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3 Things Every Founder Needs to Mitigate Risk and Ensure Success

 

Most entrepreneurs understand the importance of exceptional  execution and spend months or even years thoughtfully organizing a business plan before putting it into action. Despite thorough research and long nights spent planning, the reality is that much remains unknown – early stage entrepreneurs are constantly haunted by the question: “Will this really work?

However, the dark tunnel ahead can become illuminated and less intimidating with these 3 critical tools: money, great people, and insight from other capable people. Here’s how these elements play a key role guiding an entrepreneur toward success:

  • The Ability to Raise Capital

Capital is an essential part of any business. In order to get up and running, entrepreneurs need to raise capital to cover startup costs, beyond what they can fund themselves, before they put their “open for business” sign out. To raise this amount, entrepreneurs must sell their vision to investors and convince them of the value of the opportunity by delivering a presentation that is both compelling and attractive. This is where the charisma and conviction that successful entrepreneurs possess is critical. (See No. 5 in 5 Characteristics Every Entrepreneur Needs To Crush It)

Beyond the initial funding needed to get running, businesses need to be able to raise money to fund development and operations. Capital is needed to fuel a business’ growth, but it is also important to have dry powder as cash reserves. The dry powder will help weather the ups and downs of unforeseen obligations that are – inevitably – ahead.

  • The Ability to Build a Great Team

“A great idea is the catalyst to get things in motion, but at the end of the day, it’s the team you hire who will ultimately determine the success, or failure of the company,” says Aaron Goodin, CEO and Founder of Tack. And rightly so: entrepreneurs need to build a great team of people and then lead them well. Those who can strategically position the right people into the right seats on their bus will lay the best foundation to get them to their destination. (See 3 Tips on Winning Talent for Your Startup)

  • The Ability to Value Counsel from Those with Special Expertise

Knowledge is critical. Entrepreneurs need to know what they know, and do it. They need to know what they don’t know, and delegate it. Never stop seeking counsel. Entrepreneurs that choose to learn from experts are better equipped to help their business navigate the road ahead.

Entrepreneurs need to find mentors and advisors in different specializations to help them effectively manage all aspects of their growing company. What types of individuals are needed in these ranks? Founders should include an experienced entrepreneur who has already been through an exit – meaning that this isn’t their first rodeo; an experienced CPA; an experienced lawyer that has a background in advising entrepreneurs; and investors who have a sincere interest in helping the founder.

While the future always contains an element of the unknown, entrepreneurs can mitigate many of the risks involved in starting a business by taking smart steps that will guide them towards success. By developing the ability to raise capital, building and leading a great team, and recognizing the value of capable advisors to give counsel in areas of their particular expertise, an entrepreneur can move forward with clarity and confidence.

Written by: Judson Sutherland, Founder & CEO

Sutherland, PLLC – FoundersFirm.com

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FoundersGuide: What is Private Placement

When a company sells shares of its stock (or limited liability company membership interests or partnership interests) to third party investors, an offer and sale of securities has occurred. The general rule both under US federal law and state securities laws is that all securities must be registered unless the offer and sale qualifies for an exemption from the US federal and state securities laws registration requirements. Registration is a costly process that requires extensive interaction with the SEC and generally is a task undertaken by companies with larger capitalizations. Legal fees alone can range into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. An example of such a company would be any company whose securities are freely tradable on a public stock exchange, such as NASDAQ or NYSE.

A securities offering exempt from registration with the SEC is sometimes referred to as a private placement or an unregistered offering. Generally speaking, private placements are not subject to some of the laws and regulations that are designed to protect investors, such as the comprehensive disclosure requirements that apply to registered offerings. Private and public companies engage in private placements to raise funds from investors. Hedge funds and other private investment funds also engage in private placements. The transaction costs (i.e., legal fees) for a private placement almost always will be substantially lower than with a publicly registered offering.

As an individual investor, you may be offered an opportunity to invest in an unregistered offering. You may be told that you are being given an exclusive opportunity. The opportunity may come from a broker, acquaintance, friend or relative. You may have seen an advertisement regarding the opportunity. Keep in mind that private placements can be very risky and any investment may be difficult, if not virtually impossible to sell. On the buy side, while you are buying a bona fide interest in the company, you may not know all of the implications associated with the investment, and that is why it is so crucial to engage an attorney to represent your interests.

If you are a company that is interested in selling its securities to raise capital, it is very important to understand what your specific obligations are to your investors so that you can avoid the risk of liability for securities fraud. Selling securities in a private placement can be a great tool to raise capital for your company, but it is a substantial undertaking and should not be attempted without the advice of an experienced securities attorney.

Written by:  Roland Wiederaenders, Attorney

FoundersFirm.com

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FoundersGuide: Advertise Your Securities in the Newspaper

If you ever raised money for your business through the sale of securities, you probably are at least somewhat familiar with United States federal and state laws governing the sale of private securities.  Specifically, these laws provide for exemptions from the general rule that all securities must be registered (i.e., publicly-traded) before they are sold to investors.

Historically, Rule 506 under Regulation D (of the United States federal Securities Act of 1933, as amended) has been the most commonly used exemption from the U.S. federal securities registration requirements.  Nearly all states have an exemption that corresponds to this federal-level exemption.

Recent changes to Rule 506 have added a new exemption, Rule 506(c), that is very similar to the old exemption with a key distinction: an offering of securities under Rule 506(c) may employ advertising and general solicitation.

Previously, no advertising or general solicitation was allowed in connection with sales of private securities.  Consequently, it was not permissible to buy advertising space in a newspaper or magazine to notify the world that you were attempting to raise money through the sale of interests in your business.  Importantly, this prohibition against print advertisement meant that companies also were not allowed to use the internet and their websites to sell their private securities.

While Rule 506(c) allows for general solicitation and advertising, it imposes an additional requirement from the old Rule 506 exemption that ALL investors participating in the offering must be “accredited investors”.  Whether an investor is accredited differs for individual investors and investors that are business entities.  Individual investors may qualify as accredited investors either by having a net worth of at least $1 million (excluding the value of their principal residence) or an annual income of at least $200,000 (or $300,000 together with their spouse) and a reasonable expectation of earning at least those amounts in subsequent years.  Business entities generally qualify by satisfying a $5 million minimum net worth requirement.

Under the old Rule 506 exemption (and continued under the Rule 506(b) exemption in effect now), an issuer may rely on self-certification that an investor was accredited.  This typically was obtained by asking the investor to complete and sign a questionnaire. The SEC specifies now that under Rule 506(c), the reasonable steps the issuer must take to verify that its investors are accredited include reviewing documentation, such as W-2s, tax returns, bank and brokerage statements, and credit reports.  For individual investors, tax returns, pay stubs and W-2s readily document that the investor satisfies the accredited investor minimum income requirement.  If an investor is not willing to provide this type of information (and many are understandably reluctant to, particularly because self-certification has been the standard for so long), the issuer should rely on self-certification and not use advertising or general solicitation in connection with the offering.

Advertising and general solicitation can be powerful tools for your fundraising efforts.  Please let us know if you are considering using advertising in connection with your securities offering.

Written by: Roland Wiederaenders, Attorney

FoundersFirm.com

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FoundersGuide: Make the Most of Your Time

 

Communication is key to most successful interactions. It is especially important when your attorney is charging hourly rates, or more importantly, trying to distill all necessary information from you in order to best represent you and your interests. Face to face meetings are a rewarding and essential part of the attorney-client relationship. In person interaction develops the bond that breeds the trust necessary for open and clear communication to take place and move a founder or business owner toward their goals.

As attorneys, we are counselors, but we are constrained by time when meeting with our clients. First and foremost, we respect our client’s time, but even if we spent an entire afternoon with a client, effective communication requires both time and thought. Unclear communication can cloud the attorney client relationship and impede our efforts. The best thing we can do, and our clients can do, to prepare for any meeting is to think about the meeting and what we want from it.

So how do we prepare? How should you prepare? Beforehand, dedicate time to thinking about the upcoming meeting. Clarity around the following questions helps us, your attorneys, zero in on what we need in order to better understand your needs.

  1. What do you care about most? Write down what you really value.
  2. What is your goal? Do not try to create a laundry list, but try and clearly describe the goal that you need help on from the person you are meeting.
  3. What are your biggest threats around that goal? Again, no laundry list needed, just try and narrow it down to the key threats and try to identify what is keeping you from accomplishing your goal.

Answering these 3 simple questions will not only help you prepare the development of your better communication in any meeting, but also helps us, as your advisors, focus on where and how to guide our strategy. Taking quiet time and space to prepare for meetings is important because communication is the foundation of relationships. It not only gives you clarity, but helps us better understand your needs, and better cue in on what questions to ask, and information to seek. Through these efforts we aim to understand your needs, and best serve you.

 Written by:  Santiago Diaz, Attorney

http://www.foundersfirm.com

 

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3 Tips on Winning Top Talent for Your Startup

Contrary to what many budding entrepreneurs think, a business start up can compete and win top talent in the market without much cash. Here are three tips for attracting and retaining the best talent.

#TIP 1: LOOK FOR RESTLESS EMPLOYEES LOOKING FOR NEW ADVENTURES

In your search for top talent, pay attention to high potential workers who are looking for a new adventure. Many large corporations tend to stifle talent and many top performers feel restricted in such environments. With a good pitch, you can offer a restless employee a new lease of life by offering them a position in your business start up that will give them the freedom to fulfill their career aspirations. For instance a talented middle level manager will serious consider a VP post in your startup if you find that this is one of their career aspirations.

#TIP 2: GIVE UP SOME EQUITY FOR TOP TALENT

Facebook and Google both used equity to retain top talent when they were still startups. They offered stock options to some of their initial employees. Even the most talented employees have the desire to own something more than their generous paychecks. Many big corporations do not have this option. Dedicate a percentage of your equity to retain your top talent if you realize that this is what will secure for you the best talent in the market.

#TIP 3: LOOK FOR PEOPLE WITH AN ENTREPRENEURIAL MINDSET

The third way you can attract and retain top talent for your starts up is by focusing on people who have an entrepreneurial mindset. In other words, find fellow entrepreneurs who are yet to launch, maybe because they are held up in an eight to five job, and give them an opportunity to test their wings. A business start up not only needs employees who will stay with it until it matures, but it also needs a set of entrepreneurs who will take the risks needed for it to grow.

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FoundersGuide: Oil is Too Cheap!

Oil is too cheap! While some may cheer, in reality this is a concern for the world, not just those of us with direct skin in the game. At least that’s the conclusion I come to when looking at the global tealeaves. Taking one measure, global capital expenditures, we can see indications of how this works. Generally, increasing investment is critical for sustainable growth in global GDP. Standard & Poors prepares a report on yearly global capital expenditures. Their August 2015 report indicated that capital expenditures by the largest 2,000 corporations in the world would decline by 4% in 2016, after falling 1% in 2015, making 2016 the third year in a row for dropping investment. S&P clearly notes the reason: “…this year’s decline would be mainly due to the energy and materials industry, which is set to cut spending by 14 percent as it fights a loss of confidence in commodities amid fears over demand from China.” Or low oil prices as well as low prices for basic materials are causing new investment to dry up.  

The S&P report suggested capital spending by the 2000 companies polled peaked at $3.4 trillion in 2013 and subsequently dropped to $3.1 trillion in 2014. Energy and materials companies’ CAPEX reached $1.4 TRILLION dollars in 2013, 41% of total global investment. Yes, trillion! Estimates show this figure has declined by some $400 BILLION by 2015 and is poised to decline from 10-20% AGAIN in 2016. In 2013, North America accounted for 39% of total global energy and materials investments.

This is a global issue, impacting nearly every sector of the economy. Take for example just one region not generally thought of as energy focused. S&P examined capital spending for the largest 20 non-financial corporations in the Asia Pacific region excluding Japan. This group showed combined spending of just over $300 billion of which $146 billion or 48% was energy related. This group’s CAPEX decreased by 6% in 2014 and likely dropped by greater than 10% in 2015 and is poised to drop again in 2016. So nearly 50% of investment by this region’s largest corporations was energy related, and this is falling sharply. If you factor in that a slowdown in energy investment translates into decreased revenue for industrial, IT and other sectors of the economy, the broader impact of what some view as just an energy slowdown becomes obvious. Expanding this thought to the secondary and tertiary impacts, it is not surprising that we have seen a material weakness in macro measures such as negative PMIs and lower GDP outlooks. Throw in China’s industrial overcapacity and highly levered banks, it’s no wonder markets are nervous. QE to infinity!

Since that report, companies have largely announced fourth quarter results and updated capital spending plans.  A group of 47 U.S. centric producers tracked by investment bank Scotia Howard Weil, have reported plans to reduce upstream capital spending from $131 billion in 2015 to $80 billion in 2016, a massive 39% drop. Once again, this incredible change equates to a massive drop in top line revenue for a myriad of other companies, who will then make their own adjustments – thus the ripple effect.

Back to the U.S., many analysts point to the positive impact of lower oil prices bringing lower gasoline prices and thus increasing personal income and disposable cash for consumers. However, many note this “windfall” has not resulted in an increase in consumer spending. In fact, many retailers have guided down 2016 revenue estimates. While it’s true that consumers are receiving the benefit of cheaper prices at the pump, as well as in lower airfares and such, if their employers are seeing slowing sales, layoffs and stagnating wages negate any short-term benefit of low energy prices.

How large is the impact? In the U.S. alone, just looking at gasoline, we used something on the order of 140.5 billion gallons in 2015. Annual U.S. retail gasoline prices as reported by the EIA were $3.44/gallon in 2014, $2.52/gal in 2015 and $1.70 today. Assuming this price for the year, this $1.74/gal drop over two years equates to nearly a $500 billion savings spread over two years. However, the slowing economy and layoffs erase some of the net positive benefit. In 2015, US retail spending ex autos totaled $4.2 trillion. A $250 billion retail gasoline price savings looks like a 6% discount. However consumer spending is some company’s top line revenue.

In a broader context, massive YEARLY investment is required to replace oil production that declines constantly given the nature of reservoir pressures. It is estimated that global oil, condensate and natural gas liquids production, currently 95 million barrel per day, would decline by around 5% per year without incremental investment. That means the industry must develop nearly 5 million barrels per day per year of NEW oil and gas production. (Note: typical shale wells decline 80% in their first year and something on the order of 20% per year for the next three years.) Further, at the beginning of 2015 it was estimated that world was overproducing by 1.5 million barrels per day. In other words, if investment were ZERO, by the end of 2015, the market would be undersupplied by nearly 3.5 million barrels per day. While investment never goes to zero, any pullback in spending threatens a future slice of the required oil supply stack. In other words, a classic commodity boom- bust cycle. In 1998, oil prices reached lows of $14 per barrel. Capital spending slowed and OPEC reduced production. By 1999, oil prices exceeded $20 per barrel and didn’t stop until hitting $147 per barrel in 2008. It is almost certain that changes in supply will exceed that required to balance the market, sparking a corresponding price rally. The availability of abundant shale resources should dampen peak cycle prices. Nevertheless, adding material supplies takes time and capital, it’s literally like steering a $1 trillion super tanker and mistakes are costly. It’s only a matter time before we see the next leg of the oil price cycle. It’s been happening since the dawn of the oil age and it will happen again.

One would be forgiven for reminiscing about that golden age when a certain large organization (cartel) would adjust oil output in order to help balance global oil supply and demand. So, the next time someone cheers low oil prices, just like a good party, beware of the hangover.

 

Written by: Brad L. Beago, CFA, Agave Investment Partners, LLC

Judson Sutherland Austin 40 Under 40 Winners

2014 Austin Under 40 Awards Finalists

Arts, Sports, Media & Entertainment
Colin Pope, Austin Business Journal

Business & Entrepreneurship
Mousumi Shaw, Sikara Jewelry

Clean Technology and Energy
Andrew Johnston, Austin Energy

Community Service & Non-profit
David J. Neff, PwC

Culinary Arts & Hospitality
Maximillian Petty, Olivia

Engineering, Architecture & Design
Will Schnier, BIG RED DOG

Financial Services & Insurance
Kit Mellem, Build-A-Sign

Government & Public Affairs
Terri Broussard Williams, American Heart Association

Marketing, PR & Advertising
Brian Dolezal, Hahn Public Communications

Medicine, Healthcare & Sciences
Aliya Hussaini, MD, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation

Real Estate
John Hay, Hay Darby PLLC

Technology & Startups
Joshua Alexander, Toopher

Youth & Education
Emily Smith, Cunningham Elementary

Austinite of the Year
Colin Pope, Austin Business Journal

 

 

Congratulations to the 2014 AU40 Finalists!

 

Arts, Sports, Media & Entertainment

Matthew Hinsley, Austin Classical Guitar Society

Colin Pope, Austin Business Journal

Camille Styles, CamilleStyles.com

Matt Swinney, Austin Fashion Week

Shawn Ullman, FeelRich.com

 

Business & Entrepreneurship 

Leon Chen, Tiff’s Treats

Nad Elias, The HT Group

Chelsea McCullough, Texans for Economic Progress

Mousumi Shaw, Sikara Jewelry

Ellis Winstanley, Tradelogic Corporation

 

Clean Technology and Energy

Jose Beceiro, Cockrell School of Engineering at UT

Clay Butler, The Butler Firm

Zeina El-Azzi, SunEdison

Andrew Johnston, Austin Energy

Andrea Ricaurte, CleanTX

 

Community Service & Non-profit

Priscilla Cortez, Bacon Lee & Associates

David Neff, PwC and Lights. Camera. Help.

Leo Ramirez, MiniDonations

Christopher Williston, Independent Bankers Association of Texas

Alex Winkelman, Citizen Generation

 

Culinary Arts & Hospitality

Joanna McCreary, W Austin

Maximillian Petty, Olivia

Paul Qui, Qui

Balinder Singh, Clay Pit

Dorothy Trainer, White Lodging Services

 

Engineering, Architecture & Design

Matt Fajkus, MF Architecture

Allison Jaffe, Allison Jaffe Interior Design

Keri Juarez, City of Austin Public Works Department

Jon Salinas, Salinas Architecture

Will Schnier, BIG RED DOG

 

Financial Services & Insurance

Jeff Davidson, AXA Advisors

Adam Flagg, Upstream Investment Partners

Sara Maxwell, Locke & Ritter

Brian May, Pioneer Bank

Kit Mellem, Build-A-Sign

 

Government & Public Affairs

Veronica Briseno Lara, City of Austin

Terri Broussard Williams, American Heart Association

Michael McGill, Office of the Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole

Rudolph Metayer, Health and Human Services Commission

Katie Naranjo, GNI Strategies

 

Legal

Mollie Duckworth, Baker Botts

Sara Foskitt, Foskitt Law Offices

Elizabeth Hadley, Greenberg Traurig

Christine Richardson, Locke Lord

Marketing, PR & Advertising

Shilpa Bakre, ACVB

Ashley Beall, TRIBEZA

Brian Dolezal, Hahn Public Communications

Jennifer Gooding, Prime PR

Joy Shoffler, Leverage PR

 

Medicine, Healthcare & Sciences

Andrea Campaigne, MD, Nurture OBGYN

Kate Henderson, Seton Healthcare Family

Aliya Hussaini, MD, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation

Jared Leger, Arise Ventures

Brett Matens, St. David’s HealthCare

 

Real Estate

Kevin Burns, Urbanspace

John Hay, Hay Darby PLLC

Corby Jastrow, Prominent Title

Kristi Simmons, AQUILA Commercial

Will Steakley, DEN Property Group

 

Technology & Startups

Joshua Alexander, Toopher

Mason Arnold, Greenling

Chad Bockius, CopperEgg

Joah Spearman, Localeur

Dustin Wells, Headspring

 

Youth & Education

Matthew Abbott, Wayside Schools

Christin Alvarado, Advancing America Foundation

Mike Braeuer, Explore Austin

Bryan Rubio, Breakthrough Austin

Emily Smith, Cunningham Elementary