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Archive for July, 2012

Sherman Helmsly, who portrayed George Jefferson in “The Jeffersons,” died on Tuesday, July 24, 2012.  In a wise and wonderful tribute, Andrea Tantaros, VP of Sloane and Company in NYC, wrote an op-ed encomium to Helmsly’s entrepreneurial character in the NY Daily News last Thursday, July 26, 2012.  (NY Daily News, P. 32)

Tantaros piece got my dander up again about Barack Obama’s litany of insulting remarks July 13 directed at small business .  I swore I was going to tamp down my ire about the present government’s war on entrepreneurship, per my very thorough recent screed on the subject (see post of 7/16/12), but I want to briefly share some of Ms. Tantaros simple, but passionately well-reasoned, thoughts.

She describes George Jefferson as an entrepreneur living the American Dream.  “For the Jeffersons the idea of a ‘deluxe apartment in the sky’ was the goal—not handouts, food stamps or subsidies.  Nowhere in the show was there talk of movin’ on down….Wonder what President Obama thinks of George’s success?  I’m fairly certain he told us with his recent (and infamous) comments on business.”

To review just a bit of Obama’s bon mot,  “If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen….Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own!   You didn’t get there on your own!  I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.”

Obama has accused his “enemies” of knowingly twisting his words around to suggest that he doesn’t value small business.  Well, what the hell else are we to think? I am not the enemy of Obama, but he bloody-well seems to have chosen a consistent hostility to the small business community.

Ms. Tantaros bluntly states:

“His record speaks for itself.  Contrary to pledges he would unite the country, the President has  spent much of his time in the White House railing against the business community—the  George Jeffersons of the world—and turning success into something of a dirty word while accusing business owners of having little to do with their own accomplishments.

An honest look at his policies show that he is hostile to entrepreneurs, small businesses and  job creators, constantly pushing to raise their taxes and slap them with mounting regulations.”

There’s probably not a lot more for me to say on this subject, though I still find Obama’s demonization of entrepreneurs disconcerting.  Surely there is no shame in courageous risk-taking, hard work, and success.  As Ms. Tantarous concludes,  “George Jefferson never apologized for [his success], and neither should we.  It’s called movin’ on up.”

Thank you, Andrea.  And thank you Brother Jefferson.

Comments 8 Comments »

Sometimes something is so delicious it simply has to be shared as is.  I know my VC friends will enjoy this.

The following is a slightly abbreviated version of a blog from Dharmesh Shah, Co-Founder and CTO of Hubspot. (www.OnStartups.com) It includes a few delightful additions from his comment stream I’ve included.  It is titled:

Things Entrepreneurs Never Confess To Their VCs  

  1. We’ve got a big launch of our mobile app scheduled for April 1st.  We’ve lined up some great PR and everything is ready to go.  Just one minor detail:  We have no idea when Apple’s going to approve the app for the AppStore.  We wisely refrained from putting an early version through the process because we’re in “stealth mode.”
  2. Our VP of Sales keeps saying “Land and expand, baby, land and expand.”  I don’t know what that means exactly, but we’ve been doing a lot of landing and not a lot of expanding.
  3. I’m wondering if I should worry that the ten year Oracle sales executive we hired for VP of Sales hasn’t really sold anything yet.
  4. My co-founder had a major life event come up.  (The event was that he decided he wanted one.) He’ll be leaving us but is happy to continue to contribute as a strategic member of the board of directors.  I didn’t know he had a lawyer, but the lawyer assured me that my co-founder would “Vest In Peace,” which sounds like an amicable parting. don’t you think?
  5. It finally hit me that revenue and cash are not the same thing.  Customers provide “revenue,” employees want to be paid in cash.
  6. I know I should know this, but I have no idea what participating preferred means—and who should prefer it.
  7. Learned from tech guy yesterday that our entire back-end runs on a single “virtual” Amazon EC2 instance.  Also, learned that “virtual” means that it can virtually disappear whenever it wants.  That’s why the engineering team has been working for months on this horizontally scalable, self-replicating, auto-healing architecture so that when we start getting some paid customers, we’ll be ready.
  8. Had to execute some “executive leadership” yesterday.  At the last management meeting, our VP Marketing was telling me we were getting crushed in the market because of two big missing features.  I told her that on the startup battlefield, wars are not won by features.  Besides, we’re investing in our future, not our present.  That’s why the entire engineering team is working on building a scalable, self-replicating, auto-healing architecture.
  9. We have 11 months of cash left in the bank.  Adjusted for inflation.  But not adjusted for the fact that we have no idea if any of our large, enterprise deals that our VP of Sales sold is ever going to pay us in a form that can be used to pay bills and payroll.  Our landlord is clueless and doesn’t understand the importance of the strategic deals we’re doing and the raw brand-value of the logos we’re collecting for our website.
  10. I’m super-excited!  We had our first acquisition offer yesterday. Well, it wasn’t really an offer.  And, no, they didn’t really use the word acquisition or M&A or “buy.”  But there was some high-level strategic talk about how we could work together.  And, he paid for lunch, so there must be some interest.
  11. Yes, we know that no clients have converted to the paid version, but we don’t think an acquirer will be focusing on those kind of metrics.  We’re preparing to file some patents, and that should get Google’s interest.
  12. We’ve found new office space.  To be consistent with the five year pro-forma we showed you at the last board meeting, we’ll be signing a five year lease that matches the space needs based on those projected numbers.  It’s nice when things just work out, isn’t it?
  13. I woke up this morning with this really big idea.  It’ll make the idea you invested in pale in comparison.  The good news is that we can reuse the work the engineering team has been doing.  Not only have they been building something that’s horizontally scalable, self-replicating and auto-healing, they had the foresight to build something infinitely flexible too.  Now I know the importance of hiring great people—ones that have the vision to see your vision and can adjust their vision based on your new vision.  This is going to BIG!
  14. Those five patents we said we had?  Well, they are really only applications and…um…only cover a portion of our product.
  15. It’s an infinitely horizontally scaling, self-healing thingy that lands and expands.

 

Well, that’s it, Brothers and Sisters.  Tee hee and LOL.  Please feel free to add your own foolishness to Dharmesh’s list.  And thank you, Dharmesh, for the summer laugh!

Comments 12 Comments »

I don’t get Barack Obama.  He seems intent on diminishing the very foundation on which his expansive welfare plans must depend—that is, destroying the business efficacy of our robust, fecund, and faithfully tax-paying small business sector.

I was watching a baseball game last Saturday and during the commercial I was flipping channels and came across a speech President Obama had given in Roanoke, Virginia on Friday, July 13.  I was stunned to hear the following two sentences.  “If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.”  Huh?  Surely that’s not what I heard.

So I checked it out on the internet this morning when I came in to the office.  Yup.  That’s what he really, really said.  Not only that, but he goes on to say the following:  “Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own!  You didn’t get there on your own!  I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.”

Pardon me, while I pick my jaw off the floor.

Am I the only sane man sitting out here in stunned silence?  Even I, in my younger days as a frothing-at-the-mouth socialist, wouldn’t cast such calumny on small business owners.  What’s next for us entrepreneurial evil-doers?  Lynch mobs?

And what is the point of denigrating our community?  There can be no decrease in unemployment without our commitment to the future and our willingness to take risk.  If we don’t create the normative 65% of new jobs the federal government counts on to reduce unemployment, who will?  What is to be gained by dampening our communal self-esteem and animal spirits?  Small business is the backbone of enterprise and employment in this country.  It is the goose that has always laid the golden egg and brought prosperity in its wake.  Why insult us?  If I didn’t build my business, who did?

Furthermore, small business generally is not doing well.  We are not expanding as we normally would or hiring at the rate we would like because of tax and regulatory uncertainty.  Tell me, o faithful Obama apologists, what is the useful point of insulting us personally and vilifying our very existence?  When did entrepreneurs become the “bad” people?  Please educate me so I can understand, ye readers of this post.

I don’t understand President Obama’s rhetoric.  But my take-away is simply this (to riff on Sally Field’s famous Academy Award’s outburst upon receiving her award):

“You hate me!  You really hate me!”

Thank you, Sally.

Comments 39 Comments »

The more I read and think about happiness and my business life, the more I find money to be irrelevant.  It’s not that money can’t or shouldn’t come out of the business life, it’s just that it is seldom the true raison d’etre for the passionate, creative entrepreneur.  More a byproduct.

Michael Douglas in Wall Street, Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glenross, Lionel Barrymore in It’s A Wonderful Life, and numerous others have etched a popular trope of the businessman as a cold-eyed darwinian killer who lives for nothing but swag—a mean-spirited, joyless Uriah Heep of lucre, a cretinous Babbitt who lives by the cynical mantra of Joel Grey as the cryptic, menacing, Nazi MC in Cabaret.

“Money makes the world go around
The world go around
The world go around
Money makes the world go around
It makes the world go ’round.
A mark, a yen, a buck, or a pound
A buck or a pound
A buck or a pound
Is all that makes the world go around…”

Big government constantly reinforces these impressions with rhetoric about control of and protection from the money-centered businessman.

Most of this is, of course, a bunch of hooey.  If the entrepreneur equates money to happiness (and I believe most do not), he is certainly misguided.

The latest nail in the coffin of “money as meaning” in business come from the research of Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton.  As with many other “happiness” researchers over the last decade, Dunn and Norton (NY Times, Sunday Review, July 8, 2012) have found that additional income buys us little additional happiness once we reach a livable, comfortable standard.  They quote a Princeton study using Gallup polling data from almost a half million American households that shows that money creates little beneficial effect after reaching the $75,000/year level.

So what should this say to the motivation of the entrepreneur?  (Or, as Dunn and Norton ask rhetorically, “Why, then, do so many of us bother to work so hard long after we have reached an income level sufficient to make most of us happy?”)

For me, personally, that answer lies in creating a mini-world I can live happily in—a private Idaho, if you will, of ethics, value, freedom, personal dignity, usefulness. and occasional laughter.  It lies in creating something that is good, salubrious, and helpful to the world.  That is the unique guerdon for the entrepreneur and of the creative, self-made risk-taker.

I’m always uncomfortable in discussions about monetizing or selling my business.  Questions that center around “What’s your number?”, or questions that focus on “Beach Money.”  (What the hell is “Beach Money” anyway?  I hate the beach!)  My one-day-at-a-time and my long-term goal is a happy, meaningful, free, well-lived, independent life.  Creating, growing, and living in my entrepreneurial company is a goal in itself.

Norman Augustine, former CEO of Lockheed Martin, puts it like this in an interview with Mihaly Csikzentmhalyi (Good Business, Viking Penguin, 2003)

“I’ve always wanted to be successful.  My definition of being successful is contributing something to the world…and being happy while doing it….You have to enjoy what you’re doing.  You won’t be very good if you don’t.  And secondly, you have to feel you are contributing something worthwhile…If either of these ingredients are absent, there’s probably some lack of meaning in your work.”

Thank you, Norman.

Comments 7 Comments »

Meredith Whitney is at it again, scaring the bejesus out of us all.  But small businessmen had better pay attention.

I chanced to turn on Bloomberg on June 19 and heard the alarming thoughtfulness of the lovely and pragmatically pessimistic Ms. Whitney.  She warns of a new trend that is coming out of California, where it seems many things happen first in the U.S.  What she says essentially is that, without radical change, California is going down, both as a state entity and individually in its municipalities.  And it may well be a harbinger of things to come for states like NY, IL, and NJ, as well as many individual cities.

Whitney states that businesses in all these big-spending, tax-heavy, government union states are leaving.  She feels it is utterly predictable that they will accelerate their exodus, eventually leaving behind economic dead zones—ghost towns and possibly even ghost states marked by a fleeing tax base and falling property values.  Says Whitney,

“…businesses are moving.  The U.S. economy just has to rebalance itself.  So the areas that grew our economy the last 30-50 years are the ones that are the most challenged and struggling right now.  So you’re rebalancing that with the center part of the United States that’s  booming.  So you go to Texas and Oklahoma and North Dakota.  Some of these states have  very small populations and are getting incredible immigration and emigration from California  and high tax zones.  Every 60 years or so the U.S. economy reinvents itself.  It’s in that process  right now regionally.”

The canary in the coal mine of this coming demographic and capital shift is Stockton, California, which has gone bankrupt.  The cause and culprit for this donnybrook is basically outrageously over-compensated and rigid pension plans foisted on government by egregiously self-serving public sector unions.

The Wall St. Journal editorial board addressed the Stockton, CA conundrum with some specificity on June 27.

“Pension costs are about 40% of what [Stockton] pays on worker salaries and are growing.   The average fire-fighter costs the city about $157,000 a year in pay and benefits and can retire  at age 50 with a pension equal to 90% of his highest year’s salary plus nearly free lifetime  health benefits….You can’t build a city on debt and retirement checks.”

Those figures are not too far from the retirement compensation levels for teachers, token takers, bus drivers, et. al. in my own native Westchester County, NY.

So what is the relevancy here for the entrepreneur?

Well, as I’ve said before, it makes no sense to bring your business into these hoary old, inefficient bureaucracy and tax laden states.  The states that have business friendly policies are doing much better than their benighted brethren.   It is pure common sense for entrepreneurs to seek out those states that operate with reason, efficiency, and flexibility—those states that reign in crazy public sector costs and those states that actually like entrepreneurs.  States like Texas, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Indiana, and even Florida.  Or like Wisconsin, that has been updating its model for two years, resulting in a steady new business flow.  Wisconsin’s unemployment has recently dropped to 4.7% while California’s has increased to almost 9%.

My own executive sales outsourcing firm, Corporate Rain International, is based in New York.  I will stay here, despite its business climate, for personal reasons.  But a younger, earlier stage company than mine should think long and hard about residing or incorporating in any state or municipality with an inefficient, anti-diluvian attitude toward business and public sector unions.  It is too easy to increase taxes and bureaucracy on us (small business) when the money runs out, as surely it will—as evidenced by California’s ghost towns like Stockton and Vallejo, as well as Detroit, Harrisburg, and many others in the ghost town pipeline.  That list will grow substantially in our brave new world of forced austerity and macroeconomic tentativity.   (If you are interested in more on this topic scroll back for posts on 5/17/11, 4/26/11, 4/13/10.)

What inefficient, business unfriendly governments will quickly come to understand is that small businesses are often flexible and mobile.  They will, and should, plant their seeds in fertile soil.

As Thomas Jefferson said, “Merchants have no country.  The mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains.”  (Letter-3/17/1814)

Thank you Thomas.

Comments 4 Comments »

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