Tech start-ups love pithy mantras. For Google, it was ‘Don’t be evil’. Apple, of course, has ‘Think different’. With Facebook, it was ‘Move fast and break things’. Of the three, ‘Move fast and break things’ seems the riskiest.
The last thing you want to do when building a company, after all, is to break things. But in the early days of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg and his team believed (correctly) that the importance of moving fast and staying agile outweighed the risk of occasionally breaking a part of the Facebook platform.
For the first few years, the company was small enough to pull this off. It moved at breakneck pace, expanding its offerings, signing up new users and taking risks.
Move fast, but don’t break things
Sadly, no company can maintain that start-up mindset forever, though. Eventually, the risk of ‘breaking things’ start to outweigh to advantages that come with moving quickly. By 2014, Facebook was no longer a start-up. It was a publicly-traded international tech behemoth with thousands of employees and more than a billion monthly users. When you’re that size, and the stakes are that high, a mantra like ‘Move fast and break things’ becomes problematic.
Shareholders tend to become a tad nervous when they picture a bunch of millennials running around and breaking things as if acting out a scene from Lord of the Flies.
So, Facebook changed its motto to ‘Move fast with stable infrastructure’. Not nearly as edgy or catchy, but also far less risky. Moving fast and breaking things can be great if you’re a young start-up, but it’s important to remember that it comes with something that famous computer programmer Ward Cunningham calls technical debt.
You can save time by writing quick and dirty code, and not worrying about breaking things too much, but there will come a time when you are forced to pay the debt for it. And the quicker you scale, the more this debt can end up being. At a certain stage, the time and energy you save simply no longer outweigh the possible repercussions.
In his book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz argues that entrepreneurs are faced with something similar to technical debt, which he calls management debt. Horowitz was the CEO and founder of a tech company called Loudcloud when the tech bubble famously went bust during the early 2000s.
He managed to save his company and his people, and eventually sold the company to Hewlett-Packard for $1,6 billion, but it was a traumatic experience. The psychological toll that the experience took on him was significant, and it inspired him to write The Hard Thing About Hard Things. As its name suggests, the book argues that there are no easy answers to hard problems.
Building a company is difficult, and there is no point in pretending that it’s easy. If you want to be the boss, you need to be willing to do the hard things and make the hard decisions. If you opt to take the easy way out at any point, you incur management debt.
“Like technical debt, management debt is incurred when you make an expedient, short-term management decision with an expensive, long-term consequence. Like technical debt, the trade-off sometimes makes sense, but often does not. More important, if you incur the management debt without accounting for it, then you will eventually go management bankrupt,” writes Horowitz.
Are there two employees in your organisational chart that fit the same spot, but you’re keeping both? Are you overcompensating a key employee because she received another job offer? Are you ignoring performance management because you don’t want your start-up to feel like a ‘big company’? These are difficult situations that need to be resolved, argues Horowitz. The longer you ignore these kinds of issues, the greater the eventual management debt will be.
“Every really good, really experienced CEO I know shares one important characteristic: They tend to opt for the hard answer to organisational issues. If faced with giving everyone the same bonus to make things easy or with sharply rewarding performance and ruffling many feathers, they’ll ruffle the feathers. If given the choice of cutting a popular project today, because it’s not in the long-term plans or you’re keeping it around for morale purposes and to appear consistent, they’ll cut it today. Why? Because they’ve paid the price of management debt, and they would rather not do that again,” says Horowitz.
Can you make the tough choices?
Top CEOs have one thing in common: They make the hard choices, even if they’re not the popular choices.
What’s Your Number? How To Unpack Company Valuations
Business is booming. Investors want in. But how do you put a price on the value of the company you have built with your own hands?
Company valuations is such a hazy part of the scale-up journey of a private company. Putting a price tag on a business is both art and science. At the end of the day, the number that makes the headlines (if ever disclosed) will be where willing buyer and willing seller meet.
But how do you , as business owner, go about setting your asking price? Before approaching investors, it’s a good exercise to determine your own valuation range for the business. Choosing the right valuation method is the first big question. The answer has many parts to it, but the most important driver is the stage of the business.
Let’s look at some of the most commonly accepted valuation methods in our market:
Applicable stage: Established, profitable companies
Listed companies, institutional players and private equity investors normally invest in a company for its cash flow profit that can contribute to their portfolio income. More often than not, companies will be valued based on their current earnings (bottom line profit after tax).
This method can only be used for companies that consistently make a profit. A multiplier will be chosen based on the company’s perceived risk. Younger, more risky businesses will likely have lower multipliers (as low as 3 and 4) and high growth, well established, lower risk companies will get higher multipliers (8-15).
Sometimes small adjustments are made to current year earnings (like non-standard, non-repeating income statement items) after which the valuation is set at Earnings times multiplier equals company valuation.
Discounted Cash Flow (DCF)
Applicable stage: Post-revenue start-ups, growth companies and established businesses
The most commonly used method in practice, the DCF method argues that a company’s value is determined by the future cash flows that it will yield to investors.
The starting point is creating a five to ten year cash flow forecast for the business. This is no small feat. In order to create a full financial model – income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statement – for the next decade requires a lot of work, both from a strategic and technical perspective.
Investors love this model because if forces the owners to put a clear strategy and expansion plan for their business into numbers. It will include dozens if not hundreds of assumptions – all of which can be scrutinised for reasonability. The result of financial model will be five to ten years’ worth of projected cash flows. These amounts are then discounted to present value at a discount rate that reflects the company’s risk and expected cost of capital.
The sum of the discounted future cash flows plus a terminal value (that represents the value after the five or ten year period of the model) then represents the valuation of the company after some final small adjustments for things like existing debt in the business.
A revenue multiple valuation approach is focused on the market for similar businesses and is underpinned by your company’s current turnover. It seeks out the sales price of other similar companies in the country or worldwide, adjusted for size, stage and market differences.
A company that sold for R100 million at a turnover of R50 million would have a two times revenue multiple (valuation/revenue). If the average revenue multiple for similar companies is in a certain range, this multiple is then slightly adjusted and applied to your business.
If the average sale in your industry has been two times revenue but you are growing much faster than the average with a better competitive advantage, you can argue that two and a half times revenue is a more applicable number for your business. Revenue multiples are often used as a reasonability check in the market for the current asking price.
Most established companies are valued using one or a combination of more than one of the above three methods. At start-up stage, there are a number of other methods like Cost to Replicate or the Scorecard Method that early stage investors look to. When a company is simply in too early stage to practically value it, seed stage investors would also consider SAFE Agreements (Simple Agreement for Future Equity) – an instrument that determines that the percentage of the company the investors are buying with their investment. This is only determined when the Series A round is raised at a future date and under certain conditions, generally at a discount to the price the series A investors are paying.
Company valuations are complex. Many of the above technical factors play a role. A lot of it also comes down to the salesmanship of the owners and the negotiating capabilities of the parties. In ‘How Yoco Successfully Secured Capital And The Importance Of A Pitch’, the Yoco team speak about the importance of the right approach in their recent R248 million fundraising
Don’t go into this process without seeking some kind of expert advice. The price of the wrong valuation is simply too high. Make your numbers and your arguments bulletproof and you will be on your way to defending a strong and exciting valuation for your next raise!
3 Keys To A Vision Others Can Own
Trying to get others to buy into a vision that is all about you getting more money is not going to excite people.
I get really excited about my dreams. Over the years, as I have led my team, I have realised that they aren’t as excited about my dreams as I am. I own two restaurants and employ minimum wage employees. In the early years of owning my restaurants, turnover killed me. I used to fight for them to have the same passion for my goals and dreams as I had and as a result I had extremely high turnover. Confused and frustrated, I knew I needed to change the way I was leading a team.
A few little changes have created a committed team and extremely low turnover. If you don’t have a passionate, committed long-term team, check these simple vision casting strategies.
Often our vision that we cast is shallow and self-serving. A vision that is all about you getting more money is not going to excite people. Take some time to uncover what you are trying to accomplish. When you can cast a vision beyond your selfish desires, others can sink their teeth into the vision. For my company, I wanted to raise up leaders to change the community.
My focus changed to my crew and they could feel the shift in perspective, which also helped me to earn a bi-product of more money, my original desire.
Our deeper vision helps us keep and build a team, but it’s still our vision. We need to really understand the goals and dreams of our team to find untapped potential and loyalty. No one will ever care as much about our vision as us because it’s ours. The more focused you get about helping your team and their wants and desires, the more they will care about yours. In my restaurant I had a young lady who wanted to be a teacher. I thought about what it takes to be a great teacher and how I could help her toward that. Find out what they care about and dig deeper to see what is behind that desire.
Marry the Two
If you have a team running around caring only about their vision they may be loyal and passionate, however, they will not be united in one direction. Magic happens when we combine our vision and their vision. At the points of intersection, our interests and theirs are united to accomplish more. I want to encourage leaders who can change the community.
As for the employee I mentioned above who desired to be a teacher, I trained her toward being a better teacher so that she could raise up young leaders to change the community. Now she is one of my top supervisors and teaches many other crew members. She will be an awesome teacher someday, but in the meantime, she is a valuable team member.
Caring for a team and helping them see how your vision and their vision can help each other will change everything. Growing people is the business no matter what business we are in. Care for others and they will care for you. Care only for your own wants and you will never get the most out of your team. Find a deeper vision, figure out your teams’ vision, and combine the two and your business will transform.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
3 Signs You Are Your Own Worst Business Enemy
It’s hard to be objective about ourselves but if we really pay attention our colleagues will reflect how we are perceived and what it means for the business.
Sometimes, it’s hard to get out of your own way.
Entrepreneurs and business owners have to keep all the trains running on time, as well as figure out the next place they’d like those trains to go, metaphorically speaking. It’s a huge, complex job. So it shouldn’t be a surprise to realise that in many cases, the problem behind an underperforming company is the boss.
How do you know when it really is “just you,” though? We human beings have a notoriously difficult time being objective about our own behaviour and choices.
So, try looking for the following signs in the people and circumstances around you.
1. Your employees seem unusually tense or flat lately
Has the camaraderie vanished? Is the workplace one big collection of really bad moods, most of the time?
Of course, the boss’s mood can infect the entire office. As the leader of your team, you set the example and the atmosphere, and your employees follow your lead.
Getting along with others, both inside and outside your company, is imperative for success. If your employees and customers sense a negative change, then it’s worth examining your behaviour. These signs could be symptoms that you’re becoming a toxic boss.
To address this, first make sure you’re acting with integrity and in accordance with your personal values. Next, make an effort to demonstrate empathy with your employees. You don’t have to agree with every single point they make to do this. Respect their boundaries and try to see the issue from their perspective.
Finally, make sure you listen deeply. Employers who simply command and demand compliance find themselves stuck with the “toxic” label all too quickly. Instead, be curious about your employees’ perspectives and problems. Ask open-ended questions to get them to tell you more, and listen to what they say.
2. You feel deeply frustrated with your employees
Are you feeling unusually impatient around new workers? Do you find yourself snapping at experienced workers over small annoyances or accidents?
If so, there could be some deeper issues at play.
Insisting on perfection, or even just on competence in an unreasonable amount of time can eventually sour your entire workforce and drive away valuable employees. You’ll have a hard time attracting and retaining talent if you create an awkward, uncomfortable or outright hostile environment.
Instead, try practicing a “talk-down” method on yourself. When you feel your impatience or annoyance growing, mentally talk yourself down from these emotions to a state of greater calm. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- On a scale of one to 100, how bad is this, really?
- What’s the worst that can happen here, realistically speaking?
- If that happened, how would we respond?
- Is this more important than my relationship with my employees? Or my reputation?
In most cases, reflecting on these questions helps you keep small issues in check. You’ll also want to give some thought, however, to whether there’s a bigger issue just beneath the surface. Using smaller problems as a diversion from the bigger ones provides an effective distraction from tackling life’s larger challenges, but doesn’t do much to help us solve underlying issues.
3. Minor projects are infinitely refined and “perfected” but your company hasn’t come up with a strong new idea in ages
One of the most common ways entrepreneurs become their own worst enemies is by focusing too heavily on things that don’t deserve so much attention. For whatever reason – be it fear of failure, fear of success, or something else altogether – people fall into the habit of spending too much time perfecting existing projects when they should be thinking about what’s next.
Not giving yourself enough time to create and innovate is one of the biggest ways to become your own worst business enemy. Your primary job as the business owner is to create that overarching vision for your company, and then work with your team to figure out how to achieve that vision. If you’re not even allowing yourself the time to do so, you’re fighting an uphill battle without reinforcements. After all, no one else can really do this kind of work for you.
To combat this tendency, try keeping a log of your time for two weeks. Track your time in fifteen minute increments to help figure out where you’re spending the majority of your attention and energy. Then carve out uninterrupted “CEO time,” and schedule it as if it’s a firm appointment you cannot reschedule or miss. Give yourself at least three hours a week to work on new ideas for your company.
It’s hard to be objective about our own behaviour and surroundings. Instead, use your colleagues, employees, and environment as a mirror to reflect back to you the reality of how you are perceived and the ways that perception is impacting your business. Then take the appropriate action to mitigate those challenges.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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