MONEY Startups

5 Ways to Tackle the Problem That Kills One of Every Four Small Businesses

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Smart strategies for managing your cash flow

It’s a phenomenon that most people who have never run a business have a hard time understanding: That a seemingly healthy business—even one that is both profitable and growing—can go bankrupt.

The explanation comes down to what’s known to accountants and business people as a cash flow problem. Your company might have a contract to deliver a gazillion widgets in December at a fantastically profitable price. But it’s July now, and in the meantime you need to buy the raw materials needed to produce those widgets and pay people to assemble them—and if you don’t have enough cash on hand to make it until December, well, let’s just say the holidays are going to be kind of bleak this year.

That’s why, for example, Chris Carey, CEO of Modern Automotive Performance, works hard to keep his cash flow as smooth as the rides his customers crave in their souped-up cars. Carey’s 40-employee company, based in Cottage Grove, Minn., provides auto and truck parts to owners of vehicles like the Mitsubishi Evo X and Dodge Neon SRT-4, allowing them to do things like handle better and accelerate faster.

It’s a seasonal business that peaks in the spring, when drivers get ready to hit the roads—and sometimes the racetrack. One way Carey avoids running short of cash to pay his bills during the frigid winter months is by charging all of his customers in advance. “We’re being paid for the products before we have to pay our vendors,” he says.

By keeping a close eye on cash flow, Carey has enough available cash and access to credit to keep Modern Automotive Peformance well stocked with the type of inventory that keeps customers flocking. He has grown the business to $11 million in revenue annually since 2006.

Unfortunately, his attention to cash-flow is rare among entrepreneurs. “It’s not something most small business owners think about,” says Dave Kurrasch, a former senior vice president of Wells Fargo who is now vice president and general manager of Small Business Payments Company, a financial technology provider.

That can be a fatal mistake. Recent data compiled by the research firm CB Insights found that 29% of startups fail because of a cash crisis. It was the second highest cause. (The number one factor, at 42%? A lack of a need for their product in the marketplace.)

So how can you make sure your business beats the odds? Here are five strategies to keep your cash flow healthy.

Strategy #1: Choose a lower-overhead business. It may seem obvious—and for some businesses, simply too late—but the fact is that certain enterprises require much more or less cash to launch and grow than others. If you don’t have much access to startup funding, your best bet may be business you can fund mostly through the revenue you receive from customers.

“Consultants, if they’re good at what they do and are well known, can be instantly cash-flow positive,” says Kurrasch. That’s because they tend not to have a lot of inventory and if they hire people, the team members often contribute directly to producing revenue. “Most businesses that have inventory—restaurants, retail outlets, manufacturers—tend to be negative cash flow producers, at least for the first three to four months, if not longer.” Which leads us to our next point….

Strategy #2: Secure credit before you need it. By talking with experienced business owners in your intended industry before you open your doors, you can find out how much cash you’ll likely need to survive until revenue starts coming in the door—and finance your operations accordingly.

Start by being realistic about it. “If you own a restaurant or a Hallmark card shop, a real traditional small business, [venture capital giant] Kleiner, Perkins isn’t going to come along and put a bunch of money into your company,” says Kurrasch. “Either you have cash reserves or you have friends and family you can call on.”

Start your money hunt long before there’s any chance you’ll run short of cash. “Try to get as much credit as you can before you enter the business,” advises Nat Wasserstein, managing director of Lindenwood Associates in Upper Nyack, N.Y., a provider of services such as crisis management. If you wait until you’re in a jam, you’ll find it hard to get anyone to lend to you.

Strategy #3: Find your ideal dashboard. By keeping keep close tabs on the money coming in and out of your business, you’ll reduce the chance of getting caught short when it’s time to meet payroll or pay a key supplier. “A lot of entrepreneurs don’t even understand that they could be profitable and strapped for cash at the same time,” says Wasserstein. If you need money now to pay your bills and don’t expect customers to pay you in the immediate future, you’ll find yourself in a crunch where you need to borrow.

Fortunately, there are simple tools to help you keep on top of cash flow without spending a lot of time on it. You can get a free excel worksheet to figure out your cash flow through from the CCH Business Owner’s Toolkit. Or, if you want a more automated solution, you can use inexpensive accounting software such as QuickBooks to create a “statement of cash flows.” Kurrasch’s company offers a cash forecasting app, called Small Business Workbench, that costs $6 a month for the basic plan.

Strategy #4. Put your credit card to work for you. Carey has found that one of his most valuable tools in managing his cash flow is his business credit card. He happens to use the American Express Plum card, which offered him 2% cash back if he paid the balance in full when he signed up in 2006, and now offers users 1.5% back. Carey will often spend as much as $750,000 a month on his card to pay for inventory and other expenses, enabling him to get anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 a month once he pays the bill on time. That gives him a big incentive to keep on top of the money coming in and out of his business. “Everything in our cash flow revolves around making that payment for the American Express card,” he says. The American Express Plum card is one of many cards offering cash back, so shop around for a good deal.

Strategy #5. Know when to say no. It’s easy to get excited if a big retailer offers to carry your product or a big contract drops in your lap at a professional services firm. But before you say yes, make sure you understand how quickly a client will pay you—and figure out if you can manage the outlay to fulfill the deal in the meantime. If you won’t be seeing any cash for 120 days, it’s very possible to run out of money and find your company on life support. “Not every sale is worth taking,” says Wasserstein.

Of course, before you turn down business, it’s worth exploring creative ways to get customers to pay you more quickly. For instance, some small vendors offer early-payment discounts to big suppliers to get them to cut checks more quickly and sign up for direct-deposit payments to their bank accounts, which may speed payments by a few days. These approaches are often a lot cheaper than borrowing.

TIME Innovation

How a Little Bribery Could Be a Good Thing

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. A little bribery might actually be a good thing.

By Jan Hanousek and Anna Kochanova at the Centre for Economic Policy Research

2. Remember the rover that was supposed to last three months on Mars? It just logged day 4,000.

By A. J. S. Rayl at the Planetary Society

3. What if there was a step between renting and owning?

By Brett Theodos and Rob Pitingolo at the Urban Institute

4. Here’s the unexpected reason college tuition has skyrocketed.

By Paul F. Campos in the New York Times

5. Are small businesses being overlooked in the fight against poverty?

By Randall Kempner in the Guardian

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Small Business

New Ways to Invest in Small Businesses

Cafe owners
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When nonprofessional investors are able to put money into small businesses, everyone can benefit.

I met with Paul on Tuesday. He is the CFO of a business start-up. He’s not sure if the next phase of his company’s financing is going to go through. Although he believes in the business model and the mission of the company, some days he thinks he won’t have a job in three weeks.

I met with David on Wednesday. While he’s a great saver and earns a decent buck, he isn’t wealthy. He wants to invest in small companies so much that we’ve set up a “fun money” account, which is 10% of his otherwise well-diversified, passively managed portfolio. “Fun money” is specifically set aside so that he can make individual investments he believes in.

Because of the way small business investing is structured in this country, the likelihood of Paul and David connecting has been infinitesimally small.

This drives me mad.

It’s not just these two who are missing out. Because small companies drive job and economic growth, the economy of the country loses when Paul and David don’t connect. And because the current system of funding is biased, some small businesses are a lot less likely to get funding despite their worthy ideas.

Recent developments could change all this.

To raise their initial start up money, small business owners typically first use their savings, and then appeal to their friends and family. Next, they go to banks. If they get big enough and have certain ambitions and contacts, they can get venture capital funding or private equity funding, which is what Paul was waiting on.

These sources of capital are all enhanced if you are affluent and well connected. Do your friends and family have extra money to invest in your business? Do you know anyone you can talk to at a bank? What about impressing people in the venture capital world? A lot of people with good ideas are shut out.

Enter the Internet. Raising money got a lot easier.

The Power of Reward Sites

With reward sites, startups with good ideas raise money in exchange for rewards.

Sesame, which opens doors remotely from smartphones, raised over $1.4 million on Kickstarter.com. The reward here was a chance to order the device.

Then there is Lammily, Barbie’s realistically proportioned cousin, whose designer raised almost $500,000 through Tilt.com. The reward for funding Lammily was the chance to pre-order the doll, and sticker packs with stretch marks, cellulite, freckles, and boo-boos.

The reward sites show that companies can raise large amounts of money through small contributions from a large number of people. Research suggests that Kickstarter.com reduces company funding gender bias by an order of magnitude and reduces geographic bias as well. Reward sites cater to consumers who love new products and want to support new ideas.

You may get first dibs on a cool new doll, but sending money to a reward site isn’t investing.

The Risks of Private Equity

Traditionally, to get private equity funding, you have to sell to accredited investors — the richest 1% of the population, roughly speaking.

Accredited investor regulations were set up in in the wake of the 1929 crash, when a lot of people got ripped off because they invested in dubious enterprises. The idea was that people with a high level of wealth are sophisticated enough to understand investment risk. Unfortunately, this leaves the Davids of the world — investors who are sophisticated but wealthy — shut out of these types of investments.

Private equity placements are not always a great deal. When I’ve looked into them for clients, I’ve concluded they are expensive, risky, and difficult to get out of, even if you die. The middlemen who offer these and the advisers who sell these seem to be the ones most likely to make money. The best deals I’ve looked at weren’t hawked by sales people or investment advisers, but came through clients’ friends and family.

The rise of Internet portals set up to connect small companies with accredited investors has the potential to cut down on intermediary costs. Still, the sector remains small.

In 2012, President Obama signed the JOBS act, which directed the Securities and Exchange Commission to devise rules opening up small business investing to non-accredited investors.

Some organizations didn’t wait for the SEC to issue the rules. Instead, they dusted off exemptions in the securities legislation that most of us have ignored for 80 years.

States Get Into the Act

Some states have picked up on crowdfunding to boost their economies. Terms vary, but generally investors are subject to investment limits and companies are subject to a cap on raising money. Each individual, for example, might be limited to investing $10,000; each company might be limited to raising $1 million. Both investor and company are generally required to reside in the state.

This is music to ears of people who want to invest locally. The first successful offering using this type of exemption was in Georgia in 2013, where Bohemian Guitars raised approximately $130,000 through SparkMarket.com.

Other Exemptions

Village Power is another example of raising money using an exemption. This intermediary helps organizations set up and fund solar power projects. Village Power coaches their community partners to use an exemption in the SEC rules, which allows for up to 35 local, non-accredited investors.

New Rules Open Doors

New rules issued March 25 by the SEC removed a lot of the barriers for companies raising money and for non-accredited investors.

Companies will be able to raise up to $50 million. Non-accredited investors are welcome to invest, sometimes with limits — 10% of their net worth, say, or 10% of their net income.

Although Kickstarter has said that it won’t sell securities, other fundraising portals, such as Indiegogo, are looking into it.

And if all goes well, Paul, David, and I can start looking for the new opportunities in June of 2015.

———-

Bridget Sullivan Mermel helps clients throughout the country with her comprehensive fee-only financial planning firm based in Chicago. She’s the author of the upcoming book More Money, More Meaning. Both a certified public accountant and a certified financial planner, she specializes in helping clients lower their tax burden with tax-smart investing.

MONEY Odd Spending

People Are Paying Thousands (Even Millions!) for Phone Numbers

Phone number on napkin
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Somebody just paid $2.2 million for a set of digits.

Over the weekend, a United Arab Emirates telecom called Du hosted an auction in Dubai, inviting customers to place bids on 70 desirable mobile phone numbers—ones that end in a string of 2s, say, or multiple 5s in a row. Apparently, some people will pay quite a pretty penny for such standout numbers.

The crown jewel of the auction, 052-2222222, began at a price of Dh250,000 (about USD$68,000), but was bid up immediately to Dh1,000,000 ($272,000), and eventually sold for the equivalent of $2.2 million in U.S. currency. “Yes, I’m going to use the number, with pride,” said the man with the winning bid, Mohamed Hilal.

While it’s unclear why anyone would feel a phone number—even a pretty cool one—is worth such a huge sum, the phenomenon is hardly limited to one specific country or culture. In 2003, a Chinese airline paid $280,000 at auction for the right to use the number 8888 8888. Many Chinese believe that 8 is a lucky number, so an eight-digit number consisting only of 8s is presumably doubly lucky—or perhaps lucky by a factor of eight.

Various versions of arguably the best-known phone number in American pop culture history, 867-5309—thanks to Tommy Tutone’s 1981 hit song—have gone up for sale over the years. One New Jersey DJ, who says he got the number 201-867-5309 simply by requesting it, and received dozens of random phone calls daily from total strangers, placed it up for online auction in 2009. The asking price was pushed up past $365,000, but apparently some of the bidders weren’t legitimate. The number sold for $186K, reportedly to an ’80s-themed fitness chain called Retrofitness.

Last week, the Washington Post reported on how services such as PhoneNumberGuy.com enable anyone to “Buy Your Own Awesome Phone Number!” Sometimes, all this means is having the “cool” area code—310 in Los Angeles, 212 in New York City, 202 in Washington D.C., and so on—rather than the newer, B-list area codes more commonly given out nowadays. Getting any old phone number with the extremely in-demand 212 area code in Manhattan will run at least $75, according to the site 212AreaCode.com.

Some businesses especially feel it’s important to have an “original” area code to be taken seriously in their city. And when a popular area code is paired with an “awesome” number that is super easy to remember (seven of a kind of all the same digits, say, or a simple pattern), or that ends with four digits that translate to a desirable word (HOME, PAIN, HURT), sales can easily be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Yet as the San Francisco Chronicle reported over the weekend, the FCC maintains that no one actually owns their phone numbers in the U.S.—and that selling them is illegal. “Numbers are not for sale,” an FCC spokesperson explained. “There are rules about this.”

Ed Mance, who runs the Phone Number Guy, told the Chronicle that he is simply “offering a service” that covers the “search, activation and account transfer” of a number, but that technically, no sales of phone numbers are taking place. His site’s FAQ page insists that the service is “Completely, 100% legal.”

The site lists hundreds of “Vanity” numbers, ending in four digits that spell out HEAT, CARE, SOLD, ROOF, or LIMO, for $299 and up, and at last check 14 different “Seven of a Kind” numbers are available for $17,999 to $35,000. Mance says that if a seven-of-a-kind number featuring all lucky sevens (777-7777) ever went on the market with a Las Vegas area code, that could be a true payday—summoning as much as $150,000.

TIME Silicon Valley

How Google Perfected the Silicon Valley Acquisition

Signage outside the Google Inc. headquarters in Mountain View, California on Oct. 13, 2010.
Tony Avelar—Bloomberg/Getty Images Signage outside the Google Inc. headquarters in Mountain View, California on Oct. 13, 2010.

As tech's largest firms grow in scope and age, acquisitions have become an increasingly important maneuver

Correction appended, April 21

In late October John Hanke and several of his co-workers met for a reunion of sorts at Fiesta Del Mar, a Mexican restaurant near Google’s Mountain View headquarters. Hanke, a 10-year Google employee who led initial development of Maps, was once the founder of a small geodata startup called Keyhole that Google acquired in 2004. The fact that the one-time entrepreneur has stayed with the search giant for more than a decade makes him and his colleagues oddities in Silicon Valley. “There are quite a large number of [us] who are still at Google, and I have to say I don’t think anyone expected that when we first came in,” he says.

Google has used acquisitions to expand its workforce and launch new products since before it was a household name. Recently that strategy has become the modus operandi for technology firms in Silicon Valley. Facebook is using its fast-growing cash hoard to take control over sectors both adjacent to its core product (WhatsApp for $22 billion) and far-flung from social networking (Oculus VR for $2 billion). Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon are doing the same, making big-ticket bets by buying Minecraft developer Mojang ($2.5 billion), Tumblr ($1.1 billion) and video game streaming site Twitch ($970 million), respectively. Even Apple, which long eschewed splashy acquisitions in favor of much smaller, less public buys, says it bought at least 30 companies during the last fiscal year, including the $3 billion purchase of Beats.

Overall spending on tech acquisitions topped $170 billion in 2014, up 54% from the previous year and more than double the amount spent in 2010, according to PrivCo, a research firm that tracks investments in private businesses. As the core of dominant technology companies get larger, they have come to depend on acquisitions not only to broaden their businesses but also to sustain the pace of innovation. “Companies are buying innovation,” explains Peter Levine, a general partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. “As large companies need to be competitive and want to increase their footprints in a variety of different areas, one of the best ways to do that is through acquisition.”

The deals are a boon for startups as well. Venture capital is abundant, and companies can rely on investment rather than revenue to keep growing. If it’s not clear how a startup will eventually convert users into revenue, a buyout from a large firm can render that problem irrelevant—or at least less urgent. While investors and founders insist that launching a thriving self-supporting company is still the end-goal in Silicon Valley, “exiting” via a sale rather than an initial public offering can still net a lucrative payout. “It’s almost a goal for some of these companies as they start, to have that exit event,” says George Geis, a business professor at UCLA whose upcoming book, Semi-Organic Growth, analyzes Google’s acquisition strategy over the years.

But while snapping up a startup is now easy, holding onto its key employees is more difficult. Startup founders, who often think of themselves as entrepreneurs before engineers, are notoriously difficult to keep at large firms long. Partly, this is cultural: striking out on one’s own, idea in hand, is a fundamental part of the Silicon Valley ethos. The widespread availability of funding doesn’t hurt, either. That has left firms struggling to keep the expertise they may have spent millions acquiring. “When a firm is making a tech acquisition, they’re buying the talent as much as they’re buying the technology,” says Brian JM Quinn, a law professor specializing in mergers and acquisitions at Boston College.

A TIME analysis of startup founders’ LinkedIn profiles found that about two-thirds of the startup founders that accepted jobs at Google between 2006 and 2014 are still with the company. Amazon has retained about 55% of its founders over that time period, while Microsoft’s rate is below 45%. Facebook, with a 75% retention rate for founders, is beating its older competitors, but the company only began acquiring companies in significant numbers around 2010 or so. Yahoo and Apple, which have both gone on acquisition sprees under new CEOs Marissa Mayer and Tim Cook in the last two years, now have a similar retention rate to Google.

Google stands out among this cohort in large part because of the massive number of acquisitions it’s conducted. Overall at least 221 startup founders joined Google’s ranks between 2006 and 2014. Yahoo, the next closest competitor, added at least 110 founders to its employee roster in that time. Google’s internal calculation of its overall retention rate for startup founders through its history is similar to TIME’s, according to data provided by the company. Apple, Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft declined to share any information on the retention of founders; Amazon did not respond to a request for data.

An examination of the ways Google tries to retain employees provides a window into the increasingly ferocious battle among the tech sector’s giants to expand through conquest. “Google,” says Geis, “has done a pretty good job—among the best in Silicon Valley.”

‘The toothbrush test’

Even when Google was small, it wasn’t shy about spending. The company’s first startup acquisition, the 2003 purchase of Pyra Labs, forms the backbone of what is today Blogger, an online publishing platform. Since then, many of Google’s most well-known products, including Android, YouTube, Maps, Docs and Analytics, have originated from acquisitions. “M&A has obviously been a huge part of Google—and, I think, Google’s success—for a long time,” says Don Harrison, Google’s vice president for corporate development, who oversees the company’s acquisitions.

Before any deal is finalized, it has to pass what CEO Larry Page calls “the toothbrush test”: is the product something you use daily and would make your life better? “If anything matches the toothbrush test and relates to technology, then Larry has an interest in it,” explains Harrison.

Typically, Google buys occur in sectors where the company has already been experimenting itself. Harrison points to YouTube as a prime example. Google already had a video sharing service called Google Video in the mid-2000’s, but YouTube’s fast-growing user base convinced the firm to offer a then-eye-popping $1.65 billion for the startup, even though it was barely a year old and earned no revenue. Today, YouTube brings in billions of dollars of revenue per year and is the third most-visited website in the world, according to Web analytics firm Alexa.

But the return on investment on an acquisition isn’t only measured monetarily. It’s important to Google and other tech giants that the founders behind ideas worth paying for stick around as well. Harrison says founder retention is one of the significant factors Google measures as part of the “scorecarding” it does to evaluate its purchases. “We hold ourselves accountable to make sure that the founders are able to be successful within Google,” Harrison says. “It’s something that we’re not only working on at the time we buy the company but we work on for years after as well.”

Cash alone can’t convince the top startup founders to join Google. 2014 was the most active year for IPOs in the U.S. since the year 2000, according to IPO tracker Renaissance Capital, and Chinese online retailer Alibaba had the biggest public debut in world history, raising $25 billion in September. “As aggressive as we’re willing to be, we probably can’t match public company premiums right now,” Harrison admits.

So Google tries to find other ways to lure key talent.

‘A True CEO’

For Tony Fadell, the CEO of smart home company Nest, the decision of whether or not be acquired by Google was really a question of how he wanted to spend his time.

Google had begun courting Nest almost from the company’s inception, ever since Fadell showed Google founder Sergey Brin a prototype of the Nest Thermostat at a TED conference in 2011. At the time, Fadell wasn’t interested in a buyout. “I wanted to keep it as a startup as long as possible,” he says.

But as Nest grew, so did Fadell’s logistical headaches. By 2013, he says he was spending 90% of his time on what he calls “back-of-house stuff”: managing finances, talking to investors, wrestling with taxes and fending off patent lawsuits. “There was a lot of selling to multiple entities that we were doing the right thing,” he says.

When Google came knocking again, offering a big payday and the chance to keep Nest’s name brand intact—a key requirement for Fadell—an acquisition seemed more appealing. Now Fadell says he spends 95% of his time focused on product development and key relationships. Nest, meanwhile, has gotten access to resources that would have taken much longer to accrue independently. The company launched in five new countries in 2014, but Fadell thinks they would have only reached two without Google’s help.

In many ways, the Nest acquisition is the ideal scenario startup founders envision when they agree to be swallowed by a larger company. Harrison, Google’s M&A head, calls Fadell a “true CEO” and says Google execs serve more as a board of directors for Nest instead of supervisors. Fadell says he hasn’t had to get formal approval for anything from Google, though he reports directly to Larry Page and meets with the Google CEO a few times per month. “He’s like, ‘Call me when you need me, but this is for you to run,’” Fadell says of his relationship with Page. “He gives us the freedom, so I run with that. Only when it’s really major decisions do I really touch base with him.”

Some founders who don’t quite have Fadell’s free rein are still granted a certain level of autonomy. Skybox Imaging, a satellite manufacturer that Google acquired for $500 million last summer, reports to the company’s vice president of engineering for geo products but maintains separate offices from Google in Mountain View. “We kind of get a little bit of the best of both worlds,” says Ching-Yu Hu, one of the four Skybox founders that now works at Google. “We’re all Googlers now so we have access to all the infrastructure there, but at the same time we’re semi-autonomous.”

The company has experimented with more direct incentives to maintain an entrepreneurial spirit. For a few years in the mid-2000’s Google handed out Founders Awards valued at as much as $12 million in stock to teams that developed successful new products like Gmail and Google Maps. Today awards are a little less explicit, in the form of more traditional of raises or promotions. Google works closely with founders in their first 90 days on the job to insure they’re getting acclimated well, but check-ins on founders’ progress can continue for years, depending on the acquisition.

At the core of Google’s pitch to founders is the opportunity for bountiful resources. Sure, those can be scratched and clawed for independently, but going it alone requires a lot more time, money and luck than hitching your wagon to one of the richest companies on Earth. “It was a pretty compelling pitch,” Hanke recalls of his own deliberations about whether to sell Keyhole to Google. “We could achieve a lot more standing on the shoulders of all that was going on at Google versus trying to do it on our own as startup.”

When Founders Leave

Still, even Harrison admits that not every acquisition goes smoothly. Because California is an at-will employment state, workers can generally be fired or choose to leave at any time. Tech companies try to ensure founders stick around for a while by offering a stay bonus or using “golden handcuffs,” which often meter out the payday for a big acquisition in company shares that vest over several years. Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp, for instance, includes $3 billion in restricted stock for WhatsApp employees, but they can’t fully tap into those funds unless they stay at the company for four years.

In some cases, golden handcuffs aren’t enough to keep founders on board. Kosta Eleftheriou joined Google in October 2010 through the acquisition of his keyboard app BlindType, but life at the massive company wasn’t what he envisioned. Eleftheriou says he was relegated to maintaining Google’s stock Android keyboard rather than envisioning ways to improve the product. He left after one month, leaving half of his compensation package for the acquisition on the table (he says the total acquisition price was in the seven figures). Now he’s a founder again, with a new keyboard app called Fleksy that has been downloaded 4 million times.

“It was a mismatch between what I was expecting and what happened,” Eleftheriou says. “I think that was partly due to maybe some unrealistic expectations on my side on how much creative freedom I would have. I was hoping to be part of a bigger picture than just some engineer working on something by themselves.”

As the founder of a small company that didn’t make huge headlines when it was acquired, Eleftheriou’s experience isn’t uncommon in the Valley. “Unless they’re sufficiently large, very few acquisitions continue to run independently,” says Justin Kan, a partner at the venture capital firm Y Combinator and cofounder of Twitch. “Oftentimes founders are rolled up inside another group inside of the company. They can’t make decisions as freely as when they were entrepreneurs. That affects people’s willingness to stick around.”

Sometimes founders simply crave the excitement of starting something new. Uri Levine was the only one of Waze’s three founders who chose not to join Google when the traffic app was acquired for $1 billion in June 2013. Instead he launched a new startup—his sixth—called FeeX, which aims to help people reduce investment fees in their retirement accounts. “Entrepreneurs, they are driven by a passion for change,” Levine says. “As soon as you become part of a large organization, you cannot change anymore.”

Google’s also had some more high-profile misfires. When it made its largest acquisition ever, the $12.5 billion purchase of handset maker Motorola Mobility, Page hailed it as an opportunity to “supercharge the Android ecosystem.” But Motorola’s phones failed to gain traction, the subsidiary racked up $1.4 billion in losses for Google, and the company offloaded the handset division to Lenovo for $2.9 billion in 2014. Harrison defends the deal as a smart acquisition because of the patent portfolio that Google acquired, helping the company defend itself from lawsuits by Apple and Microsoft (Geis, who has studied the transaction closely, called it “a wash” for Google).

The Spree Continues

At Google, at least, there are opportunities for change for some founders who join the company. Hanke, the former Keyhole CEO, spent several years heading up Google’s geo services, but now he’s in charge of Niantic Labs, a separately branded unit that Google bills as an “internal startup.” Hanke’s team develops apps that increase the opportunity for digital interaction in real-world environments, like InGress, a mobile game that requires players to visit physical locations to gain power ups. Android founder Andy Rubin also took on a role far removed from smartphones when he became the head of Google’s robotics division in 2013. (Rubin eventually left Google in October after nine years at the company).

Google is constantly making these kinds of bets on the future, and it needs new blood with fresh ideas to sustain them. The company is currently wrestling with multiple threats to its core business, search, including a declining share of desktop searches and a mobile market where Amazon is stealing product search queries and Facebook is taking ad dollars. If Google is to maintain its steady growth, it will eventually have to tap into a new revenue source somewhere, and that may well stem from an acquisition. The company may view Nest as the key purchase that ensures its future dominance, given Fadell’s perch. “Founders and everyone else at these startups, they want to be businesspeople,” he explains.

And the big businesses themselves? They want to ensure they don’t miss out on the next big thing. “The ability to move quickly in rapidly changing markets is one of the major drivers,” says Geis of the acquisition spree. “If you want to effectively compete and innovate continually, it can’t all be from within.”

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly described George Geis. He is a business professor at UCLA.

MONEY Financial Planning

4 Things You Need to Change Your Career

Want to change your career or launch a new business? A financial planner explains the four things you need.

A few years ago a client, Peter, came to me and said, “I’m doing all the work, but my boss is making all the money. I could do this on my own, my way, and make a whole lot more.”

Peter was an instructor at an acting studio. He was working long hours for someone else, knew the business inside and out, and felt stuck. He wanted a change.

We talked through his dilemma. Peter wanted to know what he needed to do to venture out on his own and start his own acting academy.

Many of us find ourselves daydreaming about making such a bold life change, but few of us do it. So what is stopping us from taking the leap? Why don’t we have the courage to invest in ourselves?

Peter and his wife, Jeannie, sat down with me to chart out a plan. We determined that they needed four major boxes to be checked for Peter’s dream business to have a real shot at success:

  1. Support from the spouse
  2. Cash reserves
  3. A business plan
  4. Courage to take the leap

Let me break these down:

1. Support from the spouse: Peter and Jeannie had to be in full agreement that they were both ready to take on this new adventure together. In the beginning, they would have significant upfront investments in staffing, infrastructure, and signing a lease for the business. Money would be tight.

2. Cash reserves: Peter was concerned. “How much money can we free up for the startup costs?” he asked. We discussed the couple’s financial concerns, reviewed financial goals for their family, and acknowledged the trade-offs and sacrifices they would need to make. We determined a figure they were comfortable investing in their new business. Then we built a business plan around that number.

3. Business plan: It has been said that a goal without a plan is just a wish. Peter and Jeannie needed a written plan in place so that their wish could become a reality. Their business plan would serve as a step-by-step guide to building and growing the acting academy. It included projections for revenues, expenses, marketing strategies, and one-time costs.

Once we wrote the business plan, we had one final step remaining: the step that so many of us don’t have the courage to take. Peter and Jeannie had to trust in themselves, believe in their plan, and…

4. Take the Leap: Regardless of how confident we are, how prepared we feel, and how much support we have, this is a scary step. We have to walk away from our reliable paycheck, go down an unfamiliar road, and head out into the unknown.

I’m happy to share that Peter and Jeannie’s story is one of great success. They faced obstacles and bumps along the way, but Peter persevered and succeeded in accomplishing his goal. He is now running a thriving acting academy with multiple instructors and a growing staff. If you decide to invest in yourself, you will need to take the four steps too.

———-

Joe O’Boyle is a financial adviser with Voya Financial Advisors. Based in Beverly Hills, Calif., O’Boyle provides personalized, full service financial and retirement planning to individual and corporate clients. O’Boyle focuses on the entertainment, legal and medical industries, with a particular interest in educating Gen Xers and Millennials about the benefits of early retirement planning.

MONEY Entrepreneurs

Here’s a New Theory About Why People Become Entrepreneurs

mother and daughter shopkeepers
Ariel Skelley—Getty Images

Nurture beats nature when it comes to small business ambitions, according to a new study.

It’s long been known that children with entrepreneurial parents are more likely to become entrepreneurs themselves. But new research quantifies that effect—and goes a step further by suggesting why exactly that might be.

The study, published in the latest Journal of Labor Economics, found that upbringing, rather than genetics, seems to have the biggest effect on the offspring of self-started business owners. The researchers did something prior studies (which mainly focused on twins) hadn’t: They examined the career choices of thousands of Swedish children raised by either adoptive or biological parents to compare the relative effects of nature and nurture on the entrepreneurial impulse.

Adopted children, they found, were 20% more likely to become entrepreneurs if their biological parents were also entrepreneurs. But if it was their adoptive parents who were entrepreneurs, it was 45% more likely children would follow suit.

“The importance of adoptive parents is twice as large as the influence of biological parents,” wrote authors Joeri Sol and Mirjam Van Praag of the University of Amsterdam, and Matthew Lindquist of Stockholm University.

The authors controlled for the possibility that kids might just be inheriting the family business (or money to start a new business) and continued to find the same effect—which suggests that kids were simply seeing their parents as role models. That would also explain why gender had a big impact on children: Daughters in the study were most likely to become entrepreneurs if their mothers were—and sons if their fathers were.

These findings may also have implications for educators and policymakers who care about growing small businesses. The greater the effect of nurture on career choices, the authors wrote, “the larger the potential benefit of programs aimed at fostering entrepreneurship.”

The biggest takeaway for parents? If you want your kids to become start-up success stories, you should first try to become one yourself.

TIME leadership

3 Books Every Leader Should Read to Be Successful

Frank Gehry has selected personal favorites for his 'Curated Bookshelf' at Louis Vuitton's London flagship. The shelf is located in the first-floor librarie.
Jessica Klingelfuss

Teachings from the best in the business world

As an employee, you function mostly as a solitary unit. You do your part, produce your “output,” and the work is done. But as a manager (or more precisely, a leader—managers manage tasks, leaders lead people), everything changes. Your success is no longer about your own output, it’s about other people’s — the most important work you do is often what enables other people to do their jobs. But finding your way can be difficult. So in honor of National Book Month, here are three books that every leader should read to succeed.

High Output Management by Andy Grove

Key points: Grove’s book, reflecting on his time as Intel CEO in the 1970s, remains relevant today because of the basic principles it outlines: As a leader, you are an enabler of others. Your team’s performance, not your own output, is what you are judged on. Grove also shares five key things that should inform and govern your time: decision making, information gathering, information sharing, nudging and role modeling. If you are spending significant time doing things outside of those five key areas, it might be worth rethinking your schedule.

Best quote: “The art of management lies in the capacity to select from the many activities of seemingly comparable significance the one or two or three that provide leverage well beyond the others and concentrate on them.”

Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? Inside IBM’s Historic Turnaround by Lou Gerstner

Key points: Compared to High Output Management, which can read a little like a textbook, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? is practically a thriller. Gerstner’s well-known memoir about the turnaround of IBM is a vibrant book on leadership during a challenging time. It’s about transformation. Gerstner touches on the importance of speed and a clearly communicated set of principles—especially across a company as large as IBM was at the time. Gerstner also talks about the issues big companies run into with mid-level talent: “People do what you inspect, not what you expect.”

Best quote: “I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game, it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.”

The Amazon Way: 14 Leadership Principles Behind the World’s Most Disruptive Company by John Rossman

Key points: This is by far the easiest read of the three in this post, but it’s also the most effective at providing prescriptive and actionable leadership advice. Rossman, a former Amazon executive, decodes a lot of the behind the scenes at Amazon and points to what is most important at a company that complex: decision making and ownership. The owner of a project or product doesn’t have to be the most senior person at the organization. In fact, it can be a very junior person. But this person is the sole person responsible for the project’s outcome.

Best quote: “Amazon.com employees quickly learn that the phrase ‘That’s not my job’ is an express ticket to an exit interview.”

Have your own favorite leadership books? I’d love to hear them—tweet at me @cschweitz.

Read next: 4 Biggest Myths About Being a Great Leader

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

MONEY Odd Spending

Brilliant Guy in Massachusetts Is Selling Snow for ‘Only $89′

snowball wrapped in brown paper
Phil Ashley—Getty Images

Originally marked down from $99! The price includes overnight shipping anywhere in the U.S., and each package includes enough snow to make about a dozen snowballs.

New England—and Boston specifically—has way more snow than it knows what to do with. Boston has received roughly 100 inches of snow this winter. And it’s not even March yet. And guess what the forecast calls for on Tuesday? Yep, a few more inches of snow.

Boston has had so much snow that in early February the city started considering special approval by the EPA to dump it in the ocean because snow removal teams have been running out of places to put it.

It’s amid this scene that a Massachusetts man got the idea that he could do his part to get rid of some of the snow—and make some profits while he’s at it. The service, ShipSnowYo.com, started as something of a joke, but by mid-February it had reportedly sold around 100 16.9-oz. plastic bottles filled with snow, which were frozen in dry ice and shipped around the country, at a cost of $19.99.

By the time the bottles arrived at their destinations, they were most filled with pure New England water, not snow. But Waring insists that the recipients didn’t mind much. “They understand that we want to clean up Boston, so even if it does arrive as water, they get a kick out of it,” Waring explained to Boston Magazine.

Nonetheless, ShipSnowYo has since begun offering a new product that’s “Guaranteed Snow on Arrival!” This package includes 6 lbs. of snow collected courtesy of Winter Storm Neptune, which dumped 20+ inches in parts of Massachusetts. The “Limited Supply” snow comes in a thick Styrofoam container and is shipped overnight, at a cost of “$99 Now Only $89!”

Waring told Boston.com that the $89 package yields enough snow to make 10 to 15 snowballs. “It seems to be corporations paying for the $90 product as a funny gesture, where the $20 one is regular consumers,” he said of his customers.

What’s next for Waring? Look for a bigger, 10-lb. snow package to hit the market at a price of $119. Presumably, such a product would be more appropriate for larger snowball fights in Florida, Arizona, or wherever else they’re shipped. And the entrepreneur says that he might try a slightly different moneymaking idea next autumn. “Maybe I’ll ship some fall foliage,” he said.

TIME Marijuana

This Event Will Teach Businesspeople How to Buy Pot

Marijuana Pot Weed
Getty Images

Certified cannabis financial analysts are standing by

There are many bits of stock-trading wisdom that, simply because they are both wise and obvious-sounding, have become clichés: “Buy low, sell high.” “Don’t catch a falling knife.” “Nobody ever went broke by taking profits.” The list goes on.

Now we might have a new one, thanks to the folks putting on an event for would-be investors in the newly emerging legal-pot business: “Be wary of marijuana companies that don’t exist.” So advises a press release touting the Marijuana Investment and Private Retreat.

“The average consumer hears all day long how the increasingly legalized cannabis industry is booming and a Mecca for aspiring marijuana business owners,” according to the release. “What they don’t hear, however, are ways ordinary citizens (e.g., non-millionaires) can also capitalize on this new industry by investing in marijuana stocks.”

Any seminar that had only the interests of “the average consumer” in mind would stop there and say, “Don’t invest in marijuana stocks at all unless you have a little cash that you’re totally OK with losing.” But that wouldn’t make for much of a retreat—it would be over before the mid-morning munchies set in.

To their credit, the event sponsors say they’ll “teach investors how to invest without falling for the many fraudulent stocks and scams that come with investing in a new industry,” and note that many pot stocks trade over the counter, and in some cases aren’t even backed by assets, much less revenue streams (that’s what they mean by companies that “don’t exist.”) Such stocks represent nothing more than ideas, if that. That includes nearly all pot stocks at the moment.

Keynote speaker Alan Brochstein, identified in the press release as a “certified cannabis financial analyst” and founder of 420 Investor, said: “Even those companies that file with the SEC have red flags that include complex capital structures, non-viable business plans, a lack of industry experience and leadership, and many other potential pitfalls.”

Other scheduled speakers are: Tripp Keber, founder of Dixie Elixirs; Wanda James, president of Cannabis Global Initiative; and Christie Lunsford, a consultant and a veteran in the marijuana business.

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