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Monday, 03 December 2012 04:36
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Growth is not a race. Instead, think strategically about how to create a sustainable growth trajectory.

We've had the good fortune (and good taste!) this year to work with a start-up ice cream company. For most of the year, they've been in a "grow or die" scenario, as most start-ups are. They needed to get past a critical point with their customer and distribution base to maintain sales and create a sustainable business. They've had some much-needed success with a major retailer and are looking at their next investment choices.

We write a lot about how to grow. As leaders of growing companies, most of you know what we mean. Growth is not about gunning the accelerator. Going as fast as you can usually results in spectacular crashes. Instead, growth companies need to think about how to strategically manage growth and create a sustainable upward trajectory where they can invest resources and capital to achieve the next plateau before moving forward.

When our ice cream start-up got the opportunity to launch in a major retailer, they were at a critical stage. The company needed to show a successful increase in sales over a period of time to maintain their shelf space and prove that customers were willing to buy and re-purchase their ice cream. This proof of concept was important, not only to maintain distribution at the retailer, but to show other retailers that they would be an attractive addition to their freezer.

Fortunately, the start-up has seen a consistent level of sales, especially in a core group of stores within their primary customer demographic. In our assessment, they've established a beachhead that is sustainable and defendable. Given the sustainable business they've established, they're now out of crisis mode and can focus on making the business more profitable.

From this position of strength, the company can also embark on low-risk growth experiments. They can test their product with new retailers or in new geographies. They've already identified a number of new opportunities for distribution in new geographies. They've prioritized each and are taking a measured approach to growth. If the experiments fail--and many will--they can more easily retrench back to their core to try again and learn from their experience. Eventually, they will naturally find a formula for success that they can use to expand their beachhead.

Send us your questions and experiences about using experiments to drive your growth. We can be reached at karlandbill@avondalestrategicpartners.com.



Monday, 03 December 2012 02:00
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It's the season of giving. But before you open your wallet, follow this checklist to make sure you get your money is put to the best use.


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Monday, 03 December 2012 01:29
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One prominent VC has publically announced his preference for young entrepreneurs, but do the facts support this bias for fresh-faced founders?

Young entrepreneurs may fret that their barely-out-of-high-school looks could work against them when starting up. But here at Inc. we've already assured them that you can be taken seriously as a bright young thing as an entrepreneur--in fact, research and anecdotal evidence suggests youth can actually work to your advantage.

But can we offer the same reassurances to the older entrepreneur?

If you look more like the parent of someone about to go to the prom rather than the kid in the rented tux, are your chances of finding support for your entrepreneurial ambitions lessened?

Sadly, there's more evidence that being middle-aged correlates to disadvantages in entrepreneurship than there is that youth will hamper your ambitions, as the AARP blog recently pointed out.

Vinod Khosla, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems who is today a prominent venture capitalist, has publically spoken about his preference for funding young entrepreneurs on multiple occasions, the post points out. For instance, he said, "people under 35 are the people who make change happen. People over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas," at one conference last year.

Looking at the most prominent founders in the start-up world, one could get the impression that Khosla's bias against older entrepreneurs may be representative of broader currents among the start-up community. But according the AARP (which obviously has a horse in this race), the numbers simply don't justify this preference, which may be more a product of what kind of businesses older entrepreneurs tend to start:

As it turns out, the highest rate of successful entrepreneurship, according to the Kaufmann Foundation, is among those 55-64--twice the success rate of those age 20-34. According to a Newsweek article, their "start-ups get less recognition in the press, but they tend to involve more complex technologies like biotech, energy, or IT hardware. They also tend to sell products and services to other businesses, which consumers rarely see but which do most of the heavy lifting in powering innovation and economic growth." That means that they understand channel strategy, something that may elude the 20-somethings who are coding away in their garages. And more to the point, they simply do not have the business relationships established that are the foundation for cultivating channel/distribution partnerships.

"The venture community's investments should transcend age," urges the post, which concludes that VCs, "need to understand that 50+ entrepreneurs may have the most discretionary money to invest, the connections and work experience to execute, plus the motivation and drive required to start a business that works."

Do you agree that VCs need to take a closer look at middle-aged entrepreneurs? Or is Khosla's opinion simply harsh...but realistic?




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Monday, 03 December 2012 01:13
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Money changes everything, doesn't it? Keep the cash flowing by avoiding the biggest financial mistakes you could make in your company's early years.

Cash flow is the lifeblood of small business. If you run out of cash before you can create a following and steady income, it's game over. Too many promising businesses end up forgotten on the sidelines, with the founders financially and emotionally devastated.

Could the statistics change? Could more new entrepreneurs grow into seasoned, successful business owners? According to debt solutions attorney Emily Chase Smith, there is hope.

"I see the fallout of failed businesses too often," says Smith. "I want to shout from the rooftops, 'It didn't have to happen this way!'" Smith knows that, had the founders done a little more financial preparation prior to launch, the outcome for these failed businesses would have been different.

Smith offers these insights into the five biggest money mistakes that keep start-ups from hitting it out of the ballpark. Put your business in the winner's column by avoiding them!

1. Underestimating Your Needs

Conventional wisdom when traveling is to bring half as many clothes and twice as much money. On your entrepreneurial journey, bring twice as much time and twice as much money--that's right, double everything across the board.

Everything takes longer in the trenches than it appears to in the planning stages. There are also costs you can't imagine until you absolutely need that one linchpin item to complete a customer delivery.

Take your realistic, conservative business plan numbers and double them. You don't want to run out of money or credit in the middle of your big play.

2. Going Too Large

Entrepreneurs dream big, and our eyes are sometimes bigger than our wallets. Set yourself up for success by distinguishing between what's necessary and what can wait. For example, if you commonly meet with clients, you may need a professional office space. However, if you're starting up, you don't need an entire office suite. In fact, you would be better served by subleasing a single office in a larger suite. Subleasing will save you money, and, as a side benefit, you will create professional relationships that may generate new business. And, if you meet with clients in their homes, you don't need an office at all. What you do need is a good haircut, suit, and briefcase. Invest in the things that will create the experience and impression you want to make on your clients and forgo the stuff that remains behind the scenes.

3. Packing in the Payroll

Payroll will be one of your largest expenses. Employees make an entrepreneur feel like a big cheese--they make us feel like we're successful and contributing members of society--but many an entrepreneur quickly becomes the lowest-paid person at the company. I'm pretty sure living on minimum wage wasn't what you had in mind when you started your business.

Before you add anyone to your team, be very clear on what each position is to accomplish. With that clarity, look to independent contractors for their expertise. Hire full-time employees only when you can keep them busy in their core competency on a long-term basis. Resist the temptation to compare hourly rates of employees to independent contractors. Independent contractors cost more hourly (sometimes a lot more), but they're experts in their fields. You save time in training and supervision, and, best of all, you save cash in the long run.

4. Buying New

Resist the allure of new. Run from the salesperson's smooth talk about why this year's model is vastly superior. In most cases, the quality of used is just as good and it's half the cost--sometimes even less. When you're using your savings or going into debt to launch, saving on equipment will help you reach a positive cash flow much more quickly.

Don't overlook going-out-of-business sales. It can feel a bit vulture-esque, but remember, you're doing your fellow entrepreneur a favor. You didn't cause his business failure and you're helping him get some seed money to start his next venture. Your check for his used equipment is a lifeline.

5. Failing to Mark the Exits

Entrepreneurs are optimists. We would never survive otherwise. But we are also well prepared. We may be playing a waltz when the ship hits an iceberg, but smart entrepreneurs know where the lifeboats are and know how to use them. Smart entrepreneurs live to fight another day.

Always keep an exit plan with an objective marker. It could be a revenue number. It could be a level of debt. It could be a specific time frame. Your objective marker tells you when to drop the lifeboats.

Coupled with your emergency exit plan should be a personal emergency fund. Three- to six-months' living expenses is a large amount of money, but it gives you security while you tee up your next play. You need enough cash to eat and live while you replace your business. Resist the temptation to dip into your emergency fund to save a sinking ship.

Not all business ideas will be winners, but we can be winners if we're smart with our money. As entrepreneurs and risk takers, we have to give ourselves enough runway to win. Going in solid and watching the bottom line dramatically increases our odds.




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Monday, 03 December 2012 01:13
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Money changes everything, doesn't it? Keep the cash flowing by avoiding the biggest financial mistakes you could make in your company's early years.

Cash flow is the lifeblood of small business. If you run out of cash before you can create a following and steady income, it's game over. Too many promising businesses end up forgotten on the sidelines, with the founders financially and emotionally devastated.

Could the statistics change? Could more new entrepreneurs grow into seasoned, successful business owners? According to debt solutions attorney Emily Chase Smith, there is hope.

"I see the fallout of failed businesses too often," says Smith. "I want to shout from the rooftops, 'It didn't have to happen this way!'" Smith knows that, had the founders done a little more financial preparation prior to launch, the outcome for these failed businesses would have been different.

Smith offers these insights into the five biggest money mistakes that keep start-ups from hitting it out of the ballpark. Put your business in the winner's column by avoiding them!

1. Underestimating Your Needs

Conventional wisdom when traveling is to bring half as many clothes and twice as much money. On your entrepreneurial journey, bring twice as much time and twice as much money--that's right, double everything across the board.

Everything takes longer in the trenches than it appears to in the planning stages. There are also costs you can't imagine until you absolutely need that one linchpin item to complete a customer delivery.

Take your realistic, conservative business plan numbers and double them. You don't want to run out of money or credit in the middle of your big play.

2. Going Too Large

Entrepreneurs dream big, and our eyes are sometimes bigger than our wallets. Set yourself up for success by distinguishing between what's necessary and what can wait. For example, if you commonly meet with clients, you may need a professional office space. However, if you're starting up, you don't need an entire office suite. In fact, you would be better served by subleasing a single office in a larger suite. Subleasing will save you money, and, as a side benefit, you will create professional relationships that may generate new business. And, if you meet with clients in their homes, you don't need an office at all. What you do need is a good haircut, suit, and briefcase. Invest in the things that will create the experience and impression you want to make on your clients and forgo the stuff that remains behind the scenes.

3. Packing in the Payroll

Payroll will be one of your largest expenses. Employees make an entrepreneur feel like a big cheese--they make us feel like we're successful and contributing members of society--but many an entrepreneur quickly becomes the lowest-paid person at the company. I'm pretty sure living on minimum wage wasn't what you had in mind when you started your business.

Before you add anyone to your team, be very clear on what each position is to accomplish. With that clarity, look to independent contractors for their expertise. Hire full-time employees only when you can keep them busy in their core competency on a long-term basis. Resist the temptation to compare hourly rates of employees to independent contractors. Independent contractors cost more hourly (sometimes a lot more), but they're experts in their fields. You save time in training and supervision, and, best of all, you save cash in the long run.

4. Buying New

Resist the allure of new. Run from the salesperson's smooth talk about why this year's model is vastly superior. In most cases, the quality of used is just as good and it's half the cost--sometimes even less. When you're using your savings or going into debt to launch, saving on equipment will help you reach a positive cash flow much more quickly.

Don't overlook going-out-of-business sales. It can feel a bit vulture-esque, but remember, you're doing your fellow entrepreneur a favor. You didn't cause his business failure and you're helping him get some seed money to start his next venture. Your check for his used equipment is a lifeline.

5. Failing to Mark the Exits

Entrepreneurs are optimists. We would never survive otherwise. But we are also well prepared. We may be playing a waltz when the ship hits an iceberg, but smart entrepreneurs know where the lifeboats are and know how to use them. Smart entrepreneurs live to fight another day.

Always keep an exit plan with an objective marker. It could be a revenue number. It could be a level of debt. It could be a specific time frame. Your objective marker tells you when to drop the lifeboats.

Coupled with your emergency exit plan should be a personal emergency fund. Three- to six-months' living expenses is a large amount of money, but it gives you security while you tee up your next play. You need enough cash to eat and live while you replace your business. Resist the temptation to dip into your emergency fund to save a sinking ship.

Not all business ideas will be winners, but we can be winners if we're smart with our money. As entrepreneurs and risk takers, we have to give ourselves enough runway to win. Going in solid and watching the bottom line dramatically increases our odds.



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