Business Evaluation Primer for Non-Accredited Investors

Written by Gene Wright. Posted in Venture Equity

“I keep six honest serving-men: (They taught me all I knew);

Their names are What and Why and When, And How and Where and Who.”

— Rudyard Kipling, The Elephant’s Child

The Five W’s and How are well known by news reporters, but the checklist can be useful in other situations. Nearly every day I get questions from non-accredited investors about crowdfunding. “I want to get involved,” they say. “But give me some pointers.” So, in the interest of answering their queries and making it all-round easier for me, here’s my Business Evaluation Primer for non-accredited investors, who are interested in crowdfunding capital growth opportunities. I’m using Kipling’s checklist (and between you and me, we’re just following the same rules that the guys who raise money for a living follow).

How Georgia Businesses Can Benefit from the Invest Georgia Exemption

Written by Gene Wright. Posted in News

At Northstar Consulting, we look for situations where capital sought will help the business owner successfully fund a project or social cause or take their company to the next level and materially increase its value. In the case of companies looking to ‘tap the crowd’ for debt or equity, this means the potential for high growth, a strong market position, and a sustainable competitive advantage.

Currently, Georgia based businesses can raise capital (up to $1 million per year) from other Georgia residents in intrastate transactions. Equity crowdfunding is legal in Georgia. Yes, legal. The Invest Georgia Exemption is not the JOBS Act.  It’s better than the JOBS Act. On December 8, 2011, the Georgia State Securities Division promulgated new rules known as the Invest Georgia Exemption (IGE).  This legislation will open the door to many funding platforms like Georgia based Sterling Funder, Rebirth Financial, SparkMarket, and URUUT, which are similar to Kickstarter, along with perhaps thousands of businesses who have been hoping to participate in this new alternative financing opportunity.

Several clients have asked us what they can do now to prepare to ‘tap the crowd’, and our basic cornerstone advice hasn’t changed materially from what investors look for in early stage businesses.  Several of the most important factors that will strengthen a company’s position:

  1. A complete, compelling, and well-articulated business plan with a strategy for how the business will capture and defend its market share.
  2. A market opportunity large enough to create and grow a business for significant annual revenues.
  3. A strong preference to be “in-revenue”.
  4. Strong management with relevant and successful experience.
  5. An entrepreneur that has made a significant personal investment in the business.
  6. A company with the potential to make a significant impact on the local economy through job creation, direct investment, or other economic benefits.
  7. An understanding of the company’s valuation and how it fits with an investor’s risk/reward expectations and exit strategy.
  8. A desire for advice and coaching.

The two biggest misconceptions about crowdfunding we hear are, “Is there a quick and easy success formula?” (NO, it does not exist; we’re still learning what works and what doesn’t), and, “Since we don’t have to use banks and investment funds to fund our business, it’s FREE isn’t it”? (NO, there is a cost to learn how to create, manage, and successfully execute a crowdfunding initiative, although the cost can vary significantly with the type of campaign, i.e., reward and donation campaigns are cheapest, and the amount of money required launching a $1 million dollar equity offering under IGE is much less than ever before.)

On October 12, 2013, the Georgia Crowdfunding Association (GCA), The Richards School of Business at the University of West Georgia (UWG), and Carroll Tomorrow will host a full day of seminars, workshops and networking opportunities to help the entire Georgia Crowdfunding ecosystem connect and learn more about the dynamics of Crowdfunding.  I would urge anyone interested in how Crowdfunding really works to attend this unique, hands-on learning opportunity. Visit www.crowdwest.org to learn more and register today.

 

 

 

 

How the JOBS Act will Change the Way Small Businesses Attract Capital

Written by Gene Wright. Posted in News

The JOBS act, enacted into law by President Obama in April will have a profound impact on many investors and small businesses in the US during 2013 and beyond. For years in Europe, small businesses have been able to “tap the crowd” to help raise mon

ey for projects, finance short term opportunities or raise money for social or environmental causes from everyday people. The “crowdfunding” phenomenon is not new; people have come together to pool resources to achieve a common goal many times before. In 1885, Joseph Pulitzer and his newspaper The World raised $102,000 (approximately $2.3 million today) from over 120,000 donors in less than 5 months to help finish the construction of the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. While France had donated the statue itself, the US government ran out of money to finish the project (sounds familiar), and Pulitzer used his paper to raise the balance of the funding with most of the contributions coming from everyday people contributing one dollar or less.

According to a recent article in Forbes magazine, one of the most important aspect of the JOBS Act will be to lift the ban on how businesses can solicit or advertise for investment capital. Currently, private businesses are prohibited from advertising for investors. In reality, high growth well deserved businesses spend months attempting to raise money to fund growth through a complex, inefficient and costly process in which they can introduce their business only to accredited investors. The JOBS Act changes all that by allowing the free flow of information between small businesses and potential investors. Non-accredited investors will now be able to gain access to company offerings they couldn’t participate in before, and companies will be able to leverage their networks of suppliers and customers to help provide capital for their use. More importantly, the cost and time required to raise capital will be reduced.

The JOBS Act will accelerate the entrepreneur spirit, and small businesses will find innovative ways to unlock new ways to “tap the crowd” to fund small business opportunities and hopefully create more jobs. While the SEC still hasn’t clarified all the rules regarding general solicitation for funds, many new internet portals have launched platforms hoping to become an electronic exchange platform between these small businesses and investors for a fee.

Most small business owners I talk with have heard the term “crowdfunding” but don’t understand how they might benefit from it. We are working with a few clients to improve the odds of getting funded by studying successful crowdfunding business models and developing a methodology to manage the process. We’ve discovered that there is much involved to prepare for success in 2013; it not as simple as filling out forms, gathering information from accountants and engaging attorneys to create the necessary paperwork.

At the end of the day, while crowdfunding isn’t a silver bullet solution to re-start economic growth, some elements of the program may be successfully executed by start-ups, small businesses and even mid-size businesses. After all, I don’t see the banks coming to the rescue of small business anytime soon and the current equity funding process is not meaningfully impacting this segment of the business ecosystem either.

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The JOBS act, enacted into law by President Obama in April will have a profound impact on many investors and small businesses in the US during 2013 and beyond. For years in Europe, small businesses have been able to “tap the crowd” to help raise money for projects, finance short term opportunities or raise money for social or environmental causes from everyday people. The “crowdfunding” phenomenon is not new; people have come together to pool resources to achieve a common goal many times before. In 1885, Joseph Pulitzer and his newspaper The World raised $102,000 (approximately $2.3 million today) from over 120,000 donors in less than 5 months to help finish the construction of the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. While France had donated the statue itself, the US government ran out of money to finish the project (sounds familiar), and Pulitzer used his paper to raise the balance of the funding with most of the contributions coming from everyday people contributing one dollar or less.
According to a recent article in Forbes magazine, one of the most important aspect of the JOBS Act will be to lift the ban on how businesses can solicit or advertise for investment capital. Currently, private businesses are prohibited from advertising for investors. In reality, high growth well deserved businesses spend months attempting to raise money to fund growth through a complex, inefficient and costly process in which they can introduce their business only to accredited investors. The JOBS Act changes all that by allowing the free flow of information between small businesses and potential investors. Non-accredited investors will now be able to gain access to company offerings they couldn’t participate in before, and companies will be able to leverage their networks of suppliers and customers to help provide capital for their use. More importantly, the cost and time required to raise capital will be reduced.
The JOBS Act will accelerate the entrepreneur spirit, and small businesses will find innovative ways to unlock new ways to “tap the crowd” to fund small business opportunities and hopefully create more jobs. While the SEC still hasn’t clarified all the rules regarding general solicitation for funds, many new internet portals have launched platforms hoping to become an electronic exchange platform between these small businesses and investors for a fee.
Most small business owners I talk with have heard the term “crowdfunding” but don’t understand how they might benefit from it. We are working with a few clients to improve the odds of getting funded by studying successful crowdfunding business models and developing a methodology to manage the process. We’ve discovered that there is much involved to prepare for success in 2013; it not as simple as filling out forms, gathering information from accountants and engaging attorneys to create the necessary paperwork.
At the end of the day, while crowdfunding isn’t a silver bullet solution to re-start economic growth, some elements of the program may be successfully executed by start-ups, small businesses and even mid-size businesses. After all, I don’t see the banks coming to the rescue of small business anytime soon and the current equity funding process is not meaningfully impacting this segment of the business ecosystem either.
What do you think?
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The Invisible Middle

Written by Gene Wright. Posted in News

I’ve been impressed by research done by Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business and GE Capital’s 2011 National Middle Market Summit. If the US Middle Market (defined as companies with revenues between ten million and one billion in revenues) were a country, they would rank  4th in the world behind Japan in comparison to the world’s largest economies with over $3.8 trillion in private sector GDP.

Moreover, the “Invisible Middle” had an astonishing 82% survival rate during the last recession in the face of an unprecedented credit crisis, sharply increasing commodity prices and sweeping regulatory changes that have haunted their larger competitors. Since the majority of these businesses are privately held, it’s harder to compare their internal financial performance metrics but the facts are clear; these companies represent the real growth engine of the US economy. Surviving middle market companies added more than two million jobs from 2007-2010, even as larger companies shed nearly four million jobs. The “Invisible Middle” serves as community pillars, providing stable employment and acting as responsible corporate citizens.

So what’s driving the growth behind these companies? Since most “Invisible Middle” CEO’s were not MBA’s from the best business schools  or had decades of training in preparation to lead companies like Microsoft or General Electric, what explains their phenomenal performance against their larger peers during the last recession?  While there are several factors that have driven growth, the most impressive to me is developing new markets and channels for their business and effective operational efficiencies that result in exceptional profit margins

Still, access to capital needed remains one of the biggest challenges to these companies. 55% of the companies reporting stated that they did not have sufficient access to capital markets to realize the potential they felt was achievable.  Recently, I’ve helped form a group in the metro Atlanta area to improve visibility of these well-deserved companies and efforts are underway to bring them together with super angels, venture funds and other capital sources to try and connect them with the funding we feel will immediately help create jobs and improve the economy in Atlanta, the state of Georgia and the country.

We’re looking for companies with truly outstanding stories to tell and capital investors interested in helping shape solutions for growth. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have ideas or would like to contribute to our efforts.  It’s time we create some visibility for the “Invisible Middle.”

 

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International Center for Innovation in Technologies invites Gene Wright as Keynote Speaker

Written by Gene Wright. Posted in News

Kennesaw GA- August 30,2012.

The International Center for Innovation in Technologies (ICIT) Keynote Speaker Series continues on Thursday August 30 with a presentation titled “Growth Through Change and Innovation” featuring Donald Amoroso, PhD., ICIT’s Executive Director, Gene Wright, Managing Partner NorthStar Consulting and Roger Reak Managing Director for StratAlli as the event’s Keynote speakers.

Dr. Amoroso will host the event at Kennesaw State University’s Center Room 400 located just off Campus at Chastain Road and I-75 from 5:00-7:00PM on Thursday August 30th with a reception following.

Gene Wright will speak on the topic “The Invisible Middle”, the 200,000 US businesses with revenues between 10 million and one billion representing over 33% of private sector growth. During the last recession, these firms grew and prospered compared to the composite Fortune 500 companies in the US. Wright will discuss what factors drove that growth and more importantly, the challenges these executives face during the next decade.

The event is sponsored by ICIT and there is no cost to attend, but attendance is by invitation only. if you would like to attend, please contact either Gene Wright ggwright@nstarconsulting.biz or ICIT directly at icit@kennesaw.edu for more information and meeting logistics.

“Rare Air”: Words of Wisdom on Success and what it takes to Get There

Written by Gene Wright. Posted in News

There’s so much media attention focused on business owner’s challenges in today’s economic environment I felt it might be a good time to search the World Wide Web for articles on business owners who have done well to see what advice they shared on achieving success. I hope these “sound bites” help to balance the ledger. There’s always someone who just never quits and provides great inspiration to the rest of us.  I hope you enjoy their observations.

“If you can get your business to a million, you can get it to a billion.”

Heather Reisman: Indigo Books and Music Inc. 244 stores, 7,000 employees, $1 billion in revenue.

“When I asked Robert Lantos, who ran Alliance and was an investor in Galaxy, if he wanted to see the business plan, he said “No, you’re the business plan”. That put a lot of pressure on me because I had to deliver.”

Ellis Jacob: Galaxy Cinemas (Now Cineplex Entertainment.) 130 theatres, 10,000 employees, $1 billion.

“Almost all of the people I’ve hired, they start at the bottom. You have to learn how things are done on the floor if you want to manage people. I only know one job where you start at the top: when you dig a hole. And guess where you end up? In a hole.”

Frank Hasenfratz: Linamar Corporation. 39 manufacturing facilities, 16,200 employees, $2.8 billion.

“The words, “That’s good enough” don’t exist in business. You cannot rest on your laurels. The auto business suffered badly by making a product that was inferior. They learned their lesson. Quality first, as Ford would say. And I think that true in everything we do.”

Ron Joyce: Tim Horton’s. 4042 stores, $2.9 billion revenue.

“I can remember my grandfather saying “Don’t sell the skin of the bear before you kill it.” Meaning, don’t spend more money than you have. Money is the thermometer of an enterprise. You don’t take actions that don’t make you money.”

Cora Mussely Tsouflidou: Chef Cora, 4000 employees, over 120 franchises

“My dad always said, hire people better than you, and keep them. You don’t want to have turnover.”

J.R.Shaw: Shaw Communications, 14,000 people, $4.7 in revenue.

“I didn’t have a goal, except one: to conquer the world. Before I launched in 1972, I did a marketing study that was a catastrophe. Nobody believed in the Lise Watier beauty line-and that gave me the adrenalin to prove them wrong.”

Lise Watier: Lise Waiter Cosmetics, 2009 locations, 162 employees, $55 million revenues.

 

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What’s Your Business “Right to Exist”?

Written by Gene Wright. Posted in News

Over the years, it’s been interesting to observe unique and innovative ways that businesses create value for their clients or customers.  One of my favorite questions in interviewing prospective clients is “what is the one thing you do better than your competitors”?  In short, what is your right to exist?

Often, business owners can clearly articulate their ability to identify and curate assortments or services to a specific target customer.  Some deliver the lowest price or have a product whose uniqueness alone creates unusual demand. Others can’t clearly identify how they create value for their customers or clients, and when questioned further, claim to be average to good at most things that matter. Those are the ones that are in real trouble; if not today, then certainly tomorrow.

I define value as benefits received for burdens endured, and there are many ways to create value for customers or clients. Businesses that compete on price, service, assortment, or convenience can all be successful by understanding what their customer values,   then organizing themselves to deliver that unique value. In the retail arena, Costco and Family Dollar deliver value based on price, Apple and Uniqlo on fashion, Walgreens of CVS on convenience, and Lexus or Ritz Carlton on service.  These retailers focus on the ONE thing that separates them from their competition, and find ways to continually improve their value proposition to extend their competitive advantage in the marketplace.

But sometimes, businesses organize themselves to fail by trying to be all things to all people. I once listened to a business owner opine that his strategy was not segment the market, since everyone was a potential customer. Others I remember chased the latest fashion trying to emulate their competitors without knowing really knowing why.  These businesses were invariably a day late and a dollar short when it came to building the founder’s net worth.

Growing a business profitably isn’t easy. It’s even harder if you don’t have a right to exist. Think about that one thing your business can do better than any of your competitors; then focus relentlessly on what competencies your organization needs to grow, partner with or acquire to enhance your competitiveness. If you take good care of your customers or clients, they’ll take good care of the rest.

As always, we welcome your comments and feedback to our point of view.

 

 

Why Most Small Businesses Never Scale

Written by Gene Wright. Posted in News

It’s a cliché to say that most small businesses don’t survive for more than five years, but it’s true.  Wild exceptions like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates aside, most entrepreneurs who start a business simply fade away once they’ve launched their venture.  During my career as a consultant to companies large and small, I’ve witnessed first-hand the different capabilities successful leaders possess in larger companies that some small business owners just don’t seem to get. Many habits and skills entrepreneurs develop early on can limit their ability to grow their business over time. I’ve highlighted a few of my observations below, and while I’m certain the list isn’t complete or in any prioritized order, it may serve as food for thought for small business owners looking to become an exception to recent statistics.

  1. Lack of bi-focal Vision.  Most small business owners begin with single issue myopia;  a deep passion that drives almost everything they do. Most often, it’s that single minded focus that creates early success.  Over time, however, failing to recognize and capitalize on market and consumer changes erodes the early advantages of laser like focus.  Most large companies possess the ability to manage the short and long term business horizon simultaneously.

 

  1. They want to control EVERYTHING.  After growing revenues become clear evidence of early success, many small business owners find it difficult to let go as their businesses become more complex. Many spend too much time trying to learn and internalize specialized skills like accounting, real estate, marketing and technology that slows their speed to market. While larger companies have separate divisions for these competencies, they didn’t begin with any of them. Those leaders recognized the need for specialization and often times began by outsourcing, then insourcing, each competency over time as their business grew.

 

  1. Talk to everyone, listen to no one.  One small business owner I knew spent an inordinate amount of time with an “advisory group” to try and learn things “he didn’t know”.  The time spent obtaining this “free” advice resulted in a considerable waste of valuable time.  Better to have found two or three experts he trusted enough to really listen to, even when he didn’t always agree with the advice given. Larger companies face the opposite dilemma; CEO’s find it harder to really get to the truth because most subordinates tell them what they want to hear.  Perhaps return on time is more valuable than return on capital in the early innings of a business.

 

  1. Employee loyalty.  In the early days, that small band of employees at the start of a business often makes the difference between success and failure. They become family; exactly the sort of people needed when there’s no assurance of long term success and security. Over time, loyalty to these first generation employees can become a liability as complexity grows. CEO’s, while not lacking sympathy with their people, simply understand that their future success depends on every team member’s strengths.  Allegiance shifts towards a growing employee base, customers, investors and business fundamentals and away from friends as good companies grow.

Please let me know your thoughts on why most small businesses don’t scale!

What Does the JOBS Act mean for Small Businesses Looking to Raise Capital?

Written by Gene Wright. Posted in News

The JOBS (Jumpstart our Business Startups) Act was signed into law on April 5 by President Obama and aimed at increasing the ability of small businesses to access capital and create jobs. In this and subsequent posts, I will monitor the opinions of legal experts, consultants, financial  advisors and compliance guidelines from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to help determine how small business owners may be able to take advantage this new legislation and report back periodically on what I learn. My hope is that many small business owners can gain access to much needed capital to expand their businesses and create jobs to improve our economy.

Since the legislation was signed into law I’ve read numerous legal opinions from attorneys at Morrison & Forester and Seyforth Shaw along with several other posts from my peer group of consultants and financial advisors. Here’s what they all seem to say in common at this point:

  1. It will now be easier for small businesses to raise capital. The Act defines small businesses as “Emerging Growth Companies” (EGC} with less than 1 billion in revenue, which applies to most small business owners I work with. The law provides temporary relief from the SEC from certain regulatory reporting requirements, making it easier, less expensive and more feasible to go public.
  2. The Act makes it easier to sell stock to private investors in addition to venture capital groups. The Act removes an SEC regulatory ban stating that businesses cannot use advertisements to attract investors to a non-public offering, which has made it difficult in the past to keep communications about a private offering under wraps.
  3. Small businesses will have a new way of raising money through “crowdsourcing”. The Act allows business owners to sell equity to anyone with the cash and interest through web based “crowdfunding” portals which provide platforms to connect businesses with individual and group investors. Previously, crowdsourcing was limited primarily to artists or small business owners accepting small donations in exchange for bags and CD’s. Also, the new law states that you don’t have to be a really rich person (an accredited investor) to invest in a small business, which in itself creates a new set of risks and rewards to companies interested in obtaining this type of funding.

The SEC has 270 days from April 5 to come up with a new regulatory framework allowing businesses to sell company equity on crowdsourcing platforms. That means you have until about Thanksgiving to get ready to compete for new crowdfunding sources of capital.

I expect that small business owners with solid customer value propositions, well-articulated business plans and clear evidence that new capital can be put to work effectively will be the early benefactors of the Act. Audited financials, explanation of the risks associated with equity investment and a plan that anticipates future capital rounds will be also be pre-requisites to success for those businesses hoping to cash into cash in on this new equity source. Now is the time to begin thinking about how your business can benefit from the JOBS Act.

If you would like to share your perspectives on how to better prepare for the JOBS Act, please post your comments or contact me directly. Let’s figure out how to take advantage of this enticing opportunity to grow new businesses by helping them gain access to the capital they need!

Things Clients Never Confess to Me During our Project…

Written by Gene Wright. Posted in News

Sometimes I like to think back on some of the really interesting comments I’ve received from some of my best clients. Often these comments are shared during our project “post mortem discussion” in discussing what really worked and didn’t.  I’ve kept a list of some of the most interesting feedback I’ve received over the years, and thought you might find it interesting and somewhat entertaining.  As consultants, we’re not infallible with advice we give others; fortunately our clients see us as human, too!

Enjoy!  

1. “You know that great candidate you introduced me to last week? Well, he was an idiot”.

2. “We had our management team meeting yesterday and we’ve concluded that we’re kind of screwed”.

3. “It finally hit me that revenue and cash are not the same thing. I really didn’t understand we were in the banking business. Customers provide “revenue”, Vendors provide “terms”.  Employees want to be paid in cash”.

4. “My partner had a major life event. He’ll be leaving us but is happy to continue to contribute as a member of the board. By the way, I’m sure we’ll be OK”.

5. “Learned from tech guy you recommended that that “virtual” means that it can virtually disappear whenever it wants. Why are we doing this “cloud” thing again”?

6. “I finally followed through with your idea of “executive leadership” yesterday. At the last management meeting, our marketing person told me we were getting crushed in the market because we just weren’t “competitive”. I told her that we’re investing in our future, not our present”.

7. “We have 3 months of cash left in the bank. Adjusted for inflation. But, not adjusted for the fact that we have no idea if any of the deals we sold this quarter is ever going to pay us in a form that can be used to pay bills and payroll. Our landlord is clueless and doesn’t understand the importance of the work we’re doing”.

8. “Back in college, when you “audit” a course, it meant you just tried it out and see if you liked it. Why does “auditing financials” have to be so intense”?

10. “We’ve found new office space. To be consistent with the 3 year pro-forma we discussed at our last briefing, we’ll be signing a 10 year lease that matches the space needs based on those projected numbers. It’s nice when things just work out, isn’t it”?

11. “I woke up this morning with this really big idea. It’ll make the idea you suggested last week pale in comparison. The good news is that my friend says we can execute this one more quickly and easily than yours. This is going to BIG”!

Have a great day!