Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Web 2.0 Entrepreneurs Toolbox

As a new tech entrepreneur in the year 2011, I feel lucky to have so many tools at my disposal in building/launching my business that it almost feels unfair compared to those trying to do the same 10 years ago.  Back then, it likely cost at least 10x more to launch the same type of business than it does today.  Here are a few tools that I've found myself using over the past two weeks.  Some of these are free, some of these are paid-for.  Regardless, I can say with certainty that each of these tools has allowed me to accelerate on the cheap:

  • Survey Monkey:  Simple to-use, widely recognized survey tool, with a free version available, to-boot.

  • SurveyGizmo:  Not as widely recognized as Survey Monkey, but it works just as well as a survey tool (if not more user-friendly).

  • Ask Your Target Market:  You have to pay for this, but it's so worth it.  You can specify your exact target market, survey that group, and get responses in a matter of hours.  You pay-per-response, and certain features (i.e. open ended answers, qualifying questions) are extra.  After you add it up, it's not difficult for the per-response rate to be $3 or $4 (or more), but time is money and AYTM is a time-saver.  Plus, the site itself is dripping with ease-of-use.  Their chat-enabled customer support people rock, too.  They even gave me copy suggestions for the questions I was asking.

  •  Very simple CRM.  When I used to work for a bigger organization, we used NetSuite -- which was expensive and mostly difficult to use.  Insightly has a lot of features that not only work well, but are pretty nifty (such as a dedicated email address that, when copied, automatically files the email you're sending into the appropriate folder.  Oh's free.

  • Google Apps:  This is how we got turned onto  It's a monthly subscription per-user, but it's what gave us access to and other tools
I'll post another installment of awesome web 2.0 tools that I use, but these all rock and are worth looking into ASAP.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Is being a perfectionist a bad thing?

I often hear people tell me that they're perfectionists.  They say it in a sort-of self-deprecating kind of way, but most people on the other end always find it a bit endearing.  After all, what's not to like about somebody that loves to give it their all and create something that's perfect?  But yesterday, I heard a quote from Jeff Lamb, CTO and self-proclaimed nerd from Q-Start Labs, that challenges this notion.

"Good is the enemy of perfect."

Actually, it was Voltaire that originated this quote, but it's definitely one that made me think.  After all, shouldn't we execute everything we set out to do perfectly?

Nope.  Not as a startup.

The notion isn't that we should settle for something that's sub-par.  Instead, at this critical stage of building a company, we should be putting a very basic product in front of customers, iterating, pivoting (if necessary), and repeating steps 1 - 3.  You can't do this if you spend months behind closed doors creating a perfect product.  The reality is, you have no idea if what you're creating is "perfect" until you put it in front of the very people that can actually tell you:  your customers.

From here on out, I'll think twice before proclaiming myself to be a perfectionist.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Meeting your Customers

It's week two of eleven for all of the teams participating in the 10x Xelerator program in Columbus, Ohio.  There's a very common question / piece of advice I've been getting from some of the amazing mentors participating in the program.  Each asks the question in a different way, but essentially they want to know...

"How many customers are you meeting with?"

It's such a simple question, yet so, so critical to businesses like ours at this stage in the startup process.  It doesn't matter at all how great of an idea Bryan and I have.  I know that.  Our success is dependent on our ability to say "Yes!" to the following three questions:

  1. Does our product/service actually solve a real problem for our customers?
  2. Is the problem that we solve significant enough where customers are willing to pay for it?
  3. Can we execute and see our solution through?
So in week #2, it's absolutely critical we talk to customers and answer those first two questions.  I better stop blogging and get to work.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Creating an Inferno

During our first day of the 10x program, Mark Kvamme -- a partner at Sequoia Capital -- made a point to all of us that we should be attempting to "create an inferno."  He went on to describe how Funny or Die did this initially with their Landlord video.  If you haven't seen that video, it's definitely worth watching (especially if you're a Will Ferrell fan).  But it's the Sasquatch Dancing Man video that really illustrates this fact.  This video is a real-life example of the life of an internet meme.

Take a look:

There's irony there, because the video itself ended up becoming an internet meme.  One odd, gyrating dancing man at a music festival goes on to create an inferno-like dance party.  What I would give to be that dancing man this summer and beyond...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Day One

Well, it's officially real.  Bryan and I arrived to our office space at One Marconi Place a hair before 8:30am and were surprised to find ourselves as the first team in the office.  The space is pretty small for 10 teams with 2-3 people on each team -- but it's very nice.  Think light hardwood and exposed brick walls.

Honestly, they could put us in a supply closet and we'd still be pumped at the opportunity to build a successful business this summer with assistance from the program.

  • The actual programming is fairly light, which allows us to do the work we need to do to build our business. 
  • The mentors are amazing.  Our direct mentors, Christopher Celeste and Blake Squires, were already our close friends and advisors.  But we met others last night from Central Ohio's (and beyond) entrepreneurial and investment communities that I'm hopeful we can build a real relationship with.
  • The teams seem to be pretty solid.
We know exactly what we need to do -- and now it's time to roll up our sleeves and, as Mark Suster says, JFDI.  

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Farewell to my Findaway friends...

After over six years, it's hard to believe I'm about to type this next line:

I've resigned from Findaway World to start my own company.

Okay, for those of you that know me very well -- you're probably not shocked at the fact that I'm starting something new.  You knew that I took pride in creating the first Corporate Sponsorship program for a 100+ year old university athletics program back when I was still an MBA student at Case Western Reserve University.  You knew that I tinkered with inventing a product over the past 2 years (which even got kudos from David Pogue in the New York Times).

"But you loved your role at Findaway," you exclaim.  "You're really leaving?!"

Believe me, that wasn't an easy decision.  I came into Findaway World a pretty green 23 year old who was excited to help three entrepreneurs take a crazy idea and turn it into something cool.  Those very entrepreneurs took me under their wing, mentored me, guided me, and essentially helped me to be come a confident, enthusiastic entrepreneur who truly believes that I can and will change an industry that hasn't significantly changed in the past 100 years.

I'll miss the people I work with and have become good friends with.  I'll miss the passionate librarians I've had the privilege of working with so closely.  I'll miss Findawayerfest.  I won't miss being a Findawayer.  I'll always be a Findawayer.

Yet, there's a beginning with every ending.  Next week, my friend and Co-Founder, Bryan, and I will head to Columbus as one of just 10 startup teams chosen by the State of Ohio to participate in 10x -- an initiative to attract the brightest young tech entrepreneurs to our home State of Ohio.  We'll be working this summer to build our business, launch it, and ultimately, grow it into a successful tech startup -- one not unlike Findaway World has become over the past several years.

If you keep reading this blog from time to time, I'll be happy to share our story.  Until then...