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.
Introducing Toobla! A Revolutionary Visual Bookmarking Service October 1, 2009Posted by Brian Link in Uncategorized.
Toobla, built right here in Columbus, is now open to the public. Toobla is growing at Internet speed, but needs your help. Please create an account here: http://toobla.com/signup and if you can, Digg our latest press story here: http://digg.com/d3160eq
Toobla collects your favorite content from the web in visual folders that are very simple to use and easy to share — a centralized, visual repository for everything and anything you find online. Toobla is a single place to collect and organize your favorite web finds and the only tool on the Internet that lets you pull together collections of your favorite content in portable containers, including websites, documents, videos, images or widgets of any kind.
A major departure from old bookmarking services that typically send you away, Toobla lets you play and interact with the stuff you’ve collected inside your very own, custom made Toobla folders. When you visit a folder on Toobla, you can enjoy all the content within it right then and there.
For example, this “Radiohead” folder on Toobla (http://toob.la/b39) holds a YouTube music video, a Flickr concert photo, the band’s official website and a streaming music player — all packaged together in one tidy spot.
Your favorite folders are your own online personal library and are beautifully displayed in one central place. There, anyone can experience and discover the media that you’ve collected. TechCrunch recently called Toobla a “portable visual locker for the web”… and thatʼs exactly what it is.
Toobla is reinventing the bookmarking space. Most all of the currently available bookmarking sites are boring. We strived to create a bookmarking service that’s beautiful and fun to browse — like an iTunes for web content. We’ve made Toobla so you can not only have a great place to come back and enjoy your own content but so you can also more easily share your favorite stuff online.
Bookmarking with Toobla
The Toobla bookmarklet tool makes it easy to import web content into your folders while browsing the web. Toobla can also automatically collect your favorite things from popular Web 2.0 sites. For example, if you use Digg, bookmark on Delicious, or import a video to Youtube, we will automatically give your content a thumbnail and save it in a Toobla folder for you. Toobla will soon integrate with more sites including Twitter, WordPress, and Flickr.
Sharing Your Toobla Folders
Toobla folders are also easily shared. You can email a link, post a short-url directly to Twitter, embed as a widget on a blog, or post to your Facebook newsfeed. Toobla’s integration with popular social networks like Facebook creates the ultimate form of self expression, the ultimate canvas to share the online things you love.
Popular Toobla folders (http://toobla.com/popular) can also be easily added to your own Toobla library with a single click. Current popular folders include: “SNL Digital Shorts”, “Social Media Documents”, “Classic Video Games” and great entrepreneurial content in folders “Guy Kawasaki” and “Entrepreneurship”. Anyone can create and share Toobla folders on just about anything.
You shouldn’t have to think about where you found something or have to go search again every time you want to show someone something. It’s just there… it’s in your Toobla library!
Toobla is Brian Link (CEO), Jake Saxbe (Founder), Matt Yoho (Lead Developer), Mike Busch (Developer), Tony Schneider (Intern), and Apurva Patel (Intern). We welcome your feedback and would love to hear what you love and hate about Toobla so that we might improve the site.
Be Your Own Tyler Durden, Raymond July 25, 2009Posted by Brian Link in Uncategorized.
You know that scene where Tyler stops at a convenience store and takes the guy out back and holds a gun to his head? Awesome, right? Fight Club is quite possibly my favorite movie ever. This is probably the scene I quote from the least, but it may be the most profound. For me, it’s all about *why* he does it.
He asks Raymond K. Hessel, “What did you want to be?” and eventually Ray responds that he wanted to be a veterinarian. So Tyler Durden takes his driver’s license and tells him that if he’s not going back to school or somehow changing his life so that he’s on his way to being a veterinarian in six weeks that he’s going to be dead.
Remember, “On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero”. We really do only have so much time to live. As morbid as that sounds, it helps to think about that once in a while. You may look back at what you’re doing right now as that time your life stalled for 5 years while you waited for something to happen.
But if you become your own Tyler Durden and put a gun to your own head and really think about what you want to do, it could change everything. Jack, who witnessed the gun to the head scene says “I feel sick,” to which Tyler responds “Imagine how he feels. Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of Raymond K. Hessel’s life. His breakfast will taste better than any meal he has ever eaten.”
I’ve been thinking about this concept lately. How my own life has evolved to where I am, and how utterly insane my weeks sometimes feel. It’s almost 3AM on a Friday night, and I’ve just spent a few hours testing and logging bugs for our website, Toobla.com. Next week I need to work on putting three pitch decks together, one to find more money for Toobla – my day job at which I’m CEO – and two for start-ups I’m working with on the side with my web accelerator/incubator company, weBuild. Toobla is literally jumping through hoops to secure one or two months of funding at a time from now to February. I work an awful lot of hours every week in order to keep everything I’m juggling up in the air.
But, as crazy as it may sound – not knowing if I’ll have a job in two months and blindly putting my faith in Internet startups and in my ability and my teams’ abilities to create successful products and solutions – I am doing exactly what I want to be doing. And it occurred to me, as I’ve been mulling this Tyler Durden scene around in my head, that it wasn’t really just one event that brought me here. There have been a number of decisions I’ve made since October last year when I left Digg that have guided and evolved me to where I am. Those decisions weren’t part of a master plan per se, but they were entirely about me following my passions.
The most important advice I could give an entrepreneur is to passionately pursue their dreams. Go boldly. Be confident. Surround yourself with excellent and talented people, but go all out – no regrets, as mightily as you can.
But you have to put the gun to your head first and ask that question.
So, what is it that *you’re* passionate enough about to risk everything?
Dare to Fail Greatly May 22, 2009Posted by Brian Link in entrepreneurialism.
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“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly” — Robert Kennedy
It’s such a simple little life lesson wrapped up in that quote. But, especially during trying times like these, many people tend to curl up in a ball and hope for the storm to blow over. Instead, if you’re even the slightest entrepreneurial in spirit, you should use this time to experiment and innovate. If you have an idea to build your own company, consider it. If you have the next greatest Internet startup idea cooking, dammit, go talk to people about it and figure out how you can make progress on it. You don’t need to quit your job, just find a way to dabble. Find people to collaborate with. If you have the skills, just start coding!
Now somedays I think I’m a little insane because I take this concept to the limit of what I can endure. But I love it. I have a fantastic job with a funded Internet startup. But I always find a way to keep the wheels turning. Don’t ask me what my side projects are unless you have some serious time to spare.
Some of the most brilliant and passionate people I know are finding ways to build their dream. Whether you’re a stay-at-home-Mom or a financial analyst or a high school or college kid working in a fast food restaurant. Dream big. Follow your heart and find a way to do something you’re passionate about. You may not end up being one of the lucky ones to stumble into something great but I guarantee you that you’ll be happier for trying. And if you fall short and end up with a nice little side business that keeps you happy and helps pay the bills, well damn, good for you.
Strangers with Business Cards March 24, 2009Posted by Brian Link in Uncategorized.
So yesterday, I asked a good friend of mine, Jeff Brown of the DigitalDept (@digitaldept), for a stack of his business cards to help hand out to the various small businesses I run across in Columbus. He’s fantastic with anything and everything to do with digital media for marketing by the way (everything including logo designs and digital branding, posters, mailers, newsletters, twitter backgrounds, high quality inexpensive business cards, you name it).
Then today, I was doing some searching for Twitter tools that help you figure out who you’re following that’s not following you, and got lost in a zillion search results about this topic and bloggers talking about strategies about who you should follow back and all kinds of discussions about your Twitter counts. You’ve all seen it. It’s like a big contest for people, isn’t it? It really makes me wonder why. I mean I understand the purile popularity contest that social media ignites in people, but for those that are treating it seriously and trying to leverage social media to grow their business and do something strategic with their marketing… why would you care?
So I ask this question: would you (and do you) trust every stranger you meet to hand out your business cards for you? I hope your answer is no. Your brand is something you need to value. And while you *do* want as much exposure as you can get and are right in trying to find the right way to use social media to extend your capabilities and reach, you need to be cautious here. There are only a few trusted friends and business partners that I would ask to hand out my business cards for me.
So what am I getting at? Well, why do you think most people try to accumulate followers on Twitter? I think that *they* think that they’re increasing their ability to spread the word about whatever they’re tweeting – spreading news about their company, bragging about blog entries, sharing information they find. But random followers, meaning people you’ve not done business with or don’t know much about beyond their profile data are really just strangers, aren’t they? And I purport that asking these strangers to retweet your messages about your company is exactly the same as asking strangers to hand out business cards.
Now this is social media and it’s a whole new world, I realize. And getting more exposure whether it’s through trusted partners or random @strangeguyyoujustmet can actually put your brand in front of more eyeballs in some cases. But I’m suggesting you think about your strategy and whether this feels like giving a stack of business cards to strangers or not. Maybe it doesn’t bother you 🙂
What do you think?
Strategic Value – blah, blah, blah? March 11, 2009Posted by Brian Link in Uncategorized.
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My new consulting website http://beinteractiveconsulting.com/ is up. After nearly five months on my own it felt like it was time 🙂 With so much to do – the simplest and most obvious things can fall off your plate too! But now I have something I can point people to when they ask “what do you do?”
But what’s funny to me is that every other “social media consultant” I see out there hasn’t bothered to set up a website. I guess that’s the point they’re making though, isn’t it? If you’re engrossed in social media, maybe that’s all you need – your blog. After all, what you’re selling is your point of view and best practices (and hopefully your experience). Ahhh… that’s the catch though isn’t it? Ever see a social media consultant sell themselves based on their experience? It’s interesting, not many people actually have experience in this field yet do they? The ones that have great experience are too busy to sit around and brag about it – they’re off speaking at big conferences between client gigs.
So I guess I’m trying to do something a little different. My goal is to create an even playing field and disrupt this new industry. There’s just too many people out there (large and small businesses alike) that need the detailed “social media starter kit” and quite honestly, the information is out there already and free, you just have to dedicate some time to scour a few dozen blogs and then be daring enough to give it a try. It’s really not rocket science. So keep your eyes peeled, I’m going to launch something as soon as I can that aims to practically give away a big concentrated dose of this best practices stuff – the baseline that all the crazy social media people in the echo chamber take for granted. Information wants to be free, right?
Why would I do that? I mean, I could hang up a sign and rake in some serious cash helping people setup twitter accounts and learn how to use LinkedIn and Facebook to promote their business right? My passion is working with businesses on achieving radical change and driving strategic goals through an organization and instilling a culture that breeds success. To do this well though, it means those that don’t know this baseline of knowledge need to get up to speed first. So, we’ll see. Worst case scenario, this thing I’m going to launch will save a lot of people a lot of time sifting through the blogosphere of social media. Shoot me an email if you’d like an early sneak peek as I get closer to launch.
Meanwhile, social media isn’t the only thing I do. And if I can be blunt, a good social media consultant will have a background to draw from and deep experience in business strategy consulting, marketing, technology and some hands-on Internet work too. So there’s my pitch. I’ll let you read my new site if you’re interested in what my other services are: http://beinteractiveconsulting.com/
And if you know someone that might be interested in what I do, please forward them my links. And then let me know – I’d be happy to reward you with a kick ass referral bonus.
What Do I Want Out of Twitter? February 13, 2009Posted by Brian Link in Uncategorized.
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To be sure, Twitter is a tool with many usage patterns. There are people doing any number of things: making connections, wasting time, building businesses, crafting their digital personality, hubristic chattery (that’s a good domain name waiting to happen), or just learning and sharing to name a few.
I find that usually I’m lazy. Or unfocused is perhaps a better term. And while my intentions are great, I’m not always using Twitter in the noble way that I say that I am. What I like to say is that I’m listening to and learning from social media experts, agile process experts, and the VCs and Angel private equity experts. And when I’m totally on it, I’m bookmarking great links and posting them to delicious and even giving back great content I find on the web in return.
And sometimes I do actually do that. But the reality is, I’m often too busy to make the effort, so I’m dorking around on Twitter just like I do on the Internet when I’m not focused. It can be a fun distraction to let your brain go mush for a while (like Alec Baldwin describes in the Hulu commercial).
But what I will say is that even though I’m not always playing my A game and interacting on Twitter, I do like to pride myself on being selective about who I follow and who I listen to. And even in my off-weeks, I’m at least pulling it up at stop lights and whenever I have 30 seconds to dive in and read a few things. Right now, my favorited links are accumulating like the same uncontrollable pile of papers on my desk and I keep thinking “I really should get to that soon”. Because I favorite a tweet with a link that I want to come back and read, digest and perhaps post to delicious, or if it’s really good on my blog.
But alas, my social networking time suffers when I get busy. And so it goes. Maybe next week I’ll attack that pile of papers. The firehose keeps it coming, how do you cope with it?