My sister reminded me to be proactive about letting our voices be heard with our local politicians. Some information from her:
I know some of you are aware and I apologize for the spam but I am a strong proponent of gun control. In fact I attended my first gun control rally over the weekend at the Boston state house.
There also is one in ma right now
You can find your representatives here,
or if you are not in ma
As an entrepreneur trying to raise capital, I am privy to a lot of information out there about resources to help startup entrepreneurs. Many are designed to spark a lot of ideas, but if these entities are going to do a great job helping spark ideas, they better talk about how to recognize a dud.
Getting people jazzed up about starting their own business is crucial to moving our economy forward, so I’m definitely not trying to squash that. But is having a lot of people out there getting so excited about an idea they put a 2nd mortgage on their home, rack up a ton of credit card debt, and borrow everything from friends and family for an idea that’s not viable, a good move? Could that negate everything these “well-intentioned” groups are trying to do in the name of boosting the economy?
Don’t forget who is behind all of these startup resources for entrepreneurs, capital providers, software providers, and service providers. Don’t get me wrong, that’s how capitalism works and we all appreciate it, but just keep that in mind before you start drinking the kool-aid.
All of these organizations also have a responsibility to help entrepreneurs “cost-effectively” grow their idea to a point of being able to truly test it (that doesn’t happen from a weekend of vetting), and be prepared to kill it if it doesn’t have legs.
Before I started Rock the Deadline, I had two other ideas that I vetted and killed. The first one I spent about 15K building and decided I didn’t have enough capital and desire to really get it off the ground successfully. The 2nd one I got a team of people to meet several times to discuss what the business would look like, people representing facets of different aspects to the business that I thought would be essential. I killed that one after business plan building, some software build, etc, because ultimately I didn’t think I had enough experience in that industry to make it work. You really can’t completely depend on others to make your business idea flourish.
So before you walk into any entrepreneurial situation, here are some tips:
1) Have a plan for when you are going to pull the plug on your idea
How much are you willing to invest in vetting your idea? That’s really the first investment for an entrepreneur, the vetting process, not building your idea. Are you willing to walk away from a 10K, 20K, 30K investment?
In poker, they tell you to have a budget of how much you are willing to lose before you walk away from the table. Otherwise, you’ll just keep reaching into your pocket and losing more money. There’s always another day and another poker table. Same thing with entrepreneurship. Know how much you are willing to spend to prove whether you have an idea or not. If you are truly an entrepreneur, there’s always another idea around the corner.
2) Be prepared to fund the “validation” phase yourself
No matter how “willing” angel investors look, they’re not willing to fund just an idea without any proof points. So plan ahead to what those proof points are and determine how much money it will take to get you there and if you can fund that yourself.
3) Don’t fall in love with your idea so much that you ignore signals that it’s not going to work
Whether that is competitive landscape too dense for the market size, your experience, the team you can get to support you, capital barriers, etc. The world moves at a fast pace, so always be willing to take into account current market conditions rather than the market conditions that existed when you first had the idea.
I mentioned some great resources earlier in the post, here are some links:
There are also a ton of pitch events held by various entities all over the globe. It truly is the “fad” nowadays.
Good luck and be prepared to fail fast or kick butt!
Let’s talk about the proper etiquette when requesting a LinkedIn endorsement.
I have a lot of contacts that I have built up over the years. Most of those folks are in LinkedIn. I love LinkedIn. LinkedIn has helped my last two employers find me. I wasn’t looking, but the opportunities were so great, I couldn’t help but jump.
So this is not a knock against LinkedIn, but about using LinkedIn in a courteous way. Not trying to brag, just trying to set the stage, but I have a pretty good title/resume and I think I’m a nice person. So most people who have worked with me/for me, feel very comfortable asking me for an endorsement.
I can usually find something good to say about someone. It’s very rare that I have worked with someone I think completely sucks and should just think about collecting unemployment for the rest of their days. So finding something to write about isn’t the point. But let me share some proper etiquette when asking me for an endorsement:
1) Don’t send me a mass, generic, “Will You Endorse Me” email?
If I’m going to take the time to write you an endorsement, the least you can do is send me a personalized note. If you think that people you know are just waiting around for your request to cross their desk, excited about the opportunity to endorse you, then you’re wrong.
When it’s obvious you haven’t put time into targeting and selling who you are going to ask for an endorsement, why should we put in the time to endorse you?
2) Make it as easy as possible to write up your endorsement
You’re increasing your likelihood that someone will actually endorse you if you give them as much help as possible. Remind me of a project that we worked on together, or give me some idea of the qualities you think I appreciated about you. Especially if I haven’t worked with you in a while.
The easier you make it on me to write it, the higher the chance that I actually will.
3) What’s in it for me?
Not to sound selfish, but why not endorse me first? One of the first times I wrote up an unsolicited endorsement for someone else, is when they actually wrote one up for me first. I thought that was very cool, so I felt good about also returning the favor. I know that was his original intention, and thought it was a very classy move.
If you write an endorsement for me first, you are pretty much guaranteed that favor in return.
Let me know if you have any pet peeves about LinkedIn endorsements!
For the past year I have been on the fence about fracking. I’m a huge believer in lessening our dependence on foreign oil, and not lining the pockets of people who want to kill us with more ammunition, so I was really open to the thought of fracking.
We need to spend our efforts on clean energy, and not fracking, which will cause irreversible harm to our environment. The money that domestic gas companies have to throw at lobbyists to convince us otherwise is scary.
Please take the time to educate yourself with this awesome video by Josh Wells. http://action.workingfamiliesparty.org/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=6314
I just attended a pretty cool event where the SEED program, through the Small Business Development Corporation and SUNY Albany, I participated in this past winter was recognized by the Tribecca Film Festival.
SEED won The Disruptive Innovation Award from the Tribecca Film Festival. Why is that so meaningful?
Tribeca was established in 2003 by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff as a distribution initiative. They were trying to disrupt the way that films were being made and distributed by really enabling independent film. Everyone thought they were crazy, but their drive has really paid off and has had a huge impact on the film industry.
Craig Hatkoff was the speaker at this morning’s event. He is from this area (Capital District, Albany area), attended the Albany Academy for Boys, and his father launched one of the first discount toy stores, Duane’s Toyland, in 1953. Craig was a product of disruption as born by his father, and has carried that through everything he has done in his career.
What I love about this acknowledgement is two things:
1) That a 35K, character-based, loan program was recognized by a powerhouse such as Tribeca Film. What insight!
2) We better do something to prove that we deserve this honor.
Recognition is one thing, results are something else completely different. Can we turn a 35K loan into something that will be worthy of this award? It’s a small step towards disruption, but if we were give 35m instead of 35k would we be as hungry for success as we are today?
I know I was inspired to follow through. I hope every graduate of that program feels the same thing.
Speaking of which, I better get back to work :)
Bijan Sabet: Are venture capitalists more loyal to their entrepreneurs or limited partners? -
Over the last few weeks I’ve had a number of conversations with VCs about which is more important, their duty to founders they invest in or their limited partners (investors in VC funds).
The two things that prompted these recent discussions: Twitter’s Innovator’s Patent Agreement (which we…
My business partner Dan, showed me this article about Maggie Dunne in Glamour magazine. First of all, I love that this article appeared in Glamour. This type of coverage means that their editors are promoting all kinds of beauty. Using your intelligence and education to be altruistic is one of the most beautiful displays of womanhood there is. Bravo Glamour!
Maggie’s story is truly inspiring. Looking at the amount of dollars invested in your higher education, you can’t help but thinking as a business-driven person, when am I going to earn enough money to see a return on that investment? I’ll be completely honest, that was what I was about, and still am to a certain extent. Luckily I am thinking bigger than how to grow my paycheck, but how to finance my longer-term goals to help abused/neglected/abandoned children without an advocate. That is what drives me to build a business and find an exit in my current endeavor.
Maggie is jumping right into the fire though, and I applaud her for it. She saw an opportunity to make a meaningful difference for Native Americans, and address the poverty, infrastructure, and educational challenges facing these communities that are almost cut off from the outside world. Most people mistakenly assume that with all the casinos that are owned by Native American tribes, that all the profit goes back into the reservations.
The tribes that own these casinos have no more obligation to help progress the plight of Native Americans than Donald Trump has to help the broke masses in Las Vegas or around his casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Donald Trump is notoriously cheap (thesmokinggun.com) when it comes to sharing the wealth. Why should we assume that the billionaire Native American casino owners would be any different?
As with any poverty-stricken area, substance abuse amongst Native Americans is very high. There is a non-profit called “Native Directions”, trying to address this epidemic. They have an FAQ entitled “WHY DOES NATIVE DIRECTIONS NEED DONATIONS TO OPERATE? DON’T THE NATIVE AMERICAN CASINO’S MAKE ENOUGH MONEY FOR THE OPERATIONS OF YOUR ORGANIZATION?”. Their answer is extremely politically correct, I think I would have been a little more brutal :)
Social entrepreneurship doesn’t always have to be non-profit. There is something to be said to earn dollars too. That doesn’t mean greed. It just means that you’ve figured out a way to keep your entity funded that isn’t solely dependent on donations. Anything with baked in value-exchange that people are willing to pay for can also be a path towards making the world a better place.
Anyone who chooses the path of social entrepreneurship whether for profit, or non-profit gets my full support. Those are the types of organizations I will seek out as soon as our business is financially sound. Well done Maggie!!!!
Bijan Sabet: Hiring from the community -
Many startups in our portfolio hire their early team by focusing their recruiting efforts exclusively on their community.
In the early days, Twitter and Tumblr heavily favored hiring folks that were active and engaged users of their respective products.
It’s one of the best filters around as far…
I have been trying out this new task list utility called Workflowy.
Wasn’t 100% sure what to do with it right away, but within a couple of minutes figured out how to access all the core features to make it usable.
As I kept using it, I fell in love with it more and more. So I’ve made the decision to jump ship on everything else I was using and just stick with this tool.
Problem I Was Trying To Solve
I adore lists. Although I am addicted to the satisfaction of writing something down on paper and then crossing it off, I kept forgetting which notebook or paper I scratched my last list on. Also, if I needed to add color to a specific task, I couldn’t do that without making my list disjointed. Not going to happen.
I have been using the ToDo capabilities in my email client, Thunderbird. But I just never look there. I forget it is there constantly.
My husband and I use Wonderlist on our iPads. It has two cool things, iPad, and synching, but other than that, whenever I’ve tried to use it for my business action items, it hasn’t been effective. It’s not because I could keep it open next to my computer, but because it’s functionality is no better than my paper solution minus the synching capability.
So I was looking for:
1) Something where I could add depth to my action items (attach more in-depth notes)
2) Something easy to use, can’t be too complex or I’d never use it. (easily group tasks, manage my lists, etc)
3) Something always available as I was working throughout the day. (would love it to be pinned to my view so it is always accessible)
4) Something where the capabilities would advance with my usage of it. (right now I am using it to manage my own stuff, but would love to do workgroup to do tracking)
I have a relatively simple list right now. But right away I was able to copy my paper list within minutes. Some of the key actions on my list had notes behind them. If you click on any “bullet”, you can drill into the item and add a boatload of notes. Including links to websites, which is primarily what I use it for.
There are a bunch of keyboard shortcuts to help you indent and outdent a task. Indenting and outdenting are really key to keeping your tasks organized under a particular grouping. MS Project does this will, and I miss it in all my other task list organizers. Sometimes other products make me create “categories”. Then I have to assign my tasks to categories in order to get this feature. What a pain in the butt that is.
Also, if I want the satisfaction of seeing what I’ve done, I could click a button to make completed tasks visible or I can clean it up by turning that feature off. Depends what mood I’m in :)
They make great use of hoverovers, and expandable menus, so I don’t have to click a lot of buttons and reload pages to do a lot of the key tasks. To me that’s an indication of a powerful UI and not all the bells and whistles in menu’s around it.
So for my immediate needs I give Workflowy a definite A+.
Will It Grow With My Needs?
Another problem area for me is using it for collaboration amongst my small team now, and hopefully my getting larger team in the not too distant future. I have used all of these project tracking tools:
Each one of these has challenges. MS Project, too complex. Asana, not enough functionality. Excel, synchronization issues. Basecamp, too expensive. Google’s Project Site, too complex (add users, they can’t do attachments, could go on and on)
Could Workflowy be my savior? They have a share capability that allows me to share my list with someone. They are looking at the same web browser as I am, so no synchronization issues. I know it’s easy to use. Sharing individual tasks is a click of a button.
Could it really be just as easy as that?
I am really looking forward to expanding my usage of this with my team. I hope they love it as much as I do.
The buzz words I kept hearing over and over again this weekend were “energy”, “excitement”, and then from the team members there until late in the night “more caffeine”.
There were also a lot of people, like me, where it was our first time participating in a Tech Startup Weekend (#swtechvalley). We definitely did not know what to expect. There is a big difference between reading about it and experiencing it.
Most of the time, the hype prior is more exciting than the event itself, but not this one. This is single-handedly the best networking event I’ve ever been to. Now granted, I haven’t been to as many networking events as John Cococcia or Dick Fredericks, but in my world, this was pretty awesome.
John Miller and Christine Tate were the perfect hosts. John kicked it off with a flourish, while Christine was making sure everyone was getting to where they needed to be and had the resources at hand to keep things running smoothly. It was also great having @mpattersonCuse from the Syracuse area’s CenterState CEO group. He has run and attended several of these TechStartup Weekends before and gave the event a thumbs up as being definitely on par with the quality of those previous events.
The pitch night was such an interesting experience and really set the tone for the whole weekend. We definitely heard ideas that we have heard multiple times in the past, but we also heard ideas that made us think, “Why hasn’t someone thought about that before?”
I actually think some of the people could have used some guidance prior to the first night’s pitch, but that might be one of the “trial by fire” tests potentially.
It was also great after the voting process, that people whose ideas didn’t get enough votes, joined up with the ones who did. That’s a true sign of an entrepreneur, adaptability!
The next morning consisted of mentors really trying to help get groups moving in the right direction. It’s key that the team has the framework in place as to how they are going to spend the next 36 hours. It’s also key that they have rallied around some key components of the idea such as audience, key product capabilities, benefits, and market entry.
I started the day off with Tim Heck. He has a phenomenal idea that I think has a lot of utility (personally I could have used the service myself not too long ago), but had some key marketing and positioning challenges. He ended up getting the help he needed in that department from Stephen DeFranco. I was really impressed with Stephen’s ability to not only add immediate value, but roll up his sleeves and join Tim’s team right away. Now that’s cool.
Next I spoke with Bob Godgart’s son, Jake. His team also had an extremely good idea that I could have used in my business that very morning. Btw, I am on purpose not talking about the ideas, because that is not my place.
The potential markets for his product were so huge, that it was really challenging really trying to find that sweet spot. But once it is out there, sign me up!
My third session was with a truly bright young man, Keegan Hayes. He ended up forming a super-smart team with a lot of really good energy. I think the only thing standing in their way from winning the whole thing is that it’s such a powerful idea, it is really hard to really tie it up in a pretty bow in just a weekend and explain it in 4 minutes. But those are the kinds of ideas that make investors rich.
Another team was the MentorMe team. Awesome bones to the idea, but lots of ways you can package and position it. Not sure the path they chose to do so was the best, but if repackaged could truly kick some butt.
I also have to give a shout-out to my bud, James Ruffer. His idea and team were great, but I think they spent so much time on market validation (which they got a ton of), that it might not have left enough time to really practice the pitch to make sure the panel got that. James is a serial entrepreneur though, so I don’t think he’s going to miss a beat!
On Sunday, the teams were spending the day forming and fine-tuning the pitch. I really wish that I would have been available for more hours today, because there were definitely pitches that needed some more thinking. In a weekend like that, I think that some teams might have spent too much time building the proof of concept and tweaking that, rather then focusing on the pitch itself. The team that won seemed to do a good balance of both.
My only final thought is something that might be a little controversial. When an investor is vetting a deal, they’re usually going to bring in some technology expertise to do some due diligence. I’m not sure there was enough of that aspect represented on the panel. There were several companies I thought where the value was in the technology, and I’m not sure all of the panelists could necessarily see that. So the companies that were low-tech oriented, easily identifiable with the audience, and did a great job pitching, were the winners. The higher-tech ones that I think had a lot of legs didn’t fare as well, but were the ones I would be placing my bets on if I had more than two nickels to rub together. I do think the panel did a great job picking the winners, but I wish one high tech one would have made the cut.
My last thought is that it was pretty great to have the Mayor of Troy there, Lou Rosamilia. He had such a true enthusiasm for this entire event, that it was infectious. If you didn’t get the picture that Troy is the place to be when John Miller was talking, you sure did after Mayor Rosamilia was done talking.
Well done everyone!!!!