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September 18, 2008

What is Business?

Filed under: Business,Toast Master — Tags: — Fei @ 4:43 pm

Thanks, Mr. Toastmaster. Fellow toastmasters, and honored guests.

What is business? If you ask this question to a hundred people, you will get a hundred different answers. To me, business means three words, “to. make. money”. Business is providing a service or product “for a fee”. Business is not non-profit. It is for profit. If you think making money is evil, business is not for you. In business, money is essential; cash is the king. So if you want to do a business, you need to do everything around money.

Let me ask you another question. What’s the purpose of working? To get paid? To get paid to support you and your family? If you think that way, you are in an “employee mindset”. You want someone else to give you money in exchange for the time you spend working for them. But even that is not entirely true. Do you want to work in your 80s? Do you want to work till the day you die? No, right? You work today, because you want to retire in a future date. You want to retire after age of 65, so you can enjoy the rest of your life, without working. The purpose of working is not to work.

Yeah…. you can do that if you are an employee. But what if you want to retire in your 50s? in your 40s? or even in your 30s? Can you still do that by simply being an employee? hmm….. probably not. Because you cannot earn enough money to support you. But you can do that in one way. Be on a business, be the owner of the business.

But how to be the owner of the business? You can do that in two ways. You can either work “in” your business, or you can work “on” your business. And that makes a lot of difference. Say you own a dry cleaner, or a restaurant. But you work “in” your business, you work there 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. Is that the purpose? Do you enjoy it? Probably no. What you want to do is to work “on” your business. You hire somebody to work in your dry cleaner, or restaurant. You check their performance a few times a week, and release you from the 9 to 5 routine work. The purpose of business is to create a system, and once it’s ready and can be self running, you can be eliminated from the system. Does it make sense?

How can you do that? You may ask. You achieve that through leveraging. You leverage other people’s money, leverage other people’s time. When you start a company, you don’t have any money… you borrow money from your family, your friends, angel investors, venture capitalists. You leverage their money to achieve your goal. When you start a company, nobody works for you. You are the CEO, you are the sales person, you are the developer, you are the janitor. You are everybody. But as the company matures, you may hire a janitor, you may hire a developer, you may hire a sales person, and eventually, you may hire a CEO. Now, you eliminate yourself from the loop, but all those people work for you. You leverage their time to achieve your goal.

However, I have to admit, it is not easy to create a system. It is very hard. In fact, 4 out of 5 small businesses fail during their first 5 years. And 4 out of the 5 surviving businesses fail in the next 5 years. Creating a system is hard. It is partly because the system is complicated. It includes, operation, product development, sales, marketing, customer service. etc. etc. etc. They are totally different areas. More importantly, the system is brand new. Nobody has ever done it before. You have to try and error to see whether your assumptions are right. You just pray that your mistakes will not be too serious to correct.

Why most small businesses fail? Another important reason, I think, is the founders credentials. Do they know sales? Do they know marketing? Do they know product development? Do they know what they are doing? Many people are experts in one area. But they are often too idealistic for other areas. Among all the skills I mentioned, the most important skills are sales, and marketing. Of course that’s my personal opinion. I believe, no matter what you do, if you do that to a certain level, it is always people skill. It is especially important to the founders, the CEO, because CEO is first a sales person. You have to sell. You have to sell your ideas, you have to sell your products, you have to sell your vision, you have to sell your company, and you have to sell yourself. Marketing is also important, because it tells you what to sell, how to sell it, and sell to whom. So people skill is the most desired skill for entrepreneurs.

On the flip side, however. If you are the lucky one, you will earn millions, or even billions of dollars. Think about Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Youtube… it goes back to the fundamental financial axiom: The higher the risk, the higher the return.

After my talk, I’d like to hear what you think business is; how you think to make business successful. If you want to hear my opinion, we can either talk offline, or come and listen to my next speech: “Franchise, a safer business”.

Mr. Toastmaster.

Time: 7 minutes 8 seconds

September 13, 2008

Pitching 101: How to present your plan effectively to VCs?

Filed under: Business — Fei @ 1:01 am

I went to a seminar a few days ago, which was quite interesting. Here I just scramble some notes….

  • Entrepreneur: do whatever it takes to make things happen. 
  • A fundable start-up: $75-100 million return in early stages (3-4 years). 
  • VC receive 500-800 plans, 50-100 get one hour meeting, 20 are interested, 5 are very interested, 1 gets funded.
  • Receive 100 plans/week, 100 meetings/year, eliminate 90% of them. 
  • VC pitch: 15-20 minutes, questions afterwords
  • PPT 10-15 slides, look at VC when pitching
  • Know each person in the meeting
  • Emphasize strong record, confident. Don’t bring whole team, may bring lawyer. 
  • PPT minimal text, rehearse. Titles tell the story. 

Sample PPT:

  1. One-liner (to which VC)
  2. Market
  3. Problem
  4. Solution
  5. Team
  6. Technology
  7. Customers
  8. Per customer economics
  9. Go to market strategy
  10. Milestone
  11. Financials (ask for money, why this amount, how to spend it)
  12. Competition
  13. Financing history
  14. Why this VC

September 8, 2008

Quote from 4 hour work week

Filed under: Business,Readings — Fei @ 5:29 pm

“4 hour work week” cites a sentence by Frank Wilczek, 2004 Nobel prize in physics. I like the quote a lot. 

“If you don’t make mistakes, you are not working on hard enough problems, and that’s a big mistake. “

August 20, 2008


Filed under: Business — Fei @ 12:25 am

Today I had an intense discussion with a friend on business. I don’t want to go into details here. I just feel that many people know nothing about the business world, living in their idealistic “dream” world. A lot of people, especially technical people, emphasize well too much on the product, instead of the marketing and sales. I don’t have any experience myself, but from what I hear, from what I read, the opposite is correct. That is, marketing and sales are well more important than the actual product. The “best seller” has nothing to do with the “best quality”. I’ve seen so many people in entrepreneur email lists complaining that their products do not “sell”; their start ups fail; and their ideas not accepted…. Sad it is, they get to know the reality via hard and bitter experience.

It is so hard for people in one category to understand people in another. Just like what Robert said in “Cashflow Quadrants”. I idealistically wished to get to know the other side’s opinion and find the difference, and based on that, make the other side understand my position. It was a pure hope…. even though I did find out the difference, I could not convince the other side to think from another angle. Other people did not go through what I had gone through, did not read the books I read. How could I convince people in such a short period of time?

Some thoughts are fundamental. If the person does not wish to change, there is no way to change it.

And so be it.

p.s. I don’t plan to de-emphasize the importance of products, especially for start ups. It is another discussion, which I won’t go into details here.

August 19, 2008

Business related books

Filed under: Business,Readings — Fei @ 4:25 pm

Since the beginning of this year, I read quite a few interesting business books. Here I just share with you my thoughts. What I like the books, and what I don’t like them.

– “Cashflow quadrants: rich dad’s guide to financial freedom”. It’s the best seller of New York Times. The author, Robert Kiyosaki, wrote dozens of books on achieving financial freedom. Among his books, I like “Cashflow quadrants” best. It categorizes people into four groups: Employee, Self employed, Business owner, and Investor. People in different groups have very different mindsets and they cannot understand each other. This book describes the value system of the people in each group, and their relations to financial freedom. I don’t endorse all Robert’s idea however (see his wikipage for detail). Most of his books are motivational without any detailed plan to achieve success. But still, you can only achieve what you can imagine (remember the law of attraction?). After all, the most difficult thing is to start. For this, I like a quote from the book: Many people will not head down the street until all the lights are green. That’s why they don’t go anywhere.

– “Secrets of the millionaire mind: mastering the inner game of wealth”. The author, Harv Eker, is the founder of Peak Potentials Training, a personal development company. Many people may have already heard about the company. Similar to the books by Robert Kiyosaki, this book is also focused on changing the “inside”. It describes 17 mindsets that successful business owner possess.

– “E-myth mastery: the seven essential disciplines for building a world class company”. It’s author, Michael E Gerber, is the founder of E-myth worldwide, a small-business development company. Frankly, he is a so so writer. If it is not highly recommended by a successful business person, I wouldn’t finish the first part. But yes, it is a great book. According to that business person, it is a business bible. It provides step by step illustration on the seven most important aspects of company building. It is a cook book for small businesses. To me, it provides some real contents, which is very different from the previous two books. But still, the book focuses the entire first part (which is also the not so well written part) on changing mindset… I like two notions from the book: work on your business, not in it. business is building a system.

– “Four hour work week”. My opinion on the book changed a lot while I listened to it (I read the audio book, which I don’t think a good source). When I listened to the middle of the book, I thought,hmm … he doesn’t know how to do business. After all, he is in his 20s when he writes the book. He’s very lucky to be successful in the very beginning. He views business as hard rigid guidelines, but in fact business composes another very important aspect: social. Business is also very social, so relations are very important. But later, as I listened more and more, I found I liked the book a lot better. The book gives very detailed instructions on dealing with different situations, achieving the goal of maximizing profitability. Even though I still think he’s very rigid in doing business, I like all the other points he wants to make.

If we say the first two books are motivational, the last two books provide detailed methods in doing business.

And I have another book to recommend. it is:
– “The millionaire next door: the surprising secrets of americas wealthy”. The authors, Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko, spent twenty years studying the affluents of the Americans. In the book, they used a lot of statistics, numbers, and examples to show who the millionaires are. If you don’t know what makes millionaires, or if you “think” you know what makes millionaires, just read the book. It will surprise you. In a very short summary, most millionaires are frugal, well planned, and disciplined. They are PAWs (Prodigious Accumulator of Wealth).

If I ask a hundred people what business is, I will get a hundred different answers. Just drop me a message. I will tell you what I think. Maybe we can learn from each other 🙂

August 18, 2008

Lessons learnt by doing a startup in financial industry

Filed under: Business,Readings — Fei @ 5:41 pm

Fei: copied from an email from SVCEF

=== What we wanted to do

1. Build Vertical Search Engines For Financial Industry.
2. To give money managers edge against competitors.
3. To let money managers gain deep insight of market.
4. To help money managers to improve their investment return.

=== Targeted Customers
1. It is for Enterprise Customers
2. Potential customers are hedge funds, investment banks, financial institutions, fund managers, and other money manager.

=== The reasons why we started this effort
1. This business is close to money (and lots of money in the financial industry). We assume that people are willing to pay to gain edge. Because the cost of our product and services is negligible comparing to the potential extra investment return they will get.
2. Founders have been interested in finance and investment activities.
3. We had implemented vertical search engines for other industries.

=== Reasons caused our failure:
1. Personally, we did not know many people in the financial industry, therefore, we cannot get early customers. We know how to build vertical search engines, but we do not know the market well.
2. We were not well known in the industry before we started this business. Marketing is expensive and there were no easy and low cost way to get our name out. (Low cost methods, SEO and Google Adwords, Adsense did not work).
3. We did not have a sale channel to sell our products and services. So we had do direct sales. Founders took lot of time to do direct sales.
4. The market is smaller than we expected. For example, there are total 8000+ hedge funds. However, only these engaged in quantitative and short term trading are interested in our services, these solely rely on fundamental analysis are not interested in our services. The accessible market is a much smaller market (and we do not know people in the fields to help us accessible the market).
5. We can show potential customers that we have a better search engine, but we cannot prove this will increase their investment return.
6. We are not in New York City, instead in Silicon Valley.
7. Lots of money managers has some kind of in-house development.
8. The “rule of thumb” in the investment community is that, if something works (which can increase your investment return), you will keep secrete for yourself; If you are selling it, very likely it does not work.
9. Financial industry is a very old, very matured industry. It is highly competitive. Anything under the Sun had been tried before. (Just thinking about how many technical indicators have been created and how many finance related websites on this world). Other vendors had approached our potential customers with  something similar to ours in the past. Our potential customers were really skeptics about the value of our services.
10. Some potential customers asked exclusive right of our products. One requirement they imposed before they were willing to pay for our services was that we can not sell the products to other customers in next 6 months or 12 months. Theyed claimed that if everyone uses this, it became useless.
11. We could not get outside investment. We tried to grow this business organically. Without funding make it hard to hire good sales people and to do marketing promotion.
12. The technical entry barrier of our business was low. Anyone from Google or Yahoo can build similar search engines. It is hard to differentiate us technically, which further proves the importance of marketing and sales channels.
13. Founders did not have sales experience in the past.
14. We could not leverage our previous experience and connections.

=== What we have got right
1. We build a vertical search engine in very short time, collect more than 10 Tera-Bytes text data. Our crawler is powerful and faster.

August 15, 2008

The Venture Capital Aptitude Test (VCAT)

Filed under: Business,Readings — Fei @ 12:28 am

The Venture Capital Aptitude Test (VCAT)

Another good article by Guy Kawasaki…. love it. It’s interesting to know that MBA, management consulting, IBD, accounting are not got for entrepreneurs… hmm… need to seriously think about it…

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