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7 Takeaways for Entrepreneurs From the Lean Startup Conference

7 Takeaways for Entrepreneurs From the Lean Startup Conference

The Lean Startup movement stems from Eric Ries’ best-selling book describing the “build -measure-learn” mantra. Building on the momentum was the Lean Startup Conference, which just finished December 11 in San Francisco. It was a gift for entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs pursuing their startup dreams.

Here are my lucky seven takeaways for brave new company founders:

1. Have an Experimentation Culture.

Janice Fraser of Luxr describes the lean startup as an approach for building companies that are creating new products and services in situations of extreme uncertainty. The key is experimenting and testing assumptions to then use that feedback to evolve your product. When I interviewed Scott Jones, inventor of voice mail, for How They Did It, he said to “fail fast,” something he learned before the movement was codified (he didn’t mean company failure, but rather to test to get to success).

2. The HIPPO Killer Is Experimentation.

HIPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) means that the ranking officer will overly influence decisions — in a meeting, in a company, whatever. Experimentation — learning based on results — kills uninformed opinions.

3. Know Exactly What Your Customer Values.

The customer rarely buys what the company thinks it sells. While lean is great, many entrepreneurs focus all their energy on building without engaging the world. You need to understand your market and with every new idea. Validate and talk to customers.

4. Get 100 Customers Who Are Thrilled With You.

…Or your company/product/service. Marc Andreessen said if you can get to 100 thrilled customers, you can get to 1,000, 10,000 and beyond. Find something a few people love, not necessarily what everyone will like.

5. Think Metrics, Not Pixels.

There is so much emphasis on beautiful design (which is great); however, sometimes the things that work aren’t the obvious choices from a design perspective, so don’t over-analyze. Test everything. Figure out what needs to be measured, then come up with mini experiments to improve those most critical items.

6. There Is No New Behavior.

We intrepid entrepreneurs hope our technology can successfully modify or enhance an existing behavior. One audience member asked what problem Snapchat was solving. Valid point, I’m thinking — my kids use the app to make goofy faces for six seconds. The response was that Snapchat enhances an existing behavior: It’s a modern version of passing notes in class. It’s the way, for example, my daughter can share a picture of a dress or a silly picture with her friend. So, back to you: what behavior are you making easier/better?

7. Be Articulate and Clear.

What a buzzkill for your engineering team to not be able to explain to their friends what your technology or company does. Be clear on the problem you are solving, and then watch your team’s motivation soar.

Read the original article post on the Huffington Post.

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Ted Leonsis 3 Rules on Building an Extraordinary Business

Ted Leonsis 3 Rules on Building an Extraordinary Business

Ted Leonsis has a track record of success:

· His first company, a database publisher, sold for $65 million
· RedGate Communications, his second startup, sold to AOL. Ted then helped lead AOL, growing from a small company to multi-billion dollar success
· His third company, Revolution Money, sold to AmEx for $300M+

Add in a few more credentials: Ted is Vice chairman of Groupon and owner of Verizon Stadium and the Washington Capitols. In this interview Ted shares his findings for making your own startup a success:

1) It’s about speed, not analysis. Too many entrepreneurs do not act quickly enough.
2) If you want to build an extraordinary business – not an ordinary one – being first to market is a good thing. Beyond that, you have to learn how to scale quickly, going from niche to mass market. And casting a good team is essential.
3) Final point: focus on a vital few things that are important to your customer.

Watch now to hear three clear rules you can apply right now.

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The Comfort Zone: the Most Dangerous Place for an Entrepreneur

The Comfort Zone: the Most Dangerous Place for an Entrepreneur

Viresh Bhatia, founder of Installshield, had one important skillset when he launched his company: he knew how to code – how to design and write software products.

Viresh and his partner created a bunch of software products, not knowing what would be successful. One of those products they called Installshield, which made loading new software easy on a wide variety of computers.

The product had dozens of competitors. How could two guys working out of a 10×10 office generate sales and stand out from the crowd? Not knowing anything about marketing or advertising, they made a bet on a full page ad in PC Magazine. Their bet paid off – catapulting Installshield ahead of every other developer toiling away on products that in some cases were better than Viresh’s.

But there was also a secret buried within their strategy. Viresh insisted his ads run opposite Microsoft or IBM, and a virtuous kind of guilt-by-association then kicked into gear. Installshield basked in reflected glory, becoming linked in the minds of buyers with the big guys.

As a result Installshield became the de facto standard on computers all around the world. By the time Viresh sold, the company was worth $78 million.

Viresh had to leave his comfort zone to win. He got past his computer science degree to win on a new battlefield, not one of coding but of marketing and branding. If to win you had to leave your comfort zone – could you? What would you do?

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ComScore Founder Gian Fulgoni on the Right Time for Entrepreneurs to Buy Competitors Instead of Building from Scratch

ComScore Founder Gian Fulgoni on the Right Time for Entrepreneurs to Buy Competitors Instead of Building from Scratch

IRI veteran Gian Fulgoni had a leg up on rookie entrepreneurs when he and Magid Abraham launched ComScore, eventually taking the company public and growing to its current size of a thousand employees, 2,100 clients and revenues of $250 million+.

But he had no idea at launch about how he and Magid would develop the tools necessary to perfect Internet audience measurement and online purchase behavior. Nor did they know how they would build a measurement panel two million individuals strong. Those were the challenges the business initially set out to solve, and because they were problems of technology, they had solutions rooted in technological expertise. The team proved to be successful and the business flourished.

What happens though when your own solutions and creations may not be enough?

Gian notes three conditions outside the control of the entrepreneur that could upend the best laid plans: competition, the marketplace, and the state of technology itself. And because we can’t control our competitors, the market, or the rate, nature and direction of rapidly changing technology, he cautions entrepreneurs to not lock themselves into one frame of mind, plan or vision, especially in tech-centric businesses.

In his case, MediaMetrix was a competitor with great brand recognition. Lucky for Gian, the market had a downturn at the point when MediaMetrix was out of cash. ComScore was able to swoop in and acquire MediaMetrix on the cheap, grabbing market share less expensively than if they had to build on their own.

Tech entrepreneurs think it’s inevitable that everything they envision must be built from scratch. But is that really the case? Look at your market and resources from all sides before you commit to the make versus buy decision.

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When is the Right Time to Sell the Company? Learning from Dave Becker of First Internet Bank and Founder of Four Inc. 500 Companies

When is the Right Time to Sell the Company? Learning from Dave Becker of First Internet Bank and Founder of Four Inc. 500 Companies

We stopped in Indianapolis to interview Dave Becker for an all-new Nightingale-Conant audio program.

In this video interview Dave discusses the best time to exit and how to see opportunity in times of economic distress.

Dave is legendary for starting these companies and more:

  • First Internet Bank (the first de novo virtual bank anywhere in the world, now at $500 million assets);
  • Re:Member Data Services (Dave’s first company, sold after 25 years for $24 million);
  • Virtual Financial Services (Company #2, now part of Intuit, sold for $52 million);
  • OneBridge Inc. (real time credit/debit card processing);
  • DyKnow (software products Vision and Monitor for the classroom); and
  • RICS (Retail Inventory Control System – an acquisition and relaunch Dave made while laid up in a hospital bed!).

Enjoy.

 

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Founder Stories: How Taser Defeated Failure and Built a $500 Million Monopoly

Founder Stories: How Taser Defeated Failure and Built a $500 Million Monopoly

In the aftermath of learning his friends had been gunned down, Rick Smith searched for a non-lethal way for homeowners to defend themselves. Thus was Taser born.

Looking back, it seems so easy – all public safety agencies now use Tasers. But in the early days it was so bleak that founder and CEO Rick Smith was sure the company was going to fail. And he had reason to worry. Homeowners weren’t buying enough of the product, and the police told him his zappers didn’t work – some dangerous suspects were not subdued by the early versions of Tasers.

Luckily Rick’s dad hadn’t lost faith and took the bold move of mortgaging his house to keep the company afloat. In this video Rick talks about the company’s start, his approach to problem solving, and how to keep a company moving forward, in his case with new Axon and Evidence.com products. Take these three lessons home today to keep you on your path:

1.  When the chips are down, get back to basics. When the cops told Rick his product failed, he went back into the lab to figure out how to make Taser work effectively.

2.  Learning from mistakes is never-ending. It’s interesting that after all the trial and error Rick went through to make Taser a must-have product, when he brought new products to market he still flubbed the initial launch. There is always room for improvement.

3.  Keep solving problems and you’ll keep growing. Rick re-energized Taser with new products designed to solve further customer problems. If Taser was the way to make incidents nonlethal, then he knew Axon was the way to decrease incidents before they started. He solved more problems and kept his company growing.


 

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Why Your Kid Can’t Get an Internship

College students are preparing to make the trek back home as the school year wraps up, pushing some parents into a panic as their months of newfound freedom comes to a temporary halt. Discussions of “get a job” or “find an internship” are bound to occur. Yes, we want our kids to succeed, but keeping them busy instead of playing video games on the couch is also a motivating factor.

I get calls from parents asking if I can help. Sometimes my introductions lead to success, and sometimes parents report back that nothing came of it. What went wrong? Here are five big failure points:

1. No custom approach. From email to salutation to cover letter to resume…it’s all generic. When every single letter reads the same, how do you expect to stand out? “I am a multi-tasker who has a lot of skills.” Great. But where’s your research on the target company? Tell me how you plan to use your skills in my company? And please throw in a little personality! Lemme hear your voice.

2. You forgot the most important word in the English language. A name is powerful. When you know the name of the recipient, use it. Is that so hard? Having reviewed hundreds of applicants for jobs, I can report that the majority of college kids do not personalize email or cover letters. When you learn that the recipient is Allison, address her: Dear Allison (every time). Remember Stephen Covey’s best line from Seven Habits: the deepest desire of the human spirit is to be acknowledged.

3. Not asking questions. Walking in clueless as to what the company does, how you would fit in, or why the person seeing your cover letter was energized to work for this particular company is not a recipe for success. Think up 3 – 5 questions before the interview. These are your best tools to help the company get a good impression of you. I don’t mean “what hours are you open?” Ask good questions like, “How would someone like me, a history major, best fit into your company? Try this one: “How would a successful person in this position perform?

4. Lame follow-up. So the interview went well – and that’s great! What next? Probably not much more than a quick email. Here’s the thing: everyone sends a silly little follow-up email. After the interview, no matter how it went, send a handwritten note to everyone who interviewed you. This will be remembered.

5. What’s the word? Ah yes: Thank You. Finally and most important: if someone referred you in, go back to the person who made the intro and thank them. Send them flowers or chocolate. This will pay dividends down the road.

Parents, do not despair. Your child does not have to camp out in your house unemployed this summer. With a little creativity, personality, some research and follow-up, your son or daughter will be miles ahead of everyone else. And don’t forget I like extra-dark chocolate.

 

 

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Who Will Buy Twinkies and Ding Dongs? 3 Ways Company Owners Use an Acquisition Strategy to Succeed

$2 billion Hostess Brands filed for bankruptcy and liquidation. Twinkies were never a staple in my diet, so I won’t notice when they no longer show up on shelves, but there could be opportunity for someone to snatch up the assets Hostess leaves behind. The question for entrepreneurs: when does it make sense to use an acquisition strategy versus inventing or creating from scratch?

Look at entrepreneurial phenom Hamdi Ulukaya, Founder and CEO of Chobani yogurt. He stumbled on a classified ad for a yogurt plant shut down by Kraft and decided to buy that same day. From a single spark of an idea, one of America’s most popular yogurts was born.

Like Ulukaya, many entrepreneurs have had success using an acquisition strategy to either get started or expand. Here are three ways champion company founders buy up existing brands and businesses.

1. Buy for a Better Brand. When Gian Fulgoni, founder of ComScore, acquired Media Metrix, it was the best known brand in the audience measurement industry. Gian had better technology under the hood, but Media Metrix was the flashier brand on the outside. So he acquired and scaled up customers much faster than on ComScore’s brand alone.

2. Buy For Speed to Market. Glen Tullman, CEO of Allscripts, makes no apologies for deriving 40% of his revenue from acquisitions. When I interviewed Glen as part of the recent Entrepreneurial Bash founders panel, Glen told me that because health care technology is a rapidly changing space, acquisitions were vital to staying competitive and ahead of the curve.

3. Buy for New Markets and Technologies. Joe Mansueto, founder, chairman and CEO of Morningstar, is well known for growing his financial products company from scratch to $600 million+ revenue and thousands of employees. But it wasn’t all organic. Along the way Joe quietly made more than a dozen strategic acquisitions, including Ibbotson and Realpoint, which increased Morningstar’s firepower overnight.

Putting Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Ho Hos aside, what about your industry? What’s the adjacent product, company, or technology that could fit into an acquisition strategy to help you grow faster? Are you sure you have to launch from scratch?

**Robert Jordan is a Forbes.com contributor. View the original posting of this article on Forbes.com.

 

 

 

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A Desk is a Dangerous Place from Which to View the World

The sign that sits outside Caterpillar CEO, Doug Oberhelman's office reads: "A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world"

Doug Oberhelman, CEO of Caterpillar, has a sign at the entrance to top management’s offices that reads, “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.”

Leading a Fortune 500 company could be an easy excuse for neglecting the little people in favor of big clients, big strategies, and public engagements. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, can’t neglect anyone or anything when they start out. It’s all important, it’s not all comfortable, but you do everything possible to succeed. And when you do succeed, things become more comfortable. Good people join you, systems become organized, and customers show appreciation. The danger is entrenchment. Stasis. Lack of forward movement. Doug’s warning is that no matter how large your company, your leadership has to be from the front. So how to be a better leader?

Tear Down the Walls

A few years ago I pitched Mayor Bloomberg. This was when he was only Mike Bloomberg, CEO of Bloomberg Company, a billion dollar provider of financial products on Wall Street. I couldn’t help but notice the completely open office space – no private offices, dividing walls or doors in sight. Mike’s desk was on the same floor among hundreds of other employees. Joe Mansueto, founder and CEO of Morningstar, is the same way. He has a cubicle just like the rest (maybe a little bigger), but no door keeping people out.

If you value people, show it by making yourself available and laying out the welcome mat for your staff, clients, and stakeholders.

Get Out Among Your People

Even before the show Undercover Boss, there was John Edwardson, the CEO of United Airlines before he moved on to CDW. John was known to pop up at the baggage conveyor belt at United’s terminal in O’Hare airport, to help unload luggage along with the crew. I think John did this with a genuine desire to learn and understand what his employees were experiencing, and to show them a good measure of respect with his presence and attention.

Go See for Yourself

You want real boots on the ground? Check out Renee Haugerud, founder of a $600 million New York hedge fund, Galtere Ltd. Renee trades futures on commodities and currencies, but instead of staring at charts on a PC to make all her decisions she flies to her research farm in southern Minnesota to check the crops and soil for herself. Renee’s money making ability isn’t tied to being at a desk – she’s in a corn field.

We entrepreneurs assume we’ll never fall into the big company trap of losing our flexibility, our touch with customers, and our ability to out-innovate the big guys. But that means continually learning how to be a better leader. Doug Oberhelman’s promise to himself is that as long as he gets to remain CEO of Caterpillar, he will visit with clients and employees every single week. Make the same ambitious promise for yourself.

**Robert Jordan is a Forbes.com contributor. View the original posting of this article on Forbes.com.

 

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The New Patent Law: End of Entrepreneurship?

The new patent law put into place by the America Invents Act on September 16, 2011, goes into effect Spring 2013. This marks a fundamental change in US patent protection, moving away from the current first-to-invent rule to the international standard, first-to-file.

Will the new patent law endanger American entrepreneurs? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Effectively, this creates a race to the patent office,” according to Patrick Richards of Richards Patent Law PC. “In a race of established, well-funded businesses with defined intellectual property protection strategies (and patent attorneys in-house or working closely with the business) versus entrepreneurs that may not have any experience with the patent system and the funds to pursue robust patent strategies, the advantage clearly goes to the businesses,” Richards said.

Although some aspects of the change are positive, including a reduced fee structure, the entrepreneur, who above all wants to “gain more certainty about their business plan at an early stage,” is likely to find the changes a net negative, Richards said.

“There are a lot of people that think (first-to-file) might favor large businesses, but no one knows how it’s going to affect” the business climate, according to Chas Rampenthal, general counsel at online legal services provider LegalZoom.com.

A solo entrepreneur who follows the rules carefully in acquiring a patent “has a pretty good leg up,” Rampenthal said, noting the law change actually reduces patent fees and possibly quickens the process.

Although companies with more resources can certainly win the race to getting in line, it “doesn’t get them a leg up on doing the inventing themselves.” He said the solo entrepreneur with a great idea remains ahead of the patent game.

What will be the impact on new business creation?

Anna Prata, an interim and turnaround executive who has worked with both Fortune 500 corporations and startups, sees trouble for entrepreneurs and investors alike. Prata says “this shift favors big companies with broad reach, resources and capabilities. They can quickly file while startups without cash on hand will not be able to protect their idea.” Prata thinks that thus far most early stage entrepreneurs didn’t need to make filing a top priority, especially not prior to fundraising, knowing they invented something and could prove it. But with the new law that’s no longer the case. “Why keep innovating if you do not have the resources to file first and claim ownership? It could really inhibit new company creation,” she said.

Prata thinks the impact of the new patent law on venture funding could also be pronounced: “VCs invest on the future promise of technology that will be patented at some point, knowing that if the start up failed they could retain the patented technology as an asset.” If that promise is threatened, she sees less investment dollars on ideas alone.

The End of Entrepreneurs?

Prata is also concerned about the potential effect on the American dream. Historically an entrepreneur could create and a large corporation would buy the entrepreneur’s company – it was cheaper to buy the little guy’s patent than attempt to re-invent it themselves. But what if corporations became a threat to entrepreneurs instead of their salvation as a rich class of buyers? Why would a corporation buy the entrepreneur’s company if it could come up with a variation on the theme and quickly file its own patent?

Veteran Entrepreneurs Say Bring it On

Veteran entrepreneur Chris Gladwin, founder and CEO of Cleversafe, knows a thing or two about patents, having authored 300+ issued and pending patents relating to dispersed storage technology. His take is that the patent reform act is a good idea. “In addition to aligning with international patent offices that are all on a first-to-file system, it is materially easier to operate. First-to-invent is just too hard to measure. It is practically impossible to know if a prior invention is lurking that hasn’t yet been filed; as a result, a first-to-invent system inhibits investment in new technology areas.” Chris thinks that first-to-file and the new Act will better enable new technology businesses and new technology jobs.

Neil Kane, founder of Advanced Diamond Technologies and now CEO of GlucoSentient, agrees with Gladwin: “I think it’s a net positive. There is a huge misconception about first-to-file. People incorrectly assume that if you give a presentation about an invention or idea, someone in the audience can run to the USPTO with your idea and patent it before you do.” Kane says that’s not the case, that in fact your public disclosure becomes what is known as “prior art” and would invalidate a patent filing.

Sure There’s the Law, But What About Patent Trolls?

Venture capitalist Matt McCall of New World Ventures in Chicago is among those who think the new patent law is a net plus. “Patents are not core in our process. Patents don’t keep players out but can help from being sued.” McCall hopes the new law hinders patent aggregators, often called “patent trolls”, who sue firms they claim infringe on their patents. “We’ve had too many companies victimized by trolls who have no intent to commercialize, just tax tech firms.”

Nancy Hill, president of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, says the new law “doesn’t solve the problem in our industry.” Ad agencies are a prime example of the creation of new intellectual property, building web-based products and services on top of open source code for clients and believing they are free and clear of patent claims. Hill says agencies believe they are building products “in the public domain” but continue to face legal challenges from patent trolls, making for an impossible situation that won’t be improved by the new law taking effect.

Entrepreneurs, what do you think – is the new patent law and first-to-file going to be a blessing or curse for you?

 

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