“I dive into someone’s life, however briefly, for the thrill of the unexpected, to glimpse a world I might not otherwise see.”
From a Friend
While Apple has it’s unveiling of the new iPhone and iWatch or apple watch etc, the biggest IPO in history is coming to New York in the same month and is going on almost unnoticed amidst the hoopla of Apple’s product launches. But this IPO promises to be bigger than Apple and all it’s glorious marketing muscle.
So this September there is an IPO that will open the door on the world’s largest e-commerce market of China.
The company? Alibaba, the Chinese retailer which, with a merchandise volume of $248bn, last year grossed more sales than Amazon and eBay combined.
So what’s so special about Alibaba, and can it go from being the biggest IPO (initial public offering) to being the most valuable company on earth?
(1) Alibaba 101 – What Is It?
Dubbed by the Wall Street Journal as “a mix of Amazon, eBay and PayPal with a dash of Google,” Alibaba is the e-commerce giant which handles 80% of all online retail in China. It was founded in 1999 by Jack Ma, initially as a bridge between China and the rest of the world, a B2B platform connecting small Chinese manufacturers with buyers overseas. There is additionally a consumer-to-consumer site called Taobao.com (a bit like eBay), on which you can buy and sell any product imaginable. More recently it launched Tmall.com, a business-to-consumer portal that helps global brands such as Disney and Levi’s reach China’s middle classes (a bit like Amazon).
The scale is huge, and in just one day last year – a ‘Singles’ Day’ promotion held every year on November 11th – the firm’s sales exceeded $5.7 billion. The connecting glue that enables all these transactions is Alipay, developed – like eBay acquired and further developed PayPal – because of the lack of a trustworthy online payments system. Alipay has likewise been extended to enable people to pay their mobile and utility bills, and is now China’s biggest third-party payment tool. Alibaba has also supported the growth of the logistics industry in China, although a recent KPMG has highlighted that if Alibaba is to keep up with its explosive growth projections, an additional $2.5 trillion may need to be invested in buying land and constructing warehouses alone over the next 15 years.
(2) From Hangzhou To The New York Stock Exchange – The Biggest IPO Ever?
Alibaba wasn’t always going to list on the New York Stock Exchange. Initially, it tried to list in Hong Kong, lobbying the Securities and Futures Commission and the stock exchange to be allowed to have a partnership structure that would have let its top executives nominate the majority of board members (as is permissible on the NYSE). This was a particular issue for Jack Ma, who wanted to be able to keep full managerial control of his company, even when Japan’s Softbank and Yahoo! have respective 34.4% and 22.6% stakes. Under its agreement with Yahoo, Alibaba will be buying back 20% of Yahoo’s stake (for at least $7 billion), and Yahoo will have the right to trade-in a further 20% if Alibaba lists by Dec 2015.
Ma would rather accept a potentially lower market valuation and retain control of his company. This control has in the past led to contentious results, such as when, in 2010, he and a handful of associates spun out the Alipay division into a separate company, without Yahoo’s consent. Alibaba claimed that it needed to spin out Alipay and turn it into a domestic entity, to prevent delays in obtaining an operating license under newly issued Chinese regulations. Investors in the New York IPO should be aware that it does not include Alipay – and may also wish to reflect on the fact that, by comparison, PayPal currently represents 43% of eBay’s revenue.
Yet even without Alipay, at around $20bn, Alibaba still looks likely to be the largest IPO in US corporate history, and possibly in the world. This will imply an underlying market capitalization of at least $168bn. According to Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, it could actually be as high as $221bn. In a research note, he said, “We believe Alibaba could grow 40% in FY15 and 30% in FY16. We believe this would imply $15.3bn in revenue in Alibaba’s FY16.”
At a market cap of $221bn, Alibaba would be the 15th biggest company in the world (it would be the 33rd biggest at $168bn), even if at $15.3bn, it would only be the 257th biggest in terms of global revenue.
So with the bullish growth estimates going up and up, what are potential Alibaba investors actually speculating on? Cheung Kong Graduate School Of Business (CKGSB) professor Teng Bingsheng told Forbes Magazine: “This is a play on China and China’s internet sector, which has made a bigger impact than any other country in the world. In a metaphor that Jack Ma proposed, he was using a machine gun while traditional companies were still practicing martial arts.”
The Economist believes that “the ongoing shift from investment- to consumption-led growth means that firms that make it easy to sell directly to consumers should benefit disproportionately,” and that while, “internet penetration is still lower than in developed countries; China will surely catch up. One informed estimate holds that China’s e-commerce market could double by 2020, to over $600 billion.”
Yet as Alibaba Vice President Joe Tsai acknowledges, “Over 90% of our business is in China,” and this is currently very much a Chinese rather than a global growth play. He adds, “it’s actually natural that we start with China and use acquisitions and investments to complement our business growth. So I wouldn’t be surprised that we do most of our things in China. We’ll be very careful in expanding through acquisitions outside of China. Obviously there are cultural challenges.”
Other risk factors include Alibaba’s delay in going fully mobile, with the majority of its profits coming from its PC business. Facebook faced a similar challenge at the time of its IPO in 2012, although the majority of its revenue does now come from mobile. This is a particular concern given the rise of Tencent in China, and its mobile social-messaging app WeChat. This led The Economist to argue: “So successful is WeChat, at integrating social networking, payments, e-commerce and entertainment that it has been valued by some analysts at more than $60 billion, three times what Facebook paid for WhatsApp, another messaging service.”
3) Culture & Leadership: Ma The Chinese Dreamer & Warrior
As I discovered while researching my book ‘Dream to Last’, Chinese CEOs are fantastic at dreaming big, yet frequently lack the Western capacity of execution and innovation, which is needed to create truly great companies. Jack Ma is a notable exception. The first mainland Chinese entrepreneur to appear on the cover of Forbes Magazine, first to be named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time, and one of ‘Asia’s Heroes of Philanthropy’ by Forbes Asia, Ma’s success is attributed to his vision, perseverance, and daring.
He is aiming high: “Set your sights high, the higher the better. Expect the most wonderful things to happen, not in the future but right now. Realize that nothing is too good. Allow absolutely nothing to hamper you or hold you up in any way.”
And like many Chinese CEOs, Ma is much more focused on the long-term rather than next quarter’s earnings. Just three days after the company filed for its US IPO, Ma led a ‘mass wedding’ for Alibaba employees on May 9 in Hangzhou. There were 102 married couples, to resonate with the 102 years that Ma has said Alibaba shall survive. His blessing went: “The length of our marriage is 102 years, and we have 87 years left. After 87 years you can marry some else. But within these 87 years, you cannot change your mind.”
When I questioned Ma at a China conference in 2008 whether it was better for companies to build winning families rather just making money, he responded that, “people are responsible for their own families but companies should build a sense of shared community”. He is attempting to build a sense of this into the corporate culture, with employees having a stake in the company. In 2011, Alibaba set up an interest-free mortgage fund called ‘iHome’, and already, 4,000 employees have received over $150m in loans.
And in 1999, Ma also listed another 17 people as co-founders in the company; people who had been his English students where he was teaching at university. Vice President Joe Tsai comments: “What really, really struck me, was that it wasn’t just Jack himself, or it was himself with another one or two guys. It was Jack already was with a group of followers. Basically these were his students… I just saw this energy. They were working very hard. They seemed happy. They had that glimmer in their eyes. And I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this is a guy who can really get people together. He’s a great leader. He can really build something’… Jack gave away a very substantial part of his equity to the founding team. That’s Jack. I think that is unique. You don’t see that in other places… Jack was all about being open and sharing from day one. I was quite amazed.”
Management gurus often talk about a “flattened hierarchy”, but again Ma is making it work in practice. He recognizes the need for individual recognition. On Day 1, all Alibaba employees have to come up with nicknames for themselves. COO Daniel Zhang’s nickname is Xiao Yao Zi, meaning ‘free and unfettered man’. He goes by ‘Old Xiao’. Ma’s nickname is Feng Qing Yang, which, according to The Financial Times, “comes from a reclusive swordsman character who was unpredictable and aggressive.” Ma acknowledges that he has a warrior spirit, commenting, “I had always wished that I was born in a period of war. I could have been a general. I thought about what I could have achieved in war.”
Finally, Ma has a social conscience, commenting, “We do not do business for survival, we are trying to positively impact the world. Society has given me so much, too much. What I can do is repay society.” His humble origins shape his guiding mission, as he reflects, “Others can imitate my management model, but they can never endure the hardships I have experienced, nor have my passion persistently to push forward.” Like Bill Gates, Ma has announced that he will give several billion dollars to finance, environmental, medical, and educational projects. He has been named chairman of the board of the Nature Conservancy in China.
He hopes that he can lift Chinese society, reflecting: “Just as the internet is revolutionising retail, we at Alibaba believe it will eventually do the same to fundamentally information-driven industries such as finance, education and healthcare. Once this change happens – once we are all connected – I believe the spirit of equality and transparency at the heart of the internet will make it possible for Chinese society to leapfrog in its development of a stronger institutional and social infrastructure… Our water has become undrinkable, our food inedible, our milk poisonous and worst of all the air in our cities is so polluted that we often cannot see the sun. 20 years ago, people in China were focusing on economic survival. Now, people have better living conditions and big dreams for the future. But these dreams will be hollow if we cannot see the sun.”
4) Global Battle: So Who Will Be The Most Valuable Company In The World?
In a world still adjusting to the loss of Steve Jobs, it is refreshing to find a such spirited and visionary entrepreneur in Jack Ma. In the next century, I believe that the truly great companies will be those which can successfully build global presence – succeeding both in China and the West – and continuing to do breakthrough innovation at scale.
Many Western companies have gone into China and failed – or, like Google, Facebook and Twitter – have been blocked out by the Chinese government. This has led to much ‘copycat innovation’ – with domestic players such as Baidu, RenRen and Sina Weibo filling the vacuum in search and social networking.
Rather than winning by default, what’s interesting about Alibaba is that, on a more level playing field, it managed to take on its Western equivalent, eBay, at home and win. Under Meg Whitman, eBay squandered an 85% market in e-commerce in China, after Alibaba launched its Taobao site. In a series of publicity stunts not unlike those of Virgin’s Richard Branson, Ma assumed the mantle of the underdog, proclaiming: “eBay may be a shark in the ocean, but I am a crocodile in the Yangzi river. If we fight in the ocean, we lose; but if we fight in the river, we win.”
Former employee, Porter Erisman, told The New York Times. ““With eBay he liked looking foolish and stupid. From a Wall Street investors’ perspective, he was willing to run Alibaba into the ground to defeat eBay – the only thing worse than a smart competitor is a crazy one who is willing to just spend all their money with no hope of making a profit.”
Yet while Alibaba can win at home, there are not yet enough signs that it can “Open Sesame” on the markets of the West. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is already doing a excellent job of running a hypergrowth company that prioritizes giving customers the lowest possible prices at the lowest possible margins, over and above generating Wall Street profits.
CKGSB Professor Teng Bingsheng reminds us that, “Alibaba started as a bridge between China and the rest of the world. It was an import and export platform for the small to mid-sized importers in other parts of the world to find Chinese exporters.” With 90% of Alibaba’s revenues in China, for potential investors in the IPO, this is indeed a Chinese rather than a global play. When asked if Alibaba can repeat its success internationally, Bingsheng says, “Probably not any time soon… For the time being, Alibaba will probably focus on its e-commerce platform in China and maintain this bridge between the East and West.”
Against this backdrop, the world’s current most valuable company – Apple – is doing pretty well in China. Yes, Apple does software and services, but by being primarily a hardware device maker, it has managed to avoid some of the freedom of expression and big data pitfalls of other Silicon Valley companies entering China. With a premium brand appealing to fashion-conscious Chinese consumers, in 2013, Apple did $37.9bn of business in China, 4.5 times Alibaba’s current annual revenue. And with a long-awaited deal now completed to sell iPhones through China Mobile, the world’s largest cellular operator, last quarter Apple saw Chinese revenues jump 28%.
So Alibaba is currently a great bet on China, whose sheer domestic scale alone gives it a prospect – but no certainty – of becoming the most valuable company in the world. However, there is one domestic competitor in particular which could still steal Alibaba’s thunder. With a market cap of 1.2tn Hong Kong dollars ($166bn US), Tencent is an excellent company, with a similar market cap to that expected of Alibaba.
Tencent founder Pony Ma famously once said “To copy is not evil”, yet Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group, has said of Tencent: “The problem with Tencent is there is no innovation, and all things are copied.”
Well, contradict this: Tencent’s WeChat messaging app has over 100m international users, and is one of the first examples of the kind of leapfrog innovation that’s likely to come from China to the West, rather than vice versa. With over a billion users overall, Tencent is already set to overtake Facebook’s 1.2bn users. So Jack Ma should keep a intense eye on Tencent.
Jack Ma came up with the name Alibaba while sitting in a coffee shop in San Francisco, because, “e-commerce is global, so we needed a name that was globally recognized”. He said he asked a waitress whether she recognized the name and she said yes. In battle to become the biggest company of the 21st century, Alibaba is set up to be up in the top 5 or 6, alongside Tencent, Amazon, Google, and possibly eBay.
The overall winner will be the one that can be a true global player in the West, China and emerging markets, and become a real bridge between China and the West. For this company, it will be vital that the leadership at top ensures it continues to innovate, execute flawlessly and maintain integrity and connection with stakeholders.
Alibaba is in with a strong shout to overcome Apple as the world’s premier company, if it can continue to make the right big calls. As it moves towards IPO, Alibaba has been on a buying spree of smaller Western companies to attempt to bolster its global presence, but, as it matures and its organic growth continues, it’s going to have to make sure that a more global outlook from its Hangzhou heaquarters, and continued innovation, are firmly implanted in its DNA.
The world’s premier company will continue to be right on the tough calls to. In particular, I would bet that Jack Ma, like Steve Jobs, will be prepared to fight to the last to ensure his company succeeds. With the iPhone 6 and possible iWatch launch on Tuesday Sept. 9th, we’ll learn more this week about Apple’s innovation pipeline, and how much fight it has left in it… for the moment, Tim Cook seems to be on the backfoot.
PS: This Article was written by Steve Tappin, an old China Business hand and an incredible CEO and thinker. Steve is the CEO Xinfu, Host of BBC CEO Guru & Founder, and partner of WorldOfCEOs.com
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I am a Communications Guy through and through…
But I started early on.
I founded my first “company” when I was a kid in a cold and distant Boarding School and going stir crazy from missing my family and friends — I used my Ham Radio to communicate with the world at large. I couldn’t help it, because am a Communications kinda guy, so I started sharing this with my new friends, and then when word got out — I offered the communication service to all of my classmates who streamed up in the attic of the school after curfew, and had a talk and listen party with “hamsters” all over the world. Before Internet these things were the Internet of the day. Like pico radios that brought down the Soviet Union, these after hours, ham radio sessions were all the rage.
A veritable party for geeky kids.
Needless to say immediately after the “Authorities” got wind of this, they shut me down. lesson learned, I started my second communication company in a completely Stealth Mode and run it quietly offering an improved service. Talk to Girl Ham radio operators. I must have been about seven or eight years old but who is counting.
Since then, I’ve cofounded, financed, ventured, or Angeled, and led hundreds of companies. Some of the best continued as Consulting Clients throughout my career – from startups and small businesses to large publicly held and Global Enterprises.
Along the way I have learned a thing or two as I have managed distributed teams of employees from America to Europe and China, and most places in between.
To claim that I have seen it all it would be boastful but there you have it. At least I’ve seen a lot in regards to leadership, HR and management.
And although am not perfect – I believe the best leaders are always learning, just like everyone else – but here are seven major mistakes I’ve seen leaders repeatedly make and sink companies completely. These are killer mistakes and are almost always will destroy a company because they are like criminal character flaws for a CEO. Thankfully if I can help it, the CEOs suffering from these are usually replaced just before they drive the boat on the rocks. That is why I call them seven deadly sins, also known as the capital vices or cardinal sins, because they are a classification of vices and a strong part of Christian ethics, that has been used since early Christian times as an admonishment in order to educate and instruct Christians concerning fallen humanity’s tendency to sin.
So I’ll stick with the Christian theme in this story but because the sins are given in no particular order, as wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony – we’ll mix them up. Good to remember that each sin is a form of Idololatry-of-Self with Pride and Avarice being the worst examples of where the subjective self-serving behaviour reigns over the objective and rational reality of the community of the World.
1) Pride, is the old nemesis of highly intelligent people: This can be felt deeply when CEOs are micro-managing people. Especially at the C-level, leaders should have confidence to let the people they hired do their job, which often includes managing a team of their own. Hold employees accountable with specific goals and metrics – if they don’t meet them, figure out why, together. But if you have to micro manage your team (see their To Do list every day, ask the same questions over and over, etc), you’ve either hired the wrong people or you’re not focused on the bigger picture.
2) Sloth: is taking relaxation of Standards too far and taking the company to a new Low. It comes when the CEO is being perceived as “too hands-off” And although “sloth” might seem contradictory to the point above about Pride, you can’t disappear as a leader, either. There’s a difference between paying attention and ensuring everyone is meeting goals, vs stepping away and never checking in on progress towards those goals, while you are signing off electronically on your own salary receipts and Executive Compensation from your yacht in Saint Tropez. It’s not good leadership form to ask, “Is it done?” the day something is due, or even when you remember it a few days or even weeks later…
3) Wrath: is worrying all the time about everything and being angry at your people. Screaming at folks and employees and then start worrying about hurting everyone’s feelings. On the one hand, you need to lead in a positive manner, yet on the other hand, this is business. You can’t keep everyone happy, nor should you try. Screaming and causing break downs and then retreating and trying to avoid the inevitable conflict or the tough decisions due to fear of hurting someone’s feelings is a good way to lead in the wrong direction and damage people and the company irrepairably. As a matter of fact always take a deep breath before you “excommunicate” someone and before you attack the people for faults of their own or for a general organizational failure which is ultimately, failure to lead. And it rests with you…
4) Lust: is the Chief Excutive Officer’s failure to dig deep into the work while lusting for the perks and the admittedly heady compensation of the office. Failure to see things as they are by digging deep into the datastream of the company. Failure of the CEOs suffering from this cardinal sin of lust to access equitably all the employees and instead getting dazzled by the shinny monkeys out there. Lust is the idiotic failure to focus on what’s important because the CEO only sees the ones he/she cares lustfully about. Those executives in turn fail to see and are not able to check what’s working and what is not, who is working and who is not, and above all else, which way the ship’s compass is pointing at. If you know, by some special instinct – great. But if you can’t check the ship’s compass to find the true North, chances are you are a weather vane going round and round to wherever the wind is blowing you to.
5) Greed is accumulating assets — therefore liabilities and not knowing how to pare down the company to make it fit and healthy. So what do you do? Do you take the necessary steps to find out why something is working or isn’t? With all the data available in business today, smart leaders understand to dig in and analyze it both when things are great and when they’re not so great to keep going forward. Stop accumulating divisions, making M&A deals and acquiring companies, if you cannot digest them and make them work well for you and for the acquiring company. Eventually Your Company will be a target for Takeover. So the lesson here is for the company to stay lean, mean, and hungry. This allows you to repeat winning formulas, and understand the downfalls of your organization so that you can lead to improvement. This includes staff, resources, money ideas and all the combinations therein. It alos makes you a less “juicy” target for acquiring predators. And please don’t be naive enough to think you’re an organization with no downfalls and your culture is better than the acquiring or acquired company.
6) Envy is all about wasting money. I particularly see this in startups without a well defined product or a path to monetization, but with a couple of VC commitments and an Angel round under their belt. The moment they hit the cash machine that the VC term sheet represents for them — they go nuts. Parties and a boat type car are the first draw expenses these Startuppers are famous for. And they follow with a down payment on a chateau style house if they can help it. They envy the perks that Google offers to it’s employees and they start offering massages from Thai girls in the office when all they have is a couple of months of burn-rate to get them through. Especially after said startups close funding, and go from bootstrapping and skateboarding to the office, to buying expensive cars for the founders on credit, I walk away from them immediately. Although, I’ve also seen plenty of it in large enterprises where checks and balances get more difficult to track through multiple layers of spending. It’s always the special sickness of “Envy” that causes founders to believe that they are really hot shite and deserve the same perks as those large Corporate CEOs who manage thousands of people. It never fails to surprise me how many startup CEOs, specifically, don’t really track where the money goes, and if the spending is wise in relation to where the company is in its lifecycle.
7) Gluttony: It’s easy to get caught up in the visceral items – marketing, events, sponsorships, branding – cool business cards, hiring a big name PR firm, or sponsoring a popular tech publications’ startup event. These are all things I’ve seen (especially first time) founders get excited about because it brings cache and (temporary) attention, and makes things feel “real.” But are those the items that are going to close customers for you early on? Are they helping you to develop a better product?
And I added a bonus for You who read this far. Here is an old vice from the old and stricter Christian Doctrine because it is necessary to have it in our arsenal of sins to avoid:
8) Avarice: Failure to discern. There’s a difference – a big one – between what a startup should be spending on vs a decade-old company with a solid customer base and revenue stream. Good leaders shoot down the more “fun” ideas in the early stages, and keep their teams focused on what’s going to bring in the right elements to the company – and continue to apply that insight during each of its lifecycle and growth stages.
The other overriding Sin not spelled out in the Christian educational cannon or in the religious arena, is the leader’s Bad Communication skills, and his failure to listen and relate well. This is a Big One.
Leaders listen. Leaders have to listen and to record everything. Leaders have to remember and leaders have to communicate clearly. Too many leaders think they don’t need to communicate clearly because everyone should just know what they want. This doesn’t work in personal relationships, and it sure doesn’t work in employer/employee relationships, either. Be clear, be concise, be consistent.
Don’t always talk in parables, or metaphors, and platitudes. It doesn’t make for Good Leadership. As a matter of fact it doesn’t make sense either. people will be always wondering what you meant Two Thousand freaking years later but next quarter results will surely suffer.
Some say that this is the reason Christ was crucified because He did not make it clear to his disciples that he needed to pray in Peace at the Mount of the Olives. He gave them a nifty metaphor about Officers of Peace, and they misunderstood his command, and sent for the Cops to keep the peace.
The rest is History…
It’s absolutely mind boggling how bad leaders can slow down the progress of a company simply by not speaking clearly their commands and by not listening to their followers. They sink the ship with Mumbo Jumbo… So instead of talking about Second Comings, please make it right the First Time. Capice?
And listen to your people carefully and satisfy the little needs and wants they have early on before they become major grievances. Case in point … Judas Iscariot, who wanted some “dough” and a raise, and Jesus failed on both occasions to deliver some measure of satisfaction to Iscariot, who went elsewhere to sell his “Inside Information”
The Inside Information in the wrong hands was the “kiss of Death” delivered to Jesus Christ, with the known apocalyptic results.
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How the Next iPhone Could Finally Kill the Credit Card
By Marcus Wohlsen of WIRED magazine
Remember when 3G was such a big deal that Apple named its new iPhone after what was then the new standard in mobile data transmission? The iPhone 3G, introduced in 2008, was the second iteration of the pioneering smartphone, and in a way the name was as much gloating as it was tribute. When cellular data mostly meant sending crude videos and maybe a song over the network, the old standard was good enough. But the radical new potential for connected mobile computing unleashed by the iPhone meant users would go with whichever carrier could move the most data the fastest. Apple forced the telecoms to up their games, and the competition has yet to cease.
Meanwhile, another kind of network has stagnated. Despite the proliferation of mobile payments companies, from startups like Square to a mobile-revamped PayPal, credit cards remain the standard for paying in-person and online. The money may move digitally, at least after the analog swipe of the card, but it’s still along the same old networks, a kind of parallel internet built to handle credit cards long before the web, much less the iPhone, existed.
For all anyone with an iPhone is concerned, the way to pay will be Apple.
But if, as predicted, the next-generation iPhone includes a chip that makes the device scannable at checkout counters, Apple could catalyze a transformation in how money moves that is at least as substantial as the improvements in how data moves that Cupertino forced upon the telecom industry. At first, an iPhone wallet likely would act as a surrogate for credit cards, a way to store the data of multiple cards but using the phone as the way to transfer that data instead of a swipe. But over time, the point of holding onto any of those cards, which become digital abstractions once they’re on the phone, likely will fall away. Instead, for all anyone with an iPhone is concerned, the way to pay will be Apple.
A Better Experience
The subject of Apple’s unique power to change the way payments work came up in a conversation I had yesterday with the co-founder of Dwolla, a Des Moines, Iowa, startup building an internet-based alternative to the existing credit card network standards with the aim of moving money in real time. Send a dollar, get a dollar, the way the internet works. The five-year-old company counts among its users the state of Iowa, which accepts several kinds of tax payments via Dwolla.
The imperative the iPhone created for telecoms to upgrade their data networks holds a lesson for the leverage Apple has to change the payments landscape, says Dwolla CEO Ben Milne.
‘Apple’s already got a great mobile wallet. You use it all the time when you buy something on iTunes.’
“They already have 800 million cards on file,” Milne says of Apple. With that kind of heft to back it up, Apple can then rely on its proven design expertise to entice users into its payment world. “They’re going to give people a better experience that’s arguably, probably more efficient and more simple with hardware they control.”
In that world, it’s Apple, not the credit card companies, that have the control, even if those iPhone wallets are being used to “store” those credit cards. The credit card becomes abstract, just another option to tap that otherwise stays hidden. Really, you’ll be paying with Apple. In a sense, iPhone users already do. “Apple’s already got a great mobile wallet in that thing,” Milne says. “You use it all the time when you buy something on iTunes.”
The Next Logical Step
Once the credit card becomes that hidden (do you remember which one is connected to your iTunes account?), it’s only a short logical step to that card being eliminated altogether. Apple could get into the credit side of the game itself. Or it could integrate with a new kind of network such as Dwolla.
Dwolla may not quite be ready yet to act as Apple’s payment backend. But an Apple mobile wallet could only help Dwolla, and new internet-based ways of moving money in general. Right now, consumers don’t have much of a reason to use their phones instead of a card to pay in stores. Each mobile payment startup has its own platform that merchants may or (more likely) may not take. Nearly all of those merchants, on the other hand, take cards.
The ubiquity of an NFC-enabled iPhone, however, finally could force brick-and-mortar stores to offer a pay-by-phone option. And once Apple peels people away from physical credit cards to a digitized version of plastic, Dwolla and everyone else become digital options on the same equal footing in the same wallet.
Apple has the ability to succeed where Google and the few NFC-enabled Android phones to hit the market never could, because Apple controls the hardware and the software. Google supported NFC with its own wallet, but few handsets came out with the chips inside, since few payment terminals would take them. And few merchants bothered to accept NFC, since so few phones had it. That uncertainty disappears as soon as an NFC-enabled iPhone 6 floods the streets.
And while an iPhone wallet won’t mean an end of credit cards anytime soon—American Express and Visa reportedly have reached agreements to work with Apple—it’s hard to see how its spread wouldn’t hasten a future free of plastic. After all, a credit card is just a medium for transferring data, just like a smartphone. Except unlike a smartphone, a credit card doesn’t do anything else. The credit card companies themselves see this day coming.
If Apple, as expected, announces Tuesday that iPhones will become a new way to pay, the rest of the world might finally see that future, too.
Leaders, CEOs, and Startup founders, doing it RIGHT are few and far in between.
But those doing it right after a few successes are legion.
And that is because it’s much more likely to run a Homerun and built a Great Enterprise — than the first-timers attempts at building a real business.
It’s a bit like bicycling. You fall a lot in the beginning but later you can drive and pedal the wicked contraption, like you are riding a train. Steady like Rubby on Rails. Nothing can derail you…
So it is with riding the business enterprise once You know how to keep on moving on two wheels, without the training wheels that first timers require. Once you get the hang of it. Nothing can push you off the saddle.
And knowing how to ride a business at the helm also gives you a good sense to hold on to the handle bars to steer, but it also teaches you to ride with your knees, and scream at the top of your lungs: Look Ma… no hands.
Something we call flying with the seat of your pants. With practice it gets easier and easier all the time, and it makes perfect sense to follow what the seasoned folks at the helm of new companies are doing. Go ahead and learn from them if you want to ride without training wheels, because if you want to learn how to bicycle you follow a bicyclist and not a theoretical Physicist. Especially avoid an armchair thinker who does not know how to ride a bike…
So follow these serial entrepreneurs because what they all know is that, once you have a good product meeting the market, then the only thing You must do is ride hard.
Maybe even fly, because when the product to market suit fits well, and once you hit Initial Traction, then it’s all part of a simple ride. But you’ve got to keep on moving fast. Keep pedalling hard and you’ll get to go places.
Admittedly, it cannot be explained in simple business terms why when you get the dovetail fit between product and market in alignement, a business is born. Even if it can’t be explained – that is the actual moment of Creation. Same as it cannot be adequately explained in physics terms how the bicycle and the rider stay upright when the bike is in motion, that is the moment of a bicyclist being a bicyclist. You call yourself that only when the bicycle is in motion and you are riding it.
Now as the Business is literally born at the moment of traction between the product meet the market and make happy… or bicycling being the movement when the bike tires hit the road and keep on moving — your responsibility is to get the people to follow you forward. It is right then and with a given ACV, that you have to basically scale everything up — the same way you brought it here and get all the people of the Organization in Positive Alignment for the pursuit of the Common Purpose.
And these serial entrepreneurs, amazingly, know how to do this well. Because they know how to lead and get people to follow them to the promised land. And like all Good Prophets, they also know how to tell the Future.
They know how to the future because they’ve seen the film before. In Startup or mature business or anything in between, the people who have loads of experience can run a Great Game this year, but also know how the game will play out 2-3-5 years down the road. They know that “bicycling” is king in business and it’s all about building recurring revenue. Recurring Revenue and IRR is KING after all, and steady growth is the QUEEN. With huge second-order effects, and deal size increases and steady same financial growth over time, the rewards for getting to that stage are already pretty good.
So here is a list of the top Seven things that serial entrepreneurs, seasoned folks, and serial CEOs, are doing that when combined, lead to success:
1) Committing time, people and capital for 2+ years from the get-go. There are a number of reasons that the Serial Entrepreneurs are raising large amounts of capital early. One is just because they can since today, there is so much capital sloshing around that double dipping is the custom. But there’s a more subtle reason too: Time. We know that if we have a great team, especially a proven one, pointed in the general right direction — we can get customers. Given enough time.
2) Yet we also know that the 0.1 or 1.0 version may not hit it. There’s no WhatsApp social explosion normally unless you are WhatsApp. For most Founders it’s a slow burn to start. So give yourself two to three years because if you only give yourself a year — your odds of success go way, way, way down. You need a 2 years’ burn at a minimum, to get to Initial Traction. Team and capital lined up, one way or another, that are committed for 2+ years on Day 0, is what the seasoned folks look for. But even without that, the Bootstrapping has to be a two year long effort because one year just isn’t long enough to prove you can get to Initial Traction in ninety percent of the startup businesses.
3) Leaning in heavily on customer success. We talked before about hiring one customer success manager for every $1-$2m. That’s the right metric — from a pure business model perspective. But the Seasoned Folks all know about Second Order Revenue, and how critical the success of your early customers are. They get you the case studies, the reference accounts, the thought leadership. So the Seasoned Folks often hire 3+ customer success managers almost on Day 1. As soon as they have any customers they hire success managers. So Go Out and hire them and then just smother them with love. Bring them brownies. Solve every problem. Bring them onboard by experiencing every user personally. Do just everything RIGHT.
4) When you are more upmarket, or at least, hitting higher ACVs, the other thing most Seasoned Folks are doing is looking to provide more value and higher ACVs. As appealing as freemium and small business models can seem from the sidelines — it’s just mathematically harder. You can get to $10m ARR pretty quickly in chunks of $100k ACV deals. You only need 100 customers then, to hit Initial Scale. But at $5 a month? Man … it’s tough. The Seasoned Folks want to go from Initial Traction ($1-$1.5m ARR) to Initial Scale ($10m+) faster. So they aim for more value, representing more of a solution, and thus, higher ACVs. if you can build a $100m self-service business without the need for a sales team, a client success team, webinars, getting on planes, and all that — go for it. One con is that these businesses often are tougher to gain a longer-term competitive advantage in unless there is a network effect (e.g., DropBox). And competition thus ends up being even fiercer. But from a business model perspective, why invest in sales, demand gen, and all that if you don’t have to? Why not just build a wonderful product and let them all sign up on their own? Let me just share one semi-obvious piece of math and learning. No matter how hard I tried to drive up self-service as a % of our revenue, the laws of this math and gravity held it back to a minority of our revenue. Just as it is at many others as well that started as simple self-service models. Here’s the thing. If your product is 100% individual-focused, and you add just enough features to sell to a Team, to tilt just slightly upmarket — you can grow your revenue, at least a segment of your revenue, by 20-30x.
5) Forgetting about optionality. As first-time founders, optionality can seem very important. I don’t want to raise too much, or I can’t sell for $X. I don’t want to commit to too senior a hire until I’m clear it’s going to work. Cash-flow positive as an end-goal even if it sacrifices growth. There’s something to be said about optionality. I get it. I did it, sort of. But I wouldn’t worry about optionality again. Neither do any of the Seasoned Folks. Not just because you’ve already put a few bucks in the bank. But because it can hold you back. It weighs you down. You end up under-investing, not just in monetary capital, but human capital, systems, and hiring ahead as well. More on why all the great hires are accretive, please read bellow.
6) Hiring more seasoned VPs and managers. First time CEOs often like to hire up-and-comers. The scrappy kid who really wants that VP title. The one that really only managed a few folks before (if any), but has gumption. Drive. And great domain expertise in his last job. The thing is, the Seasoned Folks know it’s all a playbook. And experience really helps you run it faster and better. It’s not that Seasoned Folks hire Mr. Dashboards in the early days. They don’t. But they hire hands-on but battle-tested executives who will roll up their sleeves. They’re not afraid to pay more, hire higher, and hire more seasoned executives. Because they know if they get a great one, it pays off. This may not work for you. But it works for the Seasoned Folks. So just think about it before you hire a VP Sales who’s never really hired a great team before. Because it’s 50x better when they have done so successfully before. Yet in most start-ups, it seems like the majority of first VP Sales fail. Don’t even make it 12 months. And totally screw things up as they fail. And this is really, really painful. It’s much worse than a bad VP Marketing hire. Because with a bad VP Sales you can lose so much momentum, and create so much internal confusion, that this one bad hire can really cripple you as you try to get from Initial Traction to Initial Scale.
7) Hire large, because it turns out, once you hit just $2m in ARR, and maybe even much earlier — every great hire will be accretive. Will make you more money than you pay them in cash. I guarantee it, in fact. Let me explain the math. Let’s assume you are at $2m ARR, to make the math simple: You hire a Great VP of Sales, and it’s an accretive hire proven in 90-120 Days. For say $300k OTE. A great VP of Sales, within one year, can easily close 20-50% more business than you would have without him or her. Even just 20%, the bottom end of the range … is $400,000 in additional revenue ($2m x 20%). You hire a Great VP of Marketing, and it’s Accretive within 90-180 Days. Let’s say you’re at $2m ARR again, growing 80% YoY. And you don’t have a great VP of Marketing yet. Well, make that hire, and you really don’t think you can get another 20-30% improvement from your existing lead flow? By properly communicating and marketing to them? By doing better webinars, better city tours, better whatever? Of course she or he can. Another 20% is again … an additional $400,000 in revenue. Even just a 10% improvement in your lead-to-revenue performance, even just another 10% in true qualified leads … will more than pay for the hire. Every Great Sales Rep is Accretive at $2m in ARR. In Just 2 Sales Cycles. Even just at $1.5m-$2m, there’s enough momentum in the business, enough repeatability, that a great rep can really have an almost instant impact. Take his or her leads, and make 20%-30% more out of them than a mid-pack or mediocre rep (and maybe more. The best reps often can yield 50-100% more than the mid-packers from a given set of leads). So that incremental Great Rep takes his or her say 500 leads a year, and instead of turning them into $350,000 like the last guy … she turns them into $500,000. Again, more than pays for herself. And fast. And that’s just first year ACV. Every Great Engineer is Accretive at $2m in ARR. In Just One Full Release Cycle. You think engineers are cost centers, at least from a financial model perspective? Not if you are selling into the enterprise. What you’ll learn is that if you can get one more Needed-it-to-Close-the-Big-Deal feature every 3-6 months … that great engineer will pay for herself. You need to lose a few five or six figure deals to a feature gap to get this, to see it. But once you do, it will become crystal clear. If you just had that one extra great engineer, you would have closed Google. More than pays for herself, again. Great Customer Success Managers Can Be Accretive Managing Just $800k-$1m in Existing ARR Within 9-12 Months. A lot of mature Startup Web and Communications companies use the metric of ~$2m in ARR per customer success rep. But if you get a great team — you can hire a lot more aggressively than that. A mediocre CSM might say retain 100% of your mid-market revenue on a net-of-churn basis. But a great one might, by really creating true customer success, with upgrades, can get that same customer base to renew at 110-120% of last year’s ACV. That incremental 10% … pays for the CSM right there (10% of $1m = $100k). And that’s just one year’s worth of ACV. If that customer lasts 3-5 years, and you see Second Order revenue from it … the ROI will be very, very high. Even with a great CSM managing as little as $800k in ACV, he or she can be very accretive. A great one. Picking Up the Phone Can Be Accretive in 90 Days. It’s even true in customer support. No one picks up the phone. It’s too expensive. They want to do email tickets. Which customers hate, 9 times out of 10. They want someone to answer the da*n phone. Imagine you save just 10 customers over the course of a year at a $4k ACV by picking up the phone. That’s less than one saved customer a month. And voila! — you’ve more than paid for an extra customer support rep right there. I didn’t figure this out until $4m in ARR. Once we got there, I saw all of this. I told every manager to hire everyone they wanted. No headcount limits. No budgets. Only so long as they were truly Great. And hence, accretive. Because I waited until $4m in ARR, with hindsight, I wasted a lot of time from $1.5m to $4m in ARR. Because we should have just hired every single employee that was Great, no matter if it seemed expensive on paper. Of Course this only works if you have 12+ months in cash. Because these accretive employees need time to close their deals, build their features, launch their campaigns. So don’t make all these hires if you have < 9 months of cash in the bank and are too worried about money. And this only works if the hires are truly great. That extra rep, if she or he is mediocre, is mid-pack … may play a role in your org. But she’ll just be taking leads from another theoretical or existing hire, she won’t be increasing revenue per lead. The mediocre, incremental rep or engineer or CSM isn’t accretive. But at $2m ARR, maybe even $1.5m ARR or even less if you have a repeatable process … everyone great is accretive. If you meet one — hire him or her. That day. And just pay market. Don’t quibble over salary for the great ones. Because it doesn’t matter really, what you pay — if he or she is a profit center.
I know if you’re a First Time CEO you can’t do all of this. But I just bring it up to challenge your thinking. To try to go even bigger. Harder. Is your biggest customer paying you $50k ACV? Ask for $100k next time. Trust me. You can probably get it. Worried you can’t compete with some brand name company for a great hire? If you have great metrics, you probably can. Open the kimono. Share. See where that takes you.
At the end of the day, us Seasoned Folks know it’s all about three things beyond the product: A) Time — allowing yourself enough time to get to Initial Traction. B) Getting from Initial Traction to Initial Scale as fast as possible. C) And then, putting the right team in place to leverage the momentum as you hit Initial Scale.
And then you are barrelling down the road …
Look Ma.. no hands.
We are off to the Races.
That’s the high-level Riding Game. And the playbook for Business Success. And remember that the serial entrepreneurs or the great, experienced business Leaders know most of the plays by heart.
So run as many proven plays as you can in your company — but run the ones that are already proven.
And then: “Run Forest Run…”
Leave innovation for the product side.
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British Petroleum judgement in NOLA Federal Court case started by Environmental Parliament has been entered. British Petroleum has been found Guilty. Guilty for the Massive Oil Spill Disaster because it was Reckless, Grossly Negligent, and Wilfully Misbehaving, in the Gulf Oil Spill Disaster. British Petroleum is now set to pay $18 Billion in fines, and mass Class Action compensation to affected entities, businesses, and citizens of New Orleans Louisiana.
British Petroleum was found reckless, negligent, and guilty of wilful misconduct, for it’s actions resulting in the massive oil spill of the Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans, in April of 2010.
In a 153 page detailed and simple language ruling that was handed down on Thursday, a federal judge in New Orleans found that the biggest oil spill in US history, the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster, was caused by BP’s “willful misconduct” and “gross negligence.”
On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 people and spilling millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf over the next several months. According to the US Federal Court, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit include “the federal government, five Gulf of Mexico states, banks, restaurants, fishermen and a host of others.”
The case also includes two other companies that were involved in aspects of the design and function of the Deepwater Horizon—Transocean and Halliburton—though the bulk of the blame was reserved for BP.
“BP’s conduct was reckless,” wrote Federal Judge Carl Barbier, in a 153-page ruling. “Transocean’s conduct was negligent. Halliburton’s conduct was negligent.”
The judge ruled that BP was responsible for 67 percent of the blowout, explosion and subsequent oil spill, while Transocean was at fault for 30 percent, and Halliburton for the remaining 3 percent.
According to the Court’s Ruling, BP could face fines of as much as $18 billion.
Additionally the Transocean corporation, could be hitched to an $8 billion fine, and Haliburton to almost $900 million fine.
We went all out in the Environmental Parliament to bring together the community of New Orleans in our recurring Town Hall meetings and our Class Action Legal Team work.
It is crucial to remember that in these meetings the EP teams of activists, legal professionals and judges, coordinated and filed the original Mass Class Action Law Suits that resulted in this now finally successful lawsuit that gave us this remedial US District Court ruling.
Am proud of the work we all did those hard days filled with uncertainty and doubt — more than four years ago. But above all else am extremely grateful for all your help and for the NOLA community and the Environmental Parliament Activists who brought this about in the face of untold fears, intimidation and obstructionism by the goons of the most powerful Fossil Fuel company in the world.
KUDOS, CONGRATS, WELL DONE.
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