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144. Joe Matarese on Expectations and Building a Culture of Continuous Innovation

Every company starts as an innovation. Thereafter, the unceasing challenge is to keep innovating because the market continues to change, technology continues to advance and, crucially, customer expectations continue to rise. Economics For Business speaks with Joe Matarese, Executive Chairman of Medicus Healthcare Solutions, about how to build a culture of continuous innovation and overcome the countervailing forces of the status quo.

Key Takeaways And Actionable Insights

Every company starts as an innovation. The challenge is to continue — and ideally accelerate — innovation without pause.

As Joe Matarese puts it, innovation gets you into the game. It’s how every company starts. There’s the identification of a gap in the marketplace and the operationalizing of a new innovation to fill the gap, better than any other competitor or rival entrant.

Innovation is seldom a great new invention or unprecedented leap. It’s more often the day-to-day incremental changes and improvements in products and processes to meet customers’ changing expectations.

The great challenge is to continue or even accelerate innovation as the company grows and expands.

Continuous innovation combines mindset, processes, technology, empathy, and organizational empowerment.

The world is complex and ever-changing. Innovation is necessary for all businesses to keep up or even move ahead. Innovation is not simple, and it’s not easy — in fact it’s a continuous struggle against opposing forces. Joe Matarese has directed innovation from three vantage points: big corporate, startup, and large growth company. To achieve the goal of continuous innovation requires attention to multiple factors:

Mindset: Innovation must be the commitment for everyone in the company. That means always asking the question, “How can we do better?” Such a mindset requires both tolerance of discomfort — since there’s never any rest — and humility in the face of feedback. Innovative companies hire people with these characteristics and cultivate constant vigilance throughout the firm.

Processes: Things get done through the implementation of processes. Innovative are always seeking to improve their processes — make them faster, lower cost, and more efficient in their use of inputs, especially the use of people’s time. Innovation itself is a process, and process improvement is a form of innovation.

Technology: Irrespective of how innovative any one company may be, technology is progressing at an increasing rate of change with potential to render all processes faster, lower cost, and capable of higher quality and fewer errors. One way to ensure continuous innovation is the rapid adoption and early implementation of new technologies as they become available.

Empathy: Even more powerful than technology is the capacity to tap in to customers’ expectations. This is the source of knowledge about future requirements. Customers are experiencing new technology, are absorbing innovation from other firms in the market (whether they are firms that are competitive to yours or simply adjacent), are experiencing change, and their expectations are changing and becoming more demanding by the moment. By sensing their changing expectations, the innovative firm is in position to be a first responder or an innovator before the expectation has even hardened or matured. Being ahead of expectations is a powerful place to be.

Empowerment: People in front line sales and service functions are closest to customers and their expectations. Line operatives are closest to process implementation. Supply chain managers are closest to business partners and vendors. It is these front-line positions that are best placed to deliver information about expectations and what’s changing. They are also best placed to sense dissatisfaction and unease, and to make real-time changes and adjustments. If they are empowered to make changes and to both suggest and implement improvements — even if what they try doesn’t work — they will be more highly motivated and more likely to serve as an internal engine of innovation.

Tools: Joe shares how his company, Medicus, has developed tools for innovation. Internally, all employees have access to communications tools that ensure the customer data they collect, and the ideas they generate as a result, are widely circulated and responded to. Externally, doctor whom Medicus reimburses for services have access to a tool to record their time that is administratively simple and generates fast payment, addressing two measures of unease.

Our Econ4Business.com platform curates many tools for entrepreneurs. One example relevant to this episode is the “Continuous Customer Expectations Monitor” (see Mises.org/E4B_144_PDF2). It guides entrepreneurs through the continuous process of tracking and keeping up with changing customer expectations.

There is a constant counterforce to innovation that the innovative company must recognize and overcome.

There is an innate human resistance to innovation and change. Consider this from a leading brain scientist and psychologist:

When information streams in through our sensory systems, it first stops off at our amygdalae, which are there to ask the question, “Am I safe?” We feel safe in the world when enough of the sensory stimulation coming in feels familiar. When something does not feel familiar, however, our amygdalae tend to label that unfamiliar thing as dangerous, and they respond by triggering our fight-flight-or-play-dead fear response. —Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D., Whole Brain Living (Mises.org/E4B_144_Book)

It’s natural in humans to resist change. It may not be safe. It may threaten my job, or my comfortable routine, or generate unwanted uncertainty. Fear of change is real. The function that exercises the fear response in companies is bureaucracy. Bureaucracy exists to ensure compliance with existing rules, and their consistent and uniform implementation. Bureaucracy is anti-innovation.

When a business leader commits to improving a product or process, he or she is undoing what someone else in the firm had championed and nurtured and maintained. It’s a constant battle that must be waged between change and the maintenance of the status quo.

The adoption of new technologies is an effective technique of innovation, but it can also trigger a fear response.

Technology is the continuous innovator’s weapon. It advances at its own pace, as a form of evolutionary advance. Every technological innovation spurs new applications in the marketplace. The adoption of these new technology applications is a catalyst for continuous innovation in the firm, supporting both product and service improvements and the incremental efficiency of processes — faster, leaner, lower cost.

The fear mechanism exhibits itself as employees worrying about their jobs. Perhaps the application of technology will reduce the number of people supporting a particular process from 5 to 4 to 3 or 2 or even one or none. They fear that progress will punish them. They adopt a defensive mindset. The innovator’s goal is to change the mindset to one of anticipation of rewards for progress.

Basic economics tells us that resources which are no longer utilized in a process that is rendered more efficient are thereby released for higher and more productive uses. Innovation leaders can communicate that, and make sure employees know they will be rewarded for progress via new and better opportunities for them to contribute more through the higher productivity that innovation brings.

The greatest resource for continuous innovation comes from customer intimacy and empathy that senses customers’ escalating expectations.

When we talk about a changing marketplace, we are really talking about customer expectations. Innovation elevates customer expectations and thereby triggers the next round of innovation in a never-ending cycle.

For example, now that many people carry iPhones and other smartphones, they’ve become used to unprecedented levels of convenience, interconnection, functionality, and intuitiveness. Their expectations for every other piece of technology they encounter, and every interface they navigate, are raised to a new level. There’s a marketplace of expectations and every new technology raises the bar.

The way to keep pace, and to have any chance of anticipating and meeting the next level of raised expectations is to get as close to the customer as possible, to be with them when they’re using your product or service or technology and listen and empathize when they express a wish (or expectation) that the experience could be easier, better, faster, less frustrating, more enabling. “I wish it were as easy as my iPhone” is the expression of an expectation that everything should be as easy as the iPhone.

Innovating firms build in mechanisms that make continuous innovation not only possible but likely.

There’s a quote in the book Working Backward, about continuous innovation at amazon, to the effect that “Good intentions don’t work, mechanisms do”. The intent to improve a process or product is not enough; people already had good intentions in the first place. Mechanisms turn intentions into actions and achievements. Some of the mechanisms Joe Matarese recommended are:

Mechanisms for taking in data from and about customers: Customer intimacy has a mechanism, in the form of frictionless and unstructured data collection. Give front line employees and the technology they use the unfiltered capacity to gather customer information about their dissatisfactions and report it back.

Let people experiment: The E4B technique of explore and expand applies to everyone in the organization. Elevate experimentation over compliance. That’s the way learning happens.

Eliminate bureaucracy that is not mission-supportive: Every company eventually builds bureaucracies in order to support consistent application of business rules. Innovators differentiate between bureaucracy that is mission-supportive and bureaucracy that is mission-obstructive. HR is often a department where bureaucracy grows. If HR is helping to recruit talented people who will contribute to innovation, then the bureaucracy is mission-supportive. If HR imposes rules that unnecessarily impede innovation, then that part of the bureaucracy should be shut down. The goal is to liberate the value-generating creativity of everyone in the organization, and not to impede it.

Decentralization and entrepreneurial empowerment: Decentralization is a mechanism of innovation. The goal is for your organization to consist of hundreds of individuals thinking creatively and solving problems for customers. You want them all to think and to learn! They must know that the firm cheers them on for doing so.

Additional Resources

“Designing An Organization For Continuous Innovation” (PDF): Download PDF

“Continuous Customer Expectations Monitor” (PDF): Download PDF

Medicus Healthcare Solutions: MedicusHCS.com

Econ4Business.com

Whole Brain Living: The Anatomy of Choice and the Four Characters That Drive Our Life by Jill Bolte Taylor: Mises.org/E4B_144_Book

143: Per Bylund: How Austrian Entrepreneurs Succeed

Successful entrepreneurs are Austrians, they just don’t know it yet. This is a famous assertion from Dr. Per Bylund, and we dissect its meaning in the latest Economics For Business podcast.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Success starts from a deep understanding of subjective value (see Mises.org/E4B_143_PPT).

What’s the value of a successfully completed Google search? What’s the value of the feeling of satisfaction that results from having cooked an excellent meal enjoyed by your family? What’s the value of the PowerPoint template you utilized to make a well-received boardroom presentation that may boost your corporate career?

Austrian entrepreneurs know not to ask the question in that form. First, value is not measurable; it’s a feeling or experience in the mental domain. It may have great intensity, it may have long duration, but it can’t be measured in dollars or with any other number.

Yet the generation of customer value is the entrepreneur’s goal. How can the goal be achieved when the understanding of value is so challenging and its measurement is impossible? This is the brilliant advantage of the Austrian entrepreneur.

The customer learns what a value experience feels like.

A customer can’t describe the value they are seeking or what goods and services will deliver it. The value process is not one of demand and supply. As Ludwig von Mises understood, customers feel a sense of unease — “things could be better” — and begin to explore possible avenues to relieving their unease. Of course, this exploration takes place within a complex system of needs: individual and personal goals, family comfort and security, job success and economic status. Customers sort through possibilities with incomplete information and in the context of uncertainty. The gap between feeling unease and finding the best good or service to address it is large. They might try multiple potential solutions with varied cost/benefit profiles before they arrive at one that seems best, or better than alternatives. In other words, they learn: value is a learning process.

The entrepreneur helps their customers to learn.

The customer’s value thinking is constrained: in the present, they can’t imagine a solution that they haven’t yet tried or that has not been available to them. The entrepreneur innovates around the constraint, by providing and communicating new means that the customer could utilize in the future.

Entrepreneurs can’t directly shape the customer’s choice. It’s a fallacy to believe that advertising or promotions or presentation of features and benefits can accomplish that. The customer’s context is too complex for such a simple mechanism to work. The entrepreneur creates a tomorrow in which the customer will feel better off, and provides the means to facilitate the experience, a means for the customer to learn what a better tomorrow feels like. They meet customers in a market that doesn’t yet exist.

Austrian entrepreneurs have a unique value generation tool.

The complexity of the customer’s value system — all the components of value interacting and changing in time — can be simplified with the use of a key that Austrians call the hierarchy of values. Every individual has a set of goals or values they pursue in life. Some of these are more important than others — we call them the highest values. For example, people who engage in sport and athletic activities may have several values for doing so: for fitness and health, for social reasons, for self-improvement, and so on. One value may be the most important in their own individual hierarchy — for many people it is the sense of achievement. By improving their speed or time of running or bicycling, by winning a tournament or a league or playing on a winning team, the individual can experience a sense of personal achievement that is rare, valuable, and fulfilling.

It is a commercially strong behavior to appeal to this highest value among customers. Nike does this for example with its “Just do it” appeal. To simply undertake the athletic activity is achievement: you’ve done something. And, of course, Nike wearables help the process of experiencing the highest value.

All entrepreneurs can appeal to customers’ highest values, and the Austrian entrepreneur has deeper insight into this action.

Austrian humility is a success factor.

So much of business success is projected as heroic implementation of superior strategy. Austrian entrepreneurs do not suffer from such hubris. They take a humble approach to business, understanding that the customer is often engaged in searching and learning without a clear outcome in mind, and that, therefore, the entrepreneurial business cannot be certain of any future results. Entrepreneurs humbly follow, letting the searching customer take the lead, and accepting the customer’s terms of service.

This is how entrepreneurs learn how to facilitate value — often from the harms they suffer from getting their value proposition out of alignment with the customer’s preferences. If the value proposition is wrong, or the price is too high, or the convenience not to the customer’s liking, then no transaction is made, and the entrepreneur must — humbly — adjust. The most successful entrepreneurs are able to maintain their attitude of humility at all points in the value cycle.

Austrian entrepreneurs take the role of fitting in to the customer’s value system. It’s a flow, not a plan.

Conventional business planning is anathema to Austrian entrepreneurs. The linear process of producing and selling to generate transactions with the goal of meeting a targeted volume or revenue in a fixed period of time is not appropriate for the humble, learning, exploring business of entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurial success stems not from good planning but from adaptively fitting in to the evolving value system we call the market — a system that is different for every individual customer, and into which many overlapping and competing entrepreneurial value propositions are also trying to fit.

Planning is not a good tool for this purpose. Creativity, imagination, and adaptiveness are called for. The dynamic of learning from the customer and adjusting to changing signals calls for responsiveness not plans. The entrepreneurial journey with the customer is a flow, sometimes through white water. In this context, the Silicon Valley concept of pivoting is appropriate, although not quite as the West Coast gurus see it. Their pivot is a one-time major shift in direction, perhaps to a new business model when the original one proves inadequate. The Austrian pivot is continuous and flowing, adjusting the boat to the subtle and frequent signals sent by customers.

Explore, Realize, Then Keep Exploring.

We’ve talked in the past about an “explore and expand” model for entrepreneurial value generation. The entrepreneur co-explores various paths to value with the customer, and when one emerges as productive of significant value, the entrepreneur can expand the allocation of resources to that path and drive revenue growth, through selling more to the same customers, or recruiting new customers or both.

Professor Bylund added some nuance to this: the entrepreneur never stops exploring. When an exploration results in substantial value realized, there remains a lot of further exploration to understand the value experience of the customer in greater depth and detail, and continuous monitoring of changes and adjustments in the customer’s system and value network. The entrepreneur is continuously tested.

The entrepreneurial ethic is an ethic of service; profit is a shared outcome of consumer and producer choices.

Entrepreneurial firms are in business to serve customers. This principle may be appropriately expressed via mission statements and expressions of purpose; it remains the core of all entrepreneurship. Profit is an outcome of two collaborative choices: the exchange price the consumer is willing to pay for the value they anticipate receiving, and the choice of costs the entrepreneur considers proportionate to the value he or she expects to generate for the customer. There are many entrepreneurs in the market for resources bidding on costs at the same time, and so the individual entrepreneur’s choices are conditioned by those made by others. Profits emerge from this system.

Cash flow is a better indicator of the capacity of the entrepreneur’s business model to convert resources into exchange value for customers (although not the artificial cash flows of engineered P&L’s — rather, the true cash flow of the customer’s eagerness to exchange for the newly produced offerings from the entrepreneur).

There’s a distinctly Austrian approach to entrepreneurial business.

In a famous paper called “Inversions of Service-Dominant Logic,” professors Stephen Vargo and Robert Lusch called for inverting “old enterprise economics or neoclassical economics” in favor of a new perspective. One of their proposals was an inversion of “entrepreneurship and the view that value creation is an unfolding, emergent process” to a position “superordinate to management”. Business schools, they stated, teach a management discipline rooted in the industrial revolution. There’s an emphasis on centralized control and planning. Vargo and Lusch sought to replace this approach with value creation as “an emergent process within an ever-changing context, including ever-changing resources; it is, by necessity, an entrepreneurial process”.

The distinctive Austrian entrepreneurship approach captures and expresses the emergent process, and provides entrepreneurs (and managers) with the tools and methods to help them shape thriving businesses as they discover new solutions to relieve customer unease.

Additional Resources

“Explore and Realize (and Keep Exploring): How Austrian Entrepreneurs Generate Value on the Path to Business Success” (PowerPoint): Download Slides

“Inversions of Service-Dominant Logic” by Stephen L. Vargo and Robert F. Lusch (PDF): Download_PDF

142. Murray Sabrin: How Entrepreneurs Beat the Fed-Generated Boom-Bust Cycle

Entrepreneurial businesses acknowledge and understand the inevitability of boom-bust cycles in the Fed-manipulated economy. But they refuse to be defeated or even deterred. They find the profitable pathway through both the boom and the bust. Murray Sabrin has compiled a guide in his latest book, Navigating The Boom/Bust Cycle, An Entrepreneur’s Survival Guide

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

So long as we have central banking, entrepreneurs will experience boom-bust cycles. They adapt to this reality.

Entrepreneurship is, in its essence, focused on the generation of new value, producing betterment, growth, and improvement. While customer preferences and the nature of competitive offerings may change, and conditions such as pricing and contracts may vary, entrepreneurs work towards continuous enhancement of markets.

Their efforts are thwarted by governments, who can’t leave markets alone to function smoothly, and especially to central banks who aim overtly at manipulating markets through artificial credit creation. Austrian entrepreneurs are acutely conscious of this problem, since they understand Austrian business cycle theory. But they must nevertheless adapt to the boom-bust problems the central bankers bring about.

The first tool of adaptiveness is the recognition that there is the private economy and the public economy are different and separate.

Some economists talk of a mixed economy, but, as Mises pointed out, such middle-of-the-road thinking is socialist. The public economy is where the government trades, including trading in money, debt, and credit manipulation, and in the regulations that governments use as their management tool.

Entrepreneurs seek to establish a private economy where the government does not trade. The most important part of the market where the government is absent is the creation of customer value, especially in the form of innovation. Governments destroy value and deny innovation. When entrepreneurs can operate in the light of value generation, leaving governments in the dark, there’s room for profitable operations.

Entrepreneurs can further protect their safe haven with good anticipatory timing of the boom-bust cycle. There are signals that help.

Murray Sabrin’s book provides a long list of websites and links where relevant data is published that can help entrepreneurs watch the trend that might signal the timing of the boom-bust cycle.

The first signal is the so-called inversion yield curve, when short term interest rates start to elevate, and even get to higher levels than longer term rates. This is unnatural, implying that there is greater uncertainty in the short term than the long term. It can only happen when markets are fearful of the short-term consequences of government policies and interventions, even though they are confident of entrepreneurially-induced growth and improvement in the long run.

As a rule of thumb, according to Murray, the beginning of a recession can be anticipated roughly one year from the inversion of the yield curve. Of course, other factors can intervene, such as the government’s idiotic shutting down of businesses over the fake COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, entrepreneurs should pay attention to the yield curve signal. They can monitor it at Mises.org/E4B_142_Fred.

Another signal for entrepreneurs to monitor in the overall economy is the unemployment rate. This rate declines during the boom, and actually starts declining as the recession is ending or a few months afterwards. There are variations in the pattern by industry, which Murray describes in detail in the book. He provides a list of 12 St. Louis Fed employment data series to monitor, covering sectors such as manufacturing, durable consumer goods, finance and insurance, and construction.

He offers many more signals — such as homebuilder stock prices — to monitor boom-bust timing. There is plenty of data for the savvy entrepreneur.

Strengthening value effectiveness and value security beats managing for efficiency.

The economics profession has been guilty of misguiding entrepreneurs with its focus on efficiency, i.e., managing for fewer inputs per unit of output, and eliminating “waste”. It can cause fragility, impede value generation, and slow down innovation and responsiveness to change.

One example is the management of supply chains. Managing them for maximum efficiency can also make them insecure, if, for example, there are no ready supplier replacements when one slips up. We are experiencing the impacts of supply chain fragility right now in the US. It’s for reasons extraneous to regular business operations, but the effects serve to highlight the need to keep supply chains secure under attack from government interventions. Entrepreneurial businesses that develop the strongest possible upstream supplier relationships and cultivate a richly connected value network may be able to perform better when boom-bust hits the supply chain.

Entrepreneurs fight the Fed on inflation.

The Federal Reserve insists on maintaining its 2 percent inflation target, which is economically destructive in many ways (see “Why the Fed’s 2 Percent Inflation Standard Is So Bad” by Ryan McMaken: Mises.org/E4B_142_Article). Entrepreneurs pursue deflation, always aiming to deliver better quality at lower prices. Why? Because it’s what customers want, and entrepreneurs are in business to serve customer needs. Entrepreneurs bring abundance. The Federal Reserve, taking the position that higher prices are good for the economy, promotes scarcity.

Entrepreneurs make their workforce a strong resource, rather than a source of cost-cutting in economic downturns.

The purveyors of so-called efficient management traditionally see the workforce as a cost, and urges entrepreneurs to cut costs by firing people in economic downturns. Entrepreneurs focus on effectiveness instead, and see their workforce as a resource and a source of ideas and initiatives for improvement and adaptation in all environments. A motivated frontline workforce is closest to customers and can bring back information, ideas, and new initiatives to make the business more responsive to customer needs and more capable of delivering desired customer experiences. This is the case whatever the state of the Fed-manipulated economic cycle.

Growth entrepreneurs think expansively at all times.

Entrepreneurs create new value for customers, and they don’t call a halt to their pursuit of value just because of the macro-economic data that’s being reported in the mainstream media.

They understand that customer preferences, or the order of those preferences, may well change in a boom or a bust time, and they maintain their vigilance in monitoring and responding to these changes. These are the signals to which they respond, not the economic headlines. Entrepreneurs look for the opportunity to introduce new goods and services at all times, and not just at the “right” moments in the economic cycle. They’re always looking for new ways to deliver more value. Perhaps, in a downturn, there’s a greater call for service and repairs on existing equipment than for buying new equipment. Entrepreneurs can adjust and recombine their assets to provide more repair work and thus make up for lost sales revenue.

Entrepreneurs are great cash flow managers, and tend to keep cash on hand or available for those times when this level of money can be utilized for expansion. One potential application in this book is the acquisition of assets from other businesses in a downturn, when business operators who are less savvy run out of cash and offer assets for sale at low cost. Murray calls this “picking up the pieces”.

There may also be the opportunity to expand geographically into new regions. There’s always growth somewhere.

In sum, the answer to the boom-bust cycle is value agility.

In the 4Vs business model on the Economics For Business platform, the fourth phase of the value cycle is value agility. We use this term to indicate the speed of responsiveness that successful entrepreneurs exhibit in response to customer feedback. Murray Sabrin uses the same term in his book, and defines it as “a process where entrepreneurs… adapt and adjust to continue to meet consumers’ perceptions of value your business delivers” (p. 111).

He asks, “do entrepreneurs stick it out when the economy is in a slump or wave the white flag and close the doors?” Mastering value agility means never being faced with that agonizing decision.

Additional Resources

Purchase Navigating The Boom/Bust Cycle, An Entrepreneur’s Survival Guide at the BEP Web store Use promo code BOOM20 for 20% off.

See a preview of Murray Sabrin’s book at Download PDF

“The 4Vs Business Model” (Video): Watch the Video

The Economics For Business platform: Econ4Business.com

“Why the Fed’s 2 Percent Inflation Standard Is So Bad” by Ryan McMaken: Read it on Mises Wire

10-Year Treasury Constant Maturity Minus 2-Year Treasury Constant Maturity (Chart): View/Download

141. Bharat Kanodia: How Subjective Value Generates Valuation In Business

All value is subjective. But often, when an exchange is to be made, a numerical value is required. It’s a special kind of economic calculation, what Bharat Kanodia terms “a subjective opinion based on objective facts”.

Bharat has built a career on valuations, from 2-founder garage start-ups to the Eiffel Tower. He shares his knowledge, experience, and insights with the Economics For Business podcast.

Key Takeaways And Actionable Insights

Valuations start with a “what?” and a “why?”

What is the subject of the valuation? Is it a building but not the land it’s sitting on? Is it a patent? Is it a monetized patent or just an approved patent? Is it the assets of a business or is the going business? All these definitions and classifications of what’s being valued clearly make a big difference to the outcome.

What is the purpose of making a valuation? It might be a step in buying a business. Or in selling a business. It may be a valuation of an asset for insurance purposes, or for estate tax estimation. The valuation may be a tool for raising capital, or an assessment following a capital raise. The same asset can have different valuations for different purposes.

That’s why it’s important to start with the what and the why.

The most challenging business valuation is for a start-up.

Two founders working from a garage have a business idea and some code but no customers and no revenue. The business needs a valuation in order to raise capital. It makes no sense to value it on the basis of discounted future projected cash flows. They’re imaginary.

The business is going to be valued based on the story the founders tell, and a rule of thumb valuation that works backwards from the percentage of the business the founders are willing to give to a seed investor.

Most 2-founder garage pre-revenue businesses are deemed worthy of a $1 million valuation, because an investor can be given 20% of the business for a $200,000 investment, which are reasonable heuristics for both parties. Bharat advises founders not to haggle too much over this valuation stage — if the business is successful, this initial financial structure is largely irrelevant for the founders.

In subsequent post-revenue investment rounds, operations have more impact on valuation than future revenue projections.

Even once there’s revenue and a validated business model, projected future revenues are seldom the basis for valuation. There’s usually a hockey stick projection, or a long list of unverifiable assumptions. It’s more important to investors — and valuers — to examine operations, and specifically whether the business owners have a valid, detailed, and convincing plan to scale up. This kind of operations planning demands great rigor, both for purposes of implementation and for convincing investors.

Often, it’s the quality of storytelling that underpins the valuation.

With a detailed operations plan in place, the selling business founder or proprietor can build a persuasive story about future growth and potential. Here, emotion plays a big part. Can the business owner communicate how intensely the need is felt by potential customers? Can he or she communicate the passion they feel to deliver a solution to those customers? And the deep emotional commitment to the years of hard work it will take to attain appropriately ambitious goals?

The story, well-executed, validates the valuation.

For businesses like CPA firms, medical practices, and construction, 2 major factors have an outsize influence on valuations.

When an investor buys a mature service business, especially a local one, they are generally seeking hassle-free cash flow. They’re not looking to buy problems to fix.

Two factors stand out for these kinds of buyers. One is reliable recurring revenue from loyal customers. It must be revenues that are fully attributable to the service, and unlikely to be cut when there is a change of ownership.

The second is automation or established smooth-running and self-maintaining operations mechanisms. Bharat’s advice to sellers of these kinds of businesses is to automate everything you can, with reliable control software wherever possible.

These kinds of service businesses may have high levels of reputation and trust based on surveys and qualitative data, but those intangibles must be backed up with the behavioral reliability of the customer base.

In today’s markets, followers are a highly valued asset.

In many ways, recurring revenue is a metric to quantify followership. Ryan Reynolds has a followership. Nike has a followership. Tom Cruise has a followership. These followers are all monetizable as buyers of goods or services or movie tickets associated with these personalities and brands. Your personal brand has value if you have followers and if the followership can be monetized.

Every asset can be assigned a valuation — even the State of Hawaii and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Bharat has been called upon to give valuations of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Atlanta airport, and the state of Hawaii, among many other famous places or things. Sometimes, the valuation is for insurance purposes, sometimes for accounting. In all cases, there’s a number (or a range).

Once the what and the why are established, there is a mechanism for valuation that can be applied to any asset or stock or flow.

Additional Resources

“Pathways To Business Valuation” (PDF): Download PDF

“How to Double Valuation?” (Video): Watch Video

“What’s Pre-IPO Worth?” (Video): Watch Video

140. Samuele Murtinu: How Low Time Preference Elevates the Investment Returns of Family Corporate Venture Capital

Family businesses play a major role in the US economy. According to the Conway Center, family businesses comprise 90% of the business ventures in the US, generate 62% of the employment in the nation, and deliver 64% of US GDP.

And, they’re good at venture capital. Samuele Murtinu, Professor of Law, Economics, and Governance at Utrecht University, visits the Economics For Business podcast to share the findings and insights from his very recent analysis of venture capital databases.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Corporate venture capital is a special animal.

There are many types of venture capital. Professor Murtinu focused first on the distinction between traditional or independent venture capital (IVC) and corporate venture capital (CVC). Independent venture capital funds are structured with a general partner in the operational, decision-making role, and investors in the role of limited partner.

Corporate venture capital funds are fully owned and managed by their parent corporation. The CEO or CFO of the corporation typically appoints a corporate venture capital manager, who selects targets, conducts due diligence and so on from a subordinate position in the corporate hierarchy.

The important difference between IVC and CVC lies in objectives and goals. IVC goals are purely financial — the highest capital gain in the shortest possible time. CVC funds often have strategic goals in addition to, or substituting for, financial goals. These strategic goals might include augmenting internal R&D capabilities and performance, and accessing new technologies and new innovations, or entering new markets.

Another form of CVC licenses patented technologies to startups in cases where the corporate firm does not have the capacity to exploit the IP, but can oversee the implementation at the startup with a view to further future investment or acquisition. This is the method of Microsoft’s IP Ventures arm, for example.

Typically, IVC investments are easy to measure against financial performance benchmarks or targets. CVC’s strategic investments are harder to measure. Goals such as technology integration are too non-specific to measure, and normal VC guardrails like specified duration of investments are not typically in place and so can’t be used as benchmarks. On the other hand, CVC investments often expand beyond the financial into strategic support via corporate assets such as brand, sales and distribution channels and systems.

Corporate venture capital out-performs traditional venture capital in overall economic performance.

Professor Murtinu’s performance metric in his data analysis was total factor productivity — performance over and above what’s attributable to the additions to capital and labor inputs. IVC’s performance for its investments was measured in the +40% range, and CVC’s was measured at roughly +50%. IVC performs better in the short term, while CVC performs better in the longer term. This difference reflects the lower time preference of CVC. It extends to IPO’s: corporate venture capital funds stay longer in the equity capital of their portfolio companies in comparison to independent venture capital.

Family CVC is another animal again — and even higher performing than non-family CVC.

Professor Murtinu separated out family-owned firms (based on a percentage of equity held) with corporate venture capital funds for analysis. Some of his findings include:

  • They prefer to maintain longer and more stable involvement in the companies in which they invest.
  • They prefer to maintain control over time (as opposed to exiting for financial gain).
  • They look to gains beyond purely financial returns, including technology acquisition / integration into the parent company and/or learning new processes.
  • They are more likely to syndicate with other investors, for purposes of portfolio risk mitigation.
  • They target venture investments that are “close to home” both in geographic terms and in terms of industries closely related to their core business.

The resultant outcomes are superior: a higher likelihood of successful exits (IPO or sale to another entity), and a greater long term value effect on the sold company after the IPO or exit. Further, there is evidence from the data of a higher innovation effect for Family CVC holdings, as measured by the post-exit value of the patent portfolio held by the ventures.

Family CVC is resilient in economic downturns. During the last economic downturn, family CVC invested at double the amount of corporate venture capital, reflecting family businesses’ preference for long-term investing and for control.

The lower time preference of family businesses and family CVC is crucial for the achievement of superior financial performance, especially in the longer term.

Family CVC’s lower time preference and longer investment time horizons result in beneficial effects. Ownership in the venture companies is more stable, and the value effect after IPO (when family CVC stability continues because these funds stay in the post-IPO company longer) is significant.

Professor Murtinu relates this phenomenon to Austrian economics. The longer time horizon permits a closer relationship between investor and entrepreneur — it develops over time — and their subjective judgment about the future state become more aligned. Frictions and information asymmetries are reduced, and a shared view of the future emerges. This stability can scale up to the industry level and national level when there are more family CVC funds at work. Instead of pursuing unicorns and gazelles, an environment more conducive to duration and resilience is created.

Additional Resources

“Types of Venture Capital” (PDF): Download PDF

“Families In Corporate Venture Capital” by Samuele Murtinu, Mario Daniele Amore, and Valerio Pelucco (PDF): Download Paper

139. Fabrice Testa on Super Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is a method, and it’s also a mindset. Fabrice Testa has written a book that brilliantly integrates the two: he calls the integration “Super Entrepreneurship,” and his book title is therefore Super Entrepreneurship Decoded. He has the appropriate credentials as a proven super-entrepreneur who has created and nurtured numerous great companies (and successfully sold a couple of them).

Fabrice knows the true meaning of the phrase, “The day before something is a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea”.

Entrepreneurs are animated by their purpose. Super entrepreneurs embrace a massive transformative purpose.

The motivation for entrepreneurs is to help others — to solve problems for others, as we sometimes phrase it. Super entrepreneurs, in Fabrice Testa’s language, are those who choose to dedicate their businesses to solving the biggest problems. By setting big goals, they attract many like-minded partners, collaborators, and employees. By targeting transformation, they aim to change the world in a significant way.

In making this choice, super entrepreneurs are delving deeply into their own personal story to understand their own drivers and their own passionate commitment. There’s a major self-discovery component.

Having set their MTP, super entrepreneurs develop a systematic approach to the pursuit of their goal.

Fabrice Testa recommends that super entrepreneurs combine what he calls CRAZY thinking with a relentless sense of purpose. CRAZY is an acronym for elements of entrepreneurship that Testa calls the Five Secrets. We agreed not to give them away, but they add up to a five-step method entrepreneurs can follow, and a checklist that they can use to assess the market power of their own concepts and business models.

The context for the 5-step method is the exponential rate of growth of available and applicable technologies for entrepreneurship, and the convergence of those technologies that results in a compounding of productivity. When, for example, sensor-based data collection can be combined with A.I. and robotics, whole new fields of automation open up, potentially helping billions of people.

A relentless sense of purpose is a major element in the super entrepreneurial mix.

Super entrepreneurs are highly motivated. They display high levels of ambition and drive, and they generate strong momentum. They seek change, and aim for breakthroughs. They love to set the bar high.

There is a spirit to super entrepreneurship, an intangible spark of super energy and boldness that sets the best entrepreneurs apart and powers them to unusual levels of achievement.

There’s a plan, but it’s not fixed.

Fabrice Testa identifies a master plan for the activities of high-achieving entrepreneurs, but it’s not the restrictive plan of the business school strategist. One term he used was Roadmap: there’s a goal to get from A to B, but it’s OK to visit C, D and E along the way, and to learn and double back and embrace recursive procedures to reach the targeted end-results. The key to success is keeping the goal in mind with flexibility on the route to get there.

Let the customer be the guide.

Testa subscribes to the protocol of involving the customer early and often in the process of designing and building a product or service or a company. Entrepreneurs are always working with assumptions, and, at minimum, must validate them with customers.

He introduced us to the “Starbucks method” of customer validation. Park yourself in Starbucks, order a beverage of your choice, then look around for likely-looking people who might be open to a brief conversation about your idea or proposal or even prototype. It’s easy to engage people, they’re willing to help, and you can offer to buy them a coffee to lubricate the relationship. A few hours investment of your time and a few dollars invested in coffee will result in a deep, broad and rich set of reactions and responses and a meaningful feedback loop.

Success is more about fitting in than it is about timing.

When writers and historians are trying to analyze the unusual success of a particular business, they often attribute a lot of the cause of the outcome to timing — the product or service or technology came along at just the right time. This is a misinterpretation. The happy correspondence of a new offering with a receptive context is not timing but fitting in.

According to Fabrice, to fit in in a big way is to fit in with the zeitgeist of the era. The dictionary definition of zeitgeist is the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era. What Fabrice is pointing towards is a heightened ability to sense the movement of the time, and the direction of its flow, and to step into that river at the right point.

Entrepreneurship is everywhere, and can be achieved at multiple scales.

Super entrepreneurship is not limited by the scale of resources, but it can certainly be augmented wherever resources are abundant. That’s why we seek to encourage entrepreneurship for individuals, teams, and firms of all size, including the largest corporations. Big companies under-perform at entrepreneurship for two reasons. First, they spawn bureaucracy, which is a form of organization that is counter-entrepreneurial. Second, they have existing businesses to defend and fear the consequences of self-disruption.

The solution is to change the purpose of big corporations so that they can become super-entrepreneurial. The purpose would be to create new businesses with no bureaucracy and separated from the defense mechanisms of existing business units or divisions.

Additional Resources

Super-Entrepreneurship Decoded: 5 Secret Keys to Create Breakthrough Businesses that Change the World by Fabrice Testa: Buy It On Amazon

“Super Entrepreneurship” (PDF): Download PDF