Can I force the bonus issue?

May 1, 1999
Q: The company I work for has not paid bonuses owed to me in accordance with a bonus plan based on meeting specific goals. The company is going through some tough times but business is beginning to turn around. How should I proceed? My boss questioned my loyalty and avoided the subject when asked.

Q: The company I work for has not paid bonuses owed to me in accordance with a bonus plan based on meeting specific goals. The company is going through some tough times but business is beginning to turn around. How should I proceed? My boss questioned my loyalty and avoided the subject when asked.

A: The company is probably very tight on cash given that it experienced a slowdown, which limits the company`s financing options, followed by an upturn, which usually demands working capital. Companies in this situation often stretch out paying their suppliers; unfortunately they are treating you similarly. Instead of aggravating the situation by avoiding the issue, they should have discussed the company`s financial situation with you openly, so you could learn some business reality and also be able to plan around the delayed payment.

In essence, the company is borrowing from you without compensating you for taking that risk or the loss of the use of your funds. In fairness, they should make it up to you. If you have confidence in the company`s future, you may want to convert what they owe you to stock and/or stock options. My recommendation is to rise to the occasion-manage your managers by leading a constructive discussion.

Q: The company I work for is interested in licensing a technology that I invented before joining the company. I don`t have confidence that the company has the resources to pursue this opportunity properly. How do I handle this without destroying the relationship?

A: Let us first look at the issues relating to licensing. To evaluate an offer, you`ll want to know more specifically what the company plans to do with the technology and what they`ll pay you for your intellectual property. Most negotiations focus on the "deal" because that`s the easier part. It may be harder to do, but the licensee should at least have enough commitment to present a business plan that thoroughly describes the vision and the commitment to pursue this vision.

Your situation is particularly awkward because you are working for the company. Given your low confidence, my recommendation is to trust your gut and not proceed with any discussions in order to avoid conflicts. Chances are you won`t have the time, the experience, or the contacts to properly pursue an optimum licensee. You may want to contact your patent attorney to recommend someone to help you with the process.

Q: I am a mid-level manager in a large instrument company wanting to try my hands at entrepreneurship. I received an offer from a venture-capital-funded optoelectronics company in the Bay Area. Based on what you know, should I take the job?

A: This company is not one of the hot start-up companies in our industry, but my recommendation is for you to take that job. Moving to a small company, any small company, can be a stepping stone toward your dream job. If you are successful at it, other start-up companies are likely to come after you in hot pursuit. It is interesting to see the evolution of management biases as a company grows. Many start-up management teams harbor the negative stereotype that big-company managers are bureaucratic and slow moving. As the company starts to ship products in earnest, they begin to see the benefits of establishing procedures to create order. The bias turns into an admiration for people with both small- and big-company experiences. Given that this company is well funded and the management team is credible, the company probably can carve out its fair share of the business. Another advantage is its location, which puts you smack in the middle of all the entrepreneurial activities.

Q:We are trying to raise $5 million to start a telecommunications-components company. I can`t understand why we are having so much difficulty convincing venture capitalists (VCs) to fund us.

A: Typical reasons for not getting funded are the quality of the team and the business model. But, raising money is difficult-especially for people who do not have a track record. Obviously it is right for you to be enthusiastic and upbeat, but you have to know that a typical big VC firm sees between 500 to 1000 business plans a year, and each partner does less than two deals a year. And of the ten partners only one or two specialize in photonics. So your case has to be in the top 0.2% of all proposals for that specialist to stand behind you and sell your business plan to the rest of his colleagues! My recommendation is to use the "low-risk-model" to get going first. That means raising a smaller amount from angel investors to substantiate your case before trying VCs. You are much more likely to stand out amongst the sea of other would-be entrepreneurs.

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