Serious Startups: The Nashville NEXT Awards

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We’re really excited for our friends featured in the NEXT Awards, hosted by the Nashville Chamber of Commerce and the Entrepreneur Center. There are some great companies and entrepreneurs up for awards this year.

But, is the fact that we even have an awards ceremony one of the warning signs of a bubble? I think so. What about you?

Yup. The World is Sexist. Moving On…

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Let’s face it. It’s not easy being a professional woman. There are assumptions, biases, and glass ceilings. You can be twice as good as the boy next door, but earn half as much. It’s common knowledge that when pitching VCs, women are judged on their past successes, while men are judged on their perceived potential.

The very traits that earn a man respect–assertiveness, confidence, laser focus–usually earn a woman liberal use of the “B” word. (Rhymes with “witch,” y’all.)

But, here’s why none of that fusses me too much:

Life isn’t easy. And of all the obstacles I could face, this one isn’t so bad.

In the early 1900s, immigrant entrepreneurs had it hard, too. They were in a society that–despite “give me your poor and weary” rhetoric–looked down on impoverished immigrants. Many of them were worse off than they would’ve been in their home countries.

But that didn’t stop Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, or Cornelius Vanderbilt from finding a modicum of success.

Those men didn’t agitate for equal access. They didn’t form “immigrant only” business groups. They didn’t throw a fit on social media (or the op-ed of the newspaper) every time an idiot said something stupid about immigrants.

They built their empires. Then, they established foundations that made it easier for others (all others) to build theirs.

The greatest thing we can do to advance the cause of professional women is succeed. Build our empires, then turn around and help the next generation (men and women) follow in our footsteps.

I’ve by no means even begun to reach the level of success I want to, but I’m already helping younger women get a better start in entrepreneurship than I did. And, when we talk about how to survive as women in the world, here are some of the things I tell them.

 

Perfect the Fake it ‘Til You Make It

 

Frankly, I’ve realized that this is basically the only thing men have over women in the workplace: they’re first class liars.

And I mean that in the best possible way.

In general, men know how to make their successes look bigger and their failures look smaller. They also know how to act like they know what they’re doing when they really have no idea.

Women tend to want to be more honest and open. Which ends up looking more like weakness.

Stop.

Instead, get a clear picture of the woman you want to be, the successes you want to accomplish, then act like they’re already reality. Just like the men you know, when you start believing your own hype, you know you’re doing it right.

 

Use What Ya Got

 

My business partner publishes regularly on LinkedIn and has been busting my chops for months to do so as well. When I finally did, my second post garnered 3 times as many page views as his most popular one.

“Well, yeah,” he joked, “Because you got featured on the sexist group ‘Professional Women.’”

(Before you get up in arms, he was truly joking. While he badgered me to write more, he often said I would do better than him because I was already a better writer. Another tip for women: make the men around you your biggest fans.)

But, he was right about my ability to get featured in a popular category, and I’m happy to ride that advantage as far as I can, just like he would do for any strategic advantage he might come across.

Sometimes being the minority isn’t a bad thing. Who cares if you only got a role because they need a token woman. Kick ass in that role and the right people will start to take notice.

 

Understand the Invisible Game

 

I wish it were true that the world was 100% fair. But, like I tell my children daily, it isn’t.

While women shouldn’t spend their time raging against the system, it would be naive to act like the natural biases don’t matter either.

Remember, VCs typically judge women on achievements and men on potential. But, by nature of the startup pitch, there’s probably little “achievement.”

What does this mean to women entrepreneurs? You’ll either work hard to find the right investor, or you’ll have to (get to) bootstrap and maintain control of your company.

Study your surroundings. Know who your cheerleaders are and allow them to help you succeed. Learn the language and ways of the people you want to do business with.

And always, always find a way to provide real value to the people you meet.

Ignore the Assholes

 

Last but not least, no matter what you do or how the world evolves, there will always be assholes. No matter what they say, their actions will prove that they secretly think you should still be home in the kitchen. They’ll be rich and powerful, and you’ll think you can’t do anything without their approval.

You can. And you’ll be better off without them anyway.

That’s the best thing about being an entrepreneur. There is always a solution to a problem, and creativity flourishes under constraints. Work around the assholes–and the system–and that empire’s going to be built faster and more stable than you think it could be.

Finally, don’t assume that all men are out to keep you down. Most of us work in male-dominated industries, but 98% of the men I come across want to see me succeed and are willing to help me in whatever way I ask.

At the end of the day, things aren’t perfect, but we’re sure better off than we were 100 years ago.

Just keep building those empires. Brick by brick.

 

Be Like LeBron: Build Your Business at Home

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Where we grow up influences our ideas, imagination and relationships. Our home communities are the launching pads from which we explore the world, most often leaving to find the perfect place to live and work. This usually means moving to the city, leaving rural and small communities to slowly decline.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. We can build our communities to be the ones we want to live in. LeBron James just accepted this challenge, and you can too.

The Decision to Lead

LeBron James gave hope to communities everywhere by announcing he was returning to Ohio to play basketball for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Interestingly, his decision was to return home first and play basketball second:

“Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart. People there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can.”

In his open letter to Sports Illustrated, LeBron articulated a certain feeling of responsibility that many of us feel when thinking about our homes. Usually, we are too afraid to act upon this feeling:

“I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.”

The Perfect Place

It’s easy to find the perfect place. You can quickly search the top cities in the world and shop for homes the way you would shop produce in the grocery store, choosing the one that is just the right size, color and flavor for who you want to be. However, it’s much harder to create the perfect place. Looking around your community and raising your hand to create change takes time and work. But it’s also incredibly rewarding.

Knowing that you were there when no one else was, sweating and creating change, creates your legacy and forces you to work harder than you thought possible. In doing so, you make more of a difference than you could have imagined.

The challenge of returning home and building your community is that it never ends. You never quite get things the way you want them; but that’s the fun part. When you take ownership in your city, you join an organic creation that is continually moving and changing. You are one of the leaders driving that change.

LeBron admitted as much when he said:

“I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that.”

The Prodigal Path

LeBron’s decision highlights the prodigal path we hope our own children will take: exploring the world, mastering a craft and returning to share.

First for LeBron was the disastrous decision. As he admits in his letter, he would have done things differently if he’d had the chance, but he still would have left:

“These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man. I learned from a franchise that had been where I wanted to go…Without the experiences I had there, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today.”

Explore the World

Building a community does not mean you can’t leave. Quite the contrary. Our communities are best when new ideas are brought into them. It is thus essential for us to first explore the world and discover what is possible. For LeBron, this meant heading to South Beach.

For the un-athletic, this might mean going to college, traveling the world, working in the Peace Corps, volunteering for an organization, working a variety of different jobs, dating a variety of people, playing in a band, learning to surf or studying a new language.

Whatever your curiosity calls you to do, do it. Learn from it. Then, use your time in the world to master your craft.

Master A Craft

Once we discover our passion out in the world, we then need to work on it. It’s difficult to start something in your own community until you have perspective and experience on how it works.

LeBron needed experience working in a world-class organization so he knew what he wanted to build when he returned home. You might need time in a certain job, place or relationship before you have an idea of what you want to dedicate your time to building.

Share Your Discoveries

The final step of returning home is always the most difficult. Most of us believe it’s not possible. Fortunately, now more than any moment in history, we can live anywhere and connect with others everywhere.

This presents a new opportunity for communities around the world. The top talent can live in your city and still work with clients anywhere or learn from colleagues and collaborators everywhere. What’s more, these returnees come with a wealth of experience. They have explored the world, discovered a craft and now they have returned to share what they have discovered.

As we master a craft, we need to ask ourselves: Can I bring this skill back to the place that matters to me? How can I share my knowledge and passion with those who matter most?

Some industries pose interesting challenges. There are only 30 NBA teams, so we can’t all return home to play for our local one. The vast majority of us, however, have no excuse.

  • If your community doesn’t have the business or industry you want to work in, build it.
  • If your community doesn’t have the cultural scene that you long for, nurture it.
  • If your community doesn’t have the people you want to spend time with, invite them to join.

What’s amazing is that a tiny number of people who care about their community can inspire massive action.

By returning home and building the community you want to be a part of, you are showing others that it is possible. You are proving that it is not hard to start. Your bravery in starting means that others will follow suit. This is how change happens and this is how movements are started.

The Return Home Revolution

LeBron may not have single-handedly launched the return home revolution. He has, however, validated the desire many of us feel: the calling to return home and make our community better.

As in Northeast Ohio, so is it in communities around the world:

“In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.”

Fortunately the hard work is part of the reward, and the amazing things you build will influence the generations who follow. As LeBron said: “I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.” Are you?

A version of this post originally appeared on the author’s blog here.

Scott Meyer is the “brofounder” (co-founder and brother) of 9 Clouds, a digital marketing and education firm that improves the digital literacy of businesses. He writes and hosts the Digital Homesteading blog and podcast focusing on growing rural business and community and is the author of “Navigating Social Media: A Field Guide.”

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

How to Deal with Differences In Entrepreneurial Vision

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On occasion I like using similes to make a point or start conversation. So to start things off on dealing with differences in vision for business growth, let’s think about this:

“All Roads Lead To Rome” is like “There Are Many Ways To Reach A Business Goal.”

Are there many ways to grow a company? Of course there are. Just because you spend marketing dollars on Adwords versus traditional marketing doesn’t mean you will grow faster or slower. Hiring Employee A instead of Employee B could be a good decision or a horrible one.

People often look at these decisions only from the short term benefit or drawback, but how these decisions are made generally comes from underlying vision for the company as a whole.

In business, the debates behind closed doors on why moves are being made is generally how they fit into long term vision for the company. These arguments can lead to chasms between partners, employers and employees. Simple decisions create massive conflict.

Speed Of Growth

One of the most common sources of conflict is speed of growth. How aggressive should you be in marketing, gambles in expanding overhead vs cash-flow, or shifts in pricing structure.

Generally there can be logical argument for both sides of these debates. The more conservative want slow growth, the aggressive say “let the dice roll, we’ve got this.”

Unfortunately, in business there are opportunities presented which require quick, decisive action. While there may be no risk in refusing to take advantage of them, for entrepreneurs wanting to growth and expand quickly, not being able to get everyone on board to make a gamble creates doubt about the long term.

While you might compromise on one decision, when you see a competitor whoseized it and is reaping the benefits, disagreement on future decisions grows rapidly.

The evidence supports my decisions, why won’t they listen to me?

This will run through your mind over and over, until you find yourself rather irritated and speaking out with aggression.

Enter Conflict

Because the business is more than just a job to entrepreneurs, it’s amazing how quickly differences in opinion escalate into personal attacks. Rather than just debating until finding a good compromise, personal egos rise and it’s now my way or the highway.

Tensions rise, friendships are destroyed and business partnerships become fragile.

When clients, investors or employees begin to sense these conflicts, it’s a normal and quite frankly reasonable to lose confidence and begin looking for alternatives.

Addressing Differences

When these issues arise, you have 4 options You can either be adults on both sides and fine the right choice, or have no excuse for the outcome.

  1. Trust Your Partner
  2. Find Compromise
  3. Go Separate Ways
  4. Destroy Your Company

In my opinion, the only logical choice is a combination of trusting your partner and finding compromise. If this can’t be reached, then going separate ways is the only alternative. This doesn’t have to be abrupt, but if you don’t do this then destroying the company is going to happen.

It may take time, but your fall will be much more difficult to overcome, and can destroy opportunities for the future.

Turning Conflict Into Success

Having conflict is very normal in business. Arguments about the next steps in growth and finding agreement in what are the long term goals can be very hard, but it also provides an opportunity to build a stronger relationship.

If you are willing to put aside your ego and view these conflicts as a way to collaborate, finding an even better option is often the outcome. This just requires willingness of everyone involved to not always be right. To put the needs of the company and all those who follow you before your own.

When you do this, overcoming conflicts, finding better options and achieving success as a team becomes much more likely. It’s just a matter of suppressing ego.

All roads may lead to Rome, but aren’t road trips better with friends?

These are just a few things to think about in resolving business conflicts. Share your experiences and ways you’ve been able to solve problems. with others in the comments below!

Entrepreneurs: Ready, Set, GO!

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Ever feel like you have the pedal to the floor, but the wheels are just spinning?

As an entrepreneur that is a very common feeling as our minds race and the roadway to accomplish our goals is so clear…and yet so far away.

Is there a time to plan? Yes. Is there a time to be patient? Yes.

I talked about this is in “The Harsh Reality of Launching A Startup” and “Do Good Things Come To Those Who Wait.” It’s very important to not push too far too fast, but it’s just as important to identify when the time for planning and patience is over. Go full bore and let the chips fall where they may.

Fortune Favors The Bold

In business, war, politics or love, there is always a time to take action.

As an entrepreneur, whether it’s your first go or 10th, take the time to get idea validation from potential customers and people of merit, put together your plan, then go for it.

Angel investor Pradeep Jaisingh wrote a great article “When An Investor Says “NO” To Your Pitch” which is all about how to respond to the negatives around you as an entrepreneur and to never give up. No one is right 100% of the time, and that goes for investors as well.

There will always be those around you who want to go slow and not take too big a risk, but in truth, every day in business has risk. Each day you hold back pushes the day you reach the mountain summit back. Each day that goes by is one less day we have on this earth.

When Opportunity Knocks…Answer The Door

So often people with great ideas miss opportunities to make a difference. Fast forward 5 years, and they get to hear about how Person X just sold the company or are in another phase of expansion.

We live in a world of simultaneous discovery. This is reality, and we can either accept it or live to regret it. When the stars seem to be aligned in your favor, stop looking for why you should play it safe and just go for it.

Everything is business is a leap of faith, but you must remember that none of us know what tomorrow will bring. As employees or entrepreneurs, nothing is guaranteed.

Go Ring The Bell

You’ve made a plan. Validated the idea. Prepared for the unknown. It’s time to take the leap of faith into entrepreneurship.

Get out there and join all those who have come before you. They’ve all experienced the same burdens and fears, stresses and failures before finally getting to ring the bell when their dreams came to life.

We live in a world of opportunity. So Entrepreneurs: Ready, Set, GO!

The Advice All Entrepreneurs Should Ignore

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In 2011, my friend Kostas and I saw an opportunity. If we developed a hyper-accurate keyboard app — one that enabled users to type without looking at the screen — we could change the way people interacted with mobile technology.

We could eliminate the apologetic email signatures, stop walking into things while texting, and truly ditch our laptops. It would break down barriers to the “Internet of Things.”

Everyone said it couldn’t be done, but that was only because no one had done it. Where others saw something impossible, Kostas and I saw an opportunity to be first in a space with huge potential for growth.

Counter the “It’ll Never Work” Objections

When your ideas are ambitious, the tech industry will inevitably try to make you quit.

One of the first people to shoot us down was an angel investor. We had barely finished pitching when he rejected us outright. A touchpad keyboard for the blind wasn’t feasible, he said. Apple’s iOS didn’t allow real integration of third-party keyboards; without the iPhone, the app could never truly be successful.

I countered both objections. Within minutes of our departure, he emailed our mutual contact, complaining that we were “strong-headed” and “ill-informed.” This was a preview of the most common objection we faced: “It’s never been done before.”

Too many people mistake things that haven’t been done for things that can’t be done. Real opportunities come from ideas that haven’t yet been acted upon.

The Benefits of Attempting Something New

Creating an opportunity from something new provides a competitive advantage in the form of:

  1. Brand awareness: Attempting the impossible generates attention. People want to support innovation, and they’ll spread the word for you.
  2. Access to untapped markets: If your product fulfills an unmet need, you’ll have few competitors and many eager customers. Even if you’re small, you can corner the market with a first-mover advantage.
  3. Future potential: By opening the door to multiple opportunities, you’re maximizing your capacity to succeed.
  4. Satisfaction and recruitment: Not only does innovation bolster morale, but it also attracts top talent.

What You Need When Attempting the “Impossible”

Had we listened to our critics, we would have never started. But when developing a revolutionary new product, it’s not the critics who matter — it’s your user base. You need a devoted group of early users who can offer feedback and help improve your product.

During development, I learned that the iPhone’s accessibility options made it popular with blind users, so we brought our prototype to the blind community. Their skepticism quickly gave way to excitement, and for some, the experience was so overwhelming that they wept.

The prototype was basic. But suddenly we had thousands of real users invested in the growth of the product. Their feedback helped each version evolve by leaps and bounds.

Once you have your passionate early users, you also need to find a way to turn perceived barriers into opportunities. When we released a public beta of our app on iOS, many people thought we were crazy due to Apple’s restrictions on third-party keyboards. But in February, we opened our API to any developer who wanted to use it, transforming the restriction into an opportunity for growth.

Never Be Afraid to Do Things Differently

This historical iOS barrier was enough for plenty of people to reject our idea altogether. But because we pursued the opportunity, we are now celebrating 1 million downloads.

Many entrepreneurs fail because they’re afraid to do things differently. But learning to create opportunity is a skill like any other. You can become better by networking, keeping an ear to the ground, and positioning yourself to capitalize on the shifting market. It’s also important to devote several hours a week to trying things that are new, crazy and potentially groundbreaking.

If you ignore opportunity, it will vanish. But when you embrace it, there will always be more.

Ioannis Verdelis is the co-founder and COO of Fleksy, a revolutionary keyboard that makes typing on a touchscreen so easy you can type without even looking. Connect with him on Twitter

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

How I Manage Projects for Killer Results

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As an entrepreneur and a consultant, I’m pretty much always working on a set of critical deadlines for one of my businesses, or the business of one of my clients. I don’t treat them in the same way. In fact, I often treat my clients’ businesses better than I treat mine. That’s not the best admission, but it’s a classic indication of the proverbial “cobbler’s kids have no shoes.”

If I can put in extra effort to drive something home for a client I’m going to do that. The good part is that I’m pretty much always treating my business partners in my own startups like they are my clients, so it all comes out in the wash. At the same time I’d always advise my coaching and mentoring clients to apply the “oxygen mask principle” to themselves, which is to say act like you are on a crashing plane and put your own mask on first so you can help others.

Excessive preambles aside, there are some common principles that I institute in every project that have become my go-to practices. Having developed these patterns I’ve created a blueprint that works for me, operates efficiently, and gets good to better results.

  1. Get out of email. There is no way you can manage a team with email. It’s nearly impossible to even manage a one-to-one project with two people. It doesn’t work. There are tons of reasons based on tons of research.
  2. Repeat rule #1 until it gets annoying. Seriously, just stop. This is 2014 and there are lots of better ways.
  3. Decide on one collaboration system and stick to it. I don’t care what this is. Use Basecamp, use Google Docs, use Podio, or use Asana (my personal favorite). Whatever you do, share the project with everyone and require your team to use it. No email about the project, ever. It all goes in the tool. Stay in the loop by staying in the tool. Fall out of the loop at your own peril. If you are merciless about this the team will fall in line and they will love you for it. Working on shitty projects sucks. No one wants that. Good management feels good to everyone involved. Tie it to getting paid if you have to. My teams know I bring them great projects and I pay them well and this is how I do it. No questions asked. We don’t even talk about it anymore. We literally just kick off projects without a discussion because I start an Asana project and then we start billing.
  4. Did I mention email ruins project effectiveness? Go ahead and try. If you don’t believe me by this point you shouldn’t be reading this article. It’s going to take you a lot longer to do your work and you shouldn’t be screwing around on LinkedIn.
  5. Run the project like you care. Communicate with each person with care and trust until trust has been damaged. If trust has been damaged try to repair it. If you can’t repair it, end the relationship. No harm, no foul. This is project-based interviewing. If you do what needs to be done you’ll get more work. If you don’t, you won’t. It’s pretty easy. Over time you’ll end up with a killer team that will do whatever you need done because they care about you and they trust you.
  6. Document processes the first time and then outsource them. You don’t need your top people doing menial crap for high payment while getting increasingly bored. Every process should be boiled down to its basic components, turned into a workflow, and outsourced on Elance or Odesk. Build business machines and run them. Pay your contractors well for the little pieces they do. Care about them, too. They will love you and come back for more projects. It’s just like #5 yet not on your core team.
  7. Email still sucks.

Resumes are dead. Interviews are largely ineffectual. Linked-In is good. Portfolios are useful.

But projects are the real future of hiring, especially knowledge working hiring. No matter how wonderful your references or how well you do on those too-clever-by-half Microsoft/Google brainteasers, serious firms will increasingly ask serious candidates to do serious work in order to get a serious job offer.

I dog on the HBR sometimes, too, but this article is spot on. It works. Do it. If you manage your project like I’m suggesting and you use your projects to build an awesome team through experience, you will see remarkably better results and you will bill more money or see more success from your startups. #winning

7 Insider Tips on Conference Networking Like a Pro

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Seldom do successful startups begin with an inexperienced, untrained, disconnected leader at the helm. Rather, startup founders often seek as much information as they can from those with experience in their particular field. Smart startup founders will then seek to form a relationship with those thought-leaders so they can continue to glean insight from a proven company founder.

Nowhere does such information-downloading and opportunities for connection better occur than at a conference. In the following list, three conference junkies share their best tips for making the most of your conference attendance.

1. Do Your Research

Travel and media writer Kristin Luna echoes what Dave Delaney, Director of Strategy at TechnologyAdvice, shared in his interview on “How to Conference.” Use social media to do your due diligence on people you think you’d like to meet. Be sure to use Eventbrite’s open attendee list to see who will actually be attending the event.

Luna recounts her success with social media networking prior to speaking at a parent blogging conference as a non-parent. She contacted someone in the event’s Facebook group who provided insider information about the conference that helped her deliver her speech. That person later become a close friend. Luna also parlayed a Twitter relationship into a writing gig for Southern Living.

2. Party Down

Luna recommends hitting the bar after an event as well. As a sometimes event organizer herself, she knows the benefits of offering after-parties. They provide a relaxed and comfortable environment where people might be less self-conscious in approaching each other, and especially in approaching any keynote speakers that might be in attendance. Additionally, these post-conference mixers may be the only time you meet other people who’ve attended different workshops than you did. Take advantage of this time to personally connect with others.

3. Introduce Others

If you know two people in a room who don’t know each other but should, be the one to introduce them to each other. Luna calls this “good business karma.” Though such introductions shouldn’t necessarily be made for personal gain, Luna adds that you never know how you might ultimately benefit from having connected those two people.

4. Refrain from Instant Following

Chief Rippler at Ripple Central Steve Harper suggests refraining from instantly connecting with someone on LinkedIn following an initial in-real-life meeting at a conference. Harper believes that “some people collect LinkedIn connections like coins.” Why does Harper choose that path? Because he believes you should show your worth to that connection over time before forging a more professional connection on LinkedIn.

5. Plan Your Conference Time

Harper encourages conference-goers to have a game plan before attending. Know the workshops, breakouts, and can’t-miss keynotes you want to attend. Look at the speaker and/or guest list and know who you want to meet. Give equal weight to the content of the conference as well as your networking opportunities. Don’t be that person who “attended” the conference but was never seen in a breakout session.

6. Be Real

Deb Cole, author of the first book on Twitter and Marketing Director for the New Media Expo, encourages face-to-face meetings at conferences so that social media relationships can go deeper. While there was a time when some believed that IRL conferences would be replaced by digital conferences, Cole has seen the opposite to be true. When people use social media correctly—to connect with other humans—their real-life meetups at conferences take on a much more robust character.

7. Don’t sweat the cost.

Cole knows that conferences can be expensive, especially when long-distance travel might be involved. However, she looks at the expense in terms of ROI. If the total cost of attending a conference is $5,000, but she meets a new connection that turns into a $50,000 business deal, her ROI is through the roof. In other words, she can’t afford not to attend. Plus, even more than possible financial gain, the relationships she makes and knowledge she gains will likely serve her well for many years to come.

To hear more tips on conference networking, listen to the TechnologyAdvice podcast interview above with Kristin Luna, Steve Harper, and Deb Cole, hosted by Clark Buckner:

5 Tips for Riding the Startup Roller Coaster (Without Tossing Your Cookies)

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The startup journey can be a rough ride. One minute, it seems like you’re steadily ticking up a steep hill toward blue skies, then whoosh! Down you go. In the early stages of a business, there’s no stability. Revenue is uncertain. You have no idea whether the customers in your market want what you have — or how to get it to them. It can feel like the best (or worst) roller coaster you’ve ever ridden. Funding struggles can make the startup journey even rougher. Venture-backed startups face intense pressure to consistently grow their revenue, and according to the National Venture Capital Association, an estimated 25 to 30 percent of VC-backed businesses fail. I think the reality is a much higher number than reported. Other startups are funded from the team’s collective back pocket, so when the startup suffers, so does everyone on board. But the startup roller coaster doesn’t have to be a hellish experience. With the right attitude, you can make those highs higher and those lows much more bearable. Here are a few tips for holding down your lunch in the face of pressure and uncertainty:

Think about values, not direction.

Meeting deadlines and milestones are common aggravators in the startup world, and it’s tough to remain optimistic when the obstacles seem insurmountable. But when everybody is so focused on relentless forward motion — instead of doing their best and appreciating the present — it can be destructive to your startup’s progress. By focusing on your core values (e.g., making users happy) instead of where you want to be three months from now, every day of work will become more enjoyable, and you’ll gain unstoppable momentum.

Enjoy the high points.

Another reason startups suffer is blazing through the achievements that make the whole journey worth it. When you experience a “win,” take the time to relish it. This isn’t easy and has been, admittedly, something that I have too often glossed over. Focusing on your high points can help you stay on track when you hit a snag and remind yourself why you started your company in the first place. And if you have lots to look forward to, like social events with your team or celebratory beer breaks for good progress, you’ll be more likely to power through the low points.

Shift your perspective on low points.

If you see the dips in your success as failures, they’ll act like failures, which means slowing you down and stalling your motivation. But if you treat them as valuable parts of your journey — a failed experiment or even as a startup rite of passage— they’ll make you stronger, teach you valuable lessons, and allow you to keep pushing forward with confidence.

Keep lines of communication open.

You often don’t know you have a communication problem until something goes wrong. Then, when a problem arises, everyone starts talking. Emails fly back and forth. People freak out. Keeping lines of communication open when it’s business as usual is great practice for putting out fires. Don’t just communicate when things hit the fan. By then, it’s too late. Collaboration is critical in a startup, but this can only happen when people are communicating honestly with one another.

Practice good karma.

If you focus on keeping your users or customers happy, delivering what they’re looking for, and making their lives easier, they’ll be much more likely to become loyal to your product or service. This kind of good karma can really speed up your journey to success and put money in the bank. By staying focused on your values and your customers, celebrating the highs, appreciating the lows, and constantly practicing good communication, you can ride the startup roller coaster without losing your mind (or your lunch). When you finally crest that hill and get a good view from the top, you’ll be able to remember your humble roots with a smile. If you don’t appreciate the journey, even the best outcome will feel lackluster.

 

Zvi Band is the founder and CEO of Contactually, a relationship-marketing platform that maximizes value and drives greater ROI from personal and professional networks. Zvi frequently participates in thought leadership panels at Tech Cocktail, WordPress DC, DC PHP, and DCRUG events. He loves solving new problems and building new products and services.

Why Entrepreneurs Need To Take Breaks

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As an entrepreneur, it can be extremely difficult to take time out and re-calibrate.

Everything you are is focused on bringing your vision come to life, and making all of the stress, personal sacrifice and fatigue worthwhile.

But does it actually increase your chance of success to take a time out? Step back and make sure you’re making the right choices, and there isn’t a great opportunity staring you in the face. It is very easy to miss the obvious when you are buried in growing a company.

You must be willing to go over and above and push yourself more than the average person. No question. But what is rarely talked about are the physical and mental downsides of not taking breaks from your obsession.

Mental Downside Of Being Hyper-Focused

There is a never ending litany of people saying that the only way to be successful is to be focused, give it your all and it will all be worth it. I completely agree with this (and have lived it) but personally feel this needs to be further defined.

Studies show that optimal mental efficiency happens on 7.06 hours of sleep. There is significant decline with less than 6.47 hours or more than 8.03. Since you are making important decisions as a business owner, it is vital you operate at your peak mental ability as much as humanly possible.

Will this be possible all the time? Of course not. Just make sure you keep this reality in the back of your head. The last thing you want to do is make a dumb decision on a lack of sleep!

Physical Downside Of Being Hyper-Focused

I really don’t need to even dive into this. We all know what happens when we work to much and exercise to little, but did you know that stress has a direct impact on your immune system and rate of metabolism?

The hormone cortisol is released as part of your “fight or flight” response to stress. While there are temporary benefits to this, in the long term there is a significant reduction in both your immune system and digestive track. This leads to greater risk of serious diseases in general, and the slow down of your metabilism has been linked to things like diabetes and intestinal blockage.

Another study shows that AGE DOESN’T MATTER in how the body reacts to stress!

Personal Downside Of Being Hyper-Focused

Beating back weight gain, overcoming illness and getting caught up on sleep can usually be accomplished when you’ve either failed miserably or reached the mountain top.

The bad decisions made in business and more importantly your personal life are not so easily vanquished.

Losing clients, friends, significant others, or relationships with your children have serious impact on your mental health. While you may be able to suppress these issues in the short term, they will catch up with you.

There was a study released last year showing that married business owners had a divorce rate of 82%. With a national average of just under 50%, this is to great a coincidence to ignore.

In short, you need to think long and hard about how much these relationships mean to you. Not only can they damage you emotionally in the long term, destruction of your personal life will make business success that much harder.

Taking Breaks Doesn’t Mean Losing Focus

Having experienced almost everything mentioned in this article personally, I want to say that this has not turned off my entrepreneurial fire in the slightest.

It has just made me take the occasional timeout, re-calibrate, make sure the decisions being make are good ones, spend time with my daughter, friends and build great relationships with clients.

If you do the same, it will make those late nights and short term sacrifices easier to deal with and make them more rewarding when you have people to share them with!

Why I Came Out of the Mommy Closet

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I have a dirty little secret.

I’ve spent years–well, not hiding it exactly. Just choosing not to showcase it.

But, now it’s time to air my dirty laundry. So to speak.

I’m a mother.

Yup. That’s it. My big secret. And you’re probably wondering why it’s even such a big deal.

Even though I’m proud of my 3 boys, I put a lot of thought into whether or not to incorporate them into my professional life. There are several reasons any woman would consider the same choice I made.

You’re Just Starting Out

There are lots of women who successfully make a name for themselves as a mom. They build blogs or businesses around having a family.

For these women, being loud and proud about motherhood is essential to their personal branding.

But, for women building businesses apart from their families, it can be distracting to talk about motherhood. One friend who is a partner at a venture capital firm told me that she loses Twitter followers every time she tweets about parenting.

In the era of social media and personal branding, you have to think long and hard about what you share. If talking about your family dilutes your brand, it might be best to keep quiet.

That Pesky Glass Ceiling

Like it or not, there is still a glass ceiling for most women.

Draw attention to your uterus and watch that ceiling drop even lower.

In our Serious Startups episode on parenting, Kane expressed surprise that this is true in startups as well as corporate culture.

“There are no rules in startups,” he said incredulously.

But the harsh reality is that there are rules in everything. Startups are a tough environment for mothers because the very nature of entrepreneurship is all-consuming. There is no time for “distractions,” even if they’re cute.

A quick survey of the startup tech scene reveals 2 main demographics for both founders and investors: “men” and “women without children.”

There are exceptions, of course. But, in general, moms starting a non-family-focused business face a huge uphill battle both practically and reputation-wise.

Keep Your Privates Private

The first 2 reasons I’ve talked about can be overcome with time and success. After a certain level of accomplishment or proving yourself, it’s rarely a big deal to reveal your secret.

This last one, though, can apply to moms at any level.

Sometimes, it’s just nobody’s business.

Imagine how awful it would be if everyone had access to all the cute/horrible pictures and stories from your childhood. A simple Google search would show employers pictures of 2-year-old you being potty trained or your mom’s tweets about the time you ate dog poop. That’s reality for the next generation.

Many moms choose to keep their motherhood quiet in order to give their kids a clean digital record.

(FYI: Even though I’m now out of the closet, I still won’t ever publish my kids pictures or names.)

There Comes a Time In Every Mom’s Life…

There are several great reasons for moms to stay quiet about their kids. But sometimes, it’s time to come clean.

As we talked before filming the parenting show, I realized how many women share my dilemma. We’re entrepreneurs, we have kids, and sometimes both of those things work together. Sometimes they don’t.

Either way, it can be isolating–even more than typical entrepreneurship. Admitting my “fatal flaw” to the world is just one more way to battle that isolation and the status quo.

After all, it’s great to know we’re not alone in our rocketship.

Do Good Things Come to Those Who Wait?

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They say that “Good things come to those who wait,” but is it true?

Since shifting my focus from short term profit to a long term, multi-faceted game plan, I often find myself wondering if it’s worth it. What I’m doing makes sense assuming everything goes as planned, but that doesn’t make it easier to be patient.

So in an attempt to both pacify my own impatience, and hopefully share a few things I’ve learned in the last 18 months of being patient, let’s dive into a few reasons patience is worth it in entrepreneurship.

Meeting People of Influence

While I personally hate “who you know” being such a factor of success, it’s amazing what doors open when you take the time to build relationships with people of influence. In the past, I used sheer aggression in marketing and value proposition to build my companies.

Did that work? It sure did, but looking back I realized that the amount of time and energy spent should have been split in direct business development and relationship building.

This go around, instead of being consumed with trying to convince everyone my logic is the greatest thing since sliced bread, I’m taking the time to prove myself on a much smaller scale. This is leading to relationships with people who are opening doors that will ultimately make my long term objectives easier to attain.

As an added bonus, when I started to diversify my relationships, it became easier to find people who thought my logic was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Finding Better Ways To Communicate

As an entrepreneur, one of the biggest sources of frustration is not being able to convince everyone your idea is a good one. Very often that is because it’s hard to compact years of planning into 5 minutes of conversation and actually relay the big picture.

Convincing people who don’t matter in the big picture is easy. The ones that can make or break you is hard. If you can’t paint the picture quickly you’ll get shut down in less than 30 seconds.

Once you get over the slap to your confidence and accept that you can’t convince everyone, it becomes a worthwhile challenge to figure out new ways to be a communications artist. Not only does this have short term value in achieving your goal, being able to communicate effectively to different personality types is a priceless skill in leadership.

Learning To Suppress Ego

Being successful in a variety of areas makes you confident. While confidence is an extremely essential aspect of success, learning when to be humble is a hard but worthwhile.

There is always someone bigger and better than you. The quicker you learn that reality the quicker you will be able to connect and learn from them. This is not to say you should become a “yes man” and never challenge their opinion.

Learning to shut up and listen enables you to learn faster and also helps build a relationship. When others recognize you respect their opinion and experience, they are much more likely to help you in return. This applies to people of influence, your team, and potential partners or customers.

Building An Even Better Mousetrap

Looking back on the plan I’ve been working on for over 2 years now, the way it’s grown is remarkable. Different components of it are being implemented all over the world by other people, which just gives me more confidence that my logic is correct.

As pieces of the puzzle are confirmed, it makes it that much easier to convince those who I’ve been building relationships with that the macro vision being built is worthwhile. While it would be extremely satisfying to say it was my idea first, history proves that being the first to market doesn’t always mean you win.

It’s often those who build a slightly better version of the proverbial mousetrap who win.

So Is Patience Worth It?

As much as it pains me to say it, I think being patient will be worth it.

Spending time building relationships, learning to communicate better, and seeing what works and what doesn’t, enables you to put together a better mousetrap without having to convince everyone that it’s a good idea. Now you just have to convince them it’s a better version.

This leads back to learning to suppress your ego.

As an entrepreneur it’s extremely hard to not strive to be the man on top as quickly as possible. It’s the way we are wired and what separates us from those happy with the status quo and no drive to challenge it.

So I guess time will tell if patience will turn out to be a virtue. But I can say it has made me a better man. It has caused me to build relationships with people who will help turn my dream into reality, exposed my flaws and strengths, and given insight into becoming a person of true merit.

Financial success can be fleeting, but character built through patience is priceless.

Do You Have the Stomach for This?

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Recently I went through a little entrepreneurial funk.

I know I probably shouldn’t admit that in public, but if we’re honest, we know everyone has them. If you’re anything like me, this thought process probably sounds familiar:

  • Crap. I don’t know if I’ll pay the bills this month.

  • I’ve worked 18 hour days every day for a year, but I can’t pay my freaking bills.

  • What’s the best thing I can do right now to make sure the bills get paid?

  • Damn! I don’t want to spend all my time only thinking about the short term. I have dreams…and goals…and and and…!

  • Screw it. What’s the point?

At this point, you’re wondering if your mother was right and you should get a “real job.” Oh, the peace of a regular paycheck, semi-normal work hours, and that long lost thing called a weekend.

I’m not going to tell you to suck it up and keep going. Maybe you’re not cut out for this. Maybe you should do yourself and the rest of the world a favor and find that nice stable job after all. Hey, there’s no shame there, even if we like to glamourize entrepreneurship to the point of it becoming unrecognizable.

I’m not going to tell you to keep chasing your dreams, because this is gut check time. This is when it’s time to really ask yourself, “Do I have the stomach for this?”

What’s your risk tolerance?

This is where you factor in all those people who matter to you. Do you have a spouse and kids? Are their needs being met in some way, preferably that doesn’t involve massive debt?

I’m not saying parents can’t be entrepreneurs, even struggling ones. I’m a single mom, so this is the big question that really hits home for me. My conclusion is that the future I’m building for my kids outweighs the struggles of the present.

But, that may not be your conclusion, which leads to the next question…

What’s your big picture–and is it worth it?

Do you have a long term goal? Or are you just wanting to “be an entrepreneur”? I promise you, being an entrepreneur for its own sake is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Take some time away from the daily grind and really define your goals–concrete things you actually want to accomplish. At the end of the day, will those dreams provide a payoff that exceeds your current struggles?

If not, maybe you should consider a new path, at least until you can define a long term goal worth chasing.

What do your advisers say?

I’m very lucky to have smart business partners who care not just about our business but about me and my family. When both of them consistently said I should not give up yet, I knew they were seeing the bigger picture I was missing.

Talk to people you trust, who know you and your unique situation. Listen to their advice, and when things seem darkest remember that they are probably seeing the pieces you’re missing.

How sleep deprived are you?

You might think this is out of place, but trust me. You don’t want to make major decisions on a sleep deprived brain.

Do whatever is necessary to get a few nights of consistent sleep. Melatonin works wonders for me, and everything starts to make more sense when you catch up on sleep.

What does your gut say?

And, then sometimes, you can’t quantify your thought process. Sometimes the answer is to simply follow your instinct. During my most recent funk, my instinct was to keep going, even when fear was telling me to stop.

If your instinct is to take a break or even stop altogether, go with it. You’ll be happier, healthier, and saner than the rest of us.

Going through hard times is never fun. But, it’s almost always a gift in disguise. Walking through the dark days will reaffirm your passion and vision, making you more confident the next time you struggle.

Or, it will be a big red flag that says it’s time for a new path.