Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Nod to Behind-the-Scenes Workers

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to score incredible seats to Disney’s live stage musical, The Lion King. It was a fantastic production and I highly recommend seeing it if you get the chance! I marveled at the vocals, the set, the mechanical stage tricks, the lighting, and especially the animals.  Life-sized elephants and giraffes, flying birds, laughing hyenas, running antelope, and even a rhinoceros (!) on stage, in the aisles, in the balconies – it was mind-blowing!  

After the performance, I posted some pictures on Facebook, and learned through a comment that a friend had actually been working behind the scenes, handling male costume changes all night! I think the biggest compliment I can give this friend is that I actually forgot he was there.  Everything looked so flawless that it was easy to get caught up in the magic and forget that there were real people walking around on the giraffes’ four stilt legs, making the hyenas’ necks crane around as they laughed, and thrusting Scar’s lion head forward whenever he got angry.

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Economics of Mini-Golf

I love mini-golf.  Come summertime, getting as many rounds in at as many different courses as possible is high on my to-do list.  My enthusiasm is shared: More than 130 million people of all ages play mini-golf each year, and annual industry revenues are in excess of $1 billion.  In 2012, the US ProMiniGolf Association estimated there to be 5,000 mini-golf courses nationwide.
  
On a recent trip to the North Shore, which of course included 36 holes of mini-golf, I got to thinking about the business of mini-golf: How much does it cost to develop a course?  Is it even profitable (especially in cold-weather states)?  

Although there is relatively little information available on the start-up costs of a mini-golf course, the website of Miniature Golf Construction Co, LLC, based out of Neenah, Wisconsin, provides in-depth pricing plans ranging anywhere from $115,000 to $450,000 – excluding land, buildings, parking lot, landscaping, and irrigation.  On the low end, you get an 18-hole, professionally designed and constructed course with sidewalks.  On the high end, you get the 18-hole course, plus large and complex water features, elevation changes of up to 15 feet, lighting and electricity, and approximately $100,000 worth of “elaborate theming.”  

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

You’ve Got a Squirtle on Your Desk

I have been thinking a lot about workday distractions lately. Although research shows that some level distraction is healthy (we all need to take breaks), certainly the advent of the online era introduced new challenges.

For example, every spring I read yet another article about the monetary value of all of the man-hours lost to March Madness. And even during sports season lulls, my phone never leaves my immediate reach, opening up a global marketplace of shopping, hobby message boards, and social media. I’m generally good about ignoring these and getting work done. But even when I’m focused on work, there’s always junk mail, ads, important e-mails for files I’m not currently looking at, messages from family, reminders to input time entries—the deluge of technological distractions never lets up.  

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Customer Appreciation: T-Mobile Tuesdays and the Power of a Free Frosty

For the past few weeks, my Tuesday routine has included driving a little out of my way to stop at Wendy’s to enjoy a delicious (and free!) Frosty.

A few weeks ago, T-Mobile began a massive customer appreciation program called “T-Mobile Tuesdays.” Every Tuesday, T-Mobile customers receive freebies, including a Frosty from Wendy’s, movie tickets from Fandango, movie rentals from Vudu, year-long magazine subscriptions, and free rides from Lyft. The roll out of T-Mobile Tuesdays demonstrates two important principles for business owners to consider when developing customer appreciation programs.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

BEWARE THE SHINY NEW OBJECT

I often suspect that I was born in the wrong generation, and those who know me well would probably agree. Here are some cold hard facts: even though I’m under 40, I generally don’t know any music written after 1950, I only use my smartphone if I have to (and I also leave it at home sometimes), I still text with only one index finger (as opposed to dual thumbs), and I like to print documents out in order to read them. I know. I’m the worst.

But I would just like to point out that, at least as far as the last item on my list goes, there may be some evidence that I’m not destroying the planet by my profligate printing ways.  We are often exhorted to go paperless in order to be more environmentally friendly. (I would also like to interject here that, due solely to my husband’s efforts, I live in a largely “paperless” household.)  As a result, whenever I print something that isn’t absolutely necessary, I’m plagued by mild guilt accompanied by a mental image of clear-cut expanses and little forest animals without homes.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Is Your Food Label “Naturally” Misleading?

What do the farmers’ market movement, non-GMO foods, and the Paleo diet have in common? All are aspects of a sweeping trend favoring healthy food products.

While health fads and trends have historically been fleeting (think “low-fat” everything in the 1990s), recent survey evidence suggests that rather than opting for fad diets, more and more consumers are committing to making healthier food choices in the long term. Amazon.com currently offers over 1,000 titles devoted to “clean eating.” Companies such as Blue ApronPlated, and Hello Fresh are emerging to offer consumers healthy ingredients and cooking instructions each week. New food services such as Origin Meals and Power Supply offer meal preparation and delivery services to meet consumer demands for sustainable, fresh, convenient, quality meals. And global sales of healthy food products are estimated to reach $1 trillion by 2017.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Crowdfunding Update: MNvest Goes Live Today!

Way back in October of 2014 I was writing about proposed legislation in Minnesota that (as in several other states) would legalize “equity crowdfunding” for intrastate offerings. While that legislation, cleverly branded as MNvest, actually became law during the 2015 legislative session, since then we have been waiting for final rulemaking by the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

Enacting these rules has taken long enough that in the interim the SEC has even managed to finalize, publish, and give effect to the federal crowdfunding rules (albeit more than three years after the deadline required under the JOBS Act). But wait no longer: The final rules under the MNvest crowdfunding law are live today!

At first blush, it might seem like Regulation CF (the federal rule) undermines the need for an intrastate exemption like MNvest. However, as regular readers know, Regulation CF has plenty of hoops to jump through. In the right situation, MNvest may be a better option for raising equity crowdfunding.

As is the case with raising capital under Regulation CF, there are plenty of requirements for a MNvest offering. These include regulatory filings. While I don’t plan to use this post to detail all of the MNvest requirements (you can read the final law and the final rules here if you’ve got nothing better to do—at least they don’t take up almost 700 pages like the Regulation CF adopting release), I’ve prepared this handy summary of some of the key differences between Regulation CF and MNvest.

Here are a few key MNvest requirements (which are not required under Regulation CF):

  • Your entity must be organized under Minnesota law (which eliminates all of the Delaware entities that have their principal operations in Minnesota —although I understand that there are legislative efforts underway to change this requirement).
  • Your business must have its principal office and 80% of its assets located in Minnesota.
  • Unless your business’s most recent annual gross revenue is under $5,000, you must have derived 80% of your gross revenue from operating a business in Minnesota.
  • Because this is an intrastate offering exemption, the offering, which must be conducted exclusively through a MNvest portal, must be made only to investors in Minnesota, and such investors will need to make certifications to that effect, in connection with their investment.
  • You are required to place proceeds in a third-party escrow until you raise your minimum offering.  You also need to provide a written explanation of how the minimum offering will be used.

And a few differences that may make MNvest a better choice (if you meet the above requirements):

  • You can raise up to $2 million in a MNvest offering v. a maximum of only $1 million in an offering under Regulation CF.
  • You don’t need your financial statements to be audited (or reviewed) by a CPA, unless you are raising greater than $1 million.
  • Maybe most importantly, unlike the relatively small limits on investment described in my prior post (which means the majority of the population can only invest an aggregate of $2,000 annually across all Regulation CF deals), each non-accredited investor in a MNvest offering is allowed to invest up to $10,000 in each MNvest offering.

One other important thing to keep in mind if you decide to raise equity through crowdfunding under MNvest instead of Regulation CF: Unlike the specific rules under the JOBS Act and Regulation CF that permit you (if you meet certain requirements) to exclude crowdfunding investors from your shareholder count in determining whether you need to become a public reporting company, there is no such relief in a MNvest offering. If you take on too many investors you may be forced to become a reporting company—a complicated and expensive proposition.

I continue to believe that there will be opportunities, particularly for consumer-facing businesses, to use both MNvest and Regulation CF. Time will tell if the burdens and costs outweigh the benefits to make them viable tools for raising early stage capital.