Archive: cash flow

Andreessen warns: don’t burn cash, or you’ll turn to ash

Cash Burn

Don’t burn cash, says Marc Andreessen. In a retweet of Fred Wilson’s Post on burning cash, losing money. Marc Andreessen warns that hyper valuations should be used by entrepreneurs to stash up on cash, not to have delusions of grandeur and spend it all until you have nothing left to spend.

 

This is an interesting and important point. Says Marc, we are not in a bubble unless the spending behaviour of entrepreneurs make it a bubble. Their companies can well create the value implied in high valuations, as has been proven by the many spectacular success cases of disruptive players from Facebook to Uber. But startups need to stay focused and not spend because they have.

 

As my early mentor Ken Morse was wont to say: the laws of gravity have not been repealed.

 

 

Monetization or Reach?

In a recent discussion I had at a meeting of which I am a non-executive member, the eternal discussion of

whether priority should be given to monetization or to reach and internationalization

was brought up. The debate centered around the question of whether or not the exit perspectives of the venture (of which I am also a shareholder) would increase or decrease, depending on whether the business model was first proven, at the detriment of international reach, or whether monetization should be allowed to lag because entry into several international markets at once would be a priority.

To me, this debate simply has the wrong starting point. While it is true that exit markets, such as the stock market or the M&A market, are – just like any other market – subject to buyer preference analysis, and while there is some credit to the claim that understanding the decision making “fashions” of typical M&A acquirers does help you in setting the price of your venture at exit,

timing towards such an exit market is more of a gamble than a company strategy.

In my experience, having now gone through two boom and one bust phases, the best strategy for a company to pursue is to

create a viable business model that creates value for customers that customers are prepared to pay for.

This may not always be the “sexiest” portrayal a startup can give itself (as opposed to: we are the next Facebook), but to paraphrase the old saying about design following function or form following function-

PR and the Elevator Pitch should follow the strategy and not the other way around.

This is why I literally get angry at classic venture capital thinking that sees company strategy solely in the dimension of “How will this fit my exit market? How can I sell this story to an acquirer?”. I would always strongly advise any founder

to have a clear and separate vision of their business model that cannot be influenced or swayed, save by the customer

and to work relentlessly on proving and creating that.

Incidentally, succesful American start-ups have often proven that this is the best strategy since they have always focused on gaining size and growth in their home markets before over-focussing on internationalization. In general, this has given them the size and clout necessary to, if need be, acquire whoever it was in a landscape within a specific market. It is true, that this does not always work and that some local markets have been lost even for giants such as Yahoo! and E-bay because they haven’t gone local on time, but conversely there is no known example of a company that went for reach without a viable business model and survived.

Eventually, you do have to pay the bills.

So if you do have to reach several international markets at once (because you are in a European market with too small a home market or because your board is adamant or because you have that peculiar megalomania that most entrepreneurs – including me – indulge in, I would advise the following order or priorities in formulating your company strategy:

1) Define your Business Model

2) Prove it by acquiring your reference customer base

3) Identify the growth factors in your business model with respect to paying customers

4) Identify the multipliers or incumbents in other international markets

5) Internationalize on a sales / business model driven basis by acquiring reference paying customers in those markets

The perceptions of your target exit markets can change faster than you can change the positioning of your company.

But a functioning business model and a continuous revenue stream are two realities that a) always let your survive independently of your VC backing and b) always find an acquirer.

Where there is a business model, there always eventually is an exit market.

VCs are sooooo cyclical

Rumour has it VCs are downbeat again. Well, on the one hand I can’t blame them, and on the other it brings me back the structural problem of assessing innovation as an investor. I have been observing a very fashion-driven, impressionable and cyclical focus of VCs on The Things That Exit Well (TTTEW), coupled with a regularly disdainful disregard of Never Heard of That (NHoT) and Don’t Believe It Works (DBIW).

Interestingly, most acclaimed hot shots, like skype, or Social Bookmarking, or even Apple in the beginning, went through year-long phases of NHoT and DBIW before sparking real Oh God I Hope We’ll Get a Deal in That Space Epidemic (OGIHWGaDiTSE).

Now as a proponent of a few Startups That Earn Actual Money (STEAM) – I like to think of our company as having a STEAM-Engine, being STEAM-Driven, or believing in STEAM-Power, if that is not too much self-E-STEAM – I keep wondering why it is much harder for VCs to see the merits of Social Commerce models vs. simple Social Network models.

There is no logical explanation for this. And if you think of it, copying something that just exited well is about the stupidest thing you can do:

1. It has already been done
2. It has become big enough to just exit
3. It has become so big everybody actually knows about it
4. There are at least 100 other boy group founding teams and greedy-panicky Vijays (see Dilbert for who that is) funding them who are trying to do the latest GooTube thing

…doesn’t strike you as smart? It’s being done. All the time. Again. And it’s sooo 1990s, ain’t it?

So, dear entrepreneurs, stick to your guns on real innovation, don’t foray into the OGIHWGaDiTSE, avoid the Vijays, and remember MIT’s secret formula for success, as transmitted by Prof. Ken Morse:

CFIMITYM

(Cash Flow is More Important Than your Mother)

Cheers

Rocketrabbit

PS: I’m known for being a real Punster…

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