3 Important Lessons for This Generation of Entrepreneurs

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Growing up, most of us still believe in the American Dream – that by getting a college education and building up our resumes with internships and relevant professional skills, we’ll be able to graduate and walk into a high-paying (or at least stable) career. But with nearly half of the nation’s recent college graduates working jobs that don’t require a degree, a college diploma is no longer a golden ticket.

This harsh reality, paired with the “celebretization” of entrepreneurship, turns everyone into an aspiring entrepreneur. But the road to successful entrepreneurship is by no means easier that the traditional American Dream. In most cases, it’s harder — and it takes a lot of time, effort, energy and more often than not, money.

So whether you’re brainstorming how to make it on your own or are a seasoned entrepreneurial vet, here are three tips for today’s generation of entrepreneurs.

The system isn’t built for entrepreneurship; you have to work it.

The system is still not designed for you to be an entrepreneur. It’s designed for you to work for someone else. Once you understand that, you can begin to look at your situation through a different lens and realize that this will be the one of the hardest things you will ever do, and one of the most valuable and rewarding experiences in your life.

Being an entrepreneur is about doing things you never thought you could do and having great perseverance while doing it. You need to have great confidence in your idea(s) and what you have set out to accomplish. Be prepared to work the system to make it work for you. It may not happen overnight, but stick with it.

Learn to leverage new technologies for your business.

It’s safe to say that I’ve had the entrepreneurial bug in me since I was a kid. I started a video game newsletter when I was 11 years old. Back then, I used a Logitech handheld scanner to help me scan images and used Prodigy and AOL to help promote my newsletter on gaming message boards. By using the latest technology, I was able to gain retail distribution in the Northeast and in-book advertising from a handful of national brands. I can only imagine what I could have done if I were 11 years old today.

Moral of the story: Learn how to leverage technology to fast-track your personal knowledge of your industry and your business’ resources. It will allow you to grow fast while keeping overhead low. Here are some great resources for new and experienced founders and CEOs:

  • Graphic Design: Check out 99Designs.com, a crowdsourced graphic design marketplace that helps you run a design contest open to a community of graphic designers all over the world. The best part: You only pay once you select your preferred design(s).
  • Turnkey E-Commerce: Shopify.com is a customizable and affordable hosted e-commerce platform.
  • Legal Resources: LegalZoom.com is my favorite online resource for basic legal document services and legal plans for small businesses. It’s especially good for startups. They have great templates that you can customize for your needs.
  • Email Hosting + Management: I recommend Google Apps for Business. It’s no longer free, but I think it provides the best bang for your buck. It’s easy to set up (no IT experience necessary) and provides instant comfort level thanks to user login via Gmail.com.
  • Web Publishing: WordPress is the de facto choice for millions of web publishers, but I recommend that you look atSquarespace as well. The best analogy between is that WordPress is like an Android phone while Squarespace is like an iPhone. The templates are basic, but you can customize WordPress to look and act as needed; Squarespace comes shiny out of the box with little room for customization.

Know where your customer is going next.

Don Coleman, founder, chairman and CEO of GlobalHue, the largest multicultural marketing agency in the United States, recently told me how, as an entrepreneur, his focus is on knowing and being where the consumer is going.

“Whatever we are doing as marketers and consumers, we need to focus on where the consumer is going,” said Coleman.

For Coleman, that meant leveraging GlobalHue’s multicultural legacy and deep cultural insights to offer their clients a total market solution in order to reach the changing consumer demographics in America.

This is a principle that today’s entrepreneurs must apply to succeed — whether your business is service-oriented (like Coleman’s ad agency model) or product-oriented. Identify how your business model can offer a client solution based on where your consumer is today, and even more importantly, where they will be three to five years from now.

Alex Frias is co-founder and president of Track Marketing Group, an award winning brand experience company specializing in live event and social activations. Alex has spent the last decade blending Fortune 500 brands with entertainment and lifestyle programming. Alex also curates young & social, a marketing blog dissecting the convergence of brands, music, fashion, and lifestyle marketing.

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.

9 Strategies For Becoming the Best CEO You Can Be

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Learning to be a better CEO is key for entrepreneurs who don’t set off to be managers and have fallen into the role by virtue of their own creation.

Below are the top nine lessons from my CEO experience at PeoplePerHour.

  1. Learn to ask what’s important. Learn to have three major priorities at any one time. Sure, you will always have a backlog of little things. But don’t become a victim of your to-do list. Develop daily amnesia — ask yourself what is most important every day.
  2. Focus on stakeholder value. It’s easy to get too absorbed in your deep passion for what you do and lose sight of what you are there to do as CEO: drive stakeholder value. Create value for your customers, value for your team and value for your shareholders.
  3. Tell stories. The best way to get your message across is through storytelling. Don’t use buzzwords, geek talk and heavy corporate language. Keep it human, light and humorous. You need to charm you team, your customers, your shareholders. People relate to stories, not buzzwords.
  4. Have a deep sense of purpose. Ask yourself: if your business disappeared tomorrow, would it really matter? To whom? And why? Make a difference to the world. At PeoplePerHour we have a solid sense of purpose we serve: Allowing people to live their dream of becoming their own boss and building their business from the ground up.
  5. Be the gatekeeper. Don’t confuse delegation with gatekeeping. You need to be the ultimate gatekeeper in your company — you are the one defining and setting the standard. People will push you to compromise your standards for the sake of moving faster or for more freedom. Don’t be tricked and stay true to yourself.
  6. Set high goals. Don’t start small. Your team members will often tell you to to “start small.” If you start small you stay small! Start big and set big bold goals. If you set the goalpost low, you will be good at best. Stretch staff beyond their limits. They may complain that you expect too much, but in the end they will thank you for it. There is no greater reward then helping your employees achieve what they thought was unachievable.
  7. Self-reflect and step up. Don’t confuse confidence with self-reflection. Great CEOs are very self-reflective and demanding of themselves. Don’t doubt yourself in front of your team. Doubt yourself when you go home and look in the mirror. Figure out what your team needs from you. If you’re not stepping up every day, you will remain stagnant.
  8. Serve others. Your job as a CEO is to serve others more than they serve you. Stop thinking about what you need from people and ask them what they need from you. Figure out what your customers need, what your team needs, and what your shareholders need. Then help them make it happen.
  9. Develop a thick skin. Being CEO of a business – especially if you are the founder – is an emotional roller coaster. You will have some very low moments. Don’t let the emotional pressure break you. People will read you better than you think, and if they smell vulnerability and weakness, you wield less power.

Xenios Thrasyvoulou is a passionate PPHer, avid blogger, lover of art, design, and all things quirky and minimal but words in particular; he’s also a fan of the uncommon and unconventional and a vintage fanatic who specialises in poking the fire and stirring things up, and suffers from an overly curious mind. Xenios is the accidental founder of, and now fully and truly wed to, PeoplePerHour.

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.

The Truth About Your Startup’s Press Strategy

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Press is a great way to build a brand. But for startups, it’s not a sustainable way to build your business. Every young company wants to be featured in “Good Morning America,” the New York Times, Inc., Fast Company, Forbes, Women’s Health and more. These major publications and dozens more have featured our two companies, but we’ve found that the results have not led to a shift in the metrics that are critical to growing our businesses.

Earning coverage from magazines, blogs and TV shows might give you a huge bump in traffic, but it’s not as meaningful as getting in front of the right audience. For example, the popular app Cody received press from several major tech publications like GigaOm and VentureBeat on their launch day. They saw a traffic spike, but it was short-lived and traffic soon returned to much lower levels, as shown in the graph below.

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For their longer-term marketing strategy, they regularly wrote articles for their own blog and for other websites in the fitness industry over a period of a year. You can see that their press bump (from the graph above) is now just a blip, while their content creation has paid off in spades.

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Most people consider the goal of press to be getting covered. We think that it needs to be part of a much bigger marketing mix. While strategies for scalable growth are different for every company, here are a few things that have worked for us:

  • Blogging. Just like Cody, Magoosh initially built its brand and company by blogging. We became a thought leader in the test prep space, specifically for the GRE. We hired an expert tutor as our first employee, and he wrote one blog article a day for nearly six months. We didn’t just focus on SEO (ranking well for search engines) – we focused on writing very high quality content so that we would build a relationship with our readers. Over time, more and more of our readers would come directly to our blog when looking for information about the GRE rather than searching on Google. We grew our traffic from 1,000 visitors/month to 20,000 visitors/month in four months using this strategy.
  • Customer service. We both have focused on service as a way to scale; personalized service means repeat purchases forModify, and an awesome referral business for both of our companies. Many startups say they care about service, but we think amazing service should be part of your strategic marketing strategy. You’ll provide better service if you think about the “return on investment” of your customer interactions. You measure service ROI by using a Net Promoter Score or by tracking increase in word of mouth referrals. There are different ways to accomplish this. But in the end, you need to find out if customers would refer you to their friends. The answer has to be a definitive yes in order for service to be part of scaling.

So, is press useless? Absolutely not! We think you should pursue press for a few reasons:

  1. Credibility with investors. While your customers might not be reading press about your company, potential investors will be. Press coverage helps you build a relationship with an investor before they even know you – for instance they may have read about you in TechCrunch. You can also reference company coverage as social proof that others think you are newsworthy.Candid, a site that assigns a “culture score” based on current employees’ opinions of a company, was able to meet many new investors after their public product launch.
  2. Credibility with retailers. If you’re selling a physical product, having press can mean a lot for retailers. Next to Modify’s product, they can have photos of the various magazines we’ve appeared in. Retailers need to convince a customer who is seeing the brand for the first time that it’s a good investment – having imagery from Self, Shape, Vanity Fair and others has helped our watch sales. Having strong coverage was integral in Modify launching its Major League Baseball watches in a dozen stadiums this season.
  3. Credibility with future hires. Future employees are often looking to work for a hot new startup, and they often read startup press. For Magoosh, getting press in education technology publications has helped attract candidates who otherwise may have never heard of the company.
  4. Customer base expansion. Modify appeared on “Good Morning America” twice. We considered the opportunities parts of our marketing spend; both times we sold at a loss, but we were able to acquire thousands of new customers. We’ve been able to turn over 30 percent of those folks into repeat customers.

One final thing: if you’re going to pursue press, make sure to think about how journalists work. You can’t just send them information and say, “Cover me!” Turns out, they’re people too. We recommend you take Mark Suster’s advice and think about press as a process. Build relationships and create value for the people covering you, and you’ll get more — and more valuable — coverage.

This post was co-authored by Bhavin Parikh, founder and CEO of Magoosh, which provides a convenient, fun, and effective way for students to prepare for standardized tests. 

Aaron Schwartz is Founder and CEO at Modify Industries, Inc., which designs interchangeable custom watches known as Modify Watches. He loves working on startup ideas and has spent innumerable (happy) hours advising friends and former students on how to grow their ideas.

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 Price Your Prototype for Early Adopters

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Vasu Kulkarni, CEO of Krossover, explains one surprising strategy for pricing your prototype — charging early adopters for your product, so that they see the value in it long term. Other ideas include:

  • Offer discounts in return for endorsements
  • Give out your product for specific trial periods

For more tips, watch the entire video above.

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.

Is Social Media Working for You?

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Anybody can sign up for a social media account and understand its general premise. Does that make you capable of using it for business? Like anything in business, social media (done right) requires extensive experience and understanding of people, some technology and — most importantly — marketing.

Primarily, social media users fail in one of two areas: understanding that social media fits into the larger part of a company’s overall marketing goals, and the ability to see correlations between activities on social media and quantifiable ROI. (Like in grade school math class, you don’t get credit if you don’t show your work.)

You — or your social media marketing ‘pro’ — might be using social media the wrong way if:

You don’t measure ROI

Utilize basic tools like Facebook analytics (which is free, by the way) to understand what your customers really respond to. Notice whatever seems to help you generate more likes, clicks and reach. Then, use tools like Google Analytics to see how the traffic is converting on your website. If you want to get a bit more robust, try simple, yet powerful analytics tools like Simplymeasured.com. They will help you stay connected with your audience and keep them interested, as long as you can interpret them correctly. 

You call yourself a ‘guru’ or something similar

Keep your titles professional, people. Using a term like ‘guru’ usually screams that you’re a refugee from another industry and don’t really know what you’re doing. Anybody who has been in the marketing industry wants to create a professional appearance. Let others call you a guru if they’d like.

You’re not working with other departments in the business

Social media marketing is most efficient and effective when it’s coordinated with your company’s branding team, email marketing team, advertising team and other various marketing departments. For instance, your web marketing team can help drive your social media communities’ growth by linking back to your company’s social networks. Alternatively, you can gain potential leads that can convert into sales by driving traffic back to the website through content marketing. If you create original content and you work intra-departmentally, you will then be a social media rock star.

You are not identifying key influencers or competitors

Social media is a great portal for identifying potential allies and competitors. Keep an eye on your competitors to see what they’re up to. Make sure you add them to a private list on Twitter and don’t follow them, because then they’ll know. Use tools likeFollowerwonk.com to identify key influencers who may be driving the conversation in your industry. Interact with the influencers and try to involve them in various social media programs that you run. Soon you’ll have people adding you to their secret Twitter lists.

You use a tweet-by-tweet strategy

It’s easy to sign up for a social media account. The real magic happens when you have a strategy. To create a one, you must learn to understand what your audience needs through analytics, then implement a process that drives measurable ROI. With this strategy, you can plan out social media initiatives like contests. Ensure that they are successful by planning appropriately and implementing flawlessly. If you’re running a social media program but you don’t know what you’re going to accomplish next month, you are doing it wrong.

You don’t build relationships or listen

Social media is all about relationships — that’s why it’s called “social” media.  It will draw engagement, encourage brand advocacy and keep customers happy. To build these key relationships you must listen to your fans’ needs.  They will do some of the work for you, but you need to treat them right.  Some businesses talk too much on social media. This comes across as “spamvertisement,” and their fans tune out. If a proverbial tree (your content) falls in the woods (into the newsfeed) but nobody cares, did it really happen?

Find out why people like your business by listening to them. Build your community around that.

Andy Karuza is the CEO of brandbuddee.com and a long-time social media consultant with experience in Enterprise, Startup and local small business. Also an active nightlife, fashion, entrepreneur and charity community member.

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.

The Art of the FollowUp: How to Be More Persuasive

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Entrepreneur and retired shirt wearer Jason SurfrApp, who is about to release a new book this month, knows a thing or two about how to turn a “no” into a “yes.”

He recommends thinking about how to get someone’s attention in a way that you wouldn’t ordinarily and stresses the importance of a great follow-up. While you don’t want to push the envelope or make that person annoyed, you might be surprised at how much they are willing to negotiate.

Watch the full video to get more helpful tips.

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.

8 Common Networking Faux Pas to Avoid


Networking gets a bad rap. But, as with so many things, it’s usually just the bad apples who spoil it for everyone else. As someone who has attended (and hosted) literally thousands of networking meetings and events — and is often referred to as a ‘master networker,’ for better or worse – I’m going to let you in on a few secrets of bad networking. You know, the kind that spoils it for the rest of us.

And remember, if you see yourself on my list of networking annoyances, it’s probably time to take a hard look at yourself and correct your networking wrongs before you’re labeled “THAT guy (or gal)” for good.

  1. You ask for a meeting, sale, call or email but don’t take the initiative. Let’s say you’re in sales and ask someone to introduce you to a business owner whom they know. Said contact makes an introduction and your response is, “Call me when you can.” (Sound the loud annoying buzzer…WRONG!) If you are in the position of wanting something, it is 100 percent your job to make the call, go to his/her office, follow up, etc. If you’re not willing to take the initiative and keep the momentum moving, do not ask for the introduction, call, email or sale. Period.
  2. You card blast. Ever attend a networking event and meet that person who hands you a card before you ask for one — and then races around the room doing the same thing to everyone else? If that’s you, throw away your cards on your own, because they are going to land in the trash anyway. If you’re looking to turn someone off before opening your mouth, that’s a surefire way to do it.
  3. You pretend we’ve met. Have you ever gotten an email or voicemail proclaiming “It was so nice to meet you!” and you’re racking your brain to figure out who this person is? That’s probably because you don’t know. The person likely got your information in a way that you didn’t permit, and then begins to try to sell you their agenda by pretending there’s a rapport between you. It is never wise to start any relationship with a lie, no matter whether it’s business or personal, big or small.
  4. You can’t stop talking. Want to know one of the best ways to get someone’s attention? Ask them questions, genuinely listen, and follow up with sincere responses. No other words need come from you. The more you talk about yourself without being asked, the less the person on the receiving end is likely to care.
  5. You ask a stranger for a referral. If I don’t know you, I can’t like or trust you and therefore, I will not refer you business. Hence, if you meet me in passing, don’t ask me to find business for you. It takes work to create that type of relationship, so don’t expect it within five minutes.
  6. Your eyes are all over the room. Ever been in a conversation with someone whose eyes are darting around the room? Did you feel like they really cared about what you were saying? Doubtful. Pay attention when you’re talking with someone. At that time, no one else matters. Don’t be the person who commits the sin of always looking for what’s “better.” Feel free to politely excuse yourself whenever the conversation is complete.
  7. You take before you give. Looking for a job? A friend? A date? A deal? Here’s a tip: Before you ask someone for anything, consider what you can offer to them first. Just asking the question, “Is there anything I can do to help you?” will go a long way. People like to be reciprocal, so don’t treat interactions like one-sided transactions. What goes around comes around.
  8. You’re a horse disguised as a unicorn. What looks like a horse, has wings, and a horn atop it’s a head? Did you guess a unicorn? If so, you’re correct! Don’t be a networking unicorn, because unicorns are not real. Be yourself; be real. Take off the wings and the horn and be a horse if that’s what you are. People can see through it.

If you feel called out, take a minute to identify which sins you’ve committed and work on them. Improvement is always better than stagnation. There are always new people to meet and relationships to deepen. Just like you’d tackle paying down your credit card debt, start with the habit that’s most offensive, and work your way down.

Darrah Brustein is the co-founder of Equitable Payments, a merchant services brokerage, and founder of Network Under 40, a monthly networking event for young professionals. Darrah recently authored Finance Whiz Kids, a series of kids book that teach the basics of financial education.

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.

10 Ways to Instantly Boost Your Social Media Credibility


Question: What’s one thing an entrepreneur/startup could do TODAY to quickly boost their credibility on social media?

Answer Others’ Questions

“Establish a search query, using a tool like TweetDeck or HootSuite, around an area you have expertise in. Watch the stream and answer other people’s questions or retweet articles that you think provide valuable insight to others. The No. 1 rule about social media is “be helpful.””

Eric Holtzclaw, Laddering Works

Create Great Content

“Create great content including infographics, photos and videos, and share the content across social media platforms. If your content is not insightful, people will not want to read it or engage as much with your company. Also, consume and respond to others’ content — you might get new ideas for future content, and everyone will benefit.”

Jesse Pujji, Ampush

Be Reponsive

“Many entrepreneurs use social media as a one-way platform to spread a message to those who follow them; however, the best will engage in conversations with their followers, responding to comments and being truly accessible. “

Bhavin Parikh, Magoosh Inc

Make All Profiles Consistent

“It’s worth updating all your social media profiles and making sure they are consistent and similar. When people are looking you up, they’re seeing all of them at the same time!”

Derek Flanzraich, Greatist

Be Authentic

“Content is king, so it’s important to have something to say, and when you do, be authentic. If I see something or read something that’s interesting, I share it because others will likely find it interesting, too. I don’t take myself too seriously on Twitter; if I see something funny, I tweet it. If you’re true to yourself and simply share what interests and inspires you, you’ll build credibility.”

Dries Buytaert, Drupal

Get Endorsed

“On LinkedIn, make sure you are endorsed for the skills you want other people to recognize you for, and ask for recommendations on past positions. On Twitter, make sure you have more followers than you are following; otherwise, people will suspect you of follow-back, mass-follow/mass-flush and other such techniques.”

Christopher Pruijsen, Sterio.me

Do the Math

“Successful startups go into specifics. Everyone else talks about fluff; they’re afraid to give away company secrets. If you’re willing to provide real examples with real numbers, your posts will have five times the chance of succeeding.”

Gagan Biyani, Growth Hackers Conference

Interact Naturally

“Talk with people in your social media community. Get to know them, and let them know who you are without being a salesman. Have conversations and ask questions. This will build your reputation, and you’ll have a community supporting you. If you’re just doing sales on social media and talking about yourself, you’re doing it wrong.”

Kyle Clayton, Jackrabbit Janitorial

Sponsor High-Quality Content

“I believe sponsoring high-quality content is a great way for an entrepreneur or startup to get the message they want out there. It’s also easy and fast. It’s all about having the content first — then you can target anyone you want using Facebook ads, for example. “

Pablo Palatnik, ShadesDaddy.com

Start Writing

“I started writing more frequently on my site and for others’ sites. I instantly started getting more Twitter followers and a lot more engagement on Twitter and via email.”

Wade Foster, Zapier

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.

Want to Succeed? Start with Confidence

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Every time I read an article about what women need to do to get ahead in the male-dominated tech world of VCs and startups, I cringe. The prescription feels simplistic, but this is not a simple problem.

Fiona Murray’s recent Boston Globe Magazine piece, “Playing by the Rules,” recommended wearing a uniform, speaking confidently, networking and watching sports to get ahead. Don’t get me wrong — I am sure these tactics can help, and the research is fascinating (she found that “companies pitched by men were about 40 percent more likely to receive funding than those led by women”). But should we all just become avid football fans? I, for one, will take a thoughtful David Sedaris essay in The New Yorker over football any fall Sunday.

At the heart of Murray’s recommendations is the fact that women need to take action today while we work on solving the broader education, political and economic issues we face. Here are the bleak facts we already know:

One of my favorite VCs once said that it’s just as important to be convincing as it is to be right. Confidence breeds success. We need to do a better job at mentoring women in confidence strategies. In a piece for Forbes, Dr. Candida Brush wrote, “In contrast to young men, young women are less likely to see opportunities, have a higher fear of failure and therefore, less likely to engage in entrepreneurship.” HSBC USA Chief Executive Irene Dorner echoed this when she talked about the problem of the “sticky floor” in The New York Times.

But confidence is teachable. It’s not something anyone is born with. When I quit my job to start InkHouse, my business partner and I would joke that we were faking it until we made it. We weren’t faking our knowledge about PR campaigns. We were faking the confidence of a much larger organization as we asked clients to take a bet on our nascent agency.

I won’t pretend to know how to solve this very large problem, but in my small microcosm of the business world, I have seen the following tactics work for the women who succeed. As female entrepreneurs, we have a responsibility to foster the next generation by teaching them to:

  • Speak up and speak confidently. Don’t save your ideas for post-meeting emails to your boss. If you have a seat at the table, show that you deserve it.
  • Walk into a room like you belong there. Smile, hold your head up, make eye contact, offer a firm handshake, and don’t mess with your outfit. First impressions are made in seconds, and they are based predominantly on non-verbal cues.
  • End thoughts as statements, not questions. If your voice goes up at the end of a statement, it sounds like a question and conveys uncertainty.
  • Eliminate the words “I think” before a recommendation. “I think” is a subliminal disclaimer that your idea might not be a good one. State your recommendation as though it is fact and others will consider it more seriously.
  • Become comfortable with silence. After articulating a recommendation, let the idea percolate. Be comfortable letting your audience thoughtfully consider your point. Don’t fill that thinking space with chitchat.
  • Be present. Listen first, and then formulate your response. Pay attention to the people in the room. Are they confused, interested, distracted? Base your next statement on their cues, not the thought you’ve been waiting to blurt out.
  • Find a way to say no by saying yes. We’re accused of taking on too much, and never saying no. There is an eloquent and productive way to say no. It could simply be that saying yes means you must put another project on the back burner. Lead with the yes, and follow up with the caveat.
  • Practice speaking in front of a large room. The only way to keep that warmth from coming up your neck and into your face when you present is to do it over and over again. Eventually, it will become second nature.
  • Do your research first. Lead with the facts. Knowledge inspires confidence. And knowledge confers authority onto your recommendations.
  • Use your personality to your benefit. Do not try to morph yourself into a man, or someone else’s vision of a successful career woman. Even if your boss is dictating the points you must make in a critical meeting, say them in your words. Only then will you deliver the message well.
  • Seek feedback selectively. If the meeting felt good to you, it probably was. Asking for needless feedback is not something a confident man would do. In the business world, no news is often good news, so take it as such.
  • Don’t default to apology in the face of scrutiny. Apologize only when you have done something wrong, not because someone doesn’t like your idea. You only have to own the mistakes you actually make. In all other scenarios, listen to the other person’s point of view respectfully, and calmly present your challenge.
  • It’s okay to say you don’t know. Find out the answer and come back with a solid recommendation. Of course, you should make sure that you know the answer nine times out of 10.

I will end with some good news. For every 10 men starting a business, there are eight women who are doing the same. Let’s make it 10 for 10.

Beth Monaghan is principal and co-founder of InkHouse Media + Marketing, a PR and content marketing agency with offices in Waltham, MA and San Francisco, CA. She blogs at InkLings and you can find her on Twitter @bamonaghan.

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.

Do You Have What It Takes to Start Up?


Starting a business is like joining the priesthood: It’s not something you do from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and leave behind when Friday evening rolls around. Being an entrepreneur is a full-time occupation.

Make that preoccupation. You eat, sleep and breathe your obsession.

And if you’re one of the lucky few whose business actually takes off and you’re at it for more than just a year or two, preparing yourself for the long game can make all the difference in the world. Your well-being, success, relationships, productivity and employees’ enjoyment and enthusiasm all depend on your ability to stay focused, refreshed and energized. This is even more important during the crucial early days of a startup.

While most business literature and courses focus on preparing entrepreneurs for all the “external” challenges they’ll face — go-to market strategy, product rollouts, team recruiting, fund raising, etc. — there’s very little attention paid to all of the internal struggles one faces when launching a business. But, much like a sport, what separates champions from the rest is the ability to focus on and master this “inner” game.

Starting a business just because you want to make loads of money will most likely lead to you quitting before you really get started. Chances are in the beginning you’ll make a lot less than what you did at the job you left behind. Nothing can be more challenging to your self-esteem than working harder than anyone you know while living as if you’re back in your college dorm. Unless you’re passionate about what you do, don’t even bother getting to the starting line. Passion is what will fuel you through the inevitable lean and tough times.

  1. Take in bios. No matter what you think, you’re not the first one to embark on this journey. Many, many others have done it before you. Reading up on other successful entrepreneurs will not only give you ideas and inspiration, but will also help you understand that most of the challenges you’re facing are not unique. It’s nice to know you have company.
  2. Nurture a hobby. Developing an outside interest that helps shift your mind away from work is not only a great way to refresh your creative juices, it can also help introduce you to future business partners. For me, those outlets have been daily exercise and following soccer. I cannot tell you how many business meetings I have where much of the time is spent talking with a prospective customer about soccer — it’s a great icebreaker. Having interests outside of what you do makes you much more social, well-rounded and interesting. People want to do business with people they like and enjoy. Cue growth.
  3. Seek advice, not advisers. Everyone needs some outsider’s perspective when things get tough. Don’t obsess over having a prestigious board of advisers to add to your business plan. More often than not, all you’ll only their names. Instead, build an informal network of trusted insiders who care about you and whom you can confide your inner doubts and fears. And don’t fret over “credentials” — some of the best advice comes from parents, siblings, spouses and friends who know little about your business but somehow know how to cut right to the heart of the matter.
  4. Enjoy the game. In the process of launching and building a business, you’ll inevitably have to learn and do things that are outside your comfort zone — putting together financial models, pitching to investors, attending networking events, courting new recruits, etc. Treat what you do as a game, because it is. Learn the rules; step back and observe the movements; analyze and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Unless you learn to enjoy every aspect of the process — even those things that keep you up at night — you’ll run out of steam all too soon.

Remember: Good things come to those who persist.

Panos Panay is a passionate entrepreneur and active startup mentor in the creative media space. As the founder of Sonicbids, he created the leading platform for bands to book gigs and market themselves online. He writes weekly about startups and entrepreneurship for blogs and publications such as Huffington Post, WSJ Accelerators and Fast Company; and guest lectures at universities including MIT Engineering, Boston University and Brown University.

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.

The Energized Founder: 7 Ways to Boost Energy (Sans Coffee)

Businesswomen sitting on exercise balls in meeting

As entrepreneurs, we know all too well the meaning of burning the candle at both ends. From stress-filled days to sleepless nights, it’s no wonder most of the entrepreneurs I know are so addicted to coffee they may as well invest in Starbucks.

Just because you work at a startup, though, doesn’t mean you’re great at starting yourself up! And while research is mixed on just how good or bad your coffee addiction is for your health, if you’re looking for a few alternative ways to boost your energy levels, read on – because, I know all too well the importance of never-ending energy. And, as a certified health coach and author of The Recipe for Radiance: Discover Beauty’s  Best-Kept Secrets In Your Kitchen, I also know the secrets:

  1. Drink water. When glued to your desk, it can be hard to remember to drink enough water – and even harder to tell when you’re showing the early signs of dehydration. But when your energy is low, opt for a big glass of H2O instead of a refill on your cup of Joe and you’ll feel instantly energized (without the risk of an impending caffeine crash).
  2. Snack on chocolate. Indulge that sweet-tooth with raw, dark chocolate and you’ll be less likely to feel the late-afternoon slump than if you head for the vending machine. Make a hot chocolate drink with raw cacao powder and almond milk or the Raw Brownie Batter Pudding recipe that’s featured in my new book, The Recipe For Radiance (it’s a personal favorite!).
  3. Get outside. Whether it’s cool and brisk or warm and sunny, a 2 minute walk around the block will reset your mind and mood. Take deep breaths, meditate, or listen to your favorite song to clear your head and reset your fuel reserve.
  4. Dance. A quick mini-dance party in your office combines too of the best energy-boosters: music and movement. Playing a great song activates the same parts of your brain that light up during sex. And moving (even just a short-burst of high energy movement) increases blood flow – and energy! If you’ve ever worked with Tony Robbins (or just seen him in action) you know it’s one of his best little secrets.
  5. Mix it up. Switching from one task to another will help revamp your mindset and refocus your energy to starve off any energy slump. Set a timer and alternate between tasks to stay engaged and motivated.
  6. Smell citrus. Revitalize your energy levels as well as your senses by sniffing a lemon, orange or grapefruit. Squeeze a bit of lemon in your water and it will also raise the pH level of your H2O for even better hydration. Not a fruit person? Just the smell of citrus can cure chronic fatigue so even a citrus-scented candle will do the trick!
  7. Drink tea. Just a few cups a day have been shown to help reduce stress hormone levels, which will help to balance energy levels. Keep a pitcher of freshly brewed caffeine-free iced tea in your office fridge and you’ll not only stay stress-free, but also increase your overall health.

Alexis Wolfer is working to empower women and promote confidence through beauty as the founder and editor-in-chief ofTheBeautyBean.com, a television host/on-air expert, and a Real Beauty activist. Her first book, The Recipe For Radiance: Discover Beauty’s Best Kept Secrets In Your Kitchen (Running Press, April 2014) is available on Amazon now!

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.

3 Ways to Make a Social Impact With Your Startup


When I think about startups that incorporate social good, I think about businesses that are always doing the right thing – for their team, for their community, for their customers, and for the environment. Most importantly, the decisions that they make naturally consider their social impact. They don’t fake it and it is not a fad strategy – it is core to the business model. Social good isn’t about doing something to just get attention.

Case in point: After living and working in Malawi, artist (and friend) Marissa Perry Saints, founded Dsenyo in an effort to create opportunity for hard-working African women and artisans. “Social good is the reason we exist and it permeates every facet of our identity. With this approach we have buy-in from everyone…leadership, staff, suppliers and customers. Our social mission is our core,” she explained.

If you’re interested in incorporating social good into your business, here are three best practices I gleaned from my fellow Boulder- and Denver-area entrepreneur friends:

Clearly Define and Communicate Your Social Impact

Think through whether the fundamental problem your company solves is actually “social good.” If so – define how. What is the social impact of the work you’re doing? If successful, what is the social impact your company will have? Your team has to believe it in order for them to execute, and in order for them to share the impact they’re having in the community and with your customers. Is it a leap? Or is it real?

Analiese Brown, Community and Recruiting Manager for ShipCompliant, said, “Social good should become an outcome of what you’re trying to build, rather than an afterthought. What is the fundamental belief that drives your business? If you can get clear on why you do what you do at that very basic level, it becomes easier to see how you can achieve social good as an extension of your product and brand. That doesn’t mean your product has to solve a social problem explicitly (although it might), but it does challenge founders to think about how they could use their existing resources — their team, their technology, their solution — to make the world a better place.”

Make It Part of Your Company’s Culture

As an entrepreneur, you have to communicate your social impact clearly with your team early and often before you can make the case for doing it externally. It has to be ingrained in everything you do. And it must naturally connect to your business’ mission and vision.

Elizabeth Kraus, Managing Director of The Impact Angel Group, said, “To really achieve social good, startups should first start thinking about it early in the process so it can shape the company culture and be supported by the early investors and stakeholders. Startups can’t forget that they must survive in order to create social good. If used as support for customer acquisition, employee retention and other startup challenges, a social good strategy can be a competitive advantage.”

Be Authentic About Your Impact

Marc Gutman, Chief Meeting Officer and Founder of Lighthouse Conferencing, said, “My biggest piece of advice to startups looking to do this is do it for the right reasons. Do it because it is meaningful to you and your team. Do not enter into it as something that’s going to be monetized or to bring you business. If it does, that’s a bonus, but you’ll most likely be disappointed if this is your main reason for starting one of these programs.”

In other words, don’t create a social good strategy solely to generate revenue. It won’t work because people will see through it. Rather, connect the dots internally and externally on how your company can make a positive social impact throughout your business model. And if you can’t, don’t force it.

If your company’s mission isn’t to change the world, that’s okay too – there are other ways to incorporate social good into your model. For example, some employers choose to empower their employees to use paid time off to donate to the charity of their choice. Said Bill Douglas, CEO of EssentiaLink: “I chose to create a charitable time off policy from the start and encouraged employees to donate their energy on company time to the charity or school of their choosing. This bonded our teams because we all cover for each other without hesitation when its for charity. There is pride in ownership as employees boast about their chosen charity. Our stakeholders even get involved now. Its become engrained in our culture and everybody benefits.”

Integrating social impact into your business model shouldn’t be an afterthought and it shouldn’t be temporary. It should be central to achieving your vision. Otherwise, it might just be a distraction — one that your clients and employees will see through.

Sarah Schupp is the CEO and founder of UniversityParent.com, the #1 site for college parents to find everything they need to help their student succeed. Follow her on Twitter @Sarah_Schupp

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.

Stitch Fix Founder Katrina Lake Has Some Advice for You


Katrina Lake’s friends used to kiddingly call her CEO/janitor. Today, her willingness to get her hands dirty is paying off.

katrina lake

Katrina Lake is passionate about helping women achieve everyday confidence. She founded Stitch Fix to help women everywhere discover and explore their style through a truly client-focused shopping experience. Prior to founding Stitch Fix, Katrina developed extensive experience at the intersection of fashion, retail, and technology. Katrina holds a B.S. in Economics from Stanford University and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. Follow her @kmlake.

Who is your hero? 

My maternal grandmother, who moved here on her own from Japan without knowing a word of English, has always been an inspiration to me. She was unwilling to accept the status quo and pursued a vision of a better life for herself fearlessly.

What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?

Before I founded Stitch Fix, I was working as a consultant in the retail and restaurant industries and I traveled a lot with colleagues. The best piece of advice I could give is when hiring people, consider whether or not you could enjoy spending 12 hours traveling with them. While I don’t travel with every person who works at Stitch Fix, it’s a great barometer to make sure that everyone we hire is someone we enjoy spending time with.

What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?

We didn’t take a step back from the business and define our shared values and vision for the company as soon as we should have. Having a shared sense of self for the company helps provide more alignment around hiring practices, more consistency in how we serve our clients, and creates a feeling of shared purpose among employees.

What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?

Every morning as I’m getting ready for my day I watch “Good Morning America” (guilty pleasure!). I also read WWD to get up to date on the latest retail news. I also try to squeeze in a run a few mornings a week, especially in the summer when it’s light outside.

What’s your best financial or cash-flow related tip for entrepreneurs just getting started?

Make sure to test your hypothesis/product/idea in a low-budget way before you invest more of your or another investor’s time and money. It’s tempting to pour all your money into an idea you can believe in, but it’s so important to test a concept to understand the potential traction with target customers.

When we were in the testing phases at Stitch Fix, we were purchasing inventory at retail and weren’t making any money off our clients, but we were able to validate the concept and demonstrate that women could really shop a certain way. It was helpful to show the feedback and traction from our testing as we began approaching investors for our round of seed funding. It was equally important to prove to myself that what we were doing was a worthy investment.

Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?

Take a vacation and unplug! Some of my best thoughts have come while I’ve been able to relax, and take some time and space away from the business.

What’s your definition of success? How will you know when you’ve finally “succeeded” in your business?

It’s hard to imagine that there will be one milestone in my life that really feels like I’ve achieved the pinnacle of success. While building Stitch Fix, I’ve experienced lots of wonderful mini-milestones that I enjoyed celebrating. When Stitch Fix was first starting out, my friends used to call me CEO/janitor. Now that I’ve been able to build an amazing team, there are fewer moments where I experience the extreme part of that high/low dynamic. But perhaps success is having many fewer moments of being janitor than CEO.

There’s nothing more rewarding than building a business where you directly see the value you create for your clients and get to see your business and your team grow.

5 Tips for Streamlining Your Online Marketing Efforts

Desk With Digital Tablet. Marketing Research.

I can’t pin down the exact emotion that hits me when I try to quantify just how much time and energy my partners and I routinely dedicate to our company’s web presence. Pride? Exhaustion? Bewilderment?

It’s not a struggle, though, to give a name to the crippling frustration we’d all face if we ever ended up at the bottom of search results despite our efforts. While I’m not the foremost expert on SEO, SEM, PPC, and all of their acronym relatives, I am expert enough to know that brute effort in those areas, by itself, is not enough to protect a business. It takes intelligent and strategic effort. That’s why I use several different firms to outsource our web marketing.

But the real key to maximizing returns comes in not just contracting the appropriate experts, but in managing them well. Here are my five top rules for keeping your outsourced marketing team (and yourself) accountable and efficient:

  1. You can’t analyze data if you don’t have data. The foundation behind any good web-analysis method is Google Analytics. Since setting up this service is both easy and free, there is absolutely no excuse not to have an account, whether you spend money with Google or not. When you do this, don’t forget to set up all of the lead capture forms so you can track leads/conversions in order to see exactly what is attracting your visitors. If you haven’t done this, do it now. If you have, go back and make sure you’ve done it thoroughly.
  2. Always be scanning. A common maxim in sales is “keep your eye on the prize.” Not in web traffic — instead, you want to keep your eyes on everything. Comb through your data in search of benchmarks that lead to sales, sure — but don’t forget to look further upstream too. In other words, don’t just look for a sale’s end goal, but for areas you can key into and strengthen. Is your traffic mostly from direct referrals (typing in your URL manually), or is it coming from a specific blog? Likewise, pay attention to the content of links and keywords. There are infinite ways to search for your company, so make sure you’re targeting hotspots and adjusting your strategy accordingly. Finally, don’t draw a line between web traffic and phone traffic. Many vendors offer call tracking, which can be useful to identify surges of inquiries in addition to those of sales.
  3. Find your sweet spot. Look upstream at the quality and returns of your online marketing. Your average rankings and cost per click are two indicators that can help identify if you’re in the most efficient spot on the search engine or if you’ve run askew. While holding the number one paid spot has its clear advantages, branding campaigns among them, many companies find that these spots are not the most efficient. PPC and SEM campaigns shouldn’t be “all or nothing,” so monitor your costs per conversions closely.
  4. Evaluate your metrics wisely. Rather than comparing your marketing results over consecutive periods, try comparing them by season or even years prior. Taking into account events such as holidays and industry upturns/downturns can greatly affect the accuracy of your interpretations. Apply the same level of stringency to areas such as backlinks and rankings. Just as all months are not equal, nor are all backlinks or search locations. Evaluate new backlinks for quality to avoid getting pegged by Google and consider using an IP proxy to differentiate between your personalized search results and those of your target customers.
  5. Apply constant pressure. Don’t let yourself (or your vendors) become complacent with good results. Even after sales climb, it’s important to remain active and responsive. One way to combat stagnation is to ask that your vendors schedule regular conferences with you. Similarly, just because you’ve asked your vendor for new ideas or opinions in April doesn’t mean you can’t ask again in May (and June).

Sage management of web marketing efforts is rarely the easiest path to follow, but it’s often the best path. Just remember that anything you measure and work toward will improve, no matter what. Online marketing through outsourced vendors is no exception.

Sam Saxton is currently the President of Salter Spiral Stair, Mylen Stairs, and Paragon Stairs. He previously has operated a residential construction company and has experience in acquiring small businesses as well as advanced marketing/sales strategies. He is a graduate of Babson College with a focus in entrepreneurship.

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.