The best investing opportunities are all about Deal Flow

deal-flowOne of the things I enjoy most about my daily professional activities is finding the right opportunities to help companies and individuals with their success. The term that I hear most often thrown around is ‘deal flow’. Whenever I meet with investors, angels, VC’s, or family offices and I mention that it’s so important to have good deal flow I am universally met with a nod and smile of acknowledgment.

In using the term ‘deals’ I paint with a broad brush. Deals can be simply finding the right investor for a hot opportunity and we (along with our team) may or may not work on the brand and marketing side although my favorite deals do involve both aspects.

As any good salesperson will tell you, having a deep pool of good opportunities is a key to success. I’ve written about the idea of making the most of those opportunities. Deal flow is obviously different from finding good sales opportunities as frequently matchmaking skills are employed. Bringing good people that have good ideas together with the right investment partners is tricky business.

Maintaining good relationships with entrepreneurs and even established companies seeking growth capital, along with various investors as described requires a delicate balance of putting the right people and right potential deals together. If you show an investor a few deals that do not match up well with what they like to do, you run the risk of losing the confidence of that investor. Correspondingly, putting the wrong investor together with an entrepreneur and or company seeking capital also can cause a loss of confidence and simply be a waste of time.

How do you know the difference? You watch and learn from people you admire, you read a ton of stuff on the subjects, and most importantly as far as I am concerned, you continually keep in mind the personalities and desires of all of the stake holders. I always go through the process of thinking how a meeting will go when I put people together. What is the best outcome? What is the worst outcome? Will a review of concept and subsequent discussion (whether by phone or in person) be worth everyone’s time? If I am not sure then I back off.

Keeping track of every deal should be a detailed and organized process. It’s no surprise that most deals take time occasionally there are quick ones). Since the deals are at varying stages of development given the many contingencies, staying involved, interested and in touch becomes important to all the stakeholders. Often times it’s go, go, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait and then GO NOW!   You need to be in touch so that you are not caught by surprise when tides change.

What about success rates? Well in my experience there are way more dead ends and even a few blind alleys than there are successes. But if you personally believe in the mission of the company and of the potential of their success, you have the best chance to add value while knowing you can’t win them all.

Deal flow. It’s all about deal flow. Happy hunting.

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Facebook provides a lens of your life

Lens_Academy_facebook_tvFacebook is still only 12 years young and there are still plenty of people that remember LBF – Life Before Facebook. And even if Facebook usage is waning amongst millennials and Gen Z’ers (younger than Millennials), I would not bet against Facebook being the long-term most popular default Social Media application. This is because by far Facebook is more established than any other social network and therefor is able to offer offer a lens of your life.

When I was growing up I recall several instances of being involved with the creation of a time capsule. The time capsule would be “buried” for eventual unearthing at some point in the far future (which actually wasn’t that far). Clearly time capsules were invented to provide a lens into people’s lives at a particular place and time. There were no real negatives other than the fight in deciding what to put into the time capsule. (James Brown or Elvis?)

But with Facebook, (and the internet in general) there is no longer a need for time capsules as photos, memories, and events are captured and saved for FB users automatically.

When it comes to anything having to do with Facebook, without question there are positives and negatives. Since worrying about EVERYTHING is standard operating procedure today, let’s start with the negative.

Negative

Loss of privacy. One can take all the pains to keep data sharing private on Facebook, and still be surprised at what gets shared and how much Facebook wants to ‘help’ you get more out of the social network. So helpful, yet so intrusive and even creepy in terms of the ramifications of what ends up being social engineering as much as social networking. Deep down you know this and try to make excuses for why it does not bother you even more.

There are more that can be added to the list. But that’s a big one.

Things both positive AND negative about Facebook.

#1– Learning things about people you thought you knew that surprise and disturb you. I am actually not certain if this is a good or bad thing. But mostly it makes me sad when I see something on Facebook that makes me then think differently about someone I have known for some time – or thought I knew.

#2– Being behaviorally targeted. Again it’s something that can be both good and bad. On the good side I don’t get served with as many irrelevant stories, offers, etc. I am one to avoid clicking on articles and things both that I think I would like or not like since I do not want to add to my profile and further limit what Facebook algorithms will show me based on what I click.

The positive in my opinion outweighs the negative. In my ‘circle’ of Facebook friends which number in the hundreds (not thousands), there are many that I have known for a long time but not seen in decades. In many cases Facebook has facilitated an easy path to a somewhat renewed Facebook friendship. You know what I mean, the person that you correspond with occasionally but have not seen in ages but might sometime. With life events being posted, photos of family relatives, children, parents, and pets (so many photos of people’s pets) through these photos and posts you get a little sense of how someone’s life might be going – well at least as it pertains to what they are willing to share. Some people over-share on Facebook. I know. Perhaps you have seen that yourself.

Positive

My 87 year-old mother-in-law is somewhat new to Facebook. She’s pretty much the ultimate Facebook voyeur never posting anything, never commenting. She’s just looking at and enjoying photos of her family (and now great grand-children) that has spread far and wide across the map. We all love that she can do that and she’s in touch to a degree that has never before been possible. BIG positive.

Facebook is far from perfect. But in providing a lens of your life there’s tremendous utility Facebook provides for more than 2.5 billion people are connected in ways impossible a mere fifteen years ago.

Facebook is not the only lens of your life but for now and the near future it’s the one that counts for the most people. Even if you choose to ignore Facebook (and I guarantee your life will be no less fulfilling in so doing), so many other people are impacted it has an effect on their behavior and yours AND the added bonus is that you have a lot more time on your hands than Facebook users do.

What do you think? Is FB a lens to your life or not?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Amazon and Google are fast becoming like public utilities

amazon googleI’ve noted on several occasions that I am an admirer of both Google (now Alphabet) and Amazon.com. As marketers we are involved with both every single day on behalf of our clients AND ourselves. We have a number of clients who offer their products on Amazon via the Amazon Direct Seller platform. Additionally paid search (SEM) is still dominated by Google (something close to 70% of all searches are done on Google).

But like most things, while both Amazon and Google provide impressive utility for countless businesses, I am disturbed enough about some of their collective business practices to dare to suggest that in becoming all-powerful, Google and Amazon are becoming TOO powerful. This is not necessarily a novel concept as plenty of people feel there’s innate evil when it comes to Amazon and Google. That’s not how I feel but I am coming closer to that notion.

I should also add that I am no fan of rampant regulation and yet my thought is that there is a possibility that at some point in the future both Google and Amazon may be regulated (like the phone companies were years ago), by government(s).

Why? Both Amazon and Google have the ability to severely impact a company’s business on their platforms. Temporary and even permanent account suspensions due to what Amazon or Google considers a ‘compliance’ issue or problem occur all the time.

We all recognize that public companies in public markets have to make decisions in the best interests of their shareholders and constituents. However in the process of trying to be good stewards, companies that rely in large part for their livelihoods on the two platforms have found themselves with a risk of losing their business that they never imagined.

Both Amazon and Google have policy review teams that are not ‘client facing’. Account managers act as liaisons from the policy team. There are some sound reasons for this which start with not allowing ‘Influence’ from clients who might be willing to throw money at an issue instead of rectify the actual problem. That is sensible until you become aware that often times the reasons for the account suspension are not clearly identified nor are the steps outlined on how to get back into compliance.

You can understand that it’s incredibly frustrating and aggravating to be in the position of being taken off the playing field without clear indication of why or how to get back on. Meanwhile your business is suffering, employees are worried about losing their jobs, and the business can quickly end up on life support.

With both Amazon and Google policies are ever changing and it’s critical for involved businesses to keep up with those changes. There are plenty of companies using both platforms that do not have the best interests of people at heart and protecting consumers is critical.   But, and it’s a big BUT, arbitrary suspension of a company’s presence on either platform often has serious impact and sometimes, I know it might be hard to believe, Amazon and Google get it wrong.

So my question here is – acknowledging that it’s a slippery slope, do you feel that there might be a time in the future that Google and Amazon may have to be regulated by the U.S. Government (or any other government)?

Posted in Amazon, Google, Internet Marketing, Marketing stuff | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dollar Shave again shows the power of direct marketing

From Fortune Magazine

From Fortune Magazine

My eyes opened wide when I saw the news last week that Dollar Shave Club was sold to packaged goods giant Unilever for $1B. I knew Dollar Shave was disruptive and a fairly new company (five years old). I did have questions never having used the product, as to what a ‘Dollar’ shave meant. More on that later.

While I pondered what does the dollar shave mean it’s apparent that it means an increasing market share and as Farhood Manjoo wrote this morning   hin his regularly excellent column, a warning shot across the bow of many retail brands.

In fact another of my favorite columnists is from Steven Davidoff Solomon and he too yesterday opined that …’every company should worry’.

How did Dollar Shave do it? As Mr. Manjoo puts it “by cutting out on retail, and shipping products to people’s homes on a subscription basis, the company made buying shaving products more convenient than going to a store.” Shipping directly offered better pricing, more convenience and a better customer experience.

So a little research into the category turned up this from Huffington Post last fall:

…‘Does the service live up to its name? Can you really take care of all your shaving needs for a dollar a month? In a word, no. The minimal cash outlay gets you a basic two-blade razor call The Humble Twin. Each month, you will receive five replacement cartridges at the advertised cost of just one dollar per month, hence the name Dollar Shave Club. However, the true cost comes in at three dollars per month as you are on the hook for a two-dollar shipping and handling charge. I guess the Three Dollar Shave Club didn’t sound as snappy.

The Mid-Range Option

The next option offers a fancier four-blade razor called The 4X. You will only receive four cartridges per month with this option at a cost of six dollars per month. The good news? Shipping is included. But that’s still twice the price as the cheapest option.

The High-End Option

The ultimate package includes a six-blade razor called The Executive that also features a special trimmer edge. Like the mid-grade plan, you will receive four cartridges per month, but at nine dollars per month, including shipping. That puts you out more than $100 over the course of a year.

These prices are competitive with buying full-price, name-brand razor cartridges at retail stores, but you could do better by buying cheap, no-name razors or shopping the occasional sale. The Club does offer convenience, though; since the service is automatic and they will keep shipping you new cartridges every month until you cancel, you should never run out of razors (unless you go through your monthly allotment too quickly). If you want to maximize your savings, however, better deals do exist to ordering razor blades online.

Dollar Shave Club Alternatives

Dollar Shave Club does not manufacture their razors. In fact, they reportedly buy them from a company called Dorco. You can cut out the middleman and order razors from Dorco yourself and keep the savings.

Surprisingly, there are no savings to keep if you’re a fan of The Humble Twin. To buy a year’s worth of cartridges plus a razor handle, you would pay $49.40 through Dorco and only $36.00 through Dollar Shave Club. Unfortunately for Dollar Shave Club, Dorco wins the pricing battle with The 4x and The Executive. The 4x would cost you $72 through Dollar Shave Club and only $61.60 for the first year through Dorco. The Executive would cost you $108 through Dollar Shave Club and only $92.75 through Dorco. In both of these cases, you’d get a few extra blades to boot.

Is it making more sense to you now? Another upstart brand in the space Harry’s is similarly gaining market share and awareness.

Being a direct marketing practitioner I always tell clients that digital is direct. Dollar Shave has done a great job of using tried and true direct marketing techniques – digitally. Precise targeting and measurement is undoubtedly a key to Dollar Shave’s success. Mr. Manjoo closes by offering:

“…It’s striking how few of these online companies could have taken off in the presocial age. At the very least, they would have been sunk by the inability to target ads to the demographics they’re aiming to serve.

“Look at Dollar Shave,” Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s vice president of ads and business platform, told me. “They were just trying to reach men. If they’d started advertising on TV, they definitely would have wasted half their money.””

Right on. Do you understand why I love direct marketing?

 

 

 

Posted in Brand Advertising, Digital media, Direct marketing | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

NASA still needs to market itself

How-NASA-is-selling-space-to-earthLast year I wrote about a great marketing story that “wasn’t” and it had to do with NASA. You remember NASA right? The National Aeronautics and Space Agency. Aeronautics?   Does anyone really use that term outside of the agency itself? It might have been relevant in 1958 but now? http://history.nasa.gov/brief.html

My big problem is that NASA does really cool things and people forget about that and only focus on the difficulties NASA has on various missions and budget. Part of this is NASA’s fault for not promoting what’s so impressive about its projects. Last week you may have heard about the NASA mission to Jupiter called JUNO. Today people tend to take space exploration for granted unlike the way it was in the 1960’s. The United-States – Soviet Union race to be first to reach the moon transfixed a nation and the world. And it was 47 years ago this month. I can tell you from experience that the sense of pride and accomplishment that I felt for my country as a result was one of the most proud moments for this American.

Is putting money into NASA and space exploration frivolous when so many Americans need help in other ways? The U.S Government 2016 budget for NASA is $19.3 billion. It represents less than ½ of 1% of the $4 trillion overall budget. And that NASA budget is to be reduced to $18.5 billion for 2017. From the NASA website:

NASA will spend $3.3 billion to further develop the Space Launch System, a heavy-lift rocket. It will carry astronauts to the moon, Mars, and even asteroids. NASA successfully tested the Orion crew capsule in 2014. That is the first new U.S. design to carry humans in 40 years.

Another $1.5 billion goes toward the Mars Land Rover mission in 2020, and planning a trip to Jupiter’s moon Europa. NASA will also use its deep-space system to explore asteroids so it can protect Earth from any impacts. It will identify potential asteroid threats, fly a human to an asteroid, and redirect it using solar electric propulsion systems. It is developing that technology now.

 NASA has identified several small asteroids that it plans to capture. It will place them on the moon for astronauts to study. (Source: Ian O’Neill, “White House Requests Boosted $18.5B NASA Budget,” Discovery News, February 2, 2015)

NASA will replace the aging Hubble Space Telescope with the new James Webb Space Telescope, planned to launch in 2018. Those projects will cost $1.25 billion. (Source: NASA,NASA Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Request, April 10, 2014)

Another $5.1 billion will enable the U.S. to transport its own crews to the International Space Station. Right now, we have to pay Russia for crew transport. The U.S. will regain its ability to shuttle its crew and cargo to the International Space Station using commercial partners. It plans to launch the first crew flights in 2017. It hasn’t done this since NASA retired the space shuttle Discovery in 2012. NASA continues to support research in the space station.

NASA manages the satellite imagery of earth. That’s included in the $2 billion budget for Earth Science. It will spend $700 million on space weather modeling based on two additional Explorer missions. 

NASA will spend $1.8 billion on collaborating with commercial aerospace companies to bring new space exploration technologies to earth. These include new energy-efficient aircraft, solar electric propulsion, and robotic satellite servicing. Education is part of this initiative.

It costs $3.3 billion to maintain NASA facilities and equipment. It has 20 facilities and 14 visitor centers. NASA employs 18,000 people as employees and contractors. (Source: NASA FY 2017 Budget RequestCenters and Facilities.)

I feel good about the projects and efforts of NASA as noted above.

The question I keep asking is why people in general seem to undervalue the search for knowledge beyond our planet? Surely it cannot be that we as Americans as well as citizens of Planet Earth don’t care about learning more about our immediate solar system, the Milky Way and the Universe as a whole. It has to be that space exploration like seemingly everything else these days has to be a ‘value proposition’ for most people.

Yet the success of the human race cannot be attributed to protecting what countries and people already have and want to keep with no concern for future generations. Americans if nothing else, are an intrepid and pioneering people. That’s how the U.S. got started in the first place. Space exploration was a natural outgrowth of the pioneering spirit that ruled the western states in the 19th century even if the result was spurred on by a race to beat the Reds (no not the ones from Cincinnati).

NASA’s Juno mission blows my mind in many ways. Astrophysics is a field that is complex, confusing and fascinating. I’m grateful there are many smart people that dedicate their lives to the pursuit of interplanetary knowledge. Is there wasted money as part of the budget? It’s hard to fathom that there aren’t any blind alleys, or mismanaged aspects of a near $20 billion budget.

Think about American idealism of the 1960’s evidenced in television shows such as Star Trek. Has there ever been a more righteous character than Captain James T.Kirk?   Star Trek (like Superman) was so much about truth, justice and what was considered at the time to be ‘the American way’. How about today the United States shows its commitment to world leadership in the form of space exploration that can benefit the entire planet? Is that too ambitious to wish for?

NASA could use all kinds of help in marketing its missions and accomplishments. For what it’s worth my team would be excited to help that mission

Posted in Living in the World Today, Marketing stuff | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Four years after my career upheaval I am still standing

still_standing_transparent2In some ways the summer of 2012 seems like more than four years ago. In July of that summer I was…Forced? Compelled? Convinced? whatever you want to call it, to end the operations of my former business that had been around for 16 years.

As calm as I tried to remain, I was freaking out (the technical term).   Even a year later in 2013 having written about it the sting was still evident. At the time I had not worked for anyone else for a really long time and having started a more recent venture with partners, www.moddern.com, I really preferred to continue to grow the newer company, than to try to find a…job.

Today I am still standing up as a professional – partly because of my standing desk which I use about half the time, but more because of the efforts of those around me that have helped and continue to help me help our clients succeed with their strategic marketing objectives.

While I would never admit that my path of falling down and getting up is the best way for everyone, in my case, it forced me to learn many new skills and do things in very different ways from what was familiar for so long.

There’s one thing I keep in the back of my mind all the time, and that is I am one of the lucky ones. Lucky in that I have been able to take advantage of the opportunities that have arisen and re-forged my professional career and outlook. Many people don’t have those opportunities and never really are able to rebound. I think about this a great deal since career disruptions in the U.S. and around the world continue with no end in sight.

It should not come as any surprise that those of us of a certain age who have enough history to have seen the start of what was formerly called the computer revolution.   That phrase seems archaic now. Adapting to changes in technology is harder than being born into it as in the case of Gen X, Gen Y and to a greater extent, millennials.

The best and only real advice I can offer is for you to be insanely curious and continue reading and learning about things that are relevant and interesting to your life. Try to consider your possible next moves before ‘things happen’.

And things tend to happen right?

 

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New York City Oyster Bar Restaurant has a brand for the ages

NYC0915-midtownwest-grandcentraloysterbarThe restaurant business is notably challenging. You’ve probably heard statistics like 90% + of all restaurants fail – apparently not true according to recent studies done by Professor Dr. HG Parsa.

In fact Prof. Parsa also offers that 59% of hospitality facilities fail in the period of 3 years. In the first year, is the highest level of failure, 26%, 19% in the second, and 14% in the third year of operation.

What about a restaurant that has been operating for more than 100 years? There are scattered representations including a number in New York City.   Famed places like Delmonico’s (1837), Pete’s Tavern (1864) one of my personal favorites Keen’s (1885) and to go WAY back, Fraunces Tavern (from 1762 and yes George Washington really did eat there) are well known around the world. A list can be found here   http://www.amny.com/eat-and-drink/oldest-restaurants-in-new-york-city-1.8999200

oyster-bar-restaurant-grand-central-station-nyc-set2011_1815804_lThen there’s the Oyster Bar Restaurant at Grand Central Terminal – the menu from each can be found here. First Opened in 1913, it has not always been the grand homage to seafood that it is today. In fact before 1974 the Oyster Bar was neither grand nor even good. It had fallen into physical disrepair and made the mistake of turning into a ‘Continental’ restaurant. I always hated that nebulous definition.

But in 1974 Jerome Brody was tapped to lead the resurrection of the fabled Oyster Bar Restaurant.  Today the Oyster Bar has both a classic and historic feel and its brand value is better than ever. Yet whenever I suggest that I meet someone for lunch or dinner at the Oyster Bar I am almost always met with “I never think of going there”.   Part of it is an error of omission. Unless you come through Grand Central Terminal on a regular basis you just may not even think about it as a dining option as it is downstairs in the terminal steps away from the food court, which includes a very popular Shake Shack.

Oyster Bar BarStep inside the Oyster Bar and it feels like you have stepped back in time fifty or even one hundred years. Sit at the bar and order raw oysters, a cold beverage and top it off with an oyster pan roast (best bargain in the house).   The feeling I get is that things have not changed much in a long time. The service at the bar is mildly friendly, a bit brusque and so perfectly New York City.

What if you do not like oysters? There are many other seafood dishes on the menu but for landlubbers it’s probably a salad kind of day.

I know exactly what to expect when visiting the Oyster Bar. A choice of dozens of different oysters all as fresh as can be, a true New York City experience, and a little walk through history right in front of your eyes. If that’s not a brand for the ages I don’t know what would qualify.

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