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Entrepreneurs aren’t making money. The system is broken.

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If you think your business is worth millions but no one will buy it, is it actually worth anything?

There is something very fundamentally broken with the entrepreneur / small business model. What that means, is that if you are a ‘successful’ small business owner you will probably never be fully rewarded for the time, money and heartache that you have poured into your business. Surely the lack of sleep and the fact you remortgaged your house to keep the business going has got to be worth millions, hasn’t it?

In fact, while every day your employees, suppliers, landlords and a whole ecosystem of partner companies extract value from your business. You, as a founder, would have made more money in the last decade if you had just worked your way up the corporate ladder. Depressing isn’t it?

The trouble lies with the way value is exchanged. Your business may very well be worth millions to the economy and society, but unless you can convince someone to part with some cash for shares of that business, it is actually worth very little to you.

Back in the good old days, the answer was simple, grow the business, list it on a stock exchange, the founder finally gets to pocket some cash, the company gets an infusion of capital to help it scale and everyone’s a winner. Can’t make it to the main market? Well there is probably a secondary market happy to take your fees.

Yet somewhere along the way, this ultimate ambition of getting listed started to lose it’s allure. In the last 20 years public listings have halved. Last year there were less listings then at the height of the global financial crisis.

There are 2 key drivers to this.

The first is the process, the second is the outcome.

1. Process

The process of getting listed is excruciating for entrepreneurs. Most Investment Banks concur that the average listing will take you 18 months, cost you in the region of $3m+ and will tie up your senior team for at least the last 12 months before you list.

James Freeman, the Founder of Blue Bottle Coffee summed it up very astutely ‘It seems like a way of living in hell without dying’

He’s not wrong. And so he decided not to list.

2. Outcome

And then there is the result. Get listed and while you do suddenly find yourself with an asset you can trade you have entered a completely alien world and are now at the beck and call of thousands of investors who believe that owning a share of your stock gives them the right to question your every decision. In fact, you will soon find the people that question your decisions the loudest often don’t even own your stock.

Those that do own your stock are generally playing a very very different game from the one that you are playing. As an entrepreneur you have spent the last decade of your life making decisions around how you can create more value for others. Your team, your clients, your partners. All the things that you needed to do to build the company and in almost every case the results that you saw from these decisions took years. Yet suddenly you are faced with an army of investors who may buy and sell your stock dozens of times within a single day! The vast majority of your shareholders are traders, they don’t care about long term value they want to make money when the shares go up and when the shares go down. And if that means spreading false rumours on the Internet then so be it.

Yet for all that the market has many flaws, in many cases it is still the best option for finally releasing some liquidity and ‘unlocking’ the value that you know is in your business.

A new way to solve these problems

Fortunately for us, where there are problems there are opportunities and where there are opportunities, entrepreneurs inevitably follow. Here is a quick look at 3 of the solutions being put forward to help entrepreneurs get liquid.

Chamath Palihapitiya, a US based VC investor has listed an empty shell company on to the New York Stock Exchange and is offering it up to companies to let them ‘reverse in’. In effect being acquired by the shell to give them all of the benefits of a listing but without the pain and cost of the process. His target is the multitude of tech Unicorns ($1B+ valuation) that are flush with investor capital and so don’t need the headaches associated with traditional listing but would like to reward staff, founders and early investors.

Eric Ries (he of Lean Startup fame) is not just trying to hack the system like Chamath, he is actually trying to reinvent the whole market place. He is building his own marketplace called LTSE (Long Term Stock Exchange) and one of the tenants of his new system is that the longer you own stock, the more rights you are granted. Hence founders keep control and day traders can do what they like but have less sway over the company direction.

You will notice that the first two of these options come out of Silicon Valley, but if you are like the vast majority of small business owners you will have also realised that whilst Silicon Valley is great for disruption and buzzwords, most of what goes on over there has very little impact on you, your business or anyone you know.

The third option I’m going to talk about did not come out of Silicon Valley, is not aimed at Unicorns and doesn’t need a whole new exchange to make it work.

Concept of Agglomeration.

Similar in concept to Chamath’s model, an ‘Agglomeration’ is a listed vehicle exclusively for the use of other companies to allow them to get the benefits of listing. However, in this case the target companies are small to mid size across any sector. These are solid, debt free, profitable companies run by industry leaders. The founders swap their private stock for public stock and then carry on running the business as they were. They get all of the advantages of a PLC with none of the time and costs associated with a traditional listing.

The best way to think of this is to think of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway. A holding company that owns many others but doesn’t interfere in the running of each.

While it has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur there are still some huge hurdles to overcome. The vast majority of government and media attention is not on those companies that have figured out how to solve problems and create value in the world, but on those that are in the glamourous world of ‘startups’. A weird parallel-dimension where fundamentals such as generating revenue, profit and cashflow play second fiddle to finding an investor to bankroll you. Yet eventually, some good businesses will emerge from there and before long the founders will look around and realise that they too might have a business worth millions on paper and yet have nothing to pay school fees with.

The capital markets may be broken but they are the best we have right now for rewarding entrepreneurs and allowing investors to benefit from scaling businesses.

All innovation in this area is to be applauded. Anything that can serve to reconnect entrepreneurs and changemakers with the liquidity needed to both inspire and fuel their ambitions is a good thing. We would then, finally, have a system that truly rewards those that take the risk and create the value in our society.

Entrepreneurship

The 6 Habits of Amazing Leaders

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Great leaders all seem to have this commanding and magnetic force about them that follows them in and out of each room they enter. It’s that something that you can’t quite put your finger on. Maybe it’s charisma, ambition, drive or personality. In many ways, it’s probably a little bit of all those things, which is why great leaders always seem to be the total package.

But it’s also accurate to say that these effective leaders didn’t just wake up one day with all of these skills and expertise. On the contrary: any good leader knows that, in order to be effective, you need to make time for personal growth and develop good habits that hone these skills.

There are many lists out there with great suggestions, but we’ve put together the six most important habits of truly effective leaders.

1. Lead without title.

Some of the best leaders out there got themselves started by stepping up in the work place and self-leading. Having personal initiative is the key to personal professional growth and turning your methods and attitudes into a productive and, at times, commanding presence. This doesn’t mean arrogance. In fact, it really means the opposite.

As you continue to grow and develop as a leader — and actually gain titles — it’s important to remember where you came from. In this way, you can identify other individuals under your leadership that exhibit the same type of self-motivation you did. Be understanding and welcome failure as you lead. If you don’t get caught up on your title in the workplace, you’ll foster an environment that encourages inquiry and innovation.

2. Take responsibility.

And when failure does indeed happen, don’t create a scapegoat. You’re the leader of the group, and you are responsible for that group. Take this moment as an opportunity to teach and mentor those around you instead of assigning blame. You’ll keep the work environment productive and positive this way, and encourage more and better dialogue between your team members.

Remember: failure is ultimately necessary for truly great success, because it serves as one of the best teaching tools out there. Knowing you support them, no matter what, will allow your team to really get creative.

3. Think outside the box.

Leaders are innovators — there’s no question about it. Really effective leaders tend to look at things in very different ways than most people, and they encourage those they work with to do the same.

This also means reframing an idea once the first attempt has failed. If you can continually inspire flexibility, invention and adjustment — and treat them as positives — you will sit among truly world-class leaders like Steve Jobs of Apple, Sheryl Sandburg of Facebook or Reed Hastings of Netflix.

4. Have a vision and objective that’s shareable.

Nevertheless, this innovation and out-of-the-box thinking has to be easily communicated to your team. You not only need to be clear, organized and honest, but you also need to be a persuasive communicator that’s adept at listening to grievances, questions and feedback (without arrogance).

If your grand vision can’t be shared and adopted by the team you’ll be working with, the likelihood of success is virtually non-existent. There’s a reason why leaders have a team: people are stronger together.

5. Don’t be afraid to delegate.

Working together with others means that, as a leader, you recognize you can’t do everything by yourself. The best leaders learn to delegate and the most effective daily habits of business leaders focus on ways to involve the whole team. Accounting for the importance of effectively organizing and delegating tasks not only makes others feel included, but is essential for the daily functioning of your business.

6. Find time for relaxation and rejuvenation.

Finally: remember that all this talk of productivity is useless if you’re feeling burned out, or less than 100%. It’s extremely important for strong leaders to make sure they maintain a work/life equilibrium. Don’t shy away from physical activity or time off. These two things are extremely important for maintaining your sanity and health.

Practice daily meditation exercises, and make sure you take time to disconnect. This also sets a great example for your entire team and has a ripple effect. If they understand that you place importance on self-care, then they’re likely to practice the same methods — which will make everyone more productive in the end.

If you’re toying with the idea of a leadership position, take the plunge! Be a self-starter and inspire others. Leadership can be difficult, it’s true, but the results of carrying a team successfully through a project and inspiring them to step into new roles themselves is extremely rewarding. It will also give you the opportunity to push your limits and grow personally and professionally.

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About The Author:

This article was written by Kayla Matthews, an editor of Productivity Theory.Kayla is a freelance writer, blogger and topic researcher and, because I want to churn out tons of articles and blog posts every week, I have to manage my time as efficiently as possible. I use lots of Google Sheets, Google Calendar reminders, tons of apps and lots and lots of personally cultivated habits to stay on top of everything.

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Callum Connects

Andrew Schorr, Founder of Grata

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Taking a different route throughout his life, Andrew Schorr ended up in China and started several businesses.

What’s your story?
I moved to China after I graduated from college in 2004. English teaching was the easiest way to get there, so I looked on a map and picked a small town in Hubei, because it looked to be more or less in the middle of China. I was the only foreigner there.

Back then, everything was about the upcoming Olympics in Beijing, so I moved to the capital after my year of teaching. Pretty soon after arriving, I met the co-founder for all three of my companies. We decided to start a company together the first day we met. He has now moved back to the US and builds flight software at SpaceX.

Our first company, an online city guide, was re-purposed into our second company, GuestOps, a web concierge platform. We sold GuestOps to most of the major international hotel brands in China and still operate it. The genesis of our latest company, Grata came from looking at the intersection of hotels and WeChat in 2012, when WeChat was just starting to blow up. Grata expanded from hotels into a live-agent customer service console.

What excites you most about your industry?
Our thesis with Grata has always been that what is happening with WeChat in China is the future of messaging platforms globally, and as an international team building on WeChat, we would be well-placed to capitalize on that trend. It’s taken longer than we expected for the industry (and us, for that matter) to get there, but finally, we’re starting to see messaging as a platform to get better traction in other markets.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’ve always been a bit of a contrarian. I grew up in Texas, where all my friends studied Spanish in school. I studied German for no reason in particular. I took a similar path in college: Chinese and Japanese seemed like languages that not a lot of people who look like me studied. I was one of only two students in my third-year Chinese class.

Concur conference in San Francisco, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013. (Photo by Paul Sakuma, Paul Sakuma Photography) www.paulsakuma.com

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Shanghai. I should live there, but Beijing has been home for so long. I take the night train down to Shanghai every two-three weeks to meet with clients. Domestic flights are way too unreliable here.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Don’t plan too far ahead; otherwise, you plan yourself out of good opportunities.

Who inspires you?
Has anyone said “Elon Musk” yet? Barack Obama would be another.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The gravitational waves recently detected from neutron stars colliding, were so subtle as to only affect the distance from earth to our closest star, Alpha Centauri (4.24 light years away) by the width of a human hair. Perhaps in another life or in the future, I’ll be an astronomer, but a telescope doesn’t do me much good in Beijing.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
When I give advice to students looking to get into entrepreneurship, I advise them to work for a post-Series A startup first and learn from a company that’s already doing things well. I learnt everything on my own, which is slower and you pay for your own education. If you work for a startup that’s small in the beginning, you risk learning bad habits.

How do you unwind?
I Hash! The Hash is a drinking club with a running problem. The Hash attracts good people from all walks of life and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a great way to meet fun-loving people all over the world. It’s also how I met my co-founder, our first lawyer, and my girlfriend.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Pulau Perhentian, Malaysia. A fantastic beach and where I first learned to scuba dive.

Everyone in business should read this book:
For business in China, Tim Clissold’s, Mr. China.

Shameless plug for your business:
Grata does WeChat contact centers for many top-tier brands in luxury retail, travel, financial services and hospitality. We started developing on WeChat before they even had an open platform. Grata provides the most value for large enterprises with complex routing and content demands for their contact centers.

How can people connect with you?
Check out www.grata.co or email me: [email protected]

Twitter handle?
My personal handle is @andrew_schorr and we tweet about messaging from the company handle @grata_co.

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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