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山西财院78jitong 19781017--19820715

 
 
 

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78jitong.......................................................... 高三李五七弓长,三赵九刘七大王,阎吴谢孙崔氏双,柴米余侯箩万堂, 毛邓陈宋任申杭,曾肖徐翁程董梁,储曲祁解韦国强,男女七十学跟党。

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The 20 Year Perspective: How Embracing a Long Term Mindset Changed the Way We Are Building Kipsu

About a year ago I was stuck in a hotel room and happened to flip to the History Channel’s “The Men Who Built America.” It was a great docudrama focused on entrepreneurs like Rockefeller and Carnegie. In it, Steve Case, Co-Founder of AOL, offered his perspective about being an entrepreneur, and he said one thing that really stuck with me:

“Entrepreneurs want to change the world, want to have a significant impact, don’t want to just build a company. They want to build an industry. They don’t want to just create another product or service, they really want to fundamentally improve aspects of people’s lives.”

The desire to make a big, long-term impact resonated with me, to “make a dent in the universe,” as Steve Jobs so aptly described it, but I had trouble reconciling that with the immediacy of our 2015 culture and economy.

We live in a world that is increasingly executed in the short-term. I co-founded a company called Kipsu that reduces the time that many companies typically respond to their customers from days to minutes. Kipsu exists to solve the most short term of human needs: resolving last minute requests that you may have as a guest at a hotel or as a patient in a hospital setting. And while recognizing there’s a need to address short-term problems, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to think long-term as technology advances. A challenge that is here to stay.

Despite being an active facilitator in this move to a more short-term-focused world, at Kipsu, we recognize this challenge and have come to value being less reactive. We factor the long term into everything we do, even as we deliver on the immediacy that our customers need.

At the most basic level, the acceleration of new technology makes us ever more connected. That increased contact changes our expectations about how fast we need to act (or react). If we don’t respond to an email to establish a meeting time with our work colleagues within 15 minutes, we lose the opportunity to have our preferences included. If we are calling a spouse and they don’t answer, we lose our patience. We now even have a feature on our smartphones to instantly reply to that person with a text message when we can’t take the call. Instant has infiltrated our lives. We spend a lot of time habitually glancing at our smartphones and reacting to what is in front of us.

In a broader context, the changes in markets for new products can be quick and companies who miss the wave risk being left behind. Bill Gross, Founder of IdeaLab, a venture incubator, recently gave a Ted Talk on a post mortem of the losses in his portfolio and found that missing the timing of a market turned out to be the number one reason for his investments being unsuccessful. Gross’s revelations are aligned with my own experience as a technology investor for 10 years with the venture capital fund Coral Group.

The average technology product today has a shelf life of 18 months. The next version of the product is usually well under development long before its predecessor is launched. We are churning out new products at an amazingly high rate compared to 100 years ago. For example, the iPhone’s release history looks like this:

  • June 29, 2007 — Original iPhone
  • July 11, 2008 — iPhone 3G (13 months later)
  • June 19, 2009 — iPhone 3GS (11 months later)
  • February 10, 2011 — iPhone 4 (20 months later)
  • October 14, 2011 — iPhone 4S (8 months later)

In roughly four years the Apple smartphone doubled in processing speed. Whereas 100 years earlier, the initial Ford car models looked like this:

  • 1908 — Model T
  • 1917 — Model TT/truck version of the Model T (9 years later)
  • 1927 — Model A (10 years later)

To put it in context, it took Ford almost 20 years to improve the original “horseless carriage” top speed by 45% (to 65 MPH).

The funders that provide the capital to help us grow our businesses are also operating in the ‘here and now.’ The average venture capital deal is held less than six years and the ability for a venture capitalist to raise his or her next fund is dependent on returning capital to the fund investors in that short period of time. Further, one of the fundamental metrics used to measure return performance — the internal rate of return or “IRR” — is highly sensitive to the timing of when a cash flow is returned. The earlier the cash flows are returned to the investor the more generous the IRR formula is to producing a high IRR number.

Even more short term in their thinking are public companies. A minor miss from the guidance they provide Wall Street just months earlier can have a significant impact on the value of a company’s equity. Leadership in these companies reflects this impatience: The average Fortune 500 leader is in the CEO seat for less than five years and cash bonuses and equity incentive compensation tend to be rewarded in the short term — not 20 years from today.

9 Ways That Kipsu Has Embraced the Long Term Mindset

  1. Vision. This is the most obvious change, but we think more broadly about our vision for the world. Bill Gates and Paul Allen famously envisioned “a computer on every desk and in every home” as their goal for Microsoft. It took Microsoft 35 years to realize their goal and change their vision statement. At Kipsu, we see a future where “every business has a one-on-one personal relationship with every one of their customers. This long-term, bold vision allows us to evaluate the immediate technology trends (the role of artificial intelligence, for example) and put them in perspective relative to the broader bet we are making as a company over the longer time horizon. It has helped us focus our development priorities — for example, staying away from putting out our functionality in standalone mobile apps — and it has brought clarity in every aspect of how we engage our customers.
  2. Competition. When we started our company five years ago we were the first in our market and, naturally, with competitors comes the potential for paranoia. We now worry less about our competitors and now evaluate them in terms of how their offerings will fit into the world we expect to live in 20 years from now. A lot can happen between now and 20 years: those competitors can sell out to a big company that mismanages them, they can screw up execution or they can go out of business for a long list of reasons. We focus on making sure we win the most important customers that will influence shaping our solution over the next ten years, even if they are small customers. If they are exceptional at what they do, we want to work with them.
  3. Hiring Decisions. One thing that I am most proud of is the world-class team that we are building at Kipsu. We don’t hire based on big titles held in prior jobs. We look for the hidden gems that are motivated by the role they will grow into playing in our long-term development. One of the advantages of being based in Minneapolis rather than Silicon Valley is that our talent pool is more naturally inclined to long term commitment. They are not seeking a jump to the next Facebook around the corner. We actively use their inherent loyalty as part of our key criteria in our hiring process. When we evaluate two employees for a specific role, all other things equal, the one who has demonstrated long-term commitment, wins the job.
  4. Commitment to our Employees/Our Employees’ Commitment to Us. All of our employees are owners in Kipsu. Not just in terms of our stock option program but in their voice being heard in how we together build our company. We commit to their development and they commit to being a positive force on team Kipsu. To show our commitment, rather than using the typical four year Silicon Valley vesting cycle for option grants, we collectively decided to use six year vesting cycles. We’re all in it to make it a success for the long term. We’re also committed to our employees even when they move on from working with us. We’ll be the first to help them find another assignment when things aren’t working or the first to write a check if it comes time for them to step out to start their own venture.
  5. Negotiating with Our Customers. Customers always want a great deal. We all do. But a bad deal for us will only result in limiting our ability to provide the necessary staffing and long-term product development that will make our customers successful. While we are oftentimes the most expensive option, we rarely lose opportunities that we are serious about because our customers come to appreciate our approach. We want to develop a win-win relationship that will help ensure their success with our solution over the long-term. Negotiating strategy, even with very large and attractive customers, becomes crystal clear when you have this type of focus.
  6. The “Roller Coaster.” Every early stage company has good days and bad days. Knowing what you are shooting for helps to put into perspective a serious setback, which is rare, from a minor mishap. Minor mishaps present learning opportunities and if we recognize them for what they are, they only help us get better and improve our chances of achieving our longer-term goals. It’s infrequent that we need to overreact when we stay true to our pattern of a longer-term tenet.
  7. Partnerships. We do very little partnering with other companies. When we do, we look for relationships where there is a “win-win” that can build joint value over time. We’ve found that investing in partnerships out of fear to maintain our market position hasn’t been worthwhile. Instead, we ask ourselves whether that partner has “a right” to play a role in our lives and economy in twenty years and how we will complement each other’s mutual success.
  8. Capital Formation. We bootstrapped our business for a long period of time so that we could have more control over our destiny. We also picked a market that was well suited for high growth rates but that we didn’t believe would be decided overnight. As a result, we’ve been able to build our company more organically and leverage our customers instead of equity investors. When we did raise some capital this last year, we started by socializing our strategy as a long-term investment with our investors. They love our story. More than one specifically asked us to stay away from capital sources that would put a timeline on the company and they all viewed the problem we are solving as a long-term opportunity.
  9. Exit Planning. You would be surprised at how often I am asked, “what is your exit strategy?” I previously sat on a number of boards with DuBose Montgomery, one of the founders of Menlo Ventures, and a pioneer of the venture capital business. DuBose was a man of many kernels of wisdom but one of his best lines was “it’s always better to be bought than sold.” We concentrate our energies on building a great company instead of positioning ourselves to be sold tomorrow. Will we turn down a terrific offer that produces great returns and better positions the company in light of a changing market? Unlikely. But we aren’t spending our energy looking for it. We strongly believe our attention is better focused on building a lasting company, and others will be even more attracted to us if we are strong and sustainable.

The short-term is tempting, and it will only become more inviting as technology advances. It takes discipline to think long-term, but we believe it is critical to building a company of great impact and lasting value. Now go and check your messages — you don’t want to miss out on scheduling for that important meeting.

Christopher Smith is the Co-Founder and CEO of Kipsu, which helps hoteliers, retailers and healthcare providers build amazing relationships with their customers using text messaging and other digital conversation channels. Chris is also a Co-Founder and the Co-Chair of Minnesota Comeback, an education reform network tackling the opportunity gap in Minneapolis. You can reach him at csmith@kipsu.com.

With assistance from Geoff DuttonHayden GoldstienTaylor WilliamsOthman SmihiMatt Timmons and Jill Berquist.

 
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