Tag Archives: Startup

INQUIRY AND INNOVATION

by John Jonelis

What happens when you invite the community into your high school and send your high school students into the community?

Amazing things! You create a THIRD SPACE in people’s lives.

[Britta McKenna is the Chief Innovation Officer at IMSA.]

Britta – “You have your home and you have your work and you have third spaces in your life where you feel comfortable and find a community. Robert Putnam believed in third spaces. He has a book called Bowling Alone 1. It used to be that bowling leagues were that third space. People at the bar. Cheers. We want IN2 to be that third space in people’s lives.”

“Look at the ceiling. Look at the lights. Do you see the pattern?

IN2 – Symbolism in Architecture

It’s that intersection of outside and inside. Community coming together to make this a real learning laboratory experience. We want to come in and work on real-world problems and opportunities.

“People can bring problems and opportunities to us and say, let’s figure out how we can work together. Like the State of Illinois with the hackathon we just did—finding solutions to childhood lead poisoning.

“Think about all the things kids are doing that are not helping. Here’s a great place. I hope IN2 can be a third space in people’s lives.”

[The grandness of the idea and the imaginative scope hit home, but ask Britta how IN2 will implement it.]

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Innovation

“We can’t stand still. Education—if it’s doing the same thing over and over and over—is not moving ahead—it’s falling behind.

“IN2 is the intersection of what we do at IMSA and the community. We’re partnering with Invest Aurora, the Woman’s Business Development Center, the Fox Valley Entrepreneurship Center—they are all resources to help what we’re doing here grow and scale.

Business Mentor

[Britta anticipates my next question and gets even more specific.]

“We’ve opened up a cohort of LINKubators 2 These are actual startup companies.  We have three working in the space as a pilot.  Our students intern with them and our network can help them grow.  Our MENTORS, our IDEA BARISTAS, our SUBJECT MATTER EXPERTS can all help them grow. 

“Next fall we hope to have ten LINKubator startups working in the IN2 space during the day when the kids are in class. We’re trying to see what we’re good at and get a rhythm to the space.

“So whether it’s somebody in the community with an idea or a problem—whether it’s students that want to accomplish something new—whether it’s mentors from the community coming here to help the next generation of learners—whether it’s subject matter experts helping a non-profit grow—we want IN2 to inspire students and community to go on and be entrepreneurs and develop their ideas.

“Our goal at IN2 is to blend in with IMSA and be that resource for students and community beyond the classroom. That’s what this is all about.”

Student Entrepreneur

Inquiry

“I think one of our signature programs is our STUDENT INQUIRY AND RESEARCH program or SIR. That really distinguishes us because we don’t have class on ‘I-DAYS.’ Those are inquiry days—that happens most every Wednesday. Traditional class shuts down. We have class Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.

“‘I-DAYS are meant for independent exploration—inquiry or research. On ‘I-DAYS, student go down to 1871 and other locations to intern for startups. Now, with the new IN2 facility, our students can work with entrepreneurs right here as well. Either way, through the SIR program, they’re doing research with mentors and business teams.”

Sue Fricano & Tami Armstrong

[I’m joined by Sue Fricano—IN2 site coordinator, Tami Armstrong—Director of Public Affairs]

Sue – “MONDAY NIGHT LIVE is an event put on by Dr. Carl Heine each week. He brings in speakers and he develops programs for entrepreneurs.

Carl Heine

“He puts external students on his TALENT board—entrepreneurial students coming in to learn the different stages of building a business and different skills used in building businesses.”

Tami – “A lot of the students here are part of that as well as members of the community that come to learn more about entrepreneurship.”

Sue – “At IN2 we are trying to give them the expertise to go out and make the initial steps of developing.”

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[Betty Hart is the Innovation Center Program Manager.]

Betty – “We have girls in the STEM program, which is a mentoring peer-to-peer program for girls in 6th to 12th grade.  We have events such as IMSA DAY OF CYBER, which focuses on encouraging students to seek cyber security careers.” 

Betty Hart

Betty – “We have TEAM STEM CAFE, which is a network of local high school students who host quarterly events focused on STEM related topics. And we have THINK CAFE, which is a community initiative that invites organizations to come in and pitch a problem or an idea.”

Britta – “Our charges really are this: The first is to be a STEM teaching/learning laboratory for our best and brightest students across the state. Then we have the FUSION programs.3 These are after-school programs at schools, grade 4-8, all around the state. And we also have the charge of educating the educators. We bring the teachers in and give them professional development, which helps them in science and math.”

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Bring Back Socrates

[I pose a thorny question:  Why teach entrepreneurship at such an early age, rather than prepare the students for college or jobs?]

Tami – “What we’re doing is launching the students so when they leave here, they’re prepared. There’s a big demand for ideas and innovation. Innovation is valuable, and very coveted. We’re supplying that to the workforce.

“We’re also launching research. How can students advance the human condition and solve the world’s grandest challenges?

“That’s what comes from IN2—the ability to make very difficult innovations. When you can harness them, bring them to a place like this, and connect the students with business and industry, dream and idea become reality.”

[Suddenly I get it. I asked the wrong question and now realize the goal is really quite straightforward—to encourage students to think for themselves—to let them discover how to learn. IMSA does it the same way it was done almost 2,500 years ago—self-directed inquiry and innovation—the Socratic Method.]

Student Entrepreneur

Possibilities

Britta – “People think we’re just this gifted school for 650 sophomores, juniors, and seniors from around the state, but we’re not. And people think we’re a private school and we’re not—we’re public. We don’t want to be the best-kept secret in Illinois.”

“And we have a student team called IMSA ELEMENT that teaches the lean startup methodology. Build—measure—learn. Students developed a whole curriculum and teach it to each other. We’re entertaining possibilities.”

  • “We need to be open to ideas, be able to move quickly, and say YES.”
  • “And have FAST FAILS.”
  • “And move toward SUCCESS and ITERATE.”

“We’re not afraid to do that here. In a world where you’re dealing with high-caliber students who don’t fail often, failure is a difficult concept. But once they get the hang of it, they actually become quite good at fast fails.”

Entrepreneur with a solution

The 17%

Britta – “We’re not looking for the vast majority to really understand this space, because we can’t hold everybody. But about 17% in the world are innovators. That’s who we’re looking for—that 17%. Once we get a few of those, they bring their networks. Those are the early adopters, innovators, and they see things much earlier.”

Those are the people IN2 was built to serve.

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This is the final article in this series.

Go to Part 1 – THE NAME IS IN2

Go to Part 2 – POWER PITCH

 

References

  1. BOWLING ALONE – Robert Putnam
  2. IN2 Launches LINKubator for Fox Valley Startups
  3. IMSA FUSION

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IN2 Contact Info

Address – 1500 Sullivan Rd. Aurora, IL 60506

Website – https://www.imsa.edu/

Carl Heine – heine@imsa.edu

Britta McKenna – bmckenna@imsa.edu

Tami Armstrong – tarmstrong@imsa.edu

 

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 © 2017 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
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ENGINEERING YOUR PITCH

jockey-and-horse-t-ms-officeInsights from the Cornerstone Angel Meeting

by Stephanie Wiegel

Angel investment deals aren’t made on the spot as the TV show Shark Tank suggests. Instead, entrepreneurs are excused from the meeting after delivering their pitches. If you’re vying for early investment money, what’s said behind these closed doors can make or break a deal. Continue reading

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DON’T GET DOWN—GET BUSY

Howard Tullman Double Gulp Tby Howard Tullman

If you run a startup you’ll hit a wall or screw up big-time at some point. It goes with the territory. What doesn’t is letting yourself get stopped. Adversity doesn’t need any help. There are things you can do to right the ship—and the first is to right yourself.

The bond between the best entrepreneurs and their businesses is often tight and all-encompassing—so much so that they can make the easy mistake of confusing who they are as people with what they do for a living. They can lose sight of some of the more important things that distinguish earning a living from having a life. And because they typically take the ups-and-downs of business so personally, there’s virtually no separation between work and what little time is left for the rest of life. Family, friends, everything suffers.

If the business takes a hit, which startups do on a regular basis, the tendency is to feel like a personal failure—to feel fundamentally worthless. If that sounds overly dramatic or overwrought, come live in my world for a few weeks and you’ll change your mind in no time. The external stresses of business creation are nothing compared to the mental beatings and recriminations we administer to ourselves. It’s not healthy, it’s not smart, but it’s common to what we’ve chosen.

Frustration from Getty Images

Getty Images

Having said that, I want to be clear that I believe that there’s no such thing as “just business.” It’s essential to take your business personally if you want any chance of real success—if you want to build something that matters and makes a difference. But, at the same time, I don’t think that you can let your identity and your sense of self-worth be entirely subsumed by the day-to-day crises and fire drills and the many setbacks that we all deal with. The ups and the occasional wins are nice; but it’s the downs and learning how to deal with them that makes all the difference in the long run.

We all get depressed from time to time because—and I hope this doesn’t come as a complete surprise to anyone—life isn’t fair. Even the nicest people get knocked on the head from time to time. The very best of intentions are scant protection from the vagaries of the startup world. And especially in the startup world, few things work out the way you planned. Sadly, and far too often, just being in the right time and place, or catching some other lucky break beats out a lot of better ideas, a bunch of long hours, hard work, and even much better technology and solutions. Bill Gates is a spectacular example. That’s just how it goes. But where things go after something good happens is up to you. How do you handle the bruises and blisters that are all an essential part of growing any business?

I’ve watched hundreds of entrepreneurs handle every kind of adversity, and lived through more near-death experiences myself than I care to recall, and I’ve concluded that there’s a right way to proceed and a lot of ways that are wastes of time, leading nowhere. Some of these approaches are just common sense ideas, but it’s easy to look past them when you’re feeling down and troubled. So here goes.

 

What Won’t Work

Playing the Blame Game

There’s always someone or something to blame. Usually it’s the people not in the room or circumstances you can’t do anything about. It doesn’t help to whine. Worse, by putting your fate in the hands of circumstances or third parties, you give up your own power to change things. Sitting back and feeling sorry for yourself isn’t ever a viable solution.

 

Settling for a Situation that Sucks

Nothing I know gets better by itself. If you want a better outcome or result, you have to take control of the situation and make things better. Standing still means you’re sliding back while others are racing ahead. As often as not, when you settle for less than your best, you end up with even less than you settled for.

 

Trying to Ignore the Problem

If you don’t want to believe or accept something, no amount of evidence will change your mind. But, if you ignore a serious problem long enough, you’ll eventually have a crisis on your hands and then you’ll have no choice but to take action. It makes much more sense to get started on a solution before things get out of control. Ignoring the unhappy facts doesn’t make them go away; they just fester.

 

Trying to Be Superman

You can’t solve everything by yourself regardless of how many all-nighters you pull. Important problems are complex and require a competent team to address and resolve. A team distributes the burdens, stresses, and makes for a much better result.

 

Trying to Distract Yourself

You may think that you can re-direct your focus on trivial things—see a show, a movie, take a run or workout, have a few drinks—and magically you’ll stop worrying about the elephant in the room. But that’s not the way an entrepreneurial brain works. It never shuts down completely. Convincing yourself that you don’t care isn’t as easy as you might imagine, regardless of what a great sales person you are. And even if you momentarily get your head out of the game, your stomach will still keep score.

 

What Will Work

Do Something Now to Fix the Problem

Nothing beats now. You may not get it totally right but you won’t get anywhere if you don’t get started. Better to do something constructive and move the ball forward than to sit in a pile of pity. People who work hard and still can’t find the right answers don’t come to a screeching halt. They bend the world to their needs and desires. They create their own solutions. They make conditions and circumstances that succeed.

 

Raise Your Sights and Expectations for Next Time

At 1871, one of our favorite mottos is: “It’s Only a NO for NOW.” The most critical skill of any successful entrepreneur is perseverance. Get knocked down. Get back up. Try again. While you’re at it, aim a little higher the next time because selling yourself short is stupid. Ignore all the people who tell you why things can’t be done.

 

Focus on What is Working and Build from There

I call this “eating the elephant one bite at a time.” Not every problem can be solved all at once. But you can build off the foundation formed by the accomplishments and successes that you’ve had to date and then break the remaining barriers down into manageable, bite-sized challenges. Take tasks on one at a time. A lot of small steps, pushes, and the occasional shove—as well as a little bit of patience—will get you there.

 

Acknowledge that Things Could Be a Lot Worse

People who aren’t living this life think that all entrepreneurs are cock-eyed optimists who view everything through rose-colored glasses and believe that trees grow to the sky. But we know better. Serial entrepreneurs will tell you that it’s never as bad or as good as it looks. Every day you must put on a brave and excited face for the world and your team. Deep down inside, it may pay to be a little paranoid, but it’s essential, in the privacy of your own mind, to be proud—proud of how far you’ve come when so many others never could, proud of what you’ve built so far and all the people you’ve benefited along the way. There are much worse ways you could spend your time and your life. Admit it and get on with it.

 

Remember Why You’re Doing This in the First Place

We didn’t come this far to quit or to only come this far. We didn’t come to play; we came to win. And we wouldn’t be doing this at all if it wasn’t important and likely to make a difference to a lot of people in addition to ourselves. That’s why we come to work; put our noses to the grindstone; and try to get better every single day. If it was easy, anyone could do it. It’s not.

 

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.

 

Photo credits: Howard Tullman, Getty Images

This article is abridged from the version appearing in INC.

 

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 © 2016 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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TOO MANY FOUNDERS

Seth Temko

A new company is always short on cash and long on tasks. Right from the start an excited pot of people gather together and someone puts a stake in the ground “We’re doing this”. From that point forward a business entity is formed and shares are issued. From this, founders are born.

1989400_orig2

I’ve come across a number of startups with 3, 4, 5 and even 7 founders involved in various startups over the past year. It’s always debatable about the right number of founders but there definitely can be too many. Too many founders significantly affects the success of the company, the happiness of the founders and the financial results the founders may achieve personally.

​How so? Read on!

Many founders focus on their percentage ownership in the startup. They tend not to talk about shares but percentage ownership. I own 100%, I own 50%, etc. Usually the more founders the less percentage of ownership each founder will have right at the start. This may seem obvious but think about this in the context of dilution over time.

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Personal Dilution

Dilution Over Time – Assuming you’ll be seeking financial backing and assuming you’ll be giving up equity for money, your share of the company will be reduced with every investment of cash. This effect is cumulative in your reduction of company total ownership unless you intend to maintain personal anti-dilution rights. This means you get to put in your own money along side new investors to maintain your percentage of ownership. Most founders aren’t in a personal financial position to do this. Most founders are “tapped” financially by getting the company off the ground and working for little or no money in the beginning. Even if you can afford to put in money it means your co-founders will get even more diluted and chances are they will not be happy with you.

The percentage you start with is not going to be the percentage you end with. Let’s look at some scenarios so we can get a definitive feel for this.

test tubes

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Dilution Examples

Let’s say you start a company on your own. You own 100% of the shares.

Investment 1- Let’s say $1 million will be invested for 30% of your company. You will not be handing over 30% of your shares, instead the company will issue 30% additional shares and they will be assigned to the new investor. So your absolute number of share remains the same but you now own 70% of the total shares after the investment.

Result – You own 70% of shares. Investment 1 owns 30% of shares.

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Investment 2 – Now that you’ve successfully grown your business with the first investment you now raise a second round of investment. You get $2 million and give up 20% of the company for the money. This is real progress from your first investment. You’ve double your money raise and give up 33% fewer shares for the investment.

Result A – You own 56% of shares. Investment 1 owns 24% of shares. Investment 2 owns 20% of shares. If you’re scratching your head wondering why investment one is lower it’s because we’re assuming they don’t have anti-dilution rights. This means they lose the same percentage of share you do. They didn’t put any new money in with the second round of investment so they diluted like you at 20%. The net effect is it saved you a percentage of the company. Also, you retain voting control. At 56% of the company you still have the majority of voting stock. This means you control the company.

Result B – Now let’s look at the second investment assuming the first investment has anti-dilution rights. This means they get to put in money alongside with the second investor and maintain their percentage of the company. THIS IS VERY COMMON. Most sophisticated investors will force you to accept anti-dilution rights as a term of their investment

You own 44% of shares. Investment 1 owns 30% of shares. Investment 2 owns 20% of shares. Guess what? You just lost voting control of your company.

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So what happened here? Well, in this case investment #1 said “hey I want to maintain my 30% ownership” so they put in additional investment along with investment 2. So you didn’t bring in $2 million, you brought $2.6 million. The extra $600,000 was invested by investment 1 to not get diluted in the round. So you, the founder, took the additional dilution.

If you wanted to maintain voting control then you’d needed to have taken in less money from investment 2, say $1.5 million, and restrict them to getting 16% or less of the company’s total shares. Then the match from investment 1 would have kept you keeping over 50% of the stock. BUT, some investors won’t accept less than the percentage they want. It’s just not a “meaningful enough” ownership stake. If investment 2 insists on 20% you have a tough choice. Maybe you can convince investment 1 to not maintain anti-dilution rights but it’s highly unlikely.

small business

Now Bring On the Extra Founders

We saw in the simple example above the dilution of a single owner. Let’s now assume there are five founders and each has 20% equal ownership of the stock to start with.

We’re going to stay focused on you for this set of examples but keep in mind that all the founders are in the exact same boat. I’m assuming here that all five founders are fully vested in their 20% stakes to begin with and none of them have anti-dilution rights or the personal finances to invest additional money with the subsequent investors.

It requires the pool of three of the five founders to have voting majority of the company. 20% times 3 founders = 60% of the shares and therefore voting control.

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Investment 1 – $1 million comes in for 30% of the shares, anti-dilution rights are in place.

Result – You now own 14% of shares. The other four founders own 14% of shares each. Investment 1 owns 30% of shares. It requires four of five founders to pool enough shares for voting majority with the company.

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Investment 2 – $2 million is invested by a new investor for 20% of shares.

Result – You own 7.9% of shares. The other four founders own 7.9% of shares. Investment 1 owns 30% (they invested an additional $600,000 to not be diluted). Investment 2 own 20%. You took in a total of $2.6 million total. The founders now have lost voting control of the company.

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At this point, subsequent rounds of investment dilute you personally even more. If your company hits a problem and experiences a reversal of fortunes you’re pretty much obliterated in your ownership percentage.

Theoretically, on the total value of your shares the 200,000 shares you own keep going up in value. This is a good thing and any general shareholders should be happy. As a founder you may have a very different outlook on things. After all, it’s your baby.

 

Founders Not Pulling Their Weight or Leaving

The romantic notions of a startup and the realities are very different things. If the founders involved have started other companies, their eyes are wide open and everyone should have a good idea of the general effort, stress and dynamic pace they’ll encounter. MOST HAVE NOT.

Those who have not started a business with no other means of financial income are in for lots of surprises. This is not for the faint of heart. Some will abandon the effort. Some will not be adequate for the task. Some will just be impediments to success and must be removed.

What happens to the share ownership of those that prove not valuable and not worthy? Nothing, unless you plan for it. Once stock is issued, they own it. Period. Founders shares are usually very cheap. They may be a penny a share of less. So even if a million shares are issued to the founders only $10,000 is paid by the founders to own the shares. That usually is far short of the capital that’s going to be required to get the business off the ground.

The value to the company is going to be the fruits of their labors. That can be organizing and fundraising, creating operational plans, writing code, leveraging business networking, etc. The impact should be ongoing NOT just one-time. A startup is a marathon, not a sprint. You shouldn’t have someone permanently and significantly benefiting from company ownership for running a short fast “dash” of effort.

Peter Thiel of Paypal founder fame likes to see two founders in a company. No more and no less. In his personal funding he finds that to be the magic number for execution and effectiveness.

​In the groups of four to seven founders (yes, I’ve come across a startup with seven members) it tends to be a democracy, kind of like a band. One or two founders will have the strongest voice and front facing effort but decisions tend to be “group think”.

When one of the principle advantages startups have is being nimble, group think slows things done. Also, quite frankly, it’s a pain in the ass to work with a large group of founders as a coach, adviser, partner or investor. Hassle is friction and no one likes to get burned.

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Resentment Waits for Low Value Producers

Nothing breeds more contention with founders than the guy who “doesn’t pull his own weight”. When a couple of founders are putting in major time and taking on major stress while another founder just isn’t executing with the same passion, commitment and investment – resentment builds.

True Story – A dynamic duo had launched a hosted Ecommerce platform in the late 90’s called Apollo Solutions. These young guys mortgaged their condos and went full steam ahead. The pair felt they needed an MBA involved so they brought in a third partner to write a detailed business plan to present to investors and bring in money. They felt his plan was terrible and he just didn’t fit into the company. They fired him and moved on. They said he didn’t do anything meaningful so they denied his stock grant. Within 12 months along came CNet to buy them out. Guess who came out of the woodwork, yep, MBA guy. He sued which put the sale on hold. This leveraged the founders to pay out a large settlement just so they could sell the business.

Short Timers – What happens when initial founders want out? They leave and they take their shares with them. The guys left are doing a ton of work and usually for reduced or no pay. Most founder shares are very, very cheap so there was no real cash contribution. What happens? They get to benefit from the remaining founders’ efforts.

Some Remedies to Prevent Short Timers from Benefiting – First off, nothing says founder shares need to be fully purchased and handed out on day one. Instead you can carve out all or a large portion of shares and keep them in the “treasury” of the company.

Instead of handing out a big wad of shares on day one, you can divvy up stock options that vest over time. This would be similar to what you’d do with employees. I recommend three or four years to fully vest with a portion vesting immediately and upfront. So for example, if a founder is going to get 200,000 shares in total over three years then have 50,000 share vest immediately and 50,000 shares per year for the next three years. To keep people more on the hook you can have the shares vest equally every month at 1/36th of 150,000.

You’ll have to work out some of the “what ifs”, i.e. what if the company is bought (vest immediately), etc. What this does is allow people who want to leave, to leave, but it keeps a large pool of shares held by the company to give to employees, investors or new founders without having a big dilution effect on everyone overall.

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Phantom Shares and Warrants

For minor partners or those recruited late to the game, sometimes phantom shares are useful although most investors won’t like them. This is a contractual promise to issue shares to people if they meet contract goals and objectives and often there are restrictions. So these persons often get upside financial gain if the company sells for example (phantom shares turn into real shares and are automatically converted into the sale). Phantom shares have no voting rights and no immediate dilution impact. Warrants are similar. They give someone the option but not the obligation to buy shares of the company stock at a set price. Often there is an expiration on this right. They aren’t good forever.

Get it right from the beginning. Don’t have too many founders and put a vesting plan into place for all the founders to start. This will get commitment and best efforts and still allow people to leave on agreed terms if something doesn’t work out. You’ll all feel better about your role as a founder and have better odds of personal success.

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Copyright © 2015 Seth Temko. All rights reserved.

Images from Seth Temko, MS Office.

This article previously appeared in ATTACK PLAN – www.attackplan.com

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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 © 2016 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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Filed under angel, angel capital, angel investor, dilution, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, investor, vc, venture capital

THE HIDDEN DANGER IN YOUR DATA

Howard Tullman B&Wby Howard Tullman

From the Journal of the Heartland Angels

Today, entrepreneurs have tools and technologies to collect, monitor, and document more data than ever before. You’re likely swimming in data, since customers leave a trail of it everywhere to be captured and analyzed in real time. As I’ve often said, in business, what gets measured (and acknowledged and rewarded) is what gets done. I haven’t changed my belief about that, but I have come to see that we are putting too much emphasis strictly on the numbers. Numbers don’t lie, but they never tell the whole story. They can only take you so far before they top out and you need something qualitative and experiential to get to the right conclusions.

Pie Chart Hesitation

Peter Drucker’s dictum “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” has created a whole generation of leaders so focused on perfecting their company’s processes that they lose sight of the company’s purpose. I hear managers all the time talking about the need to get more work out of their people when they should be trying to get the best work out of them. Optimizing (not maximizing) the team’s output is what matters most to the ultimate success of a business. Working smarter and more effectively—not necessarily longer or harder—is how you ultimately move ahead of the competition.

You need to be exceedingly careful these days that you don’t let the ease of access and the ubiquity of massive amounts of quantitative performance data cause you to over-emphasize the math and measurements—and thereby lose sight of the far more important qualitative attributes of what’s going on. Not everything is easy to measure or quantify, but that doesn’t make these things less important; it just makes your job as manager tougher. But when you get so wrapped up in the measurement process that it becomes the goal itself, it loses its effectiveness. It’s easy to confuse movement with progress, but not all motion is forward. And lots of activities that run up the numbers aren’t remotely productive. Measuring is easy; measuring better is tough.

When you let the numbers drive the train, you give up two important advantages that are critical to your success. First, the goal isn’t to be the thermometer; it’s to be the thermostat. It’s not about measuring the heat; it’s about generating and controlling the heat. You don’t want the analytics to lead you; they’re a useful benchmark and a guide for course corrections, but it’s your job to set the direction and move the business forward. Second, when you get so focused on specific and concrete financial results (sales targets, growth rates, etc.) and you direct all your team’s energies toward getting as close to achieving those numbers as possible, you actually limit your ultimate upside because you lose the ability to think and see beyond those immediate goals. When a game-changing opportunity arises or a quantum shift occurs in your sales prospects, your team will likely be so heads-down chasing those numbers that someone else will come along and grab the new brass ring.

Black Hole of Data

Here are three principles that have helped me resist the temptation to get too caught up in the numbers—and focus on what truly matters at my company:

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Elaboration is a form of pollution

Tell your team to keep it simple. No one gets paid by the page, and shorter is almost always better. I’ve found that when people expand and extend their plans, proposals, and presentations, there’s a high degree of likelihood that they’re concerned about the value of their pitch, so they try to bury it in a boatload of facts, figures, charts, citations, and everything else that just hides the hard truth. It’s better for everyone when your people put things right out there—front and center—and take their medicine if that’s what’s called for. If you torture the numbers long enough, they’ll say whatever you like, but that’s not any way to get to the truth or the right result.

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Not everything is worth doing well

Tell your team that everyone’s always on the clock. There’s an opportunity cost associated with everything you do, so choosing what not to do (and how extensively to do the things you need to do) is critical in any startup which has scarce resources and time. Some things just don’t warrant the full-court press, and it’s important to make sure that everyone knows that that’s okay with you. Other things shouldn’t be done at all, and you should never try to do things cheaply that just aren’t worth doing. It’s never easy to turn people down or say, “No,” to marginal choices, but it’s part of the job.

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No one’s ever measured how much the heart can hold

Ultimately, the value of the critical connections your people make every day with your clients and customers can only be roughly approximated by even the best math. But it’s those daily personal and emotional interactions with your empowered employees that build crucial engagement as well as the lifetime value of those buyers for your business. You need to give your team permission to do what’s best for the customer in the moment that the opportunity arises. If they need to consult a rule book or have a calculator handy to do the math, they’ll lose the value of the moment every time. The best businesses don’t worry about the number or sheer volume of moments–they work to make each moment matter.

Ω

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Howard Tullman is a philosopher, investor, and Chicago entrepreneur.   For more from Howard, go to

http://tullman.blogspot.com

www.1871.com/

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

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This article appeared in the following publicatons:

News From Heartland  http://news.HeartlandAngels.com

INC Magazine  http://www.inc.com/

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Graphics: Getty Images, MS Office, H 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. It’s not our fault if you lose money.

.Copyright © 2015 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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ARISE 2.0

DSC_5954by Loop Lonagan

Whadaya think happens when 15,000 people get behind the entrepreneurs in their own neighborhood?  Good things—that’s what happens!  Energy.  Enthusiasm.  Stuff gets done!  Lemme tell you about it:

This is Loop Lonagan reporting and tonight I’m watchin’ a guy pitch his new venture like a Gospel Preacher workin’ up a frenzy on da pulpit!  I hear his bold words.  This guy believes in hisself—and why not—he’s growing a thriving business!  This is the Arise 2.0 accelerator and it’ll change our city fer the good.

(Hey, this thing gets my Irish up.  So ‘scuse me if I don’t sound smooth.)

Arise 2.0 gives Chicago a whole new slant on business.  They ain’t here to make a few people rich.  No, they build up local business so they can build up da local community.  Business is just a means to an end.  The goal is healthy neighborhoods, jobs, prosperity all around.  That’s the real end game here

DSC_6011

Arise already put together all the stuff of success plus a big kicker:  They got Investment—half a million in seed money.  They got the University o’ Chicago.  They got Tony Wilkins from Hyde Park Angels.  They got 1871—a great space to birth an accelerator.  They got a Ten-Year Action Plan that’ll pump out four new companies every year.  Yeah, they got all o’ that.  The kicker is da power of 15,000 people from the Salem Baptist Church because Rev. James T. Meeks figured out this great way to help his community.

You wanna bet against them odds?  I’m here to take yer money if yer patsy enough to try.  We’re talkin’ Free Enterprise nurtured by Da Church.  There’s a whole lotta motivation and commitment here.  This model could spread across the map!

 

Mentorship

Tony Wilkins runs the Arise 2.0 Accelerator.  I know Tony.  He’s smart.  I figure him for the brains o’ the operation.  Tonight he gives us a story about how to drive success.  Lemme say this slow so I get it right.  Here it is in his own words:     

DSC_5913I’m on my 537th business flight.  Southwest Airlines.  Isle seat.  A gentleman comes in last and squeezes into window seat beside me.  He looks jittery and nervous.  I ask him, “Are you okay?”

“Sorry sir.  This is my first time on a plane, I’m a little nervous.”

“It’s okay,” I say.  “It’s fine, don’t worry about it.”

The plane goes up.  But half way through the flight, he’s having problems.  He’s sweating.  He’s fidgeting.  I say, “Hey, the hard part’s over.  We’re in good shape.  The pilot wants to land just as much as we do.” 

“I understand, but I had something to eat last night and I have to apologize to you in advance, ‘cause this is not gonna work out well.”

DSC_5914So in my best mentorship mode I say, “You know…there’s a bathroom on the plane.” 

“PRAISE THE LORD!  WHICH WAY IS IT?”

 So mentorship worked out for him.  And it worked out for me.

If people knew better, they’d do better—like my travel companion on Southwest.  Everybody’s had somebody in their life who’s made a comment, performed an action, did something that made them say, “I can do that!”  So just presenting them with that information is often the most powerful thing in the world.

And they’ll become mentors to successive companies.

DSC_5915Accelerators across the country do the exact same thing.  We bring in mentors who, because they once had mentors, come and say, “I’ll spend an hour and a half.  I’ll spend an evening.  I’ll sit and talk to these companies.”  And many stick with them. It gives folks a higher perspective. 

Tony also passes on the knowledge to run a business:  How to hire and fire.  Marketing.  Funding.  Legal.  Operations.  Pitch practice.   “But,” he says, “the most important thing is mentors because that means contacts and business relationships and exposure to risk capital so these businesses can expand, become sustainable and scale.  If you remove barriers to mentorship and capital, good things happen.  We don’t know exactly what’s gonna happen—we’re just gonna have good things happen.” .

 

Church Business

I figure all o’ youse is wondering about the same thing.  The Church and business working together?  DSC_6147“Absolutely!” says Jamell Meeks, the pastor’s wife who oversees this bold initiative.  “The Bible says where your treasure is your heart will be.   So you can know a person’s heart by where they put their treasure.”  I gotta read that book fer myself.  Father Lonagan always said to leave it to da professionals, but I dunno.  Maybe I sound ignorant once in a while.  But I hate to actually be ignorant.

DSC_6133David Storch from AAR CORP is backing Arise with piles o’ da green stuff.  “It’s the entrepreneurs that make things happen,” he says. “They’re the lifeblood of the community.  Politicians talk about buzzwords like education.  But it’s really hard to talk about that when you don’t have food on the table or a roof over your head. But if you touch more people, you will build more successful businesses, which will create jobs, stimulate the economy, allow for education, which creates equality, creates opportunity, which we desperately need as a city, as a nation.

Steve Rogers from da Harvard School o’ Business once said, “The transformation of a community really begins with people within the community becoming great entrepreneurs.”

After that great quote, Pastor Miles Dennis of Second Baptist says, DSC_5995“We’ve almost forgotten—forgotten that entrepreneurship is the great transforming agent to turn around our communities.  They will change lives and yes, they will employ many people.  They will help others to become entrepreneurs.  The entrepreneurial spirit is alive!” .

 

Da Companies

Da competition fer each spot is super fierce.  A thousand companies wanted in but they whittled it down to these four.  These is Chicago-style companies—small outfits with allota upside and da gumption to grow.  Lemme tell you a little about ‘em:

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DSC_5939THE FROCK SHOP—Chicago’s Designer Rental Service

Jennifer Burrell Jen@frockshopchicago.com

Visit their website [click here]

How come us guys can rent tuxedos but da women gotta buy them fancy dresses?  And after a gal spreads her photo all over Facebook, she won’t wear that dress again.  But there’s something about da confidence beautiful designer dresses give women. Gals used to buy an outfit, hide da tag then return it after an event.  But nowadays the department stores is wise.  So Frock Shop’s got the rental business figured out and they’re thriving.  They’re gonna use online sales to scale fast.  Jennifer says, “Visit the Frock Shop where you can borrow the dress and keep the memory.” .

 

DSC_5983RS INDEPENDENT HOME HEALTH CARE

Ted & Reena Williams rena.williams@rsihhc.com

Visit their website [click here]

89% of seniors prefer to stay home and age gracefully.  30% need some kinda help.  This company goes into the home, cooks meals, gives meds, does laundry and housekeeping, takes ‘em to the doctor, and acts as companions—a whole lot more service than the usual rent-a-nurse.  And that means you can spend quality time with yer parents during those last years. They already got a contract with the veteran’s administration and they partnered with the Cancer Foundation.  This one’s creating jobs. .

 

DSC_6008

MA’S BEST

Brian Smith  brianearl2001@yahoo.com

This is a traditional baking operation, but when this guy describes eating his dinner rolls, it makes yer mouth water.  They already sell at 18 Chicago outlets.  Competitive advantages:  Better product.  No middleman.  Direct from oven to the store. Their direct competitors each do $137M a year and Ma’s Best outsells them 2:1 wherever they get shelf space.  Industry as a whole is $115B.  As Brian puts it, “That’s a lot of bread.” .

 

 

DSC_6084bSWISH DREAMS

Kenya Mercer  kdrew@swishdreams.org

Visit their website [click here]

Kids do lousy in school ‘cause they’re bored.  Kenya says, “Let’s give our kids the core academic values and let them have fun doing what they love—all at the same time.”  So they teach literacy, leadership, and physical fitness as one program.  And they get double-digit gains in literacy, fitness, and leadership on da assessment tests.  This one plans to expand nationwide. .

 

 

Salem Baptist Church LogoSALEM BAPTIST CHURCH

Pastor James T Meeks  info@sbcoc.org

……………………………………………..Visit their website [click here]

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DSC_5921ARISE 2.0

Tony Wilkins  tonywilkins76@gmail.com

Visit their website [click here]

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The accelerator strategy has three distinct components:

  • Remove barriers to mentorship.
  • Give broader perspective, contacts, and knowledge.
  • Structure risk capital to expand.

Check ‘em out.  Maybe be a mentor.  Maybe an investor.  But don’t sit on yer hands—da future’ll pass you by. .

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Loop Lonagan’s articles are verbatim as told to John Jonelis

Photography by John Jonelis

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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MY KRAKEN ENCOUNTER

T KrakenJohn Jonelis

I am sitting with the audience at the Funding Feeding Frenzy in Chicago—a big event for startup companies like mine that need investors to make things happen. I wipe sweaty palms against my suit pants—my turn to present—my turn to make a fool of myself is coming up fast.

I’ve watched two speakers go down in flames. One drew a unanimous KEEP FISHING and the other got hammered with the dreaded GO FUND YOURSELF. I’m not kidding. The judges hold up cards like the Olympics before the digital age. Only 20% of the companies here today will get a fully fundable rating and move on to due diligence with a potential investor.

The panel seems stacked with the most acerbic characters—jaded venture capitalists all, and so far they have not been kind. The last guy came off like Thurber’s Walter Mitty. Will they cut me up with unexpected questions like they did to him? What foul humor will they display when my turn finally rolls around? I remind myself they’re professionals giving their best but I picture those same judges checking their watches while my hopes, my dreams, my life savings, and four years of work sink to the bottom like a ship at sea.

krakenThis same process is happening simultaneously on three stages—the Guppy Bowl, the Piranha Pond and the top level—the Kraken Cave. I find myself here purely based on the amount of money I need to raise, not on my business acumen. Not on my good looks—that’s for sure. There’s a lot of open space in this arena. A lot of people milling around between stages making noise—probably making deals. I’m purposely sitting apart from my team, trying to calm my nerves. There’s nothing more my team can do. It’s up to me now.

My consultant—I call him The Coach, just for fun—helped me build a plan and we’ve started to execute it. The reason we’re here today is to raise extra capital to accelerate the implementation of the plan. I see a window of opportunity and I know it won’t stay open forever. I think back on all the work I put into it. Numbers I thought I’d never come up with. Every question answered. So now I’m ready, right? Maybe over-prepared? Yeah, I tell myself, but right now I need to get my mind off that well-rehearsed pitch and focus outside myself or I’ll explode. I remind myself what the coach said: “Funding is just a milestone, not sink or swim. We have a plan for either situation. Don’t worry about the judges—they’ll treat you fair.” I try to keep that in front of my mind as I watch the third presentation along with the audience.

The guy up front drones on in a monotone. He’s reading his own slides, his back to me. Even I feel insulted by that—why doesn’t he just mail them in? The audience is getting noisy and it’s hard to hear. Hope they don’t do that to me. What is it that he says his business does? I don’t seem to catch it—am I just stupid or what? How does he deploy his product? How does he make money for the investor? He’s spending all his time harping on why the whole world needs him in some desperate way but after all that I still don’t get it and by this time I don’t care.

I think he has it backwards. It’s as if without dollars he’s got no plan. I feel a real strong sense of—what is it? Arrogance. Yeah, arrogance. Will this guy listen to advice? Can he build a winning team? Will he let go of the company at the right time? I don’t think so. The panel seems restless. Now he’s running out of time and flashing through the numbers. PowerPoint slides. Rows and columns. Lots of them. No time to read it all.

Time’s up. The panel asks their questions. The old guy: “How can you say you project 160% ROI? You’d have to be paid for your raw materials.” The speaker confers with a partner. “We’ll have to check our numbers. For now let’s say 80%.” Is this guy serious? What kind of response is that?

The next panelist: “Can you go back to sales?” The projectionist pans through a bunch of slides and finally finds the one. “How do you quantify that volume projection for year two? It seems optimistic.”

More questions. They’re making hamburger out of him. Maybe that’s how they get their jollies—no, that thought is unworthy of me. I stop listening and practice deep breathing. When the process is through, one-by-one each judge holds up a GO FUND YOURSELF card, each with a sharp criticism. Wow, this guy just got tanked. What will they do to me?

I’m up. Please don’t let me be another Mitty.

First my product. I open with a story: “You’re a kid about to watch your favorite TV show when Mom asks if you finished your homework.” Can they hear the tremor in my voice? I see them all nodding so I signal for the first slide and inwardly cringe. It’s a lined page of paper covered with arithmetic problems in pencil—way too many to read. I made it myself to drive home a point but it’s a calculated risk. I notice the audience leaning forward in their seats, not saying a word. I force myself to face the judges. They’re staring at that slide, mouths open. They get it—they really get it. Originally I wanted to talk about technical details but The Coach convinced me to go for an emotional connection and say it from my heart so I came up with this bare-bones visual. I tell another story. I describe my product the way I was taught—so everybody understands. I check my watch—5 minutes. Half way there. Time to show the numbers.

My slides are simple and direct. No cute cartoons but no rows or columns either. They make their point with just a glance. I force myself to look each panelist in the eye and tell myself to talk more slowly. It’s dead quiet and I sneak a glance at the audience. They seem fully engaged. Hey, I’m no public speaker but it’s coming together now. Maybe the preparation is paying off. I move through the projections—capital plan, operations plan, revenue plan. A credible customer coming on board. Risk assessments, industry trends, competitor analysis, management team, how the investor will make money. All quick. All bold. Time’s up and I just squeeze-in the last slide. Now they can draw my blood.

The panelists look at each other and reverse their previous order. The young guy asks why I need two million dollars. I’m ready for that one. The next wants to know how much field testing went on and I’m ready for that too. They’re starting to focus on the product so I assume they accepted my numbers. Then the last guy clobbers me. He wants a lot more financial detail—as if that were possible in five minutes time.

I freeze. My lips are moving but nothing comes out.

The Coach slips me four copies of supporting details, neatly bound. That’s right—I did the whole thing before I wrote my pitch. That’s why I’m in business. That’s why I’ll still be in business whatever happens here. I walk to the judges table and hand each a document. “I know there isn’t time to go into every detail,” I say, “So here it is in black and white.” The moderator calls time and the judge that asked the question actually thanks me. He’s not trying to shoot me down—he’s genuinely interested. Just a regular guy doing his job—not some kind of monster. I let out a deep sigh of relief, thank the panel and wait for their verdict.

It happens fast. Four cards go up simultaneously—FUNDABLE, FUNDABLE, FUNDABLE, FUNDABLE. Wow! I’m so excited, I can’t concentrate on the comments but the tone is positive and I know The Coach is taking notes.

We break for lunch. Two judges and a woman I never met stick close to me. She says, “You hit it out of the park.” These people are asking when I can meet with them. It reminds me of the story Ron Santo told about the time his insulin got out of whack at a Cubs game. The pitcher released and Santo saw three balls coming at him. But he’d seen that before. He swung at the one in the middle and hit a grand-slam home run.

This is a fictional account drawn from a composite of personal observation, experience and imagination. Any similarity to actual individuals is purely coincidental.

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Go to – THE FRENZY

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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.
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Copyright © 2011, 2012, 2013 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
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Filed under angel, angel capital, angel investor, big money, Chicago Ventures, CORE Insight Story, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurship and Politics, Events, FFF, Funding Feeding Frenzy, Innovation, Innovation and Culture, Internet, Internet Marketing, Invention, investor, Mobile App, Mobile Marketing, new companies