This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of MassMutual for IZEA. All opinions are 100% mine.
Life is a journey that we are all fortunate enough to travel. The roads we walk have been paved by the vision, hard work and perseverance of those dreamers who have come before us.
Today we have the opportunity to build upon the legacy of those who came before us and establish a better path for future generations. Nobody said it was easy. Often times meaningful growth and rewards come along with risks and challenges. On this bumpy road full of ups and downs it helps to travel with someone who has the back of you and your family. MassMutual is here to help people protect those that matter most in their life.
I’m excited to join MassMutual in celebrating Black History month and sharing my
For those of you who do not know I have a fairly diverse ethnicity. Not only am I African American on my father’s side, but I am Polish and Ukrainian from my mom’s side of the family. I recently heard an emotional story about a bi-racial girl who didn’t feel like she fit in with the black crowd because she was not “black enough” and was made fun of by her white acquaintances because she was too ghetto. She felt as if she lost her sense of self by constantly trying to adapt and be something that she was not. Though I experienced discrimination at times, I never lost my sense of value and self.
My parents instilled many characteristics in me that I hope to instill in my children as well:
The value and satisfaction of hard work as well as the results it brings
The ability to delay gratification and invest in a better future
The power of hope and a clear vision
The importance of taking time to “smell the roses” and enjoy life.
The appreciation of wisdom and joy of learning new things
The power of reflection and learning from your mistakes
The ability to be articulate and conduct yourself in a professional manner
The importance of having integrity and being kind to yourself as well as others.
To not ignore problems that arise in the hopes that they will go away. Small ones can turn into big ones if they are ignored.
Take accountability for what you have the power to change and work to change it for the better – Continually strive to improve yourself and your world.
The importance of being there for your family when they need you
These are characteristics that I truly value. I am thankful that my parents have passed these great gifts on to me. All of the lessons they learned throughout their life and instilled in me have helped me to become who I am today. I look forward to building upon my family legacy and passing on lessons such as these to my children one day.
Regardless of your ethnicity we can all learn from the great trials and tribulations that African Americans have been through. I appreciate all those that have come before us, the challenges they have faced and the lessons they have taught us. Their wisdom, inspiration and foundation gives us the ability to create a better tomorrow.
When I was in college at the University of Central Florida (Go Knights!) I was introduced to many leaders in the community who had been very successful entrepreneurs that transitioned into successful angel investors and/or venture capitalists. I had the opportunity to pitch many of these investors during business plan competitions. You could think of these competitions like SharkTank, before SharkTank, with prize money instead of investment capital.
A few Orlando business leaders and myself judging a UCF business plan competition
I won two business plan competitions and was finalists in a state and national competition. I received press mentions, trophies and about $20,000 in cash over two years…however I gained something far more valuable. A clear vision of what I wanted to become. I wanted to be in that chair and have entrepreneurs pitching me for investment. Not just for college competitions, but for real (I have been invited back to UCF and to UF to judge business competitions). I wanted to not only be able to pursue and invest in my own ventures, but work with other aspiring entrepreneurs and help them grow by providing business wisdom, marketing assistance and in some cases capital and/or resources invested into their venture.
After I graduated I decided to build a foundation that would allow me to learn about many types of different businesses, connect with entrepreneurs and utilize my marketing skills to help companies grow. I decided to start a marketing agency in 2009 that could serve various businesses and my own ventures. I named it Brand Advance.
Over the last five years I have personally worked with over 1,000 different businesses through Brand Advance. Many of these businesses were past the startup stage and were growth companies (over $1M in revenue). Some of these businesses sought marketing assistance to help them increase sales, but were facing problems that marketing alone doesn’t solve. You cannot market yourself out of a strategy problem (climbing up a ladder on the wrong building). Furthermore, if you have a bad product or service or poor operations then customers you obtain may have a bad experience. Therefore, obtaining more customers into a system that cannot support it (ie Marketing) can often cause more harm than good.
After working with so many companies I started to see trends. I intimately learned what I like and don’t like about different types of businesses and ventures.
I decided to create a concrete list of characteristics (criteria) for ideal startup & growth companies to:
Recognize companies when I find them – so we can be their marketing agency or I could eventually invest in them.
Strive to build the ventures I have in my portfolio to meet these criteria
Help other entrepreneurs, including certain ones we work with, understand these criteria so they could have a higher likelihood of success.
I recently shared it with someone else who had come from the private equity world and he asked for a copy. I decided that many others may find value from the criteria so decided to publish it. With that said…here are my criteria…
Characteristics of ideal startup & growth companies
The entrepreneur(s) have chosen a fertile Niche Market to target.
Market is large enough to generate the desired target revenue, return or exit
If market is not large enough, the entrepreneur has a clear path to expand to adjacent markets (Bowling Pin Strategy)
There is a void in the market that is unfulfilled
If no clear void exists, the team has an innovative approach that can save members of the market time & money, or add meaningful value in some other way.
The entrepreneurs have taken the time to understand and assess direct and indirect competitors
The team’s growth plan and sequencing to grab market share makes sense
The product or service has been validated by the market either through a beta product with initial customers, or through an experiment (mock ups or prototype shared with potential customers with positive feedback received)
Customer related / Marketing
Clear target customer is identified
The type of customer is intimately understood.
The customer has a true need and receives meaningful value or relief from obtaining the product or service.
Customer has ability and authority to buy (Purchasing power and authority)
Customer can be reached (Marketing and sales plan is clear)
Decision making and purchasing process is clear and understood (Conversion Process)
If the venture has multiple potential customers then each customer segment is prioritized.
Venture can ideally benefit from network theory (viral organic growth / network effect) to increase awareness and sales
Decision makers, or highly visible influencers, can provide effective leverage to reach many customers or prospects
Customers are “sticky” – the business has high retention rates.
Re-occurring revenue (ideal)
Ability to upsell add-on offerings, upgrades or related products to customers
High barriers to entry for competitors
High switching costs for customers (lock in business model)
Clear CPA (Cost per Customer Acquisition)
LTV (Life Time Value) is significantly larger than CPA
Economically viable and scalable model
Product has a distinct and “marketable” advantage over competing products and/or alternatives (indirect competitors)
If the product has not established a meaningful advantage over competing products – the product has a clear plan to gain a marketable and distinct advantage.
If the product is a software venture – the software should be focused enough to serve a niche market well, but not rigid to prevent the product from adapting to market issues or business objectives that arise.
Product does not win in the marketplace on price alone (Not commodity product or service)
High profit margins
Team / Entrepreneur
The leadership team has sound judgment, justifiable experience and integrity
The entrepreneur is passionate, committed, focused and driven
Entrepreneur is able to adapt to change gracefully
The entrepreneur knows when to “explore” and when to “exploit” and can adapt his team accordingly
The leadership has a strong ability to collaborate and work with others
The leadership is willing to listen and understand the perspective and suggestions of others
The entrepreneur(s) is/are not overly confident – willing to seek out advice from wise counsel when needed (Coachable)
The entrepreneur or team has deep knowledge of the market and/or customer
The team or entrepreneur has the ability to manage operations, people and finances
The leadership understands financial statements & tools like cashflow, budgets and the balance sheet.
The team has a qualified product engineer or specialist
Operations and Company Related
No partner or investor issues that could be difficult to resolve (“dead equity”)
No significant looming lawsuits
There is an operational agreement in place that outlines owner (member) responsibilities and protects against unfair equity allocations.
No substantial company debt, unless it is income producing or strategic debt.
Scalable operational systems are in place or planned that can accommodate future customer growth.
Current Status & Existing Performance
Before choosing to invest or determining a valuation, the current status of each perspective venture should be understood. Various areas of the business should be assessed including:
Company legal status and structure
Current product status – Just a plan? MVP (Minimum viable product), beta, product used in market already, etc.
Existing customer satisfaction
Existing team & planned potential hires
Current operational efficiency
Brand and related assets – Does the brand match the key prospect? Review website, collateral, social media, etc.
Sales and marketing efforts, performance and plans
Current financial status and position (Balance sheet review)
Current profitability (cash flow and income statement review)
I want to be clear that these criteria are not the ideal investment for everybody. For example, some people may seek to create products with mass market appeal. Based on what I’ve observed creating a mass market product that competes with many big players directly is a very costly and risky approach. I find niche businesses with the ability to expand, similar to a wedge that goes wider as it moves deeper, to be much more well founded and more likely to succeed. This criteria was also prepared to identify businesses that I would eventually want to invest in. This does not mean that businesses that don’t fit this criteria couldn’t thrive or be great lifestyle companies.
I hope that you found my fertile investment criteria to be helpful.
Dare to Dream.
ps…If you enjoyed this post, please consider voting for my blog. It was recently nominated as a top 3 business blog in Florida for 2014 out of 600 total blog submissions. The winner will be announced next month. You can vote here. Thanks for your support!
There is something about being high up in the sky that really changes your perspective. You see far more than you do on the ground. Last week my wife and I were on a flight back to Orlando from Pittsburgh. As we traveled over 500+ mph through the air we covered a vast amount of ground very quickly. In a single glance from the plane window we observed land as far as the eye could see, bodies of water, thousands of homes, big buildings, and specs of light moving from tiny cars driving on the roads below.
I couldn’t help but think about all of the people far below us living their lives. People facing good times and bad. Some dealing with joyous heart-warming moments and others figuring out how to face the world amidst a tragedy or loss. Some people making good decisions and moving in the right direction, while others flirt with disaster or remain stuck by their restricted thoughts, environment or situation.
It is easy to get wrapped up in daily life and routines. Many people turn on auto-pilot and do not take time for meaningful “high level reflection” that could lead them to a change in perspective resulting in a more fruitful reality, whatever that may be for the individual.
Here are 16 Ways to Soar to New Heights in 2015
Determine your final destination (Have a clear vision)If you do not know where you want to go then how will you know when you get there? There are unlimited possibilities and opportunities in this world. As Sun Tzu said, Opportunities Multiple as they are seized.” If you decide to travel down a given path and seize a certain opportunity then related opportunities will present themselves. This being the case, it is very important to have clarity and know the type of life you want to live. This clarity doesn’t mean that you will always know what decisions to make to bring that vision into existence. That is where your values come in.
Ensure your compass is calibrated (Define your core values)Years ago I had the opportunity to work with an extremely successful entrepreneur named Peter Thomas (Founder of Century 21 Canada, Venture Capitalist, CEO of Thomas Franchise Solutions, Developer of the FourSeasons resort in Scottsdale Arizona, and many more impressive accolades).
One thing he regularly expressed is that your decisions are much easier when your values are clearly defined. Having clear values is very much like having a calibrated compass. Your values can help guide your life in the right direction.
In this circumstance, rather than think about moral values (another topic), think about values in terms of what is important to you. I defined my values after my conversation with Peter as – Health, Integrity, Wisdom, Freedom and Abundance. This is not to say that other things are not important. It is just my belief that the other things that are important to me will all flourish if I remain true to the core values I shared. For example – If I have good health, a sound moral compass of integrity, wisdom and freedom then I can create abundance in my life and those around me (family, friends, those in my community in need, those I work with, entrepreneurs, etc). This abundance could include nourishing experiences, positive seeds of wisdom that can bear fruit, financial upside and more. If you haven’t taken the time to do so yet, define your core values. It truly does make your decision making process much easier. If you have a significant other it helps to understand their values as well and define shared values for your relationship.
Make sure your auto-pilot is functioning properly (Develop uplifting habits)Habits can be your best friends or worst enemies. Routines of behavior become habits. Assess the current routines and habits you have in your life. Are they supporting your overall vision, life goal, or health? Understand what new routines you can work into your life that will create new habits to add value to your life…then stick to them. Discard negative routines and habits.
Travel with the right crew (Surround yourself with good people)My wife Lindsay is starting an equine assisted learning non-profit organization called Crossroads Corral with several others. She recently attended training in Texas and told me of an exercise called “Temptation Alley”. In this exercise she and another girl were tasked with getting a horse down a path filled with treats, food and other distractions. They couldn’t touch the horse at all and if the horse grabbed any food or got off path they would have to start over. Lindsay thought this would be impossible, but her and another girl came up with a plan. They decided to stand on each side of the horse, get excited and encourage him to move then run along with him down the path. To everyone’s surprise they completed the exercise in record speed.
After the facilitator commended the two girls, another trainee rebutted….I don’t think it was that impressive. The horse didn’t even see the temptations along the path. To that point Lindsay replied…
“When you run with the right herd they can stop you from noticing temptation. The temptation may still exist, you just don’t even notice it.”
Just like Lindsay in the temptation alley horse exercise – those you run with should excite you, keep you focused on your path to accomplishing your goals, and help you stray away from temptation. It is important to assess those you spend your time with and determine if they are the right crew to take your life to new heights.
Travel outside of your comfort zoneI have certain relatives that are scared to death of flying. They have never boarded a plane and didn’t even attend my wedding in Florida years back because of this phobia. Consequently they missed out on one of my biggest life moments and one hell of a party! It is easy to stay nice and cozy while living inside your comfort zone. However, if you do this you are really cutting yourself short. Take a chance in 2015. More risk, more reward. Of course that risk should be assessed and the decision should not be impulsive. If the decision seems too risky…consider building a runway.
Build yourself a solid runway to help you take offRunways give you the room to prepare for take off to accomplish your goals. For instance, if your goal is starting a business there are many types of runways you can build. Personally in the early years of my business career I built the following runways: Leveraged my time and the resources available in college, purchased a duplex in the early years of my business with my fiance (now wife) to decrease our expenses, started a marketing agency to give me flexibility and provide low cost resources to my tech venture, joined the technology incubator to provide low cost rent early on, etc. All of these runways gave me the freedom to explore, take advantage of opportunities and take off. There are many other runways that can be built or utilized depending on your goal and current situation.
Seek higher ground if you need a more fertile environment to growIf your environment is not fertile to support your goals, values or vision it may be time to for a change. This higher ground could mean a change in your employment or overall profession, living situation, romantic relationship, friendships, etc. Some changes may be small, others may be large. In 2006 I made a decision to Orlando thus leaving all of my friends, family and girl friend to put myself in an environment I felt was more fertile for my success. This was one of the best decisions of my life. Though many did not agree with this decision they understood my reasons for the change and the ones that matter are all very supportive and happy for the success that this difficult change has brought me.
Re-program your mental computerYour thoughts shape how you experience, interpret, feel and act in the world. Just like a computer, it is important to instill the right programs and information in your mind to improve your “operating system” and life. There are many things that you can do to accomplish this mental reprogramming. Meditation, self affirmations, reading, writing, developing new habits, speaking with inspiring or experienced people, etc. About six months ago I crafted a page long personal affirmation statement. I committed the statement to memory and say each morning and night. I did this so the affirmations can soak deep into my subconscious mind and ensure my thoughts, words, actions and consciousness all align with the life I want to live. I’ve noticed a big difference and suggest that if you are looking to bring about a change in your life that you give this a try.
Be a good pilot (Know your strengths and weaknesses)Over the last few years I have taken several well-known personal assessments: Meyers Briggs and Strength Finders. My wife Lindsay also took the assessments as well as many of our friends. If you have not taken the time to take these assessments and better understand yourself then 2015 is the year to do it. Learn more
Stay focusedThere are a lot of distractions that can deter you from reaching your final destination. It is important to stay focused. To a large extent this goes back to many of the other suggestions that were previously discussed – having a clear vision, understanding your values, developing good habits, being around those that will support you, etc.
Get to know other passengers (build new relationships)I’m amazed by the great people I meet when experiencing life. It is true you can meet great contacts at networking events, but too often people neglect to start up conversations with new people they encounter in their daily lives. I’ve met some wonderful people on flights, shopping, at the gym, etc. Great entrepreneurs, politicians, non-profit directors, etc. I’ve really enjoyed my conversations with many of these people. In some cases it may even lead to new business or referrals to others in my network who can add value to their efforts. Take time to talk with those around you. You never know what you’ll learn, what introduction it could lead to, or how you could help one another.
Stay motivated through turbulent timesEveryone encounters challenging obstacles in their life at one time or another. Learning to pick yourself up and move forward during difficult times is an essential asset to pack on whatever trip you are taking. Understand what positive triggers can give you an extra boost or lift you when you face set-backs.
Get rid of excess baggage (Declutter your world, space and life)When getting caught up in the daily activities and routines of life it can be easy to accumulate clutter, or excess baggage. Removing what you don’t need in your home, car, computer, email, drawers and life can be time consuming and hard at times. However, it is a great feeling once it is over. A decluttered environment can make you feel good, increase your productivity, improve your mental clarity and more. This not only relates to physical clutter that you may collect, but also emotional clutter, past negative experiences and toxic attitudes. Ditch the excess baggage in 2015!
Don’t forget to watch your belongings (Be thankful for what you have and treat it as such)Take time to be grateful for what you are thankful for in your life. This could be your health, skills, people you value, your time, clothes, car, house, animals, job, clients, business, etc. When you are in a mindset of gratitude you tend to find ways to express that appreciation. This expression could be taking better care of what you have, giving thanks to those you value or keeping what you value top-of-mind. All of which could inject more appreciation and joy into your life.
Enjoy your trip (Take time to relax, have fun and enjoy your life)While striving to grow and reach our potential it is easy to forget to “take time to smell the roses” as my mom always tells me. If you’re like me you love what you do and it doesn’t really seem like work, but it is. This is especially true to those around you. My wife is great and truly supports my entrepreneurial activities. This didn’t happen initially, but through the course of 10 years of being together and many conversations. Through that time I also came to understand what she enjoys and was able to find more balance (this is often hard in startups, but gets easier as your business and team grows). Regardless of your stage of business it is still important to set aside time for fun, relaxation and enjoyment. Many people think that you cannot have a balanced life as an entrepreneur. The thought is that you must sacrifice your health, relationships and fun for the price of success. This is not true. It is true that sacrifices must be made at times, but I know many successful entrepreneurs who have abundance in various aspects of their personal and professional life. It is very possible. You just have to have the vision and values to support the life you want to develop.
Upgrading yourself through reflection can lead to rapid rewardsTaking quiet time to reflect on your life and various situations can lead to great improvements. Many think that if they are not working on something tangible that they are not being productive. Granting yourself the upgrade of assessing your situation can lead to rapid rewards. Learning from various experiences can often be one of the most productive things that one can do. Don’t ignore it.
I hope that you enjoyed this post. If you have a clear and consistent vision along with the values, thoughts and habits to support that vision you are more likely to bring it into existence.
You may be wondering why I chose to share 16 suggestions and not 15. This goes back to vision (the first point). In order to excel in your current situation you have to have the vision to see past it. 16 therefore is a metaphor to encourage you to think past our current situation and time. Think big…just like when you look out from that window on an airplane.
I hope that all of you have a safe, healthy and prosperous 2015. Make it the best year yet!
I almost always stay away from contributing my thoughts on racial topics, but I can’t stay silent anymore. I may offend some people who read this, but oh well. Not that it gives me a pass, but I am half black and half white so I am not coming from a bias racial perspective.
The Orlando Sentinel published two articles on the same page in today’s paper. The first discussed a history making movement of thousands, primarily African Americans, banning together to rally across many US cities to march against police brutality that has claimed the lives of black men.
On that same page…an article about the wealth gap and the fact that the economic recovery is improving for whites, but not blacks with stats to prove it. It indicates that the average white person has $13 for every $1 held by a black person.
Crime, poverty, lack of high paying jobs and poor education are much more common in depressed economic communities regardless of race.
When police officers are dealing with people from depressed economic areas they will be more on guard, fearful and on edge. Society, the media and likely their experiences in these areas have reinforced that. (Excessive force and brutality is not ok, but will likely be more common when someone has a “perceived justification” for that force. Even if there is no true justification for it.)
The history of mistreatment and intentional repression of African Americans put Blacks in a deep hole in this country. Many African Americans grew up and live in these depressed communities.
Based on the stats of the bottom article, African Americans are far more economically depressed than other races.
Many of these issues (crime in black communities, poor education, charged police encounters, wealth gap, etc.) are symptoms of a much bigger problem. Economic impoverishment.
The energy and time spent by so many marching could and should be spent on creating value and improving the economic circumstances and environment. That will have a much greater impact than emotional releases with no true outcome.
Most who meet me don’t know I am half white. They just see African American. I have experienced racial descrimination, but make a conscious decision that the person expressing it has the problem not me. It may at times make things a bit harder, but I wont allow it to hold me back. I have been able to grow a company organically to over $1M in sales with no investment or loans. It is possible.
There will always be people across any profession or community with integrity and others who lack it. Each will act as such.
A much greater improvement will manifest if more people focus investing their time into learning, growing and seeking to truly add economic value rather than coordinated efforts driven by emotion addressing a system bigger than they can influence in that way.
Have you caught the entrepreneurship bug yet? If not, now is the time…literally!
Global Entrepreneurship week is kicking off this upcoming Monday, November 17th. Whether you are currently an entrepreneur, or aspire to become one, it is time to partake in the festivities with fellow entrepreneurs around the world…in other words it is time to get to work!
In my last post I wrote about the Strength Finders 2.0 and Myers Briggs Assessments, two resources that can help us better understand ourselves and others. We all have our own unique gifts, strengths and talents. When we come together and align our respective gifts on the common goal of solving BIG problems we can make a BIG impact. This will be occurring right in my backyard next week in Orlando, Fl as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week.
THE BIG EXCHANGE: Orlando’s Global Entrepreneurship Week Celebration.
Teams of Thinkers, Artists, Makers & Educators will come together to solve our most pressing problems together through a series of workshops that awaken your inner entrepreneur and bring your unique gifts to the table.
THE BIG EXCHANGE : Who Should Attend?
If you have a passion for entrepreneurship, solving problems, and making an IMPACT….you don’t want to miss this event!
At THE BIG Exchange you’ll find a great mix of people such as Thinkers, Makers, Artists and Educators. When you get great people together…good things happen.
This week-long event will especially be good for you to attend if you:
Have a desire to be entrepreneurial, but are missing an idea.
Have an idea, but need a helping hand from others to bring your vision to life.
Are looking to give back to entrepreneurs through mentorship and sharing what you have learned.
Are an investor in Central Florida looking to make connections in the entrepreneurial community.
Are a skilled artist, or maker looking to be a part of a new and exciting venture.
Want to be inspired and energized through the spirit of entrepreneurship.
Are seeking to better understand your own gifts and how they can add value through entrepreneurship
THE BIG EXCHANGE : Schedule
The week is packed full of activities and events. I’ve added a schedule for all the festivities below:
THE BIG EXCHANGE: $20k+ prize package
The winning team of Orlando’s BIG EXCHANGE will earn $20,000 in prizes. This awesome prize package will help fuel the concept they created and planned into existence.
If you cannot make all of the events, don’t worry! You can follow the conversation and events online. THE BIG EXCHANGE team has partnered with Got-Chosen to implement a program called social exchange. This will allow you to stay connected with the event anytime and anywhere.