Growthink Blog

You're Invited to Pitch Silicon Valley This February


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Many of you might recall that I interviewed Bambi Francisco, founder of Vator.tv, months ago.   

If you’re not familiar, Vator.tv is an online community that allows entrepreneurs to showcase their ventures and communicate with customers, partners, and investors.  I fully recommend that you check out Vator.tv.  

But that’s actually NOT why I’m writing today…

Today I wanted to tell you about Vator’s upcoming “Splash” competition, which will showcase 10 promising startups, and the hottest companies in social gaming and iPhone app development. Plus, you can meet and network with elite venture capitalists. 

Best of all, I’m excited to announce that I’ve secured you a 25% discount to this event.

Here are some more details:

On the evening of February 4th, 2010, ten seed- to early-stage companies (selected by their peers) will have the opportunity to pitch the Silicon Valley elite. These 10 companies will also have a high quality video of their presentation produced.  

In addition, Mark Pincus, CEO of Zynga, will talk about how he built the leading social gaming company in a few years, and Jeff Smith, CEO of Smule, will talk about how he built some of the hottest iPhone apps.  

Additionally, venture capitalists from Google Ventures, August Capital, Greycroft Partners and Norwest Venture Partners will also be present.   

To submit an early stage company to pitch, click here:

http://vator.tv/competition/show/vator-splash-competition  

If you’d like to attend the event, you can reserve your 25% discounted ticket or pitch table below by using discount code: Vatorgrowthink, here:

http://vatorsplash.eventbrite.com/    

Note: This special 25% discount ends December 11th. 

Kidpreneurs: Teaching Kids About Entrepreneurship


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The other day, Adam Toren of YoungEntrepreneur sent me an advance copy of his new book, Kidpreneurs.

If you've got kids, this is a fantastic book to share with them.

Watch my video review of the book below:


How Seeking Out Failure Can Lead to Your Success


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I read a very interesting blog post the other day about "survivor bias," an important statistical principle that could greatly affect your future success.

In brief, survivor bias occurs when an analysis excludes information since that information no longer exists.

Let me give you an example...

The English forces, during World War II, sent planes each day to bomb the Germans. As you might expect, several of these planes were shot down. And, the ones that did come back typically returned with multiple bullet holes.

Now, the English obviously wanted to maximize the chances of its planes and soldiers returning home. So English engineers studied the planes that returned. In doing so, they found patterns among the bullet holes. Specifically they found lots of holes on the wings and tail of the plan, but few in the cockpit or fuel tanks.

As a result, the English added armored plating to the wings and tail.

As you might have already concluded, this was the wrong thing to do. The better decision would have been to add armored plating to the cockpit and fuel tanks. For, the planes that were shot in those places were the planes that were shot down and never returned.

The English engineers' analysis missed this data because these were the planes that they were unable to examine. This is "survivor bias"-- their inability to include this critical data in their analysis since it was unavailable or didn't "survive."

So why does this matter to you?

It matters because as you start and/or grow your businesses, you will have to hire service providers and staff. And naturally, you will want to hire those with a track record of success.

But, when you hire staff who have only worked at successful companies, you may fall victim to survivor bias. That is, they have not learned many of the lessons that individuals and companies learn when they fail.

Likewise, when you hire a service provider that claims that every one of their clients has been successful, maybe they haven't learned from client failures.

They say that you learn more from failure than from success.

While that can be debated, from personal experience I can say that I've learned a ton from both failure and success. From successes, I have learned principles and formulas that worked. The ones I strive to replicate on a daily basis.

And from failures, I have learned things to avoid. I have learned flaws in my thinking. But importantly, many of my successes have come out of failure. From tinkering ideas and plans that weren't quite working. And making them work. And, these new ideas would never have come to me had I not failed first.

Now, clearly my advice is not to hire failures or those with a habit of failure. But, likewise, it's not to hire staff or service providers who claim to always succeed. Since a balance between success and failure often provides that winning combination of wisdom.

So, the next time you are interviewing a key hire or service provider, make sure to ask about their failures. Ask about tasks and jobs that they or their companies failed at. And find out what they learned from that failure.

Ideally they are the types of candidates that learned a lot from their failures and were able to overcome them. This is because the vast majority of growing companies fail at things over and over again. It is their ability to constantly modify and improve their businesses that enables them to excel. Surround yourself with people that have this ability.

Kirill Makharinsky & How To Predict A Startup's Success


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Several months ago, I came across YouNoodle, a website which offers tools and a platform to help startup companies succeed. What I was initially drawn to was their Startup Predictor tool. The idea of a tool that could help predict the success, or lack thereof, of a new company really intrigued me.

So, I contacted Kirill Makharinsky, one of YouNoodle's co-founders, to learn more. Kirill was gracious enough to do the interview and provided tons of valuable information.

I started by asking Kirill about the Startup Predictor, and specifically about what are the key indicators that a new business will be successful.

Kirill started by explaining that they created the startup predictor after looking at rich data on approximately 3,000 companies. From this data, they determined patterns between initial conditions (particularly in terms of the team and what their intentions were) and the end result.

The results found really strong indicators that the following three factors are key indicators of a venture's future success:

1. The quality of the team in terms their experience and accomplishments, and how well the team members know each other.


2. The amount of commitment the team has in terms of their opportunity cost - specifically how much they are giving up to be in the venture (e.g., leaving a steady, high-paying job) and how much skin they have in the game (e.g., how much of their personal funds have they committed).


3. Having advisors. YouNoodle found that having the right advisors, even if they provide minimal amounts of time contributing to the business, strongly impact the future success of the business.

Kirill went on to discuss fundraising. He explained how allowing two advisors to take part in forming and modifying YouNoodle's business idea helped secure them as angel investors. He also gave a great case regarding why you should contact investors BEFORE you have a concrete business idea when raising funding.

Kirill also discussed why the quality of your business idea is over-rated, and provided a great answer to my question regarding the top 5 things entrepreneurs really need to know in order to be successful.

To listen to excerpts of this interview click the blue triangle on the player below.


To listen to the full interview and/or read the transcript, click here:  http://www.growthinkuniversity.com/members/326.cfm

To visit YouNoodle, click here.


Why You Should DOUBLE Your Employees' Salaries


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In a world with a poor economy and uncertain economic outlook, the knee-jerk reaction of most entrepreneurs and business managers is to layoff employees and thus reduce labor costs.

While I agree that reducing labor costs is key, you can oftentimes do this by increasing the amount you pay your employees.

Take the case of The Container Store. This Texas-based company has a unique HR strategy. That is, they have just one employee for every three that their competitors have. But, they pay their employees double the industry average and spend 160 hours training them.

The result is that their employees are better trained and happier, and thus provide superior service at a 33% overall lower cost than competitors.

Interestingly, when The Container Store opened in New York City, it had 100 times more applications than available positions. With numbers like that, they are able to hire the best of the best each time.

Similarly, Harry Seifert, CEO of Winter Garden Salads gives employees bonuses just before Memorial Day, when demand for its products peak. The bonuses boost morale and cause the company's productivity to jump 50% during the busy period.

Paying employees more to improve performance and boost company-wide profits is a historically proven tactic. In fact, back in 1913, Henry Ford doubled employee wages from $2.50 to $5.00 per day. The move boosted employee morale and productivity and caused thousands of potential new workers to move to Detroit.

A final key point to note is that laying off employees is often a bad strategy. While it will save you money in the short-term, in the long-term, hiring new employees and training them is much more expensive than the cost of keeping the employees that you laid off.

Rather, a strategy that you should consider is to ask (or require) employees to take pay cuts and/or offer employees company stock in lieu of a portion of their cash compensation.

A Venture Capitalist, A Corporate Investor & Two Angels - Animoto is Listening


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When entrepreneurs ask me what sources of capital to tap to fund their businesses, my answer is generally "as many as you can."

I often point to companies like Google, who relied on credit cards, angels and venture capitalists in its early days.

Recently Animoto heeded my advice. In it's most recent round of funding, Animoto raised $4.4 million from a venture capitalist (Madrona Venture Group), a corporate/strategic investor (Amazon.com), and two angel investors: iStockphoto founder Bruce Livingstone and angel investor Jeff Clavier (Clavier is also the founder and managing partner of SoftTech VC, a seed-stage venture capital firm).

What's even more interesting is what Animoto is. Animoto is a website where you can quickly and easily turn photos into videos. Why is this interesting? Because you can use Animoto to create a video about your company to market it to investors.

So not only is Animoto teaching each of us about how to best raise capital to fund our growth, but is offering a tool to help us market ourselves to investors.

To see how it worked, I created an Animoto account (doesn't cost anything and is quick to do) and created a quick video. I was home at the time with my daughter, so we did it together and created one with a few of her recent horseback riding pictures.

The good news is that it was really simple to create the video. The negatives were that 1) rendering time was slow (plan to wait at least 5 minutes before the video is ready to be viewed for a 30-second clip), and 2) the non-paid version only allows your video to last 30 seconds. Fortunately for $3 per video, or $30 for a year, you can create full-length videos.

Overall, Animoto is a great lesson in capital raising and a great tool to use when raising capital for your business!

Investor Presentation: The Overlooked Key to Raising Capital & Succeeding In Business


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Over the past decade, I have written countless articles on how to raise capital. I have taught thousands of entrepreneurs how to create a great business plan, how to develop a strong financial model, and ways to devise a slide presentation that gets investors excited.

And then, I have written extensively about how to grow your company once you have raised capital. Discussing how to motivate your employees to maximize their effectiveness. And how to find partners that can take your business to the next level.

But there's one thing I haven't written about. One thing that I've totally neglected. And this one thing can increase your effectiveness at ALL of these activities - from raising capital to performing all the tasks needed to grow your successful business.

For this I apologize.

So what is this one thing?

The answer is public speaking, and your ability to communicate ideas to investors, partners, employees and others.

I realized that public speaking was the missing key when I recently reviewed a unique book called "The Power Presenter" by Jerry Weissman.

And, I might not have read the book if it had not received so much praise from venture capitalists. These VCs have relied on Weissman to prepare them to not only raise money for their own funds, but to teach their portfolio company CEOs so they could raise future funding and better grow their companies.

So, why are Weissman's teachings so important? Because, your ability to present effectively and be a great public speaker is critical to your ability to raise money for your business, attract and formalize relationships with key partners, and build a highly motivated team among other things.

And importantly, Weissman's research proves that the content of your presentations is less important than your body language (most important factor) and your voice (next most important factor).

Allow that to sink in for a minute.

What this means is that when you meet with a venture capitalist, angel investor or bank loan officer, your presentation skills are more important than the content of your presentation!

This fact is a bit bothersome to me.

Why? Because it means that an entrepreneur who has great public speaking skills but a poor investor presentation and business model has a superior chance of raising capital than an entrepreneur with a great investor presentation and business but poor communications skills.

But, rather than me pouting about this seemingly unfair reality, let me tell you some of Weissman's keys to making you a better public speaker and presenter.

First of all, to reiterate, the most important thing influencing your audience is visual (i.e., your body language), then vocal (your voice and speaking rhythm) and then verbal (the story you tell).

Secondly, when you present in front of a group, your natural "fight or flight" instincts kick in. Your adrenaline starts pumping and you often get anxious and fidgety. The way that you act as a result of this poorly impacts your audience's perception of you.

To decrease your anxiety, use the following techniques:

1. Practice, practice and practice some more. The more you practice your presentation, the more comfortable you will be when you give it.

2. Concentrate. Just like an elite athlete, you need to clear your mind before the presentation so  you can fully concentrate on the task at hand.

Important side note: many years ago, I had the pleasure of introducing entrepreneur and author Harvey McKay at an event. Before he went on, I saw him with his head against the wall talking to himself. I thought it was absolutely bizarre. But he used that technique to focus his mind and pump himself up. The result - he had the audience in the palm of his hand the whole time. It was truly amazing.

3. Shift Your Focus from You to Them. If you give a presentation and your best friend happens to be in the room, chances are that after the presentation the first question you will ask your friend is "How did I do?"

It is this mentality of thinking about yourself that makes people nervous. Rather, focus on the audience. Look at them and think "how are they doing?"  This will allow you to present more effectively.

4. Focus on specific people in the audience. Whether there are three prospective investors or business partners in the room, or you are speaking to a room of 50 or 500, you need to visually focus on one person at a time. That is, pick one person to start and complete your first main point. Then you should shift to different people for each key point you make during the presentation. This helps you concentrate better and make sure you are focusing on the audience rather than on yourself.

5. Practice your hand gestures. Hand gestures often positively engage an audience. But, making hand gestures in front of an audience often feels awkward and uncomfortable. You must practice using them with "warmer" audiences (e.g., your friends, co-workers and/or employees) until they become second nature.


Like it or not, your public speaking ability and presentation skills are more important than the content of your presentations. As such, successful entrepreneurs need to master these skills. Use these tips to improve your skills, and remember to really practice all your presentations before the actual event. As you know, in most cases, you only get one shot at key presentations.


How to Make Your Ideas That Much Better


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Every day I hear pitches from entrepreneurs about the great new product or company they are launching (or want to launch).

But unfortunately, more often than not, their ideas aren't that exciting.

Now, if you have great access to capital and are absolutely amazing at execution, then a "regular" idea is fine. In those cases, you simply go out and raise capital, launch your company, and then out-perform your competitors.

But, entrepreneurs who can do this are few and far between.

For the rest of us, we need an edge. Something that's different. Better than what's out there.

What I'm talking about is the kind of business idea that you look at and say, "That's really cool."

Now, these types of ideas typically feed off the wants and needs of consumers. That is, the entrepreneurs who conceive them have considered the true needs of the customer and modified existing products to satisfy those needs.

Importantly, in most cases, the customer hasn't even recognized the unmet need. But when they see the product or service, they realize its advantages and buy it.

I came across a couple examples of such "cool" products recently. The first was a pair of Reef brand sandals which has a bottle opener nestled in its sole making it "a mandatory accessory for a night out with the boys."

The second is Panasonic's BF-104 flashlight which operates with any combination of D-cell, AA OR AAA batteries. How cool is that...as long as you have 3 batteries, regardless of the type of each, it works (rather than all the time we've all spent searching for that last D-cell battery).

Neither of these innovations required years in the lab. Rather, they were both the result of the entrepreneurial mind coming up with creative solutions to the needs of their customers. (Note that the fact that these two innovations came out of corporations, rather than individual entrepreneurs, is even more impressive to me).

So, how can you maximize your creativity to come up with better ideas for your business?

Recently I created this video (http://www.growthink.com/content/breakthrough-business-idea-generator) that discusses one of my favorite brainstorming techniques called Assumption Reversal.

We have been using Assumption Reversal much more internally and coming up with some really neat ideas. I encourage you to watch the video and use Assumption Reversal for your business.

Finally, not long ago, I had the honor of interviewing Michael Michalko. Michael is the author of the book Thinkertoys which is known as one of the best books on creativity of all time. In fact, I learned about Assumption Reversal from this book.

I will be releasing more of Michalko's best creativity techniques in the coming months. In the meantime, try out the Assumption Reversal technique and keep brainstorming to come up with even better ideas.


Kiva to Launch in the United States


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I recently wrote a blog post about Kiva and all the good it is doing worldwide.

As you may recall, Kiva is "the world's first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs in the developing world."  Specifically, on their website, individuals who need small loans to start or grow their businesses request funding. And, other individuals from around the world offer this funding in increments as low as $25. To date, nearly 500,000 users have lent almost $65 million, interest-free, to developing-world entrepreneurs through Kiva.org.  $3.5 million was distributed last month alone.

Not surprisingly, since the majority of you are based here in the United States, in response to my email about Kiva I received lots of emails saying that Kiva should launch in the United States. I agreed.

And now, a few weeks later, Fortune Magazine is reporting that Kiva plans to launch in the United States within a few months. This could be a HUGE funding opportunity for American entrepreneurs!

Importantly, while the highest loan amount for entrepreneurs in the developing world is $1200, in the United States, it will be $10,000. One issue that hasn't been fully resolved is vetting. In the developing world, Kiva "uses microfinance institution partners to vet entrepreneurs before allowing them to solicit funding. By asking a series of questions to assess roots in the community and the legitimacy of a business, Kiva is able to establish a risk profile for each entrepreneur. Before offering money to, say, the proprietor of a Dominican fruit stand, any lender can read the entrepreneur¹s profile, history of defaults, and a bit about the business."

In the United States, Kiva says that they are "signing on microfinance partners in the Bay Area and in the Northeast," but have not released who these partners will be or how the vetting process will work.

In any case, this is GREAT news for American entrepreneurs.

You can read the full Fortune article here.

Breakthrough Business Idea Generator


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I want to tell you about a technique I picked up, that I can directly attribute to millions of dollars of revenues that I have generated over the years. But, even so, I'm far from mastering it.

The technique is a brainstorming technique called Assumption Reversal. It is incredibly powerful. It's the technique that has been responsible for, among many others, the ATM machine and Henry Ford's development of an assembly line which revolutionized manufacturing.

The Assumption Reversal brainstorming technique allows you to look at things differently and triggers new, creative ideas. It can be used to develop new business ideas and new product ideas, and for you to overcome virtually any challenge you face, from marketing obstacles to staffing difficulties and more.

I have put together a brief video that walks you through the four steps of the Assumption Reversal brainstorming technique and gives you a real-world example. I think you'll get much more from the video than just reading about it.

Mastering this technique could revolutionize you and your business. Check out the video below:


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