Be Unique, Get Funded

Be Unique, Get Funded

This is Guest Blog post from CONNECTpreneur Coach and partner Ines LeBow.

Attracting investors to get your business funded is all about being unique, even if the product you’re presenting isn’t a new invention or innovation. Earlier this year, I highlighted 7 Factors for Startup Success based on the philosophies of Shark Tank star Mark Cuban.

He believes that you need to find a way to make at least one aspect of your product or service uniquely your own. You can do so by thinking about the special characteristics your product will have, to whom you will market it, and how you differentiate it from the entrenched competitors. Trying to be the same results in competition based on price, which is not how you want to compete.

In Mr. Cuban’s own words about being unique:

Creating opportunities means looking where others are not

and

When you’ve got 10,000 people trying to do the same thing, why would you want to be number 10,001?

Not Just Socks

Socks have been around for a long time. Even the athletic sock category has been pretty saturated, but that didn’t stop Bombas from their start-up business focused on making a better athletic sock. I covered the case of Bombas in an earlier article entitled 5 Keys to Convince Investors Your Product Can Make Money.

They invested a lot of time and effort into identifying what made athletes, fitness junkies, hikers, runners, speed walkers, and other heavy users of athletic hosiery disappointed, frustrated, and annoyed about their existing sock of choice. They designed and produced their socks to address those issues, conducting significant product testing to ensure the user feedback hit the bullseye.

Successful Close

If you are an early Shark Tank devotee, you’ll know that the founders of Bombas went on the show and left with $200,000 in funding. That’s right…$200,000 of someone else’s money to launch an athletic sock. So it wasn’t about an exciting new technology product but about a unique take on a product for which there was already a defined, established market with committed customers who are continually looking to improve the equipment and accessories they use to perform their activity.

So what is unique about your product? Perhaps you can approach real-life users who are enthusiasts and get their perspective on the unique benefits your product offers. Often, it’s the little things that make the biggest impact to your target audience, which translates to how you differentiate yourself to potential investors.

To learn more on how to stand out with an epic fundraising story, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro. You find her on LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow or her ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro.

Mark Cuban’s Beatitudes: 7 Factors for Startup Success

This is a Guest blog post from Ines LeBow.

Mark Cuban’s Beatitudes: 7 Factors for Startup Success

Shark Tank star Mark Cuban has been a startup investor and serial entrepreneur since his teenage years selling garbage bags, creating chain letters, offering dance lessons, and even running newspapers from Cleveland to Pittsburgh during a strike of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Mr. Cuban is ranked #177 on the Forbes 400 list for 2020 with an estimated $4.3B in net worth.

Anyone who has listened to Mark knows that he has a lot to say and has very strong opinions on many topics. My goal here is to summarize how to be successful in business, especially for entrepreneurs in the startup arena. I’ve distilled Mark’s approach down to 7 key factors.

Be Passionate

Passion is at the core of everything in business, especially a startup business. Our passion will dictate the energy we bring to our work and will transmit our excitement to prospective customers, vendors, and partners.

“Love what you do or don’t do it.”

Be Ready

The ideal time is now, according to Mark Cuban. You need to always be moving forward in a tangible way to achieve your business and startup goals. You’ll always have doubts and the world will always put doubters in your path to throw up obstacles, to hurt your confidence, and to smother your passion. Don’t let them stop you, and don’t let changing circumstances keep you from doing it now (see “Now’s the Time to Get Your Business Funded: Coronavirus Edition”).

“Always wake up with a smile knowing that today you are going to have fun accomplishing what others are too afraid to do.”

Be Bold

Dictionary.com defines bold as “not hesitating or fearful in the face of actual or possible danger…courageous and daring…beyond the usual limits of conventional thought or action; imaginative.” For a startup to be successful, an entrepreneur must be bold but not blind. They must have a clear understanding of what they are doing and why as well as what they’re strengths and weaknesses are. You really aren’t bold or courageous if you don’t recognize the challenges or dangers that you need to overcome to succeed. See my recent article on being bold in getting investor funding (“How Far Will You Go to Get Your Business Funded?”).

“It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve failed. You only have to be right once.”

Be Knowledgeable

Knowing the business, the market, the players, the customers and their sentiments are all essential to being prepared to succeed in a startup business. Whether you need to convince Angels or PE/VC investors to fund your business or you are bootstrapping it, you need to know what it will take to win. Without this knowledge you have almost no chance to succeed. By the way, as your business grows and the market changes, you need to continually upgrade your knowledge to improve what you do and how you do it.

“Because if you’re prepared and you know what it takes, it’s not a risk. You just have to figure out how to get there. There is always a way to get there.”

Be Honest

Entrepreneurs who lie to themselves about their products, services, competitors, customers, and market conditions aren’t going to be in business very long. Don’t just make assumptions but deal in facts. If you’ve already formed assumptions, work hard to validate or invalidate them so you can prepare a genuine SWOT analysis. This will help you launch the business and bring the right product to market at the proper place and price with the proper message.

“One problem people have is that they lie to themselves…rarely is talent enough. You have to find ways to make yourself standout. You do so by playing to your strengths and making people aware of those strengths.”

Be Humble

Every startup entrepreneur wants to believe that their product or service has never been done before, but the ones who proceed with that mindset are inviting peril. Be a student of history. One of the first things you learn is that humankind doesn’t learn from history because we keep repeating the same mistakes. Humility will make you realize that somebody somewhere has probably tried this before. Do your research…and not just a quick Google search. Find out who tried and how they failed. Use their experience to learn the hard lessons without suffering the personal setbacks.

“One thing we can all control is effort. Put in the time to become an expert in whatever you’re doing.”

Be Unique

While your product or service may not be completely new, you need to make at least one aspect of it your own. Consider what characteristics you bring to the product, to how or to whom it is marketed, or how it is delivered to differentiate yourself from your competitors. If you try to be the same, you have no basis other than price on which to compete, and someone newer and cheaper can easily come along to take your market away from you.

“Creating opportunities means looking where others are not.”

“When you’ve got 10,000 people trying to do the same thing, why would you want to be number 10,001?”

“Success is about making your life a special version of unique that fits who you are – not what other people want you to be.”

If you aggressively pursue these 7 areas, your chances of startup success increase dramatically. What are you waiting for? As Mark Cuban says, the perfect time is now.

To learn more on how to stand out with an epic fundraising story, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro. You find her on LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow or her ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro.

6 Ways Innovation and Entrepreneurship Promote Prosperity

entrepreneurship innovation

This is a Guest blog post from Andre Averbug.

It is not a coincidence that the most developed nations are also the ones with the highest levels of entrepreneurial activity and innovation. While starting from a minimal level of development helps support the latter two, for example through basic access to capital and institutional stability, the impact of innovation and entrepreneurship on the economy and society more broadly cannot be overstated. In fact, it goes beyond usual suspects such as increased productivity, competitiveness, and job creation, spilling over to areas as diverse as regulation, infrastructure, the environment, and social inclusion. Below I provide a (certainly non-exhaustive) list of six such effects. While every issue deserves an article (or even a book!) of its own, I provide but a brief overview on each point, leaving the interested reader to dig deeper on his or her own.

  1. Innovation can drive regulatory improvements

Although ideally the right conditions, including regulations, would be in place to enable the occurrence of innovations, the reality is that the order is often inverted. Regulatory changes can be drawn by the innovations themselves, from the bottom up. For example, in Kenya, Safaricom launched a series of increasingly innovative financial services through its M-Pesa platform, such as e-money transfer, virtual savings accounts, and virtual credit. The government watched while the company experimented and innovated and, once the demand for its services were demonstrated, the government enacted and amended laws to adequate the functioning of the financial system to M-Pesa’s offerings. This set a new regulatory stage in Kenya that benefited other fintech startups and helped democratize access to finance. When regulation follows innovation, it tends to work better than ex-ante efforts, which are often based on non-transferable international practices and struggle to support innovations that are not yet fully understood.

  1. Innovation can support infrastructure progress

Innovation can also promote infrastructure development. In the early 2000s, in Africa, the growth of telecom pioneer Celtel was hindered by insufficient cellphone coverage in countries like Congo, Gabon and Zambia. But the company did not just wait for government investments. It took matters into its own hands and invested in cell towers itself, as well as other complementary infrastructure such as roads, to be able to service the towers effectively, and water supply, so workers and their communities could have basic water access in remote areas. This investment has paid off for Celtel, enabling the exponential growth of the business, and the countries where it operates, which benefitted from improved infrastructure. Similarly, in Nigeria, Tolaram launched its popular brand of instant noodles Indomie, the first of its kind in the country, which quickly became a hit and a must-have dish across the country. The growth of the business, however, was being hindered by the precarious infrastructure and logistic capabilities in Nigeria. Tolaram invested more than $350 million in developing its own logistics company, with over 2,000 trucks, and building infrastructure including electricity and sewage and water treatment facilities. Furthermore, the company took a leading role in developing a $1.5 billion public-private partnership to build and operate a deep-water port in Lagos, all to support the long-term growth of its business. Both cases are discussed in details in the book The Prosperity Paradox.

  1. Innovation and entrepreneurship can promote environmental sustainability

There is plenty of evidence that this generation of entrepreneurs and innovators, especially younger ones, tend to be more environmentally conscious than businesspeople from previous generations and government bureaucrats. In fact, many startups are set up specifically to mitigate environmental challenges. Colombia’s Conceptos Plasticos, for example, contributes to the circular economy by using recycled plastic materials to form Lego-style bricks which are then used to build affordable housing. Global startup Airborn Water, in turn, designed a technology that efficiently produces fresh (potable) water from the air’s humidity, contributing to sustainable water supply in even the remotest areas. Moreover, even when the business itself is not focused on solving an environmental issue, (younger) entrepreneurs are generally more mindful of mitigating potential negative externalities, following sustainable practices, and adopting a triple-bottom-line approach to business.

  1. Innovation and entrepreneurship can mitigate social problems

Entrepreneurs are problem-solvers who understand that a problem can become the opportunity for a profitable business. They often build companies around solving pain-points they have identified in their own lives and communities. Many startups have business models that rely on resolving social problems or targeting the base of the pyramid as consumers, workers, and suppliers. In fact, three of the examples provided above – Celtel, M-Pesa and Indomie – illustrate businesses that have great social impact. Also, there is a subset of social entrepreneurs that run non-for-profit enterprises which are committed, first and foremost, to addressing community challenges. Hospital Beyond Boundaries provides health services to poor, underserved communities in Malaysia and Cambodia. Zomato Feeding India combats food waste in India and provides meals to the poor. It has a network of about 25,000 volunteers across more than 100 cities and has served over 33 million meals to people in need.  She Says is an organization that fights for gender rights in India, especially those of women and girls that have been victims of sexual assault and harassment.

  1. Entrepreneurship can promote inclusion and change cultural norms

Many countries face challenges when it comes to the inclusion of minorities and women in the economy. In certain regions of the Middle East and Africa, for example, business is still not seen as an appropriate activity for women. They are expected to take on domestic roles or perhaps become teachers, nurses, or work in traditional agriculture and manufacturing. In Africa, only 9 percent of startups have women leaders, according to Venture Capital for Africa. In such context, the development of programs that promote women’s entrepreneurship, for example through business education, incubation and acceleration, helps debunk taboos and shake the status quo. Initiatives such as New Work Lab, in Morocco, and the Kosmos Innovation Center (KIC) in Ghana, Senegal, and Mauritania, are making targeted efforts to support women entrepreneurs. Similar initiatives abound throughout Africa and the Middle East and are paying off. The landscape for women in the workplace is changing for the better, as female entrepreneurs become role models and serve as inspiration to others, regardless of sector and occupation. And the economy benefits too. According to the Women’s Entrepreneurship Report, women entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa are 60 percent more likely than male entrepreneurs to offer innovative solutions and 30 percent have businesses with international reach, which also exceeds their male counterparts.

  1. Entrepreneurship can strengthen ties with diaspora and help address brain-drain

Many developing economies suffer from brain-drain, with an important share of the well-educated and resourced leaving the country to search for better opportunities in developed countries. The growth of a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem creates the opportunity for people to choose to develop their talent and invest their resources locally, instead of voting with their feet. It also motivates the diaspora to re-engage with the local economy by becoming (angel) investors, mentors, connectors – and eventually even returning to their countries. For example, ChileGlobal, part of Fundación Chile, promotes and facilitates the development of business projects and the introduction of innovative technologies through its network of influential Chileans living in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Pangea, in turn, connects African entrepreneurs and successful diaspora members by providing both training and business intelligence for diaspora investors and engaging the diaspora in the startups Pangea has invested in.

Do you have additional points to raise? Examples to share? Agree or disagree with a particular issue? Leave your comments below and let’s keep this discussion alive!

Andre portrait

Andre Averbug is an entrepreneur, economist, and writer. He has over two decades of international experience working in the intersection of economic development, entrepreneurship, and innovation. He has worked and lived in multiple countries across North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Central Asia.

Andre has started and run four startups, in Brazil and the US, and was awarded Global Innovator of the Year in 2009 by World Bank’s infoDev. He has extensive experience supporting companies as mentor and consultant, both independently and as part of incubators such as 1776 and the Kosmos Innovation Center, and programs like Shell LIVEWire, StartUp Weekend and WeXchange.

As an economist, Andre has worked in topics ranging from innovation ecosystems, entrepreneurship and MSME development policy, competitiveness, business climate, infrastructure finance, monitoring and evaluation (M&E), and country assistance strategy for the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES). He has also consulted for clients such as DAI Global, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), TechnoServe, among many others. He holds a master’s degree in economics from the University of London (UK) and an MBA from McGill University (Canada). Andre lives in the Washington, DC area.

He writes an awesome Blog called Entrepreneurship Compass and you can sign up here: https://entrepreneurshipcompass.com

5 Keys to Convince Investors Your Product Can Make Money

This is a guest blog post by Ines Lebow.

Even if you’re too young (or too old?) to know where the line “show me the money!” comes from, everyone knows the phrase “follow the money”. When it comes to attracting investors and getting them on board with your vision, it’s all about the money potential.

Many entrepreneurs, especially in the tech field, are under the mistaken impression that it’s all about the product. If the product is sexy, fresh, or disruptive, investors will be falling over themselves to put their money behind it. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Consider the case of Bombas. What was their big idea? Socks. Hardly disruptive, right? Yet the co-founders of Bombas went onto the show Shark Tank and secured $200,000 in funding to launch their idea. Yes, they presented some nice ideas about making a better athletic sock, but they were still trying to pitch a sock. So what made Bombas so attractive to invest in?

Laser Focus

The co-founders of Bombas had a laser-focus on their product and market. From personal experience and lots of interaction with potential consumers, they understood that people were generally unhappy with the comfort of socks, especially for athletic activities. After lots of product testing and user feedback, they identified several areas of improvement for their future products.

Sales Record

By the time Bombas reached Shark Tank, they had already been through two funding rounds. Before their official launch, they secured more than $140,000 through crowdfunding. In the year after their launch, they raised $1 million from friends and family. They also had a track record of sales to show to eventual investor Daymond John, offering a better understanding of the potential return on investment.

Unique Business Model

At the core of Bombas is a business model committed to giving back. It’s not a marketing gimmick but part of the guiding principles of the company and its founders. For every pair of Bombas socks sold, one pair is given to the homeless. Not only does this uplift the spirits of consumers who are willing to pay $12 for a comfortable pair of socks, but it addresses a real need in the community, as socks tend to be the single most requested item at homeless shelters.

Take a Punch

Bombas proved that they were ready to take a punch, from consumers and in the market. Their extensive work in market research before even creating a product provided them with a network of targeted consumers who were willing to give detailed opinions and feedback on a product and how it was delivered. When the Bombas team created their initial prototypes, they were applauded for creating a better sock, but willing to listen and make changes to the product. Their team of consumers didn’t disappoint, but came back punching hard. As a result of the critical market feedback, Bombas made two additional improvements to their products before a general market launch.

Leadership Team

The co-founders of Bombas were able to convince investors of their ability and dedication to execute on the business vision. So while the product was “just socks”, the co-founders had a vision they were able to articulate to investors that made them consider “but look at what socks can do.”

Through these five areas, Bombas was able to convey who was driving the bus, who the competition was in the market, the investor’s potential for a financial return, and how consumers would relate to the product, their company, and their marketing model. As a result, Bombas grew from zero in 2013 to $4.6 million in 2015 to $46.6 million in 2017. In 2019, Bombas exceeded $100 million in revenue. By April 2020, they have donated 35 million pairs of socks.

What will your story be?

To learn more about creating an epic fundraising story for investors, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro.

Ines LeBow is the CEO, Transformation Executive for ETS. She is a known catalyst for business operations, bringing 30+ years of hands-on experience. Ines has a long history of being recruited into senior executive roles to improve the execution of business operations and to drive revenue growth. You can see her LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow, view the ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro, or email her directly at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro.

Getting Funded: Now is the Time

This is a Guest blog post from Ines LeBow

 

Napoleon Hill Quote: “Are you waiting for success to arrive, or ...

 

It’s still happening. We hear about companies that are shutting down, laying off workers, or filing for bankruptcy because of Covid-19 or our sputtering economic re-launch. What we don’t often hear is that investors are still looking to put their money into action.

Even if your product or service isn’t targeting the “Covid economy”, this still may be the best time to get your business funded. Your competition for investor dollars may be back on their heels or simply waiting for what they perceive as a better environment to secure funding.

In recent articles, I outlined a Blueprint on How to Open Doors to Start-Up and Next-Stage Growth Funding and a companion piece on Telling an Epic Fundraising Story, Starting with the Value Proposition. The basic principles to getting funded remain the same, but there are some additional considerations you’ll want to address in your fundraising pitch:

  • Prepare (and practice) your pitch using digital solutions.
  • Include information on the business and financial impacts of extended government mandates related to Covid (work or school shutdowns, travel restrictions, economic depression, unemployment, supply chain shortages, etc.).
  • Consider ways your product or service can disrupt the existing market.
  • Highlight members of the executive team or advisory board who have experience helping companies to navigate and thrive during tumultuous times.
  • Showcase the market opportunity presented by changes to the competitive landscape or potential changes from government or industry regulations.

Now is the time, because if not now, when? As the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Doris Lessing said, “Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.” Or, as Napoleon Hill, the controversial self-help author on success, said, “Are you waiting for success to arrive, or are you going out to find where it is hiding?”

To learn more on how to create an epic fundraising story for digital presentations to investors, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro.

Ines LeBow is the CEO, Transformation Executive for ETS. She is a known catalyst for business operations, bringing 30+ years of hands-on experience. Ines has a long history of being recruited into senior executive roles to improve the execution of business operations and to drive revenue growth. You can see her LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow, view the ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro, or email her directly at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro.

8 Tips for Friends and Family Fundraising

This is a Guest blog post from Andre Averbug.

 

Friends and family investing fundraising seed capital

Startup fundraising is never easy and the current pandemic crisis makes it even harder. Typical early-stage investors, such as angel investors and venture capital funds, today might be more reluctant to take risks and bet on early-stage startups. In such situations, entrepreneurs often turn to friends and family (2F’s) to support their endeavors.

Asking people close to you for money, however, has its challenges and needs to be done in a planned, sensible way. Here are a few best practices to follow:

1. Select potential leads carefully – Make a list of potential investors among friends and family based on two key factors: net-worth and personality. In terms of the former, you should only consider people you know have the resources to support you. Don’t put people close to you on the spot if you don’t think they can afford to lose the investment. If the business fails, you don’t want to see them struggling financially, no matter the circumstances. Regarding the latter, only approach people you have a good relationship with and that you think have the right temperament. Make sure the person is reasonable and understanding. Remember they will become your partners (or lenders) and business partnerships are often hard to manage. Money comes at a very high cost if the person is difficult to deal with or might freak out at the first adversity and become a headache for you and your other partners.

2. Prioritize those who might help – From your list above, try to identify people who might be business savvy, well connected, and who can bring something else to the table besides money. For example, prioritize the uncle who is a corporate executive or entrepreneur, and might help you with mentoring and contacts in the industry, over a friend who might even be more well-off, but is a medical doctor or an artist with no business knowhow or networks.

3. Approach them professionally – Just because these are people close to you and that you know might be inclined to help, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be professional when approaching them. Quite the opposite. Show them you are serious about your business and that you are proposing a business partnership that runs parallel to your personal relationships. Only approach them when you know exactly how much money you need and for what: present them with a use of funds table. Make them a compelling presentation of your business case and bring (or send them) printouts of your business planLean Canvas, or executive summary. They will appreciate your professionalism.

4. Think through instrument options – Make sure you understand all investment instrument options before you approach friends and family because you will need to explain it to them. For example, are you selling shares of your company (equity)? If so, at what valuation (make sure it is not overvalued to be fair to them)? Do you want a loan (debt) and, if so, under what terms, ideally? Are you considering convertible notes, where the investment starts as a loan and can be converted into equity at the next round of investment, at a discounted valuation? The latter, by the way, is likely the best option for early stage startups. [Note: I will be covering these instruments in a future post – stay tuned by signing up to receive notifications of new posts by email].

5. Make them comfortable to say “no” – Unlike professional investors like angels and VC funds, these people are listening to you specifically because they like you and want to help you personally. Therefore, you have the moral obligation to not take advantage of that (which you might do unconsciously) and you must put them in a comfortable spot. After presenting your pitch and explaining how much you need, for what, and under what terms, answer all the questions they have, and give them time to think. Don’t ask for an answer on the same day (unless of course it is a clear negative) and tell them to sleep on the offer and come back to you on a later day.

6. Consider a “2F club” – Depending on the amount of money you are asking and the number of people on your list, it might be a good idea to have more people invest smaller pieces. For example, instead of getting $50,000 from your big sister, get 5 x $10,000 from her and four other friends. This is good for diluting any one person’s risk and might also provide you with extra help. If you are going for equity, though, be mindful of having too many people as partners – i.e., too many voices at the table. Get help from a corporate lawyer or legal mentor to design an effective way for these people to become your partners, perhaps by having them all come in through a company of their own, with each owning 20% of it.

7. Tell what you expect (and don’t) from them – When friends and family invest, with their best intentions, they often want to help in many other ways too. They may want to opine on the business strategy, suggest hires, introduce you to this or that person, try the product before you launch it etc. If not managed properly, this situation can escalate to your aunt, who’s a dentist, wanting to participate in your biggest contract negotiation! Therefore, before the investment deal is closed, make sure you tell them the level of involvement you expect from them. You may simply not want them to get involved at all, which is fine, as long as this is part of the agreement and they are ok with it. In any case, keep in mind that, as partners, they do have the right to at least receive updates and participate in quarterly or biannual meetings.

8. Be 100% transparent about the risks! – Avoid problems in the future. These are people you care about and may know nothing about startup investing. They are doing this because they care about you too. Ensure they are aware that this is a risky endeavor and that they might lose their investment (equity) or that you may take a long time to pay them back (debt) if the business fails. Certify that they are ok with the risks and that they can afford losing their investment without major personal financial consequences.

Times of crisis call far stringent cost management measures and creative fundraising, including from friends and family. If you do it right, the 2F’s can be a good option to help you through these troubled waters.

 

Andre portrait

Andre Averbug is an entrepreneur, economist, and writer. He has over two decades of international experience working in the intersection of economic development, entrepreneurship, and innovation. He has worked and lived in multiple countries across North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Central Asia.

Andre has started and run four startups, in Brazil and the US, and was awarded Global Innovator of the Year in 2009 by World Bank’s infoDev. He has extensive experience supporting companies as mentor and consultant, both independently and as part of incubators such as 1776 and the Kosmos Innovation Center, and programs like Shell LIVEWire, StartUp Weekend and WeXchange.

As an economist, Andre has worked in topics ranging from innovation ecosystems, entrepreneurship and MSME development policy, competitiveness, business climate, infrastructure finance, monitoring and evaluation (M&E), and country assistance strategy for the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES). He has also consulted for clients such as DAI Global, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), TechnoServe, among many others. He holds a master’s degree in economics from the University of London (UK) and an MBA from McGill University (Canada). Andre lives in the Washington, DC area.

He writes an awesome Blog called Entrepreneurship Compass and you can sign up here: https://entrepreneurshipcompass.com

 

 

Leadership Transformation in 2020 – Change is inevitable. Transformation is by conscious choice.

This is a Guest blog post by Bei Ma, Founder and CEO of The Pinea Group

Leadership Transformation in 2020

Change is inevitable. Transformation is by conscious choice.

 

lighted brown lighthouse beside body of water

Photo by Evgeni Tcherkasski on Unsplash

 

As Bill Gates recommended 5 summer books in his recent Gates Notes on May 18, 2020, he wrote: “The Ride of a Lifetime, by Bob Iger. This is one of the best business books I’ve read in several years. Iger does a terrific job explaining what it’s really like to be the CEO of a large company. Whether you’re looking for business insights or just an entertaining read, I think anyone would enjoy his stories about overseeing Disney during one of the most transformative times in its history.”1

Yes, indeed. Robert Iger, in his 2019 book “The Ride of a Lifetime”, shares in great detail on how the ten principles that strike him as necessary to true leadership have transformed Disney. And the ten principles are: Optimism, Courage, Focus, Decisiveness, Curiosity, Fairness, Thoughtfulness, Authenticity, Relentless Pursuit of Perfection, and Integrity.

While each of these ten principles speaks the truth of leadership, we need more, we need more for an unprecedented year we are in at this very moment. The year of 2020 perhaps manifests every aspect you can imagine that life does not always go the way you expect it will.

We are still in the middle of the global pandemic. Period. The director of National  Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Fauci spoke at BIO Digital virtual healthcare conference on June 10 that the coronavirus pandemic has turned out to be his “worst nightmare” and warned that it’s not over yet.2

Millions of people still have no jobs or steady income despite an optimistic labor report of May by the Department of Labor. According to Business Insider, US jobless claims totaled 44 million, meaning more than one in four American workers have lost a job during the pandemic.3

Social reform is well likely underway with the “Black Lives Matter” movement amid nationwide protests. New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo says he intends to sign the package of bills passed by New York legislators for comprehensive police reform.4

In the business context, CEOs have been facing an ultimate leadership test. While business executives shall absolutely continue to incorporate and implement in their daily business life the ten principles of true leadership by Robert Iger: Optimism, Courage, Focus, Decisiveness, Curiosity, Fairness, Thoughtfulness, Authenticity, Relentless Pursuit of Perfection, and Integrity, leadership transformation is imperative. CEOs must make conscious choices for leadership transformation facing one crisis after another in the year of 2020 and onward.

In this article, we explore two actions, accompanying mindset and qualities that can help executives navigate such perfect storms and future crises and consciously make leadership transformation.

Leading with Compassion

Numerous studies show that in a business-as-usual environment, compassionate leaders perform better and foster more loyalty and engagement by their teams.5 However, compassion becomes especially critical during a crisis.6

Four months into the pandemic, the nation is seeing a historic wave of widespread psychological trauma driven by fear, isolation, uncertainty, anger, and distress. Nearly half of Americans report the coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll.7

To an organization, collective fears and existential threats triggered by the crises call for a compassionate, empathetic, caring and highly visible leadership. If executives demonstrate that everything is under control with business-as-usual meetings and overconfident emails with an  upbeat tone, afraid of showing the genuine vulnerability, empathy to connect and compassion to support their people, reduce their stress and burden, absurdly, this might backfire and will certainly not create the confidence, innovation and creativity from people to enable them navigate through the crises and recover the business.

       “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people

       will never forget how you made them feel.”

       – Maya Angelou –

People feel it and will never forget when leaders act with genuine compassion, especially during the crises.

 

     Leading with Rooted Power

In routine emergencies, experience is perhaps the most valuable quality that leaders bring. But in novel, landscape-scale crises, character is of the utmost importance.8 Deliberate calm is the ability to detach from a fraught situation and think clearly about how one will navigate it.9

Crisis-resistant leaders, as the captains of their ships during a perfect storm, will be able to unify the teams with deliberate calm, clarity, and stableness, making a positive difference in people’s lives. The calmness comes from well-grounded individuals who possess rooted power of humility, hope, and tenacity.

Crisis-resistant leaders return to their roots, core values, beliefs, and principles during a perfect storm. They pose questions to themselves and teams about what the organization stands for, what the purpose is, and what should continue to do or stop doing, what need to be created as new practices or ways of working, new norms that are emerging.10

The rooted power of crisis-resistant leaders is originated from physical health providing energy and stamina; mental health providing optimistic and positive view; intellectual health providing acute decisiveness and clarity; and social health providing the trust and transparency.

Only grounded leaders with such rooted power can beat landscape-scale crises.

………………………………..

The crises and overwhelming consequences ask for leadership transformation. Besides the ten principles to true leadership1, business leaders who make conscious transformation: leading with compassion and leading with rooted power, can support their organizations and communities, navigating through the perfect storms.

 

Reference

  1. https://www.gatesnotes.com/About-Bill-Gates/Summer-Books-2020
  2. https://www.today.com/health/dr-anthony-fauci-says-coronavirus-his-worst-nightmare-isn-t-t183838
  3. https://www.businessinsider.com/us-weekly-jobless-claims-coronavirus-layoffs-unemployment-filings-economy-recession-2020-6
  4. https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/10/us/new-york-passes-police-reform-bills/index.html
  5. Jane E. Dutton, Ashley E. Hardin, and Kristina M. Workman, “Compassion at work,” Annual Review Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, Volume 1, Number 1, 2014, pp. 277–304; Jacoba M. Lilius, et al, “Understanding compassion capability,” Human Relations, Volume 64, Number 7, 2011, pp. 873–99; Paquita C. De Zulueta, “Developing Compassionate Leadership in Health Care: An Integrative Review,” Journal of Healthcare Leadership, Volume 8, 2016, pp. 1–10.
  6. Jane E. Dutton, et al, “Leading in times of trauma,” Harvard Business Review, Volume 80, Number 1, 2002, pp. 54–61; Edward H. Powley and Sandy Kristin Piderit, “Tending wounds: Elements of the organizational healing process,” Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, Volume 44, Number 1, 2008, pp. 134–49.
  7. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/05/04/mental-health-coronavirus/
  8. Gemma D’Auria and Aaron De Smet, McKinsey & Company, Organizational Practice, “Leadership in a crisis: Responding to the coronavirus outbreak and future challenges”, 2020.
  9. Helio Fred Garcia, “Effective leadership response to crisis,” Strategy & Leadership, 2006, Volume 34, Number 1, pp. 4–10.
  10. Adapted from Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky, “Leadership in a (permanent) crisis,” Harvard Business Review, July–August 2009, hbr.com

 

About the Author

Event Registration (EVENT: 796935 - SESSION: 1)

 

Bei Ma is the founder and CEO of the Pinea Group (Pinea). Pinea serves as a trusted partner specialized in cross-border fund raising, market access, clinical studies, regulatory pathway, licensing, and distribution to help medical devices, diagnostics, pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical organizations to achieve the best patient outcomes and commercial success.  Previously, Bei Ma served as Vice President of Global Healthcare Business Development at British Standards Institution (BSI) Group. Bei can be reached at 410.271.7267 and beimalong7@gmail.com; her LinkedIn profile is https://www.linkedin.com/in/beima/

How to Build a Company Culture That’s Sustainable in Any Market

This is a Guest blog post from Ines LeBow.

10 Quotes on Organizational Change To Inspire Teams | Change ...

 

Herodotus, the ancient Greek intellectual who became known as “The Father of History” coined the phrase “Culture is King”. Companies rise and fall based on their culture, and challenging situations like we’ve faced here in 2020 test company culture to determine if it’s real or just a façade. In a recent article, I gave advice on how to “Pandemic-Proof Your Funding Pitch Deck”, but as an entrepreneur, are you really able to pandemic-proof your company culture? The answer is a resounding “yes”! In fact, you can create a culture that thrives in any market situation, including Covid and beyond.

 

Leadership-Driven Culture

 

How you, the entrepreneur, and the executive team lead at the outset of your business and through “normal” times sets the tone for your culture that will carry you through times that are trying. As Frances Hesselbein so succinctly put it, “Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organization is transformed; the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day.”

 

For the leadership team that truly prioritizes the culture of their organization, there are a few core values that will be emphasized down the management ranks to the front-line employees and a call to have the actions of all personnel align with these values. The top core values include:

 

  • Two-Way Communication – Consistent and ongoing opportunities for the executive team to interact with staff (both speaking and listening) and for all team members to interact with customers (again, both speaking and listening)
  • Engagement – Fostering a sense of ownership and a common purpose throughout the organization to energize all employees and get them working toward a uniting vision
  • Wellness and Balance – Setting policies that value employees’ work-life balance, mental and physical health, and general wellness
  • Programs and Tools – Enacting programs and implementing tools that allow employees to thrive in personal and professional development, workplace collaboration, idea innovation, mobile and remote work setups, knowledge sharing, and more

 

 

The combination of forced and voluntary business shutdowns that occurred nearly overnight as a result of the Coronavirus response quickly led to 88% of companies that either required or encouraged their employees to work from home, according to a Gartner survey. Some companies were ill-prepared for this rapid shift. Many of the companies with the technical capabilities for hosting a truly remote workforce, however, lacked the type of culture that would keep employees engaged, communicating, and thriving when not in an in-person environment.

 

Having a great framework in place is essential and must include employees who come to a physical office location as well as employees who work from home, in the field, or from a remote office. As companies return to work, executives and board members are going to re-imaging how the company operates. The old approach of leasing large office spaces may alter significantly, causing companies to adopt a more aggressive mobile and remote work model. Re-thinking how these core values that contribute to the corporate culture can be dealt with is just as important to strategize over.

 

To learn more about creating an engaging culture or how to create an epic fundraising story for digital presentations to investors, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro.

 

Ines LeBow is the CEO, Transformation Executive for ETS. She is a known catalyst for business operations, bringing 30+ years of hands-on experience. Ines has a long history of being recruited into senior executive roles to improve the execution of business operations and to drive revenue growth. You can see her LinkedIn Profile at http://www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow, view the ETS website at http://www.transformationsolutions.pro, or email her directly at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro.

CONNECTpreneur enters our 9th year with a bang

Recently, I was interviewed by the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation about The Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Forum, of which they are a sponsor. Following is the transcript of the interview. I have been a Board Member of this tremendous organization for the past 4 years.

CONNECTpreneur recently entered our 9th year. To date, we have hosted 47 events, the last 4 being “virtual” events. Over 20,000 business leaders, investors, and entrepreneurs from around the world have attended our events. Our website is connectpreneur.org. Please check us out!

 

THE BIG IDEA
CONNECTPRENEUR FORUM

IN CONVERSATION WITH TIEN WONG, CEO, OPUS8, AND
FOUNDER & HOST, CONNECTPRENEUR

Get to know CONNECTpreneur, a unique forum which attracts the region’s top entrepreneurs, investors, innovators and game changers. Organizers of the top tech and investor networking events in the region.

IMG_7629.jpg

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO MAKE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN BUSINESS LEADERS OF ALL STRIPES – CEOS, VCS AND ANGELS – TO EARLY STAGE COMPANIES?

Not just for early stage companies, but all businesses of all sizes, the old adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” still applies very relevantly. People want to do business with people. Early stage companies, in particular, have many needs: capital, talent, customers, vendors, partners, product development, marketing, etc. and having a large and deep network gives an entrepreneur a huge advantage in the marketplace, for obvious reasons. There is a proven correlation between the size and quality of one’s network, and one’s overall success — in entrepreneurship and most endeavors.

 

IMG_8107.jpg

WHAT IS THE SECRET SAUCE THAT MAKES CONNECTPRENEUR A TOP TECH NETWORKING EVENT IN THE REGION?

It’s our ability to attract the region’s top entrepreneurs, investors, innovators and game changers. We pride ourselves on organizing the top tech and investor networking events in Montgomery County and the Washington region as a whole. We think that the reason that over 70% of our surveyed attendees rate CONNECTpreneur as the “number one” tech and networking event in the Mid-Atlantic region is because of the high quality and seniority of our attendees, which is unprecedented. Over 20% of our attendees are accredited angel investors or VCs, over half are CEOs and founders, and we intentionally keep the ratio of service providers as low as possible. This makes for more meaningful connectivity among the participants.

IMG_5440.jpeg

 

HOW DOES CONNECTPRENEUR SUPPORT FEMALE ENTREPRENEURS AND ENTREPRENEURS OF COLOR?

CONNECTpreneur is very intentional about providing a diverse set of presenters and speakers in our programming. Our community of entrepreneurs and investors is highly diverse, and our selection committee is very tuned in to the benefits of gender and cultural diversity. We actively work with and partner with local, regional, and national players who share our values of “double bottom line” ethics which value social impact as well as financial gain. Some of our partners include Maryland Tech Council, TEDCO, Startup Grind, Founder Institute, Halcyon and Conscious Venture Labs to name a few.

 

VMS breakfast1.jpg

 

WHY IS MONTGOMERY COUNTY A GOOD LOCATION FOR AN INNOVATIVE STARTUP COMPANY? AND, WHAT’S YOUR BEST ADVICE FOR SUCCESS?

Montgomery County is a top tier County nationally for startups, and that’s evidenced by numerous awesome success stories. MoCo has a tremendously educated talent base, world class government institutions, top schools, and a large base of angel and high net worth private investors who can provide seed funding. The best advice for success is to understand thoroughly your customer and their needs and pain points very deeply. That way you can get to “product market fit” more quickly, de-risk your opportunity, and be more capital efficient. Too many companies get enamored with their product and design, or culture, or getting media coverage whereas the true essence of any successful business is to provide excellent products and solutions to its customers and sell into their markets like crazy.

 

WHAT ARE SOME UNIQUE CHARACTERISTICS OF AN EARLY STAGE COMPANY THAT SPARK YOUR INTEREST TO EXTEND AN INVITE TO PARTICIPATE IN THE FORUM?

We are looking for presenting companies which have truly disruptive ideas, products and/or solutions which could be sold into huge markets.  And of course, the most important criteria are the quality, expertise, and coachability of the founding team. We have had presenters from all kinds of sectors including life sciences, cyber, telecom, blockchain, wireless, mobility, e-commerce, marketplaces, fintech, medical devices, IoT, etc.

Learn more about CONNECTpreneur at our website: connectpreneur.org

 

 

 

Next Mission: Co-founder, Seth Goldman, exits Honest Tea to focus on plant-based “meat,” a segment of the $300 billion meat category

This is a Guest blog post from Janice Mandel.

It made sense to sell to Coca-Cola in 2011 for greater distribution, scale and purchasing power. The Honest brand is selling billions of servings through McDonald’s, Subway, Chick Fil-A, and Wendy’s while supporting communities through fair trade and a healthful alternative. He says that his work with McDonald’s alone has removed 1 billion calories from the American diet.

CONNECTpreneur founder, Tien Wong (L), interviews Seth Goldman at George Washington University.

 

 

Seth said his company has been connected to Coca Cola for longer than it was an independent company: “The brand has its own life, its own momentum. The teams in Atlanta and Europe we’ve seen they’re doing the right thing with the brand. They are innovating the right way and it’s large enough that I can’t see anyone saying ‘Let’s make it sweeter or discontinue certifying it as organic or Fair Trade.’  I’m not putting a toddler out into the world. This is a 22 year old entity with its own personality and it’s strong enough to survive on its own.”

What’s Next?

Seth remains Executive Chair of the Board of Beyond Meat and says he will continue to support the alternative protein brand as it pursues its mission to transform the supermarket’s meat case into the protein case.

He summarized Beyond Meat’s approach: “Rather than define meat by its origin, which says meat always comes from animals, we’re going to define it by its composition. So when you look at it that way, meat is just an assembly of amino acids, which form the proteins; lipids that form the fats, 70% water and some trace minerals and carbohydrates.”

Although some are concerned that products such as Beyond Meat are “processed,” Seth says it is produced with the same equipment used to extrude pasta. And, the sustainability benefits are well worth pursuing.

“It will take 2 1/2 worlds to feed the growing population the same kind of protein diet we have in the United States, but we have only one,” Seth observes. The brand counts the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation among its early socially responsible investors out to feed the world responsibly.

Seth also remembers fondly another major “investor” without whom Honest Tea would not have been able to fill its first order for 15,000 bottles for Fresh Fields, which became Whole Foods. He’s referring to the bottle supplier in Pennsylvania who helped him respond to the cyclical nature of the beverage industry by agreeing to extend payment through each difficult winter.  Seth is proud of bringing the payments each spring, well before the seasonal 90 day payment terms were up. The weekend before his fireside chat at GW, Seth learned the bottle supplier who had believed in him since the beginning had passed away.

“I would not have been able to succeed without him,” he says.

Read more about Seth Goldman’s detailed account of his co-founding Honest Tea here.

About Janice K. Mandel

I’m a multimedia storyteller following evolving voice-first opportunities. Early adopter experience in New York City included: Sr. Editor, EIC/Intelligence, the first online, commercial database (1980s);Communications/Voice of Equinta.com, like Zillow but in 1999; and Reach networks — like Mosaic, only four years sooner. I’ve recruited speakers for VOICE Summit (https://voicesummit.ai) and conducted its microcast leading up to the event. Would love to do more microcasting in the future.