11 January 2008

Financial Start-Ups


Our photo this week is from our first Epic Camp in January 2003. Many speedy people in that shot -- some of them didn't even know it at the time!

Endurance Corner is accepting applications for 2 to 4 month internships. For more details contact mat at endurancecorner dot com. Prior experience is useful but not necessary.

Endurance Corner is looking for an MD, PA or Nurse Practitioner for its medical consultancy practice. The position would, initially, be part-time and ideal for a parent looking to re-enter the workforce. Please contact gordon at endurancecorner dot com if interested.

Endurance Corner is based in Boulder, CO.



We start this week with some feedback from Europe.
D.D. Observes:
A couple of things that come to mind regarding your recent piece on "motivation":

Interesting how "achievers" are usually - not always - driven by primarily selfish goals. No judging here, just observing.

CAREFUL! I know a lot of people who place themselves amongst (relative) "losers" just to look good. Those guys ARE NOT the top achievers. "You are as good as the expectations of your peer group." At least in the long run. IMHO
Selfish Goals -- I am not so sure that high achievers in 'self-less' vocations are more purely motivated than high achievers that work for themselves. As well, there may be a lot of selfish people that don't achieve -- it may not be a defining characteristic.

Peer Group -- this is a very good observation and why I advised 'periods' of out-performance. My podcast with Chris McDonald was interesting in this regard. Chris moves between towns where he is 'normal' and a 'star'. He stays in Boulder until he can't handle it anymore then heads back to Aussie and pounds his mates. Like I tell Mat, Fast in Indiana isn't always fast.

One last point, most people are not working towards maximizing their personal achievement. Their daily choices and actions are inconsistent with achievement -- the true goal is something else.

We can have very fulfilling lives while being clueless. I have enjoyed my periods of unconscious incompetence! High achievers are some of the most tortured people I know.

Alan wrote an outstanding article on what limits achievement. Understanding the process he outlines is a requirement for breakthrough performance.



And now... this week's letter.

I received an interesting email. If this letter triggers any ideas then please send them in. This topic is one of my favorites and I have been considering a few start-up opportunities myself.
A.R. writes:
I come from an entrepreneurial background and started with my current mentor and boss in real estate development XX years ago. With the current market and industry conditions my mentor has decided that 2008 will be a very safe year where we will not be looking to acquire or develop any more properties but just finish out the few condo conversions that we are doing and manage the apartment buildings currently in the portfolio...

I will be in the position to either find a new job in RE development or take the plunge (sooner than expected) of going on my own.

As I do some job searches I find positions that are interesting but that would be developing, raising capital, or acquiring properties for another organization and my thought is why do that for another company when I could be doing that on my own. The thought of going on my own excites me and what I want to do, however I only have about a 2 months capital reserve currently in the bank without liquidating anything and so I would be looking at going into some sort of debt.

If I go to another company I feel like it will be demoralizing and that I will not have the passion and work ethic that I would if I was on my own; however it would give me more time to gain experience and save more equity for a better time to go solo. I do have a couple projects that would provide a strong foundation if I go solo- raising capital for a distressed homebuilders fund, multiple client kitchen/bath renovations, development of 10-20 single family lots that a partner of mine owns which we are planning to develop, and 1 or 2 other opportunities but will not bring in cash flow for at least a few months. I also feel that I would miss out on these opportunities if I join another company as in that case I will not be able to commit the necessary time for these independent projects.

When I receive these emails, I get a little bit nervous because I fear that you might actually take my advice! So the first thing to remember is that there are no 'right' or 'wrong' answers. Odds are, you are going to be just fine going down any path.

That said, "trust your heart" can prove to be expensive when leverage is involved.

I would spend time on your Personal Plan before shifting to your Start-Up Business Plan (which you should write out in full and share with a respected adviser). Our society has romantic ideas about entrepreneurship that are far removed from the reality of owning your own business.

The first thing to do is read The E-Myth. That book helped me understand the roles required for entrepreneurial success as well as what often kills a business. Step back from the 'franchise' discussion and consider the broad strategic issues of simply achieving your business goals. Remember that a business exists to serve the aims of its owner. Do you know your aims?

That will help you frame the second thing... Do you know what you are good at? (Drucker summary and full article as well as more resources) Then consider if you enjoy doing what you are good at.

My Answer: I work as a consultant because I am good at project management, financial analysis, deal execution and strategic planning. My best skill is taking all of those components and expressing them in a clear written plan that is attractive to key decision makers. I spent the 90's doing that 50-80 hours per week.

Working solely on work was slowly killing me. I completely lost touch with my physical self (weak nutrition, no fitness, plenty of booze) and was disconnected to my spiritual side (never close to nature).

The solution was a position where I can alternate very intense periods of effort with recharging phases. However, this means that (absent change) I cannot be the CEO of a new company.

If you are talking about setting up a business then you are looking at a sustained, full-time total commitment. It is no different than what I write about elite athletics. The best CEOs that I know have tiny off-seasons and build their lives completely around the success of their businesses. World champion obsession.

+++

In Private Equity, we break the business into three pieces: Deals; People; and Money.

Deals -- do you have access to attractive investment opportunities? Many markets are characterized by a magic circle of established players that have access to proprietary deal flow. The property market is characterized by incomplete information and many conflicts of interest. Good deals often succeed by using superior information. How good is your information?

People -- do you have the skills to capitalize on the investment opportunities? I was fortunate to have been taught by one of the best Private Equity teams in the world. Even today, I haven't met a group of people that comes close to the team that trained me. I was the lowest paid person (in the building!) when I joined but it was one of the happiest and fulfilling periods of my life. Being part of a winning team can be more fun than struggling in your own business.

Money -- do you have access to capital? On what terms? How do those terms compare to your competition? Established players have a big advantage here -- it is tough to be the new guy.

With the investment business that I co-founded, it took us five years before we were successful raising institutional equity -- we relied on individual equity. Over that five year period, I was cash flow negative every single year. All the while, we were ahead of our business plan.

+++

Further thoughts to consider...

For more than a decade, investors would have had to do something stupid not to make a great return on any property investment. A sustained bull run leaves all players convinced of their deal selection 'skill'. We can't help but be influenced by this bias. As markets revert to the mean, most of us will find out that asset inflation, rather than investment smarts, drove our returns.

Do you know how to manage the capital that you have? Look at your personal track record with your own capital -- a two month personal reserve seems small at your age (but is not uncommon). People with the skills to be long term managers of funds demonstrate those skills (first) with their own capital. A great story from Asia...

Investment Banker Pitching Rich Local Man:
'So Mr. Lee, I think that this fund is an excellent opportunity for you.'

Mr. Lee to IB:
'Tell me, how much are you worth?'

IB: 'I'm worth over a million dollars.'

Mr. Lee: 'I'm worth over a hundred million. Why don't you give me your money and I'll see if I can do better for you.'
The best investors take care of their own money -- and -- treat their investors' money as if it was their own.

Market Timing -- most the reports that I am reading these days are talking about property inventory being clogged through to early 2009. These are huge generalizations and you need to consider your local situation. It is very tough for a small scale developer to make money in a flat market. Our early development deals only made money from asset appreciation -- frankly, we probably lost money on the development while we learned the ropes. Even today, we aren't experts. What we do is team up with experts and align our financial interests. There are a lot of ways to be ripped off in construction.

Against the current market background, building personal capital; broadening your skills base and studying under a smart investor -- could be time well-spent.

Family Capital -- if you can't raise start-up capital from sophisticated third parties then my advice would be don't do the deal. People will cite exceptions to this rule -- they exist but are exceedingly rare. If the market won't back you then there is information in their refusal. We have always been able to get our best ventures funded.

Missing Out -- Don't worry about that. This market will get cheaper, inventory will build and deal flow will increase. Your worst case scenario is that pricing will stay the same. Always be willing to lose a deal.

Cash Flow -- Make sure your can hold for at least a three years. One of my strategic goals for this year is to arrange funding through 2012 for my main client. Being able to hold through the bottom of the cycle is fundamental for long term returns.

Liquidating -- Twice in my career I have "sold everything" to invest in a new venture. It was good discipline to consider the new 'position' relative to my existing holding.

If you decide to go for a position with an existing team then consider people that are strongest in your weakest area -- when we go into business, we often partner with people that we've worked with before.

Hope this helps,
gordo

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