Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Early-Stage Education

It's one of those attributes of being an entrepreneur - the desire to start a company. Turning your ideas into something tangible and productive (among other things) drives this desire. As someone recently pointed out, having an idea and executing that idea are two very different things. I can't seem to find the recent blog post on this topic, but the post also pointed out that you may not be the best judge of whether your idea is good or bad. Great points.

I'd like to point out that many early entrepreneurs may not be adept at starting companies. (Ya think?) There are a lot of resources available (books, blogs, and communities). However, I think the best resource is to actually work for a start-up. If entrepreneurship is your chosen path, you would do well to join an existing early-stage company and observe what works, and what doesn't.

I'm not saying there aren't plenty of examples of young first-time founders out there. Certainly the media likes to feature the successful young entrepreneur, but they are the exception, not the rule.

So, if you're strong enough to admit that your idea isn't marketable or that you're not ready to go out on your own, be a student of entrepreneurship at an existing venture.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Board of Advisors - Accountability is the Driving Force

In my work consulting for early-stage companies - or just speaking with entrepreneurs at networking events, the question of professional advisors often comes up. Every early stage company should have a formal Board of Advisors (BoA). Ironically, what I've found is that most entrepreneurs look at these advisors as merely a networking opportunity or as outside validation. These are two very important components of a BoA, but accountability is just as critical.

Established, credible, intelligent, and well connected professionals within an entrepreneur's target market sector can indeed accelerate the development of a business. And getting suitable professionals on board is a must if an entrepreneur's idea is going to sprout legs. If an entrepreneur can't attract an impressive set of advisors, then one should ask whether there's really a business there at all.

A big trap that entrepreneurs fall into is that they "acquire" a set of advisors, post their bios to the company's website, and then they move on to another task - having achieved a "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" through association with their advisors. It seems silly to have to say this, but advisors WANT to advise. That's why they agreed to be on the BoA. Too often, however, they're ignored or under-utilized. A truly wasted resource.

A bigger issue is that many entrepreneurs - some out on their own for the first time in their careers - have no one to hold them accountable for their actions. They may not even have a Board of Directors yet. Entrepreneurs love independence - being their own boss, on their own time, running the show, and doing it their way. This is a double-edged sword. Entrepreneurs need to have someone there to tell them that they're not progressing quick enough or that they're making mistakes.

So, my advise to entrepreneurs is to document your goals with a timeline of projected milestones - and then send these goals to an advisor. This advisor might be a trusted friend or an established professional on your BoA. The point is that by having them come back to you in 30, 60, 90 days and asking you how you've done against those goals, will make you more compelled and responsible with regard to achieving your dream.

In summary, a Board of Advisors accomplishes 4 things: 1) credibility by association, 2) a source of advice, 3) a network of connections, and 4) accountability for your actions. Leverage them all.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Have You Been Warned About the Meaning of Ads?

I happened to be gazing at a step stool we have around the house - you know the kind that makes it easy for the kids to reach the sink. As with most consumer household goods, it has a warning label on it. And in the spirit of globalization, the warning is in English, French, and Spanish. In each language, the word "Warning" is displayed in bold just above a short paragraph that nobody over 40 could read unless they were within inches of the label.

In any event, I noticed something very telling about the French and Spanish words for "warning". In French it's "avertissement" and in Spanish it's "advertencia". Whoa! These words look and sound a lot like the English word "advertisement". How interesting is that?

It's as if we've been given a clue to be forewarned that ads are coming. See an ad? Watch out. "Be careful, there's an ad in front of you". "These are the ads, avoid them".

So I got to thinking, what words do the French and Spanish use when they mean "advertisement"? The French use either "annonce" or "publicité" while the Spanish use "anuncio". Hmm, sounds a lot like "enunciate", "announce", and "publicize". Makes sense. A lot more sense than the roots of our English word.

Authentic and effective advertising (there's that word again..."Danger, danger Will Robinson") are good at enunciating. Not just announcing, but articulating well. Which brings me to what I think is THE most effective form of advertising: teaching.

Now, I don't mean rote learning or studying for the SATs. What I mean is that the most effective ads - the ones that I will pay attention to are the ones that teach me something I'm interested in. Educate me on why the iPhone is better, and maybe I'll buy it (So far, failing grade). Give me some free information on your product or service (white paper, top 10 tips, etc.) that really helps me solve a personal or professional problem, and I'll pay attention and buy (Thank you Tim Ferriss for the free chapters...I bought the book. And kudos to Flip Video guys for letting test drive their product at SXSW...I bought one.)

Paul Graham on the YCombinator Blog points out that advertising is broken (see item #12) and that's what got me thinking. Advertising, particularly online, has done a good job living up to its semantic roots; we're tuning it out because we've been programmed to be warned.

Monday, July 7, 2008

George Carlin's Theory of Relativity

Yes, another blog post that references the late George Carlin. I guess his quips have inspired a lot of people. One of his "clean" comments that I love goes something like this: "Have you ever noticed that people driving slower than you are all Idiots, and people driving faster than you are all Maniacs?"

I've coined this the George Carlin Theory of Relativity. We proceed through life at different speeds, whether measured in intellect, career advancement, or the pursuit of happiness. And I've observed that we judge ourselves against others who are traveling at different speeds even if we don't have all of the facts.

Those that appear to be traveling slower in career advancement, may in fact be maniacs with regard to the quality of life they have with their families. And the speed demons of intellect, may in fact be idiots when it comes to handling their careers. But figuring out who the idiots and manics are isn't the point.

We shouldn't compare ourselves relative to others. We should compare ourselves to ourselves. And therefore ask yourself, "am I traveling in the right direction?"

Idiot? Maniac? Who knows. Not important. Just make sure you Have a Nice Day.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Entrepreneurial Lesson

I just came across these quotes by way of Michael Arrington's tweet re QuotesDaddy, specifically, they're attributed to Maya Elhalal, an Israeli entrepreneur. Here's her page on QuotesDaddy.

“Fierce competition is usually better news than no competition. At least you know there’s something worth fighting over.”

“Don’t start a venture if the only thing protecting your idea from being copied is staying in stealth mode.”

“The only people you should worry about getting your idea are the ones you’re trying to sell it to.”

“Always assume someone is working on the exact same thing you are, that they started a month earlier and sleep an hour less every night.”

“When you’re trying to raise an investment for your venture, every ‘no’ gets you closer to a ‘yes’ only if you know why you’ve been rejected.”

Love these - I think they capture what I've long believed about starting a company. It's hard for so many founders to follow these recommendations - a few are counterintuitive. I had to post them here to share them and to return to often as mindset reinforcement.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Nicholas Carr & Crashed Cars

I was relaxing on Father's Day reading the Atlantic (it's a magazine, in case you haven't seen print media in a while). The cover story, Is Google Making Us Stupid grabbed my attention. The author, Nicholas Carr points out that many people don't read and think the way they used to as a result of spending so much time on the Internet (scanning, skimming, and clicking off to something else). And he's right. It seems like no one reads the same way that they used to (Can you sit down and read a lengthy article or book without getting distracted by something else?). Does everyone have Attention Deficit Disorder now? Sometimes it feels that way.

Another article in the same edition of The Atlantic hit on a similar point. In Distracting Miss Daisy, John Staddon postulates that we're bad drivers in America (as compared with the UK) because there are so many street signs (not in our line of vision, but off to the side) and inconsistent road rules mixing us up. Again, attention is a core point of this article. He points out that if there were fewer signs and uniform rules (e.g. speed limits standardized based on the kind of road or highway you were on) we wouldn't crash our cars so much, and then say, "I didn't see him coming".

I found both articles fascinating and agree with much of what was said. It reminds me that overcoming short attention spans and distractions are probably a marketeers biggest challenge. Interestingly enough, The Atlantic got my attention with their choice of cover, highlighting the fact that using Google's logo and colors combined with a controversial supposition will always make me look: Image of The Atlantic's July Cover

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Captivated by Twitter

If you haven't checked out Twitter, then you probably can't relate to this. Why would anyone want to receive one to two sentence updates on what their friends - or even people they don't know - are up to? It's a cool way to stay in touch and share your thoughts with your "social sphere" without actually being in the same room or on the phone. It's like getting a status report bit by bit instead of in one long conversation. Granted, some of the posts are of the "who cares" category, but mostly it's fun and sometimes even informative to read what others are up to or thinking.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Student Loan P2P Space

Met with Fynanz last week. Great idea and a ripe time for them. They offer person-to-person lending for student loans. Circle lending for students and those that want to lend to them. Turns out students are a lower credit risk than general population. Lots of turmoil in the credit markets and in how universities are dealing with their relationships with private student lending companies. These changes will prove to be positive for a company like Fynanz.com

Night by Elie Wiesel

I read this book yesterday. Makes everything in life that troubles you seem inconsequential. I should have read it a long time ago - not that I wasn't fully aware of what the Nazis did. It's just something altogether different to read Weisel's first-hand account. Shocking what humans are capable of.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Great Sessions - Great Vibe in Austin

There have been some great sessions so far...and I've taken video of some. They'll be posted on tcg.blip.tv which is The Conversation Group's video blog site.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

At South By Southwest in Austin

Just arrived late last night. The city is abuzz. Got my Flip Video Cam and am ready to interview some folks. Gotta go register now.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Is Facebook Making Our Brains Bigger?

Yesterday's Science Times (NY Times) reports on research that postulates that humans have such huge brains because of our social development.
Scientists have long puzzled over the enormous size of the human brain. It is seven times larger than one would predict for an average mammal of our size. Many of our extra neurons are in a region called the frontal cortex, where much of the most sophisticated thought takes place.

So by studying 4 different species of hyennas, scientists have discovered that the larger the pack (i.e. more social the species) the larger the brain. So, in essence, our brains are this big because of our social networking over time.
Brain imaging studies have revealed that when people think about other people, parts of the frontal cortex become active. Advocates of the social brain hypothesis say the frontal cortex expanded in our ancestors because natural selection favored social intelligence.

Add to that the coverage of another study that showed that blogging makes us happy...
A new study has found blogging regularly tends to make a person feel less isolated, more satisfied with their existing friendships and more part of a community.
- ostebsibly because socializing gives us a high - you can see why Facebook and other social networking sites are so popular and addictive. And why hyennas are always laughing.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Simple Private Exchange - drop.io

Ever wanted to post something online - to share it, solicit feedback - with just a select few friends or colleagues? Well, drop.io is a cool, easy to use site that does that. But the cool part is that you can remain anonymous - there's no registration process. And the user interface is a calm respite from all those flashy, busy websites out there. So you can create this private space online (aka "a drop") and no one will know about it unless you tell them where it is. That's because the site isn't indexed by drop.io or by the search engines. And your private space can also be password protected. They handle all sorts of media types and have cool ways for you to get your files uploaded. For instance, there's a telephone number for every drop. Call the number, speak your peace, and the next thing you know, there's an MP3 file on the site. Or fax a document to a special number and the doc will appear on the drop as a PDF file.

Drop.io was nominated for an award as one of 5 companies in the South By Southwest Tech Achievement category. They're also a featured speaker at the Facebook "conference within a conference" at SXSW.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ad Network for Jobs

I just got off the phone with Eric Yoon, CEO of JobThread. Simply put, it's an ad network for jobs. An ad network is a collection of websites that have ads (managed and served up) by a single entity. DoubleClick is a classic example. But JobThread is doing it with job postings instead of ads. So if you're at a tech related news site, you'll see jobs that are tech related. It's targeted - and that makes all the difference in the world. It's also bringing the jobs to where the potential candidates are instead of waiting for them to come to a job board website. The adage, "fish where the fish are" comes to mind. Seems obvious and logical, but unique nonetheless.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Why I'm Blogging

I decided to put this blog together to highlight some of the interesting things I'm seeing in the world of digital media. This comes at a time when I'm looking for my next position within an exciting company where I can make a difference. So some of the posts will just be about cool companies, while others will be based on conversations with other professionals in the field. I'm looking forward to attending the South by Southwest conference in early March and blogging about what and who I see.