Columbus Geek Night January 14, 2014Posted by Brian Link in Internet culture, startups.
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There’s a lot of events in town, but it’s rare to find a good cross-section of passionate technologists in a purely social meet-up. There are many places software developers come together and interact, but it’s often in the context of something else: Startup Weekend, Code Mash, Code and Coffee, startup pitch events, Tech Columbus or individual meet ups for smaller groups on their own like agile, PHP, ruby, hadoop, etc.
We have a lot of great talent in Columbus and I’m hoping to introduce something interesting I found while living in Providence, Rhode Island. A no-agenda, completely independent casual get-together for software engineers. If this sounds interesting, please check it out and join us: http://columbusgeeknight.wordpress.com. The first event will be Jan 22, 2014.
I’m also hoping that some subset of us can drive this thing forward, not just me or any one company. Please let me know if you’d like to get involved.
See you there.
What do you really *love* on the Internet? June 29, 2012Posted by Brian Link in agile, Internet culture, startups.
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There’s a few things that I have come across on the interwebs recently that have inspired this blog post. And I post pretty rarely, so this feels like a momentous occasion.
First, I clicked through the fun little app called “Fish – a tap essay”. It’s a great summary in poetic dramatic fashion of how we are overwhelmed by liking and sharing online and asks the question “what does it mean to love something on the Internet” when most sharing is fleeting and forgotten (reminds me of the business case for Toobla, a previous startup I worked with, which everyone has surely forgotten.) In short, the stuff you love is the stuff you come back to over and over again. Or share with multiple people over time. The apps on your phone you use everyday, those great reference sites or blog posts or articles that you repeatedly refer people to. These are the things that shine above the everyday “like”.
That little “Fish” app encourages us to think about what really matters when you share online and I like that. So I think I’ll publish a few of these things that I think matter.
Here’s a few of the things I’m most often referring people to are on entrepreneurship and building Internet startups. Here’s some resources I hope you find useful.
* Early Stage Startup Advice and Funding:
This blog post I wrote last week covers a lot, and I’ll keep adding to it over time just for fun
* Books for Entrepreneurs:
And an excellent condensed list here for startup entrepreneurs.
* Must Read Startup Resources Online:
* Lean Startup:
http://leancanvas.com/ – this one piece of paper is more powerful than any 20 page business plan
* “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy” – First time I saw the phrase ambient awareness:
* My Favorite Awesome Apps:
Amazon Mobile – price check anything anywhere. and order stuff you know, whenever you think of it.
Evernote – this app is my brain so I don’t have to keep things in my brain
Pandora – addicted to the discovery and familiarity at the same time
PocketPedia3 – bring your DVD catalog with you anywhere so you don’t buy dupes!
Scrabble – nothing beats the real thing with words, friends
Starwalk – augmented reality astronomy interactive guide. shows the stars’ names and constellations, locations of planets as you hold it and rotate it over your head at night
Zite (iPad) – this is my secret news source. only tool that gets me and my passions (startups, entrepreneurship, particle physics, cosmology, apple, disruptive technology)
Image credit: Joe Stump
Tags: angel investiment, crowdfunding, entrepreneur, investing, seed funding, startups
Many of the entrepreneurs I meet ask about how to get funded. It’s the inevitable first hurdle every entrepreneur must cross. And it’s often the first place they fail and return to their cubicle jobs… for good reason, it’s pretty hard. Here’s a few basics I assume everyone knows already:
- Build a compelling product with a compelling business model. (Know your market, build the MVP first, price it appropriately or use an appropriate business model. Revenue beats users, IMO. But read this too.)
- Show some kind of traction. Attract a team. Win your first paying customers. Get enough users or downloads of your app. Whatever is relevant. (And more is required typically the higher amount of money you’re trying to raise)
- Build your own relationships with investors. Find all your local people. Get on AngelList and follow investors. Research investors that are in your space. Follow them on Twitter. Read everything you can. Leverage LinkedIn to build connections. Meet them and ask for advice first, not money. Get introductions through strong connections. Investors invest in friends and friends of friends first (they’re human too).
- Build a killer pitch deck. What problem do you solve? What’s the solution? Make sure it’s a pain killer not a vitamin. Keep it simple. If it can’t be said in a sentence or two, your pitch is too complicated. Tell everyone about your pitch. Take advice from your wife, Mom, advisors, and guy at the bar until it’s perfectly clear and says something compelling. Consider putting a professional 2 minute video on your site.
- Seek out advice proactively. Have coffee multiple times a week with helpful people. Make new connections. Be just as giving in helping others. Engage in local meetup groups. Startup weekend. Conferences and events. But don’t overwhelm yourself networking, it should be a constant but limited amount of your time.
- Share your idea. When talking to advisors, peers, investors, friends, etc. please don’t hesitate to discuss your idea. Too many entrepreneurs fail because they don’t get critical feedback early enough. If you’re asking people to sign NDAs, you’re doing it wrong. Consider patents if you need to.
- Have an expert. No matter what industry you’re in or how much you think you know, it’s always better to have someone on your team who has specific, credible experience in your space. If it’s not a core team member, they should at least be a dedicated advisor or board member.
- Give away your equity. At very early stages where you’re most likely to fail, it’s important to build the right team. If you don’t have a technical co-founder with skin in the game, you will fail. If equity will entice someone to work on your project as hard as you are, for heaven sake, give it away. If you haven’t landed your first seed round of funding and you’re afraid to give away 1% or even 10% for some critical resource/advisor/service provider/technology partner, you’re doing it wrong. Be smart, and seek advice of those who have done this before, but definitely don’t be stingy. 100% of nothing is still nothing.
Bootstrapping is best possible solution, if you can afford to fund your own startup. Plenty of great success stories start here, but it’s a lot slower and harder to build a startup while working a full-time job. Friends and family is where most entrepreneurs go next. And if you run a Lean Startup as you should, raising $100K or less can go a very long way to getting a new startup off the ground.
You likely don’t have a dozen rich friends you can borrow 10 to 20 grand from each, and will therefore be looking for funding. You can try to find those angels: in your backyard, in a local ACA group, or on angel.co. Or you can even try to find Venture Capital. But unless you’re a rock star, are looking to raise an A/B/C round or have a personal relationship, that’s extremely unlikely.
What’s left is crowd funding. There are many new crowd funding options emerging for entrepreneurs, especially as the JOBS Act becomes a reality. I’m not sure how well each of these will work today, but I suspect going forward they become one of the more popular options for early stage startups looking to raise initial rounds of cash. You might first look at the National Crowdfunding Association to learn some basics: http://nlcfa.org/crowdfund-101.html
Startup Fundraising Options in America
- 40billion.com – Raise money. Build dreams. Since 2008, early crowd funding platform.
- CrowdTilt.com – Group funding, designed to raise funds for a group of people to do stuff together.
- EarlyShares.com – Equity based crowd funding platform.
- EquityNet.com – Business plan software and Angel Network.
- Fundable.com – Designed for startups. Built by people I know in Columbus, Ohio.
- FundaGeek.com – Crowdfunding for technical innovation
- Fundrazr.com – Reach more people, raise more money.
- GoFundMe.com – General fundraising platform for individuals.
- GrowVC.com – Global startup fundraising plus nurturing ecosystem, raising up to $1M
- Indiegogo.com – Fundraising for more than just films.
- Invested.in – Helps anyone raise money for anything
- Kickstarter.com – Perhaps not originally intended to fund startups, but has been used as such.
- MicroVentures.com – Connecting Angel investors and startups.
- OnSetStart.com – They have a free crowd funding bible available too if you help promote it
- PeerBackers.com – Funding entrepreneurs to raise funding from peers
- RocketHub.com – Launch, Fund and Fly!
- SoMoLend.com – Lend. Borrow. Grow. People investing in people.
- Start.ac – Crowdfunding platform with mentors. US based.
- TechMoola.com – Project fundraising in the technology space
Nonprofit and Charitable Fundraising Options
- CrowdRise.com – Designed for charities
- FirstGiving.com – Help people raise money for causes they care about
- Razoo.com – Nonprofit donations
International Fundraising Options
- BuzzEntrepreneur.com – Social funding platform since 2009
- CrowdCube.com – Located in the UK. Has a number of success stories already.
- FundIt.ie – Ireland’s platform for funding people with great ideas
- FundingCircle.com – Marketplace where people lend to businesses, in the UK.
- GrowVC.com – Global startup fundraising plus nurturing ecosystem, raising up to $1M
- Idea.me – Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Uruguay, USA Latino
- iPledg.com – Located in Australia.
- MyNBest.com – Spain’s crowdfunding platform.
- PleaseFund.us – UK crowdfunding platform.
- Plebs.ca – Located in Canada. Still pre-launch. See http://unbouncepages.com/earlybirds-launch/
- Pozible.com – Australian crowdfunding platform and community
- StartersFund.com – Greece’s global crowdfunding platform and virtual business incubator
There’s plenty of resources out there. A few worth reading on the topic:
- http://crowdsourcing.org and their Research Report on Crowdfunding
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/68751915@N05/
An Entrepreneurial State of Mind March 12, 2011Posted by Brian Link in entrepreneurialism, startups.
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This week is the big South by Southwest conference in Austin, TX where every well-known geek (good definition here) in the country converges to mingle, party and play with the latest tech and apps. Some even attend the conference and learn something. I’ll miss hanging in the blogger lounge meeting all the luminaries I’ve come to enjoy keeping up with online.
And not being there at SXSWi makes me feel a little like I’m ignoring that entrepreneurial part of myself I enjoy exercising occasionally. I’ve also recently removed myself from the startup ratrace, having worked for one startup or another over the last 5 or 6 years. My new job is with a company called KACE owned by a big stable company, Dell. And I gotta say working from home with a great job with great benefits is an awesome thing – stability goes really well with families :)
But the point of my blog post today, and what I’ve recently started to reinforce and remind myself of, is that you don’t have to give up stability and join the ranks of startup enthusiasts full-time to be an entrepreneur. There’s plenty you can do on the side to keep that entrepreneurial dream alive. In fact I know plenty of people that do great startup work on the side: like the guys from Big Kitty Labs, my friends at weBuild, students who build some killer iPhone apps and web apps and plenty of people from TechLife Columbus.
What you really need to do is just start doing something.Picture credit: Baltimore Studios
Great Business and Agile Books for Startups January 26, 2011Posted by Brian Link in agile, startups.
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I keep running into great sources of information. List of books I should read that I rarely find time for. I’ll post a few great lists I’ve found. I’ve been wanting to build myself a list of must-reads that I hope you’ll find helpful too.
Here’s a list of Agile related books that I recommend. Please add more in the comments – I’m interested in finding new books too!
- Succeeding with Agile: Software Development Using Scrum – Mike Cohn
- Implementing Lean Software Development: From Concept to Cash – Mary and Tom Poppendieck
- Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change (2nd Edition) – Kent Beck
- The Art of Agile Development – James Shore
- Agile Web Development with Rails – Sam Ruby, Dave Thomas, David Heinemeier Hansson
- Agile Project Management with Scrum (Microsoft Professional) – Ken Schwaber
- User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development – Mike Cohn
- Agile Estimating and Planning – Mike Cohn
- Agile Software Development with Scrum (Series in Agile Software Development) – Ken Schwaber, Mike Beedle
- Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products (2nd Edition) – Jim Highsmith
Must-read books for startups (and general business books) great list from Quora:
- The Four Steps to the Epiphany - Steven Gary Blank
- The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development: A Cheat Sheet to the Four Steps to the Epiphany - Brant Cooper, Patrick Vlaskovits
- Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers and Challengers – Yves Pigneur and Alex Osterwalder
- Founders at Work – Jessica Livingston
- Escape from Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur – Pamela Slim
- My Start-Up Life: What a (Very) Young CEO Learned on His Journey Through Silicon Valley - Ben Casnocha
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion – Robert Cialdini
- Crossing the Chasm – Geoff Moore
- The Innovator’s Dilemma – Clayton Christensen
- Getting to Plan B – Randy Komisar & John Mullins
- The Art of the Start – Guy Kawasaki
- Venture Capital and the Finance of Innovation – Andrew Metrick
- Viral Loop – Adam L. Penenberg
- The Monk and the Riddle – Randy Komisar
- The PayPal Wars – Eric M. Jackson
- The Facebook Effect – David Kirkpatrick
- Once You’re Lucky, Twice You’re Good – Sarah Lacyhttp://amzn.to/gd0sJ4
- Made to Stick – Chip Heath and Dan Heath http://amzn.to/eo6ndK
- Landing Page Optimization Tim Ash http://amzn.to/gYpVPY
- Web Analytics 2.0: The Art of Online Accountability and Science of Customer Centricity Avinash Kaushik http://amzn.to/etvEZe
- The 48 Laws of Power – Robert Greene http://amzn.to/h5oiYa
- The Non-Designer’s Design Book – Robin Williams http://amzn.to/hXtbyL
- Getting Real - Jason Fried, David Hansson, Matthew Lindermanhttp://amzn.to/gdY3VX
- Dreaming in Code - Scot Rosenberg http://amzn.to/dX5MSq
- Do More Faster - David Cohen, Brad Feld http://amzn.to/fwdbH5
- RockStar Business - Adriaan Pienaar http://amzn.to/dKipra
- Crush It – Gary Vaynerchuk http://amzn.to/fz2e2b
- Fascinate – Sally Hogshead http://amzn.to/i9wgEY
- The Theory of Fun – Raph Koster http://amzn.to/dEt2n1
- Lincoln on Leadership – Donald Phillips http://amzn.to/fmLeC9
- The Paradox of Choice – Barry Schwartz http://amzn.to/gwpAkd
- How We Decide - Jonah Lehrer http://amzn.to/gRYTUr
- Courage: The Backbone of Leadership - Gus Lee http://amzn.to/gzEUVV
- The E-Myth Revisted – Michael Gerber http://amzn.to/glZPcE
- Don’t Make Me Think – Steve Krug http://amzn.to/eiKUIC
- The Mythical Man Month – Fred Brooks http://amzn.to/hhKTR0
- Difficult Conversations: How to discuss what matters most - Doug Stone et al. http://amzn.to/f9Xkeg
- Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy – Carl Shapiro http://amzn.to/hn4Wbj
- Only the Paranoid Survive – Andrew Grove http://amzn.to/ev5Z6d
- Delivering Happiness - Tony Hsieh http://amzn.to/dJNO2X
- Startup: A Silicon Valley Adventure – Jerry Kaplan http://amzn.to/fTnqHe
- The Nudist On The Late Shift - Po Bronson http://amzn.to/eCtiAV
- The Microsoft Way – Randall Stross http://amzn.to/ekJ8P3
- Inside Intel – Tim Jackson http://amzn.to/fhVS0w
- Accidental Empires – Robert X. Cringely http://amzn.to/gf0hTa
- Wisdom Of Crowds – James Surowiecki http://amzn.to/ekOH0A
- Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell http://amzn.to/eIM0Cx
- Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation – Steven Johnson http://amzn.to/fVFgdi
- The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Coveyhttp://amzn.to/e3Z1Yp
- Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant – W. Chan Kim, Renee Mauborgnehttp://amzn.to/dV0Upi
- The Deviant’s Advantage – Ryan Matthews, Watts Wackerhttp://amzn.to/dMlpko
- Good to Great by Jim Collins http://amzn.to/e5oALJ
- Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Dan Pinkhttp://amzn.to/hnmyz
- Crucial Conversations Kerry Patterson et al. http://amzn.to/hhQ41Y
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – Carol Dweckhttp://amzn.to/eygzLp
- Influencer: The Power to Change Anything – Kerry Pattersonhttp://amzn.to/dYpyAM
- Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace – Gordon MacKenzie http://amzn.to/fH5AYj
- Hope for the Flowers – Trina Paulus http://amzn.to/icpQHb
- Finding fertile ground – Dr. Scott A. Shane http://amzn.to/guIkjN
- Making Ideas Happen – Scott Belsky http://amzn.to/dUSmUk
- Rework – Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson http://amzn.to/gZI8wW
Bootstrapping Startups For the Win February 5, 2010Posted by Brian Link in bootstrapping, entrepreneurialism, Internet culture.
Tags: internet, startups
Here in Columbus there have been a few Internet startups, and each entrepreneur if you asked them would tell you that getting started is the hardest part. Many people think they have a great idea, maybe even have written it down and dreamed of turning it into something big. But taking those first few steps of talking to other people, committing your own money, finding a team to help build it and figuring out how to tell the world about it is where you need great strategy (and some luck).
One strategy, if you’re lucky enough, is to borrow a million bucks from your rich uncle. You might also find an angel investor or venture capitalist and beat the one in a million odds and get funded before you have a product or revenue. The much more likely scenario and the smartest strategy is much more difficult, if you can pull it off. It’s called bootstrapping.
The term comes from a saying that started in the 1800s: “to pull yourself up by your bootstraps” which implies an impossible task. As a metaphor, it means to better oneself by one’s own unaided efforts. And today it often refers to starting a business that is self-sustaining and created with little or no external help.
Bootstrapping is hard. You need to stick your neck out; quit your job; have some money to spend; have a great network to lean on; and have a lot of confidence and guts. It’s certainly not for everyone. But for the brave who have a great idea, the reward can be huge. The best practices for bootstrapping can fill volumes of books, but here’s a quick summary of some ideas and strategies:
1. Equity. By bootstrapping, you can control your own stake and your partners’ equity percentages better. Equity is your most powerful tool to attract big talent. But be careful, there’s great need for balance here. Don’t dole out too much too soon and conversely don’t hesitate to share your equity for the right reasons. Many entrepreneurs fall into the stingy founder’s trap – they refuse to give up equity and because of that, they never get the help they need to launch the company. In that scenario, they have 100% of a company that’s worth nothing. Instead, offer equity to those who can dramatically move your business forward, but get advice about what percent makes sense at your current stage of growth. Equity, they say, is the most expensive compensation you can dole out (1% of your company when it becomes a $100MM company will be worth a million dollars!).
2. Partners. Choose your partners and co-founders wisely. They should complement your skills and pass both the beer and elevator tests. (Is this person someone you’d want to hang out and have beers with? If you were stuck in an elevator with this person for 24 hours, would you murder them?) You’ll be spending more time with your co-founders than you might with your family, so best to have a great relationship and high level of trust and respect.
3. Business Plans. Don’t dwell so much on the format and length of your plan, but rather on the concepts of the business, the product or service and your competitive advantage. You should know exactly what your customer looks like, what alternatives they have, what the value is of what you’re offering and where you’re going to find those customers. And if you don’t have all those answers, get yourself some partners or team members who can. An executive summary of 1-2 pages is best. It should explain the big picture as concisely as possible. Don’t drag anyone through the details of your product until you’ve completely nailed it at a high level. Also prepare a Kawasaki 10/20/30 presentation and the two sentence and three paragraph versions. You’ll need those for marketing and email conversations to get people interested in having conversations with you.
4. Investors. You’re going to need investors at some point. Hopefully later instead of sooner. But as CEO of your company, your role is chief fundraiser, so start building great relationships. Find a trusted few to be part of your inner circle to give you honest and direct feedback. It’s never too early to plant seeds and start conversations. But be sure your message is polished enough before you request the face to face meeting. It’s not as hard as you think to get meetings with investors. But it’s very hard to build a compelling enough story to make them part with their money. Practice your pitch a dozen times on friends and friendly investors before you start talking to your big target investors. Also, do not assume that the big VC is your only option. Angel investors and chunks of 10-20K are extremely viable. It’s a lot easier to find a dozen people or more with 20K than it is to ask for large fractions of a million dollars from any investor.
At weBuild (http://webuildstartups.com), the Internet company accelerator where I’m a Principal, we are seeing more ideas and hearing about great things getting started in Columbus. One such idea came to us from an entrepreneur named Dave Cherry, previously of Limitedbrands. His idea was simple: help sporting teams and events sell more tickets. How? By offering deep discounts for seats that would normally go unsold. We brainstormed with his idea and helped Dave narrow his focus into something commercializable. TiXiT is now one of our portfolio companies and is launching today at http://www.tixitbox.com
I wish you the best of luck getting your own startup going. weBuild would like to hear about your best ideas. Submit them here at http://webuildstartups.com/apply.