Jun 1 2011

Our Startup Story: No Money, No Problem

James Kim

You’ve got the idea and you know all about the business solutions that are available to help get your business off the ground. Trouble is, you don’t know where to get the money. To help get your dreams of starting a new small business on track, here are some of the most common ways to get funding:

 

Personal

Before looking anywhere else, you’ll want to figure out what your options are personally. You can go to a site like guidantfinancial.com to learn how to get money through loans against your 401K or IRA funds. In addition, you can just take the traditional approach and go to a bank and get debt financing, which is just paying a set interest rate at a scheduled set of repayments. The advantage of these options is that they don’t require you to give up any control in your business and keep your reliance on others to a minimum.

 

Friends and Family

Friends and family are an ideal source to get money from if you don’t need too much. You’ll be working with people you trust and you’re bound to get a better deal from them than you would from the nearest bank. However, the most important thing to remember when getting funding from people you know is that you should always write up a contract. It might seem silly, but you really don’t want to end up in a situation where there’s a disagreement later on that breaks up your relationship.

 

Angel Investors

An angel investor is just someone who will give you money for your business in exchange for either equity or convertible debt. If you trade for equity, you lose some control over your business, but you’ll also have a partner that might be able to help move things along. In order to find angel investors, you can go to directories at places like inc.com or keiretsuforum.com.

 

Business Accelerators

Business accelerators are just companies that will usually give you around “$25,000 for a 6 percent ownership stake” in your business. However, even though you’re giving away equity, you get a lot in return. A business accelerator will teach you how to start up your business and will be a true partner. Basically, they’re going to ensure to the best of their ability that their initial investment in you pays off.

 

These common methods of funding have hopefully struck a chord with you. If you’re able to secure the funding you need, you should be well on your way to successfully starting up your business.

 

James Kim is a writer for Choosewhat.com. ChooseWhat is a company that provides product reviews and test data for business services and products.  Their goal is to help small companies make informed buying decisions on business solutions that help their business.


Apr 21 2009

Reid Hoffman is right. It’s about the startups

John

This is a TechCrunch post from March. If you don’t want to click over to TC (Don’t blame ya) I’ve pasted Reid’s big points and will expand with my thoughts.

1. Small business loans. Apply a micro-lending model that has proved successful in developing countries, extending credit lines up to $50,000.

Why? Because models of investment besides just venture capital can stimulate the economy. Let’s not neglect entrepreneurs who create coffee shops, florists, taxi services or other small businesses that help the economy thrive at the local level. Sometimes, a coffee shop becomes Starbucks. These don’t require venture funding; they just need a small business loan to get started and grow. Micro-lending has proved viable around the world — let’s do more of it at home. If a service like Kiva.org (disclosure: I’m a board member) can succeed in 12 countries, it can succeed here too.

I couldn’t agree more! 360|Conferences doesn’t need 9mil! We don’t want 9mil! We really (and currently) need just enough money to push us into Full Time employee status and pay ourselves salary so we can focus on more events, which drastically improves our money situation. Right noew we’re at a weird tipping point, needing more money for more events, but not being able to do more events because we have jobs and need the money to quit those. funny Interesting, not funny ha ha.

2. Abolish the limit on H-1B Visas. Remove the cap on H-1B visas and impose a 10 percent payroll tax beyond the benchmark salary for each visa. Then channel the proceeds from the payroll tax into US re-education programs.

This is a country founded on immigration. We should welcome the best and the brightest as our own. Abolish the H-1B cap, and give me an economic reason for preferring local. I’ll only do foreign if I need to. A 10 percent payroll tax for each H-1B visa can be reinvested in whatever it takes to get American talent up to the same level. This has been proposed previously, but a payroll tax ensures that H-1Bs are used for skilled labor, not cheap labor.

I’m really torn on the whole H1-B. Reid’s solution at least makes sense to me. I just can’t stomach the typical reason for hiring H1-Bs, which is to essentially get cheap indentured slaves. People can cry fould, but I’ve worked at more than 1 place with H1-B folks, and have known many others.  The fomer companies find the cheap labor, screwing US workers. When I hear “There aren’t any programmers in the US” my Bullshit alarm goes super sonic and dogs start barking.

I’ve also known H1-B folks that have had to stick with a shitty company, that’s in a slow death spiral, working them 12+ hour days because the Americans have long since quit for better opportunities, because the company held their paperwork. Weak sauce.

So while I’m no fan of the H1-B ‘thing’ at least Reid’s idea incentivises companies to really try to find local talent, and invests in our future. The US is in a death spiral of our own. When kids see adults losing their tech jobs left and right (to outsourcing and H1-Bs), what on Earth makes us think they’ll want to go into a tech field when they’re older. We’re sowing the seeds of our own demise, for short term profit bumps (executive bonuses).

3. Match funds for venture capital and angel investors. Match up to $100 million in stimulus funds for qualifying venture and angel investments if they create jobs in the US. Let these investors keep their normal return plus 50 percent of the returns on the matching funds, while the other half goes back to the government to revitalize further investment.

This one doesn’t apply to Tom and I, since we’re in the Taxi, Coffee shop, Florist realm, but I think it’s a good idea. Screw GM and the big banks bonusing out and partying on our tax dollars. Put stimulus money where it can do good, in start ups who are creating jobs in the US!  This is a win/win idea as far as I’m concerned.


Apr 17 2009

It often sucks being a non software startup

John

I love creating things, writing software was for a long time very fulfilling. The thought however of doing a software startup, doesn’t do much for me now. Or rather, me being the code writer doesn’t. Which poses interesting problems.

360|Conferences, Corp is a purely service business. Our offering is our abilities, our community, and ourselves. That’s it. No app, no website, no SAAS, nothing that can be bought, sold, or processed. (bonus points if you got that)

We can’t attract investment capital in the traditional tech start up way, since we don’t have any ‘out’ or clear return. To quote David Cohen (whom I hope to meet in person one day!) “i think raising money right now, especially for a business that doesn’t have the best scale economics, is just tough. there’s not much debt money available.

Our business however, works like any other, we require capital to continue, we’re bootstrapping, and that get’s us sorta kinda by, but the reality is we need capital like any other start up business that needs to expand it’s offerings. It’s quite the conundrum to be sure.

It’s one of those weird start up problems, that I never really thought about in starting on this adventure. We figured bootstrapping would be just fine, but in actually executing on our business we’ve found that we’re at a place where we can’t easily do more events without the free time of paying ourselves, but we can’t pay ourselves full time (or even part time) without doing more events.

I re-stumbled across this blog post and it gave me some hope, I think our ’13 months’ is a bit longer than 13 real calendar months since our events are spaced apart and there’s low periods.

I think 360|Confferences is at this tipping point right now, we just have to hold on. Hope we can.


Dec 26 2008

What should a startup focus on: profits or expansion?

admin

This post is in response to a recent article on Businessweek, entitled “A Wrench in Silicon Valley’s Wealth Machine“.  It’s our first panel style post where we ask our startup contributors to give their views on a certain topic.  Let’s hope it works out. :)

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John’s Thoughts:

VC’s seem to be largely morons and most startups seem to be the perfect match.

Only a startup would exist and not have a plan to make money. Only a VC would give money (large, large sums of money) to a startup that would “Make money in the future”, if everything goes according to plan.

That’s not to say startups have to be profitable or even bringing in money when they start, but Digg is what? 2? 3 years old? And not making money still.

From Businessweek

Jay Adelson, Digg’s chief executive, says it’s clear the environment has changed for all startups. With venture money harder to come by, entrepreneurs have to concentrate on building their businesses. He says Digg is dialing back some expansion plans and trying to reach profitability as soon as possible. “All I care about is making sure the business foundation is solid,” Adelson says.

Really? Now the focus is on profitability? Now that they’re being seen for what they are? Just another over hyped startup with no clue how to make a dime, hoping that profitability will find them on its own.

What really amazes me is that all the Digg fanboys and gamers of the system singing Digg’s praise etc. are simply filling Digg’s DB with data that they [Digg] intends to sell. Sell for a retardedly over valuated price of 300m! Holy crap! Smooth move guys, give your meta data and attention to Digg so they can hope to sell it. NICE!

One reason may be that Digg’s public profile is much larger than its financial might. Last year the company lost $2.8 million on $4.8 million in revenue, according to Digg financial statements reviewed by BusinessWeek. In the first three quarters of 2008, Digg lost $4 million on $6.4 million in revenue. Adelson declined to comment on the figures.

Those better be some damn good Christmas parties, and some 70 and 80’s style whoring and coke snorting, I’m talking Studio 54 here. Lost 4 million? On what? It’s a site that people give content too, they don’t pay for it! Oh wait, Diggnation probably isn’t cheap to produce, that explains it.

As some one who runs a business completely in boot strap mode, it’s insane to imagine how some of these businesses can exist. Tom and I started ’08 owing 15k on our line of credit and were contemplating closing up shop rather than continue moving into debt. Startups seem to have mastered the art of spending money that isn’t theirs in exchange for retarded amounts of their company and probably a sizable chunk of soul.

Is it worth it guys? You couldn’t have done with out millions of someone else’s money?

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Tom’s Thoughts:

I wouldn’t say all VCs are morons, just the dumb ones.  :)  Perhaps that should read the greedy ones.  I understand VCs provide more than just capital.  Take a look at eBay.  It was successful, but Pierre realized that he didn’t have the knowledge needed to take the company to the next level.  VC investment helped him get Meg.  Then there are visionairies that have expensive visions but the visions have profits in mind ala Bezos.  Amazon took what, 4 years to reach profitability?  But Bezos had the system worked out in his head to reach profitability.  Heck, at least it was a goal for those 4 years.

Article Snippet 1: With venture money harder to come by, entrepreneurs have to concentrate on building their businesses.

Now, that could just be poor writing on the author vs something dumb Jay Adelson said, but that line just blows me away.  What the heck kind of statement is that?  What entrepreneur doesn’t concentrate on building a business?  And what kind of people give that entrepreneur millions of dollars?

I’ll be honest.  I thought about approaching investors to help us grow 360|Conferences in the early days.  However, I realized we had no street cred. We had never ran a conference before, much less a conference business.  Even now, John and I are contemplating approaching angel investors, but I still tell John, “We’re profitable, but I don’t think anyone will care.  We’re not trying to take on the world and we’re definitely not sexy.”  John and I have spent a lot of time making our business what it is.  Sure it’s been tough, but we went from no money investment on either of our parts to making some money in less than 2 years, part-time.  People think we put on the best conference they’ve ever been to and are shocked to find out it’s just John and I doing the biz, part time.

The reason I think we make money and why people love our events is because from day one, we’ve always concentrated on building our business.  John asked during year 1 of our biz,  “Why didn’t you quit this idea like you did many others in the past?”  My answer came swift and still rings true to this day, “Someone trusted me with their hard earned money and it is my duty to live up to that trust by providing them the very best service.”  The only way you can provide a great service is by building your business.

Article Snippet 2: [Adelson] says Digg is dialing back some expansion plans and trying to reach profitability as soon as possible. “All I care about is making sure the business foundation is solid.”

Here’s where millions of someone else’s dollars makes you delusional.  Whereas Digg is now gonna focus on profitability vs expansion, John and I have been focused on profitabilty and are now looking at expansion.  I didn’t go to business school, so maybe that’s why I’m lost.  But don’t you usually test an idea out first to make sure it makes money?  Then once you’re profitable, you move on to expansion?  Like I’ve always told John, “Our profit model depends on x number of attendees per show.  If we don’t get those numbers, that means people don’t like our show.  We either need to change to get those numbers or leave the biz as our ideas obviously are all wrong.”  Now x is not in the millions or billions, we’re talkin roughly a few hundred.  But if there is no profit in sight, then you may have a good idea, but you surely don’t have a good business.

Article Snippet 3: In the first three quarters of 2008, Digg lost $4 million on $6.4 million in revenue.

Now, I won’t make accusations about what Digg did with that money.   John could be right, but I’m sure there’s some costs we’re just not seeing.  Some people accused us of throwing an “orgy” when we spent $90K on food, but after you realize a 6 oz soda costs $4.  You can see how fast things add up.  One thing companies should do is be more transparent.

I’m not saying throw your quickbooks file on the net. (Yes, I know they don’t use Quickboooks, just work with me will ya.)  But lay out what gets spent where.  Show people what you’re doing with the money.  If nothing else, your customers will tell you what your spending too much on.  Though I’m not sure that would work for Digg.  They have users and not customers, i.e. no one pays them to do a service.  Maybe that’s the problem then.

Can you be defined as a business if you don’t have customers?  Or more importantly can you be called a business if you don’t focus on profits?

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Andrew’s Thoughts:

My preference in starting a new business would be the conservative approach.  Save up money from a standard W2 job until you have a nice emergency fund before going for it.  Focus on those projects that get you to profitability the quickest.  Anytime you take money that you haven’t earned whether from a bank or from a VC, you’re giving up some control of how your business runs.  Unless the idea is truly revolutionary and needs to explode quickly, I’d stay away from taking VC or bank funds and doing it the old-fashioned way.  Having excess VC funds around is just plain distracting and a false sense of security.  It doesn’t make sense to have all those parties if you haven’t earned a dime.  Having a tight budget early on also forces you to find unique and cheaper ways of doing things.  One example would be a VC-funded startup throwing servers at a scalability problem whereas a self-funded startup would be forced to re-factor and optimize their code for maximum scalability.

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Jeffry’s Thoughts:

Are VCs Morons?  I don’t think so, but I do get the impression they only expect 1 in 10 of their ventures to be succesful; kind of like the traditional record company model.  That 1 success makes up for the 9 failures many times over.  With that in mind, I may consider factors other than the business plan when investing in companies such as enthusiasm and adaptability of the owners.

Cash flow is king, especially in a down economy.  Generating profit should always be a much higher focus than expansion.  Build your profit model right into the business from the start.  Think it through before you start coding or building the service.  Controlled growth is the best way to build.

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Ben’s Thoughts:

I have to say, I think this is a trick question. Let’s look at it this way, “What should a baby focus on: feeding itself or growing up?”. I guess the answer would be “yes”. Startups, like babies, require further growth by definition; otherwise you’re just running a business. So if a startup focuses solely on profit, it may never take the risks that are required to grow. By the same token if a startup focuses only on expansion fueled by VC money, it may not have legs to stand on when it needs to back up those extravagant claims it made (a la Digg). I’m not saying that VC is invalid or that projects with big ambitions (like mine) are dead, but I do think that inflated egos, hot-air pitches, and over-valued stocks are being market-corrected in short order. Hopefully that’s a good thing.