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CEOs THAT SELL

Why Startup CEOs Still Have to Make Sales Calls

by Howard Tullman

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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
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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

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References

Shiftgig

BookedOut .

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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
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CHICAGO—THE BEST INCUBATOR IN AMERICA?

by Denny O’Malley

Recently, Inc.com published an article about the best cities for early-stage companies. The premise: Chicago is the surprise winner.

Why would that be? San Francisco and New York are both beautiful, thriving cities that dramatically represent the diversity of American ideas. San Fran—younger, more venture-oriented, with beautiful natural vistas. New York—the classic, bustling private and public equity concrete jungle.

What do they have in common? It costs a kidney to pay rent for a closet. Continue reading

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DON’T ASK WHY—ASK WHY NOT

Question Markby Howard Tullman

How the First Apprentice Winner Became an Entrepreneur

(No, The Donald Didn’t Help):

Bill Rancic readily admits he wasn’t the smartest guy on the show. But in his subsequent career, he has become very smart about getting the most out of the people around him.

Bill Rancic by Greg Rothstein

At 1871, we had the opportunity to host Bill Rancic for a keynote speech about what he’s learned from several important mentors. Bill was the first winner on Donald Trump’s The Apprentice television program, but didn’t mention The Donald, which isn’t really that much of a surprise. He talked about how he started and built several entrepreneurial ventures, and about a very important lesson that he took away from his triumph on the TV show in 2004.

I thought that his explanation for how he won the Apprentice competition was highly enlightening.

  • He didn’t say he worked the hardest.
  • He didn’t say he wanted it the most.
  • And he certainly didn’t say he was the smartest guy in the room.

Be the Conductor

Bill’s winning edge was something that we talk about every day at 1871: Nobody does anything important and worthwhile all alone. If you have a dream, you need a team—that is, if you want to make the dream come true.

Bill said he tried to be “the conductor” just like the main man at the symphony. He brought everyone together so they could make beautiful music. He knew—just like in an orchestra—that he didn’t personally have the special skills or the same abilities that each of the other members of his team possessed. But he got them all moving in the right direction.  He brought out the best efforts that each team member had to contribute.

The most amazing things get done when no one cares who gets the credit. Harmony trumps hubris. And Bill never spent his time blaming others when things went wrong. That would have been a waste of breath and energy.  When facing confrontations and tough sledding, he kept in mind what Robert Schuller said: “Tough times never last, but tough people do!”

Learn from Others

Bill was fortunate to have some great people to learn from, whose examples he follows to this day. And he knew not to do things on his own until he really knew what he was doing. He needed to play a role for a while before he tried to roll his own—even though one of his first ventures was in the mail order cigar business. Today, he’s also a restaurateur. (See Entrepreneurship: Will You Sink or Swim?).

Bill had a very clear idea of where he wanted to end up and even how he thought he’d get there. But he knew these things were going to take time. The smartest thing he could do was to concentrate on learning something from someone every day on the journey.  It’s important to have a mental roadmap, but patience is also essential.  (See Why You Need a Reverse Roadmap).

Make a Start

One of his father’s rules was “practical execution.” All talk is simply that—results and actions are the things that make a difference. His Dad used to say, “Show me, don’t tell me” or as I like to say, “You can’t win a race with your mouth.”

There’s no simple playbook or set of rules for how you invent the future – you’ve got to get the ball rolling, keep your eyes on the goal, and be agile and flexible all the time. But it won’t ever happen if you don’t get started.

Embrace Risk

Bill said, “When we’re born, we’re only afraid of two things – falling and loud noises. From then forward we learn to be afraid of other things and too often allow those fears to keep us from stepping out and taking the kinds of risks that are essential to succeed.” He quoted Emerson as saying you needed to do what you are afraid of—and if you do—success will find you.  The key is not to avoid every possible risk, but to recognize and manage reasonable risks so you can convert them into opportunities and rewards. The ship that stays in port is the safest, but it doesn’t get anywhere.

Don’t Ask Why

Finally, there is the business with the bumblebees. For years scientists figured bees were never supposed to be able to fly. The ratio of their wing size to body weight was all wrong. The laws of physics decreed that the bees couldn’t generate enough power to lift themselves into the air.  Like so many entrepreneurs who do every day what others think is impossible, no one ever told the bees they couldn’t fly. But off they went.

Today, no one says that the bees are defying physics or nature. They are defying convention. We’ve finally figured out that just because the bees don’t fly the same way that fixed-wing airplanes do doesn’t mean gravity doesn’t apply to them. The fact is that bees—just like entrepreneurs—have figured out a different way to solve the problem. They fly by rapidly rotating their flexible wings; that’s how they get lift.

Every day entrepreneurs are doing the same thing. We look at the same problems that millions of others have observed from new and different perspectives and come up with novel solutions that are often obvious in retrospect. This is because we don’t ask why; we ask, why not?

Tullman2_Full-bkt_16396_16396_16396Howard Tullman is a the father of 1871. For more from Howard, go to

http://tullman.blogspot.com

www.1871.com/

Read his bio: http://tullman.com/resume.asp

Images: Greg Rothstein, Cloudspotter/1871,

Howard Tullman, MS Office

This article is adapted from Inc Magazine

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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. It’s not our fault if you lose money.

.Copyright © 2015 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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BE THE ONE THEY CAN COUNT ON

Howard Tullman Tby Howard Tullman

“Winners have a sense about other winners and you can’t miss the shift in their interest and attention when they encounter another of their own species. Wanting to win is fine – wanting to do the work that it takes to win and to keep at it until you do win is what makes the difference in the end.”

It’s not just Country Music that we rely on to say the simple things that need sayin’. And the Blues don’t have any monopoly on tellin’ it like it is (or how it ain’t) or the way it should be. The fact is that, over the years, many songs from other genres have also told some basic stories which then resonated with millions of listeners and turned those “hits” into timeless classics. The format was inexpensive and the songs were “popular”; but that said nothing about the depth and reality of the feelings they successfully evoked. Even big boys do occasionally cry – as does everyone else. Music moves us all to extremes.

Sometimes, but only rarely, the elements that drove the widespread appreciation of these special tunes were the song’s memorable hook; a special intro (like Keith’s on Satisfaction); or a guitar solo (think Carlos Santana) that seemed permanently stuck in our minds. Most of the time, however, it was the immediate and intimate connection that we had with the lyrics which sealed the deal. They seemed to be speaking directly to us and “killing us softly” with a sensation of unexpected emotion. They surprised and touched us because they spoke to and about the very things that were important in our own lives. The truth is that music and music alone has both the power and our permission to enter our lives every day and excite and move us in these magical ways. As Sara Bareilles says in Brave: music can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug.

But putting all the “love” (including love of country) and all the “loss” songs aside, what strikes me is that the singly most successful and consistent message in the largest number of classic songs (which are as powerful and telling today as they were on the day they were written and first performed) is one that’s just as significant in our business lives as it is in our personal affairs. It’s about the importance of being there.

Think about it.

What have you got “when you’re down and troubled and you need a helping hand”?  Of course, you’ve got a friend.

And who will “take your part when darkness comes and pain is all around”?  Simon and Garfunkel – for sure.

And for all those times “in our lives when we all have pain – we all have sorrow”?  We know we can lean on … Bill Withers.

Everyone needs someone in their lives that they can count on – someone to call when there’s no one else to call. And, these days, with radical change and ongoing disruption being a constant part of every business, the most valuable people in any company are the ones you can count on in a crisis or a crunch – the “go-to” guys and girls. The people who are there in a pinch and who you just naturally tend to run to – not from – when the feces hit the fan.

This isn’t part of anyone’s job description. And it’s not something you can create on the fly or on the spot. It’s a visceral feeling that you just get about the people who’ve got it. But here’s the good news. It’s something you can build over time (like any other part of your reputation) and it’s something that you can work on and work at every day that you’re at work and – over time – if you’re truly committed and your efforts are sincere and authentic; you can make it happen.

And, just in case it’s not obvious, there’s no better investment you could possibly make in your career or your future than being the first stop when someone’s looking for help and not the last resort.

Howard Tullman 1871

So what does it take to get it done?

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(1)   Stay Up (Perspiration)

Be the early bird at the office. Effort and energy trump talent all day long. And it never hurts to be the night owl too. Not the guy who’s the last to leave the office TGIF party, but the person who puts in the extra time to make sure that things are done right the first time. Turns out that the buddies you buy beers for aren’t very often the ones you’d bet your business on. And, as often as not, while you’re bellying up to the bar (or buying someone a breakfast burrito the next morning); the real winners are back at the ranch taking care of business.

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(2)   Step Up (Passion)

Make sure that everyone knows you’re interested and available. That you’re excited about the business and the opportunities and that you really want to be a part of the program. Ya gotta want it and it’s gotta show. You need to put it out there and understand that all anyone can do is say “no” – they won’t eat you.  And – if you keep asking – I guarantee you that it’ll only be a “no for now” and it’ll be full speed ahead soon enough. You won’t get your shot if you don’t take every opportunity to try and you’ll miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Anyone who tells you it’s not cool to be out front and eager these days will soon be changing the bottles on the water cooler while you’re being welcomed into the club.

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(3)   Study Up (Preparation)

Even in the world of great entrepreneurial BS-ers, it actually does help to know what you’re talking about. “Wingin’ it” is good for sports bars and on Thanksgiving, but it’s not a strategy for success in business. As I said recently, saying you don’t know something these days isn’t a commentary on your lack of knowledge – it’s a confession of laziness and lack of interest – because the information is out there today; it’s mostly a matter of looking.  And if you cared; you’d care enough to get the answers before the questions were asked. The kind of knowledge, research and situational awareness that matter don’t grow on trees or happen automatically or without help. You’ve got to put in the time, do the looking, and ask for assistance (when you don’t have or can’t find all the answers) in order to be ready when someone asks you for a hand.

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(4)   Stand Up (Principles)

You can’t create value if you don’t have a set of real values of your own that consistently guide and inform the way you behave. Charismatic leaders can attract a lot of followers, but the attraction is to themselves rather than to something greater and more important. Cause leaders bring the multitudes along with them in support of doing things that matter and make a difference not simply to a single business, but in terms of a broader and more general good. It’s important for the people you work with (and for) to understand that – while we don’t expect anyone, but a monk to be utterly selfless – you believe that the best plans and the best businesses are focused on creating situations where everyone can be benefitted and where it’s a win-win-win all around. Not easy to engineer or to pull off, but very important in the end.

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(5)   Stick to It (Perseverance)

Execution is everything. Keeping at it – getting knocked down and picking yourself up again – making it clear that you won’t settle for less or take “no” for an answer – these are all behaviors and traits that give off a certain vibration that the big dogs in the business will quickly sense and pick right up on because (a) it’s absolutely a part of their own DNA and (b) it’s also a big part of what got them to where they are. Winners have a Spidey-sense about other winners and, while their ears don’t exactly perk up like a dog’s; you can’t miss the shift in their interest and attention when they encounter another of their own species. Wanting to win is fine – wanting to do the work that it takes to win and to keep at it until you do win is what makes the difference in the end.

That’s all it takes. You can make it happen and there’s no time like the present to get started. It’s a lifelong iterative journey and the good news is that it gets better all the time.

If there’s a goal or an endpoint to the process, it’s very simple. When the chips are down and the fat’s in the fire, you want to be the one who people can count on.

PP:  “You Get What You Work for, Not What You Wish for”

 

This article is re-printed by permission of Howard Tullman.  Photo Credits Howard Tullman.

Find him at:

tullman.blogspot.com

1871.com

 Read his Bio
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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. It’s not our fault if you lose money.

.Copyright © 2014 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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Filed under 1871, angel, angel capital, angel investor, big money, chicago, Chicago Venture Magazine, Chicago Ventures, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Innovation and Culture, Invention, investor, new companies, Northwestern, Social Entrepreneur, Software, vc, venture capital

THE SECRET OF HARD TIMES

The Chicago Innovation Awards – Part 1

John Jonelis

Time Share Gulfstream JetI’m talking to investing legend, Loren Bukkett—the Prophet of Pekin, immediately after a big event in Chicago. “Twelve whole years,” he says. “A hundred percent of their winners are all still in business. And tonight they break that perfect record.” He’s talking about the winners of the Chicago Innovation Awards and he’s got my attention. Which companies are going down?

This guy is seemingly unassuming. Uncombed hair. Rumpled blazer. Now he leans across the lounge table of the big Gulfstream G450 and speaks softly to the lady taking shorthand. “Pardon me Aussy,” he says, “Would you please file this conversation with the rest of tonight’s papers?”

She nods and then graces me with a striking smile and I think back to a time before they got hitched. One smile, that’s all, and I’m lost in the past, only vaguely aware of the man’s voice in the background. This gal sure doesn’t show her age.

“Hey Jonelis, you awake?”

With that, I stop ogling his wife and look him in the eye. This is turning into a strange interview. Because of his tight schedule, we’re going Mach 0.8 at 40,000 feet in this beautiful corporate jet enroute to—I don’t know where. In an hour, he says he’ll send me back in another plane. I’m hoping for something small. A Piper Citation can land at my home airport for an early-to-bed. This big jet is a corporate timeshare. I saw a similar timeshare scheme pitched tonight, but with trucks instead of airplanes.

Gulfstream G450

Gulfstream G450 – photo from Gulfstream website

An acerbic voice jars me to my senses: “Jonelis—are you done daydreaming yet?”

I smile. “For now, I guess—till I get another chance.”

“Good, then stay alert. As I was saying, Chicago’s in big financial trouble. A lotta trouble. You know it as well as I do. Heck, the whole state’s in trouble—almost as bad as California.” He gives me a down-home grin. “And as you’re no doubt aware, that’s what brought me here tonight.”

“You see a bottom?”

“A bottom? Nobody ever knows if it’s the bottom but use your common sense. This place will bounce back eventually. I’m not saying this town will solve its problems—likely as not they’ll do nothing or move in exactly the wrong direction. But business here has such a long, long way to bounce—a heck of a long way. I’m willing to take a position on that. The trouble with young investors any more is they don’t have the nerve or the stamina.”

I scribble some notes. It seems a safe bet he just took a stake in some of the companies honored at tonight’s event—maybe all of them. Could be he acquired all of them. He’s going on:

“One thing most people don’t understand about hard times—and John, these are real hard times—no doubt about that. The thing people get wrong is this: Tough times don’t blunt the sharp point of innovation. Not at all. When it gets this bad, desperation feeds creativity. Invention kicks in. People find a way to survive. Look how India and China exploded out of utter ruin in spite of their governments. I see Chicago as the next center for thought leadership in the entrepreneurial world. It could rival New York, Boston, Silicon Valley.”

Chicago Innovation Awards

Chicago Innovation Awards – jaj

“You’re really sold on Chicago?”

“I think I made myself clear on that. I’m not betting on the city—not even the state. No, I’m looking at individual companies that rise out of these terrible circumstances. Only strong organizations succeed in an environment this nasty. If they can make it without greasing palms, I’m interested.”

I scribble more notes and try to memorize as much as I can. “You’re telling me that squalor makes it easy for you to pick winning companies.”

“You think you got me figured out. Put away that blasted pencil.” He glances at his wife. “Aussy, see that Mr. Jonelis gets a transcript, would you please?” Then he swivels his leather chair and faces me head on.

“I’ll lay it out for you straight. It’s real simple. Here’s my secret: Hard times create a supply and demand imbalance. Innovation takes off, but at the same time investors run scared. Banks won’t lend. You end up with too many good ideas and not enough capital. That’s when I buy.”

“At a bargain?”

He looks at me from under his shaggy eyebrows. “D’you think?”

That draws a laugh out of me and I tuck away my notes.

“John, you’re the one that lives in that town. Look around. Don’t you see the huge vacuum? You know what happens in a vacuum?”

“Sure. It gets filled. Real fast.”

“That’s exactly right.”

Now that I’m in on his game, I can picture how it unfolds. “And when that happens, politicians grab the credit.”

He just smiles.

“And you laugh all the way to the bank.”

He tenses like a gambler holding his cards to his chest. “Let’s just leave it that the vacuum gets filled.”

“So what’s your take on the mayor and governor getting awards at the event?”

He grins. “That’s how the Chicago Innovation Awards loses its perfect record. But you do not want to get me started on politics!”

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Copyright © 2012 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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