Thursday, November 15, 2007

Since the real players won't help, how do we put the fun back in funding?

Looking at the response to this latest post on funding, it seems this matter is close to many people's hearts. But while it generated a little bit of textbook debate, the main issue was left largely untouched.

Yes, I do REALLY wish that those guys would step up to the plate and go for a home run [better to swing and miss than never to swing at all]. But that was not the point of my previous post - if it was only to rag the guys who are equipped but are not really bothered, that would be unhelpful. Okay, I admit that was a part of the reason, but not all of it - the main agenda was really to generate some real interesting ideas on how it can be done.

Unfortunately nobody was willing to provide even the slightest hint of a solution as to how we can spur on SA's young rising stars and turn immense upside-potential into real exponential growth. [One late comment was a welcome relief - thanks Grant for your contribution regarding business incubators].

With that in mind, I would like to get the ball rolling here, because leaving people hanging with an unanswerable question is entirely pointless. So here's a starting point.

Most of the people seeking funding have heard the same questions over and over again - such as "Revenue model?", "Sustainability?", "Other funding?" and "Global appeal?". All good questions in their own right, and sometimes the answers are not pretty. But the truth is, more often than not there are definite ways to make something work [admittedly, if you can find the right pieces] - but the funders-in-waiting are often not willing to put in the effort to make it work [sadly they are blind to the real value] and the entrepreneurs simply don't know what pieces to look for.

Can we not get creative with solutions to this? Bridge this divide? When looking for answers to crazy situations, sometimes we need to get crazy too.

And I'm willing to bet that there are solutions that everyone in SA can implement in some way or other. Let me share some of my thoughts quickly here [with their potential implementors]

Campus kings [Government]

Within the university environment, create a research lab where guys are employed to innovate as they research and learn [is it really just coincidence that both Yahoo and Google were birthed in the hallowed halls of Stanford?]

Innovation hubs [Property owners and business people]

Develop multi-purpose communes [ie a place to work and live, equipment, food and basic living amenities included] where all the talented people live, work and build things together. Not living the high life, and not suitable for those that are married, but provides an electric environment where substantial innovation could take place.

Free-to-grow time [Corporates and larger businesses]

'Force' candidate employees to utilise a portion of their paid-for time to develop new ideas that have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of their work [3M implemented their '15% time' very successfully, and Google took it a step further with their '20% time', ie 1 day a week] - and then help them to push winning ideas. What would you do if you had one full day a week to pursue your most outrageous ideas?

Expert advice [Professional service firms]

Dedicate time for a team [doesn't need to be hundreds of people, can be one to start off with] to assist entrepreneurs in developing their businesses, providing free advice on legal matters, support in establishing businesses [registering with all the correct bodies, etc], and most vitally - serious feedback on business models and helping in the development of these. [Yes, various organisations provide mentoring programmes, but feedback I've received is that they don't work like intended - we need 'experts' that entrepreneurs are comfortable to approach to handle specifically the matters they struggle with]

Future fund [Younger generation along with entrepreneurs]

Start a fund where you build a network of young crazy people willing to put in a bit of money [whatever they can or want to - rather than spending it on McDonalds, movies or a GTI] - and make it absolutely plain in the prospectus about the risk : "This investment is HIGH risk. There is very, very little chance that you will ever see any of your money again, and the possibility of becoming a millionaire is slim, to say the least. BUT if this works, you'll be part of something special that will make the world look at SA and gasp. Welcome to the Fund of the Future". [Heck, I'd probably even go for that]

Living fund/honorary seats [Older generation along with entrepreneurs]

Many of today's boomers are sitting in the pound seats, and have much to offer a young up-and-coming company [great article]. After a 'lifetime' of hard work and very little enjoyment, I believe there are some boomers out there who would be willing to pay to be part of a young vibrant company that's doing exciting things and having fun in the process. Set up a company and let them 'buy' a position in this company - CIO [Chief Innovation Observer] or CTO [Chief Tea and coffee Organiser] or whatever - and allow them to find fun and enjoyment in every day they live [I can almost guarantee they will LOVE it]. Have you ever really listened to Sheryl Crow's "All I wanna do [is have some fun]"? Perhaps you can find Billy and give him somewhere better to hang out than the bar - where he would be more than willing to pay for the privelege of being surrounded by young guns [and help fund the ideas at the same time].

Again, these are just ideas to illustrate that we need not be bound by shackles of traditional solutions. Some have been done in some way before elsewhere, some are just strange. But they're ideas - and my intention here is to stimulate some creative solutions. Just because venture funding is traditionally done in specific ways doesn't mean it always has to be done that way.

I realise that these ideas [and many others] are more "big picture" and you may not see it as an immediate solution to your problem. Can I say, all you entrepreneurs with great ideas, there's more than one way to enamour a funding partner, and there are definite practical ways to make your plans and ideas speak, no, SHOUT to these people [in more traditional ways - but still with a business/creative element] - so think about how best you can do that [I'll try touch on this in a bit more detail sometime soon].

So please, if you have ideas or experience with some interesting ways of doing this - put them out there. Lets talk about it, throw it around, beat it to death if we must... and get it to work!

To the non-believers - that's your choice, but remember that those who expect nothing will never be disappointed.

To the believers - open your eyes and lift your head to the horizon - the answers are out there. Allow your creativity to flow and be part of the solution.


The Colony said...

Darren- great follow-up post.

Whilst I don't have an original idea to add, I do feel that young entrepeneurs need a way to find out about the playing field they are attempting to play on.

What I mean is, entrepeneurs are great and think cool stuff up, but are crap at getting it going. This is mostly because they have no idea how to deal with the entrepreneur environment.

They aren't aware of the admin involved (company registration, business plans, getting financials in order), funding issues, (understanding the difference between 'angel' and VC investment), knowing what to say when someone asks about and 'exit strategy'?!? Post-money valuations, pre-money valuations, bla bla bla. It can all get very overwhelming when all you want to do is get on with the fun stuff of getting your idea out there and magically making a fortune.

What young entrepeneurs need are mentors. People who've been there and done that, but aren't interested in stealing their ideas or asking for something in return. Basically they just need good old honest advise. What many young entrepeneurs don't understand (myself included) is that this advise doesn't migrate towards you and unless you actively seek it out you're never going to find it.

Podcamps, seedcamps, open coffees, 27dinners, geek dinners, blogger meetups are great (from what I understand- I'm not based in SA) for getting to meet your peers and *buzz word warning* crowd-sourcing.

Establish a reputation in the community, don't be scared to share your ideas, and in return people will help.

Darren said...

Thanks Grant! That's a very good break down of what's going on. I agree totally with the mentor side of things, but not everyone is fortunate enough to find one.

You mention the horrible dichotomy - that of the admin side and the 'fun' side. I'm still trying to work out if it's best for all to take the admin load off and let them go for it, or if those learnings are integral to growing as a good business-person [used to think the former, now leaning toward the latter].

As for the networking - exactly right. So, when are you going to head back to SA to shake things up a bit :)

Darren said...

Just had to put this here - part of a comment on this entry on muti which shows that some of these things aren't as crazy as they may seem:

"... As a Boomer myself, I would absolutely love to give a few hours a week toward some experienced advice and guidance for any young startup cell."

Now, maybe there's even a business in that. Just imagine... [plus it is part of the solution to the mentor story]

The Colony said...

Interesting article found on Muti which makes my point about VC not being all it's cracked up to be...,com_mojo/Itemid,31/p,15/

Darren said...

Now that's an interesting link - something every young gun should read. And also exactly what we need to work against in coming up with viable solutions! Thanks again, Grant. Your contributions here are very valuable.

Justin Hartman said...

See I love the idea of a Future fund that is high risk but allows innovation.

I am actually desperate to see something that just facilitates innovation in our country in an online space. While incubators are cool I don't think they are the answer to the issue.

I also like your notion on Living fund/honorary seats. It would be awesome to tap into "real" business people who can assist in developing a product or service and help monetise the application.

These appear to be lacking and I for one would welcome both ideas.