Written by Dave Lavinsky on Monday, July 26, 2010
Or should I say "be careful folks, it's Monday."
Why would I say that?
Because statistics show that most heart attacks occur on Monday mornings.
And, migraines in children are most likely to occur on Monday mornings too.
What is this Monday morning curse?
Well, it's most likely the fear and pain of having to do something you don't want to do. Especially after enjoying a weekend where you were free to do what you wanted, having to face a week on the job or a week at school can be miserable.
That is if you don't like your job, or you don't like school.
Recently I watched the movie "The Invention of Lying" and one part that struck me was a woman in a business suit standing outside of her office building. To everyone who passed she said "I don't want to go in there today. I just don't. You know?" (the premise of the movie was that everyone told the complete truth).
If that's you -- if you don't love what you do everyday -- than you MUST CHANGE what you do. Most people have tons of excuses why they don't change, but that's all they are - excuses. Sure, change requires lots of courage, and it doesn't always work out, but change is the first step to progress. And it's the hallmark of successful entrepreneurs.
Now, if you come to work everyday excited like I do, I don't want you to pat yourself on the back quite so soon.
Are your co-workers equally excited? Are your employees and/or subordinates excited?
Part of your job as an entrepreneur is to make sure that everyone around you is excited and inspired everyday. That they don't dread coming to work. But are excited to work with you and the team to accomplish meaningful goals.
Very few great companies have just one person. Typically they start with the one entrepreneur who leaves their job because they are dissatisfied and want to achieve more. And then they recruit their team. And importantly, they infect the team with the same inspiration, and work with them to ensure that everyone comes to work everyday motivated and ready to achieve real results.
What are you doing to inspire your team?
I do lots of little things. Bagels on Monday morning. Brief team meetings each day to discuss goals. Company lunches once a week. Monthly goal setting meetings. Occasional moments of insanity (ranging from a funny joke to a funny video, etc.). Giving public acknowledgements for good work. Etc.
I hope your list of things is bigger than mine, because an inspired team will lead to more funding dollars (yes, investors love funding high performing teams), more customers, and more profits!
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Most business owners crave media exposure.
Why wouldn't they?
If they get written up in the newspaper or magazine, or get featured on TV, they're sure to get a flood of new customers.
But what many entrepreneurs don't realize is that 1) you can get media exposure BEFORE you actually launch your company and 2) media exposure can help with raising money too.
Reporters are constantly doing stories and interviewing experts. If you have expertise that you will be using to start your company, you could be interviewed.
And in your interview, you can talk about your venture.
And while the interview may not get you a flood of new customers (if you're not yet selling a product or service), you may get lots of interest from investors, partners, distributors and prospective future customers.
Now the old way of getting press and getting interviewed was a lot of work. Mainly sending out media kits and press releases to tons of media sources.
But today, there's a much easier way to get PR by simply joining Reporter Connection.
You can join for free by clicking this link.
Reporter Connection works like this: every day, you'll receive a brief email with media opportunities ranging from interview requests from top magazines, newspapers and websites, to interviews on radio and TV shows.
If your expertise fits one of the requests, you simply fill out a brief form, and it gets sent to the reporter doing the story.
So join Reporter Connection today to start getting PR for your venture, and use it to gain funding and more current/prospective customers.
Finally, two other similar free PR services for you to check out are Help A Reporter, and PitchRate.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Monday, July 19, 2010
Both my parents were schoolteachers, and when I was born, my mother temporarily stopped working to take care of my brother (2 years older than me) and I.
So, to earn some extra income, my father got a second job selling vacuums at a local department store.
One day, my father noticed a sketchy-looking guy in the store. The guy was dressed strangely and was walking around and touching a lot of the merchandise.
So, my father called the security guard over. The guard came over and my father pointed out the strange man. "You should keep an eye on that guy; he looks like a real hoodlum," my father said.
"That hoodlum's my boss," replied the security guard.
Clearly my father was pretty surprised to find that out.
It turns out that the head security guard would occasionally dress up like a hoodlum and roam through the stores. Because he looked non-threatening to "real" hoodlums, he was better able to catch those hoodlums shoplifting items.
What the head security guard was really doing was putting himself in his customers' shoes. In his case, the customers were bad guys trying to steal.
For most of us, our customers are folks that we want to buy our products or services. Or folks that we want to invest in our businesses.
The key to our success is to put ourselves in our customers' shoes and/or to essentially spy on them like the security guard did.
We need to do this to learn critical customer intelligence: What are their hot buttons? What drives their decision-making? What have they bought or invested in previously? What are their goals and how do they hope that we can help achieve them?
Particularly when searching for investors, many entrepreneurs fail to see things from their customers' perspective. They think too much about what's in it for them. The key is always to find the win-win; the solution that allows your customers to win while you win too.
So, always spend time amongst your customers. And ideally, like the head security guard, you can blend in; so customers don't feel threatened, don't put up a guard, and give you the genuine answers you need to know.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Saturday, July 17, 2010
Recently, my wife and I were reminiscing about the TV shows we watched when we were kids.
We started talking about shows like Laverne & Shirley, The Monkees, and Happy Days.
We thought it would be fun to watch these shows with our kids, so we went on Netflix and rented the first season of each of them.
The shows brought back a lot of great memories. Particularly Happy Days...as The Fonz is one of the great TV characters of all time.
One of the Fonz's lines really struck me. As you may remember, the Fonz used the phrase "Sit on it" to essentially tell others to "buzz off."
It's a pretty funny phrase when you think about it -- sit on it -- as it's not really that derogatory.
But, it turns out that in entrepreneurship, it is one of the most derogatory phrases you can possibly use.
Let me give you an example. The other day, I spoke to an entrepreneur (let's call him Joe) with a neat idea. But there's no possible way Joe's going to be successful.
Because I met someone with the same idea two years ago at an angel network meeting. And that entrepreneur raised money for the idea and has been working on it and improving it every day since then.
So, even if Joe is the better product developer, marketer, leader, etc. he can't succeed. Since his competitor now has a 2-year advantage over him.
The WORST thing you can do as an entrepreneur is to "sit on it" or sit on your ideas. Rather, you must act on them. If not, someone else will. There are simply too many other entrepreneurs out there.
The saying "the richest place in the world is the graveyard" is really applicable here. Why is it the graveyard? Because that's where the billions of ideas go that were in the heads of entrepreneurs who never acted on them.
If you have an idea for a new business, you must take the first step. Or you really can't call yourself an entrepreneur -- you're just a "dreamer." Sorry to be so blunt about this; but it's the truth.
So take the first step.
I believe the first step is to develop your business plan. The business planning process forces you to really think through your idea, prove it's viable (or not), and create an action plan for transforming your idea into reality starting now (not later).
So, if you've been sitting on an idea, STOP. Take action now. Don't let Fonzie say "sit on it" to you.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Friday, July 16, 2010
Let’s say you’ve developed a new type of stethoscope.
Who should you approach to invest in your company?
- A local sports star?
- The owner of a local grocery chain?
- An executive at a local corporation?
- A doctor?
Well, if you answered all of the above, you are correct.
But if you want the best bang for your buck…or the most investment dollars per time you spend raising money, clearly approaching doctors is your best route.
Doctors would clearly understand the benefits of your new stethoscope and be the most prone to invest in you.
Targeting doctors to invest in your product is classic affinity marketing, or targeting people based on their established buying patterns or trends. Classic examples of affinity marketing include a university-branded credit card marketed to the university’s alumni. Or an insurance company working with a pet association to offer a pet insurance product.
You get the point. By targeting customers that have affinities (to their alma maters or pets in the above examples), you target folks that really understand and care about what you are offering.
In money raising, this is similar to “prospective customer financing,” which is asking your potential future customers to invest in your company now.
I’m a huge fan of prospective customer financing, because not only do you gain investors, but loyal customers who also help market your business through positive word of mouth.
So, how do you execute on affinity fundraising or prospective customer financing?
To begin, the best way to raise this type of money is through Crowdfunding. As you’ll learn in this Crowdfunding video, crowdfunding has tons of advantages. But in brief, crowdfunding will allow you to raise smaller amounts of money, and because it is neither debt nor equity, you avoid the legal and regulatory issues which will slow you down and cost you a lot of money.
Finally, let me give you some more examples of what to do:
Let’s say your venture targets the bird market. Well, you should be going on social networks, forums and websites serving this market. Join the conversation. Become a valued member of the community. And then tell other members about your venture, that you are raising money, and how they can contribute.
Or, let’s say your venture targets accountants. Do the same thing…..Find out where accountants congregate online. What accounting groups are there on LinkedIn? Where can you find them on Facebook? What accounting forums can you join? And once again, join the conversation. Become a trusted and valued member of the community. And then let your new friends know about your venture – something that will directly serve them – and how to contribute.
Once again, the best way to turn these affinity group members into investors is via Crowdfunding. So if you haven’t set up your Crowdfunding account yet, watch this video now.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Winston Churchill once said, "If you're going through hell, keep going."
This quote is really applicable to entrepreneurs.
Mainly because rarely, if ever, does the process of starting and growing a company go smoothly.
There are often lots of mis-starts and mistakes and course correction is nearly always required.
The way I see it, the fact that things don't always go smoothly or work at first is a good thing. It weeds out the weak entrepreneurs, which provide more opportunity for profits for us stronger entrepreneurs.
There are lots of times when entrepreneurs must "go through hell." For example, when the entrepreneur is seeking capital, or looking for initial customers or distributors. Other things like hiring key team members or executing on a new marketing campaign can also be quite challenging.
But as Churchill pointed out, entrepreneurs must keep going. That's not to say that you should put your head down and try to bulldoze through whatever you're trying to accomplish. If things aren't going well, you need to consider alternatives.
Specifically, if something doesn't work at first, you must try, try again. But if it doesn't work a second time, you need to start rethinking and modifying your strategy.
Incremental changes often bring about significant results. And these incremental changes often result from trying something that didn't work at first, and continually modifying it until it does.
One example that comes to mind for me is raising venture capital. In my early days, I met with a lot of venture capitalists to try to raise money for my clients. And I encountered a lot of failure. Meeting after meeting after meeting, but no results. So, I started trying new things, and sure enough, after trying enough new tactics, I found ones that really worked.
(FYI, if you are currently seeking venture capital, I laid out these strategies in my Venture Capital Pitch Formula program - watch the video here.)
So, don't give up if you feel you are going through hell right now. Sure it's not fun. But if you keep going, chances are you'll come out a winner.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Monday, July 12, 2010
I talk to a lot of entrepreneurs.
Which I love to do. I love hearing cool, new ideas. I love hearing the passion. And I love figuring out how I can help them successfully go from point A to point B.
But one thing that frustrates me is seeing entrepreneurs making the same mistake over and over and over again.
And the biggest mistake I see is a lack of focus.
This lack of focus is best summed up by the ancient Chinese proverb -- “man who chases two rabbits catches neither.”
In other words, if you try to pursue two entrepreneurial ideas, both will most likely elude you.
And I hear this all the time. Budding entrepreneurs telling me about their great idea. And then a moment later saying, “Oh…I have one other idea that I’m working on that I need to tell you about.”
I don’t usually say the Chinese proverb here, but I give my own line. Which is, “If you try to do 2 things, maybe you can do a B+ job at both. But in today’s competitive market place, you need to do an A or A+ job to succeed. And to do that kind of job, you need to focus on just one opportunity.”
The Chinese version is better.
As an entrepreneur, you are inherently creative. If you haven’t launched your first venture, you must pick just one opportunity. Brainstorm and write down all of your ideas. And then judge them and figure out the one you want to pursue.
And once you decide you want to pursue that idea, forget the rest. Use all your creativity and brainstorming power on that one idea. Use it to figure out creative marketing plans, unique financing ideas, and ways to best lead your organization.
Entrepreneurs by definition work in a resource constrained environment (if resources weren’t constrained, the entrepreneurs would be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company). So, when resources are constrained, you can’t possibly divide the few resources you have into multiple opportunities. Rather, you absolutely must focus on just one opportunity, and put everything you have into achieving it.
So, make sure you focus all of your efforts on just one opportunity. And once you achieve success with that opportunity, you can focus on your other ideas and opportunities.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Friday, July 9, 2010
Last weekend, friends of ours invited me and my family to their country club.
It was a beautiful club, and unlike other clubs in the area, had a big lake where everyone swam.
But immediately after gazing at the beauty of the lake, something else caught my eye.
An old high diving board. I mean a really high one.
I knew my kids saw it too, so I turned to see their reactions.
My 8-year old daughter had a very calm reaction; for there was no way in her mind that she was going to jump off the board.
My 10-year old son, on the other hand, looked excited and nervous at the same time. Since he was already contemplating his dilemma.....jumping off it would be fun...but really scary.
As entrepreneurs, jumping off the high diving board is something we must do quite often. Sure, we are not physically climbing up a ladder and jumping into a pool of water. But we must often do things that are out of our comfort zone if we want to succeed.
What are some of these entrepreneurial “high dive” moments?
1. Starting your business plan. The first step in starting a business is always the hardest. It’s committing to yourself that you’re really going to go out on your own. Most folks dream about having their own company. But the first real step is putting your business idea down on paper as a business plan. (Note: for help with your business plan, watch this video.)
2. Getting advisors. When I interviewed Dr. Basil Peters, he told me that getting mentors and advisors is an entrepreneur's most controllable success factor. Yet, many entrepreneurs are afraid to find and ask advisors for help. Maybe it’s the fear of uncovering what we don’t know, or the fear of people we respect disagreeing with some of our ideas or assumptions. But if you want to succeed, you need these expert opinions and guidance.
3. Talking to customers. Many entrepreneurs don’t speak to their customers early enough. They come up with ideas that they think will work. But they don’t ask prospective customers if they will buy the products. Likewise, even when entrepreneurs successfully sell to customers, they are often fearful of asking for referrals.
4. Meeting with investors. A final entrepreneurial “high dive” moment that I wanted to mention is meeting with investors. This legitimately can be very frightening…it’s scary when you’re telling others about your entrepreneurial baby who have the ability to make (by funding you) or break you (by not funding you). Worse yet is the potential of the investors to be totally under-whelmed by you and/or your idea to an extent that you have to go back to the drawing board. (Note: to make sure you make every investor meeting a success, watch this video.)
As Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” So jump off that high dive board, and achieve the success you deserve.
And as for my son….his first trip up the high dive ladder was slow and methodical. Then he stood at the edge of the board and thought for a while before his first jump.
After the jump, everything changed. When his head first emerged from the water, he had an enormous smile of joy, satisfaction and pride that he had faced his fears. And he must have gone off the diving board 20 more times after that!!!
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Wednesday, July 7, 2010
My 10 year old son and 8-year old daughter tend to get along pretty well.
But, there's still times where they're at each others' throats.
The other day was one of those days.
So, my wife and I used our usual plan - divide and conquer.
The divide and conquer plan is pretty simple. She takes one of the kids. And I take the other.
The fighting stops instantly as our kids are separated, and each of our kids gets one-on-one time with one of their parents.
Now, even though we prefer to do things as a whole family, the plan works great. And either later that day, or the next day, we'll regroup and do something as a complete family.
The divide and conquer plan can also be used in your business. For example, clearly there are times when your whole company should meet to form company-wide bonds.
But many other times, you, as the leader, should divide. For example, you should spend time just with your marketing team. That team will then feel special. They will not be jockeying for attention against other parts of the company.
And you can use this time to really focus on that one area. To improve it. To set metrics for the team to perform against.
The leaders of sports teams divide and conquer all the time. A typical professional football coach will do lots of drills with his complete team. And then, like a business, will separate into functional areas led by specific coaches; like the linebackers coach, the wide receivers coach, the quarterbacks coach, and so on.
And then the head coach will circulate among each of these functional areas to add value, support them, and make sure they are getting in position to help the entire organization perform the best it can.
Divide and conquer is also a great technique if your business faces multiple challenges. It is typically most effective to overcome one challenge at a time. While multi-tasking often makes us feel that we are being productive, it often backfires with key tasks not getting done as quickly as they should.
So make sure that you constantly divide or separate your business challenges and functional areas, and conquer or devote the required time to nurture and solve them.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Friday, July 2, 2010
Last week, Vringo, a video ringtone company raised $9.2 million.
That’s a lot of money, particularly considering that Vringo only generated $20,000 in revenues last year.
What’s most interesting is how Vringo raised the money.
It didn’t raise the money from venture capitalists, angel investors, or any of the usual suspects. Which is particularly surprising since Vringo’s CEO and co-founder, Jon Medved, was formerly a venture capitalist himself.
And it’s surprising since Vringo had previously raised $17 million in venture capital.
So what did Vringo do instead?
Vringo decided to go public on the New York Stock Exchange.
Vringo sold 2.4 million shares at $4.60 per share for a total of $11 million. (The stock price has since decreased to $3.80 per share.)
In an interview with the New York Times, Medved sited a couple of key advantages of being a public company, including:
1. It gives credibility. This credibility is key to a small company, particularly if it is selling to big customers who might be skeptical of their ability to stay around long-term.
2. It helps with recruiting top management talent, particularly since the value of/likelihood of exercising employee stock options appears greater.
The huge negatives of going public however were the massive amount of time required to do the pre-IPO roadshow and the $1.8 MILLION in estimated offering fees.
That is a lot of money -- and unfortunately precludes most other entrepreneurs from taking this route. But, I would imagine that with the right law firm, these fees could have been dramatically reduced, to half that amount or less. But which would still require an entrepreneur to raise an angel round to fund the expense of going public.
According to Medved in his NY Times interview, when asked about whether he would recommend going public to other smaller companies, he replied: “I would certainly tell them to think about it, and not to rule it out. It’s a mistake to rule it out from first moment. Most people don’t even think it’s possible. We proved it’s not only possible, but it works.”
Next week, I will be unveiling an even more creative funding source than taking your company public. With this brand new source, you’re not going to raise $9.2 million (it works for smaller amounts of money). But, you won’t need to spend a penny on fees, you can raise the money really quickly, it’s practically foolproof, and you don’t ever have to pay the money back….pretty exciting stuff.