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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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Raj Soin, Founder, MTC: How Loyalty Moved a Company from a $400 Startup to $425 Million Sale

Raj Soin, Founder, MTC: How Loyalty Moved a Company from a $400 Startup to $425 Million Sale

Out of the many amazing founder stories told in How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America, this one is still my favorite. Raj Soin, founder of MTC technologies, started the company with only a few hundred dollars to his name. With credit cards maxed out and no cash to meet payroll, Raj was surprised to find that it was one employee that virtually saved the company, without attempting to take credit or reward for his selflessness.

As Raj says “people are really dedicated and if you stay loyal to them, they stay loyal to you.”

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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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How to Pitch Motorola VC

How to Pitch Motorola VC

Motorola started a venture capital program in 1999 and since has invested over $500 Million in 175 different companies. As one of the most active investors out there, Motorola Solutions Venture Capital Group has had companies in its portfolio with resulting IPOs and even acquisitions. Some recent investments include Cleversafe, ViVOtech and Canvas. Surprisingly, out of the 175 companies invested in, Motorola has only acquired four.

In this interview with Reese Schroeder, Managing Director of Motorola Solutions Venture Capital, Reese shares Motorola Solutions’ thesis on investing. It’s not a try before you buy model, but rather looking for companies with a strategic fit. With a constant pipeline (the team is currently looking at around 1,000 opportunities), hear what Motorola Solutions is looking for. Reese spells out exactly how he wants to be pitched and shares where he sees entrepreneurs mess up when they walk in his door.

(Recorded in the Fall of 2011)

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7 Years for Success? Disruptive Innovation Takes Time

7 Years for Success? Disruptive Innovation Takes Time

Steve Shank founded Capella Education, one of the first online universities, in 1992 when the Internet was not yet well-understood or widely embraced. With traditional educators questioning the entire concept of online teaching, Capella had a lot to prove. In this interview, Steve talks about bootstrapping the company to build a disruptive innovation, which he defines as a fundamental change in the marketplace. Patience was key for his success as it took seven years to demonstrate viability in the market. Today Capella has 34,000 students from across the US and 53 countries.

Steve Shank is one of the ten founders featured in the Nightingale Conant audio program How They Did It: Real World Advice From Today’s Most Successful Entrepreneurs. Listen to audio samples at here or order the program for a 20% discounted price for friends of Bob

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Wanna Exit? Here’s How, to the Tune of $115 Million: Interview with Michael Alter, SurePayroll CEO

Wanna Exit? Here’s How, to the Tune of $115 Million: Interview with Michael Alter, SurePayroll CEO

Michael Alter, CEO of SurePayroll, shares three crucial lessons in this video interview on the sale of his company to Paychex for $115 million.  Here are the highlights:

Your Company Is the Product

As managers, leaders and owners of companies, we spend all our time producing and selling things: products, services, processes. We think about how to create, position, price, brand and sell. But what happens when we try to sell the whole enchilada? It turns out the best process is the same, on a larger scale – the company becomes the product, and the same sales and marketing elements apply.

A radical example – recall the sale of ICQ’s Instant Messenger to AOL way back. The owners of ICQ proudly told the world that prior to selling to AOL for $425 million they had not taken in one dollar in revenue.

Make Sure Your Product (The Company) Is Fully Baked

Michael is brilliant on this point – because price isn’t the whole story. It’s easy to say you should sell when it’ll get the highest valuation. But what does that mean? Any smart buyer has a plan for making your maximized outcome her bargain price, from which she can later brag about what a steal she got when she underpaid for you. Michael said that for his 12-year-old venture, the decision to sell was not about flipping the company for a quick profit. With 30,000 customers and 160 employees, much was at stake. Even in the face of selling the company and turning the keys over to someone new, Michael said you have to ask, where do you want the company to go from here?

Go In With a Bigger Plan

This doesn’t just mean a plan to sell. Michael said that seven years ago SurePayroll got an offer but declined. The decision to wait proved to be the right choice. A sale process acquires momentum and picks up speed as you go along. It gets hard to change course. Your plan has to remain global and future-oriented even while you are packaging your company up with a pretty little bow on top. Michael  took a global look at SurePayroll and saw that with big differences in client base, SurePayroll would not go through significant change following the purchase. Paychex had a strong presence with traditional payroll customers, while SurePayroll catered to online use by small businesses. He accomplished the shareholders’ goals for sale while taking care to insure SurePayroll’s ongoing viability.

It’s always emotional when exiting a VC-backed company. Investors don’t go in without eventually wanting a way out (sorry Warren B., I love Berkshire Hathaway but VC aren’t built for forever as a holding period). Great founders don’t flip and don’t treat their creations lightly. But sale is a common outcome.

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Make Your Time in the Car Much More Productive: New HTDI Audio Program Gives Best Business Advice

Make Your Time in the Car Much More Productive: New HTDI Audio Program Gives Best Business Advice

I am excited to announce a new audio program with Nightingale Conant called How They Did It: Real World Advice From Today’s Most Successful Entrepreneurs. Over the past year I had the honor of traveling around the heartland to conduct 10 in depth interviews with company founders for this new multi-disk audio program. I think the outcome was amazing and I hope listeners enjoy the stories from these entrepreneurs, each of whom fought through huge challenges, took great risks, experienced breakthroughs, and accomplished amazing feats. Special thanks to Raj Soin, Steve Shank, Dave Becker, Dane Miller, Bonnie Baskin, Brian Sullivan, Joe Mansueto, Mark Tebbe, Howard Tullman, and Jim Dolan for sharing their expertise with me and entrepreneurs everywhere.

Listen to audio samples at here or order the program for a 20% discounted price for friends of Bob.

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