Have you ever seen the show Shark Tank? If you haven’t, it is a reality show that features various inventors and business owners pitching their businesses to a panel of entrepreneurs (sharks). The goal is to strike a deal that exchanges entrepreneurial funding for a percentage of the business.
Shark Tank is immensely popular, and when a plucky business owner strikes a deal with one of the sharks, the music swells and the audience is led to believe that this is the beginning of their success.
It makes me cringe.
I have been working as an entrepreneur in Los Angeles for more than twenty years. I have founded and sold a variety of businesses, and the companies I have developed currently exceeds $1.1 billion in valuations.
I have been fortunate to enjoy tremendous success, and in my experience, it is always better to grow a company without the interference of investors. Investment is not the way to launch your company into the stratosphere, despite what most people believe.
Once you accept funds from an investor, you are beholden to them.
Their ideas, desires, and financial considerations cannot be ignored. The moment you accept external funds, you relinquish control of your business. I firmly believe that start-ups will soon have more options for funding, but at the moment, I encourage entrepreneurs to chase success without the support of investors.
After all, bootstrapping is the American way. We need to stop seeing investment as the finish line and start seeing it as an albatross. If more people found ways to keep their start-ups independent, the creative minds that are responsible for these startups could retain control.
I have been starting and running businesses without investment for years, and I have developed a few key practices that have allowed me to avoid outside funding. Here are the six tips every business owner and entrepreneur needs to do in order to achieve success without external investment.
In recent years, businesses operating in the red have become trendy. Amazon famously spent more than they made for over a decade, but companies like Amazon are the exception, not the rule.
I see a lot of business owners overspend on office spaces, branding, marketing stunts, and corporate perks when they should be focused on creating a product or service that people will pay money for. Investor money tends to lull business owners into a false sense of security.
They think: Well I have all of this money, why not go on a golf weekend with my executives to inspire them? Instead, business owners should be using profits to inspire their executive team, not perks.
I see the generation of revenue as the turning point of a business.
Before your company actually starts making money, it is nothing but a foundation. Too many people get stuck on the foundation phase and forget to focus on the build of the actual house. They spend hundreds of thousands on a gorgeous website, rent a luxurious office space, and launch expensive marketing campaigns before ever selling a thing.
As a business owner, you are responsible for setting a profit-first culture. Get your executive leadership aligned on profit goals early, and reinforce them often. Remember that a company does not need a huge trade show installation, catered lunches, or celebrity endorsements to succeed.
All of those things can certainly help to grow a business, but the first stages of any company should consist of a strict strategy that focuses on bringing in more money than is spent.
If you are worried about this attitude creating dejection among your team, don’t be.
People respond to the culture you set up for them. Instead of handing your team perks before they deliver results, offer them perks as a reward for results. Instead of treating your team to lunch every Friday, only treat them to lunch when revenue goals have been met.
So many business owners have this backward. Prioritizing profits is the only way to achieve financial success without relying on external investors.
When most people think of business owners and entrepreneurs, they think of the fun and flashy side of things. They picture Richard Branson and other rockstar entrepreneurs enjoying the spoils of their good ideas and creative leadership.
The reality is that any given snapshot of a business owner’s life should see them pouring over spreadsheets, tracking every single dollar that their company spends.
This tip goes hand-in-hand with the first one on this list. Without a complete understanding of every expense your business is subject to, prioritizing profits becomes difficult if not impossible. Knowing your budget is absolutely vital. If you do not know how much you are spending, you cannot know how much you are making.
Nothing makes me crazier than when I see a budget presentation from a business owner who cannot speak to their entire spend. I like to ask these people things like: How much money does your company spend on coffee on a monthly basis? And What kind of per diem do you offer to employees who travel? How much travel do your employees do in any given month?
If they cannot tell me off the top of their heads what their current spend is, then I know that they do not fully understand their budget, and therefore cannot give me a confident answer about their profits.
Watch your dollars like a hawk!
If you want to grow a business without the interference of investors, then you need to watch your dollars like a hawk. When there is no stream of incoming investor money, it means that you are fully responsible for making and managing your own funds, and both your customers and your employees are relying on you to do it right.
There is no one to call for a bailout. You are the last line before bankruptcy, and you need to take that responsibility seriously.
Success is a game of inches. It does not happen overnight. You can obsess about your budget and prioritize profits all you want, but it is equally important to understand that money will not magically start rolling in. At the beginning of any business, the wins are small.
The goal should be to develop a steady stream of small wins that swell and grow into a massive over-all win. Every dollar of revenue, every sale, and every customer conversion should be celebrated since it contributes to a larger whole.
I said earlier that business owners set up a culture of profit prioritization. Similarly, they set up a culture of celebrating any and all wins so long as each win is understood to be in service of their profit prioritization.
Think of it this way, success on day one may be one customer conversion. Success on day 365 might be 200 customer conversions, but does that make a single customer conversion any less important? It does not, since your success on day 365 is actually made up of 200 small wins.
Incremental improvement is what success is.
It does not look the way most people expect it to since it happens gradually and over time. This fundamental misunderstanding of business success is why so many contestants on Shark Tank are thrilled when they get their investment. They think that a big sum of money equals success when in reality true and independent success happens gradually.
As a business owner, if you take a moment to celebrate each achievement as it comes in and reward your workforce for contributing to your bottom line, eventually your entire business will be a success.
Hard work is absolutely necessary for starting and running a successful business, but unnecessary work can mean the death of a small business.
When I was 13 years old I found work on a cattle farm at the California/Mexican border. It was grueling, dirty work (often in 115-degree heat), and I went home every day absolutely exhausted. One day, my boss approached me about a special project. He asked who I would like to select to help me. I chose the man who was the hardest working and most eager to help out. He never shied away from a task, and always did what was asked of him without complaint.
Shockingly, my boss told me that he believed the hard-working man to be the wrong choice, and gestured to a man who was literally sleeping in the dirt. He explained to me that lazy men were often creative thinkers, and pointed out several homespun inventions and pulley systems around the farm that made our job easier every day.
Up until that moment, I did not realize that the lazy man was actually responsible for these inventions. In his desire to avoid hard work, he had come up with creative solutions that made life easier for all of us.
Man hours are one of your most expensive resources.
That lesson has stuck with me ever since, and I have applied it to every company have I founded and run. Man hours are one of your most expensive resources. Do not waste time doing things manually when they can be automated. Always ask yourself and your team: Is there an easier way to do this? And always, always, always, choose the easier way. As a result, your team will be more efficient, your expenses will be lower, and everyone will come to work happy.
So many successful people claim that they have a “knack” for recognizing a good business opportunity, but the truth is that intuition is nothing more than years of experience at work.
When you are starting a business, you absolutely should not “go with your gut” because your perspective is limited. With every business I have ever started, I have built an airtight model that was designed to generate revenue, and I have lived and died by that model.
Throughout the course of business, people will come up with fun and flashy ideas. They will case study themselves and think: Well if I was the customer, this is what I would want to see. But the thing is, if an idea doesn’t fit the model, it simply is not worth exploring.
Don’t make guesses about your customers.
It is vital to put time and effort into understanding your consumer, build your strategy around that, and then put every new idea through that lens. Do not try to make guesses about what people may like or respond to. Perform tests, lean on what has already been successful, and never let someone’s intuition be the reason behind a major decision.
Foster Strong Relationships
The people you choose to surround yourself with have a massive influence on your life. Your friends, spouse, and business partners will all impact the way you think, the way you make decisions, and how you feel about yourself. It is supremely important to be discerning about who you let have your ear.
By extension, who you choose to form relationships with is incredibly important to success. Hard work is not enough. Knowing the right person can open doors that you didn’t even know were there.
I have found business partners, incredible team members, and tremendous exit opportunities through networking. I am ruthless about keeping my network tight and about only allowing in people with a positive influence, and in that way, I have fostered some fantastic and incredibly beneficial relationships.
Who do you know? Who knows you?
Hard work is only part of the equation. The other part is who you know and who knows you. If you only ever work with your head down, doors of opportunity will always remain closed.
When in Doubt, Don’t Take the Money
An investor flashing a check is incredibly appealing, but remember that all money comes with strings attached. It is possible to found and manage a successful business without venture capitalist funds. I have done it.
The sharks on Shark Tank are referred to that way for a reason. They are not your friends. They will keep you lean, hungry, and constantly chasing their goals instead of your own.
Before you find yourself on ABC celebrating a new burden disguised as an opportunity — try these six tactics and see if you can’t do it by yourself. You may be surprised by what you can accomplish.
Image Credit: karolina grabows; pexels
Why (and How) Startups Should Implement Performance Management Early – ReadWrite
A company is only as successful as its people. However, early-stage companies often deprioritize proper talent management and place all their focus on the day-to-day operations of the business. These companies eventually find themselves reaching a point where their talent management processes aren’t keeping up with growth.
Hiring and retaining the right talent for your organization is just as crucial as having a great service or product, especially in the early stages of building a company. In this article, we list some important considerations in implementing employee performance management for startups.
Implementing Employee Performance Management Early
1) Define company values
Firstly, startups should define their company values. Values are the guiding principles and fundamental beliefs of an organization, and there are many benefits in defining company values early on. For example, having a core set of company values makes it easier for a company to hire and retain employees with the right aptitudes. Moreover, values help shape company culture, which will influence employee experience, engagement, and productivity.
In addition to defining values, startups need to ensure that their values are communicated frequently. Only 27 percent of U.S. employees strongly agree that they believe in their organization’s values. Instead of simply listing values on your website, startups need to integrate values into their talent management process. They can do this by:
- clearly and frequently communicating the company’s values
- aligning core values with behaviors expected from employees
- continuously monitoring employees’ actions and behaviors
Integrating values into the performance management process enables the employees to live and practice company values on a day-to-day basis. Companies can also make their values known during the hiring process – write the values in the job description and reiterate these values during the recruiting process.
Candidates and current employees should always be aware of the fundamental beliefs of the company. One tip on values – make them as actionable as possible. If one of your values is “honesty,” define specific behaviors that enforce and demonstrate honesty. (There are many resources (Korn Ferry, Iota Consultants, Ignition Group, etc.) that can help you define or adapt company values.)
“If I could go back and do Zappos all over again, I would actually come up with our values from day one.” – Tony Hsieh
2) Align goals
Effective performance management begins with goal alignment. Understanding company objectives is imperative. Half of the workforce doesn’t know what is expected of them. Managers should understand every company’s mission, clearly communicate the objectives, and make them easily accessible and visible for all team members (e.g., team-wide monthly progress report).
In terms of goal alignment, a common question that startups often face is “should I use OKRs?”
OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) are often used to cascade goals from the organizational level to the individual level. This can help create goal alignment as it helps employees understand how they contribute to organizational objectives.
OKRs are powerful; however, if a company’s strategies and objectives are frequently adapting (which is often the case in startups), the structured top-down approach of setting OKRs from the organizational level to department- and then to individual levels can be a hassle.
OKRs would need to be adjusted each time overall organizational strategies are changed. Frankly, this is a significant exercise that is not worth the time.
This doesn’t mean a company shouldn’t align goals. One approach is to set up OKRs at the organizational and department levels on a monthly basis and let managers delegate and own their key results and adapt as often as needed.
“Building a visionary company requires one percent vision and 99 percent alignment.” – Jim Collins and Jerry Porra
3) Develop a culture of feedback
Feedback is crucial in the talent management process. There are many benefits to having regular feedback conversations with employees. Firstly, it motivates employees, thus increasing employee engagement & productivity. Secondly, it generates lots of employee performance data which can enable better training and talent decisions. Finally, it enables better work relationships which can have a significant impact on company culture.
While managers may avoid giving feedback due to fear of hurting an employee’s feelings, more than half of employees want corrective feedback over praise and recognition! Most employees want real-time feedback and recognition for jobs well done.
The younger generations (Millennials and Generation Z) want 50 percent more feedback than other generations. Sharing feedback can be challenging at first. Enforcing the right processes and rituals early on will help ingrain feedback into your company culture. It is worth noting that creating and sustaining a culture of feedback is easiest to implement early on.
When it comes to documenting feedback, pen-and-paper approaches can be sufficient for early-stage companies. If an organization has more than 15 people, it will highly benefit from a performance management system that helps store and analyze feedback, objectives, etc., in one place. Ultimately, this will help simplify the performance management process and enable people analytics to help make better talent and training decisions.
“Make feedback normal. Not a performance review.” – Ed Batista
Implementing a performance management process in the workplace early on will better equip startups in developing and motivating their employees and ultimately improve a startup’s success and growth.
Remember that culture and people cannot be replicated – these two factors often differentiate a startup from its competitors. Your culture and people are worth the investment upfront.
Image Credit: ron lach; pexels; thank you!
Gabb Wireless Raises $14M in Series A Funding Led by Sandlot Partners and Taysom Hill – ReadWrite
Gabb Wireless Raises $14M in Series A Funding Led by Sandlot Partners and Taysom Hill
Gabb Wireless™ set itself apart from the crowd in 2018 when Founder and CEO, Stephen Dalby said, “enough is enough,” and began his journey to provide the only safe phones-for-kids.
LEHI, UTAH – APRIL 20, 2021
Dave Jensen, Managing Partner of Sandlot Partners, announced today that, “Sandlot Partners is investing and partnering with Gabb Wireless not only because of its impressive growth and positioning to lead the $30 billion smartphones-for-kids market — but also because it is providing solutions to address the significant screen time addiction problem in our society.”
Gabb Wireless™ is the first of its kind — a company determined to protect children by providing a safe cellular network for kids and their phones. Gabb created the only safe phones-for-kids serving this underserved demographic. Gabb announced this week that it closed a $14 million round of Series A, led by Sandlot Partners and New Orleans Saints quarterback, Taysom Hill.
“As an investor, Gabb checked all the boxes with its impressive growth, founding team and total addressable market. But it’s so much more than that for me. It’s the emotional side of the investment. I love the idea that we can help build something to help save kids in an area with so much need and demand. My wife Emily and I try to be pretty selective of who we tie our brand to — and when considering the chance to invest and partner with Gabb, it was a no-brainer for us and something that we are extremely excited about,” said Saints quarterback, Taysom Hill.
Stephen Dalby, Gabb Founder & CEO, announced the partnership with Sandlot Partners and Taysom Hill. “We’re excited to announce our partnership with Sandlot Partners and Taysom Hill, who share our passion for driving impact and providing solutions to the growing screen addiction among adolescents.”
“Sandlot has a strong track record of fueling growth and adding value to their portfolio companies. Taysom’s accomplishments as a BYU and Saints quarterback are well documented, and he’s also very impressive off the field and will be a great brand ambassador for the younger demographic Gabb is targeting.”
Kids need to be protected — and Gabb resolved on an action to do just that. Gabb set itself apart from the crowd in 2018 with a steadfast purpose to get safe, effective phones into the hands of parents who want to protect their children from inappropriate content and disturbing practices on social media and games, and other screen-time issues on the internet.
For some time, it’s been known that social media is affecting our youth with cyberbullying and other societal ills. The average child or pre-teen spends about four to seven hours a day of screen time. This disproportionate amount of time in front of a screen has caused depression, anxiety, and even sexual abuse among young adolescents.
Gabb said, “enough is enough,” and began its journey as a mobile virtual network operator, creating the safest technology available for children today. Gabb offers age-appropriate products to give kids the freedom to explore and their parent’s peace of mind. Children can enjoy their first phone experience with the affordable, $100 phone that protects them from internet dangers. Learn more at www.gabbwireless.com.
Gabb has had an unprecedented year of 471% growth and will use the proceeds from the Series A financing to accelerate efforts to provide safe phones for kids and expand its product lines — increasing Gabb’s total addressable market with these safe alternatives for parents of kids ages five to 15.
Sandlot Partners is an independent private investment firm partnering with noteworthy management owners and founders. Sandlot Partners help maximize the growth potential of businesses by providing companies with growth capital, strategic guidance, and partial liquidity. Sandlot leverages its network of founders and operators, identifies growth opportunities, helps structure, and offers additional strong risk-adjusted private investment opportunities. Sandlot investors also include family offices, strategic individuals, and like-minded institutions seeking strong alignment and providing patient capital.
Cooley, LLP, and VLP Law Group provided legal services for this transaction.
How to Build a Startup Team With an Entrepreneurial Mindset – ReadWrite
Much of your startup’s success will depend on the quality and integrity of the team you put together. With talented, committed, hardworking people, even a merely decent idea can turn into something groundbreaking. Conversely, even a great idea can struggle to survive if it doesn’t have a solid team in place to support it.
Obviously, you’ll need to work hard to choose the right people for your team – individuals with a solid experiential background, proof of ample talent, and genuine passion for the business. But beyond that, you’ll need to work actively to equip your team with the right mindsets and philosophies to guide them to productive, innovative work.
While there are conflicting opinions for what type of company culture works “best,” there’s no denying that your company can (and likely will) benefit from building a team with an “entrepreneurial mindset.” But what is this mentality, and how can you construct it from scratch?
What Is an “Entrepreneurial Mindset?”
Let’s start with a description of the “entrepreneurial mindset.” This is an internalized mentality, philosophy, and approach to working within the members of your team that mimics what the most ambitious entrepreneurs tend to feel.
The mindset includes:
- Creativity. Entrepreneurs are creative types. They want to create new ideas, modify existing ones, and come up with inventive new ways to deal with problems. They’re not afraid to think outside the box and try out new concepts – even if they don’t work out. They also like to encourage and promote creative ideas from other people, providing feedback, direction, and motivation to their teammates.
- Autonomy and independence. The entrepreneurial mindset also prioritizes autonomy and independence. Entrepreneurs in a business environment don’t wait for someone else to tell them what to do, and they generally don’t have to run their ideas through a bureaucratic chain of command to take action. Instead, they trust themselves, they operate decisively, and they remain agile. In an entrepreneurial environment, your employees will function autonomously in most cases as well.
- Change and growth. To be an entrepreneur is to accept the importance of change and growth. The only way for your business to reach more people and make more money is to evolve; that means adding new products and services, changing internal processes, and sometimes, pivoting the entire brand.
- Experimentation and adaptation. You probably already know how important it is to remain flexible and adaptable when growing your business. It’s also important for your workforce. With an entrepreneurial mindset, your team of employees will be much more likely to experiment with different approaches and adapt to new scenarios.
- Ambitious problem solving. Successful business owners are primarily ambitious problem solvers; they understand there’s some weakness or challenge in the world and are driven to “fix it.” With this mentality, your employees will be more likely to show enthusiasm when solving problems and rising to meet challenges.
The Value of an Entrepreneurial Team
So what’s the real value of an entrepreneurial team?
For starters, you can cut back on direct management and oversight. When all members of your team feel like they have a direct impact on their work environment, and when they’re empowered to do their best, they don’t need as much direction or supervision. Instead of looking over their shoulder, giving them project details, or micromanaging your employees, you can set priorities for them, trust that they’re going to work toward them, and shift your attention to more important matters. This lends itself to a less stressed, more inviting workplace – and allows you to be more productive while tackling the most important projects for your startup.
An entrepreneurial mindset also leads to a diversity of thought. When individuals are encouraged to have their own ideas, thoughts, and opinions, they tend to speak more openly in a collaborative environment. They’re more willing to volunteer ideas, offer constructive criticism, and provide meaningful feedback to each other. Such an environment makes it much easier to identify and get rid of bad ideas (before it’s too late), while simultaneously establishing the groundwork for the presentation of highly ingenious concepts.
Additionally, startups need to keep adapting if they’re going to stay alive. Over time, your target market might change, you might face new competition, and new challenges will threaten your previous approaches. The only way forward is to adapt, incorporating new systems and processes and changing your infrastructure. Ordinarily, teams of employees are reluctant to adapt – after all, most of us don’t particularly like change. However, when the team accepts the importance and value of ongoing adaptability, they’ll be much more likely to be onboard with your latest changes and experiments.
How to Build a Startup Team With an Entrepreneurial Mindset
Now for the big question – how can you build an entire startup team with a baked-in entrepreneurial mindset?
- Create the culture. Everything stems from your company culture. Before you employ any of the following strategies, make sure you have a solid idea for what you want your company culture to be. What are your core values? What is the “ideal” employee mindset? How should this mindset be fostered? What rules exist, if any, to enforce this? Document your company culture guidelines first.
- Choose the right candidates. With a culture document in place, you’ll find it much easier to interview candidates – and find out whether they’re a good fit for this environment. Even if they have a lot of talent and experience, they may not thrive in an entrepreneurial workplace; figure this out early, before you hire someone.
- Lead by example. You’re the leader, so set the tone. People will follow your example. Whatever habits you want your employees to practice, incorporate them into your own daily work.
- Nurture from the top down. You’re not the only leader within your organization, so make sure you select and support strong leaders who can embody and spread your desired entrepreneurial culture from the top down.
- Encourage independent management and decision making. Sometimes, employees will have to run their idea “up the ladder” before taking action. But as much as possible, it’s important to encourage autonomy and independent decision making. Empower your employees to make their own decisions, set their own goals, and devise their own approaches to work.
- Stimulate creativity. Creativity is vital for an entrepreneurial mindset to thrive. Use creative brainstorming sessions, music, art, and other exercises to encourage your team to think in novel ways.
- Get everyone to contribute in meetings. Encourage every member of your team to contribute in your meetings. More contributors will foster an environment of openness and collaborative sharing; it will also help you ferret out the best ideas, which otherwise might be held back by nervous participants.
- Reward good ideas. When a member of your team comes up with a good idea or solves a complex problem, reward them and publicly praise them. It will encourage further idea generation in the future and motivate other team members to volunteer their own ideas.
- Respect bad ideas. It’s not just about good ideas; it’s also important to tolerate and even respect bad ideas. When someone volunteers a questionable idea or makes a poor decision, show your support. Feel free to offer feedback and criticism, but don’t make the person feel bad for trying to do something inventive or helpful. You don’t want to punish people for trying something new.
- Remain adaptive. The most innovative, disruptive businesses are the ones that can adapt. Encourage your team members to remain similarly adaptable, keeping an open mind for new ideas and being willing to change when necessary.
Once your team is full of people thinking and acting like entrepreneurs, your company will be much more flexible, innovative, and productive. And best of all, this entrepreneurial culture tends to be self-sustaining; your employees will naturally spread it to new recruits and continue to foster this creative, efficient environment.