Archive for December, 2011
Michael J Kennelly
Company founders are the quintessential cheerleaders, promoting their vision and company every chance they get. But that doesn’t mean that they are necessarily the best at two core functions: selling and fundraising (and many are bad at both but excel at other functions, like technology).
While generating revenue and raising capital require a lot of the same traits, in my experience those who are good at one tend to be poor at the other.
Always Be Closing: Coffee is for Closers
Some salespeople are driven by money, others less so – but all are driven to close the deal. The more deals we secure, the better, and if in the process we generate more revenue for our organization and ourselves, then great.
Most salespeople will tell you that selling is an art. But negotiating to sell software or advertising (or any product or service, for that matter) is very different than trying to secure funding. In fact, I’ve learned if you’re really successful at sales then you’re almost doomed at fundraising.
What does it take to be a great salesman?
Ultimately, selling a good or service requires that
1- you hustle;
2- you always follow up;
3- you don’t take no for an answer;
4- you offer more and more value until you close the deal.
When I was studying finance to pursue a career in investment banking, I was working in customer service for a large bank. Repeatedly I was told that I would make a great salesman, which to a young finance grad was as complimentary as telling a woman she is handsome. Eventually I landed at a nascent online publisher and ended up in ad sales and sold a lot of ad deals despite the worst ad market since the Great Depression. The publisher in question has now evolved as a must-buy for most media buyers, but at the time it was a fairly unknown brand deemed way too racy for most mainstream marketers. I wasn’t driven by money, but I was good at selling… so until I figured out what I wanted to do next, I kept selling (and writing).
After that company was acquired, I cashed in my shares and left my sales job to start WatchMojo, where despite having the ability to bootstrap and self-finance the company I sought to raise capital because I wanted to build a really big company, fast, and because I felt that it would give me street cred, but, I was remarkably bad. I don’t think I was that bad, but the result (or lack thereof spoke for itself).
To be fair, maybe I was bad at fundraising because:
a) I didn’t have to raise capital, knowing I could rely on the proceeds of the sale and my sales commissions, so I wasn’t desperate enough to accept draconian clauses;
b) I started a content company and investors are generally adverse to content;
c) My company was based in Montreal,
d) Me just doing a bad job of it.
In all honesty it was likely all of the above. In any case, throughout the journey, I learned that selling a good or service is nothing like selling your stock.
What does it take to be a great fundraiser?
It occurred to me that as good as I was at selling (though I had no desire to be a salesman again per se), fundraising required a different set of skills and techniques. You have to:
I- Play hard to get, “be a challenge” and pretend that you’re just not all that into the other party;
II- Create the illusion that the “train is about to leave the station” unless an investor signs on;
III- Be disciplined and go through periods of time without following up with the interested investor, because the saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder” applies here, too.
IV- Ultimately, be less than sincere. Push someone to table the term sheet to shop it around, even if you have no intention of honoring it.
These are fundamentally different traits and behaviors than when you are selling a good or service.
The main difference between selling and fundraising is the outcome: unless you’re selling a unique asset like real estate, when you sell someone something, you are not precluded to working with others or selling the same good to someone else: you can keep selling the same asset over-and-over again.
In advertising, even if you sell someone an ad spot, you can sell the same spot to someone else on another day, or better yet: create a new ad unit.
In fundraising, once you close a deal, you are technically married to the investor, for better or worse.
Why are the greatest salespeople doomed at fundraising?
Ultimately, a great salesperson will be able to unearth revenue, and keep the lights on. They say the best form of equity is sales. Perhaps, but if that’s the only route you take, you might end up selling yourself short.
I’m not saying that some people aren’t born to do both well, many people are. But if you have been good at one and think you will naturally be good at the other, think again—there’s a good chance that the skills required in one aspect of business is fundamentally different than those required for the other.
Photo credit: Nicolay Stanev/Shutterstock
One of the defining trends of modern web companies is that the top ones have been choosing to raise giant, private late-stage funding rounds instead of going public. In 2011, some of these rounds got so big that they passed the other types of companies that typically raise the biggest fundings each year — manufacturing and infrastructure technology companies that need to heavily invest in real-world goods to scale their businesses. Look at the ten companies that raised the most money this year in CrunchBase.
Facebook is at the top of the list this year with its $1.5 billion round in January led by Goldman Sachs and Digital Sky Technologies. Groupon is close behind, with a $950 million round led by DST, with Morgan Stanley and a long line of venture and private equity firms in the mix. The rest of the list is dominated by web companies, too — Zynga, Twitter and LivingSocial are next.
In the previous four years, most of the ten largest investments have been in cleantech, biotech, electronics, networking and other industries of the less virtual sort. In 2011, the only two companies squarely in hardware-oriented businesses are wireless networking company LightsSquared and white-label healthcare device manufacturer Kaz.
While it’s true that big web companies have been putting hundreds of millions of dollars into physical goods like data centers and servers, they’ve also been using large portions of these fundings for something that to buy shares back from early investors and employees. Up until recently, the main way stockholders made money was by selling their stakes on the public market.
The other side of this trend is that public investors aren’t able to get their money into companies when they’re still at peak growth phases. The private equity and venture firms getting into the later stage deals are instead the ones benefiting from the differences in valuations (that is, unless the late-stage valuations are so high that they exceed the eventual public offering prices, and leave the investors underwater).
So, why are web companies waiting to go public? One main rationale is that they don’t want to be subject to the quarter-by-quarter profit growth demands of public investors. Instead, they want to focus on building long-term businesses free of outside interference. They may also not like the often-ugly IPO markets — for good reason, judging by the mixed public performances of Groupon and Zynga. Or the increasingly heavy regulatory costs.
Anyway… the late-stage web funding trend is still playing out. Facebook is widely expected to go public early next year, and Twitter and LivingSocial likely will too, later on at some point.
Meanwhile, a new crop of web-oriented companies are also raising big new rounds at valuations of around $1 billion, including AirBnB, Dropbox, Spotify and Gilt Groupe. Each of these is in an earlier stage of life than the companies in the top ten, and may be raising big amounts now for other reasons, like easy terms offered by lots of eager investors. Earlier-stage companies appear to be some of the few bright spots in a world that is offering mostly poor investor returns.
We broke the news yesterday that developers Steven Troughton-Smith and the TheMudKip were working on bringing iOS applications to the Apple TV in a native experience. We have been updating with the developer’s progress since our initial report, but now a major leap was achieved: full-screen applications. Troughton-Smith was awesome enough to exclusively pass on the images (above and below) of full-screen applications in action.
The port was initially able to run multiple applications side-by-side on a display connected to an Apple TV, but now the developers have figured out a way to run iPad applications —because of the artwork resolution— at a full 720p resolution. The possibilities of what applications can do at the full television resolution on an Apple TV seems endless, and the two types of application presentations (side-by-side and full screen) show the versatility of this application porting.
Since the developers have achieved this feat by rewriting the springboard itself, we will surely see some more innovation as their work progresses. As Troughton-Smith posted on Twitter: “Remember how the unofficial iPhone applications back in ‘07 forced Apple’s hand in creating an App Store? I’d like Apple TV to get the same treatment.” However, we hope this becomes something more than just an unofficial tweak.
Update: Video below: