How do we put the fun back in business funding?

Looking at the response to this latest post on funding, it seems this matter is close to many people’s hearts. But while it generated a little bit of textbook debate, the main issue was left largely untouched.

Yes, I do REALLY wish that those guys would step up to the plate and go for a home run [better to swing and miss than never to swing at all]. But that was not the point of my previous post - if it was only to rag the guys who are equipped but are not really bothered, that would be unhelpful. Okay, I admit that was a part of the reason, but not all of it - the main agenda was really to generate some fascinating ideas on how it can be done.

Unfortunately, nobody was willing to provide even the slightest hint of a solution as to how we can spur on SA’s young rising stars and turn immense upside-potential into real exponential growth. [One late comment was a welcome relief - thanks Grant for your contribution regarding business incubators].

With that in mind, I would like to get the ball rolling here, because leaving people hanging with an unanswerable question is entirely pointless. So here’s a starting point.

Most of the people seeking funding have heard the same questions over and over again - such as “Revenue model?”, “Sustainability?”, “Other funding?” and “Global appeal?”. All good questions in their own right, and sometimes the answers are not pretty. But the truth is, more often than not there are definite ways to make something work [admittedly, if you can find the right pieces] - but the funders-in-waiting are often not willing to put in the effort to make it work [sadly they are blind to the real value] and the entrepreneurs simply don’t know what pieces to look for.

Can we not get creative with solutions to this? Bridge this divide? When looking for answers to crazy situations, sometimes we need to get crazy too.

And I’m willing to bet that there are solutions that everyone in SA can implement in some way or other. Let me share some of my thoughts quickly here [with their potential implementors]

Campus kings [Government]

Within the university environment, create a research lab where guys are employed to innovate as they research and learn [is it really just coincidence that both Yahoo and Google were birthed in the hallowed halls of Stanford?]

Innovation hubs [Property owners and business people]

Develop multi-purpose communes [ie a place to work and live, equipment, food and basic living amenities included] where all the talented people live, work and build things together. Not living the high life, and not suitable for those that are married, but provides an electric environment where substantial innovation could take place.

Free-to-grow time [Corporates and larger businesses]

‘Force’ candidate employees to utilise a portion of their paid-for time to develop new ideas that have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of their work [3M implemented their '15% time' very successfully, and Google took it a step further with their '20% time', ie 1 day a week] - and then help them to push winning ideas. What would you do if you had one full day a week to pursue your most outrageous ideas?

Expert advice [Professional service firms]

Dedicate time for a team [doesn't need to be hundreds of people, can be one to start off with] to assist entrepreneurs in developing their businesses, providing free advice on legal matters, support in establishing businesses [registering with all the correct bodies, etc], and most vitally - serious feedback on business models and helping in the development of these. [Yes, various organisations provide mentoring programmes, but feedback I've received is that they don't work like intended - we need 'experts' that entrepreneurs are comfortable to approach to handle specifically the matters they struggle with]

Future fund [Younger generation along with entrepreneurs]

Start a fund where you build a network of young crazy people willing to put in a bit of money [whatever they can or want to - rather than spending it on McDonalds, movies or a GTI] - and make it absolutely plain in the prospectus about the risk : “This investment is HIGH risk. There is very, very little chance that you will ever see any of your money again, and the possibility of becoming a millionaire is slim, to say the least. BUT if this works, you’ll be part of something special that will make the world look at SA and gasp. Welcome to the Fund of the Future”. [Heck, I'd probably even go for that]

Living fund/honorary seats [Older generation along with entrepreneurs]

Many of today’s boomers are sitting in the pound seats, and have much to offer a young up-and-coming company . After a ‘lifetime’ of hard work and very little enjoyment, I believe there are some boomers out there who would be willing to pay to be part of a young, vibrant company that’s doing exciting things and having fun in the process. Set up a company and let them ‘buy’ a position in this company - CIO [Chief Innovation Observer] or CTO [Chief Tea and coffee Organiser] or whatever - and allow them to find fun and enjoyment in every day they live [I can almost guarantee they will LOVE it]. Have you ever really listened to Sheryl Crow’s “All I wanna do [is, have some fun]“? Perhaps you can find Billy and give him somewhere better to hang out than the bar - where he would be more than willing to pay for the privelege of being surrounded by young guns [and help fund the ideas at the same time].

Again, these are just ideas to illustrate that we need not be bound by shackles of traditional solutions. Some have been done in some way before elsewhere, some are just strange. But they’re ideas - and my intention here is to stimulate some creative solutions. Just because venture funding is traditionally done in specific ways doesn’t mean it always has to be done that way.

I realise that these ideas [and many others] are more “big picture” and you may not see it as an immediate solution to your problem. Can I say, all you entrepreneurs with great ideas, there’s more than one way to enamour a funding partner, and there are definite practical ways to make your plans and ideas speak, no, SHOUT to these people [in more traditional ways - but still with a business/creative element] - so think about how best you can do that [I'll try touch on this in a bit more detail sometime soon].

So please, if you have ideas or experience with some interesting ways of doing this - put them out there. Lets talk about it, throw it around, beat it to death if we must… and get it to work!

To the non-believers - that’s your choice, but remember that those who expect nothing will never be disappointed.

To the believers - open your eyes and lift your head to the horizon - the answers are out there. Allow your creativity to flow and be part of the solution.

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