You Need a BoD Now

Angel Investor, CEO Succession, early stage, SaaS

How to design a board of directors

By Tom Nora

There was an article recently in VentureBeat about how much control the startup CEO founder has over his/her board of directors. Unfortunately, this actually isn’t true in most cases, especially for first time founders, for many reasons.

Many factors come into play in early board formation including the founder’s goals, investors, cofounders, early appointees, family, friends. A well designed board can be the critical driving force in making a startup successful; while the wrong board can create disagreements, misdirection, angry members, awkward board dismissals, power struggles and can actually bring a company down.

First time founders usually aren’t sure how to populate the board, and first money from FFF (friends, family, fools) blinds them a bit to their best instincts.

Typical Pre-Funded Board

Here is the typical order of board formation before any professional funding comes in:

1. Founder/CEO

2. at least one Co-Founder

3. FFF

then maybe…

3. a “grown up” – former boss, relative, early (non-professional) investor

4. industry luminary

This is the group that must help grow the company properly, attract professional funding and make industrial strength business decisions. Most of this 1.0 group don’t have much experience, i.e. what it means to be on a board, how to optimize it, what the points of leverage are, what a natural disagreement is vs. a problem of discord. Usually the group is not experienced or cognizant enough to optimize this asset early on.

A Better Way

Here I’ll lay out some key steps to making this organization an asset rather than one with little to negative value.

Step 1 – The Founding Team
It’s fine to have the founder and maybe one cofounder on the board; after all that’s all you have to draw from. The key to success here is to STUDY the topic, learn everything you can, follow proper board.

Also, internally you can determine if and when you actually have something worthy of funding – you must have a real business that is operating – product(s), spreadsheets, a team, Revenues?; asking outsiders to get involved too early can be the kiss of death. I see this happen a lot.

Step 2 – Get Outside Help
In any startup ecosystem these days there are many people who have an interest in your business. The word “Startup” now gets their attention. Among these people are professionals that can get involved as a board member, but how do you do it? Which ones should be advisors instead? Are there consultants that help with this? If you’re near Stanford or in San Francisco, every other person you meet almost seems appropriate, but don’t be fooled. You want people who are qualified but also who come to you via an organic process – you read about them, stumble upon them, meet them.

Listen to these signals. For example, in Los Angeles right now the problem is that a majority of those you meet fall below the level of “qualified” – they’re out there networking but have never sat on a real board or led a startup. Keep asking around and you’ll find the right people. And remember, make sure you have a real company first.

Contact me if you have a going company and this is a hole for you, I’m one of the people I mention above who can help. But not if you just have an idea, or are thinking about starting a company, those are a dime a dozen.

Caveat Emptor – look out Seed Investors for the $0 return startup.

Angel Investor, CEO Succession, Scalability, startup, startup CEO

By most measures, we are in crazy times right now in the tech startup world. We have thousands of new companies every week, hundreds of funding rounds over $100 million every month, and so many $1 billion exits or calculations that we’re getting used to them. A $1 billion valuation used to be a big deal for a web based company that wasn’t one of the top few.

Everyone thought Facebook was nuts when they walked away from such a deal. But now the funding seems to be flowing everywhere, at many levels, and that almost anyone who starts a startup will be successful, will be “big”. Unfortunately, this is very far from the actual truth; we just don’t hear about the 95% that fail and lose all of whatever money is invested.

The frenzy at these higher levels, and the continuous stories of first time entrepreneurs in their early 20s who magically start these amazing companies is creating a demand at the bottom of the funding market, like the pyramid schemes in Southern California in 980 (see below). Look out for this trend, put your wallet away.

Unsophisticated investors, which means family, friends, co-workers, etc. or also called triple-F – friends, family and fools, who have a few thousand dollars they would like to put into the startup “market” are the fuel at the bottom of the market that get things started. It can be anywhere from $5,000 up to $500,000. They help to make ideas into reality, hoping for the higher returns of the early investors. You’ll see many dentists, doctors, parents, Hollywood actors in the crowd. They have a lower probability of return, as expected, but now are losing their money at higher rates than ever before. We don’t hear about this much because they’re embarrassed; who wants to talk about it and admit that they made such a mistake?

This market is reminiscent of the rampant pyramid schemes in the 1970s. Here’s a description from Time Magazine June 16, 1980 issue:

For $1,000 each, 32 newcomers buy slots on the bottom row of a pyramid-shaped roster. Each new player pays half of his $1,000 to the person at the pinnacle, who ends up with $16,000. The new player also pays his remaining $500 to the person directly above him on the next tier, which contains 16 people. Since each person on that tier gets paid by two of the newcomers, he ends up with $1,000, thus recouping his original investment. As more people buy in, the players move up the chart. In time, theoretically, each person reaches the top—and $16,000.

Amazing, huh? The only problem was that the need for newcomers increases exponentially, thus the name pyramid. You needed 32 new people every night, and as the word spread new groups popped up everywhere in L.A. It fizzled out within a couple of weeks, but went on for years in other parts of the country.

Skip to 2013…

Two years ago in the California startup world there was a lot of buzz, or anti-buzz, about the impending pop of the current hyperactive tech market and unsophisticated spending of . The concerns took many forms, one of which was named “Series A Crunch”, another was the gratuitous use of the word “bubble”. Series A is the second round, the one after the seed or other small amount of ignition money. It’s the round that graduates of accelerators seek. It’s also “professional money”, not triple-f.

I remember being asked in a startup panel I was on by the moderator “What do you think of the Series A crunch?”. I replied, “Do you know what a Series A Crunch is?” She tried to explain but didn’t in fact know what it was. That was a sign to me of startup overhype, everybody mimicking each others phrase of the week.

Fast forward to today, 2015, when we’ve been in a possible “end of the boom” for over 3 years. We’ve been hearing the word bubble for that long, people trying to predict a crash, mostly out of envy for not being able to harvest any cash from this current crazy market. Seed funding is at an all time high rate and it has that scary phenomenon of feeding on itself.

There are a number of articles floating around again about the lack of Series A money in the market, which is usually required to take a company to ROI.

At the same time people are bragging about how easy it is to raise seed funding of up to $1 million. Almost anyone with a web based working “app” or mobile app can get funding. No business plan, no ROI. Sometimes you’ll need to show traffic/traction/conversion, but not usually. There are plenty of triple-F investors anxious to empty their 401K or add another mortgage, take a “risk”, for the chance at those 8 to 9 figure exits they keep hearing about.

This is also reminiscent of the late 90s when unsophisticated investors lost billions diving into the dot com boom just before it crashed fairly rapidly. The difference is now it’s not crashing so visibly. There are admittedly many more successful growth startups on the Internet than ever, the second renaissance of the web, but the statistics for success are much worse than ever.

If you look at CrunchBase, almost every day you’ll see a new funding of over $100 million. Almost every day. That’s enticing to a potential angel. You’ll also see several others from $10 to 50 million. This has become the holy grail for that 401K earning slow interest.

But here’s the problem. Most of these investments will return $0. Not 80% or 50%, zero. In this flurry of amazing new Internet startups, a higher percentage are failing after the seed round than ever before, probably close to 99% vs about 85% 20 years ago. That means almost every unsophisticated angel investor is losing their savings and adding new debt to their life.

Why will so many people lose their money and why is no one talking about it? Here are the reasons:

  • It’s very easy now “look real”, i.e to create and deploy an Internet and/or mobile app live on the web or a phone. I get pitched one every day.
  • We’re still in a terrible job market, no matter what the official statistics say. I’ve met more broke unemployed professionals in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica in the past 3 years than ever in my life. They have nothing to lose. Why not start  company.
  • The Triple F effect. Friends, Families and Fools. Those are the people who will give you funding based on no actual research or due diligence.
  • Erosion of true self analysis. One very critical part of succeeding in a business is being able to critique yourself as a business. As part of the new startup world people are avoiding this process. It’s become a casualty of “fail fast” and pivot and other buzzwords.

The bottom line is that people with no experience or particular expertise in almost anything will most likely fail. So get some expertise involved before you go get that wire transfer of $100,00 for the son or friend or co-worker you want to help.

t [at] tomnora dot com

The Greenshoe = how to repay all those that helped along the way.

Angel Investor, early stage, founder, Hawaii, Revenue Growth, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, Tom Nora, venture

How is it that so many people associated with startups reap the financial benefits, yet others just as close get no financial upside This is a source of frustration among many people in the startup sphere. Imagine if you’re in Silicon Valley right now with no equity in a tech startup, but associated with several people getting six figure “bonuses” because they somehow wound up with some stock in one.

The free parties (or not free) and swag and great stories and boat rides in the bay are nice. Sometimes you’ll even score an iPad or Apple TV, but it’s not the same as being one of the insiders.

Often as startups grow and maneuver their way through the jungle of success or failure, they have a lot of help from those around them.

Often many these people don’t have any equity or upside from their advise or moral support or money lending, or even the spare couch they let you sleep on when you were in their town.

If the startup actually makes it to an IPO, there is actually something you can do.

It’s called the “Greenshoe”. You have to be very careful about this, you can’t imply or promise anything in advance, and it only works when the company goes public, but the Greenshoe is an amazing award for those involved that don’t have equity.

The Greenshoe is an over-allotment of stock options, up to 15% of the total offering at time of IPO. You can offer these options to virtually anyone, friends, family, people who helped your company. Since they’re options, acquirers only exercise if the stock goes up, and have no downside risk or capital outlay.

Upon the IPO event, the option owner can gain the upside if the stock goes up over the initial offering price and essentially collect that difference.

I’ve used it a few times when I was lucky enough to be able to offer it to friends and family. Strangely enough, some people have declined, because they’re not sure it’s legal; they’ve never heard of it. Others have bought themselves a new Lexus with it.

Here’s more info on wikipedia:

Greenshoe

The Greenshoe should provide motivation for all of us in the startup world to try to continuously build our company steadily, continuously and profitably and to know that you can make many peoples lives a little bit better by sharing the wealth. The rewards are pretty amazing.

Contact me at

 #Web #Development #Digital #Strategy #Art| tomnora.com

The Other Amazon Deal this week. Drupal founder attracts over $100 Million in 3 months.

Angel Investor, Drupal, founder, PHP, Revenue Growth, SaaS, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, venture

As further market proof of the power of Drupal in the enterprise,  Acquia has received about $100 million in funding in the past 3 months, which puts its valuation at over $1 billion.

http://j.mp/nora-acquia

There’s a lot of buzz about the Amazon acquisition of TWITCH this week. As a personal friend of the original investor, I’m very happy for this transaction – after 7 years of work, repositioning, and sticking to it their vision has paid off. But that’s a different article…

Less prominent in the news, but possibly more important, is Amazon’s investment in ACQUIA.  Acquia, Inc. is the for-profit company founded by Dries Buytaert, the inventor of Drupal, to support his open source project. Drupal was launched in 2001, and Acquia started in 2007. When Open Source software projects are launched, the progenitors often start a for-profit sister company to garner some income from training, support and consulting. Because they are open source. the original products can’t generate revenue, so when these OS projects occassionally blow up into phenomenons like Drupal and WordPress have over the past few years, it’s gratifying but also quite frustrating to watch others derive so much value from your baby while you toil away to lead its growth with no financial return. Plus, there are tons of expenses like servers, bandwidth, office space, travel and the time of many professionals.

Red Hat was one of the first of these types of companies bridging open source with big finance, leveraging Linux support into a profitable business, also leveraging the enterprise. They kind of invented this business model. Sun Microsystems and others almost made it happen, but they were only semi-free. Google has optimized this open source to freemium model in almost all of its products.

But Drupal has succeeded way beyond it’s original expectations. It was originally started as a college dorm project, where many of the best products on the web seem to hatch. It gained recognition during the 2004 presidential campaign when Howard Dean’s IT director decided to use it as a platform for community and campaigning. After that it quickly gained credibility and spread throughout government, and corporate America.

Drupal is now driving some of the largest and most critical websites in the world, including The White House, The Oscars, Twitter, Mercedes Benz, Warner Music Group, The Louvre Museum, The City of Los Angeles and Stanford University. Over its 13 year life the web has vastly changed from primarily static pages to dynamic database driven automated (“rendered”) web page serving, which Drupal excels at. The average website size has also greatly increased, aided by automated rendering systems like Drupal and others. The term Content Management System has become mainstream in everything from the Fortune 500 to small businesses.

Some of Drupal’s success has come from luck, but most of it has been because of strategy and excellent timing. Dries has carefully pushed the technology not to the bleeding edge, but towards the modern edge where enterprises are comfortable. He and his team have avoided many temptations to try new fads, make big changes and try to grow faster. Currently they face enormous pressure to innovate faster, and are responding with Drupal 8, which will incorporate many new modern web architectures previously not part of the Drupal platform.

Acquia has been critical in supporting, guiding, enhancing and positioning Drupal for the past 7 years. It was a startup that launched with funding from day one and has never looked back.

Amazon’s motivation in buying into Acquia is a bit more self serving. Acuia provides premium, high security, supported hosting to it’s customers, which all runs on top of Amazon AWS. Amazon can see that some of AWS most robust and challenging work comes from Acquia with Drupal. For example, Acquia runs its Drupal infrastructure on more than 8,000 AWS instances and serves more than 27 billion hits a month (or 333TB of bandwidth). Amazon has a strategic value beyond many other companies or VCs in their investment.

What will come next? Will Amazon try to acquire all of Acquia before the inevitable IPO? I think we can bet on that.

This is a very contemplative time for Buytaert – he has fierily protected Drupal’s independence and strategic positioning, taking risks but protecting his large customers from drama, can he keep Amazon and Bezos at bay? I have no doubt he will, for he is a true “Startup CEO”, even though his title is CTO at Acquia.

@tomnora

more info on the funding round from @thewhir   http://j.mp/nora-acquia

 

5Q03: Puneet Agarwal (True Ventures) on pitching investors, maker culture, and big trends he’s watching. — The Orchestrate.io Blog

Angel Investor, CEO Succession, early stage, founder, Hawaii, PHP, SaaS, Scalability, startup CEO, Tom Nora, venture

http://t.co/LkQ7kDluf0

via 5Q03: Puneet Agarwal (True Ventures) on pitching investors, maker culture, and big trends he\’s watching. — The Orchestrate.io Blog.

via 5Q03: Puneet Agarwal (True Ventures) on pitching investors, maker culture, and big trends he’s watching. — The Orchestrate.io Blog.

Why “Job Boards” and applying online do not work

Angel Investor, Business Development, early stage, Hawaii, Hiring, Jobs, Scalability

I’m building my own job hunting tool to try to fix the broken inefficient systems currently out there. I was interviewed by Forbes recently and asked to comment on the job hunting process and my opinion of applying online to jobs. Here’s an excerpt of my answers…

Great topic. The market has shifted in several ways – automation, obsession with young malleable low cost employees and the current bad economy – these factors have rendered the online job boards obsolete. Remember, job boards and online hiring were invented almost 20 years ago and popularized by Monster. Machines took over the process and proved to be a weak substitute for humans. The only major innocations since then are automatic resume reders which harm as much as they help.

Many article point out that networking and referrals are the most effective ways to get hired, and I tend to agree. There are many human emotions, loyalties, friendships, favors, proximities, etc. that have more weight than what resonator tells an HR person. There is also a lot of campaigning – with a weak economy and ineffective government help people want to help others that they know to get hired and survive all this. They for their cousin or friend or roommate for that job paying 80K plus benefits.

Online job systems assume the most important factor in hiring is qualifications, and that is far from the truth. The top factors are familiarity, recommendations, in-person meetings, personal prejudices and empathy. Many under-qualified get hired every day over better candidates. The bad economy amplifies that. Just look at acqi-hiring or the San Francisco tech ecosystem.

The way computers and social media and machine learning are used to streamline the hiring process must change and augment reality as it is today, not try to alter it. @tomnora

Be Audacious, like Sophia Amoruso.

Angel Investor, Business Development, early stage, founder, Hawaii, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, Tom Nora, Uncategorized

Audacity. Boldness. Risk Taking. Vision.

Audacity is required to build an innovative startup, to invent something new, try to do things others say you cannot do, and Southern California needs many more audacious people in its tech and media startup ecosystem. So Cal is a perfect environment for innovation and bold risk taking. We have sunshine, 20+ Universities, a great history of tech innovation, and more idle capital than most places in the world. We also have some of the most brilliant scientists and financial minds in the world.

But audacity is different than intelligence or experience or brilliance or funding, it’s a unique form of energy and effort that is the tipping point of incredible startups. It’s often more important than any other attribute in making the impossible happen. If you look at some of the best inventions on the Internet and throughout time, they’ve either been accidents or major audacity. In the history of Southern California, there has always been a large slice of creativity involved also.

Where’s our google?

So why haven’t we produced a Google or Facebook here? In Silicon Valley people like Ron Conway and Tim Draper sometimes write a check for $500,000 without even seeing a pitch. They base their investments on instincts, probabilities, betting on the people involved. Where are these investors in L.A.?

Southern California certainly has a history of audacious visionaries who did it – created something from nothing. Louis B. Meyer, Howard Hughes, Edward Doheny Sr., Peter Drucker, Richard Meier, Frank Gehry, Walt Disney, James Irvine, Cecille B. DeMille, Sofia Amoruso and many other creative leaders. These people made something out of nothing, took enormous risks, lost it all and won it back.  Most used all of their own money, many started with nothing. People like this are required for L.A. to ever have a chance of approaching Silicon Valley’s success machine.

In the So Cal startup ecosystem, most of the companies launched are “safe”, evolutionary extensions of current business models and features, enhancing existing business ideas around the world. There are many cool twists, but not much in the way of revolutionary new ideas that succeed. Strange singe we are the #1 place in the world for entertainment origination in film and music. This does not attract investors from Silicon Valley. They’re looking for audacity, would rather invest in a low probability bold idea than in something “safe”.

Sometimes situations necessitate audacity, other times audacity generates the idea, the “manic” brainstorm. Audacity allows you to see beyond what others see, but requires an underlying confidence in the face of likely failure, criticism from people around you, and possibly major financial losses. Not a conservative approach. The reason for most startup failures is that they aren’t audacious enough – they try to be too much like everyone else, they stand way back from the leading edge. Or they mistake arrogance for audacity “we can’t fail” because we know everything. Audacity is threading that fine needle between crazy and lazy.

Be Like Sophia.
5d9cef9363ba0efb81818bec42eb2ce6

A great and very current case study of So Cal audacity and incredible success is Sophia Amoruso, founder of the Nasty Gal clothing dot com. At 22 in 2006, she was a junior college dropout, living with her step aunt working for $13 an hour checking student IDs. She had no business experience, no fashion experience, no Internet experience, didn’t know what e-commerce meant and zero $ in the bank. Today she is CEO of the fastest growing retail company in the US, according to Inc. magazine, with a valuation of somewhere between $600 million and $1 billion. So where’s the audacity here? In 2006 Sophia quit the admin job and started hunting through thrift stores for vintage jeans she could enhance and resell. Since she nothing about web design she used EBay. Not much audacity yet, many millions had tried that. Since she was in San Francisco there was lots of inventory available.

Then she did something extremely audacious – named it Nasty Gal. The name came from an album she owned by Miles Davis ex-wife and singer Betty Davis. She actually had to acquire the URL from a porn site. Most people have to do a double take when they hear the name. Audacious move #2 – her markups were insane, 10x to 100x in many cases. She never got an MBA so she knew none of the rules of profit margin, her guide was to be bold, ask for a lot. She bought one jacket for $8 and sold it for $1,000 as a “vintage” piece. Then she moved the company to L.A. to be in the center of hip fashion commerce. Nasty Gal even convinced a Silicon Valley VC to invest over $50 million into the company. They said “only in L.A. would we find a company like this”. In 2012 sales were over $130 million last year with $100 million net profit.

After all this success, Sophia still handles most of the marketing, using the same guerrilla tactics that have always works. Urban Outfitters recently made a bid for ~$600 million but she turned them down. Pretty bold. Remember this someone who was making $13 an hour 6 years ago. They’re now launching their own publishing company Super Nasty; of course Sophia is Editor in Chief. So we need more Sophias here. It’s not knowing how to code; it’s audacity and confidence in the face of certain failure.

It will happen in L.A.; the proliferation of original ideas that spawn leading tech companies is just around the corner. We have all the ingredients – desire and hunger for success, migration of brilliant minds from all parts of the world to this area, capital that is slowly getting less conservative and more audacious.

3 Questions to Ask Yourself (If You’re Trying to Convince The World That You Have a Hot Startup)

Angel Investor, CEO Succession, early stage, founder, Hawaii, Launch, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, Tom Nora, Uncategorized

1. What are people doing now because your product doesn’t exist, what is the pain you will solve?

2. What is it that you know about your specific niche that other companies do not?

3. How and when does this make revenue and profits? What is the growth graph?

@tomnora

Great, Simple Cap Table Tool for Startups from SMARTASSET

Angel Investor, audio, beach, CEO Succession, early stage, founder, Hawaii, Launch, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, Tom Nora, venture

One of the top 3 to 5 worries when launching a startup is is “Who gets how much stock upon start or joining? Founders, Co-Founders, next employees, Investors, Etc.

The founders of SmartAsset went through this process and decided to open it up to the world. These guys put together something very cool and it follows the “Give before you get” rule. They call it STARTUP ECONOMICS.

 

Here it is…

https://www.smartasset.com/infographic/startup

 

If you like it, let me know and I’ll post more of these type of tools.

 

TN   @tomnora

 

LinkedIn Recommendations and Endorsements

Angel Investor, Business Development, photography, Revenue Growth, Scalability, startup CEO, Tom Nora

Yesterday I was checking my LinkedIn and ran across an old colleague/friends bio – Teo Yatman. It made me decide to spontaneously write an unsolicited recommendation for him (see below). I’ve only written recommendations on request in the past so this felt really fun, and a little strange to do.

I think the LinkedIn one-click endorsements are awesome, one of the best social media tools in a long time – they are so easy to do and eventually you crowd-vote someones list of skills, so it’s pretty accurate in most cases.

But the recommendations are still valuable – I recommend (no pun intended) that you try this – write a spontaneous recommendation for someone you’re linked to from your past. It will surprise them and cause good will.

Here’s the exchange between Teo and me…
LINKEDIN RECOMMENDATIONS
Tom Nora has recommended your work as Silicon Valley Sales and Sales Management at Mentor Graphics.

Dear Teo,
I’ve written this recommendation of your work to share with other LinkedIn users.

Details of the Recommendation: “Teo and I worked together for a brief time in Silicon Valley in 1987-88 and I’ve told this story many times over the past 20+ years:

I was managing a few account managers at Mentor Graphics, a fast growing high flyer in the EDA/CAE industry, we were #1 against several tough competitors – Daisy, Valid, the brand new Cadence, etc.

The problem was that in Silicon Valley we were losing to local favorites. In the middle of all this, Teo was amazing to watch – he exceeded his quotas every month and could predict almost to the dollar how much he would sell every month. Nobody else, including me, could even come close, or would want to make that commitment. He would get in his car and drive away then come back with a p.o. time after time. I still don’t know how he did it.

I learned a lot watching his positive disposition and his confidence – he always had a big smile. I haven’t seen Teo in over 20 years, but I’ve thought of him often when I lose confidence about closing a deal – “What would Teo do?” And usually it works! Thanks, Teo.”

Response from TEO:
Hi Tom!
Thanks so much for an awesome recommendation! I was surprised and amazed when I saw this. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you in any way. I honestly enjoyed working with you back in the day. Hope you and your family are doing well. Do you live in SoCal? If I head down that way I’d love to connect with you – maybe a lunch in honor of the good ole days!
Heartfelt thanks!
Teo
@tomnora
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