"Other people's money" ~ Sounds + Food 'n' Retail

"Other people's money"

other people's money.jpgSo I watched this movie yesterday, I think it illustrates the concept of shareholders and investors, and what businesses really stand for, quite well. In part, you have a responsibility towards your employees today. In part, and that's where investors come in, you have a responsibility towards the future. In a sense, if both stakeholders were to communicate, the world would be a better world…

For me, it's a pretty safe bet that if I want to start a business, I'll need investors. And people starting a business in the world of food/retail venues, will definitely need a team also. Both will be depending on getting paid; the employees depending on today's cash flow, and the investors betting on a future value. That is life and the way this resource-intensive industry works.

The fact is that venture-backed firms—firms that have external and usually active investors, which hold a share in the business—are usually more successful that firms that are not. The reason for this is that active investors, while sometimes appearing cruel, actually make a business more efficient through various mechanisms such "fat-"trimming and performance-based investing, and also through their know-how and contacts in the industry.

This of course depends on the type of investors you have. On Tech IT Easy, I wrote about the four types of business angels, namely:

  • Operational Expertise Business Angels: These have been or are major executives in the industry they are again investing in and are instrumental in growing the company through providing both financing, expertise, and contacts to suppliers, partners, and customers. Venture capitalists highly value these types of early-stage investors.
  • Financial Returns Business Angels: These are high-worth individuals, but characterised by a passive involvement in the companies they invest in, except for maybe some business-advice. Too many of these types has a negative effect on attracting venture capitalists, as it does not grow the financial pie.
  • Guardian Business Angels: These are probably the most active types, provide a lot of support, take seats on the board of directors, help find venture capitalists, and are highly valued by them. Since entrepreneurship is a highly people-chemical business, this makes sense.
  • Professional Entrepreneur Business Angels: These are investors with the personal experience of having set up their own firms. Also the most well-know type, I think. They may sometimes invest outside of their expertise, which can be a problem, but have a lot of experience in and provide support with market-research, building up the company, meeting milestones, and other business-building activities. They are also highly valued by venture capitalists.
That's all nice and hypothetical, but what it really comes down to is…

When dealing with investors, it's important to find out what their expectations are. On what basis are they valuing your business. If it's garbage, there is no point in continuing with an investor. I'm not going to define garbage extensively, but if an investor is only after personal profit, then that's a sign of garbage. If he or she is after maximising profit for the business, that is better.. to the degree that the core-values of the business don't get minimised.

That's why it's better to deal with investors that have at least two qualities*, preferably three. One: he or she has to know the industry, or else how can they accurately calculate the value—taking into account stuff that can't be entered in formulas; Two: depending on the stage of the business, he or she will have to be in it for several years, at least 7 when it concerns a start-ups, I would think. And three, he or she has to be what is called a Mensch.
(*: feel free to correct me on any of those).

In terms of employees, you also need a certain profile of people. They need to be dedicated to the business, not necessarily their pay-check; They need to understand business-concerns, and for that to happen, be involved with the business beyond their job-function. They need to understand and share similar values, which again requires two-way communication.

The implication for management is fairly clear, I think. When trying to reconcile both parties, you need to understand you're dealing with someone beyond their job-description. Employees, active investors, shareholders, customers, all have something in common. They are human, they can have vision, they can learn, grow, adapt, change, do. This is important during the selection stage—which employees will I hire, who will I ask to invest in me?—and the co-operative stage—how will I find the middle-ground between these people's concerns?

Other people's money? Get rid of the "other," get rid of the dissonance, and you're on the right track.


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