Throughout much of the advanced world, the chances are low for new businesses to grow and sufficiently thrive before getting blown to smithereens by the hurricane forces unleashed by the marketplace. By some estimates, up to 90 percent of all new startups fail within five years of the company’s inception. In an economy where job growth has slowed and quality job growth has been in decline for decades, this is ominous news.
But for those who follow the business world, there is a surprising trend hidden within that dismal data: While the vast majority of new businesses eventually fail, there is a tiny minority of super-entrepreneurs who seem to have the golden touch, founding startup after startup and successfully growing them into mature businesses that can then be sold for huge profits.
These rare birds are often known as serial entrepreneurs. And while they are a tiny percentage of all business owners, the incredible consistency with which they enjoy huge success stories is enough to conclude that there is considerably more going on than just survivorship bias. It is not luck but raw knowledge and skill that allow these talented business figures to enjoy the success of which most can only dream. But every once in a while, such figures tire of accumulating personal wealth and, instead, choose to help others who may not have had the same head start in the business world, helping new businesspeople navigate up the steep learning curve that sends so many new businesses plummeting to their financial deaths.
Luke Lazarus uses his winning methods to go to bat for new business owners
Luke Lazarus was born and raised in the city of Melbourne, Australia. He started his first business at age 8 and has been involved in the entrepreneurial world ever since. In high school, Lazarus proved to be a standout student, achieving a straight-A record while also excelling in a number of scholastic sports.
Given his proven academic, sports and business talents, Lazarus was a hot prospect for a large number of major universities throughout not only Australia but the world. With a number of financial-aid offers from Ivy League schools and even a few full-ride offers from U.S. Division I colleges, Lazarus eventually took the route less traveled by, choosing instead to stay in his hometown of Melbourne. He eventually earned an MBA from the Melbourne Business School, a local but highly regarded institution.
Business success and transition to consulting
After college, Lazarus spent more than a decade creating four companies, each of which he would go on to sell for significant sums. By the age of 35, Lazarus was completely financially independent. He considered continuing on as a successful entrepreneur. But after some soul searching, Lazarus realized that it was no longer money that was driving him. In fact, given his financial position, he didn’t care if he never earned another cent.
But throughout his career, he had seen the tremendous fulfillment and, indeed, joy produced by helping others to achieve their business and life goals. He decided that rather than make another $20 million, he would instead like to use his great talents to decisively help other entrepreneurs who were struggling with many of the same problems to which he had developed elegant solutions.
Lazarus became a business consultant. But true to his intense, rigorous style, he developed an approach to startup consulting that had never been seen before, with an equally strong emphasis on systems, analysis and, most importantly, emotional connections with not only the customer but also with every stakeholder.
Talent doesn’t equal skill
Lazarus has helped dozens of companies go from struggling startups to multimillion-dollar IPOs. But in racking up this impressive record, he has gained a reputation for straight shooting and directness that some have described as overbearing. Lazarus has responded that the ability to be brutally realistic is not a luxury in the business world; it is the direst necessity.
One area in which Lazarus has never danced around the issue is in directly confronting new entrepreneurs about the areas in which they woefully lack knowledge and skills. Lazarus says that the vast majority of entrepreneurs are highly intelligent and generally talented. But he notes that very few possess even the most basic skills when it comes to the arts of high finance, brand messaging and running a successful road show, the latter being the process of travelling the world in search of investors.
Among the most important functions that Lazarus performs is helping new startups shape their operations, books and messaging in such a way that it will conform to what angel investors and venture capitalists are enticed by. He says that there is a huge gap between what many entrepreneurs think about how venture capital works and the realities on the ground. And this, he says, is one of the most prominent stumbling blocks for new companies that are seeking to grow into a salable condition. The simple fact is that, without sufficient capital, it is becoming increasingly difficult or impossible to grow new companies into viable multinational operations of even a midsize level.
Furthermore, Lazarus says that many startup owners read a few articles in Forbes or Fortune detailing businesses that have secured financing or stories about the sheer amount of money splashing around the globe in chase of yield. From this, they often incorrectly conclude that raising capital is just a matter of putting together a speech, some PowerPoints and setting up a few meetings. When these business owners get done with their 20th call without even getting a hearing, they often give up on venture capital altogether. Lazarus emphasizes that the self-financed captain of industry was always a myth. But today, it is more a myth than ever. The vast majority of these companies that cannot secure adequate financing have insolvency in their future. Like a newborn ungulate, today’s cutthroat marketplace is a grow-or-be-eaten-alive proposition for new startups.
Lazarus uses his decades of experience to help shape his clients’ companies into the kinds of operations that will immediately capture the attention of venture capitalists and lead to closings. He has often likened road-show pitches to college-recruit highlight videos: If you can’t unequivocally grab the venture capitalist’s attention in the first 30 seconds, then you’ve lost the deal.
Lazarus helps his clients craft messaging that imbues the entire operation with a sense of purpose. For example, a company may not just be about supplying new materials for building decks. It is about changing people’s lives, helping them to spend more time with family in the beautiful outdoors while saving tens of thousands of dollars that can be invested in their futures. Lazarus helps businesses create emotional connections with both stakeholders and customers that make a business not just a means to a paycheck or a product but a moral force in which all parties are critical pieces of the puzzle.
This kind of powerful messaging is necessary but often not sufficient. Lazarus also helps to shape the company’s operations into a form that venture capitalists recognize as conforming to their expectations of likely success. Far from being a superficial makeover, Lazarus says that high-level venture-capital firms tend to have very good ideas of what works and what doesn’t. But venture capitalists themselves will rarely step into the role of consultant and help companies that are far diverged from an optimal positioning for future growth.
By helping his clients’ firms become more attractive to expert investors, Lazarus says that he is simultaneously helping that company’s real-world chances of success even if venture capital is not obtained.