Archive: entrepreneurship

Managerial Versus Entrepreneurial Decision Making

The following text is from a McGraw-Hill Book on Entrepreneurship published in 2005

The difference between the entrepreneurial and the managerial styles can be viewed from five key business dimensions—strategic orientation, commitment to opportunity, commitment of resources, control of resources, and management structure. Managerial styles are called the administrative domain.


Strategic Orientation
The entrepreneur’s strategic orientation depends on his or her perception of the opportunity. This orientation is most important when other opportunities have diminishing returns accompanied by rapid changes in technology, consumer economies, social values, or political rules. When the use of planning systems as well as measuring performance to control current resources is the strategic orientation, the administrative (managerial) domain is operant, as is the case with many large multinational organizations.


Commitment to Opportunity
In terms of the commitment to opportunity, the second key business dimension, the two domains vary greatly with respect to the length of this commitment. The entrepreneurial domain is pressured by the need for action, short decision windows, a willingness to assume risk, and few decision constituencies and has a short time span in terms of opportunity commitment. This administrative (managerial) domain is not only slow to act on an opportunity, but once action is taken, the commitment is usually for a long time span, too long in some instances. There are often no mechanisms set up in companies to stop and reevaluate an initial resource commitment once it is made—a major problem in the administrative (managerial) domain.


Commitment of Resources
An entrepreneur is used to having resources committed at periodic intervals that are often based on certain tasks or objectives being reached. These resources, often acquired from others, are usually difficult to obtain, forcing the entrepreneur to maximize any resources used. This multistage commitment allows the resource providers (such as venture capitalists or private investors) to have as small an exposure as possible at each stage of business development and to constantly monitor the track record being established. Even though the funding may also be implemented in stages in the administrative domain, the commitment of the recourses is for the total amount needed. Administratively oriented individuals respond to the source of the rewards offered and receive personal rewards by effectively administering the resources under their control.


Control of Resources
Control of the resources follows a similar pattern. Since the administrator (manager) is rewarded by effective resource administration, there is often a drive to own or accumulate as many resources as possible. The pressures of power, status, and financial rewards cause the administrator (manager) to avoid rental or other periodic use of the resource. The opposite is true for the entrepreneur who—under the pressure of limited resources, the risk of obsolescence, a need for flexibility, and the risks involved—strives to rent, or otherwise achieve periodic use of, the recourses on an as-needed basis.


Management Structure
The final business dimension, management structure, also differs significantly between the two domains. In the administrative domain, the organizational structure is formalized and hierarchical in nature, reflecting the need for clearly defined lines of authority and responsibility. The entrepreneur, true to his or her desire for independence employs a flat organizational structure with informal networks throughout.


Source: Hisrich, PhD, Robert D., Michael P. Peters, PhD and Dean A. Shepherd, PhD. Entrepreneurship. 6 ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin, 2005.

Rezession die beste Zeit für Social Media? [German]

Peter Turi hat ein Video – Interview geposted, dass er mit mir auf dem DLD 09 geführt haben. Darin stellt er solche spannenden Fragen wie:

1) Ist Rezession eine schlechte Zeit für Startups?

2) Wird sich bei den Startups die Spreu vom Weizen trennen?

3) Wird YouTube sevenload verdrängen?

4) Was ist das “nächste große Ding?”

Hier sind meine Antworten:

Interview Turi2 (2009): Interview with Axel Schmiegelow about his entrepreneurship (German) from curtis newton gmbh on Vimeo.

Labor Costs and Service Prices in the US economy: hidden flexibility?

Travelling through the US once again and hearing comments about the recession every day, I was struck by the elasticity of US business once again. As much as the business climate is intoxicating to the point of being hectic in boom times, as seen in 1999/2000 and once again in 2007, in bear times everything gets very gloomy.

I was riding in a cab in Las Vegas headed to CES and for once in the habit of European cab fares I forgot to tip the cab driver. He commented “You Europeans never tip, do you?”. After paying the due tip, I reflected on how dependent employees in all services industries were on tips for their regular income. I also noticed that tipping behavior on the part of Americans differed strongly from what I had experienced just 6 months ago on my last extended trip to California. People now, out of need or out of fashion, were downright stingy. Given that such large portions of the US economy are service based, I could not help but wonder how that had the same effect as a wage cut in many of these industries. At the very least, it shows that employers, who deflect part of the necessity of paying market wages to the culture of tipping and its encouragement in the policies of their businesses, thereby have an instrument to reduce and flexibilize their labor cost. In boom times employees earn more from tips and in bust times they earn less without the employer having to enforce wage cuts. This benefits the employer because he remains at his (low) wage cost basis, keeps his prices stable and lets the customer reduce tips if he feels he needs to. Since tips are part of the price structure of using a service, this means that lower tipping amounts to a deflation of service prices from the point of the customer. Thus, in a way, the business owner is leaving part of the pricing to the customer who can deflate the price he pays at will if his pockets are tied – as is the case in a recession.

Now while this, from a European perspective, could be perceived as an unfair advantage the business owner has in his relation to employees and customers, it could also be described as an “entrepreneurial risk” of the employee. Employees that commit particularly well to the service they are a part of and endear themselves to customers will invariably in good or bad times reap better tips from the customers. An employee who does well will probably convince a business owner to give him the responsibilities (assigned tables, assigned services) that will have the highest likelihood of earning him tips. One can already observe that some businesses compete on a labor market by installing policies that encourage tips.

A hamburger chain called Fat Burger places a small tip box next to a big tip box at the cash register and each time a larger tip is paid into the so called “fat tip box” the cashier yells out “FAT TIP!” and all other employees chime in yelling “FAT TIP!” as well.

As ludicrous as a discussion of the macroeconomic effect of tipping might seem at first glance, the impact on the US economy must be sizable. Considering the service industry is a 10s of billions of dollars segment of the economy and that average tipping is between 10 and 20 % of a purchase, tipping could well amount to several billion dollars in the economy. Adding or subtracting billions of dollars of volume to the price structure of the service industry could in turn have stronger than imagined effects on inflation and deflation, as well as on purchasing power in low income segments of the population.

As I am not an economist, I will leave the discussion at that, but I sure would find it interesting to know if this has ever been explored academically.

CES Depressed

This year, all Las Vegas was abuzz with the expectations of attendance to CES – and how they were not met. From cab drivers to convention exhibitors, everyone was touting the scale of the downturn.

To us, the convention presented a more mixed picture. As often is the case in downturns, in an overall downbeat environment, a few interesting developments could be observed:

1) The Slingbox by Slingmedia: offering some 14 Mil. subscribers of its parent company, a midsize cable operator in the US, the opportunity to access Web TV content through their cable content.

2) The advent of HD to TV and other screens, including a number of interesting personal camera devices.

3) The increasing dissemination of “cloud” (now there’s a buzzword) logic to the consumer world: first through “thin client” notebooks that are not much more than windows to web services, and second through a push towards homes servers, ranging from Windows solutions to proprietary home hifi systems. Its too early to name this a significant consumer trend, but slowly we are seeing the first applications for the “internet of things”, “cloud computing”, and “semantic web”.

Recession is the best time for entrepreneurs, Ken Morse (and others) says. Now is the time to see and grasp the potential of these new technologies as they slowly approach end consumer relevance.

What makes good leadership?

A lot is being said and has been written about how strategies and market mechanics determine the success or failure of ventures and large companies. But any entrepreneur will confirm that it usually is execution which decides the fate of the company, especially in venture companies. Thus, leadership capabilities may be the most important skill set of venture management.

Leadership, management, and the principles which guide how employees are motivated and directed in their tasks are usually treated either as a self help topic in management books or as the HR side of company organization.

It might be time to focus on leadership and HR capabilities in the strategic dimension they have for the company. This means to recognize that the best company strategy can be killed by the wrong leadership methods. Good leadership is not only an important requirement for management. It is the necessary condition for company success!

In the region of North Germany where part of my family comes from we say that a fish always stinks from the head, which in my opinion puts in a nutshell the essence of leadership. If your venture team is not motivated or doesn’t excel, start at the head.

Ted Levitt once said that

organizations exist to enable ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things,

which I believe is only a way to say that things happen only if people do them. The success of a company is only achieved if the employees and the managers of that company willingly take the necessary actions to enable that success.

That is certainly first and foremost a question of deciding which of the actions that are available in a given situation is chosen, but it is equally importantly a question of ensuring that every employee executes that strategy in the way that best ensures success, including feedback and adaptation of the strategy when problems arise.

Achieving this, however, is a question of leadership.

Since all dictatorships eventually fail, leadership cannot be reduced to the ability to bark orders. All great historic figures acclaimed for their leadership, from Julius Cesar to Napoleon, from Spartacus to Martin Luther King, are all admired for their ability to inspire, to motivate, and to convey a sense of purpose to a large number of people, i.e. to the organization that they led.

Inspiration however, is nothing without credibility. Credibility, in turn, is only achieved through authenticity. Authenticity is only achieved through honesty. Applied to the world of the 21st century and the context of leadership in business organizations, this means that a truly successful leader needs to combine the ability to inspire others with a set of skills and principles that are tenets of credibility as a leader:

1. An inspiring sense of purpose.

2. A clear set of unflinching values. Shifty leaders command no respect.

3. Honesty at all costs.

4. The ability to communicate necessities and convey a sense of urgency to a team.

5. The ability to define the organization as a community serving a common goal.

6. The ability to honestly admit own mistakes and address the weaknesses of the organization.

7. Relentless commitment to the company goal, including the necessary ability to “punish underperformance”, without humiliating anyone in the organization.

8. The ability to lead by example, including in personal matters such as health or respect for others.

9. The discipline to pursue a strategy and tactics that belong to that strategy and to adapt these whenever necessary, not only “acting from the gut”.

10. The intelligence to always overestimate competition and underestimate your own position.

Most of these traits require a certain level of self-assurance, respect for others, and clear view of your own shortcomings that is incompatible with most managerial egos. But while there are enough cases of at least temporarily successful egomaniacs, in the long run only those entrepreneurs intelligent enough to value, respect, and reward their performing team members, and self-critical enough to recognize their own mistakes become truly great.

Reps and Warranties in Venture Capital Deals

This weekend a friend of mine called me up, as he was completing – as a leading seed investor – the first round (series A) of a company that I have a minority stake in. He told me that the round being negotiated was just short of Signing, as all main deal elements had been agreed with the investor (a large and well-known VC Fund), but there was one last point of contention left, and – big surprise! – that was Reps and Warranties.

That made me think once again about the peculiar habit of venture capitalists to turn Reps and Warranties almost as much a difficult topic as in M&A. If you think about the term “Venture Capital”, the whole concept is that you venture into something and there is no precisely NO guarantee of success.

Of course it makes full sense to commit founders to proper representation of the state the company is in and to also make them liable for the so-called Title Guarantees, in effect making sure that the shares being transferred to the investor are free of third party rights, are indeed constituted legally and are not subject to any limitations. However, I do not understand why these Reps and Warranties so often go to the core of the risks of the business model, thereby in effect giving the venture capital investment more the character of debt financing, disguised in the Reps and Warranties clause.

Why do I say this?

Because if a founder signs up for – say – a 3 Mil. Euro investment and the company fails due to an event that is at the core of the typical risk of the business model, this may create a warranty case that in the worst of all contract agreements may include full damage to be paid by the founder. This then means that the investor may get up to the total sum of that investment in damages from the founder because of an event that constituted the essence of the typical venture risk.

So put very bluntly, by enforcing Reps & Warranties covering business risks, the investor covered his venture risk by making the founder liable for failure of exactly that risk.

We all know that founders who may be otherwise admirable do not like to focus on legal details and may have bad luck in a choice of their attorneys.

That can be a deadly mistake.

When founders find themselves in such a contract situation, it is not just a reflection of poor negotiation skills on the side of the founders, who – one might argue a bit unfairly – therefore would not deserve anything better.

Such contract clauses are also always a case of misguided priorities on the side of the investor.

While as an investor I have full sympathy for contractual rules that prevent an irresponsible founder from walking away, as in the old adage “with my time and your money to waste, we have nothing to lose”.

However, it is equally unfair to put the investor of a venture in a position where his investment becomes more a case of debt with higher returns and higher default risk than of real venture investment. Moreover, discussions and probable litigation about business risk damage retribution by the founder can divert vital energy from surviving the damaging event, since both the founder and the investor will bes spending considerable time hedging their risks or enforcing their rights. THat can ultimately be much more damaging than the damaging event itself.

Here is my advice to founders in any negotiation about Reps and Warranties:

1) Before negotiation of deal terms, identify the natural risk of your business model

2) Prepare to describe and argue to the investor what the typical risk of the venture is and make it clear from the outset that that risk cannot will not be carried by the founder(s).

3) Make the investor acknowledge these risks early in the process of negotiating the terms

4) At term sheet level make sure that the basic principles guiding an equal distribution of reps and warranties rights between founder and investor include the following

a. Liability of founders is limited to willful behavior and gross negligence

b. There must be a cap of a certain percentage of the investment, in my opinion not more than 50% of the investment sum.

c. For all cases of non-willfull behavior the warranty term should be at most 12 months

d. Each founder is only liable for the fraction of the cap that corresponds to his fraction of shares in the entire company, so a co-founder who has 20 % of shares in a company shall only be liable up to 20% of the cap.

e. All shareholder managers with shares smaller than 7% should be exempt from any liability unless there is a specific reason for that.

f. Damages should be paid only to the extent that the Founder / Manager liable had best knowledge of the Warranty issue.

g. Retribution of damage should be limited to the damage that is incurred directly by the damaging event, confirmed by court ruling and could be reasonably expected. There should be no damage retribution for a loss of valuation of the company, which should be explicitly excluded. Valuation loss is usually covered by downround protection clauses.

h. Retribution of damage should be limited to such damages as cannot be corrected or “repaired”.

i. No damage retribution should be given for damages that are incurred due to lack of cooperation on side of the investor. This could include anything ranging from late payment of investment funds, lack of cooperation in litigation cases, failure of the board members dispatched by the investor to agree in litigating to avoid the damage, and so forth.

k. The most important advice that can be given to any founder signing Reps and Warranties is to put a large amount of energy into the due diligence and disclosure process and the documentation of that due diligence and disclosure process. THis is where attention to detail is a very necessary evil. The contract must include a clause that no events or fact about the company that were or could reasonable have been expected to be known to the investor at the time of the investment can lead to a claim of the investor against the founder. Thus claims are excluded if the the facts that led to the damage were known to the investor.

l. Negotiate all these points, then focus on disclosing well all risks that are part of the business model or lie within the company.

Often investors will present the founders with tough Reps and Warranties basically to incentivize them to puta significant amount of energy in thinking through the risks of the company and the development stage the company is at.

However, founders should rate their investors on the basis on their willingness to accept clauses that correspond with or at least resemble what I advise.

Good Luck!

When do I Invest? – Video Interview [German]

Recently I had the nice experience of being interviewed by the blogger / founder of or Everything A Startup Needs. He asked me to relate:

- how dw capital grew out of denkwerk

- what makes our positioning unique

- what are my criteria for investment

- and how much idealism a Founder can sustain

Of course, an [edited] video interview cannot convey all the things and remarkable people that shaped the rich history of 10 years of denkwerk, but maybe the interview gives anyone interested an impression of the philosophy behind our seed venture unit, dw capital. So, here goes:

Video Interview of Axel Schmiegelow

For the record, and because I also have an agency background:

I do believe in Branding, but I don’t believe Branding should be an excuse for bad conversion of a media campaign.

Viral Social Commerce for Companies

In my previous post, I tried to describe what I call viral social commerce as the commercial dimension to Web 2.0. This Blog entry will focus on the opportunities and strategic demands that viral social commerce presents to existing companies- especially such companies that have a dominant position in their market. If viral social commerce describes an increasingly commercial nature to the interaction presented by users on the web, then this has deep implications for a relationship between companies and their customers.

On the communication level, much has already been written about the need for companies to go from a broadcast model to an interactive/interaction model, and many companies have already experimented with blogging, viral marketing and other forms of “Web 2.0 marketing”. So far, these endeavors have been met with mixed success. This has a number of reasons- which I will try to sum up in 3 axioms:

1) A day still has only 24 hrs, and our wallets have not gotten fatter.

What this means, is that for all the novelty and increased value in communication that Web 2.0 methods can create in their relationship between customers and companies, engaging in these for more than a fleeting moment of curiosity will require any customer to make a sacrifice of both time and effort to the detriment of something else they’d rather be doing. What this means is that you need axiom number 2.

2) Real people seek real value.

Axiom number 2 is probably the central answer to any strategic or implementation question connected to any type of new technology. Technologies do not usually fail because of technical questions, in fact, the success of technologies is often independent of the quality of the technology involved or its implementation- in other words, abject products are sometimes more successful than perfect technologies (the old, if not entirely true, Microsoft – Apple adage).

Technologies do fail however, when they do not meet a market in a way that creates significant value for a significant value for a significant segment of potential customers. This is the Holy Grail of start-up and business success and it has often been described and is easily worded, but hard to execute.

So cutting back on Web 2.0 technology by seeking not a mash-up of all the functionalities that happen to be the talk of the town and instead looking for ways to create real value with Web 2.0 technologies requires, first, an analysis not of Web 2.0, of these technologies or even of the Web 2.0 early adopter crowd. Much rather, it requires a thorough analysis of the existing market, existing distribution communication channels in those markets and existing or potential customer segments. Then and only then, but then with the strongest impact, can the potential, use and value of a specific Web 2.0 technology be found. This is where competitive advantages are born. This leads me to axiom number 3.

3) Innovation begins with a thorough understanding of the existing weaknesses of the existing market.

This attitude best summarized and methodized in the book Blue Ocean Strategy by Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. This approach is at the core of most technological successes and I am more than certain that in the existing wave of new start-ups, those start-ups will succeed which have best understood this lesson.

For companies in existing markets, this means that hunting for the weaknesses of their own methods of communication, of production and sourcing, and of other interaction (for example, service interaction with their customers) and then hunting for solutions to these weaknesses which were before impossible, but can now be enabled by Web 2.0 technologies, is the key to success.

You may find that direct communication with customers or sourcing in of product or feature feedback from customers was, until now, on a snail mail or even E-mail or call center paradigm, impossible to manage efficiently and to link back to the production and design process for some products. In the environment of a web 2.0 community and / or user to user communication interface, this sourcing process, suddenly becomes manageable because of the combination of ratings, feedback and systematic analysis in a technology-enabled low-cost framework. At the very least, such a platform will bind your most active customers.

The task of sifting through all the feedback and identifying the most valuable feedback from customers now does not have to be preformed by the organization alone, but can be delegated at least in part to the community- and this can apply to almost any market.

In the following model, I’ve tried to sum up the paradigm shift that this entails for companies in existing markets. Until now, you had the classic paradigm of production and product identification followed by (retail) marketing and distribution, and the cherry on the top was communicating to customers through combined PR and advertising.

Viral Social Commerce Model

On all levels of that process, a redefinition can now take place by including interaction with customers. At the very least, the communication/advertising end of the classic model of value creation within the business organization can undergo a paradigm shift from communication to interaction that links back into the organization. This is exemplified in the drawing below- and creates a whole new set of requirements for the company including, for example, new tracking tools, new analysis tools and a new mindset in marketing. Marketing then becomes not just a communication task but becomes much more a framework for the company’s role as the

host of a community of customers.

These are the concepts that we’ve been working on for years now at denkwerk and which we try to reflect in our everyday work for our clients, such as Nokia, Obi and other retail giants. This paradigm shift leads to surprising successes each time the department of the company we are working with and we are mandated to not only think, but also act in a radically different way.

“Quo diata Diferenta”??- as Guy Kawasaki puts it.

Bang! Seasoned Entrepeneur and Seed Angel blog for insight & discussion

Hi there!

R0cketrabbit is an Entrepreneur who’s seen the frist wave come and go, and is excited about the chance to do it all right this time.

In my 15 or so years of entrepreneurship, I’ve grown an organisation to 200 poeple, squandered millions of VC money, gotten my neck out of the sling without going bankrupt (but just quite), mourned the death of my friend and co-founder Felix Hildebrand, grown a startup, oneview, to 16 countries and 10 languages, scaled it back to 15 poeple, grown wise and then back to enthusiasm, and co-founded or -funded 12 companies.

This blog will try to give an honest, disrespectful, but positive account of my tribulations – I’ll be more than glad to share and discuss my findings – critics welcome!



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