The Quest- In search of a transformational company

clip_image002In literature, as in legend, there have been many great quests. One in particular that has captured imaginations, for over two thousand years, is the search for a simple cup used in a great tale of transformation. Yes, The Quest for The Holy Grail.

This quest has been the inspiration that sparked great literature, epic poems, and motion pictures running the gamut from Monty Python to  Indiana Jones.

While my quest is not one of such mythical proportion, as I sat pondering how to share my plans with you, the legend of The Holy Grail leapt to mind. 

My Quest

I am, together with a valued group of friends, looking to acquire a controlling interest in a very particular company.  Our search and the legendary quest have more than a few things in common. In both cases they combine Innovation, Leadership, and Growth to create Lasting Value.  These are my personal passions. There is nothing like the feeling you get when you discover something with true potential and then do what it takes to Make It Great.

What’s been happening?

This year, I have been working with a small team of friends and advisors to search out really cool deals.  We’ve found some great ones, but not the right one. Not yet. 

Along the way, I have gotten much more active in connecting to friends old and new via a range of social media tools

However, it all came together when I was having lunch last week with Morris Callaman at a beautiful resort nestled against a mountain in Paradise Valley called Montelucia

Morris asked –

“Joan, what do you think about expanding this search and inviting your social media network to participate? You could literally ask for help crowd-sourcing this acquisition search.”

And that’s how it started.  So, here I am asking if you will help me locate the company I would like to lead next. If so, then what follows are some of the criteria we find necessary to successfully recognize our “grail” when we find it.  Ready? OK. Lets discuss a little detail around what this company is, and perhaps even more importantly, what it is not. An ideal company will be one where we can combine Innovation, Leadership, and Growth to create Lasting Value.

Innovation

Innovation in my book is doing something in a new way to make life better for the people who matter most to us – in this case employees, customers, investors, and strategic partners.  It is a company with a product or service that can transform an industry or niche.  For example, my friend Amilya Antonetti changed the way we look at soap in her quest to save the life of her son and now she is on a quest to help other entrepreneurs ask the right questions, get the right information and the things they need to succeed.

Criteria #1:  A product oriented company that will transform its market by creating new value through a better way of doing something(s). 

Unlikely Fits: Singing pop bottles, Presidential Pet Rocks, the corner store, or the next great social media tool.  While there may be lots of investors looking for these, I am not one of them.

Leadership

A great idea only gets you so far before it needs more.  In this case more is the ability to see the future direction of the company’s journey and to predict and obtain what it will need along the way.  Many a great new company has lost crucial momentum when the leader that led the way for the first stage of the journey is not ready for the next stage of that steep uphill path, which many entrepreneurs forecast and yet few would want to travel alone. 

The prize we seek on this quest will have a founder and a team that is looking for a new guide as they begin the climb to revenues and profitability so that everyone, employees, customers, investors and strategic partners alike, benefit from the next stage in the company’s growth.

Criteria #2: A dedicated team in search of experienced leadership and resources to help them successfully move along the growth path.

Unlikely Fits:

  • If ALL YOU NEED IS MONEY so that you can continue along the path you are already on.
  • If your goal is to maintain the status quo.
  • If, as the owner, you are not interested in passing the baton to the next runner in the growth relay.

 

Growth

The company must have solid growth potential and demonstrate how it could scale to provide a more than reasonable return to the investors.   

Growth curves come in all shapes and sizes.  There’s the steady incremental growth of a mature business, the graceful leaps of the Gazelles, and the inevitable ‘Hockey Stick” that appears over and over at every venture conference I have ever attended.  Yet, in the real world, it’s not the pretty charts and pictures that matter, it’s the foundational elements that make a transformational company stand out.  Some Gazelles grow to be great companies, while others rapidly run out of steam after the initial burst of growth.  Hockey Stick Growth Curves can be ‘the big pay day’ or they can simply be a sign of a business in danger of snapping under the pressure of too much, too fast.

Criteria #3:  The best true indicators of growth potential are not charts and graphs, but rather how does the company (or product) provide a solution that is usable by a large number of people and BETTER than substitutes (or lack thereof)?

Unlikely Fits:

  • One more “me too” solution in an already overcrowded market.
  • A terrific solution for a very small customer base (since these rarely can scale.)
  • Product or services that are not designed to fill a genuine customer need (since customers must ultimately be willing to pay and karma is important to me).
  • A ‘great idea’ that has not ever been built, tested, or sold to ANYONE (since I’d like it to already have at least one customer).

Lasting Value

And in the end, building a great company is more than just creating a widget, jobs, or shareholder value. 

Criteria #4:  It’s creating something to believe in, and be proud of, for the people who matter most to us (employees, customers, investors and strategic partners). 

Unlikely Fits:

  • Products or services you would be embarrassed to discuss with your parents.
  • Products or services that add no value to or potentially even harm the community, the environment, or others (since that just isn’t who I am). 
  • Any product or service that makes promises it cannot keep (since that certainly isn’t me either).

So that’s my list.  Have YOU seen this company?

Of course, there are at least two BIG differences between my quest and the search for The Grail of legend.  One, I know that I’m going to find what I am seeking, and Two, this is more than a personal journey, it is also an experiment in the power of social media.  So, if you’ve seen this company please let me know.   You can always leave me a note here, on my blog or, if you want to keep it confidential, you can also contact me by clicking here.

As long as we are on the subject, if you happen to be looking for a company too, just let me know what YOU are searching for and I’ll be happy to pass along what I may find for you along the way. Unlike the fabled Holy Grail, there is more than just one great opportunity out there.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay Tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker

clip_image003P.S.  One of the best parts of this journey is connecting, engaging, and being inspired by fellow entrepreneurs.  On Thursday, November 12th in Phoenix Arizona I will be doing just that at AZEC09.  Who knows maybe I will see YOU there and we can chat.

Looking out towards 2010

AZ Ent logoHow did it get to be NOVEMBER already!  It seems like just the other day I was writing articles about Embracing Change in 2009 and now, in just two short months, 2009 will be one for the record books. 

It’s still to be written what the final outcome of the health care debates in Congress will be, or how the year will wrap up from an economic perspective, but many will tell you they can’t wait for 2010 to make its arrival.

But there have been some bright spots in this recession that we have all struggled through.  Companies that are making great things happen in the world of social media, women’s health, green materials, and a host of other industries.  That’s why, as I prepare for the exciting things that I know will happen in 2010, I am getting ready today by attending the 4th Annual Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference on November 12th. 

As chairman of the board of OTEF, the Opportunity Through Entrepreneurship Foundation, November is always a busy time as we prepare for the conference.  Each year’s conference is vitally important since all of the proceeds go to fund OTEF’s efforts to provide entrepreneurial training and support to at-risk populations – giving them a better chance for future financial sustainability.

But, as an entrepreneur, I look forward to the conference for the many great ideas I know I will receive there each year.  This is the only place I know where, in one day, I can gain insights from national thought leaders like Tara Hunt and Michelle Robson (EmpowHer) , connect with fellow CEOs from TiE and EO to learn what’s working for them, and get the latest updates in technology and business trends from CEOs and thought leaders who are on the front lines.

I’m also excited this year that we have friends coming from far and near to share ideas.  Patti Dragland (@StrategicSense) is coming in from Calgary, Tara Hunt (@MissRogue), author of The Whuffie Factor,  from Montreal, Howard Lindzon (founder of StockTwits), Kevin Surace, of Serious Materials, is flying in from Sunnyvale, and my favorite entrepreneurial blogger, Marty Willing (@StartUpPro), will be there not to mention fellow conference team members and great friends like  Francine Hardaway (@Hardaway), Steven Groves (@StevenGroves), Ed Nusbaum (@EdAZ), Merlin Ward (@MerlinWard) and many more!

November 12th is an important day for gathering new ideas, making connections, and to just get that extra dose of inspiration that will come in real handy in 2010.  I know where I will be on November 12th.  How about you?

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay Tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker

Drawing a Crowd in the Cabbage Patch

I was scanning some articles online this morning when I cam across a fun one at How Stuff Works titled 23 Must-Have Toys from the 1950s and Beyond.  So I decided to check it out.  Of the 23 ‘must haves’, only Strawberry Shortcake never made it into either my or my children’s toy collection.  But it was the Cabbage Patch Kids that brought back the memory of how one innovative toy really drew a crowd.

imageXavier Roberts was a teenager when he launched his Babyland General Hospital during the 1970s in Cleveland, Georgia, allowing children to adopt a “baby.” In 1983, the Coleco toy company started mass-producing these dolls as Cabbage Patch Kids. Each “kid” came with a unique name and a set of adoption papers, and stores couldn’t keep them on the shelves, selling more than three million of the dolls in the first year.

 It was just before the Christmas holidays in 1983, and my fiance Chris worked at Coleco, home of the Cabbage Patch.  EVERYONE was trying to get their hands on the little darlings – even employees.  The company had to even hold a lottery for employees to be able to purchase them.  So after months of lotteries, we had a small collection of six Cabbage Patch Kids ready for adoption. 

I really did not give it too much thought when I lined up the ‘Kids’ on the back seat of my car and left my home in South Windsor, Connecticut on a Saturday afternoon to drive down to see our families in Danbury, Connecticut.  But I got a real lesson on what it is like for an innovation to draw a crowd when I stopped at a McDonald’s along the way to get a Diet Coke.  The young girl at the drive thru window saw into my back seat, and exclaimed!

WOW!  Where did you get all those Cabbage Patch Dolls!

That’s all it took.  Before I had even been given my cup, my car was surrounded by Moms, wallets and checkbooks in hand, asking me what it would take to sell them “Just One.”  I explained that they were gifts and that they were not for sale, but finally the manager had to come out and move the eager Mommies away – before I could put my car in gear and make my escape from the drive thru.  I learned a lesson that day…

When an innovation capture’s the public’s imagination – it draws a crowd.

Over twenty-five years have passed and I have seen many innovative new products come and go.  Some are just a passing fad, but others have real staying power.  As an investor, I look for those companies with inventions or solutions that can make life better in one way or another.  Products or services that capture the imagination and can, with the right resources, literally draw a crowd in their chosen marketplace. 

Some of these companies have been in technology – like when Bernie Vonderschmidt, the first Chairman and CEO  of Xilinx, shared his vision of the next generation in silicon technology,the FGPGA, or when Dr. Michelle Hanna of RiboMed helped me to imagine a day when we could detect and treat diseases like cancer BEFORE it was too late and our loved ones were suffering.  Others have not.  But none of the innovations I have invested in have been toys.  Perhaps because I never got over the experience of being ‘mobbed by Mommies’ at McDonalds.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker

 

The ICK Factor

Millions of articles and blogs have been written on the topic of branding.  Google the word  ‘branding’ and you will get over 33 million hits!

Unfortunately too often, businesses spend lots of money creating and protecting their marketing message and not enough time protecting the value of their brand. Continue reading

Valuing a Company

From time to time, I get involved in answering a tricky question.  “What is this company worth?”  Sometimes the question comes up when speaking to a business owner or executive who is truly trying to increase the value of their organization.  At other times the question is raised from someone looking for investors or buyers.  And then most importantly – I ask it myself when the buyer or investor might be me.Continue reading

The Best Marketing Strategy Ever

A business owner asked me the other day, what was the best marketing strategy ever?  I did not have to think very long.  To me, the answer is Southwest Airlines in its early days.   In a day when Southwest was competing with industry giants to launch a new airline, they broke through and succeeded by demonstrating that they were the airline you wanted to fly by doing the following things.Continue reading

Times They are a Changing – A day of GM Goodbyes

This morning – October 1, 2009, a reminder popped up on my calendar.  Today was the day my brother Rick retired officially from General Motors after 30 years.  He started in the Newark, Delaware plant at the age of 18, the day after his birthday.  Over the past three decades, he saw many changes, slow downs, strikes, and lay offs; but, he also saw innovations in manufacturing and new automotive technologies evolve. 

Richard-J.-KoerberHe started at GM in a time when working as a GM employee was a safe bet for the future and retires in a time when many have to wonder what comes next.  But, through it all, he was a hard working and dedicated employee, who delivered value, and through his working years at GM, bought a home, raised a family, and now in his ‘retirement’ years plans to focus his energies on building another business – his own. 

I’m proud of him.  He’s a great example of what it means to grow up in a GM Family.  And I know that his own business will prosper because he brings to it a dedication to customer service and quality  that will make his customers keep coming back and even more important – tell their friends about him.

Also today, I saw an article pop up from AdAge with another footnote to the GM Story.  This one too was another goodbye – After Talks to Sell Fall Through, GM Says Goodbye to Saturn.  The story chronicles Saturn’s story through it’s ads.  It’s dedication to innovation and service, the commitment it had to its customers and in many ways the feeling of engagement it’s employees, dealers and customers had in turn with Saturn.     Now with the Penske deal falling through, soon Saturn will be no more.

Saturn was once the shining star of General Motors, yet through years of corporate in-fighting and internal politics between the GM car divisions and the resulting challenges created for Sayurn, the fledgling brand could not grow to fulfill its promise.  Now Saturn is becoming ‘GM’s orphaned child’ – with no opportunity for a new homecoming on the horizon. 

Saturn employees and dealers put together a valiant fight to save something they believed in – a quality product, a new way of doing business, and commitment to giving the customer what they want through partnerships as shown in this – one of the last Saturn commercials.  Unfortunately, it looks like this time, they could not win the battle.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkikIApaP1s]

2009 Saturn SkyIn kind of an odd twist –

the last car my brother ever built at the GM Newark Delaware plant,

was a Saturn SKY. 

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker