Be an Ethical Entrepreneur, Marketer, and Business Builder

Why WhatsApp is NOT everything that’s wrong with the economy

By WhatsApp Inc. (http://media.whatsapp.com/) [Public Domain], via Wikimedia CommonsFacebook recently purchased a startup with no profits for $19 billion dollars in the largest tech acquisition in history.

The venture capital-backed, tech startup world is rife with problems as I’ve blogged about before.

However, Robert Reich has brought up one of the more popularly alleged economic problems.

He claims the problem is that tech companies like WhatsApp are hurting the economy by not creating enough jobs.

In Reich’s words:

Productivity keeps growing, as do corporate profits. But jobs and wages are not growing. Unless we figure out how to bring all of them back into line – or spread the gains more widely – our economy cannot generate enough demand to sustain itself, and our society cannot maintain enough cohesion to keep us together.

In other words, Mr. Reich is saying, “55 employees were able to make a business worth $19 billion dollars serving 450 million people and that’s not fair. Why do such a small group of people deserve so much?”

Of course, he offers no solutions other than to mention income inequality implying that it’s the fault of successful companies like WhatsApp for being successful.

Venture backed start-ups with insanely high valuations, minimal revenue and no profit have all sorts of issues.

But not creating enough jobs is not one of them.

Remember the Luddites rioting to destroy new machines that made the textile industry more efficient back in the 18th century?

Richard Arkwright invented his cotton-spinning machine in 1760 which became one of the main instigators of the Luddite riots.

After all, the cotton-spinning machine would displace the jobs of all of the seamstresses who used to make the clothes by hand, right?

In 1760, there were about 7,900 persons in England engaged in production in the textile industry. In 1787, 27 years after Arkwright’s invention and only 8 years after Ed Ludd destroyed 2 stocking frames allowing his name to become synonymous with all the machine destroyers, there were 320,000 people employed in textile production in England.

Why did more efficiency results in a 4400% increase in jobs?

Because with increased efficiency came lower prices so, instead of having 2 sets of clothes, people could afford to have dozens.

The same complaints have been lodged against every major technological advancement.

Every time we progress, the Luddites come out claiming this time the new increase in efficiency is going to hurt the public by reducing jobs.

The exact opposite is true.

About two centuries ago, the majority of America was an agrarian (i.e. farming) society.

However, the invention of farm machinery didn’t result in the majority of Americans starving because they were no longer needed on the farm. In contrast, less people on the farm meant more people inventing, building, and creating other things.

At its core, economics is very simple.

If something increases efficiency it’s good for the economy. If it decreases efficiency it’s bad.

WhatsApp figured out how to connect 450 million people with only 55 employees. That sounds hyper-efficient to me.

Our knowledge-based economy has seen the fastest and greatest improvements in efficiency and leverage the world has ever known.

The end result of that increased efficiency is always an improvement for society.

Massive fortunes were made by Rockefeller, Ford and Carnegie when we transitioned from an agrarian to an industrial economy.

More recently, Gates, Zuckerberg, Page and Brin have been richly rewarded in our transition from an industrial to a knowledge economy.

Would we all be better off if none of them were allowed to reap the rewards of their creations?

You have 2 options

Become a Luddite, slow down technological innovation, and reduce the reward for being an innovator by asking the government to intervene.

OR

Learn what it takes to excel in the knowledge-based economy and join the successful companies that are improving our lives.

Time will prove, once again, that Robert Reich, despite all of his experience, power, and prestige, is no different than Ned Ludd whose name became synonymous with the machine destroyers’ failed attempt to halt progress.

The problem is education

The problem is not our exponential increases in efficiency.

The problem is an education system that was built at the beginning of the industrial revolution and is still designed to teach students to be good “workers” instead of great thinkers.

As the owner of a marketing tech company who has been almost steadily hiring for 2 years, I can assure you that the education or degree of people who succeed on my team is irrelevant.

A particular degree, or college education at all, cannot predict job success as well as cognitive reasoning abilities, emergent leadership, the ability to learn quickly, a passion for your expertise and a willingness to make mistakes while admitting when you are wrong.

Google recently revealed their top 5 hiring attributes and indicated that the number of people at Google without degrees is increasing.

So whether it’s Twitter, Google, Facebook, WhatsApp or my company, Optimized Marketing, fast growing companies that understand how to leverage technology are coming to realize that relying on someone’s particular degree or level of education is not a good predictor of future job performance.

In other words, our education system isn’t reliably producing people with the skills we need.

The problem isn’t successful companies.

The problem is we haven’t yet learned how to educate students for the knowledge economy.
Don’t blame successful entrepreneurs for not making more jobs.

Celebrate their success and start teaching more people how to do the same thing.

There’s a reason Ken Robinson’s below TED talk explaining how schools kill creativity is the most popular TED video ever with over 25 million views.

Mr. Robinson’s talk is popular because he’s right.

Whether creativity comes in the form of becoming the dance choreographer who wrote Cats or the founders of a successful startup company that sells for billions, creativity is the solution.

Taking away the rewards of creativity, as Mr. Reich seems to be implying, would further hinder creative pursuits and not help anyone.

Imagine what the next 100 years will look like if we are all allowed to “come up with original ideas that present value”, as Mr. Robinson defines creativity.

To your passionate, creative success,
Bryan

P.S. For more examples of technology increasing employment in various industries, check out Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson.

The quickest way to $1,000,000 – Stock Market? Real Estate? Business?

Unless you’re a doctor, lawyer, or work on wall street most people will never be able to become millionaires without one or more of the above methods for generating wealth. As a matter of fact, less than 12% of millionaires get that way by virtue of their “jobs” according to The Millionaire Next Door. So what’s the easiest/best path to becoming a millionaire? Keep in mind, that we’re not talking about a get-rich-quick scheme, but instead the old fashioned way to make $1,000,000 as I blogged about before.

The most important concept to understand is leverage. The goal is always to do more with less. Whether that’s make more money with less invested or more money with less time, the more you can leverage your current assets the more quickly you’ll be able to acheive millionaire status. Now which option – stocks, real estate, or small business provide the greatest leverage?

In reverse order:

  1. Stock market – Once you acheive $1,000,000 in your bank account you can put that into a CD at your local bank for 5% and live comfortably off of your $50,000 per year in interest. Also, once you acheive a net worth of over a million with income of over $250,000 your stock broker can get you access to buying public shares at wholesale prices. In other words, the more money you have to invest the cheaper your per share investment will be. The problem with stocks is that you have to have money to leverage the stock market. Unless of course you can convince a bunch of other people to invest with you in which case you can leverage their money. However if you did that you would no longer be an investor you’d be in business. 😉 Typically a stock market investment prior to becoming a millionaire might look something like this. You invest $5,000 after doing your thorough research on EBB LLC and after a year manage a 20% return. That’s a VERY ideal situation but if you did that you’d cash out in a year with $6,000 or $1,000 profit. Not bad but not a whole lot of leverage there. If instead you invested $20,000 and you’re the next Warren Buffet who can sustain a 20% annual return for 21.5 years you’d be a millionaire. That’s before taxes of course.
  2. Real Estate – If you’ve been around real estate at all you’ve heard the often touted “statistic” that “real estate makes more people millionaires than anything else.” I say “statistic” because I’ve never seen hard evidence to back this up and even if someone produced it, I believe they’d be showing that people are paper millionaires. In other words, on paper their real estate is worth $1,000,000 if they sold it for a $1,000,000 but they don’t exactly have a million smackers in the bank. Real estate is beneficial however in that it gives you much greater leveraging power than the stock market. For instance if you buy a $100,000 property with $5,000 down (which would be tough these days) you would then have around a $600/month mortgage. If you then rent the property to someone else for $1000/month you now have a positive monthly cashflow of $400. Now here’s where the leverage comes in, if the property appreciates 5% in one year and then you sell it (by yourself of course since a realtor would take your profits), you would cash out with $14,800. Let’s say after insurance, maintenance, taxes and other expenses you actually walk away with $10,000. You invested $5k to begin with so you made $5,000 or a 100% return on your investment. Obviously this is an ideal situation however I’ve personally done nearly 100% in less than 22 months so it is definitely possible. If you were able to maintain a 50% return on your real estate investments every year by acquiring positive cashflow rental properties (with the first one worth $200,000) that appreciate at 5% annually you’d be a millionaire in a little less than 10 years. As a matter of fact, in Robert G. Allen’s book Nothing Down for the 2000s, he proposes just such a strategy to help you become a millionaire within 10 years. It’s actually a very good book that I personally credit for inspiring me to buy my first rental property at 21 while enrolled in engineering school. Obviously real estate offers quite a bit more leverage…
  3. Small Business – Here’s the bottom line, with around $5,000 out of pocket I’ve structured a business purchase that has yielded me in perks and compensation more than a 14 fold return on my investment within 12 months. That’s right, a 1400% increase on my initial investment in less than 12 months. Keep in mind, that’s on my very first business purchase and that’s without even selling the business yet. Since I’ve nearly doubled the profits in the business in my first 12 months, I would tend to think that my ROI will actually be well in excess of a 20 fold increase on my money. To make the math a little simpler, a 20 fold increase would be like investing $5,000 and getting back $100,000.

Now to make the comparison more accurate we need to take into account 2 more crucial pieces:

  1. Time
  2. Taxes

The only time I ever made money in the stock market required me to invest a lot of time in research before investing. Once I make those investments I should just be able to stick with them for years and so very little “maintenance” is needed. However that’s the get-rich-slowly method since we have little to no leverage of our money. So if your time is very limited this may be what’s best for you. However with capital gains around 35% your actual profits will be much smaller since when you cash in your stocks you’ll be taxed around 35% on the profits. There are creative ways to reduce that number but in the interest of simplicity we’ll leave it as-is.

When I had my rental property while studying engineering I was able to sufficiently manage my house, classes (while averaging over 21 credits per term), and racing so, though the time investment was constant and sometimes unexpected (like the time when the toilet exploded when I was a state away), it shouldn’t take over your life. Once you get 10-15 properties that’s a different story. As for taxes, real estate actually can be a great tax shelter however if you’re making money and your properties are appreciating you’re probably looking at close to 30% in taxes. I say that because capital gains on your profit will still be 35% however you have more deductions and, if you run it like a business, you can give yourself perks like business travel, laptops, mileage reimbursement, etc.

My business nearly consumes all of my time. Ironically, at the same time, I have more freedom now than I’ve ever had before as either a student or under the employ of someone else. In other words, I may have to trade a Saturday this weekend for skipping out next Friday for a long weekend but I don’t have to ask permission to do so. Overall my business is a full-time job that could still afford me the time for stock market investing and real estate speculation, but could not afford me (at this point) time for a normal full-time job. With 1-3 rental homes it’s very possible to have a normal full time job. The tax benefits of a business are so many and varied that I pay less than 20% of total income in income taxes.

If we take all of those into account here’s how our returns actually look:

  1. Stock Market – (after taxes and assuming a normal full-time job) $650 or 13%
  2. Real Estate – (after taxes and assuming a normal full-time job) $3,500 or 70%
  3. Small Business – (after taxes and deducting the salary I’ve been offered as an engineer) – $18,000 or 420%

So even after taking into account both my time investment (which wouldn’t be nearly as flexible working for someone else as an engineer) and tax consequences, investing in a Small Business as your first step to generating wealth is the best one because it offers by far the greatest leverage. Don’t forget that my ROI for Small Business still assumes that I make absolutely no additional profit when I sell the business. Obviously I don’t plan on that happening. 😉

To your wealth generating success, Bryan

P.S. My original out of pocket expenses for my business purchase were all lawyers fees that were reimbursed by my new business shortly after buying it which meant my inital cash investment was tied up for maybe 90 days versus the entire year for both stocks and real estate.

Nearly half of Americans think 2008 will go down as one of the worst years in American history…

Wow. Were the past 12 months that bad for you?

As I was reading the Wall Street Journal on my Kindle this week I came across an article that references a Wall Street Journal/NBC news poll indicating that nearly half of the people surveyed think 2008 will go down as one of the worst years in US history. Since 90% of the respondents indicated that the economy has gotten worse in the last 12 months I’m going to assume that’s the primary reason everyone hates 2008. I must say, as a young entrepreneur who has put everything on the line to buy a small business and move across the country 8 months ago, I’m a bit shocked…

Here’s why I’m a bit shocked that people think things are so horrible:

  • I sold my house in Pennsylvania in about 3 months at a profit when I’d only purchased it 24 months earlier.
  • I easily got financing (at 95%) for my new place in New Mexico.
  • I’ve secured several commercial bank loans and still have access to low interest credit.
  • My business is about to have the highest grossing year of revenue in its 60 year history.
  • We’ve hired 3 new people this year and anticipate more growth in the next 12 months.
  • I bought and resold a motorcycle in less than 2 months at 30% profit this summer.
  • My personal net worth has increased more in the last 8 months then it has during the previous 25 years of my life.

Now the news isn’t all rosy:

  • At last count my stocks, mutual funds, etc. are down about 33% this year. However that doesn’t really bother me since most of my money is invested in other areas. Now I have an amazing opportunity to increase my stock holdings and take advantage of severely discounted businesses on the stock exchange.
  • I haven’t been able to sell my sports car. It’s a 2006 G35 coupe. Bright red. Not exactly the vehicle people “hunkering down” for a depression would be buying.
  • My debt has increased more in the last 8 months then it has during the previous 25 years of my life. However, the right kind of debt isn’t bad as long as it’s used for assets and they are appreciating.

So what does this all mean to you? It’s very simple, are you bracing for a recession, depression, or worse? OR are you finding the opportunities that are now greater than ever out there.

Right now you can buy businesses, houses, stocks and mutual funds cheaper than probably in the last 20 years. Particularly with the housing market, if you have good credit, with the tightening restrictions on lending, guess what’s going to happen? More people are going to have to rent. Housing prices are down and rental prices are going to start going up (rental rates don’t seem to have changed much in my area yet). Is there a more perfect formula for residual income and profiting from rental properties then that???

As Brad Sugars pointed out recently – In Las Vegas, where the housing market has been particularly hard hit, he talked to a realtor who said he’s getting killed because no one is buying anything. Shortly thereafter he spoke with another realtor who said he has more work then he knows what to do with. With all of the foreclosures, banks are scrambling for good realtors to sell for them.

Which guy or gal are you? Is it all doom and gloom or are you picking out the opportunities that are abound?

The possibilities that are created in 2008 may be the ones that allows you and I to create more wealth more quickly than ever before. And what’s the worst that can happen? You could buy a business and fail? You could buy a stock that goes bankrupt and lose your investment? You could buy a rental property that doesn’t get rented out? Well, here are a few quick ways to minimize the chance of any of those things happening.

  1. Buy a business – Make sure it’s a staple that everyone will need no matter what’s going on in the economy. If you have few or no competitors, even better. If you already own your business, buy your competitors and/or complementary businesses that can benefit from your current facilities and customer list to spread overhead between several entities keeping costs low. What’s your company’s niche??? The most important part is the PURCHASE PRICE. Buy it cheap. Make sure you tell the seller that the economy is horrible and they better take your offer while it’s still on the table. 😉
  2. Buy a house – If you’re looking for a rental property and you’re not too worried about tax deductions, single-family dwellings are always the best to start out with. Young families and couples are abound so there’s always a need. And with the current credit markets those people will need to rent. Keep in mind, just like with a business, what’s unique about your property that will make people want to stay there? Again, the purchase price is the most important part. If you can keep your costs down with a low mortgage then your profits will be that much better. Make sure you tell the seller that the economy is horrible and they better take your offer while it’s still on the table. 😉
  3. Buy stocks – I’m not a big fan of mutual funds. I bought my first one when I was 14 and never had great success. In essence you’re paying extra to have someone pick stocks for you and put them in a nice, neat little package. Do your homework. Learn about the stock market and particularly business valuation. Read The Warren Buffett Way. Buy stocks that have more cash on hand then their current market capitalization and also have strong cashflow. If you want to be even safer, invest in ones that are still paying a dividend. Historically they generally fair the best.

Consider this for a minute – retail sales after Thanksgiving this year are up 7% over last year! That’s right, last year when the stock market was soaring and everyone was making money and unemployment was low we bought less stuff at Christmas sales then we did in this recessed year of 2008…  Hmmm… are you seeing the opportunities yet?

Don’t be that guy who remembers when Buffalo Wild Wings and Netflix were trading for $21/share and if you’d have only put a few bucks into those stocks you’d be rich now… If you still think I’m a bit “off”, since the sky is obviously falling, check out what the greatest investor in the world, Warren Buffet, thinks about the economy.

To your success in making 2009 your most profitable year yet, Bryan

Are we headed for another Great Depression???

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History has a way of repeating itself, however is now one of those times? After all, this past week was the WORST week in the 112 year history of the US stock market (yes, worse than the week of Black Thursday that some say began the Great Depression). So is the worst over, or still yet to come with a possible drop on the Dow to 4,000?

It’s important to consider the implications of a Great Depression for 2 reasons:

  1. As business-owners and Americans in general, what do we do with our money at this point?
  2. Which Presidential candidate truly understands the economics of our country (or does it even matter)? (I still haven’t decided if I will review the candidates policies yet and there affects on us…)

So let’s dive right in by looking at the similarities of our current time with the Great Depression:

  1. Stock market crash – as mentioned above we’ve had the worst stock market crash in history so this is undeniable.
  2. Global Affect – dozens of countries were affected by the Great Depression not just the US and now, just as back then, what bodes ill for the US will have wide-reaching repercussions. Did you read about the $400 billion German Bailout for instance?
  3. Huge Personal Debt – One of the primary causes for the GD was the cheap availability of money for businesses and individuals to borrow. When people couldn’t make the payments on those notes, things got ugly (to the tune of 9,000 banks closing from 1930-1933). Banks then called for people who were making payments to immediately pay off the principal in full… Those people obviously couldn’t pay off the principal in full, so the cycle of economic collapse cascaded… Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the average household is not carrying $8,000 but instead is carrying much less and most people are paying those cards off every month (about 55%). However, with the sub-prime mortgage fiasco, there are plenty of people with mortgages they can’t afford (and couldn’t afford when they took them out).
  4. Presidential candidates with no understanding of economics – If we look at Obama and McCain’s policies in detail we’ll see how they’re making the same mistakes now as Herbert Hoover and then FDR did back then.

Now let’s look at what’s different between now and then:

One reason we're not heading for another Depression

One reason we

  1. No Gold Standard – We no longer base our money and printing it on the amount of gold in the US Treasury. The requirement to base our money on Gold theoretically contributed to severe deflation that resulted in the people who managed to get some money from the banks instantly having less value then when they put the money into the bank. Studies have suggested that there was a direct relation between the quickness with which a country abandoned the gold standard and the quickness with which they recovered from the GD. Others suggest that there was no direct correlation. Believe what you will because it’s a bit more complicated than just saying the Gold Standard cause the GD which is why point 5 below is so important.
  2. No Longer an Agrarian Society – Even though, with the advent of the automobile in the 10’s and 20’s, we began our transition to an industrial society, we were still primarily a society that relied on agriculture in the late 1920’s. Not until the production required for World War II did we fully transition to an industrialized country. The huge drought that brought on the Dust Bowl was a significant contributor to the length and severity of the GD. Our current knowledge-based society really has fewer “natural disasters” that can exacerbate the stock market drop by actually devaluing the businesses and products they produce.
  3. Unions have artificially driven up wages – in the 1920’s and 1930’s unions were necessary to help increase wages to a reasonable level so that the workers could afford to purchase the products being produced. Now we have unions that have made it so expensive to produce things businesses can’t charge enough money for those products to make a profit and keep those same people employed. The auto industry is the best example of people in the 20’s not being able to afford the product they produced while the cost per hour of auto production in the US today is 30 times higher than that of China.  Sorry guys, that’s just not sustainable or competitive.
  4. No widespread panic – Sure people are pulling out of the stock market, but how many of your friends have started withdrawing their savings from the bank and stuffing their cash under their mattresses? We still fundamentally believe that cash in the bank is safe even if we are doubting that money in the stock market is.
  5. Ben Bernake is the Fed Chairman – Ok, this has less to do with one person, and more to do with the fact that we’ve had a GD to learn from and study for the last 70 years. With that knowledge we are better prepared to avoid it. Let’s face it, Mr. Bernake is the most powerful person in America and has studied the GD at length. Because of this I would argue he better understands the causes and effects than anyone did in the 20’s and 30’s. Even if he isn’t 100% correct on the causes of the GD, he still has a larger pool of knowledge to pull from then anyone did 80 years ago.

We have 4 similarities and 5 differences… So are we headed for another Great Depression???

First off we, as individuals and households, can only directly effect a few of the items above.

  1. We can affect how much personal debt we take on by learning some easy math to understand what our family can afford instead of blanketly trusting a mortgage broker who is paid on commission. Common sense appears to be as lacking back then as it is now.
  2. We can vote for the candidate who has a better chance of improving our economy based on sound economic policies – NOT because they’re a war hero or a charismatic speaker. Did I mention a lack of common sense back then and now?
  3. We can stop supporting unreasonable unions that have made the cost per hour of labor in the US auto market over $65! (the article was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal a few years ago comparing that number to the $3/hour cost in China but I can’t find it now…)
  4. We can keep our money in banks and not panic. In other words, don’t stuff cash under your mattress unless you’re a drug dealer. If you’re a drug dealer, then just keep doing what you’re doing. 🙂

One reason engineers hate economics as much as they hate poetry is because it’s all based on theories and opinions. There are no real “economic laws” like our much beloved Newton’s Laws of Motion. With that being said neither I or anyone else can predict exactly what can happen… However, every day that we get up believing we still have a job, or that we invest money in the stock market, or that we evaluate a new business for buying, building, and selling we’re attempting to predict the future, so why stop now?

That being said, over the next 12 months I plan to buy a lot of stocks! In our buy, build, and sell mentality for growing small businesses there is rarely a case where we can get better returns in the stock market (over which we have no effect) then we do with our own business. However, if we’re at the worst point in the history of the stock market, yet 1-in-10 companies have more cash stock-piled then there current market capitalization, then this is the ripest stock market for investing in history!

Let me rephrase that, nearly 10% (876 of 9,194) of the stock’s tracked by Standard and Poor’s compustat research service have more cash in the bank than the entire company is worth based on simply multiplying the stock price by the number of outstanding shares. If you ever encounter an opportunity to buy a business for $100,000 that includes $120,000 in cash in the bank and you don’t have $100,000 please let me know immediately! In essence, 10% of our stock market is in that position. As a rock-climber in West Virginia once taught me at those points of extreme jubilation, Wahootey-Hootey!

Does that mean we’ve hit bottom? Who knows? More importantly, who cares? Invest little by little over the next 12-months as the stock market continues to move and you may have the greatest investing opportunity of your life. The same could have been said for the Great Depression… Then again, I’m just a mechanical engineer who owns a few small businesses – what do I know?

To your INVESTING success, Bryan

P.S. In the next blog we’ll look at the failed economic policies that caused the Great Depression to be as long and severe as it was and which ones the candidates are still foolishly trying.