Your business can also do well by doing good

Business organizations who already have a successful online presence may wonder why it is virtually important to have an online presence in spite of the current successes they have been enjoying. Business blogs are a crucial tool for ensuring that the successes they current enjoy can be maintained and the current customer base will continue to expand and grow.

A blog can be a meaningful addition to an already successful website and add value that would not be possible without the use of a business blog. Here are three top reasons why a business blog 3f232c6is crucial in today’s online enterprise.

Real person personality-Websites which have a real person obviously behind it will stand out in comparison to the other sites that are static.

Easy updates about your business-People want the latest information, especially about new products and services, like My Career Tools website does for example. So another key to a great connection with your visitors is done by posting relevant and fresh information often,

 Optimization If you analyze your website traffic you will notice that at least 40% of visitors come from search engines. People who are looking for specific products and services will use the search engines to seek what they need; your blog can provide answers and introduce many people to your products and services.

Business blogs are fast becoming an indispensable part of the online entrepreneurship and a concept embraced by many large organizations such as Microsoft and the Sun Microsystems. If these internet giants with such well-established names are using business blogs as part of their business strategy, shouldn’t you be considering this as well?

To fully embrace and leverage the power of social media engagement, a company blog is crucial.  Your business gains the ability to communicate company ethos, goals, new products and services, and events by giving details in a blog and then spreading the word via social networks.  It increases the conversation and engagement and gives your fans and followers details to sink their teeth into instead of just a blurb in the form of a status update or tweet.

The blog needs to be integrated with social media and there’s definitely a need to send teaser tweets about sales and services or news, or to run a contest on Facebook to reach customers.  However, cautious, well-informed, potential clients, who make well-researched decisions and often are among the most loyal of customers want more depth; a company blog serves that need.

The 6 Reasons a Company Blog is Important

  1. Gives in-depth details about events, activities, programs, and opportunities – more than what can feasibly be placed on a static page which can sometimes overwhelm visitors.
  2. Potential customers will already be familiar with your brand, company, products and services and will be more likely to give you a try because they already feel a connection to your brand.
  3. Show customers that you care about their feedback and want to engage with them before they give over their hard-earned money.
  4. Foster goodwill and cultivate a positive online reputation.
  5. Establish a reputation as an expert in the industry.  Become a trusted and reliable source.
  6. Control your online reputation. If you don’t tell your story, someone else will – via their own blog or localized news sources (think Patch, Examiner, and Yahoo! Contributor Network).

How to Promote Startups with YouTube Marketing

YouTube video is a perfect medium for promoting your business. This way you can easily explain your product or service and it can help you to dominate search results. Specially the start-up businesses may benefit from a nicely planned and skillfully created web video. For starters because their product is new and needs explaining for users to grasp its features and benefits, but also because a professionally produced video gives customers the instant impression of a trustworthy company – put simply instant credibility.

With YouTube being the second search engine, just after Google, having a video channel that explains why your idea is valuable and why everybody should care about it, will definitely help you to succeed. From the beginning, VentureLab International used videos to promote our activities and to give potential students an idea what VentureLab is all about. You can check these videos here.

If you also would like reap all the benefits of YouTube, check the infographic from MyCareerTools

youtube-marketing

 

Mergers & Acquisitions, Part 4: Why is the Free Cash Flow important?

Last time I have discussed which methods exist to value a firm and this time I give you a small introduction in what the free cash flow is and why is it important for the valuation of the firm based on the internal data.
So, let us now focus on the internal method. My intention is to highlight the main aspects of this method, which are usually taken for granted and sometimes are paid less attention to.

First of all for the ones that are interested in technical and detailed information on calculating the value of the firm I suggest you take a look here.

Now I want to focus your attention on why do we work with the free cash flows for determining the value of a firm and not with the profits the company is making when trying to determine its value.

Cash flow creates a great deal of confusion to many especially those who are new to the subject of corporate finance. People tend to think that profit is the key for measuring value creation in a company or a project, not least because such concept is widely known. On the other hand, while many have heard of the proverb “cash is king”, few can explain its significance.

The importance of cash flow, or more precisely, cash, is that it is countable. In a single year, how much cash you have left after everything is paid for and collected is how much money you have made. You know exactly how much money you have earned (or lost). In contrast, profit, put it simply, is the difference between revenues and costs. This means that unpaid bills (accounts payable) and uncollected amount (accounts receivable) are not taken into consideration. Also profit tends to leave a bit of room for creative accounting or manipulation.

Free Cash Flow (FCF) refers to the money that is leftover after all the bills to suppliers have been paid, all the outstanding amount of money that buyers owed us have been collected and all the money needed for investments have been paid for. What is left must therefore be distributable among all the investors, whether they are shareholders or debt holders. In a nutshell, the remaining portion must be the value that a project or company has created! Therefore, the “free” in FCF refers to the fact that the cash flow is free from any obligations.

FCF is made up of three components.

  • Cash flow from operation (CFO), also called operating cash flow, refers to the cash flows that are generated by the on-going operation of a project or a company. CFO is calculated by the following: EBIT * (1-t) + Depriciation + Amortisation, where t stands for taxrate.

If you take a second to think about EBIT, it is effectively all the benefits that a project or a company has created before distributing to all three stakeholders – the debt holders (in the form of interests), the government (in the form of taxes) and the shareholders (in the form of profit). Since the government is only a stakeholder and not an investor, EBIT*(1-t), reflects the benefits created that are distributable to the only investors of the firm – the debt holders and the shareholders. To complete the calculation of CFO, it is needed to add depreciation and amortization, because here we are concerned to when the money is paid and not how we are administrating it.

  • As for capital expenditure or CAPEX, it is less about calculation but more about figuring out what the amount should be, whether it is a cash inflow or cash outflow and when it occurs. CAPEX is sometimes simply called investments. It usually refers to one-time major cash outflow (e.g. buying new equipment) or cash inflow (e.g. sale of equipment or receiving subsidy).
  • Change in net working capital (∆NWC) is easily the most difficult aspect of FCF calculation. Working capital is money that is necessary for keeping the operation going. However, it is only money that got tied up in the operation, without which you will not be able to reach the end of the project to obtain the expected Net Present Value.

Usually, as the business expands (i.e. increasing revenues), the demand for working capital will go up. An important consideration of working capital is that since working capital is simply capital that is working for the operation; you will be able to recover all the outstanding working capital at the end of the project.

Once you have obtained all components as stated above, you can do the following:

FCF = CFO – CAPEX – ∆NWC.

It is needed to offer a gentle reminder that when dealing with FCF and its components, you should pay particular attention as to whether the number represents a cash inflow or cash outflow.
Obviously you now have to discount all your future FCF in order to get the present value of a firm.

The main point that I wanted to make with this part of my blog is that as a company you still can go down if you do not generate enough cash flow to cover all your expenses even if you are making profit!

Next time I will discuss some of the elements of the external methods! Stay tuned!

Mergers & Acquisitions, Part 3: Valuation of the firm

Last time I have focused on the reasons for M&A to fail and what key points one should keep in mind in order to have better chances of success! In this blog I intend to briefly introduce you to valuation methods of a firm.

The aim of valuation is to determine what a firm is worth. Value is determined based on historical and future financial parameters. Determination of firm value is a highly subjective exercise that calls for judgment. It changes and varies when business drivers and factors (both internal and external) as well as when the environmental conditions change. Since value estimation is subjective, it often serves as a basis for discussions. Moreover there are many aspects of business that are hard to quantify such as consumer behavior.

Two perspectives
Companies can be valued from two perspectives: from looking at the inside of the firms -internal- or from the expectations of the market -external-. The internal methods estimate the value of all the future potential cash flows generated by the company. Therefore it relies on methods based on the concept of discounted cash flows (DCF).

With the external methods companies are valued through benchmarking competitors. These methods capture the market view of these companies, through which the value of a firm can be determined. Methods relying on external views are called multiple valuation methods because they involve the use of multiples. There are a number of methods to estimate what a company should be worth.

Combining methods
The value of a company can best be estimated by combining the range of values resulted from the different methods.
• DCF: Discounting all future free cash flows – the internal method.
Currently, there are several methods in use. The most popular is WACC (Weighted average cost of capital). Other alternatives include adjusted present value (APV) and Equity cash flows/Flow to equity (ECF/FTE).
• Industry comparables: Examining the multiples of competitors and other companies that engage in activities similar to those of the firm to be valued, this is an external method.
• M&A comparables: Examining the multiples of previous M&A transactions in the sector of the firms to be valued, this is also done with the external method.

To keep in mind
Using the results from these methods in combination, you can estimate the value of a company. However, biases and errors will always exist because different people may want to justify their points of view. As we have discussed earlier, bidder and target in a M&A usually have different views on what the company in question is worth. Remember that the comparables are open for subjective views and interpretations and also the internal method based on the internal data can be deceptive due to the assumptions you make about the future growth of the company.

In my next blog I will give you a small introduction into what the free cash flow is and why it is important for determining the value of a firm if it does done based on the internal data. Stay tuned!

The mysterious world of Mergers & Acquisitions, Part 2

As one might remember last time I have introduced some definitions and players in M&A world. I have also talked about the motives of the acquisition. As I have promised I continue now with some aspects of why M&A can fail and I mainly stress what key points one should keep in mind in order to have better chances of a success!

The reason for M&A to fail

Despite the fact that M&A is widely practiced, it has been found that between 60% and 80% of business combinations ended up as failures.
M&A often fail because of the failure of filling the transaction and transition gaps. Transaction gap relates to the fact that most mistakes are made before the deal is closed. Transition gap on the other hand relates to the fact that most mistakes are committed after the deal is closed.

The problems with transaction gap

The transaction gap can be addressed by better negotiation and carefully considered valuation.

  • Negotiate the right price, and do not overpay
  • Apply realistic parameters in valuation
  • Use multiples within comparable ranges, (I will elaborate on this in the upcoming third and fourth part of this blog-theme)
  • Ensure reasonable synergy expectations
  • Go for friendly and not hostile acquisitions

As the investment guru Warren Buffet puts it: “It’s far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price.”

The problems with transition gap

Business risk to the newly merged entity is particular high at the beginning of its life. The failure of managing it often results in widening the transition gap. Therefore post-merger integration is key to making the new entity a success. There are many reasons for the poor management of business risk and hence the transition gap. M&A can also fail because of problems within the two merged firms (e.g. poor external communications, systems disconnect etc.) and changes in the environment and context (e.g. technological change).

Post-merger integration is about taking the newly merged company from transaction through the transition, which leads to the eventual transformation,  in other words managing the change.

To do so, actions must be taken by the top management and integration teams.

Top management:

  • Establish clear leadership and vision about where the organization is headed
  • Remove the obstacles to the new vision
  • Establish a sense of urgency for change
  • Create a new identity and a set of core messages
  • Communicate clearly to all stakeholders of the firm
  • Make tough decisions
  • Deal with resistance

Integration team:

  • Create project plan and assign ownerships of different workstreams
  • Ensure regular contacts with workstream and project leaders
  • Attain quick-wins to maintain momentum
  • Ensure clarity and frequency of communication with all stakeholders of the firm
  • Implement the post-merger integration plan within the first 60 to 100 days
  • Respond and amend the post-merger integration plan as situation develops
  • Anticipate problems and risks of integration continuously
  • Maintain “business as usual”

Next time I cover the valuation of firms by discounted cash flows and multiples, stay tuned!

To be continued…

The mysterious world of Mergers&Acquisitions

As a student of Financial Engineering and having followed the summer course “Finance in London”  at ESCP London, I am fascinated by the mysterious world of M&A.

When two companies decide to combine forces in a merger, the papers are shouting about it. Why are companies in industries ranging from telecommunications to financial services to retail looking to merge?  What is meant by the term M&A, Mergers and Acquisitions? And is a successful M&A more of a fairy tale than reality?

Definitions
M&A is generic term that can be broken down and defined more technically.
We talk about merger if an agreement between equals is made to combine their operations. However consolidation would mean that a new firm is created after a merger, and both acquiring firm and target firm shareholders receive shares in this firm. The merger of Royal Haskoning and DHV is one of the many examples of the far reaching consolidation in the engineering sector.
Acquisition takes place when one company uses its capital resources (cash and/or shares) to purchase another in order to develop resources and competences. Think of the recent buy of Bol.com by Ahold, this would be a typical example of acquisition. If one firm acquires the assets of another, through a formal vote by shareholders of the firm being acquired, one would speak of purchase of assets. And finally when a firm is acquired by its own management or by a group of investors, we speak of a buyout. After such transaction, the acquired firm can cease to exist as a publicly traded firm and becomes a private business.

The players
The buyers of companies can be put in two groups, strategic and financial. As the name already suggests strategic buyers are corporations who want to acquire another company for strategic business reasons. Financial buyers however are buyers who want to acquire another company purely as a financial investment. Financial buyers are typically Leveraged Buyout Funds or other private equity funds.

Already have an idea who will pay more for a company? Nine times out of ten, a strategic buyer will pay more than a financial buyer.  Strategic buyers take into consideration that they can grow company’s cash flows by expanding into complementary markets, reducing overlapping costs etc. As a result, the strategic buyer incorporates in his valuation of the company the post-acquisition cash flows, which he hopes will be higher than are currently expected to be, thus ending up valuing company higher. Such buyer will typically assume faster revenue growth and reduction of certain costs because the acquiring company will be able to derive the strategic efficiencies from the acquired company.  In contrast to this, financial buyer will not pay attention to the possible synergies while valuing the company.

Identification of the potential target
To determine whether a company can be a suitable acquisition target, the acquirer will consider the strategic aspects from 5 different motives. They include firm specific, industry specific, strategic, financial or personal motives.

  • Firm specific:
    • Achieving economies of scale (Removal of central functions such as HR, finance and IT)
    • Reducing transaction costs (Heidelberg and Hanson)
    • Attaining economies of scope (Citibank and traveler)
  • Industry specific:
    • Managing industry rivalry  (Heineken and Gruppo Petropolis)
    • Increasing bargain power (car makers)
    • Building barriers to enter (IBM and proprietary technology firms)
    • Capturing last opportunities (Morrison and Safeway)
  • Strategic capabilities:
    • Adding new resources (Geely and Volvo)
    • Increasing value of products (Virgin and NTL)
    • Entering new markets (DHV and Royal Haskoning)
    • Protecting product quality (Ryanair and Aer Lingus)
  • Financial advantages:
    • Exercising corporate finance (Vodafone and Mannesmann)
    • Diversifying risk (Bowater)
    • Increasing debt capacity (Carlyle and Virgin Media)

And finally the last motive, not to be forgotten,

  • Personal gains
    • Building empire (ITT under CEO Harold Geneen)
    • Obtaining better benefits

I invite you to look up yourself all the mentioned companies between the brackets to get an idea of what companies they are!
Next time I will talk about the reasons for M&A to fail.  The valuation of firms by discounted cash flows and multiples will be covered also in this blog theme, but that will be done in third and fourth part. Stay tuned!

To be continued!

Some lessons learnt during the Startup Weekend Enschede

I am a master student in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Aalborg University (Denmark). Currently I’m doing my graduation project for VentureLab International, which is related to entrepreneurial teams and growth of new tech-ventures.

Lots of red posters on VentureLab walls with catchy phrases kept raising my curiosity, but the decision to join the event came few days before it took place. To be honest, it was a challenge for me to participate. Since I am still a student, I was wondering about my potential contribution at the event. I set several goals regarding my participation.

First I wanted to know what I am capable of. I believe that competitive environments are best suited to reveal our strengths and weaknesses. Second and foremost goal was to learn how ideas evolve into a viable and promising business models. I’ve studied a lot about business development and multifunctional teams etc., but it was about time to experience it in practice.  Apart from that I knew I would meet lots of professional, spirited, entrepreneurial people and extend my personal network.  Rigid time frames set for the development of ideas (54 hours of work) added some spice to the vent. So I joined. Now I am way closer to starting my own company.

Startup Weekend Enschede is a 54-hour event.  Developers, designers, marketers, product managers and startup enthusiasts come together to share ideas, form teams, build products, and launch startups. I enjoyed the company of about 60 attendees from technical and business backgrounds. We listened to impressive key-note speakers like Arthur van Hoff (CTO of Flipboard) and the winner of Startup Weekend Amsterdam, Henk Willem Beks (Goddess Alert).

The format of a startup weekend is to begin with open mic (microphone) pitches where attendees are encouraged to bring their best ideas and inspire others to join them as a team. Over Saturday and Sunday, the teams design and develop business models and first prototypes, listen to experts’ feedbacks and prepare 180-seconds final pitches.

After the first pitches, 8 ideas out of 26 survived the viability test and had teams formed around them.  I happened to become part of the MoRally team (online social impact game on sustainability). Our team was formed with difficulty.  The idea itself did not get a significant number of votes, and therefore also people to work on it.  Despite that, the idea owner –the aspiring entrepreneur- succeeded to attract me and another person to form a team.

The pitch of MoRally contained too many unnecessary details at first. This diverted the attention of the audience thus leaving them dumbfounded. They did not find the idea attractive and rushed away to join other, more explicitly presented ideas. Basically the only content I was able to grasp from the pitch was the term “CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) game”. Entrepreneurs are so into their ideas that they forget that others are not! Easy language, less details and better structure is what makes other people comprehend the message! I have been involved earlier into a project on corporate social responsibility so I found the topic quite interesting, especially since it was to relate to gaming.

Compared to other teams I thought ours did not inspire great hopes. Other teams consisted of experienced professionals, and ours mainly of students and solely business people. But the game inventor was surprisingly motivated by strong belief in success. After the pitches were done, the teams turned to work. First we spent 5 hours to comprehend the idea behind SCR game, by playing several game sessions. It appeared quite difficult to identify roles within the team, because members having very similar professional backgrounds. For years I’ve been studying that multifunctionality in teams is paramount to success. And  knowing that we were not “multifunctional ‘’ enough raised some discomfort at first. Monofunctionality, however, was still to some advantage. We had lots of meaty  discussions, which added new details and enriched our business concept.

Over Saturday and Sunday all teams subscribed for several experts sessions. First sessions with experts did not boost our confidence at all, especially because their body language said „I understand nothing of what you’re saying”! Despite ups and downs our lead- entrepreneur was still convinced of the greatness of CSR game. Commitment and belief is what led our team throughout the whole process. We kept working on the business model!

One of the important points is to realize one’s own capabilities and drawbacks. Despite being the owner of an idea, but being not such an expert presenter, one must delegate that task to someone who is more professional in this area. Entrepreneurs guard their ideas as chickens protecting their eggs. Interfering and further shaping the Ideas becomes really challenging then.  But I think it is also quite understandable.

After 24 hours of work, our team realized that without technical team members it was not going to succeed. We needed someone to create the graphic mockup of the game. And here all my entrepreneurial spirit came to the fore. Thanks to Facebook and quite a large number of engineer friends I was able to lure some of them to join the project. All together we kept moving forward. It’s not to say that we were ready by 19:00 Sunday, but what’s done..done!

We were really astonished to win the 3d award in the competition. It was an incredible experience.  I’ve learned from this event as much as I would learn in one year of my ordinary life.

Some lessons that I learned:

  • Plan a pitch very carefully and present the underlying idea as simply as possible!
  • Don’t give up your idea, no matter what they say!
  • Understand your capabilities and drawbacks within a team!
  • Leave space for others to work on and shape the idea, you may get surprised by the results!
  • Show your commitment, it motivates your team!
  • Negative feedback from people is a valuable source of information to get the next one positive, so love it!
  • No matter who you are- experienced professional or a student- everyone can make a difference!

Social media & Information retrieval for venture development

Entrepreneurs often have to deal with new and ill-defined product concepts, whose context of use is still poorly understood and whose commercial applications are not fully explored yet. Relevant, up to date and rapid information on a broad range of strategic topics such as competitors, potential customers, potential marketing activities, regulatory information, vendors and procurement, and collaboration with other actors in the market is crucial. Read more

Founder’s Dilemma

• In a study involving 212 US start-Ups…
• 50% of the founders were no longer the CEO after 3 years from firm creation
• Less than 25% of the founders were occupying CEO positions during IPO
• Four out of five founder-CEOs were forced step down

Most entrepreneurs are keen to make a lot of money and run the show.
However it can be difficult to do both. If you cannot set for yourself straight, which matters most to you, you could end up being neither rich nor in control.
To make a lot of money from a new venture, you need financial resources to make the most of the opportunities before you. That inevitably means attracting new and keeping the old investors, this in its turn forces you to surrender control as you give away equity and as investors change your board’s membership. In order to remain in charge of your business, you have to keep more equity. But that means fewer financial resources to keep your venture going.
The choice is between money and power. It all begins by sharpening your primary motivation for starting a business. One must understand the trade-offs that come along with your goal. As your venture grows, you’ll make choices that support—rather than jeopardize—your dreams.

Entrepreneurs are dealing at every step of their venture’s life with a choice between making money and controlling their businesses. To every choice there is a trade off.

GET RICH
Startup founders build more valuable companies if they give up more equity to attract cofounders, key executives, than those who keep more equity to themselves. At the end the founder ends up with a more valuable share.
However to attract investors and executives, you have to surrender control of most decision making. Which mean that your job as CEO might be at risk because, for instance:
• You will be obliged to have a broader set of skills—such as creating formal processes and developing specialized roles—to continue constructing your company as you did when you started it. This usually turns out to be difficult to achieve.
• Investors allocate money in several stages. And at every step they bring their own people along to your board, which will steadily impede your control.
• Worst case: investors may push you to leave the company.

If you are driven more by wealth than power:
• Admit it if you are incapable of performing the top job, and hire a new CEO yourself.
• Think with your board of a post- succession roles for yourself.
• Stay open to following ideas that require external financing.

RUN THE COMPANY
In order for control for you to sustain control of your new business, you may need to use your own capital instead of taking money from investors. This may imply that you will have less financial resources to get your venture of the ground and constantly increase its value. But at the same time you will be still in position of running the company yourself.
If power is your motivator rather than wealth:
• Limit yourself to businesses where you already posses the skills and have contacts you need.
• Direct your attention on a business in which huge financing is not needed to start up your venture and maintain it growing.
• You might also contemplate on waiting until late in your career before setting up shop for a new venture. That will give you time to develop the broader skills you’ll need as your business grows and to accumulate some savings for bootstrapping.

Reference: Wasserman, N. (2008) The founder’s dilemma. Harvard Business Review.

co-author: Yulia Bondarouk, student of Master Applied Mathematics, specialization Financial Engineering

Softlanding is trendy

While I was writing this blog my colleague “Rob” was in Indonesia, my neighbor passenger “Senta” was preparing for a backpacking tour in New Zealand and Asia and I was approaching North Carolina (USA) where one of the VentureLab participants presented his company “SolMateS” in a worldwide conference on the commercialization of micro- and nano-systems. Worldwide presence no longer is restricted to large multinational companies, governmental leaders and scientists. All of us enlarge our scope. As tourists or backpacker we get a personal experience on global diversities and at the same time our community at home is also multi-culturalizing.

Young, small and medium sized technology based companies also have to cope with a global market place. Having limited resources they are open for support and easy access. Apart from existing support mechanisms like trade missions, fairs and agents, new way’s of internationalization are coming up.

Examples:

    * VentureLab participant Eurodev, the European Business Development Group This fast growing company is specialized in facilitating medium sized US companies to get full access to the European market.
    * Embedded coaching: Via this initiative high tech companies in Twente get a few months residence in Silicon Valley with the support of a coach who introduces the entrepreneurs in the local business community in other to find clients and local representatives.
    *Softlanding incubation. The largest global incubator association (NBIA) started several years ago with a designation of members as softlanding incubator. Recently also the European Business & innovation center Network (EBN) started a softlanding club. One of the first NBIA softlanding incubators in Europe was VentureLab International. Beside their existing incubator services as training, coaching, networking and office space VentureLab International provides entrepreneurs from abroad support in acquiring visa and housing, dealing with another language and culture and local different legal and tax systems. Venturelab softlander Pramod Agrawal (Ecolabs) from India explains to a group of interested potential entrepreneurs from 20 nationalities about his softlanding experience in Twente, see a short movie.

Facilitating entrepreneurship in a global market place doesn’t end here! Of that I am sure.