"It is business that generates the jobs, income and taxes that keep a country going."
---Mark Skousen (American economist)
If you keep up with current events, I'm sure you're aware that the Republican-controlled Congress passed a sweeping tax reform bill last week. We’re not going to address the full minutia of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in this article. However, here are a few of the salient highlights for American businesses:
The substantial cut in U.S. corporate tax rates is undoubtedly the single greatest change in our federal tax laws in the last 30 years. It also seems to be the most controversial portion of the new legislation. Indeed, left-wing politicians and left-leaning media outlets have been quick to condemn the new Tax Act as a gift to the wealthy at the expense of the middle-class.
Before and after the House and Senate votes were taken last week, the pollical hyperbole was in full effect. According to Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D, NY), the tax bill seemed to “stuff even more money into the pockets of the wealthy and the biggest corporations while raising taxes on millions in the middle class.” House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D, CA) went even further stating, “This GOP tax scam is simply theft, monumental, brazen theft from the American middle class and from every person who aspires to reach it. The GOP tax scam is not a vote for an investment in growth or jobs.”
It’s interesting to note that the final votes in both the House and Senate fell squarely along partisan lines. While a handful of Republicans opposed the bill in the House, not one single Democrat representative voted in favor of the legislation. The same was true in the Senate where all but one Republican (Bob Corker (R, TN)) voted yea and the entire Democrat Senate voted nay.
The apocalyptic reactions to the bill's passing from Democrat leadership and the left-wing media are deeply disturbing, particularly when you take into account that most nonpartisan economic think tanks project sizable economic gains under the new tax plan. For example, the Tax Foundation (a non-partisan Washington D.C.-based think tank) conservatively estimated in their preliminary analysis that the new Tax Act will generate:
Keep in mind that the Tax Foundation used very conservative assumptions for their forecast model and did not take into account any real compounding effects. In contrast, several other noted economists are predicting far, far greater returns over the long run. For example, Forbes contributor Bill Conerly recently remarked, “The biggest impact will be the gradual improvement in economic growth year after year. A small increment added to our recent growth rates would be inconsequential in any one year, but the increments will cumulate and even compound. Twenty years from now, the difference will be significant.” In other words, it's very feasible that the new Tax Act will create economic boon conditions and actually increase tax revenues over the long run.
While the true long-term economic impact of the new tax legislation remains open for debate, a sizable number of high-profile American corporations are already beginning to return immediate dividends to their workers. Several companies (including Boeing Comcast, Fifth Third Bankcorp and Wells Fargo) announced new investments, minimum wage hikes and employee bonuses the day after the tax reform bill was passed by Congress. More major companies are expected to quickly follow suit, thereby negating much of the original hyperbole surrounding the bill.
advantage of many of the loopholes and special deductions that major corporations could. Additionally, the draconian 35% corporate tax structure discouraged venture capitalists from taking sizable risks on startups in the U.S. market for years.
Smaller businesses are the backbone of the American economy. In 2017, over 60% of American private sector jobs are with companies with less than 1000 workers. For a good number of these companies, the new Tax Act dramatically changes their scalability dynamics. Although not every small to medium size business owner wants to grow the size of their enterprise, a good number in fact do. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that the newly enacted tax legislation frees up financial capital for growth, research and expansion that was previously earmarked for the coffers of the federal government.
In parallel, it’s very likely that Venture Capitalists will begin to invest more and more in startup opportunities in relatively dormant American industries. Again, we're not going to get into Tax Act's minutia in this article (i.e. tax implications for VC investments). However, a basic understanding of economics leads to a realization that a sizable reduction in corporate tax rates makes American investments more attractive to VCs. Therefore, the likely influx of investment capital will undoubtedly lead to greater innovation. These investments will also increase demand for skilled American labor in a number of industrial sectors as competition increases. Consequently, real sustainable wage growth for American workers appears within reach for the first time in nearly two decades.
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention that an estimated 40-45% of all Americans pay no federal income taxes whatsoever today. There are many factors behind this astounding figure. However, an economic stimulus package of this magnitude will most certainly reduce welfare and unemployment figures in the years to come. In addition, the average American worker who pays taxes is expected to realize a sizable tax reduction under the new plan.
More important to our nation's future, American industry will once again have competitive advantages in the global arena. The truth of the matter is that our nation benefits wholly when job creators have more capital available to create, execute and innovate. Unleash the financial handcuffs from the John Galts of American enterprise and the free market will flourish. The positive effects will certainly ripple though society much as Mr. Conerly stated in his recent Forbes column.
In closing, a sad truth was revealed in the final Tax Cuts and Jobs Act debates and voting tallies last week. The leadership of the Democrat Party, as a whole, has now moved as far to the left on the political spectrum as the self-proclaimed “Democratic Socialist” Bernie Sanders (I, VT). They seem to have completely abandoned the virtuous, free market principles that have guided our Constitutional Republic for the last 241 years. Their "progressive" label appears to be a thinly veiled euphemism for neo-Marxist ideology. If John F. Kennedy were alive today, I imagine that he'd be aghast at what's become of his Democrat party.
Author: Erik Gagnon - Managing Partner, Chi Rho Consulting
"Companies that grow for the sake of growth or that expand into areas outside their core business strategy often stumble. On the other hand, companies that build scale for the benefit of their customers and shareholders more often succeed over time."
---Jamie Dimon (Chairman, JPMorgan Chase)
If you Google "biggest problems facing entrepreneurs today," you'll find 100's of different answers on the subject. There are dozens of laundry lists to choose from and most offer some very good suggestions on the pitfalls you should avoid. That said, you'll find little commentary regarding the impact or importance of each problem in these articles. Therefore, I thought we would add our opinions on the matter into the discussion. We'll start with what we believe the top challenge every entrepreneur will face at one point in their journey is, if they hope to gain traction. As you'll soon learn, it's a challenge that entrepreneurs have faced in free market economies for eons.
If We Knew Then What We Know Now
There's a good chance that you're a foundling entrepreneur or that you work for a startup if you're reading this. If that's the case, I'm sure you have big dreams for your products or services. At least, that was the case with me when I founded my first business back in 2008. It was a real-time valuation service catering to antiques / collectibles merchants and avid hobbyists. My vision was that CollectCentric would quickly become an invaluable resource within the industry. I dreamed we'd one day be the 800 lb. gorilla within the category.
We built a working prototype and began searching for suitable investors so we could bring our concept to market. To make a long story short, CollectCentric was beaten out by another Atlanta-based startup: WorthPoint. Their business plan was more agile than ours and they also had deeper pockets. It turned out that they were also better negotiators too. They locked the principal data supplier (eBay) into a long-term, exclusive agreement. Needless to say, we were no longer able to compete in the category once the deal was announced.
The truth of the matter was that we were blind to factors that our team hadn't ever worked through before. In retrospect, we should have taken time during our development cycle to brief analysts and industry press. They could've been used as eyes and ears to let us know how the competitive landscape was shaping up. If we had done this, we might have altered our strategy and avoided the mistake of launching an also-ran product.
The Universal Challenge: How To Scale?
CollectCentic's tale mirrors similar stories dating back through the centuries (e.g. Nicola Tesla). Like Tesla and countless others, our principal challenge was scalability. A scalable company is one that can maintain or improve profit margins while sales volume increases. In other words, a startup cannot afford to lose revenue traction in order to produce more goods or services unless it has a well thought out strategy to secure a second round of funding (or your first round if you're bootstrapping).
Our revenue forecast was a different matter entirely. We didn't have deep supplier relationships, so we anticipated a rather lengthy ramp up time. This was a barrier for some potential investors and it put us in a difficult negotiating position with others. You have to understand that angel investors take a huge risk when they invest in a startup. Consequently, they generally seek a return of 10x or more on every investment they make. They also generally want to recoup their investment in a relatively short time period. To receive serious consideration from angel Investors your ROI should be 30-40% minimum. Additionally, the payback and dividend period should be no more than five to seven years out. As we found out, it's difficult to come to quick agreement on terms if your revenue streams don't meet these requirements.
What We Learned Along The Way
In hindsight, we made the mistake of underestimating the competition in an emerging market. WorthPoint had the more sustainable business strategy. They went after the suppliers aggressively while we concentrated on both branding and the development of our end user interface. We never saw Worthpoint's agreement with Terapeak (eBay's data aggregator) coming. Naturally, it was a hard pill for all of us to swallow when we learned of the agreement.
beaten into oblivion by experienced entrepreneurs and wiser businessmen just like we were. As an old adage goes, your only two choices as an entrepreneur are "get better or get beaten." In other words, you need to solve your company's scalability equation early or you'll probably be outflanked by your competition.
Author: Erik Gagnon - Managing Partner, Chi Rho Consulting