National / International News

Looking for venture capital? Be careful what you wish for

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-01 11:08

The amount of venture capital money being pumped into start-ups is at its highest level since 2001, but it’s still nowhere near what it was like at the heyday of the tech bubble era. Raising money is hard to begin with, and it’s the lifeblood of a new business. On the other hand, you also have to be careful what you wish for. If you are one of the lucky companies who makes it to the level where big investors want a piece of you, then...you have a whole new problem to think about.

Wendy Nguyen and a couple of friends founded HealthyOut, an online and mobile app to help people find healthy restaurant food. As Nguyen puts it: “We want to get people healthy restaurant food in two clicks, to make that choice really convenient and easy to do every day."

Two years ago, Nguyen went from investor to investor trying to get money to make her dream happen. 

“Everyone says ‘maybe’ and ‘comeback later’ ... which is actually a 'no'.”

Eventually, Nguyen and her friends boot strapped, a.k.a. they used their savings and built the app themselves. It did well – very well, in fact – and investors started to notice. HealthyOut ended up raising $1.2 million.

While this was the break Nguyen desperately needed, for many businesses, it’s a moment that is fraught with tough decisions. 

“Venture capitalists exist ultimately for one reason – to make money for their limited partners,” explains Josh Lerner, professor at Harvard Business School. “The only way to make money is to exit their investments.” 

That translates to selling their stake and/or the company as a whole. So that could mean a startup company goes public one day. It could also mean the company gets packaged up and sold to Google or Yahoo, who may or may not actually do anything with it. It could mean changing a company’s target market or even fundamental things about what the company does. If the startup and the major investor aren’t on the same page with all of this, it’s not good. 

“The greatest fear is you pick wrong. And that venture firm, because they now have a large say in your company, directs your company in a direction you don’t think is right,” says Matthew Amsden, who helped start Proof Pilot, an online tool to launch and manage clinical trials and longitudinal research studies. 

Amsden is quick to add that any startup should be so lucky as to have the luxury of choice. 

All the same, getting money means giving up control, so when Amsden talks with investors, he tells them, “It’s dating, frankly. Getting investment is like dating. You’re looking for compatibility.”

Which means finding an investor with expertise in your field, whom you can trust as a mentor.

“It’s not only about the check,” says Amsden. “What else can that particular investor bring to the table?”

 And, just like in romantic dating, matches don't always go well.  Helena Plater-Zyberk is the CEO of SimpleTherapy, a company that designs online exercise therapy for people who can’t get to a clinic. She recalls instances where “I’ve been asked within the first two minutes of meeting someone what my endgame is.” In other instances she’s been “very pointedly told that the conversation doesn’t need to continue unless I have an exit strategy up front -- before they even understand what it is we’re trying to achieve and who we’re trying to help.”

Of course, sometimes the company founder really does need to rethink things. Like in relationships, they often have to ask, “am I the crazy one?”

Katie Rae, a veteran entrepreneur and chair of TechStars Boston as well as manager of a small venture seed fund called Project 11, says founders who haven’t gained a certain amount of perspective are likely to end up facing challenges getting the right funder. “Lots of teams hold back what they’re working on for a long time before showing people,” she says. “In my experience, the best founders don’t share with the public, but they do share with knowledgeable people their point of view, how they’re thinking, show them the product, and get active feedback.” 

“If you don’t talk to smart people, that’s a very tough mistake – it slows you down, you don’t learn as much, you don’t get as much feedback from smart people who would send you in a slightly different and better direction. They sometimes get funded by the wrong people with a very strong point of view opposite from your point of view.” 

In other cases, a startup’s founder may not have the background for approaching investors. That was the case for Helena Plater-Zyberk’s company, Simple Thearapy. She’s serves as the CEO, but she wasn’t the original CEO.

“Our service wasn’t conceived as a money making endeavor,” she says. “Our team of doctors created these therapeutic exercises as a result of patient need.” 

In other words, the doctors were thinking about patients, not how to grow the business. Which is why Plater-Zyberk was brought in as the new CEO. “We want to be able to balance that type of value system with the needs of an investor who is looking for a return in a set time frame; It’s a difficult conversation to have," she says.

It’s a conversation that Wendy Nguyen, with the Healthy Out App, had to have as well. Before landing the big the $1.2 million investment, she had to answer big questions for investors with big expectations. “Are you guys going to be a $50 million company in five years? Because that’s the type of return that a venture capitalist is looking for,” says Nguyen. If you’re not prepared to go big, then go home. Or at least to a smaller investor than a venture capitalist.

Nguyen thought about it, and considered the fact that the money would cost her a degree of control over her company. She trusted her funders, “and so we said...let’s do this!”

Nguyen and colleagues in New York with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Courtesy of Wendy Nguyen

HealthyOut is expanding its model, branching out to help people design personal detox diets now, and is trying to bring its ordering service beyond New York City.

 As with all startups, it’s not just about the idea, and it’s never just about the money – it’s about where you get the money, and what you do with it.

Scotland 'likely to get 'A' rating'

BBC - Thu, 2014-05-01 11:03
Scotland would likely hold a lower credit rating than the rest of the UK immediately after independence, according to the ratings agency Moody's.

Time to mourn the minibar

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-01 11:00
Friday, May 2, 2014 - 05:58 Wikimedia Commons

Good-bye, midnight Snickers bar. Adios, Pringles cylinder. Sayonara, bourbon nightcap.

They may never go away completely, but the hotel minibar can certainly be considered a rare and endangered species.

Why are minibars vanishing?

"In Las Vegas, a little bottle of vodka can cost you more than $14. And in Washington D.C., if you want a bag of peanuts, be prepared to pay over $7," says Kevin Carter with the travel planning website TripAdvisor.

A recent TripAdvisor survey found just 7 percent of U.S. travelers even remotely care about a minibar in the room. Not surprisingly, PKF Hospitality found that between 2007–2012 minibar revenue fell by nearly 30 percent.

Disappearing minibars is just one of several changes in modern-day U.S. hotel rooms. Woodworth says what hotels lose in certain antiquated amenities, companies hope to make up in room rates.

"If I can get you to pay an extra dollar for your room tonight, about 90 cents of that is pure profit," says Woodworth. "The energies and management focus has been really optimizing room revenues."

TripAdvisor found travelers want a lot of stuff that starts with the word "free": Free wifi. Free breakfast. Free parking.

Oh, and we want outlets – lots and lots of electrical outlets.     

5 more "amenities" disappearing from your hotel room

PKF Hospitality President Mark Woodworth says hotels are recalculating what makes them money. Here are five services on the chopping block: 

1. Dry cleaning.

There will still be ironing boards, but you'll have to push them yourself.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

2. Telephone services. 

Perhaps wake up calls will be rerouted to cell phones.

Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

3. Renting movies on hotel TVs. 

Enough guests prefer their own screens. 

Jimmy Sime/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

4. Room size.

The smaller the room, the bigger the hotel's profit. And the closer you are to your cell phone, which is what you care about anyway. 

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

5. Coffee makers.

For now, the coffee makers are still there -- but you have to pay for anything you brew

Hulton Archive/Getty Images Marketplace Morning Report for Friday May 2, 2014Why do luxury hotels charge for Wi-Fi, but cheap hotels don't?Hotels seek added revenue in service feesHow does a $25 room service burger not make money?by Dan GorensteinPodcast Title Time to mourn the minibarStory Type News StorySyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

Shock over US killing of German teen

BBC - Thu, 2014-05-01 10:55
The father of a German exchange student shot dead in Montana while trespassing in a garage says the US cannot continue to "play cowboy" with guns.

Elon Musk, Tesla plan 'Gigafactory' site

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-01 10:54
Friday, May 2, 2014 - 05:48 Guus Schoonewille/AFP/Getty Images

A view of a fully electric Tesla car on an assembly line at the new Tesla Motors car factory in the Netherlands during the opening and launch of the new factory, on August 22, 2013.

 

Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, or Arizona? There can be only one home for the Gigafactory

Or possibly two... if two are built.

The Gigafactory is a massive battery plant, built by the electric car maker Tesla, that will take up to 1,000 acres and will include its own on-site wind and solar energy plants. Tesla has narrowed down its choice of location to four states, but rather than pick one now, it will prepare to build in two or three (or potentially all four), CEO Elon Musk announced on Wednesday.

Replicating engineering work, design work, site selection, connection to power and utilities, and permitting is a costly strategy, says Ben Kallo, senior equity analyst with Robert W. Baird.

"You can talk about millions and even tens of millions [of dollars] to do this" for just one extra site, according to Kallo.

But the cost of not doing it could be much greater. Tesla plans to have 500,000 electric cars on the road by 2020. This would include more of its Model S sedans, a new SUV, and a more affordable car (at $35,000, it might be described as 'less unaffordable'). Tesla also plans to expand into electricity storage to the wind and solar industries, says Kallo. And the gigafactory is the foundation of that plan. A delay could damage Tesla's competitive advantage as a first mover, and could damage investor confidence. Aside from its own share holders, Tesla needs investors to finance the $5 billion behemoth project.

Jakki Mohr teaches marketing at the University of Montana and has followed Tesla closely. She says having multiple possibilities to site the gigafactory is a savvy negotiating move.

"States give huge incentives to get this kind of business in their regions," says Mohr, and this is a way of "playing one state against another to receive better incentives to locate there."

There's also one critical but underappreciated concession Tesla wants, according to Charles Hill, professor of management at the University of Washington's Foster School of Business. Tesla wants to sell cars itself, not through dealerships.

"It may be that Tesla picks a state that's initially hostile to that – Texas would be an example – as a way of getting leverage for them to change that policy as well," says Hill.

"The political issue around whether Tesla should have a direct sales model as opposed to selling through dealers is almost as big of an issue as the battery plant, and I don't think the two are totally separable."

The more back up plans you have, the more arms you can twist.

Marketplace Morning Report for Friday May 2, 2014Marketplace Tech for Friday, May 2, 2014by Sabri Ben-AchourPodcast Title Elon Musk, Tesla plan 'Gigafactory' siteStory Type News StorySyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

VIDEO: When self-publishing pays off

BBC - Thu, 2014-05-01 10:29
Author Tina Seskis tells the BBC's Nick Higham how her self-published novel sparked a literary bidding war

Woman recovers from 96% crash burns

BBC - Thu, 2014-05-01 10:25
A 20-year-old Wrexham woman who suffered 96% burns in a coach crash in the French Alps says the support of family and friends is helping her recovery.

Chelsea coach Faria given six-game ban

BBC - Thu, 2014-05-01 10:15
Chelsea assistant manager Rui Faria is given a six-match ban for his altercation with officials during the loss to Sunderland.

Deadly air strike on Aleppo market

BBC - Thu, 2014-05-01 10:03
At least 33 people are killed in an air strike on a market in a rebel-held district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, activists say.

Briscoe guilty of lying to police

BBC - Thu, 2014-05-01 09:50
Barrister Constance Briscoe guilty of lying to police probing ex-UK minister Chris Huhne's speeding points case.

Deadly mine collapse in Colombia

BBC - Thu, 2014-05-01 09:50
Rescuers try to reach up to 30 people trapped underground after an illegal gold mine collapses in south-western Colombia, killing at least three.

Bailey takes Euro taekwondo bronze

BBC - Thu, 2014-05-01 09:39
Scottish teenager Asia Bailey wins Great Britain's first medal at the European Championships with taekwondo bronze.

US warns of South Sudan genocide

BBC - Thu, 2014-05-01 09:34
US Secretary of State John Kerry warns of a possible genocide in South Sudan if more peacekeepers are not rapidly deployed.

Stab attack man may never be freed

BBC - Thu, 2014-05-01 09:31
A man who tried to kill his girlfriend is told by a judge he may never be released from prison.

55 Colleges, Universities Under Investigation For Abuse Claims

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-01 09:25

In an unprecedented move, the Department of Education has released a list that includes some Ivy League schools, state and private institutions.

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Gadget promises 'perfect cup of tea'

BBC - Thu, 2014-05-01 09:13
A tea machine with a hefty £7,700 price tag is said by its manufacturers to have revolutionised the making of a good cup of tea.

Academy chain financial investigation

BBC - Thu, 2014-05-01 09:08
The Education Funding Agency has found "highly unusual" financial practices in an academy provider.

Funding an album in a jazz-improv kind of way

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-01 09:07

Over the years on Marketplace we've tried to cajole artists to talk business. It's not easy -- many are more comfortable talking about inspiration and passion than getting their hands dirty with money.

But if you want to bring a creative project to fruition, there are money choices to be made. For instance, jazz musician Lauren Kinhan decided to go online to crowdsource the money for her newly released solo album called "Circle in a Square."

Some people might use a spreadsheet to set their fundraising goal when crowdsourcing cash. Lauren Kinhan tells Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio that she did it in a more jazz-improv kind of a way. 

Sinn Féin 'haunted by past'

BBC - Thu, 2014-05-01 09:03
Sinn Fèin, a party 'haunted' by dark past

The changing face of the money transfer business

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-01 09:00

Western Union, by far the biggest player in the money transfer business, has new competition from Walmart, which recently added a store-to-store money transfer service in the U.S. Both companies know that to grow in this industry, you have to keep adding new customers – which means the face of the money transfer business is changing a bit.

To understand how the sector is trying to attract customers one by one, meet two guys who recently sent money through Western Union. Customer No. 1 is Carlos Galvez.

“Well, I just sent $370 right now,” says Galvez, coming out of a small Western Union retail location in Washington.

You could call Galvez a traditional Western Union customer. He’s an immigrant who makes enough selling tamales to send money to cousins in El Salvador.

“We can’t send money every time,” says his son, Armando Menjivar, “but at least once a month, or when it comes to a big emergency.”

Now, meet Customer No. 2, who is not traditional.

Will Tjernlund, a self-described “third-generation Minnesotan. The 23-year-old buys and sells things on Amazon and eBay, and he used Western Union to send money to China.

But what’s actually different about Tjernlund’s story is where he sent the money from.

I googled Western Union to find the nearest location to me,” he says. “And the nearest location was inside a U.S. Bank.”

Over the last five years, the number of bank branches offering Western Union services has almost quadrupled, to more than 10,000 in the U.S. and Canada, according to the company. U.S. Bancorp, SunTrust Banks Inc., and Regions Financial Corp. are among its biggest partners.  

Analysts say banks used to resist this kind of partnership. Some didn’t want to advertise a branded service that wasn’t their own.

Plus: “Western Union traditionally served the underbanked and the underserved,” says analyst Wayne Johnson with Raymond James, which has investments in this sector.

But the majority of Western Union senders today are banked, according to Frank Lockridge, the vice president of strategic accounts for Western Union in the U.S. That means those customers have bank accounts, even if their relatives back home don’t.

“Some of our bank partners have realized that they’ve seen their customers getting the money out of the bank ATMs, getting the cash out of the branch, and walking next door to conduct that money transfer,” says Lockridge.

So now banks are trying both to retain their customers’ business, and draw new underserved clients into mainstream financial services.

Western Union won’t say how well the strategy of partnering with banks is paying off. But it does say people who transfer money from banks tend to send more than people in retail locations.

The bulk of the money Western Union sends is to and from foreign countries. But it does have a new domestic competitor: a service called Walmart-2-Walmart.

“It’s available at all 4,200 of Walmart branded locations,” says Daniel Eckert, Walmart U.S.’s senior vice president of services.

Eckert says simplified, inexpensive money transfer services are especially useful to people displaced from their families, like military personnel and shale oil workers.

“Even just in the first few days of Walmart-2-Walmart being up and running, our primary transaction stores were Williston, North Dakota, which is right out by the oil fields, and Killeen, Texas, which is just outside of an active duty army base,” he says.

And that’s how it goes in the money transfer business – adding customers bit by bit.

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