The economic outlook at any point in time can cause confusion. Is the market bullish or bearish? What if Wall Street is happy but wages aren’t keeping pace and thus customers are tightening their belts?
One thing we can say for sure is that traditional markers of economic growth and stability show the U.S. economy is improving. Hiring is up, and unemployment is down. California just posted it’s lowest unemployment numbers in more than four decades. However, there are always doubts about the economy when debt is high and many people have little extra spending money.
What are some unconventional but beneficial moves for small businesses to make in this economic climate, then? Here are a few options.
Invest in upgrades now, not later.
Typical posts about recession-proofing your business would have you save up and hunker down for the inevitable economic downturn. While saving up is always a good thing, sometimes the best strategy to meet economic uncertainty is to grow before it arrives. Growth requires facilities sufficient to sustain increased demand. Consequently, now’s a great time for your business to invest in better equipment and facility upgrades.
Make sure you line up funding before you begin a facility overhaul or equipment buying spree, however. Start shopping around now for the best funding options. Explore bank loans, lines of credit, or other kinds of financing from different sources so you can find the most competitive terms available to you.
The types of financing available to small-business owners are increasing these days. Financial and risk-management technologies are making the extension of business credit in the form of loans or revolving lines of credit more attractive for lenders. That means you’ll have an easier time securing financing now than, say, later on, if the economy takes a turn for the worse.
Add mobile payment options.
How easy do you make it for your customers to make purchases? According to a recent Bank of America report, 46 percent of small businesses were equipped to take digital payments in 2018, a substantial increase from 36 percent in 2017.
Expanding your customer base and making it easier for those customers to make purchases is one of the soundest investments you can make in your business. Leaning into digital payment technology isn’t something that’s usually at the top of the list for most companies when times are lean. With a healthier economy right now, make sure you’re keeping up with the technological times and helping your mobile customers give you their business.
Attract top talent.
If you want your business to dominate your industry or even just a slice of it, you’ll need the best possible people on your team. Figure out ways to court the best workers in their fields for open positions.
A key strategy for accomplishing this goal is to examine what your industry leaders do. What kind of compensation packages are they offering? Where do they recruit? Do they offer college internships, and are they paid or unpaid? Adopt and adapt their tactics to suit your own business.
Plan to expand.
The crash of 2008 put a lot of business plans on hold. While the economy has certainly improved, that sense of pressure and crisis is hard to shake off. And many companies have shied away from significant investments.
Therefore, an unconventional tactic may be to dust off those expansion plans. Be careful, though. Evaluate your revenue and cash-flow projections to make sure your future earnings warrant such a move. If so, then proceed with those plans if the expansion still makes sense for your business. However, remember that goals you set years ago may not necessarily fit your business today.
Attack your debt, and build up reserves.
Pay down both personal and business debt where you can. High levels of credit card debt can rack up thousands, especially with interest rates in the double digits. If you have college student loans, pay those down as well.
Also, aggressively add more to personal savings and build up cash reserves for your business. Extra cash on hand will come in handy during a downturn.
Get a professional opinion and advice about other smart money moves. Hiring a personal or business financial planner is a savvy investment. In addition, expand your own knowledge in other ways. Read books on the economy and financial planning, take a course at your local college or online, and spend more time keeping up with financial developments through news sites and financial blogs.
Finally, set realistic yet challenging financial goals, both for yourself and your business. Goals that feel like a bit of a stretch are usually the ones that keep us fired up and motivated. Write down your goals and then figure out how you can achieve them within a realistic time frame.
The jury is out on whether corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs will one day make the world a better place. But this much is pretty clear: They’re already benefiting the companies that have implemented them. And in some unexpected ways.
Specifically, CSR has become the weapon of choice for what is known as, in corporate speak, the three R’s: Investor Relations, Human Resources, and Public Relations.
But before we dive into details, a CSR mini-lesson is in order. First off, CSR isn’t an overnight sensation. Over the past couple of decades, companies have been embracing the idea that they need to do more than just make a profit for shareholders. Do-good efforts slowly evolved from passive and limited corporate philanthropy programs—giving to the United Way, for example—to broader and more active CSR programs. Those would take on major social issues like Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women program, which in partnership with the International Finance Corporation (World Bank) has delivered $1.45 billion in loans to women-owned businesses in developing countries.
Now, they have evolved even more. Many companies are now incorporating impact-on-society considerations into core business activities. For example, Starbucks only uses “ethically-sourced coffee.” Programs like these are often focused on “sustainability.” In August, 181 CEOs of the country’s largest corporations signed a Business Roundtable statement committing to managing their companies not just for shareholders, but also for customers, employees, suppliers, and communities.
The idea behind all of these efforts is the well-worn slogan “doing well by doing good,” which means that being a positive force in the community will enhance a company’s reputation, which in theory will pay off in more sales, lower costs and over the long term, more money for shareholders.
Can you even measure something like this? Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, chief reputation officer of the Reputation Institute in Boston, says you can. He reels off a string of statistics, like “40% of the reputation of a company is related to corporate responsibility” and says his organization’s research proves that reputation is a leading indicator of stock market capitalization, or the total value of a company’s shares. In other words, he adds, “CSR has a multiplier effect” when it comes to a company’s value. But CSR can be risky. And take a little guts.
According to analysts, CVS’s 2014 decision to stop selling tobacco products cost it $2 billion a year in sales and caused the stock price to drop. (Investors took a $1.43 billion hit that year according to Martin Anderson of UNC Greensboro.) In 2010, Campbell Soup announced it was reducing the salt levels in many of its soups, a decision they reversed the following year when sales fell by 32%.
Meanwhile, in 2018, Dick’s Sporting Goods stopped selling assault rifles. On a panel at this year’s Aspen Ideas Festival, CEO Ed Stack said that decision cost them customers and employees. He notes that many of the customers who applauded the decision at the time seem to have forgotten, but those who were in opposition have not. “Love is fleeting,” he says. “But hate is forever.”
But many companies feel the do-gooder dividend outweighs the risks, both in relations with consumers and in day-to-day operations.
Brad McLane, who recruits high-level positions at RSR Partners, says, “Companies aren’t doing it just to say they have it. My clients are incorporating it into how they do business—what ingredients they use, where they source, how they design products.” Megan Kashner, clinical professor at the Kellogg School of Management’s Public-Private Interface agrees. She’s says that we’ve moved from “greenwashing programs that mimic CSR” to an era of “authentic CSR.” Greenwashing is the practice of making misleading claims that make a company appear more environmentally or socially conscious than it is, for example, when BP began touting itself as being environmentally conscious through a $200 million public relations campaign, only to have a string of environmental disasters—some of which, according to a government report, were caused by corporate cost-cutting to boost profits.
Simon Lowden, Pepsico chief sustainability officer, says, “It’s woven into how we operate as a business. For instance, we need to maintain our license to operate in water-stressed regions, so we’d better focus on being responsible stewards of water. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s important to our business.”
CSR is particularly useful in human resources. Rebecca M. Henderson, holds the John and Natty McArthur Chair at Harvard and is finishing a book on this topic, Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire. She says: “CSR has a tremendous impact on the morale of employees. Authentic purpose, which may mean occasionally sacrificing profits, accesses a whole range of emotions difficult to get at otherwise, like trust and engagement.”
In other words, it gets through. And that is a good thing. It leads to higher levels of productivity and employee retention.
CSR can also be a big factor in recruiting, particularly for younger employees, says Eric Johnson, executive director of graduate career services at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. He says, “Social impact is a big piece of the recruiting process. Probably 50 percent of that initial conversation is about what the company is doing to make the world better.”
“Beer companies used to talk about fun and sports. Now they talk about their programs to save water in the world. Social impact can tip the scales. Is a student going to choose an $85,000-a-year job over a $125,000 job because of social impact? I doubt it. But my observation is that jobs heavy in social impact often pay up to 10 percent less than comparable jobs that don’t.”
Professor Kashner adds, “These newly minted MBAs care and they care about the type of work they’re going to be doing. Maybe previous generations drew a line between work and personal life and values, but those boundaries no longer exist.” Korn Ferry, the giant executive recruiting firm, recently surveyed the professionals in its network. “Company mission and values” was the No. 1 reason (33 percent ) they’d choose to work for one company over another.
CSR is increasingly part of the conversation with individual shareholders and investors, like the world’s largest investment firm, BlackRock, which manages $6.5 trillion dollars for its clients. In his last two annual letters, CEO Larry Fink has called on companies to do more and said that BlackRock will evaluate companies on more than just financial numbers. His 2018 letter said, “As divisions continue to deepen, companies must demonstrate their commitment to the countries, regions, and communities where they operate, particularly on issues central to the world’s future prosperity.” Many investment firms now have someone in charge of building portfolios around companies based on their performance on Environmental, Social and Governance or ESG. (Measuring which companies are woke is an industry in and of itself.)
One aggregator of ESG ratings, CSRhub.com, lists 634 data sources. They range from the very broad (for example, Alex’s Guide to Compassionate Shopping) to the very specific (for example, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety).
For public relations, CSR is both an offensive and a defensive weapon. CSR can be used to pre-empt the conversation in areas where companies have been criticized. Procter & Gamble’s “Ambition 2030 program is heavy on recycling and biodegradability.
But CSR can also be a useful defense. It not only builds up a stock of goodwill with the media and the public, but it generates good news that crowds out the bad. Large corporations are going to get a certain amount of press and awkward questions each day—better that press and those questions be about CSR than, say, worker safety or GMOs. For example, in 2018 when Johnson & Johnson was accused of knowingly selling baby powder with harmful levels of asbestos, Harvard professor Bill George wrote a stirring defense of the company, focusing not on the merits of the claim, but on J&J’s “Our Credo,” a commitment to integrity and customers written in 1943 (and likely the first CSR document ever produced.)
Still, not everyone is convinced. There are many who adhere to the late economist Milton Friedman’s argument that the sole purpose of the corporation is to make more money for shareholders, who can then choose for themselves whether or not they want to save the world.
Judith Samuelson, vice president of Aspen Institute and founder of their Business and Society Program, who’s worked with many of the companies currently leading the way in CSR, says, “The shareholder primacy viewpoint hasn’t gone away. And even if attitudes have changed, measures haven’t. Many executives, including CEO’s, are still paid in stock, and those who manage portfolios for institutional investors are still bonused on the value of those portfolios.”
Samuelson worries that “Companies may think these (current) programs are enough and not make fundamental change.” Kashner is more optimistic. She cites work that says large public companies are increasingly incorporating CSR metrics into executive compensation contracts.
Those who oppose CSR programs argue that trying to do two things at once, like making a profit and serving society, will destroy the effectiveness of companies.
Samuelson scoffs at this. “Of course companies can do more than one thing. Public companies have to manage multiple objectives all the time. No public company in the world would last a week if the only people they cared about were shareholders. What about customers? Employees?”
She believes that CSR really boils down to responsible decision making, doing what it takes for companies to succeed in the long term. Whatever, CSR is here to stay. It’s become part of the fabric of investing, company operations, and business school curricula.
It’s now being tracked and measured, and in business, what gets measured gets done.
Alex Edmans talks about the long-term impacts of social responsibility and challenges the idea that caring for society is at the expense of profit. Alex is a Professor of Finance at London Business School. Alex graduated top of his class from Oxford University and then worked for Morgan Stanley in investment banking (London) and fixed income sales and trading (NYC). After a PhD in Finance from MIT Sloan as a Fulbright Scholar, he joined Wharton, where he was granted tenure and won 14 teaching awards in six years. Alex’s research interests are in corporate finance, behavioural finance, CSR, and practical investment strategies. He has been awarded the Moskowitz Prize for Socially Responsible Investing and the FIR-PRI prize for Finance and Sustainability, and was named a Rising Star of Corporate Governance by Yale University. Alex co-led a session at the 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos, and runs a blog, “Access to Finance” (www.alexedmans.blogspot.com), that aims to make complex finance topics accessible to a general audience. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx
The story of the fastest-growing private company in America, a profitable technology startup called Freestar whose revenue growth since 2015 has been a staggering 36,680 percent, starts with a calendar.
Not a buzzy new calendar app. Not a life-altering meeting request. A printed wall calendar. One of those relics with pictures of animals or landscapes that we all used to tack up in the kitchen.
This particular calendar–Tempe12–had, well, swimsuit models. Arizona State University co-eds in bikinis, to be exact. “All the girls had to have a minimum 3.0 GPA, so they had beauty and brains,” explains Freestar co-founder David Freedman, without a trace of sheepishness. Freedman, who launched the calendar when he was a 22-year-old fifth-year senior at ASU back in 2004, has come a long way since then. But he draws a straight line from that fairly crude start to his current success.
Freestar, you see, sells solutions and services that help publishers make more money online by optimizing their advertising operations. When Tempe12 was just getting started, Freedman sold all its ad space to local businesses. The calendar took off, expanded to 21 other colleges by its third year, and drew attention from Playboy and Howard Stern. Tempe12 had a website with photo archives and decent traffic–but no efficient way to make money.
In 2008, Freestar’s other co-founder, Chris Stark, joined Freedman, taught himself to code, and started scaling Tempe12’s online ad business. Other publishers noticed and asked for help, so Freedman and Stark launched a consultancy–DigitalMGMT.
“Smaller publishers would get requests from an advertiser to spend money on their website, and they didn’t even know how to sell it or how to serve it,” Freedman remembers. He and Stark could help. They had no secret formula, no proprietary technology, but they were crafty and entrepreneurial and understood an industry that was evolving every month.
“The biggest problem we had at that point was that we’d take a client from making five grand a month to 50 grand, and some other company would come in and buy them,” says Stark. “Our success meant having to always find new clients.”
In 2014, Freedman and Stark set out to raise around a million dollars and then spent most of it purchasing nine small publishers–webdesignledger.com, webresourcesdepot.com, a stock photography site called lostandtaken.com–thinking that they’d “juice the revenue and sell them off,” Freedman recalls. It was the birth of Freestar–and it was a big mistake.
Almost immediately, Freedman and Stark realized that publishing a swimsuit calendar didn’t give them any real editorial expertise. They also realized that focusing on scaling their own websites put them in competition with the sites for which they consulted.
But around the same time, Stark began experimenting with a new technology that was revolutionizing online advertising: header bidding. Until then, many Web ads had been bought in a split-second auction process that went like this: A publisher sent out a request to advertisers to bid on an ad space, and the software would automatically accept the first qualifying offer.
Ads could be sold in real time–but publishers couldn’t weigh offers against one another, potentially missing the best ones. Publishers also had little sense of who was buying ads, which left their sites vulnerable to shady operators. “It was as if you were selling your car at an auction, and they let only one person into the room at a time,” Stark explains. “That person could offer whatever they wanted–and you had to either accept or reject their offer.”
With header bidding, a snippet of code sent a request to all potential advertisers simultaneously–and then selected the best offer. Suddenly, publishers earned more from each ad, and they had more control over which ads ran on their sites. A decade after Freedman started dabbling in ad sales, Freestar took off like a rocket.
“The beautiful thing is, when you start making people more money and helping them run their businesses better, they typically have pretty big mouths,” says Freedman. “Word travels quickly.” Today, Freestar works with more than 300 publishers, including Barstool Sports, Snopes, and Fortune.
Coindesk, which covers all things cryptocurrency, saw ad revenue increase 300 percent in the first month it worked with Freestar, says Jacob Donnelly, the publisher’s managing director of digital operations. Freestar, he says, has made it unnecessary for Coindesk to hire anyone to handle advertising operations. “That lets me think more strategically about revenue generation,” he says, “which is huge.”
Freestar generates its own revenue by taking a small percentage of the ad dollars that flow through its technology. The company hauled in $37 million last year and expects to cross the $100 million mark soon. It now employs 40–including a new face up top. Freedman and Stark aren’t big on job titles, and neither was ever formally CEO or president.
About a year into the company’s breakout growth, the founders tried to hire Kurt Donnell, a well-regarded media executive in their hometown of Phoenix, but failed to bring him on.
Two years later, they tried again, and Donnell joined as president this past January. What changed Donnell’s mind? “They had executed on everything they said they were going to do two years prior,” he says. And, he adds, “the growth was just astonishing.”
Dr. Joe DeSimone took his own path to entrepreneurship. His latest venture, Carbon, is changing the way things are made.
He’s assembled one of the most impressive Board of Directors and line up of investors to transform the $300 billion manufacturing industry.
Joe recently appeared as a guest on the DealMakers Podcast. During his exclusive interview, he shared how his team is transforming how the world makes things, the fundraising process, what it’s like building a nearly 500 person company in less than 6 years, and many more topics.
From Academia to Entrepreneurship
Joe DeSimone was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Ever since high school, Joe found he had a knack for chemistry. For both understanding it and for teaching it.
He attended Ursinus College, and then Virginia Tech for his Ph.D. On a tip from a faculty advisor, he went to check out the University of North Carolina, at Chapel Hill—-one of the top 10 chemistry departments in the country.
If he would teach organic and polymer chemistry, then they would give him $500,000 to start a research program. He was convinced. At UNC, he enjoyed a highly successful career as a professor for 25 years.
Joe taught a lot of students chemistry and mentored many researchers. He learned that people have very different learning styles. From his perspective, if you want to be a great teacher, you have to take responsibility for explaining complicated topics in accessible ways.
It turns out that is a really important trait for entrepreneurs too. It’s a valuable skill whether you’re doing it in a classroom setting, talking to VCs or investors, or your own employees. The importance of bringing people along with you.
His position in academia enabled Joe DeSimone to pursue a handful of interesting startups based on his research before he launching his newest venture, Carbon, in 2013.
His first company was BioStent. A partnership with an interventional cardiologist at Duke University. They developed a coronary stent that is polymeric instead of metal-based. It dissolves in the body after 18 months, once blood vessels can operate on their own again. The company was acquired by Guidant, and then Abbott.
Next, it was Liquidia Technologies, a partnership with one of Joe’s Ph.D. students including Jason Rolland, now SVP of Materials at Carbon. Liquidia went IPO last year.
They developed technology that leveraged tools from the computer industry to make precision nanoparticles. It spawned new and more effective ways to deliver medicines to the airway.
It has proven valuable in improving treatment approaches for diseases like pulmonary arterial hypertension, and in creating next-generation vaccine platforms for infectious diseases and certain cancers.
After spending 25 as a faculty member at UNC, the opportunity to go to Silicon Valley and take on a new entrepreneurial challenge was something Joe couldn’t pass up.
UNC agreed he could take a sabbatical to pursue his idea. That was five years ago.
Departing Academia for Silicon Valley
When Joe left North Carolina for Silicon Valley to found Carbon, he didn’t know what the future would hold. Carbon is now one of the world’s leading digital manufacturing companies.
Based in Redwood City, Carbon’s mission is to enable companies to make breakthrough products that can improve human health and well being, transform industries, and change the world.
Joe launched the company and its groundbreaking Digital Light Synthesis™ (DLS) technology on the TED stage in 2015. DLS fuses light and oxygen to rapidly produce products from a pool of resin. Using DLS technology, Carbon is enabling companies like Adidas, Riddell, Ford and Johnson & Johnson to create breakthrough products at speeds and volumes never before possible, finally fulfilling the promise of 3D printing.
Joe believes that empowering product teams to make breakthrough products and bring them to market faster will change the way we live.
Carbon has cracked the code on 3D printing at scale. The manufacturing industry is a $12 trillion market and manufacturing polymers is a $330 billion market. There is enormous potential here for Carbon to lead the digital revolution in manufacturing.
Creating a Company Differentiated by its Technology, Business Model and Team
With a team of nearly 500 employees around the world, Carbon has also assembled an impressive team of board members and investors while raising $680 million in the process at a $2.5 billion valuation.
Carbon’s board includes former Chairman and CEO of DuPont, Ellen Kullman, former CEO of Ford Motor Company, and former CEO of Boeing’s Aircraft Division, Alan Mulally, and Sequoia’s Jim Goetz.
Some of their investors include Sequoia, Google Ventures, GE, Adidas, BMW, Johnson & Johnson, and JSR. They’ve also got Fidelity, Baillie Gifford, and Madrone Capital Partners as well as investment from additional international sovereign funds.
Storytelling is everything in fundraising and Carbon was able to master this. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) that I recently covered. Thiel was the first angel investor in Facebook with a $500K check that turned into more than $1 billion in cash.
Critical Ingredients for a Successful Company
During the interview, Joe shared three of the most important components of building a successful company as being:
1. The importance of IP and patent-protection
2. Building highly differentiated technology
3. Assembling a world class team of people that are committed, passionate, and talented
DeSimone also shared his thoughts on the similarities between academia and entrepreneurship such as the importance of bringing people along with you and painting a vision for the future and how the world can be different.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
I am a serial entrepreneur and the author of the The Art of Startup Fundraising. With a foreword by ‘Shark Tank‘ star Barbara Corcoran, and published by John Wiley & Sons, the book was named one of the best books for entrepreneurs. The book offers a step-by-step guide to today‘s way of raising money for entrepreneurs. Most recently, I built and exited CoFoundersLab which is one of the largest communities of founders online. Prior to CoFoundersLab, I worked as a lawyer at King & Spalding where I was involved in one of the biggest investment arbitration cases in history ($113 billion at stake). I am an active speaker and have given guest lectures at the Wharton School of Business, Columbia Business School, and at NYU Stern School of Business. I have been involved with the JOBS Act since inception and was invited to the White House and the US House of Representatives to provide my stands on the new regulatory changes concerning fundraising online
But, in my experience, Europe embraces vacation–sometimes in ways that make no sense. I’ve frequently found restaurants that close for two weeks during peak tourist season–because the owners want to take their own vacation time. I’d think they would close in the offseason and make money while they could, but the vacation culture is strong.
This summer, my family is basically staying put, for a variety of reasons. We’re making a couple of short trips, but otherwise staying in our home in Switzerland (which, admittedly, is a prime vacation spot in and of itself). And it’s impossible to get anything done.
My lawyer has been on vacation for the past three weeks and will be back next week. I have some things I need her to look at, and they have to wait.
Getting a doctor’s appointment? Good luck! At least the walk-in clinic runs year-round.
While this affects my day-to-day life because I’m physically here, it can also affect your business, even if you’re based in the United States. When someone says, “The Geneva office is closed for three weeks,” they aren’t joking, and no one around here even bats an eyelash. So, how do you do the international part of your business when everyone else is at the beach? Here are some ideas:
This is going to happen every year. Some countries are worse than others, with everyone going at the same time. One of the problems is that European schoolchildren tend to have shorter summer vacations–six weeks is common–compared with the 10 to 12 weeks American schoolchildren get. Don’t cry for the poor, suffering schoolchildren here–they get an additional eight weeks throughout the school year.
But those six weeks are going to vary from country to country. German and British schools tend to get out at the end of July, while Swiss schools close the last week in June. So, you’ll have better luck with your London office in July than you will with your Swiss office. Go ahead and ask when peak vacation season is and plan accordingly.
Partner with larger companies
While small businesses can be excellent partners, if you will need people year-round, without fail, a large company will be a better bet than a small one. The multinational corporation isn’t going to shut down its Paris office for the summer, but the small business might close its doors for the entire month of August. Ask when you are building relationships. They won’t think to bring it up, because it’s often a normal part of doing business here.
Embrace vacation yourself
Go. Take a vacation. Step away from the office and your phone and your laptop. Europeans have proved that the world doesn’t end if you go on a vacation. If you’re good at what you do, people will be waiting for you when you get back. It’s OK to take some downtime.
Just make sure that if you do come to Europe for your vacation that the restaurants will be open in the small village you thought looked charming. Otherwise, you may be miserable during your vacation.
Sid Sijbrandij knows a thing or two about building, scaling and even walking away from companies. His current venture is doing over $100 million in revenue and is valued at over $1 billion.
Originally from the Netherlands, Sid Sijbrandiij is now the founder of one of Silicon Valley’s unicorns that is powering the web through developers worldwide. It’s not his first startup rodeo either.
Sid Sijbrandij recently appeared on the DealMakers podcast. During the exclusive interview, he shared his entrepreneurial journey, the process of finding cofounders, bootstrapping versus raising millions, his addiction to fast-growth startups, and many more topics.
Sid Sijbrandi seems to have always had a gift for spotting business opportunities.
During high school, he studied applied physics and management science. He chose a kind of program that blends the benefits of an M.B.A., with getting good at several engineering disciplines.
In his first year at college, he also started his first company.
The idea came from a fellow Ph.D. student that had made an infrared receiver you could use to skip to the next song on your computer (the only thing that played an MP3 song at the time). He started buying these infrared receivers from him and selling them in the U.S. You’d send him an envelope of dollar bills, and he would then send you a printed circuit board.
Ultimately, his two cofounders didn’t agree on growth plans concerning hiring more people. Sid wanted to hire faster, so he didn’t have to spend as much time on it, while his cofounders wanted to optimize for free cash flow. They ended up parting ways amicably.
The Two Most important Things for Launching with Cofounders
Sid has experienced several startups and says his two big takeaways when it comes to cofounding a company are:
1) To be smart with the shares
2) To be sure you and your cofounders are aligned in vision
For example, automatically making everyone an equal cofounder, even if they come in way later in that process, can be a mistake.
Sid says it is important that shares “are aligned with their contribution to the company. It’s very important if you start a company to have vesting of your shares as well.”
This helps avoid the free rides, because if someone leaves with all the equity, then people that need to invest like VCs are going to be like, “Why am I investing for just 50% remaining of the business.”
In the Netherlands, Sid didn’t find the goal of local companies to grow really fast. If you do want to grow a company really fast, he says it is beneficial to be somewhere like the Bay Area, where everyone just assumes that is the goal.
Not just your cofounder, but also your accounts person and your lawyer, and everybody else requires the growth mindset.
Passion for Growth
After graduation, Sid spent a few months at IBM and could have stayed there. He had an interest in strategy consulting, as well as building a recreational submarine.
He made a balanced scorecard of all the different ways to make that decision. One of the criteria being, “Is this a good story to tell in a bar?” He showed his dad who said it was a ridiculous way to decide on your career but was very supportive either way.
So, he called someone interested in a submarine venture. His pitch was, “Look, you should really hire me because I have a job offer from IBM. Otherwise, I’ll start working there, and we both don’t want that.” He got the job.
He built the first onboard computer for the submarine. Today, U-Boat Worx is one of the biggest builders of recreational submarines. If you go on a cruise, and they have a submarine, it’s likely from U-Boat Worx.
Still, after five years, it just wasn’t growing at a pace that kept Sid interested. He then went on to do a part-time stint on an innovation project with the government as a civil servant.
During this time, he really got to know himself, and how fast-growing companies with a continuous string of problems to be solved were what kept him interested.
Funding Your Startup
After starting and selling app store Appappeal, Sid turned open-source software GitLab into a fast-growing venture that is on its way to an IPO in 2020.
He took the proceeds from his previous venture, doubled it in bitcoin, and began bootstrapping GitLab.com.
Sid got the first few hundred signups through an article posted on Hacker News. Then together with his cofounder applied and got into Y Combinator. The race to demo day, where they would present in front of top tier investors, was on.
Compressing their three-month plan into just two weeks, the GitLab team had a highly successful demo day, landing Ashton Kutcher as an investor.
There was so much interest in their seed round, they rolled right into the Series A financing round. They’ve since followed that up with a B, C and D financing rounds, raising a total of $158 million at $1.1 billion valuation.
Today, some of their investors include Khosla Ventures, Google Ventures, August Capital, ICONIQ Capital, 500 Startups, and Sound Ventures to name a few. It doesn’t get much better than that as a hyper-growth startup.
In order to do this, Sid and his team had to master storytelling. This is being able to capture the essence of the business in 15 to 20 slides. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) that I recently covered. Thiel was the first angel investor in Facebook with a $500K check that turned into more than $1 billion in cash.
Embracing The Remote Work
Sid states they “don’t do in person.“ At Gitlab they encourage having meetings with webcam. They believe there’s something to see in the other person even if it is via video.
To put this into perspective, every day, employees have a company call, and it’s a thing you do with a limited set of people. In this regard, there are about 20 in each group, and they just hangout.
During the group calls there are all types of topics discussed that vary from movies to magazines. Topics are not necessarily work-related.
Sid and his team very much believe that their company is more than just, “Hey your work…”
As part of Gitlab‘s culture, the social interaction plays a key role and they have a lot of ways in which they facilitate this inside the company. Even if this happens remotely.
M&A Made Simple
Recently Sid and GitLab have been very active when it comes to acquisitions on the buy-side. That includes Gitorious in 2015, Gitter in 2017 and Gemnasium in 2018.
When it comes to acquiring companies, they’ve made the process incredibly simple, and are actively looking for more companies to buy.
In this regard, they like to acquire teams that have built a product before. Preferably a team that made a great product, but didn’t get distribution. Especially because typically they shut their existing product down.
To make things easier, they have an acquisition offer page. It even includes a calculator, so you can go online and calculate how much they’re offering.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
When to pull the plug on your startup
The advantages of SAFE notes for raising money
How GitLab does meetings and culture around the globe
Consider two statistics about Indonesia: Economists forecast the country will become the world’s fourth-largest economy by 2050. We also have the world’s highest burden of tuberculosis after India, claiming the lives of 150,000 to 200,000 people every year.
These figures illustrate the extreme inequalities dogging the world’s fourth-most populous nation, despite impressive economic growth in the last decade and cutting poverty by half.
In Jakarta and other main cities, a burgeoning middle class is drawing local and international investors, from vehicle companies to financial services to digital technology to retail and fast food chains. Yet tuberculosis still affects far too many people, particularly poor people suffering from malnutrition, while malaria remains a major problem in the remote, heavily forested province of Papua in eastern Indonesia.
To achieve its full potential, Indonesia needs to tackle inequality by investing more in its people. According to the World Bank, growth has primarily benefited the richest 20% and left the remaining 80% of the population–about 205 million people–behind.
As the Bank’s Human Capital Project points out, education and health are two of the best ways to support prosperity and prepare countries for the economy of the future. With education you can change the fate of a country, but better health is central to human well-being. Healthy people live longer lives, are more productive and save more.
I was born into a working-class family at a time (the 1950s) when most families in Indonesia had no access to healthcare. Thousands of children died each year from preventable diseases such as measles, polio and malaria. My father had a business making pedicabs, while my mother ran a fabric shop in the city. When I became an entrepreneur, I felt compelled to give back to Indonesia. Philanthropy is not about making a donation. It is a commitment related to continuity and sustainability, and requires a well-planned system to have impact.
Since 2015, the Tahir Foundation has partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which have played a key role in reversing the course of these epidemics around the word. In Indonesia, the partnership’s efforts are paying off: TB mortality rates have fallen by 44% and TB incidence was down by 14% from 2000 to 2017, thanks to improved case finding and better diagnostics. In 2017, more than half of Indonesia’s districts were officially declared malaria free–a major feat for a diverse archipelago of more than 17,000 islands and more than 300 ethnic groups.
Still, more robust investments are needed. Tuberculosis places a huge social and financial burden on the people who have the disease, as well as on their families and communities. Most of the infections occur in people at their most productive age, draining billions of dollars in loss of productivity due to premature death and medical costs.
I hold the conviction that the private sector and business leaders have an important role to play in public health and development in emerging economies in Southeast Asia, many of which share similar challenges and opportunities. The private sector can bring not only funding, but technical expertise, creativity, and innovation, and are often well positioned to drive policy change.
The government of my country has done a lot for public health, including rolling out a universal health insurance scheme that is designed to provide a wide range of services from maternal care to heart surgery for its entire population by the end of 2019. But the private sector can fill the gaps to complement public resources by expanding access so that all Indonesians benefit from better health.
In 2014, a coalition of Indonesian business leaders, in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, came together to create the Indonesia Health Fund, a significant step toward making Indonesia self-reliant in health funding and a model for philanthropic collaboration in the region. Over the past four years, the fund has contributed to family planning programs, TB research and advocacy programs, as well as TB screenings
It shows what can happen when public and private sectors come together with a common aim. It is more important than ever with the Global Fund now calling on the world to step up the fight against HIV, TB and malaria in the face of new threats from all three diseases. Raising their target of at least $14 billion will help save 16 million lives over the next three years, avert 234 million new cases and infections, and help us get back on track to end these diseases. The fund is calling on the private sector to contribute at least $1 billion of this total. So let us all do our share.
Doctor Yulismar checks the condition of a patient who has tuberculosis bacteria at the Indonesian Association Against Tuberculosis (PPTI) clinic in Jakarta, Indonesia, on March 24, 2016. (Photo: Jefri Tarigan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Disclosure: Dr. Tahir is the owner of the license to publish Forbes Indonesia magazine.
Last year, I left my corporate life in New York City behind in a vow to give myself one year to design my dream job. Shortly thereafter, I took off on a 9-month-long social experiment, in which I would circumnavigate the globe by couch-surfing exclusively through my social network. Seventeen countries, four continents, and over a hundred encounters later, I have learned that I am not alone in my quest to earn a living while traveling the world: there are so many people out there right now who are making it work.
What would you do if you suddenly had $10,000 in cash at your disposal? Would you splurge for a trip to some far-flung corner of the world? Trade up for a nicer vehicle? Buy new furniture and a hot tub for your backyard deck? Those ideas might be the first that come to mind, but they may not be ones you will feel proud of ten or twenty years from now. Unless you have high interest debt you could pay off, your best bet with any “found money” is always going to be investing it for the long haul…..