6 Ways Startups Can Beat the Tax Man



When you’re first starting a company, there are a lot of overhead costs. You have to pick up furniture, electronics, and a whole host of other things. You’ve also got to worry about employees, whether you’re going to provide benefits, and more. Fortunately, there are a few ways that your startup can beat the tax man.

Work Opportunity Tax Credit

If you hire employees from a certain group, you can get a tax credit. This group includes individuals that receive food stamps, certain qualified veterans, and certain residents in the community. On average, about 25 percent of all new hires are eligible for one of the targeted work opportunity tax credit groups. The credit is up to $2,400 per qualified employee in the first year of employment. However, the qualified veterans program offers up to a $9,600 tax credit in the first year.

incontent3Deduct Your Furniture

Consult with your tax preparer and see if they think you should expense or depreciate your furniture. This is an important decision, since you’re going to end up getting a ton of furniture.

You shouldn’t buy furniture just to get the tax deduction, though. Only get what you need now or furniture that you’ll anticipate needing in the very new future.

Travel Costs

Did you know that you can deduct any expenses related to traveling in your car? You can deduct all parking fees, tolls that you encounter while on a business trip, and mileage. You’ll need to keep track of the mileage, as well as the start and finish mark of the odometer. Also note the business purpose for each trip. You’ll also be able to deduct repairs, insurance, and maintenance costs.

Home Office Expenses

Sometimes you don’t need an office to run a business. If you’re using a dedicated space in your home as your home office, you can deduct it. The only catch is that the room must be used to conduct business. If you conduct business on the same couch that you lie on when you’re taking online courses for your Masters of Laws degree, you’re out of luck. You can also deduct a portion of utilities, rent, insurance, and taxes.


Did you know that you can deduct any loans you get when you’re starting your business? They can be fully deducted! If you borrow money from a relative, make sure that it conforms to IRS rules before attempting to deduct it. This certainly provides a much-needed break and should put your mind a bit more at ease when starting your business.


Without advertising, no one will know your business exists. You can deduct the costs of advertising that cover multiple-year contracts, and the deductions must be spread out over all the contract years. This covers advertising on any form of medium, whether it be a billboard sign or a newspaper ad.

Startups take on a lot of costs, but these tax deductions can provide a bit of relief. Can you think of anything else that your startup can deduct? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Emily Green is a freelance writer with more than six years’ experience in blogging, copywriting, content, SEO, and dissertation, technical and thesis writing. She loves all things tech and and going on a jog with her dog.

The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Communicating With Investors



Rachael Qualls

Fundraising is incredibly important, but it’s only part of the equation. To make your vision a reality, you need to sell your potential to investors and continue to prove your worth down the road. This requires consistent communication before, during, and after your initial round of funding. Below is your guide to working with capitalists after the initial funding phase to ensure that you have the tools and knowledge to land repeat investments.

The Power of the JOBS Act

The JOBS Act has transformed investor relations from a necessary evil to an incredibly powerful tool in the entrepreneur’s arsenal. Before the JOBS Act, companies couldn’t advertise the fact that they were raising money. With the elimination of that ban, they were given permission to market their worth and financial needs to investors.

In the past, the s

cales were tipped heavily in favor of investors, who took a long time to get back to entrepreneurs, do due diligence, or fund deals. The investment options were plenty, but the market lacked efficiency and effectiveness.

All that changed with the rise of crowdfunding. With the rise of online funding platforms, new prospects are accessible to more investors, and savvy funders know they have to move quickly to gain access to the hottest companies. In addition, potential investors who might have only considered the public market before can now explore the private sector from the comfort of their homes.

This increased awareness translates into more investing in private companies, potentially making it easier to raise substantial amounts of funding without having to go public. But it also means the market is flooding, forcing entrepreneurs to stand out from the swells of startups online.


The Investor Communication Checklist

Investors who provided initial funds can be a resource for more capital as your company grows, but only if you give them the information they need and provide updates on how their investment is performing. Consider these necessities:

1. Updates on company progress: Provide updates on a monthly basis to engage your investors. Giving investors dire news at the last minute is not just unprofessional; it’s bad for business. The less time they have to absorb the news, the less motivated they will be to help. In my investor updates, I always include a section titled “Things Keeping Me Up at Night” that lays out the issues that most concern me. This gets everything on the table. Frequently, investors reach out to offer assistance if they can.

2. Monthly financial reports: It’s a reality in today’s startup environment: Nearly every company will need to ask current investors for more money. If you’re upfront, investors will understand your situation and might be more willing to help. Financial reports guarantee that everyone is on the same page.

3. Changes in capitalization: If you raise more money or set up an employee stock option pool, current investors will be affected. Typically, they need to approve anything that affects changes to their shares. Again, clear and consistent communication can smooth these transitions.

4. Tax information: If your company is an LLC, you will need to provide a K-1 form to each investor to indicate his or her share of the earnings for tax purposes. Organization will be key as more and more investors are added to the company.

5. Major ownership changes: Major transactions, such as selling the company, may require the approval of all shareholders. You need to inform your investors efficiently and get signed documents, approvals, or votes from shareholders to complete negotiations.

incontent3 Building Your Reputation

Reputation is everything. You’re only as viable as your funders believe you to be, and the suggestions above will strengthen your company’s brand in the eyes of current and potential investors. Present information that is organized, accurate, and digestible.

The first thing a potential investor will do is call current investors for feedback. If those experienced investors feel uninformed about your company, they will likely convey a negative message to the newcomer. Moreover, new investors will check to see if current investors are putting up more capital for your company. If a new investor feels that older investors are abandoning ship, you have a communication problem and potentially a much more disastrous financial problem in your future.

Every communication to your investors is building a foundation for future investment. Investors saw promise in you and your ideas — it’s your responsibility to keep them educated about your goals, operations, and finances.

As it turns out, being the boss requires a lot of talking. Be proactive by connecting with your investors on a regular basis. After all, they’re the ones funding your dream.

Rachael Qualls is the founder and CEO of Venture 360, a platform that provides investors and investor groups with a great platform to manage their portfolios. Venture 360 also provides entrepreneurs the support they need to manage their relationships with investors so they can focus on running their businesses. Connect with Rachael on Twitter and Google+.

The Secret Startup Resource You’re Probably Overlooking


The best days are not planned
For successful startup founders, it is critical to understand the distinction between unavoidable challenges and unforced mistakes. Too many startups fail as a result of the same set of predictable mistakes: poor planning, poor timing, poor understanding offinance. It is poor business intelligence. Starters who lack access to the right information or the skills to put that information to work are at a disadvantage.

rsz_incontentad2Smart startup founders look outside their own networks to bring in new skills and gain better access. For better business intelligence, the best person to add to your information network is a librarian. Whether online via chat or at your local library, she can help you navigate the library’s vast, free resources to find the information you need and avoid common, costly mistakes.

Failing to know the market

You have a fantastic idea for a product you’re sure will change lives and make a fortune. But sometimes a passion for an idea can blind you to the realities of the market. Your librarian can help you access databases and the hidden web where you can research patents and use tools such as LexisNexis, JSTOR and Standard & Poor’s to conduct the market research you need to complete before launching.

Lacking focus

Too many startups jeopardize their chances of success by attempting to be multiple things at once. The reality is that most startups struggle to master a single service or product well enough to survive. As you’re piecing together your business plan, a librarian can assist you in researching market conditions, competitors and supply chains to help you focus where you’re most likely to succeed.

Unclear understanding of financials

You don’t need to be a CPA to start a business, but you need to understand the basics of finance. This will help you later as you begin to negotiate loans and equity lines, but more crucially, basic financial literacy will help you determine what is feasible for your business.

Librarians are trained to locate the highest quality, most reputable sources of information and will guide you to the correct resources for assistance.

Failure to listen to customers

Passion is the defining feature of an entrepreneur, and the force that drives success. But passion can be self-defeating if it makes you blind to the preferences of your customers.

Think of the library as a beta site or showroom. It’s a space where you can get your product in front of potential customers from an early stage and see how they react. It may turn out that once your product is in consumers’ hands it gets used in entirely different ways than you imagined. By incorporating the library into your product development process, you will always have real-world usage data to signal consumers’ preferences.

No plan

You need to map where your company will be in 6 months, a year, 2 years and sometimes even longer. Do your homework and determine what you would need to have in place to make it happen. Will it require outside investment? Leverage your library for the resources you need to put together your pitch deck. Will it require continued innovation? Use your library to access scientific and scholarly journals to stay up on the latest developments in your field.

Information is ubiquitous, but finding the right information can be frustratingly illusive. The difference to your success could be the librarians who have both the skills and the sources that could solve many of the problems you face in garnering good, fact-based information, research, statistics and data that could help you avoid many of these problems.

If you make the library a central resource in your business, and depend on the knowledge, training and skills of your librarian, you will find yourself in better control of the information you need to succeed. It’s no secret that founding a business is a difficult and allconsuming occupation, but with a librarian in your corner, you will be able to approach the challenges with a clear mind and deep well of information.

John Chrastka is founder of EveryLibrary, a library advocacy organization dedicated to preserving local library funding and ensuring access. As a former tech entrepreneur, one of John’s goals is to raise awareness of the resources libraries and librarians can provide to the tech community, for free with a library card. John can be found on Twitter at @mrchrastka. You can learn more about EveryLibrary at EveryLibrary.org.

The David and Goliath Guide to Innovation: Don’t Always Solve New Problems


We’re always looking for that untapped holy grail of a new market. Something super niche. Something that no one else thought to go after. It’s exciting. It’s sexy.

And as entrepreneurs, we’re programmed to ask ourselves:
What new problems can I solve?

But why don’t we ask ourselves more often:
How can I solve problem X better than company Y?

We’re becoming so programmed to look for the “new”, that we’re becoming averse to solving existing problems, better.

incontentad1_rz_Maybe it’s because it’s just plain daunting to think about going up against a Goliath when you’re a David. And even if you’re incredibly confident that you’ve found a better way to do things, there are a million reasons to talk yourself out of going up against a heavy hitter. It’s intimidating.

But actually, it happens all the time. Some of the most successful companies of the last couple years didn’t come up with an idea that required a new market. They solved old problems in new ways.

Take Lyft and Uber for example—going up against the Taxi unions. Stripetaking on PayPalKISSMetrics and Mixpanel taking on Google Analytics.

What it really comes down to is finding a way to do things better (whether it’s a new problem or an old one), and knowing what and where your advantages are.

In his book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants”Malcolm Gladwell takes the stance that David, not Goliath, actually had the advantage in that battle.

“It is because of, and not despite, David’s size and unorthodox choice of weapon that he is able to slay the lumbering giant[…]most people underestimate the importance of agility and speed.”

“David’s sling is a devastating weapon[…]Then we have a big, lumbering guy weighed down with armor, who can’t see much more than a few feet in front of his face, up against a kid running at him with a devastating weapon and a rock traveling with the stopping power of a .45 caliber handgun. That’s not a story of an underdog and a favorite. David has a ton of advantages in that battle, they’re just not obvious.” -Malcolm Gladwell


So how do you take on a Goliath?

We recently interviewed Todd Garland, founder of BuySellAds (BSA). He opened up about his experience and the challenges of taking on his Goliath, and diving head first into a dinosaur of an industry: online banner advertising.

“I was pretty naive going into it. Had I known it was a David & Goliath situation, I probably wouldn’t have done it. But that’s the beauty of being naive and being able to take a fresh perspective on an industry with a ton of baggage. Just being able to go into it with a fresh set of eyes and looking at how you can break down a problem at the most simple level, and how you can help people solve their problem.” -Todd

When he entered the market in 2008, he was up against the then dominantAdBrite. It seemed like they had all the advantages: a huge existing customer base, a big team of sales people, tons of options for advertisers to place ads, tons of features, etc. But AdBrite was clunky, and they were complicated.Todd saw a better way — a need for massive simplification.

And that became the key difference for BSA. They sold ads at fixed 30 day rates. And that was the only option. They focused on making it incredibly simple for publishers to get ads up on their site, and easy for them to get paid.

“I found a better way to get advertiser money and ‘Robin Hood’ it over to the publishers.” -Todd

What it came down to is that he really understood the product that he was trying to build, and he really understood the problem that he was solving. So he was able to articulate that really well to folks who he had identified as having that same problem.

Then, he just looked for them online. And the hard work began. He emailed, he cold called, he built personal relationships anywhere and everywhere he could. He hustled.

Fast forward about 6 years and BSA has a team that spans worldwide, they’ve got an established customer base, brand, infrastructure, etc.

“It’s always going to hard for any company to launch a new thing. That’s an important lesson for folks starting out for the first time, and maybe people launching their first company to understand.

While you may think you’re up against Goliath, because they already have a customer base, and they have tech, and they have a team, and they have money and all those things, it really is much more of a level playing field than you might think.” -Todd

Listen to the full interview with Todd on The Rocketship Podcast or subscribe on iTunes to receive all of our founder interviews.

Joelle Steiniger is Co-Founder of Small HQ, currently building HookFeed, a Stripe analytics app. She’s also writing How to Build a Rocketship and co-hosting the Rocketship Podcast.

Follow her on Twitter at: @JoelleSteiniger

This post originally appeared on Medium.

When Wine Meets Tech Good Things Happen



How do you migrate from a successful SaaS venture capitalist and longtime technology industry native, into the founder of a successful wine brand? With a unique approach, some creativity, and the right partnerships, Uproot wines has done just that. Mixing the art of growth hacking, and knowledge from the startup world, Jay and Greg are carving out their niche in the wine market.

Unlike software though, where you can adopt a lean business model, while continually improving your product, wine requires the right stuff from the start. There are no test iterations of your Reserve Cabernet.

One of the more unique qualities of the wine industry is the huge range of individuals it attracts.

So how did a venture capitalist and a former New York office worker come together to form this brand? Greg Scheinfeld is a native of New York who left his desk job to work a harvest in 2006 and never looked back. After honing his skills at places like Joseph Phelps, Vineyard 29, and Cakebread Cellars, he moved on to start Uproot with Jay Levy. The two make for great combination, with Greg the meticulous winemaker, and Jay bringing his technical startup knowledge.

“We went all in, and knew what we wanted to do” says Jay, explaining their approach.

To stand out in the sea of wine brands, you need a strong differentiator, and that has been one of Uproot’s strengths. The wine’s labels feature unique color schemes that offer a visual match to the flavors contained within. It’s a simple, and overall subtle thing to put a wine’s flavors into a color palette, but for consumers it makes sense.

Their production is small, at just under 500 cases, and their model relies on the support of a directly connected base of consumers. Eager wine enthusiasts got first dibs on their releases, which include a Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Blanc, and a new Grenache.

Establishing your customer base directly first, and then following up with limited distribution to restaurants and wine shops may seem backward to many wineries that follow the traditional three-tier model. But in building your customers one by one, and being selective about where your wine goes, you maintain much more control over the direction and growth.

I asked Jay about funding for their venture. He’s a well connected venture capitalist, with a great portfolio of companies behind him. If you had to guess, you’d think he poured a bunch into this new direction. You’d be wrong. While they have poured some into the production and necessary activities to build and sustain a wine brand, they fall more into the bootstrapped sort of approach, which can work when you take a ground-up approach with a product. By establishing a foundation of followers, fans, and customers, together with savvy content marketing and cross-lifestyle promotion online, they’ve gained a lot of exposure. The bootstrap style also helps build authenticity into their brand image.

“As a whole, we spent very little money on online marketing. We use storytelling and meeting directly with people to get the word out.”

Uproot’s primary market is milllenials, ages 28-45 who can afford and appreciate a $42 bottle of wine. Their website has a page dedicated to their values, another seemingly obvious, yet often ignored piece of many online businesses. One value in particular that I like is “customers are friends we haven’t met, yet” which is always a great way to go. They email people about once a month, and don’t get spammy with it.

They also make use of a good number of the small companies in the Zelkova portfolio, which helps them adapt to tech needs and develop a more agile approach. They use HelpScout to offer up friendly customer service, Ambassador for social referrals, and Crowdly which helps analyze their social media engagement.

This sort of approach is a dramatic contrast against the majority of other wineries out there, from the largest producers down to the smallest. In an industry rooted in agriculture, tradition, and prestige, technology has not been a strong adoption point.

“The industry is not leveraging the latest and greatest tech that it could be,” says Jay.

Specifically, he faults wineries for having antiquated consumer-facing websites. “You look at some of these websites, and it has the feel of 1996 tech. From a consumer-facing front end, it’s probably about 10 years behind.”

Another basic, yet effective way to establish that first touch point of communication with the customer happens via live chat on their website. I asked Jay about this, because it’s something that seems obvious to implement, and yet again, ignored by a good many wineries and small businesses alike. Jay says they have someone online “as much as possible” and they get about 5-10 conversations per day. Many want to simply say hello and have the chance to connect with someone behind the brand, while others want to ask a question about the wine. Having a live person can work great for a small business, plus it’s a easy way to create more connections with potential customers.

Uproot’s website and business is still in its infancy really, but has been a solid source for great wine-related content, such as the Guide to Napa, and simple but informative infographics. They engage, inform, and entertain their readers with content that has substance, although they did post the obligatory “bud break” post which every winery seems to do as part of their 4-post-per year schedule.

Going forward in 2014, they plan to expand their vision of a new kind of wine club called “The Block” and have just released their Grenache, which is a hot and heavy welcoming addition to the lineup of refreshing whites. Their wine club is free to join, and really just brings you on a level closer to the brand allowing the consumer more opportunity to join others and receive preferential treatment.

Michael Meisner lives in wine country with his fiance, where he builds ecommerce websites and consults with wineries looking to take advantage of the growing world of direct-to-consumer ecommerce. He writes about various topics surrounding digital marketing, writing, wine, and WordPress on his blog. Follow him on Twitter @mmeisner

Flash Crystals Shoots to Change Music Distribution in 2014


music promotion

Let’s face it: physical music promotion hasn’t changed since the 90’s. Music has evolved with cloud based music streaming, online radio, and music on the go. So why are CDs still around?

Charleson Bell, Chief Innovation Officer of Crystal Innovations, asked himself the very same question, and his answer soon became the Flash Crystal.

According to Bell and the rest of his team at Crystal Innovations Inc, the Flash Crystal is the future of media sharing. Using NFC technology, the Flash Crystal can instantly upload music, artist’s websites, business cards or media files from the Internet straight to your NFC enabled mobile device.

Pretty cool, huh?

The Flash Crystal is breaking the idea that all music should be cloud based by combining the reliability of a physical copy of media and adopting today’s newest tech. The Flash Crystal is one of the easiest way to share media content today. Unlike Bluetooth, it doesn’t require a PIN to link, and it doesn’t require an app like a QR code. Simply turn on the NFC on your mobile device, tap the back of your phone with the Crystal and you have yourself a whole album of music.

It’s that simple.

Bell spoke to me about how he came to the development of Flash Crystals when he was starting BioNanovations in December of 2012. Bell said, “Money was tight, and I was trying to sell CD’s of my own music just to get by.” He said his CD’s didn’t sell because no one buys CD’s anymore, and that’s when he met the point where desperation equaled innovation.

“I needed something that could send music straight to your phone without the hassle of a CD,” he said.

Bell is currently still the CEO of his biotech startup BioNanovations, but he works closely Ronnie Braxton and the rest of his team to bring the Flash Crystal to life.

According to ABI Research, there were 285 million NFC-capable devices in 2013. In 2014 it is estimated that more than 500 million NFC-capable phones will be in the hands of consumers worldwide. With millions losing terabytes of data using cloud-based music storage, and according to eMarketer, over 70 million people listening to their music regularly on a mobile phone in 2013, Flash Crystal has the potential to change music promotion and distribution for good.

As a Business Management major at Trevecca Nazarene University and a Division II track athlete, Josh Durham is in a little bit of everything.  Josh loves startups from tech to healthcare and recently joined the ranks of an online coffee fundraiser called Goodbean.org from his hometown of Franklin, Tennessee.


Should Startups Fight the SEO War?

SEO warAbout a year ago, three friends and I began the daunting journey of building our tech startup, GreenPal.

Taking the leap of faith to start was the hardest part, as often, ideas are stillborn. They require a plan with relentless execution for them to manifest into reality.

By now we are all familiar with the lean startup methodology of deploying, testing, and iterating new ideas to discover and establish a product’s problem-market fit. Once a startup has launched a product and gained early adopters’ feedback, and the founders discover they are scratching an itch, what are the smartest methods to begin distributing that product to more early adopters?

With resources scarce, does it make sense for a startup to invest your precious few dollars of seed capital on paid acquisition methods such as PPC campaigns, search retargeting, or FB marketing? Or should a startup invest resources into organic SEO? A few key points should be considered with respect to SEO marketing and your startup.

 Time and Faith are vital:

Getting your site to naturally rank well for the keywords you are targeting, known as organic SEO, will require months and years of building the necessary momentum to see tangible benefits. While there are over 200 factors to Google’s search algorithm, SEO today is still heavily weighted on what is called Domain Authority (DA) and Page Rank (PR). It takes time (3-12 months of steady work) to establish strong enough values to improve meaningfully how your site will rank. The beginning will be an exercise in faith, as there is little instant gratification to organic SEO work.

 Who is going to put in the work:

So the question is, who in your startup team will dedicate the hours to SEO, primarily the grueling work of building quality back links from authoritative sites? My experience is that a robust link building campaign will require a minimum of 20 hours per week of steady dedication, writing quality articles, and creating attractive linkable assets such as graphics, illustrations, industry reports, and videos to name a few. Then, outreach must be conducted to find webmasters and bloggers that will want to feature this content and link back to your site. All this takes time, plain and simple.

In our team we have assigned the SEO discipline to our non-technical cofounders to grind on while product development is taking place before initial launch. However, when post launch bandwidth dries up, balancing the time needed to stay the course on your SEO strategy is challenging as the job is never finished. It will takes years to build your DA to the level of established incumbents who have big marketing budgets and most likely full time experienced SEO’s on staff.

 Why not just outsource your SEO?:

It is possible to outsource the heavy lifting of your SEO strategy such as the creation of attractive linkable assets, the manual outreach, and the link-building. However, it may prove to be cost prohibitive for your cash strapped startup. There is no immediate measurable ROI on SEO efforts, so explaining that seed capital burn will be a difficult conversation with your stake holders. Additionally, the lag in time for when the money invested in SEO activities through an agency will yield actual fruit proves prohibitive for most startups. This is why most startups double down on PPC and other paid channels—such methods yield an immediate result and ROI.

 So, should a Startup even fight the SEO war:

My humble opinion is, yes, if at all possible. Once a startup has created a product that people will actually like to use, growth is all that matters. Forget growth hacking; every startup must have a comprehensive digital marketing strategy that encompasses a blend of channels. Whether paid acquisition such as AdWords, FB marketing, Search Retargeting, or natural organic methods such as SEO, content marketing, and intensifying the viral coefficient of your product, every startup has to experiment to find the proper marketing formula. While this will certainly vary from product to product, in most cases, natural SEO will be a large component to the strategy.

I recommend startups make the time to begin SEO efforts early. For two reasons: first, because it takes so long to build the momentum in natural SEO, and second, because the investment of time builds equity in your company’s DA. Once authoritative DA is established, this is an asset that will yield returns in perpetuity in the form of your homepage and landing pages ranking well for targeted keywords.

In the end, you’ll be glad you no longer have to pay Google $3 for that click.

 Bryan Clayton is a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of GreenPal.

The “Must-Attend Conference for Entrepreneurs” Everywhere Else Tennessee is headed back to Memphis this Spring. We’ve released the early adopter tickets, and they’re going fast. Don’t miss your shot by signing up here!

A Founder’s Accelerator Tale: 3 Misconceptions About Month 1


startup acceleratorsEditor’s Note: With accelerator application season upon us, we know it can be hard to decide if accelerators are right for your company. With that in mind, we decided to give you an inside look at the workings of one of the top accelerators in the country.

With The Brandery soon taking applications for their 2014 class, I’ve been thinking back on my experience at the Cincinnati-based accelerator. Our company was lucky enough to be one of ten companies selected out of over 1,000 applicants to participate in the 2013 class.

While many Nibletz readers are familiar with the Brandery, I’m sure a large portion of startup enthusiasts have still never heard of it. Because after all – who has ever heard of an accelerator not located in SF or NYC named something other than TechStars?

The Brandery may not come from the same pedigree as the aforementioned, but it makes up for what the big guys lack in special ways. In fact CNN just named it to their top 9 hot startup accelerator list for its strength in consumer branding. With it’s proximity to Proctor & Gamble, (the same company who outpaced every other in the world with over $5 billion in ad spend in 2012) people in Cincinnati know how to market.

Every Brandery company receives $20K in exchange for 6% warrants, pro-bono work from some of the top digital and marketing agencies in the US, and a mentorship list that could compete with many of the top accelerators in the nation. The strong consumer marketing curriculum every Brandery company undergoes is built on the back of those mentors and professionals.

Often unmentioned but one of the most important facets of being in the Brandery is you find yourself being supported by the entire city of Cincinnati. People take their home very seriously in Cincinnati, and you’ll find most residents and businesses are willing to lend a hand to your cause no matter where you’re from.

Since we jammed what felt like a year’s worth of work into 3 months, I’ll try to breakdown my experience into several, digestible sections. Perhaps sensibly so, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd month of the program, with a

short conclusion on what happens to companies post “accelerating”.

So are you ready to dive in?

Month 1 at the Brandery

Let me start by mentioning a couple things upfront about my co-founders and I. None of us have technical backgrounds. In fact we had already struck out with one developer, before having to bring in a brand new CTO a week before the program began. While we had experience in business related fields, primarily accounting and consulting, we were very green in the tech world. We had almost no startup experience save for one small business we had started the year before.

Oh and did I mention our idea was B2B? Were we ideal Brandery candidates? Not exactly.

The first month of the Brandery is really about getting to the misconceptions as fast as possible. This likely holds true for any accelerator (YC, Tech Stars, et al.)

Misconception #1: Move as “fast as possible.”

You need to accept the reality you will not always be moving as fast possible. Many times too much speed will be detrimental to your cause. One of the founders told me months afterward he thought our company came in as a huge underdog. Fact is, we knew it. So we tried to make hurried decisions, hop in other team members’ work, and force our CTO to code as fast as possible.

The result? A train wreck.

The relationship with our developer was becoming more awkward by the day and we were making each other furious by constantly stepping on one another’s toes.

My advice for this misconception is find the right dynamic for you and your team. Find out where your strengths lie and divvy up tasks and responsibilities accordingly. Only step on the gas when you’re sure you’ve made the right decision, otherwise you’re destined to tailspin.

Misconception #2: Listen to all the advice you receive.

This is absolutely one of the hardest things to do in an accelerator because you’re getting an opinion every minute. During times when you’re taking a break, you’re probably giving a few of your own.

You must take every piece of advice with a grain of salt. Trying to action every piece of advice or feedback will certainly make your head spin and almost assuredly result in the quick death of your company.

My advice here is to realize that everyone has solved the challenge of starting their own company in a different way. There are a million ways to solve a problem you just have to choose your favorite way. I’ll never forget the days we had back-to-back speakers who shared a totally opposing message. One experienced entrepreneur had a successful exit with his first startup and told us to not raise VC money. “Focus on revenue, and bootstrap until you can’t bootstrap anymore.”

The next day’s speaker, founder of a widely used internet tool, told us, “You’ll never stop raising money.”

So uh – which is it? The fact is, you’ll have to figure it out for yourself. Hear everything, listen and internalize about 20% of that, and ALWAYS make your own decisions based on what you believe to be the best information at hand.


Misconception #3: Focus on building the product

The answer to this will largely depend on how much work you’ve done on your idea before entering said accelerator. But for the vast majority of us, we were primarily in the idea stage and only had minimal prototypes at hand.

My take here is to focus on your customers first, then focus on building the product.

Grab a copy of Running Lean and read about the right way to do customer problem and subsequently, solution interviews. Future-self will thank you. A good product comes from great feedback and when in doubt, traction trumps a full prototype. This is especially true in the case of non-dev founders. Don’t waste your developer’s time on stuff you may not even know is necessary. His/her time is more important than yours, so treat it like gold.

I get asked all the time how to start a company or raise VC funding without knowing how to code. Honestly, obtain customers and the rest will fall into place. We found 100 accounting firms to signup for our product with only a keynote presentation and without a single line of code. So read up on UX/UI and download the Keynotopia plug-in for Keynote.

Need some more advice? My good friend and fellow Brandery alum, Nick Cromydas recently wrote a nice post on this same topic.

Month 1: The Good Stuff

Now that some of those items are out of the way, let’s talk about some things that went well the first month of The Brandery.

The Brandery curriculum is front-loaded with amazing advice given by some of the top consumer marketing professionals in the world on almost a daily basis. In fact there are so many presentations that after a while they almost blend together. Despite this I’d encourage others to listen closely and be rigorous in your note-taking. You’ll never know when you need to go back for that one special nugget of advice.

With its strong cast of mentors from all over the US, it’s advisable to take advantage early on. Chat with them, ask questions, and overall don’t be afraid to ask anyone involved with the Brandery for something. The worst that can happen is they’ll say no. A word you hear very little of from all Brandery co-founders, mentors, and business people in Cincinnati.

Brand-in-a-day is an event that occurs within the first month of the program as well. Each company is paired with a marketing agency in Cincinnati ranging from uber small to some of the largest in the world. The day is intended to allow each company to work with seasoned marketing professionals in order to come up with a foundational marketing strategy. This could mean a name or logo change, a brand manifesto, or in our case, a complete overhaul and slight change in product vision.

It’s up to each company to take advantage of the opportunity and work with these agencies for the duration of the program. While some companies received only a few thousand dollars worth of pro-bono work, I’d guess others received work valued at almost 10x that. That value can prove to be huge for early-stage companies and something that definitely sets the Brandery apart from other accelerators.

Next I’d mention the city of Cincinnati as a whole. The Brandery is located in a beautiful historic building in the middle of Over-The-Rhine (OTR), one of the largest historic neighborhoods in the country. OTR has gone through some well documented changes in the last 10 years, making it a very cool, and culturally stimulating place to live and work. Given it is Cincinnati’s unofficial startup hub, there are a ton of cool companies close by (e.g. Choremonster and Roadtrippers.)

Because the Brandery’s location is Cincinnati, it’s affordable for poor startup founders to live a reasonable lifestyle. I’ve read enough horror stories about living in SF & NYC. They’re great cities for binge drinking and potential investor meetings, but I’d have to wait for a Series A to live there.

With founders in this past class coming from cities like LA, SF, NYC, Chicago, and Vancouver, I think you’d find all of them thoroughly enjoyed what Cincinnati and specifically OTR had to offer. Each of us were embraced by the city as a whole and that is something we’re all thankful for.

Now that I’ve given you the lowdown on the first month at the Brandery, you’ll have to wait until next post to find out if our team survived, if our developer revolted, and what are the best bars to visit while in OTR?

Stay tuned for part 2.

Craig Baldwin is a former accountant turned startup founder. He’s currently the CMO of Cincinnati-based startup Sqrl. Craig’s also a BBQ enthusiast, writer, and purveyor of delicious vintage cocktails. 


Greetabl Makes Greeting Cards Fun–One Box at a Time


Most people send others cards or gifts for special occasions, birthdays, etc. Some people also use the adage of ‘thinking outside the box’ from time to time.

 One guy, Joe Fischer, thought outside the box and made a card that turned into a box. This box could, you guessed it, also hold small gifts or presents. In other words, he did it all, and he called it Greetabl.

The story begins as Fischer’s traveling back and forth between England and India for work. Upon taking some time off to recover from a shoulder surgery, he begins alternating between sitting around watching TV and sitting around trying to sleep upright in a reclining chair, at which point he realizes that he “just had so much time.” So he began tinkering.

“A couple good friends of mine were getting married at the time. I usually just wrote a handwritten card and sent them a check.”

But it wasn’t fun. It was cardboard, paper, and ink, a combination that, almost regardless of how you configure it, was essentially the same each and every time.

The aha moments came twice: the first with the concept and the second with the design.

“It’s a lot more fun to get a gift than just getting an envelope.” And so he created a prototype for his first Greetabl cube. Folded up and stamped, he sent it to his mother. That prototype soon arrived in his mom’s mailbox, complete with a note from the mailwoman simply saying, “Too cute! :)”

And that was it. Paired with reactions from friends and family and the postal worker’s praises, Fischer knew he had to go for it.

“If this ugly thing could garner that kind of a reaction from someone who took time out of their work day, what if it was really well designed, adorable-looking, and it came from somebody you love? What kind of impact could that have on that relationship?”

So he created more prototypes, most of which would make it quite difficult for the sender to actually write their message on the eventual card-turned-cube. But then the design struck.

“It was one of those times when I was basically just driving down the road and thought, ‘What if I did it like that?’ And I had to run home and try it. But it worked!”

The rest was history. If you haven’t seen Greetabls on shelves near you yet, keep an eye out. “Gifts are just more fun,” he says.

And I would agree. Be sure to visit greetabl.com to get your own Greetabl and break the monotony of sending cards you know end up being thrown in the recycling bin, and follow @greetabl on Twitter!

 Tyler Sondag is a startup connoisseur with a hand in anything and everything you could imagine. Hailing from the ever-developing Northwest Mississippi, an alum of Saint Louis University and currently a transplant to St. Louis, Missouri, one of his main missions in life is to get and keep young people engaged in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Follow him on Twitter: @MrSondag.

The “Must-Attend Conference for Entrepreneurs” Everywhere Else Tennessee is headed back to Memphis this Spring. We’ve released the early adopter tickets, and they’re going fast. Don’t miss your shot by signing up here!

5 Long-Term Sales Killers to Avoid in Your Startup


We’ve all been there. Rather than spend the extra two hours on a Friday night to log your sales data for the week, you head home for some much-needed relaxation. It’s not going to affect your startup that much…right?

Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. But make no mistake: This line of thinking can catch up with you — quickly.

Starting and building a business demands all your time and energy. Sometimes, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything on your agenda, which is why everyone involved in launching your startup needs to wear several hats.

Sure, it can be exhausting, and you might be tempted to cut corners on sales to ease the burden on you and your team. But relying on shortcuts or postponing sales goals can have crippling effects on the long-term growth of your business.

Instead of taking an easier route, work to avoid these common startup pitfalls:

 1. Outdated Sales Practices

Social media and marketing automation tools are no longer luxuries — even for the most local of local businesses. It’s essential to keep up with current sales methods and understand how technology can affect these practices.

Many CEOs don’t adopt an inbound-focused “sales 2.0” methodology quickly enough, and they almost immediately fall behind as competitors benefit from these rapidly expanding new channels.

As social networking and marketing automation continue to develop, non-interruptive marketing and sales practices will become the norm. Leaders who don’t take a “sales 2.0” approach will find themselves with inefficient processes that likely won’t deliver a strong ROI, and competitors that take advantage of these sales channels and marketing tools will leave these lagging companies in the dust.

 2. Inefficient Databases

Successful sales practices are based on accurate information. Many CEOs simply don’t understand how valuable a fresh and enhanced database is to the process.

For example, they might continue to dump money into an outbound dialing resource without realizing that the logged information is bad or outdated. If 50 percent of your database information is obsolete, then 50 percent of your calls aren’t connecting.

How can any company achieve a positive ROI by using a half-populated database with dead-end leads? Without budgeting for an updated database at regular intervals, you’re likely losing sales and opportunities to engage your current customers.

 3. Limited Training

In most startups, managers must oversee daily operations and contact efforts, and sales teams are often left with no supervision. Soon, the quality and quantity of opportunities diminish, and growth grinds to a halt.

Even if initial employee training is spectacular, every salesperson can benefit from regular, continuous training. Learning new sales techniques (and developing existing ones) is an ongoing process, and your sales team must stay relevant with new strategies and technology to sell effectively.

 4. Lackluster Follow-Ups

Unfortunately, many leaders also don’t understand the value of following up with clients on a regular basis. Nurturing a customer relationship requires steady contact.

Set follow-up appointments after each meeting to build trust and maintain contact. This can also help expand your service. What new strategies, products, or technology can you offer? Is all your contact information current and applicable? Include a summary of your previous communication and an agenda for the upcoming meeting. These seemingly small details can make every follow-up more effective.

 5. Poor Data Management

Another common shortcut that can kill a business is disorganized data management. CEOs who don’t make their team update opportunities and make notes in the CRM are left with a slew of context-free metrics, none of which will benefit your bottom line.

Making reliable predictions becomes impossible when accurate record-keeping starts to slide.

Managers should not just assume databases are being updated; they should spot-check that sales reps are making notes on a regular basis. This is another pertinent detail that can get overlooked when managers are overloaded.

 Startup Sales Strategies for Long-Term Success

The common problems noted above reflect the time, budgetary, and personnel constraints most startups face. The following strategies can help alleviate these issues from the outset:

Create a consistent written plan of action, and develop timely checklists based on that plan.

  • Envision and record how your short-term goals (daily, weekly, quarterly) support your long-term growth. Defined goals posted in your workspace help your employees see how the day’s tasks fit into the big picture.
  •  Review your business practices monthly or quarterly to analyze areas that need improvement. Communicate these areas to your entire team, and ask for suggestions on appropriate strategies.
  •  Maintain your focus. This sounds easy, but if you had a rough quarter and start scrambling to “diversify” to seek immediate revenue, you are sacrificing your vision and continuity.

Startups, by nature, are often stretched thin on personnel and resources, but cutting corners on the sales side weakens your daily operations, client relationships, and future opportunities.

While you might find yourself able to get by with little organization or strategy, these short-term savings can be detrimental to your future success.

John McLellan John McLellan is the Chief Revenue Officer of EBQuickstart, the ultimate source for outsourced sales solutions. EBQ is a sales and marketing firm that helps companies outsource lead generation, sales, marketing, data, and customer service. John can be reached on Twitter or directly at john.mclellan@ebquickstart.com.



The “Must-Attend Conference for Entrepreneurs” Everywhere Else Tennessee is headed back to Memphis this Spring. We’ve released the early adopter tickets, and they’re going fast. Don’t miss your shot by signing up here!

4 Tips to Attract Angel Investment in 2014


Le Meridien Munich—Business meeting

Starting a new company from the ground floor is never easy; even seasoned entrepreneurs have been known to stumble along the way. First-time entrepreneurs have one brief chance to make a big impression on investors, and unfortunately more often than not they will fail. Following are four tips for early stage entrepreneurs hoping to prove to investors theirs is an idea worth opening their wallets for this year.

Think Like an Investor

Just like the first rule of public speaking – know your audience. Entrepreneurs who do not pay enough attention to understanding what investors are looking for will most likely fail to engage their audience. First-time entrepreneurs often spend too much time emphasizing their product or service during a pitch and as a result forget to answer some very key questions – the relevant experience of your management team, the go-to market strategy, the competitive landscape and potential for acquisition, just to name a few. Investors respond best to a balanced emotional and analytical appeal; think about it, would you rather have someone read you an almanac or tell you an exciting narrative based on the facts that almanac contains?

Choose Three Takeaways

If there is a lot of information to convey in a limited amount of time, abide by the rule of three. Before you step foot in the meeting, decide on the three most important takeaways prospective investors should leave the presentation with. Then, whether it’s placing an easel at the front of the room with the three takeaways listed or bringing them up several times throughout your presentation, let investors know from the beginning of your pitch that if they remember nothing else from your presentation, they should remember these three items.

Think Big

One of the biggest mistakes early stage entrepreneurs make is not thinking big enough. Investors need to know how you plan to reach a large market with a sustainable competitive advantage. The most profitable ventures are able to scale quickly and efficiently; entrepreneurs who secure funding are the ones who were able to communicate how they anticipate and plan for challenges they will likely face throughout the growth of the venture. There is considerably less risk for investors, who remember are looking for a big return, if your market is enormous. An enormous market means a venture does not have to capture an unrealistically high market share to  command an exit value that will enable investors to meet their return requirements ; a small market means a potentially smaller exit event that could fall short of an investor’s needs or expectations. Showing investors that you have a realistic plan to quickly scale and grow within a large market oftentimes means the difference between attracting their money (or not.)

Make Realistic (and Defensible) Financial Projections

With so many sky-high valuations making headlines in 2013, it is easy to see why early stage entrepreneurs might be tempted to overestimate the value of their idea. Doing so, however, can seriously limit the longevity of your venture and ability to secure increased funding during subsequent rounds. It is also easy to price yourself out of the market if investors are turned off by the unreasonable value you place on the venture– in this scenario you do not even get the first round of funding let alone the opportunity for future investment. Do your homework. Take advantage of online tools like Worthworm, seek the advice of mentors, and ensure you walk into a meeting with a defensible and credible value and financial projections.

It is undoubtedly an exciting time to be a first-time entrepreneur as the public continues to embrace innovative ideas in so many diverse industries. However, even the greatest ideas can fail to take off if the money dries up. As you seek to attract angel investment this year, consider these four tips as you prepare for that critical first meeting where making the right impression is more important than making a big impression.

Alan Lobock is the co-founder of Worthworm (www.worthworm.com) and SkyMall. Having been on both sides of the start-up investment scene– seeking investment for his ventures and as an angel investor himself, Alan launched Worthworm to solve one of the biggest challenges young companies and their prospective investors face—how to compute a credible and defensible PMV for an early stage venture seeking angel investment.


5 Hacks to Get the Most Value Out of College


Harold Burson speaking with Journalism students at Ole Miss, 1975

Peter Thiel says “…what important truth do very few people agree with you on? To a first approximation, the correct answer is going to be a secret. Secrets are unpopular or unconventional truths. So if you come up with a good answer, that’s your secret.”

His point about secrets is that secrets are keys that can lead to successful ventures. Secrets are non-obvious truths that few other people see until they are introduced to them.

I’ve shared secrets about learning how to walk, how to get through a breakup, how to be a movie guru, and how I became a bestselling writer.

College is a big secret everyone is talking about. The trend right now is for rich guys to diss college. Peter Thiel is renowned for paying kids $100,000 not to attend college. A lot of other people, like my friend James Altucher, have written about how college is a scam.

At what price does college become “worth it”? It can be argued that it may never be worth it – you pay more money in than you can ever get back and end up in a black-hole-of-no-return. This is what happens to most people, but there is another way. In this post series, I will share my secret to hacking college.

College is a bet.

College is a bet. You are betting 5 years of your life and hundreds of thousands of dollars on an outcome that occurs after those 5 years. You need to have an expected outcome in order to know how much to bet. Five years is a lot of time, and you shouldn’t bet 5 years and all that money on something that will not propel you forward.

The real question is one of cost versus value.

Benjamin Graham said and Buffett popularized: “Price is what you pay, value is what you get”

Graham is popular for inventing value investing: buying things intrinsically undervalued, which limits risk and improves probability of reward. The challenge with value investing is finding undervalued things – because these are non-obvious and hidden.

What if you had a formula that helped you find the secret value in college so you could graduate debt-free with many job offers? Kind of like value investing in your education?

Use the scam to your advantage; hack the system, and you can give yourself the best chance for success. This is how Buffett invests, how Thiel advises and how Altucher has rebuilt himself too many times – by following a value-based formula.

Don’t be okay getting scammed.

Most people get scammed by college because they are comfortable getting scammed by college. When you went to college how many of your friends said “I’m totally getting scammed right now”? None of them.

Instead, they said “Where can I get the cheapest slice of pizza tonight because I am literally dead broke paying my life savings to an institution that doesn’t guarantee I’ll have a way of earning it back when I graduate and I have a final exam tomorrow in Georgian Literature so I’ll see you later.”

On the other hand, I graduated with no student loan debt and a full time job where all the money came straight back to me and not to student loans. My first job taught me the lessons in an industry that I then used to build my own business.

The financial freedom I gained allowed me to take more risks. I quit jobs and traveled the world more than once. I started trading from a home office when I was 22. I paid cash for my cars and never made a single car payment. I wasn’t wealthy, but I was free, and I’ve always lived below my means, enabling more freedom.

I almost got scammed by college but I figured it out just in time.

Let’s look at the numbers:

  • 2013 average college loan debt: $35,200 (and we all know people with much more)
  • Average starting salary of 2013′s graduating class: $44,928 (after tax and 401K your take home is ~$30,596)
  • US Gov’t Student Loan Interest Rate: up from 3.4-3.9%
  • Average graduate salaries: down 5.4% in 2013
  • Average Annual Tuition: up 5.4%
  • Tution and living costs at Harvard: $64,954/year
  • Tuition and living costs at University of Illinois: $29,594-$48,896/year
  • Tuition and living costs at #1 ranked Walla Walla Community College: $11,415-$17,976/year

At these prices, education is a major cost. If you attended University of Ilinois with in-state tuition you pay $30K/year. The average student graduates in 5 years, not 4, total cost is $150,000 + you have to remove the money you could have made if you were in a job for 5 years. Let’s call that $30,000/year for a whopping total college cost of $300,000 over 5 years. Wow. THREE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS for in-state cost of going to college.

There’s got to be a way to hack that.

How to Hack College Rule #1:

Reduce the amount of time you spend in college. This will reduce room & board and tuition. If you went to the University of Illinois in-state for 3 years instead of 5 you’d save about $60,000.


If you attend Harvard, I just saved you $130K. If the average graduate finishes with $35K in debt, they could wipe out the debt and have $25K extra in their pocket.

The way to reduce your time in college is by cramming in more hours per semester. I was taking over 21 credit hours per semester. Next, you attend school year round. No summer jobs, no internships. Finish fast.

When you graduate with a degree in a trade, you don’t have to worry about interning anywhere. People will give you job offers all over the place. Take lots of hours each term and go to school year round. This will make you finish college up to 2 years early.

How to Hack College Rule #2:

What really matters to people is the focus of your degree and where you graduated, not where you went to school all 5 years.

When was the last time someone asked you “Well, I see you graduated from Stanford but where did you go the other 4 years?” Never. No one cares. Start your education going to a less expensive school, finish your prerequisites, and if you must go somewhere that “looks better” on your resume, transfer there for the last few terms so you can get the degree from that school.

Is it risky? Not as risky as spending $130K on two years of basic college courses and frat parties. When you transfer into your graduating school, finish as fast as you can to limit the expense. Go somewhere inexpensive the first 2 years, live at home if you have to, and save the extra cost of living and tuition expenses. Many schools look favorably towards transfer students and make it easy for students to transfer in.

I spoke to Christine Mascolo, Harvard’s Director of Transfer Admissions. Harvard looks favorably on transfer students. They look for students with a sincere, concentrated focus combined with other interests outside the classroom showing how they can contribute to the community while pursuing their academic passions. Though Harvard only accepts a small number of transfer students per year, transferring into a good school is not only hack collegepossible, but a solid option that can save you a ton of money.

How To Hack college Rule #3:

You may love Georgian Literature, but you have to study a trade in college. Georgian Literature is essentially useless. No one will pay you for your review of Defoe. A trade is anything that trains you for a specific type of career after college: finance, accounting, programming, engineering, environmental geology, law, medicine, nursing, etc. These majors will get you a job after college, and your grades hardly matter.

I don’t care if you say “but I’m passionate about Georgian Literature.” Study academics as a minor. Your job at college is to learn how to create value or prepare to get a job after college: minimize cost and maximize return.

A friend just graduated from University of Colorado with his bachelor’s in computer science and his first job is a programmer at Apple making over $100,000. He had multiple job offers in several cities. His future is set for life. Win.

Another friend graduated from University of Colorado with an English degree. She moved back to her parents’ house in Maine and is working at a restaurant as a server. This is after 5 years out-of-state tuition + living expenses totaling around $125,000 + financial aid. I’m sure she’s academically enriched, but she’s in the financial and opportunistic hole. Loss.

How To Hack College Rule #4:

Be entrepreneurial by learning how to help people. You are around a totally unique demographic. Facebook started as a college-based product. Would Facebook have ever started if not for its founder attending college?

It’s a great market. What do these people need? Be creative, and start something on your own. Maybe it will grow and make you wealthy, maybe not, but it will teach you real keys to success. Go to the entrepreneurship center at your college.

I was the Graduate Teaching Fellow at the Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship while in graduate school at the University of Oregon. Not only did that fellowship pay for my graduate business education, I also worked with aspiring entrepreneurs and founded a company through a relationship that began there.

The secret of real education is learning how to create value. If you can do that, you will be secure and free for life. Most of college is like tourism: fun experience but it’s all about YOU. This is not the way the world works. No one cares about your mind opening experience. They care what you can do for them. You have to learn how to help people: you must learn how to create value.

Another friend of mine is a lifeguard in San Diego. She started a jewelry company in college and people love it, but she doesn’t see the opportunity. I beg her to focus on her business over her job. Here’s why:

  1. She is young – No family, no rent, no overhead
  2. She has customers – Lots of customers! Stores want to carry her products and the products sell. Everyone in business would kill for this problem. Give your customers what they want! If they want to buy, you sell!
  3. It’s scalable – At her “job” she is stuck making an hourly wage. No matter what, she can only make that wage. Her jewelry income is theoretically unlimited: if she markets herself more she could get into big stores and create a million dollar company very quickly. Look at what Sara Blakely did with Spanx or what Charlie Chanaratsopon did with his concept Charming Charlie.
  4. It’s dependable – She won’t fire herself.
  5. It creates value – It brings pleasure to lots of people and I personally love it.
  6. It’s valuable – If she stuck with it she could sell the company in a couple years for a lot of money and never have to work again. Then she could go surf in Fiji and be a lifeguard for fun rather than as a slave.
  7. It’s a real education – She’ll learn more about building something than school can teach; she could skip school.

When you are in college it’s a great time to start a business. You have facilities, a customer demographic,  time to experiment, and limited overhead.

How To Hack College Rule #5:

Limit your expenses. This includes tuition, but also rent and other living expenses. With my little company I was paying rent with enough left to eat at Tipu’s Tiger and drink Chai Lattes at Second Thoughts a few times each week.

I bought a VW bus with summer job money (before I knew enough to go to school year round) for about $3,500 and had no car payments. I traveled and lived in it on weekends so I didn’t have any camp site fees or hotel fees and my friends LOVED traveling all over the West Coast in my house on wheels (it had red chili pepper lights inside; we looked like a glowing red spaceship zooming down the highway). I was going through college fast, earning money, learning valuable business skills, and still having fun.

Thiel’s definition is that secrets are about value – something you know that others don’t see, but can help a lot of people. His interest as an investor is of course to create a return on the secrets of the founders he invests in.

If you compress your college career into fewer years, start at the least expensive school and transfer, study a trade, be entrepreneurial, and limit your expenses, you will save at least $50,000. You will graduate with more job opportunities and more years of income. You could probably make $100-$200K additional income in those extra years.

What would you do with $50,000 extra, or more, in your life? Before you go to college, you should think about this. If you follow this advice I’d love to have dinner and hear your story. I’ll even pick up the dinner tab.

Kevin Faul’s background is in finance. He loves being in the mountains and on the ocean, and  he likes to build – furniture & ideas. Follow him on instagram @kevinfaul or twitter @kcfaul. Or just email him kcfaul [at] gmail [dot] com.


Starting Up in 2013: The Good Stuff


Editor’s note: This is part 2 of a lessons learned series from entrepreneur Matt Goldman. You can read part 1 here.

Although we’ve had our share of screw-ups, we’ve also managed to do a few things right. Maybe you can learn from them:

We Took Two Products to Market

Building two products took its toll on our runway by slowing us down, but it also has granted us access to a wider audience and opened many promotional opportunities.

We had no intention of launching HookFeed before Minimalytics, but figured adding a cross-promotion in the “Thanks for signing up for the beta list” email would start building the list. It did.

We also have been able to reference both products whenever writing a post, and an amazing number of people click through to check them out.

Minimalytics has always been more popular, but we were able to grow an audience for HookFeed on the coattails of Minimalytics, and that would not have been possible had we not marketed them at the same time.

And the cost? Throwing up a simple animated landing page explaining what the product would do (which has since changed).

Our beta lists for the products are currently at 2,893 for Minimalytics and 1,322 for HookFeed.

We also announced the book we’re writing with Michael Sacca far before we had time to start working on it. By mentioning it here and there on the internet, the list has grown steadily to over 300 people without a dedicated marketing push.

We Didn’t Wait to Talk to People Until We Had a Success

From the very beginning, we began reaching out to successful entrepreneurs for help. Since we had some attractive landing pages up, and reached out to them in non-sleazy ways, we had a 100% response rate. We’ve learned so much from our product chats with people, and made some amazing friends online.

Along the way, we constantly felt like impostors. Like we weren’t ready to talk to these people since we hadn’t even launched a product yet. But I’m so glad we did.

The only thing holding you back from talking to your heroes is yourself.

We Trusted Our Gut

Everything about our early-beginnings would have been advised against by most people.

  1. Joelle was my co-worker (ok, kind of my boss) when we used to work at an agency. That’s when we started dating.

  2. I left my steady job last December to start Small HQ (and start burning through savings trying to finally launch a profitable product)

  3. Joelle joined me in March and we began working together

  4. We started living together shortly after this

  5. We chose to work on 2 products instead of focusing on 1

  6. We turned down client work and burned through savings

I’ve lost count of how many people have scoffed at the fact that we work together.

“You work with your girlfriend?! I don’t know if I could do that…”

Joelle likes to say, “If you can’t stand to be around your partner most of the day, why the hell are you even dating?”

Advice, at the end of the day, is just someone else’s opinion. And sometimes needs to be ignored.

The nature of it is that the most popular advice floats to the top, and when you’re dealing with something risky like entrepreneurship, you’re going to hear advice from many who have failed.

With all these lessons in my back pocket I’m more eager than ever moving into 2014 — though I have no doubt a whole new set of failures and lessons are just around the next bend.

Where will we be next December? No idea… but I do know it’ll be one hell of a ride!

 I’m Matt Goldman. I’m building HookFeed and Minimalytics. Also writing a book about how to build a SaaS rocketship with my partner Joelle and Michael Sacca.

Starting Up in 2013: Lessons Learned


Editor’s Note: This is part 1 of 2 part series from entrepreneur Matt Goldman. Read part on the great lessons from 2013 tomorrow.

This year has been a whirlwind.

Diving headfirst into the SaaS world is a roller coaster ride like no other, a constant fluctuation of peaks and valleys, mini successes and epic failures. And, when all is said and done, an invaluable string of lessons to carry on to the next ride.

This year Joelle (my girlfriend/business partner) and I have made the life-changing leap from 9-to-5ers to full-time entrepreneurs.

We’ve grown a little audience of our own, talked to our heroes, learned from our peers, launched a product…and then another one, met some amazing people, and perhaps most important of all, discovered a new lifestyle we didn’t think was possible before.And in doing so we’ve naturally made a ton of mistakes along the way.

While we’ve written plenty about micro-lessons we’ve learned throughout the year, here are some of the bigger ones we’ve learned. My hope is that there are a few nuggets in here you can take with you on your next trip around the track.


Product Takes a Long-Ass Time. Plan Accordingly.

We started in March, whipped up two landing pages, and got to work building out some ideas. Surely, we’d launch the products within a few months, and then make a ton of money, right?

Wrong. This was what actually happened:

  • April 8: Minimalytics Teaser Page
  • April 29: HookFeed Teaser Page
  • August 21: First Minimalytics Beta Tester
  • **HookFeed pivoted to focus entirely on Stripe Notifications in a Live Stream
  • October 24: First HookFeed Beta Tester
  • **HookFeed pivoted to focus on Stripe Email Alerts and Daily/Weekly Summaries
  • December 17: HookFeed Launched

So it’s been just over 9 months and we’ve only “launched” one of our products. Minimalytics is still in beta and needs significant development before it’s ready for prime-time. We overcomplicated things and are working on returning to our Minimal promise

Even though we’ve launched HookFeed to the public now, it will take several months before it is generating anywhere near enough revenue to cover two salaries entirely.

Luckily, we started with a longer runway than we thought we needed. You should set aside cash to fund at least 1 year to become profitable.

If you’re one of the folks who thinks you’ll have a profitable product in a few months (I sure did), then this bit is important. Listen up:

Your product will not make as much as you think, as soon as you think. Be ready for that.

We Spread Ourselves Thin

Nearly every experienced entrepreneur we’ve Skyped with has ended our conversation with, “Why the hell are you building two products? Focus on one.”

Every time we heard this advice, we said, “Yeah, Yeah…I guess it’s just a lesson we need to learn on our own. We want both products for ourselves, so we’re going to build both.”

Many great things have come of building two products at once (which I’ll touch on in a bit), but it has also increased our time to market on both products, increased our cash-burned, and slowed our learnings/pivots.

That being said, if I could press rewind and go back to March, I’d do it all the same. However, I would have paid more attention to the feedback we were getting from people smarter than us.

Juggling two products is really hard. Marketing two products and building one-at-a-time is much more attainable.

We Let Client Work Steal Our Focus

Although we started with the dream of never working for anyone again, whether they were a boss or a number of clients…I was approached by a retail chain seeking an overhaul of their various websites.

When Joelle came to work with me, we realized we could use an extension to our runway, and we signed a 4-month contract to rebuild their entire web presence. Luckily, I had just read Brennan’s book and ventured out of my comfort zone to charge about 5x what I would have normally charged. They accepted, and ended up being a great client. Our contract ended in July, but we made the decision to stay onboard for monthly work.

Up until July, we were spending about half of our time on client work, and that was enough to nearly derail our product efforts. Since then, we’ve been able to balance the two much better.

Our advice for product people taking client work:

  1. Don’t turn it away if it’s a good deal. Run if it’s a bad deal.
  2. Charge 3-5x what you normally do. Read Brennan’s book.
  3. Don’t bill hourly. Bill daily, weekly, monthly, or preferably per project.
  4. Group client hours together so you can spend chunks of time building and marketing your product(s).

We Had No Sense of Urgency

When you have a long runway, and don’t fully understand how much time/effort it takes to get a successful software product off the ground, it’s easy to squander valuable time.

That’s not to say that you should be spending every waking hour on your work, but rather that the hours you dedicate to work (which can be reasonable) need to be fully devoted to work.

We’re making changes starting this week, and actually setting working hours (gasp!). When you leave a full-time job and discover the freedom of working solo, you tend to resist any process that you dealt with at your prior job. One of those is set working hours.

In the past, I would wake up around 5-6am and “work” until about midnight. But throughout the day, I would go out for food, go visit Tiny Factory and chat it up, play the occasional video game, or go on cleaning sprees to avoid exerting any effort on the not-so-fun bits of work.

In the future, I’ll still be waking around 5am, but focusing harder and actually working during my brightest time of the day. Then working out, then eating lunch, then back to work, stopping no later than 6pm.

More of an effort will go towards writing and coding the tough stuff in the early morning, and handling the lighter tasks in the afternoon. Possibly over a beer.

I wasn’t sure how this would feel, but I tried it yesterday and it was amazing. Having no burden at 6pm sent a few questions through my head, “What books could I read?” “What should I cook for Joelle?” “Who should we hang out with this week?”

All good things that got neglected over the past year.

Two people walk holding hands on the beach 2-people-beach-shadows-002

We Spent too Much Time Together

When you live and work with your girlfriend, you see a lot of one another. We’re pretty used to this since we actually met at work at our last job. But it still takes its toll.

We’ve found that we are each most productive when we’re alone, and even better, out of the house.

My most productive time is:

  1. At my desk writing/coding between 5am and 8am
  2. At a coffee/beer shop in the afternoon

I’ve also noticed a 10x increase in Joelle’s output when she gets out of the house.

We’re making an effort daily to get out and away from each other now. Not just for productivity reasons, but also so that our time spent together is more valuable/appreciated.

It’s easy to fizzle the sparks that flew when you were first dating someone. Especially when most of the day you treat each other like business partners. It takes only a little extra effort to avoid this default, and return to the days of snuggles and sunset cuddles.

We Let Our Health Suffer

We’re both in relatively good shape, but during busy times this year, we let workouts take a back seat to work — and our health surely suffered.

I’m much worse than Joelle in this regard. She has run triathlons and been competitive her whole life. I have always avoided competitive sports and although I love the feeling after working out, I avoid it like the plague.

If you have a partner/team, encourage each other to workout and stay healthy year-round. The impact is incredible.

I’m Matt Goldman. I’m building HookFeed and Minimalytics. Also writing a book about how to build a SaaS rocketship with my partner Joelle and Michael Sacca.

*A version of this post was originally posted on Medium.