Category Archives: Uncategorized

Goodbye Pandora

Apple launched an amazing suite of products this week. I’m excited to install iOS 7 and I’m looking forward to buying Mac Pro for my video editing lab.

I’ve been an Apple fan ever since the introduction of the Macintosh back in the early days. As a startup guy, I’ve always cheered for the underdog; which used to be Apple as they faced competition against IBM, Microsoft, Gateway, and Dell. Now it seems as Apple is the 800lb gorilla. They’ve become “the man”, the very thing Steve Jobs taught us to hate back in the 80s.

Consider these companies that Apple squeezed out of the market:

Blackberry – I used to love my “Crackberry”. I became lightening fast at the small keyboard. I still think a real keyboard works better than the iPhone. However, everything else about the Blackberry was terrible. The Apps sucked, the browser was poor, and the phone part was bad too. Apple destroyed Blackberry with the iPhone. As a result, thousands of jobs were also destroyed.

Dell – I know you remember the days when Dell laptops were everywhere. Businessmen, Students, and Moms all wanted a Dell laptop. Looking around your local coffee shop today and the Dell has been replaced by the glow of the Apple logo.

Napster and MP3.com – Both of these platforms changed the way we consume music. They were here first, way before iTunes. Apple found a way to sell music digitally and the world was better off because of it. But in no way did Apple pioneer digital downloads, they just made it better and “legalized” it.

Nokia – Before smart phones, everyone carried a Nokia. I’m sure you too have owned at least one. They were the top selling mobile phone for several years. Now they are fighting for their last breath.

Palm, Handspring – Handheld computing used to be lead by these companies. Since the iPhone, neither can stay afloat. No matter how good any of their products are, we will never know because of how huge Apple’s presence is in mobile computing.

Roku – Streaming TV was launched before Apple TV. Roku has some amazing hardware which you’ve probably never heard about. Apple beat this company with their digital catalog of music and movies, even though Roku’s hardware is superior to Apple.

Pandora – On Monday, Apple announced its new radio offering. Now Pandora has nothing to offer above what Apple is going to provide for millions of iPhone users. I predict the company will be out of business within 3 years. It’s sad, I love Pandora, but Apple makes it too hard to use another service over their own.

As a CEO, I never like to see people lose their jobs. Global competition is the American Way. But ask yourself, is Apple now “the man”? If so, who’s the underdog that we should be rooting for this time?

Jason

A New Adventure Begins!

Today Shoutlet, the company I founded, announced my departure as CEO. The decision was mine and the timing was right. After spending several years running the company I felt that Shoutlet was starting to grow up without me.

Building a successful startup company is similar to parenting. Eventually it needs to live a life of its own and if you love it enough, you need to set it free. Just like a parent, I have an “empty nest” feeling stepping away even though I know it’s the best thing to do. Additionally, Shoutlet has such a strong management team in place that our growth is almost on cruise control. I’m very proud of what we built.

There are several people to thank for getting me to this point. First, I’d like to thank Shoutlet’s clients for believing in my dream early on. Many of you trusted me and stuck with us no matter what obstacles came our way. Several of you have become my lifelong friends, thank you.

Second, I’d like to thank all of the hard working employees that make Shoutlet what it is today. Your passion and enthusiasm for the product is what carries the company forward. I’m very proud of all of you.

Finally, I’m excited about my future plans. My favorite part of startups is the whiteboard phase. I love the smell of markers when new ideas are being born. Today, I find myself lucky enough to be there again. Check out my new venture and stay close for additional details.

-Jason

 

 

 

Personal Branding

Personal branding is about managing your name—even if you don’t own a business—in a world of misinformation, disinformation, and semi-permanent Google records. Going on a date? Chances are that your “blind” date has Googled your name. Going to a job interview? Ditto. —Tim Ferriss, Author, The 4-Hour Work Week

Now more than ever, when it comes to your personal “brand,” it’s important to manage your digital trail, or the information online about you and your online reputation.

It’s becoming increasingly easier to find information about anyone—even you—online. For brand marketers, however, being found online is less of a nuisance or concern. In fact, it is an imperative for many who want to establish themselves as industry experts. For that reason, establishing a social presence online is critical in becoming an online thought leader.

My recent book Manager’s Guide to Online Marketing walks through the steps on how to establish yourself as an industry expert. As a starting point, I have provided a few helpful tips here.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it for you: Becoming an online expert is tough business. You have to always be “on” and creating new content in the form of a post, tweet, video, etc. For many, it’s a full-time job and it quickly becomes time consuming, and tiresome.

The concept of personal branding has become exponential through social media. Over the past few years, I’ve seen a variety of ways to leverage social media for your own personal brand. Some tactics are more complex than others. Specifically, starting a blog is more difficult to maintain because of the continuous demand for long-form content. Therefore, platforms like Twitter have emerged that are easier to maintain since your communication is limited to 140 characters per post. You need to pick the right approach for your bandwidth and audience.

Most people in my company have a personal Twitter account, as do I, aside from a corporate Twitter account. Even though a business account is set up the same way as a personal account, the tone of these two accounts should be different.  For corporate Twitter accounts, keep your tweets informational. You comment and retweet more often about events in your industry than you would in a personal account. A corporate account can also link to e-commerce sites if you are selling a product or service.

Personal accounts should be a reflection of yourself and your personal interests.  Several industry experts have both personal and business Twitter accounts set up, but they know how to leverage each for different purposes.

Screen Shot 2013-03-06 at 11.39.03 AM

People often ask me about strategies to build their individual fan bases. There is no silver bullet when it comes to social media. Gaining true fans is a result of several marketing tactics, great content, and old-fashioned hard work.  Fans are key, and imperative for growth in social media. Even better are evangelists— those who take your message managing to a new level by recruiting more fans to your page. Foster evangelists, and your personal brand will grow while you sleep.

In addition to blogging and popular social media networks, several personal page platforms—or systems for organizing social media profiles and information—have emerged to help you better consolidate your social media connections. About.me allows you to create a personal branded page with a few clicks. These personalized pages contain links to your Twitter account, LinkedIn profile, etc. Consider this your personal landing page. You can view my About.me personal page here: about.me/mixdown.

Screen Shot 2013-03-06 at 11.33.39 AM

Since companies like About.me want to drive more traffic to their platform, they make it easy for search engines to find you. Getting found gets you noticed, and getting noticed gets you one step closer to becoming an industry expert.

You may be wondering how your online presence currently measures up to other industry experts. Several platforms offer ways to measure your current online influence. Each platform has a different formula for how influence is measured, so it’s important to evaluate each and determine which platform best aligns with your beliefs in how online influence should be measured. For more in-depth detail on how to successfully measure your online presence, you can purchase my book here.

-Jason

Got Funding?

Over the past few years, I have helped raise nearly $25 million dollars for Shoutlet. So it’s no surprise that several new entrepreneurs ask me about the process of obtaining Venture Capital funding. I’ve learned some very valuable lessons throughout the process, and I’m hoping that this post will help you examine all of your available options before you consider funding.

First, only take funding if you need it. It sounds like an obvious statement, but too many startups go out for funding just because they think they have to. I suggest to do whatever you can to self fund your startup before accepting funding.

Second, the days of funding an “idea” are over. Naive startups believe that you can simply come up with a good idea, get it funded, quit your day job and then start taking salary. Those types of funding events have not happened since the Clinton era. No investor funds an “idea” anymore. Venture Capitalist look for proven business models now. They only want to invest in a “sure thing.” My suggestion is to borrow and beg to get your idea to a prototype, sell some of it into the marketplace, then go for funding once you able to prove that it can scale.

A famous CEO told me once, “The second you take funding, you can never go back. Your business will be all about growing top line revenue and you’ll soon find yourself needing more funding to sustain your growth.” He was right. Once you accept funding, you work for your Board of Directors and shareholders, and you have an obligation to do what’s best for the company, with or without you there. I suggest examining all other options before going for funding.

Consider this story from my friend and fellow entrepreneur Jack Phan. He’s an entrepreneur that did it both with and without funding. I’ve asked Jack to share his story:

“In 1997, I was involved with an early Internet startup in Portland, Ore during the dot-com boom of the 90s called Handyman Online. By 1998, our technology for online lead generation, matching and lead distribution systems proved so successful that we were growing beyond our capacity and had to expand offices and take on more overhead. By 1999, we had raised nearly $26 million dollars in funding, hired a new CEO, opened nearly 30 physical offices nationwide and grew our headcount to 300+ employees. We spent several million dollars to hire a consulting firm to do an overhaul of our technology infrastructure, complete hardware upgrade and bring in enterprise level software to support a large business.

By 2000, we had given up control, burning through cash at a faster rate than we could grow revenues, and by spring of 2001, during the dot-com meltdown, we needed the next round of funding but our investors had all fled. The more money we raised, it appeared the more money we would need to keep growing and chase profitability. Eventually, we sold our assets to our biggest competitor and walked away with nothing.

However, it didn’t take long before we were back at it. By September of 2001, we had started a new company called ReliableRemodeler.com and vowed to grow this company with our own resources and not give up our equity if we didn’t have to. The goal was simple; grow with our own resources, build a solid team, wear as many hats as we could manage and try to double our revenues each year while maintaining control of our company.

By 2007, we landed #187 on Inc. 500’s Fastest Growing Private Companies by achieving more than 1100% growth. The offers started to come in and by February of 2008, we successfully sold our business to a Bay Area company in the lead generation space for all cash. Our patience, hard work and dedication finally paid off.  We probably could have grown faster had we taken on investor money like the first business but we would have given up control, equity and would have had to sell our business for at least 10 times what we sold it for just to achieve the same personal financial exit.

My advice is have a good business model first, take money only if you have to, do your job as an entrepreneur to add value, work your butt off, and build a business that can be self sustaining for a long time.  In the end, your hard work and dedication will pay off.”

– Jack Phan

Funding Sources (listing by recommended order of priority):

  1. Pre-sell – If your idea is solid enough, why not try pre-selling it to customers? When I first began Shoutlet, I sold the idea of our platform to clients by showing them a PowerPoint presentation well before it was actually built. I promised prospects a substantial discount and the opportunity to help shape my product roadmap if they ordered in advance. I funded the entire first version of Shoutlet from taking pre-orders.
  2. Friends and Family – Your own friends and family can be an excellent source of funding. It may surprise you how supportive they can be when you approach them for investment. Most families have a “rich uncle” that is more than willing to help. If you do get funding from family, I would make the process formal. Set a valuation and determine your terms of investment before you take their money. I’ve seen verbal deals lead to lawsuits later, which can be ugly for families. Also be clear about the risks involved in funding a startup.
  3. Bank Loan – After last year’s financial crisis, getting money from bank institutions is much more difficult than it used to be. I’d recommend a bank loan if you truly have faith that your product or service is going to sell immediately AND if you have collateral to offer the bank (such as your home, car, or 401k account). My advice is to never put yourself into a situation that you can’t unwind. Always make sure that you can pay off the loan even without selling your product or service.
  4. Angel Funding – Often you can obtain funding from high net worth individuals in your hometown. These people can often be found by networking with lawyers, bankers, accountants. Be sure that the individual is an accredited investor. There are certain rules you need to follow to stay out of legal trouble when going the Angel route. Often Angels invest in the individual, not necessarily the company.  It’s much easier to get Angel investors than it is to go out for Venture Capital funding.
  5. Venture Capital – Venture Capital money is the toughest to get. The folks that run these firms are often Harvard or Stanford educated with several years of experience in funding and selling companies. They receive hundreds of business plans per month, and only jump on the ones that completely align with their firm’s investment criteria. To obtain Venture Capital, you often have to already be generating revenue with a proven business model. Venture Capitalist invest in the company, not the individual. They want to see how you can scale your company and give them a ten times multiple on their investment. To pitch a Venture Firm, I recommend having two pieces to your pitch: 1) A PowerPoint presentation that can tell your story in less than 10 slides and 2) An Excel sheet that proves your revenue model. Note: VCs think in bullet points. Be clear, concise, and to the point. You can visit the National Venture Capital Association for information on Venture Capital. Also, it may be helpful to download a Term Sheet so that you can see in advance what your investment terms might look like. In addition, be sure to check out The Funded to see how well your potential Venture Capital investors are rated by other entrepreneurs.
  6. Crowdfunding – Kickstarter gained significant attention as a way to get funding for your new product or service through the internet. Crowdfunding allows inventors to list their idea on a popular website in an effort to raise funds before the idea goes to market. Often several hundred (or thousand) people will invest or pre-order your product before you build it. I’ve found this process to be very effective for product (not as good for services) that you want test the market before you go bigger.

Types of Investment Instruments (Definitions from Wikipedia):

  1. Preferred Stock – Preferred shareholders have priority over common stockholders on earnings and assets in the event of liquidation and they have a fixed dividend (paid before common stockholders). I’ve seen almost all Venture Capital deals use Preferred Stock. Basically, they get their back before you do. They also get nifty little add-ons like dividends and participation rights (extra ways of squeezing cash out).
  2. Common Stock – The type of stock most often used for investment. If your legal structure is currently a Limited Liability Company, you might have to change it to a C Corporation to begin selling Common Stock. Most Angel investors are fine buying Common Stock as it’s the same type of ownership you would have an the entrepreneur. One of the only ways for an entrepreneur to get Preferred Stock is if you put a significant amount of your own cash into the company.
  3. Warrants – A warrant is a security that entitles the holder to buy the underlying stock of the issuing company at a fixed exercise price until the expiry date. Warrants and options are similar in that the two contractual financial instruments allow the holder special rights to buy securities. Both are discretionary and have expiration dates. The word warrant simply means to “endow with the right,” which is only slightly different from the meaning of option.
  4. Debentures – A debenture is a document that either creates a debt or acknowledges it, and it is a debt without collateral. In corporate finance, the term is used for a medium- to long-term debt instrument used by large companies to borrow money. Basically, it’s give companies that opportunity to borrow money from investors instead of going to a bank.
  5. Stock Options – A call option on the common stock of a company, granted by the company to an employee as part of the employee’s remuneration package. The objective is to give employees an incentive to behave in ways that will boost the company’s stock price. If the company’s stock market price rises above the call price, the employee could exercise the option, pay the exercise price and would be issued with ordinary shares in the company. The employee would experience a direct financial benefit of the difference between the market and the exercise prices. If the market price falls below the stock exercise price at the time near expiration, the employee is not obligated to exercise the option, in which case the option will lapse. Restrictions on the option, such as vesting and non-transferring, attempt to align the holder’s interest with those of the business shareholders.
  6. Phantom Stock – A form of compensation where a company promises to pay cash at some future date, in an amount equal to the market value of a number of shares of its stock. Sometimes companies prefer to use Phantom Stock for its employees because it gives them similar benefits to Stock Options, but without voting rights. Additionally, Phantom Stock doesn’t need to be purchased at a later date like Options do, so there is no money out of pocket. However, Phantom Stock is often taxed like a cash bonus, so employees cannot take advantage of long-term capital gain tax discounts like they can with Options.

So, where do you start? That’s a good question. You have planted the seeds, and now it’s time to develop the roots of your company with a strong management team. Once you set a solid foundation in place, your company will flourish. Investors bet on your teams as much as they do your company, so select your branches wisely.

Remember at the end of the day it’s all about control. Even though Facebook has raised several rounds of capital, Mark Zuckerberg still controls all of the votes for Facebook. If you position yourself correctly, you can do the same.

I hope you found this post helpful as you consider raising capital. Let me know if you have any questions or need any additional advice for your own funding process.

-Jason