IPO vs M&A

IPO VS Mergers and Acquisitions

IPO VS Mergers and Acquisitions

As time rolls by, there is good chance your start-up may have attracted some investors, other companies, and achieve success sooner or later. This exit decision to finally glorify yourself to the public market comes down to either an IPO or a Merger & Acquisition. We will be speaking about Pros and Cons for each, steps that need to be taken to pursue either path, and really finding out if your start-up is suited towards a specific route.

What is IPO?

An IPO is the first initial (public) stock offering that you are giving to the general public, and what really turns the company from a private one to a public one. You are bound to do this when you want to raise even more cashand expand significantly. Beyond getting money from the banks, investors, or additional grants, an IPO is the best option in regard to raising money. However, there are a few cons to keep in mind, such as you may NOT be able to raise the desired funds if the IPO price is not justified in the market. In addition to this, loss of control will develop as many new shareholders develop, as you are giving equity away in return for cash to expand your company. Other start-ups that have expanded through an IPO is Alibaba (25 Billion) and Facebook (16.01 Billion).

Facebook Alibaba

Facebook Alibaba

Furthermore, an IPO is not something you can decide within months, it takes years of planning and a lot of resources and cash to set an IPO and ensure it goes smoothly. On the other hand, if you are looking to expand and grow but do not want to take the IPO path, the merger and acquisition route is an excellent choice as well.

What is M&A?

Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) is the combination of 2 or more companies as a single entity. Specifically, in an acquisition, you do not need to see a 100% stake, it just needs to be majority stake to be declared as an acquisition. In terms of a Merger, there are different types, such as Congeneric, Horizontal, Vertical, Cash etc.. The reason why start-ups take up the merger path over an IPO is simply that they aren’t ready to take it public but want to increase the company’s valuation. However, if you want to ease back on the pedal, then an acquisition by a bigger company is a better option as expertise and resources will be readily available. Some examples of famous mergers include Exxon and Mobil, Disney and Pixar, and many more.

Angela Brady

Angela Brady

The steps to officially launch your own IPO is lengthy and will cost you greatly. Although, in the end, you do grow a very big amount of money. To begin off, you must ensure all your financial reporting systems are consistent and financial documents are properly audited, as you are going on the public market and transparency is key. Next, you will need key individuals to act as underwriters who essentially approach potential investors to buy the shares. Services like these can be available at companies, such as Gold Man Sachs and Morgan Stanley. After this, you MUST register with SEC to present the company story and allow them to do most of the legal registration and review process. You want to ensure you gain as many investors as possible as nothing is guaranteed. An IPO that I will shine light upon is Facebook’s famous IPO in 2012. The build-up leading to the IPO created extremely high expectations and investors were ready to invest, however, on May 12th, things started to go downhill. When the initial offering launched, technical issues stopped some orders from going through, but as usual, the stock shot up in the preliminary stages. However, it soon went back down to around the initial price, but barely managed to stay above at the end of the day. Given a few weeks, investors lost an average of approximately 40 million dollars, which showed a lot of work still needed to get done. Underwriters bought back shares to artificially increase the price, but given the factor of time, the Facebook stock steadily increased and created a stable environment for the share. This is a prime example of where an IPO can go wrong in the beginning. However, if you have the right people, right resources, and persist through it, everything will pull through at the end. This IPO raised 16 billion for Facebook, which is recorded as the third largest IPO in U.S history.

Nasdaq Welcomes Facebook

Nasdaq Welcomes Facebook

Mergers and Acquisitions are a lot simpler when comparing it to an IPO, however, they are still lengthy and takes time to implement. To begin off, an acquisition or merger are strategic decisions based on current and forecasted market situations. Since this merger or acquisition will most likely be in the millions or billions, you want to ensure you have appropriate analysts as it is a very big step for your company. Next, you want to locate and find potential partner companies that would be a good addition to your company both in the present and in the future. Work out implications of the actions you would make and see aspects, such as risks, benefits, and more importantly, how it will affect your company. Another important aspect to look at is to check if the company is financially doing well. To do so, hire auditors to do a financial background check on the targeted company. The last thing you want is to find out that the targeted company is financially unhealthy after the potential acquisition or merger. After this, a thorough valuation is a must, as it draws the line between ensuring the investment was worthwhile. This goes both ways round, if a bigger company is trying to buy you out or get a major stake in your company, ensure it is a reasonable price, keeping in mind the market forecast and current financial status. Everything after this point is all a legal matter and speaking to executive members on both sides of the company. Agreements and negotiations will take place, and execution will soon also play its role if both companies agree to the merger or acquisition. You want to ensure that the immediate impact regarding the M&A maximizes efficiency, while minimizing potential disruption to operations.

A successful and very strategic merger is Disney and Pixar. Disney used to release a lot of Pixar’s movies, however, post the movie “Cars”, the contract was about to expire, and a merger was getting set up within the two companies. This move was beneficial for both companies as they needed each other’s resources and brand reputation in the market to succeed.Pixar developed plans to release movies twice a year with the aid of Disney. Disney is one the biggest brands when it comes to marketing to children, and working with “Cars” in collaboration with Pixar, it created the most top-selling merchandising toy among four-year-old boys. Disney has a very good sense of marketing, advertising, and merchandising plugs to help market Pixar’s movies and toys. If it wasn’t for this merger, both companies wouldn’t have been where they are today and this very strategic move has helped both of them for the better.

Disney

Whether you are in the initial stages of your start-up or are looking for ways to expand, planning for an IPO or M&A are great places to start once you do see success in your business. It is important to maintain good financial records and consistent financial procedures throughout the life of your start-up. To recap, if you want to expand and gain big amounts of funding, an IPO would a suitable option, given your financially doing well and investors can see future success within the start-up. If you want to ease and let someone else take control or aid you, significantly in your start-up, a merger or acquisition is also a great option as a plethora of resources will be available to you and more importantly a great team of experts that can take your start-up to another level.

Questions

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Should Founders Work on Their Strengths or Weaknesses?

When looking at this scenario in a macro, it seems that most entrepreneurs at different stages of the business would choose to work on strengths and let another expert work on the weaker part. In theory it sounds logical and favourable. However, let’s examine these scenarios why a lot of first time founders seem to fall into the pit of spreading themselves too thin and focus too much on the business areas that are weak. Is there such a thing as a good balance? How do you measure it?

Different entrepreneurs will have strengths and weaknesses in different areas. Running a successful company is very demanding so it may seem that startup founders are supposed to be good at everything or all else will fail. Here is a short list of what strengths and weaknesses entrepreneurs may possess:

· Getting investor funding

· Pitching to investors

· Managing customers

· Managing internal team

· Building the product or service

· Marketing

· Sales

Investor Funding

Investor Funding

The famed author of the book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” Robert Kiyosaki describes funding as a prime example of a necessary skill that most entrepreneurs are weak at. This is not to say they will not be successful but it is say that they should be aware of this early on in order to prepare for it when their business needs funding the most. A lot of startup founders try to take getting funding into their own hands, even though it is their weakness; they do this instead of hiring for others’ strength such as a software tool to help train their business or professionals to help broaden their network. Like any strength, securing investor funding requires knowledge of the startup investment field, relationship building, and logistical time. Usually startup founders would try and fail between 2 months — 12+ months before asking for the necessary help. By them, their business would have gone through a significant amount of suffering that could have been easily avoided. We have heard of startups who have gone through 1 year of unsuccessful capital raising before finally considering help with their weakness.

Tim Ferriss

Tim Ferriss

Tim Ferriss, #1 New York Times best-selling author and Silicon Valley entrepreneur, dedicates to steering people to work towards their strengths and hiring/ outsourcing for weaknesses in order to accomplish professional goals. When founders dive into the entrepreneurial journey and undergo self discovery, each will find where their strengths and weaknesses really lie. Each business decision relies on utilizing available resources, time, and strengths and weaknesses of people.

Team

When founders try and do everything themselves, they realize that they take a longer time to develop the skill sets that funding experts, accountants, web designers, etc.. would have. It would cost more time and money in the long run and the return on investment (ROI) is poor. When founders hire experts in the fields where they are weak, they can work along side the experts to better learn what the end result should look like. It would be a positive learning experience that also saves you time and resources in the end.

If founders did not put too much on their shoulders by hiring for weaknesses and doubling down on their own strengths, they will not only save themselves a lot of time but they will spend their days building their business and doing what they love.

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How letters of intent increases startup funding success

How letters of intent increases startup funding success

Letters of Intent

What is a letter of intent? Who are they for? Are letters of intent outdated? Are they legally binding? How is it related to funding? How does it increase my conversion metrics as a startup?

Let’s take a look deeper into one of the important elements of startup conversion called letter of intent. We have come across this topic when one of our startup clients who is preparing for funding using www.venturx.casuggested for more information about letters of intent and how it would affect his Conversion score on the VenturX tool. Let’s dive in and answer all those buzzing questions!

What is a letter of intent?

A letter of intent outlines the terms of a deal and serves as an “agreement to agree” between two parties. They are usually not legally binding but it depends on how it is written. Most partners, investors, merchants, etc.. tend to favour those that are not legally binding. Below, there are a few examples of letters of intent.

How does a letter of intent help me get startup funding?

Startups are always trying to defend their valuation of their business when it comes to funding. The truth is that most startups do not realize the gold and leverage they tend to have. Even when you cannot show revenue, you can certainly show traction. A written agreement proving the interest or partnership of another party is certainly a strong way to show traction. When you are up for investor funding, the investor has more confidence in what is presented when there are contact details, price points, etc.. on these letters.

Who should startups get letters of intent from?

There are several sources that startups could be collecting the letters of intent from.

1) Potential investors — startups might hit need to hit a certain milestone (ex. Patent approval) in order to get the potential investment. Like a term sheet, this letter assures other investors that your startup is valued at that particular pre-determined valuation. These would be used to back up those claims.

2) Clients — this works very well with Business to Business (B2B) clients. For example, before putting in a purchase order, the business you are trying to sell to might want to see test results, patent approvals, etc.. These terms would be written into the letter of intent.

3) Partners — there are many different kinds of partnerships. For example, a referral partnership would be when two parties refer clients to each other in exchange for a commission fee or just out of goodwill. When startups do not have a full product yet in order to sign a referral partnership agreement contract, a letter of intent could take its place until development is completed.

What should be included in a letter of intent.

1) Language and Tone: Think about who the letter of intent is for. For example, if you are a VenturX startup aiming for funding, your letter of intents would be read by the investors that VenturX matches you with. Therefore, your letters of intent would cater to the language of investors.

2) Pricing, dates of delivery, etc.. — if you have agreed on pricing, dates of delivery, etc.. that is great to add because it strengthens your letters of intent. Note that if deadlines are not met, you can send an updated letter of intent to be signed for the updated estimated delivery date. Specific details are better to be included when a third party is reading it because there is context and clarity.

3) Signatures — be sure that whoever’s signatures are on the letters of intent are the head decision maker and not likely to change jobs anytime soon. If this happens, you may need to spend more time getting another signed letter.

Examples

1. Purchasing Letter of Intent

This letter of intent includes details such as the pricing, who is buying, etc. It is a great example because these detail tell the investors that there is definitely traction in the pipeline. It helps support the analytics of the VenturX report for that company.

LETTER OF INTENT FOR PURCHASE OF COMPUTER EQUIPMENT

March 11, 20xx

Contact Name

Address

Address2

City, State/Province

Zip/Postal Code

OBJECT: LETTER OF INTENT FOR PURCHASE OF COMPUTER EQUIPMENT

Dear [CONTACT NAME],

[YOUR COMPANY NAME] intends to purchase certain computer hardware from [SELLER]. The purpose of this Letter of Intent is to summarize our discussions to date and to confirm our respective intentions with respect to the proposed transaction.

[YOUR COMPANY NAME] intends to purchase from [SELLER] the [MODEL] computer.

The purchase price for the [MODEL] model shall be the lower of [AMOUNT] or whatever better price [SELLER] is able to extend to [YOUR COMPANY NAME].

[YOUR COMPANY NAME] and [SELLER] will use their best efforts to conclude a contract on or before [DATE].

In order to secure timely delivery of the equipment [YOUR COMPANY NAME] has paid to [SELLER] the sum of [%] of the listed price as a deposit, which shall be promptly refunded in the event negotiations are terminated.

In the event that a contract is not signed on or before [DATE] for any reason whatsoever, [YOUR COMPANY NAME] or [SELLER] shall each have the right to terminate the negotiations without liability.

This document is a Letter of Intent only. It is not intended to be, and shall not constitute in any way, a binding or legal agreement, or impose any legal obligation or duty on either of us. If the foregoing reflects our mutual statement of intention, please sign and return the enclosed copy of this Letter of Intent.

Sincerely,

FOR [YOUR COMPANY NAME] FOR [SELLER]

Authorized Signature Authorized Signature

2. Purchase with Deposit/Escrow

This letter of intent is a great example even if your industry is not real estate. The timeline details as well as the deposit procedure details are included. It allows investors to visualize how the process is going to go. Even though the investors may be familiar with the industry standard deposits or escrow, it is always good to include the details in it so everyone is on the same page.

LETTER OF INTENT

This letter sets forth some of the basic terms under which Seller and Purchaser would be interested in entering into a Real Estate Purchase Agreement. It serves as a letter of intent (“Letter”) from _________________________ (“Purchaser”)through and dated ______________, 2010, in which Purchaser has set forth its interest in acquiring the subject Property. NEVERTHELESS, PLEASE BE ADVISED THAT THIS LETTER IS NOT CONTRACTUALLY BINDING ON THE PARTIES AND IS ONLY AN EXPRESSION OF THE BASIC TERMS AND CONDITIONS TO BE INCORPORATED IN A FORMAL WRITTEN AGREEMENT.

PROPERTY:

____________________

____________________

____________________

(hereinafter, the “Property”)

PURCHASER:

____________________

____________________

____________________

____________________

SELLER:

c/o Silo Group, LLC

7800 W Sand Lake Rd, Suite 210

Orlando, FL 32819

PURCHASE PRICE:

The Purchase Price shall be $___________

FINANCING:

EARNEST MONEY

DEPOSIT:

_________________ dollars ($_________) (“Earnest Money”) shall be placed in escrow with the Title Company upon the execution of the Purchase and Sale Agreement (defined below). Upon expiration of the Due Diligence Period (defined below) and provided Purchaser does not terminate the Purchase and Sale Agreement before expiration of the Due Diligence Period, the Earnest Money shall become non-refundable.

DUE DILIGENCE ITEMS:

Within five (5) days after the Effective Date. Seller, at its expense, shall provide Purchaser with the following items, if any, in Seller’s possession:

A copy of the most recent title commitment for the Property

Lease

Survey

Environmental Report

Items (a) through (d) above and the updated title commitment and updated survey, if applicable, are hereinafter referred to as the “Due Diligence Items”.

DUE DILIGENCE PERIOD:

Purchaser shall have up to ____________ (__) days from the Effective Date (the “Due Diligence Period”), to review the Due Diligence Items and to enter upon the Property to inspect the physical condition of the same, as it shall deem necessary. On or before expiration of the Due Diligence Period, Purchaser shall determine whether it is feasible to purchase the Property based on Purchaser’s review of the Due Diligence Items and its physical inspection of the Property. If it is not feasible for Purchaser to purchase the Property, Purchaser may terminate the Purchase and Sale Agreement. If Purchaser so terminates, the Earnest Money shall be returned to Purchaser, and the Due Diligence Items shall be returned to Seller.

CONTRACT:

Upon the mutual execution of this Letter, Seller will promptly prepare a Purchase and Sale Agreement and Seller shall make a good faith effort to deliver said Purchase and Sale Agreement to Purchaser within five (5) days from the effective date of the LOI.

TRANSFER:

Special Warranty Deed or the equivalent thereof in the State where the Property is located.

CLOSING:

Closing shall occur on a date mutually acceptable to purchaser and seller, no later than ________ (__) days after the effective date.

CLOSING COSTS:

Closing Costs shall be paid according to local custom, further detailed in the Purchase and Sale Agreement.

SALES COMMISSION:

Purchaser and Seller each represent that no real estate broker, finder or intermediary has been consulted or used in connection with the purchase and sale of the Property except Silo Group, LLC. Silo Group, LLC shall be compensated upon Closing by Seller pursuant to a separate agreement with Seller.

CONFIDENTIALITY:

Seller, Purchaser, and their agents shall maintain the confidentiality of the parties, terms, and conditions of this letter and the negotiations that may follow, if any, from this date forth.

The above items are the general business terms and conditions to be covered in the Purchase and Sale Agreement, which would be submitted to the Seller. Additional remaining terms of the Purchase and Sale Agreement will be negotiated and must be acceptable to both Purchaser and Seller.

This Letter is not intended to be a binding contract.

If this Letter accurately reflects the general business terms and conditions which may form the basis of a separate written agreement, please confirm in writing no later than ______________, 2010.

Buyer hereby agrees to the terms and conditions of the Letter.

By: ________________________________ ____________________

Date

Name: _____________________________ ____________________

Title

Seller hereby agrees to the terms and conditions of the Letter.

By: ________________________________ ____________________

Date

Name: _____________________________ ____________________

Title

3. Purchase Upon Due Diligence and Shipping Details

This example gives details about how the inspection or due diligence will take place. These details are good to give assurance to investors because depending on the situation, investors may also offer a second round of due diligence. If the inspection/due diligence is being serviced by a trusted third party, that is even better. The delivery details also gives an overview of the timeline when things will take place. This transparency in the letter increased trust level between the parties.

AIRCRAFT PURCHASE OFFER

Ref: _________________ S/N ___________ Registration: _________ (the “Aircraft”)

Subject to ratification of a mutually agreeable Aircraft Sales Agreement within 5 business days, Purchaser offers to purchase and Seller agrees to sell the above referenced Aircraft subject to the following:

1. Purchase Price: The purchase price shall be $ _____________________________________ USD

2. Deposit: Upon ratification of this Offer, Purchaser shall make an immediate refundable escrow deposit in the amount of $ ________________USD to _______________________________ (“Escrow Agent”) within 1 business day. Purchaser and Seller shall share escrow fees equally. Time shall be of the essence.

3. Inspection: This Offer is subject to Purchaser’s satisfaction with a visual inspection of the Aircraft and records to be completed within 3 business days followed by a technical inspection (hereafter “Inspection”) of the Aircraft, engines, avionics, logbooks and records including a test flight of one hour, to be commenced within 5 days at _______________________________ or other mutually agreed upon facility to determine the Aircraft is in compliance with Paragraph 5 below. Purchaser expressly agrees that all costs of the visual or technical Inspection and the movement expenses shall be for Purchaser’s account and pre-paid in advance. The Aircraft shall not be flown, except for delivery, following the Inspection.

4. Acceptance: Prior to rectification of any discrepancies found during the technical Inspection, Purchaser shall accept (“Acceptance”) or reject the Aircraft in writing within 2 days following completion of the technical Inspection. Upon Acceptance, the deposit shall become non-refundable, subject only to Seller’s performance hereunder.

5. Condition: Aircraft shall be delivered at the Seller‘s expense:

(1) With all airworthy systems and avionics functioning normally

(2) Current on it’s maintenance program with no deferments or extensions;

(3) With all AD’s and mandatory SB’s accomplished

(4) With all records, logbooks, flight manuals, and accessories in owners possession;

(5) Free and clear of all liens or other encumbrances.

6. Delivery & Closing: Final payment & Delivery for the aircraft shall occur simultaneously at ___________________________________ within 3 business days following Sellers compliance with Paragraph 5 above through the Escrow Agent. Prior to delivery, Seller shall execute and place a Bill of Sale with the Escrow Agent. This contract and all negotiations shall remain strictly confidential.

7. Additional Terms:___________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________

SELLER: PURCHASER:

_________________________________ ___________________________________

(Company name) (Company name)

_________________________________ ___________________________________

(Signature) (Signature)

Title: _____________________________ Title: _______________________________

Date: _____________________________ Date: _______________________________

The examples show that there are different styles for letters of intent. It highly depends on what industry the business is in. When reviewing it, make sure to include all the details mentioned in this article and your business will be one step closer to your funding goal.

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Should Startups get Free Resources or Customize Help? (AWS Edition)

Should Startups get Free Resources or Customize Help? (AWS Edition)

Should Startups get Free Resources or Customize Help? (AWS Edition)

As more and more startups sprout from each major city in the world, the number of free and customized services to support startups also grow globally. One of the first expenses that startups will be spending on are servers. No matter what industry your startup company is in, you will need a website. So let’s review which is better: a free server or a paid customized help. As a small gift, our development team has written out FAQs about the Set Up that are not included in Amazon’s free trial. See end of the article.

I Want Freebies! (Obviously)

I love freebies

I love freebies

Freebies

This would be the obvious answer that free is the first resource that unprofitable startups would turn to because of their limit budget. When startups on a budget, words like “free” can mean a lot. You don’t know if you would like to commit to a monthly payment. This is especially true for first-time startups. There are services like Ormuco,Microsoft, and Amazon Web Services (AWS) that offer free startup hosting for a year. We will focus on the one we just switched to which is Amazon Web Hosting from Ormuco. We won’t go into why there was trouble with using Ormuco. It is not the place for that.

Pros

  1. This is FREE for one year for you to try unless you have multiple sites like we do. Then it could be less than 1 year.
  2. Choosing things that are well known will have a lot of documentation that is available online including this one to help you set up.

Cons

  1. They do not have anyone to help you with any support when you are on the free version (so make sure there is someone on the internal team you can trust with handling all of this)! You might not want to outsource this part. This is also attributed to if you have questions about the setup.

Should I Go for Customized Services?

This is a great option if your budget can lean this way. You can get things done faster with less headache.

How can I get set up info for Free?

As part of our company mission, we want to help as many startups save time, be more efficient and achieve their goals. If you do end up choosing the free version, here are a few questions that our internal team has answered for you!

Frequently Asked Questions (AWS Set Up for Beginners)

FAQs
  • How to move to continuous integration with code deploy?
    A: If you are using Bitbucket, this guide will help you. It basically boils down to building a series of scripts that throw your source around from bitbucket to an S3 instance to your EC2 server. If you make sure everything is running (especially the code-deploy agent). That way, it will work beautifully and save you time.
  • Getting charged on free tier/What does the free tier actually encompass?
    A: This is a big one because their support pages dance around it very much. In general, Amazon tells you what will be charged as an extra and what you’ll get for free. For example, Amazon’s free tier includes an EC2 – their cloud instances – running for  750 free hours per month for one year. Since you are billed per hour this sounds pretty straightforward… until you realize you’ll be charged for setting up any additional concurrent instances. You should set up your development environment elsewhere unless you want to pay for your free trial. In general, the free trial availability varies from service to service, so you should check, but they all should cater well enough to early-stage startups.
  • Do I need an Elastic IP?
    A: Yes! Your instance comes with an IP; but every time you stop and re-start it AWS assigns it a new IP. You have to set up an elastic IP under their services and associate it with your instance. That one will persist restarts, so you should definitely assign it to your server.  You get one per instance for free
  • Which set up do I start with?
    A: We went with the free tier t2.micro EC2 and some negligible SSD storage space running Ubuntu. Simply, you pick a tier and a region. Then you name it and configure it.
  • Which region should I use?
    A: This is also a tricky one. On the one hand, at least in theory, you mitigate latency by having an instance closer to where your user base is. On the other hand, certain regions are cheaper. We don’t know exactly what the science of choosing that is. Nevertheless, us-east-2 seems to be the cheapest.
  • What if I want more?
    A: The 1 year free tier is the smallest generic one that anyone could get with just an email.

But for startup, AWS offers much more interesting free tiers though, from 1000$ to 15,000$ over 2 years, depending on your context (backed by an incubator or not, …)
Startup should try to not use just the free tier, but ask for the AWS Activate program: https://aws.amazon.com/activate/

1) https://aws.amazon.com/free/  –  The free-tier central page, which gives information on a plan by plan/product by product basis, notably “what’s covered exactly by the time-bound free tiers, what’s covered by the lifetime (renewed monthly) free tiers, like DynamoDB or Lambda” etc.

2) https://calculator.s3.amazonaws.com/index.html – The official cost calculator  where you can include/exclude the 1- year free tier

For more great information about AWS, here is a Medium article from another user: Bootstrap to Billions on AWS. Enjoy!

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15 Employee Engagement Activities For Your Small Business

15 Employee Engagement Activities For Your Small Business

Employee engagement is more than a buzzword.

Time and time again, studies have found that higher employee engagement rates contribute to greater productivity and with it, profitability. According to the Gallup State of the American Workplace Report companies were indicated to also experience 37% less absenteeism and 90% less turnover.

So, why do so few small businesses invest in employee engagement? Three words: budget, budget, and budget. With limited resources, it’s easy to see why investing in employee engagement tends to dwell on the bottom of SMB to-do lists. But here’s the good news. There are many low-cost ways for small businesses to increase employee engagement, and with it, foster a happy and healthy work environment.

1. Host a Brown Bag Presentation

lunch

Often used for training or information sessions, a brown bag is an employee-hosted casual meeting during lunch with a short presentation on a topic that usually relates to the business. Participants bring their lunches, listen in, and ask questions. Learning from a fellow co-worker versus reading a 60-page PDF is certainly optimal, and far more memorable.

2. Take a Half Day and Hang Out

bubble soccer

Friday is known to be the least productive day of the week. The work slows down, people slip off to happy hour, and slam their computers shut at 3:00. Once in a while, encourage a final boost of productivity by offering a half day and then afterwards getting the team together for an outdoor event. This can be anything from a picnic in the park to a department-vs-department sporting event to a relaxing barbeque where employees can invite friends and family.

3. Try to Complete an Escape Room

escape room

An escape room is a physical adventure game, where puzzles and riddles have to be solved using clues and other strategies to get from one room to another. Perfect for the small company, escape rooms are known for encouraging teamwork. Learning to communicate with each other and solve puzzles is a positive skill that is directly transferred to the workplace. Another plus is seeing how individuals think and come up with solutions so you know the best person to bring certain problems to.

4. Host Work Clubs

football

Ever notice how certain hobbies bring about like-minded people? There can be different work clubs for beer, fantasy football, improv, and more! They’re a great way to change the conversation from purely work to personal life, and offer an environment to develop friendships in. When co-workers are also friends, they’ll be more likely to help each other out at work, which makes working less stressful and more enjoyable. A workplace comprised of good friends consists of better communication and greater engagement as a whole, which means they’ll be sticking around for a while. The Society for Human Resources Management found that the more friends an employee has at work, the more likely they are to reject another job offer.

5. Make Onboarding and Learning Fun

trivia

Ever have a job where you’re told that the first few months are like drinking out of a firehose? It can be stressful to have to learn so much in such a short time. If you have a lot of new information for employees to learn, you can make things easier by gamifying the process. Whether you have unique terminology for your line of business, lots of stats, or case studies, there are all sorts of creative ways you can incentivize learning. Encourage competition and set up an afternoon trivia game between teams, or hand out personal quizzes and set a timer. (Don’t forget the prizes!) Once onboarding is finished, have your new employees present to the larger team to ensure they understand the rules, regulations, and processes at your business.

6. Ask for Feedback Often — and Act upon It

survey

Everyone wants to be heard. This is as true in the office as it is anywhere. Make it clear that you care and want all feedback — the good, the bad, the ugly. Then actually do something. Let your team know what you are changing or implementing based on what feedback was received. Connecting the feedback to real change makes employees feel valued and appreciated. The smaller a business is, the fewer decision makers there are. To act in the majority’s best interest, bring your employees’ voices in to help make decisions. Send out surveys on which snacks they’d like, how to utilize a currently empty room, or which brown bag topic they’d like next. Knowing one is heard and respected provides a huge incentive to stay.

7. Promote Perks That Support Physical and Mental Health

yoga

As a small business, providing great care is expensive. It also eats away at other perks you could be offering, and when 4 out of 5 employees want benefits more than a pay raise, it’s time to get with the program. Try giving a stipend each month to go to exercise classes or see a nutritionist. Employees will love the perks, be more encouraged to make healthy decisions, and feel that you really care about their well-being. Healthy employees also need less sick time, get more done, and are generally happier!

8. Offer Healthy Snacks

Snacks

More and more, employees are expecting snacks in the office. (I blame the millennials!) You can help everyone out by offering snacks that give your team energy without the sugar crash. No more digging into the receptionist’s candy bowl — make it a fruit bowl. Healthy food improves concentration, provides lasting energy, helps with digestion, and overall increases happiness levels. For snacks consider having avocados, blueberries, nuts, and other fruits to munch on.

9. Ongoing Training and Mentorship

mentor

Once onboarding is complete, that shouldn’t mark the end of learning. Employees who are consistently challenged are more engaged! Communicate with employees and find out who their mentors are. Make an effort to connect young employees with other mentors you know of to help them grow. This will help build solid work experience, and offer your employees a way to grow their skills, their network, and their careers.

10. Bring in Motivational Speakers

Tony Robbins

This idea may be skipped over more than it should be. Having a good motivational speaker can do wonders. Think about your favorite pep talk or an inspiring speech from your favorite movie. Goosebumps, right? You’d watch it on YouTube the night before your 5,000 word essay you haven’t started and bang it out. Now, imagine hearing one for real. It may sound cheesy, but motivational speakers can be genuinely inspiring, and a good story can reignite some fading embers and inspire your employees to reach farther and work harder.

11. Sip’n’paint Night Vs Hackathon (Creatives vs Brainiacs)

hackathon

Know what employees appreciate? Choices. Have activities geared more toward right-brained individuals, and activities geared more toward left-brained individuals. Then, encourage full participation at both! Each event will have different stars of the show, and give others the opportunity to try something new. Add in a little wine, and those not holding a paintbrush or clicking away can mingle and chat with others.

12. Create a Comfortable Work Space

workplace

Think about it. When your back hurts, when the sun is too bright, when the coffee machine is broken — are you really thinking about work? Make sure your employees have all the supplies they need to feel comfortable and focus for longer periods of time. Keep snacks stocked, the AC at a reasonable level, and be willing to invest in good chairs and more. Making the office feel like the home office will increase productivity and satisfaction. If you could use a time tracker to see how many hours your team spends in the office, you would agree: It’s time for better chairs.

13. SWAG

Swag

Everyone has seen the company backpacks, fleeces, and water bottles. They’re useful, memorable, and pretty cool! It’s a great way to get the word out when others see them and ask about the company, and employees can feel company pride using them. Some kind of onboarding goodie bag is a treat, and having smaller knick knacks to give away such as bottle openers and stickers are also fun for employees. Never underestimate the value of SWAG, it really is something that employees talk about and want to have.

14. Performance-based Promotions

promotion

Retention, you say? Millennials are notorious for job hopping, staying at the same company between 18 months and 3 years. Giving promotions based on performance rather than tenure can motivate employees to stick around longer if they continue to advance. Emphasizing performance will encourage more consistent communication between leaders and employees, build trust, and strengthen mutual respect. These take time and dedication to achieve, something an engaged employee won’t want to lose so soon.

15. Freedom in the Office

Working outside

In 1981, Adam Osborne invented the very first laptop, “Osborne 1”. With all the major technological advancements made to computers since, laptops are more portable and cheaper than ever before, and there should be no excuse as to why any employee shouldn’t have access to one. Being constrained to a desk for several consecutive hours has been shown to cause back pain, migraines, and dangerous blood clots. Instead, have employees freely move to rooms they can concentrate better in, stretch their legs throughout the day, and reap the benefits of a more productive, happy employee.

Investing in your employees’ happiness and education is the key to fostering employee engagement, and will ultimately benefit the both of you in the long term.

employee happiness
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90% Trade business owners make the mistake of waiting for the “weather to warm” to begin driving for leads and estimates

90% Trade business owners make the mistake of waiting for the “weather to warm” to begin driving for leads and estimates

Guest Post by: Jeff Consul, Institute Of Innovation

This puts you into the position of a high stress April and May where everything needs to happen at once; staff training, marketing, estimating, and production. This is the worst way to try and launch a profitable year.
Instead here are the things you should be doing & thinking right now:

1. Start Marketing Now. Reboot the online ads. Pull out the signs. Hire cold callers, start flyering — begin canvasing your neighbourhoods early. Remember the first to door advantage and that people need to see your brand 3–7 times before they purchase.

2. Remember that 33% of marketing is retaining market share, 33% is getting new clients and 33% is to intimidate your competition, and always keep ’em sweating 😉

3. The big ‘secret’ that that big business’s understand is that homeowners and clients will in fact happily book months and months in advance. This allows for them to budget for a project and put money away (that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford!) as well as allowing them to arrange their summer plans (To be gone on holiday while a reno is going on) Earlier is always better — it allows for follow ups.

4. Connect with all of last years previous customers. Thank them for their business and if they have a corner lot — request to put up your business sign in their front yards for 2–3 weeks while you market. This create momentum for your marketers.

5. You WILL face this objection — ’But its too early!’ — The best way to handle this is, ’Actually we do the majority of our estimates while we are slow because it allows us to price things out exactly how you want it, and then gives us a timeline to plan accordingly. It also gives you the time to select colours/finishes/styles. (And we’re very busy during the summer)’
If you start marketing now you can have 50–60% of your projects booked before May 1st. Imagine how easy hiring staff would be after that.
Hope this helps!

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The Art of the Ask

The Art of the Ask

Have you ever someone say, “Well, you should have asked.” The lesson learned that those who don’t ask, don’t get. This article will tell you about top reservations why people don’t ask for things, what business opportunities can be missed, and how to structure the Art of the Ask!

The art of asking questions

The art of asking questions

The Art of the Ask could be anything such as inquiring questions to which you don’t know the answers, sharing where your company is really at and what you are looking for, asking for help, etc..The ask isn’t always a favour but it can make people feel that way.

For startups that means there are many missed opportunities over their journey because they didn’t ask; they know they could have asked; ultimately, they didn’t get the opportunity. Sometimes, these missed opportunities mean they missed meeting an investor, meeting a potential customer or learning about a new resource that would make their business more productive.

When you are running a lean startup, your main advantage is speed. Startups are all about catching opportunities at an accelerated speed! As they grow, new opportunities arise every day and it is either a gain or lost.

So then why are people so afraid of asking for things? Here are some top reasons why people don’t ask and how to master those reservations.

1. Fear of bothering or annoying others

As people, we want to be liked. So it is natural to not want to bother others. This is also a fear that the other person will say no. A simple and collaborative way to ask for help with something is to prepare to offer something in return. When we offer our expertise, services, etc., we get the opportunity to meet the needs of others. In turn, it helps limit the fear of bothering or annoying others.

For example, when our company was going through UX testing, I wanted to find a way to repay a user for going out of his way to meet us and give feedback. I found out that he was hosting an event so I knew how I could help. I lead a group of entrepreneurs within the Internations.org organization and I could help him promote his event in our community. So my promotion efforts filled up his remaining seats at his event.

2. Fear of showing your vulnerability

Sometimes an ask is indirect such as a description of how the business is going and what you need. When you express your need, you may be surprised how often others try to help. Because our clientele are startups, whenever I ask someone how business is going, the first automatic answer is “things are going really well.” This is because we are so used to saying it and so used to feeling the need to protect our “baby” (which in this case is the business). People tend to not let others in because they are afraid of any potential criticism. An easy way to perform the “tell others what your need is” would be to structure your sentence this way, “Things are going well. We just hired a new developer and we are just starting to look for funding.” It gives a realistic sense of how things are going and gives a peek about what you might need. When performing this one, just remember to keep an open mind. Don’t expect that others will suddenly know an investor to refer you to. However, when you keep an open mind, you may find opportunity in the unlikeliest of places.

Don’t be afraid to share things that you need. It takes a lot of strength to own your vulnerabilities. You would be surprised about the opportunities it open up when you share your truth. Like a child, it takes a village to build a company and startups need to grow as fast as they can. Unforeseen opportunities from unexpected sources can help you alleviate some of those “growing pains.”

3. “Oblivion is Bliss”

Oblivion

Oblivion

When we don’t ask for help or insights from others, we will be sure to stay on the same path. At the time same, we will also be sure to protect our egos. When people start companies, the market does not care about your ego; therefore, living in blissful oblivion will not help your startup in the long run. Startups need to ask, learn, and reiterate. It all starts with the ask.

When we were doing our market research when we first started, I met an entrepreneur who told me that his biggest fear was to be copied by competitors. He didn’t show me his product. It was ok. He told me that he was so afraid of being copied that he spent 3 years building it and never talked to a single potential customer. He did not want feedback and did not welcome it. It was very surprising to me that even though there were best practices on how to do product market fit and why market research was important, there are many startups who choose to build businesses their way.

Ultimately, there are always going to be new reservations about why first time entrepreneurs will not ask for things such as help, insights, and perspectives. When you do, you get the chance to uncover the possibility of the good, the bad, and the ugly from others. But here is the key thing, at least you get to uncover A POSSIBILITY that wasn’t there before! I want to leave you with a quote from my grandfather who said, “Those who ask the most questions, get the most answers.”

Asking Questions

Asking Questions

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3 Reasons Why Every SaaS Startup Need to be Consultants!

3 Reasons Why Every SaaS Startup Need to be Consultants!

As a super busy startup in today’s world, it seems impossible to be doing anything extra. Today, we want to tell you why that extra added service will go miles for your new SaaS (Software as a Service) business.

1. Research on Your Customer’s Needs

Customer-centric companies win. Getting there, however, requires getting to know customers so well that there’s not only understanding of what they do, but why they do it. This is the mentality that Founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, always understood.

An excellent way to do it is to simply ask. Work with them on the solutions directly. Help your target market to achieve their goals so you can benefit from key takeaways to that will benefit your technological solutions. Find out what not only what the solution should be but how customers want to use it and any other extra features that would make it more valuable.

When startups are close with the customers, that relationship will act as an insightful competitive advantage. (This rings true if the target market for your SaaS is the same as your consultant clients.) For us for example, it would startups who are first time business owners looking for their first round of funding (Pre-Seed — Series A). If you are very specific with your target, the more you will benefit in the long run.

2. Use it as Your Side Hustle

Get some revenue coming in from the side hustle. Depending on how much you charged, your startup can still reinvest that money into things such as Facebook or Instagram ads like we did. If your consultancy packages enough for you to invest in automation softwares or salaries, even better!

This would also be play a helpful hand when you are applying for government grants where they require you to show some form of revenue.

3. Use It to Build Your Startup Brand

To utilize the customer feedback and questions to build your brand will show community engagement as well as branding your company as an expert in this industry. It is always hard for startups with no money to build a brand so utilizing as much content in a consistent format as possible is a big step in the right direction.

For example, VenturX, has free monthly Health Checks for subscriber users. This takes place on Skype. Because I have a close friend who is a startup on our platform, I asked if our Health Checks can be recorded. This recording would show her asking questions about our VenturX metrics, why these metrics are important to investors and what other considerations she needs to think about before submitting to investors. She agreed it was a good idea. So starting March 4th at 8PM EST, we will have our first Health Check session. This is ideal for branding because her questions may be the same as others in our target market when it comes to investing and it gives a sneak preview of what to expect as a VenturX user. If you want to catch the video, please follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Youtube.

In addition, we will be writing a Medium blog and Youtube debrief on how the first session went. We expect there to be at least 2 sessions so you would be able to see a typical startup user’s improvements and added value.

Resources on how to get started on branching out your consultancy services

  1. Post your services on your website

2. You will need a consultancy package to send to potential clients so the understand what your field of expertise is and the price.

Here is a sample of how ours look like:

Pricing Package

Pricing Package

3. Other places to post your consultancy services:

a) ME University

We put ours under Raising Capital and Funding. You can see ours as an example of a typical description of the services:

ME University

ME University

b) Freelance Service Sites: FiverrUpwork, and Guru.

c) Post it on your social media as announcements of your new services

d) If you have a newsletter, make sure your audience is aware.

The main thing startups should beware of is contributing too much too little time. If your SaaS company is your main operation, be sure to devote the necessary care and time to it. When startups do not have the history of clients and built up a reputation yet, a lot of clients may have a lot of questions in order to feel more trusting and secure about taking that next step with you. This could take a lot of time to “nurture” new leads. From our experience, we help answer some of those questions on our website and our latest blog post to explain the pros and cons of hiring startup consultants here!

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Should First Time Entrepreneurs Pay for a Startup Consultant or Not?

Should First Time Entrepreneurs Pay for a Startup Consultant or Not?

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” — famous Chinese proverb

With entrepreneurship becoming so popular nowadays, it is certainly overwhelming to know which resources are right for you (ie. investor platform, incubators, accelerators, startup consultants, etc..)

As our business who mainly targets startups, we devote a lot of time keeping our ears to the ground and finding interesting startup problems, solutions, and ideas to explore. Here is a post that inspired this post. It was from a popular Facebook group.

Facebook
Facebook Post

This post was from a first time entrepreneur who received 54 comments in 24 hours from startup consultants, entrepreneurs who have used consultants, people who have not used consultants, etc.. (This post has been edited several times and we cannot find the original post.)

The most detailed and interesting comment was this one:

“I started my business with $100 and a hunger to create freedom in my life.

At the time I couldn’t afford coaching or programs and guess what?

I didn’t buy any.

I did market research by talking to people (that costs me nothing).

I then created a membership program (in the B2C space) on WordPress (had to learn how to use WordPress) — that costed me the $100 of Siteground hosting and nothing else.

I had a Facebook group I was running the community in. That cost me nothing.

I then went on and started doing live videos and promote my membership (costed me nothing).

I sold 60 memberships, that replaced my banking job. So I quit.

I then with the money I made bought a new MacBook so I can work faster.

I then sold more memberships and more memberships and here I was making $5000 a month.

And that’s when I decided to invest $2000 in the 90 Day Year.

This year (1.5 years later) I am on track to have a 7 figure year by the end of 2018.

You see… all these programs you see.. you don’t have to buy them.

Also.. the people that sell them.. they don’t need to change their pricing to accommodate “people who can’t afford it”.

Coaching IS NOT a right.

It’s a privilege.

Programs and courses are NOT a right.

They are a privilege.

And Iike any privilege, you either

1) make money and work to deserve it (and reward yourself with it)

2) don’t make money and don’t buy it.

3) look for organizations that offer free mentorship for startups (lots of them in the World)

Sooooo

I don’t understand what the issue is.

Work hard.
Make money.
THEN invest.” — Anonymous

There were also other comments from the post explaining how startups who are new to the world of entrepreneurship have reservations about investing because of these following reasons.

Why People Don’t Pay for Startup Consultants

  1. Insecure feelings about their business- or the consultant
  2. Not 100% sure about their own ROI from the business enough to pay for a consultant
  3. Lack trust in the consultant
  4. Feel that there are enough free resources about certain areas on the internet
  5. They do not understand the long term value of the business and how a consultant can make a difference (ie. spending $1000 to make $20,000)
  6. They cannot find the right fit for the exact field of expertise that they need

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

You don’t know what you don’t know

You don’t know what you don’t know

This famous saying rings true in entrepreneurship. This boils down to whether this million dollar idea is worth the risk you are taking or not. For most first startups who come to our team and ask for investment money, it tends to stop right here and they will tend to go back to their full time jobs or take our advice to ponder about whether or not they go forward for another 4–6 months.

Since we run a startup platform, VenturX, that helps prepare and connect early stage startups for investments, we have the opportunity to see with our own eyes what success and failures within startups look like everyday. Even though they come from diverse backgrounds, the checklist of startups we can accept in order to maintain a high level of successful launches and investments are still the same. We can quickly tell a) if they are in our target market and b) what their next step would be in order to best be prepare for big investors like ours.

Time VS Money VS Quality

Time, Money, Quality

Time, Money, Quality

From working with over 300 startups and hearing their stories of successes and failures, there are only so many things you can invest into your business if you don’t have the luxury of quality. Quality stems from knowledge and experience. Every investor who has been an entrepreneur in a previous life always talks about getting your hands dirty. That is where your “je ne sais quoi” value comes from and therefore enhancing your overall “quality.” If it is your first time, you really only have the options of investing your time (known as sweat equity) or your money (known as hiring people or purchasing resources).

Even though we have a platform where potential clients can already see there are startups using our platform and getting investment, they have valid questions before signing up or hiring our consultation services. Their questions are ones that all startups should consider when investing any amount of money into their business.

Why Should First Time Entrepreneurs Hire Startup Consultants? (What do potential clients ask?)

  1. What is your field of expertise? Why should I choose you?

Answer: Helping prepare you for your first big round of funding and helping get to you launch with business intelligenceFrom working in the startup industry, we get to see the ingredients of success and failures on a daily basis that we use to benefit our consultation clients so they don’t have to suffer with their time and money in the long run.

2. Do you have referrals from other startups?

Answer: Yes — some are on our website: www.venturx.ca and others can be sent to you privately. We strongly recommend our best practices such as developing good positive relationships with clients in order to collect those success stories!

3. How does the consultation services work?

Answer: You can purchase specific packages such as “Review my investor’s pitch deck” or purchase a set of 5 or 20 hours of consultation. We meet on a call to help you with specific goals and come up with a structured plan of implementation and we make sure this plan is executed in the best manner possible.

4. Do you connect us with contacts?

Yes! As an added bonuses are connections and contacts when applicable. We know that not all consultants, coaches or mentors do that; however, it is part of our practice. There are some that are exclusive to only VenturX platform users.

4. Can I get a discount?

Answer: Discounts are available to all VenturX platform users or those who purchased larger set of consultation hours (ie. over 20 hours).

There you have it! The reasons why first time entrepreneurs opt to hire or not hire help. We hope this article helps you make informed decisions that can help your startup in the future years to come! For more startup tips, check out our other blogs!

Work

Work

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Do Networking Events Contribute to Your Business Goals?

Do Networking Events Contribute to Your Business Goals?

Networking

Networking

People always say that a plan without a goal is just a dream. Networking events should be part of your overall plan to ensure you get the most out of your valuable time. If there is no connection between your strategy and your actions, there is a problem.

During my first year of business, I personally wasted a lot of time going to startup networking events because I thought I had to. It could easily become a norm or hype to go without reflecting on how it was affecting your overall business strategy. Some people go just to be seen; some stay for 20 mins to take a picture for social media. That could be their overall goal but at least it means they are aware of their goals and understand how networking events fit into those.

Success

Success

Why are goals important?

Goals should be tied to the different tactics of your business. Each thing that requires any piece of your precious 24 hours in a given day should have a goal. Without goals, we have no purpose and no way of measuring the success of our actions.

Networking Event

Networking Event

There are different types of networking event goals:

1. Meeting prospective clients (to generate new leads)

2. Giving a presentation at that event (as a guest speaker or panelist) to boost brand awareness

3. Blowing off steam (that is personal goal but it may have no affect on your business)

4. Boost LinkedIn numbers

5. Find UX testers

6. Meet investors

7. Nurture relationship with particular person you know is attending that event (as part of lead nurturing tactic)

8. Find startups who need help with getting funding of $25,000-$1,000,000+ (which is our goal)

For each networking event, have a goal. As long as we know why we are going and what we are hoping to expect from the opportunity, our business strategy will look more and more clear every day.

Stayed tuned for our upcoming startup event on February 15th at 6PM EST by checking out our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram LIVE!

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