CASH IS KING. Or is it?

early stage, founder, Revenue Growth, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, Uncategorized

Aurum Rex. Nummus Rex. Emptor Rex.

I.e. Cash Is King. An old sayings, but so true in the startup growth equation. Where does revenue fall here? Is it more or less important? What about Strategy? Revenue? Growth? Buzz? Profit? A “Right On” product?. Smart People? Ambition? Your position on the Bell Curve?

When a startup has none, cash seems like liquid gold that can flow over the business and cure all – salaries, resources, exposure, growth, success, new offices, marketing. But often entrepreneurs fool themselves into thinking that lack of cash is their only problem. I’ve been involved or almost involved in so many early stage companies that said “If only we had $XXX in cash, everything would be o.k. Sometimes they get the new cash but still can’t scale or survive. Cash is certainly required to play, but it has to be part of a larger system, purpose, goal.

Venture capitalists, controllers of cash, are always looking for mind blowing new things that can “change the world”; can step out in front of our regular world and catch fire, anticipate what the world needs that no one else has figured out yet. And they have cash, high risk cash, to take a shot at being part of these new phenomenons. They get in early and guess at the future, which means they could be often wrong. But that’s not a problem; they only have to be right once in a great while to win big. That’s the game they’re in. What an exciting job!

On the other side we have the yet-to-be-funded or need-more-funding startup. Whatever cash is in this company is less than enough to spark it to the next level quickly enough to meet the business goals, or often just to make the next few payrolls. Is this you?

So what about REVENUE? Revenue is close to cash in it’s power within a startup. It can solve so many problems, including cash issues. It attracts more cash investment, it creates profits, it legitimizes your business. Revenue has to be managed properly and leveraged wherever possible, but those are good problems to have. It’s eventually more important than cash, especially when it’s steadily and predictably growing. Growing revenues, not cash, create higher valuations.

Early on, most startups focus more on adoption, eyeballs, users, traffic, assuming these will infer and convert to future revenue (Twitter, Google, Zynga, Facebook).  The actual cash on hand and/or revenues don’t fully support the business, but no problem if major growth is apparent.

So is that it? User adoption? For Twitter it is, they’re currently at a valuation of 40X revenues, way high. But there’s no question that they’re permeating the globe, possibly with more longevity than Facebook.

The bottom line is value. What value, how many valuable things is your company providing. What’s better, cheaper, faster, unique, easier. Google is a great example of amazing and increasing value to user. It’s all of the above, mostly free, with an attitude of always wanting to provide more to its users while simultaneously simplifying use of everything digital.

Early on Google didn’t focus much on cash or revenue; they eschewed it, they had a higher goal – organize all the worlds information. Their goal and execution of it was most important to them. Of course they also happened to be a few blocks away from the highest concentration of venture capitalists on the planet, but they went 3 years without VC funding. Their first 2 years they had no revenues and received only $100K in funding, from Andy Bechtolsheim.  A year later they raised $25 million. Their great ideas and excellent execution came before any cash.

So maybe cash shouldn’t be #1 for an ambitious startup, rather amazingness should, true passion, even if it’s nights and weekends around your day job.

@tomnora   @cowlow   @norasocial


California Startup Gold – bring it here to scale it

CEO Succession, early stage, founder, Revenue Growth, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, venture

Most of my 25 year career has been in California; about half of those in Silicon Valley. I’ve been involved with several amazing companies throughout Northern and Southern Cal; I have expanded, launched, M&A’d, relaunched, liquidated, succeeded and failed, you name it.

I’ve also had the good fortune to operate and sometimes live in several other fledgling tech corridors – Cambridge, NYC, Portland, Boulder, Santa Fe, Austin, Dallas, SLC, Frankfurt, Paris. In every case these other places aspire to be a self sustaining baby Silicon Valley of their own – Silicon Alley, Silicon Prairie, Silicon Coast. But they don’t quite make it. Some come close, like New York or now Boulder but it’s still not quite the same.

The term Silicon Valley is now a misnomer – it has moved way beyond silicon and way beyond the original Santa Clara valley to spread all over California. The new hot spots are San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, the east bay, etc.

San Francisco – San Francisco has actually successfully co-opted the Silicon Valley magic and even surpassed it in some ways (Twitter,; it’s again a very hot place to be right now and this will continue. Talk about scalability! If you plop your company here, great things could happen. It wasn’t always that way – in the 80’s and much of the 90’s San Fran was a sub-par runner up to SV, trying to catch up. Great PR and finance firms, but not many startups. Houses were cheaper, you couldn’t get good engineers, etc. That has all changed. Now companies have bidding wars for office space amid a major national recession.

There’s a magic and complex dynamic to the combination of things that make California so different. Just say the word and people take notice. There’s a seriousness, a buzz, confidence, reliability, completeness, professionalism. An assumption that you’ll more likely make it there.

Southern California, The “Silicon Basin”  – – With the convergence of social media, the Internet, and digital entertainment, Southern California is now humming as a great startup region. In 2003 Electronic Arts actually moved their headquarters from Silicon Valley to Playa Vista, an crazy move at the time, and accelerated their growth as a result. Several smaller software groups, vfx studios and creative design labs are now benefitting from the movement south. Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, Google and others are growing their employee base and presence in L.A. Venture Capital from Northern and Southern Cal is flowing into the L.A. basin. It has the key catalyst – several excellent universities spitting out young engineers and business people. It has a strong and growing angel investor base, tapping one of the largest concentrations of individual wealth in the world.

There are exceptions to the California phenomenon; several amazing companies have emanated from these other areas, always have, and many of these ecosystems are now of course self sustaining, but they’re not the same as California. Countless companies have moved there for this advantage, reference Mark Zuckerberg/Facebook. Good move. If you’re somewhere else, it’s because you’ve made a tradeoff, a compromise. I know as I’ve done it myself several times and I’m glad I did. I’ve rooted for other places to approach California’s ecosystem, but  I know they’ll  never come close.

If you want maximum scalability for your business, you should be in California. If you seek maximum scalability, the best capital providers, the best people, the highest valuations, you gotta be in Cali. You could get more advantages from a couple of visits to a coffee shop in Palo Alto than spending a year in some other town.  @tomnora  @cowlow