Thursday, November 20, 2008

VCs Aren't Dead

TheFunded - Canarie
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: lp investing)

VCs in This Awful Economy

I can't figure out how to make a link to this blog article about Venture Capitalists. So I'm just pasting it below. Very interesting article on the VC model.

Is the VC Model Broken? Far From it

Mathew Ingram Friday, November 14, 2008 6:00 AM PT 20 comments
Updated: Adeo Ressi, the serial entrepreneur behind the venture-capital rating site TheFunded, has been getting a lot of attention for a presentation he gave at Harvard Business School in which he argued that the VC industry is “broken.” His central point is that there are simply too many venture capital funds chasing too few opportunities, with unrealistic expectations. The result, as he notes in one eye-grabbing slide, is that VC returns over the past five years have fallen below the total amount of money invested over that same time period.

It’s certainly the kind of slide that makes you sit up and take notice. But is it evidence that the VC game is kaput? Hardly. Instead, it’s reminiscent of Warren Buffett’s quip about how if he had been at Kitty Hawk he would have shot Orville Wright’s plane out of the air, because the airline industry over the last 100 years has been a net destroyer of capital. While that may be true (I haven’t double-checked Buffett’s numbers), that’s not to say investors haven’t been able to make money throughout that troubled history. To quote another great economic mind, John Maynard Keynes, in the long run we are all dead. In the short run, however, some successes are possible.

Have there been too many funds created, too much money poured into finding the next Facebook, Twitter or YouTube? Undoubtedly. But the VC industry is subject to the same economic forces and laws of supply and demand as any other industry — in other words, if some funds are making money, others will emerge and try to duplicate that success, even if they know the odds are against them. The same dynamic can be seen in plenty of other businesses, including the mining industry: When gold is hot, everyone wants to be (or invest in) a gold miner, even though they all secretly know that too many miners means less gold for everyone.
An industry like that is inevitably going to grow and contract, and now sure feels like a time of contraction. But that doesn’t mean smart VCs can’t prosper by concentrating on what they know, or by staying small enough to get more “home runs,” as angel investor Austin Hill notes in a comment at TechCrunch (disclosure: I know Austin, and consider him a friend). The VC industry isn’t broken any more than any other boom-and-bust industry is broken. It’s likely to go through a restructuring as a result of the current downturn, and some VCs will undoubtedly go out of business, as they should. But there will always be VCs, just as there will always be gold companies — and airlines.

Update from Om: Looks like Darwin is doing his thing. Bloomberg reports that universities and pension fund investors are dumping their stakes in VC funds. “Investors have venture-capital stakes valued at more than $2 billion up for sale, double the $800 million this time last year,” the newswire writes. Everyone including large university endowments are having sleepless nights.

TheFunded - Canarie
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: lp investing)
Image courtesy of Adeo Ressi via his blog.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Starting a Business In Bad Times

An inventor sent me this article. It shows how to take advantage of the downturn and start a successful business. Read on...

By Joan Lefkowitz, Accessory Brainstorms

"Few can believe that suffering, especially by others, is in vain.Anything that is disagreeable must surely have beneficial economiceffects." - John Kenneth Galbraith

You might think that during times of economic recession consumers arein no mood to experiment with, or purchase inventive products.Counter-intuitively, starting a business or launching an inventionduring a recession can be one of the smartest moves to make- dependingof course, on if you take certain factors into account. Looking atpast recessions and consumer psychology can give us ideas on the typesof inventions that can succeed during an economic downturn. Let's walkthrough some of these themes that appear on the psychologicallandscape during a recession.


Let's start with how people are feeling during these uncertain times.Recessions can generate fear and uncertainty in the minds of people.All around, people are watching others suffer economic hardship,losing their jobs and homes. A result of this is a mindful gratitudethat they are not that person they see struggling on the nightly newsor in their neighborhood. An appreciation of what one already has, asopposed to what one can attain becomes paramount.

That's why many inventions that do well during hard times have to dowith comfort, organization and do-it-yourself products. Nesting relates to all things related to the home; personal possessions,making oneself more comfortable and secure, improving homeenvironment, and making one's life more functional. It's also a knownfact that during recessions, many people have less disposable incometo spend on going out, so home entertainment and gaming items arealways popular. An example of an inventive gaming product introducedduring this recession is The Sega "Project Beauty" virtual realityvideo game (designed for Nintendo DS), which helps women try outdifferent make-up looks via their TV screen.

The Magic Fur Ball helpstake care of your clothing and laundry by removing people and pet hairfrom fabrics in the dryer. Lumbarwear is a soft undergarment thatsupports core and back strength, while providing comfort to thewearer. Tag Tamers is another product that enables comfort byrelieving the itchiness of garment labels and eliminating the need tocut them out of clothing. By the way, replenishment products such asthis are great for repeat sales. The stylish Shoe Seen is atransparent shoe pouch that helps people organize and store theirfootwear. All of these are products that satisfy that urge for nesting.

Competition- "Looking Good is Feeling Good"

People are looking to improve themselves to compete in a tougher jobmarket. They become acutely more aware of their own presentation andappearance, viewing the world as a more competitive, rather thanfriendly place. A recent `Do-it-Yourself' beauty invention that's ahit in the market is the ZENO PRO Acne Clearing Device (uses heat toclear blemishes), which despite retailing at over $100 saves moneythat would otherwise be spent at the dermatologist. Another example ofa grooming tool that's time and money saving (no trips to the salon!)and makes the consumer look good is R.E.M. Spring, a battery-freefacial hair remover. Slimpressions is a shapewear product designed toslim a woman's arms, back and midriff. These products help people lookgreat, and also are created to deal with ongoing beauty issues.


Where once people saw life as a progression of economic milestones,lowering expectations during a recession to "just getting by" becomesroutine. Products that emphasize survival in the economic storm shouldbe central in the minds of inventors. For example, Steam Buddy ironthat replaces dry-cleaner wrinkle-removal (plus, you don't have todrag out the ironing board) costs about $20, but saves the averagecustomer $100's in dry cleaning bills over the course of a year.Re-usable items that replace disposables, such as Zorbeez absorbentcloths that are used in place of paper towels, will also appeal tomoney-strapped consumers.Back in the 1960's, there used to be special areas in departmentstores that sold "Notions" or problem-solving personal products. Todaythese types of products that emphasize personal preparation arethriving on the internet, and in mail order catalogues.

Examples include Hollywood Fashion Tapes, double sided clear tape for "fashionemergencies", and Bosom Button, a discreet jewel-like pin which allowspeople to wear clothes with embarrassingly low necklines, or turnscarves into skirts.Escapism…and HopeRecessions can cause collective anxiety and panic within the public.

Thoughts of losing ones job, the home that the job pays for, and allits contents, are scary enough. It's common knowledge that during thegreat depression, the movie cinemas served as a great escape for themasses. Often those movies featured the lives of the rich and famous,in the most expensive and lavish of clothes and settings, a starkcontrast to the movie-goers reality. Bars and liquor stores alsoexperience an uptick in clientele. What is entertainment but an escapefrom the mundane.

Escapism is a search for hope and magic. Hope iswhat people need and crave most during tough times. People are lookingfor things to magically improve their lives.

Examples of "magical" and entertaining products include the "Roomba" robotic vacuum cleaner and"Change Rocks", the inter-changeable, multi-stone ring. Another suchitem is the Shower Bow Shower Curtain Expander, which creates a moreluxurious bathroom experience, by creating more space in the shower.People need little extravagances as opposed to big ones.Tips

For Inventions

Let's look through some of the hallmarks that make for good retail inventions:
It is functional and simple to use. It makes life easier, while makingthe user feel better, smarter, more efficient or more attractive. It'sfun to use. It retails for $40 or less, yet has an element of magic.It saves both time and money, and is reliable, durable, safe andperforms well. It is convenient to store.

During a recession, otherattributes of successful inventions would include items that helpconsumers repair/improve or re-use what they already own.The item should be visually and tactilely appealing, have a nice shapeand be made available in an attractive color, with smooth edges and aneven finish. Packaging should be compact and the product name catchyand memorable; logo and graphics are clear and easy to read. Photos ofproduct results should appear on the front of the package. Simple'how-tos' should appear on the back of the package.

What Wholesale Buyers are Looking ForMost inventions are currently sold to wholesale buyers and/or solddirectly to the public (through internet and TV commercials). Inselling to wholesale buyers, it is critical to keep in mind theirperspective. Wholesale buyers are on the lookout for something that will cut through the jungle of "stuff" already out there, that will sell itself, and is so novel it needs little to no advertising. In cash poor times, buyers are looking to tighten inventories bybuying and stocking less, and paying less for products in order toincrease profit margins, while offering value to customers. Some ofthe ways to appeal to a buyer and help them market your product are: Source for the best pricing on materials and labor. Keep size of theproduct to a minimum (which takes up less space on the store shelf).Provide alluring signage, displays and photos if the retailer permits.Offer live demonstrations and inventor "guest" appearances. Offer"how-to" videos to stores that will run them on the selling floor.Offer bonus booklets showing extra style or use options as a method ofsampling or giveaways. Create special price breaks to buyers if theywill "outpost" your product in multiple locations in a store. Provide periodic surprising new add-on products to keep the buyer interested, grow your solitary item into a full product line; and help theretailer satisfy consumers who are always looking for "what's next"(regardless of the economy.)

Why This is a Good Time for You, The Inventor

You may be unemployed, or in need of extra money. You may be scared totake that next step. You may have been waiting for the "perfect time"to launch your invention. But now is the time to put your idea intoaction. Now is the time to push yourself to compete, and complete yourvision. Take advantage of recessionary times. If your invention issuccessful during a recession, it can really thrive during good times. As Frank Sinatra's most famous song said, "If you can make it here,you can make it anywhere", we say "If you can make it now- go for it!"

Joan Lefkowitz (who knows how to spot a retail trend when she seesone, having represented inventors through her third recession), is anoriginal marketer of TopsyTail tm, and is president of ACCESSORYBRAINSTORMS, NYC, a licensing agency, sales representation andconsultancy for Fashion and Beauty Accessory and Lifestyle

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Social Entrepreneurship

I attended a presentation on ITN America. It's an example of social entrepreneurship at its best. Social entrepreneurship uses business practices to solve social problems. The founder recognized a need -- transportation for seniors -- and devised a sustainable method of meeting that need. Read on...
ITN America – Independent Transportation Network

ITN CEO Katherine Freund has worked on ITN for the past 18 years. Other cities and areas are adopting her model.

Westport and its surrounding towns are considering starting an ITN in coastal Fairfield County. Connecticut already has two ITNs – Middletown and Enfield.

Key Points
· American households spend 25% of their income on transportation. 91% of people’s trips outside their homes are made in cars, 8% by walking.

· ITN is a local solution to the senior transportation challenge. It’s an example of “social entrepreneurship” – using an entrepreneurial business model to meet a social need.
o ITN started by discovering what the needs were and then designing a solution.

· ITN replicates private vehicle ownership using public and private resources in partnership.

· ITN uses technology (computers and telecommunications) to create an efficient system to use excess capacity in private vehicles;
o sharing rides, dispatched by a central office,
o driven by volunteers using their own cars or fleet cars that were donated,
o passengers pay
o volunteers are reimbursed for gas and maintenance on a per mile basis.
o Rides are available 365 days a year, 24 hours a day for any purpose.
o Riders get a 20% discount for sharing a ride and a 50% discount for reserving the ride 24 hours in advance.
o Scholarships are available on a needs-basis.

· Half the expenses of the organization are funded by fares. The rest comes from membership fees, donations from local businesses and corporations, grants from governments or foundations and an annual fundraiser.
o People can donate cars and get credits that they use to get rides or enable a relative to get a ride. Volunteering works the same way.

· Good for the local economy because it enables seniors to get out and shop, go to medical appointments and socialize (go to restaurants, movies, concerts, worship).

· Costs $125,000 to get launched and pay for the software. (It’s a bit like a franchise.)

· CT may have a $50,000 transportation grant available to help start such an enterprise.

· Connecticut insurance and livery laws have been changed to allow this.
o Drivers must have special license.