Norway wealth fund allowed to stay on as investor if Tesla goes private

OSLO (Reuters) – Rules governing Norway’s $1 trillion wealth fund would allow it to stay on as an investor in Tesla (TSLA.O) if the electric carmaker goes private, its deputy CEO said on Tuesday.

File illustration picture of Norwegian banknotes of different denominations, taken in Trondheim October 31, 2008. REUTERS/SCANPIX Gorm Kallestad

Tesla CEO Elon Musk stunned financial markets this month when he revealed on Twitter he was considering a $420 per share take-private deal for the money-losing carmaker.

Norway is Tesla’s third-biggest market and the country’s wealth fund, the world’s biggest sovereign wealth fund, had a 0.48 percent stake in Tesla worth about $253 million as of the start of 2018, according to the latest data from the fund.

Tesla shares have been hit by investor concerns about Musk’s plan, and doubts about whether the company has secured the funding to go private, and the SEC has opened an inquiry related to Musk’s tweets, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

Trond Grande, deputy CEO of the Norwegian fund, declined to say whether Tesla had approached the fund about going private.

However, he said that although the fund’s main practice is to sell its stake when a company leaves an exchange, or soon after, rules regulating the fund set by the Norwegian Finance Ministry and parliament do allow it to stay on in a listed company that goes private.

“The priority is to try to preserve the value for the fund. That is the priority,” Grande told Reuters on the sidelines of an earnings presentation. “If that means that the fund will be invested in a company that has been delisted for a period of time, that could happen.”

“But as a main rule, we will exit the investments as and when, or soon after, it has been taken off an exchange,” he said.

CRITICAL OF TESLA

This year the fund has been critical of Tesla’s approach on several issues.

In March it voted against Musk’s potential $2.6 billion payout. Then in June it backed an initiative to wrest the role of chairman away from CEO Musk, and another that would have allowed investors to nominate their own directors.

Grande declined to speak specifically about the situation at Tesla. Generally speaking, he said the fund sees the importance of separating the roles of CEO and chairman and to allow independent directors on boards.

“We acknowledge some companies do not operate … in that sense, but we will not change our stance with regards to that,” he said.

The fund owns 1.4 percent of all globally listed shares. It invests in stocks, bonds and real estate worldwide.

In the second quarter, the fund made a return of 1.8 percent, it said on Tuesday, helped by a rise in global equity markets, although it still underperformed the index it is benchmarked against.

“North American and European stocks had a positive development in the quarter despite the prospect of increased trade barriers,” Grande told a news conference.

The fund returned 0.2 percentage points less than a benchmark index set by the Norwegian Finance Ministry.

Reporting by Gwladys Fouche, editing by Ole Petter Skonnord and Susan Fenton

Elon Musk Just Tearfully Admitted He's Hit a Wall On Work-Life Balance (Here's How To Avoid His Fate)

But everywhere has a price.

In a shockingly vulnerable interview he gave the New York Times, Musk alternated between laughing and crying as he talked about the toll his job(s) were having on his life.

He choked up as he shared the fact that he almost missed his brother’s wedding this summer. He stopped talking for a moment after saying, “There were times when I didn’t leave the factory for three or four days–days when I didn’t go outside. This has really come at the expense of seeing my kids. And seeing friends.”

He could barely get the words out that he spent the entirety of his 47th birthday (June 28th) working, “All night–no friends, nothing” and revealed he’s been taking Ambien to help him sleep.

Musk’s herculean pace matches his real-life Tony Stark personae. He’s worked 120 hour weeks and hasn’t taken more than a weeks vacation since 2001 when he had malaria. Musk added, “It’s not been great, actually. I’ve had friends come by who are really concerned.”

He cited his workload as the cause for recent public miscues like lashing out at analysts and Thai cave divers. He called the past year his most painful and excruciating, with the worst yet to come (as short-sellers try to profit by bashing Tesla with their own agenda). 

Unexpected vulnerability leading to what I bet you’re thinking is an expected message. Stop working so hard! Life’s too short! Make better choices!

And of course, that is a part of the core message–one so obvious that I struggled with whether or not I should write this column. But I wanted to bring this to the party–a reminder that no one, no matter how important, no matter the gravity of what they’re working on within the context of their own world or the world in general, can escape the toll of an out-of-whack work-life balance.

And I wanted to offer help. Not overly general, platitude-like advice, but a S.P.E.C.I.F.I.C. plan for achieving better work-life harmony.

Simplification

Complexity has a way of creeping steadily into our work lives in small, incremental doses that build up over time. We often don’t notice the cumulative effect of each little activity we engage in/take on until we look up and suddenly things at work seem way too complex, overwrought, and unproductive. Stop to ask yourself “Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze” or craft a “To-Don’t” list.

The point is to be intentional about simplifying.

Productivity self-audit

This requires a self-critical lens and watchful eye to pinpoint unproductive behaviors that drain time and energy. These behaviors/bad habits simply must go.

Energy renewing activities

Engage in activities that will restore energy (like getting the sleep, exercise and nutrition your body needs, taking the time off from work that you’re entitled, and avoiding getting sucked into things at work that drain your energy). 

Much of achieving work-life harmony is about finding ways to restore and renew your energy, so you have plenty when work starts and ends. 

Choices

Making choices is the most fundamental element of achieving work-life harmony.  We all instinctively know this, yet we don’t do enough of it. 

Choices must be made based upon reflection and realization of what kind of life you want to lead. Choices informed by keeping what’s truly most important in front of you. It’s not just about saying no, it’s about knowing what to say no to, as part of a bigger integrated plan.  Then it’s about weaving all those choices into one tapestry–one harmonious life–with work integrated accordingly. 

In-touch with your situation

Self-awareness and vulnerability to admit that your balance is out of whack is essential to changing the pattern you’ve fallen into.

Flexibility

Find ways to build it into your work with options like compressed work weeks, flex hours, less than full-time options, work from home options, or location free jobs. 

Involve Others

Work-life harmony is a massive task that takes help from others. The family should be enrolled. Co-workers can help by not scheduling meetings before 8AM or after 5PM. They can help by respecting that a meeting from 9-10AM ends at 10AM, not 10:15AM, which can throw a whole day off and affect work departure time. 

The point is to bravely “go public” with the goal of work-life harmony and enlist all the help possible. 

Commit

Work-life harmony has to truly become a priority as there is perhaps no other goal that will inherently have more barriers. 

So be specific and become better harmonized before you reach a Musk-like melting point in your own way. 

Still Looking for a Good Summer Read? Barack Obama Just Revealed 5 Books He's Been Reading

Yesterday on Facebook, former president Barack Obama revealed the 5 books he’s been reading this summer. If you’re still looking for a good summer read, then you might want to pick up a copy of one (or more) of these books.

“Educated is a remarkable memoir of a young woman raised in a survivalist family in Idaho who strives for education while still showing great understanding and love for the world she leaves behind.”

“Set after WWII, Warlight by Michael Ondaatje is a meditation on the lingering effects of war on family.”

“With the recent passing of V.S. Naipaul, I reread A House for Mr Biswas, the Nobel Prize winner’s first great novel about growing up in Trinidad and the challenge of post-colonial identity.”

“An American Marriage by Tayari Jones is a moving portrayal of the effects of a wrongful conviction on a young African-American couple.”

“Factfulness by Hans Rosling, an outstanding international public health expert, is a hopeful book about the potential for human progress when we work off facts rather than our inherent biases.”

Published on: Aug 20, 2018

The Incredible McDonald's With Butlers, a String Quartet and Reservations Required

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

One way of achieving this noble goal is to appear, well, more noble.

If your experience is more pleasurable, the quaint thought process goes, you’ll want to spend more money.

Last week, however, McDonald’s climbed the mountain to veritable poshness.

Naturally, this happened in the home of posh, the (Dis)United Kingdom.

Here was a McDonald’s with white-gloved butlers. It also enjoyed fancy tableware and candelabra. Red velvet abounded.

And of course you needed a reservation.

This attempt at taste was inspired by a snooty British TV personality named Mark Vandelli.

Here he is in this Haute McDonald’s.

Please believe me, he really is snooty.

Why was McDonald’s pushing the boat out so far toward an exotic island of luxury?

Though this was a one-night-only affair, it isn’t even the first time a McDonald’s has required reservations.

This is merely the latest drift toward competing with the likes of Shake Shack, where quality of food and customer experience are rather significant.

But will there ever come a day when you have to make a reservation to get your Big Mac?

That would, indeed, be a very strange day.

Top 6 Career Myths That Make People Miserable

I end up hearing a lot of people complain about their jobs (in general) and specifically about how their career expectations haven’t been met. In almost every case, the complainer has a false belief that is creating the discrepancy between expectation and reality. Here are the most common:

Myth 1: If I skip my vacation, I’ll get a promotion.

Skipping vacation sounds like a great way to impress the boss, but statistically it hasthe opposite effect. According to a recent study of vacation usage, “only 23 percent of those who forfeited their days were promoted in the last year, compared to 27 percent of “non-forfeiters.” 

Rather than skip your vacation, schedule it ahead, and then resist the urge to “check in.” Your ability to separate yourself from work tells your boss that you’re independent and not in the slightest doubt of your value to the firm. 

Myth 2: If I work really hard, I’ll get a raise.

Most people interpret “carrot and stick” as using reward and punishment to motivate. In the original story, though, the carrot was tied to one end of the stick and the other end of the stick was tied to the donkey’s harness. The donkey never gets the carrot. Get it?

The way to get a raise is create more value for the firm, and then documenting that you created that value. But even before that, get a commitment from your boss that if you exceed your goals you’ll get an appropriate raise.  

Myth 3: If I help others, they’ll help me in return.

While humans theoretically value reciprocity, at work you’ll find that often “no good deed goes unrewarded.” If you’re too helpful, you can become a dumping ground where everyone throws tasks they’d rather not do themselves.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t be helpful, but that it’s wise to temper your helpfulness with a little bit of cynicism. Try negotiating beforehand what the other person will do for you, before you do a favor.

Myth 4: If I’m more accessible, people will value me more.

Just because you’ve got a phone in your pocket and a computer on your desk doesn’t mean you should allow anybody and everybody to monopolize your time based on their convenience.

One of the great truths of marketing is that people place a higher value on resources that are scarce than identical resources that are plentiful. Making yourself available all the time is great way to say “my time isn’t worth much.”

Myth 5: If I turn down a project, my boss won’t like me.

Look, the top priority in your relationship with your boss isn’t to be liked but to be respected. If you accept donkey-work or extra projects when you’re already running at 100%, the boss may be pleased but will secretly think “what a chump!”

As with all work situations, your argumentative watchword should be “what’s best for the team?” It’s almost never good for the team or the company to utilize a high-priced resource (you) to do a low level task.  

Myth 6: If I provide more information, customers will buy.

Contrary to all the biz-blab about the “information economy,” information isn’t valuable. (Everyone has too much already.) What’s valuable is the right information at the right time. And the right time to provide information is when the customer asks for it.

As an aside, this particular myth is responsible for the 90% of marketing campaigns (especially email marketing) that fall flat. Look, the customers are only interested in themselves. So if you’re not talking about them you’re boring them.

Still Not Much Momentum At Accuray

Small-cap oncology system manufacturer Accuray (ARAY) reported a decent fiscal fourth quarter, but it’s hard to see much momentum in the business or any real sign that this company is becoming a more disruptive force within the radiation oncology market. Although I continue to give management high marks for improving the underlying efficiency of the business and cleaning up the balance sheet, I just don’t see signs that Accuray is really gaining on Varian (VAR) (or even Elekta (OTCPK:EKTAY)) in any meaningful way, and I don’t see anything on the horizon that would drive a sudden shift in sentiment among customers.

Valuation remains undemanding, and I still believe the acquisition of Accuray by a Chinese or Japanese company is conceivable, but med-tech stocks most often trade on the basis of revenue growth and it looks like Accuray has a long row to hoe to generate enough revenue growth to get investors excited about the shares.

Like Many Quarters, Some Good And Some Bad In Fiscal Q4

Accuray reported stronger than expected revenue in the fourth quarter, with 2% growth driving a 5% beat. Outperformance was driven entirely by the service business (up 15% and about 13% above expectations), with product revenue down 10% and in line with expectations.

Although a higher than expected mix of service revenue did compress gross margin somewhat (and service margin declined 160bp year over year), product margin improved nicely (up over 600bp on an adjusted basis), helped by a richer mix of CyberKnife systems. Adjusted EBITDA declined 25% in the quarter, while operating income rose 10% and the company posted a minor miss at the operating line, but a small beat at the EPS line.

Orders were once again a source of disappointment. Gross orders rose 12%, missing expectations by around 10% despite what management characterized as “strong performance” in CyberKnife and a 26% improvement in orders from Asia. Net order performance was far worse, up 2% and almost 25% short of expectations as the company saw a significant increase in order cancellations – something that had been running at a fairly slow and steady pace.

Characterizing the orders, Accuray management said that 20% were replacement orders, 20% were competitive take-aways in established vaults and 60% were in new vaults. Although the company appears to be winning more business than it loses upon replacements, the pace of replacement orders has still been weaker than expected a couple of years ago.

Looking Back, This Wasn’t An Especially Great Year

I believe this is a reasonable time to look back at the guidance management gave a year ago for this fiscal year and see how things stack up.

On the revenue line, management exceeded initial expectations by a couple of percentage points relative to the midpoint of guidance and managed to exceed the high end of the initial guidance range. This came about from better-than-expected service revenue performance, though, as product revenue growth of 2% came in below the 5% to 10% growth guidance, with weaker sales to China tagged as the primary culprit.

Management met the gross margin target, but missed the adjusted EBITDA guidance range of $25 million to $30 million by a wide margin ($17 million reported), with the company electing during the year to spend more on developing the business (particularly R&D).

Gross order growth of 2% also missed guidance of 5%.

Looking Ahead

Management provided guidance of 4% to 8% product revenue growth for this next fiscal year, and overall revenue growth of about 4% at the midpoint – a level of growth that frankly doesn’t compare all that favorably to Varian or Elekta for a company that is supposed to be a share-gainer. Management is also no longer giving order guidance. While management claims this is due in part to its decision to focus more resources and attention on driving multi-system orders, which will be more volatile, I don’t view less guidance as a net positive, particularly from a company that has struggled to hit its own targets. I’d also note that the EBITDA guidance provided for the year ahead is lower than where expectations were going into the quarter.

Where’s The Spark?

I’m finding it harder to sustain the argument that Accuray has enough upside to be worth further patience, as the company just isn’t making the expected progress. While regulatory issues have held back sales in China and management claims to be “continuing to make progress” on finding a Chinese JV partner, the execution on the opportunity in China just hasn’t been there.

Likewise with the overall execution on Accuray’s opportunities in the market. Accuray has been unable to convince clinicians that CyberKnife or the Tomo platform offer meaningful treatment/outcome advantages over rival systems (particularly Varian). What’s more, while Accuray’s partnership with RaySearch (OTCPK:RSLBF) has helped it improve an area that was significantly deficient compared to Varian and Elekta (treatment planning software), the company has struggled to make a compelling “here’s why you should go with us” case that resonates with hospital purchasing managers.

And now there’s the added news that the company’s CFO of roughly three years is leaving to join a private med-tech. There was no couching this decision in terms of wanting to relocate to a particular geographic area or wanting to get back to a particular industry segment (the med-tech in question is a urology company), and I think investors should ask why the CFO would want to leave if great things were just around the corner.

To be sure, I’m not saying that Accuray is hopeless or that it cannot/will not continue to show improving margins and some level of ongoing product growth. Radixact has seen decent commercial interest and I still believe the Onrad system has potential in markets like China and Japan. Along those lines, I could also see Accuray having some possible acquisition appeal to a Chinese or Japanese acquirer, and I think Accuray’s small size and insignificant market share would help the deal approval process.

The Opportunity

After incorporating fourth quarter performance and guidance, I’m still looking for long-term revenue growth in the neighborhood of 3%. Although Elekta continues to struggle in the market, Varian seems to be benefitting the most from that. I do expect Accuray to be cash flow positive and generate better FCF margins in the coming years as the company slowly builds operating leverage on a growing revenue base. The biggest upside to those numbers, aside from some sort of unexpected shift among key opinion leaders that CyberKnife is must-have/must-use technology, would be more clarity in China and stronger sales execution in what should be a sizable long-term market opportunity for the company.

The Bottom Line

Accuray is not at all expensive, and I believe fair value remains between $4.50 and $5.50. Although announcing multiple multi-system wins could get some excitement back in the shares, as could the announcement of a meaningful partnership in China, the valuation argument is hampered by the reality that med-tech, and particularly small-cap med-tech, stock performance is typically driven by revenue growth and Accuray just isn’t likely to produce a lot of that. Consequently, investors need to at least appreciate the risk of this becoming/remaining a value trap and understand that it’s going to take time for the story to work.

Disclosure: I am/we are long ARAY.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Angry Birds maker Rovio's games get sales boost

HELSINKI (Reuters) – Rovio Entertainment (ROVIO.HE), the maker of the “Angry Birds” mobile game series and movie, on Friday reported an increase in second-quarter sales at its games business, providing a positive sign for investors after a profit warning in February.

FILE PHOTO: Angry Birds characters Bomb, Chuck and Red are pictured during the premiere in Helsinki, Finland, May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Tuomas Forsell/File Photo

The Finnish company, which listed on the stock market in Helsinki last September, reported lower second-quarter earnings due to declining revenue from its 2016 Hollywood movie, but the number of active players for its games rose more than analysts had expected.

Second-quarter adjusted operating profit fell to 6 million euros ($7 million), down from 16 million euros a year earlier and slightly above the average market forecast according to Thomson Reuters data.

Total sales fell 17 percent to 72 million euros but sales at the games business rose 6 percent to 65 million euros.

Rovio’s shares rose 3.3 percent on the day by 0714 GMT. The stock is trading around 50 percent below its initial public offering price.

The company’s recent troubles have stemmed from tough competition and increased marketing costs, as well as high dependency on the Angry Birds brand that was first launched as a mobile game in 2009.

Rovio reiterated the full-year outlook that had disappointed investors in February, when it said that sales could fall this year after a 55 percent increase in 2017.

OP Bank analyst Hannu Rauhala said it seemed that the allocation of user acquisition investments had been successful. “Those investments have resulted in growth both in revenue and the number of active players,” said Rauhala, who has a “buy” rating on the stock.

Rovio expects a movie sequel to boost business next year and the company has also stepped up investments in its spin-off company Hatch, which is building a Netflix-style streaming service for mobile games.

Rovio’s current top title “Angry Birds 2” generates almost half of the company’s game income.

“It would be desirable to see other mainstays to emerge in its game business, meaning new successful games,” OP’s Rauhala said.

Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl and Anne Kauranen; Editing by Kim Coghill and Jane Merriman

Musk's SpaceX could help fund take-private deal for Tesla: NYT

(Reuters) – Elon Musk’s rocket company, SpaceX, could help fund a bid to take electric car company Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) private, the New York Times reported on Thursday, quoting people familiar with the matter.

FILE PHOTO: Elon Musk, founder, CEO and lead designer at SpaceX and co-founder of Tesla, speaks at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference in Washington, U.S., July 19, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Musk startled Wall Street last week when he said in a tweet he was considering taking the auto company private for $420 per share and that funding was “secured.” He has since said he is searching for funds for the effort.

Musk said on Monday that the manager of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund had voiced support for the company going private several times, including as recently as two weeks ago, but also said that talks continue with the fund and other investors.

The New York Times report said another possibility under consideration is that SpaceX would help bankroll the Tesla privatization and would take an ownership stake in the carmaker, according to people familiar with the matter.

Musk is the CEO and controlling shareholder of the rocket company.

Tesla and SpaceX did not respond when Reuters requested comment on the matter.

In a wide-ranging and emotional interview with the New York Times published late on Thursday, Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, described the difficulties over the last year for him as the company has tried to overcome manufacturing issues with the Model 3 sedan. nyti.ms/2vOkgeM

“This past year has been the most difficult and painful year of my career,” he said. “It was excruciating.”

The loss-making company has been trying to hit production targets, but the tweet by Musk opened up a slew of new problems including government scrutiny and lawsuits.

The New York Times report said efforts are underway to find a No. 2 executive to help take some of the pressure off Musk, people briefed on the search said.

Musk has no plans to relinquish his dual role as chairman and chief executive officer, he said in the interview.

Musk said he wrote the tweet regarding taking Tesla private as he drove himself on the way to the airport in his Tesla Model S. He told the New York Times that no one reviewed the tweet before he posted it.

He said that he wanted to offer a roughly 20 percent premium over where the stock had been recently trading, which would have been about $419. He decided to round up to $420 – a number that has become code for marijuana in counterculture lore, the report said.

“It seemed like better karma at $420 than at $419,” he said in the interview. “But I was not on weed, to be clear. Weed is not helpful for productivity. There’s a reason for the word ‘stoned.’ You just sit there like a stone on weed,” he said.

Some board members recently told Musk to lay off Twitter and rather focus on operations at his companies, according to people familiar with the matter, the newspaper report said.

During the interview, Musk emotionally described the intensity of running his businesses. He told the newspaper that he works 120 hours a week, sometimes at the expense of not celebrating his own birthday or spending only a few hours at his brother’s wedding.

“There were times when I didn’t leave the factory for three or four days — days when I didn’t go outside,” he said during the interview. “This has really come at the expense of seeing my kids. And seeing friends.”

To help sleep, Musk sometimes takes Ambien, which concerns some board members, since he has a tendency to conduct late-night Twitter sessions, according to a person familiar with the board the New York Times reported.

“It is often a choice of no sleep or Ambien,” he said.

Reporting by Rama Venkat Raman in Bengaluru and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier, Bernard Orr

This Missionary-Turned-Lawyer Started a $3.4 Million Company to Save You From Roaches and Bedbugs

Insects don’t respect business hours, so pest-control companies hire Slingshot to handle sales and service calls day and night. Co-founder and CEO Taylor Olson’s unusual odyssey from Mormon missionary to bug-bomb scheduler. –As told to Leigh Buchanan

In Utah, we have this weird cottage industry of companies that sell pest-control services door-to-door. Typically, they employ young LDS [Latter-day Saint] people who are recently back from their missions, where they spent a couple of years knocking on doors every day. That develops a massive amount of muscle tissue for rejection.

I was 19 when my cousin got one of those pest-control jobs. He expected to make $10,000 in four months. I was making around $6 an hour, so I asked if I could join him. Before going on my mission, I made 100 sales in four months. After I came back, I made 100 sales in four weeks. My people skills had accelerated that much. I understood how to build rapport.

I started several companies in my 20s, including a kind of Airbnb for parking spaces and a StubHub for digital coupons. But I couldn’t give them much attention, because I was studying to get into law school. After about a year at UCLA, I started to think the law wasn’t for me. But I’m not a quitter. So I determined to finish my degree while working on a new business. If it failed, I would bite the bullet and become an attorney.

Two friends and I had already started a company creating websites and blogs for pest-control companies, using connections from those door-to-door sales days. We also did some lead generation. It struck us that some businesses were losing out on leads because more than a quarter of pest-control calls come in after hours. Let’s say you have cockroaches in your kitchen. They’re gross, and you want them gone. If that happens tonight at 11 o’clock, your instinct is to call someone. But most businesses shut down between 5 and 6, so you get voicemail. You might hang up. You might keep calling around. But your likelihood of buying from that particular business goes way down.

So we started representing pest-control companies, at any hour, using phone, text, or web chat. At first, most of our work was at night: We took turns sleeping on the couch in our 600-square-foot office and responding to calls. Now we do a lot of daytime work as well. Some businesses have made us their entire inside sales team.

Two of us came into this with pest-control experience, so we didn’t need much additional education. We could already tell the difference between a fleabite and a bedbug bite or whether your home has been invaded by carpenter ants or termites. (Carpenter ants leave wood shavings.) We also handle clients with large corporate accounts. Sometimes, people will call in a panic and say, “My toddler or my dog just ate the bait in this rattrap or the gel you left for the roaches. What do we do?” Those calls are pretty intense.

For a while, I didn’t think we were going to make it. About a year and a half in, I was still funding payroll on my credit cards, which were maxed out. We were down to our last $5,000. We used most of that to get this dingy little booth at a big trade show in Nashville. After four or five hours of talking to people, I was on the biggest high I’ve ever had. We probably got 30 new accounts from that, almost tripling the business. It saved the day and saved our morale.

When we started, my whole perception of the industry was these door-to-door businesses coming out of Utah. That’s what I thought pest control was. Now I know that’s just a small segment of a very large industry. Today, almost a third of the 100 biggest U.S. pest-control companies are Slingshot clients.

I want us to get to where, if someone sees a termite swarm or a carpenter ant and calls their pest-control company, no matter where they are in the country, there’s a good chance that we will answer.

From Door Knockers to Bug Busters

Started paying myself this salary after one year: $32,000

The biggest danger in growing too fast: Running out of cash. We have had many, many times when we have cut that dangerously close. The second danger is that you grow quicker than your operations, or your employees, can keep up with. You let clients down, or you don’t have good management and processes for your team members, and they start to feel neglected.

Number of vacation days I’ve taken in the past year:

Biggest business splurge: When we moved into a new space in February, we spent $3,000 on a 10-foot, 3-D sign with the company name for the lobby.

Hour my alarm clock is set for: 7:30 a.m.

From the September 2018 issue of Inc. Magazine

How to Master the Art of Giving a Great Virtual Presentation

For online presentations, the first step is to get everyone on video (sometimes you have to insist). No more audio-only calls where all your audience members are just secretly multi-tasking. You can’t make an engaging presentation with slides and their disembodied voice. Get your face on video so people can see you and ideally you can see your audience too. This allows you to really connect with your audience, and see how they are reacting to you.

Also for online presentations, consider your environment. Spotty wifi with an unprofessional background and a poorly-lit face kills your presentation. I literally interviewed a candidate who had pile of dirty laundry behind him – not the best first impression. Zoom works great on wifi right down to 3G, but if you’re giving a big presentation, your best bet is hardwiring in. Then, make sure you are in a quiet space with no distractions. Clean up your background – just use a plain wall, or a nice plant – or try Zoom’s virtual backgrounds (sorry, shameless plug). Consider your lighting. Get there a couple minutes early to make sure it’s not too much or too little lighting. And check that you are lit from the front, not from behind you (i.e. don’t sit with your back to a window). It is distracting when cameras are too high or low or are angled so we’re only seeing part of someone’s face. Check that you are looking straight at the camera and your video feed is framing the upper part of your torso and your head – you want it to look as if you were sitting across the table from your audience.

And for both online and in-person presentations, you have to engage your audience. Don’t droning on for a long time, doing too many text-rich slides, and not matching your abstract to your presentation (this is actually a big one – people want to know what they’re getting in to). Instead, stop regularly to tell a (quick!) story, ask a question, take a straw poll, tell a joke, give your audience a small task, and so forth. Just keep them awake and interested! Also, you need adjust your presentation to your audience’s response. I have multiple large screens in my office so I can see all the participants in my meeting or presentation all at once and read their body language and facial expressions. If I see attention waning or some disagreement, I will switch things up.

Finally, a quick technical recommendation for online presentations. If you’re using Zoom, when setting up your meeting, select the “Mute upon entry” option. This makes sure that your participants join with their sound off, so you don’t get background noise that can disrupt the flow of your presentation.

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