Archive: startup

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.

Marketing on a tight budget during a recession

The “Gretchenfrage” most discussed in the advertising industry right now is whether we will have a full-fledged downturn in advertising spending across all media, or whether there are niches and segments of the advertising /media industry that could even benefit from the recession. This being the 2nd downturn that I have experienced in my career, I am firmly convinced that the latter will happen.

I make this assumption based on several factors:

  1. A new generation of marketing decision makers now has control over most large budgets. This generation understands the power of digital communication- even though in the past years it has underestimated the potential impact of Web 2.0 and has continued allocating a disproportionate amount of money to traditional media without measuring that performance.
  2. Cutbacks in marketing and sales budgets are rather absurd when the real problem is crumbling sales, but this happens in every recession and it will happen this time around again. Since at the same time marketing performance will be measured more and more in terms of contribution to sales, marketing decision makers will focus on campaign tools and media that either directly or indirectly increase sales performance. Gone are the expensive TV commercials with bikini clad, young beauties on a tropical island, and in comes unsexy sales-driven below the line marketing. The past 2 ½ years have proven, however, that marketing in a Web 2.0 world need not be dreary at all even while contributing directly to sales lead generation.
  3. Web 2.0 advertising formats and communication models have reached a level of maturity and a critical mass among users that allow them to have a measurable impact on brand communication and sales lead generation.

The coming year will see providers of Web 2.0 campaign solutions and media ad placements achieving disproportionate success considering the downturn and cutbacks of media budgets. This will happen for precisely the reason that in the past 1 ½ years many showcases of Social Marketing have been started that have proven or will prove to have been successful to an unexpected degree. After the Beacon disaster these showcases will turn the tide, much in the way keyword advertising established itself in 2002 – 2004.

Our best reference is, which generated considerable brand awareness for our client BMW. BMW itself doubled that success by creating, at the same time, a national web TV project that was equally successful called BMW TV which greatly enhanced traction to its own site. For confidentiality reasons I cannot give you figures, but trust me the impact was measurable.

Advertisers of the old school often argue that performance marketing or traditional lead generation marketing does not help the brand gain emotional traction and awareness. That dichotomy is of the past. Social relevance, rich media and video formats allow the digital sphere to create a branding experience that is as emotionally compelling as television and as measurably successful as search engine marketing. That has always been the holy grail of advertising, and we seem to have found it.

If you want more information or need help achieving that success, contact me.

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.

Discussion: Monetization or Reach [English]

Frank Huber recently tackled my post about Monetization in his Blog (in German)

and contradicted my views of the subject based on 2 reasons: in his opinion, YouTube has shown that “size does matter” and sevenload hasn’t followed my recommended strategy at all. Here’s my reply to his post:

1) It’s undeniable that the “natural market leader”, who’s the one that goes for reach first, is the one who can win the rat race for size. I did point this out myself in my own post. However, it would be wrong to believe that the YouTube strategy and more specifically the YouTube exit is something that can be replicated. Ex post, Google’s investment in YouTube makes a lot of sense for a company that gave up a fraction of it’s shares. But there is exactly one buyer fitting that profile, and that is Google. There’s always exactly one worldwide or www-wide dominant company per segment that can be successful with a sheer “reach” priorization and with such an Exit strategy – so it’s hardly good advice for startups to emulate that model unless the startup is entirely sure of being the first one in its category.

My argument wasn’t that reach or the number of users/clients won is irrelevant- in fact, it’s the opposite. I just think that it is healthier to achieve this reach or customer base with a working and efficient business model than without one. And XING is a good example of this: From its first day back in 2003, Lars Hinrichs (Founder of XING) was already charging 5- € in monthly membership fees, even though at the time subscription models were still widely perceived as unfeasable in the German internet market.

2) sevenload’s strategy is NOT that of gaining a gross increase in our reach at all costs. We’re following an approach of pure, organic growth (up to now we haven’t spent a single € for advertising) which allows us to best offer a differentiated platform and cover the “Long Tail” of content. This allows us to offer advertisers rates that are up to a factor of 10 greater than those of normal video portals – and of most most conventional internet portals as well. Because of this difference, we are the market leader as measured in:

- Unique Visitors (> 10 Mil real unique visitors per month),
- active registered users (> 300,000),
- average visit duration (> 25 min. per visit and registered users > 45 min),
- content volume and
- revenue (we will be the Web 2.0 company with the highest turnover in Germany this year and most likely the only one that will be profitable). We achieve all this thanks to a revolutionary advertising model that is highly effective for advertisers.

Interestingly, though gross reach was not a primary target, this strategy has led to an sustained increase in precisely our gross reach and has put us in second place in the German market in terms of gross reach, right ahead of Clipfish, despite Clipfish’s massive cross-media subsidisation by the leading German TV Channel, RTL, and a full integration in DSDS, Germany’s “American Idol” Format.

In my opinion this once again proves the wisdom of Al Ries’s main marketing theorem:

Create a new category, then dominate it

My post on monetization does nothing more than offer a methodic approach to defining the category a startup strives to dominate in business model terms rather than in media terms.

Monetization or Reach – Discussion [German]

In seinem Media-Blog greift Frank Huber meinen Post zum Thema Monetarisierung auf.

und widerspricht meinen Ansichten mit zwei Begründungen: YouTube habe gezeigt, “size does matter” und sevenload verfolge ja nicht einmal die von mir empfohlene Strategie. Inhaltlich habe ich folgende Antworten:

1) Es ist zweifellos richtig, dass für den “natürlichen Marktführer”, der als erster auf Reichweite setzt, das Spiel aufgehen kann. Auf den Fall YouTube gehe ich ja selbst in meinem Post ein. Ich warne nur davor, die Transaktion von YouTube, die tatsächlich ex post durch die Marktmacht von Google zu einem sinnvollen Investment noch werden kann, als replizierbare Strategie zu beschreiben. Es gibt immer weltweit oder www-weit genau ein Unternehmen pro segment, dem dies als Exit gelingt. Hardly good general advice for startups.

Mein Argument war ja auch nicht, dass Reichweite oder die Anzahl an Nutzern oder Kunden, die man gewinnt, unerheblich sind – im Gegenteil. Ich denke nur, das es gesünder ist, diese Reichweite oder Kundenbasis mit einerm funktionierenden Business Modell zu erreichen als ohne. Ein gutes Beispiel Dafür ist übrigens XING. Lars hat schon am ersten Tag in 2003 5,- € monatliche Mitgliedschaftsgebühr verlangt, als Abo-Modelle noch in verruf waren.

2) Unsere Strategie bei sevenload ist genau nicht die einer Brutto-Reichweitensteigerung um jeden Preis. Wir verfolgen den Ansatz, aus rein organischem Wachstum (bislang nicht ein € für Werbung) die am besten differenzierte Plattform zu bieten und den “Long Tail” of content abzudecken. Dies führt dazu, dass wir für Werbekunden um einen Faktor 10 wertvoller sind als alle anderen videoportale und sogar als die meisten herkömmlichen Internet-Portale – gemessen an unseren Werbepreisen. Mit dieser Differenzierung sind wir heute Marktführer nach Unique Visitors (> 10 Mio echte Uniques pro Monat), aktiven registrierten Nutzern (> 300.000), Verweildauern (> 25 Min pro visit, bei registrierten Nutzern > 45 Min), Content-Menge und Einnahmen (wir werden das umsatzstärkste Web 2.0 Unternehmen in Deutschland in diesem Jahr und voraussichtlich das einzige, das profitabel ist. Wir erreichen dies durch ein Werbemodell, das überdurchschnittlich wirksam ist.

Interessanterweise hat diese Strategie zu einer nachhaltigen Steigerung unserer Brutto-Reichweite geführt, so dass wir inzwischen Platz zwei der deutschen Plattformen noch vor Clipfish belegen.

Ich würde also wagen zu behaupten, dass im Gegensatz zu dem Eindruck, den wir zumindest hier zu erwecken scheinen, der Lehrsatz von Al Ries:

Create a new category, then dominate it

immer noch der beste Rat ist. Mein Post sollte einen kleinen Beitrag zu einer Methode hierzu leisten.

It’s a People’s Business – HR is Key

After 15 years of entrepreneurship the realization I come back to more and more, and in these hyped times even more strongly, is that finding the right people is the one determining factor that will decide whether you will have success or not.

On the one hand that seems like a trivial statement and on the other implementing that realization is a continuous challenge. It starts of course, with a founding team – where anyone who has started up a company knows that what seems to be a perfect team at the phase of imagining the product/the service or wrapping up the prototype, may turn out in effect in the next 6 months not to be the right set of talents and personalities. However, the HR topic becomes even more relevant when you’re hiring your first 20 employees- often finding the right person can be very crucial, even in seemingly less decisive functions such as finance or organization, or even some parts of marketing.

In that critical phase where the company is not yet known, and it is hard to find people who are at all willing to work for the company, management often makes a compromise. In essence you may have no choice, but that compromise can be more costly than not hiring a person at all – and it is always much harder and much less fair to get rid of a person who is in the wrong position, perhaps without fault, than to make the necessary effort to take the right decision in the beginning.

I at least have made this mistake over and over again and I still do not feel much smarter. At the same time, having to go through the process of selection and de-selection of the right team can be very critical for the company culture as well, because issues of fairness and the relationship between the HR consequences and your own management mistakes becomes a predominant topic, especially if you have to let people go. This is all the more relevant because in the initial phases of a company, management is bound to make many mistakes, so the issue of fairness becomes even more dominant.

For employees to understand that the fact that management makes mistakes (and will as shareholding/entrepreneurial management, very probably not be ousted), and at the same time accept that co-workers who were hired on a risky job in a company with an uncertain future, are fired, makes it even more apparently unfair.

There are only 2 ways of avoiding that:

1) be as intransigent (if not more intransigent) with lacking performance on the entrepreneurial or the management’s part (start there). As we say in German “A stairway is always swept from the top”.

2) Secondly, make objectives clear, understandable, quantifiable, but also adjustable and communicate continuously around these objectives, so that the standard of performance is understandable for every employee. This also means that objectives have to relate to the company mission and to the overall goal in a way that every employee understands, shares, commits to and identifies with.

Hiring the right people and finding the right balance between clear objectives, clear leadership, strong enthusiasm and group identification is probably the hardest challenge in setting up a company – this is where companies fail, all other mistakes can often be corrected or adjusted, if need be with fresh capital, but once a company’s corporate culture or the mix of talents and resources is poisoned it’s very hard for a company to overcome that stage, and to then regain enthusiasm, regain momentum and catch up with a market that has probably moved on.

To put it simply, at the end of the day, every company is just a group of people trying to achieve something, set up their own rules and gain success. For that and for the entrepreneur endeavoring to achieve success there is no easy way out, there is no toolbox and there are no simple solutions. It is probably the area where he or she most needs to continuously revise (on a daily basis) what he or she is doing, by which principles and with which success. It is the prime area of self-improvement for an entrepreneur, alongside self-management.

Sevenload and Qype going balistic, oneview launched, itravel in secret mode

Watch out for the new startups on the blo(g)ck! It’s totally exciting to watch the startups of which I’m an angel investor evolve. launched 5 weeks ago and is at 250.000+ downloads of photos and videos… a day! is growing fast and one of the hottest startups in the media is the original (yes, the original) to deli.cious and the only web 1.0 startup “rebooted” in web 2.0 – stay tuned! has a community in stealth mode and will become the hottest travel and social commerce play since ebay – that’s what I believe – meanwhile, check out the trips, they’re great – and real!

I missed the reboot because I was in Paris, but I hear it rocks. Hope to learn more soon.



Earning money with Web 2.0?

the social dynamics are overwhelming, but if all the web 2.0 startups are to succeed, they will need to come up with better refinancing than Google AdSense – and the community will have to bear that without decrying “treason of commercialisation”. Maybe the key will be to generate not only the content, but also the revenue on a user2user basis. Finally, the vision of the internet as a gigantic network of knowledge would become true, where not only the big media and publishing houses earn money, but also the average Jack or Joe who happens to know a lot about one specific thing – like the mating habits of Galapagos Turtles…

Check out for a startup that is giving this a try…



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