Archive for August, 2011

Here’s What Sucks About Being An Entrepreneur…

It’s not the long hours, development dead ends or the faint hint that you may need to pivot your business model sooner rather than later. No. What sucks is that a very small number of people, the small minded, short sighted sycophant with neither vision nor the barest wisp of a good idea, will take more time and effort to beat down, berate and otherwise level an unending stream of put-downs and vitriol against someone who wants to make a difference than it would to meekly and disingenuously whisper “Good luck.”

You don’t need to be championing the next big thing or saving a continent from drought to matter to your family, friends or even the community around you. You do need to give a damn about what you’re doing. You need to believe in yourself, your idea, and your ability to move people to action. Because at some point one of these individuals without the courage to throw their hat in the ring will take a shot at you. When that time comes, if you’ve demonstrated to people that you’re really committed, that you’re genuine, then you’ll have 10, 100, or 1000 people that have your back. And they’ll beat the shit out of that jackass as soon as the opportunity presents itself. And, if you are one of these people, just say “Good Luck” and walk away, leave the ‘making things better’ to the rest of us.

Idea Defending.

Be careful who you put your ideas in front of. If you can find people that are genuinely in your corner and want you to succeed, show ‘em everything. Because these people are rare. I know of maybe five people that will look at what I’m doing and give me their blunt opinion. And I come back to them time and time again. They get the early look at what I’m working on, not because their friends, not because they tell me how great the idea is or how cool the concept is. They don’t fill me with a bunch of bullshit about how the idea is innovative and game changing. Nope, I come back to them because they’ll point out things that I missed or glossed over in the business model, consumer experience, or marketing plan. Seek these people out. Relentlessly. When you find these people, don’t get defensive about your idea – you’ll risk these people shutting down and not giving you their honest opinion. If your product, service or concept can survive these people and can improve based on their feedback, you’ll have a much stronger product when you go to market. It may not even look like what you originally conceived. Be prepared for it, you’ll be much better off.

Handling Seed Stage Funding

Here’s how I’m dealing with it. First, take a look at Brad Feld’s Finance Friday article from 8/12. Next, if you want more investment money, show what you did and how much you accomplished with the last money you got. This is just common sense. If you turned it into a working prototype, used it for travel and meetings with potential partners, great. Capture all of it. Break it down by what your expenses were. Show exactly what you’re paying your developers, sales teams or creatives. If you get a check from your investor(s) for the business, it goes into a business account. Do not mix your personal expenses and your business expenses. It’s called commingling of funds and when legal action happens (and it will) can cause you to lose your personal protection under corporate status. In other words, your personal assets could be at risk. Seek competent professional opinion if you need more on this subject. If you don’t have an operating account then BB&T can set you up in about 20 minutes. Bring ALL of your partners and bring your articles of incorporation as well as your EIN from the IRS. Know in advance who can withdraw money from the accounts as you will be asked for that.

Now, if you followed Brad’s advice and got a copy of Quick Books, also get a copy of Quick Books for Dummies and it will walk you through the nuts and bolts of the accounting software. Have your EIN when you do it. This will suck at first but it is the administrivia that goes along with a startup. Ten minutes a day and it will be manageable. It’s way better than an investor ready to discuss handing you cash and it takes you a week to figure out how to pull a balance sheet together. By then, they’re gone.

Red Hawk Interactive Accepted to Gazelle Lab

Red Hawk InteractiveToday I’m pleased to announce that my company, Red Hawk Interactive, has been accepted to participate in Gazelle Lab. When I left my previous role in April it was to get more involved with the growing entrepreneurial and start-up communities that are developing in and around the Tampa Bay area. I also left to start my own company that focused on building digital products in an area that’s disruptive, fast moving, and growing quickly. I’m not ready to share what that is just yet but we’re making progress on a lot of fronts, although we have hit a few bumps lately. Gazelle Lab itself is part of the TechStars Network, which is dedicated to providing seed funding, mentorship, and a vast array of connections. This is my third start-up and in the previous two the biggest obstacles were finding mentors and funding. For Tampa Bay, seed stage funding is almost non-existent. Gazelle Lab and Tech Stars address exactly these issues and give entrepreneurs the immediate resources necessary to stack the deck in the start-ups favor. The heads-down, balls to the wall, three month program wraps up with DEMO Day at Mahaffey Theatre on November 17th in which the start-ups pitch their products and their companies to prospective investors. Take a look at the TechCrunch article for GazelleLab’s launch and the first six companies (including mine) that are participating.

Now it’s just up to us to execute on it.

Edit Yourself.

It’s easy to think of a great concept and then start adding to it. Adding things that really don’t matter to consumers. Adding things that you think make your product cool. Adding things that your competitors have and you think you need to have them too. The real results? You’re wasting time and polluting your decision making process by adding too many things to consider. Focus on what really drives the number of customers you have, how much they’re willing to pay and how fast you can reach them. Focus on exploiting the weaknesses of your competitors. Focus on making your customer’s purchase experience as quick, easy, and painless as possible. Make their experience completely intuitive and test the hell out of the design. Don’t lose site of what’s (in)valuable. Your customer data is invaluable. Feedback on the purchase experience is invaluable. Figuring out how to get from your innovative customers adopting your product (which is fairly easy) to your early adopters taking it up (more difficult) is valuable. Getting their feedback as their using the product is invaluable. If you’re not clear on what I’m talking about, re-read Crossing the Chasm, especially chapter 4, Target the Point of Attack. Learn to edit yourself, scale back and launch with the bare minimum solution. See how people react to it and go from there.

BarCamp Tampa Bay 2011

BarCamp Tampa BayBarCamp Tampa Bay is returning on Sept 24th to Kforce in Ybor. This year we’ve gone with just a single day and are limiting the sessions to 30 minutes each. Topics will include Social Media, PHP, Ruby, mobile development and much more. Hopefully we’ll see some sys admins and DBA’s presenting as well this year. If you’re not already following @BarCampTampa you’ll find that we will be sending updates from there as well as through the Facebook account. Shortly we’ll have registration and additional information on the freshly redesigned BarCampTampaBay.org website (courtesy of @DanDenney) as well as sponsorship information. If you’re a business focused on technology, development, new media or are in any way interested in helping support the entrepreneurial community that is growing around the Tampa Bay area, contact me on twitter, I’d be happy to speak with you about our sponsorship packages. You can also follow #BarCampTampa for updates leading up to and during the event.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept behind BarCamp it’s an ‘un conference’ meaning that the attendees themselves present on subjects that they are experienced and passionate about. Aimed primarily at the technology and creative communities, BarCamps provide an annual event to network and share ideas. All of this shows how much talent is in the Tampa Bay area. If you’re a business owner, entrepreneur, or just curious about how much is really going on in the Tampa area, I encourage you to stop by listen to some of the presentations. I think you’ll be highly impressed.

We hope to see you there!

Getting Your Idea Across… To Your Dad.

On purpose I had not told my dad I left my day job until just recently. He’s 84 so he leans toward the “stick with your job and save your money” train of thought. I figured I’d break it to him over lunch, that way if he was going to explode he would have to pay for his own food. After I explained the situation to him he was actually very supportive. Then came the inevitable “What are you working on” question. The dreaded question. Remember, he’s 84 and once told me that computers were a fad. He’s a bit more reasonable now. Oh, and he can’t see either. After making him sign an NDA (just kidding!) I broke it down for him and related it to things that he’s accustomed to using. In two minutes he understood it and said “I’d use that!” He’s a bit out of my age demo but what the hell, good enough. Three concepts that have really come about over the last five years that he’s never seen or used and he gets it. The power of a good story transcends everything. No techy details, no discussion of business models, innovation, marketing or sales. Just a good story built on concepts that he’s already familiar with.

I’ve seen people build sixty page powerpoint decks to convince others that they know what they’re talking about. In the end the audience’s eyes glaze over and they’re asking “WTF was that about?” If you can’t break your concepts down in five minutes for someone who has no idea of what your talking about to start with, perhaps you should reconsider what you’re saying.

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