Category Archives: angel capital

TOP OF THE LIST

by Mark T Wayne

“Admirable!  Superlative!  Top of the list!  Gentlemen, you are indeed fortunate that I invited you here!”  I study the greedy faces of my two compatriots—the estimable Donatas Ludditis (good old Don) as well as the execrable Loop Lonagan and his stinking bull terrier, Clamps.  (Claims it’s a therapy dog.)  We are here as judges, along with a crowd of luminaries from Chicago’s startup community for the finals of the tenth annual POWER PITCH competition.  Today we will hear pitches from a host of exciting new companies.  Yes sir!  The enthusiasm is riveting.

Clamps

Don bows politely and speaks like a gentleman.  “Am glad I come,” he says in his charming Lithuanian accent.

Lonagan leers at me.  “Lemme at ‘em,” he says in his gutter lingo.

The IN2 Accelerator

I scan the ranks of judges and note representatives of the Business Plan Police lurking in the wings.  We want no trouble from them. But I must familiarize my guests with the program.  “This, gentlemen, is IN2—potentially the greatest startup accelerator of its kind in the world, with facilities available at a mere handful of elite universities”  I sweep my arm in an arc to indicate our magnificent surroundings. “Offices here and at the huge 1871 incubator.” 

Clamps releases one resounding bark—basso profundo—and lolls a broad tongue out over enormous teeth.  From a suitcoat pocket, Lonagan produces a hunk of meat.  He tosses it into the gaping maw—just as the teeth snap closed in hungry abandon.  This animal and its uncouth owner make up a last-minute replacement, foisted upon me by the editor.

On stage, Dr. Carl Heine announces the first competitor.  With a cane, I prod my guests and lower my voice to a whisper. “Don’t make me ashamed, you two derelicts.”  Don straightens his back and faces front with all due alacrity and respect.  Lonagan slouches like the slob he is.  The round begins:

IN2 Maker Space

.

Flameless

Fifty percent of all residential fires are cooking related. This company uses sound waves—yes, sound waves—to extinguish fires automatically.  It is safe. It is neat.  It does not belch messy fluid or poisonous gas, as do other fire suppression methods.  We watch a video showing the system in action and the audience bustles with delight.   Amazing!

“Five minutes!”  The shout stops the speaker in mid-sentence.  That is the kind of strict discipline that warms my heart.  But even under the gun of limited time, their business plan is complete with financial projections, marketing plan, intellectual property, and go-to-market strategy.  Well coached, sir!  Very well coached!

Moises Goldman – Judge

Lonagan elbows Don and whispers:  “Deeze guys look kinda young, doncha think?”  The response to his juvenile utterance gets cut short when the next company is introduced:

.

The Oil Magnet

This is a new technology for cleaning oil slicks.  They disburse magnetic nanoparticles into the spill, and then recover black gold with a magnetic boom.  A demonstration unit elicits gasps from the crowd—the team pulls off this whiz-bang presentation with thoroughness and aplomb.  I believe I’m sensing a rhythm to this event.

Demo

The foul Lonagan leans over to me and mutters with his rank breath and wet voice: “How old d’ya s’pose dem guys is?”

“Shush! You, sir, are making a mistake. Mark your judging sheet.” I thump the document with a finger. “The next company is already speaking.” I cannot abide ludicrous interruptions during business hours.

.

Series

Ninety six billion dollars of crops are lost annually due to pests, standing water, and soil degradation.  This company uses drones and GPS to scan farm fields automatically, in both the visible and infrared spectrums.  They scrutinize images against a large computer database and detect damage down to the individual plant.  And they do it cheaply.  Their mentor is DuPont.

Don nudges my arm and leans close to my ear, speaking with hushed tones in his broken English:  “In old country, I not see anything like this.  Is just high school.  Am impressed!”

Judge

Apparently overhearing, Lonagan lets out a shout of desperation:   “Hey, yer sayin’ dis’s a high school?—a high school?” After this inane utterance, he buries his face in both hands and moans as if in deep pain.  “And youse guys dragged me outa bed!  On Saturday!”  His outburst elicits a perplexed expression from the speaker and rumblings of outrage from the judges and crowd.  Clamps leaps against his master and howls.  I am astonished—astonished I say—that the man only just noticed the fact that this is indeed a high school.  True, it does not look like one, but nobody can be that obtuse.

Judge

I am unable to restrain myself from delivering a rebuke, and do not spare any volume:  “Sir, your puerile reaction is entirely inappropriate to the situation!”  I fix my stare until the man squirms.

Clamps wags his tail as I continue:

“This, sir, is THE high school—IMSA—the Illinois Math and Science Academy—the statewide school for the highly gifted!  You may find other schools riddled with dropouts and illiterate stooges that quickly jettison whatever knowledge they accidentally absorb, but these students WANT to lead society! At this fine institution, 99.8% of the graduates go to college!  Many of the businesses you see here come to fruition and these students intern at actual startup companies around the city!” 

Mark T Wayne

As my gaze bores into his soul, the man appears badly stunned.  Dare I tell him that some of these teams are middle school students?  Those around us seem well satisfied with my lecture, but I cannot be certain that any real ideas penetrate Lonagan’s frontal lobe.  From under my shaggy brows, I pin my friend Don with a meaningful glance and tilt my head in the general direction of the foul perpetrator and his dog.

Don immediately comes to my rescue:  “Loop!  Is great place!  Not gangs here!  No drugs!  No fear!”

“Whatsa funna dat?”

Don keeps at him.  “Faculty 47% PhD!”

“Piled Higher ‘n’ Deeper.”

Clamps barks.

Dr. Heine spares us further histrionics by introducing the next pitch.

Judge

iCane

What grandpa is ever without his cane?  This company makes a smart cane with medical reminders, loud SOS alarm location tracking, geo fencing, pedometer, and Bluetooth.  It folds up and is easy to use.  My walking stick seems inadequate by comparison.  What an excellent idea!

Judges

.

epilEXPERT

Fifty thousand people a year die from epileptic seizures. It’s a $27.8B market.  This company makes a device that detects the problem, alerts the caregiver’s phone, and keeps a trail of raw data.

Lonagan slurrs out a belligerent question:

“How y’gonna run a business ‘n’ finish yer education at da same time?”  The man has gone from judge to heckler and I find myself acutely embarrassed for him.  The team covered this point in its presentation.  Like most of these companies, it will license its technology—in my view, an elegant and fully reasonable solution.

.

Rethink Numeracy

This is a new way to teach numbers to children with disabilities, and the team seems to have cracked the problem.  They’re already working with neuropsychology experts and marketing their methods through a reputable center for the care of children with Downs Syndrome.

Finals

Lonagan scratches his monstrous dog behind the ears and puts another question: “How y’gonna scale a thing like dat?” 

This slurred interrogatory barely precedes the flashing of a badge. “Business Plan Police.  Please come along quietly, sir.”  Lonagan immediately balls a fist and clouts the officer to the floor.

Clamps licks the stricken man’s face. The officer regains consciousness and blows his whistle.

From out of the crowd, three musclebound agents pile onto Lonagan and hustle him out of the room like a roll of carpet.  I catch a glimpse of his feet kicking and hear him spew a few choice and utterly foul invectives as he disappears out the door.  Clamps bounds after them, tail wagging vigorously.

The crowd hushes a moment, then shrugs off the incident and Don lets out a sigh.  “Is bad.  I wonder do we ever see Loop again.” 

I also feel somewhat perplexed about such a questionable privilege.  In any given year, the Business Plan Police arrest a number of startups—never to be seen again—but I have never known them to abduct a judge at a pitch competition.  I can now relax.  It makes me most grateful.

.

Finals

Three high school teams will advance to the regionals.  (Lower grades compete and are rewarded, but they cannot advance.)  Last year, IMSA won the top three slots at the regional competition.  Here are the results of today’s event:

Jim Gerry – IMSA

1st Place –  $1500 – award sponsor: Charles Whittaker

  • OIL MAGNET – Marisa Patel-O’Conner, Eden Gorevoy & Sol Hwangbo (Juniors at IMSA)
  • iCANE – Umika Arora (7th grade at St. Catherine Laboure School)

2nd Place – $1000 – award sponsor: Deliciousness

  • FLAMELESS – Sivam Bhatt & Nikhil Madugula (Seniors at IMSA)
  • RETHINK NUMERACY – Akshaya Raghavan (Junior at IMSA)

3rd Place – $500 – Award sponsor: After the Peanut

  • epilEXPERT – Monika Narain (8th grade at Mead Jr High) & Jayant Kumar (7th grade at Grainger Middle School)

Alternate

  • SERIES – Andre Wiedenmann & Tommy Neidlein

Britta McKenna – IMSA

Other Companies (alphabetical)

  • 21 C2 – Maryam Mufti, Erika Ezife
  • ACTIV8 – Anusha Trivedi
  • AMENITY – Sonia Edassery, Milica Barac
  • COMMUTE – Natalie Sanchez
  • BRIDGE TUTORING – Armando Pizano, David Gonzalez, Cain Yepez & Stefany Boyas
  • ENABLE EQUITY – Rachel Mason, Shikha

Adhikari

  • GOGO RIDERS – Rishi Modi
  • IDEAL SUGAR – Maya Wlodarczyk
  • IDROGENY TECHNOLOGY – Sricharan Sanakkayala
  • IMMERSION – Neil John, Samuel Anozie, Samantha Alexis Lehman
  • INSPIRULINA – Meghan Hendrix, Kanika Leang, Harsha Nalam
  • INSTA-VILLAGE – Catelyn Rounds & Julian Kroschke
  • INTELLIFIT – Steven Andreev
  • INTELLI-TEST – Akash Basavaraju
  • PHOCUS – Matthew Selvaraj, Louise Lima, Vaishnavi Vanamala, Eric Errampalli, Arthur Lu
  • POCKET PASS – Ajay Jayaraman
  • PROMETHEA – Ayush Bhalavat, Ian Son
  • SAVE OUR STARVING SOULS – Shreya Parepally, Sofie Heidrich
  • SCHOOLBOARD – Samuel Anozie, Aryan Walia, Mary Ashley Tenedor
  • SHINDIG – Nikita Elkin
  • TAKE HOME – Aliah Shaira De Guzman, Michelle Sia, Aryan Walia
  • TRANSSPEED – Atharva Gawde
  • THINKING CAP – Nishant Bhamidipati, Ryan Talusan, Micah Casey-Fusco
  • VIRTUPEACE – Michael McKelvie, Max Knutson
  • UNITED 5 AEROSPACE – Levi Raskin, Duncan Osmund, Wyatt Funkhouser, Ethan Tse

Dr. Carl Heine – IMSA

IMSA IN2 Contact Info

Address – 1500 Sullivan Rd. Aurora, IL 60506

Website – https://www.imsa.edu/

Dr. Carl Heine – heine@imsa.edu

Britta McKenna – bmckenna@imsa.edu

.

Photography – John Jonelis

GO TO PREVIOUS SERIES ON THIS TOPIC

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. Please perform your own due diligence. It’s not our fault if you lose money..Copyright © 2018 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
.
.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under 1871, angel, angel capital, angel investor, App, Characters, Chicago Startup, Donatas Ludditis, Education, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Events, IMSA, Innovation, investor, loop lonagan, Mark T Wayne, Mobile App, new companies, Startup

CEOs THAT SELL

Why Startup CEOs Still Have to Make Sales Calls

by Howard Tullman

.

It’s not your strength, or maybe not even what you enjoy doing. But being there to close the deal isn’t something you can simply hand off to the sales team.

At what point can a CEO turn sales over to professional salespeople?  Before that can happen, the company has to achieve two foundational milestones:

  • You need to know exactly what you’re selling—by doing it over and over again (and not as a one-off).
  • You need to know for certain that others can sell it consistently.

That only comes with the maturity of your product/service.  Until it reaches that point, stay in the field and keep selling.  Your product is still being developed on the fly and continually redesigned/reconfigured to better suit the real requirements and demands of customers.  The fact is, ultimately only you can make the critical design and development decisions and you’ll do a much better job of that if you are hearing it directly from the end users and not from a bunch of whiny salespeople.

I’m seeing more and more startup CEOs who discover way too soon that they don’t like the wear and tear, the travel, and the rejection that are all crucial parts of selling a new product or service.  So they retreat, thinking they can run their businesses while they’re sitting on their butts behind a desk back in the office. That’s not how this game works; that behavior is a formula for failure. You may not be an extrovert.  You may not even know the technology that underlies your business as well as half the other people in the company.  You are, however, the boss and today that fact alone means a lot, at least to the people who make the final purchasing decisions.

Remember—buyers are typically older than you, they grew up in strictly hierarchical systems where titles count, and they need to be made to feel important and respected if they’re gonna sign off on your deal. No offense to any of the members of your team, but customers don’t want to deal with the monkey—they need to see the organ grinder. That’s you. And they want you for all the obvious reasons:

  • People don’t really care how much you know until they know how much you care. Show up. It’s important.
  • Startup staffs are notoriously scattered and hurried—lacking focus and attention to detail. Customers want to know that you personally are connected, paying attention and directly engaged with their business, their concerns, and their problems.
  • Clients want to hear it from the horse’s mouth. Not second hand. They want commitments and assurances from you. Everybody knows that the sales guys will say anything and promise them the world.  They need assurance that you will stand behind your product or service and make good on your promises. The buck always stops with you.

Product Maturity

Once your product/service reaches those critical milestones, it’s time to kick yourself upstairs and focus on other things. I encourage CEOs who find they spend too much effort selling to optimize their time.  I suggest that they find competent sales managers and others who can tee up just the right meetings for them—not opening meetings which are a dime a dozen, but closing meetings where the deals get done.

Finding sales meat-eaters to fill managerial roles isn’t easy; they are the hardest hires for any startup, but it’s absolutely critical to have them onboard if you’re going to build a viable business.

When your startup is hiring talent, you need to avoid certain categories of salespeople. For example, stay away from what I call empire builders.  There’s a whole generation or two of sales management types whose experience comes only from large organizations.  I have found fairly consistently that they are the wrongest guys possible for a startup because they grew up in a system where they measured their value and their success by the sheer number of people they managed rather than the results that those folks delivered. Nothing kills a young business faster than bloat and bureaucracy and having too many sales people sitting on their hands and not selling is the worst kind of poison. So be careful what you wish for and who you hire for this critical job.

There’s no more challenging job than being the CEO. You are responsible for the health of each part of the organization and the trajectory of the entire venture.  Stay in the sales loop until your product/service matures.  Then focus on closing deals.  Customers need you to be there—to say what you’ll do, and do what you say.

 

 Howard Tullman is the CEO of Chicago-based 1871, where 500 digital startups are building their businesses every day. He is also the general managing partner of G2T3V and Chicago High Tech Investors, both early-stage venture funds; a member of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s ChicagoNEXT Innovation Council and Governor Bruce Rauner’s Innovate Illinois Advisory Council. He is an adviser to many technology businesses and an adjunct professor at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management.

@tullman

This article is an excerpt of one that appeared recently in Inc.

Image Credits – Getty Images, MS Office, Howard Tullman

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. Please perform your own due diligence. It’s not our fault if you lose money..Copyright © 2018 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
.
.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1871, angel, angel capital, angel investor, App, big money, Chicago Ventures, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Innovation and Culture, new companies, Relationships, Startup, startup company, vc, Venture, venture capital

A STOLEN STORY

by John Jonelis

“Tell me a story, Uncle John!”

“A story eh?” My pal Loop Lonagan got in big trouble telling stories to Jim Kren’s little girl. “Y’know, Princess, in this case, maybe discretion’s the better part of valor.”

“But I always get a bedtime story. I can’t sleep without a bedtime story. Please, Uncle John! Pleeeeeeeeeze!”

How can a guy turn this kid down? “Okay Princess, just lay back and pretend you’re sleepy.”

“Make it a Christmas story!”

“Hmmm.” After a moment, one occurs to me—one I can steal. “Okay Princess, here goes. There’s this bright guy I know. Immigrant entrepreneur. I mean, Princess, he comes to this country and founds a startup company.”

“I know what it means.”

“It’s high tech. Agricultural analytics. Starts it during the dot-com crash around the turn of the century. Despite the lousy economy, it takes off big-time, goes public and makes me and the other investors real happy.

“His two sons work for him to build up the business. They’re his key employees and make fair salaries. The company adds a mobile app, enhanced AI, and thrives right through the 2008 recession. Years later, it’s still strong. Stock keeps going up-and-up.”

“That’s not a Christmas story, Uncle John! That’s business stuff. You sound just like my daddy.”

“Hold onto your red fur hat—I’m just getting warmed up. Papa loves those boys more than anything—wants them to run the company when he retires. Lost his wife years ago and these two are all he cares about.

“Now let’s look at the younger son. He knows he’s gonna inherit a lot of stock some day and can’t want to get his hands on it. He feels trapped and longs to run his own life while he’s still young. So on Christmas in 2006, he announces he wants his inheritance—right now. Like most kids that age, he’s full of himself—not seeing things from his fathers point of view, maybe not considering all the ramifications of what he says. But it’s kinda like telling the old man, ‘I wish you were already dead so I had your money.’”

“That’s not nice.”

“No it’s not and it gets worse. The young buck’s not interested in the company at all. Not planning to stick around. Just wants to cash out and enjoy life.”

“This is a bad boy, Uncle John.”

“Ah Princess, don’t be so hasty to judge. You don’t know what’s really in his heart. Now the company’s listed on Nasdaq, and Papa still owns 40% of the shares. He says to himself in his broken English, ‘That what they want? Okay!  Is Christmas!’ There’s a family trust set up, so he simply transfers his stock—all of it to the two boys.

“Right away, the young colt sells his stock on the open market. With all that loose cash, he feels rich. So he moves to Vegas. Lives the wild life. Gambling all night. Show girls. Maserati. Yacht. Private jet. Hangs around with movie stars. And lots of foolish investments that don’t pay off. He never calls or writes home. Doesn’t visit the next Christmas.

“Now the older brother is still working at the company. But as you might have guessed by now, the old man is really the brains of the outfit. The shareholders—especially that big VC firm that owns a lot of stock with a seat on the board—they all want to keep Papa running the company. The board of directors votes to keeps him on as CEO, with a fat salary—bigger than he ever paid himself.

“Now I want you to notice something: That move wrankles the older brother. He secretly wants to run the show, but there’s nothing he can do about it. So he hoards his shares and bides his time. He stays at his job, working harder and harder, trying to prove himself. Doesn’t like it that his father’s salary is coming out of his share of the company. Can’t wait for the old geezer to croak so he can slide into that big desk.”

“Ugh! How horrible! This brother is worse than the other one!”

“Right Princess. Pappy doesn’t have a clue what’s cranking through this guy’s mind. The kid works hard. He’s dependable. Therefore, he must be a fine boy, right? But he’s so secretive—so sour—never smiles—and for some reason that Pops doesn’t understand, the other one still holds a soft spot in his aging heart.

Back to the younger buck: By the second year, this kid’s portfolio takes a dive, and at the same time, he’s going through money like water. Kid starts looking for work. After all, he was a big executive at a successful company. Impressive LinkedIn resume and all. But now it’s the great recession of 2008 and all he can get are temporary consulting jobs. He forms a startup company, crunching numbers for big investment houses and actually raises some capital. But not enough. Goes belly up within the year. Figures he’s a failure and he’s ashamed to let his father know how bad things are turning out for him. So he doesn’t visit the family that Christmas either.

“By the third year, he’s broke, can’t pay the rent, and gets evicted from his hotel suite. Most of that year, he’s living in his car and scrounging food, feeling mighty low.

“Don’t cry, Princess.”

She sniffs. “This is a terrible Christmas story.”

“Wait and see. Finally, the kid hits rock bottom and comes to his senses. I mean—hey—he’s starving to death. He decides to go home. Even newbies at his dad’s company make a decent living. He’ll confess everything to his father—his failure, his waste—he’ll apologize and beg for a part-time job. Nothing special—maybe an internship or some low-level gig on probation—something like that. He knows it’s more than he deserves.

“Out of the blue, Papa sends him an invite to Christmas dinner and a plane ticket that year, so he texts that he’ll come. Spends the whole flight practicing his confession.

“On Christmas Eve, the old man gets restless; hires a limo and goes out to make a few preparations. Phones his secretary with special instructions. Stops at Mens Wearhouse and lotsa other places. Gets to O’Hare and hangs around for hours. I mean, this guy hasn’t even heard from his boy in three years! When the kid finally walks out the concourse, Papa runs to him, throws his arms around him, hugs him tenderly, tells him he’s glad he’s home. The kid hasn’t changed clothes in a year. Stinks to make your eyes sting. No luggage. Papa leads his son to the limo, arm over his shoulders, and tells his boy he loves him.

“In the back of the limo, the boy stammers out his practiced confession, tears streaming down his face, but his father will have none of it. ‘Stop—no more!’ he shouts. If there’s anything this kid ever learned, it’s to obey his father’s commands. Papa breaks out two tumblers and a bottle of Drambuie and leads the conversation into fond recollections and good times. Does most of the talking and the kid can’t help but laugh at some of the memories.

“Limo stops at the Union League Club and they take in a steam and swim and shower. The kid opens his locker to find a new shirt, jeans, sport jacket, shoes—the works. He can hardly believe it and again stammers out his confession.

Enough already! I not hear it!’ says his father, and the old man’s word is always final.

“When they get home, the place is full of Papa’s close friends and dear customers—maybe 300 people. A twelve foot tree sparkles with a million lights.  A live band pumps out Christmas music.  The aroma of good food fills the house. A caterer lays out an amazing number of enormous turkeys with stuffing and potatoes with gravy, and cranberry sauce, wine and all the trimmings. All that food takes up the big table in Papa’s baronial dining room and they set up a buffet line. People enjoy their meal milling around, indulging in lively conversation. When everybody eats their fill, out comes the pumpkin and mincemeat pies, ice cream, coffee, and brandy. The band leads the crowd singing carols. Take it from me: this is a great party! I for one, enjoyed every minute of it.

“Now the older brother works late at the office that night, as usual. One of the guests notices him out front, pacing in the snow. Papa runs out to him—doesn’t even stop to put on his coat. Begs the boy to come in and join the party. But the kid spits out words in anger: ‘I work for you day and night! I never refuse to do anything you say! Do you ever throw a party for me? But when this worthless bum—this son of yours—shows up, after squandering your money on women and gambling—you celebrate like some kind of idiot, disgracing us in front of all our friends and customers!’

“Papa hugs him and speaks softly to him in his native dialect. ‘On you I depend always. You are good boy. You own all my company stock. But your brother is home! After three years he come home! We must celebrate! Is like he come back from dead!’

“But the older brother won’t be consoled. He curses and shouts, ‘He should be dead,’ and gets in his car and drives off.”

I smile at Princess. She doesn’t look sleepy at all.

“What happens then?” she says.

I sigh. “The old man—Uncle Ludditis, in case you hadn’t guessed already—he eventually retires and opens that bar he always dreamed about.  Rents me the back room for my magazine.  The older brother takes over as CEO and forces the younger one out.

“Uncle John!  That can’t be the way it turns out!  It’s not fair!”

“Why not?  Those are the consequences of their decisions.  The older one holds onto his 20% share of the company so he finally runs that show, a rich miser living alone.  The younger one learns from his mistakes, finds employment elsewhere, marries a good woman, raises two wonderful children.

“And Princess, their father loves them both deeply, no matter what.  His love is all he has left to give and he’s not stingy with it.  Close your eyes now.  Merry Christmas.”

Story credit: Jesus Christ, The Parable of the Prodigal Son –Luke 15:11-32

.

More Christmas Stories:

BEST GIFT

A LOOP LONAGAN CHRISTMAS

THE BUM IN ME

.

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. Please perform your own due diligence. It’s not our fault if you lose money.
.Copyright © 2017 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
.
.

Leave a comment

Filed under angel, angel capital, angel investor, App, Big Corporations, big money, Conflict, Donatas Ludditis, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Culture, investor, Jim Kren, loop lonagan, Mobile App, Relationships, Startup, startup company, vc, venture capital

GET YOUR OWN ‘BOTS

OR RISK BEING PUT OUT OF BUSINESS BY THEM

by Howard Tullman

Don’t fear the bots. They’ll free your company from unprofitable and tedious work. Yes, some jobs are going to be displaced. But the ones that are left and the new ones the bots will create will be more productive and way more interesting.

I realize that it’s a little frightening for many of us when we hear some of the intimidating statistics about headcount reductions in more and more industries that are being driven by the growing deployment of what we’re generically calling “bots.” But I don’t think bots are so bad for business. I realize that, while the major shifts are just beginning, we’re already talking about the displacement of thousands of analysts and adjusters in the insurance and finance industries as well as hundreds of highly-paid attorneys in sectors of the banking business. The sooner you figure out how to incorporate and deploy these little time- and money-savers, the better off you and your business will be. And that goes for businesses of all sizes.

Excepting some of the folks who will be replaced by these efficient and energetic little wonders, it will be a break for the better. Honest. No one in their right mind will miss any of the boring, repetitive and utterly useless tasks that are a painful part of too many of our jobs. If your tasks can be reduced to a set of instructions and rules that need to be repeatedly and flawlessly executed, we’ll soon enough find a program or a machine to do that work better, quicker and more accurately than you– and to do it 24/7 as well. No one argues with that part of the equation. We’d all love to be freed up from our chores and be doing exciting, creative and constructive work.

The rub comes in the rest of the story – the ratio and the scale of the jobs being eliminated as compared with the new jobs available to replace them. To quote Bruce Springsteen, in My Hometown, “Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back.” Take a look at the hospitality business as a simple example. Airbnb is closing in on Marriott’s $42.7 billion market cap (it’s already worth about $10 billion more than Hilton), but the employee headcounts of these companies are in different universes. Marriott employs more than 225,000 people, Airbnb about 3,500– yes 3,500 employees. And I’m not just picking on Marriott. Hilton has about 170,000 team members. You can argue that some of those people are doing different and allegedly irreplaceable functions. But in the end, the real question is whether the customer/guest’s needs are being more than met. None of Marriott’s guests really cares about whatever it is that fills the day for those extra 400,000 workers. I’m not even sure that most of their managers know what makes up their day.

When you couple the substantial reductions in the workforce with the readily-demonstrated and clearly impressive gains in productivity and lower operating costs that we’re also seeing, it’s clear that there are major bumps in the road ahead and significant disruptions in the ways business has traditionally been done. This is especially true because the vast majority of these changes are neither complicated in regard to the technologies nor costly in terms of the required capital. Low-hanging fruit abounds. JP Morgan Chase reports eliminating more than 350,000 hours of legal document review time per year by employing bots and smart contracts.

When I use the term “bots,” I’m not talking about anything as challenging as truly intelligent agents or even anything autonomous. I’m talking about simple lines of code– and not that many– that can successfully execute instructions and directives or commands that are well-established and documented by humans. I hate to call any of this stuff artificial intelligence. At best it’s augmented and extended intelligence. The intelligence being extended is ours; the folks being augmented are us. We’re talking about systems and tools that will help us perform routine tasks with minimal supervision or ongoing direction, and essentially automatically, upon request. Every business still has some of these pockets of obvious inefficiency and it’s mainly ignorance of better options and inertia that keeps them from realizing immediate improvements and significant cost savings. Your business does too, and the sooner you do your own audit and analysis, the better off and more competitive you’ll be. (See Use a Mirror to Mind Your Own Business First)

There are opportunities everywhere, but the sweetest spots for almost any business seem to fall into four recurring buckets. Forget about chatbots and retweeters. Focus internally first where you can get the biggest bang for your buck and where you can ride on existing rails. The people providing support and resources in this emerging space are few and far between right now, but they tend to target these critical areas: HR, Finance, Operations and Sales. I know, you’re already saying, “well duh, that’s just about the whole business”, so trim it down to HR and Finance and start there. Eat the elephant one bite at a time.

One of the best providers is an 1871 alumni organization called Catalytic/www.catalytic.com/> whose tagline says it all: “Do more of what you love, and less of what you don’t.” They are smart enough to understand that they are in a “rinse and repeat” business so that each time they build a new process bot they create the ability to provide a version of that same solution to thousands of other businesses more efficiently, more rapidly, and less expensively. They talk about concrete client results delivered in days, not months or years.

And, to be successful, you need a plan that’s ongoing and iterative and that’s always targeting and attacking the dumbest things you are doing. In many cases, it’s an approach that follows the same basic steps: digitize and dump the paper; speed up the flow and the inter- and intra-departmental handoffs; automate as many steps in the process as possible; measure the results; and do it again. It needs to become a habit and a mantra of your business—always moving to raise the bottom and improve the average.

It’s interesting to watch the adoption cycle as well. It’s both competitive and contagious. The more you do; the more your people will want to do and, interestingly enough, you’ll have them bringing suggestions and ideas to you for next steps–forward integrations into other programs like Word and Excel, for example—instead of sitting on their hands and bitching about the bots.

The dashboards and the flow charts that you now have access to provide levels of actionable information and data that were never available before. Frankly, these are the exact tools that you need to move your business forward. Managing by exception rather than brute force is the only way to spread your scarce and costly resources around.

 

 

Howard Tullman is the father of Chicago’s 1871 incubator.

Read his bio on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_A._Tullman

Check out his websites at http://tullman.com/  and http://tullman.blogspot.com/

Or just type his name into your favorite search engine.

.

This article previously appeared in Inc.

Image Credits – Getty Images, MS Office

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. Please perform your own due diligence. It’s not our fault if you lose money.
.Copyright © 2017 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
.
.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1871, angel, angel capital, angel investor, Big Corporations, big money, chicago, Chicago Startup, Chicago Ventures, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurship and Politics, Howard Tullman, Innovation, Innovation and Culture, startup company, vc, Venture, venture capital

HOW HYPERLOCAL ECONOMIES EVOLVE

By: William Arrington

The original intent for this follow up to Hyperlocal Social Economies (HSEs) was to focus on how businesses can participate in these targeted consumption markets. I think this is an appropriate time to discuss how HSEs may evolve. Before diving in let’s quickly recap what comprises an HSE market:

  • A group of consumers with similar lifestyle and consumption patterns (i.e. friends)
  • Common set of goods/services consumed by the group
  • Competitive market for said goods and services
  • Goods and services are geographically unbound

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under angel, angel capital, angel investor, big money, Economics, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurship and Politics, Financial Markets, Free Trade, Innovation, Innovation and Culture, Internet Marketing, Marketing, Relationships, Startup, startup company, vc, Venture, venture capital

INVESTORS LOSING PATIENCE WITH PIVOTS

by Howard Tullman

There’s no polite or easy way to say this, but winter is on its way in the venture world. It’s getting tougher and tougher for startups caught in the lukewarm limbo between ideas and invoices to get their early backers to up their bets especially when it’s not clear that they’ve found a viable business model and/or a way to stop the bleeding sooner rather than later. Too many pivots with too little to show for the dollars down the drain and pretty soon no one wants to hear your, “someday soon,” story or your next grand plan.

dice

And if you’re not breaking even, no bank will look twice at your business or your balance sheet. This change isn’t restricted to the unicorpses in the Valley; it’s going on in every village where waves of wishful thinkers are starting to wonder what hit them.

My sense is that the smart investor conversations taking place today aren’t very often about the company going big for the gold or about the current investors doubling down so some startup can shoot for the stars. These increasingly cranky chats are less about excitement and enthusiasm and much more about ennui and possible exits. Because the two things that some early investors and every VC understands are sunk costs and opportunity costs.

While the entrepreneur is sweating survival, the investors are trying to decide whether their incremental dollars would be better spent on a new deal elsewhere. These are the days when easy money gets hard.

Those great gluten free sugar cookies (from the hip new bakery down the block that just shut its doors) are tasting more like ashes in their mouths and they’re asking themselves how they ended up sitting in a room with no doors feeling like some sucker after the circus left town.

The unhappy folks who are still sitting at the table (more likely associates now than the partners who got the ball rolling) aren’t talking about how much more money they can put to work; they’re trying to figure out how little additional cash they can put up to preserve what’s left of their position.

cash

Everyone is telling you that they’re really not inclined to do much of anything at all if you can’t drag some new money from outside players to the table to help set the price and get the next round started. Flat valuations in times like this are the new “up” rounds and there are down rounds galore.

This is a Plan B world at best and the down and dirty talk on the limo ride to LaGuardia almost always includes whether to also shoot the CEO while they’re in the process of trying to clean things up and save a little face. So if you’re the one on the bubble, forget Plan B, and get started on what I call Plan C. You need to get a head start on talking about the tough choices and critical changes that need to be made.

It’s about figuring out what immediate actions you can take that will make a difference before they turn the lights out. You can have results or excuses, not both. Focus on facts rather than futures if you want to be there when things turn around.

And forget about playing the blame game – no one cares.

Plan C is all about choices: contraction, consolidation, combination, conversion, and concessions. The last C is closing the doors and that’s not a sight that anyone wants to see. So find out which of the C’s makes the most sense for your startup.

contraction

Contraction

Just suck it up and admit it. You can’t be all things to all people and no one ever has been. Focus on what sets you apart and what represents the best prospect of a long term sustainable competitive advantage for your business and forget everything else. Don’t apologize, don’t try to explain, just buckle down and get the job done. The recent launch of UberEats in Chicago (as an “instant” meal delivery service) and its almost immediate abandonment of that commitment is a good example of knowing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it’s pretty stupid to open the umpteenth home meal delivery service in Grub Hub’s hometown.

Businesses that scale too soon and which are a mile wide and an inch deep are doomed for many reasons, but the clearest and most telling is that they can’t cost-effectively engage with, support, or connect to their customers because the customers are simply too few and too far between. It’s critical to nail it before you scale it and, if you’re grossly overextended, your business is going nowhere.

consolidation

Consolidation

Shut down the stupid San Francisco office sooner rather than later. You had no business being there in the first place and the fact that you doing no business there ought to speak for itself. San Francisco may be the most overheated and least representative market in America. Everyone there drinks the KoolAid for about 10 minutes and then moves on. Building a new business there is as slippery and unstable as trying to nail Jell-O to a tree.

New York should be next on the list. NYC isn’t a city – it’s 5 or 6 different marketplaces all mashed together – with a million people just waiting to eat your lunch. Your business expansion needs to be driven by actual demand, feasibility and real opportunities – not by some investor’s fantasies and/or fables about life in the Big Apple foisted on the public by the media and by people barely making it in Brooklyn.

combination

Combination

Take a careful look around and see who else in your space (or adjacent to it) is doing things right and see what the prospects of some kind of combination may be especially if your market itself continues to be more cluttered and competitive. We hear constantly that the shared/surplus economy or the “Now” economy continues to grow fueled by millions of millennials holding multiple jobs. But tracking the gig economy isn’t quite that easy. While the number of multiple job holders has in fact grown dramatically, the percentage of the number of people so employed as compared to the total number employed has been flat or down over the last decade.

We had a great example of a timely and smart combination recently in Chicago where Shiftgig and BookedOut got together and decided that there were all kinds of economies and opportunities in a merger as well as the sheer relief in knowing that they could stop trying to beat each other’s brains out in the market. They are both players in the increasingly crowded space which the Commerce Department is trying to define as “digital matching firms.

Shiftgig was bigger and better established, but BookedOut had a lot of momentum and was gaining important traction in the experiential marketing sector. Now instead of spending time building duplicative back ends and other redundant systems and offerings, they can bring a single story to the market in a cleaner, more efficient and less costly way. This is exactly the kind of story that all of their investors wanted to hear.

It’s not easy in any market to attract the technical talent, the motivated sales people, and the operations folks that you need to grow quickly and a well-planned and thoughtfully executed combination can demonstrably accelerate the process. You need to be careful to make sure that the companies’ visions are aligned and that the problems they’re addressing are similar and that the cultures of the businesses (and the leaders in particular) aren’t in conflict.

These things aren’t made or broken in the board room when the papers are signed, they rise or fail in the implementation and the execution. But in today’s world, it’s often a lot better and smarter han trying to go it alone.

conversion

Conversion

Sell some of your stuff to someone else. You may be great at lead generation and lousy at closing the sale once those prospects show up at your door. Or you may be a great sales organization that sucks at fulfillment and customer service. When you look at your skill sets and your customers, users, clients, etc. through a different lens—looking at them as potential assets to be converted or sold to some other enterprise, it helps you see more clearly exactly what kind of business you’re building. It may make the most sense to look at your company as a conduit or an intermediary and not as a one-stop shop trying to meet all the needs of the marketplace. You’ve got to play to your strengths and build on those if you’re planning to stick around.

concessions

Concessions

Maybe your pricing made sense in some early fever dream where you were the best and only player in the space, but now there are fast followers and clones everywhere you look and their offerings (at least on the surface) look a lot like yours. Once your customers start talking about price, you’re on a very slippery slope.

 

Conclusion

Here’s the bottom line. In the long run, you can’t save your way to success and it’s no fun to fire your friends or postpone your pet projects. But if you don’t survive during the difficult times, you and your business won’t be around to savor any success down the road. Do what needs to get done and do it now.

 

Big Gulp from Howard Tullman

About the Author

Howard Tullman is the father of 1871 and Matter—the huge Chicago incubators.

This article appeared previously in News From Heartland

.

References

Shiftgig

BookedOut .

.

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. Please perform your own due diligence. It’s not our fault if you lose money.
.Copyright © 2017 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
.
.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1871, angel, angel capital, angel investor, big money, Chicago Startup, Chicago Ventures, Economics, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Heartland Angels, Innovation, Invention, investor, Startup, startup company, vc, Venture, venture capital

THE JOB INTERVIEW WITH WILLIAM SHAKES

by Mark T Wayne

We’re here to interview some reprobate named William Shakes for the job of special correspondent. I do not know why I’m a part of this. No sir! Perhaps it’s the strange nature of the recruit. Perhaps it’s because Jonelis recommended this particular…person, and does not entirely trust the judgement of Jim Kren, his assistant editor. (Shakes bears an uncanny resemblance and must be related in some way—maybe) Perhaps it’s because that execrable Lonagan creature is the only other help Kren could muster. But we need more writers, so here I am, eager and helpful as always, ready to lend any assistance within my power.

Mark T Wayne

Kren consults a wrinkled scrap of paper. I believe he’s reading questions from a list. “So, uh…your name is William Shakes. Is that right? Tell me about yourself.”

What kind of softball question is Kren pitching? There sits Shakes in frilly regalia, looking like something out of an Elizabethan play. He probably came here straight from an all-night costume party, roaring drunk, and Kren asks a fool question like that. Wait, I believe the man is transparent enough to respond to such utter inanity.

  • “What’s in a name?” he says with dignity. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. We are such stuff as dreams are made on. But if it be a sin to covet honour, I am the most offending soul alive.” Spoken fluently and with aplomb! And in a well-modulated voice!
  • Loop Lonagan looks at the man slack jawed. After a moment I hear him whispering to Kren. “What didee say?” Kren fiddles with his paper and mutters to Lonagan, “Idiot! I was gonna ask you that!”
  • My value to the proceedings is now clear. Not to mention that I recognize the true and somewhat illustrious identity of this candidate. “Gentlemen, Mr. Shakes expresses the sentiment that his name and his fame do not matter; that he brings to the table a strong imagination and boundless creativity. He’s proud of his accomplishments and liable to brawl with anyone that displays the audacity to criticize his work. (Also, gentlemen, notice that the man carries a sword.)”

“Why,” Kren asks testily, “didn’t he just come out and say what he meant?”

I express the opinion that’s precisely what he did.

Lonagan shrugs and grins at his boss. “Ain’t got no problem with it.”

William Shakes

Kren reads the next question:

  • “What is your greatest accomplishment?”
  • Shakes sits there in that hot scratchy outfit, seeming at ease. “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them,” He says. “The play’s the thing. Thirty Seven there be, wherein I catch the conscience of the king and posterity.” The man runs off these lines without breaking sweat.
  • More muttering and both Kren and Lonagan turn to me. I clear my throat. “He’s considered the supreme writer in the English language and highly respected throughout the known world. Among other things, he produced 37 highly prized major works of written material that have captured the attention of world leaders.” (Privately, I take violent exception to the widely-held belief regarding his supremacy as a writer.  Such accolade is more aptly applied to myself. But I refuse to squabble.  Honour is at stake. Yes sir! I will do nothing to lampoon this interview!)

A brief dumbfounded silence. Then the barely vocalized sounds of approval indicate that these two examples of lower life are suitably impressed by the response. I warm to the task! Kren scans his page of questions.

  • “What major problem have you had to deal with recently?”
  • Shakes: “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool. It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves. We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”
  • I immediately translate: “He says he’s learning not to underrate himself. As a result, he never shirks a task, even if he feels inadequate. Because of that, he’s consistently surprised by hidden talents.”

Lonagan finally gets up the nerve to ask a question himself:

  • “Are you one o’ deeze team players?”
  • Shakes: “Prithee, it be thus. Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”
  • Me: “Ditto that.”

Loop’s dog Clamps. No known photograph of Lonagan exists, but they look a lot alike.

Lonagan again:

  • “What’s yer biggest weakness?”
  • Shakes: “If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?”
  • They both sit there stunned, so I venture another paraphrase: “He says he’s only human, subject to the same vices of body and character as you two.”

Kren throws up his hands, then with an obvious effort, composes himself, and manages to appear grave and somewhat skeptical. Then he plods on.

  • “How do you think you can add value to our magazine?”
  • Shakes: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our venture.”
  • Lonagan: “What didee say dat time?”
  • I happily translate: “He says the magazine could go on the rocks due to poor staff and lousy management. But we’re at a critical stage right now and must take full advantage of it while the opportunity is ripe.”

That last answer emits a bit of grumbling between the two louts. Those fellows have no idea who they’re dealing with. Lonagan asks what I can only assume expresses the issue that bears most tenderly on his feeble mind:

  • “How much money d’ya want fer dis gig?”
  • Shakes: “While I am a beggar, I will rail and say there is no sin but to be rich; and being rich, my virtue then shall be to say there is no vice but beggary. If money go before, all ways do lie open, but the comfort is, you shall fear no more tavern-bills.”
  • I immediately insinuate myself: “He says he doesn’t come cheap, but he never pads the expense account.”

Kren utters a deep sigh and hits him with what I am sure is his final payoff question:

  • “Why should I hire you?”
  • “Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”
  • I try not to bust out laughing. “He says, don’t be a ninny.”

Kren and Lonagan stare at each other. Face it—they botched the interview. There is nothing remaining to discuss. No sir! Jonelis wanted this relic on staff. These goons found no reason to reject the man.

Kren shrugs. “Show up tomorrow for work. Eight o’clock sharp.”

Shakes gives a bow and a flourish. “Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it be morrow.”

As William Shakes nobly marches out, I can barely contain my mirth.  But tomorrow, the man will stand on the sidewalk for hours.  Our office rents space in the back room of a fine establishment and Ludditis doesn’t open the bar till the potato pancake connoisseurs crowd in for lunch.  Kren’s revenge.

 

Read the first in this series – TO BE OR NOT TO BE HACKED.

Image Credits – John Jonelis, Public Domain
.

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. Please perform your own due diligence. It’s not our fault if you lose money.
.Copyright © 2017 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
.
.

1 Comment

Filed under angel, angel capital, angel investor, Big Corporations, Characters, Chicago Startup, Chicago Venture Magazine, Chicago Ventures, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Jim Kren, loop lonagan, Mark T Wayne, Startup, startup company