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header_02The Marlinspike* CEO by Jim McHugh, Consultant, Board Member and Member of Gerbsman Partners Board of Intellectual Capital
 

An in-depth management guide
for C-Suite executives, investors and advisors.

What to expect: Pivotal proven tactics to boost business performance, sharpen strategic focus and create lasting shareholder value.
Plus: Technology Telltales -Technology recommendations for entrepreneurs
Occasional networking events
Nautical references
Humor

  March 2013

CEOs:  Do You Run Your Company Well?

Here’s the question phrased a bit differently…What key elements turn your company into:
1.  an attractive acquisition candidate
2.  a great, fun place to work!
3.  a valuable asset for all shareholders
There’s no need to create your own list of key elements because the next section of this newsletter not only has the list of key elements called The Run The Company Well List, but there are suggestions on how to use it.

The Run The Company Well List
My list has fifteen key elements that encompass the business model, planning, leadership, people, customers, products/services, finances, operations and advisors. Does (insert your company name here) have:
1.  a clear, focused, comprehensive business model
2.  a cohesive and well-tested growth strategy
3.  an outstanding leadership team that works well together
4.  a problem solving culture that is based on trust, accountability and fun
5.  a motivated, loyal, skilled workforce that is well treated and compensated fairly
6.  unique, high quality products and/or services
7.  innovative go-to-market tactics
8.  happy customers, whose needs are well understood
9.  a diversified (not concentrated) collection of profitable customers
10. a strong and defensible competitive position
11. a balance sheet that is rock solid
12. a P&L that shows consistent growth, high margins and a justifiable expense structure
13. lean processes, effective information systems, strong financial controls
14. well cared for fixed assets
15. great advisors: Board of Directors and/or CEO Peer Group plus outside professional confidants

Today I’d like to dig deeper into #3 and #15 by reviewing the OPPOSITE of having great leadership and great advisors. What if an organization has a significant, persistent problem within the organization’s leadership ranks? I call this condition being Stuck in a Ditch. Getting Stuck in a Ditch is a result of having one or more of these 6 challenges:

1.  Weak, uninspiring leadership: The CEO does not have the necessary vision, leadership or management skills to direct the company.
2.  No respect: The CEO does not command the respect of the organization.
3.  The CEOs leadership style=strange behavior: The CEO’s (or could be the dominant, controlling shareholder) behavior causes constant anxiety throughout the organization.
4.  Corporate governance is broken: There is continuous tension about the ‘lack of alignment’ and ‘who we are’.
5.  Meddling: The constant, meddling actions of the controlling, outside investors in the day-to-day affairs of the organization have a direct, negative impact on the organization’s performance.
6.  No hands on the wheel: A good governance framework does not exist. There is no active Board of Directors or Board of Advisors; if one does exist, and it is only ceremonial in nature, that is almost the same (or worse) than not having one at all.

Any combination of these six issues clearly puts a major dent into The Run the Company Well List. People are perceptive; each one of these six situations is obvious to the employees. These Ditch conditions can lead to indecision, constant bickering or fighting and prevent the organization from moving forward with conviction towards common goals.

How can you put The Run The Company Well List to use in your company?

Lists can create conversation and discussion. More important,they can initiate ACTION.

Suggestions on how to use the list:
1.  As your personal pocket guide while you prepare your company for sale
2.  A roadmap to kick off a 2013 operational improvement plan
3.  An ongoing discussion tool with your Board of Directors/Advisors
4.  The agenda for an offsite meeting with your senior leadership team
5.  A quiz for the WHOLE COMPANY: Give it to all your employees, have them answer Yes, No, or Not Sure for each item, tally the results and publish the findings.
Download The Run The Company Well List by clicking HERE

* What is a ‘marlinspike’?


*The marlinspike is a nautical implement that is used to unravel nautical lines. It is also used to sew the lines together to join them, creating greater strength, or to create useful or decorative items from nautical line.

Detangling and sorting through the complex issues in a STUCK company is similar to using the marlinspike to detangle, sort through, and weave together a much stronger and long-lasting nautical line.  Whether trying to achieve a more secure future for a boat, or a company, the marlinspike approach may be needed. Jim enjoys the sea, its wildlife, and kicking around boats and marinas.

Connect with Jim

With a name like McHugh,
I couldn’t resist sharing
some March 17 shenanigans

CEOs: Do you need an objective look at your Run The Company Well List?

Nothing beats human interaction.
Here’s Jim’s offer for March:
1 Hour of Free CEO Coaching by Jim McHugh
by phone or online video chat (Skype or Google Hangout)
No strings attached
To contact Jim, go to steve@gerbsmanpartners.com and I will forward to Jim McHugh

The Marlinspike CEO is written by Jim McHugh. Jim is an Entrepreneur, CEO Coach, Optimist, Instigator of Positive Change…and Fixer of Stuck Companies.
CEOs, family owners, investors and Directors enlist Jim to be their ‘fresh pair of eyes’ and confidant.

Jim is also a long time friend and a person of high ethics and integrity.

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Avatar of Matt Dusig

The Mistakes Investors Make Before They Write the Check

Posted on: February 22, 2013
inShare12

The start-up market is flooded with entrepreneurs claiming to be the next Facebook or Instagram. However, in reality, three out of four start-ups will fail. Investors need to know whether or not they are wisely hedging their bets—and how to do so.

“As investors, we are forced to make decisions on incomplete sets of information,” says Bo Peabody, co-founder and Managing General Partner of Village Ventures. “Macros trends, internal hunches, market forecasts and individual consumer opinions are some of the pieces that make up the partial picture.”

Investors should have a complete understanding of their markets before pulling out their checkbooks to invest in start-ups or back entrepreneurs. Here are five mistakes investors too often make before making the deal:

Out of Touch with Consumer Demand: As an investor, you should always ask yourself: does the product or service actually solve a key pain point for the target customers? If they build it, will anyone come? A quick survey of target consumers can help to verify if there is actually a need for the product or service offered by the company. This also identifies other unforeseen pain points that could be detrimental to a start-up.

Limited Understanding of the Competitive Landscape: Who do consumers think of when asked about a given industry or type of service? What companies or products do they rely on? If the product or service looks to ‘solve a problem’ for consumers, how are they solving that problem today? Often times, gathering deeper insights of target customers can help identify the real competitors to a given business – not just who the start-up perceives.

Failing to Validate the Marketing/Sales Plan: In today’s market, products and services are consumed through different vehicles such as online, mobile, and in-store. Start-ups often fail to accurately predict how consumers want to shop for or purchase a product or service. For example, many consumers are only willing to purchase certain types of items AFTER they have actually seen it in person, such as big screen TVs and shoes. Knowing how consumers prefer to shop for or purchase certain products is a good indication if the business owners have properly thought through their marketing and sales strategy.

Not Measuring Brand Loyalty: Some business plans rely on the idea of ‘stealing’ customers away from existing brands or products. Customer loyalty can be a stronger force than many entrepreneurs realize, but it’s a force that can be readily measured with proper consumer research. Look for proof that there is a strong understanding and plan of action by start-ups of how they can actually win over loyal customers.

Failing to Validate Their Own Research: If business owners or entrepreneurs are presenting research (their own or someone else’s) as a part of their prospectus, investors should take the time to validate or invalidate that research. In particular, extreme claims should always be double-checked. For example, if a start-up claims that 95% of new mothers want their new bio-degradable diapers, it’s worth double-checking this data to support the claim.

“Real-time consumer data delivers a more complete picture on which to base investment decisions,” says Peabody. “We are able to instantly validate some of our hypotheses.”

Matt Dusig is co-founder and CEO of uSamp, a driver of online market research and survey respondents used to obtain important consumer and business insights. Opinions expressed here are entirely his own.

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Article from SFGate.

It’s suddenly a lot harder for venture capitalists and startups to raise funds, as investors fed up with low returns turn their backs on the sector.

Most industry observers agree that lots of young firms will simply not be able to raise their next round of funding, commencing a period of belt tightening, consolidation and closures. At a minimum, it seems to mark the beginning of a more level-headed investment climate in Silicon Valley, after years of insatiable lust for all things mobile and social.

But if the drop-off is too sudden and steep, this new austerity could spill over into an economy highly dependent on the tech sector. Indeed, as The Chronicle reported last week, the industry has an enormous impact, with each tech job creating 4.3 indirect jobs in the community, according to a Bay Area Council Economic Institute report.

The investors and venture capitalists I spoke to insisted that we’re not on the verge of anything like the dot-com meltdown, characterizing the shift as a minor and healthy correction, or a “rationalization.” One suggested it was little more than the usual process of separating good and bad ideas in the marketplace.

But the numbers suggest something new is afoot. In the third quarter, the amount that U.S. companies raised in venture capital dropped 32 percent from the prior year, according to Dow Jones VentureSource. Venture capital funds themselves raised 17 percent fewer dollars from the second to third quarter, even as the number of funds grew, according to a joint report from Thomson Reuters and the National Venture Capital Association.

Economic uncertainty

Some partially blame the economic uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the election and the “fiscal cliff.” But the main problem seems to be that many of the “limited partners” that fund venture capital are pulling back after years of frustration.

Ever since a brief period in the late 1990s when venture capital burned bright, the industry has been delivering consistently weak returns on the whole.

In fact, despite requiring greater risks and larger capital outlays, venture capital has been underperforming the stock market over the past decade, according to a report this year by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Joe Dear, chief investment officer for CalPERS, told Reuters this summer that venture capital “has been the most disappointing asset class over the past 10 years as far as returns.” The huge pension fund for California’s public employees didn’t return repeated calls from The Chronicle.

Investment horizons have steadily spread out, from five to 10 to sometimes 15 years, as exit opportunities like acquisitions and initial public offerings fail to materialize. This has sometimes forced investors to put in more money to protect their initial funds.

‘Pretty grumpy’

“The industry definitely, for the last decade, has been a tough place to be,” said Ray Rothrock of Palo Alto venture capital firm Venrock. “We’re all pretty grumpy right now.”

Some of this is due to macroeconomic conditions outside the control of venture capitalists, notably the housing and banking crises. But at least some of it has to do with poor picks and herd mentality, funding companies with few real prospects and driving up the entry price for legitimately promising companies beyond what they could pay off.

“The market overfunded the number of companies in the system,” said Hans Swildens, founder of Industry Ventures in San Francisco. “There’s a glut.”

Even the grand promise of Web 2.0 companies that lured so much recent money hasn’t generated the hoped-for returns. The ones that managed to go public were often disappointments, including Facebook, Zynga and Groupon, in some cases leaving late-stage investors underwater on their holdings.

That was a final straw for some.

Last week, Forbes dug up figures from CB Insights that highlighted a wide and growing gap between the number of companies that raised initial funding and companies securing the follow-on investments, known as a Series A, generally necessary to keep going. This year, there have been 1,747 seed or angel rounds but only 688 Series A deals, underscoring the coming crunch.

Bad businesses

Based on as scientific a survey as the PR pitches in my inbox, there’s a tremendous number of silly, redundant and poorly executed companies out there that don’t warrant additional funding. The real problem isn’t that many of these companies won’t raise more money; it’s that they raised money in the first place.

For the venture capital industry to get back on track, it needs to embrace a renewed sense of discipline – on company picks, deal terms and total spending.

But hope springs eternal in Silicon Valley.

Rothrock stresses that the industry’s trend-line averages mask very strong results and ongoing investment at top firms, as well as growing venture capital activity among corporations like Google. Companies are just being more selective and looking beyond consumer Internet opportunities.

“We’re steady as she goes in terms of funding enterprise,” he said.

Secondary opportunity

Swildens oversees a secondary fund that buys shares from limited partners and venture firms looking to liquidate part of their holdings. He sees this period as a ripe opportunity for bold investors to get into promising companies at suddenly reasonable rates.

“Ours is one of the few firms aggressively putting money into these funds,” he said.

Mark Heesen, president of National Venture Capital Association, is similarly optimistic. He says the industry could be primed for a strong comeback in 2013, as long as the broader economy strengthens.

Above all, what the industry needs are some wins – acquisitions or initial public offerings that put investors clearly in the black and start to restore some lost confidence.

“If we see these exit markets start to generate good returns, I think you’ll see limited partners look at this asset class again,” he said.

James Temple is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. E-mail: jtemple@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @jtemple

Read more here.

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Article from GigaOm.

Chinese auto tech behemoth Wanxiang has won the bidding process in an auction to buy the assets of bankrupt battery maker A123 Systems. On Sunday the companies announced that Wanxiang plans to acquire most of the assets of A123 for $256.6 million. It’s news that could be a bit controversial, given A123 received a $132 million grant from the U.S. government, and could now be owned by a Chinese company.

The winning bid beat out Johnson Control’s bid to acquire A123′s automotive division. Johnson Controls previously had offered to buy the automotive division and two factories for $125 million.

One of the reasons Wanxiang’s offer to buy up A123 had been controversial was because A123 had some U.S. military contracts, which critics didn’t want to see in the hands of a Chinese company. But A123 decided to sell off its government business, including all its U.S. military contracts, to Illinois-based company Navitas Systems, for $2.25 million. Wanxiang acquired the rest of the assets including the grid storage business.

We’ll see if that move silences politician critics like U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). The deal still has to be approved by the bankruptcy court as well as the Committee for Foreign Investment in the United States (CIFIUS).

If approved, the future of A123 System’s lithium ion battery tech will fittingly be owned by a Chinese auto giant, as China is increasingly becoming one of the most important markets for electric vehicles. Money from Chinese investors, conglomerates, cities and the government, continues to drive a significant amount of the future of next-generation electric car technology.

The deal also provides a future for A123′s technology, which had a promising beginning, but had suffered a series of setbacks in 2012. Venture-backed A123 held the largest IPO in 2009, raising some $371 million, and was trading at over $20 per share when it started trading. A123 also raised more than $350 million from private investors when it was still a startup.

Yet in recent months, it suffered from manufacturing problems, and also had only a handful of customers for its premium batteries. The company had been losing boat loads of money for years.

The Wanxiang deal still won’t make back enough to cover its debts. A123 says:

Because the total purchase price for A123’s assets would be less than the total amount owed to creditors, the Company does not anticipate any recoveries for its current shareholders and believes its stock to have no value.

Now that the A123 bankruptcy is moving forward, it will be interesting to see what Fisker Automotive, one of A123′s prime customers, will do. Fisker had told the media that it is waiting for the results of the A123 auction before it starts back up assembling its Karma cars.

This isn’t Wanxiang’s first cleantech and clean energy acquisition — it’s actually its fifth in 2012, says the company in a release. Wanxiang has been aggressively acquiring under valued American cleantech and clean energy companies.

Read more here.

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Article from TechCrunch.

No one got just how powerful it was that Facebook recently said it would allow ad targeting to lists of email addresses. Today at the Dreamforce conference it became clear, as Facebook ad chief David Fischer formally launched “Custom Audience” ads and how they tie into CRM. I’m convinced they’re going to be hugely profitable for advertisers and Facebook.

Why? A hotel company like Starwood has email addresses of its customers and could target “Come stay at the luxurious St. Regis” to high-end customers who’ve stayed there before, while targeting “Find cheap hotels nearby” to those who’ve stayed at its low-budget brands. That means more sales and more loyalty for advertisers, and more revenue for Facebook.

On August 30, Facebook told press that Custom Audiences was coming, but now it’s live with eight ads providers. Custom Audience ads let businesses submit a text or CSV file of privacy-protected hashed email addresses, phone numbers, or Facebook User IDs and have Facebook target those people with a specific ad. Businesses can also layer on additional ad targeting parameters, such as age or interests to reach a specific demographic within a customer segment.

Salesforce who brought in Fischer for its Dreamforce conference is uniquely suited to take advantage of custom audience ads because it owns both its massively popular eponymous customer relationship management system, but also a Facebook ads buying system Brighter Option that it got with its acquisition of Buddy Media this summer.

I’ve attained from Facebook a list of the seven other vendors working with custom audience ads, but none have their own CRM. They are AdParlor, Alchemy Social, GraphEffect, Kenshoo, Nanigans, Social Moov, and Optimal.

Custom audience targeted ads will be much more relevant than ads just targeted to a business fan’s or some biographical demographic. They can reach people who a business is sure purchased its products before, or that haven’t thanks to exclusionary targeting. Yes, businesses could just email these existing customers for free. However,  Facebook can help them hone in on certain demographic segments of their customers by overlaying additional targeting parameters, and reach them vividly through the news feed instead of their dry inbox.

Here are a few more examples of industries that could use custom audience ads:

  • A car company with email addresses of its customers could target “buy a new SUV” ads to people who bought an SUV 5+ years ago, while targeting “Find nearby charging stations” to those who recently bought an electric vehicle.
  • A bank company could target different ads to customers with savings of $5,000 versus customers with $5 million.
  • A Facebook game developer could plug in the user IDs of its gamers, targeting ads for its newest war-strategy games to those who played its old strategy game, while targeting ads for its latest shopping game to users who played its fashion game.
  • A B2B vendor could submit a file of the phone numbers of its biggest clients and target ads for a premium service to them to increase revenue, while targeting its newest clients with ads for discounts to increase loyalty.
  • Instead of targeting general ads to all its Facebook fans encouraging return visits, Amazon could advertise specific products to segments of its customers who’ve bought similar things.

Precise targeting of segments of existing customers like this could produce huge return on investment for advertisers and command high ad rates for Facebook. CRM-equipped companies might spend more when they know who they’re reaching, and that could help Facebook please Wall Street with higher revenues. In fact, it’s such a smart idea to plug CRM into ads that I bet we’ll see more advertising platforms integrate like this soon.

Read more here.

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