Let’s face it, the days of the IPO are over, the dot com IPO boom (there’s something that you probably haven’t heard in a while) was historically speaking a marvel, both for its rampant and somewhat unfettered investment in anything that housed a .com in it’s name, but also because a major planetary technology was reaching households around the world leading for companies such as Yahoo!, Google, and others to enter a relatively new space with global appeal.
IPO markets recovering, kind of.
While the IPO market did recover from 05-07 the relative amount of companies issuing public offerings was still nowhere at the level of the late 90’s, fast forward to 2009, and you’ve got 76 IPO’s worldwide, and while prospects look marginally better for 2010, this is by no means an indicator that we will see every Tom, Dick, and Harry issuing public offerings.
In fact it’s just the reverse, those companies that will make an IPO will typically be extremely specialized. The vast majority of current startups, simply put don’t have a strong enough business model nor product to do so.
Options outside of an IPO.
So what’s the option? This doesn’t mean that the entrepreneurship scene is dead, but with the credit crunch still firmly holding its grip over lending, investors being more cautious and no evident new market to exploit, entrepreneurs have to think of different and more creative exit strategies.
One such a strategy is acquisitions, large multinationals are the ones who have the cash to invest in new enterprise, and start-uppers need to identify those companies whose products and strategy would tie in well with the needs of their customers and whose own product are complimentary to those of the larger multinational.
This is not a new model by any means but one that has been employed and tested within the pharmaceutical industry for years, and is now being employed by hardware manufacturers and telephone companies among others.
Are you ready to sell?
But what and when is a company ready for such an acquisition? I would say that revenues in excess of €2m, would signal the possibility of an exit, but more than just revenues, the HR structure of the company, it’s growth potential, international reach, and scalability threshold of the company are possibly the most important factors.
Meaning, if said €2m/ annum company has 30 full time employees on it’s roster, and another 10-20 freelancers, it’s non agile (cannot respond to market fluctuations quickly), and has a stagnant revenue curve, well, Houston, we’ve got a problem.
Stagnant revenues aside, you may be asking yourself why HR is important, aside from the simple answer of wages digging into your cash-flows it also dictates that you’re revenue per employee is lowered.
Say we employ the 30 full time staff model, the revenue per employee will be €2m/3o = €66.6k per employee, just above the average salary, now if we’re to cut that number down to 10 full time staff the revenue per employee jumps to €200k, a much better metric indicator of company success.
In reality, you should always try to strive for a ratio of revenues to employees that will be on the plus side of €200k per person because.
1. You will have limited employment issues
2. You will be agile and portable
3. You will have a more flexible business
4. Your chances of selling your enterprise will be higher
5. You will have more time to spend on the actual business itself rather than HR issues
6. If you sell, your sale costs will be low due to simple due diligence
So whether you’re a company that’s out of the valley of death, or just starting out writing your business plan, be sure to assess your plans for an exit and ask yourself the following questions.
1. What is the market like now, and what will it be like in the next five years?
2. What sector am I in, and what overlapping sectors are in my market space?
3. Is / will my business be agile, and how can I make it more so?
4. What are the possible exit channels? VC, buyout, merger, etc…
5. Do you want to sell? And if so, how will you approach buyers.
People have downloaded your mobile app, great but you’re not making any chips? Well here are a few reasons why, read them, and turn those frown into upside downs.
Mistakes Companies Make when Monetizing Mobile Apps
Mistake one. You decided to go for advertising. But who on earth will click on a mobile ad that will take them to “cheap flights to Rio de Janeiro” – mobile advertising as a whole does not currently work. No one in their right mind will want to go to a new website to spend time looking over A,B,C,D,E when they want the app to give them their info there and now.
Mistake two. App sales. While putting a price tag on your application may seem like a good idea, you’ve got to think, will anyone actually pay for it? As the app developer you think your app is probably better than it really is in actuality, and a 2.99 price tag on it may be too much. Now if you’re app is something like an internet updated timetable for trains on the London Underground, or something that helps hack life and make it a tad bit easier, then great, you can charge, but be sure that the price you’re asking is worth it.
Mistake three. Giving away value added services for free. You sold the app, and now you made a few bucks, great, but that’s a one off sale, and your cash flow is limited to how many people buy your products how many times. Instead of selling the app, give it away and charge for value added services. What do we mean?
Look at TapTap Revenge, a silly guitar hero type music game for the iPhone, some songs are given away for free to the consumer and are typically promotional songs that the record company pays Tapulous to publicize, the consumer wins by recieveing more content, the record company wins by increasing awareness of the new album / artist, and Tapulous wins by getting a few bucks.
But the buck doesn’t stop there, the company also offers the consumer premium content that they have to pay to download, these being known artists and new chart topping songs. The price is equivalent to iTunes, but again, everyone wins.
Again, when we say free we don’t just mean the end user, free may also relate to a B2B service. Say you plug into an augmented reality (AR) app that you download for free as a user, that app should have a strong B2B model where hotels/restaurants/stores can purchase a listings in the AR.
Mistake Four. You business model doesn’t allow you to monetize. More often than you would think people develop applications that simply cannot be monitized, how does this happen. The value proposition is not there, and it has a weak business model. Read all about it here. Always remember, a broken business model is a lot harder to fix when there’s a product, than to think of a good business model and build a product around it.
Mistake Five. You’ve thunk like an engineer and developed for the wrong platform. Every mobile developer I’ve ever spoken to loved Android. It’s open, its flexibile, it’s easy to develop for, it’s based on Linux, and has great overall functionality. Great! but who uses it? Currently the iPhone leads the global bandwith game globally, it’s app store offers the most products and is easily accessible and available, and is currently the market leader.
So, do you develop a pay to pay software product for a platform that is not the industry leader in terms of consumer apps, or do you go for the big market, where you will have more potential clients. The answer seems obvious, yet engineers are developing for the wrong platforms because they think those platforms are better. Was Beta-max a better product than VHS, it sure was, but who won out in the end. VHS. Consumer acceptance is key.
So how do we monetize an application.
Don’t go for advertising, it’s broken. Price your app accordingly, or give it away if you rely of B2B sales. Sell add on/value added services with your app. Think about your ideas business model before devoting resources to it. And finally offer your products to those that can actually drink from them, meaning, high consumer acceptance, and penetration.
There is no mobile business model.
A few years ago it was “social networking” before that it was “dot coms” and before that, well… betamax. But jokes aside each new hot technology trend is subject to the same problems when it comes to business model, there are none, so let’s invent one. .
We’re still experiencing the lack of business model in the mobile marketplace – now we’re not referring to the sales of handsets, nor the fees covered by mobile operators, what we’re referring to is mobile application development, and it’s monetization.
We have to remember that the fundamental difference between a mobile phone and a laptop, desktop, netbook, or even the iPad is the way in which they are used. Mobile use is best described as coming in bursts.
You need info, you pull the phone out, look for whatever information you need and put it away. You don’t spend hours surfing the net, you don’t stream last night’s favorite shows, and you definitely don’t edit your excel spreadsheet or write the next chapter in the novel you’ve been working on.
The mobile is a device that is meant for burst use. Even such applications as iPhone games, are used typically in bursts. You’re on the metro, the bus, etc… you’re bored you play a game for ten minutes you put it away.
So what about the business model? Aside from application sales via i.e. the Apple App Store, you’re pretty much in the dark. And even there the majority of applications that people will use are limited to what is “top rated” or “recommended”, individuals simply will not spend hours searching for an app to install on their mobile device. So as you see we have a problem.
Non-Efficient Application Delivery
As previously stated – application delivery is not efficient, and even if you have an amazing application how will you get people to pick it up and try it.
One of the better ways is to have bloggers review your apps, if they like them, the next level of users who are 1st adopters will try those applications out, if they like them, they will use them, and they will publicize them. And when speaking of publicizing, it’s imperative that you implement a facebook API into this application.
Why? Well since everyone and their mother is now on Facebook, what better way to get free publicity than through status updates.
What is the application’s Value?
It’s one thing if the application in question augments the use of a current product, i.e. TripIt, LinkedIn, Imdb.com but it’s a whole other ballgame when you’re developing a new product from scratch. Meaning, the value to the user of the application has to be there.
The Bad: An example of a bad execution is VoiceFree, the application basically allows you to post audio messages to your friends on facebook. But why on earth would anyone want that. It’s quicker to go to facebook mobile, and post a quick message to a friend than to record something, and then have someone listen to it. After all, we read quicker than we speak, and mobile information delivery needs to be
- Provide what you’re looking for
Does this app do it? The short answer is no. What is it’s value? Not much albeit being a nifty idea. But nifty ideas don’t always make good business sense.
The Good: On the other hand you have another app, bump – that allows you to exchange contact information by simply bumping your phones together. This app’s value is clear from the onset, and it’s a great little app, that all truth be told should be included in the iPhone OS. Yet, how do they monetize? By offering 3rd parties access to their technology, PayPal for example uses bump technology in their application which allows users to send money to each other by bumping their phones together.
Great application, clear value proposition, great execution.
Think about it
When thinking about development of any product, be it mobile, internet, physical, you always have to consider what value it will offer the customer, simply devoting resources to a great idea is for the most part an exercise in futility if you don’t know how you’ll monetize it, be it today, or tomorrow. At the end of the day, what really differentiates the mobile platform is it’s delivery, and use, remember it’s busts, but aside from that, a product is a product and needs to have a business model behind it.
We attended the BiCE summit this week at ESADE and overall we would say the event was a successful one, some interesting talks, some interesting companies, one that we’ll be covering sooner than later in our Startup Saturday series even.
However what we believe was the most interesting part of the whole thing was the panel of Angel, VC (venture capital), and PE (private equity) investors into the clean tech space, as well as a discussion on the development of clean tech in the CEE region. The low point – a long winded forum of government officials talking about sustainability and efficiency and elaborating on the need to create overly complex programmes to work together with the private sector and banks. So let’s start there –
Government and Clean Tech
Clearly one of the more important roles if any of government is to set policy, and provide incentives for enterprise in it’s own market. This is all good and well, and in our most humble of opinions this is simply something that needs to be done via tax abatement. After all, the stakeholder mentality is undoubtedly focused on the bottom line.
So what’s the problem? There should be none, government should have instituted tax abatement programmes for clean-tech initiatives a long time ago, the same for energy efficiency etc… etc… not only to offset the cost of installation, but also to create incentives for non eco-knowledgeable business to implement eco-friendly methodologies and practices into its day-to-day operations.
But @ BiCE, these governmental entities failed at promoting just that, instead they discusses large bogged down in bureaucracy initiatives, that lacked any sort of clear vision. Notwithstanding what really stood out – in terms of the negative – were comments made by various government individuals that “each case is different” and that a “different programme needs to be established for different companies”. Socialist, sure, but worse that that it screams of 1. Inefficiency, and 2. Higher Taxes. After all someone’s got to pay for all these new programmes.
What’s the solution, simple, Ockham’s Razor – entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily. Create an initiative that fosters the implementation of Clean Tech and Enviro-Friendly practices, give tax breaks to those who participate in the programme, and that’s pretty much all you need.
Clean Tech & Energy in the CEE
Elena Yordanova an investor in the clean tech area with Astra Capital spoke on this topic and although it was brief, it was also very informative. The region as a whole has huge potential for clean tech implementation, specifically in the area of en energy generation.
The SEE is rich in sunshine, there are various opportunities for hydroelectric as well as the north, i.e. Poland, and the Baltics can capitalize on coastal wind farms. Barriers to entry are still fairly low, and the region has massive growth potential across the board, however certain markets such as Romania already have met 2020 targets and over 30% of their energy production coming from renewable sources.
Investment Outlook for Clean Tech
This is a tricky one, as we all well know – investors want a high margin quick return. Clean tech companies however are not suited for this model, time to market may often be ten years or more, and investments are typically very capital intensive.
At the same time, the industry or sector is as a whole very new, and there is very little if any PE activity within the clean-tech space.The good news however is that you’re starting to see VC’s grouping their funds together for truly large scale capital investments into new technologies that otherwise without this money could not be realized. This is a good thing, the bad thing is the lack to BA’s in the field and their reluctance to throw money at clean tech startups – after all, there needs to be a call to a social cause when investing 500k-2m and expecting generally lower returns over a longer period of time.
Innovation is an ongoing process that your company should be taking a strong stake in, and as an entrepreneur it should always be on your mind. Why? Because as long as you’re working towards goals so are others, process improvements happen all the time, and new ways of doing things will always keep on evolving. If you’re not evolving, you’re in a way killing your business.
Look at it this way, you may have a technology that at the moment can clean water in a manner that is thus far cheaper and more energy efficient than your competitors, you have a decisive competitive advantage because of this technology, however, you know that there are also engineers out there working on similar products, ones that may be cheaper and more energy efficient than yours? So what do you do, you innovate. You look for different processes, different materials, ways to improve the process that will help you keep that advantage.
Today, we look at that relationship, the one between innovation and strategy. In all there are really three ways in which you can approach innovation within your company, and each is designed to work a bit differently. Read the methods, and think about which one of these works best for your enterprise and how you can most effectively apply in.
1. Strategy Defines Innovation – The company collects CI, looks at the market and then defines a strategy, i.e. in 5 years time we want to be at point X, we want to have Y% of the market and be in Z countries. How do we get there. In this scenario innovation effects are pursued to deliver and ensure value to the strategy, and the goal.
2. Innovation Defines Strategy – The company through the most excellent ideas of its board, entreprenerus and others has developed a number of concepts. These concepts are mapped, and a strategic evaluation is conducted based on CI, market factors, etc.. the selected innovation then fuels the strategy of the enterprise.
3. Innovation and Strategy Inform One Another – This is an ongoing dialogue between the two, Innovation and Strategy both affect each other equally, and the C levels manage the process throughout.
In terms of startups and smaller companies, you will find that option two tends to work the best. Why? Because chances are that you’ve embarked on a business venture due to the fact that you had a few good ideas, and chose to pursue one of them. This is the innovation process for those that are starting, or launching something totally new.
With that, your product, service, what have you can be easily augmented and adjusted to suit market needs, additional products, support products can also be added to your product, this is where No.1 comes in. How do you get from A->B how do you grow, and what and where can you innovate to help your business grow.
The last is the hardest to manage, specifically as it needs constant and ongoing attention which most startups lack do to limited resources. In practice it’s strongly supported by larger companies in high-innovation industries, bio, clean tech, hardware & chip design, etc… However that does not mean you should forget about it, Innovation and strategy should always be informing one another, always.
Free Startup Consulting?
So you’ve got a problem, there’s a process and you just can’t seem to understand how to get around that process while keeping that something vital to your business model. You talk to your partners, they’re stumped as well, friends and family can’t help, and colleagues just don’t have the time to devote to the problem.
What do you do? Get a consultant. Sounds great except for the fact that these guys can charge a couple of hundred an hour and as a startup the last thing you have is a a few spare grand laying around that you can throw at someone who may not be able to provide you with an adequate solution. But there is good news.
And that good news is you’ve got access to consulting clubs and entrepreneurship clubs at universities and MBA programmes. Most majour cities will have at least one university that has a good enough MBA programme, and those students who are in those clubs will be more than eager to tackle any real world entrepreneurship, or consulting issues you may have. Why? Simple, it’s real world experience, and they’re learning from the real – day to day – problems of your company. Not only that they’ll be able to slap that bit about helping you on their CV’s and it’s sure to look good.
But aside from just contacting a club and saying “hey, I’ve got this issue” – turn it into something more, propose presenting your company to these students, and then pose your problem, ask them how they would fix it. If you’re a non-business type entrepreneur where you’ve just recently learned about i.e. business plans & P&L’s, but know how to say… rectify colon cancer (no pun intended), then the business help from these lads and ladies may be exactly what you need and are looking for.
Why not hire a MBA intern?
There’s even a chance that the person you’re pitching to could spend a few good months over the summer with you getting you an your company ready to pitch to the right people. If the relationship between your company and the school and some of the students is a good one, consider hiring a MBA intern.
In terms of a consulting club, this is a bit of a different approach as these guys are going for the MBBB (McK, Booz, BCG, Bain) group, and you should pitch your problem as a possible project for them. They’ll get hands on experience, and you’ll get a report that otherwise would have cost you a nice chunk of change.
Remember, as entreprenerus, we have to be resourceful, and utilize those resources around us effectively, and efficiently. Business schools are a great place to find those resources, the students are motivated and yearn for hands on real world experience. Why not give them what they need?
If interested in working with MBA’s – or if a MBA and interested in working with Startups – contact us – info @ f3fundit.com – we’ll put you in touch.