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Yearly Archives: 2017
On this day in 1906, the Wright Brothers were granted a patent for their “flying machine.” In honor of the anniversary, we reprint this – one of our most popular, most-read pieces.
(Original publish date: April 17, 2013)
The process of productive capital allocation is a critical ingredient of innovation and job growth. Entrepreneurs spending their own (and their partners’) money will create more jobs, more innovation, and a more vibrant economy than politicians picking winners and losers based on cronyism, campaign contributions, and constituent pork.
When government strays out from funding basic research into either applied research or the means of production, the results range from poor to scandalous. Ideas are infinite, and in the absence of competent execution, they are worth nothing. Even if the idea has merit, the true expertise is crowded out. There are better ways policymakers can help encourage innovation.
The invention of the airplane provides an excellent example. While we’re all aware it was the Wright Brothers, many interesting details about funding the innovation don’t make it into school textbooks. In A Tale of ‘Government Investment’ Lee Habeeb & Mike Leven recount the race between the bicycle shop owner/operators and the government-backed head of the Smithsonian.
Who better to win the race [to powered flight] for us, thought our leaders, than the best and brightest minds the government could buy? They chose Samuel Langley. [The War Department gave Langley $50,000, an enormous sum at the time, which The Smithsonian augmented with taxpayer funds of its own.] You don’t know him, but in his day, Langley was a big deal. He had a big brain and lots of credentials. A renowned scientist and a professor of astronomy, he wrote books about aviation and was the head of the Smithsonian. It was the kind of decision that well-intentioned bureaucrats would make throughout the century — and still make today. Give taxpayer money to the smartest guys in the room, the ones with lots of degrees. They’ll innovate and do good for us.
For that Solyndra-type investment the country got the “Great Aerodrome,” which “fell like a ton of mortar’ into the Potomac River – twice. Representative Gilbert Hitchcock of Nebraska remarked, “You tell Langley for me that the only thing he ever made fly was government money.”
Nine days after that second failed test flight, a “sturdy, well-designed craft, costing about $1000, struggled into the air in Kitty Hawk.”
How did two Ohio brothers accomplish what the combined efforts of the War Department, The Smithsonian, and other people’s money could not? The authors cite James Tobin’s To Conquer the Air: The Wright Brothers and The Great Race for Flight (2004) to provide a few answers:
- Langley saw the problem as one of power: how to go from zero to 60 in 70 feet, the stress of which was too great for the materials used. The Wright Brothers, inspired by the practical skills and insights gained from tinkering in their bike shop, understood the problem was one of balance (on a bike, balance+practice = control). They invented the three-axis control (pitch, yaw, roll) still standard on fixed-wing aircraft today. Their entrepreneurial technical expertise was an advantage neither the government nor other private competitors (Alexander Graham Bell) could match.
- Since they couldn’t afford repeated test flights the Wright Brothers were forced to develop a wind tunnel to test their aerodynamics. This saved money and time, since they weren’t bogged down repairing the wrecks of a flawed design.
- No government money also meant no government strings. They were freer to experiment and innovate without worrying about non-essential requests and hidden agendas. They also managed to do more with less since they couldn’t afford subsidy-induced waste.
Habeeb & Levin also offer this fascinating, if not unexpected, coda:
Though the Wrights beat Langley and the Smithsonian, the race didn’t end there. Powerful interests vied for the patent to this revolutionary invention and, more important, for the credit for it. With Smithsonian approval, a well-known aviation expert modified Langley’s Aerodrome and in 1914 made some short flights designed to bypass the Wright brothers’ patent application and to vindicate the Smithsonian and its fearless leader, Samuel Langley.
That’s right. The Smithsonian’s brain trust couldn’t beat the bicycle-shop owners fair and square, so they used their power to steal the credit. And then they used their bully pulpit to rewrite history. In 1914, America’s most esteemed historical museum cooked the books and displayed the Smithsonian-funded Langley Aerodrome in its museum as the first manned aircraft heavier than air and capable of flight.
Orville Wright, who outlived his brother Wilbur, accused the Smithsonian of falsifying the historical record. So upset was he that he sent the 1903 Kitty Hawk Flyer, the plane that made aviation history, to a science museum in . . . London.
But truth is a stubborn thing. And in 1942, after much embarrassment, the Smithsonian recanted its false claims about the Aerodrome. The British museum returned the Wright brothers’ historic Flyer to America, and the Smithsonian put it on display in their Arts and Industries Building on December 17, 1948, 45 years to the day after the aircraft’s only flights. A grand government deception was at last foiled by facts and fate.
As for Samuel Langley, he died in obscurity a broken and disappointed man. Friends often noted that he could have beaten the Wright brothers if only he’d had more time — and more government funding.
Some things never change.
The Wright brothers’ airplane business never took off (groan) due to a combination of poor business decisions and sloppy patent work. Wilbur sadly died young (in 1912 at age 45, of illness that some suspect was contracted due to exhaustion from the patent battles) and Orville sold the company in 1915. So the industry grew under the leadership of other companies and other men. (Although the Curtiss-Wright Corporation remains in business today producing high-tech components for the aerospace industry.) One can’t help but wonder what the original inventors might have done had they been the beneficiary of a strong partnership with a VC fund…
Posted May 2nd, 2017 by Business Wire
AUSTIN, Texas–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Iconixx software announces today it has closed $4.2M in new capital. This round of funding was led by existing investors Ballast Point Ventures, Harbert Growth Partners, S3 Ventures, and the Iconixx management team, resulting in $24 million in capital raised to date.
Iconixx, a global leader in enterprise class incentive compensation software, will use the funding to accelerate growth initiatives. The company has plans for product advancements and continued increase in market share by expanding its robust sales team.
“Our solid sales pipeline, proven customer success accomplishments, and product enhancements have propelled our rapid growth and award-winning customer support team. The hard work of our skilled team has driven our successes, and we expect to see these accelerated,” said Derrik Deyhimi, Chairman and CEO of Iconixx. “We are excited about our future growth and making the lives of each of our customers better.”
“We are proud of the accomplishments Iconixx software has achieved in product enrichments, customer acquisition and customer success. Our overwhelming confidence in the Iconixx compensation management solution leaves us excited for the continued partnership with the team,” says Matt Rice, Partner at Ballast Point Ventures.
Iconixx software listens intently to every customer’s challenge – treating every interaction as an opportunity to understand the unique compensation needs of each customer. We carefully diagnose the problem and prescribe an automated path by configuring our software to remedy critical compensation issues. Your cure is our success! http://www.iconixx.com/
About S3 Ventures
S3 Ventures is an early, expansion and growth stage venture firm with $200 million under management. The firm is focused on information technology solutions that solve large business problems and in medical devices that improve the human condition. S3 invests across all stages of a company’s growth and partners with the team to help focus methodically on what it takes to build a successful company. www.s3vc.com
About Harbert Growth Partners Funds (the “HGP Funds”)
The Harbert Growth Partners Funds are emerging growth stage investors focused on rapidly growing technology and healthcare companies headquartered in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern United States. The HGP Funds are affiliates of Harbert Management Corporation (“HMC”), an alternative asset management company which manages approximately $4.4 billion in Regulatory Assets Under Management as of June 30, 2016, from offices in 11 locations across the United States and Europe. http://www.harbert.net/
About Ballast Point Ventures
Ballast Point Ventures is a later stage venture capital fund established to provide expansion capital for rapidly growing, privately owned companies in diverse industries, with a particular emphasis on companies located in the Southeast and Texas. The BPV partners have more than 70 years of combined experience investing in and building high-growth companies in a number of industries, including healthcare, business services, communications, technology, financial services and consumer. BPV has $360 million under management and seeks to make equity investments ranging in size from $4 million to $12 million. www.ballastpointventures.com.
Good article in Entrepreneur about how true success is not possible unless you build great relationships. The piece hits several themes that we believe are critical to a successful vc-entrepreneur marriage: maintaining long term relationships, communicating good news and bad, promoting honesty in business, how useful failures can prevent epic ones, and maximizing board effectiveness.
The chemistry between entrepreneur and venture partner in private companies is more cooperative, longer-term, and (mercifully) not subject to the quarterly reporting pressures of public companies. Both will have real “skin in the game” and the same incentive to understand the nuances of the business and focus on long term value creation.
You will spend a great deal of time, effort, and money together with a new partner, so the chemistry ought to be productive and enjoyable. It should add conviviality in the good times and take the edge off the bad times.
Here are a few highlights from the article “How Successful People Build Exceptional Professional Relationships.”
They help without having to be asked.
People who build great relationships pay close attention so they can tell when others are struggling. Then they offer to help… but not in a general, “Is there something I can do to help you?” way. Instead they come up with specific ways they can help.
That way they can push past the reflexive, “No, I’m okay…” objections and then roll up their sleeves to make a difference in another person’s life.
And they do it not because they want to build a better relationship — although that is certainly the result — but simply because they care.
They take the undeserved hit.
She’s willing to accept the criticism or abuse because she knows she can handle it — and she knows that maybe, just maybe, the person who is really responsible cannot.
Few acts are more selfless than taking the undeserved hit. And few acts better cement a relationship.
They answer the question that was not asked.
Where relationships are concerned, face value is usually without value. Often people will ask a different question than the one they really want answered… Behind many simple questions is often a larger question that goes unasked. People who build great relationships listen carefully to discover what lies underneath so they can answer that question, too.
They step up when they have acted poorly.
Responsibility is a key building block of a great relationship. People who take the blame, who say they are sorry and explain why they are sorry, who don’t try to push any of the blame back on the other person… those are people everyone wants in their lives, because they instantly turn a mistake into a bump in the road rather than a permanent roadblock.
They know when to dial it back.
People who build great relationships know when to have fun and when to be serious, when to be over the top and when to be invisible, and when to take charge and when to follow.
Great relationships are multifaceted and therefore require multifaceted people willing to adapt to the situation — and to the people in that situation.
They value the message by always valuing the messenger.
Smart people strip away the framing that comes with the source — whether positive or negative — and consider the information, advice, or idea based solely on its merits.
People who build great relationships never automatically discount the message simply because they discount the messenger. They know good advice is good advice, regardless of where it comes from.
And they know good people are good people, regardless of their perceived “status.”
This is the most recent item in a long run of stories describing a geographic analog to the process of creative destruction. Those states who spray “startupicide” on the economy – suffocating regulations, inflated business taxes and fees, lawsuit-friendly legal environments, and political classes uninterested in business concerns, if not downright hostile to them – lose economic clout as people and capital migrate to other states with more favorable environments in which to work and live.
Local evidence of this trend can be found in this story, in which the U.S. Census Bureau reports
Three metro areas in Florida were among the nation’s 10 biggest gainers in the number of people moving there last year, and another three Florida metro areas were in the top 10 for overall growth rates.
Our hometown Tampa was #5 in the nation in 2016 population growth.
This migration of economic clout within the US has been more subtle than the California Gold Rush or Irish Potato Famine but is just as significant. Some states are chasing away their earners, workers, and entrepreneurs; this is their tax base.
The growth corridors of the high-tech South would have a mercantile-like advantage but for the fact that employers can (and do!) simply move in order to thrive under our growth-oriented tax policies, lower public sector debt burdens, stronger job creation, excellent climate for entrepreneurs, and a superior overall business climate. (The actual climate happens to be conducive to a great quality of life as well.)
Posted March 17th, 2017 by StateChamps
BigTeams, the leading high school sports software platform in the US, has announced that it has partnered with Birmingham, Alabama-based StateChamps.com to provide online ticketing services to BigTeams client high schools.
“Increasingly, our clients and their fans have been asking for an online ticketing solution for high schools,” said Jeff Gilbert, BigTeams Founding Partner and Chief Product Officer. “In looking for a partner, we evaluated multiple ticketing companies’ ticketing solutions to high schools. In the end, StateChamps’ team and technology made it obvious to us that they are the winning solution” said BigTeams CEO, Joe Romano.
StateChamps’ patent-pending Share and TearTM Technology delivers electronic tickets to an app on the ticket purchaser’s smartphone. The ticket buyer then presents their phone at the gate, and the digital ticket is “torn” on screen by gate staff. “We designed the digital tearing process to be almost identical to the paper ticket redemption process;” StateChamps Chief Marketing Officer Eric Housh explained, “it requires neither ticket scanners nor internet, and gate staff can be trained in seconds.”
In addition to Share and TearTM, StateChamps’ team of over 60 ticketing professionals power an “Omni-Service” approach. After the school sends the schedule and ticket price information, StateChamps does the work to set everything up.
“The school gets secure, powerful, and hassle-free online ticketing at no cost, with no work required,” Housh said.
The StateChamps online ticketing solution will be included at no additional cost for new and existing BigTeams and ScheduleStar client schools, and will integrate seamlessly with BigTeams and ScheduleStar. StateChamps will also provide free printed tickets to BigTeams clients.
StateChamps is the exclusive online ticketing solution for hundreds of high schools nationwide, including seven state high school athletics associations. StateChamps was also recognized as a preferred vendor and online ticket supplier of the National Interscholastic Association of Athletic Administrators. For more information, please visit www.statechamps.com.
BigTeams is the leading provider of technology designed to streamline communication for high school athletic communities. BigTeams offers official websites for high school sports programs, time saving tools such as Schedule Star™, and other products designed to eliminate administrative burdens on AD’s and coaches, while connecting student athletes and fans through a single platform.
Posted March 15th, 2017 by PowerChord
PowerChord, a leading SaaS company that transforms how brands drive local sales, welcomed newly appointed company President, Steven Roth, to their growing executive team.
Roth joins the SaaS organization with almost 20 years of experience working with top-tier retailers, manufacturers and agencies from around the world. His addition brings a deep expertise in product innovation to PowerChord and will provide a strong foundation for the development of global enterprise level, eCommerce and retail advertising solutions at the hyper local level.
Hailing from Google, he has spent the past four years as a Group Product Manager after developing technology that is now part of Google Shopping during his tenure at Channel Intelligence – the Florida-based, global technology company acquired by Google in 2013. While at Channel Intelligence, Roth’s revenue breaking, international solutions were utilized in over 30 countries and operated across all corresponding languages and currencies. Previously, Roth held roles at Altiris / Wise Solutions, Profitstar and Metavante.
As PowerChord’s new President, Roth’s focus will center around expanding the comprehensive suite of products in the PowerChord Platform to increase long-term value and the scalable efficiencies that allow global businesses to control their brand, engage customers, and drive local sales through their dealer networks.
Roth will also propel the company towards emerging technologies and market-leading, digital solutions to meet the growing needs of the multi-location marketplace, while further optimizing the connection between online consumers and the global to local retail community.
“We have to think big” said Roth, “because that forces you to scale. I’m looking forward to that process and the exploration of how the needs of the market will influence us to move forward – the sky’s the limit when it comes to innovation. It’s a unique time in the company’s history and I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of it.”
“We’re honored to welcome Steven to the PowerChord team” said PowerChord CEO, Lanny Tucker. “We’re confident that his vision and operational excellence will bring exciting progress to our position as a SaaS leader and continue enhancing the company’s global value proposition for clients across a wide range of industry landscapes.”
We have written from time to time on the question of which legal structure is best suited to private growth companies looking to raise outside growth capital. Not surprisingly, there is no one right answer to the question, but recent tax legislation should compel entrepreneurs to give serious consideration to the C-corporation structure.
This article in last week’s Business Observer contains important news about the potential tax benefits of a C-corporation for entrepreneurs and their investors.
However… just as people shouldn’t decide to have children for the tax benefits, we advise founders to not view tax considerations in a vacuum when choosing the legal structure for their businesses. They need to think hard about the long term goals for the business and seek expert advice on the optimal legal structure.
The author of the article (Pamela Schuneman, C.P.A.) first argues that the prospects of federal tax reform may tip the scales towards choosing a C-corp:
Now, with tax reform on the horizon and a push to lower the corporate tax rate, current tax savings on C Corporation earnings could be substantial if the corporate rate drops to 15% and the top individual rate only drops to 33%. That’s an 18% difference — $18,000 more on $100,000 of income.
It’s a little more accurate to say the corporate rate drops “closer” to 15%, which compares favorably to an LLC structure where investors are taxed at their individual income tax rates on income that is “passed through” to investors.
Next she explains that a 1993-era tax provision governing a type of capital gains, originally scheduled to expire at the end of 2010, has been made permanent. And this change, in our view, is a potential game changer.
The gain exclusion for Sec. 1202 was originally set [now made permanent – ed] at 50% for stock acquired [in private C corps – ed] on or after Aug. 11, 1993, increased to 75% for acquisitions after Feb. 17, 2009, and expanded to a full 100% exclusion for acquisitions after Sept. 27, 2010.
The 2010 law also removed of one of the main drawbacks of this tax provision – the alternative minimum tax preference.
In a nutshell, Sec. 1202 allows taxpayers (other than corporations) to exclude from federal income tax 100% of the gain from the sale of qualified small business stock (“QSBS”). The amount of gain excluded is limited to the greater of $10 million or 10 times the adjusted basis of the investment.
There are requirements to qualify for the tax break, which we outline below. But first we’d like to share one more excerpt from the article to emphasize the importance of this legislation to founders and their investors:
For example, Tom and Jane decide to start a software development business. They purchase stock for $10,000 each and have a 50-50 ownership interest in the C Corporation. The stock is eligible for Sec. 1202 treatment if held for five years. In six years, they sell the stock of the company to Google for $10 million. They each have a $4,990,000 gain on the sale of the stock and their tax on the transaction is zero.
Of course we see this as a positive development for the high-growth companies responsible for all net job growth in our economy. Reasonable people will disagree on what tax rates should be. But can we at least agree that there are some forms of investment activity which promote economic growth, and that those forms ought to be encouraged, perhaps with favorable tax treatment?
RELATED STORY: Warren Buffett and after tax returns
If a company’s stock is qualified small business stock (QSBS) then the Internal Revenue Code (§1202) provides a tax break on the equity investments. To qualify as QSBS and for the 0% federal tax rate on gains from the sale of QSBS, the following requirements must be met:
1.) Original issue. The taxpayer recognizing the gain must be an individual, partnership, S corporation or estate and must have acquired the stock at original issue from a US domestic C corporation.
2.) Five-year holding period. The taxpayer must have held the stock for more than five years prior to selling the stock.
3.) After September 27, 2010. The taxpayer must have acquired the stock at original issue after September 27, 2010, in exchange for cash, property other than cash or stock, or services.
4.) $50 million Gross Assets Test. The aggregate gross assets of the corporation that issued the stock cannot have exceeded $50 million at the time of (including immediately before and after) the issuance of the stock to the investor.
5.) Active Business Test. During substantially all of the taxpayer’s holding period of the stock, at least 80% of the issuing corporation’s assets must be used by the corporation in the active conduct of one or more qualified trades or businesses. (Certain types of businesses, including some pure service businesses like consulting firms or doctor practices, don’t qualify, but many businesses do.)
6.) No significant redemptions. The issuer of the stock must not have engaged in specific levels of buybacks (redemptions) of its own stock during specified periods (typically one year) before or after the date of issuance of the stock to the taxpayer.
The amount of gain eligible for this 0% rate is subject to a cap, however. Section 1202(b)(1) states that the aggregate amount of gain for any taxpayer regarding an investment in any single issuer that may qualify for these benefits is generally limited to the greater of (a) $10 million, or (b) 10 times the taxpayer’s adjusted tax basis in the stock. For a taxpayer who invests cash in the QSBS, basis would generally be equal to the cash purchase price.
Like all issues tax-related, entrepreneurs need to consult with their tax counsel and accounting firm to determine if their businesses qualify for QSBS status. If a business does qualify, an entrepreneur must decide whether these potentially significant tax savings outweigh other considerations. In our view, Congress has now put its thumb on the scale firmly on the side of choosing the C-corporation structure.
The WSJ recently analyzed NFL play calling this season and concluded that the coaching profession could use more risk-takers. Despite “a legion of mathematicians, economists and win probability models urging them to take more chances“ most NFL coaches “reach for the conventional choice by habit.”
The Journal analysis examines how coaches played their hand this season across three broad categories of game management: fourth downs; play calling (blitzing on defense; passing on early downs or with the lead on offense) and special teams (going for a 2-point conversion and onside kicks when ahead)…
University of Pennsylvania professor Cade Massey, who researches behavior and judgment, said many NFL coaches habitually choose to postpone the certainty of losing in football for as long as possible—even if doing so actually lowers the likelihood of winning in the end, such as opting to punt on fourth-and-short in overtime…
There is some evidence that coaches are seeing the benefits of riskier decisions. They are just becoming more aggressive at a very conservative pace.
In a 2002 paper, University of California Berkeley economist David Romer expressed hope that coaches would begin acting rationally in maximizing odds of victory when the related data became more widely available. And this year, coaches have gone for it on fourth down needing two yards or less 29.7% of the time—converting nearly two-thirds of attempt).
That’s up from 23% just before Romer published a paper entitled, “It’s Fourth Down and What Does the Bellman Equation Say?” Alas, at the present rate, going for it nearly all the time as the models advise would take over 100 years.
We think this is an excellent illustration of two ideas relevant to starting and running a high-growth company, over and above the obvious exhortation to take intelligent risks: (1) the opportunity for a contrarian advantage and (2) the combination of data and gut instincts required to make the right call.
First, an excerpt from our 12/8/14 post, We challenged the dogma, and it was incorrect:
[The story about EOG Resources, a discarded division of Enron ] is an absorbing look at the “shale revolution” and touches on several of our favorite themes: iterative collaboration, how to fail the right way, the incremental, adaptive ways by which success is achieved, and even the role of luck – although we’d describe it a bit more favorably as “serendipity.”
EOG is a great example of a contrarian definition of entrepreneurship: see economic value where others see heaps of nothing, combine the self-confidence to defy conventional wisdom with the determination to overcome obstacles, and distinguish yourself more by the ability to achieve the impossible than the originality of your thinking.
Next, an excerpt from our 4/13/16 post, The Hidden Power of Trusting Your Gut Instincts:
(S)tudies show that those who rely on intuition alone tend to overestimate its effectiveness. They recall the times it served them well and forget the times it didn’t. Keeping a list of every time intuition is your only guide might be eye-opening.
“Common sense” justifications can be found for almost any conclusion, and as a result it can be shockingly unreliable and something that we over-rely on to the exclusion of other methods of reasoning. Here’s how we put it in Everything is obvious once you know the answer:
It is “rarely practical to run the perfect experiment” before making a decision but we can be “more deliberative and reflective as we gather and analyze facts to inform our decisions.” When we over-rely on common sense alone, we risk “rejecting a more thorough effort to solve a problem and settling for an easy one.”
… In our experience the best results often come from a combination of deliberation and intuition.
Finally, in the spirit of the (NFL playoff) season, we’d like to recommend two other pieces about NFL coaches that speak more to leadership challenges than data-driven decision making.
From 1/29/13, The imperfect perfectionist. On the extent and limits of Bill Walsh’s innovative genius:
Coach Walsh’s West Coast Offense won the 49ers four (or five) Super Bowls, spawned copycats around the league and forced defenses to innovate in response. Not a bad day’s work. But obsession with perfection left him badly burnt out and his organization unable to implement his vision without him.
From 2/8/15, The NFL’s Best Coach*. On the extent and limits of Bill Belichick’s… innovative genius:
We suspect his efforts to gain those “edges off the field” will also be a permanent part of his legacy. His team hasn’t been in 6 Super Bowls over 15 years because of deflated balls, or illicitly videotaped signals, or (pre-Belichick) a snowplow driven by a convict on work release. But you earn the reputation and invite the asterisks when you proudly display that same snowplow in an exhibit at your stadium.
To paraphrase the old adage: reputations are built over the long-term, and can be forfeited in just a moment. In our business failure can be counted on to make (at least) a cameo, so it’s critical to learn how to fail the right way and make a distinction between business failure and personal failure. An entrepreneur (or coach?) can try too hard to avoid an enterprise failure and pressure himself into a career-damning ethical lapse.