How To Become a Venture Capitalist for $100

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How would you like to add “Venture Capitalist” to your social media profiles?

Indiegogo and Microventures have teamed up to offer equity stakes in startups to virtually anyone for as little as $100. Here is an Indiegogo blog post and a NY Times article covering the announcement. Previously, only accredited investors were allowed access in such markets, and that required an annual income of $200,000+ or a net worth of $1 million+.

This is different from Kickstarter crowdfunding where you put up monetary support and at most get an early product sample or some form of personal recognition. This is an actual investment with the opportunity to earn a significant return. (Or you might never see it again.)

I decided to look more closely at one of the available investments. Republic Restoratives is an urban, small batch distillery and craft cocktail bar in Washington, D.C. You can invest as little as $100, which will get you the perk of being “periodically invited to special parties, happy hours and previews”. If you invest at least $250, you’ll also get a founders signed bottle of CIVIC Vodka.

In terms of financial upside, you have to look closely at the investment terms:

Security Type: Secured Promissory Notes
Round Size: Min: $50,000; Max: $300,000
Interest Rate: Revenue sharing agreement which provides the investors 10% of the Company’s gross revenue, up to the repayment amount of 1.5x of their investment
Length of Term: Until the repayment amount of 1.5x investment is repaid
Conversion Provisions: None

In this case, you don’t actually get equity. You have a promissory note that says you have dibs on part of future gross revenue, but only up to 150% of your initial investment. For example, if they raise $100,000 and they manage to bring in $1,500,000 in gross revenue, they’ll pay out $150,000. If you invested $100, you’ll then get at most $150 back. Even if they take over the world and become the next Pappy Van Winkle brand, you’ll get the same amount back. Too bad, I’d rather be able to say that I am partial owner of a bar. 😉

A brief look at another investment option, BeatStars, shows that you have the possibility of owning preferred shares of the business if the note converts.

Bottom line. In financial terms, equity crowdfunding is very risky. The businesses available are unproven and have decided not to go the traditional VC route. To put it bluntly, you really shouldn’t expect to see your money again. In my opinion, the benefits are mostly psychological. You get to feel good about supporting a business you want to succeed. You may get personal recognition via your name on a wall or a signed bottle of vodka. I like the idea of telling people that I “provide venture capital to startups” instead of my real job.

Daily Rituals Book Review: Daily Habits of Famous Creators

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I’ve always liked this quote commonly attributed to Aristotle (while the specific wording was probably paraphrased by Will Durant):

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit.

Did you ever wonder what the average day was like for Mozart, Beethoven, Benjamin Franklin, Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, Albert Einstein, or Maya Angelou? Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey evolved from the Daily Routines blog and includes tightly-edited profiles of 161 notable individuals including writers, philosophers, composers, painters, mathematicians, and scientists.

If you were hoping to learn some secret “life hacks” from this book, you’ll probably be disappointed. I didn’t find anything that fit that description. In fact, you might actually be disappointed at how ordinary their days were. The great human creations of the world didn’t just spring fully-formed from their heads, at times it took several years of daily effort to create them. “A high level of achievement is often an accretion of mundane acts.

Instead, all you can really do is take away what fits with your own quirks and tendencies. Here’s what I felt was most applicable to my own life:

  • Figure out what part of the day is the most productive for you, and then zealously guard that time. Make sure that your environment is ideal for productivity during that precious period each day. Some people have detached studios, some have “Do Not Disturb” signs. I have noise-cancelling headphones.
  • Some people are night owls. Some people work solely in the mornings, from dawn to noon. Many people switched from being night owls to working in the mornings, often after having kids. I have experienced this transition as well.
  • Don’t forget to make time for rest and relaxation. Some visited cafes or bars. Many of the artists took long, daily walks outside. This follows the current trend of mindfulness and meditation to counter the constant electronic noise.
  • Many artists used some sort of drug each day… or multiple doses… or multiple drugs. This includes caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and amphetamines (many of which were legal for a long time). This is not a recommendation, just an observation. Well, at least it makes me feel better about my recently developed coffee habit.
  • Some only created when they felt inspired, but they would still have a routine to encourage creativity. They might talk to specific people, visit certain places, or take a certain drug. Many could afford to wait around for inspiration because they had the financial means and their spouse or staff cooked, cleaned, and watched the children. Others fit in their work whenever they could, in between work and household tasks.
  • Others forced themselves to sit down every day and had a daily quota in mind. Some people do better when they treat it like a “normal” job. They get dressed, they go to an office, and they do their work. Maya Angelou rents out a cheap hotel room every day she writes. Stephen King has a daily quota of 2,000 words.

I’ll end with a few highlighted excerpts that I want to remember. I already mentioned how William James espoused the power of automation in the 1800s. The book also included this snapshot of Benjamin Franklin’s daily schedule. Finally, I enjoyed this excerpt about author Anne Rice (b. 1941):

For her first novel, Interview with the Vampire, Rice wrote all night and slept during the day. “I just found it the time when I could concentrate and think the best,” she says. “I needed to be alone in the still of the night, without the phone, without friends calling me, with my husband sound asleep. I needed that utter freedom.” But when her son was born in 1978, Rice made “the big switch” to daytime writing and has continued to work that way for most of her career. […] “What you have to do is clear all distraction. That’s the bottom line.”

This book mostly included artists of one type or another, but I think a good routine can apply to all part of life. I don’t see that much difference between writing a book and creating a new small business that sells handmade items on a custom website (or really anything where you work for yourself). You are still making something new, and you should create the best environment in which to do so.

Podcast Recommendation: The Distance

thedMany of the podcasts I listen to aren’t financially-related, but I’ve recently been catching up The Distance Podcast which profiles the owners of private businesses that have been around for at least 25 years. Here’s their own description:

What’s the hardest thing about business? Not going out of business. The Distance features stories of private businesses that have been operating for at least 25 years and the people who got them there. Hear business owners share their stories of hard work, survival and building something that lasts. The Distance is a production of Basecamp, the company behind the leading project management app.

A few observations after several episodes:

  • If you’ve been around for 25 years, then you are both (1) good at what you do and (2) you turned down buyout offers.
  • These businesses were not highly-leveraged with debt, and thus could survive the lean times like the 2008 financial crisis.
  • Many of these founders could have sold for a sizable sum and retired (at least modestly) years ago.
  • Why didn’t they sell? For one, they have pride in the their work. Building houses, growing food, carving ice sculptures, or making cardboard boxes. It matters to them that it is done “right”. They feel loyalty to their employees and community.
  • Some are workaholics. If you’re going to always work, why not be the boss? If you sold, you’d have to start over or work for someone else.
  • These businesses are often kept in the family. Keeping it around to pass down to the next generation is another reason not to sell.
  • Some might only be in it for more money. But that seemed to be rare.

Most mass media business profiles focus on multi-national corporations (Apple) or some hot-shot tech unicorn (Uber). I found myself having a soft spot for these mom-and-pop businesses that stubbornly do their own thing.

Two Ways to Get Rich: Save Like Crazy, or Start a Business

Cash ImageTom Corley performed a study examining 233 self-made millionaires over 5 years, and found that they fell into one of two categories as outlined in this Business Insider article:

  1. They were fanatical savers.
  2. They sold something.

This aligns with my own observations as someone who has thought about financial independence nearly every day for over the last 10 years. My version:

  1. You can become financially independent by managing your income and expenses carefully over a long time. If you start at zero, you will need a 50% savings rate to retire in 15-20 years. You will need a 30% savings rate to retire within 25-30 years. Thus a household making $100k has to live on $50k (both after taxes). Being a steady, salaried or hourly-rate employee will do just fine. There is no secret besides applying discipline and consistency.
  2. You can become financially independent faster by starting a scalable business. By starting a scalable business, you are breaking the link between hours worked and money earned. As a salaried or hourly worker, you’ll never earn more than a set amount, be it $40k a year, $400k a year, or $20 an hour. As a business owner, your income has no ceiling. You take the risks, and you get all the rewards. Ideally, this results in a lump-sum “liquidity event” like a sale or IPO that provides the same amount of money as decades of steady savings. (Controlling your expenses still matters, even millionaires can go broke when the income stops flowing.)

The first option can be described as “get rich slowly” or “get rich surely”; it is more reliable but may take longer (or at least feel longer). The second option is “get rich quickly” but also “get rich maybe”; there is more risk and results are not guaranteed despite the size of your efforts. Luck will have a role, but if you don’t even try then your chances are zero.

If I was to make a broad recommendation (i.e. what I plan to tell my kids), I’d say that if you really wanted to get rich, you should (1) do both options above and (2) do it now, hopefully when you are younger and don’t have as many responsibilities. Keep your expenses bare-bones and start a business. Being a single 24-year-old meant I could still have fun with minimal expenses and spending 60-80 hours a week working on a project didn’t destroy my family or personal life.

Do What You Love – If You Can Work For Yourself

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“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” We’ve all read this saying, and it certainly sounds like a wonderful goal. But is it also being abused by corporate interests? Here’s why I might change it to “Do what you love, if you can work for yourself.”

Miya Tokumitsu has a new book called Do What You Love: And Other Lies About Success & Happiness, recently profiled in this Atlantic article and initially sparked by this older Slate article. I haven’t read the book, but the overall theme is that if everyone is supposed to be happy and passionate, then they can’t really complain about long hours or low compensation. Advantage: Employers.

There is a lot of difficult, boring, yet necessary work to be done out there. The author Tokumitsu wants you to ask: “Why should workers feel as if they aren’t working when they are?”, and “Who, exactly, benefits from making work feel like nonwork?”

One solution is to make the person who benefits from your passion YOU. That is, if you can, find your passion and eventually start your own business from it. Even if you aren’t the sole owner, you should have a strong vested interest your investment of hard work.

If you can’t, perhaps you should treat your job as just work. Be proud of doing work you don’t love in order to feed and provide security for your family. There is honor is that as well.

Derive joy from what you love in your off-hours, and derive money from your work – and invest that money into assets towards financial independence! I think of financial independence less in black-and-white and more in grey these days. The more income you have from investments, then the more likely you can switch to a job that you enjoy (as such jobs tend to pay less). Alternatively, you could keep your non-passionate work and simply work less hours.

I’ll end with some quotes I have saved recently about finding passionate work. From the book The Martha Rules: 10 Essentials for Achieving Success as You Start, Build, or Manage a Business:

Build your success around something that you love — something that is inherently and endlessly interesting to you.

From The Atlantic article: Why So Many Smart People Aren’t Happy

Ultimately, what we need in order to be happy is at some level pretty simple. It requires doing something that you find meaningful, that you can kind of get lost in on a daily basis.

Even I find it peculiar at times, but I can totally get lost in learning about investing and personal finance. Hours can pass in what feels like minutes. I don’t know if it will be endlessly interesting, but this has been going on for over 10 years now, so I’m taking that as a good sign!

IRS Estimated Taxes Due Dates 2016

irsclipIf you have self-employment or other income outside of your W-2 paycheck this year, you may need to send the IRS some money before the usual tax-filing time. Here are the due dates for paying quarterly estimated taxes in 2016; they are supposed to be in four equal installments. This is for federal taxes only, state and local tax due dates may be different.

IRS Estimated Tax Payment Calendar for Individuals

Tax Year / Quarter Due Date
2016 First Quarter April 18, 2016 (Monday)
2016 Second Quarter June 15, 2016 (Wednesday)
2016 Third Quarter September 15, 2016 (Thursday)
2016 Fourth Quarter January 17, 2017* (Tuesday)

 
* You do not have to make the Q4 payment due January 17, 2017, if you file your 2016 tax return by January 31, 2017 and pay the entire balance due with your return.

Who needs to pay estimated taxes?
In general, you must pay estimated tax for 2016 if both of the following apply:

  1. You expect to owe at least $1,000 in tax for 2016, after subtracting your withholding and refundable credits.
  2. You expect your withholding and credits to be less than the smaller of
    • 90% of the tax to be shown on your 2016 tax return, or
    • 100% of the tax shown on your 2015 tax return. Your 2015 tax return must cover all 12 months.

If you forget to pay (like I’ve done before), then you should make a payment as soon as possible even though it is late. This will minimize any penalty assessed.

How do I pay? When does the payment count?

  • By check. Fill out the appropriate IRS Form 1040-ES voucher (last page of the PDF) and snail mail to the indicated address. The date of the U.S. postmark is considered the date of payment. No fees besides postage.
  • By online bank transfer. You can store your bank account information and pay via electronic funds transfer at EFTPS.gov or call 1-800-555-4477. It takes a little while to set up an online account initially, so you’ll need to plan ahead. For a quick one-time payment, you can also use IRS Direct Pay (just introduced in 2014) which does not require a sign-up but it also doesn’t store your bank account information for future payments. Both are free, there are no convenience fees. The date of payment will be noted online.
  • By debit or credit card. Here is page of IRS-approved payment processors. Pay by phone or online. Fees will apply, but the payment will count as paid as soon as you charge the card. You may also earn rewards on your credit card. Check if there is a discounted fee available via limited-time promotion.

How much should you pay in estimated taxes? You’ll need to come up with an expected gross income and then estimate your taxes, deductions, and credits for the year. The PDF of Form 1040-ES includes a paper worksheet to calculate how much in quarterly estimated taxes you should pay. You can also try online tax calculators like this one from H&R Block to estimate your 2016 tax liability, and divide by four quarters.

Someone Is Doing The Thing That You Decided Couldn’t Be Done

bbootWe are currently planning a 4-week European trip with our young children (age 1 and 3). The most common reactions are “Cool. Wait, you’re not bringing the kids, are you?” followed by “You’re nuts.” At first, we didn’t think it could be done either. It does take a lot of additional planning for car seats, cribs, kid-friendly itineraries, and so on.

While doing some research at a site called My Little Nomads, the author shared a quote by Seth Godin:

One of the under-reported stories of the internet is this: it constantly reports on what’s possible. Somewhere in the world, someone is doing something that you decided couldn’t be done. By calling your bluff and by pointing out the possibilities, this reporting of possibility changes everything.

You can view this as a horrible burden, one that raises the bar and eliminates any sinecure of comfort and hiding you can find, or you can embrace it as a chance to stretch.

That is a great quote that encapsulates why I love the internet. If you want to start your own niche business, pull off home-cooked weeknight meals, take your house entirely off-grid, semi-retire at age 40, or just take your tiny kids on an adventure – someone out there has probably already done it. You may even find an entire online community ready to help you reach your goal. There will be doubters, but all you need to know is that it’s possible.

Teaching Kids About Money: Bi-Rite Market Owners, Father and Son

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This Narratively “longread” about the history behind the hip Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco’s Mission District was an intriguing father-son story.

Part of it involved entrepreneurial parents trying to pass on important financial skills to their children, like this excerpt involving the father Ned:

Every day, a group of homeless would line up outside the store, and Ned would feed them a sandwich and soda. No questions asked; no thank you needed. He was generous to his kids, too, but not without strategy or purpose. He’d pay them twenty dollars a day for their work at the market, a decent wage in the ’70s. If the kids agreed to save their earnings in the bank, Ned would double it. If they didn’t, that was all they got. Over the years, each child managed to save $20,000, thanks to Ned’s matching practice. “That’s how I encourage them to work and save money,” Ned says. “Sometimes you have to do your tricky things if you love your children.”

I found it amusing that when his son Sam decided to start his own small business, instead of worrying about him going broke, that actually made him feel more at ease.

“He was excited that I was going to be in control of my own destiny, even though it was a restaurant,” says Sam. “Pursuing entrepreneurship was following a path that he knew, that he was comfortable with.”

I would think most parents would rather their kid go the “safe” route of relying on a professional degree like lawyer, doctor, finance, or engineer.

I enjoy collecting anecdotes like this. Here are past related posts:

How To Start Your Very First Business by Warren Buffett’s Secret Millionaires Club (Book Review)

startbiz_180While I don’t expect my kids to be the next Warren Buffett, I do plan on encouraging them to start and run their own tiny businesses someday. I’ve previously shared an online cartoon series called Secret Millionaires Club that teaches financial literacy and is supported by Warren Buffett. As an extension of that effort, there is a new book called How to Start Your Very First Business.

I accepted a free review copy of the book and here are my notes.

I think the best question to start with is – why do you want a kid to start their own business? The primary goal is not to make them rich. It’s about helping them to be successful at life in general. Both Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger think this way. Consider the many character traits and interpersonal skills involved:

  • Reliability
  • Honesty
  • Social skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Patience and tolerance
  • Failure and perseverance

The book does a good job of covering the different aspects of starting a business. For example, there are worksheets for figuring out your per-unit profit and your equivalent hourly wage. One area that has light coverage is business licenses, taxes, and legal permits (understandably I suppose). Here is the table of contents, nabbed from its Amazon page.

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Lots of good examples and ideas. There are several case studies of other young entrepreneurs along with additional business ideas in the book. A few examples:

  • Hart Mann started Man Cans, candles that smell like sawdust, bacon, or coffee. (Started at age 13.)
  • Jake and Lachlan Johnson invented and sell customizable bow-ties at Beaux Up. (Started at age 14.)
  • Greyson Maclean sells reusable stickers and cling decals for Lego products at BrickStix.com. (Started at age 9.)

Lots of Warren Buffett quotes and quips. Oldies-but-goodies include:

Protect your reputation. It takes years to build a reputation but only minutes to ruin it.

Decide early in life to make your money by selling things that you really believe are good for the customers.

The book understands that it can’t teach you everything. They really have to go out and do it themselves. There are so many intangibles in real business, this book is just a starting point. Hopefully the book can give them a base, and parents can support their efforts (but also let them fail, and hopefully get back up).

Overall impression. This book would make a great gift for the motivated tween or teenager. I enjoyed the mix of approachable advice, Buffett quotes, and real-world examples of young business-owners. The book says it is intended for ages 9 and up, but you’ll have to decide yourself if the recipient is ready. It won’t be much use if they aren’t ready to take action.

If you’re a parent, you’ll have to look up any legal requirements in your area. The book comes with a free Square reader for accepting credit cards, but the parent will have to sign up for an account first.

Owning a McDonald’s Franchise: Purchase Cost vs. Annual Profit

mcfranchise_logoDespite their negative media attention, the McDonald’s franchise that I drive past every day is packed all the time. I rarely eat there (especially since my diet bet), but I used to think to myself that if I were going to buy a franchise, I’d buy a McDonald’s. My impression was always that McDonald’s were always pretty clean with consistent food (even if you consider it consistently unhealthy), while Burger King’s were often dirty with inconsistent food.

A common knock against purchasing a franchise is that you are “buying a job”. A recent Businessweek article broke down the gross sales, gross profits, and net profits of the average McDonald’s franchise in the US. I found the numbers very interesting:

mcfranchise_income

Average annual profit per franchise: $150,000 a year, roughly. Okay, but how much does this franchise cost? From the official McDonald’s franchise website:

Initial Costs
$45,000 Initial Fee paid to McDonald’s

Equipment and Pre-Opening Costs
Typically these costs range from $944,352 to $2,172,045. The size of the restaurant facility, area of the country, pre-opening expenses, inventory, selection of kitchen equipment, signage, and style of decor and landscaping will affect new restaurant costs. These costs are paid to suppliers.

Average cost of new franchise: At least $1 million roughly, with a minimum of $500,000 in cash and non-borrowed resources. Other sources state $750,000 minimum in liquid assets. You must be able to cover 40% of the costs of a new franchise location. You must be able to pay cash for at least 25% of the cost of an existing franchise, with the rest financed over at most 7 years.

Average hours of work per week as an owner/operator? I could not find reliable statistics, but here is an excerpt from a Reddit AMA from a businessperson from New Zealand who has owned a total of three McDonald’s franchises and recently sold the last one.

How much work was required of you per week on average? If my goal were to own one McDonalds and do the minimum amount of work possible, while also running it well, how low do you think I could get that weekly number of hours? And what would I be doing in that time?

I would work 9am – 5pm, 6 days a week. Mostly I’m at my office sorting problems remotely from there. I liked to pop down to my couple stores at least a couple times a day and check on them – make sure they’re clean, and to check on the Restaurant Manager about any issues. Typically I used to work hard for 4-6 hours a day, with the rest out in the stores just checking on them.

Exit / Selling price? One would imagine that if your franchise is doing well and churning out good numbers, someone else would readily buy it. If your business is struggling, then both your annual income and total business value will drop. The same Reddit user above reported selling for “just above” NZ $1.4 million, or US $916,000. I’m a bit confused by the purchase price, but it appears that he paid NZ $550,000 via business loan, 12 years ago.

In the end, owning a McDonald’s franchise is still a business which means you take on risk for potentially significant gains or losses. But if you spend 40 hours a week and only keep tabs on one location, it might really feel like you bought a job. These statistics help explain why most franchisees own multiple locations; Businessweek says the average is six.

Teaching Money Management Skills… Without Using Money

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spoiled160In the book The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Lieber, there are a number of tips and tricks presented to help teach your kids to be good with money:

The foundation of the book is a detailed blueprint for the most successful ways to handle the basics: the tooth fairy, allowance, chores, charity, saving, birthdays, holidays, cell phones, checking accounts, clothing, cars, part-time jobs, and college.

As I read through them, most of them were never found in my own childhood. I was never given a wad of money to buy my own school clothes. I didn’t have a fancy save/spend/give jar system. I had chores, but was never paid for them. There was no forced or guided philanthropy. My parents didn’t pay me interest on my savings. When confronted with the fact that all my friends had allowances, my parents eventually relented and gave me… a dollar a week. This was sometime in high school.

I’m not saying that all these clever little schemes don’t help to create financial skills. I plan to use some of them myself. But we should also focus on the core values and character traits that lead to good behavior in general. Indeed, this is also acknowledged in the book:

Finally, I want to help all of you recognize that every conversation about money is also about values. Allowance is also about patience. Giving is about generosity. Work is about perseverance. Negotiating their wants and needs and the difference between the two has a lot to do with thrift and prudence.

So I took many of the topics in the book and tried to connect them with the corresponding character traits in the big graphic shown above.

There are many other ways to encourage your kids to learn traits like patience, perseverance, curiosity, or delayed gratification. Many have been part of cultures and/or religions for centuries. The first way kids learn is by watching their parents, so we must be good examples as well. (I know, can’t I just buy an app or something instead? I mean, thanks Mom and Dad!)

Teaching Kids to be Entrepreneurs: Jack’s Cosmic Hot Dogs

cosmicHere’s a follow-up post to The Best Advice For A Teenager Looking For a Job. One of the podcasts I regularly listen to is the Alton Browncast (of “Good Eats” fame). Many topics are food-related but often it boils down to him talking with really interesting people. In one of his earlier episodes, he did an interview with Jack Hurley, who is the owner of Jack’s Cosmic Dogs near Charleston, South Carolina.

Jack Hurley has started 6 restaurants and a few other businesses. Early in the interview, he discusses the creation of his popular, retro hot dog stand. It turns out, Jack wanted to start a simple business so that he could give his kids a job and teach them how to run a restaurant. His two sons were a freshman and sophomores in high school at the time. Here’s my transcript of that part of the podcast:

…We had to make it simple for high school kids to do… I told my sons, now watch this, your mom and I are going to create this place in one month, we’re going to paint it, do the logo, do the recipes, in one month. I want you to understand, that if at some point in your life you are tired of working for The Man, that you have this creative gene in you. We’re going to do this so fast it’s going to shock you.

Obviously not every parent will have the means or ability to do this, but I thought it was a pretty cool idea (and their hot dogs look yummy). From what I can tell, Cosmic Dogs has been around now for over 10 years, so I wonder if his sons indeed took to the entrepreneurial path?