Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sharon Lechter – Entrepreneur, Author, Educator

A couple of months ago I was privileged to meet Sharon Lechter, probably most recognized as the co-author of the international best-selling book “Rich Dad Poor Dad,” and just recently “Three Feet from Gold.” In reality, she is also an entrepreneur, philanthropist, educator, international speaker, CPA, and member of the President's Advisory Council on Financial Literacy.

Marty: Welcome to Startup Professionals interviews. Tell us about your current passion.

Sharon: For a long time I have been a financial literacy advocate. In 1992, my oldest son, Phillip went off to college and got into credit card debt. At the time I became more angry with myself than I was at him…because I thought I had taught him about money. It was at that point that I dedicated my professional life to the cause of financial literacy and the development of tools to help teach financial education. As Founder and CEO of “Pay Your Family First” I strive to create products, like the “ThriveTime for Teens” board game, that educate families and young people on how to become masters of their money…instead of slaves to their money.

Marty: How did you first decide to add entrepreneur to your many accomplishments?

Sharon: My father, with only a third grade formal education, had a successful career in the Navy, and later became an entrepreneur. His goal was for me to receive a college education and have a great career. After three years of a successful career in public accounting with Coopers & Lybrand, the entrepreneurial bug bit me and I have been starting and building companies ever since. When offered the first opportunity to become an equity partner in a company, I asked myself “why not?” Ever since, “why not?” has become my personal motto.

Marty: Have all your business ventures been positive and learning experiences?

Sharon: This answer was written after a good laugh ... No, not all of my business ventures have been positive ... but they have all been positively learning experiences! Napoleon Hill once wrote that the “Greatest Success comes just after the Greatest Failure.” As we quoted Evander Holyfield in my new book “Three Feet From Gold,” “You never feel or remember the blows. You only feel the victory.” Many people allow a business setback to paralyze them while successful entrepreneurs take those setbacks and become even more motivated to succeed with their next business venture.

Marty: What’s the most challenging aspect of being a woman entrepreneur from your perspective?

Sharon: I believe that women are natural entrepreneurs and can achieve great success. The most challenging aspect that I find for women is simply time management. Women are natural multi-taskers but are challenged when they need to focus and concentrate on building a business to the expense of other tasks and responsibilities. This is crucial especially in the early stages of the business. This is the one area where I believe women tend to give up too soon…just before they reach the level of success that will actually give them MORE time. I believe there still exists the “glass ceiling” in corporate America although it is beginning to crack. However, there is no glass ceiling for women entrepreneurs because they are their own bosses and there is no limit to their success!

Marty: How has the business world changed since you first started?

Sharon: When I first entered the business world in the late 70’s entrepreneurs were looked down upon. I remember people referring to small business owners as “drop-outs” from Corporate America jobs. It was truly the age of big business. In contrast, Americans today look down upon big business and have lost trust in Wall Street and corporate executives. As a result of the current economic downturn, I see a new age of entrepreneurship dawning. It was entrepreneurs who helped bring America out of the Great Depression and it will be entrepreneurs again who help get us out of the current economic crisis. There has never been a better opportunity to become a successful entrepreneur!

Marty: What is a key personal attribute you see in successful entrepreneurs?

Sharon: The key attribute that I see is the “why not?” attitude. Successful entrepreneurs challenge the status quo, they are excited by the unknown…by the unchartered territory. The most successful businesses are created when solving a problem, or serving a need. Combine the “why not?” attitude with a “never give up” persistence and you have the core of a successful entrepreneur.

Marty: Any advice you would like to give to someone contemplating a startup?

Sharon: “Why not?” The question is simple...the application a little more difficult. If you have an idea…go for it. Many people try to “go it alone” when truly successful businesses are built by teams. Find your team early and make sure their skill sets compliment yours…which means they are really good in the areas of your weaknesses! Then set goals for yourself. Divide your goals between short-term goals and long-term goals. Don’t forget to celebrate each time you reach a short term goal! This will make the path on the way to your long-term goals a lot more enjoyable. Above all, never give up three feet from gold!

Marty: Sharon, thank you very much for your insights and your role-model leadership for all of us! You can find out more about Sharon’s entrepreneurial activities through her business site (http://www.payyourfamilyfirst/), or you can contact her directly via her personal website (http://www.slechter.com/).

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Should Your Startup Be a Franchise?

By Donald Cranford, Franchise Direct

Starting or buying a business is one of the two or three biggest decisions you will make in your life. The investment and risks involved are great, and have increased with the economic challenges of the last few years. One of the ways to reduce the risk is to buy a pre-defined concept, rather than invent and implement your own. This is the franchising approach.

Franchising offers a kind of compromised independence where the costs of partnering with a popular business include fees to franchisor and less direct say in how the business is run. From McDonald’s to the local cleaning company, franchising has spread across the world because it allows business owners to invest in a proven concept and brand.

At Franchise Direct, one question we get asked all the time is ‘What makes a successful franchisee?’ It’s a question of nature versus nurture: is the ability for franchise success a temperament you are born with or is it something that can be learned on the job?

In our experience and research, there are no fixed laws about who can or cannot succeed with a franchise, BUT there are a few strands of what I call Franchise DNA. I’d like to discuss two in particular. If a franchisee possesses both, all the better.
  1. The Innovator. Franchisees are the public face of a franchise, the weather vane, the person who knows which way the wind is blowing. Franchisors may be regaled by daily market research power point sessions in their oversized offices, but in truth the only person who will really know how your business is faring is you.

    A franchisee who can pool all of the accumulated knowledge of dealing with customers on a day in, day out basis and turn it into special offers or deals is someone who will survive in franchising. Look at the ramifications of Subway franchisee Stuart Frankel’s decision to implement the $5 dollar foot-long at his store in Florida. The whole country knows about it now. An innovative franchisee takes the reins of his or her business and truly adapts it to their area.

  2. The Conformist. This might seem to contrast with The Innovator, but in reality they are simply like Yin and Yang. Franchising in a way is like a marriage: you are signing a social contract and must abide many laws. A maverick streak will always come in handy when running a business, but in reality, if you’re bad at taking orders and abiding by someone else’s vision for the presentation of the business, you’re going to find franchising a very frustrating experience.
Going back to the previously mentioned ‘market research power point’ sessions, franchisors have expended an enormous amount of time and money on considering how a franchise will look and exist. You need to be able to take commands from on high and cater the business to someone else’s vision. American business people pride themselves on their pioneering, frontier spirit, but in reality, a small touch of submissiveness has led the way for the success of franchising, which has helped shape the American marketplace over the past half century.

F Scott Fitzgerald wrote that a true artist is someone who can keep two contradictory thoughts in his mind at one time. In a certain way, it’s the same with the truly successful franchisee. You’ll need that ruthlessly independent streak, but you’ll have to match it with a respect for someone else’s business vision. If you can do that, a franchise could be right for you.

Franchise Direct is one of the world’s leading portals for franchise and business opportunities. Started as a single website for the promotion of franchises in the US market in 1998, Franchise Direct now operates a suite of six multilingual sites targeting North America and Europe. You can reach Donald directly at donald@franchisedirect.com.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

You Need to Recognize and Attract Top Talent

Investors always say that a successful startup is more about the people than it is about the idea. Great people can take a mediocre idea, and make it a success, while mediocre people can take a great idea and make it a failure. So what should you look for to find the great people you need?

A great start is to look for the five C’s which indicate people of talent, as outlined by John Spence in his book, Awesomely Simple:
  1. Competence. At the very foundation, to be considered “talented,” a person has to be highly competent in an area that is key to your business. This person must possess skills, abilities, ideas, and information that exceeds yours in these areas. Truly talented people are fanatics for lifelong learning, and a sponge for new ideas.

  2. Character. You can have the smartest person on the team, the very highest performer – yet if he or she isn’t completely trustworthy, you have a liability, not an asset. Honesty, transparency, and a values-based life are the elements that build professional and personal character.

  3. Collaboration. The world is too complex, with too much information, and moving at too high a velocity for any single individual to handle it alone. For talented individuals to be effective in any organization, they must be superb at collaborating with others. Teamwork is mandatory, not optional.

  4. Communication. Every talented business professional who succeeds must be an expert communicator. It is not great skills of oratory or persuasion that are the most important, but rather the ability to ask superior questions and then listen to the answers. Be adept at laying out simple, clear, and logical arguments – while connecting emotionally.

  5. Commitment. No great success is ever achieved without great effort. Highly talented businesspeople are committed, driven, and passionate about what they are doing. They do not see their work as a job, but instead as an adventure, a quest, a higher calling.
Knowing the right characteristics is actually the easy part. The hard part is attracting people who have these characteristics, and convincing the best of the best to join you. Many would argue that top-ranked venture capitalists, like John Doerr of Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield, and Byers, actually excel in attracting and recognizing great talent, rather than recognizing great ideas.

To attract the right people, you must become a fanatic about finding and recruiting top talent. That means putting effective actions in place, and spending real time on the process. Entrepreneurs who say it’s hard to find good people, yet simply rely on newspaper ads and Craigslist are kidding themselves.

John Spence reiterates that the only way to win the war for talent is to employ the Powell doctrine of “shock and awe.” Make talent acquisition a major strategic thrust in your company, with specific actions like these:
  • Build a list of ten super-talented people you’d hire today if you had funds available.
  • Find a different highly talented person every month to take to lunch.
  • Build a personal relationship with top placement officers at local universities.
  • Attend association and community meetings, constantly networking for top talent.
  • Define an internship program that taps promising college students early.
  • Provide a reward system to current employees who close a talented new team member.
  • Hone your interview process to make it more effective with the best candidates.
The startups that survive and thrive in the future will be the ones that treat talent acquisition, development, and retention as a major strategic imperative. Of course, with highly talented players, you should also empower them to make their own decisions, and hold them accountable for superior communication and collaboration. That’s a recipe for success in any business.

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Building an Entrepreneurial Culture


I just returned from an Entrepreneurship Conference in Anchorage, Alaska, organized by my friend Allan R. Johnston, to improve collaboration and initiate more activities there. I had assumed that Alaska would be a haven for entrepreneurs, due to the history of independence and environmental adversity. Yet, I didn’t see as much of that entrepreneurial culture as I expected.

A couple of years ago, I helped set up a software business in Vietnam, where it was evident that everyone was an entrepreneur, from little kids on the street shining shoes, to new businesses for the world market springing up by the hundreds. The entrepreneurial culture was everywhere.

What I saw in Alaska was a small group of good people fighting to start a movement, to overcome the gaps to funding and education, in a state filled with sometimes complacent “employees” of the big oil companies, government surpluses, and Natives with cross cultural and generational challenges.

The difference between the two parts of the world certainly made me think about what drives an entrepreneurial culture. Some thoughts that come to mind include the following:
  1. The pain level must be high enough. In Vietnam, the issue is survival, with an average income of less than $10,000 US per year. Maybe Alaskans are a bit comfortable, even in the harsh environment, with good jobs from outside employers, and a fat state treasury. Real change doesn’t happen until the pain level is high enough.

  2. An education system tuned to support entrepreneurs. I heard much discussion at the conference from local academics realizing they need to do more, and getting more involved. Universities that set up incubators, groups to commercialize research, and real entrepreneurial courses can make a big difference. Financial literacy training needs to start as early as kindergarten, and be pervasive.

  3. Innovative opportunities readily available. Alaska has huge opportunities in their natural resources, and many other areas. They should be generating sustainable energy solutions from the tides, sun, wind, water, and geothermal sources. The glaciers and mountain streams are a great source of clear clean water. The possibilities are endless.

  4. Financial infrastructure robust and local. I’m not talking here about government subsidies; I’m talking about financial institutions willing to lend, venture capital organizations, angel groups, and private equity. Alaska needs more strength in these areas, less reliance on outside big companies, and some “give back” from the people who have succeeded there, as they retire to Arizona.

  5. People willing to help people. At the conference in Alaska, my talk was on mentoring, which I believe is required in all environments. People willing to help means active angel investors, experienced entrepreneurs judging business plans at universities, teaching classes, and pulling people together for collaborative efforts, as Allan has done.

  6. Work is a lifestyle, rather than a job. True entrepreneurs do what they love, and love what they do. Successful people doing what they love are the best inspiration to others, which is how new cultures are born.
I’m always impressed with the bright spots. A great sign in Alaska is my new friends, Tyler Arnold, a real software outsourcing entrepreneur at age 17, and Austin Johnson, age 18 (pictured here), with great plans. They are blessed with financial and mentoring support from friends, and I’m counting on continued leadership from their generation.

So my challenge to the rest of you is to measure the entrepreneurial culture in your area against these key drivers, and your own personal drive. Are you a driver or a damper on the culture? What more can you do, and what are additional important considerations? I’m sure I’ve missed a few key points, so let me know what you think.

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Women Don’t Believe in Angels

In my work with angel investors, I have noticed a surprising lack of women, on either side of the table. What is it about being an entrepreneur asking for or giving funding that seems to make it primarily a male domain? I hit this topic a few months ago, but still don’t see a clear answer.

An online article from the U.S. News & World Report, while touting the resurgence of women entrepreneurs, admitted that only 8.9 percent of proposals brought to the angel organizations they studied were pitched by women. As a result, more than 90 percent of angel dollars tend to go to men.

Yet this same article also asserts that “Nearly half of all privately held firms in 2004 were at least 50 percent owned by women.” A logical conclusion is that women tend to avoid the added risk of investor money. My friend Francine Hardaway says “Women aren't as risk tolerant and they hit singles rather than swing for the fences.”

Elsewhere I found confirmation that more than 95% of business angels are men. This would also suggest that women are not as comfortable with the process of deciding who gets their money.
So I looked to other studies for evidence why women are less likely to be angels:
  • Favor women-owned businesses. Women are more likely to participate and invest in women-owned businesses. But since there a few women-owned businesses asking for angel funding, their investment opportunities are fewer.

  • Investment criteria. Men are more likely than women to relax their investment criteria on the basis of their gut feeling/instinct. Women demand more evidence, which often isn’t there, so they don’t invest.

  • Network differences. In terms of deal flow, men give greater emphasis to personal connections, while women make greater use of professional contacts (lawyers, accountants). Male business angels team with other angels and close more deals.

  • Investment domains. Women are more likely to limit their investment activity to domains they dominate, like fashion and perfume. These areas are less frequently served by angels. They don’t seem to be as excited as men by technology and inventions.

  • Motivational differences. Women are more likely to be associated with and invest in socially beneficial products/services, like “green” and worthy causes, as well as the next generation of entrepreneurs. Not as many of these ask for venture investments.

  • Increased role with investee. Women spend more time with their investee businesses than male angels. Women are more likely to assist in strategy development, making contacts with suppliers and customers, and removing or recruiting members of the management team.
I am convinced that increasing the number of women business angels would have a positive effect on the flow of financing to women entrepreneurs. Moreover, if women business angels were more visible as a consequence of their greater numbers then this might encourage more women entrepreneurs to approach them for funding.

I don’t find any evidence of a glass ceiling in this corner of the small-business world. Women who own small businesses should have nothing to fear when it comes to angel funding. We would love a couple of women on our angel group board, but rarely see one even attend a meeting. There must be more to this picture. What is it?

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Confessions of a Female Angel


By Francine Hardaway, Ph.D.

I am well aware that there aren't many female angels. It's the same reason there's a much lower failure rate in women-owned businesses.

The reason? Women aren't as risk tolerant and they hit singles rather than swing for the fences. I'd call my own first business either a single or a bunt :-) It did, however, afford me a lavish lifestyle and educate my two kids. I think we really need female angels, because it would make the businesses in which they would invest more successful.

Of course the role of women investors is changing as the workforce changes. In the beginning, I was so happy to be in the workplace at all that I accepted a salary that was a fraction of what I deserved, and then when I started a business I didn't grow if at all for years, and then only when I took on a male business partner (and married him). Now, women are beginning to dominate the workplace, and perhaps they will get some guts.

My dad, who was an investor, a broker, a lawyer, a gambler, taught me to invest. As soon as I got out of school and had a penny in my pocket, I began to invest -- first in the stock market, and then in actual companies. When I couldn't make payroll in my first business, I played the stock market for money. I still remember making a "killing" in Pulte Homes.

My first angel investment was $5,000 in a company started by a former student of mine, and when it went public I received $50,000. That was a fortunate lesson. If I had lost my money, that would have probably been the last angel investment, but the magnitude of the return (in the 1970's) got my attention.

Another crazy investment I made in the 70's was in the New Times, a rag started by two friends of mine that is now Village Voice Media. That was the original Friends, Family and Fools investment; we had a party in someone's house and a group of people who liked Mike and Jim kicked in to support them, never expecting to see a dime back. About ten years later, the boys bought all the original investors out, with appropriate vigorish.

Then I invested again in that same entrepreneur that gave me the 10x learning experience; this time, I (sort of) doubled down, in that I invested $5000 cash and the services of my PR firm. In that investment, the funders of the A round turned out to be the rock band U-2, and the angels (there were six of us) could either stay in or get out. I took my original cash back and stayed in for the rest. That company eventually sued Microsoft for something like $33 million and won; I didn't own many shares by the time the suit was settled, but I can't complain because I rode the stock up and down and even day-traded it a while. I was still more of a stock market fan, but the institutions were beginning to make it harder to win against them as a small investor.

When I came out of Intel after selling my own business, I began to angel invest in earnest. My current company, Stealthmode Partners, used to take equity as part of its fees in those days, and I have more stock certificates than you can ever imagine, the companies long gone.

Another of my investments (founded in 2000) broke even this year for the first time and will begin distribution to shareholders.

In the meantime, I have won and lost millions investing in real estate, a much less interesting business, but with entrepreneurs who need money just like any other. I invested $25,000 in some land outside of Austin, Texas during the dot-com bust and engineered the sale of it to a larger partner, making nearly 10x my investment and staying in for the upside ( if there ever is one after the carrying costs through this downturn).

I also made a ton of money flipping houses from 2004-2006.

And, oh by the way, I lost a million in real estate in 1990. And one partnership I bought into in 1986 still owns some of its original land, although we've been paid back many times over.

Last year, I lost $45,000 trying to start a bank.

Those are just the deals I remember; I've been in about 50 real estate deals and about fifteen tech deals. I am actually a deal junkie. Most of the men I talk to don't have my stomach for roller coaster rides.

But guess what? I'm a woman. They are SMALL deals. I've never lost everything, and I have had a fabulous time. I will obviously do this until I completely lose my senses.

Today’s article is presented by the founder of Stealthmode Partners in Phoenix, Arizona. She is a true angel investor, and has helped package and secure funding for many high-tech startup companies in the area. She has also created positioning and marketing strategies for dozens of growth companies. You can contact her directly at francine@stealthmode.com.

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Morris Callaman – Entrepreneur Extraordinaire


A couple of weeks ago, I met a serial entrepreneur who is living proof that anyone can overcome major obstacles in his life, and still do amazing things. Morris came from a life of childhood abuse, and living on the streets, to a continuing successful career starting with big companies, then founding new companies, now investing in startups, and counseling startup founders.

In his 20 year career so far, Morris has learned to lead change, adapt to thrive, and fail quickly whenever necessary. He has an engineering degree, an MBA, and is a practicing attorney. Here are some interview highlights:

Marty: Welcome to Startup Professionals interviews. Tell us what you do now.

Morris: I am now an Attorney @Callaman Law and an Angel Investor @Callaman Ventures; I help other Founders grow their own companies.

In my investment practice, I invest in early stage, generally internet centric, companies where the founders have a strong sense of social justice. For example, I was one of the early investors in LifeLock and supported the Founders for the next year thereafter.

In my legal practice, I am Special Counsel to Founders: not general counsel, not corporate counsel. I protect entrepreneurs by adding to their team when they are dealing with professional investors, such as venture capitalists or investment banks, or when they are dealing with other lawyers, or often even when they are dealing with their own companies.

Marty: When and why did you decide to be an entrepreneur?

Morris: Like much of my life, I arrived at that particular insight little by little. I am on my fourth successful startup now. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, so being an entrepreneur certainly isn't for everyone and my earliest entrepreneurial experiences were great learning opportunities (by which I mean utter commercial failures). So I responded by learning a variety of technical and then corporate and then professional services work until finally coming to understand that I really was the leader I'd been looking for all along.

Marty: Tell us about one of your more memorable business venture learning experiences.

Morris: Two friends and I put together a small Venture Capital fund, Biltmore Ventures. Since we were each entrepreneurs, we made half a dozen or so investments in very entrepreneurial companies like AdaptiveBlue, vSocial, and MyTrade. Intellectually we made a great team, one guy was a social networking mad genius and the other a brand marketing guru, but our operating styles were different enough that I realized I had to figure out how to unwind the new team.

Eventually I negotiated for the guru to own the firm and the genius to buyout the portfolio. Now we are each much more prosperous. You have to be open to new experiences but you must also honor peoples' inherent freedom to move on with their lives. In business, like everything else, you usually already know the answer before the question; it is just more obvious looking back.

Marty: What’s the most challenging aspect of being an entrepreneur from your perspective?

Morris: It is relating to non-entrepreneurs. Human value systems vary so widely that unless a person is, has been, or aspires to be an entrepreneur, it can often be remarkably difficult for them to understand your perspectives on life and living. Entrepreneurs, however, tend to view life with a somewhat broader perspective and therefore more readily appreciate a differing viewpoint. They are also more likely to incorporate this new viewpoint and run with it!

Marty: How has the business world changed since you first started?

Morris: In a hundred words or less?? Of course the easy answer is the Internet, which was born about the same time I was born. However, people already know the Internet has changed business. What is less obvious is that business has polarized just as much as other aspects of our collective cultures. People have changed.

Businesses don't make decisions, and neither do governments or any other groups. People make decisions and people have changed. Think politics. Understand that the core issue here is advocacy beyond the point of honoring sustainability. For example, Ayn Rand acolytes haven't learned that her thinking, while correct in and of itself, remains incomplete. Mutual alignment of self-interest only works when your thinking incorporates sustainability, otherwise you risk being a net-detriment to the world. In her defense, this is much easier to see now than it was 50 years ago.

Consider that Wall Street is no longer a meritocracy, that news is now merely perspective, that communication has become primarily about exchanging information. This is all survivalist thinking, but surviving is no way to live. Create, don't merely survive. Create and you could make a business that improves the world. Tell me about it and maybe I'll help.

Marty: What is a key personal attribute you see in successful entrepreneurs?

Morris: A willingness to be strong. Sometimes you just have to be strong. Sometimes that means the strength to be persistent, sometimes that means the strength to be accommodating, but it always means a willingness to be strong enough to rise to the occasion.

Marty: Any advice you would like to give to someone contemplating a startup?

Morris: Startups can teach you more about life than perhaps anything other than actual parenthood. Whatever you do, you will get experience and all experience leads to self-knowledge. The more you know about yourself, the more you can strive to be the best [version of you] you can possibly be. Along the way, be utterly candid about what you want and why. Ask others to help you with it. People love to help. Connect with people who are kind and smart, but above all, connect with people who are honest with you.

Everything else is just details. I'm @ http://www.callaman.us/ if you want to discuss details. I am looking for clients!

Marty: Morris, thanks much for your time and guidance, and for being a role model to the many budding entrepreneurs I know. We can all be inspired by your accomplishments.

Marty Zwilling

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Amilya Antonetti – Serial Entrepreneur Interview


Recently, I had the privilege of meeting with a prolific female entrepreneur, Amilya Antonetti, whose bio on Twitter (@amilya) lists her as an “Award Winning Entrepreneur, Green Pioneer Bestselling Author, Media Personality, Advocate and Mom.” She is one of the few people I know who is even more impressive in person than her bio. Here are some highlights from Amilya:

Marty: Welcome to Startup Professionals interviews. Tell us what you do.

Amilya: I have to chuckle at this first question - as a mom, business owner, and entrepreneur, it might be easier to ask what I don’t do. In a nutshell, I have been a serial entrepreneur since the age of 17, with my first business exit before I could buy a drink. I went on to participate in several other ventures, including founding and growing Soapworks, two years as a business expert on CNBC, publishing a book, founding AMA Productions, and co-founding Lucky Napkin. I am also a mom of a teen and a tot, so I’m always on the move.

Marty: When and why did you decide to be an entrepreneur?

Amilya: I am not so sure I chose this path, it’s more like that’s who I have always been. From my earliest memories, I was the one who saw new ways of doing everyday tasks. I naturally gathered people, identified talents, and had a knack for not just motivating, but moving a group to one common goal. I didn’t attach the word entrepreneur with my being until I began winning “Company to Watch,” “Fastest Under 40,” and all those new headlines years after I had already ventured turning my passions into a profitable company.

Marty: Was your first business venture a positive and learning experience?

Amilya: I see everything as positive and an opportunity to learn, even the parts of my journey that you may need to break out a tissue for. I would not change a thing. My best of times and my worst of times have allowed me to look in the mirror and check, validate, or test who I am. If you can’t tell yet, I wake up smiling and have yet to find something that doesn’t have a bright side. Challenging? You bet! Frustrating? Yep, that too, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Marty: What’s the most challenging aspect of being a woman entrepreneur from your perspective?

Amilya: That’s easy, I don’t have an amazing wife to help me…smiling. For me, as a successful business woman I have had the pleasure of meeting so many of the “women to watch” and female success stories, and in so many cases we have to build or hire extra helping hands to handle that list of “to do’s.” The role of a woman in business combined with the blessing of children is still an artful balance we are learning to have in our lives. For me, because I am a woman, I have introduced very unique ideas into my businesses, from having groceries ready to go home with my team on Fridays, laundry and dry cleaning pick-ups during the work day, house cleaning and yard mending as monthly motivators, and so on.

Marty: How has the business world changed since you first started?

Amilya: The business world has changed so much in many respects and then again not at all in others. I am the master of guerilla marketing and without those skills, I would never have competed and won against industry giants. What had to be done door-by-door and person-by-person, now can go viral on Facebook and Twitter. When birthing my first companies I spent hours in libraries and in research centers gathering tons of information. Now with a click of a button so much is at our fingertips. What was so true then and remains in play today are the basics of business. People buy from people they like and trust. Your team is critical in any success, and so often it’s more who you know than what you know.

Marty: What is a key personal attribute you see in successful entrepreneurs?

Amilya: There are so many. I think in order to be a successful entrepreneur you need to have your passion and your purpose aligned. So often these two ingredients are out of sync and it’s a clear indicator to me that the venture is not going to work. Next, I think you have to have tenacity, determination, and a belief system that cannot be shaken, ever. Last, but definitely not least, is focus. All too often I meet people who do not have the crystal clear focus needed to be successful as an entrepreneur.

Marty: Any advice you would like to give to someone contemplating a startup?

Amilya: My advice would be that experience is worth millions, while advice is worth a dime. Never confuse advice and real time experience especially in a startup phase. As an entrepreneur, you need to be okay with marching to a different tune. When I’m inside my bubble, my world makes complete sense to me. It may not be them, but it’s ME! And if you choose this road, know it’s YOU! They are the norm and you are not.

Marty: Amilya, thanks for the time and the insightful comments. You have had an amazing career so far, but somehow I expect that the best is yet to come!

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Lessons Learned: When your business just won’t start!


By Bill Starr for StartupPro

Three years ago I received an email from a college friend about a business idea he was working on! His idea was to create a journal/game around a concept called “My Life List!” I was familiar with the concept, having read about John Goddard’s Life List in the first “
Chicken Soup for the Soul” book.

Personally I was an avid ‘life lister’ having ticked off a few Life List goals over the years such as; Qualifying as a Chartered Accountant, living in 4 different countries, climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, Scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef, and most recently completing a Sydney Hobart Ocean Race aboard a Volvo 60 round the world yacht.

The one thing missing from my list of achievements was running my own business. So when my friend called with the idea to build a business around a concept I was passionate about, it seemed like a no brainer…

Let’s fast-forward to today! I’ve spent nearly $200k developing the business and my college friend and I are no longer active partners. The total revenue to date from our efforts is a whopping $135.00! So what happened?

Here are 5 mistakes I made in trying to get my business started and the lessons I learned.

Lesson 1 – I had no idea how to start-it!
While I was passionate about the concept I had no idea how to run a start-up business. In fact my corporate experience actually worked against me as I gravitated to what I knew. The problem with gravitating to what I knew was that I never got paid for my two months of efforts in creating the perfect business plan and financial model. I became a CFO as opposed to an entrepreneur.

Solution – Learn from experts how to get started!
No matter how original you think your idea there will be someone who’s been successful doing something similar. If there isn’t, you have to question the business merits of the concept. I have since reached out to the experts and have completely revised our business model and most importantly I am taking actions to make money, not more paper!

Lesson 2 - I did not have the keys
The idea of working with an old friend seemed like the dream scenario for me. While we were equal partners I was the only one with the funds, however as founder he felt significant ownership over the idea. In time he decided he wanted to go in a different direction and wanted to dissolve our business relationship. Thankfully I had structured the business properly with a partnership agreement and I was able to buy him out leaving him with a small non-voting interest.

Solution – Having the keys means having control
I now have full control of the business and I am now able to execute the business plan more effectively. I do have minority investors but they are all non-voting and leave all decisions relating to the direction of the business with me. If I were ever to do this again I would structure a share plan that better represents future contributions of both cash and time (ie: both start at 10% and have clear targets for increasing ownership stakes)

Lesson 3 - There was no fuel in the tank!
I had started out with the plan to fund the business $100K which I felt was sufficient capital to see us through to profitability. That amount has now doubled and I nearly went broke every month for a year. I now understand why they call it runway, because when it runs out there are very few options other than flames.

Solution – Cash is the fuel for all business
Before you even start your business maximize the amount of cash you have available. Run the idea by friends and family to see how much they would be interested in investing before you desperately need their help. Even if you have no intention of ever borrowing money establish credit lines as an additional safety net.

Lesson 4 – I had no idea if the engine started what it would sound like!
Over the last year there has been so much noise surrounding social media and start-up web companies. It only seemed natural that this was the hot business for us. Unfortunately as I did more research into the model it became quite clear the money is not as large as I originally believed.

Solution – Revenue should roar like a V8
We significantly changed our revenue model and I now know what success sounds like. For us it roars when we sell our books and other services. We have a multi-strategy model with multiple revenue streams that roar and are much easier to execute than getting paid for web traffic.

Lesson 5 – I did not prepare everyone for the ride!
Over the course of the last 2 years I have hit a few unexpected roadblocks. The support of my friends and family has been wonderful but I don’t think I prepared everyone for what it was going to take to be successful.

Solution – Have everyone put on a seatbelt
When you decide to venture into the world of starting a new business it’s vital you prepare everyone for the ride. This decision will impact so many people in your life and by having them prepared they will be better able to support you.

“Some of the best lessons we ever learn are learned from past mistakes. The error of the past is the wisdom and success of the future.”– Dale E. Turner

About Bill Starr
Bill Starr is an avid 'life lister' and a founding partner and CEO of My Life List™, an award winning goal achievement website that uses a proven methodology and the power of social networking to help people achieve their goals and inspire others. It’s free and easy to join! There is still time.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Running the Race in High Heels


Entrepreneurial Insight from a Woman’s Perspective
By Joan Koerber-Walker


Years ago, in my BS (before start-up) days, I was on a five-week, round-the world trip with my boss. With a tight transfer between flights at Heathrow, we were racing between terminals and I was falling behind. He had one skimpy hanger-bag on wheels. I was lugging a bulging purse, a laptop, and pulling an 85 pound roller-bag filled with all the tools and resources I would need along the way. He stopped to wait (for the third time) as I huffed and puffed my way up the terminal ramp. When I reached the top, he graciously grabbed the handle of my suitcase. I hopped out of my high heels and snatched them up so we could both dash for that early flight to Munich. The race was on.

So what does that story have to do with women and start-ups? Over lunch one Monday, Marty Zwilling (@StartupPro) and I were discussing his blog post Entrepreneurs: Mars vs. Venus. He had the facts and figures – but would I lend a woman’s perspective and perhaps have a little fun with it? I agreed and here we are.

First and foremost, all woman entrepreneurs are not alike. Generalizations can get you in big trouble. So instead, here are three examples of different woman entrepreneurs that you can get to know on Twitter.

Francine Hardaway (@hardaway@AZEntrepreneurs) is a serial entrepreneur, mentor, and social media maven. A passionate advocate for technology startups, Francine educates, guides, encourages, and connects entrepreneurs between Phoenix and the Silicon Valley. She’s not a schlepper like I am. She travels light between a wide range of projects from PR for established businesses to mentoring at incubators and startups while chronicling her journey across the Twitterverse with iPhone and laptop in tow. After over 40 years of running the race, if she thinks about her shoes at all, it’s only to make sure they are comfortable enough not to bother her through a long day.

Amilya Antonetti (@Amilya @LuckyNapkin), this Mom-preneur, celebrity speaker and T.V. personality is the founder of winning companies including SoapWorks and LuckyNapkin and is a passionate advocate for turning great ideas into winning businesses. Her recipe combines creativity, a laser focus on making sure things happen, and a supportive collaborative community including an incredible network of contacts from VC’s to some of the world’s best known brands. More importantly, she does not just talk about starting great businesses; she’s done it – repeatedly. When she races through the airport she wears her sensible airport shoes, while an amazing pair of shoes is stashed in her carry-on or brief case. How can shoes be amazing? For Amilya, her shoes reflect her purpose and her mood. She has different shoes for speaking appearances on stage, strappy sexy shoes for a night out with friends, and unique attention getters for on-air appearances. Amilya uses shoes and accessories to open up conversations and to reinforce her stylish, power woman appearance which is a trademark of the Amilya brand.

And then there’s me. My passion is helping companies grow. Time is split between working in my own company, on boards of directors, speaking for or consulting with client companies, writing, and in non-profit leadership. Ask me to tackle a challenge and deal with the details and I’m in heaven. Doing five things at once is normal most days. You can even find five profiles for me on Twitter. For me things have to be comfortable and coordinated. I have too much on my plate to have to think about my shoes. In my closet you’ll find the same four inch pumps in various colors to match my suits. And if occasionally my heels are slowing me down, I’ll just kick them off, snatch them up, and hit the ground running.

So what’s entrepreneurship from a woman’s perspective? It is many things to many different women. But from looking at just three, I would say that while each of us is unique, we share some common characteristics. We’re multi-taskers, planners, collaborators, and community builders. Some of us travel light, some pack strategically, while others come prepared for every situation and ready to adapt. But whether we’re wearing track shoes, walking shoes, or stilettos, we’re enjoying the race and in it to win.

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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Entrepreneur: I Want You to Succeed

By Michael A. Barr

Q: What can you learn from Uncle Sam?
A: How to frame a powerful message.

This famous poster can help you see how to create an immediate sense of urgency – getting instant attention for your message. Intensely, it calls out: our nation is at war; the world is at war. America needs you. Now. We are riveted.

Uncle Sam, one of the symbols of rugged America, appeals directly to YOU. Dressed in red, white and blue and with stars on his hat, he evokes more complex feelings than a military recruiter would – or even a famous general. He is America – its values, its flag, its states, its parades and pride.

He is concerned. The values he – and we - stand for are threatened. His finger is pointing at us, saying “your values are threatened – our values as a nation are challenged. We fought for these values and we will fight for them again – with your service.” He doesn’t actually say all this – we do.

What does he say? I want YOU. We know in a flash what he’s appealing to. This is a message built on three pillars:
  • I, America and what it stands for;
  • Want – not mandate, coerce or threaten – I want. What do I want?
  • YOU. You are in upper case, in red – not I.
Smaller font: for the U.S. Army.

The values of a nation: no weaponry displayed - no specific battle – there would be plenty of those types of messages later on. What this poster does is to use symbolism and economy to great effect.

We ought to study its effect so that you can apply it to your messages.
  • First impression – appeal to common ground - what the US means to us
  • Action – America wants you to enlist in this time of crisis
  • Appeal – serve to preserve
The three-pillar structure creates power economically. I – a mythical figure symbolizing the best in us – want you – the best in you: courage, dedication and contribution. No footnotes needed.

Threes work. Yesterday; today and tomorrow; Challenge, solution, benefits. Introduction, body, conclusion. Threes – Just Do It; I came, I saw. I conquered. Threes are easy to structure, balanced, and memorable. Most ads for over-the-counter pain relievers follow the problem – solution – benefits formula faithfully. It’s instant drama and you can be sure your audience will remember it.

Active vs. Passive

Imagine if the poster said “soldiers are being recruited at City Hall.” This message is perfectly clear but it lacks power. Passive structures are useful when we do not want to attribute something to someone in particular. Attorneys and diplomats use them a lot. A spokesman for the US Government announced in August of 1945 that “an atomic bomb was dropped on Japan.” The decision involved several military and political leaders – not just Harry S. Truman. The passive voice was appropriate.

But if you are a leader of a startup, articulating a vision and inspiring your people, remember Uncle Sam. He – and we – want YOU to succeed.

Today’s article is presented by Michael A. Barr, who is a member of our Startup Professionals team. He brings to the table a long list of business and academic credentials, featuring business coaching and communication skills. Contact him via email at mike@startupprofessionals.com.

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day is for All Veterans

Most Americans will be taking today off to celebrate Memorial Day. The official function of Memorial Day is to honor the men and women of the United States who have fallen while serving our nation’s military service. I raise my arm in salute to all of them!

I also want to extend my appreciation to all the other veterans who have spent time serving and protecting our country. Now as they return home and transition back into civilian life, many are wondering what their next steps will be.

For over 20% percent of them, that will mean starting or purchasing a new business, according to an article by Megan Dorn in
Small Business Week: Veterans in Business. Veterans already own about 15% of America’s small businesses — that’s approximately 4 million veteran-owned companies. So where are veterans getting their entrepreneurial spirit from?

Well, entrepreneurs are known for their willingness to take risks for something they believe in (their businesses), as is also the case for members of the military. While on active duty they are willing to risk their lives because they believe in their country.

More than one-third of "new veteran-entrepreneurs" and current veteran business owners have obtained skills from their active duty service that were directly relevant to business ownership. This should come as no surprise when you consider the intensity of discipline that comes with military training.

“Veterans make great entrepreneurs,” Carl Schramm, president and CEO of the Kauffman Foundation said in an article. “They bring exceptional focus, leadership and tenacity—all hallmarks of successful entrepreneurs.”

If you are a veteran and an entrepreneur, you should know that the Small Business Association (SBA) offers specific services to veterans, including its Community Express Loan program and the Veterans Transition Franchise Initiative. In addition, eligible veterans can use their Montgomery GI Bill for entrepreneurship training and business classes.

According to the SBA, veteran’s business development officers in the SBA district offices can help you prepare and plan for your enterprise. Its Veterans Business Outreach Centers are designed to provide entrepreneurial development services such as business training, counseling, e-based assistance, and mentoring to eligible veterans.

There are four Veterans Business Outreach Centers around the country specifically charged with helping the veteran population start and grow businesses. They're located in Albany, New York; Herndon, Virginia; Lynnhaven, Florida; and Edinburg, Texas. To find out which states each center serves, go to the
SBA website.

Actually, joining an existing startup is one of the best ways to develop your entrepreneurial skills. Start by networking to get to know some founders personally. In addition, you should use the standard resources for identifying job opportunities at small companies, like Craigslist.org or Monster.com. You can also visit websites of new companies as a starting point.

In closing, I hope all of you are taking some time off with your family and having a good Memorial Day Weekend. First and foremost, remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice that we may enjoy our freedoms. As we all know, freedom is never free.

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Johnson & Johnson Credo and Your Message

By Michael A. Barr

Here is a message that will teach and inspire you – whether you are starting a business or have been running one for a long time. Sixty-six years ago, Robert Wood Johnson, the Chairman of Johnson & Johnson, wrote the company’s Credo – its beliefs. Briefly, the responsibilities of the company are to the:
  1. Customers
  2. Employees
  3. Community
  4. Stockholders
Customers must get products and services of high quality; Employees must be respected and developed; We must be good citizens and, “When we operate according to these principles, the stockholders should realize a fair return.”

What, you might ask, can you learn from these words? Well, the words are the same as those you can find in many a corporate mission statement; it’s their order that gives the Credo such power. Think about it. The stockholders are last, not first. If we do well by the first three, says the Credo, the stockholder will “realize a fair return.” Not an exorbitant sum, but a fair return.

Fair indeed. Check out J&J’s performance since it went public. By the way, guess how many shareholders there were in 1943? One. Robert Wood Johnson.

But you may be skeptical. Why would J&J employees believe this credo? Aren’t these words, after all?

As a young man Robert Wood Johnson was expected to go to Princeton or to Rutgers, a university with close ties to J&J. Instead, he chose to work at the J&J plant with Hungarian immigrants who took him under their wing. Everyone in the firm knew this.

He walked the talk. He knew the business; he knew the workers; and he knew the community. When social unrest swept through New Brunswick many advisors called for abandoning the town. The company stayed and helped rebuild it.

Words that are collateralized by actions are believed. There was a tradition of action at J&J since it was a startup in 1886 – a tradition that gave the Credo legitimacy. The founders of the company had met with skepticism – who would buy bandages that were antiseptic? It took the founders six years to get the company off the ground; they persevered.

We talk a great deal about credibility and impact in this forum. We remind you often to look at every word you use to measure its effect. The J&J Credo is a useful text in these efforts. Remember that people – especially your people – react to your words by measuring their alignment with your actions. If there is a gap between what you say and what people think you really mean – you have work to do.

The J&J Credo was instrumental in saving Tylenol – and perhaps the entire firm. Your words are tested thoroughly in times of crisis – choose them carefully. Finally, as always, think of the Golden Rule: appeal to others as you would want them to appeal to you. And if you do all this, you too should realize a fair return. We certainly hope so, and stand ready to help you find the right word in the right situation.

Today’s article is presented by Michael A. Barr, who is a member of our Startup Professionals team. He brings to the table a long list of business and academic credentials, featuring business coaching and communication. Contact him via email at mike@startupprofessionals.com.

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

From 150 to 225 Words in 60 Seconds

By Michael A. Barr

A few days ago, Marty Zwilling wrote in this forum that an elevator pitch should be about 150-225 words delivered in 60 seconds or less. I want to focus on two challenges you have with your pitch – and indeed with any presentation you make: dealing with negative reactions and the dilution of words.

Mike Tyson was told that his boxing rival had a strategy. “They all have a strategy,” replied Tyson, “until they are hit.”

You can practice your 60-second pitch with passion and energy, and you should. But, if you practice without confrontation, you won’t be ready to deal well with getting ‘hit’ by an impatient investor with a temper. And we do meet some of those.

Practice your pitch with a coach who is experienced and objective, meaning she does not share your understandable love of your product or service. Rather, she can ‘hit’ you with questions and attacks that you may have simply not expected. The more of these you handle in a safe environment, the stronger you are in a tough one.

Questions we prepare for. What throws us is the unexpected attack, the sneer, the negative, dismissive gestures. We can become emotional, defensive, panicked. Make sure your coach listens not just to what you say, but also to how you say it.

Here is a formula for handling attacks that works:

· Acknowledgment
· Bridging
· Restatement

You pitch your startup’s system for managing health care records. Your potential investor interrupts within seconds: “That’s crazy! Hospital managers won’t buy it!”

Count to three. Take a deep breath. Don’t lose your cool with a retort like “That’s not crazy! It’s a great system!” What you have done is to legitimize his words. Instead, in a calm, confident manner acknowledge the concern he has: “I can hear your concern. Hospital managers are challenging customers.” Then bridge: “My company understands hospital management.” And restate: “We are sure our system will succeed.”

When President Ronald Reagan was asked tough questions he used to smile, wait a few seconds, and then start with: “Well….” Reporters knew what he was doing; the public loved it.
The pause served to allow him to consider the situation and to access the content that he had practiced extensively with his aides. The pause and the smile also defused many a confrontation.

Another issue you should consider is the dilution of words. Take a good look at the words you use
in your pitch. If you’ve heard them before, repeatedly, so have your listeners. Work on giving your words new power through short stories that give you presence and your investors something to remember.

A sixty second pitch is a test of your character, enthusiasm, commitment and poise under fire. Practice it with an awareness that people invest in people. And if we meet you in an elevator we’d love to hear your pitch.

And if you want our advice before you get into the ring, contact us.

Today’s article is presented by Michael A. Barr, who is a member of our Startup Professionals team. He brings to the table a long list of business and academic credentials, including business coaching and communication skills. Contact him via email at mike@startupprofessionals.com.

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Creating a National Innovation Framework

By Michael A. Barr

In difficult times it pays to think big. Richard A. Bendis and Ethan Byler certainly do. They have published a document that I believe we in the start-up community should think about and discuss. It is entitled:
Creating a National Innovation Framework, Building a Public-Private Support System to Encourage Innovation.

The authors call for a national effort to support innovation, entrepreneurship and the advancement of both technologies and early-stage businesses. This effort would encourage the participation of multiple interests: federal and state governments, the private sector, unions, foundations and the investment community.

This Framework contains new structural elements for a widespread national Innovation strategy:
  • A Federal Innovation Partnership and a National Innovation Advisor with access to the President

  • A National Innovation Seed Fund and a Technical Assistance Grant Fund
This funding program, continue the authors, would create a two billion dollar National Innovation Seed Fund to invest in experienced early-stage capital providers, including VC and Angel Funds, as well as other public and/or private funding Authorities.

The purpose of this fund, Bendis and Byler conclude, is to jumpstart new knowledge economy jobs that will shape America’s future.

Many of us entrepreneurs feel ambivalent about government involvement in our work. On the one hand we might appreciate and use government funding and support; on the other hand we are dismayed by bureaucracy and its notorious lack of urgency. Bendis and Byler are talking about the best of public and private resources working together in harmony. Should we publicly support them?

I asked entrepreneurs I know and the response ranged from a “Bronx Cheer” (That’s not an endorsement) to a retelling of DARPA and its creation of the Net. Many of us are not sure about putting innovation and government in the same sentence. A young Bill Gates spent a few months as an intern in Washington and developed a dislike for all government meddling in technology and innovation. This contempt ultimately led to protracted legal skirmishes that at one point threatened to split Microsoft.

Two billion dollars could prime the pump, many of us argue. We have the example of government spending in the space program and in military programs that gave us new materials, jet engines, pilotless drones, GPS, Velcro, a space station and increasingly better solar panels. True, it also gave us a bridge to nowhere, subsidies to farmers, and a tax code that has become an industry unto itself.

We have a visionary, tech-savvy leader in the White House. I say we put aside our instinctive distrust of heavy-handed government and lobby it to invest in us. Google is still about 400 dollars a share. Chrysler and GMAC are in dire straits. What do you think?

Today’s article is presented by Michael A. Barr, who is a member of our Startup Professionals team. He brings to the table a long list of business and academic credentials, including business coaching and leadership skills. Check him out on our website. You will be hearing more from him.


Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Feature Creep: Weeds in the Communication Garden

By Michael A. Barr

Recently we published an article titled “
The Curse of Feature Creep” in startups, commenting that this malady probably kills more startups than any other. In fact, the scope of this problem isn’t just limited to your product.

Feature creep can choke your message as well. Too much information in too many words and images can appear like loss of focus, or a
Rube Goldberg effort. Think about it as you write your business plan, design your marketing materials, and build your website.

Google is a multi-billion dollar company. It can afford to hire the best web developers to create a home page that is an extravaganza of information and entertainment.

Instead, Google’s home page uses fewer words than a Twitter message – and layout that hasn’t changed since the last century. It is clear and simple. Imagine adding extra “bells and whistles” to it. No way.

Our intent as we add words, images and sounds is good. We want to tell our story fully, with as many details as possible. Our company is a box of chocolates and we’ll try to feed them to you in one sitting.

We mean well. But we can end up with clutter.

How do we battle this tendency to over-inform? What works for professional communicators will work for you: Stick to the simplest, quickest statement of your message. Use the 5 W’s and the H:

What? Where? When? Who? Why? And How?

Here is an example. Do you recall the Alka-Seltzer commercial? For 75 years it entertained and sold with a simple drama:

• What? Painful indigestion caused by over-eating. Make it go away!
• Where? Anywhere
• When? Anytime
• Who? Any one of us
• Why? There are medical answers but we want instant relief!
• How? Drink Alka-Seltzer. Instant relief is yours!

The 5 W and an H structure helps you think clearly about your message – from the audience’ s perspective. Ask yourself these questions and you’ll stay on message.

Today’s article is presented by Michael A. Barr, who is a member of our Startup Professionals team. he brings to the table a long list of business and academic credentials, including business coaching and communication skills. Check him out on our website. You will be hearing more from him.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Millennials: How Not to be a Survivor


With all the reality TV shows these days, I think they are missing an opportunity on one that highlights millennials (Gen Y) struggling to fit into the traditional business workplace. I’m confident that millennials are our future in business, but a little adaptation on both sides along the way is probably needed.

After a few articles on Millennials as entrepreneurs and managing them in startups, I have collected a list of “cultural mis-matches” most of which have actually been observed in the real world.

I offer a few of these here as an attempt to lighten your day, and also because I believe there are serious messages that we can learn from every bit of humor. Actually, these can apply to people of any age, but you might be a millennial if…
  1. You had to turn down three job offers before this one because they insisted that you had to be at work by 9am.

  2. You feel comfortable wearing your Abercrombie & Fitch moose logo t-shirt every day to work, except for dress-down Fridays.

  3. You are perturbed that the guy in the next cube keeps interrupting you with his questions, rather than just sending a text message.

  4. Your new boss is so hot, that when she mentioned the job comes with “benefits,” you signed on immediately.

  5. You suggest that the ultimate collaboration platform for the next project would be either Facebook or Twitter.

  6. When you pitched the great new “mashup” technology to the CEO, you couldn’t understand his strange comment about a train wreck.

  7. You think this company should stop its embarrassing focus on making money, and concentrate on things that create real meaning in the world.

  8. You are proud of your multi-tasking capabilities, to be able to listen to your iPod and text your friends, for maximum productivity during staff meetings.

  9. You are convinced that your company user-group meetings have something to do with drug rehab.

  10. You overheard some executives talking about the “dot-com bust”, which is a mystery since you can’t think of a woman named Dot who ever worked in this office.
If all these anecdotes all strike you as perfectly normal and reasonable behavior, then you also might be a millennial. Of course, every company culture is different. If you are a millennial or not, and you want to be a survivor in your business world, it pays to follow the leader.

But then, if you are the entrepreneur, you are the leader. Maybe that’s why I’m seeing a new surge of startups these days! Have fun.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Famous Last Words: “But I MEANT WELL!”

Most of us entrepreneurs mean well when we speak. So why do our words and gestures get us into so much trouble sometimes?

We are driven and committed, dreamers in a hurry. Sometimes, in the heat of battle or in an evaluation of a – well to us an out and out slacker who outrages our work ethic - our language gets “carried away,” and we get into trouble. We “lose it”, and we regret it later.

We have to watch our mouth, as they say, as much as we watch our patents, our cash flow, and our brand. More, actually.

We are public people when we launch. And that means we live in a glass bubble, especially if we “catch on.”

Henry Ford is one of the undisputed geniuses of modern times. By 1920 one out of two cars in the US was a Ford. A brilliant innovator, his manufacturing methods transformed the world. And yet, as he grew in power, he began to have less patience with his own people and with customers.

One of his workers approached him with excitement and said “Mr. Ford! I have an idea!” Ford snapped at him “I don’t pay you to have ideas!” As to a suggestion that he respond to customers’ changing tastes, he quipped “They can get any color they want, as long as it’s Black.”

And, slowly, Ford began to lose market share.

Shockley, the Nobel-Prize winning inventor of the transistor, began to spout racist comments. So did the great baseball legend Ty Cobb. Nixon laced his white House – recorded – conversations with angry expletives against anyone he disliked – a long list.

The CEO of Pfizer and Home Depot were jettisoned by their boards for acting and speaking too abrasively. And yet, if you ask them, they will tell you how much they cared, how vivid their vision was, and how difficult it is to “soar like an eagle when you’re surrounded by turkeys.” That is a statement I’ve heard from many an entrepreneur.

Their passion was ultimately seen as toxic. A strength becoming an uncontrolled weakness.

The CEO of Home Depot, by the way, is now CEO of embattled Chrysler. He now speaks like a statesman: caring, visionary, patient and thoughtful.

There is a valuable lesson there for all of us. Meaning well isn’t enough. Your words must do well, or they could be your famous last words.

Michael A. Barr

Today’s article is presented by the newest member of our Startup Professionals team, Michael A. Barr. His executive coaching is just one of a long list of business and academic credentials he brings to the table. Check him out on our website. You will be hearing more from him. We have a lot to learn.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Entrepreneurs: Credible and Incredible

As an entrepreneur, your credibility is more valuable than money – with investors, your team, and your customers. If you don’t have it, you won’t succeed with any of these. If you have it, don’t let it slip away from you.

What is credibility?

The word is derived from the Latin "Credo", which means "I believe," "I trust you." It is also closely related to the word "credit."

Are you credible?

Do people trust you? Do they believe in you? I was talking to Marty Zwilling, founder and CEO of Startup Professionals about credibility. He noted that it is difficult to ask someone that question. "How would they know?" he asked.

Sometimes the answer is dramatic. Apple Computer's board threw out Steve Jobs in 1985 and brought in John Sculley, a marketing executive from Pepsi. The message he sent was that we have a great product here - all we need is to sell it as we sell soft drinks. After eleven years of that kind of management and the much-ridiculed Newton, Steve Jobs came back and the company has soared.

What has made Jobs credible? Vision; innovation; evangelistic passion and legendary presentation skills.

Sculley was a very successful marketer at Pepsi but many critics claimed he simply did not understand the special culture that was and is Apple.

What is credible in one context may not work in another. Al Gore ran a campaign that some people found somewhat aloof and didactic - perhaps a tad too knowledgeable. Now watch him talk about global warming: he is passionate, intense, and caring. His work is now familiar to millions and he won the Nobel Prize

What makes you credible?

Whether you are looking for a job or an investment that question is key. Ask yourself that question. We often take it for granted - and ignore the answer if it doesn't please us. Ask yourself:
  • What are the elements of my credibility: hard skills?; soft skills? a combination?

  • Do I really understand my constituencies? Do I care about them?

  • What is my reputation with them? Can I improve it?

  • Do I ask for feedback? Do I act on it?

  • Do I speak with people, or at them?

  • What did I intend? What was the effect?
As entrepreneurs and entreprenettes (Sarah Shaw's word!) in good economies and bad, focus on credibility. Brin and Page, co-founders of Google, pitched their ideas at a time when there were already many search engines in the market. Dale Carnegie published his great work in the midst of the Great Depression.

The credible can sometimes be incredible, or as Steve Jobs would put it “Insanely great!”

Give us some feedback on elements you believe go into making a credible person.

Mike Barr

Today’s article is presented by the newest member of our Startup Professionals team, Michael A. Barr. His credibility is just one of a long list of business and academic credentials he brings to the table. Check him out on our website. You will be hearing more from him. We have a lot to learn.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Entrepreneurs: Your Words Have Power

Two young dropouts from Stanford went to see an angel. Investor, that is. He listened to them and looked into their eyes. Ten minutes into their presentation he stood up, apologized for having to run, and asked if one hundred thousand dollars was enough. Google was on its way.
My name is Mike Barr. I've been coaching business people for many years. What I've seen is that if you understand your audiences and yourself, your words will have power.

As you have heard in this space before, people invest in people. Malcolm Forbes said he invested in three things: management, management and management. He too would glance at the business plan with its hockey stick projections and then he'd look at the presenter and ask a lot of questions.

How would you come across in front of a busy, savvy, skeptical investor who has given you maybe ten minutes to deliver your pitch?
  • Are you as good as your business plan?
  • Are your PowerPoint charts stealing your thunder?
  • Do investors see you - your credibility, your smarts, your emotions?
As a coach, I listen to entrepreneurs as if I had a checkbook in my hand. I listen to them from various balanced perspectives: those of customers, investors, potential recruits, and the press. And I give them feedback to make sure they see their strengths and challenges as these audiences see them.

I tailor my feedback to them. I encourage them, and I bring out the best in them: confidence, power, and persuasion. I help them bring their business plan to life. The Johnson Brothers started a company on one word: purity. Steve Jobs and his partner started a company that would give power to the people. Ben and Jerry made an ice cream named Cherry Garcia. Ray Kroc turned the burger joint into a global experience.

A few memorable words can become your startup's signature:
  • Nike: "Just do it!"

  • "BMW. The Ultimate Driving Machine."

  • L'Oreal: "because I'm worth it."

  • Volvo: "A car to believe in"
What are your key words? How do you deliver them? What is their impact? I believe that if your business plan comes alive through your energy, enthusiasm, hard work and creativity, your startup will soar, attract investment and delight customers.

The more it is built around how others see it, the more credible it is. And the stronger you and your words become.

Mike Barr

Today’s article is written by the newest member of our Startup Professionals team, Michael A. Barr. His expertise in executive coaching is just one of a long list of business and academic credentials he brings to the table. Check him out on our website. You will be hearing more from him. We have a lot to learn.

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Rich Christiansen – Parallel Entrepreneur Interview


Recently, I was introduced to another prolific entrepreneur, Richard Christiansen, this time from the Salt Lake City, UT, area. Rich just published his first book, co-authored with his partner Ron E. Porter, titled Bootstrap Business: A Step-by-Step Business Survival Guide, which details an excellent set of learning principles for every entrepreneur. Here is some feedback from Rich:

Marty: Hey Rich, welcome to Startup Professionals interviews. Tell us what you do.

Rich: I consider myself a parallel entrepreneur rather than a serial entrepreneur. My true passion and talent is in the startup and launch of technology oriented companies. I have founded or co-founded 28 businesses – 10 outright failures, 7 moderately successful, 3 in process, and 8 have become million dollar businesses. A year ago we created
CastleWave, LLC as part of proving the principles of “Bootstrap Business”. From $5,000, it has grown to be a $1.2M business with over 50% margins in one year.

Marty: When and why did you decide to be an entrepreneur rather than an employee?

Rich: I call myself a perfectly good executive gone bad. I spent the first half of my career as an executive in the technology industry: General Manager of Mitsubishi Electric’s PC division, General Manager of
About.com, and Product Line Manager at Novell. At some point in my career I realized the demands of the corporate world were not in alignment with my true potential and desires. I wanted to see the market forces more intimately, so I became a full time entrepreneur.

Marty: Was your first business venture a positive and learning experience?

Rich: My first entrepreneurial ventures were miserable, awful failures. I wish so badly that I would have had the contents of this book when I started. It would have saved me from many mistakes. However, the cool thing about bootstrapping is if you do it smart and carefully, you can have as many attempts as you want. Many people view failure and success as a permanent condition. At some point when you realize that multiple failures actually lead to your success, it becomes exhilarating, liberating, and empowering.

Marty: What’s the most challenging aspect of being an entrepreneur from your perspective?

Rich: It's the balance. It's having the mindset of die, never die, never die coupled with the nimbleness to say, “That didn't work!” and jump to the next opportunity. One of the things many people struggle with is being eyeball to eyeball with the market forces; not having a buffer layer. Being very intimate with the realities of what's going on in your business and the potential failure points is crucial.

Marty: How has the business world changed since you first started?

Rich: With the onslaught of social media and advancement of technology, it has made the ability to accelerate the growth of a business crazy - in a good kind of way! When I first started creating companies I could not have imagined being able to accelerate a business and have the type of margins that we presently create. There's never been a better and easier time to compete and win as an entrepreneur.

Marty: What is a key personal attribute you see in successful entrepreneurs?

Rich: Tenacity and unalterable determination. One of the most frequent asked questions that I get is, “What do I have to do to succeed?” I have a really hard time boiling that down to just one thing. However, I have come up with 3 must-haves. The first is a willingness to keep trying. The second is a really strong, good support system. And third, a purpose or vision that carries you through the hard times. Money is a very poor motivator - you must have a greater purpose that drives you.
Marty: Any advice you would like to give to someone contemplating a startup?

Rich: It's worth it. Surround yourself with honest, supportive individuals. You don't want ‘yes’ men, but you don't want naysayers – the trick is a good balance. The prize seldom goes to the most beautiful, the fastest, or the strongest, but he who refuses to die. However don't risk what you can't afford to lose. If you end up losing financial security, family, friends, trust relationships - you have wagered too much.

Marty Zwilling

P.S. Rich’s book has inspired me to publish a “Lessons Learned” story from the field occasionally, written by one of you. This should relate a particularly positive or negative personal startup experience (max 500 words). As an incentive, I’ll ship a free copy of “Bootstrap Business” to the author of every “Lesson Learned” story I publish here.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Adam Toren – Young Entrepreneur Interview


A couple of months ago I was privileged to meet with Adam Toren, the younger of two brothers from Vancouver, BC, who both seem to exemplify the popular definition of young serial entrepreneurs. I must say Adam exceeded my expectations, with idea after idea on new businesses he was exploring, and question after question on issues of funding, valuation, and the “next big thing”.

Marty: Hey Adam, welcome to Startup Professional interviews. Tell us what you do.

Adam: Marty, thanks for the interview opportunity. I am co-founder of
YoungEntrepreneur.com, which is one of the largest and fastest-growing social networking forums for entrepreneurs. My brother and I specialize in improving the profitability of under-performing businesses with a unique and 'bottom line' program. My brother and I have started, bought and sold several companies over the past years. We currently own and operate a successful publishing company and several online companies. Read some of our blog posts for more on YoungEntrepreneur and also Blogtrepreneur (you can download our free online e-book).

Marty: When and why did you decide to be an entrepreneur rather than an employee?

Adam: It all started in Elementary School. Really! My brother and I grew up as innovators and we were always thinking of ways to fill a void in our community through both creative services and products. At the ages of 8 & 9 years old we went door-to-door, introduced ourselves, and offered our 'landscaping' services and raked leaves in the Fall and shoveled snow in the Winter. We also sold little 'dipper-doo' stunt airplanes at local music festivals and sold out on the 3rd day! Needless to say, we caught the Entrepreneurial Bug!

We created several businesses throughout high school (imported magic kits from Hong Kong for kids and sold them through Shopping Mall Kiosks, imported stereo equipment from New York, and created a retail catalogue and sold great products to our high school peers).

With the money we earned and saved in high school we purchased a struggling billiard hall and worked day and night to re-build, re-brand and create positive buzz throughout the city! We built a bar, cafe and stage within the 5,000 square foot venue and within 4 months it was one of the top places to be on a Friday or Saturday night (lined up both nights). The tough work paid off as we received a great offer to sell before our 12th month of taking it over and we took it.

We then moved on to our next business venture (another industry we knew nothing about, Printing and Graphics). Totally different industry, same exact work ethic. Long hours, creative thinking and LOTS of selling! We sold that business on our 11th month as we received a great offer. So, we pretty much carved out our own entrepreneurial path and have stayed on it since we were in Elementary school!

Marty: What’s the most challenging aspect of being an entrepreneur from your perspective?

Adam: As entrepreneurs we always try and oversee and micro-manage. At first it was a challenge to find staff that we trusted and staff that we felt could do great work. Once we find great people to join our team we always treat them like family!

Marty: How has the business world changed since you first started?

Adam: Our business ethics have not changed but the way people do business has changed quite a bit! Technology has made the world much closer. We had a small fashion business and we were importing women's fashion accessories from Seoul, Korea and it was successful while it lasted. The Internet had made it super easy for retailers to order online which eliminated the middle men like us. It’s very important these days to stay on top of new technology in order to ensure you are always taking advantage of more effective ways of doing business!

Marty: What is a key personal attribute you see in successful entrepreneurs?

Adam: Perseverance!

Marty: Any advice you would like to give to someone contemplating a startup?

Adam: 2009 is definitely shaping up to be The Year Of The ENTREPRENEUR and always remember "Procrastination is the thief of fortune!"

Adam resides primarily in Phoenix, while his brother Matthew oversees the Canadian side of the business at their recently launched online portal VancouverBC.com. You can read more about them on
YoungEntrepreneur.com, which is also, by no coincidence, one of the most popular web sites and information sources for startups and entrepreneurs. I'm sure we will all see more from them soon!

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, February 23, 2009

You Might be a Millennial if… (Continued 5)

With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, I couldn’t resist trying for a bit of humor to brighten your day.To catch up on the background, read “The Millennials are Coming…”. You will quickly understand that we in business are facing a new generation of workers who come from a world that is alien to businesses today.

You might be a millennial if…

1. You think your company user-group meetings have something to do with drug rehab.

2. You don’t understand why they are making all that fuss about you printing out the nudie fliers on the company printer for your best friend’s band’s show.

3. You marvel at how your interests have “grown up”, from tracking your friends exploits on FaceBook, to tracking Jessica Simpson’s exploits on E! Online.

4. You have posted in your cube the multi-page list of cool downloads from iTunes, to highlight your natural leadership ability.

5. Your concern on hearing comments about an "Axis of evil" is that you must have missed a really “rad” party.

6. Your tried to set up the next weekly team conference call as texting-only, to make it more productive.

7. You are certain that the company policy against drinking while entertaining customers only applies if you are under age 21.

8. You are protesting the unfair company medical benefits limitations on procedures so critical to your age group, like body implants, piercings, and tattoo removal.

9. You recommended to the training department that a 3D virtual reality game would be a perfect way to prepare new employees for company jobs.

10. You overheard some executives talking about the “dot-com bust”, which was a mystery since you couldn’t think of a woman named Dot who worked in this office.

You also might be a millennial if all these points strike you as intuitively obvious. See more of these
published previously. This is so much fun that I might make it a regular offering, if you help me out with some new points. I’ve always believed that there are serious messages that we can learn from every bit of humor.

Marty Zwilling

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