Saturday, November 10, 2018

SWOT : Use It - It Works

Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats (SWOT) Analysis has been around for a long time.  Used by small and large businesses alike in determining their Process (if it is working as envisioned) and their present and future Operating Status.

SWOT is a self-analysis as well. Are your biases being played out and have you curbed your own shortcomings. Many business initiatives can be addressed.  Here's how"

                                       Strengths               Weaknesses              Opportunities          Threats

Product/Service



Brand/Marketing



Team building



Finance



Operations



Innovation




Fill-in under each main category.  Be thoughtful and truthful in filling out the grid. What will pop-up are those things you are strong and confident in doing and those that you are weak in.  A pattern will develop and a plan-of-action will be called to address both your business's good and bad points.

Based on the information, ask yourself, What are my immediate goals/next steps? What are my long-term goals/next steps?  Try SWOT. It WORKS.

Jim Lavorato, Principal
Fund-House Ventures, LLC







Saturday, November 3, 2018

Brand Differentiators : Ramp-Up Your Brand

Arguably the top priority in Brand Development is DIFFERENTIATION. Today, simply being better than other brands no longer creates a sustainable advantage.  YOUR BRAND must be different.
As you ramp-up your brand it is critical to identify and develop your KEY brand differentiators.

How To Ramp-up Your Brand

A Brand differentiator is a unique feature, aspect, and/or benefit of your product or service that sets it apart from competing brands - this is how you form the basis of your competitive advantage.

Our brains are hard-wired to notice differences. See the image to the right, your focus goes directly to the burnt match. Your Brand must do the same thing. The need to differentiate in vital. People have more choices than ever before with less attention span. That combination makes Brand differentiation more difficult and MORE IMPORTANT.

Sometimes your Brand's key differentiator is obvious and definitive. In other cases, you may have many possible differentiators and you need to prioritize them.  If possible, identify three key differentiators and designing the main one among the three.

1. Make a list of all the things that do or could differentiate your Brand. Consider:

- target market - specific customer segments your brand appeals to
- attributes - descriptive qualities or characteristics of your product or brand
- ingredients/specifications - the unique elements that comprise your product
- methods - the proprietary method by which your product is made or your service is delivered
- claims - definitive statements that can be made about your brand
- brand heritage/story - the narrative of why and how your brand came to be
- technologies - specific technologies distinct to your product/service
- performance - the unique way your product works or result it produces
- endorsements - statements of approval or support from people, groups, organizations
- awards - recognition for your brand
- company - your firm's unique programs,, people, design, etc.
- brand personality - the way your brand expresses itself

2. Rate Each Differentiator

- Importance To Target Customers - your differentiation must make a difference to the target market
- Difference From Competitors - the greater the difference, the stronger the differentiator
- Ease Of Achieving & Sustaining - how easy it is for you to establish & maintain the difference
- Relevance To Brand Essence/Purpose - the strongest differentiators support the Brand's essence

3. Use The Ratings To Prioritize The Top 3-5 Differentiators and Identify The Lead One


- Ensure Each Differentiator is Clear & Specific - understandable in language used by your target customers and be as descriptive & definitive as possible.
- Consider using A/B testing among your target customers to help you understand the relative importance of your differentiators.


Best

Jim Lavorato, Principal
Fund-House Ventures, LLC











Saturday, October 27, 2018

PRIVACY FIRST

 Everything is stored and used by social media companies
Companies go to great lengths to protect their intellectual property - from their patents and copyrights, to their firm's name and logo. In fact, as I've stated before: "everything can be copied, all products and services. The only thing that can't be copied is your Brand."

Yet, it is very difficult for consumers to grasp and appreciate how social media companies are collecting, analyzing, sharing, and selling a tremendous amount of information ABOUT THEM.

It has reached a point where uniform privacy protections that would provide meaningful consent for the use of online information no matter where they go on the internet is now required and should be demanded by consumers.

Fund-House believes that a national online privacy framework should start with the consumer and be grounded in the concept of empowering and informing consumers to control the personal information that is collected about them online.

Control

Consumers should be empowered to have meaningful choice for each use of their data through opt-in consent. The consent options should be purposeful, clear, and meaningful with no 'pre-ticked boxes, 'take-it-or-leave-it offers', or other default consents.  Additionally, the consent should be renewable at some reasonable frequency.

Transparency

Explanation about how companies collect, use, and maintain consumers' data should be clear, concise, easy-to-understand, and readily available.  Consumers should have the ability to weigh the benefits and harms of collection and use of their data.

Parity

Consent must be applied uniformly across the entire Internet and not based on who is collecting it, or whether a service is free or paid - and whether they are using an ISP, a search engine, e-commerce site, streaming service, social network, or mobile carrier or device.

Uniformity

Consumers should be protected under a single, national standard that protects regardless of where you live, work, or travel - the protection should not be under the control of individual State laws.

There are many accounts of data misuse and privacy laws are long overdue. Consumers deserve and have a right to control how their personal information is collected and used whenever they use the internet and whenever they go online.


Jim Lavorato
Principal, Fund-House Ventures, LLC








Sunday, September 23, 2018

What's In A Brand ..... Just Ask APPLE

I often get the response from new clients that Branding isn't really necessary. Just come up with a good name for the company, go out an buy a logo for $10 (yes, you can do that), and start marketing.
"Why do I need to spend money on Branding ?" is the retort I hear when explaining the need for branding and its link to the mission and success of the business.

To prove my point I need go no farther than APPLE!  Once a broken company on the verge of bankruptcy Apple was the first company in the history of the world to cross the $1 trillion valuation mark - this happened last week when Apple climbed to $207.30 per share.

So, what did branding have to do with Apple's rise and record setting performance - EVERYTHING!

Steve Jobs, on his return to Apple as CEO, wrapped Apple in a very simple mission/branding discipline - to 'focus on simplicity and forward technology in their products'. Breaking from the personal computer Apple ventured into new realms - launch of iPod in 2001, the iPhone in 2007, the iPad in 2010, the Apple Watch in 2015, and introduced big-buck services like Apple Music and Apple Care (which some Wall Street analysts predict will be a $50b business within a year).

Apple stayed committed to their brand, which is currently the most highly valued in the world, to the extent that their products have and do command a premium price, ie. have 'brand equity'. Apple, through effective branding turned consumer' needs into wants and thus could charge more for what was the same or similar products vs. their competitors.

To put Apple's worth (valuation) at over $1T in perspective here are some comparisons:

- At $1T, Apple just falls short of the combined value of the four largest U.S. banks  (BofA, Citi, Chase,Wells) at $1.17T. 

- Apple's value is greater than the combined valuation of the top 24 auto makers in the world at $964B. Therefore, Apple is more valuable than GM, Benz, Toyota, Ford, VW, and 19 others altogether. 

- Apple is worth more than the entire American media industry, including: all of the major news publishers, TV channels, and media companies, including Netflix, AT&T, Disney, Fox, and CBS.

Which entity will be next to join Apple in the one-trillion dollar club?  Most likely it will be Amazon, Google, or Microsoft all three of which have valuations north of $750b. Amazon leads with a market value of about $825b. 

Keep in touch,
Jim Lavorato
Fund-House Ventures









Is Black Friday Getting DARKER!

Black Friday is no longer the post Thanksgiving shop-til-you-drop day. Black Friday has morphed into a shopping spree weekend - which runs from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday - it's a four or five day stretch that can literally make or break a business's profit for the year.  Hence the term 'Black Friday' - which signifies retailers' moving from YTD accounting losses ('in the red') to a profitable P&L ('in the black').

As the official kick-off of the holiday shopping season, Black Friday has evolved over the years. For example, 30 years ago no retailer had anyone on staff who managed social media accounts to help promote their sales or ecommerce staff who were tasked with creating a seamless online/in-store shopping experience. Yet, according to the Nationwide Marketing Group, 20% of all independent retailers don't have a website! That's one-in-five retailers with zero on-line presence. Granted, there may be particular reasons that a retailer may not require a website to market its product - but 20%!

Data show that last year, 64 million U.S. consumers shopped both in-store and on-line, while more than 58 million shopped on-line only. That's over 120 million Americans that logged onto some retail website and made a purchase during Black Friday weekend.

To further bolster the need for a retailer website, the data shows that multichannel consumers - those that shop both in-store and on-line - spent $82 more on average then the on-line only shopper and $49 more than the in-store shopper.

According to Adobe Analytics, the combined sales on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday for 2017 totaled $7.9b. Cyber Monday, $6.9b. That's not to say that traditional brick and mortar stores are losing significant holiday sales, but it does show that retailers have a great opportunity when using both ecommerce and in-store sales. Another interesting data point is that approx. 126 million people will be shopping on 'Super Saturday' or the last Saturday before Christmas.

2018 should be a stellar holiday shopping season and a sure record breaker in terms of spending given the great economy we are currently experiencing.

Best,
Jim Lavorato
Fund-House Ventures

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Branding: It's All About DIFFERENTIATION

Fund-House Ventures, LLC
In Branding, the old adage "Different is better than better", could never be more wise than in today's business environment.  With the fierce level of competition we're experiencing simply being better than others does not create a sustainable competitive advantage and lasting brand equity. When competition is high, strengths matter less and differences matter more.

Differences grab attention. Differences invoke a response. Differences generate buzz.

To build a great brand you must focus on being different, but that difference must make a difference. Great brands are built on meaningful differentiation, and to be meaningful your differentiation needs to be:

Polarizing: Your brand does not need to please everyone, but to engage your target market really well. If your difference appeals to everyone, than it's probably not all that different. When your brand is truly different some people will hate your brand and others love it. And those that love it will buy it over and over again and pay a premium for it, extol it, and value it - you can't do that by promoting a difference with mainstream appeal.

Transcendent: Meaningful and lasting differentiation is rarely achieved with a new feature, technology, a one-off 'er'.  Everything is copied in the world we live in - all products, all services, the only thing that can't be copied is your Brand. You need to differentiate on purposes, values, personality.  These create an emotional connection and are almost impossible to imitate.

Substantive: Your brand's difference, its distinctiveness must be substantive and valuable. Today's consumer can see through most marketing ploys. So, your difference can't be only what you say, it must be what you do and what you are. You must be relevant, authentic, reliable, and trustworthy - if you have to tell consumers you are different, you're probably not.

Jim Lavorato
Principal
Fund-House Ventures, LLC
search: jim lavorato   



Sunday, August 26, 2018

Often Overlooked In Branding: Colors and Fonts

Typefaces: all important in Branding
In developing Brands the mantra I adhere to is 'Never Go Unnoticed'. You want your Brand to be seen, and more importantly, remembered. This is not an easy task as consumers' attention spans are from 4-8 seconds (a Goldfish's is 8 seconds).

What is required is uniqueness with relevance. The company logo, as a metaphor for the company Brand, must be memorable and relate to what the company is all about. Therefore, a restaurant's logo, in terms of color and fonts used, would be very different from that of a wealth management firm.

Remember you want to 'never go unnoticed' and that means repetition. Your logo should be displayed on everything the company uses to communicate with the outside world - from its letterhead to all of its promotional materials. Don't be shy about the use of your logo.

A well designed and relevant logo is so important that I recommend the use of an identity design expert, like Fund-House, to assist in its spawning, development, and use.

Colors

Colors are important. They stir emotion and can make or break consumers' reaction to your Brand and eventual purchase of your product/service over competition. What type of company you have will, in many cases, determine what color(s) you will utilize in your: naming, logo, taglines, packaging, promotional materials, etc. Again, the use of a professional branding/corporate identity design expert is required.

Fonts (Typefaces)

There are hundreds of fonts. In some cases, a new font is developed from scratch (I did this with a company I own and have managed for over 20 years and which is in the motion picture industry - where uniqueness is a requisite).

Various fonts should be used in developing the company name and its logo. In most cases there should never be more than two fonts used and they should have relevance. Below are several, often used fonts:

Times New Roman
Arial
Helvetica
Courier
Georgia

This post is in Arial. Easy to read and lettering is distinct, but not attention getting for a company title or logo. There are the 100 Best Typefaces used for Branding. To get a copy of those top 100 contact me. www.jlavorato@fundhouse.us.

Jim Lavorato
Fund-House Ventures, LLC
www.FundHouse.us


Friday, August 24, 2018

Branding 'NO-NO" the ER

I'm presented business pitches all the time and it's incumbent upon me to distinguish between viable investment proposals from those with no prospect for success.

One technique I use in judging businesses is the 'ER' filter. 'ER' Brands are those that rely on others to explain 'who' they are.  For example, when the pitcher says, "we're just like X only cheaper, healthier, faster, bigger, sexier, " whatever.  These descriptions instantly set off my beware alert about this company's breakthrough ability and long-term viability.

Why?

An 'ER' position relegates your Brand to subordinate status as compared to the Brand used as your benchmark - it tells consumers your Brand possesses only comparative value rather than inherent value.  It also puts your Brand under constant pressure, because NOW its value is tied to Brand X's product/service. This leaves you with little basis to achieve meaningful and sustainable differentiation.

Iconic Brands NEVER settle for being 'ER' Brands. Your Brand must capture the imagination of customers and investors alike - and have reference points ONLY to themselves.

Not every product can be truly new but even if it is somewhat derivative the Brand must be clearly different.  You CANNOT use an existing Brand to explain yours - as a well conceived Brand platform and market positioning can relegate competitors to irrelevance.

Don't be an 'ER' Brand, it never works in the long-run.

Jim Lavorato
Principal, Fund-House Ventures, LLC


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Social Media Dictionary

Social media jargon got you down? Is the lingo of the internet stifling your creativity? Do you feel your dealing with a foreign language?  
It's FREE - Get It Now!

                                                FREE - FREE - FREE - FREE                                                  

Well fear not! Fund-House has compiled a dictionary with hundreds of words, terms, phrases, acronyms, et.al. that you'll encounter as you dive into online marketing.

It's clear, concise, easy to understand and, best of all, it's yours for the asking. IT'S FREE!

Just submit your email address and we'll download the Fund-House Social Media Dictionary to you. You'll be referring to it as soon as you get it.  

jlavorato@fundhouse.us


Best and enjoy,

Jim Lavorato

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

BEST BUY - A Case Study In ReBranding

One of the largest big-box retailers recently re-branded itself. To kick-off its new brand strategy, it unveiled a new marketing campaign, refreshed its logo, and reformed its brand narrative - I'm talking about Best Buy.
New Logo / Old Logo


Best Buy's goal is to reshape its image and focus on the customer experience (known by branders, like me, as CX) vs. the attributes of the products it sells. To do this Best Buy needed to change their brand narrative and carry through on a restructuring of their core business concept to push their employee function to coincide with the new CX strategy.

In a seminar I present as one of the Fund-House's client perks, entitled - "What's Behind Your Logo - Forging An Iconic Brand" - I speak to the notion that it's not a brand that is important but the fact that a brand and the business are one in the same, and your brand strategy must be you business's mission.

To obtain that meshing of brand equals business - you must tell a story (a narrative). Best Buy knows this. "Telling the story of our people - and how we make a meaningful impact on customers' lives. Our people are our insurmountable advantage" says Walt Alexander, Chief Marketing Officer of Best Buy.  Walt, gets it! Now to implement.

To accomplish this implementation, Best Buy has designed new promotional ads which were shot in black and white except for the bright blue shirts worn by every Best Buy employee - putting emphasis on the employee and their vital interaction with the customer. These promos are short vignettes that provide subtle hints on how technology can actually be used in ways to improve the customer's life.

Under the new branding strategy, employees are taught to tailor the shopping experience to the customers' needs - by engaging the customer. This scenario is not new and time will tell if Best Buy does it right or falls flat. CX is what marketing in now all about and should be at the top of very business's agenda.

I wish Best Buy all the luck in re-branding itself as this is not an easy task for any company.

Stay in touch,
Jim Lavorato

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Angels Choice: Direct Invest or Accelerator Fund

Angels: Direct Invest vs. Accelerator Fund
Angels that take a position in a pre-seed, seed, or emerging company are now often looking at accelerator funds as an alternative to direct investment. Investments into start-ups as part of an angel group is becoming passe' in favor investing in accelerator funds. 

Angel groups (investor collectives) that pool funds and management have been an important organizational innovation which started in the early 1990s.  The theory went, that by pooling their efforts, investors were able to get access to better deal flow, evaluate and monitor companies better, and strike better deals than they would on their own.  Now, business accelerators (organizations that provide capital and mentoring to early-stage companies) are in vogue and angels have been allocating their capital from angel groups to accelerator funds. Why?

First, and most important, investing in accelerator funds dramatically reduces the price that angels pay for their investments. Currently, the median valuation for a start-up by an angel group is $3.6m. A typical accelerator invested, on average, $25,000 into these start-ups in return for a 6% piece of the equity of the companies - that's a valuation of about $417,000. So, even after a 20% carried interest, the valuation of the typical angel group would be 7.3x that of the typical accelerator.

How Start-ups Turn Out
Therefore, an angel who invests through a typical angel group vs. an accelerator fund would have to believe that the start-up will have a 7x greater likelihood of a positive exit or a 7x better exit.  This is very unlikely.

Second, investing in accelerator funds increases the amount of diversification for the angel. The average portfolio of a typical angel is 7 companies - that is too small!   Seven investments does not ensure that the investor will generate an acceptable financial return. Running the numbers through mathematical simulators indicates that investors need to build a portfolio of 50 investments to have a greater than 90% probability of a 2x return on investment.

The typical accelerator fund makes approx.12 investments per year (about 5x the rate of the typical angel investor). Therefore, by investing in an accelerator fund, the angel has a much higher likelihood of achieving the diversification necessary to generate a worthwhile return.



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Third, is time. Investing in accelerator funds significantly reduces the amount of time an angel must spend on analyzing each of her/his investments.  Typically, an investing angel must spend time attending pitch presentations, participating in the due diligence process, renegotiating term sheets, and so on. As an accelerator investor, the angel does none of this. The managing director of the accelerator undertakes these, very time consuming, tasks.

In summary, angels spend less time, invest at a lower price point, and get more diversification by investing in accelerator funds vs. joining an angel group. So, by default, the accelerator is a much better investment vehicle for the angle vs. direct participation.

Best and stay in touch,

Jim Lavorato, Principal
Fund-House Ventures, LLC


Friday, June 29, 2018

Using The Cloud

Cloud-based solutions for data storage and use have become indispensable for businesses. Yet, many companies still persist is believing that having data and processing on their own computers and servers provides greater security and control. This could not be further from the truth.

Cloud-based applications are significantly more secure, reliable, and efficient than hosting on your own hardware.  Cloud-computing is simply using computers and servers resident through the Internet, rather than having physical hardware owned by the company. Your software is hosted, managed, and delivered via the Internet which offers a multitude of benefits.

First, you save all of the time, money, and resources that you would normally assign to the hardware and the teams running software in-house. Second, with cloud use, all of  the company's computers can be connected to a single cloud-service (including all lap-tops, tablets, and phones). Third, all of the information is securely stored, backed-up, and managed from a single central location - which means you could operate your business from anywhere in the world.

In the current business environment success is very dependent on optimizing efficiencies and cloud-based solutions deliver on this. They are also less costly and offer more flexibility than in-house systems and, perhaps most importantly, free up time and staff to work on core business and customer development and service.

Stay in touch,

Jim Lavorato
Principal
Fund-House Ventures, LLC 




Monday, June 25, 2018

Our Lawsuit Claim Culture

Personal injury law suits are rampant in our society. For any business, large or small, the question is when does a claimant have a good case? Given the dramatic rise of personal injury claims it would do well for any business to concern itself with what steps can be taken to limit the liability. 

Any business owes a general duty of care to the public visiting its premises. If damage, such as injury, is caused to a visitor while on the premises the business may be held liable for causing the damage - if it happens as a result of the business's negligence and breach of its duty of care, the business could be negligent if it realized, or should have realized, there was a real risk that could cause accident or harm but failed to act to reduce that risk. This same legal theory applies to, not only personal injury cases, but those involving sexual harassment, workman's compensation, fraud, and other claims.


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This causal requirement also depends upon how a reasonable person would have acted. This means that if the risk was small and the possibility of it causing injury, remote, then the business may not be held libel, as long as it can show that 'not acting' was also a reasonable course.The trick here is did the business act reasonably and not negligently.

If the business is a tenant of the premises, than the lease should make clear which of the areas used by visitors is the responsibility of the tenant to maintain and care for. Risks can not be eliminated, but adopting a commonsense approach will help in reducing the risk of claims. Instruct staff to report problems and to ensure that the public is warned of any dangers which cannot be immediately removed.

Finally, don't panic! If a claim is received, proving negligence isn't always straight-forward and a claim may even be seen as opportunistic. It could also be made against the wrong party if the terms of the lease haven't yet been checked.

Claims can be for Workman's Comp, Sexual Harassment, Bodily Injury, Fraud, just to name a few that any business may have to contend with. Be prepared and don't forget about this most important business risk.

Good Luck!

Jim Lavorato, Principal
Fund-House Ventures, LLC

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Luxury Lodgings Re-Brand for Millennials

I always view with interest and professional curiosity when an industry endeavors to re-brand and shift its focus - this type of branding is monumental. We are witnessing this in the luxury hotel industry, as the brands in this sector adjust to a younger consumer that is driving the market.

Travelers looking for relevant experience in luxe environment
Consumer Experience (CX) is the big buzz in branding and the luxury hotel group is no exception as they strive to tap into the experiences that luxury travelers desire, and selecting the right markets to enter has become key.

Millennials are forcing the re-branding as they have tremendous spending power - spending over $2 billion on travel this year and looking for more than accommodation, they want an experience. To adjust, the luxe hotel brands like Four Seasons, W Hotels, Mandarin Oriental, Rosewood, and others are not only refitting existing locations but are also entering new markets where there is an emphasis on  youthful, affluent audiences. Cities where there is a prominence of music, fashion, and creative arts both in the U.S. and overseas. From Sao Paulo to Athens, New Orleans to Scottsdale the move is on to build new and re-brand the old. It's all about servicing a new traveler type - the 'affluent explorer'. 


   
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The hospitality industry see this new demographic as less interested with opulence, pampering, and traditional luxury and instead seeks deeper connections, authenticity and insights into the cultures  where they travel.  This re-brand by the luxe hotel industry is looking to new, undiscovered destinations and endeavor to shift the epicenter of culture and cool.

A lot of research and brand strategy is performed to ensure the brand is not harmed but bolstered by the shift to a different market focus. This is an opportunity and a challenge which requires plenty of attention on brand outreach, particularly when entering an overseas locale.

Look for these new luxe lodgings popping up and how the re-branding of the industry takes place.

Jim Lavorato
Principal, Fund-House Ventures

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

BRANDING: It Never Ends In The Digital Domain

Businesses, many times, may not fully grasp their branding potential - Fund-House brings a business to the forefront and creates massive market impact with strategic branding and marketing in the digital domain.  This may sound easy, but it's not!

Branding is about positioning your business in the marketplace for intentional growth. At Fund-House we relish in taking seven-figure sales performers and morphing them into $5 million + revenue generators - and this growth comes principally from the inside out.

One of the keys to generating significant growth is management. A company, any company, must infuse itself with purpose-driven and intentional people. Each mentoring and coaching the other. People that are able to see and assess future trends, create new ideas, operate from their true self, and be leaders with vision. One of the ways Fund-House turns so-so businesses into stellar performer is with team building and development.

Fund-House : www.FundHouse.us
Branding is essential. It cannot be viewed as a casual endeavor but - the company itself. Their can be no distinction between the company and its brand. They are built together and grow together. The goal is to ensure that your company becomes extremely valuable in the eyes of its target market and in doing so - its sales, valuation, and market position escalate. We all want to be understood and admired - your business/brand is no exception.

Speaking of branding. One of the ways a small business, in particular, can increase its awareness in the market is through posting videos on YouTube - no surprise, right.  However what you post and when is significant. For example, for the month of April, the highest ranking creators on YouTube were the following based on number of views, it may surprise you.

#1 WWE (yes, world wide wrestling) with an astounding 956 million views for its videos. The WWE has a death-grip on the top spot and closing in on the one billion monthly views record. Nice validation for the Fox Network which just paid $1 billion to wrest WWE's SmackDown series from NBC/Universal's USA network starting in 2019.
WWE: numero uno in YouTube views

The other nine top creators by views were as follows:

- Movieclips - 785N
- Ellen - 400M
- Inside Edition - 325M
- BuzzFeed Video - 315M
- Jimmy Kimmel Live! - 224M
- The Tonight Show - 219M
- Saturday Night Live - 191M
- Troom Troom - 187M
- Peppa Pig - 151M

Contact us today: jlavorato@fundhouse.us

Jim Lavorato
Principal, Fund-House Ventures, LLC




 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Google Shareholders Kill Employee Backed Diversity Proposal

Last week, Alphabet (Google's stock name) shareholders voted down several proposals, led by employee groups, that would have tied pay to diversity goals.
Killing Employee Diversity Agenda

This is the first major company to be confronted with linking renumeration with diversity and inclusion -  and it is a sobering trend that will, I believe, proliferate. In this case, Alphabet management, which has voting control of the company, soundly rejected the proposal in a unanimous vote.

The group that made the diversity-linked-pay proposal argued that the current gender pay gap and lack of diversity in the workforce, makes it much more difficult to hire and retain employees and curbs innovation. "Diversity and inclusion proposals have been met with an array of responses, including formal reprimands" stated Irene Knapp, a software engineer. "this has had a very bad effect and has impaired the company's culture."

In response, Eileen Naughton, Head of Alphabet's HR, stated "We are committed to an internal goal to reach market supply representation of women and minorities by 2020, which will bring hiring in line with the diversity of the candidate pool."  

Several hundred employees had organized to challenge the company to address the persistent underrepresentation of women and other minorities in the workforce.


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The diversity and inclusion issue is hitting both private and public companies alike - but this should come as no surprise. The question being: whether or not the protests are relevant?  Lets face it, what is being asked for is a quota hiring and promotion system - now that would really impair the corporate culture.

The diversity and inclusion card is being played at all levels, not just in corporate boardrooms. Many terms and definitions have been banteed about but how diverse can we get: gender, race, sexual preference, religion, political stance, immigration posture, age, income level, and on and on.  The whole issue is becoming so large but so fragmented that it loses its meaning. The result: everyone is in a  minority group! 

Jim Lavorato 





Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Failed State of U.S. Corporations

There lurks a very troubling problem with U.S. public corporations: The stock markets are shrinking as the number of listed firms is decreasing! 




And it's falling FAST! Since 1997 (at its peak) the number of listed companies have declined by 50%. More striking, is that this phenomenon is only occurring in the United States - and in no other developed country. 

But WHY is this happening?

Research reveals that U.S. corporations are getting larger and older - the average age of a publicly traded company is now 18.6 years (the oldest in recorded history). The troubling fact is that young, thriving companies are reluctant to go public. They find it easier to get private funding and don't want to deal with the burdens of public scrutiny and reporting.
A good example is Pinterest, which recently raised $150 million from venture funds and bypassed the whole IPO gauntlet. To make matters worse, many companies are de-listing or exiting the public stock markets after a merger or acquisition takes place. 

It should also be noticed that public firms have become more concentrated. Last year, the top 200 firms earned more than all of the public firms combined - some 3,766 companies. Worse still, only 30 firms generated 50% of all profits reported. This compares with 89 companies in 1995 and 109 in 1975. Stock ownership in public firms has also change. In 1980, institutional ownership averaged 18%, while today it is over 50%.



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It appears that public firms have been lackluster performers. Returning capital to investors and hoarding cash rather than using and raising funds to invest and expand.

Result


If this trend continues, the end result will be very negative economically.  Shareholders will find it difficult to invest in young, innovative companies. Delays in IPOs can lead to both decreased transparency and oversight, as we recently witnessed with Uber.

The trend of the incredible shrinking stock markets is not only troubling but points to a very different future regarding how people invest in companies - and there appears to be no end in sight.

Source for some data: Kathy Kahle, Prof. of Finance, Univ. of Arizona

By: Jim Lavorato
Principal, Fund-House Ventures, LLC

Friday, May 18, 2018

Recycled Tech

I've oft wondered where all of the techie stuff consumers purchase - from electric cars to smartphones - go once their lifespan is over. Knowing that the world's most coveted metals, are used in batteries, must somehow be reclaimed or not?
Listing of Rare Earth Elements

Batteries are unclean. They contain all sorts of toxic chemicals and metals. For example, a Tesla, uses huge lithium ion batteries that weigh thousands of pounds. These batteries are dirty to make and when their life is over, about 5 years or so, they must be disposed of into a toxic waste dump. Not very green. In fact, these batteries negate any reduction in greenhouse gas admissions and wind-up having a larger pollution factor than fossil fuel operated vehicles.

There is reclamation occurring, as waste companies around the world, sort through piles of lithium-ion batteries from cars to laptops. Termed "urban mining", this reclamation is increasing as the hunt for cobalt, lithium, and rare earth metals needed to produce batteries is causing a global shortage of these key elements.

For example, electronic waste reclamation was valued at $18.8b in South Korea in 2016 , meeting roughly 22% of S. Korea's total rare earth metals demand.  These reclaimed metals are now part of the supply chain for two of the world's major battery makers, Samsung and LG. Spent lithium-ion batteries and electronic components are recycled to extract lithium phosphate, cobalt, nickel, gold, and other metals.

Electric cars use thousands of pounds of lithium-ion batteries
This is all great, but the demand for batteries increases each day. China, the biggest user of rare earth metals goes to countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Chile to fulfill its appetite. Reclamation helps but the need is huge and with that demand has come higher prices. For example, cobalt prices have seen a 4x increase in the last two years.

There is a lot of research going on to come up with a substitute for lithium-ion batteries but so far nothing that can be commercialized. Within the next decade a replacement must occur: first, because of the negative impact on the environment and secondly, because they are not called rare earth elements for nothing.


Jim Lavorato, Principal
Fund-House Ventures, LLC







Thursday, May 17, 2018

Top Risk For Businesses: The Skills Gap

The metric that hits the top mark and is currently at an all-time high is the percentage of businesses that identify a lack of skilled employees as their worst management problem. The 'skills' gap' has been a challenge for some time and it is getting worse. It spans all types of jobs from manufacturing to IT to marketing to HR - and it is occurring at all management levels.

Skills' shortages are growing as a major long-term business issue that must be addressed. Companies will need to look at training programs to boost skills among existing workers, and work more closely with educational institutions to ensure the right skills are being taught at an early age.

What are the right skills? Maybe not what you think. Evidence suggests that it is not technical know-how, but soft-skills that are equally, or more, important than technical skills.

Currently, according to LinkedIn, the skills most sought after by companies were:

- Communication
- Organization
- Teamwork
- Punctuality
- Critical Thinking
- Social Skills
- Creativity
- Interpersonal Communication
- Adaptability
- Having a Friendly Personality

Not surprising, LinkedIn's list is very similar to the top 10 skills identified by the World Economic Forum:


- Complex Problem Solving
- Critical Thinking
- Creativity
- People Management
- Coordinating With Others
- Emotional Intelligence
- Judgment and Decision Making
- Service Orientation
- Negotiation
- Cognitive Flexibility

The skills' gap is a key risk for businesses, and the skills they are looking for are soft-skills rather than hard (technical). So, the question becomes: where does one go to get the required soft-skills?

Educational institutions, at all levels, have historically been much better at teaching technical know how than cultivating soft-skills. Teaching models where students have to learn to work together - including across cultural divides must now be emphasized as never before.

Employees, at all levels, know that their skills directly impact their earning power - as the saying goes: "the learning curve is the earning curve."  Additionally, businesses have an incredible opportunity to gain competitive advantage by training current employees in the 'missing soft-skills'.

In a world increasingly saturated with social media and with renewed focus on customer service, the need for mastering soft-skills is paramount and not going away.  Talent is and will in the future be the #1 source of competitive advantage.


Jim Lavorato
Principal, Fund-House Ventures

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Cannabis: High On Branding

I've, like I'm sure you have, watched with a mix of curiosity and awe the introduction of cannabis into U.S. mainstream consumerism - an industry estimated to reach over $50 billion within 8 years.

As more States legalize cannabis it is fast becoming the base for many health/wellness and beauty products vs. the counter-culture drug that will make you high.  Brands are being forged around lifestyle products that address beauty and health issues - and they are being developed FAST.

From easing menstrual cramps and arthritic pain to cosmetics, companies like L'Oreal and Aveda are about to bring to market cannabis infused beauty products that are manufactured with cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive substance that lacks THC (the high producing drug in cannabis).

A slew of new Branded beauty products
The trend is that the old taboos against cannabis are fast eroding in the face of its health and cosmetic benefits.  Brands being developed and built on this trend will very lucrative to many new businesses large and small.

Brands reflect what's happening in the culture and our culture is changing regarding our views on cannabis. This acceptance will push the entire cannabis industry to high heights over the next few years.

Keep in touch,
Jim Lavorato

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Branding Workshop: Forging An Iconic Brand

Fund-House Workshops
Yesterday, the first presentation of 'Forging An Iconic Brand' was made. The workshop delves into the whys and how-tos regarding the development and sustainability of a Brand.

The seven steps to Brand development and creation of a brand narrative were discussed in an informal setting with heavy input from the attendees. Logo design and the proper use of colors was covered. The development of a corporate vision and the meshing of that vision with the culture and brand as one single message were the main topics of the workshop.

Branding and imaging on social media platforms was explored with the goal of communicating an on-brand narrative that would be universally delivered to selected consumers. 'What's behind your logo' is a workshop designed for the business that is already existing but needs an overhaul or redo of its branding needs.

'What's Behind Your Logo: Forging an Iconic Brand' will next be presented at a convenient Valley venue: the date and time of which will be scheduled within two months. Please look for notice of this upcoming event in this blog.

Best,
Jim Lavorato

Responses to the Workshop:

"Very thorough and probably the most useful session I have seen so far. Very concise. Thank you again for your time. Well spent for sure!"

Paul Schleiper, CEO/Founder, Amazing Things

"I have to say, the class on Branding far exceeded my expectations and I want to say Thanks. I work with young, natural products companies and branding is always a big topic. Appreciate your insights and your matter-of-fact, no nonsense approach. Thanks again for a great presentation.

Leila Bakkum, Partner, Matrix Marketing

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Sales Tax on Web Purchases - YOU VOTE!

Every consumer will be paying more, a lot more, for every purchase made via the internet if the State governments have their way.
Where's the Consumer in this fight?

As State governments look in very nook-and-cranny for revenue to fund, in most cases, overspending on pork projects and bureaucratic bloat the notion of taxing every single online sale is extremely tempting.

Under the guise of  'protecting the brick-and-mortar' businesses within their State - local governments are hell-bent on collecting sales tax on online transactions. Now, everyone knows that internet retail sales have risen dramatically over the last decade, but they still represent only a fraction of all retail sales, and in-store sales have risen as well over the same period.

Last Tuesday, the Supreme Court struggled to decide on the matter as to whether internet retailers should have to collect sales taxes in states where they have no physical presence.The States argued that they are losing tens of billions of dollars under a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that helped spur the rise of internet shopping.

At the end of the day, however, it was not clear whether there were five votes to overrule the '92 decision - which bars States from collecting sales taxes from companies "that do not have a substantial connection to the State."

Several of the Justices expressed concerns about imposing crushing burdens on small businesses that sell goods on the internet and about making them pay BACK taxes. Justice Sotomayor stated the the case "raised a host of questions and a whole new set of difficulties", and "that the Congress and not the Supreme Court was the right forum in which to settle the matter."

Both Justices Roberts and Kagan noted that as Congress has so far chosen not to act was itself a telling indication that it was satisfied with the current system. There was a lot of banter between the attorneys representing both sides; however, I believe the Justices are looking at the wrong side of the issue.

It is not a question of how much of a burden would be put on the retailers to collect the taxes but the huge monetary burden that would be put on the consumer and once allowed, as we are all fully aware, the sales tax would continue to rise. In many States, the sales tax is 8% and higher.  That's 8% more for, pretty much, everything purchased - from clothing to restaurant meals.

The burden is completely shifted to the consumer from the retailer, as the cost of collection of the tax will be added to the price of the product. If a retailer is in such desperate shape that a sales tax will make or break them, they should probably be out of business anyway! Why is it always the consumer that has to carry the burden?

I would like to ask you to give me your vote on this issue. Yes, if you are in favor of taxing all internet purchases. No,  if you are against it.

Again, the issue in question isn't about the burden on the retailers to collect the tax , BUT THE FINANCIAL BURDEN ON ALL OF US - THE CONSUMERS! 


Fund-House
Additionally, there is the issue of paying taxes to a State in which you have no say (vote) as to how the tax dollars are being spent - you know, taxation-without-representation. Isn't that in the Constitution?

Please vote,
Jim Lavorato

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Storytelling: The Best Marketing Tool

Delivering a really great customer experience is a sure-fire way to get others to tell your Brand narrative (story).  Because when others are doing your storytelling it makes your story that much more credible and engaging.

Companies should share other people's stories as this demonstrates your authentic engagement with others. The best thing to do to endear your Brand to consumers is to share stories about the topics they care about. Putting stories together builds what's referred to as a 'brand's meta-narrative', which inspires, not only customers, but employees so they think and behave 'on-brand'.

Nelson Farris, a Nike senior executive, has the title of  'Chief Storyteller', and he and all the other Nike senior executives spend a good deal of their time relaying stories to employees. This is to remind all of Nike's staff of the brand's pillars that the company rests upon.

You need storytelling and story-doing to ensure you are building your brand authentically through actions and not just words - known as story-sharing. So, all three: storytelling, story-doing, and story-sharing need to be aligned and unified with story-building to make your brand's meta-narrative.

For example, last year, REI, the upscale sporting good store, closed all if its retail outlets on Black Friday (the busiest shopping day of the year) and encouraged its employees and customers to do something "outside" instead. This was very smart brand building as it not only generated lots of buzz for being so contrasting to the norm but it allowed REI to tell the 'story of its values' and how it supports the greater outdoors.

Storytelling is crucial to brand development and it should be used whenever possible.

Stay in touch,
Jim Lavorato

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Corporate Hexing: Using Voodoo on Abusive Boss

One of the main reasons given by entrepreneurs for striking-out on their own is job frustration. However, before reaching the "I'm gone" point, venting your frustration by using voodoo is on the rise for appeasing workplace stress.
Sticking It To The Boss

The use of voodoo dolls, it seems, can provide employees a sense of justice without confronting an overbearing boss - even if preformed on an on-line doll.  Two separate studies, recently released by Canadian Universities, found that even a symbolic gesture against an abusive supervisor restores a sense of justice.

Respondents were asked to recall a personal less-than-pleasant workplace interaction. Some of the participants were instructed to stick pins on an on-line voodoo doll (which was labeled with the offending boss's initials).  Those that used the doll, universally, reported feeling a sense of justice vs. those that were not given the voodoo doll option. The dolls were a symbolic retaliation against their supervisors. It seems employees care about justice and consider it a fundamental human need. A secondary outcome of using the dolls accrued to the benefit of the organization, as it reduces workplace stress and improves the work environment.

The researchers noted that there must be a way for employees to restore their sense of justice without sabotaging the supervisor. While employers must ascertain the reason for the employee frustration and ensure that everyone is treated fairly.

Well, if it works ... do it. I could be that a little hexing goes a long way.

Stay in touch,

Jim Lavorato


Monday, April 9, 2018

Brand Marketing Goes Loopy With GIFs

Graphics Interchange Format, aka GIF, is an image format that is no more then 6 seconds in duration and repeated over and over in an endless loop. Brand marketers have taken to creating GIFs to help consumers express themselves through these looping videos that, in many cases, are more effective than regular social ads.

 Six second ads, which have become ubiquitous on social platforms, is now being opted for the GIF. This is because GIFs can express a mood or emotion that is easily shareable and easier to produce than a six second ad.  Many times GIFs are humorous - they made us laugh and that reaction very shareable, making for great brand engagement.

The GIF, if created properly, turns advertising into content and the message is so seamless and unoffensive that the viewer doesn't consider it as watching an ad. Additionally, GIFs are more cost-effective to produce than ads and are shareable!

GIFs are the new future of social advertising. They are easier to produce, cost less, and are much more engaging than regular social ads, and are very shareable.  Use them.

Keep in touch,

Jim Lavorato



Saturday, March 24, 2018

What Do Crowdfunders Look For

Although crowdfunding can potentially be a competitor to Fund-House, in many cases, we recommend to clients that they use crowdfunding for seed money to kick-start their business.

Crowdfunding has been increasing. According to data from Pew Research, in 2015, total funds generated through crowdfunding campaigns totaled over $34 billion - and its grown from there. However, with this growth, it has become more difficult to make sure that your campaign stands-out among the thousands of others vying for funds. To ensure success, or at least, improve your chances, here are several things to do:

PLEDGING

The average pledge amount is approx. $403. What this says is that people are willing to back that amount if they find your 'pitch' has value. So, if possible, center your pledge rewards in the $200-450 range. This will afford you a higher chance of exceeding your funding goal.

Pew Research also found that although large donations are not uncommon, with 21% of funders contributing $51-100 and another giving $101-500 to a single campaign, the vast majority, roughly 49%, contributed a lower amount, $11-50.

The key is to show your value proposition. You must get creative with your reward tiers. Finding the dollar amount that hits the right price point.

HITTING THE RIGHT DEMOGRAPHIC

Male funders far exceeds female backers - about 85% to 15%. Therefore skewing your campaign to men greatly improves your odds of getting the funding you desire. This doesn't mean that the product or service you are pitching must be for men only as a female oriented product will do well if it is viable and compelling. What is does tell you is that in the community of crowdfunding male funders dominate.

Additionally, Pew found that 30% of funders are in the 18-29 age group, with another 27% in the 30-49 group.

RECAP

Getting it right the first time is requisite in crowdfunding. Make sure you are hitting the right demographic, are pledging for the right amounts, and are addressing a male audience - and don't forget about the shipping logistics.

Stay in touch
Jim Lavoarot

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Landing Pages - Getting Them Right!

Landing Page: A standalone web page created specifically for marketing or promotion upon which a visitor 'lands' when they have clicked on an online advertisement or similar notice (referred to as a call-to-action - CTA).

A landing page correctly constructed has to convey information, encourage a CTA, and reflect your brand - if it doesn't do this it won't provide the experience or engagement your customer expects. Therefore, designing an effective landing page takes planning and great design.

HAVE A CONCISE PURPOSE

Answer this question. What do you want users to do when they get to the landing? 
Watch a video? Enter information? Purchase something? Click a link? Interact?
BE SPECIFIC! Everything on the landing should be guide users to an end goal.

WHO IS THE AUDIENCE?

Landings MUST BE  AUDIENCE - CENTRIC! Therefore you need to have a very clear understanding of who your target market is. Gender? Age? Location?  The landing's design
must appeal to the audience targeted and engage them.

STRONG IMAGERY !

The landing MUST HAVE VERY ENGAGING GRAPHICS, VIDEOS, OR IMAGES  An element of mystery or  surprise goes a long way in engaging users.

A COMPELLING STORY!

All landing pages have various levels of copy. Each word of the narrative must be carefully scripted to move the users to the CTA.

Headline: a few powerful words that instantly grab attention. 


Body Text: the 'message', which must be concise, direct, and engaging.

CTA: A button or link that directs the user - it's the next step. Must be easy to see and execute.

Footer: The 'touch base' stuff - contact into., social links, blog direction, etc.

NAVIGATION THRU KEYWORDS

Think of navigation elements as KEYWORDS that provide user information and direction.  These navigation cues assist users in understanding of what you offer.

THE CTA


Every single user must know exactly what to do when they hit your landing. Clear CTAs are requisite. CTAs can be buttons, forms to fill, instructions, images, animations, graphics.

CUSTOMIZE

Landing should be specific, engaging, and important. They need to be focused and therefore CUSTOMIZED  and not look like an extension of your website. Take to time and effort to be unique and not have a 'me too' look.  Always be conscious of  your demographic.



Visit: www.FundHouse.us


BRAND RELEVANCE

Make sure the landing is relevant to your Brand by including visual cues that connect it to your overall business message - stay 'on brand'.  Include your logo and use the same font as is used in your website's header - users, are smart, they will know the landing is special and content different but they will also know they are still interacting with your Brand.

THE FLOW

A well constructed landing makes usability obvious (where to go and what to do). The landing page must FLOW.  Add in levels of imagery, branding/logo, pictures, developing a tiered approach so users will know instantly how to engage with the page.

A landing page is NOT your homepage. Landings are fast becoming the first stop for website visitors. Designing the BEST landing pages will make your business shine in the vast and murky expanse of the web.

Stay in touch,

Jim Lavorato