PlanG Is All Things Giving–Right In One Place

PlanG, Richmond Startup, Cause marketing, social entrepreneurship, startup, Monica SelbyMy favorite thing about working in startups?

Companies like PlanG. We are inundated with apps, social networks, and games that seem to make little real difference in the world. It’s often hard to identify the real problem companies are solving, even if those companies are creating something fun.

PlanG isn’t like that. Instead, PlanG is taking philanthropic giving and making it easier and more efficient. Individuals simply create a “giving” account and deposit funds into it from their credit or debit cards. They can also create fundraising campaigns to get their friends involved, or give and receive PlanG gift cards. Then, each person can pick from over 1 million charities to give to, as many charities as they want. The PlanG account gives the money securely, and at tax time, there’s a tax report all ready to go.

Personally, I love this idea alone. It makes it easier to manage the money you give to causes you love, and increases your awareness of what you’re giving. I’m sold on just those features.

But, the best thing about PlanG is the platform they’ve created for brands.

We all know how giving-through-shopping works: brands pick a cause and customers know when they purchase something, a percentage goes to the advertised cause. Think Gap’s (red) campaign.

This tactic is called cause marketing, and it allows brands to promote brand loyalty through the emotional connection people have with giving to others. By some measures, 80% of customers are willing to switch if a brand is associated with a good cause.

How much more powerful would that be if the individual shopper could pick the cause themselves?

PlanG’s “Spend and Give” platform allows brands to offer just that kind of customization. When you shop at businesses with the free platform, a percentage of your purchase is deposited into your PlanG account. Then you can give to whichever cause you see fit.

With their suite of business products, PlanG helps brands build customer loyalty, but it also makes giving more frictionless for individuals. Sometimes the big name organizations a brand might partner with are actually pretty controversial. Customers may not want their money going to that particular cause. Allowing individuals to channel their money to causes they love will also increase their loyalty to the brand.


The Richmond-based company has had a busy 16 months.Founded in 2010 by Marti Beller, Heather Loftus, and Melina Davis-Martin, they closed a $4 million angel round in February 2012. They used that money to build their beta site and various features of the product. The site launched out of beta in February 2013, and now they are focusing on new strategic partnerships with businesses that may want to utilize PlanG’s giving platform.

Check out the PlanG website for more information and keep up with them on Twitter. This female-led startup is doing great things.

This 14 year old social entrepreneur in Chattanooga has been at it for 4 years already.


Is Downtime The Key to Success?

Startup Tips, Startup OpEd, Monica Selby

I think downtime gets a bad rap. In our startup culture, it’s all about hustle, late nights, and crazy schedules. We brag about how much we work, and we really don’t want people to think we aren’t passionate about our businesses.

I believe in passion and work and doing what you love. Hence, I left a crappy job to homeschool my kids. I landed a job I love at Nibletz, and my kids are being raised in a family culture that encourages finding your passion and working hard at it.

But there’s nuance when we talk about “hustle” and “passion”: a silent assumption that if you don’t want to work all the time, you aren’t really passionate. If you aren’t passionate, you won’t be a success. And, in the startup world, your “lack of passion” will keep you from succeeding, so there’s no point in anyone investing in you.

Yet, there are studies that show that time off is critical to job satisfaction. In 2009 two Harvard researchers studied the effects of enforced time off for a local consulting group. They found that, while initially resistant, consultants at the company ultimately became better at their jobs when they were forced to take time off throughout the week. It turns out that hunkering down isn’t always the best choice.

In an episode of On Being, Krista Tippett interviews neuropsychologist Rex Jung about creativity and the everyday brain. After studying both intelligence and creativity, he says that the two are very different and use different parts of the brain. Intelligence occurs when the back and front part of the brain work well together, firing information efficiently. Dr. Jung compares this to a superhighway. Creativity, however, is more like back roads, a meandering path that may seem inefficient but produces something new and useful. There’s even a name for this: transient hypofrontality.

Both are useful, but how do we increase the creativity part–the part that keeps us good at problem solving? Rex Jung says the answer is downtime.

If you’re constantly in knowledge acquisition mode, there’s not that quiet time to put it together.

The “putting it together” is critical. Your passion means nothing if you don’t have the downtime you need to really consider your path. Working just for work’s sake is stupid. What if the work you’re doing is heading in the wrong direction, or you miss a big piece of the puzzle because you don’t take time to look around? In that case, all the going going going is a detriment, not a help.

Instead, we should reconsider what we call “work.” Accomplishing tasks and crossing off to-dos are important. But so is a leisurely walk without a phone or iPod. Studying cloud shapes or reading a book solely for enjoyment are good for recharging, but it turns out they may also be imperative for your work itself. The connections your brain makes when you aren’t focus could be the ones that lead to breakthrough success.


Employee #1 Monica Selby Gets It Done

Monica Selby, Nibletz, Managing Editor, startups, employee 1

Monica Selby (r) our Managing Editor and employee #1

You may have noticed that my grammar, spelling, and story flow have improved over the last two months.

First, thank you.

Second, that’s not by accident.

As an entrepreneur with two successful exits under my belt, I’ve always been a bit headstrong. I’ve also, for the most part, been a one man show. On my previous blog, we had writers, but no one above that or between me and the writers.

However, as Nibletz continued to grow I realized two things: I couldn’t do it all by myself, and people actually wanted to help me.

Most of you know Nick Tippmann joined me on the founding team late last year.

Well two months ago, we got our “employee #1.” This is a huge milestone and a celebration of any startup’s growth. For us though, we didn’t just got an employee #1. We got a bad ass startup chick, like a boss.

Monica Selby has been writing since the 2nd grade. She was the girl that was always writing stories and organizing writing clubs in middle school with her friends. Even while she was in the “real” work force, writing was always a passion for her, and 3-4 years ago she started looking at writing as a serious career path again.

I met Monica at the Upstart 48 Hour Launch in Memphis, where she had pitched her own startup. Unfortunately her startup wasn’t picked, but rather than go home, she spent the entire weekend helping Danielle Inez and Pink Robin Avenue. Inez won the 48 hour launch competition. Monica continued to stick with it, and with Inez, helping her with her Everywhere Else: The Startup Conference booth.

Monica stayed involved with LaunchMemphis (now Start Co), the organization and startup community in Memphis. She had first become aware of LaunchMemphis through her family friend (and our investor*) Patrick Woods. Monica originally thought Patrick was crazy when he asked her if she ever had business ideas of her own. As I prepared this story, Monica told me how she got involved:

Years ago Patrick encouraged me to let him know if I ever had a business idea. At the time, I had 3 kids under 5, so the last thing I was thinking about was starting a business. But, I got involved with some education stuff here in Memphis and had an idea for a education accelerator for teachers. So, Patrick put me in touch with Eric [Mathews, co-president of LaunchMemphis]. I very quickly learned that idea wouldn’t work in this particular educational climate, but I was hooked into the startup scene here in Memphis.

Monica’s title at Nibletz Media Inc is “Managing Editor.” But, like at any startup, that means she wears a ton of hats. She keeps our team organized; she makes sure Nick and I don’t kill each other; she works to grow her personal networks to help create new content and new content categories. Monica is also an integral part of planning next year’s Everywhere Else: The Startup Conference in Memphis and something else really big being announced next week.

On Monica’s personal blog she writes about issues important to her and her audience, including entrepreneurship, women in entrepreneurship, working women, and of course the coveted work-life balance. With 3 boys–a 7-year-old and 2 5-year-olds–that issue definitely hits home. Monica’s husband Austin is a high school teacher and cross country/track coach, which makes “normal” afternoons nonexistent in the Selby house.

Even with all this going on in her life, Monica is dedicated to Nibletz and the Nibletz mission, spending late nights and weekend hours working on ideas, compiling stories, and making new friends in the startup world. Monica has some exciting ideas she’ll be debuting soon, including a contributor network and several regular series. Make sure to check out her first investor spotlight with Carla Valdes.

So, we at Nibletz are excited to have Monica on board. Reach out and say hi through email ( or on Twitter.


Meet Monica and the Nibletz team in person at this huge startup event.


When It Comes to Communications, Startups Need the Whole Package

Lisa CalhounThese days, you can start a company sitting in your pajamas with a laptop. Buoyed by cutting edge technology, the wisdom of crowds, and cloud computing, there are more startups than ever before. Separating the heroes from the hype can be quite the challenge for investors, so it’s important that entrepreneurs have a clear and attractive startup communications package from the get-go.

Pitch with Clarity and Authenticity

To get up and running, startups have to sell their sizzle before there’s any meat near the table. They must communicate their dreams and talk about how they’re ushering in the future. But they’ve got to be smart about selling those dreams to investors. For example, I recently received an automated email to consider investing in a startup called Crave. At first glance, it looked promising. The email contained praise from a successful male venture capitalist, and the CEO is a Stanford man.

Then, I found out what the company’s product was: vibrators. For women. So I had two men telling me how superior their vibrators were. I don’t think I need to break out the “mechanic who doesn’t drive a car” analogy here; Crave wasn’t going to pass the sniff test.

Ironically, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that Crave actually has a female co-founder who fits the bill of authentically leading product development. Crave could benefit from using her when pitching investors. Being clear from the start about what the product is, as well as having an authentic spokesperson, is much more sensible.

Show off the Good Stuff

When pitching investors, it’s crucial to highlight business components savvy investors will be looking for. It starts with having the right team members, front and center, to communicate your idea. Startups capable of enticing investors typically have these qualities:

  •  A seasoned entrepreneurial team — This doesn’t mean all the execs must have salt-and-pepper hair, but not everyone should be fresh off campus. Your money, sales, and operations people need to be experienced.
  • The best execution — You don’t necessarily need a new idea, but a high-quality startup will have the best way to execute a solution to a big problem and be able to explain to investors why your way will be profitable.
  •  Clear commitment — Your team’s personal passion should be visible, with everyone committed to your dream.
  •  A solid exit strategy — A viable startup has smart ideas about who could eventually acquire it.

Eliminate Red Flags

The things that turn off investors are the same things that hurt startups in the long run. If your company exhibits any of these characteristics, you may have a problem convincing investors it’s the real deal.

  •  Part-timers — There are exceptions, but if an entrepreneur is working part-time for her dream and part-time for “The Man,” she probably doesn’t believe in it as much as she wants an investor to. If you’re not ready to take the leap as a full-time entrepreneur, you’re probably not ready to take your idea to investors.
  •  Family on the team — There are some killer family combos out there, but more often than not, family members are hired out of convenience and not because of any super skills they possess. If your business partner is family, make sure there’s a compelling attribute she brings to the team, and be able to sell that to investors.
  •  Perceptible lack of process — Anything can look slick and stunning with today’s racy design platforms. But is anything actually getting done? With the rapid pace of the tech world, delays tell investors your company isn’t serious about breaking into the space.
  •  No dream — Elon Musk. Richard Branson. Steve Jobs. These are entrepreneurs whose names are synonymous with “dreams.” It’s not just a matter of having passion for your business — it’s being able to communicate your dream to investors and make your excitement contagious.

 Have the Right Answers

So, what questions should you be prepared to answer to show investors your startup is worthwhile? These three help expose a startup’s entrepreneurial DNA:

  •  If you were going to be acquired today, who should acquire you, for how much, and why? Your answer must be thoughtful, with a clear plan for execution.
  •  What’s the biggest problem with executing your dream? You can — and should — admit that you wrestle with this question on a daily basis.
  •  Why does the world need you? The perfect answer here should not include a financial spreadsheet.

 Show the Startup’s Full Potential

Being passionate about dreams is vital, but for a startup to be taken seriously, it also needs to be functional. You must show confidence in these practical aspects of your startup when pitching to investors:

  •  The Technical — Does your startup have capable, mature technology that’s easy to execute?
  •  The Financial — Can your business be scaled from the running start investors might give you? Do you need $1 million, or several million, to get significant scale?
  •  The Managerial — Are the right leaders in place? Will they help optimize and scale your technology?

The Basic Communications Toolkit

Additionally, a basic communications toolkit gives startups a strong foundation to draw in investors. Pack your toolkit with these tips:

  •  Maintain a website with a compelling story that encapsulates your voice and vision.
  •  Create an engaging tagline for your elevator pitch. Think Kabbage’s “Easy cash for online sellers.”
  •  Memorize the key components of your pitch deck, from market size to customers of note.
  •  Be able to give detailed financials upon requested.
  •  Utilize websites like AngelList and LinkedIn to build your online presence and spread your mission.

At the end of the day, daring visions capture investors’ attention, and substance convinces them. If a communications package shows passion on the outside and holds up to the logistics within, investors will be confident of getting a substantial return, which equals success for the startup.

Because this article was published, a donation will be made to Reading Is Fundamental so a book can be given to a child.

 Lisa Calhoun is the CEO of Write2Market, an industry leadership consultancy that changes the world by helping tech and energy companies gain the reputations they deserve. Write2Market helps its clients scale by nabbing headlines, speaking engagements, and key business development opportunities, all with an eye on creating the best possible exit for the founding and investment team. Connect with Lisa on Twitter or LinkedIn or at her personal blog.