noraHacking The Core Tom

Hacking The Core – my new book on startup innovation

startup CEO

Here’s the intro on iBooks, Amazon and other online sites for my new book, released in April 2017.

– – – – –

Hacking The Core explains entrepreneurship in the tech startup world in a refreshing way. Pulling no punches, the author draws from 2 decades of experience as a startup CEO, strategist, M&A consultant and investor.

The book explains how to tap into the creativity and innovation that we all have hidden inside of us and how to apply it to launching and growing a startup business. It looks at all areas of a business launch to uncover areas of innovation, differentiation, design thinking.

Hacking The Core is based on principles of common sense, honesty vs. “fake it ’til you make it” and humility in success. It will show you how to lead instead of follow trends, how to create true disruption in and market segment.

There are several personal anecdotes from the author and explanations of his own motivations and mentors in his long startup business path.

Available on iTunes/iBooks

 

 

About the author

Tom Nora is an entrepreneur, startup CEO, blogger and business mentor. He has led and mentored over 2 dozen venture-backed technology companies, 5 of them as President and CEO. He has extensive experience in funding, mergers, acquisitions and IPOs.

In 2011 Tom launched The Scalable Startup in Santa Monica, California to help tech startups launch and  grow by providing mentoring, funding, community and strategy consulting. The same year Tom also started publishing the popular blog The Startup CEO.

In 2014 he decided to write a series of books on the startup world and his experiences. This was in response to the continuous requests for help he receives from early stage entrepreneurs and future entrepreneurs. Hacking The Core is the first of these books to be published, focusing on innovation and originality.

Tom is also a lifelong fine art photographer and oil painter.

Available on iTunes/iBooks

 

 

“ Amazing. Tom rocks ”  — JOHN HENRY, IBM CORP.

 

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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 life of a Startup CEO – 3 full Time Jobs.

CEO Succession, early stage, founder, startup CEO

This post has been one of my most popular on Quora. I originally wrote it in late 2012 when asked the question – What does it feel like to be a start-up mentor? (link to original post). In it I discuss the 3 full time jobs a real startup CEO has. If you read carefully I didn’t even actually answer the question properly, but I did touch on a few truths. 

One of the points of this is to realize that maybe yu shouldn’t try to be a startup ceo; most fail at it and are miserable. They Zalsohave a lot of fear that they can’t discuss with anybody – not their team not their investors, not their spouse, not the Board of Directors. All of those people have to be held at a bit of a distance. That’s often where I come in…

Enjoy…

– – –

As a Startup Mentor to over 20 companies over 20 years, plus a few currently, I think the first question is what is the CEO going through? (See below) As thementor you need to empathize, coach, help, counsel and help the CEO develop the business.

What is the startup CEO going through?

Being the CEO of a startup is crazy, fun, very hard work, inclusive, humbling and of course can be quite rewarding. Weekends are meaningless. There is a continuous decision stream where each decision informs the next. Your mind is thinking 24 hours a day, even when you sleep.

When you’re the CEO of a startup, a real startup with product and some cash in the bank and/or revenue, there are 3 FULL TIME JOBS.

1. Raising Money – you are constantly doing this, preparing for this and thinking about this, whether it’s pre-seed, seed funding, debt, revenue, partnerships, IPO or other.

2. Managing and Properly Growing The Business – this includes several things, depending on the size of the enterprise: managing employees, administration, hiring, firing, leases, expenses, unhappy employees, fixing other problems, etc.

This piece is what often kills an otherwise great business, which justifys the case for less is more when it comes to employees and infrastructure.

3. Selling – The CEO of a startup must ABS, always be selling. You start every day working this, just like #1 above, they’re closely related. Using the CEO to close sales no matter what size the business is, is vital to success.

This piece emphasizes the importance of having an awesome, mature VP of Sales, if you can afford it; it takes a lot of pressure off and frees up the time of the CEO.

So the job of the mentor is to make sure everything progresses forward and your protege is staying out of the ditches. It requires strong mutual trust but if you have that, it can be a rewarding win-win experience.

Contact me if you’re dead serious and I can help you. The Startup CEO by Tom Nora

The first 6 months at Envato

Business Development, early stage, founder, Interview with founder of Envato, Launch, Revenue Growth, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, Tom Nora

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the WorPress as a development platform world lately. I’m finding many business advantagesb in this world for a group of websites I am building to bootstrap a few “baby startups” in areas I’m already interested in – #travel, #classic-cars, #SaaS #Art sales, #techjobs, etc.

What this has done for me is vastly increase my interest in tactical data driven marketing on the web – #growthhacking, #contentmanagement, #agile iterative web development and marketing, and yes, even SEO.

The process is actually fascinating and lots of fun, full of soloprenuers, bootstrap peers, hackers, marketeers and doers. It’s a somewhat different world than the VC funded startup world that is my day job.

The link below is one of the best interviews I’ve seen, from Collis Ta’eed, a very humble and honest guy who started Envato, a marketplace for web dev themes and many other creative resources. In a very short time he covers to first 6 months of his company, unafraid to discuss failures, missteps and instances of pure luck. This is the opposite of many startup interviews where the founder claims brilliance and a smooth path and takes credit for everything.

Very inspiring, check it out…

http://wptavern.com/ceo-and-envato-co-founder-collis-taeed-on-the-first-6-months-of-envato

Common traits of Successful Startup Entrepreneurs.

AdTech, Angel Investor, Business Development, CEO Succession, early stage, founder, Hawaii, Launch, SaaS, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, Tom Nora, venture

Here are a few traits to try to emulate if you want to be a successful startup guru. Success may be financial, fulfillment of a life goal or even altruistic. Success will begin to create itself if your heart is in the right place…

Take a look at the 9 things below and send me feedback on your thoughts.

1… Genuineness, honesty.

2… Humble openness to feedback. When I returned to LA in 2011 after being away for many years, I was smacked in the face by the volume of young startups that were in their first stages; and many of them sought me out. After a bit I noticed a dangerous trait in many of them – a false confidence and no ability to hear constructive criticism. The attitude was “just give us funding” even though I could see several fatal flaws that they couldn’t.

Being closed to feedback in itself is a sign of bad health, a fatal flaw. You don’t take all advice given to you of course, but you listen to it, calibrate it, mix it in with everything else you know that they don’t. You also have to know whom to spend your time with, many of the wrong people will want to offer advice, mostly for the wrong reasons.

3… A set of doctrines. It’s almost corny to see in many companies; they’ve worked out an internal lexicon, code words, project names to make things more unique and understandable. It speeds up communication. It

4… Taking everything from 90% to 110%. This is one I often see in looking under the hood of successful startups. It’s like a beautiful restored car that has every detail perfected when you inspect it further. The wiring, the upholstry, the under carriage – all the little details that most never see. In startups there is a beauty when you see these little things. I can think of many startup companies

5… Belief in the Idea. Belief that you have something unique, that the world, or part of the world, really does need this new thing/method/service. This is a key factor in many of the successful kickstarter products.

6… The journey is the reward. The #1 request I get from would be entrepreneurs startups is ” how do you do it, what does it take to build a successful startup, what should I do differently? They want all of these answers in one sitting, over lunch, and then want to go off and pour them on top of their startup like syrup. Great questions, but it doesn’t work like that. My answer is this… Get up every morning, work very hard (see 3. 90 to 110) make the best decisions you can, cry a little bit, then do it again the next day. Do that for several months continuously. Enjoy the process with its imperfections, if nothing else you’ll create a rhythm for yourself and your team.

7…Self Confidence. This is the most important trait of all. Unyielding confidence, an authentic, real confidence that comes from deep down inside is what takes you through the bumps and setbacks. Think of a topic you know that you have down cold. Nobody can tell you you don’t know this.

Not false confidence, that will do the opposite and cause failure.

8… Location. Being located in the right ecosystem helps foster self confidence; you know it can be done there, there’s success in the ether, those ahead of you help you make things happen, critique you,

9… 5 Best Friends. You want 5 people in your business-sphere that you can go to, brainstorm with, respect, and drive your progress. They must be influential, cognizant, and you must reciprocate, pay it forward. Don’t compromise here. If you don’t have 5 then go find them.

Contact me at t@tomnora.com

The Power of Connection

Angel Investor, Business Development, CEO Succession, early stage, founder, Hawaii, Launch, SaaS, Uncategorized

Last week I witnessed again the difference between 2 people meeting in person compared all other forms of communication we currently employ.

It’s amazing to see the power of the connection between 2 people in proximity to each other. In the startup world, it seems to be winning over the bits and bytes style. I’ve discounted the value of face to face recently as much as anyone, leaning heavily on asynchronous electronic communication for much of my business and personal life, and even using broadcast communication (twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, email, …) to replace individual communications. But we all should rededicate ourselves to the face-to-face – the random, the first time, the networking, the required, the “have a good weekend”. Connecting on LinkedIn or FB is great but usually leads to few subsequent actual interactions. Apple’s face time is bridging the gap nicely, but still isn’t the same. Meetup.com and Eventbrite, founded on this principle of meeting in person as a response to too much Internet meeting, has helped to spawn, grow and change thousands of startups.

So, back to last week – at a startup mixer I was walking past someone headed to my seat, and we kind of got stuck in the crowd face-to-face. He had on a name tag, I didn’t. We couldn’t move. So he stuck his hand out to say hello, and we wound up talking for 10 minutes and definitely made a bit of a connection. We found several things we had in common, most people do. Since then we have met and emailed and referred business to each other, all from a semi-random meeting.

We never would have connected otherwise. If we saw each other on the street or lived on the same block we probably would just walk on by. So get out there, go to things that you like and are interested in. Barriers will melt.    @tomnora

Silicon Valley Uber Alles? I think so… Some of their Secret Weapons.

Angel Investor, Business Development, CEO Succession, Drupal, early stage, founder, Hawaii, Jobs, Launch, Revenue Growth, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, Tom Nora, Uncategorized, venture

Can any other region “catch up” to Silicon Valley, or be the next Silicon Valley? Statistics show that it’s probably kind of futile to even try. Many have tried, but must be content with their small market shares. How can other regions will ever match the MACHINE: Stanford, Andreesen, Draper, Valentine, Doerr, Facebook/Apple/Google Millionaires, 4 Generation VC firms, Hardware/Software partnerships, over 100 Billon $ market cap cos.

svfundingshares

Because high tech and software industries are now being seen as lucrative, job creating, imperative and oh so sexy, many regions are trying as never before to get in on this – mobilizing their governments, old school industries, universities and grandmas to unite to be the next Silicon Valley, calling themselves Silicon- Beach, Forest, Plains, Alley, Prairie, Coast, etc. These towns are setting their expectations way too high while the real Silicon Valley giggles at the sight.

Here are some of the secret weapons that make Silicon Valley stronger than any other “region” and act as its barriers to entry:

1. Silicon – Uh, yeah, that word? It’s what started all this. Silicon Valley launched and was launched by the mainstreaming of the Silicon chip over 50 years ago, which is now part of everything. There was no other part of the planet where anything close in innovation, design manufacturing, equipment, marketing and sale of semiconductors has emanated from. This foundation still drives the area and the world, even thought it gets less attention now than the software side.

2. 100 Years of Growth – It all began with military electronics, low cost housing, lots of empty land and Stanford University. It has spread way beyond to the east bay. San Francisco, over 50 universities and trillions of dollars in revenue. The growth has had bumps but over time has increased more steadily than any other economy in history.

3. Recruitment – Most of the leaders in SV are from elsewhere because Silicon Valley aggressively acquires the best from all over the world. Why not? Via Stanford, Berkeley, Facebook, Google, recruiting Harvard and MIT undergrads, their wonderful PR machine, advertising free meals, free car washes, free dry cleaning, free day care. $150,000 salary right out of college. Unlimited vacation. Where else can you gat all this?

4. Stanford – Not sure this even needs explaining, but Stanford has been a wole new entity in the past 20 years, beyond anyones imagination in wealth creation, funding, computer science, a recruiting engine into SV then on to local companies, pride, confidence, location.

5. Money, money, money – There are so many giant sources of money in SV that it’s staggering. VCs of course, Angels, they invented the term Super Angel, San Francisco, Real Estate leverage, IPO millionaires, corporate funding, Asian and European money, and on and on.

6. Tolerance for Weak Links – Here’s one most people don’t know – most people in SV aren’t stellar; I know several weak players who fake it well and are millionaires or millionaires-to-be just because they’re in the right zip code. The public tagline is everybody has a high IQ, but in reality there are lots of dwebes running around – I know, I’ve managed plenty of them. SVs leaders smartly realize the win ratio can be pretty low if you have a few enormous winners. Most SV projects die, most SV companies die, but if you build the algorithm to plan for this you’ll put more possible winners in play. So what if a few totally unqualified employees that snuck in make a few million. Like any organization, there are several who skate by or get by on good politics. That’s OK if you plan for it, “engineer” for it.

That’s just 6, there are plenty more reasons why there will only be 1 Silicon Valley for along time to come. The best answer for any other local economy is to just make the most of who you are, embrace your own identity, partner with Silicon Valley. And don’t use the word “silicon” in your name. Take Boulder, Colorado as a model, they’ve successfully created their own very strong economy for startups. There’s a startup for every 50 or so people there. They have all the pieces and they are heavily connected to Silicon Valley without envying them.

@tomnora

CASH IS KING — C-A-S-H — Friction Cost Reduction — Accountants, Attorneys and Consultants

Angel Investor, Business Development, CEO Succession, early stage, founder, Hawaii, Revenue Growth, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, Uncategorized, venture

Most startup entrepreneurs focus on one thing throughout the lifecycle of their company: bringing in CASH. C-A-S-H. Cash through investments, revenues, borrowing from F&F, VCs, convertible notes, deal terms, angels, etc. All of these things are magical words to early stagers. I attend and host many meetups and conferences for startups, and consult to several startups, and every founder is inevitably talking about Cash. Cash on Hand, The next Round, we just need $XXX,XXX. Cash, Cash, Cash.

A different way to improve your cash situation is the indirect one – reduce Friction Costs in your ecosystem with peripheral influencers.

In Silicon Valley, Boston, Boulder and a few other places, the growth of the startup world has vastly been enhanced over the past 10 to 30 years by professionals who are not VCs or developers or entrepreneurs – they’re the Accountants, Attorneys, Consultants, Professors, Marketing firms and others who have tremendous influence over VCs, Angels and prospective customers. They are trusted, fairly impartial, focused, big picture and practical. They’re also critical to the processes of business.

If you want to make money rain from the sky, nurture these people with sincerity over long periods of time, not just when you need them. They decrease the friction in doing business by connecting the right people, finding the quickest path between 2 points, making warm vs. cold introductions and telling entrepreneurs when “it ain’t gonna happen”.

So find some of these people and get to know them – here are 10 things you can do:

1. buy them a cup of coffee

2. be real with them, when you don’t need anything.

3. Help them out with something they’re working on.

4. Read What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis.

 

5. Join my meetup group; you’ll find many of them there and can connect no matter where you live:  meetup.com/Startup-Workshops/

6. Invite them to speak at an event you’re hosting.

7. Contact me and I’ll help you find and meet the right people.

8. Create something very cool, nothing gets attention like that.

9. Be a connector. Connect 2 people without any self interest; I do this almost daily.

10. Become an authority on the flow of cash in startups, a very valuable skill.

Tom Nora

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