No glam in the startup camp.
Approximately 1 year ago, I met a friend over coffee at Starbucks to catch up. He knew that I had started out on my own in 2016. Amongst other things, he asked me, “how do you cope with the stress of cash flow (or the lack of)?”.
“It takes a bit of time to condition yourself psychologically but after awhile you just get used to it.”
On hindsight, I realised that this simple answer doesn’t say enough about what most founders have to go through on a day to day basis. The media frequently sensationalizes entrepreneurs, start ups and new funds that are coming to the market. And a handful of friends and acquaintances that I’ve met at countless meetings and conferences often tell me:
"Wow! So good, you must be doing well! Running your own business!”
Don’t get me wrong, I am not a pessimist. I am at worst, a hard-core realist. I like to say, “If I can’t see a dotted line to the end goal, I probably won't do it”. This goes against the conventional wisdom in which most start-ups don't really follow a fixed trajectory in the development stage of their businesses. The model is constantly evolving and the reality is that many founders often do not end up at where they had initially set out to be - which may not necessarily be a bad thing.
But running a business takes a lot of work. More than what you can imagine and think.
You think working for a boss is tough? Go start a business, be your own boss, work for everyone - clients, suppliers, partners, employees, vendors, etc. Want to make a million bucks before 40? Climb the corporate ladder in an MNC or work in a large investment bank. Even if you don't get to the top, we still can live a very good life. A lot of people don't realise that just diligently being an employee allows you to cover your bills comfortably and very possibly, fund the purchase of your second property, pay for trips to Europe, Japan or any other vacation destination of your choice. Want to turn your life upside down? Go start a business. Burn a lot of cash. Meet nasty people. Open your eyes up to a whole new world.
Bottom line, starting up isn't for everyone.
On top of maintaining sanity, founders deal with the day to day chores of hiring, accounting, invoicing, designing websites, collaterals and many countless miscellaneous things. If you can afford to ignore the rapidly declining cash balance in the bank, it can be quite fun. You are literally building an enterprise from ground up. You get to decide on the corporate colors and fonts to use, the type of projects to take on, the types of products to sell, who you want to hire and/or work with. That said, you are also responsible for sales and overheads.
Pain that does not go away.
These days I wake up with a pain in my head that just does not go away. It is the nagging feeling of upcoming payments, bills, payroll, secretarial fees etc.
It’s really a struggle sometimes - to keep the lights on not only at work, but also at home.
Once you come to terms with this, you realise that all your
Dissatisfaction around puny year end bonuses
Annual leave days that you could not take
Overtime hours spent in the office and;
Countless weekends burned because of a working on a deal or RFP
just don’t matter. They really don't matter.
Rain, shine, bull market, bear market, pandemic or not, everyone who is employed in a full-time job gets a fixed pay-check at the end of the month.
The smartest people in the world are not the entrepreneur 'heroes' portrayed in the news, but those who have managed to stay in their jobs for the last 10-20 years, drawing pay-check month after month, surviving through the ups and downs of the economic cycles.
As Steve Schwarzman from Blackstone once said, “There are no brave old people in finance”. If you are doing well today, it is not because you had a billion dollar idea that can change the world, but because you were boring. You adapted well to the times and had a good handle of managing risk at every stage of your life and career.
In the toughest of times.
In the toughest of times like these, I remind myself of the various resources that one has.
Experience. You can acquire specific experiences and memories, depending on how much money you have.
Knowledge. You can get access to the pathways and platforms that offer knowledge. But there's no guarantee that it can be internalized.
Health is a 'depreciating' asset. You can attempt to prolong this "asset life" but it'll catch up with you eventually. Also, there are always some parts of your biological system that cannot be replaced.
Friends. You can acquire the means to make friends - at the workplace, meetings, gatherings and at school. But friends who have been around for many years and been through ups and downs together, cannot be substituted, especially those who have shared specific experiences and memories with you.
Family and time. There is no way that you will ever get back family and time.
After you lay them all out: money seems to be the one thing that can always be replaced - either immediately or at some point of time in the future. Not that it is a resource that is easy to acquire, but, money is just money.
To acquire the rest of everything else, you either have to nurture, build and develop them progressively, or earn them through heart-felt experiences. Or, sometimes, you just gotta make the best of it while it lasts.
It doesn't look rational that Tesla's valuation could be more than double that of two large automotive manufacturers, overnight.
As cool and sustainable as electric-powered cars sound, there is still a certain amount of runway before this eventually (if it does) go mainstream. In 2014, Nissan had initially targeted 1.5 million electric car sales by 2020. Today, total accumulated unit sales are just about 400,000.
Even so, for electric vehicles to dominate the market, that would require a tectonic shift in the demand and supply of oil globally. Until the cartels figure a way to decouple from this economic dependency, vehicles powered by traditional energy sources will likely remain a core part of the automotive sector. Hybrids however are an interesting case.
Investors are claiming that Tesla's revenue could possibly reach USD 1 trillion in 10 years - that's a really far horizon to forecast. And that's saying so much can happen in between...
No quarterly reporting is like streaming a 4K video in standard definition (SD) - it’ll look fine from afar but you won’t get the same clarity close-up.
Investors and stock punters in Singapore may have less to look forward in terms of earnings results when the new rules that do away with quarterly reporting kicks in on 7 February. I am an advocate of quarterly reporting, even if regulators now do not set this as a hard mandate for listed companies.
Dealing with the new asymmetry of information. Investors no longer have the privilege of observing seasonality in business cycles in certain fast-moving industries such as consumer and retail. This makes it potentially make it more difficult to gauge business performance, which could result in reliance on alternative sources of data including analyst research reports, stock discussion forums and market talk over kopi.
The reliability and credibility of third party information sources will become more important than ever.
“Are your quarterly financials reliable?“
With the new disclosure rules in effect, the half-year-on-half-year financial performance will gradually take precedence over the quarterly numbers. While managers will feel less pressure to show a report card every three months, these quarterly operational and financial indicators enables:
Investors to react more quickly to any near-term volatility in the business cycle and make well-informed recommendations to the board;
Management to allocate resources and budget more effectively as compared to half-yearly reporting.
A longer window of time. Without quarterly reporting, companies now have more room to move around their order book and working capital over a 6-month window instead of the usual three months. Half yearly disclosures also give companies more room and time to sweep teething issues under the carpet that could have been addressed early on through the quarterly announcements. Material and sensitive information will also have a longer time to linger within company walls and increase the temptation for insider trading.
It’s like streaming a 4K video in standard definition (SD) - it’ll look fine from afar but you won’t get the same clarity close-up.
On the private side, this should have less impact since investors may continue to request for quarterly management accounts for due diligence.
The impact on cost of capital and valuation. The basis for calculating cost of capital is predicated on risk. And risk is a function of uncertainty. For example, cost of debt is driven by viability of repayments. Financial institutions are more likely to offer more competitive rates for companies that demonstrate the ability to make quarterly repayments. More disclosures imply greater transparency and visibility which in turns reduces the risk profile of the business.
For companies that continue to maintain timely updates on their earning results, there should be some valuation premium reflected through a lower cost of capital. Companies that keep their books clean and organized on a regular basis should also be valued higher on the basis of better corporate and financial governance.
Overall, focus on the longer term. Shifting the focus off quarterly announcements will probably compel investors to take a longer term view on the company and discourage unhealthy speculation on quarterly results.
The shift to half yearly reporting will likely encourage more businesses to go public and reduce the costs for some existing listed companies. But for those companies that have fundamental problems, this isn’t going to move the needle much.