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Eric Ashman and the Pivot to Profitability

Ashman talks of the path to profitability

Eric Ashman is the founder of Bothered Mind Advisors, President of M.M.LaFleur and a member of the advisory board of EforAll Roxbury.  Previously, Ashman served as the President of Group Nine Media, one of the world’s largest digital-first media companies, the President and CFO of Thrillist Media Group.  Ashman also played an instrumental role in the sale of The Huffington Post, where he was Chief Financial Officer, to AOL for $315 million in 2011.  Ashman was also an advisor to Lerer Hippeau Ventures and has taught as an adjunct professor at NYU.

Alongside being a seasoned business builder, Ashman is a passionate job creator – during his tenure, Thrillist grew from a 50-person email newsletter business to become the cornerstone of a digital media company with over 600 people.

Eric Ashman received his BBA in Accounting from the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA and became a Certified Public Accountant in 1993. He has also spent time as an adjunct professor at the NYU School of Publishing.

In working toward the launch of his consultancy, Bothered Mind Advisors, Eric Ashman wanted to leverage 30+ years of experience in helping founders achieve their vision and goals. He developed this work along two tracks, free mentorship and advisory work, and paid consulting for larger startups.

Ashman started holding office hours at Venture Cafe in Cambridge, where he met first time founders seeking advice on how to launch, grow and raise for their startups. This early mentorship work helped Eric develop the Pivot To Profitability framework to structure his advisory practice and build out concepts that focused on the critical building blocks of growing a startup.

By late 2019, Eric Ashman was presenting the Pivot To Profitability concept in 1 hour workshops at Venture Cafe, allowing him the opportunity to get real time feedback as he developed the framework.

There are four parts to the Pivot to Profitability methodology:

Assess: How do you know if you’re off track if you don’t have a map?  To properly assess your performance against your goals, you need to define your KPI’s, build your cash forecast, and connect the concept of Innovation Accounting to your financial plan to rapidly iterate your way to profitable growth.

Action: When metrics aren’t meeting your expectations and cash burn is accelerating, you need to take Action before it’s too late.  You must identify the parts of your business that aren’t working, make the difficult decisions, address funding gaps, and take care of your employees and your partners.

Advise: Once the tough decisions have been made and acted upon, you need to Communicate with your Employees, Board and Investors to earn their support for the changes you’ve made, and keep them excited about your company’s ongoing opportunity for future growth and success.

Self-Care: The most important aspect of navigating a startup through difficult times, and the topic least discussed, is Self-Care and Founder Mental Health.  Being a Founder can be an incredibly lonely journey, with all of the hopes, dreams, and expectations of your Employees, Investors, Family, and Friends falling on your shoulders.  You need to develop a toolkit to help you care for yourself and navigate the difficult path you’ve chosen.

In early 2020, as Eric Ashman continued to build momentum around delivering these workshops, Covid hit, and he quickly evolved the program into a series of workshops entitled “Startup Survival Strategy in the Age of Coronavirus”.

Eric Ashman was delivering this program virtually throughout the first half of 2020, helping entrepreneurs use the Pivot To Profitability framework to make the decisions necessary to try to survive the impact of Covid.

Through the creation of the Pivot To Profitability framework, advising and teaching throughout the startup ecosystem in Boston, Ashman met Kofi Callender, the Executive Director of EforAll in Roxbury, Massachusetts.  EforAll is a startup accelerator focused on underrepresented communities. The EforAll mission is to accelerate economic and social impact in communities nationwide through inclusive entrepreneurship. 

Eric Ashman realized that he could apply his love of entrepreneurship and desire to help founders succeed with his desire to be part of the fight for equity and inclusion in the startup community.  He became a mentor in EforAll Roxbury’s second cohort, and joined the Advisory Board soon thereafter. “Working with the entrepreneurs and leadership team of EforAll is one of the most fulfilling parts of my work,” says Ashman.

While he was building this mentorship and advisory side of Bothered Mind Advisors, Ashman was also launching the paid consultancy.  The focus of the consulting side of Bothered Mind was to support founders of venture backed startups that had raised too much, too fast, and found themselves burning too much cash as they approached some kind of fiscal cliff.

This is far too common in the world of venture backed startups.  Founders think that fundraising is the goal. It’s not.  “They don’t understand the business of venture capital, which means that they don’t understand how quickly their goals can become disconnected with the goals of their investors,” according to Ashman.

Eric Ashman has a unique insight into this dynamic, as not only did he build venture backed startups, having raised over $175 million in venture capital over the course of his career, but he was also an early advisor to Lerer Hippeau Ventures, one of the largest, most successful seed stage venture funds in the country. 

More than 90% of early-stage venture back startups fail to either raise their next round or find a path to an exit. Some of these companies will find their own path to profitability and sustainability. Many of them will fail, running out of cash before they find a scalable path to product-market fit.

The startup press loves to cover the big fundraise, high valuations, and high revenue and engagement growth rates. None of these data points tell us if a startup is truly on the path to profitability and long-term sustainability. We can’t see that in fact, the faster they grow, the faster they burn cash.

Meanwhile, once a founder raises money and puts their startup on the venture capital track, they are committing to the next fundraise, to high growth, and working on behalf of their investors to provide a reasonable return on their invested capital.

“We can quickly see how that creates a trap for founders, as they are pressed to deliver top line growth, incur large losses, deploy the funds they raised in the earlier round, and get to the next fundraise so that the hamster wheel turns faster,” explains Ashman.  “This creates incredible mental stress on founders, takes their focus away from building a sustainable, profitable, business, and can have them accelerating toward a fiscal cliff if they run out of cash before they can raise again.”

By using the Pivot To Profitability framework, Eric Ashman has found that he can help founders pull back on cash burn, find the path to sustainable profitable growth, and avoid that fiscal cliff before it’s too late.

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Written by Kristel Staci

Kristel Staci is an entrepreneur and freelance writer that focuses on everything related to social media, online marketing and finance. To see what Kristel is currently working on, you can visit her blog at KristelStaci.com.

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