to shove: no actions are taken, and their entire team ends up disappointed in the process.

A NARROW-GAP CASE STUDY

On the flipside, let’s remember my case study from my time at iExplore, right after 9/11/01 with the travel business imploding in the wake of terrorism.  I was always honest with my team, both in good times and bad times of the company.  And, I always followed through on any promises I had made to the team over time.  If I told them we were going to raise new capital, we did.  If I said we would sign a new partnership, we did.  And, that history of a narrow Say-Do Gap between 1999-2001, gained me the trust of our team over time and earned me what would become much needed “trust me capital” when we crap hit the fan on September 11th.

More specifically, iExplore should have gone out of business.  Revenues stopped coming in, as people stopped traveling.  We had a large burn rate carrying a staff of 35 employees.  And, our investors went running for the hills.  So, when I had to terminate all employees, and ask 12 of them to volunteer their time for three months, on the hopes of me raising a new round of capital and getting their volunteered back-pay funded at that time, that would have been a monumental ask of most employees in most any other company.  But, our team was passionate about our business and they trusted me to follow through.  Which I did, getting a new funding round closed in January 2012 and all their earned pay from their volunteered fourth quarter of 2001 repaid in full, at that time.

The point here is not how we saved the company.  The point here is I would have never been given the opportunity to save the company by my team, if I had anything other than a narrow Say-Do Gap in the two years leading up to that event.  Trust matters in being a good leader, perhaps more than anything else, especially when things start to go wrong, and you need your team the most.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU?

Do a critical assessment of yourself.  How many times do you promise to do something?  And, compare that to how many times you actually followed through?  If that answer is close to a 100% follow-through rate, you are a “Narrow Say-Do Gap Jedi Master”.  But, the closer you get to 80%, or God forbid 50%, the damage you are doing your leadership credibility may be too insurmountable to overcome.  Don’t let this be you.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.



Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Lesson #260: Where to Find Businesses for Sale

Posted By: George Deeb - 3/21/2017

As many of you know, I have been looking for businesses to buy, over the last few months.  Primarily in the digital technology space.  T...



As many of you know, I have been looking for businesses to buy, over the last few months.  Primarily in the digital technology space.  There are plenty of resources that I am leveraging in this process, from my personal network to business brokers to online websites.  I figured this would be a useful post for any of you looking for businesses to buy, as part of setting an M&A strategy for your business.

YOUR NETWORK

When looking for a business to buy, you need to be well connected to people that know about businesses for sale.  This includes people like lawyers, accountants, bankers, venture capitalists, private equity firms, consultants, etc.  So, be sure to let these types of professionals know you are on the hunt, and what specifically you are looking for, and they may know of current opportunities.  Or, at a minimum, hopefully, they will keep you on their radar for future opportunities that arise over time.

BUSINESS BROKERS

Business brokers or investment bankers are companies that are engaged by a seller, to help them sell their business.  They prepare all the marketing materials, reach out to prospective buyers and act as an intermediary between the buyer and the seller of the business.  Business brokers come in all shapes and sizes, from "one man shows" to big companies, and they typically have a specific area of focus.  Some focus on big companies, others focus on small companies.  Some focus on the Midwest, others focus on the West Coast.  Some focus on the technology industry, others focus on manufacturing.  All as examples.  So, find the business broker that that best serves your target company size, industry and location.  Doing some searches on Google should point you in the right direction (e.g., "business broker Chicago technology").

As a few examples of some of of the better ones I have worked with, focusing on smaller businesses in the digital technology space, reach out to the partners of firms like these:

Corum Group (based in Seattle)

Digital Exits (based in Los Angeles)

Exit Strategies (based in Silicon Valley)

Peakstone Group (based in Chicago)

Petsky Prunier  (based in New York)

Progress Partners  (based in Boston)

Valley Biggs (based in Tampa)


ONLINE WEBSITES

There are a plethora of websites promoting businesses for sale.  Some do a ton of volume, and others are smaller.  Some are the front end of a business brokerage, and others are simply an online marketplace.  But, these are all good places to start your search--many with easy tools to search by location, industry, revenues, cash flow and beyond.  Just understand, on these sites, there will be lots of other buyers looking for the same types of opportunities as you.  So, be prepared to move quickly, as you see new stuff hit the market.  If you see listings that have been hanging around for a while, that can either mean "buyer beware" or use it as an opportunity to "make your best offer".  Be sure to sign up for their newsletters or automated search listing announcements, so you don't miss any new listings that get posted over time.  I have put a star next to the ones I use the most.

Acquisition Station

Acquisitions Direct

Alpine Business Brokers

App Business Brokers

BizBuySell (**)

BizQuest (**)

BusinessBroker.net (**)

BusinessesForSale.com (**)

Buy Sell Website

Empire Business Brokers

Empire Flippers

Enlign Advisors

FE International

Flippa/Deal Flow

iAcquisitions

Latona's (*)

Playbook Advisory

Quiet Light Brokerage

Raincatcher

Store Coach

Sun Acquisitions

Sunbelt Network

W3 Business Advisors

WebsiteClosers.com (*)

WebsiteProperties.com

Woodbridge International


Hopefully, you are now "in the know" on how to find a business to buy.  So, whether you are an established business looking for tuck-in growth extensions or additional market share for your business, or an entrepreneur looking for a base platform to invest in as your next venture, M&A can be a great solution for you.  And, worth mentioning, the more recurring cashflow the target company generates, the easier it will be to help you finance such acquisition from traditional banks or SBA backed lenders.  The acquisition financing is out there for good deals, so don't think you need to fund this entirely by yourself.


For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

[NEWS] Red Rocket to Open Raleigh-Durham Office

Posted By: George Deeb - 3/15/2017

We are excited to announce that Red Rocket will be opening an office in the Raleigh-Durham area in June 2017.  We have been networking w...



We are excited to announce that Red Rocket will be opening an office in the Raleigh-Durham area in June 2017.  We have been networking with the growing technology ecosystem there over the last few months, and have been very impressed with the companies, executives and professionals we have met.  If you are based in the Triangle area, we will have "boots on the ground" starting in June 2017, and we look forward to exploring opportunities together.  And, for those of you in Chicago, it will still be business as usual for any needs you may have, as we will be serving both cities.

If you know any great companies in the Triangle that we should be connected with, we welcome all introductions as we start to build our local network.  Feel free to contact us via the form at the bottom of this page.

For future posts please follow us on Twitter at: @RedRocketVC.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

[NEWS] The Red Rocket Blog Passes 1,000,000 Reads!!

Posted By: George Deeb - 3/14/2017

We just logged in to write our next blog post and were pleasantly surprised when we got an alert that the Red Rocket Blog just passed th...



We just logged in to write our next blog post and were pleasantly surprised when we got an alert that the Red Rocket Blog just passed the 1,000,000 reads mark!!  We are so excited our reader base continues to grow and keeps coming back, month after month, for our growing list of lessons in entrepreneurship.  Thank you so much for your continued readership, and helping us spread the word to your entrepreneurial colleagues.

For future posts, please follow us on Twitter at: @RedRocketVC.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Lesson #259: With Human Talent, You Get What You Pay For

Posted By: George Deeb - 3/13/2017

I get it.  Most startups operate on fumes, in terms of available cash resources.  So, the natural instinct of most entrepreneurs is to p...



I get it.  Most startups operate on fumes, in terms of available cash resources.  So, the natural instinct of most entrepreneurs is to pay as little as they can for most of the expenses in their business.  And, I agree with that for most all expense categories, except one: human talent.  Building the right team for your startup is the single most important thing you will do in terms of putting your business on a path toward success or failure.  You try to cut corners with your talent decisions, and you are toast!!

WHEN HIRING EMPLOYEES

There are many ways startups try to save payroll costs.  Sometimes they find the candidate willing to do the job for less money.  Sometimes they downgrade the position (e.g., from a VP of Marketing to a Marketing Manager).  Sometimes they try to avoid paying expensive benefits or giving out dilutive stock options in their business.  Each of these examples are filled with opportunities to fall on your sword.

You have to ask yourself these key questions before going down one of these routes.  Why is that person willing to work for less money than their peers; maybe they are desperate, hopping from one job to the next?  Who has the most experience to help you achieve your desired goals; the first timer experimenting with your business, or the proven veteran that can shorten the learning curve making fewer costly mistakes?  Do you really think you are going to be competitive to attract the best talent up against other high-flying startups when others are offering meaningful benefits and upside incentives and you are not?  As you can see, hiring talent has much higher potential costs, than just their line item in the budget, if you make the short-sighted, cash-saving decision.

WHEN ENGAGING PROFESSIONALS

The same holds true when you are engaging professionals (e.g., accountants, lawyers, consultants).  If one professional is saying they will do the work for $100 per hour and another is quoting you $200 per hour, your instinct shouldn’t immediately jump to the one offering the lowest price.

As an example, maybe the higher-priced solution has the learnings from a 20 year career vs. a 5 year career, to help you avoid more known pitfalls that you don’t even see coming.  Or, they have helped 20 clients succeed in similar situations, vs. 2 clients succeed (the ones they tell you about) and 10 clients not succeed (the ones they don’t tell you about)?  Or, the higher priced consultant can afford to charge those rates, because their time is limited and everyone is fighting to get his or her involvement with their business because they are simply the best?  Again, not all professionals are created equal, and you need to peel back the layers of the onion far deeper than just jumping to the lowest-priced solution.

WHEN SEEKING MENTORS

As a mentor myself, I am very selective with my time.  There are only so many hours in the day, and I have to prioritize with whom I invest my limited time.  In any given year, there may be hundreds of startups looking for free help, and less than 10% percent of them have any chance for long term scalable success.  And, from those dozens that have a fighting chance, the best mentors typically only have time to work with a couple.  So, to the extent you can offer them a good reason to pick your business (e.g., stock options, advisor fees), you want to make sure you break through the clutter, to ensure they work with you.

Equally important, make sure the mentor is qualified to be advising you on that specific topic at hand.  Getting free mentorship on marketing ideas from your lawyer, is probably not as effective as getting professional marketing advice from a proven marketer, even if you have to incentivize that mentor to get it.  So, don’t go down the cheapest route looking for advice, go down the best route.

WHEN RAISING CAPITAL

I have often said that venture capitalists would rather invest in an A+ team with a B+ idea, than a B+ team with an A+ idea.  First of all, that is not a lot of margin for error in your hiring decisions, so it is critical you get it right in order to get investors excited about your business.  And, secondly, when doing your budgeting work, you can’t only look at the talent as an expense line in your payroll; you have to think about if that talent can help you open up additional investment resources that otherwise would not be available to you.  Said another way, you need to invest money in experienced talent that investors are looking for, to help you raise money, that will help take your business to new heights.  So, stop thinking about talent as simply line items in your budgets, as their value can help you many other ways than simply doing their job.

PAYROLL MISTAKES ARE THE MOST COSTLY

Hopefully, what you have seen in this post is: (i) decisions around human talent will be the most important ones you will make; (ii) going down the cheapest route, is often times a recipe for disaster; and (iii) the costs of making a talent mistake can often end up being materially more expensive than the originally monies you were trying to save in the first place.  To pound home this last point, you hire the wrong enterprise sales guy, trying to save a short term buck, and you lose precious months of selling time and revenues, and potentially just put yourself out of business.

So, long story short:  don’t think cheap with your talent decisions; think the best, even if it comes at a higher cost.  What you are losing in short term cash, you are more than going to make up for in long term success.   As the old adage says: you get what you pay for!!

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.



Friday, March 3, 2017

Building a Hard-Working Team Starts With You

Posted By: George Deeb - 3/03/2017

Startups require a lot of hard work, with no rest for the weary. Since you need to be moving at light speed to gain first-mover advantag...



Startups require a lot of hard work, with no rest for the weary. Since you need to be moving at light speed to gain first-mover advantage, it often means a lot of late nights in close quarters alongside your fellow team members. The founding team must be able to thrive in that environment. Capital will be tight and you will need to stretch your human resources as far as you can, without breaking the bank.

Read the rest of this post in Entrepreneur, which I guest authored this week.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.


Thursday, March 2, 2017

A Successful Career--But My Best is Yet to Come!

Posted By: George Deeb - 3/02/2017

I recently passed my 25th year of being in the work force.  Most careers span around 50 years, so at the midpoint in my career, I figu...



I recently passed my 25th year of being in the work force.  Most careers span around 50 years, so at the midpoint in my career, I figured I would do a little self-reflecting on where I have been, where I am, and where I would like to go, to see if you guys can help me better achieve my goals in my next 25 years.

WHERE I HAVE BEEN

Credit Suisse First Boston (8 years).  My investment banking days in New York were pretty amazing.  It really honed my financial, strategic, fund raising and M&A skills.  And, as an expert in the retail industry group, it was exciting to work with the CEO's and CFO's of some of the nation's largest retailers (e.g., Home Depot, Babies R Us, Saks Fifth Avenue, Pep Boys).  It was really a meteoric rise for me, starting as a financial analyst, getting promoted to associate without needing an MBA (the only person in my class to do that) and ultimately rising to the level of Vice President.

I loved the big paychecks for a guy in his 20's.  But, the transactions started to become routine (e.g., the 4th IPO was no different than the first three).  And, all I could think was, I would rather be the entrepreneurial CEO of the companies I was taking public, that grew their business from zero to $250MM in sales, and got a huge financial windfall by taking their companies public.  I was too creative and entrepreneurial, and needed to make a change, even at the expense of cutting off my "golden handcuffs" in terms of compensation.

Overall experience:  A
Overall happiness:  B+

iExplore (10 years).  With the dot com boom in full swing, I figured the timing was right to make my leap from investment banking to building a startup.  I was a passionate adventure traveler, and new the process of booking a trip was very cumbersome, and that the internet can make it better.  And, apparently, we struck a chord with other travelers, as we ultimately attracted over 1.3MM unique visitors per month to our website.  We cut a deep strategic relationship with National Geographic, and powered the adventure travel sections of many large travel sites (e.g., Expedia, Travelocity, Starwood, Fodors, Frommers, Lonely Planet).  My creative and entrepreneurial juices were constantly flowing, and I really loved what I was doing.  It was here where I honed my business, marketing, branding and product skills.

But, the travel industry was very cyclical.  And, when times were bad (e.g., after 9/11/01), they were really bad, making it tough to scale, especially when consumer marketing was so expensive in the crowded online travel space.  And, having raised venture capital from outside investors, I needed to get them an exit at some point.  So, we ultimately sold the business in 2007 to TUI Travel PLC in London, the largest seller of leisure travel in the world, with over $25BN in sales.  I lasted two years with TUI, before the politics, procedures, processes, travel time and slow speed of a big European company tooks its toll, and I moved on to my next business.

Overall experience:  A+
Overall happiness:  A+

MediaRecall (2 years).  I didn't found MediaRecall, a B2B digital video technology and services company.  Their founders had already built a great product and needed help scaling their company.  So, I acquired a third of the business and became their CEO in late 2008.  We had a strategic relationship with Getty Images, around the clipping and monetization of stock footage, and had established customer relationships with many of the large film and television content owners, or their partners (e.g., National Geographic, BBC, Deluxe, Johnny Carson, Oprah Winfrey).  It was here where I built my enterprise B2B sales and SaaS experience.

One of our customers liked us so much, they ultimately wanted to buy the company.  As we were deep in digital services, where their strength was in film services (which was not the future).  So, Deluxe made us an offer we couldn't refuse in 2010, and we sold the company to them (including an earnout with the potential of a 10x return).  I was expecting another five year run when I joined the company, so we sold a lot sooner than I thought we would.  But, I found myself with time on my hands, and not knowing what to do next.

Overall experience: A-
Overall happiness:  B+  (liked B2C of iExplore, more than B2B of MediaRecall)

WHERE I AM

Red Rocket (7 years).  I founded Red Rocket to find another business to invest in and become CEO, as I did with MediaRecall. I never intended it to become a business.  But, with the success of the blog readership (almost 1,000,000 reads to date), leads started coming in and I have been staying busy full-time helping clients with their growth strategy, execution of financing needs.  I have been approached by over 800 companies during this time--in the $0-$20MM revenue ranges--including the good, the bad and the ugly.  A few bigger clients got me engaged in more longer term, outsourced CMO roles, which were my favorite projects to work on.

But, consulting to CEOs is not the same as operating as a CEO.  As a consultant, (i) clients are typically looking to you for solving a specific project-based painpoint (e.g., 3-6 month fixer upper, not long term engagement), and (ii)  you do not have any control over the upsides or the outcomes, as you are not the one "driving the bus" (which makes taking equity-based roles hard to do, unless you really trust the CEO you are working with).

Overall experience:  A-
Overall happiness:  B

WHERE I WOULD LIKE TO GO

Red Rocket will be a great thing, when I am closer to retirement age and looking for fun projects to stay busy and keep me intellectually stimulated.  But, with me on my mid-40's, I still have way too much energy left.  And, I feel like I haven't done my best work yet.  I am driven to building something really big and great, where there can be a big financial pay day at the end of the build (as I am never going to create long term wealth as a consultant).

So, to that regard, I have been on the hunt to get back into the CEO chair (or CMO chair for a more established growth stage business where I trust the CEO).  I have been exploring all avenues to getting there--buying a company, executive recruiters and working my network of relationships.  I would consider B2B or B2C companies, but as I mentioned above, B2C are a lot more fun for me.  And, as for geography, I would look at acquisitions anywhere, if easily relocatable, and executive roles primarily in the major technology markets.

The goal is to find something where I can get my experience and happiness factors to both score an A+ again.  I need that adrenaline rush again, like I had at iExplore, this time driven with all the business learnings and experience I wished I had had the first time around.

CHALLENGES

As you can see above, my experiences have been all over the place--investment banker to Fortune 500, CEO of early stage startups, advisor to growth stage companies, outsourced CMO, etc.  Across a wide range of industries--retail, internet, travel, media, services, technology, ecommerce, SaaS, etc.  So, people looking at my background cannot label me in any one bucket, which puts me at a disadvantage versus executives that have only been doing one specific thing over their career.  All, I know is, I am a quick study on anything new I try, and I have been largely successful at everything I have ever done.  My smarts and natural business instincts have always served me well.

MY ASK OF YOU

Think you or someone you know is building greatness, preferably in the B2C space.  Is your company willing to take on a new growth-driven partner in your adventure, preferably as CEO (or CMO for the right company).  Or, are you willing to sell your company to a new investor group, lead by Red Rocket.  Are you large enough that you are not a broke startup, but actually have over $500K of profits for me to apply my sales and marketing magic to help scale the business, without the need for raising outside capital?  If this sounds like you, let's talk!!  Feel free to email me via the contact form at the bottom of this page.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.



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