The Secret Startup Resource You’re Probably Overlooking


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

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

Failing to know the market

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

Lacking focus

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

Unclear understanding of financials

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

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

Failure to listen to customers

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

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

No plan

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

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

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

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

How One Little Change Will Solve Your Startup’s Tech Problems


ups and downs
I remember the day very clearly. It was a cold winter day in late ’12; my co-founder and I were having coffee with John Wark, proprietor of the Nashville Software School. John was graciously listening to our plea (begging actually) for my-founder Zach to attend the upcoming 6 month software development training program. The upcoming cohort was already full, actually over booked to be more accurate, and there simply were no available slots.

At that time, our startup GreenPal was building the first version of our product with a local development shop. None of us knew how to code, but we didn’t let that get in the way of attempting to bring our idea to life. Very quickly in the journey of attempting to develop a “shop built” product, we realized that we were naive to think we could build a technology company while relying heavily on outsourced tech talent.

Ultimately, there was a huge gap between what they ended up building and our product vision. Begrudgingly, we launched the shop-built product, which had taken 13 months to build, had come in over budget, and quickly became an embarrassment to show to friends and family. The thing was barely useable. Talking with early adopters of our product, we heard the same major problems over and over again. Although we had a visually pretty product, it was difficult to use, confusing, and bounced users like a basketball.

Our collective backs were against the wall. We had to build an entirely new product, from scratch. No one on our team had ever written a line of code, and the cold, hard reality set in that if we were to pursue our vision, we would have develop ourselves to become a dynamic self-reliant team. Shortly thereafter, Zach stepped up to make the pilgrimage to learn software development. This brings us to where this story began—at Starbucks asking John Wark to create a seat in the training program for Zach.

John was kind enough to hear us out, listen to our story, our vision, and the tight spot we were in. After a two hour discussion, he agreed to grant us the slot if another student dropped out. Luckily, three days later, one did, and Zach was in. Six months later and after going through Hell and back—as well as countless headaches I’m sure—Zach graduated from software school with a junior level understanding of front end and back end development languages. He pushed himself firmly outside of his comfort zone, and the reward was the acquiring of skillsets we desperately needed. His impressive and expedient grasp of the programing languages inspired our fellow co-founder, Ross, to begin learning Java Script for front end development, all self-taught with online courses and trial and error, as we soon realized that we would need specialists in both front end and back end languages.

Up until that point we had been delusional to think that we had a shot at building a successful company with solely outsourced tech talent. For the first time, now our team is actually in the startup game.

Without the in-house skills to quickly make iterations and execute on our product roadmap, our startup had been dead before it ever got started. The ability to move rapidly with agility all while controlling costs are all that matters in a startup. Our newest investment in training ourselves will prove to be invaluable.

So, if your startup needs a tech co-founder, consider becoming one. Does your team want success badly enough to consider life changing decisions like dedicating the hours needed to learn programming? I am lucky my co-founders did; we are now well on our way building version two of our product all in house.

It feels good to have a self-sufficient dynamic team, as we can chart our destiny with our own skill sets.

Bryan Clayton is a serial entrepreneur and cofounder of GreenPal. Follow him on Twitter @bryanmclayton


Should Startups Fight the SEO War?

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

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

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

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

 Time and Faith are vital:

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

 Who is going to put in the work:

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

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

 Why not just outsource your SEO?:

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

 So, should a Startup even fight the SEO war:

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

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

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

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

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4 Tips to Attract Angel Investment in 2014


Le Meridien Munich—Business meeting

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

Think Like an Investor

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

Choose Three Takeaways

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

Think Big

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

Make Realistic (and Defensible) Financial Projections

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

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

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


Mobile First? Apparently Not In 2013, According To Mattermark

SmartphonesI love helping our clients look for promising deals, and I’m starting to recognize certain patterns for exceptional signals of growth that go beyond what our UI exposes in an obvious way. The most surprising thing the data has revealed lately is how few startups have widely used mobile applications.

Of the 200,000+ companies in our database just 6,386 received a mobile growth score, indicating they are or have been ranked in Apple’s iOS App Store in the United States sometime in the past six months. Of this group, only 1,180 are the flagship application of a venture-backed company.

Context: Challenges of Building Product for Mobile 

Investing in the growing mobile startups is highly competitive, but finding a promising deal feels a lot like searching for a needle in a haystack. For all the noise being made about going “mobile first” this strategy doesn’t seem to be working (or happening) at the majority of companies we are tracking. Andrew Chen’s piece from August 2012, which went viral again earlier this week, titled “Mobile App Startups Are Failing Like Its 1999″ explains the challenge:

Startups today have a super high bar for initial quality in their version 1. They also want to make a big press release about it, to drive traffic, since there’s really no other approach to succeed in mobile. And so we see startups burn 1/3 to 1/2 of their seed round before they release anything, it becomes really dangerous when the initial launch inevitably fails to catch fire. Then the rest of the funding isn’t enough to do a substantive update.

Context: Challenges of Distributing Products for Mobile

Relatively few startups have applications that are ranked in the App Store, and those who do often spend significant marketing dollars to keep them there. For early stage folks without that kind of budget anything short of an immediate hit will struggle for exposure, while an organic hit can catapult these companies to multi-billion dollar valuations seemingly overnight.

Here are the top 10 fastest growing mobile apps of EVERYTHING we are tracking, based on the Mattermark mobile growth score:

  1. Bitstrips [MM: 669] – Turn yourself into a cartoon character, make comic strips to share with friends. (No known funding)
  2. Notegraphy [MM: 852] – combine words and graphics to create beautiful notes to share (July 2013 $260K seed round)
  3. 24me [MM: 378] – automate your calendar and tasks (No known funding)
  4. Paprika [MM: 338] – recipe management (No known funding)
  5. Vinted [MM: 1699] – P2P marketplace for clothes (No known funding)
  6. Bandcamp [MM: 239] – publishing platform for musicians (December $10 Series A from True Ventures, unknown amount)
  7. uSpeak [MM: 67] – mobile language learning (July 2012 Seed round from Great Oak Ventures Capital, undisclosed amount)
  8. Anomo [MM: 65] – anonymous social networking app (June 2013 $355K seed round)
  9. TheFind [MM: 369] – mobile ecommerce (July 2007 $15M Series C from Lightspeed Venture Partners, Redpoint Ventures and Bain Capital Ventures)
  10. SaveUp [MM: 156] – rewards for saving money and paying off debt (July 2012 $5M Series A by True Ventures and BlueRun Ventures, $7M total funding to date)

While many debate the accuracy of these valuations, they are missing the broader point. Few startups know how to do mobile distribution at a price point that makes sense for advertising-supported (or zero revenue) consumer applications, so anything short of a massive breakout hit carries the risk of ending up a huge money-pit for marketing dollars.

What About B2B Mobile Applications?

Ah yes, these rare unicorns. With my fantasy mobile fund I would aggressively go after any B2B mobile application with the slightest hint of organic traction and some previous funding (but not more than $10M) – these criteria whittle the list down to just 147 companies, and if you only want positive mobile growth scores the list is reduced further to just 40 prospects.

I think this is where we’ll find our next unicorns. Want to check some of them out? Here are top 10 on my list for B2B applications on the iPhone, ranked by Mattermark’s mobile growth score:

  1. CoTap [MM: 751] – workplace mobile messaging (May 2013 $5.5M Series A from Charles River Ventures & Emergence Capital Partners)
  2. Droplr [MM: 513] – simple secure file sharing for business (October 2013 $478K seed round lead by Seven Peak Ventures)
  3. Spotflux [MM: 294] – mobile security (March 2012 $1M Series A from New Atlantic Ventures and Kima Ventures)
  4. ClassDojo [MM: 1308] – behavior feedback platform for teachers and students (August 2012 $1.6M seed round from Ron Conway, Kapor Capital, StartFund, General Catalyst, Lerer Ventures, NewSchools Venture Fund and SoftTech VC)
  5. Attendify [MM: 667] – event attendee engagement app (September 2013 $200K seed round)
  6. Certify [MM: 38] – travel and expense management for SMBs (October 2009 $1.9M angel round from Irving Levin, Joe Proto, Esther Dyson, and William Benedict)
  7. Weekdone [MM: 431] – team task management dashboard (November 2013 $200K round from Kima Ventures, $360K raised to date)
  8. QuickMobile [MM: 442] – enterprise event management and planning (May 2013 $3.2M round from BDC Venture Capital, total funding $8.8M to date)
  9. LightArrow [MM: 28] – organization applications (March 2013 $1M seed round)
  10. FullContact [MM: 578] – contact information management (July 2012 $7M Series B from 500 Startups, Foundry Group and David Cohen, $8.8M total raised to date)

Testing out a B2B mobile application can be tough, because it requires much more effort to get going. Unlike consumer apps, where at least some of your friends have likely already joined, with B2B applications you are often the first one. Loading in tasks, projects, schedules, plans, goals, and then getting someone else in the work context to test it out with you can pose a challenge. To fill in the UI and actually get a “real” testing experience takes more time than making a profile and posting a silly picture… and so most people won’t. Which is why for investors willing to expend the time and attention, these types of applications offer an unfair advantage.



Do you invest in mobile startups? Purchase our Mobile Startup Report for $999 to receive a spreadsheet of 6,386 startups with mobile growth scores. Data points include app store rankings, estimated downloads, investors, investment amounts and dates, growth stats for web and social, industry categorization and more. BUY REPORT >>

Danielle Morrill is the co-founder and CEO of Mattermark, the Bloomberg for startup investors. Mattermark tracks the growth signals of more than 200,000 private comapnies. The Mattermark newsletter is also one of Nibletz’s top 5 resources for startup newbies.

*This post originally appeared on the Mattermark blog.

4 Types of Insurance Every Startup Needs

funny insurance

More than three million people were injured on the job last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While workers compensation insurance covers medical expenses and lost wages, your startup also needs liability insurance in the event of a lawsuit. Liability insurance protects you against claims made for bodily injury or property damage.

A lack of adequate insurance could leave your startup vulnerable to a host of legal and financial woes. While some business structures (such as an LLC) protect the personal assets of the owner, this protection is not a substitute for liability insurance or workers compensation insurance. Here are four types of business insurance that every startup owner needs:

General Liability Insurance

This type of insurance protects your startup from lawsuits over everything from faulty products and services to inept employees and scorching-hot coffee spills. Liability insurance pays the cost of damages as well as attorney fees. If you manufacture, distribute or sell a product (wholesale or retail), product liability insurance will protect your business should a product defect cause injury. And while general liability insurance is a must, the type of liability insurance that your startup needs may vary. Check with the requirements mandated by your state.

Workers Compensation Insurance

If your business hires a W2 employee, state law requires you carry workers compensation insurance. You may carry workers compensation insurance through a commercial carrier, on a self-insured basis or through a state workers compensation insurance system. Stiff penalties apply for noncompliance. Since insurance requirements may vary from state to state, talk to a business insurance specialist to learn more about this type of insurance and the policies and riders available in your state.

Commercial Property Insurance

Commercial property insurance will reimburse your company for loss and damage from a fire, smoke, severe weather, vandalism and other catastrophic events. Home insurance policies generally do not provide insurance coverage for home-based businesses. While you may be able to add a rider to your policy, the Small Business Administration recommends purchasing a separate commercial property insurance policy. The definition of property under these policies is fairly broad and includes computers, company papers, money, building, business interruptions and lost income. Talk to an insurance provider to find out which policy options are best for your startup’s needs.

Unemployment Tax Insurance

If you have W2 employees, you are legally required to pay unemployment tax insurance to your state. You will first need to register your business with your state’s workforce task agency. If your business is located in California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico or Rhode Island, you are legally required to purchase employee disability insurance. If your startup is based in another state, you may opt to provide this insurance through an employee benefit scheme, although you are not legally required to do so.

Karen Sanchez runs the HR department for a 103-person manufacturing business.

5 Things You Need In A Startup Job Posting

funny business cartoon


Startup founders might have some trouble finding their first employees. They’re often more concerned with getting their business off the ground, and the recruitment process consists of much more than simply interviewing prospects and choosing the best ones.

It starts with the job posting, and the results of the entire endeavor are determined by what the posting accomplishes. A great job posting can bring in top talent, while a mediocre one will attract lackluster candidates. Choosing from a pool of possible employees who all leave something to be desired is no way to hire.

Founders need to create a job posting that will lead to applications from outstanding individuals – people with passion and skill will help build a startup into a thriving company. Here are five tips on how to do just that:

1. An Eye-Catching Title
The title of the job posting is the first thing prospective candidates will see, and it needs to grab their attention. However, there’s a middle ground with this – quirky titles like “design ninja” are rarely effective, but postings with bland titles or even numbers like “programmer three” are also unlikely to get read by many people.

Titles that draw viewers are those that are specific enough to give information about the position, but not so company-specific that they have little meaning to those outside the industry or even the business itself. Relying on accurate information rather than gimmicky titles will also help job postings show up more readily in searches. Founders looking for a designer can say as little as “Designer Sought for New Startup” and find several candidates who are interested in this type of work.

2. Clear Requirements for Applicants
Startup founders should consider what they really need in an employee for the position they’re advertising. It’s common to post openings and ask for innovative and self-motivated applicants, for example, but this is not necessary to request. It’s a given that employers don’t want backward and lazy workers. Instead of focusing on descriptions like that, startup founders should ask for specific qualifications, industry training and traits. For example, it’s helpful for many early-stage startup employees to be flexible and able to handle stress, as well as to have good networking skills to get the word out about a new business. This is much more informative than a generic set of adjectives.

3. Give a Comprehensive, Concise Job Description
Job descriptions should be the centerpiece of job postings. It’s important to outline the duties and tasks a worker will be expected to handle, especially because it’s easy for different people to have different perceptions of what a programmer or designer really does. Additionally, startups often have employees double up on roles occasionally, and this should be made abundantly clear to those who are interested in applying. If founders really need marketing professionals who can also program computers, this needs to be explicitly stated in the job posting. This will save time that would otherwise be spent sifting through applicants to find someone with a surprise skills section on his or her resume.

4. Discuss Company Culture
Applicants generally want to know what the company they hope to work for is like day to day. One great way to show them is through a brief description of the culture. Startups have a reputation for interesting cultures, and anyone who’s looking to jettison an enterprise career for a small, fresh company will almost inevitably want to know how it’s different. This has the double benefit of attracting applicants who would fit in and cautioning those who aren’t a good match up front.

5. Give Contact Instructions
Even on job boards where the next step applicants need to take is stated clearly, it’s a good idea to outline how to apply and what’s expected in an application. Not everyone will include a cover letter if they aren’t told to do so, for example. Job postings for startups are unique, but it should be made clear that certain requirements apply across the board.

5 Legal Steps Founders Should Take Right Now

01 (218)

Every founder’s dream is to see their company grow. But taking a business to the next level often requires seeking outside investment. To ensure that a company is prepared to receive investment, and to make use of the opportunities and challenges that growth creates, there are a number of crucial, yet often overlooked, legal steps to take. Here are five of them.

Chose the right legal entity.

The corporate structure you chose determines your company’s taxation, allocation of profits and losses, record-keeping requirements, and general structure. When incorporating your company you have several options. The most common include an LLC, S Corporation and C Corporation and your choice should depend on your goals and objectives. While your entity can be changed down the road, you can avoid this by working in close consultation with your lawyer and accountant from the get go. If you plan on seeking investment soon after starting your business, establishing a C Corporation at the outset may be the best option.

Put a founder’s agreement in place to guide internal affairs.

If you’re starting your company with another person or group of people, a founder’s agreement is absolutely essential. A founder’s agreement creates the framework of your partnership and governs the internal affairs of your company’s operations. Your agreement should outline the duties of the founders, key decision-making processes, as well as how disputes and unforeseen circumstances will be handled; however, before you go forward with these have an attorney from a law firm such as Legalzoom review the document before signing the agreement to ensure that everything is in order.

There are bound to be bumps in the road as your business grows, so it’s best to have a comprehensive document in place from the beginning that will govern how decisions will be made.

Have a good non-disclosure agreement.

Non-disclosure agreements (“NDA”) are critical to establish in any business relationship where confidential information may be shared. People who have access to your company’s confidential information must have defined standards about how they can use and access this information. Ensure the obligations of confidentiality extend beyond the term of the NDA, as this information is essential to the integrity of your business.

Protect your company’s “IP”.

The core of your business is your intellectual property or “IP.” As such, you must legally protect your property by filing the proper trademark, copyright or patent applications. This ensures that you have recourse to protect it, if infringement occurs. But not only should you be keeping these traditional protections in place; you need to ensure that you are contractually maintaining ownership rights over any intellectual property being created for your company by any outside contractors. These protections help you maintain the core of your business.

Make sure your documents are in order.

Anyone looking to invest in your company will conduct extensive due diligence. This will include looking over your company’s books and reviewing your corporate documents, agreements and contracts. They will want to know you have appropriate licenses, permits and reports, and that you are adhering to all existing contracts with employees and service providers. This will show potential investors that you are professional and free of potential legal obstacles.

Having your legal house in order ensures that your company is ready to take advantage of investment, to grow, and to handle the challenges that will arise. Think ahead and imagine where you want your company to be, and then make sure that you’re prepared to get there.

DISCLAIMER The content in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Readers should contact a qualified attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.

Tricia Meyer is managing attorney of Meyer Law, a forward-thinking boutique law firm providing top-notch legal services to clients ranging from startups to mid-sized companies to large corporations in a variety of industries including technology, telecom, financial services, real estate, advertising, marketing, social media and healthcare. Learn more at and follow us on Twitter @Tricia_Meyer or@Meyer_Law

Photo credit

The Aha! Moment: When Lightning Strikes

'CG lightning strike' photo (c) 2007, Axel Rouvin - license:

Reshma Chamberlin is a double-transplant. From India to New York and currently St. Louis, her life has been full of stories. And the same goes for her partner-in-enabling-others-to-tell-stories, Elizabeth (Beth) Buchanan. The pair is behind Muzio, an app that self-proclaims to be “the easiest way to curate the best of life’s adventures into one little package to share and enjoy.” And many would agree. How many times have you taken a bunch of notes, pictures or videos on a business trip or vacation and wanted to share them in an organized way (but haven’t been able to)?

“How do you capture the essence of an experience in an easy-to-capture way?” That’s the question that led to Muzio’s first ‘aha moment.’ Beth had just come back from a trip to Cape Cod when she was showing Reshma some of her pictures. The conversation went something like this:

Beth: “I had such an amazing time! Look at all of these wonderful pictures I took!”

Reshma (looking at pictures): “Beth, this is boring.”

And, thus, the two decided they needed to do something about that. Muzio was born.

So Reshma and Beth, who were (and still are) running a design firm, B&C Designers, headed to the Women Entrepreneurs Rock the World conference in New York City this past May. It was an on-course conference; they were meeting some great people, making awesome connections and learning a thing or two. Everything was great. But then things got better – much better – when they heard a woman named Angela Jia Kim present a concept called “finding your ‘lightning rod.’”

What’s a lightning rod (in a metaphorical sense, of course), you might ask? “A lightning rod is that thing that gives you career satisfaction, helps you achieve your monetary goals and makes you happy all at the same time,” Reshma said. “When she talked about the lightning rod concept something clicked. At that moment we realized we needed to pause everything else and just focus on this [Muzio]. We couldn’t expect it to do what we knew it could do and wanted it to do if we’re not focused on it 100%.

And the third ‘aha moment:’ being able to knock out Muzio’s entire launch plan in a two hour plane ride after a sleepless night transferring in and out of airport wings and waiting lines and wallowing through multiple canceled flights and hours of layovers. “When we finished that we knew we had our lightning rod. This is what we were supposed to be doing,” Reshma finished.

Don’t worry; you don’t have to be the next Benjamin Franklin to find your own lightning rod. Think about it – or don’t. Either way, you’ll know when lightning strikes.

Learn more about Muzio online at and follow them on Twitter: @MuzioApp.

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

“Nice Shirt, Bro!” Best Practices For Startup T-Shirts

GiveForward's Ethan Austin & the "Giveasaurus" at EE Cincinnati

GiveForward’s Ethan Austin & the “Giveasaurus” at EE Cincinnati


Maybe, at a recent event, you found yourself gawking at startup teams who came dressed for the event wearing their company’s swag and thought, “That’s awesome! How do I get shirts for my startup?”

We boot-strappers know that every penny needs to be carefully spent and maxing out our credit card ordering t-shirts just doesn’t make sense. We also understand that our shirts need to be just right to convey our brand message while looking cool. And believe it or not, there is a certain unspoken standard you should abide by.

From experience with my startup, I have devised these four easy tips to make a great startup t-shirt.

1.     STAND OUT – Pick a style and color that will get you noticed. Hopefully you already chose a bright color for your brand that will easily translate into shirt form. If not, pick a close color or iterate your logo/image to work with the shirt color. Thankfully, with BTSocial, we used organge as our main color which really stands out at events. Not to step on any toes, but blue is way overdone. The biggest tech companies all have blue in the brand sceme. Be bold and different. I think yellow looks really nice this time of year.

2.     KEEP IT SIMPLE – We’re not talking about printing a whimsical graphic T or some amazing rendering from Threadless. You just need a simple and clear representation of your brand that people can understand. Ideally, it would be good to translate your logo to solid white and print it on your bright colored shirt. Not only is this easy on the eyes, but also saves you on multi-color printing costs. The folks at SpotHero are all about this. Your design should also be easy to read and not too wordy. Your logo and call to action are good, but don’t overdo it with a long tagline in a small font that’s too hard to read, requiring us to practically bury our face in your chest. Awkward.

3.     USE THE BACK – Your shirt has a lot of real estate and while it shouldn’t be overused, it also shouldn’t be wasted. Many companies also do back printing, so add something to the back across the shoulder blades so that even when your back is turned you’re showing off your brand. With our BTSocial shirts, we put our website address on the back. It’s also fun to turn around and show people the back in conversation.

4.     COORDINATE YOUR TEAM – When you’re heading to an event with your startup, whether you’re pitching or not, have everyone wear their shirt – its obviously a great way to get noticed. Now, not all events are suitable for your shirts. Some are formal and require a tie, so throwing a sport coat over your t-shirt to make a Silicon Valley Tuxedo is not always acceptable. Look at your industry for best practices. Also, if you are going to a lot of events and wearing your shirts frequently, make sure they are clean. This should really go unsaid, but don’t wear the same exact shirt in the sweaty summer heat to TechWeek. People will notice those pit stains!

Tim Hines is an entrepreneur, consultant, and speaker based in the Chicago area. Follow him @tnhines.

A version of this post first appeared on Tim’s blog.

5 Presentation Tools Your Startup Should Check Out

Audrey Jones pitching at #EECincinnati

Audrey Jones pitching at #EECincinnati

Have a startup idea? Ready to take your concept from napkin etching to full-fledged business proposal? It might be time to explore your options in terms of presentation tools. Whether you need to create a pitch deck to impress potential investors or a slide presentation to woo new customers, knowing which tools can present your concept in the best possible light can be critical in the development of your startup. Following are five presentation tools you can consider utilizing in your efforts to transition from wantrepreneur to startup founder.


Slidebean lets users create slide presentations in a variety of styles. Whether you want to create bullet list slides to highlight your startup’s core features or a chart slide to illustrate your month-over-month traction, you can do so with Slidebean. Slide options include word cloud slides, timeline slides, image slides, and text slides.


Need to illustrate your startup idea with a diagram? Gliffy makes creating diagrams easy. From venn diagrams to flowcharts, Gliffy offers multiple options. Organizational charts, floor plans, technical drawings, sitemaps, and network diagrams are just a few of your options. Whether you are launching a startup or monitoring marketing tools, Gliffy is definitely worth bookmarking.


Considering business blogging to build brand awareness for your startup? Blogvio offers impressive blog widgets to help your content marketing stand out from the crowd. Whether you want to add a news ticker to your blog or a widget to add conversations to your images, you can do so with Blogvio. Widget options include a disc spinning MP3 player, a before and after image widget, and a video player with progress bar overlay widget.


Need to create a professional single page website to show off your concept? A landing page to harvest email signups for beta testers? Populr lets you create a single web page in mere minutes. With a multitude of designs and extensive analytics tracking, creating a professional image for your startup with Populr couldn’t be easier.


Create collaborative visual presentations with Bunkr. Collect everything from images to articles, videos to URLs, and embed into your Powerpoint or PDF presentation. Bunkr lets you take your pitch deck presentation from basic to bombshell in no time at all.

Creating a strong first impression can play an integral part in taking your startup idea from concept to reality. While traction and revenue will ultimately determine your startup’s fate, getting your proverbial foot in the door might be partially attributable to the presentation tools you choose. Could one of the above presentation tools be the secret ingredient in your startup’s success story?

Eleanor Wall (aka Tech Tidbits) is a freelance tech blogger and startup cheerleader. When she’s not busy unearthing intriguing startups, Eleanor ghost writes brand marketing content for corporate clients.

Photo courtesy of Demarcus Bowser.

Startups: Content Could Be the Key to Crowdfunding Success

Amanda L. Barbara headshotBegging might not be so bad.

In its early days, the popular gaming blog Penny Arcade was run purely on donations for more than a year.

“The word crowdfunding hadn’t been invented yet,” said Jerry Holkins, one of the site’s creators. “Back then, people simply called it ‘begging.’”

As the site grew, it became dependent on advertising dollars, but the founders yearned for those early days. They launched a Kickstarter campaign to see if their “begging” model could work again. Their fans overwhelmingly said yes, donating more than half a million dollars to remove ads from the site.

Great content made the difference for Penny Arcade. Dedicated gamers were hungry for the site’s comics and commentary, and they were willing to break out their wallets to support the content.

You, too, can use content to win fans and accelerate your crowdfunding efforts. By providing useful information your audience wants, you can ask for financial support without coming across as spammy or feeling like you’ve resorted to begging.

4 Tips to Make Sure Your Content Hits the Mark

1. Know your audience. Who are they? Where do they live? What are they passionate about? You can’t provide your audience with valuable information if you don’t know who your audience is and what interests them.

Author Janna Leyde is a great example of what can happen when you truly understand your audience. Janna’s father suffered a traumatic brain injury from a car accident that occurred when she was 14 years old. Janna hoped to write a memoir about dealing with the injury. She reached out to survivors of traumatic brain injuries and their families, with the goal of reaching one new person each day to talk about her Pubslush campaign to write her untold story. Her supporters donated more than $15,000 to make her book, “He Never Liked Cake,” a reality.

2. Provide fresh content. Don’t just regurgitate the things everyone else is saying. Be innovative enough to stand out from the crowd, sharing your own unique ideas and insights. Use your creativity and branding power to create a special voice and style people can associate with you.

The content shouldn’t be too self-promotional, either. If you are providing valuable information and unique insights, word will spread, and your brand will earn trust.

3. Engage with your audience. It’s important to not just spew out information, but to also allow readers to comment and create a conversation. The Internet gives businesses unprecedented access to directly interact with customers — use it! Respond to comments, engage in conversations on social media, and always provide a way for your audience to get in touch with you.

4. Know your business model. If you were courting investors in the real world, they would ask dozens of questions about your business, your goals, and where their money will go. While your online campaign might be soliciting hundreds or thousands of micro-investors, the idea is no different. Know your business model and industry inside and out so you can be ready to answer any question that comes up.

Content marketing for a crowdfunding campaign is essentially the same as content marketing for a product or service. People aren’t just investing in the project you’re raising funds for — they’re investing in your brand. By providing valuable information to your audience, you can build trust and interest and drive traffic to your campaign — without having to beg.

Amanda L. Barbara is Vice President of Pubslush. Pubslush is a global crowdfunding publishing platform for authors to raise funds and gauge their audience for new book ideas and for trendsetting readers to pledge their financial support to bring books to life. Follow Amanda on Twitter

J.D. Power’s 10 Things I’ve Learned in Business

JD Power, Guest Post, Startup Tips, Business lessonsBy James “David” Power III

  After fifty years working with a range of companies—as well as founding and running my own company, J.D. Power and Associates—I have observed a good deal, and come away with a few thoughts about how to have the best shot at success in business.
The businesses I’ve seen grow, adapt, and thrive are the ones that keep a focus on satisfying customers by listening to them, anticipating their needs and desires, and maintaining their organizations’ prioritizing of these principles.
Whether I’m speaking with business school students or seasoned executives, I find that my advice incorporates ten basic lessons I’ve learned throughout my career.
1. Listen—to your customers, your employees, and your stakeholders. 
I have witnessed too many car manufacturers move further away from achieving satisfied customers by refusing to listen to them. One example that sticks in my mind is that of Peugeot back in the 1980s. They were trying to broaden their appeal and expand their share of the American car market, but they were unwilling to listen to customer complaints about difficulties starting their advanced fuel-injected cars. Peugeot was an early adopter of fuel injection, and American customers were “flooding” the engine by pumping the gas, something that was necessary in conventional engines at that time. Customers saw this as a quality issue, but rather than hearing this as a problem, they held fast, confident that fuel injection was superior from an engineering standpoint. No doubt they were right, but by not listening and adapting to their customers they lost them, and by the early 1990s they had to abandon the American market.
2, Remember who the client is. In a B2B world it is the organization or business you serve, not just the guy or gal sitting across from you.
This is important from two perspectives. It is critical that you not serve the desires of the representative assigned to work with you to the disservice of the organization. On the flipside, you must feel empowered to not let that person become an obstacle to the organization receiving the information necessary to take full advantage of your services. I frequently encountered a situation where the person assigned to work with us put up roadblocks to information reaching further up the chain of command because it undermined his own position within the organization. I worked around this by sending letters directly to top leaders or using the press to get out the critical information, knowing that it was only when our message could not be ignored that true change for the organization could occur.
3. Empower your employees to be curious, to do the right thing for the business, to speak up. You need the right kind of leadership and a strong culture to make it work but there is nothing more valuable.
At J.D. Power, if an employee came up with an idea, they owned it. This engendered tremendous initiative and loyalty, and may have been one of the greatest keys to J.D. Power’s lasting success.
4. Relationships matter, but they need to be built on a bedrock of respect and trust, not just friendships.
I never approached business relationships as requiring glad-handing or wining and dining. In the beginning, I simply couldn’t afford it, but as J.D. Power’s success widened, I found that true relationships with executives came from providing them with the clear, actionable information they needed to do their jobs, not time on the golf course.
5. Have empathy, be kind.
Of course this applies to all of the individuals in your own organization who come together to provide the support you need to run your business—from your CFO to the cleaning crew. It’s a Golden Rule in my book. I found that it inspires employees to show that you care about them enough to acknowledge them, and ask about their families. Another example is with regard to my clients. Sometimes I didn’t agree with what they were doing, or I knew that they were in an unwinnable position. I felt a compassion for them and always tried to make sure that our information was there to help them.
6. Be willing to look at situations from unusual directions to seek the “truth.”
Don’t be afraid to take a counter-intuitive position in order to generate better ideas. The Jesuit education I received at the College of the Holy Cross provided a basis in questioning the status quo, a trait that has served me well.
7. Accept change.
I really believe that you need to anticipate changes, be flexible, and move with the trends. We are in the Information Age today. The rise of the Internet and its impact on retailing is the most recent example of the ways companies must adapt in order to survive, but there has never been a time when change was not actively underway.
8. Stay true to your values.
Part of your brand is what you are—and, at the core, what you are is made up of your values. Whether you are an individual or an organization, you must keep your compass aligned to the virtues that guide you. At our company, I really felt that we kept the organization focused on the “Three I’s”: Independence, Impact, and Integrity.
9. Find information and inspiration in the work of others.
I have long been a student of the writings of Walter Wriston, Peter Drucker, W. Edwards Deming, and Alvin Toffler. Their observations are still compelling today, as are myriad others who can offer insight and perspective that will be invaluable to your pursuits.
10. Don’t “torture the data till it confesses.”
Don’t be blind to all but the good news you may want to hear. Consciously or unconsciously interpreting information that comes across your desk in a way that supports past decisions rather than illuminates needed improvements is short-sighted and won’t bring you closer to the satisfied customers who will ultimately dictate your success.
These ten principles guided me through a successful and satisfying career. The individuals I dealt with who shared a similar view of business invariably had the respect of clients and colleagues, and the markers of success were realized for them as well.
Dave Power is the founder of J.D. Power and Associates. Stories from fifty years in the auto industry are shared in the new book, Power: How J.D. Power III Became the Auto Industry’s Adviser, Confessor, and Eyewitness to History. For more information, visit

How To Create Value In All Your Business Negotiations

We all want to create value during a negotiation, but that’s only possible if we’re willing to collaborate and connect with our counterpart. Instead of reaching an unstable agreement with an annoyed and resentful associate, we should try to build a relationship that is firm and long-lasting, a relationship that satisfies everyone. It’s important to leave the negotiation table smiling, shaking hands, and happy that we teamed up with a good partner.  Value is directly linked to power in negotiations. The way we use that power influences both the deal and the people’s we’re negotiating with.

Startup Tips, Guest Post, Steve Brown

Share information

You have goals and so does your opponent. The problem is that you haven’t met before and you don’t know too many details about each other. What should you do? If you want to build trust, you should start by sharing information. Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to reveal your whole game plan, but you can start sharing small things about yourself to see whether or not your opponent is willing to do the same.

Ask questions

You won’t be able to reach an agreement if you’re not familiar with each other’s goals. Therefore, you should ask smart questions. Prepare your questions before the meeting and you can be sure that your counterpart will do the same thing. The more information you share the better chances you have to come across a mutually satisfying solution. A negotiation involves two parties, so everyone has to be willing to share and receive information. Reciprocity is one of the most important factors that can lead to a successful outcome.

Multiple negotiation problems

Negotiations can’t entail a single problem only. Such complex process involves a partnership that might come with many problems down the road. Keep in mind that a long-lasting partnership requires respect and faith, despite the fact that the parties have to negotiate a price. You have to focus on developing a strong working relationship that brings benefits to both sides. Spot and prioritize the issues when you prepare for a negotiation, and note that a bigger number of issues will boost and improve the number of resources that will eventually be shared, which creates value in the negotiation.

Stevebrown2Use your negotiation skills

Patience, a truly analytical mind, time, and the belief that communication will help you obtain a better result, are essential skills of a successful negotiator. It’s equally important to be a good listener and pay attention to what your counterpart wants. Ask questions if you want to understand the position and requirements of your opponent, and don’t forget to express your own demands and opinions. This negotiation might fail, but maybe you will meet again someday and that’s why you should leave the door open for potential opportunities.

Add resources to create value

If you want to create value, think of ways to add new resources when the problem related to limited assets is leading to a conflict. Contacting another supplier or closing a subcontract with a party that both sides fancy are two ways of handling the problem. You always have to come up with creative solutions that are mutually beneficial if you want to build a long-lasting partnership.

Stevebrown3Trade-offs is vital

Never compromise too much because that won’t create value and it will reduce the resources you can negotiate. Instead, you should go for trade-offs. You give away something and your counterpart offers you something else in return. This approach will surely help you close a better deal. Creating value in negotiations might be a tricky task, and the truth is that it can happen only if both parties are willing to solve the problem in a creative way and reach an agreement that benefits everyone. You can improve a business negotiation only if you collaborate with your partners to reach valuable trade-offs.

Creating and claiming value in negotiations is every business person’s dilemma. You may have a good deal to offer that is valuable and worth taking into account, but you’re expecting the exact same thing in return from your counterpart. Good communication skills and teamwork are essential in a business negotiation. If you want to win, or at least reach common ground, you must be ready to compromise without having to give up your hopes and dreams.

Steve Brown is the writer to this article. He regularly posts his high quality posts in top most blogs. The site is the negotiation specialist and provides their workshops in 12 languages in over 50 countries.