Category "Business"

3 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Stock prices continue to hinge on the uncertain progress of U.S.-China trade negotiations.

Hopes for a deal were higher today and stocks were up sharply in the morning, though they lost steam in the afternoon. The Entrepreneur Index™ closed up 0.69 percent, while the Dow and S&P 500 indexes were up 0.64 percent and 0.54 percent respectively. The Nasdaq composite index gained 0.95 percent.

Twitter and the FANG stocks were back out front leading the technology sector higher today. All of them were up more than one percent and Netflix rose 3.6 percent.

Twitter, up 5.25 percent today, had the biggest gain on the Entrepreneur Index™. It continues to recover much of the ground lost since July when active account users fell for the first time on the social media network. That was largely because of Twitter’s ongoing efforts to rid the network of automated “bot” accounts spreading politically and/or commercially motivated messages.

The market appears to believe the company has a handle on the issue now. The stock has been one of the hottest in the volatile tech sector of late. It is up 37 percent from the October low and has risen 14 percent in the last five trading sessions.

Ever-volatile Wynn Resorts had one of the biggest gains on the day, rising 3.66 percent. Meanwhile, O’Reilly Automotive Inc. continues to thrive. The auto-parts retailer’s stock was up 3.25 percent today and has risen 47 percent this year. Other good gains were posted by Ralph Lauren Corp. (2.69 percent), (2.41 percent) and Cerner Corp. (2.13 percent).

Investor day at Under Armour Inc. was one to forget for shareholders this year. The stock fell 10.44 percent — the biggest decline on the Entrepreneur Index™ today — as executives at the apparel-maker addressed analysts and investors about the company’s outlook.

Analysts are skeptical of the company’s ability to grow sales, particularly in the competitive U.S. market where sales are falling for the company. Under Armour has also not entirely put a cultural issue centered on the inappropriate expensing of entertainment by employees–think strip clubs–behind it. Two marketing executives close to CEO Kevin Plank were fired this week. The stock has recovered nicely from a three-year slide, up 43 percent this year, but is down 18 percent in the last four trading sessions.

Outside of Under Armour, the REITs were the weakest performers on the Entrepreneur Index™ today. The sector followed the “rates up/REITs down” trading adage. The 10-year Treasury bond yield rose three points today and all nine REITs in the index were down on the day. Shopping center operator Macerich Company (-4.48 percent), SL Green Realty Corp. (-2.77 percent) and Kimco Realty Corp. (-2.75 percent) had the biggest declines.

Retailers L Brands (-0.66 percent), Walmart (-0.79 percent) and Dollar Tree Inc. (-0.27 percent) were also down on the day.

The Entrepreneur Index™ collects the top 60 publicly traded companies founded and run by entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurial spirit is a valuable asset for any business, and this index recognizes its importance, no matter how much a company has grown. These inspirational businesses can be tracked in real time on

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The first five years can be brutal, but sticking to your mission — the reason why you started — is the way to go. Do that by avoiding these pitfalls.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Believe it or not, border walls and driverless cars now have something in common: When Quanergy launched in 2012, it was a promising Silicon Valley startup that seemed destined to play a major role in the driverless car revolution. But, when Quanergy’s particular technology for autonomous vehicles fizzled, the company shifted its mission substantially — toward surveillance.

Because Quanergy’s lidar sensors (the same technology as that used in driverless cars) “see” in 360 degree views and spot objects from about 100 meters’ distance, they’re being tested in outposts along the U.S. border with Mexico. The company’s hope? That instead of steering consumers’ cars, Quanergy’s technology replaces a physical border wall with a virtual one.

Sure, Quanergy is clearly on a mission. But is its trajectory veering toward profit rather than purpose? Its mission shift to the illegal immigration issue is reportedly wounding employee morale, as well. And that’s hardly a first: Google, Salesforce and Microsoft are just a few other big tech names that have received employee pushback after making partnerships with the U.S. government.

Related: Tesla Crash Raises Stakes for Self-Driving Vehicle Startups

Quanergy isn’t the first company to have drifted from its mission over the years. At young companies, “mission” tends to be the most well-defined component of an organization. After all, the orginal idea behind the company’s being is what makes the work necessary and drives employees to action.

Unfortunately, as forces push and pull on that mission, crises of identity may lead companies to bounce around and forget what made them great in the first place. Fool’s gold (think: early-stage funding) can knock brash startups off track. It then becomes easy to fall into the trap of misaligned revenue streams; and, here, only companies with defined missions have the grounding they need to resist temptation.

Although it may difficult, founders have to remember that mission (not revenue) determines whether their company will sink or swim. Every other piece — whether related to strategy or structure — depends on the power of the mission driving the business.

What makes your mission so special?

By the time I joined LaunchCode, we already had a clear mission: Our business existed to close the talent gap in technology through free training and apprenticeships. We didn’t need to wonder what to do in pivotal moments because this framework was our guide.

In fact, this overarching goal is what drew me here over all other opportunities. Sure, other companies were pursuing similar goals — but this company was explicit about why it wanted to pursue this business. The big-picture view of the the mission that resulted made it easy for me to do my job and for the company to grow.

We’ve grown to 42 employees in the last five years, and our alignment has helped us create positions and hire people who can immediately help us move in the direction we want to go. If we’re unsure about a hire or the need for a new position, we look to the mission statement and find our answer.

Having a solid groundwork is essential to gaining the trust and support of the right stakeholders. The mission lays the groundwork for hard decisions, financial factors and other variables, consistently communicating what everyone inside and outside the company can expect.

Related: 4 Techniques for Crafting a Mission Statement Worth Remembering

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple Inc. in the ’90s, he brought the company back from the brink of bankruptcy by doubling down on a mission to build customer-centric products. Today, Apple is one of the biggest consumer brands in the world. This is largely because of Jobs’s contagious commitment to what Apple was all about.

As new challenges rear their heads, a company’s ability to snuff them out will depend on continued focus.

How to identify and avoid 3 threats to your mission

Threats to company missions are everywhere. Luckily, founders can employ a few simple strategies to mitigate the most common ones.

1. Gradual drift

Decisions that pull organizations away from their stated purposes (usually for money) help in the short term, but they can create long-lasting issues and rifts. And, according to research by Wiley, businesses that accept more money and influence from venture capitalists have greater mission drift.

To combat this problem, sit down with your leadership teams to set intermediate and long-term goals for the company, with your overall mission in mind. Don’t take shortcuts or count on windfalls; set attainable goals that don’t require compromises to your mission. Place benchmarks along the paths to those goals to keep morale high in the bad times and check yourself during good ones.

2. Irrelevant offerings

Although it’s now the poster child for the failure to adapt, Blockbuster once enjoyed a reputation as an industry disruptor. By creating customer-centric inventory practices that didn’t cut into profit, Blockbuster founder David Cook changed the dynamics of the industry. Unfortunately, the company remained committed to an irrelevant mission after industry change occcured in the company’s final years.

Related: You May Run From It, But Disruption Is Going to Occur All the Same — Here’s How to Embrace Change

Industry and technology factors outside a company’s control can cause irrelevance, but not necessary if the company determines it should act. Being ready to pivot is important: When disruptive technology or drastic economic change comes crashing down, a company’s original mission might no longer fit the market in its original form.

At that point, it’s critical that the company evaluate the core idea of the mission, determine whether the market demands an update and remain committed to the new principle. In many cases, outside pressures positively influence startups by forcing them to shape their missions for the long haul.

3. Misinterpreted meanings

A good mission provides a clear foundation, but clarity does not guarantee understanding. Because many people read the mission statement of the company before they read anything else, founders must ensure that their missions are understandable not only when they’re read in isolation, but also when they’re read in context.

According to Capgemini, 75 percent of companies surveyed said they identify as customer-centric, but only just under a third of consumers agree with that assessment.

So, make sure you overtly align other components of your company’s identity with its mission. Create a vision statement, values, testimonials and more to back up your primary claim. If someone doesn’t understand your goals at first glance, supporting materials should make up for that problem. Avoid miscommunication by picking clearly defined mission parameters and delivering on them.

During the first few years of growth, mission really is everything. It determines sales, partnerships and possibilities, both today and in the future. Don’t let easy mistakes turn big opportunities into big regrets. Navigate the potential pitfalls and lean on your mission to shape your company for years to come.

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The Farm Bill compromise allows nationwide hemp production for any use — including CBD. The bill may pass before Christmas.

4 min read

Brought to you by Marijuana Business Daily

A long-awaited end to five decades of hemp prohibition has been approved by a House-Senate panel, opening the door to hemp production in all 50 states for any use — including CBD.

The measure is included in the 2018 Farm Bill, which still must pass both houses of Congress before work is concluded ahead of Christmas and all pending legislation dies.

“It’s long overdue. It’s very welcome,” said Jon Brandon, co-CEO of Foria, a Colorado and California company that manufactures THC- and CBD-infused sexual health topicals such as lubricants.

“You see CBD everywhere now, and that’s with all the challenges we’d have getting payment processing, financial services, advertising, all of it,” he said. “You have to just imagine where CBD is going to go when those constraints go away.”

Related: How to Start and Market Your CBD Company

What the Bill Says

In addition to lifting restrictions on advertising, marketing, banking and other financial services, the passage of the measure would:

  • Allow hemp production in all 50 states for any use, including flower production and CBD or other cannabinoid extraction. States will have the option to submit their own plans to regulate hemp.
  • Allow interstate commerce for hemp and hemp-derived CBD.
  • Give the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the job of overseeing hemp production, with direction to come up with rules “as expeditiously as practicable.”
  • Legalize hemp production in U.S. territories and on Indian tribal land – which was not included under the 2014 Farm Bill
  • Give the industry access to federally backed farm support programs, including crop insurance, federal water access and low-interest loans for new farmers.
  • Allow hemp producers to “bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill “temporary agricultural jobs.
  • Remove barriers to getting intellectual property protections under federal law, such as patents and trademarks.
  • Set a 10-year ban under which state or federal drug felons cannot participate in the hemp program, except for people already growing hemp under a state pilot project (as established by the 2014 Farm Bill).
  • Require the USDA to consult with the U.S. attorney general on the hemp rules.

The bill also states that licensed hemp producers who grow cannabis plants that exceed the THC limitation of 0.3 percent will not be guilty of a drug crime but instead must submit a plan to correct the “hot” hemp.

Related: The U.S. Senate Voted to Legalize Hemp. And Hemp Won.

A Christmas Miracle?

Hemp entrepreneurs have been intensely anticipating the changes, based in large part on support from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican.

The Farm Bill must still make its way through both houses of Congress and to President Donald Trump’s desk before the current session concludes Dec. 21.

It’s a tight timeline, especially considering that Congress must address a larger spending measure to avoid a government shutdown, a measure that is far more controversial because it could include money to build a wall along the Mexican border.

Still, hemp entrepreneurs are cheering the compromise Farm Bill release as a watershed moment for the entire cannabis industry.

“As a small business this is incredibly exciting,” said Robert Leaker of Vitality CBD Natural Health Products, a Montana hemp producer and manufacturer that is thought to be the nation’s single largest hemp producer, with 20,000 acres grown this year.

Leaker’s company recently announced a plan to go public in Canada via a reverse takeover, a common route for U.S. cannabis producers to trade on a public stock exchange.

The Farm Bill passage would end the need for U.S. hemp companies to list in Canada, instead allowing them to directly access U.S. exchanges such as the Nasdaq or New York Stock Exchange.

“We see access to capital, as well as access to large potential buyers of CBD, to be all opening up because of this,” Leaker said.

“Until it’s federally recognized that CBD is not a Schedule 1 drug, it’s very difficult for banks and investment capital to come into this space.”

Related: Hemp Clears Legislative Hurdle and Is Poised to Be Legalized

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As the company has grown past the startup phase, I now find myself being called on to perform the duties of an executive far more than those of an entrepreneur.

7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Earlier this quarter, Product2Market cracked the 100-employee mark for the first time since we launched the company. I’m incredibly proud of the company’s success to date, but as with all growth, there were some pains involved.

Related: 50 Rules for Being a Great Leader

While that certainly applies to the organization as a whole, it also applies to me personally. As CEO and founder of the company, I feel like the team hitting 100 members is truly a watershed moment, and I find myself acutely aware of how our new size is changing my own role within the company.

As the company has grown past the startup phase, I now find myself being called on to perform the duties of an executive far more than those of an entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur at heart, I’d be lying if I said that transition didn’t come with some challenges.

I know I’m certainly not alone in facing this change, so for you other entrepreneurs out there who are approaching the point where it’s time for your role to grow with your company, here are some of the most significant ways I’ve personally felt this big change in action.

I’m no longer as intimately involved in the who.

At Product2Market’s current size, it’s no longer practical for me to be involved in most of the hiring decisions. That’s a big change for me for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost, it’s completely new. When we were smaller, I was accustomed to being involved in almost all hiring decisions, which meant I could be 100 percent certain that the people I was bringing on board were the right fit for both the positions and the culture I was trying to build.

Now, I’ve had to delegate that responsibility to my team and delegating something I always considered such a core part of my responsibility as founder can be hard. Luckily, I have an unbelievable management team that understands my vision for our culture as if it were their own.

Related: 15 Ways to Lead With Effective Communication

Secondly, I’m a people person. I always loved the fact that I knew everyone that worked for me on a first-name basis and could strike up a chat over the proverbial water cooler with anyone. But, now, at 100 people, I find that I occasionally get LinkedIn requests from people I don’t even realize are members of my own team! That’s unavoidable with size, but it’s startling none the less.

The solution to dealing with that new paradigm is to accept that as a company grows bigger, it becomes impossible for the top levels of management to know everyone on a deeply personal basis, but to strive for that goal anyway.

I might not know the names of the new hire’s kids on Day One, but by maintaining my people-centric focus and trying to continue making those connections, I can make myself a better, more approachable executive.

I have to sacrifice tactics for strategy.

In the military, there is a concept called “mission command,” which is a model for decentralizing decision-making. The idea is that it isn’t practical or possible for a general or other officers in high command positions to be responsible for every mission and every decision. Instead, that commanding officer thinks only about overall strategy, providing an intent to their subordinates. Those junior officers are then trusted to make the actual tactical-level decisions to meet that command intent.

The business world works the same way — or at least it should. As Product2Market has grown, I’ve found that my role has rapidly shifted away from the hands-on CEO of our startup days to that of a strategic planner.

Related: 22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

In an extensive study of CEO leadership styles, Harvard Business Review identified this style as “the strategy approach.” Embracing this new leadership approach has been a bit of a tough change for me because I so enjoy being immersed in the day-to-day operation of the business, but from an organizational standpoint, it would be disastrous for the company if I didn’t embrace my new role.

Managers and executives who can’t let go of tactical-level decision-making — the dreaded micromanagers — smother their subordinates. And even well-intentioned smothering is still smothering! Not only will micromanagement eventually break down an organization, but it also severely stunts the growth of the employees who should be doing the day-to-day tactical decision-making, robbing them of the chance to grow into the strong, well-rounded managers that the company needs them to be.

The key here is for executives to imagine themselves as the generals in the mission command model and to shift away from details and toward intent. In the business world, a better term to choose might be vision. Embrace the fact that your job is now to guide the big picture and then enable, and, most importantly, trust your staff with the authority and responsibility to turn your vision into a reality.

I have to accept a less customer-facing role.

When I started Product2Market, I was involved in every single aspect of every single client relationship. Customer-focus was one of the ways we differentiated ourselves, and I always went out of my way to ensure that our clients knew that I, as the CEO, was both accessible to them and personally focused on their needs.

As we’ve grown, I’ve increasingly had to turn away from that customer-facing role and toward an organizational focus instead. At the size we’re currently at, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day for me to both immerse myself in the client-side of things and meet my responsibilities as the captain of the overall ship.

In another HBR study, Harvard researchers found that the average CEO spends just 3 percent of her time with customers. That’s shockingly low, and a mark I personally hope never to fall to, but it’s a clear demonstrator of how priorities have to shift away from constant customer contact as a business grows.

Related: 10 Books Every Leader Should Read to Be Successful

Failing to make this change is a big trap a lot of entrepreneurs fall into, probably second only to micromanagement. Most entrepreneurs thrive on the interpersonal side of things, and we all appreciate the importance of customer relationships, but misdirecting time and energy away from ensuring the entire machine is moving in the right direction is a sure-fire way to hamstring future success.

As different as entrepreneurs are as individuals, there are some qualities we all have in common. One is that we almost all dream of starting a company from scratch and nurturing that small seed of a startup into something big. Another is that we almost all face a certain level of difficulty letting go of the reigns once we start to realize that goal.

The most successful among us are the ones that make the transition from entrepreneur to executive seamlessly, allowing growth to continue unhindered and embracing their role as a shepherd rather than a sheepdog. Unfortunately, there are also many of us that can’t or won’t accept that transition, and those entrepreneurs almost always end up standing in the way of future growth rather than guiding it.

The key to avoiding that pitfall is to remember that even if your company started with you as the sole employee, as it grows bigger and bigger, it becomes bigger than you, too. It belongs as much to the employees — new and old — that operate it as it does to you. Fail to trust those people, and the company will slowly die. But, trust them with your baby, and enable them with responsibility, and they’ll almost always rise to the challenge, driving growth and helping you accomplish the dream you set out to achieve on day one.

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Opportunities abound for entrepreneurs to create the next Uber or Airbnb. Are you up for the challenge?

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

From a young age, we were all taught that sharing is good. But who knew that “sharing” would become the basis of an entire economic system? From eBay to Uber to Airbnb, the sharing of resources has quickly evolved from a fad to a vibrant marketplace; and this business and cultural shift is only just beginning. 

Related: 3 Ways the Sharing Economy Changes Entrepreneurial Opportunity

There are still many niches entrepreneurs can find in already established sharing-economy industries; and there are ways they can forge new business paths in untapped industry markets. The whole world economy is changing, offering exciting opportunities for those who are willing to dare. Are you one of them?

A fast-growing trend

The sharing economy is one of the fastest-growing business trends across the globe and is estimated to grow from $14 billion in 2014 to $335 billion by 2025, according to Brookings. In addition, the Henderson Group, the think tank of the Boston Consulting Group, estimates that venture capitalists have poured over $24 billion into the sharing economy market since 2010.

As market disrupters, such as Uber and Airbnb, continue to take on entrenched industry leaders and win, these investments will continue to be available to people with a “sharing economy” vision.

Consumers and the sharing model

Millennials are more likely to participate in the sharing economy than their older counterparts, according to the experts at Statista, but for the purchasing of pre-owned goods, this age gap is at its smallest.

In all other categories, from automobile services to crowdfunding, millennials lead the way. Participation in the sharing economy is now being reflected in other purchasing decisions. The Henderson Group survey found that 85 percent of U.S. consumers polled said they would spend more on products designed to be shared.

Related: 3 Ways the Sharing Economy Changes Entrepreneurial Opportunity

Our culture’s apparent approval of consumer products specifically crafted to be sharable is opening many new doors for the creative entrepreneur.

Room- and home-sharing

The shared shelter market is currently dominated by Airbnb, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’tstill opportunities. Vacation rentals will continue to be a hot market because there are significant reasons why people are choosing vacation rentals over hotels, especially for longer stays. In the United States, revenues from vacation rentals were over $13 million in 2018 and are expected to see a continued annual growth rate of 7.2 percent, according to Statista.

For entrepreneurs, opportunities in this market include purchasing homes to rent to others and taking long-term leases at popular tourist destinations, then renting out some or all of the building. Offering luxury homes for rent is a growing submarket within this industry; so is providing unique options such as yacht rentals and glamping sites. With many niche options and markets underserved by quality rental options, this market is far from saturated.

Consumer goods

eBay remains the dominant force in the peer-to-peer, consumer goods category, with an annual net revenue of $9.6 billion,according to Statista. This site brings together sellers of everything from the mundane to the bizarre with people willing to pay for it.

Etsy is another massive site, serving consumers seeking handmade or original goods, Rent the Runway is the go-to site for fashionistas; and SidelineSwap is where athletes go to buy and sell sporting goods. These sites generate millions of dollars each year because their creators know their marketplace and have designed the perfect platforms to bring buyers and sellers together.

For entrepreneurs, there are many opportunities in the shared consumer-goods markets, from buying and selling, to establishing a new platform that meets the needs of a specific niche group. There is also a demand for goods created specifically to be shared, which leaves the possibilities wider open still.

Related: 5 Reasons You Should Join the Sharing Economy Revolution

Health care

By 2020, the healthcare industry is predicted to generate annual revenues of $8.7 trillion dollars. The sharing economy has not yet impacted this market yet, but it is ripe for change. Hospitals across the country waste over $765 billion dollars in both supplies and equipment. The problem is that some equipment will sit idle at one facility, taking up space and requiring maintenance when a hospital across town could could make good use of it.

Under the best scenario, some of these items will become a charitable donation to facilities in other countries, but so much more is possible.

Cohealo is currently the only company providing sharing economy services to this industry, and there are so many more opportunities there. Few hospitals take advantage of this service, and that’s a shame since plenty of physician groups, dental practices and physical therapy businesses could reduce costs and expand services wherever this type of opportunity became available.

Bottom line

The above examples are just a few of the myriad of sharing economy opportunities available to savvy entrepreneurs. It is important to remember that at the heart of every sharing economy transaction is a match-making process that brings together someone with a surplus with another who has a need. This could be a car, a fancy evening gown, a forklift, a baby stroller and more.

Related: The Sharing Economy Is Taking Off: Get On the Rocket or Risk Being Left Behind

Opportunities abound for entrepreneurs to create these platforms, curate quality goods and services, manage the logistics of delivery and enforce the agreements.  Are you up for the challenge?

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Entrepreneurs in the developing world seeking capital and investors looking for opportunity. Blockchain is the solution for them both.

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

We live in a world that is increasingly borderless, with the unprecedented growth of technology across a number of sectors. However, geographical and economic borders remain firmly entrenched in the global financial landscape, preventing those in emerging markets from accessing the playing field of capital growth.

None of the three countries with the highest GDP growth between 2008 and 2017 — Nauru, Ethiopia and Turkmenistan — have stock exchanges, depriving emerging investors and business owners of much-needed access to global capital. When investors do enter the traditional market, they face extremely high intermediary fees. Despite growth in tech hubs across emerging markets, economic exclusion and inequality remain huge barriers to those looking for a profitable investment opportunity. Blockchain technology, as a borderless force, might hold the very solution to this problem. By reshaping international investing to create a more decentralised, secure and accessible means of doing business, blockchain-based exchanges could help eradicate economic inequality and foster a new era of financial inclusion for developing countries.

Related: Blockchain Geopolitics: Is It East vs. West or Is It Large Countries vs. Small?

Emerging markets have limited access to stock exchanges.

In comparing the South African Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), the largest exchange in Africa, with its North American counterpart, the New York Stock Exchange, it becomes evident that economic exclusion is a prevalent issue in emerging markets. The JSE has around 375 listings and a market capitalization of about $988 billion. In comparison, the New York Stock Exchange lists more than 3000 companies worth more than $28 trillion as of June 2018. This means that even those privileged enough to gain access to the South African JSE are still not being exposed to the same level of opportunity as those operating on larger foreign stock markets.

There is also a huge gap in the availability and accessibility of financial institutions. Two billion people are financially excluded from formal institutions such as banks. This means that a huge percentage of our global population is prevented from interacting on international investing platforms, despite a clear demand for capital growth in developing countries such as Nauru, Ethiopia and Turkmenistan.

The demand for investment and business expansion from entrepreneurs in emerging markets is increasing year after year. The 2017 Global Findex reported that 71 percent of adults in high-income economies saved in 2017, while the same was true of only 43 percent of those in developing countries. However, both economies reported the same percentage of people saving to start, operate, or expand a business. In Sub-Saharan African economies, this figure was twice the global average, with one-in-three adults reportedly saving for business expansion. The biggest hindrance to business growth within the region has been a lack of supportive financial services, such as stock exchanges, that encourage investment opportunities.

It is an unfortunate truth that current financial models are favorable and exclusive to high-income economies. Those in emerging markets have no choice but to invest in non-formal ways, such as through a savings club or in the form of livestock, jewelry or real estate. This excludes communities from global markets and, therefore, wider pools of investment opportunities. Equal access to global networks could turn these informal savings into real capital growth. Empowering emerging markets, and particularly small and medium enterprises in developing nations, should be at the core of all financial initiatives.

Related: Breaking Into a Volatile (But Rewarding) Emerging Market

Expensive intermediaries are barriers to growth.

Expensive intermediaries in stock exchanges area a major deterrent to business owners operating in developing countries. Currently, no stock exchange in the world allows customers to invest directly on their platform. Prospective investors are forced to place trades through intermediaries, such as banks or brokers, which is both an expensive and exhaustive process.

A report entitled ‘Blockchain in Capital Markets’, estimates that IT and operations expenditure are close to $100-150 billion per year among banks, with post-trade and securities servicing fees estimated at $100 billion. The high costs for both traders and banks, intermediary services are a major barrier to growth for early-stage businesses. For emerging markets, this makes trading across borders an improbable and often impossible option, having neither the money nor the time to invest in intermediary networks. Thus, the current stock exchange market is a double whammy of inaccessibility to foreign and smaller players.

Related: Entrepreneurship and Millennials Are Thriving in Emerging Markets

Borderless blockchain can solve economic exclusion.

Change is needed to combat issues of financial exclusion and these barriers to growth. A decentralized blockchain-based exchange offers a possible solution to this very issue. A borderless exchange removes the middleman. By ruling out traditional bank and broker monopoly, borderless exchanges enable previously excluded companies to connect with global investor networks, while simultaneously raising capital. This immediacy — when contrasted with the costly and exhaustive process of intermediary involvement — empowers business owners in unprecedented ways to expand their business, which in turn will promote growth in  their local communities and economies.

Although there are an estimated two billion unbanked adults, almost two thirds of that population have access to a mobile phone. Blockchain technology, through initiatives such as app-based exchanges, could harness this easily accessible method of communication to overcome the barriers of high costs and inaccessible institutions. The borderless nature of digital technologies is an incentive for foreign investors to engage with emerging markets, redistributing wealth and investment into economies where growth is most needed.

Related: How Alternate Lending Players are Banking the Unbanked

Perhaps the most exciting element of blockchain technology is its potential to disrupt and decentralise the traditional financial market, especially in regards to redefining the stock exchange market. Decentralized exchanges can harness the core values of borderless, decentralised, accessible platforms to offer developing countries unprecedented power to acquire wealth.

Technology has become an integral part of our everyday lives and job functions. Blockchain has the capacity to promote change and capital growth in emerging markets and beyond.

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The Entrepreneur Index™ had a tough morning but rebounded with a strong afternoon.

3 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The volatile stock market followed a familiar pattern today, falling sharply in the morning and roaring back in the afternoon.

The Dow Industrials index was down more than 500 points in morning trading, before staging a strong comeback. It closed up 34 points, or 0.14 percent on the day. The Entrepreneur Index™ also rallied in the second half of the day to post a gain of 0.54 percent.

Technology stocks led the way. The technology-heavy Nasdaq composite index was up 0.74 percent. Facebook posted the biggest gain in the sector and on the Entrepreneur Index™, rising 3.25 percent. A Deutsche Bank tech analyst ranked the company his top pick among large internet company stocks today, citing valuation as a major reason. Facebook shares are down more than 35 percent from a peak in July.

Other tech stocks posting good gains included chipmakers NVIDIA Corp. (2.93 percent) and Analog Devices (2.38 percent). Software maker Adobe Systems Inc. was up 2.56 percent and Twitter rose 1.86 percent.

Tesla was up 2.01 percent today, despite more combative remarks toward the SEC from CEO Elon Musk in a interview with 60 Minutes that aired yesterday. The regulator and Tesla came to an agreement earlier this year over market-moving tweets Musk had made about taking the company private.

Tesla shares have been among the best performers in the market over the last three volatile months, rising more than 30 percent since early October. A Piper Jaffray technical analyst suggested today that if the stock can reach the $390 level — it’s currently at $365 — it could cause another big squeeze on short-sellers of the stock. With short interest of more than 20 percent of the public share float, the analyst suggested that a move above $390 could force massive buying by shorts to cover their losing positions. He said it could rapidly drive the share price above $500.

Ford Motor Co. on the other hand, fell 3.4 percent today. The stock had been trending up from a low in late October but is now back well below $9 per share, in part because of growing pessimism about a trade deal between China and the United States. China has leveled tariffs on U.S. cars in retaliation for tariffs imposed on Chinese exports.

Fedex Corp. continued to slide today, falling 4.2 percent. It was down more than six percent on Friday, after the abrupt departure of the head of its Fedex Express business unit. The shares were downgraded to neutral by Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst Ken Hoexter today.

Under Armour Inc. (-4.52 percent) was also down sharply today, posting the biggest decline on the Entrepreneur Index™. The maker of active apparel surged more than 15 percent after reporting strong earnings in late October and is up 58 percent so far this year. It will hold an annual analyst/investor meeting on Wednesday where senior executives will discuss the strategy and outlook for the company.

The Entrepreneur Index™ collects the top 60 publicly traded companies founded and run by entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurial spirit is a valuable asset for any business, and this index recognizes its importance, no matter how much a company has grown. These inspirational businesses can be tracked in real time on

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It is always worth paying attention to what is happening in other sectors, as it led to my success.

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

One of my major early obstacles as an entrepreneur starting hint was shelf life. In addition to not wanting to add sweeteners, I also did not want to add preservatives to our flavored waters. But, that is what everyone in the “drinks industry” does to get the long shelf life required by the retailers.

Related: Successful Leaders Know They Can Learn From Everyone at Their Company

Though we wanted the sales, ditching the unique selling point of our products wasn’t the answer. After a number of failed experiments, I heard about the flash pasteurization technique used in the juice industry. As we also use fruit, I thought that this process was a possible solution that would allow our products to have a shelf life like many other beverages in order to stay competitive.

This experience taught me that it is always worth paying attention to what’s happening in other sectors. Just like these five businesses that successfully learned from industries outside their own.

1. Bringing design to technology users

Apple has long been associated with bringing design thinking to the computer industry. But, perhaps even more significant is how the company revolutionized the user experience of portable music players. Early MP3 players were like a more functional Walkman. The iPod changed everything. It was beautiful, had an innovative yet intuitive interface and came with stylish headphones.

By introducing a more design-led and user-focused approach to the music player industry, Apple also laid the groundwork for its transformation of the mobile phone market.

2. Using data to predict hits

Which movies or TV shows make it to our screens is often down to the taste of an individual studio executive. Netflix disrupted the entertainment industry by bringing the science of data to artistic decision-making. When offered House of Cards as its first major production, Netflix checked the numbers. They showed that users loved the original BBC series, as well as movies starring Kevin Spacey and directed by David Fincher, suggesting a ready-made audience for the new show.

While creativity is a still an important factor, Netflix’s pioneering use of data in determining where to best invest their production dollars has delivered a string of hits.

Related: Don’t Study the Competition. Study Winners in Other Industries.

3. Finding marketing inspiration at a theme park

Burrow is changing the furniture market with its affordable, high-quality couches. The company maintains low prices by not having expensive real-world retail outlets. You can only buy Burrow products online. Yet people living in cities — a major target audience for the business — love window shopping. When Burrow CEO Stephen Kuhl visited Harry Potter World, the theme park’s interactive window displays inspired a way of filling his company’s marketing gap.

Burrow rented empty New York City storefronts and installed animatronic characters lazing on the company’s sofas. Passers-by could interact with these characters by text, creating a fresh buzz about the brand and reaching new audiences. All it needed was a pinch of theme park magic.

4. Adopting a pit crew approach to health care

Medical teams only have seconds to save the life of a premature baby that needs resuscitation. To ensure they were making the most efficient use of this brief time, some doctors and nurses in the U.K. studied Formula 1 motor-racing. The sport’s best pit crews change all four tires on a car in just two seconds, often the difference between winning and losing a race. The healthcare teams noticed how each individual in the pit crew has a clearly defined role, as well as the importance of working in a dedicated space that doesn’t have unnecessary equipment getting in the way.

Though motor racing and childbirth are unrelated activities, watching a pit crew in action helped these medical teams move faster and save more lives.

Related: 6 Sneaky Ways Your Competitors Are Keeping Ahead of You

5. Letting the clowns take control

Eyewear brand Warby Parker has a successful workplace program that allows the company’s engineers to decide which projects they want to work on. The program creates more engaged and productive employees and leads to the development of ideas that deliver better results. The increase in this kind of employee-led prioritization is often inspired by a research paper on Cirque de Soleil, which showed that circus performers were better than the company’s managers at choosing the most popular new acts.

Perhaps people on the front lines have better insight into what will work with audiences and customers. Or maybe that simply empowering them increases their motivation. Either way, letting the clowns pick your priorities can put a smile on everyone’s face.

Time to re-apply.

My belief in the power of learning from other sectors is strong. My own business has benefited from internal cross-industry inspiration. After seeing what we could do with putting fruit in water in order to make water more enjoyable with hint water, we applied that idea to skincare and recently launched hint sunscreen.

When you’re curious about other industries and keep an open mind, you’ll be surprised at how you can re-apply new ideas and technique to your world.

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Jon Sebastiani, whose first business was acquired by Hershey, now leads snack company Smashmallow.

6 min read

In this ongoing column, The Digest, News Director Stephen J. Bronner speaks with food entrepreneurs and executives to see what it took to get their products into the mouths of customers.

Jon Sebastiani scored a major win with his first business, Krave Jerky, when it was acquired by The Hershey Company in 2015 (financial terms were not disclosed).

The entrepreneur, whose background is in wine, founded Krave in 2009 and has since gone on to run an early stage private equity firm that invests in food companies. But two years ago, he once again got the entrepreneurial itch and founded Smashmallow, which seeks to raise the bar on what Sebastiani called a nascent category: marshmallows.

Related: 8 Things You Should Know About Chef’s Cut, the Company Founded by 2 Golf Caddies That’s Now a Multi-million-Dollar Jerky Brand

Smashmallow, which creates flavored marshmallows such as cookie dough, cinnamon churro and mint chocolate chip — and also sells rice crispy treats — can be found in more than 15,000 stores. The privately funded company said it expects more than $40 million in retail sales in 2019.

Sebastiani spoke with Entrepreneur about where the idea for Smashmallow came from, what his initial goals were and his advice for other entrepreneurs.

On the origin of Smashmallow

“I have a vicious sweet tooth. I have a daughter. Today she’s 10 years old, but when I started Smash three years ago she was seven, and she’d always have sweet treats around the house — cookies, brownies, gummy bears. When you’re training for Ironmans or marathons you really have to be extremely disciplined on your diet, and oftentimes those don’t mix with a vicious sweet tooth. So over the years one of my little tricks was marshmallows, because when you look at the ingredient panel and the nutritional deck, a marshmallow kind of scratches that itch of a sweet treat. Yet from a sugar content standpoint and from an ingredient standpoint, it’s really not that bad for you.”

Image Credit: Courtesy of Smashmallow

On what he thought the business could be

“The basic business thesis was, can we make the marshmallows snackable by utilizing clean ingredients, removing corn syrup and any artificial flavor and creating a more decadent experience by adding inclusions to it? So a pretty simple thesis was built, but the basic big question from an entrepreneurial standpoint [was can we] change consumer behavior. The thrill of an entrepreneur is changing consumer behavior [around marshmallows].

“We’re not leading the next wave of plant-based meat replacement. This is a simple disruption, but it’s an example of changing the conversation around usage occasion by offering a healthier more guiltless sweet treat.”

On the opportunity

“Most people think marshmallows are for s’mores, rice crispy treats or hot cocoa. Very few people snacked on them, but we wanted to change the conversation. So we packaged it in a bag in a pouch that resembles a snack bowl. We have great flavors. They’re beautiful looking. Then we sent out in a messaging strategy that went right after other sweet treats and positioned it as a less-guilty sweet treat. … The results were pretty astounding. People were adopting the product, snacking on it, giving us feedback, like, ‘Wow, where have you been all my life?'”

Related: The Founders of RXBar, Acquired by Kellogg for $600 Million, Built the Company by ‘Having a Bias Toward Action’

On why entrepreneurs are building food businesses

“The consumption of food in the U.S. is changing so quickly in terms of what consumers demand and are looking for, and as an entrepreneur to participate in this sweeping change where we are so nimble, we have access to so much capital, we have relationships with all the leading retailers in America that are wanting innovation and we’re able to move so much faster than big food — it’s like a gold rush in terms of opportunity.”

On what kinds of products entrepreneurs should create

“[Food] buyers tend to be risk-free, and they’re looking for incrementality. So if you have a product that is driving incremental, premium or penny-profit growth to their set, they’re going to get behind you. That’s what’s happened [with Smashmallow]. Since Target has launched the brand, we’re driving an incremental purchase. We are not cannibalizing their premium set.”

Image Credit: Courtesy of Smashmallow

On where entrepreneurs go wrong

“A lot of entrepreneurs look at the marketplace first to see what’s working, and then they design their product out of what’s working rather than looking into the abyss of the unknown and truly delivering a first-mover product, whether that product is in the form of changing a usage occasion or simply a new product. But when you’ve found a unique product that’s alone driving innovation, you’re going to get a retail community to support you more. True entrepreneurship is the ability to find an opportunity within a nascent category or within a new product experience that is driving different consumer behavior. So the bottom line is differentiation.”

Related: This Snack Company Grew Quickly Out of a Dorm Room After It Sold Its Products to Tech Companies

On whether he wants Smashmallow to follow Krave’s path

“We’re running our business and building our business for the long run. We truly want to build an iconic brand that will withstand time rather than sprinting toward some exit in some predetermined amount of time. But I think ultimately we invest and build brands for some eventual partnership or exit in some capacity.”

On his secret weapon

“One of the skills that many entrepreneurs forget about is the ability to listen, because by virtue of having the courage and the backbone to go out and actually start the business from an idea that you have takes a lot of risk and courage because you could fail. Therefore a common trait of these entrepreneurs is overconfidence, and sometimes overconfidence will preclude you from listening to honest feedback. Despite my past successes I don’t ever want to be drinking my own Kool-Aid, so I live in a very humble place and really try to practice the art of listening.”

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If we’re not failing, we are staying too safe. And you won’t grow unless you are constantly making yourself uncomfortable.

2 min read

Brought to you by Lewis Howes

So often we are afraid to go all in. Whether it’s in a relationship, in business or in an investment, the fear of failure keeps us from fully committing. What a mistake.

I’ve had to learn to love failure. I have to consciously tell my brain, “You’re going to fail. And it’s going to be OK.”

Take the leap. Make the commitment. Dare to take a stand.

If we’re not failing, we are staying too safe. And you won’t grow unless you are constantly making yourself uncomfortable.

On today’s episode of The School of Greatness, I dive deep into the idea of going all in when the time is right with one of the most successful investors in the world: Matt Higgins.

Higgins is a proven operator, investor and business builder with a knack for helping founders at pivotal growth moments achieve breakout success. He serves as CEO of RSE Ventures, a private firm that incubates and invests in companies across sports and entertainment, food and lifestyle, media and marketing, and technology.

Higgins co-founded RSE with Miami Dolphins owner Stephen M. Ross, the most prominent private developer in the U.S. and a serial entrepreneur. Together Higgins and Ross have helped build enterprises from scratch, including the largest privately owned soccer tournament in the world (International Champions Cup) and leading brand strategy and communications agency Derris.

Higgins didn’t graduate from high school. He came from a humble beginning but never let that hold him back from getting where he is today.

He says that when you do things your own way and you start with a blank page, it’s going to be a lonely journey. You have to trust yourself and be careful about the advice that you take.

So, get ready to learn what makes Higgins a great investor and why certain businesses are winners on Episode 727.

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