Strategic Planning, Furloughs, and Raising Money
BY Max Chafkin
Do you have a strategic plan? VC Fred Wilson writes about how he's been urging the startups he advises to think big: "We've been asking many of our companies to do a deep strategic planning process. The most developed of them already do this as a matter of practice. But many of the younger companies have been largely focused on product and engineering issues and have not stepped back and thought deeply about the big picture." The idea, he says, is to make sure that you're spending your money wisely, and, if necessary, to make a strong case to investors for more funding.
Your obligatory does of bad news. Let's get it over with early: Consumer confidence is abyssmal. SBA defaults are skyrocketing—up 52 percent for franchise businesses since last year. Pizza parlors are getting killed. And companies that got billions of your tax dollars last year, need billions more.
Wait, the U.S. is the world's biggest manufacturer? Okay, now that that's done, here's some good news: The U.S. is still the world's leading manufacturer by value of goods produced. American manufacturing hit a record $1.6 trillion in 2007. "The United States makes things that other countries cannot," reports the AP. "Today, 'Made in U.S.A.' is more likely to be stamped on heavy equipment or the circuits that go inside other products than the televisions, toys, clothes and other items found on store shelves. U.S. companies have shifted toward high-end manufacturing as the production of low-value goods has moved overseas." (Via The Big Picture).
More companies try furloughs. The Wall Street Journal says that furloughs, which were once used mostly by industries like construction, are becoming increasingly popular as a way to avoid laying off white-collar workers. The article says that companies considering a furlough should go easier on lower-paid workers, who may need the money more than executives, and that they should help furloughed workers sign up for unemployment benefits.
To catch a (data) thief.Digital Daily looks at a new study released by the Ponemon Institute that shows that 59 percent of workers who lost or left a job last year admitted to stealing confidential company data. The most common items pilfered were customer contact lists that could be leveraged at a new job. And most did so by nabbing paper documents and hard files. So, how do you spot a potential theft in your midst? Look for those with a dim view of your company. Larry Ponemon, chairman of the Ponemon Institute told eWeek, "Clearly the responses show that obtaining future employment was a significant motivating factor, but when we see a high percentage of individuals who took information knowing full well they were acting in violation of company policy, that hints strongly at the presence of malice."
Sign of the times. How do you know that corporate America is in bad shape? When a site called The Big Money launches a small business column. It's by a former journalist who now runs a web company and who has discovered that entrepreneurship is harder than he had imagined. For instance, government regulations are a pain, nobody can afford sushi, and there's precious little speculation about Twitter. See, it's even worse than you thought.
Falling Angels in California. With the venture capital industry in the doldrums, many startups will be forced to look to angel investors to get them through the downturn. Unfortunately, it looks like professional angel groups are also scaling back. The Tech Coast Angels say they invested11% less money in 2008 than the year before, the LA Times reports. And it's not for a lack of start-ups. A recent pitch competition attracted twice the normal number of entries. Still, despite the reduced activity, the Angels aren't quitting, according to Tech Coast Angels president: "People recognize that the best time to invest is when there is a bit of panic in the market. We're very much open for business," said Al Schneider. For a comprehensive directory of angel investors, check out Inc.'s guide.
Cellulosic Ethanol Forges On. With oil prices depressed, the renewable energy industry has been hurting. But a small cellulosic ethanol company, ZeaChem, is still moving forward. GigaOm reports that the company will start work on a 1.5 million gallon per year plant in Boardman, Oregon this year. ZeaChem also raised $34 million in January from larger energy companies and other investors.