Don't Start This Business! An Entrepreneur's Guide to Blue Star Venture Strategy - the Leap!
Part A - Points of Departure
I. A Leap - and Two Introductory Questions
II. Inspiration versus Procrastination
III. The Passion
IV. The Idea
V. The Business Plan
VI. Forget the Business Plan!
VII. The Other Prerequisites
VIII. Last but Hardly Least, Show Me the Money!
- Sweat Equity and VC Funding
Part B - What Makes for Success
The leap! *
You have the drive. You have the passion. You know you have a great solution. (1) You are about to make that leap! Incidentally, if you are making a web-based leap, be sure to look at the subpage 6. in this section, "Internet Start-ups: The Berkeley/Stanford Genome Reports."
1 (2) Alternatively, no matter what you´ve tried, progress is slow. Things aren´t quite coming together. You are getting more and more frustrated.
If either (1) or (2) sounds like you, Bridges may have the answer. Take a serious look at our website. Do you see a good fit? Are you ready to do something exciting in your business? Telephone/e-mail for an exploratory appointment, or consider the Q3-Strategy Co-Audit explained at the lead page of Services. In either case, we look forward to hearing from you!
PART A. – Points of Departure
I. Two introductory questions
Do you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur? Go to the subpage "Entrepreneur´s Test" and try it.
Are you stuck? Then try beginning with a little encouragement, Inspiration versus Procrastination below. If that doesn´t do it for you, then go to the subpage "Don´t Start This Business!"
II. Inspiration versus Procrastination
With a nod to William James,* procrastination is the assassin who kills inspiration. In this case the assassin is an ugly frog -- and inspiration a nice kettle of boiling water to make your flower tea.** The first three minute video, "212o - The Extra Degree" is about boiling the water -- and a little more. The follow-on one-and-a-half minute video, "Eat that frog" is about keeping the assassin at bay. Just drop him into boiling water?
Eating boiled frogs is all well and good, but to move from inspiration to income takes more than a strong stomach and persistence. It takes systematic persistence, on which we elaborate at "Will marry, can´t dance!" the last of the ventures discussed on the subpage "Don´t Start This Business!"
* William James (1842 - 1910), who was trained as a physician, was a professor of psychology and also of philosophy at Harvard. He made a similar statement about the assassin of a (good) attitude.
** Flower tea consists of small hand-made (in China) bulbs, about the size of, and similar in appearance to, a large Brussels sprout (Rosenkohl). One drops the bulb into boiling water and it slowly unfolds into a flower, making for an elegant and unusual tea ceremony.
III. The Passion
What do you absolutely have to have to start a business successfully? Passion! If you are not sure you have that passion, than obtain a recent edition of What Color Is Your Parachute, A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers, by Nelson Bolles, a classic (over 8 million copies in print), which is annually updated. The official site is www.jobhuntersbible.com. For those on a really, really tight budget, there is a ten-page summary of it (to encourage you to check it out at a library, or better, to buy it) at Business Summaries.
Bolles studied chemical engineering at M.I.T. and transferred to Harvard for a Bachelors in Physics. He then earned a Masters from the General Theological Seminary in New York City and, after being ordained, served several churches. As enjoyable as his book is to read, you are doing yourself a disservice if you do so casually. It merits the intense undivided attention you would give any other classic textbook. (Parachute also appears in German editions, but the U.S. ones are preferable.)
IV. The Idea
You have the passion. Do you have the idea? To have merit in the marketplace, for an idea to be creative, unusual and pleasing is not enough. It must solve a problem, present an advantage, which customers will value. Therefore generating ideas for a new business often begins with a search for the right problem to solve for the intended customers.
That in turn is a function of innovation. Two standard approaches for innovation are (1) brainstorming and (2) taking a given, and applying to its elements the four steps of: add, subtract, create, delete. Innovation leads to considering the patent process and deciding its relevance, a proposed future article at "Concept Papers" at "Papers."
V. The Business Plan
You have the passion. You have the idea. What next?
A business plan is the common next step. These range from an outline jotted down on the back of a napkin during a restaurant meeting to the formal submission of a plan with projected financial statements to an angel investor, venture capitalist, or a business plan competition, such as the Munich Business Plan Wettbwerb, www.mbpw.de Submitting a business plan and making a presentation force one to think issues through. They make for intellectual rigor and clarity of thought (unless, of course, your business plan is a mess).
Unfortunately, there is no business plan book that has defined the category. Three of the better ones follow, in the $25 to $35 range, unless otherwise noted.
1) Successful Business Plan Secrets and Strategies by Ronda M. Abrams, 2010.
2) Writing a Convincing Business Plan, Barron's Business Library, 3rd ed., by Arthur DeThomas, Stephanie Derammelaere, 2008, available for $10 - $15.
3) How to Write a Business Plan, Nolo Press, with a CD, 9th ed., by Mike Mckeever, 2010.
Supplemental reading is “How to Write a Great Business Plan” by William A. Sahlman in Harvard Business Review, July/Aug. 1997. William Sahlman is a professor at Harvard Business School who, at the time of writing the article, had already been involved in over 50 start-ups as an adviser, investor or director. A re-print or pdf download of the 11 page article may be ordered at the link above, or his concise (64 small pages) paperback booklet of the same title, published by Harvard University Press Books, 2008, (about $10).The booklet is an expanded version of the magazine article. William Sahlman points out that investors examine an business plan on the basis of four criteria:
1. The People (the founding team – and the advisors)
2. The Opportunity (the market niche – and the competitors)
3. The Context (the big picture, the regulatory environment, demographics)
4. Risk and Reward (the return on investment - and the exit strategy)
Two bolded statements in the 1997 article are well worth repeating:
“Whatever the reason, better-mousetrap businesses have an uncanny way of malfunctioning.”
“One of the greatest myths about entrepreneurs is that they are risk seekers. All sane people want to avoid risk.”
Besides concisely delivering terrific information, the article also demonstrates a refreshing sense of humor. A sidebar gives, for example, a glossary of business plan terms. Three definitions (of 14) are excerpted here:
What They Say. . . and What They Really Mean.
The project is 98% complete. . . To complete the remaining 2% will take as long as it took to create the 98%, but will cost twice as much.
Customers are clamoring for our product. We have not asked them to pay for it
yet. Also, all of our current customers are relatives.
If you invest on our terms, you will earn If everything that could ever a 68% internal rate of return. conceivably go right does go right, you might get your money back.
VI. Forget the Business Plan!
Yes, go ahead and write one, but do not waste too much time on it. The exception is if you are making a serious effort to win a business plan competition. There are two business plan catches. Business plans describe business models. The first catch is that a start-up is in search of a viable business model. Assumptions about the market, the targeted customers and the product are constantly changing. Therefore, and this is the second catch, no business plan is going to remain unscathed after serious customer contacts are made, let alone after sales are made.
The second reason is that, the above notwithstanding, there are not just mountains, but entire moutain ranges of business plans on the desks of bankers, business angels, VCs and private equity partners. Do you have any idea of how many business plans hit a typical VC's desk every day?
A commonly cited statistic is that of all those plans, about one in four hundred (1/400) gets funded. Actually the four here is a "Nigerian four." Nigeria has about 500 languages and sometimes there the number four is used to mean "many." When someone states that a farm has, for instance, 444 sheep, cows or cattle the reference is not to a count, but rather that there are a lot of animals on it. Similarly the percentage of business plans recommended for funding will vary dramatically from one partner to another, the ones getting funded vary from one firm to another.
To stand out in this crowd of applicants, one needs to attract, and hold, attention. Two videos are well worth your watching. The first is Sally Hogshead's TED1 presentation on YouTube "How to Fascinate." Nowadays the average Internet surfer has about the attention span of a goldfish. The average VC partner has the attention span of a bored, stressed out, impatient goldfish. Steve Blank, a Silicon Valley icon who has founded eight companies and teaches entrepreneurship at Berkeley (its Haas School of Business) commented in a blog2 in 2011:
"The bad news is that (VC) partners behavior has become incredibly unprofessional, in a way that I'm just astonished. . . Today you sit in a board meeting and people are on iPhones and Blackberrys. . . There are times I have seen VCs do this to entrepreneurs. . ."
To combat this kind of conduct, a presentation needs to be compelling, to fascinate.
The second video (5 minutes) is an interesting suggestion by Jeffery Gitomer, probably the leading sales trainer in the U.S. (The link is to further information about him at "Eminent Referrals" at About Us.) In the following YouTube link, he suggests using a video of key sales calls instead of a business plan. The idea has merit. However if one goes to the trouble of organizing it as he suggests, then one should shoot it a little more professionally than with a smart phone. For further information see the subpage Aladdin at "Strategy Audit & Website Audit" of Services.
VII. The Other Prerequisites
You have the passion, the idea, have started writing a business plan. What else do you need? A better place to work? Education? The energy and drive of youth, or the wisdom of experience?
Passion is a must, and so is a reasonable place to work. If you don´t have any place at all, go to www.workatjelly.com. Either an existing network can solve that problem for you, or you can consider starting a jelly site yourself. The next step would be to piggyback at at the offices of local company, or to consider a business incubator. For some examples see 1.1) Business Incubators in the next section.
The other prerequisite is persistence. You should be relentless. An example of the right attitude is given in German, "der glückliche Unternehmer," as an Appendix to the subpage " EAT: Entrepreneur´s Aptitude Test."
Education is not a must. You can always hire educated people to work for you. Bill Gates, who dropped out of Harvard his freshman year to found Microsoft, is just one of a number of "drop-out" billionaires with myriad PhDs working for them. However education does not hurt either. There are also PhDs who have founded billion dollar companies. The best entrepreneurially oriented formal education is in the U.S. (at the risk of academic chauvinism,* as the author was mostly educated there). To read more about entrepreneurial education, see that subpage.
Age is also irrelevant. You can start at the age of six, sixty, or older. Three examples are given in the subpage "Entrepreneurs - Young, Middle-Aged, and Old."
VIII. Last, but Hardly Least: Show Me the Money!
Sweat Equity and VC Funding
My suggestion is to begin by learning how the venture capital industry came into being. The driving force was a Frenchman, Georges Doriot (1899 - 1987), a college drop-out in France who immigrated to the U.S. in 1921. In the U.S. he became a professor at Harvard Business School, a General, and the founder of the VC industry. Along the way in 1957 he founded INSEAD, the elite business school in Fontainebleu, France. Spence E. Ante has written a fine biography, Georges Doriot and the Birth of Venture Capital, 2008.
Then proceed to Raising Venture Capital for the Serious Entrepreneur, by Dermat Berkery, 2007. This well written textbook for a business school course about venture capital (VC) is excellent background reading before seeking funding. It explains how VCs work, what kind of exit strategies they are looking for, and pitfalls to avoid. It covers business plans, presentations, milestones, stock options and more.
In the past, entrepreneurs used to take a shotgun approach to seeking funding. They would photocopy their business plans and send it off to the entire list of Pratt's Guide. As that list has expanded to over 20,000, that is no longer practical. Furthermore the Internet allows one to rifle in on firms and their key decisions makers so that one can better determine "goodness of fit" before making contact. First, one examines the universe of capital providers, including business incubators. Second, one starts to narrow down the candidates to a manageable shortlist. Third, one makes a specific, detailed action plan for the funding search.
Realize that VC firms prefer local investments. Partners at VC firms in Silicon Valley want to be able to drive to the company. That means they tend to invest within a 100, maximimum 150, kilometer radius of their offices. Of course there are exceptions. Two VC firms with quite similar long reaches are Accel and Matrix. Both firms have offices in Silicon Valley, New York, Beijing, Shanghai and in India. Accel also has an office in London, and Matrix one in Boston. However neither one of them has a particularly high rating with TheFunded (cf. 2.2 Secondary Research below).
1.0) The Funding Universe
1.0.1 - The Public Library: See what directories are available, and what relevant databases are subscribed to.
1.0.2 - Vfinance has a free database of 1541 VC firms (July 2011). It also provides information about business angels.
1.0.3 - Pratt's Guide of Thomson Reuters lists 20,000 VC, buyout and mezzanine firms.
1.0.4 - VC Gate provides access to a database of 5,100 angel investors and VC firms for $97 (July 2011).
1.0.5 - Bloomberg, the reknowned financial services firm, provides a list of about 190 VC firms structured with common stock. (If the link does not work, Google "List of Venture Capital Companies, Worldwide - Bloomberg.") Find out if this structure makes for a plus point for your start-up. The VCs range from Adcapital AG in Germany to Xenia VC in Israel, with ones in between from countries as disparate as Bulgaria, Finland, India, Poland, Sri Lanka, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. The major countries, as one would expect, are the U.S., with 30 such VCs, and Germany (because of its legal structure) with about 60.
1.0.6 - Prequin Alternative Assets is an interesting newcomer with offices in London, New York and Singapore. Mark O'Hare and Nick Arnott founded the firm, which is owned by its staff, in 2002. It offers profies on 3,600 VCs, 5,300 private equity firms and 60 sovereign wealth groups. It also has databases about hedge, infrastructure, and cleantech funds, as well as on secondary markets. Its services are pricy, so do some due diligence before purchasing.
1.0.7 - Keiretsu Forums, founded in 2000, has the largest network of business angels with 850 of them in 21 chapters in three continents. European chapters are in London, Madrid, Barcelona and Paris. Companies have been provided with $260 million of capital in investments ranging from $250,000 to $2 million.
1.0.8 - Business Plan Competitions often have close connections to a network of venture capitalists, private equity firms (some associated with consultancies that support the competition) and business angels. Just one example would be the Münchener Business Plan Wettbewerb. McKinsey & Co. introduced the M.I.T. model to Munich Bayern in 1996, since when the competition has become a major annual event.
1.1) Business Incubators
Many of them have have direct connections with providers of debt and equity capital. U.S. examples include:
1.1.1 - Cambridge Innovation Center is located right next to the M.I.T. Founded in 1999, the original focus was on e-businesses in the seed stage with a valuation before financing of less than $5 million. Since 2001 the 250 firms associated with it have raised over $1 billion in capital. Besides Internet oriented firms, the center also houses venture capitalists and firms providing professional services.
1.1.2 - Ecompanies is located in Santa Monica, California. Sky Daton and Jake Winebaum founded it in 1999 to help web based start-ups. It has one of the strangest websites I have ever encountered. A business card provides more information.
1.1.3 - HOTVentures is located in Arizona and focuses on early stage technology companies. It has advised prominent media companies.
1.1.4 - Idealab is one of the earliest Internet Incubators. Bill Gross founded it in 1996 in Pasadena, California. It has since expanded with offices in Boston, New York and Silicon Valley. Although it has part of the creation of 75 portfolio companies, as of this writing (December, 2010), it was not accepting new companies. However an affiliated company might, which is "Idealab! Capital Partners."
1.1.5 - I-Hatch focuses on early stage Internet companies located in the Northeast of the U.S. Chip Austin, Brad Farkas and Derek Resifield founded the company in 1999 to provide seed financing. Their emphasis is on new media content, web-enabling technology and network infrasstructure. A proposal (e.g. an executive summar of the business plan) can be submitted through its website.
1.1.6 NextSpace, with its main offices in San Franciso, is not strictly speaking an incubator. Jeremy Neumer, Harvard MBA, Ryan Coonerty, London School of Economics and University of Virginia Law School, and Caleb Baskin, University of Pennsylvania and UCLA Law School, founded it in 2007/2008. It also has offices in Santa Cruz, Los Ang
1.1.7. Plug and Play Tech Center is a start-up accelerator that provides both office space and incubator services, including VC and financing connections. Jojo Flores, University of the Philippines, and Saeed Amidi, Stanford, founded it in 2006. It serves a community of 300 start-ups from all over the world, which have received over $700 million of financing.
2) Your Shortlist
You develop your short list by doing secondary research, then primary.
2.1 - Secondary research: You screen the above VCs by location and investment preferences. Then you go to TheFunded.com for further information. This site has a wealth of information about VCs, including their dark side! For instance, it has a section "Banned VCs." There the following statistics appear (July, 2011):
a) Suspicious reviews - 4 firms
b) Legal action has been taken against a portfolio CEO, or legal threats made against TheFunded.com - 31 firms. Five culprits in Europe are listed including Baytech Venture Capital Beratung in Munich. There is really no excuse for such action. Contracts should entail binding arbitration clauses. (The link is to comments about them at VII. Negotiation Strategy.)
c) No new investments - 374 firms.
The next step is to start researching the targeted VC firms, looking for articles about them and their senior managers in the financial press. You also use Linked In and other web sources. (Further comments, including a reference to an excellent book about on-line research are at Market Research at V. Marketing Strategy.)
2.2 - Primary research: Armed with this information, you now start interviewing people.
a) Journalists who have written an article useful for you. E-Mail and telephone that person; suggest having lunch.
b) People from companies the VC has funded, ideally its CEO (or CEOs of firms in a targeted business incubator).
c) People who used to work at that VC and have since moved on to another firm or retired. Do not overlook the executive secretary who has switched jobs.
d) Faculty members who are familiar with that VC (or business incubator).
If the above sounds like a lot of work, it is. Consider this point: From whom do you think your odds are better to get a 100.000 €, a million, or ten million:
- from someone who is a complete stranger to you, or
- from someone you know almost as much about as you do your own brother?
3) The Action Plan for Funding
Obtaining funding is a business in of itself. One needs to prepare an action plan for it with budgets (e.g. for travel), milestones, a timeline and deadlines. Tasks need to be assigned and people held accountable for them. This project, critical to taking the company to the next level, has to be performed parallel to developing the technology and the markets. Sometimes to assign this task to one member of the team full time, with regular progress reports to the rest of the team, makes sense.
As a reward for having read this far, here are four further funding suggestions, one U.S., one German, one U.K. and one off of this planet entirely. This bonus is correctly labeled "mini" because all are long shots. The first is a new program funded by the (flirting with bankruptcy) U.S. Still, recall the sayings about General Motors: "On a clear day, you can see a General Motors factory from whereever you happen to be" and "What's good for GM is good for the USA." General Motors seems to be recovering from its own flirtation with bankruptcy, so perhaps the U.S. will also.
The two European organizations afterwards are peer to peer loan intermediaries. Their business model is somewhat similar to that for microloans. However both of them begin with loans of, respectively, 1,000€ and 1,000 pounds. They appear to be more oriented towards personal loans and perhaps working capital for a small firn, rather than for a start-up. Still, there is no harm in entering a several different funding proposals (split testing) to see what surfaces.
This U.S. goverment organization is funded with $6.8 billion dollars to support research in engineering and science (with the exception of medical research). On July 28th, 2011 NSF announced the Innovation Corps (I-Corps). Its goal is help selected research projects at U.S. universities and move out of the university and into the marketplace. It will fund 100 start-up teams a year to turn research into products. The I-Corps teams will receive $50,000 each. The announcement was accompanied with a solicitation for proposals. A webinar is held about I-Corps the first Tuesday of every month at 14:00 EST (Eastern Standard Time, e.g. New York, which is 20:00 in Munich). The link is to the registration information.
An integral part of the program is six months of training for the chosen teams. That training will be based on course developed at the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, which is the entrepreneurship center of Stanford's School of Engineering. This course, "Lean Launch Pad," teaches engineers and scientists an iterative approach to founding a company. One treats it in a similar way to a research project. One forms a hypotheses, tests it against the marketplace, adjusts the hypothesis accordingly, and again tests it . . . The course is discussed further at the introduction to "C. The Intra- and Entrepreneur's Education, The Ivory Trench."
4.2 - smava GmbH
This site is an interesting German loan intermediary, headquartered in Berlin. You put up on the website the amount you need and what terms you offer (interest and principal repayment, collateral, if any). Then lenders respond. There is no direct contact between the two parties to the transaction. Consider that a challenge to your creativity! The loans range from 1,000€ to 50,000€, significantly larger then at the traditional microlenders. Lenders can pool their funds, with a minimum investment of 250€ to a maximum of 100,000€.
Consider pursuing this route in coordination with a submission to a German business plan competition such as the Münchener Business Plan Wettbewerb linked above at 1.0.8 of "The Funding Universe."
4.3 - Zopa
This U.K. site is quite similar to the the German smava. It also provides peer to peer lending. The range of loans is 1,000 pounds to 15,000 pounds. The firm is headquartered in London, with a staff of 23 (July, 2010). In this case one could consider participating in a business plan competition in England as a tie-in.
4.4 - Microloan franchising
The bottom tier of microloans is 5€ (!) to $25, with loans of a few hundred dollars representing the top tier. The link is to a list of some examples of these lending instutions, giving their websites with a couple of sentences by way of introduction to them at "Pro Bono and Charity Work" at About Us. What on earth could you do with such trivial amounts? Well in this world, the developed world, nothing at all.
However there is another world out there, a pretty large one too, viz. the developing world, a good three to four billion people. Consider developing a franchise related model for your product. The actual legal structure would be a licensing agreement to avoid meeting the legal requirements for a franchise. Furthermore the product needs to do some social good. It can not be a new "tastes like chocolate (spiked with nicotine to ensure customer loyalty)" chewing gum aimed at 1st and 2nd graders. You negotiate with a micro-lender having a large base (and some of them do) the offer for your product. It can be purchased with a micro-loan.
A specific example is the sale of mobile phones in India and Uganda, discussed at the microloan link in the paragraph about the Gramean Foundation. One received a micro-loan to purchase a mobile phone. The owner now let other people in her village use it for a fee. The fees repaid the loan and provided the borrower some income besides. Communications improved. A variation of this model is to have the "village phone" connected to someone who is on a computer with an Internet connection in order to ask questions (agricultural, medical, etc.)
The mobile phone company is establishing a powerful brand name for itself for future purchases with zero advertising cost. Thinking long term of prospects 20 years down the road will inevitably lead to mistakes. Some backwaters that appear poised for growth will still be backwaters come the next millenium. But others of those 20 year targets will pleasantly surprise you and turn into revenue centers (for products not even conceived of yet) considerably sooner then anticipated.
* Chauvinism, excessive patriotism -- up to war-mongering -- entered the English language from the French word that was derived from Nicolas Chauvin. He was a lengendary soldier devoted to Napoleon.
Part B – What Makes for Success?
An interesting PIMS study of the Strategic Planning Institute2 was conducted about 117 start-up ventures in North America, Europe and Australia in the 1980s. These ventures were manufacturers of both industrial and consumer products and had both standard and new technology. They were entering:
• both stagnant and dynamic markets
• both fragmented and concentrated markets
The distinction between "winning" and "losing" start-ups was determined on the basis of the market share achieved by the fourth year of operations. Successful operations tended to turn the corner to a positive return on investment (ROI) in year five. Below is a summary of the findings of this study. More likely to succeed were start-ups with:
1) a goal of achieving a high share of a rapidly growing market
2) and the production capacity to support that goal.
To comment on these two points:
1) Marketing: Achieving high market share is a critical driver to profitability. The more important the product is, in terms of its share of the customer's disposable income, the harder it is to gain market share. Customers are less likely to try a new product or switch suppliers on big ticket items than on relatively minor purchases. The fastest way to achieve significant market share is to sell to key major customers. In other words, carefully aiming a sniper's rifle on a major retailer, such as a Wallmart´s with its huge multiplier effect, is more effective than going after the general public with a shotgun.
Winners spend heavily and early on marketing. However by year four, their marketing spending has come down to the "normal" level of their competitors.
2) Production: Having good quality in of itself is not enough, as the quality offered by competitors may also be good. You have to be perceived as significantly better. Quality refers, of course, to the total customer experience including payment terms, timely delivery (no stock-outs) and after sales service. The reward for the perceived "quality gap" of the winners was a chance to charge premium prices while being regarded as providing value.
The resulting healthy cash flow enabled the winners to spend heavily on developing even better products (R&D). The above points confirm conventional marketing wisdom. The next two points are a little more surprising.
3) Start-ups were more likely to suceed when faced with tough competition, ideally a dominant, market-leading competitor, a sort of David versus Goliath scenario.
4) High sales force expenses did not lead to high market share. Specifically, start-ups which spent 3/4 of their marketing budget on the sales force and related expenses and 1/4 on advertising, promotion and other marketing did significantly worse than those which spent less than 1/2 on the sales force.
From these four points one may make a bullet point "winners check-list." Winners tend to:
- enter a rapidly growing market (Which regional or customer market segments show the highest growth rates?)
- face strong competition (Is there a dominant competitor and if so why?)
- have stretch market share objectives (Demanding, but achievable, ones need to be set, by market niche.)
- provide products that do not make up a large percentage of the customer's purchases (Target successful customers.)
- budget heavy marketing expenses for the first two years (Hit the ground running.)
- support the product with outstanding service (Service is key for customer loyalty.)
- charge a premium price (Provide corresponding value.)
- have sufficient production capacity (Potential bottlenecks?)
- budget heavily for R&D (Innovation needs to be on-going.)
Speakers are given 18 minutes to present "ideas worth spreading." Among them have been Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Al Gore, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and a slew of Nobel Prize winners. The events are held in Long Beach and Palm Springs in the U.S., as well as in Europe and Asia. Over 700 speeches are available for viewing on-line. These have been seen more than 500 million times (June, 2011).