Written by Dave Lavinsky on Thursday, May 14, 2009
If you haven't yet launched your new business, I have some advice for you.
It's actually not my advice. As I'm a little conflicted about it. Let me explain.
The advice is to start your new business as a project. What that means is that you don't quit your day job. You don't raise capital. You don't focus 100% of your effort on it.
Rather, you work on it as much as you can in your spare time until it either becomes something, or it doesn't.
The advice comes from Bambi Francisco, the co-founder and CEO of Vator.tv who I spoke with earlier this week. It's not only her advice having founded a company, but the advice given to her by Mark Pincus.
Pincus is the serial entrepreneur who founded Tribe in 2003 and sold it to Cisco Systems in 2007, and is now the founder and CEO of Zynga, a large social gaming company. You can watch Francisco's brief but informative interview of Pincus here.
So, the point is to start your new business as a project. Obviously, this depends on your choice of business. If it's a restaurant, there's not much of a project to be had. But if it's software, for example, you can start developing it and see if you are able to start creating features that people want.
And once you can prove that the project is developing into a viable business, you create a real company for it.
This "project" concept also reared its head when I recently spoke with Eytan Elbaz, co-founder of Oingo, the company which later would be purchased by Google and renamed as Google AdSense.
Elbaz and his co-founders were developing their novel software while still holding full-time jobs. After a little while, they were able to develop a working prototype. And then, Elbaz showed it to an angel investor (who interestingly was a client of his at his current job). It was only upon the angel investor writing them a check that they decided to leave their full-time jobs and really launch the company.
So why am I conflicted about this advice? Well, there's definitely something to be said for the entrepreneur that is so passionate about their business that they're willing to fully launch it from the get go.
To leave the comfort of their current job and take all the risk. In these cases, I like that the entrepreneur can't blame their current job for limiting their time. They fully immerse themselves in their business, and give it their best possible shot. And in many cases, this total commitment is what drives success.
The key here is probably that everyone's situation is different. The young entrepreneur might have an advantage in that it may be easier to leave their current position and jump 100% into their business. Conversely, the older entrepreneur with the family and mortgage may be less able to shoulder the risk of foregoing their current salary.
The choice is yours - take the leap fully or partially. Each can result in success.
The only choice that I truly hate is doing nothing. Too many people sit with great ideas in their heads but fail to act on them. And then, when someone else successfully executes on their idea, they say, "Hey, that was my idea."
To them I unfortunately say, "Who cares - it's the entrepreneur's willingness to commit and execute on the idea that really matters!"
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Have you ever heard of ZipSkinny.com?
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Thursday, May 7, 2009
Yesterday I had the opportunity to interview Brad Feld, who is considered among the elite investors in privately held companies.
Many first-time entrepreneurs view VCs simply as providers of capital. In actuality, VCs are partners. They exert control over your company. They have experience in product development or scaling companies, or both, and can provide significant value beyond the money they infuse in companies.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Wednesday, May 6, 2009
My recent interview with PR expert Richard Harris was enlightening. You may know that I owe a lot of Growthink's success to PR. A decade ago, I pitched the Los Angeles Times and they published a story on us. That day I received about a hundred phone calls, and at least that volume in emails. So, I focused the interview on figuring out how to replicate that success.
Richard serves as the founder and CEO of Momentum, which provides communications, strategy and placement agent services to private equity funds, investment banks, and selected early stage and non-profit companies. A 20+ year veteran of the public relations industry, Richard has not only an impressive client list (that includes The Girl Scouts of America, Polaris Venture Partners and Star Jones), but also a wealth of knowledge on this subject.
Some of the areas the Richard covered were:
The full interview is available for members of Growthink University.
For non-members, you can listen to the first five minutes of the interview by clicking on the blue triangle on the player below.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Wednesday, May 6, 2009
All entrepreneurs must be well-versed in sales.
We are always selling: Selling to employees as well as customers, investors as well as partners, etc. And those who excel at selling have a major competitive advantage.
To make sure that both you and I are in fact not only great at selling, but building an effective sales team, I recently interviewed sales whiz Adam Shaivitz.
If you're not familiar with Adam, Adam is the co-author of a best-selling book on selling called “Selling is Everyone's Business: What it Takes to Create a Great Salesperson.” He is also a sales consultant with Accelerate Performance who has consulted for Google, ADP, Pimco, Morgan Stanley, and many others.
Adam conveyed tons of great information. Two points that I especially liked were the following:
1. Make sure that you are properly motivating and solving the problems of your buyers.
The best salespeople are problem solvers who are able to sell the benefits of their offerings tailored to one or more of the six basic fundamentals that all of us as humans want:
Adam told us that too many business owners neglect their top sales performers. Rather, they tend to focus on improving their lowest performers.
The full interview is available for members of Growthink University
To listen to the first few minutes of the interview, please click the blue triangle in the player below.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Yesterday I had the privilege of interviewing Matt Ocken, one of the founders of Kindred Partners.
And here is a preview of the first few minutes of the interview (click the blue triangle to play):
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Thursday, April 23, 2009
The sky is falling. The sky is falling. While that's the news the media is telling us everyday, it's not necessarily all true.
While the economy is clearly not doing so well, there is still tons of money available to organizations via loans, investments and grants.
In fact, with regards to grants, last year more than 75,000 U.S. foundations gave $45.6 billion to organizations and individuals, according to Foundation Growth and Giving Estimates: Current Outlook (2009 Edition). That's $45.6 BILLION!
Do you want a piece of that money? Well, if you do, there is one site that you MUST visit: FoundationCenter.org. Right on FoundationCenter.org's homepage you can start searching thousands of foundations that provide grants. You can even search by factors such as your zip code and market sector to zero in on the most appropriate grants for you.
But, before you rush to give FoundationCenter.org a try, you need to know the one key fact about private grants that no one seems to tell you. Foundation grants are only for non-profit organizations.
So, if you are a non-profit organization, you should definitely stop what you're doing and go to FoundationCenter.org to see what grants might be available to you.
I know what you may be thinking right now...How does this help me? I'm running or starting a for-profit business.
I gotcha. And fortunately, there are also billions of grant dollars available for you too. However, getting these dollars is a bit more tricky. Your business needs to be in certain sectors. You need to know where to look. You need to know how to apply and the secrets to making sure your application succeeds.
To answer these questions and make winning grants for your business a whole lot easier, my team and I just completed Growthink's "Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capital for Your Business from Grants."
The guide is focused on teaching for-profit businesses how to raise capital via grants. Growthink University members have already been sent their copy of this special report. Others can learn more and download it today by clicking here.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, April 21, 2009
As you may have figured by now, I'm on a quest to help all business owners and entrepreneurs get funding for their businesses.
I believe that all entrepreneurs who are willing to invest their time and their lives into starting a new or growing an existing venture should be given the opportunity to do so. Clearly, their business concept must be viable, their business plan must lay out a pathway to success, and they must invest the resources in learning how to raise capital. But once these conditions are satisfied, I find it very saddening when entrepreneurs put in a solid effort but are still unable to raise the capital they need.
In my quest to solve the eternal funding issue, my team and I have been working on really figuring out an elusive form of capital: grants.
Grants, as you may know, are given to thousands upon thousands of companies each year totaling billions of dollars. Furthermore, they don't need to be paid back. So, on the surface, grants are a really interesting funding source for businesses. As you can imagine, when we started putting together our report entitled the "Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capital for Your Business from Grants," we were really excited.
But, the excitement faded a bit when we learned about all the lies and misinformation there is out there regarding grants. Let me tell you the two that frustrated me the most.
Myth 1: Grants are offered to businesses owned by women, minorities and the disabled. This statement is 100% FALSE. In fact, NO grants are set aside specifically for small businesses run by women, minorities and the disabled; all grants from the federal government are open to a multitude of groups which include these businesses.
There ARE loans and government contracts reserved for women, minorities and the disabled, but NOT grants.
Myth 2: Grants for businesses are available from both the government (federal, state and local) and private and public foundations.
This too is false. The truth is that with few exceptions, grants offered by private or public foundations are NOT available to for-profit businesses. They are exclusively reserved for non-profits.
There is a silver lining here however. While we have found all the misinformation discouraging, we have uncovered that billions of dollars ARE given to small businesses each year via federal, state and local government grants, and more importantly, we've uncovered the formula that entrepreneurs and business owners can use to gain these dollars.
My team and I have been hard at work finishing the "Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capital for Your Business from Grants." The report is now available, and you can download it here.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Thursday, April 9, 2009
We could all use tools to increase our productivity, creativity and efficiency. Below are five tools that I have either been using for years, or just adopted, that have helped me, as I'm sure they can help you too.
99designs is a site that I was recently turned onto and it's really cool. If you need a great logo designed for your business, this is the way to go. Before I tell you how it works, let me tell you about the old way of getting a new logo. The old way was to first look at several designers' portfolios to see which one had created logos that you liked. Then you would hire one designer. Next you would write down and give them your design specifications. Then, you would hope that they came back to you with a solid design, or one that was good enough that with a few tweaks could be improved.
Needless to say, the process took a long time, and more times than not (I say this from lots of experience) produced less than optimal designs.
Now, let me tell you how 99designs.com does it. First, you post a design brief, which is easy to do since the site leads you through some questions.
Next, you set your budget (amounts generally range from $100 to $600). Then, designers from around the world submit design concepts to compete for your business. During this process, you can rate the designs and provide feedback to help the designers deliver what you want. In the final step, you choose the winning design and pay the designer the amount you set, and the designer sends you their completed design (along with copyright to the original art work).
So the key points are 1) you don't have to spend hours finding designers and judging portfolios, 2) you don't pay anything (except the $39 fee to 99designs.com) until AFTER you see the design you want, 3) you get lots of designs to choose from, at least one of which is usually great (the higher your budget the more designs you get; for $300 you can get up to 100 submissions usually).
PDF995, located at pdf995.com allows you to transform any document (e.g., Word file, Excel file, web page, etc.) into a PDF document. Best of all, there's no cost to download it. I used to use the official program from Adobe, but it's expensive and constantly crashed my computer.
I often use PDF995 to convert Word files to PDF files. This usually makes the file size smaller and ensures compatibility for whoever wants to view the file. It is also good for copyright protection (makes it harder for others to copy your work). I also use PDF995 a lot for converting web pages into PDF files. A lot of times I come across web pages that I want to reference later. Sometimes I bookmark them, but oftentimes the page may change. So, I PDF the page and file it away so I can access it whenever I want in the future.
3. Firefox Plugins
For those who have not yet tried the Firefox browser, I highly recommend it. Not only is it very fast and stable, but there are tons of plugins that make it more productive. A few plugins that I use are MeasureIt (allows you to quickly measure the dimensions of anything on the web page you are visiting), ColorZilla (allows you to click on any pixel on the web page to see its precise color) and FireShot (allows you to quickly take a screen shot and manipulate it (e.g., crop out sections; add comments; save file).
These are just the tip of the iceberg. Here is a full directory of Firefox plugins: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/
A mind map is a visual diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged radially around a central key word or idea. Creating mind maps are great for mapping out new projects or ideas, particularly if they are not linear. For example, if you want to create a new ebook, you may start with the word ebook in the center. Then you may draw a line to "creation" which will then have sub-sections for research, writing, etc. Another sub-section of the word ebook would be marketing, which would then have its own sub-sections. Etc.
My frustration with mind mapping is that, while easily done using pen and paper, I prefer a digital copy so that I can distribute it to my colleagues and/or modify it over time. And traditionally, creating mind maps with programs such as PowerPoint, took forever.
Enter Bubbl.us, a new online tool that allows you to create, save and modify mind maps REALLY easily. Give it a try. You'll be amazed at how easily it works and it's totally intuitive to use. And currently there are no fees.
The final tool I'd like to tell you about today is Springwise.com. Springwise has created a network of 8,000 "spotters" from around the world who "scan the globe for smart new business ideas, delivering instant inspiration to entrepreneurial minds." On the site, you'll learn about businesses like Wonderpizza, a pizza vending machine developed in Italy, and Dogtree (dogtree.com.au), an Australian social network that helps dog owners find playmates and walking friends for their dogs.
Springwise is great for inspiration and brainstorming. It gives you unique concepts and ideas that can really get your creative juices flowing.
I hope you can use these tools and ideas to help you and your business. If you have any comments or questions, or want to post your own tips to help your fellow entrepreneurs, please add them in the comment section below.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Thursday, March 26, 2009
I recently read a great blog post, from a company called The Name Inspector, about how to name your company or product. Whether your goal is to raise capital or gain the interest of partners or customers, the names of your company and products are critical.
2. Use Compounds: These names consist of two words put together (e.g., Firefox, Facebook).
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