Thursday, January 12, 2012

Strengths of Entrepreneurs and Selective Hearing

Hey all,

I have been away for awhile but I have a short and sweet thought that was inspired by a response to a TechCrunch article.  The article covered all the things that entrepreneurs fail at.  Depressing right?  I found a call for suggestions to highlight the opposing side for what entrepreneurs will do really well and decided I'd throw in my two cents.  After thinking for awhile, I remembered back to my younger days when my mother would yell at me for me not listening to her (what I deemed selective hearing).  While this might have earned me a time-out our an ear pull years ago, this selective hearing has proven very useful as an entrepreneur.  Entrepreneurs are excellent at being selective listeners.  In order to be successful, you have to learn to tune out the negativity and amplify the positivity.  If we all stopped because people told us our ideas are silly or too extreme then we wouldn't have the internet or footprints on the moon.  Surround yourself with and listen to the people who broadcast a positive vibe. 



Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Perfecting Your Pitch

Hey all,

I know that I continually talk about honing your message and working on your personal brand but I have learned the importance of this first hand.  When starting a business one of the most neglected areas of your company is yourself.  Especially with more complex purchases, customers are buying into you just as much as they are buying your product or service.  That's why it's important to know what you do for your company and what your company does for others.  Having already experienced some family Christmas parties this year I found myself getting a little anxious when people asked me what I do.  Those of you who are entrepreneurs will know that it might be easier to explain what you don't do but it brought up an personal hurdle I felt I needed to jump.

Tips for crafting your personal pitch:
• Write down exactly what you do in only one sentence.  Your grandmother should be able to get it.  (No offense GamGam)
• Write down what your product or service actually does.  Once again, simplicity is key here.
• Think of someone asking saying "Yeah,  So what?" Find the strongest argument against this "Who cares?" statement and go with it.

Together these elements ensure that your pitch is both brief and conveys the value of what you do, what your product does, and why that matters. 

My example:
I call people who run business plan competitions to find out what's not working well.  Our product eliminates excess paperwork, organizes important information, and promotes the event to participants.  It saves time and money; most people would like more of each.

This may come off as a little blunt but I think that's the point.  If it is a good personal pitch people will be genuinely interested in what you do which opens the door to get into more specific details.   On the other hand, if they don't care about what you do, I just saved you a lot of time trying to explain it. 



Sunday, December 4, 2011

Before You Blog

I'm new to blogging but I know that in order to be a valuable resource to readers, a blog must accomplish three things.

1.  Make a promise...and deliver
By letting readers know the purpose behind your writing, you are not only creating a mission statement to help guide your topics but you're showing that you value your reader's time.  I try to write purposeful content that provides insight on my experiences starting a company in the hope that someone somewhere will learn something from my experiences.

2.  Provide solutions
Problems are easy to list, solutions are not.  As a reader of many blogs, I find myself most engaged when authors provide not only engaging content but insight into their process and how they conquer their own issues.  Research shows that people have the attention span of rabid ferrets online; I too enjoy quick bullets of information and try to utilize this format in many of my posts.  Readers check the bullets first and decide if reading further is worth their time.  Odds are you've already skipped over half the information in the paragraphs of this post, but you've probably been paying attention to the bullets. 

3.  Don't force it
If you don't have anything of substance to write about then don't write anything at all.  No one wants to read about your Saturday shopping experience or your drive to work.  People like to feel that someone cares about their situation rather than just listening to someone talk about their own issues.  If you want to write like that I suggest you get a journal.

Here are very different and excellent examples from pros:

As I move along the path to what I hope is an insanely successful business, I'll continue to provide resources on startup issues and being a young entrepreneur.  That's my promise to you.



Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How To Ignite Your Inner Entrepreneur

There are many ways that people are exposed to the wonderful world of entrepreneurship but the most influential way has to be through sharing an idea with other people.  Thankfully there are a number of excellent ways to test the waters of becoming an entrepreneur and finding out whether your ideas stinks or has some potential.

Attend a mentoring round-table event.  Yes, it might be awkward.  You don't know them and they don't know you but the best things happen on the outside of your comfort zone.  These take place at a variety of locations and with a variety of people.  Anyone from local entrepreneurs to community leaders attend these events and provide an excellent opportunity to network as well as share your ideas.  The first step in developing an idea is becoming an expert at explaining it.  These people are here to help and if you can't easily explain your idea to others then you need to rethink your approach.

Enter a pitch competition.  Since you have obviously taken my advice to attend a mentoring event the next step is to find a idea competition or more commonly known as a "pitch" competition.  These take place all over and are usually sponsored by a local university or business.  You being the great idea person you are will have a short amount of time (typically 60 seconds) to explain your product or service and why it's awesome.  This is yet another step in the practice of explaining what you do and how you do it.  Once again, I understand that it might be awkward to get up and throw an idea out to a panel of judges you've never met, but think for a moment about what's really is going on at these events.  Yes there are lots of people there, but these aren't just regular folks.  The people that attend these things have the resources and connections that will allow you to take your idea to the next level and even if your idea crashes and burns, there still might be an opportunity to become involved in another project.  Never let the door of possibility close.  Put on your networking hat and make an effort to try and meet as many of these movers and shakers as possible. 

• Call an expert.  I don't know how many times I've talked with people that I really have no credentials or the right experience to be talking to.  You should be attempting the same and you'll be surprised by the results.  The goal is to find an expert in your field or someone that has experience related to your idea and reach out to them.  The type of people you should be after are probably very busy but don't give up hope just yet.  Persistence and conciseness are key.  Successful individuals are successful because they have mastered the art of time management so don't waste theirs.  Keep any email or phone calls brief and make sure to try and set any appointment to have an interview at least two weeks in advance.  I'm sure you are catching on by now but any contact you make should get to the point quickly.  This is another opportunity to explain the value your product or service provides and why people will want it.  Gaining feedback from experts can be a game changer for your idea so don't get down on yourself if you don't hear back, keep looking for new contacts. 

Ideas are nothing until you put action behind them.  I hope that these suggestions help guide you towards developing your idea and reaching out to the right people.  Entrepreneurs are very self sufficient but I want everyone to understand the value of gaining feedback from people that have experience.  



Monday, November 28, 2011

Entrepreneur Power

There are many times that I become disappointed with my outlook on the job market for young graduates.  It almost seems criminal that people can spend thousands of dollars on an education only to find that no one is hiring.  In times like these I think that everyone regardless of their degree, needs to channel their inner entrepreneur and create their own path.  Great ideas come from unexpected places but here are some starting points for marketing them that are simple but effective.

1) Find a problem:  It can be a small issue or something that is world changing.  The key to success is finding a lot of people with the same problem and finding a way to fix it.

2) Get a mentor:  This is the time where I harp about it's not what you know it's who you know that matters.  I'm not talking about getting into the coolest clubs or meeting celebrities but rather greatly increasing your chances of success.  By having someone who knows their stuff you will avoid some of the most costly mistakes.

3) Take notes:  I don't yet have a photographic memory or a tape recorder for a brain so keep either a digital recorder or pen and paper by your side at all times.  You can't force creativity but you can be prepared to capture it when it shows itself.

4) Ask questions: By finding out more about the problem you are looking to solve, the better the fit your product will be to the customer.  Think of any sales call as a counseling session and your job is to put the customer on the couch and find out what bugs them.  The results will surprise you

5) Be dumb:  This might seem to go against the grain of everything I've been talking about but make sure you are constantly trying to raise the bar on who you interact with and how you learn.  If you constantly stay in the same environment and hang out with the same people you aren't learning anything new.  I encourage you to constantly be the dumbest person in the room and remember to take notes.  When you start to feel awkward, you know you've found the right place.   



Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Business Plan Competitions

Great ideas come from being frustrated.  I am frustrated with the way the business plan competitions operate and I promise I will keep my rant short.  For a community that claims to be incredibly innovative and cutting edge, having to submit stacks of paper business plans hardly seems to be either of those.  Judging is another issue that could use a facelift.  How is it cost or time effective to print out 10 copies of each plan to distribute to judges for them to lug around and them have them score the ideas on even more stacks of paper? 
While some competitions do offer online submission, it does not offer the flexibility and mobile access that the organizers, judges and participants need.  The concepts that appear in PitchBurner are designed to alleviate this problem but I still need some feedback.  Please post a comment or kick me an email if you have run a business plan competition or have participated in one.  I would love to hear your concerns and thoughts on how the process can get streamlined. 



Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Leaving the Nest

The time has come to send the newly minted out into the world.  PitchBurner represents the work and passion of many talented people and I'm thankful I am able to spearhead the project.  It is crucial to find great people to surround yourself with regardless of the situation.  I'm not an expert on many things but I challenged myself and encourage you to find those that are the best at what they do.  Take notes and never stop learning will be my keys to success.  Things are just starting to ramp up and over the next few months and I am so excited to discover the people that are passionate about this idea and want to share it with others.  Stay tuned.