An exciting, explosive athlete is appreciated precisely because he or she is able to perform amazing feats within the bounds of the game rules.
If you work for an organization that controls its brand expression through graphic identity guidelines, how do you know when it is time to vary from those guidelines, or to change them outright? What is the life cycle of a design template, a logo, a font family or a color palette?
Every designer or brand manager has run up against that question, and the answer isn’t a simple one, but having spent many years in the branding business let me share three arguments for why graphic identity guidelines should have long lifespans.
1. Graphic Guidelines Harmonize Your Message
Consistent use of color, graphics, typeface and message content helps people quickly identify and more clearly understand your brand. When an organization uses different colors, layouts, graphic styles and messages from one communications material to another, it gives the impression of chaos and leads the consumer to wonder, “Who are you, really?”
When I took the job of communications director at McCombs School of Business, first thing on my task list was to visit all of the department heads around the school. Dutifully, I collected business cards at each stop, and when I was done I had a collection that looked like this:
“It’s like borrowing money from a mob boss—under the right set of circumstances, it can make sense.”
If you’re thinking about launching a new business there are basically three financing options available: equity, debt and bootstrapping. Choosing how and where to finance your business is no small decision–and can literally make the difference between realizing your business dreams or losing control of everything you’ve created.
In a recent interview with Rod Kurtz, Editor-at-Large with American Express OPEN Forum, serial entrepreneur and investor Rob Adams shares hard-earned insights about financing that every potential business owner should thoroughly grasp.
“What are the main types of financing available to entrepreneurs?”
The three types are equity, debt, and bootstrapping. Equity, most entrepreneurs know as venture capital. Debt, most people know as borrowing money from a bank. And bootstrapping is that the business generates enough cash from the start to not require any outside funders.
“I hear a lot about venture capital. Seems like there’s always a new startup in the news raising millions, which is obviously tempting. How do I know if it’s right for me?”
Venture capital is a form of private equity, and by definition, it means you’re selling a piece of your company. It typically applies to business models that are tech or life sciences, because they can be super high-growth and profitable, but cash-flow negative. When they’re cash-flow negative, they have no assets to collateralize, which is why it’s such a high-risk, high-reward business. And the investor owns a percentage of a higher-risk company. Regardless of urban legends, I can own one percent of your company and control 100 percent of what you do, through a concept of management rights. What I like to say, it’s like borrowing money from a mob boss—under the right set of circumstances, it can make sense, but you need to know what you’re doing.
“Debt is the one I’m most familiar with. Does this make more sense for a company like mine?”
“Clean energy is a hot topic right now, but innovators and entrepreneurs shouldn’t get cocky.”
Where is the money in startups these days? Here is a clue: Look at the student-led startup teams finding favor on college campuses during investor competition season. At the Super Bowl of such competitions, held last May at the McCombs School of Business, nothing was trending faster than funding clean energy startups.
I spoke with the founders of the competition’s winning clean energy startup to identify three essential moves that will help clean energy projects find investor support.
1. Ride the clean energy momentum
Panos Adamopoulos has 11 years of consulting and strategy development experience in Hong Kong and China, but last May his attentions were focused on a team of judges sitting in a ballroom at the Global Venture Labs Investment Competition in Austin. He had reason to feel confident; his pitch team had already won the top clean energy prizes at Rice, Berkeley, and Greenville Tech, and they were about to garner one more.
Adamopoulos, Devin Bedwell, and Stevan Slusher, all students in the Master of Science in Technology Commercialization program at McCombs, teamed up to launch Seismos, a company that promises to free up previously unreachable oil reserves while lowering carbon dioxide loss during production.
Seismos added one more notch to their belt that day, with a win of the Wells Fargo Clean Energy prize, bringing their earnings to $45,000 cash and about $100,000 in incubation and consulting services.
“Every time I’m asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement I see a huge red flag pop out that says Warning!”
Rob Adams has likely listened to as many new business ideas as anyone on the planet, and one of his first tips for entrepreneurs is to never tell a potential investor you’ve got an original idea.
“Wake up,” he says, “Good ideas are not scarce, they are a dime a dozen.” If you don’t believe so, Adams suggests an online search of key words describing your idea. “You’ll find ten companies doing it, or thinking of doing it. You can drive yourself nuts searching for a unique idea, but that is not the point.”
The point, as he describes in his book A Good Hard Kick in the Ass, is execution intelligence, the ability to compose a team that can operationally execute a business plan with sustainability, flexibility and resilience, to dominate rather than define a market space.
Why Investors Hate the Nondisclosure
“Every time I’m asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement I see a huge red flag pop out that says Warning!” Adams asserts. “It screams out, ‘I’m stuck on my idea,’ it means you’ve spent too much energy obsessing about the idea and probably haven’t thought enough about the team, which is what the investor is really interested in. It implies you haven’t given much thought to your customers, or to the market.”
Getting to market first with a new idea doesn’t mean anything in Adams’ experience. “Netscape’s browser was out long before Microsoft Explorer,” he recalls. “Creating a new category does not necessarily spell success, but I can think of plenty of businesses that entered an existing category and proceeded to stomp all those roaches to pieces.”