Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Lori Greiner's Secrets to Her Entrepreneurial Success

By: Sage Lazzaro, @SageLazzaro, @Observer

Read the original article here.

Are you always coming up with great ideas only to stumble upon them on shelves soon after? If yes, you might have the entrepreneurial spirit deep inside you, according to Lori Greiner.

The retail expert and fierce investor on ABC’s Shark Tank dished on her tips to entrepreneurial success this morning during a Q&A at Staples on 5th Ave.

Ms. Greiner—often referred to as “The Queen of QVC” because of her show’s successful six-year run on the shopping network—has launched over 400 products and holds 120 patents in the U.S. and internationally. She has an astounding 90 percent success rate in launching new ventures, and she knows a thing or two about creating multi-million dollar businesses. These are her best tips for entrepreneurs:

Evaluate Your Idea

Is it for a mass audience or a select few? Can it be made inexpensively? Is it unique?

It’s important to understand how your product compares to what’s already out there. Unique products that solve problems do best. If your idea is brand new, you can corner the market.

“If something has a hold on the market already, you’re not going to have an easy time,” Ms. Greiner said.

Do Your Own Market Research

When Ms. Greiner was creating her first product, an earring organizer that she eventually licensed to JCPenny, she showed a prototype to women on the street to gauge their interest and see if the idea was worth pursuing.

She stresses “pounding the pavement” to see if people would buy your product and how much they’d pay for it before investing a ton of cash into the business. And definitely do not do this over the Internet, she warns, or else your idea could easily spread like wildfire and get knocked off while you’re only in stage one.

“Everyone thinks they have the best idea and that everyone will buy it,” Ms. Greiner said. “I think you have to think of your business idea or product idea, ‘Is it something people need and want, something people truly need and want?'”
lori greiner packaging

Packaging, Packaging, Packaging

If your idea is a product with a future in retail, packaging is key. Consumers need to instantly gravitate to it, pick it up and be able to tell what it is and why they should buy it.

“My entrepreneurs know,” she said. “We go through a lot of packaging until it’s perfect.”

Don’t Overspend and Do All of the Hard Work Yourself

Ms. Greiner says to “stay lean and mean.”

Don’t rent out a fancy office. Don’t fill up a warehouse with inventory you can’t sell. And definitely don’t hire employees until you absolutely need them to keep up with business. Doing so will eat up your capital, and employees won’t be running as quickly as they should to get your business off the ground.

“No one will run your business like you do,” she said.

Hold On to That Equity In the Beginning

Desperate for cash, too many entrepreneurs make the mistake of giving up 40 percent of their business to their uncle for $10,000 a month in. Ms. Greiner’s advice is to hold out and figure out another way.

“You will regret it down the road,” she said.

It’s not worth it even for that small amount of cash you think you need, and be especially wary when borrowing from friends and family. They usually want their money back, and when you’re risking it all in a business venture, you can’t be sure it will survive.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Kevin O'Leary: 10 Secrets to Being The Best Boss You Can Be

Now, I know what you are thinking. Why is Kevin O'Leary giving advice on how to be a good boss?! There's no way he treats his employees with respect! Well, just because he is tough in the Tank doesn't mean he is a bad boss. Check out his latest LinkedIn Influencer article:

blog shark tank kevin o'leary boss
Over the years, I've worked for others and I've worked for myself. Through trial and error, I've figured out a few key character traits that helped hone my leadership skills. Directness, transparency, and decisiveness are three essential traits of a good boss. It’s also important to remember the rules outlined below.

1. Employees are not your friends. Even if you like them, even if you hired them because they are your friends, while they are working for you they are not your friends. They are your employees. The problem with socializing with your employees is that it makes it hard to be objective about their performance, and harder still to crack down on them if they’re under performing.

2. Maintain a clear line of command. In most of my endeavors, I've had a partner, and we've helmed our companies side by side. But I weigh in on issues that fall outside the realm of my command only when completely necessary. Employees always knew which problem to take to Michael Perik and which to take to me. Overlap of authority can get confusing, muck up productivity, and cause unnecessary delays, if not out-and-out grief.

3. Be accessible. You’re not building a fiefdom—you’re building a company. Don’t alienate, isolate, or separate yourself from your partners and top earners. Don’t put them on hold, don’t fail to return their calls, and don’t make them feel like they cannot approach you. I've seen this phenomenon firsthand. It’s toxic, and it’s usually the product of fear or the inability to cope during troubled times. If your first instinct is to bury your head, you are not a leader.

4. Delegate, delegate, delegate. You cannot—nor should you—do everything. CEO's who think that they should weight in on every single aspect of their company get too bogged down in the details, much to the detriment of the overall health of the company. If a ship’s captain is overseeing the catering, he’s going to hit an iceberg.

5. Don’t procrastinate. When an employee is problematic, you must act. Now. Do it right. Do it by the book. But do it.

6. Never pass the buck. Blame stops with you. It always stops with you. Even if you think you had nothing to do with the decision that got your company into trouble in the first place, you’re wrong. You likely had something to do with hiring the person who did screw up. Take immediate responsibility, do what you can to fix the problem, and then whack the knucklehead who couldn't keep pace. If your name is on the product, business, or marquee, that’s especially important.

7. You’re not their parent. Employees will only bring their drama to work if you let them. If you don’t want to be treated like a parent, don’t act like one. If employees are having squabbles, let them figure it out among themselves. I also try to steer clear of giving personal advice. My employees problems are their problems to solve. And it’s up to them not to bring those problems to work. By the way, if one of your employees is suffering from a genuine issue—addiction, depression, that kind of thing—don’t suggest they get help, insist upon it.

The 10 Secrets to Being the Best Boss You Can Be
8. Life’s not fair. Some people will simply make more money than others in the same job. Some people will work harder. Some will get higher sales. You will trust one over the other to get the job done. You will likely have favorites. That’s life. If someone complains about it, tell him or her to get over it.

9. The boss doesn't always make the most money. Find stars and pay them well. If you want to attract those stars, you’ll have to lure them with dollars. Remember that money’s the great motivator, and if it means you take a hit financially, take it. Talent will always bring in more money for the company, and that has got to be your number one priority always. Which leads me to…

10. The company comes first. This is the most important tenet. Have a singleness of purpose—the health and welfare of the company—keeps things clean and clear. Employees never question your priorities, nor do they have to guess at their goals.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Barbara Corcoran: Here's How To Reinvent Yourself

Here is a great article by Barbara Corcoran on how to reinvent yourself. You can find the original article here.

barbara corcoran blog shark tankThe start of the New Year is a great time for a fresh start. But change is tough.

When I sold my real estate business, which I had built for 30 years, I was unprepared for the personal challenges I’d need to overcome. Reinventing myself in a new career was so much harder than I expected. If you've been dreaming about totally changing your career, here are a few things that will help you along the way.

1. There’s no such thing as a total reinvention.

The best you can do is “repackage” yourself!

When I sold my real estate business, I needed to figure out who I wanted to be in my next chapter, so I sat down and wrote a list of every job I ever held and what I liked and disliked about each.

There were 23 different jobs on my list and to my surprise, I found I liked the same two things--I love an audience and I’m really good at marketing! So my list of potential new careers that could build on my strengths was a short one. I decided I was either going to start a PR company or an advertising firm or I was going to make myself a talent on TV. I took a shot at TV because I knew it would give me my biggest audience and I would have the chance to market myself instead of a whiny client. You’ll have a much greater chance at success and happiness in your new career if you know what you like and what you’re really good at and if you can manage do a lot more of it. Remember, you can repackage yourself but you can’t change your wiring.

2. Expect to be lonely. 

When I sold my business, a major piece of my identity went with it. I missed my 1,000 adoring brokers and my management team that had become my family. I was no longer part of a work community— of course I missed the parties and good times, but I even missed the endless stream of emails that used to be the bane of my existence. In my search for connecting with a new community of people, I plugged into the social media world and found that Twitter and Facebook made me friends with a whole range of new people and they became my stand-in community. I built myself a circle of support.

barbara corcoran marketing shark tank3. You have to reinvent yourself in stages.

Successful reinvention can’t happen overnight. So instead of trying to reach my end goal as a business expert on TV, I built my new persona in small steps. I started as an occasional on-air guest on local TV, then got paid as a real estate contributor on morning talk shows, and finally landed as a Shark/Investor on ABC as a business expert. Landing your first gig in your new space will serve as confirmation that you’re on the right track and will increase your confidence so you’re able to reach your end goal.

4. There’s no such thing as part-time. 

Even if you’re a pro at the top of your game in your industry, once you switch to a different field you’re starting from scratch. Building a successful new you takes the same long hours as your first career and you’ll still have to give it 150% of your time. At first, I thought I could give half my energy to reinventing myself and the other half to having fun, but it didn't work out that way. I had to work just as hard at building my second career as I had my first and this time I didn't have the advantage of youth.

Change is tough and you can always come up with 100 reasons not to do something or quit in the process, but reaching a goal that you bravely fought and won, is invigorating and a worthy reason for doing it.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Flashback: Mango Mango Mango

mango shark tankBy: Michael Barbera
Strategy Consultant

The ladies of Mango Mango Mango entered the tank with a well-rehearsed pitch (full of dancing and synchronized jingles) and more importantly, a tasty product. All five Sharks loved the taste of the mango preserves - a sure bet that once tasted, a consumer will make a purchase. However, the only problem the product seemed to solve was a satisfaction of the taste bud. 

One of the key reasons for any company to be denied private equity funding is the lack of solving a problem in the consumer’s life. Yet although it's not a requirement, Mango’s handicap doesn't improve with their industry, as the food service industry is notorious for offering extremely low profit margins. And as any avid Shark Tank watcher can tell you, the higher the profit margins, the higher chance of getting an investment. But even though there were two serious handicaps at this point, all Sharks were still in and the business had a chance of receiving capital. Why? Because the product was that good!

The final remaining variable that could help secure an angel was the cash flow of the business. Mango’s COGS (cost of goods sold) were quite high, at nearly $3.00 per jar. With a sale price of $6.00, this leaves Mango with a 50% profit margin before operating expenses and distribution. The motivated ladies of Mango were not receptive to third-party manufacturing and distribution, which would eventually lead to less production, less sales, and exhaustion. This naturally caused Kevin O’Leary to utter his infamous words, “you made a hobby”, which is true for all businesses that don't generate profit. make any money.

In the end, Mango Mango Mango didn't receive any offers from the Sharks, which was ultimately for the best. They are better off using their own capital for growth, rather than seeking equity-based capital in the food service industry.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Kevin O'Leary: New Year's Resolutions

With the New Year just around the corner, many of us are already wondering what 2015 has in store for us. While it is certainly important to come up with your own New Year's Resolutions, Mr. Wonderful has been gracious enough to share (on LinkedIn) some of his advice for gaining more financial freedom in the upcoming year. Enjoy!

kevin o'leary new year
The New Year is almost here and you know what that means. A brand new set of financial challenges. In this economy, those challenges can seem bewildering. Thankfully, I can help you navigate those perilous waters so that you and your family hold on to as much as possible of that most precious of commodities: Money! Here are three New Year’s resolutions that will move you and your family further along the path to financial freedom.

1. Summarize All Your Spending

You already know how important it is to set aside some of your income - even if you start small - to invest and put to work towards building your wealth. But it's also easy to get tempted to spend more than you should. That's why you need discipline - and a great way to build discipline it is to prepare a monthly summary of all of your spending.

I’m not talking about your monthly bank statement (though you should pay attention to that, too). I want you to track all your spending so that you can better evaluate your decisions about your cash. Plenty of tools can help you, from a pen and paper to spreadsheets or smartphone apps.

Once you start seeing these lists of where your precious money is going, you'll be amazed at how quickly you start thinking twice before spending what you should be investing.

2. Get More Yield from Your Assets

My mother taught me about the importance of limiting risk when it comes to money. One of the ways I do that is by prioritizing reliable, income-producing investments - the kind that pay regular dividends, interest or distributions. (Your financial adviser can tell you more about the pros and cons).

One of the great things about this strategy is that you don't need to worry as much about day-to-day stock price movements. But the best part is the feeling of knowing that your investments are regularly generating cash.

3. Make Sure Your Kids Know How to Manage Their Money

There's nothing like family to help motivate people when it comes to being smart with money. It makes sense - you're more driven to save and invest when you know that your savings will help your kids and grandkids – not just yourself. And you'll be more careful about big risks when you know that a bad decision can affect your family.

So, just as my mother taught me about money when I was young, I have done the same for my kids.

If you haven't done the same yet, get started this year. It's easier than you think - start by talking about money in general, so it's not a taboo subject. Have some conversations about the importance of saving over the long term. We all feel a responsibility to our families and there’s no reason that shouldn't include financial literacy.

Get Started

These three New Year’s resolutions are simple, but powerful. If you follow them, you’ll be surprised at how much you save for yourself and your family. They’re also easy to follow, so you have no excuse not to take these steps. You’ll thank me later.

[None of this content should be construed as investment advice, especially as they relate to any financial products I may represent. Investors should speak with their financial advisers for any investment advice and to discuss the risks of investing to any financial product. This represents my personal opinions and should be enjoyed as such.]

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

@ Biaggi

Stephen Hersh entered the Shark Tank with foldable luggage asking for $500,000 for a 30% stake in his company. Having already invested $3.5 million into the business, and already showing revenue of $2.5 million in two years, he is ready for a Shark to jump in and help grow his business.

Biaggi luggage folds up for easy storage taking much less space than conventional luggage. But is that enough of a differentiator in the market place? Mark, Robert and Kevin did not think so, and were out almost immediately. As Stephen graciously acknowledged each of the three Sharks for their time, it seemed pretty likely that the remaining Sharks would feel the same way.

Daymond surprised us by making an offer to offer the $500,000 for 33% of the company. He had just done a luggage deal with HSN and felt this would be a great add on. Stephen thanked him for his offer and cast his eyes at Lori to see if she was willing to bite. That’s when the tension began.

Daymond wanted to force Stephen’s hand and have him make a decision on the spot. Well, actually he said he could have 20 seconds to think about it. Lori started talking about the product and how it solved a problem. She was calm, cool, and collected as usual, and totally unmoved and uninfluenced by Daymond’s 20 second time limit.
biaggi luggage shark tank
Daymond gave Stephen the 5 second warning, and then, rather than asking Stephen for a decision, asked Lori if she was going to be making an offer. This was certainly a weak moment for Daymond. Lori said she would make an offer, and proceeded to offer Stephen the same package as Daymond did, saying they would be live on QVC within 4 months.

What does Stephen do? He calls a friend. We all get to listen in on the call where his partner tells him to “gauge which one of them will be most interested but beyond HSN and QVC”. Interesting advice as it speaks to a long term strategy rather than just a short tactical approach to selling the product.

lori greiner biaggi shark tank
Coming back to the Shark Tank, Kevin reviews the offers calling this a beauty contest (no comment). But before Stephen gets to speak, Daymond says he needs to know which marketing strategy Stephen thinks is his best next step: getting the product into stores or having a demonstrable sales strategy. Stephen of course says “demonstrable” (isn't that what they were both talking about?) and surprisingly, Daymond backs out saying that Lori is the better Shark for Stephen to partner with. Lori is shocked and her expression says it all!

With no decision left to make, Stephen takes Lori’s offer without even asking about plans beyond an initial QVC run. In the end, a conversation with Stephen’s business partner caused him to lose Daymond as a possible business partner. And Daymond may have been too sheepish in saying that Lori was the better Shark. It almost seemed as though Daymond had second thoughts about how his expertise could help Biaggi. But only time will tell us what Lori ultimately brings to the table other than an initial run on QVC.

Did you see Lori’s face?! That’s what happens when one Shark compliments another Shark! Be careful Lori, he may be setting you up for something down the road. After all, he is a Shark too!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

@ Off The Cob

shark tank off the cob chips
Cameron Sheldrake is from Ithaca, New York. He is a hard working, clean-cut American farmer growing sweet corn, and trying to figure out what to do with the surplus. As he enters the tank, we are already rooting for him to get a deal with the Sharks. Cameron works on his family farm which his family has owned and operated since the 1960’s, and is seeking a $100,000 investment for a 15% stake in his company.

Off The Cob uses the excess sweet corn and produces organically grown, gluten-free, low- sodium tortilla chips. All of the Sharks agree that the product tastes great, and Cameron gets accolades for having a great company name and great product packaging. Furthermore, Cameron is already in 45 stores including Whole Foods and Wegmans after only 13 months of doing business, and is planning on being in 400 stores in 2014. This man is an entrepreneur with passion, businessmanship, and one strong American dream.

There’s just one small problem. Although regular tortilla chips are made with grain corn which Cameron calls animal feed, it is much less expensive than sweet corn. How much more, you ask? Sweet corn is 20 times more expensive than grain corn (maybe that’s why everyone else is using grain corn). So a bag of Off The Cob tortilla chips will cost you $3.49 instead of $0.99 for the same amount of traditional tortilla chips. That’s a pretty serious difference!

Nonetheless, the forecast is still pretty incredible. Cameron plans on amassing a little over $1 million in revenue in the next fiscal year. If that works out, and his estimation of a 15% net profit is correct, he will walk away with $165,000 at the end of next year.

Unfortunately for Cameron, the Sharks do not see a way to scale the business in a way that would make it interesting to them. Fortunately for Cameron though, this gives him the opportunity to be a self-made man and wake up every morning knowing that he made it on his own. So while it is disappointing to see Cameron walking away without a deal, it is gratifying to know that he seems to have found a niche in the health food market and is on the road to success.

Good luck Cameron!