Why Obamacare nee RomneyCare is going to be a boom for entrepreneurship – A view from a Massachusetts entrepreneur.

Summary:  Like it or not, The Supreme Court decided that Obamacare can stand today.  The provision in Obamacare that allows parents to keep kids on their health insurance unitl the age of 26 should spur entrepreneurship for decades to come.  

If you are 22 about to graduate college and looking for a job, stop looking now and start a business.  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.  You may have student loans, but you don’t have real expenses – kids and mortgages.  Starting a business will give you experience in “dog years”  that you can leverage for the rest of your career.

Pick something that you can generate your first sales in about a month with little up front capital.  This will help you gain confidence and make it fun from the start.  Two of todays’s top entrepreneurs started by re-selling items with limited financial backing – Richard Branson and Mark Cuban.

When I was graduating college, my entire graduating class spent the entire senior year “looking for a job.”   I ‘m not really sure any of them knew what this meant.  Most settled for “good” jobs based on pay, benefits, and quality of life.

I was a bit less disciplined as I was planning to attend graduate school and had launched my first business – an engineering consulting firm.  We had a terrible website – the background was puke yellow because changing the background was a “hot” web design move back then.  The logo looked like crap as we created it in word art.  And, the business cards were a joke as I bought the pre-perforated version from Staples.  I was a guy at a college bar handing out business cards – my wife still has the card I gave her.  But, I somehow managed to land some clients at real companies!  Through this experience, I was bitten with the bug to become an entrepreneur.

Hopefully, young people can utilize this benefit to their advantage to create businesses and profoundly change their careers, skillsets, and ultimately the direction of the country.

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4 Great Children’s Books for seasoned executives

Summary: Sam-I-Am is the best B2B salesperson you could ever have… 

Children’s books convey pack more meaning and life lessons into a simple, well illustrated format than the latest business bestsellers can pack into 300+ pages.  The message is distilled from very complex subjects (either intentionally or not). The takeaway points are usually very clear; however, other messages are present for parents to discuss with the child.  Several of the books below you will (or should) know from your childhood.  Others are new titles that parents or grandparents may recognize.


Book 1: Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr Seuss
Category: Sales and Competition 

Green Eggs and Ham is the best Sales Book

Reward your Sam-I-am's

Simply the best sales book ever.  If you have any “Sam-I-Am’s” in your organization, recognize and reward these people.  In Green Eggs and Ham, Sam-I-Am tries selling Green Eggs and Ham to the other unnamed character who wants no part of it. Sam-I-Am never gives up and eventually gets the sale.  Would you like green eggs and ham over here? over there? would you could you…

The hidden story behind Green Eggs and Hamis that it was born out of a bet between Dr Seuss creator, Theodor Geisel, and his editor, Bennet Cerf.  The bet was that Dr. Seuss could not complete a book in less than the 225 words he had used in the Cat in the Hat.  Green Eggs and Ham has 50 words in the book. Crushing the challenge by a factor of 4!


Book 2: Click Clack Moo Cows that Type,  by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewen
Category:  Negotiation, Labor Relations  

Negotiation strategy from Children's Books

Cows That Type. Hens on Strike

A great book about what not to do in a negotiation.  The book is a whimsical rendition of a negotiation between management and a union.  One union – The cows – request electric blankets because the barn is cold at night.  Management – Farmer Brown – responds by denying the request.  Management’s problem quickly escalates as the cows reach out to another union – the chickens.  These two parties consolidate their power and ask for the blankets again.  A strike ensues after management denies this request again.  Farmer Brown has now lost his revenue sources.  He ultimately makes a deal with these parties.

If Farmer Brown had prepared a 7 Elements analysis of this negotiation, he might have reached a more equitable deal sooner.  He may also have realized that he did not have the same leverage that the cows and chickens had.  He could have worked to change the balance of power by keeping these interest groups separated.


Book 3: Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth
Category:  Managing Perspectives 

Zen for Business

Great short stories for entrepreneurs

Zen Shorts shares several short stories with ties to historical Buddhist and Taoist stories. The book is filled with great stories and life lessons.  The tale most relevant to entrepreneurs is  “The Farmer’s Luck.”   In this short story, a series of events occur to a farmer.  The crowd of onlookers interprets these events as either good or bad luck.  In every case, the farmer retorts “we’ll see” and in time the event outcome appears to reverse itself as new details unfold.

We at Lime Design, Inc. have learned that managing perspective crucial when launching new products or services.  When we launched the Lime Tree Cove brand, we had a series of “bad luck” events.  As an example, during our product launch we attended a large live outdoor festival.  The weather didn’t cooperate and our booth flooded with water.  We were losing money and spinning our wheels.  In the end this “bad luck” forced us to focus on understanding our products demand curve, pricing, and more effective marketing channels.

As an aside, the story “A Heavy Load” presents a great story about dealing with difficult personalities and letting go.

Book 4: If you Give a Moose a Muffin, by Laura Numeroff (Author), Felicia Bond (Illustrator)
Category: Product and Project Management – Scope Creep

Defining Project Scopes

Keeping things in scope

This book is part of a series of offerings by this author and illustrator.  Throughout the series, a product or service is offered to a character (Moose, Mouse, Pig, Cat, Dog).  This offering kicks off a series of extraneous activities.  The books end with the character asking for the original product or service.

The take-away from this series for executives is that teams can easily become distracted due to scope creep.  In each book the scope changes very slightly with each request.  By the end the entire operation is out of hand.


In preparing this list, I considered adding several other Dr. Seuss books as these are classics (Oh the places you’ll go, The Lorax).  Another consideration was “I am a pole and so can you” by Stephen Colbert- just kidding.  The four books selected pack as much advice as the latest business book from the hottest guru.  I keep extra copies to share with colleagues.



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What is next for Facebook – Hopefully not Smartphones

Facebook Shares Continue to Drop

Skittish Investors and Short Sellers push Facebook Shares even lower

Summary:  What’s next for Facebook? – Investors better hope it is not an entry into the smartphone market.

In our first post regarding the Facebook IPO, we posed a series of questions regarding the path of the company.  In this post we dissect the question:

What is next for Facebook? 

The main item that Facebook needs to be focused on right now is driving revenue per user up by at least 10X.  This goes together with driving down the true cost of advertising / utilizing the Facebook channel to brand owners.  To achieve these goals the company will need to actively acquire companies that make tools for the Facebook advertising environment.

Yet, rumors are beginning to swirl that Facebook is focused on becoming a smartphone provider.  This is apparently due to concerns reported by the NY Times “Mark is worried that if he doesn’t create a mobile phone in the near future that Facebook will simply become an app on other mobile platforms,” a Facebook employee said.”

This is a terrible idea.  I repeat… This is a terrible idea.

The smartphone market is already in a major shakeout.  RIM and Nokia are in the toilet.  Motorola, which had the highest selling (near smartphone for its time – the RAZR) was sold to Google.  Microsoft’s operating system is insignificant (Smartphone Market Share by Nielsen).

The turmoil in this rapidly growing marketplace may appear to be an opportunity to a company like Facebook that has been successful by owning the channel to the customers.  This pathway also doesn’t fully solve Facebook’s challenges with earning more revenues from mobile platforms.   Facebook will still have to monetize users on other platforms to achieve the revenue growth per user.

The more salient point as to why this is a bad idea is that It is really difficult to launch a successful consumer electronic device.  Facebook will have to manage suppliers (design, engineering, manufacturing), assess / build new software capabilities, and become educated on new hardware technologies (chips, touch screens, etc.).  Moreover, Facebook will need to develop retail sales channels, and engage / negotiate with the telecoms.

Facebook has lost nearly 25% in value since the IPO.  This is mostly due to short selling based on the over valuation.  Investors will begin to become nervous as these distractions materialize and multiply.


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Modeling Value in the Facebook Advertising Channel

Social Media Ecosystem

Social media has a very complex ecosystem

Summary: Brand owners in both large and small ticket items face challenges quantifying the Facebook effect.  We profile 2 advertisers with a large new and old media presence and compare the Facebook fan base across these mediums. 

Since our last post, which was Pre Facebook IPO, we’ve seen the company come public and the stock get hammered with losses of 18% in the second two days of trading. The means by which the company came public and the information available has come under scrutiny and lawsuits are beginning to fly.

In that post, we asked several questions including: Can a free only (not Freemium like LinkedIn) sustain the business? Can Facebook improve advertising effectiveness (Major Advertisers are publicly abandoning the platform)? This week we’ll tackle these two topics as they are somewhat linked.

Can Facebook improve advertising effectiveness?

In the WSJ article, GM decided to pull Facebook ads due to concerns about effectiveness. GM was spending $10M on the ads and $30M creating content for Facebook. Many people have speculated that the reason GM pulled the ads was because it is really complicated to decide how to engage the space and what service providers to use.

Social Media Ecosystem

While this is certainly true and may have impacted GM’s decision, it is important to note that GM did not say it was ceasing to create content to engage Facebook Users. This brings us to the other question.

Can a free only (not Freemium like LinkedIn) sustain the business?

One potential solution’s for Facebook’s revenue growth challenges would be to charge businesses for the currently free business pages. The challenge in this is coming up with a pricing model. How does an online fan base convert to an offline purchase? Does this vary by type of good? In the case of a large ticket item such as a car, GM can track individual purchases and compare these purchases to their Facebook Fan base.

For small ticket items, the “Facebook effect” is nearly impossibly to quantify. For example, Coca Cola has 42M Facebook Fans yet the company delivers over 1.8 Billion servings per day globally. With Coca Cola’s global distribution, this means that per capita everyone on the planet consumes 1.8 servings of a Coca Cola product per week ((1.8B servings / day * 7 days/ week) / 7B people). Can Coca Cola document that these 42M fans buy more Coca Cola products per capita than the 1.8 servings the rest of the world is averaging.

A potential solution to this is to enact a revenue model similar to “old media” and charge per thousand impressions (CPM). But where should the CPM land? Lime Design Research has shown the following CPM rates by category of advertising:

Large Event – Super Bowl Ad CPM Rates ~$25 – $35
Network Primetime CPM: ~$15 – 20
Cable Daytime CPM: ~$10 or less
Outdoor Advertising (Billboards, etc.) CPM:  ~$1 – 5

So, if Coca Cola’s 42M fans engage on average once monthly and the CPM is $15 the “advertising value” of this channel to Coca Cola is $403K per year. This model is a fair way to value the advertising channel. Brand owners can use it to compare advertising activities across channels.

By this same logic the “advertising value” of  GM’s 382K Facebook Fans  varies from  a low of $68K at a CPM of $15 to a high of $160K at a CPM of $35 (Super Bowl Rates).  So, with $40M in total spending ($10M ads + $30M content), GM is spending $104 per Facebook like.  To put this number in context, GM is projecting to sell 14.5 Million vehicles in 2012.  If you buy one of these vehicles GM will know your demographics, address, financial history etc. through the loan verification process.  Plus, all your friends will know what you drive when you pick them up…

To conclude:

  1. Brand owners in both large and small ticket items face challenges quantifying the Facebook effect.
  2. To hit their revenue targets, Facebook is going to have to charge businesses to access the audience.  Problems exist with pricing the offering and delivering on the value proposition to large brand owners.
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4 Must See Charts before the Facebook IPO

Projected Stock Price for Facebook

Facebook Stock Model by Lime Design Inc.

Summary: A Facebook IPO at $34-48 is overvalued. We can foresee the stock rising to $51 per share if the IPO P/E of 75+ holds and the company can achieve a 30% growth in EPS vs. 2011. To deliver real value the company needs to drive revenue per user up 10X by improving ad effectiveness and click-through.

Facebook has been the biggest business growth story in the last 10 years.  The company has captured 50% market share of people with internet access in the world.  That is amazing!


But, the company is about to enter a very new chapter through the IPO process.  What is next for the company?  Can it sustain this growth?  Can a free only (not Freemieum like LinkedIn) sustain the business? Can it make large gains in revenue per user?  Can it improve advertising effectiveness (Major Advertisers are publicly abandoning the platform)?

The good news is that we’ll all get to watch as the Facebook story unfolds.  The answers to each of those questions will be debated by generations of MBAs, consultants, and pundits.  I predict a market of Facebook books, Harvard Business School Cases, and TV documentaries will be created.  Given the creation of this industry, we at Lime Design felt the need to “pile on.”

Can Facebook Sustain Growth in the user base?

Facebook’s growth in users has been rapidly decelerating over the past 2 years [Data taken from Facebook S1 Filing].  This is typical of markets after they reach the inflection point.   For Facebook this occurred in 2008-2009 as you can see from this graph of historical user data.  The growth rate of new users was flat in these years and began dropping in  2010.

Facebook User Growth is slowing

Facebook has achieved an active user base of 900M – 1B users.  This represents 50% of the 2Billion people worldwide that have internet access.  The network has become so large that high growth in users is unsustainable.  Going forward, Facebook’s growth will be constrained by different factors in different geographies.


  • US / Canada / EU – Facebook has reached over 50% of the population and 90% of social media users
    • Growth will be based in growth in the overall population
  • China – Facebook is currently banned in China
    • China is the only real growth possibility for Facebook’s user base provided China lifts the ban on Facebook.  Beyond lifting the ban, Facebook would then need to steal Chinese users from other local social media sites.  We’ve discounted this in our forward projections.
  • Rest of World – Growth in users will be limited to growth in internet


Here is our model for Facebook user growth taking into account the historical data.   We are projecting growth in active users to go to 1.3B by 2018.  This is still a fantastic growth rate.

Projected Facebook User Base

Can Facebook increase revenue per user?

Facebook’s growth in Revenue per user peaked in 2008 and has been declining since.  Current Revenue per user is approaching $5 per user per year.  This amounts to very few users interacting with advertising on the site.  Data from Webtrends shows that Facebook click through rates are 1/4 the click through of Google and advertising rates are 1/2 Google (a blog post about advertising effectiveness on Facebook is coming).

In our model, we have predicted that Facebook will close at least part of this gap which will lead to Revenue per user almost doubling by 2018.

Facebook REvenue per user

The $100Bn Question: Is it a buy on Friday?

  • Not on Fundamentals.  The anticipated range of $34-$38 puts the stock at a P/E of 75 – 100.  This is very difficult to stomach considering most of the growth in users has been exhausted and the growth in revenues per user will be tough.
  • Potentially based on hype.  But, you would have to stomach a business with poor fundamentals that will likely have significant volatility in the price for the coming years.   Our model predicts a projected price of $51 per share assuming the IPO P/E of 75 holds and Facebook achieves the projected growth in EPS of 30%.

Facebook Stock Price

What a the keys for Facebook to drive up stock price?

  • Using the capital raised through the IPO to:
    • Drive a 10X improvement in revenue per user.
      • Increasing advertising effectiveness to drive up price per ad
      • Increasing user engagement with ads

This drives the stock price to $430 by 2018.



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Work / Life Balance’ is a myth for entrepreneurs…and everyone else too

Summary: At a startup is there ever really such thing as “downtime”? How about “work / life” balance? The lines don’t exist for entrepreneurs, and is increasingly blurring in other jobs as well. Here’s a different way to think about what it all means.

As an entrepreneur, your work and your life are intertwined, there is no such thing as a “balance” between them. You’ve made immense personal sacrifice, ask much of those people near and dear to you, so anyone who tells you you need to make crisper distinctions, simply doesn’t understand what it takes, and what you’ve signed up for. Yes, taking a “job” is different, but startups demand this level of effort.

Moreover, this type of lifestyle is increasingly seeping into the mainstream. Given the nature of mobility devices (laptops, iPads, smartphones), connecting us ubiquitously wherever and whenever (including planes and trains) we are. This shift will change the very nature of work, and in turn blur the lines of work and life, the way most entrepreneurs face it.

So what does that really mean? The best metaphor I can use is pro sports, and with basketball and football seasons in full swing, I thought I’d illustrate what I mean using those as analogies.

1) Being in the game / on the field

These are the times you’re really “in the zone”, that’s in the office, building or selling products, or just being “in the game”, kicking ass and taking names by giving it your all out effort. By any definition an outsider can give, this is “doing work“. To most outsiders their definition of work begins and ends here; where most productivity gurus will focus on optimizing this aspect alone, and anything outside of this is considered “work”. But, as we know with entrepreneurs, and pro athletes, it doesn’t end there.

2) Resting while on the court

Then, there are all of the peripheral activities that you do, that are hardly seen as “essential” to the core objectives, but you go through each day, and no one would define as “personal time”. These are moments where you find “breaks in the action”, and you can use to quickly regroup your thoughts and prepare for the next set of time on the court. Such things include: Lunch with co-workers Some of those extra meetings discussing operations, facilities, or other matters Speaking engagements, interviews, and even blogging Yup, I said it. Some may take offense to these things, but realistically, while important and helpful, are not essential to your core business of building and selling stuff.

3) On the bench

There are also those times when you’re definitively “out of the game”, but are actively observing, preparing, and getting ready for your stint back on the court / on the field. This can include activities like commuting / travel, organizing your notes, preparing for an interview, or your Sunday night prep. Again, it’s all necessary and unavoidable, but you’ll definitely take on a different level of involvement than #1 & #2, but again are not considered “personal time”.

4) In practice / film room

These are the times you spend honing your skills,, dissecting what went right / wrong, and generally preparing for your next time back in the game. To me this is the time I spend reading relevant blogs / business books, attending conferences, researching competitors, playing with other products in the industry, and general networking events. To some extent some major internal strategic planning sessions, or personnel reviews, could fall into this category as well.

5) Day off

Then there are the times where you need to unplug completely from anything related to your “job”. These can be daily activities like working out, or having a meal with people you care about. However, this can also be the more mundane stuff like doing laundry, paying bills, and generally making sure your personal life doesn’t collapse. The best example of this is when it comes in the form of quality time allowing you to reconnect and recharge over a longer period, like taking a Saturday evening out, a lazy Sunday with family & friends, or perhaps even a “vacation”.

6) Off season

When a real, longer break in the action comes your way, you can treat it as a longer “vacation”; however, the best players use the time to do extra preparation, training, and development of new skills. Think of this as the equivalent of an academic sabbatical. While it doesn’t have to be as exotic as Steve Jobs’ learning calligraphy, or taking spiritual enlightenment trips to India, there are many other examples, ranging from taking a trip, a class, working with other companies, or as I did: went to business school.

Other states

There are many other states, while you’re on the job (i.e. that do not fall well into states #1 – #5). They can be such things as: Injured reserve (sick days) Post-game celebration (co-worker bonding) Community work such as working with other startups, directly, or through various incubators and academic institutions…some may call this “in the game”, but it’s likely because they do it better than I do Oh yeah, and sleep…but only a little bit

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Is Groupon, or another group buying promotion, right for your product?

Summary: Groupon, and its “group buying” counterparts, have been all the rage in e-commerce, but is it right for your product? Here we’ll look at the types of products and strategies where these platforms do, and do not, make economic sense for merchants.



With all of the recent hype around the spurned $6B acquisition offer of Groupon by Google, and the holiday shopping season upon us, I thought I’d share our experience at Lime Tree Cove, with promoting our products through group buying.

In considering, researching, and executing our campaign we learned a lot, and wanted to share our experiences and views of what types of products / services are best suited, and which are not.

First, a breakdown of group buying economics

By “group buying”, I’m referring to the numerous services that showcase discounted products and services; usually done with a minimum number of people accepting, in a “deal a day” model that targets specific local markets. While there are a host of sites offering this service, such as Groupon, Eversave, Living Social, BuyWithMe, Woot, getsugar, Tippr, and more, there may be subtle differences, but the general model works as follows:

  • The consumer receives a 50% discount on the list price of the product
  • Of the remaining 50%, 50% of that goes to the site
  • So effectively, you’re selling your product at a 75% discount

For more information you can go here, but for all intents and purposes, you can expect to give a pretty steep discount, and not all types of products and business models can stomach this. So let’s look at who, and when, this type of promotion works best and worst…

When Groupon makes sense for you, as a merchant

The group buying economics are harsh, and the time-limited nature and hyper-promotion of the deals may overwhelm, so its clearly not for everyone, in all situations. Here are some scenarios that we had, where we could take advantage of the “group buying” benefits.

1) You have “expiring” inventory

It’s no accident that restaurants comprise nearly half of Groupon’s inventory, and OpenTable is also getting into the act. Imagine on Monday nights, during off-peak hours, there are lots of empty tables that if it isn’t used, are worth zero. Likewise, whale watching boats, that have seats that are either filled or empty once the ship has sailed (literally and figuratively). This is great inventory to burn through group buying.

2) You have an experience good with a high potential lifetime customer value

When introducing new products and services that are heavily reliant on “experience”, it is helpful for consumers to get a trial version — this is why you see companies hand out packs of chewing gum on street corners. By giving customers a “taste” of your product, you’re hoping to “acquire” this customer, and make your product their preferred choice going forward. The effect of this is to use Groupon as your “customer acquisition” vehicle, which even if costly, the “lifetime value” of that customer will be recouped once they return repeatedly and purchase at full price.

David Skok has a great post on the economics of customer acquisition costs and customer lifetime value, if you really want to understand how best to leverage these economics.

3) You want to create initial awareness quickly to leverage word of mouth marketing

This approach works if you’re entering a new market and are willing to subsidize educating a group of lead users. The idea is that with a passionate core group of customers, you can leverage their influence to attract other customers in their social network, and/or to influence retail or other channels that covet that initial user base. The best part of Groupon is that people love to talk about what a great deal they got, and so this approach can help seed your product and expand from there.

4) You have an array of complimentary products

When your product experience can be improved with other products you offer, you have the potential to increase the average order size of every single Groupon redemption. You can see this strategy in action in the fast-food industry, where “combo meals” subsidize the price of the burger with high margin complimentary products, like fries & a drink. Therefore the additional, high-margin products offset the small Groupon margins with full-priced sales of complimentary goods.

5) You want to liquidate excess capacity or inventory

Groupon may be a good option for you to quickly clear out inventory that’s sitting on the shelf. Another derivative scenario is that you have a factory with “excess” capacity, or has not reached minimum efficient scale; then having a quick way to sell off that additional inventory is extremely helpful.

6) Other reasons

Group buying may also be a consideration for those that have ridiculously high margin businesses, have high fixed cost leverage, or who want to reach a specific demographic efficiently (predominantly females aged 18 to 34). Of course if you have more than one of the reasons above, that’s also a good indicator.

Merchants who should approach Groupon with caution

You have an uber premium / luxury product

For those super high-end retailers, Groupon may not make sense. The “deal of the day” model may erode the sense of scarcity and exclusivity, so common with luxury goods. Consequently the short term gains may serve to degrade overall brand perception.

You operate with thin margins

For those merchants who find themselves in negative margins with Groupon, and cannot guarantee the offsets we spoke of above, don’t do it. You’re not a web company, and its not about “eyeballs”; these are real merchants with tangible products / services that cost real money to produce / deliver. If you’re not set up properly the results could be disastrous.

You are throughput constrained

Since the Groupon audience is so large, there is the chance that you can make more sales than you can actually deliver on. There is certainly some wiggle room, in that customers can redeem their voucher over a set period of time, so sales can be spread out…and then, there is the chance they don’t. So make sure your inventory management, personnel, and fulfillment operations are all ready to go. Also, ensure that an influx of new discount seeking customers does not negatively impact your existing customers.


Our experience with group buying

Lime Tree Cove's Barmaid on EversaveAt Lime Tree Cove, we did a promotion with Eversave, a Groupon competitor. Although we may not have gone through this thinking, in as much detail as we have here, the results we saw are as follows:

  • Created initial awareness and a passionate group of early adopters
  • Our best source of gathering new customers is from our existing customers, either through gift-giving, or via word-of-mouth; an effect well captured in group buying.
  • Showing evidence of market traction, helped us access new retailers and markets in a much shorter timeframe.
  • We subsidized the cost of our applicator devices with our accompanying spice line, which 90% of customers chose to do.
  • We reached our core demographic (women 25-55) very efficiently.
  • We did a low-downside experiment, and now have more experience to help us going forward.

Hope this helps you in deciding whether your product / service can be kicked into high gear with this new wave of group buying sites…or at least help you understand what all the fuss is about.

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