Tag Archive: starting_a_new_business

Esther Dyson Q&A: What makes an angel investor tick?

Esther Dyson Q&A: What makes an angel investor tick?
Posted by SBOC Team in Starting Your Business on Oct 19, 2012 8:04:36 AM

She describes herself as a “start-up catalyst.” Through EDventure Holdings, Esther Dyson places her bets in emerging markets such as Eastern Europe and, more recently, Africa. In the U.S., she specializes in cutting-edge ideas, specifically information technology, preemptive healthcare, and commercial space travel. “I don’t want to be redundant by investing in companies that would happen anyway,” she recently told business writer Sharon Kahn. Some of her best-known successes include Flickr and del.icio.us (both sold to Yahoo!) as well as Medstory (sold to Microsoft). She’s also involved with Russia’s leading search company, Yandex, and Nomanini, a South African company that makes and distributes terminals that let small businesses accept prepaid vouchers for products such as airtime, electricity, and insurance.

SK: How did you become a venture capitalist?

ED: I ran a technology newsletter, Release 1.0, for 25 years. In the mid 1990s, a friend said, ‘Gee, you keep telling people that they should invest in technology companies in Eastern Europe, where so many changes were going on. How about I give you one million dollars to invest?’ I said, ‘How much did you say?’

Money goes a lot further in Eastern Europe, but I eventually decided to invest in the U.S. as well. At that point I hired someone to run my newsletter because I became fanatic about disclosing where I might have a vested interest. With all kinds of people now blogging, disclosure has become less of an issue, but I still feel it’s important.

SK: You now specialize in preventive healthcare and space as well as digital technology. Why those areas?

ED: I love emerging technologies in the same way I love emerging markets. Digital technology allows us to know and track our bodies better, helping us change behavior so we can avoid needing health care in the first place. Through their phone and sensors [that read, record, and transmit body functions], people can collect their own data and collaborate and compete with other people in the same situation. That social interaction provides motivation to eat better, exercise, whatever.

I’m also on the boards of several space companies, which represent, literally, the path to a new frontier. I trained as a backup cosmonaut. It’s extremely exciting to be involved in commercial space.
http://smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/community/running-your-business/starting-your-business/blog/2012/10/19/esther-dyson-qa-what-makes-an-angel-investor-tick

The Silent Partner: Boon or Bane?

The Silent Partner: Boon or Bane?
by Erin McDermott.

Psst. Is that silent partner you’re seeking really the best move for your small business?

When it comes to finding additional funding these days, it’s sometimes a tough road. As a result, people are looking at other avenues of capital, taking on all types of new partnerships, and even tapping into money through crowd-funding sites such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and AngelList.

Traditionally, silent partners have been the go-to investors, often family and sometimes friends, who pump in funding but also agree to stay out of day-to-day operations. They get a share of the profits and—unless there is a limited partnership agreement that rules out liabilities—risk taking a hit if an enterprise runs into trouble. Their presence is no secret to people familiar with a company, and often they are prized for their industry contacts or standing in a community.

So why choose to remain silent? There can be several reasons. For some investors, it’s a way to avoid the unwanted entreaties of others who also are seeking capital. Others might use a silent partnership to keep quiet about the extent of their business portfolios or to stay one step removed from a venture that they don’t want to be publicly identified as backing.

So, is this silence really golden for a small-business owner?

PQ_SilentPartners.jpgWhat you don’t get for your money

Mitchell D. Weiss doesn’t see much value in the proposition. He’s a longtime financial-services executive and entrepreneur who now teaches finance at the University of Hartford and is the author of Life Happens: A Practical Guide to Personal Finance from College to Career. To him, owners who recruit the strong, silent type of partners are missing a critical opportunity to gain knowledge from others who know the stakes and have years of experience and connections that are priceless for an entrepreneur.

“I wouldn’t want money from people who aren’t going to help me. I want someone who isn’t just a checkbook, but someone who’s in a position to mentor me and offer advice,” Weiss explains. “What’s more important for entrepreneurs is to seek out people who can give you good feedback. Not someone who hasn’t made a payroll, or can’t relate because they’ve never faced the pressure of running a business.”

Weiss himself has been there with business relationships both silent and not so silent. He recalls dealing with a principal at one of his early ventures who declared that he “likes his partners limited” and made clear that he wanted little advice from others, even while seeking investors. “That’s also known as ‘Give me the money and shut up,’” Weiss says now, laughing. “In the end, I learned a lot of good things and a lot of lessons about what not to do.”

Jaine Lucas also sees many entrepreneurs missing the boat.

“One of the issues with crowd-funding is you get the money, but not the advice, coaching, and mentoring you’d receive from angels, VCs, or others who might financially back your company,” says Lucas, an entrepreneur, former Fortune 50 marketing executive and now executive director of the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Institute at Temple University’s Fox School of Business in Philadelphia. “Most entrepreneurs will tell you that access to coaching and other people’s networks are just as important, if not more so, than the money.”

There’s always an exception

But Lucas does see the value of silence with one often-tapped group of investors: friends and family.

“They are often too involved emotionally and cannot see things objectively,” she says. “I see these things all of the time with our younger entrepreneurs who have very little access to capital other than credit cards and friends and family, so they take money from Mom and Dad. The problem is, to Mom and Dad, this promising entrepreneur is still their baby—and they don’t know anything! I see so many family relationships really impaired by money—and money has a way of blowing things up.”

One way to avoid that conflict Lucas says, is to make sure terms are clearly outlined well before any funds are invested, including whether the friend or family member will have any right to input in the venture. “Sadly, it isn’t treated as seriously as it should, and agreements need to be put in place before any money exchanges hands,” she says.

Today, most investments come with an extra two cents

“I see [silent partners] as something that’s becoming a thing of the past,” says David Luk, the 33-year-old chief executive of Quewey, a startup online network of experts that facilitates business expertise via free question-and-answer platforms and paid phone-consulting sessions. As people become more sophisticated about investing, Luk says they should feel the urge to provide advice so they can contribute added value to their investment.

“If you asked me to go out and search, in this early funding round, for investors who want to be silent, I think it would be hard to find that. And frankly, I don’t want that,” Luk says. “If I have a choice between an investor who has a willingness and ability to help versus someone who prefers to stay silent and on the sidelines, I’d rather have the person who can add value and not just the capital. We’re a startup and it seems like a waste of a potential resource.”

Often, it’s elusive resources like experience that are most important for growing small companies—and sorely needed at crucial turning points—such as getting down to the business of suing that new capital wisely and making money for all of your investors, silent or not.

Weiss says he’s seen entrepreneurs get an overzealous sense of “We’ve got it!” when funding does arrive. “Investors want that money back, and want their investment to grow—you’re just renting it,” Weiss points out. “It doesn’t just come with a lipstick kiss on the bottom of a Hallmark card.”

Franchising for Beginners

Do your homework before leaping into a franchise business model.

by Sherron Lumley.

“I didn’t want to start from scratch,” says Ann Bell who bought a Subway sandwich-shop franchise in 2010 with her husband Steve. “I was a stay-at-home mom and our kids are older now and off to college, so I decided it was time to go back to work,” she says. Although her husband had small business experience, Bell was more of an entrepreneurial beginner, so buying a franchise appealed to her as a safe way to invest in a business and re-enter the work force. “I work better under structure,” she says.

Pull-Quote.pngIn the franchise form of business, a franchisor licenses to a franchisee the right to operate under a trade name, sell its products and services, and receive guidance, in exchange for a fee. “My first step was to research the business model, to see if I could believe in it and embrace it,” says Bell. Typically, the franchisor provides business expertise in the form of marketing plans, management guidance, financing assistance, training, and sometimes site location. The Bells who are from Oregon, went to “Subway School” in Connecticut for training.

Here is a look at three early steps to franchise ownership.
Step One – Decision to buy a franchise: Yes/No

A franchise is a familiar form of business in America, accounting for 10.5 percent of all businesses with paid employees, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Clearly, the decision to buy a franchise has some strong advantages. In The Franchise Bible, How to Buy a Franchise, or Franchise your own Business, author Erwin J. Keup, says that group advertising power, recognizable trademarks, franchisor experience, patents and designs, training from experts, and a lower risk of failure or loss of investments are top reasons to become a franchisee. Other reasons are uniform operation, assistance in financial and accounting matters from the franchisor, and ongoing support.

Although ongoing support is typically considered one of the greatest advantages of franchising, it comes with a price. Nolo.com, a legal resource publisher, provides a look at some of the disadvantages to franchise ownership, which include royalty payments to the franchisor, advertising fees, and high start-up costs. Indeed, nine of the top ten U.S. franchises have start-up costs averaging more than $100,000 and the top three (Hampton Hotels, ampm convenience stores, and McDonald’s) are beyond the million-dollar mark to start.

For a sense of the ongoing fees franchisors expect, Subway requires franchisees like the Bells to pay 12.5 percent of their gross sales every week to the company; 8 percent of this goes toward franchise royalties and 4.5 percent goes towards advertising. This is in addition to the initial franchise fee of $15,000 and Subway franchise capital requirements fall between $115,000 and $258,000. However, not all franchises require such a hefty investment. Number seven on the list of the Franchise 500, Vanguard Cleaning Systems, has start-up costs of just $8,000 to $38,000.

For more information on choosing between launching your own business or buying into a franchise, check out our recent story: “My Way or the Buy Way.”

Step Two – Shopping for a franchise

Certainly, cost will be a factor and franchise options will be far different for a small business owner with a few thousand dollars of capital versus another with a million or more to invest. Here are a few of the many ways to shop for a franchise at all budget levels:

The Franchise Registry, through a partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) maintains a list of companies with franchises that are pre-approved for expedited loans.

The Federal Trade Commission recommends attending a franchise exposition to compare a variety of franchise opportunities and using a franchise broker who can help with applications and paperwork. But remember, the brokers often work for the franchisor. Information about upcoming national and international franchise expos and trade shows is available online at FranchiseDirect.com.

Franchise.com is another popular online resource. It offers an interactive search of franchises for sale by budget, industry, and location. The Internet is full of franchise websites to research, but “be on the lookout for certain characteristics that are very common among untrustworthy or illegitimate franchising sites,” warns Kevin Murphy, author of The Franchise Handbook. He specifically cautions against dealing with a company that does not provide full financial details at the outset and says that websites with overly aggressive marketing and a lot of hype should also be avoided.

As with any small business venture, consider the demand, competition, and ability to operate the business in making a franchise selection.

Step Three – Follow a franchise investigation strategy

“Never do business with people you have not met,” say the authors of Street Smart Franchising, Joe Mathews, Don DeBolt and Deb Percival. “Franchising at its best is a highly personal relationship. You are entrusting your dreams and capital into the care of the franchisor leadership,” they say. Visit the franchisor’s home office and further investigate the franchise by interviewing franchisees in person, and reviewing the Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD) with an attorney with expertise in franchise law.

In interviewing other franchise owners, ask questions about their experiences, both good and bad. “It’s important to interview people so you know the bad and ugly,” says Bell, who found this helped her know ahead of time what it would really be like to own a franchise. For example, she learned that unlike working for someone else, “It’s nice to work for yourself, but you do take your work home with you,” Bell says.

A look at financial prospects for franchising

Using Census Bureau data, the International Franchise Association released a detailed report on this segment of the U.S. economy called The Franchise Business Economic Outlook: 2011. It forecast growth in all industries except Business Services, reporting: “The largest percentage increases in the number of establishments in 2011 are projected in Lodging (4.4 percent), Automotive (3.9 percent), Retail Products and Services (3.9 percent), and Commercial and Residential Services (3.7 percent).”

“The forecast of stronger growth in 2011 for franchise businesses is good news for our country. When franchise businesses are stronger, so is our economy as a whole,” said IFA President and CEO Stephen J. Caldeira. “However, while the forecast reflects a stronger outlook for the franchise industry and the overall economy, franchise businesses will continue to struggle with accessing sufficient credit that would enable business expansion and job growth,” he said.

Caldeira says that lending to franchise businesses was down in 2010. “For 2011, the credit gap between supply and demand should show some improvement, but we are a long way off from the pre-recession, more robust appetite for business investment and lending.” According to the SBA, total small business lending peaked in 2008, when depository institutions in the United States held small business loans valued at more than $711 billion, then declined by 8.3 percent to $652 billion by 2010. In the first quarter of 2011, the SBA reported bank lending to small business [including franchises] fell by $15 billion.

Since 2007 when the Census Bureau first gathered franchise data, the number of franchise establishments is estimated to have grown steadily from 765,723 to 784,802, whereas overall entrepreneurship has had a slight decline. (Bureau of Labor Statistics data for self-employment in non-agricultural industries.) Perhaps one explanation for this is that risk-averse behavior kicks in during times of economic duress. The Bells wanted to own a small business, without all of the risks involved with going solo. By buying into something larger, gaining considerable expertise and centralized marketing, advertising, and promotion, Bell says she felt comfortable with the decision to buy a franchise. “I’m really happy with my outcome,” she says.

.

Additional Franchise resources:

The Franchise Registry, in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration maintains a list of companies with franchises that are pre-approved for expedited loans.
Read the Federal Trade Commission Consumer Guide to Buying a Franchise.
Find franchises for sale by budget, industry, and location online at Franchise.com
Investigate franchise and business opportunities with the Better Business Bureau
Learn about upcoming franchise expos and tradeshows at FranchiseDirect.com.

My Way or the Buy-Way? Should you start your business from scratch or buy a franchise?

by Cindy Waxer.

Cary Cheung wakes up at 4:30 a.m. every morning to run a business that requires him to pay a fee. He doesn’t own it outright, and it doesn’t even bear his name. And yet he couldn’t be happier.

That’s because Cheung is a franchise owner of Doc Popcorn, a maker of flavored popcorn that uses a variety of organic and all-natural ingredients. In fact, Cheung abandoned his career as an assistant vice-president at WaMu Investments to become Doc Popcorn’s very first franchisee in November 2009. And just a few weeks ago, Cheung and his wife, Judy, opened their second Doc Popcorn location in California.

Pull-Quote-Tall.pngThe Cheungs aren’t alone. According to the International Franchise Association, approximately 4 percent of all businesses in the United States are franchisee-worked. And the consultancy Franchise Marketing Systems says that franchising is a business model that generates more than $1 trillion in U.S. sales annually across more than 70 industries. Franchised businesses ran 767,483 establishments in the United States through 2008, including establishments owned by both franchisees and franchisors.

But while running a franchise business can be both professionally attractive and personally satisfying, not everyone is cut out for the task. Just ask Amy Bennett, owner of The Greene Grape, a Brooklyn, New York-based seller of fine food and wine. The choice was obvious to Bennett: “Part of opening my own business rather than a franchise was for it to be a creative outlet for me. I wanted something I could contribute to meaningfully.” Add that desire for creativity to the many negatives associated with franchising, such as royalty fees, restrictive licenses, meddlesome franchising authorities, and a lack of ownership, and it is easy to see why many are dissuaded from signing up to become a party to a franchise.

For many others, of course, those negatives are more than outweighed by the many benefits of running a business associated with an established brand and backed by the marketing muscle and support of a large corporation. So how do you know if you’re best suited to run a franchise or if you should strike out on your own? Answering these five questions can get you a step closer to the right answer.

1. How much legwork are you willing to do?

“When you invest in a franchise, you’re getting the brand name of the franchisor, the operating system, a proven track record, not to mention ongoing support, education and training,” says Brian Miller, president of The Entrepreneur’s Source, a business ownership consultancy in Connecticut. “If you started out running your own business, however, you really wouldn’t have anybody to rely on.”

That kind of pre-existing structure was precisely why the Cheungs opted to run a franchise. “My parents owned their own restaurant so I saw the struggles they had starting off and all those lessons they had to learn,” he says. “The attraction of a franchise is the system is created for you.”

“There are very few people who are true entrepreneurs and who can really go out and make a business their own,” says Miller. “But there are a lot of people who have that passion and fire in their belly and know that they want to take control of their own destiny but need a little bit of help.”

2. What are you willing to invest financially?

Launching your own business often requires little to no capital, especially if you start small. But many popular franchises demand lots of upfront capital and collateral—sometimes up to millions of dollars—from a prospective franchisee before offering a contract. These “working capital reserves,” as they’re called, are often required by franchisors so that they will feel comfortable that a franchisee can stay in business until he or she reaches the financial break-even point.

In the case of Cheung, he invested between $100,000 and $150,000 to open his first store, including upfront franchise fees. “That was a main reason why we chose Doc Popcorn—the low entry point.” Every other franchise he looked at was going to cost from $200,000 to $250,000 to start, he says.

Still, some franchises are willing to lend a helping financial hand. “My wife and I funded the store on our own, but I know that Doc Popcorn has third-party connections to help with funding,” says Cheung.

To learn more, check out our previous article on franchise startup costs.
3. Can you back someone else’s product?

While there’s definitely something to be said for creating your own business, many entrepreneurs are proud to peddle a franchise’s products. “The only reason we signed with Doc Popcorn is because of the product and what it represents,” says Cheung. “Of course, trying to make money is always a goal for all business owners but you have to believe in the product.”

For Bennett, however, launching The Greene Grape was an opportunity to express herself and act on her vision of a perfect wine shop. “At the time I opened my first wine store, there wasn’t really a franchise that focused on handcrafted, affordable wine,” she says. “My twist on a regular wine store was part of the creative process.”

4. How much say would you like in the business?

“The advantages to running your own business are mostly in creative control,” says Bennett. “I can market the way I want, my store can have a personality that reflects who we are. This means a lot more work, of course, but at the end of the day I can step back and be proud of how the store is presented.”

That’s not to suggest that franchisees don’t have any input. Rather, Miller explains, “As you become successful in a franchise system, there are opportunities for you to work collaboratively and to develop new products and services.”

5. How long can you wait to break even?

According to Miller, “the support given by a franchise in the beginning in terms of brand recognition means that you might have a quicker start in terms of sales. Educating the consumer for a new business definitely takes more time. Depending on how a franchise agreement is structured, that could mean breaking even for the franchisee earlier.”

Still, if the substantial franchise buy-in requirements are too steep, taking the franchise route (and its more desirable, early break-even point) may not be a realistic option for many budding entrepreneurs. Instead, they may have no other option but to launch on their own, either diving into entrepreneurship full-time and striving for a quick rise in profits or running a side or part-time venture for a longer period of time, until the business proves it can stand on its own.

My Way or the Buy-Way? Should you start your business from scratch or buy a franchise?

Cary Cheung wakes up at 4:30 a.m. every morning to run a business that requires him to pay a fee. He doesn’t own it outright, and it doesn’t even bear his name. And yet he couldn’t be happier.

That’s because Cheung is a franchise owner of Doc Popcorn, a maker of flavored popcorn that uses a variety of organic and all-natural ingredients. In fact, Cheung abandoned his career as an assistant vice-president at WaMu Investments to become Doc Popcorn’s very first franchisee in November 2009. And just a few weeks ago, Cheung and his wife, Judy, opened their second Doc Popcorn location in California.

Pull-Quote-Tall.pngThe Cheungs aren’t alone. According to the International Franchise Association, approximately 4 percent of all businesses in the United States are franchisee-worked. And the consultancy Franchise Marketing Systems says that franchising is a business model that generates more than $1 trillion in U.S. sales annually across more than 70 industries. Franchised businesses ran 767,483 establishments in the United States through 2008, including establishments owned by both franchisees and franchisors.

But while running a franchise business can be both professionally attractive and personally satisfying, not everyone is cut out for the task. Just ask Amy Bennett, owner of The Greene Grape, a Brooklyn, New York-based seller of fine food and wine. The choice was obvious to Bennett: “Part of opening my own business rather than a franchise was for it to be a creative outlet for me. I wanted something I could contribute to meaningfully.” Add that desire for creativity to the many negatives associated with franchising, such as royalty fees, restrictive licenses, meddlesome franchising authorities, and a lack of ownership, and it is easy to see why many are dissuaded from signing up to become a party to a franchise.

For many others, of course, those negatives are more than outweighed by the many benefits of running a business associated with an established brand and backed by the marketing muscle and support of a large corporation. So how do you know if you’re best suited to run a franchise or if you should strike out on your own? Answering these five questions can get you a step closer to the right answer.

1. How much legwork are you willing to do?

“When you invest in a franchise, you’re getting the brand name of the franchisor, the operating system, a proven track record, not to mention ongoing support, education and training,” says Brian Miller, president of The Entrepreneur’s Source, a business ownership consultancy in Connecticut. “If you started out running your own business, however, you really wouldn’t have anybody to rely on.”

That kind of pre-existing structure was precisely why the Cheungs opted to run a franchise. “My parents owned their own restaurant so I saw the struggles they had starting off and all those lessons they had to learn,” he says. “The attraction of a franchise is the system is created for you.”

“There are very few people who are true entrepreneurs and who can really go out and make a business their own,” says Miller. “But there are a lot of people who have that passion and fire in their belly and know that they want to take control of their own destiny but need a little bit of help.”

2. What are you willing to invest financially?

Launching your own business often requires little to no capital, especially if you start small. But many popular franchises demand lots of upfront capital and collateral—sometimes up to millions of dollars—from a prospective franchisee before offering a contract. These “working capital reserves,” as they’re called, are often required by franchisors so that they will feel comfortable that a franchisee can stay in business until he or she reaches the financial break-even point.

In the case of Cheung, he invested between $100,000 and $150,000 to open his first store, including upfront franchise fees. “That was a main reason why we chose Doc Popcorn—the low entry point.” Every other franchise he looked at was going to cost from $200,000 to $250,000 to start, he says.

Still, some franchises are willing to lend a helping financial hand. “My wife and I funded the store on our own, but I know that Doc Popcorn has third-party connections to help with funding,” says Cheung.

To learn more, check out our previous article on franchise startup costs.
3. Can you back someone else’s product?

While there’s definitely something to be said for creating your own business, many entrepreneurs are proud to peddle a franchise’s products. “The only reason we signed with Doc Popcorn is because of the product and what it represents,” says Cheung. “Of course, trying to make money is always a goal for all business owners but you have to believe in the product.”

For Bennett, however, launching The Greene Grape was an opportunity to express herself and act on her vision of a perfect wine shop. “At the time I opened my first wine store, there wasn’t really a franchise that focused on handcrafted, affordable wine,” she says. “My twist on a regular wine store was part of the creative process.”

4. How much say would you like in the business?

“The advantages to running your own business are mostly in creative control,” says Bennett. “I can market the way I want, my store can have a personality that reflects who we are. This means a lot more work, of course, but at the end of the day I can step back and be proud of how the store is presented.”

That’s not to suggest that franchisees don’t have any input. Rather, Miller explains, “As you become successful in a franchise system, there are opportunities for you to work collaboratively and to develop new products and services.”

5. How long can you wait to break even?

According to Miller, “the support given by a franchise in the beginning in terms of brand recognition means that you might have a quicker start in terms of sales. Educating the consumer for a new business definitely takes more time. Depending on how a franchise agreement is structured, that could mean breaking even for the franchisee earlier.”

Still, if the substantial franchise buy-in requirements are too steep, taking the franchise route (and its more desirable, early break-even point) may not be a realistic option for many budding entrepreneurs. Instead, they may have no other option but to launch on their own, either diving into entrepreneurship full-time and striving for a quick rise in profits or running a side or part-time venture for a longer period of time, until the business proves it can stand on its own.