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CEOs on Career Success
Inclusive Growth for Entrepreneurs, Part One
Part 1 features an introduction by Bruce Kogut, Professor and Director of the Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Center for Leadership and Ethics at Columbia Business School; remarks by Lew Kaden, Former Vice-chairman of Citigroup; and a keynote presentation by Sendhil Mullainathan , Professor of Economics at Harvard University and Founder of ideas42.
Inclusive Growth for Entrepreneurs, Part Two
Inclusive Growth for Entrepreneurs, Part Three
Inclusive Growth for Entrepreneurs, Part Four
Emily Breza, Assistant Professor at Columbia Business School, presented her work on the question if micro finance fosters business growth.
Christopher Blattman, Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs and of Political Science at Columbia University presented on stimulating youth entrepreneurship in Africa.
Ronnie Chatterji, Associate Professor at the Duke University: The Fuqua School of Business, spoke about the dichotomy between the consistent messaging encouraging everyone to become entrepreneurs and the realities of what is necessary to become a successful entrepreneur from an business and policy standpoint.
Finally, Amit Khandelwal, Gary Winnick & Martin Granoff Associate Professor of Business at Columbia Business School presented a research experiment where a cost-saving technology was introduced to a company in Pakistan and the implications that credit may have had on the technology’s adoption.
Closing remarks by Bruce Kogut , Professor and Director, Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Center for Leadership and Ethics at Columbia Business School and Gita Johar, Senior Vice Dean and Meyer Feldberg Professor of Business at Columbia Business School.
Tycoon Playbook Review
As a recent IRS report on America’s wealthiest proves, the surest way to becoming rich has always been and still is by building your own business. There are two basic approaches to building a business. One way is to focus on finding the home run product or service to build a single company around. The other way is to focus on accumulating many businesses over time. The first variation requires far more luck considering just how many failures there are relative to successes. The second variation is a simple numbers game based on the reality that once you have a system and team in place for acquisitions, you will have far more winners than losers over the long run.
This second path is often referred to as the PacMan strategy because you use your company to gobble up other companies. It’s the most proven path to billionaire status.
As with most things in life, the basic concept is simple while the devil is in the details. This is where the Playbook truly shines. The three month course reverse engineers the acquisitions strategy employed by tycoons and billionaires who made their fortunes through wheeling and dealing in businesses. Then it breaks down this complex topic into easy to understand and follow action steps. Equally importantly, it also shows you how to avoid the minefields. This is not a course built on dry academic theory.
The creator of the course worked for many years helping entrepreneurs and mini-tycoons to buy and sell businesses. In addition, he has also spent decades studying how they got started in the game and built their empires. As a result, the Playbook is rich in examples of actionable steps taken by tycoons to not only get going but to get it right.
What are the key rewards of the course in my opinion?
First, if you’re thinking that becoming wealthy requires an element of good luck in addition to work and perseverance, you are absolutely correct. The course reveals how you can maximize your luck if we agree that luck is a matter of being in the right place at the right time. It does so by having the second learning module reveal how insiders spot emerging opportunities well before the masses do. The eighth module teaches you how to take a calculated risk by revealing the do-able deal test for acquisition opportunities. Once you have digested these two lessons your ability to do successful acquisitions increases dramatically.
A second reward of the Playbook is in how it takes a complex subject such as acquisition finance, which intimidates most people, breaks it down into its constituent parts, and lists the many options you have available for buying a business. You need not be a mathematical genius to understand how tycoons acquire control of businesses. By the end of the financing section you will feel like an up and coming Kirk Kerkorian.
A third reward in taking the course comes from discovering the Golden Feedback Loop used by tycoons to disrupt and dominate industries. The GFL may not be available in every situation but the Playbook shows you how to recognize pre-existing ones and even trigger your own whenever possible.
Finally, the biggest and most important pay off comes from the details in how tycoons started down the road towards fare and fortune. The difference between them and people who don’t accomplish much is that they simply started and kept moving towards their goal. Most people never even leave the starting blocks.
The Tycoon Playbook contains the details of a billion dollar strategy. If you take the course and only apply 1% you will still be further ahead than most.
Any small business owner can begin to put these lessons into action immediately.
Building a Family Business that Lasts
Eze Vidra: Google’s Approach to Fostering Entrepreneurship
Eze Vidra answers a question about Google’s approach to fostering entrepreneurship at Campus London.
Entrepreneurs and Small Business Owners Can Use Acquisitions to Double or Triple Their Customer Base Overnight
Business Growth Strategies
What many business owners don’t realize is that it can be cheaper as well faster to go with the acquisitions growth strategy. To illustrate this, let’s take a look at cases where this was capitalized on from the recent past. Specifically, let’s look at businesses which utilized subscriber revenue models such as cable-TV and Internet service providers. If you owned a small system in either industry, you were faced with a choice of growth through marketing or acquisitions. Now suppose that you had set as your goal a doubling of your subscriber base in five year’s time. We will assume that this target is extrapolated from your growth rates over the last three years. An analysis of your customer acquisition costs needed to double your sales over three years may show that a marketing based strategy’s costs will exceed those of an acquisition strategy. Morever, the acquisitions route will achieve your goal by doubling the subscriber base as soon as the deal is finalized.
Business Growth via Acquisitions
Back in the 1990s, there was a great deal of M&A activity in the printing industry. One large printer embarked on an acquisitions strategy to expand the market for its three core services: document scanning, fast high-volume printing, and distribution of legal documents, such as proxy statements and collections letters. As a result, the company focused on acquiring small printers which offered only one of these three services. After the acquisition, the absorbed company would be able to offer its customers the expanded range of services made possible by the acquirer. This, in turn, enabled them to win over larger local accounts that they could not have otherwise serviced before.
This is a typical example of what drives a company to employ an acquisitions strategy.
The Tycoon Playbook covers the details of designing a successful M&A strategy for small businesses and entrepreneurial companies.
Small Business vs Entrepreneurship vs Capitalism
If you are trying to get a handle on The Tycoon Playbook as some still are, I think this may help.
Think of the business world as having three separate rungs. At the bottom you have the small business rung. The consensus definition of small business is that it’s primarily about having a steady pay-check for oneself with a little extra left over, hopefully, for the Golden Years. As a result, typical small business owners are concerned with playing it safe, taking as few risks as possible, and basically maintaining the status quo. Once a small business owner has reached a certain level of income their focus shifts to merely maintaining it rather than increasing it. Many small businesses can be found along the proverbial “Main Street.”
On the next rung up is entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is an entirely different game. It’s about marshaling resources and taking calculated risks to create something new that will hopefully reward the founders with substantial wealth. Entrepreneurship has no allegiance to the status quo. Rather it’s about starting from scratch and disrupting the marketplace. Most entrepreneurial ventures will be found in emerging industries and fast growth markets.
A few years ago I found myself in a heated exchange with a college business professor who was claiming that there is no difference between small business and entrepreneurship. I was flabbergasted by his inability to see the obvious differences.
The highest and most lucrative rung is capitalism. Capitalism is simple to grasp if you think of it this way. It’s about using capital to acquire more capital. To make the concept as simple and clear as possible, it’s about starting with a single cashflow, in most cases, and then using it to keep acquiring more cashflows until the clock runs out.
If you study how billionaires have made their fortunes over the past 200 or so years starting with the first tycoon, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, you will see that wheeling and dealing in assets is the most proven route to great wealth. Most people today don’t understand this because for the past 15 years the media has been obsessed with the Internet and technology wunderkind.
This narrow focus has led the masses to conclude that the Internet is the only road to wealth creation. However, for every online success story you hear about there are hundreds of failures, and I am only counting the teams which had a shot a success. I am excluding all the one-person blogs and sites that comprise 99.9999% of the 250 million domains registered as of December 2012.
To put it bluntly, there’s just too much competition online today. All of the low-hanging fruit that could be picked by the little guy or gal was gone ten years ago. Today you need a high quality team and financial backing to go after any online opportunity still worth pursuing. Another serious problem with doing business exclusively online is the culture. No one under a certain age wants to pay for anything anymore. They expect everything to be free. Finally, Google’s now quarterly algorithm updates have made it extremely difficult for new sites to rank well. If you are going to make it online today you need the true commitment necessary for 12 to 15 hour days of constant fine-tuning and testing. The Internet Gold Rush is officially over in case you hadn’t heard.
How to Get Rich Today
So, let’s get back to old school capitalism. Most people associate it with tycoons such as Warren Buffet and Carl Icahn and assume that the game is out of reach for them due to all the usual excuses. What they don’t realize is that there are thousands of mini and up-and-coming tycoons out there quietly rolling up assets and building empires of varying sizes. They will always be out there creating wealth while shunning the media limelight and time-wasting cyber-culture bullshit like the current social media fad that has all the lemmings distracted. One of the major pluses of going the tycoon route is that you end up selling goods that people have to pay for. You don’t deal in bullshit online fads that come and go every few months.
The Internet isn’t going to change how people chew gum. That’s the kind of business I like.– Warren Buffett on his acquisition of Wrigley
This why I hope Marcus Lemonis’ new reality show The Profit succeeds and inspires people. Marcus is a perfect example of an old school tycoon accumulating cashflows. He could be the poster boy for The Tycoon Playbook. The Gores brothers, Tom and Alec, are two more examples of tycoons. These men remind us that there is another way to get rich for those who aren’t technological wiz-kids. Not everyone is suited to programming smartphone apps for 15 hours a day, months on end, while tucked away in a cubicle. Some of us are people-persons who prefer interacting with other humans. Being a tycoon is more about having good horse-trading sense than almost anything else.
Capital is that part of wealth which is devoted to obtaining further wealth. —Alfred Marshall, economist
Learn how to play capitalism successfully.
Family vs. Business by Family Wealth Coach
As a business owner, you take on a unique challenge. Every day you are faced with both business and family decisions. And family business owners deal with this even more.
Sometimes people feel that those two aspects of their lives are really at odds with each other. They absolutely can be—but they don’t have to be if you manage both of them carefully.
Think about your family and business in terms of a pendulum, or a teeter-totter. Your family is on one side, and your business on the other. Every decision you make will have both business and family implications. For example, promoting one of your children as CEO, or even deciding when your children will engage with the business as either employees or shareholders, will have an effect at home and at work.
Sometimes you will have to prioritize business over family, or family over business. Again, think of the teeter-totter, when you make a decision for one side, the other side will also be impacted.
The key take away here is that Estate plans have to consider both – who gets voting control, who will manage the business, how will you look after your family? Balancing a teeter-totter (or a family and a business) is not easy when both sides are so intricately linked to each other.
The name “teeter-totter” may suggest otherwise, but finding the equilibrium is always possible with some careful planning and accurate adjustments. The same is true for your family and your business.
Top Business Lessons from The Profit’s Marcus Lemonis by Peter Ireland
Marcus Lemonis may just be the best thing that’s happened to American entrepreneurship in a decade or more. I say this not only because he’s an inspirational rags-to-riches success story, but because he is showing us all how to put the fun back into business after almost two decades of Internet mania.
Indeed one could make the case that the Internet is guilty of two transgressions against business. First, it’s made building a business seem boring, relatively speaking, with its emphasis on coding and SEO maneuvering around Google. If your business career started before the World Wide Web arrived, you’ll know what I mean. Second, the Internet has sucked a substantial portion of America’s best and brightest talent away from producing things that people actually need or want into building “online platforms” whose sole purpose is to strip-mine your personal information and sell it to advertisers.
Marcus’s Business Lessons:
So let’s distill the key lessons from Marcus’s highly successful business growth strategy. Marcus is all about building bona fide businesses that meet genuine and ongoing market demand instead of websites that merely lure people into using services that most would be better off without and which more often than not have the lifespan of a fruit fly.
1. It’s About the Cashflows
Marcus reminds us that the most important thing about a business is its cashflow. The lifestyle aspects are secondary. Think of it this way. Suppose that you have the choice between owning two businesses. Business A is a convenience store which drops $20,000 into your personal bank account each and every month. The only downside is that you find it a dull business and would prefer to be pursuing your passion. Personally speaking, I wouldn’t blame you. It is a dull business. (No offense intended to convenience store owners.)
Business B markets your black velvet paintings of cats playing poker. You first saw the famous dogs playing poker paintings as a teen, fell madly in love with them, and vowed to push the genre into new territory. Nothing gives you greater satisfaction than completing another canvas of cats chomping on stogies in a smoke-filled room as they play stud poker into the wee hours. The only downside with option B is that you are lucky to pull in $200 per month because there’s not much demand for this type of “art.”
Which business should you go with? The one with the cashflow or the one you love? Well, only a fool would pick B. Business A offers so many more opportunities because of its cashflow. For example, you could afford to hire a manager to run it so that you could free up more time to pursue your artistic passions.
Cashflow increases your options and freedom. However, you’d be surprised at how many people think business is about pursuing their particular version of cats playing poker art. This explains in large measure the high failure rate for small ventures. Too many rookies assume that business is about doing something that you love. The problem with the “do what you love, the money will follow” philosophy is that most people love doing things that no one is willing to pay for – such as watching television all day long or starting yet another t-shirt business.
In contrast, entrepreneurs who go on to become tycoons understand that it’s all about creating juicy thick cashflows that can be kept forever or eventually flipped to a much bigger party. This is why they are committed to accumulating as many of them as they can. This is how Marcus came to run a $3 billion empire and why he continues to aggregate more cashflows.
Keep in mind that you can quickly grow fond of any business that supplies you with steady cash, so long as you don’t have any moral objections to it. So start thinking of businesses as cashflows the way Marcus does and shift your focus to accumulating them.
All the other lessons are about how to accumulate them.
2. Develop a Core Skill Set That You Can Use to Fix Businesses
Some people who make a living fixing up and collecting small ailing companies rely on a narrow field of expertise such as finance, or marketing, or operations. In contrast, Marcus is a generalist whose strong suite lies in applying the People, Products, and Process framework for identifying problems and solutions. He brings in specialists whenever he needs to such as the forensic accountant in the Planet Popcorn episode. This is the best way to go as far as I am concerned because every business then presents opportunities for improvement.
How does one develop a core skill set like that of a Marcus? The answer is simple. Wear a business owner’s hat for two or three years. When you wear an owner’s hat you develop the mindset of constantly scanning the horizon for ways to reduce operating costs and boost revenues. Successful business-people are committed to finding and implementing incremental improvements no matter how trivial they may seem to the unsuccessful.
It’s this mindset that serves as the first stepping stone to building wealth. Marcus is living proof of this.
3. Avoid Mobs and Fads
When I look at the Internet, I try to figure out how an industry or a company can be hurt or changed by it, and then I avoid it. Take Wrigley’s. I don’t think the Internet is going to change the way people chew gum. – Warren Buffett
Cleaning products. Ice-cream. Used cars. Pop-corn. Dog boarding. Florists. What is going on here? Isn’t this supposed to be the information economy where we all get rich tweeting, making YouTube videos, and blogging? Is Marcus just some old out-of-step fuddy duddy?
Not at all. He just recognizes bad “opportunities.”
As soon as the mob starts chasing an alleged business opportunity, it’s usually the kiss of death for it. This applies not only to business opportunities but to real estate and stock investing as well. When it’s chasing a patently bogus one, the smart money does the opposite. This is my way of leading up to the fact that the Internet is no longer the great opportunity for the Average Joe that it once was, although the mob still hasn’t caught on.
Years ago Warren Buffett admitted that he shied away from investing in online pure-plays because he didn’t understand the Internet. On another occasion he advised people to only buy businesses that they could be happy owning forever. (Recall that the key to business happiness is a positive cashflow and that it’s easy to love anything that provides you with one. Conversely, Internet business models and strategies tend to have very short life spans and highly unreliable cashflows, if they have them at all.)
So far in season one of The Profit, Marcus has only dealt with offline businesses for good reason. In a word, they cater to real needs. People will regularly decide to treat themselves or their kids to ice-cream and popcorn. They will occasionally need to sell a car or board a pet. Likewise, having to clean things is a daily chore for most of humanity. In contrast, many online businesses to this day still offer a very dubious value proposition to their users.
Today the Net just has too many quickly changing parts and rules for the average person to stay on top of and succeed. Online business models and strategies have a six month life expectancy on average after which you need to start over from scratch and try to figure out what might work next. About the only way that you can assure yourself that you have at least a snowball in hell’s chance of online success these days is if you have a team of committed techies which have been accepted into a program such as Y Combinator.
If you’re a team of one and non-technical, you’re better off copying Marcus’s offline strategy.
Here’s another related lesson.
4. Avoid Any Business That is Overly Dependent Upon Google
Let’s take a moment to talk about the growing Google problem. Just ten years ago Google was perceived by entrepreneurs as the great equalizer that would enable them to compete with the big boys by going direct to the customer. This is no longer the case now that Google makes drastic changes to its search algorithm every quarter.
Ignore Google Plus and Google search will ignore you. - Google CEO Larry Page
Anyone recall the original Google mantra of Do No Harm? Now its CEO sounds like Tony Soprano with his implied threat: “Buy our G+ insurance or something bad might happen to your little business. Capisce?”
(For those who don’t know much about the online world, the smart people started doing everything possible four or five years ago to minimize their dependence on Google for traffic after it started over-reacting in its never-ending arms race with the SEO profession.)
The takeaway here is don’t be one of the tens of millions starting a little blog every year and naively hoping that it will earn money. It won’t unless you have something truly unique and in demand. This reality rules out 99.9% of blogs.
This is why Marcus invests in businesses that are not entirely reliant upon Google for their customers.
5. Buy Fixer-uppers
Fixer-upper businesses usually come at a discount which then makes them the natural place to start when cash is limited. Not only that but they can offer a huge upside with a minimal downside. From having worked in business brokerage for more than a decade, during which I sold scores of businesses and analyzed hundreds more, I observed that most small businesses leave plenty of room for improvement in terms of both revenues and operating efficiencies.
Those that don’t die in the first five years tend to plateau at a level where the owner feels comfortable and that’s the end of their real growth. After that point is reached everyone just goes through the motions and puts in only enough effort to maintain the status quo. This is especially true of businesses under the control of long-term owners. Everyone runs out of steam eventually if there’s no variety to spice things up occasionally.
Marcus invests in stable businesses that promise a huge upside if fixed. Moreover, the variety of challenges is never-ending in his line of work. This is why so many tycoons keep working into their 80s and 90s in contrast to single business owners who typically want to retire around 60–if not sooner. Running one business for more than ten years frequently makes the owner feel as if they are the Bill Murray character trapped in Groundhog Day. In contrast, a businessperson like Marcus gets an exciting new challenge to work on monthly.
6. Marcus’s Super Secret for Success
The whole place had the unmistakable dusty, flyblown air of a business that is going down. But it would have been quite useless to explain to them why nobody came to the shop, even if one had had the face to do it; neither was capable of understanding that last year’s dead bluebottles supine in the shop window are not good for trade.
- George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier
What makes Marcus so brilliant? There are two reasons for his success. First, you have no doubt noticed how most people can readily identify their friend’s and coworkers’ faults but are rather stumped when asked to list their own. While they may be able to identify some of their own weaknesses, they will often have the blinkers on about their biggest ones. The same phenomenon holds true for small business owners. While they can usually point out a few of the things that are wrong with their businesses, they will rarely have an objective view of how they personally stunt its growth or how it could be turned around. (In cases where they do know what a turnaround would entail they often lack the resources to implement it.)
On the other hand, someone stepping into a business with a fresh set of eyes is quickly able to spot all sorts of room for improvement. This is one of Marcus’s advantages: objectivity. Being the outsider he sees things as they really are. His other reason for being so successful is the generalist core skill which we looked at earlier. It provides him with a framework for quickly assessing a business, spotting its problems, identifying the solutions, and capitalizing on the low-hanging fruit opportunities.
If you are a lifelong student of business, have a few years of ownership or senior management experience, and a genuine passion for excelling there is no reason why you can’t follow in Marcus’s footsteps by doing what he does. You may not attain his level of success but you will fare much better than someone who remains a shopkeeper.
7. Be the Deal-maker Not the Shopkeeper
Eureka! Here’s the goose that lays the golden eggs. – Andrew Carnegie
These were the words uttered by Andrew Carnegie upon receiving his very first dividend check and realizing first-hand that you truly can make money in your sleep. After this he pivoted and set out to acquire control over or interest in as many cashflows as possible. He did so by focusing on honing his deal-making and investing skills.
The three most valuable skills in business, traditionally-speaking, consist of being able to do the following: 1) identify opportunities early on, 2) bring all the relevant parties to a consensus, and 3) marshal the resources needed to make the deal work. Note that these are mostly people-based skills and, therefore, diametrically opposed to the purely technical ones required to be of any value to a company like Facebook. Specifically they are about being good at selling, schmoozing, horse-trading, and negotiating. In other words, they are about having basic inter-personal communications and a dash of good old horse-trading sense. (Think How to Win Friends and Influence People.)
Unless you were born with the raw mental genius of a Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, or Elon Musk, your best shot at building real wealth and leaving something behind to be remembered by lies in cultivating these skills and entering the serial cashflow acquisitions game. The great thing about this is that the required skills can be mastered. They are transferable. On the other hand, no one can teach you how to be the next Bill Gates, Nicola Tesla, or Elon Musk. Super high intelligence is not transferable.
So focus on honing high value skills and acquiring cashflows and hire people who want to be shopkeepers to manage them for you. That’s how Marcus does it.
8. Small Scale Capitalism is Alive and Well
Now we will end with some bad news and some good news. Let’s start with the bad.
Sadly, most small business owners have little more than a job that they are locked into 24/7. This comes as a shock as soon as they attempt to sell their business. That’s when they discover that they are in fact attempting to sell a job for 2x to 3x the owner’s annual salary, perks, and dividends. The problem is that there are few small buyers willing to pay that much for a mere job and fewer still that have the capital and credit. Moreover, the big buyers with deep-pockets are simply not interested in nickle and dime deals. This is why something like 80% of all small businesses never find a buyer and are merely shuttered at the end.
However, as promised there is also good news for those who wish to avoid this tragic fate.
Real business value on the other hand, the type that triggers a bidding war when you are ready to sell, comes from having achieved a critical mass of cashflows that large corporate buyers will be willing to pay top dollar for. You reach this nirvana by going out into the world daily, interacting with people face-to-face over lunch or a coffee, helping them to solve their problems, engaging in a bit of horse-trading, and taking some calculated risks. This is the truest definition of MBWA (i.e., Management By Walking Around). It should also be noted that these personal face-to-face interactions can make business as rewarding emotionally as it can be financially. Marcus is a shining example of this fact.
Now contrast this with the Internet version of building a business. Here we picture mostly young males sitting in cubicles for 15 hours per day, pounding back the Red Bull in an effort to stay awake, and using instant messaging to communicate with coworkers seated in the same room. It’s this latter vision that the media has imprinted upon most people’s minds over the past fifteen years.
Meanwhile there are literally thousands of Marcus Lemonis types out there of varying sizes and compositions quietly working away at building something of real value day after day instead of coding those mostly worthless online platforms and wasting precious time on social media games aimed at accruing “likes” and Klout points to compensate for the lack of sales.
If you are running a real business with real sales the last thing you can afford to concern yourself with are social media likes and upvotes. Those games are for people who couldn’t sell their way out of a wet paper bag.
I will add that the wonderful thing about real businesses in the offline world is that they sink or swim quickly. In contrast, failed websites are regularly kept alive for years by deep-pocketed investors and venture capital firms who want to avoid the humiliation that comes with admitting a portfolio company is a dud.
So thank you to Marcus Lemonis for reminding us all that regular people can still get rich by building businesses that serve genuine and ongoing demand and have fun doing it.
We can all be capitalists to varying degrees if we just follow Marcus’s lead.
This is what America is all about.
And that’s why I think Marcus Lemonis is the best thing that’s happened to American entrepreneurship since about 1995.
PS No one should take any of the above comments about coders as being disparaging. I actually have a great deal of respect for people who can concentrate so intensely over long periods. My point is simply that few mortals are wired for this kind of life and that the traditional ways of making money are still out there.