Entrepreneurial Banking

There is a long standing feud between bankers and entrepreneurs. What, one may ask, is the point of contention? Money, of course! Banks have money and entrepreneurs would like some of it in the form of loans to fund their start-ups. However, many in the banking community  consider start-ups far too risky. As a result of tougher credit standards enacted during the recession, less small businesses than perhaps at any prior point are qualifying for loans–even if they have strong management teams, revenues, and a significant upside.

What if banks awakened to the possibility of viewing start-ups as a diversification in a portfolio of loans? What if entrepreneurial ventures became appetizing to banks exactly because they represent a potential upside that is greater than the average loan return and, therefore, worth a strategic role in an array of credit decisions? Joy of all joys!

bank caricature

Recently, the Evening Standard profiled Ana Botin, head of Santander in the UK . The article featured Botin’s views on why her bank vowed to support small to medium sized businesses across the UK. It was 

reported that Santander “didn’t want to play it safe and that they had in fact spotted a gap for high growth, risky companies who needed financial support without losing a chunk of equity.” Despite being a big player in the savings and mortgages arena, plus enjoying success in the retail sector with 14.6 million customers, the bank had made a bold move to more aggressively support SMEs.

Kelly Dolan, writing for Entrepreneur Country, reports witnessing Botin open an event organised by Santander Breakthrough in Oxford last year in which she shared her personal story of entrepreneurial beginnings in venture capital and consulting prior to embarking on her current banking career.  Dolan also noted the “passion Botin displayed when speaking on the founding story of Santander, once a small Spanish bank that prided itself in helping local businesses get off the ground. Ana then spoke metaphorically on how she had witnessed how similar the banking industry was to an army, and that as CEO it was her mission to break down barriers and infiltrate the ranks so that bankers could finally begin to understand the importance of UK SMEs and why they were so crucial to British economy, which would of course reflect on the success of the bank. And for anyone that may have doubted her rhetoric on the day, you only had to spot Ana laughing and joking away with fellow keynote and Ella’s Kitchen Founder Paul Lindley during the interval to see that she felt right at home conversing with entrepreneurs. Ana’s presence and the Breakthrough event as a whole, which the bank runs for free across the UK to enable entrepreneurs to seek knowledge, network and share ideas, demonstrated to me that Ana had big plans for small business owners, along with a serious dose of empathy due to once being in their very position once before.”

 

Noting how rare Botin, her story, and Santander’s appreciation of the SME market are, Dolan questions whether more banks European banks should get into the “game.” I wonder the same thing about banks in the United States. It certainly seems that many of the larger banks seem disinterested in any deal that is truly entrepreneurial, disdaining the risk though the potential “hockey stick” growth is certainly desirable. Community banks seem slightly more supportive, and venture banks more so still. Let’s hope that many more will observe Santander having success and reconsider their own models!

 

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You Can’t Handle A Business Plan!

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

-Dwight D. Eisenhower (Thirty-fourth President of the USA)

 

Eisenhower was a military leader of renown prior to becoming president.  His comment on the value of planning illustrates a key point that many who disdain planning would do well to heed: a plan is not the goal, but rather the exercise of thinking strategically through one’s options given a defined situation and set of resources at one’s disposal.

Serving entrepreneurs and existing business owners, I have seen the outcome of both lack of planning and belief that planning unto itself is a cure-all for potential challenges that may come the way of the enterprise. Tim Berry, author of Three Weeks to Startup, writes that, “If you’re serious about starting your business — even if you don’t have anything down in writing — you’ve already started to plan.” Yet, starting to plan is not the same as writing a business plan.

There are several planning steps that I would recommend prior to writing a business plan:

  1. Refine your idea. Think through how your business model would affect potential customers. Have a preliminary strategy in mind for each segment of your target audience.
  2. Conceptualize a winning strategy. Think through what is already available in terms of direct and indirect competition. Adjust your approach to the market based on what can win consistently.
  3. Create value before your first sale. Test your hypothetical product features and benefits, along with pricing model and go-to-market system. Secure feedback and revise your offering accordingly.

Once you have thought through these three main ideas, you are then ready to evaluate how best to launch a business. Evaluation is the point at which your first business plan should be written. Berry recommends “Your plan is for you first. Don’t make it for anybody else. Do it because it helps you divide and manage big goals into practical steps. Instead of looking at it as a document, think of your business plan as a place on your computer where you collect ideas, useful stories, lists and numbers. It’s a place where you keep track of the market, your milestones, goals and projections.”

Business planI could not agree more wholeheartedly! A plan is not a monument; it is a living, flexible document that needs to be modified on a recurring basis as long as you are in business. Early on, Berry recommends the following key components of planning:

  • Milestones: What’s supposed to happen, when, and who’s responsible.
  • Basic numbers: Simple spreadsheet projections for sales, costs and expenses.
  • Strategy: Strategy is about deciding how to focus a business offering on a key target market. It can start with just bullet points. I’ve seen it done well with pictures. It’s mostly a reminder for you and your team.
  • Cash flow: Because profits don’t guarantee enough cash to pay your bills, you need to manage cash from the beginning. Month by month, account for what you spend and what you deposit — not profit as it appears on the books, but money as it shows in the bank.
  • Review schedule: Set aside time for a plan verses actual review once a month to compare what you planned would happen in your business to what really happened. Be brief and practical.

Regardless of your market niche, whether you have attended a “hack-a-thon,” or who is on your start-up team, take the time to consider each of these components thoughtfully. Incorporating them into a plan that you are committed to revisiting and continuously improving will enhance your chances of launching a successful new business!

 

 

Pieces of 8 Need to Become All of 8

Have you ever heard the phrase, “work on your business instead of in it?” Michael Gerber (he of the E-Myth book notoriety) popularized this concept if he didn’t invent the phrase. Gerber chastises business owners for trying to do everything instead of doing the strategic things that will grow the business. He points out that the “jack of all trades,” “chief cook and bottlewasher,” etc epithets are crutches and should not be celebrated. Instead, he recommends systems over personalities and methodologies in lieu of gut instinct. 

Many years after writing the E-Myth, Gerber is still speaking, writing, and training. A blog post earlier today at Inc.com addressed what he considers to be the 8 Essential Parts to a Business (And How They Work Together.) He begins by saying that one “must understand that a small business is a system in which all parts contribute to the success or failure of the whole:”Model T assembly

Like Henry Ford understood the relationship between the Ford Motor Car and the Ford Motor Company (which manufactures, sells and services the car), you must understand the connection between all the parts in your business and how your company relates to the world.

Here are the essential parts of your business:

1. Consumer

Perhaps you’ve spent your life working in an industry. You know all about that industry from the inside. But building a business requires going outside. You must consider your customer’s needs first and foremost.

2. Competitor

Every customer is being pursued by other companies in competition to yours. They are all making offers to solve the same problem your business solves. Your job is to analyze those solutions, and know how yours is better.

3. Channels of Distribution

There are numerous channels of distribution available to you, but you need to know which ones are most effective for your business. The channels you ultimately choose will determine your reach and your cost.

4. Media

How will you get the word out about your business? You could get on the news by doing something newsworthy, or by buying advertising. Get yourself out there as often as you can.

5. Financial

This involves capitalizing your new venture. Likely, your first steps will be bootstrapping–or financing through yourself and those you know. Down the road, investors may be a possibility, but all the pieces of your business must be running smoothly.

6. Strategic

The strategic part of your business is what happens inside it. They include Strategy, Marketing, Operations and Finance–the four essential functions in your business.

7. Tactical

The tactical aspect of your business overlaps into Marketing, Operations and Finance. This is the execution of the strategy that you have created.

8. Incremental

All the work done by the workers in your business falls into this category. The tactical part lays out the tactics, the incremental part performs them.

You can tell that Michael Gerber is no novice when it comes to entrepreneurial matters. He has a keen ability to cut through words and phrases that are over used, and therefore meaningless, to succinctly get a point across. His entire hypothesis is that a business is an organization of many individual parts that work together in processes not unlike the human body and its respective systems.

When one component part is malfunctioning or misguided, it affects the other parts. Collaboration, synergy, and harmony arise when we achieve coordination of effort. Such clarity masterfully improves operating performance!

 

Free is Costly and Cost is Freeing

As a consultant to small businesses, I have had to fight the trend of owners wanting something for nothing. In the start-up world, it is almost unheard of for something to not be free. Yet, I see organizations like EntreDot introduce business models that ask entrepreneurs to invest in themselves and wonder why that is not the norm. Mike McDerment, co-founder of FreshBooks, concurs in an article he recently wrote entitled, “Why Free is Bad: Businesses Should Be Happy to Pay For Key Services.”

McDerment noted that, late last year Google Apps for Business eliminated its free version (see Google Dares Businesses To Switch To Microsoft Office). He acknowledged that, while some may have thought the decision to be a bad thing for small business owners, he did not. In fact, McDerment lists several downsides to free:

1. Free things are never really free. When we don’t fork over dollars for products or services, we think of them as free. But we always give up something. When it comes to online services, that something is usually personal data or content you’ve created — think Facebook and Instagram, whose privacy policies obscure the line between what you own vs. what they own. For consumers, that might be an acceptable bargain. But for small businesses that trade may be unacceptable.

2. Free services don’t serve you. Free services can’t provide great customer service. You know this to be true if you’ve ever sent an email to a free service to get help. Imagine relying on one of those free services to run your business!. What happens when you need help, and you need it now?

3. Free services for small businesses don’t last. Free services for small businesses come and go. Google Apps used to be free, now it isn’t. Free services don’t last for the small businesses because the market is so challenging to reach and serve. My guess is that understanding the market challenges is the key to why Google Apps for Business going paid is a good thing for small businesses.

Google Apps For BusinessMcDerment also goes on to argue how “Free” stifles competition:

In the dot com era, companies were terrified to do anything that Microsoft might be interested in, and venture capitalists would stop a hundred businesses before they could start with one simple question: “Why won’t Microsoft do this?”

Similarly Google has scared people out of doing things, because thanks to the significant advantage created by its search business, the company can afford to lose money on other activities, starving the competition and limiting innovation.

Fact is, Google can always return to the free model, but it’s a good signal that it has started to charge for things. Wall Street will be happy, and small business owners should be too. That’s because I expect Google’s paid model to give entrepreneurs the confidence to step in and start innovating more for the small-business market.

This innovation will encourage services tailored for the long-underserved small businesses of the world. Sure, those services won’t be free, but they will be affordable, just as Google Apps remains affordable at $50/year.

Just as important, these new services won’t come with all the downsides of “free.” In exchange for services they need, businesses will trade dollars, not their data or their content.

I’m hoping this signals the start of a new era, one where for the first time ever, competition, innovation and choice are healthy in the small business market.

After discussing the competitive effects, McDerment then offers his insights into the upside of payments for services by small businesses:

…Why should small businesses care about their vendors’ problems? Why is it a good thing for them that Google Apps For Business went paid? How are small businesses going to benefit by paying for something they used to get for free?

The answer: innovation and the arrival of services tailored to meet their needs. Just think of how many things small business owners run on Word and Excel and you get a sense of how under-served this market really is. Google Apps for Business going paid makes serving the small business market more attractive – for everyone. As long as all Google Apps were free, smart entrepreneurs and competitors were inclined to avoid investing in innovation for small businesses for fear Google could step in and wipe them out with a free service.

Private Equity Challenges in Family Businesses

Most family owned businesses survive through the ingenuity, hard work, and resourcefulness of the founder(s) in the first generation. As the founders grow older and the business hits certain barriers to growth, often there is a need for a capital infusion to satisfy the goals of the founders and the other stakeholders in the continued growth and success of the business. Private equity, while a viable option for many privately owned businesses, can be perceived as a solution that is unworkable for the typical family owned business because of the fear of loss of control. In an article last year in the Journal of Family Business Strategy (Volume 3, Issue 1, Pages 38-51, March, 2012), authors Florian Tappeiner, Carole Howorth, Ann-Kristin Achleitner, and Stephanie Schraml describe some research they performed on a group of family firms in Germany. The research focused on issues these firms faced in soliciting private equity investment. Excerpts are provided below, along with a diagram, and accompanied by some commentary:

Under the pecking order hypothesis, private equity is a finance of last resort. Tests of the pecking order and its assumptions have provided conflicting results. For family firms, the pecking order hypothesis is incomplete because it ignores family effects. Case studies of 21 large family firms in Germany are analysed. Testable propositions are derived. Family firm owners balanced financial and non-financial resources of private equity with the need to cede control rights. Non-financial resources were valued more highly when resolving family issues. The observed pecking order was driven by control rights. Important implications for family firms and investors are discussed.

The authors articulate that private equity is perceived as a final option for owners of family businesses. No surprise there. Control is seen as the most important factor in determining what outside resources to enlist. Private equity is seen as less widely used than non-financial resources when the goal is to resolve family issues.

Family and business influences are equally important in terms of the demand for private equity in large family owned firms. Private equity was sought out for reasons that included the exit of a sibling, parents’ wealth diversification and business growth. The authors note an “interdependence of demand and supply in financing decisions, most noticeably in the negotiation of control rights, which featured strongly in the interviews. (Sometimes the underpinning reason for seeking an investor was to consolidate control, for example, buying out a family member with conflicting views or concentrating ownership in one branch of the family, which, it was argued, would free up decision making within the family firms.)”PE Finance in Family Firms

Minority private equity investments provided study participants with needed finance while allowing the family owners to maintain family control. Private equity also provides managerial resources. The presence of outside money and potential ensuing leverage in executive decision making illustrates the potential for better corporate governance practices and enhanced expertise to pursue business opportunities, such as IPOs or globalization. Said the authors, “Firms with family issues may value the non-financial resources that private equity investors may provide. In particular, family firms wishing to reduce family conflicts may value the neutral or professional role of a private equity investor.”

It was noted that business performance issues led to loss of control in two of the family firms receiving private equity infusions. Still others negotiated control rights guidelines aggressively because of their concerns over the potential of such an occurrence. The investors, for their part, acknowledged that dealing with family firms presented a unique set of challenges usually not experienced in other deals.