20 Ways to Blow Up Your Company

Techstars Mentor Jason Mendelson recently gave a talk to the Boulder program called, “20 Ways to Blow Up Your Company.”

Here are a few highlights. Be sure to check out all the details in the video below!

  1. Pick a Bad Idea
  2. Pick Bad Employees
  3. Being Arrogant
  4. Focusing Only on What You Don’t Know
  5. Being Overly Emotional and Not Analytic
  6. Know Your Business Model

 








Ask David Cohen: Developing an MVP and Reaching Investors

We recently held an AMA with Techstars’ Co-CEO, David Cohen, where he answered commonly asked questions from founders about topics such as forming a team, developing an MVP, and applying to an accelerator program.

This post is the first in a series of five which includes a transcript of David’s answers to these questions in this AMA. To sign up for our next AMA, check out the schedule here!


Any advice to founders who need more resources to develop an MVP or a presentable prototype? What’s the best method of getting investors to hear out the idea/plan when you don’t know anyone in the community?

These are kind of different questions so I am going to go at them separately. I’ll tell you a quick story of a company called Everlater that sold to MapQuest, AOL and came through Techstars. When I first met Nate and Natty, they were Wall Street types and loved to travel. We funded them, but we only funded them after watching them try to learn how to program.

They were so passionate about this idea coming out of their minds into the world that they actually taught themselves how to code – they were terrible at it, not very good at all. But later on, they got better, but it was still a crappy prototype and a crappy MVP. So step one is, having something is better than nothing.

If you can’t find somebody to do it, my question is, why can’t you do it? Do you think that writing a little software code is something that you have no ability to learn? It tells me something about you, that you are not willing to try. You could find a friend who does know how to program to spend a couple hours with you and show you how to get going.

You could say look, this is what I am talking about, it doesn’t work yet, but it’s what I’m talking about.

I believe great entrepreneurs do stuff.

If you can’t do that and you are allergic to keyboards and computers and you’re just never going to code, that’s cool too. Some of these languages, by the way, are very easy to learn now, it’s not like learning a foreign language, you can get a lot of help from the editor, and there are various simple languages out there that you can learn how to prototype things quickly.

There are lots of coding classes available online, so my first question is, why aren’t you doing that? If you can’t get somebody in the world who has those skills excited enough about what you are doing, or you can’t make friends with somebody who can help you with that, that is also a red flag for me as an investor.

The answer to the question is like anything else, just do it. That’s why it is Nike’s slogan, it’s so great and really the easy answer to a lot of things. Plus, I’m an early stage investor, I don’t care if the prototype is presentable, it doesn’t have to blow me away. You just have to start the meeting and say look, I hacked this together myself, we need funding to hire engineers and obviously the user experience is terrible. You know it is terrible, but that’s okay. You’re self-aware, it doesn’t have to be beautiful and great.

I think doing attracts investors. Talking about doing makes me think maybe you’re not an entrepreneur.

For the second part of the question, I would take a quality over quantity approach. I would find someone who does know the investors that you are targeting and I would figure out how to spend time with them. For example, I would go to someone that they funded or someone that they have worked with and mentored before and say, will you help me with this? They are likely more available than the investor and I would use them as a way to create an introduction to the investor.

I would also suggest you read my blog post on DavidGCohen.com called Small Asks First. It’s about the idea of not over-asking, which is really important in entrepreneurship. You are trying to get to a resource, it is very busy, so get an introduction from somebody they know – it’s not that hard, and just ask them for something small.

Let me give you an example of something big – lunch. Lunch is very big – you’re asking them to go spend time with somebody they don’t know for an hour, which is an awkward situation, especially if they’re an introvert like I am. That’s a big ask. I know it feels small to you but it’s a really big ask to me. Coffee – huge ask. I have another blog post called Coffee or Lunch? that I wrote on this topic. They would have to go out of the office, meet you somewhere, and the biggest thing is, I don’t know you… it’s a big ask for a first ask.

Here’s a small ask – send me a paragraph or two of why I can be helpful to you, and the one really simple thing I can do to be helpful to you. I have another blog post that is called The Perfect Email. Somebody wrote me out of the blue, not even introduced, with enough context that I thought it was the best email I ever read and so I reacted to it. I ended up having an exchange of dialogue with that person; I even blogged about it. I don’t know what happened there, probably nothing huge, but hopefully I was helpful in some way.

I think the context of why you’re reaching out to me and asking for something that is easy for me to do is great, because going to have lunch is actually not easy to do – I’m busy, I’m introverted, etc. What is easy is asking me to click on a link and tell you what I think of the messaging on your website, the primary tag line or whatever. If I don’t respond to that, I’m just an ass. That takes ten seconds for me to do. It’s a small ask, it creates engagement, I can just click on the link, see what you’re doing, have to think about it for a second and then respond. Now, you’re actually starting a dialogue by making a small ask of something that is very easy for that investor to do. That is a great way to build a relationship and you go from there. You can do that at scale to figure out who is interested and engage more with those people.

Eventually, you’ll end up having lunch and a meeting.

Interested in meeting other entrepreneurs and getting a head start on your own entrepreneurial journey? Check out a Startup Weekend near you or apply to an accelerator program.

At Techstars, we fully believe in the idea that no one is “too far along” for Techstars. Inversely, nothing is too early. Techstars has a program for every step of the entrepreneurial journey – from startup programs like Startup DigestStartup WeekStartup Weekend and Startup Next to later stage offerings, including the accelerator program and venture capital for add-on funding.








Making the Leap: From Corporate Employee to Entrepreneur

Today’s post comes from Nishika de Rosairo, CEO, Creative Director, and founder of dE ROSAIRO. Before becoming an entrepreneur, Nishika built a corporate career with Deloitte, Cisco, and Salesforce. In addition to leading her business, Nishika serves on several boards including Startup Women, Upward, and the Center for International Business Education and Research.

“Aren’t you scared?”
“What will you do if you fail?”
“You have no experience in the industry, how will you succeed?”
“Don’t worry, you can always go back to Corporate America”

… and so the questions and comments flooded in…

What surprised me the most was that these questions and comments were being dished out from a combination of people who knew me very well, and also from those who didn’t know me at all.

I soon started to realize that non-entrepreneurs were projecting their own anxieties of starting a business onto me.

So the real question became:

How do you listen to the parts that matter, and turn off the parts that don’t?

An Entrepreneur is Born

For me, entrepreneurship has always felt very real. I was still a teenager when I came to the realization that life would be boring if everyone succumbed to practices and principles denoting linear patterns of thinking and execution, simply because they made life easy to explain and easy to understand.

My version of happiness started to emerge around the same time when I turned to mentors such as Sir Richard Branson and Anthony Robbins. They taught me that happiness was a state of mind, achieved through a non-linear journey of strategy, discovery, and perspective: the perfect mindset for an entrepreneur.

I grew up with an adventurous spirit, and by the time I reached my 30s, I was living on my fourth continent, had traveled to over 40 countries, and my career in the corporate world was ripe and flourishing. Over my 10 years in Corporate America, I had the incredible opportunity of learning a repertoire of deep knowledge and expertise from the best of the best: Deloitte Consulting, Salesforce, Apple, Levi, Cisco, Chevron, and many others.

 

Even still, I wanted more.

I decided it was time to turn in the stability of a steady paycheck for something that was much more adventurous and impactful.

I wanted to change the world, one design at a time.

 

Building a Business

Finally, my business – dE ROSAIRO (pronounced ‘day ro-zai-ro’) — was born: it was a childhood dream coupled with a deep desire to influence the world through the inherent psychology behind the clothes we wear.

I spent 10 months writing my business plan and building the business on nights and weekends, all while still employed full time at Salesforce. At the end of that time, I had my first collection of sketches sitting on hangers in a sales showroom in Los Angeles. I built dE ROSAIRO on the founding principle of ‘Look Feel Lead’, which translates into — how you Look, is how you Feel, is how you Lead. The idea being that how we dress influences how we feel, and on the flipside, how we feel influences how we dress.

No matter how many people have shared their years of wisdom with me, not one person, or any one experience, could have truly prepared me for the broad depth and range of mental and physical strength it takes to be an entrepreneur.

Doubt is Part of the Journey

There are days I have wanted to pull my hair out, and then there are days that I know I am doing exactly what I should be. I would be lying if I didn’t admit the rough days.  

But the truth is: doubt is a part of the journey, as it continues to provide me with an opportunity to question even my most basic set of assumptions. Healthy businesses cannot be built on complacency and self-assurance.

Mistakes will be made, money will be lost, and through it all, the question that we will need to keep answering is – am I still aligned with my vision?

Why does alignment matter? It matters for two key reasons:

  1. When we launch a business, we should aim to build a foundation that aligns with our personal set of values. We need to ask ourselves: what matters to me? How do I want to affect the lives of others? What do I want my legacy to be?
  2. Doing ‘good business’ is no longer the icing on the cake; in today’s world it is a basic expectation. This means we each have a role to play.

Through this journey, what I’ve come to discover is: there is no greater measure of self-fulfillment than when profit, individual values, and ‘good business’ intersect.

So when you’re on the brink of YOUR entrepreneurial journey, and when people ask you:

“Aren’t you scared?”
“What will you do if you fail?”
“You have no experience in the industry, how will you succeed?”

Tell them that you would rather give it your best shot than regret not trying.

Tell them that you desire transformative growth in your life that a steady paycheck cannot provide.

Tell them that changing the world is worth the calculated gamble.








Startup Weekend Winners: A Q&A with Orate Co-Founder Sara Capra

Sara Capra is the co-founder of Orate – a DC-based startup that makes it simple for event organizers to find speakers within their budgets.

Orate’s story began last year at Startup Weekend DC – an event where participants launch startups in less than 54 hours. Orate took first place in that weekend’s competition – even though Capra had taken a chance to be there in the first place.

Capra entered Startup Weekend with some concerns that her idea wouldn’t resonate with event participants. She was quickly proved wrong — she and Orate co-founder Veronica Eklund ended up building the largest team, which developed a mock-up of the future platform.

Sara shared Orate’s journey with Startup Weekend DC’s Elvina Kamalova. Answers have been edited for length and clarity:

Tell us about Orate.

Orate is an online platform that simplifies the process of finding, vetting, and booking public speakers simple. Our mission is twofold: 1) Make it easy to find quality speakers on any budget; and 2) Assist speakers in more effectively marketing themselves and getting them in front of the right audiences.

What was the role of Startup Weekend in starting and developing your project?

The Orate journey began at Startup Weekend DC in 2014. It was the launch pad for what Orate has become, and sparked the initial evolution of the concept. We began with an idea to alleviate the stress of filling last minute speaking cancellations. That resonated with many people, but through the feedback process over the weekend, we decided the business model around that was not one that would be sustainable.

Through our mentors, sending out surveys, and in-depth conversations with the team, we decided the business model needed to be based on more than that. Startup Weekend helped to give us the ecosystem and structure we needed to take our first big step in understanding how to test and validate our ideas.

How did you build your team?

Building the team during startup weekend was mostly organic. Initially, I was concerned there wouldn’t be enough interest. One of the great things about Startup Weekend is that you only need two people to work on an idea. My co-founder attended and joined my team, so we would be able to explore the idea no matter what. It turns out there was quite a bit of interest, and we ended up with the largest team in the competition. I thought our most important team member would be a developer, ideally one who knew front and back end since this was meant to be a web and mobile app.

One of the most important lessons I learned that weekend was how much you can do with a little bit of resourcefulness and creativity, when there’s a lack of technical expertise. We had a wonderful graphic designer.

As opposed to trying to build out any applications over the weekend, she instead mocked up what we wanted the website to look like. That way, we could walk the audience through the customer journey, without getting too bogged down with feature aspirations and technical details. After all, it was just the beginning! We knew if so much could change in one weekend, there were many more changes to come.

What are the biggest challenges in your startup journey?

The biggest challenges have shifted over time. Initially it was staying focused. There were so many things to be excited about – potential partnerships, big ideas, ideas within those ideas, the way you envision the company 1, 2, 3 years down the road.

The challenge is taking that long-term vision and working backward to map out your trajectory starting with today, and breaking down steps for initial short-term growth. We’re over a year in and have now seen a lot of our early ideas come to fruition. We are still constantly brainstorming, but we’re much more skilled at capturing ideas for a future state, and continuing to stay focused on the short-term execution to make them happen.

The other challenge we face is getting into the heads of our customers. Collectively, we’ve conducted hundreds of formal and informal interviews, feedback surveys, and tests. While there are times that what users say and what they do are parallel, we have found that monitoring their actions is most effective.

Did you have technical skills coming to SW?

Aside from some basic HTML (we all had MySpace, right?), I didn’t have any experience with coding going into Startup Weekend DC. However, attending the event and launching the company inspired me to spend more time learning about software development, and gave me the ability to discuss the basics of other languages when I need to.

Tell us how you realized your goal for building your venture.

I’m still getting there! We are in the middle of fundraising to get to our next phase. We have achieved a lot so far. We’ve scaled our speaker database extensively, had only positive feedback from clients, and launched a new website and subscription service. While I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, we don’t rest on our laurels. We have big plans moving forward and the wonderful team me and my co-founder have built is at the core of making those happen.

How did you raise your first funding?

We socialized Orate early and often. We pitched a lot, organized the data and financial information we had to help us have informed conversations, and put all of our cards and chips on the table. Our initial round was mostly from angel investors, and some funding came from the accelerator program Orate participated in called The Startup Factory.

What would be your advice to starting entrepreneurs?

Sharpen your communication skills. Entrepreneurs must always be networking and selling, even if their title or job responsibilities don’t formally include it. Entrepreneurs have to effectively communicate with and motivate their team to execute on the vision. They need to be good role models, and inspire the team to be brand advocates. Establishing and growing relationships are crucial to starting a company. Being a genuine, impactful, and effective communicator, is instrumental in that process.

It’s also important to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Take the “no’s,” the risk, the ambiguity, self-doubt, and constant change, and learn from it all. After you learn from it, embrace it. Two of the best things about life are that almost nothing is final and the possibilities are endless. Reflect on the lessons you learned, what led you there, and use them to make better, more informed decisions moving forward. This is one of the reasons it’s crucial to have good advisors and mentors. You need a brain trust that can help you step back, put things in perspective, and work through challenges.

To start your own startup story, join us for Startup Weekend on September 25-27. Register here and buy your tickets today!








Secrets to getting accepted into 500 Startups

With an acceptance rate of a dismal 1 percent, getting into 500 Startups’ accelerator program is definitely not easy. To put that number into perspective, Stanford’s fall 2012 acceptance rate is a more encouraging 6.6 percent.

Now, to work on a bitcoin startup and get accepted into the prestigious accelerator program, that is even more challenging.

So how did CoinPip, a bitcoin wallet service and payment solution for merchants in Asia started in January 2014, get accepted into 500 Startups Batch 11?

coinpip-share
CoinPip allows merchants and users to send money to anywhere in the world through blockchain technology.

Back in 2010, the seeds of CoinPip were already planted when Ben Bernanke announced Quantitative Easing (QE) infinity. Anson Zeall, now founder of CoinPip, was then a successful hedge fund manager returning 35% P.A. for investors. He thought it was time for something else when he heard the news. A friend of his then introduced him to bitcoin and he jumped in.

Anson Zeall, co-founder of CoinPip
Anson Zeall, co-founder of CoinPip

Within a short span of 1 year, the company has expanded operations quickly into neighbouring countries – Indonesia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Philippines and even the USA. However, not all was easy and smooth sailing. In mid 2014, the company was running out of money. Around this time, a group of startups in Singapore, together with CoinPip, started the Association of Cryptocurrency Enterprises and Startups Singapore (ACCESS). This caught the attention of Sean Percival – venture partner at 500 Startups and the road to securing their seed funding began.

The first secret is – Do something big and bold to show your belief

This coming Friday, 17th July, Anson Zeall will be sharing with participants of Startup Weekend Asia-America in person, his personal story of overcoming all obstacles to finally building a company in the Bitcoin space that spans across countries in Asia and America.

See you there!

Startup Weekend Asia-America
San Francisco
July 17th-19th, 2015








How To Conquer the Emotional Rollercoaster of Startup Weekend

After 9 Startup Weekends in three years, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life (in fact, I’ve written previously that I might be addicted to it). However, for some that the journey could be really intense at times, and not everyone makes it to the finish line feeling the same way.

Recently, I facilitated Startup Weekend Miami: Diversity Edition, where I was taught the concept of “la pasión,” which is Spanish for “people in Miami are really, REALLY emotional.” I was tasked to harness la pasión in a community that had a plethora of it, in a way that would make everyone come away from Startup Weekend Miami feeling as wonderful as I had 8 times before.

Below is a list of lessons and tips for a facilitator, organizer, or volunteer to apply that would help maintain a sense of stability to an otherwise potentially chaotic event.

1. If you’re an organizer or volunteer, your mission is to execute the event as orderly as possible

In Startup Weekend, Murphy’s Law generally applies – anything that can go wrong will go wrong. It is vital that every organizer and volunteer is informed of the weekend’s tasks and can easily communicate with one another to correct any situation that arises.

Otherwise… this will happen…

Best practice: Print up a universal task list that specifies each delegation and giving a copy to all your volunteers. That way, even if they don’t have an assignment, they can look at the list to see if someone else needs help with something.

2. If you’re the facilitator, your first priority is to take care of the lead organizer

I got your back, Paula.

Generally, lead organizers shoulder the most burden, and the stress can be overwhelming. They should be acknowledged especially for their months of hard work leading up to the big show.

E Pluribus Unum, people.

Facilitators should check in with them hourly and make sure they’re fed, hydrated, and as relaxed as you can get them. If necessary, give them a hug (more on that later).

That'll do, senorita. That'll do.
That’ll do, senorita. That’ll do.

3. Communicate to people on their level – perhaps even in their language

Startup Weekend is an educational event at its core, and the most effective way to teach is to contextualize it with abstract reasoning that they understand. Learn more about them to understand their thinking processes.

Just being honest here.
Just being honest here.

An added challenge for me: most of the attendees of Startup Weekend Miami speak Spanish as their first language. I do not – except for what I’ve learned on TV –  so when people weren’t looking, I’d review my Dora The Explorer Lessons on YouTube and bust that out randomly. You’re welcome, mi amigo/as.

4. If teams are arguing without end, facilitate a scrum

Inevitably, disagreements occur in a competition, but they become difficult to resolve when people are not talking in a respectful, orderly fashion.

This was not that far off from the truth.
This almost happened at the event. More on that later.

To resolve this, get them to stand up and talk in a circle, one at a time. Here’s a quick video to teach you how to run a proper scrum – a very popular method of coordinating large, diverse teams.

(The key lesson starts at 6:32)

I did this with one team in particular. More on that later.

5. Have a quiet space – one for volunteers, one for participants

"Let me answer that question once I'm done with this Tweet."
“Let me answer that question once I’m done with this Tweet.”

We all need to decompress, so give your people a place to rest, nap, socialize, and blow off some steam. Don’t go so far as create a distracting place such as a game session – you still want people to focus on on the main goal.

6. Throw in a dance session or two (you’ll have to start it)

I'm going to regret this once people stop listening to "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars.
I’m going to regret this once people stop listening to “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars.

It was a foregone conclusion that I’d be dancing in Miami. It was just a matter of how often. I like to keep the music playing in a common area for attendees to come out, relax, and practice their salsa.

It is possible to have more rhythm than a native Argentinian, apparently.
It is possible to have more rhythm than a native Argentinian, apparently.

Dancing is a great way to stay loose and relaxed, and it’s probably less terrifying than, say, public speaking.

7. Prevent “hanger” by providing snacks and insist that everyone drink water frequently

Startup Weekend is a high-energy competition, and with brains working on overdrive, they’ll need to be replenished. I try to have a bottle of water and a protein-rich snack on my person at all times. Keep your people well-fed, and they’ll be well-tempered, too.

8. Give out hugs and high-fives whenever possible

Paula could not stop hugging me. I do not blame her.
Paula could not stop hugging me. I do not blame her.

I’m a big fan of Simon Sinek‘s recent work Leaders Eat Last, where he describes the importance of establishing physical contact to build relationships and trust among people.

At a hyper-networking event like Startup Weekend, these physical embraces lead to lasting connections that you’ll appreciate long after this experience.

9. Plan to finish your event as soon as possible…

This crowd will turn on you otherwise.
This crowd will turn on you otherwise.

Things might get delayed, so try to move as quickly. Here are a few tips I’ve learned while facilitating for NYC and Orlando:

  • Links only: Instead of letting people present and demo on their own laptops with varying file types, have them send cloud-based links to both and put them in a single document. This moves things along quickly in between Q&A sessions.
  • 4:3 presentation model: Limit presentations to 4 minutes with a loose 3 minutes for judges’ Q&A works well, too. Judges average about 45 seconds per question, so a group of 3-5 judges works well.

Why do we do this?

10. … so that everyone will go to the after-party

Yay! We did it! exha *0981231
Yay! We did it! (exhales…)

I love the idea of an after-party, but often Startup Weekends run too late, and who can really stick around to party on a Sunday night? However, if you aim to end your event around 8pm or earlier, and your event was a rousing success, you’ll have a great time.

Also, try to have ALL of your parties in Miami, regardless of your own location. Here’s why:

We got a pool!
We got a pool!
bouncy-castle
A bouncy castle for adults!
A photo booth!
A photo booth!

However, despite all of these tips, I should say that there needs to be some room for la pasión in a Startup Weekend. For example:

When a team that nearly imploded on Saturday night…

Team BreakinBread was a fun project for me. Constantly bickering in Spanish over every single detail, I was positive that they would implode and disband by Saturday night.

Serial entrepreneur and LiveAnswer CEO Adam Boalt guides a team of future entrepreneurs.
Serial entrepreneur and LiveAnswer CEO Adam Boalt guides a team of future entrepreneurs.

To fix this, I made them do a scrum. By getting them to talk in turn and truly listen to one another, they realized that they were actually a well-rounded team that agreed on one thing: they had communication problems.

What a difference a day makes!
What a difference a day makes!

Afterwards, they delivered a beautiful presentation that impressed the judges. The rest is Startup Weekend Miami history: they won first place.

Or when a team that won 2nd place got a standing ovation…

Team HandyCab
Team HandyCab

Meet Ernie.

Ernie struggles to get where he needs to be due to the lack of convenient transportation options for the disabled. His dedicated friend Juan pitched an idea:

Not too shabby! By Adam Leonard of Happy Fun Corp.
Not too shabby! Artwork by Adam Leonard of Happy Fun Corp.

An “Uber for the differently-abled,” Juan wanted Ernie to have access to the ride-sharing technologies that dominate the startup marketplace today (e.g. Uber and Lyft). They found great validation by tapping into people’s good nature – an uncommon approach for a Startup Weekend team.

Once I announced their second place win, Ernie stood up and made his way to the main stage. With every step, more and more people rose with him and applauded his victory with deafening cheers of support.

Diversity includes everyone. EVERYONE.
Diversity includes everyone. EVERYONE.

When Ernie took the microphone to say how happy he was to have made the difficult trip to attend Startup Weekend, I was indeed full of la pasión as well (i.e. TEARS OF JOY.)

Or when I could not stop smiling when I was presented with this amazing certificate

drama-certificate

The text reads:
“A special recognition for surviving your
MIAMI DRAMA INITIATION
Let all who view this document know you survived Miami. We are diverse, speak at the same time and have a rollercoaster of emotions, but at the end of the day, we’re all family and end the night laughing with J’s (JAJAJAJA). You rock!”

Perhaps I had been a bit of a curmudgeon the whole time…

Yeah, I can be a bit.... yeah.
Yeah, I can be a bit…. yeah.

I was deeply moved by the relentless love I received towards the organizers, who should be named (in no particular order): Paula Celestino, Pia Celestino, Ryan Amsel, Gaby Castelao, and Anas Benadel.

Hey, sponsors! We love you!
Hey, SW Miami sponsors! We love you!

In short, Startup Weekend is indeed a roller coaster (it’s designed that way), but for a small minority, that can be an unpleasant experience. Emotions are meant to run high, but there are ways to keep it balanced yet still exciting.

I hope these suggestions serve as a way to hold someone’s hand to make them feel safe right before they take the deep plunge into entrepreneurship.

Good luck, and thank you, Startup Weekend Miami: Diversity Edition!

Lee Ngo is a community leader based out of Pittsburgh, PA.








Let's talk about the birds and the B2Bs

New York City will host its first business-to-business (B2B) themed Startup Weekend event on May 15-17, sponsored by Intuit. In preparation for this event, we gathered a panel of experts and passionate entrepreneurs at WeWork Fulton Center on April 29th to share inside knowledge and firsthand stories about some of toughest challenges in launching a B2B startup. If you missed the B2B panel event or want to relive the highlights, here is a recap of all the top inside tips and takeaways.

NYCSW B2B Panel
Moderator Cyndi Knapic with our panelists: Jeff Ragovin, Meredith Wood, Yves Lawson and Marisa Garcia

Defining B2B (vs B2C)

At its core, a B2B is a business supplying a service/product to another business. Meredith Wood, Editor-in-Chief at Fundera, highlighted that B2B companies aim to address a real need, whether it is to streamline processes or increase efficiencies, whereas there is more “want” involved in the purchase decision for business-to-consumer (B2C) products. Wood also noted that there is often a larger barrier to entry when starting a B2B company and stressed the importance of market trust, which was echoed by all the panelists. At a B2C level, the purchase decision ultimately affects the one consumer, but at a B2B level, the decision could impact tens, thousands of people, hence the additional barriers and security/privacy concerns.

The panel was quick to address other differences such as pointing out that B2B sales models are completely different and often more complex. For example, the sale of a candy bar to an individual, which only involves the store and the customer, was compared to the licensing of a candy bar which involves a whole team of lawyers and licensing agreements. For a B2C company, the challenge is to spread the product far and wide. Conversely, for B2B companies, Marisa Garcia, Director of Retail Engagement at JOOR, addressed the need to focus on building good relationships that lead to success. She encouraged attendees to identify key players, validating your product, and finding a good market fit.

Wood noted that, unlike working with enterprises, selling to a small business is scarily similar to selling to a consumer and that a lot of B2C platforms, such as Facebook, work great in the B2B space as well. Most small businesses use Facebook and being active on the same platforms as your customers can be helpful for establishing trust with your target audience. In fact, when asked about what category companies such as Etsy, Seamless, and Google fall into, Jeff Ragovin, Managing Partner at Ragovin Ventures and co-founder of Buddy Media, pointed out that there are there is another category, of business-to-business-to-consumer (B2B2C) companies. For example, businesses are increasingly using Seamless to feed their staff, a rare occurrence that blurs the line of the capacities a B2C company can fulfill, usually seen with enterprise platforms.

B2B trends and opportunity

Ragovin declared that the mobile is a huge opportunity for B2B startups. The average person reaches for their phone over 100 times a day and as the mobile landscape evolves, everything is becoming mobile first. More importantly, Google recently announced that they have changed search results to prioritize mobile-friendly websites. The takeaway: in order to disrupt the B2B marketplace, think ‘Mobile First.’

Yves Lawson, Vice President of Technology Strategy for Bank of New York Mellon, noted that the success of apps such as Robin Hood are demonstrating a paradigm shift in a FinTech space that used to be highly specialized for the wealthy. The same tools for wealth management and growth advisors are now available for everyone, impacting the economy on how we see wealth in the future.

Success in the B2B space starts with empathy

Overall, the panel had a lot of great advice for the attendees but all of them stressed the importance of gaining trust and providing great customer service as keys to success in the B2B space. Lawson stated that the B2B companies that stand out from the rest are the ones that go far with relationships and maintain good customer service, even if a companies has messed up or made a mistake.

Garcia highlighted the importance of empathizing with your customers. Her recommendation was to consistently ask yourself, “How can [I] make my customers’ lives easier?” and stressed the power of engaging people in conversations to demonstrate that you really understand the customer’s pain points. After all, “how can an entrepreneur really solve [your customer’s] needs or problems if you don’t feel their pain?” She shared about how a strong understanding of JOOR’s customers helped the company to create a product that consumers are more likely to adopt and find useful.

For Wood, was the most important aspect of a B2B product is how much time it can save businesses. She claimed, “People are willing to spend more if you can save them time. Time is money, as you can convert saved time into monetary value.” She cited that there were products she stopped using because it made more work than the time it saved.

Furthermore, she compared startups to a newborn baby as an analogy to drive home the importance of getting customer validation advising to “let your children go out and play with other people.” She also importance of a great user experience and customer service, getting products in front of early users and acquiring feedback.

Good customer service, networking, and partnerships

All four panelists agreed that knowing your market is the first step in starting in the B2B space, because considerations for working with a small business versus an enterprise company can be a very different experience. For example, Lawson noted that when working with large enterprises, it is helpful to reference competitors or other notable companies who use your product or service.

However, regardless of size, the panel agreed that responsiveness and customer service applies to all B2B companies. Citing how a small blunder could turn into a national headline as seen with airline companies as an example, the panel suggested that establishing a responsive and quality customer service system, by leveraging tools such as Twitter and Zendesk, will not only build trust but also demonstrate credibility that will ultimately win customers. The panel also suggested making the effort to always be reachable and to show that there is accountability to build customer trust.

Ragovin encouraged attendees to keep their networks fresh and emphasized that networking is really a two-way street that is much more fulfilling when you’re willing to “pay it forward.” He urged attendees to think about how they could help others, and noted that people are generally willing to meet when ideas are constantly being exchanged. From a business side, he accentuated the need to focus on providing actual solutions to fix your customer’s problem. If your product is not fixing a problem, there is no need for it and it needs to be reevaluated.

For smaller businesses, Wood shared how partnerships with accountants, or experts in her target market, has helped her to reach her ideal audience, noting that most small business owners will trust their accountant over everyone else. Additionally, working with trade associations is also helpful for reaching small businesses in specific industries.

In closing, Garcia highlighted the power of the network effect of getting your fans and customers to promote your brand for you. She emphasized the impact of word of mouth marketing, which ultimately comes from providing good customer service and satisfaction, bringing us full circle with yet another example of why customer service is key for launching a B2B startup.

Ready to launch the next big B2B idea?

To inspire the audience, each panelist shared a few of their favorite B2B products that they use frequently: Salesforce, FreshBooks, Facebook, Lightspeed, Intuit, and CoSchedule. If you’re ready to launch your next idea that solves a problem that businesses face, come meet some of the panelists and additional NYC based B2B mentors at the next Startup Weekend B2B Edition on May 15- 17. Don’t miss your chance to register! Tickets always sell out.

Heads up: special prizes from our sponsors at Intuit will be offered to the top ideas that incorporate the Intuit API to help small businesses. We encourage you to check out more info on getting started with Intuit Developer by clicking here.

If you have any questions about the upcoming event, please email the organizing team at nyc@startupweekend.org.

Moderator Cyndi Knapic with our panelists: Jeff Ragovin, Meredith Wood, Marisa Garcia and Yves Lawson
Moderator Cyndi Knapic with our panelists: Jeff Ragovin, Meredith Wood, Marisa Garcia and Yves Lawson








Not “wanted” by investors? There is a way to become a better founder

Written by Toma Kondrate

unnamed-1 Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/

All investors surely know how to select startups based on their founders’ personal and professional qualities. But does every founder know if he was really meant to be one? Having a marvelous idea is not enough, on the contrary, it’s just a start line for the rocky journey to successful entrepreneurship.

If such thing as founder’s DNA exists, then probably some of the founders are screwed already by lacking magic genes in their blood. However, if you have a brilliant product and want to get investors’ money, there are certain things that qualify you as a “wanted” or “desperate” founder. So what is the secret formula?

Get your genie out of the bottle

There are plenty of reasons why angel investors, venture capital funds, startup accelerators wouldn’t want to take a risk on you. If you’re a criminal, a lazy-ass or a liar, you’re already in the black list with almost zero chances to make it to entrepreneur. In any other case, you may prepare yourself for a successful venture. StartupHighway, the first Baltic startup accelerator, names few tips on how to win the startup lottery and minimize the risk of failures.

# 1 Get ready for the test

The first phase of your entrepreneurial potential’s evaluation is an examination of your personal qualities and skill sets. Every investor wants to know who they are going to deal with and you’ll get to the top of the list if you’re smart, resourceful, venturous, flexible, innovative and farsighted. Your determination to go until the end is your ticket to big wins. If you pass the test, congrats, it means you fit into the category of founders who are “ambitious and ready to take on their idea to the next level”.

# 2 Shape a decisive vision

Obviously, having a superb idea is not enough. You have to know everything behind it – problem it’s solving, market size, potential growth, even the exit strategy. Investors are not funding startups because they’re simply good-hearted, the truth is they want the payback without the long time lag. The earlier you understand it, the better founder it makes you. In fact, change and adapt your vision as you go – combine it with a real time data. As Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, once said, “You don’t necessarily ever end up at that big vision that you were thinking about.”

# 3 Assemble your team precisely

Great startups are made by great teams. You don’t have to be a superman or “I can do it all by myself” guy to set up a world-class business. The power lies in the professional skills of your teammates, so choose your fellows wisely. Avoid the overlap of competencies and cover the most needed skill sets by bringing the right people on board. Think about Guy Kawasaki’s Law of Pre-Money Valuation saying that “for every full-time engineer, add $500,000; for every full-time M.B.A., subtract $250,000” while selecting new team members on board. The aim is to share the trust and compliment each other’s weaknesses, but also to exchange know-how.

# 4 Be resistant to negative answers

Choose to test and fail fast in order to get closer to your wins. Learn to hear “No” and don’t take it for an answer. Imagine it’s a game without game over, simple as that. Each investor counts on your ability to combat failures as that’s how they presume your overall capability to handle future business.  If a founder successfully completes the startup level, he will have to pass business scalability level by becoming a powerful entrepreneur. In other words, once you learn how to be a great founder, you’ll encounter next challenge – how to be a great executive.

# 5 Don’t hold on to stereotypes

There are no proven rules when it’s best to start a business. No matter how old you are, how many universities you’ve graduated from or how many books you’ve read – do it now and here. Your skills that you have , your set of beliefs and ideas at this very moment are what can make you a “wanted” founder right now, not after few years. Bear in mind, that procrastination is your enemy in every aspect of your business.

# 6 Get loose from obligations

Your marital status, bank loans, part-time jobs and even previous unfinished projects – are things that hold you back from getting funded by investors or startup accelerators. And hey, don’t take it personally, there’s just no place for unnecessary problems in investors’ world. What they need is full focus on your startup, hard work and overtime you are going to devote.

Founders at their nature – do they exist?

There is no one exceptionally true way to measure “how founder” you are. Ben Yoskivitz points out a great observation in his article about Founders DNA. He says “it’s fair to say that investors of all kinds (angels, venture, seed accelerators, etc.) use their own “guts” to get “a rough feeling” of entrepreneurs and use that as a significant barometer for determining their own interest”. That’s a human nature to make decisions based on the first impression and sixth sense.

Speaking of human nature, another expert in the field, Founder Institute takes a different approach to measure founders’ eligibility by analyzing Predictive Admissions test’s results. According to them, entrepreneurship is destined by personality traits mainly. There is no need to have a company or even a business idea to prove it. The interesting infographic reveals that a great entrepreneur is defined by his professional experience, high fluid intelligence, high openness and moderate agreeableness. And, likewise, the bad founder’s qualities are excuse-making, emotional instability, predatory aggressiveness, deceit and narcissism. With that said, if you have a wrong personality, there’s nothing left as to just deal with it.

It takes many things to unlock success in starting a business – character traits, such as willingness to learn, surpassing expectations, passion for growing; and business acumen. Investors will choose to rely on you because of your business sense, creative thinking, fearless decision making and credibility. You have to be able to walk in the dark and figure out when you’re on the right track. You must feel comfortable in chaos and uncertainty and maintain the fine line between panic and ambition to go further. If you possess all of these features, you’re probably ready to start knocking on investors’ doors.








5 Tips for Jumpstarting a Fruitless Social Media Strategy

This article is written by Vince Chiofolo from Boom Digital.

Social media is a nifty marketing tool, and can be a lot of fun too (celebrity Tweets, Candy Crush or cat pictures— pick your own vice, I’ll take cat pics). But be that as it may, a brand’s existence on social media alone will not drive the organic traffic needed to build a strong web presence (and reaching level 600 on Candy Crush is virtually worthless in this pursuit).

Many unattended social presences tend to stagnate over time and offer fruitless results for brands. They kind of just exist. Collect dust. Like that old treadmill you’re presently using as a coat rack, but only until you have time to clean the clutter out of your closet, which you can’t do yet because you’re busy trying to get in shape, which you can’t do yet because your treadmill has clothes on it.

The best way to utilize social channels and drive valuable traffic is to develop a strategic social media marketing plan. While every organization will have different needs—here are five simple tips that will make developing this strategy seamless and stress-free.

Know Where your Audience “Lives”

Would you be more likely to find your ideal customers in a dentist’s office or a pillow fort? If it’s the latter, that’s exactly where you’d want to have a presence (I mean, who wouldn’t?). On the web, it’s not much different. Social media does not simply mean Facebook. Social media does not mean Facebook and Twitter. Social media does not even mean Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and MySpace (lolz, MySpace). There are dozens of social networking sites big and small. Finding the right ones and using them in sync with one another will help you reach your audience on the best level possible. You may receive a vastly different result by posting on Tumblr than you will by posting on LinkedIn – depending on which your audiences tends to use as their pillow fort. If you work in a niche market, you NEED to find the niche sites to connect with the right audience.

Create Buyer Personas

Instead of marketing to the masses, like wildly throwing like spaghetti against the wall hoping some sticks, create buyer or client personas of the type of people that you wish to reach with your social media marketing campaign. Create different buyer personas that include information such as potential demographics, background and identifiers. Then, with every social media action you take, you have a potential reader or follower to target.

Build a Posting Pattern

Posting five times today before waiting another week until you post again may confuse or more likely annoy your followers. Try to develop a pattern of posting that is somewhat predictable and fits in with the audience expects as far as content frequency. This may involve using automation tools (such as Hootsuite or SocialFlow) to schedule posts and avoid any inconsistencies.

Remember, the Keyword is Social

When it comes to social media marketing, many times “marketing” becomes the focus. For the best, most organic results, “social” should be the emphasis. Strategize ways to make every post engaging so that your followers will want to interact with you and provide you with those ever-valuable social shares.

Analyze your Results

Use the tools available to you and find out who you are reaching and what these people are doing once you are reaching them. But don’t let numbers drive you crazy. If your reach seems low, but the people you reach are highly-engaged and interacting, you are succeeding. Quality often outweighs quantity. Be flexible and don’t be afraid to make changes, but constantly watch and see what bares some impact and what doesn’t. Then roll with the impact and streamline the approach.

While developing a social media marketing strategy may involve an investment of time and effort, the rewards can incredible for brands. Social media marketing is important and only becoming more vital to the growth of brands. Retweets and Likes aside, a strategic social platform could influence immense bottom-line growth to sales and retention that may otherwise go unseen. In your quest to build your social media empire, do not try to be all things to all people. Strategize, execute and analyze. You will be amazed by what a vast social reach could do.








How can your business boost safety?

Health and safety in the workplace is of paramount importance, so it’s important to ask yourself one question: Are you doing enough to keep your employees and members of the public safe? While a risk assessment is good way to spot hazards and work out what improvements you need to make, you might also want to consider the following safety solutions.

Safety cameras and reverse sensors for vehicles

Whether you run a waste management company, a bus and coach service or have a fleet of trucks, trailers and vans, you might want to invest in a range of safety devices for your vehicles. These vehicle cameras from Brigade, for example, are designed to improve all-round vision of the vehicle and surrounding area and make it much easier to reverse and manoeuvre through tight spaces. What’s more, ultrasonic obstacle detection systems also increase safety when turning or making-low speed manoeuvres and reversing warning alarms prevent accidents and injuries.

While it can be easy to label this modern technology as an unnecessary fad, it’s essential to bear in mind that according to the Health and Safety Executive, nearly a quarter of all deaths involving vehicles at work occur during reversing. Many other reversing accidents do not result in injury but cause costly damage to vehicles, equipment and premises, so it is well-worth taking all the precautions you can in order to boost the safety of your company.

As well as protecting your employees and limiting accidents, high-tech camera systems can also save you from being accused of causing an accident when it wasn’t your fault. The council receive many complaints of damage to parked vehicles, so if you don’t have time for lawsuits, court cases and unwanted bills, simply pop a visual aid onto your vehicles and record everything you do.

Wear the correct personal protective gear

It’s the duty of each and every employer to provide the correct personal protective equipment (PPE). This could be anything from hard hats and protective footwear, to durable gloves and high-visibility clothes depending on the type of job you’re doing.  Protective respiratory equipment also comes under PPE, so you must assess the risks of each and every job role and make sure your staff are well equipped for their duties.

What’s more, if your employees are constantly out on the road driving fleet vehicles and such like, it’s also a good idea to think outside the box and provide them with items that could help in an emergency such as a satellite navigation system, road map, torch, blanket, company mobile phone with emergency contact numbers (including the breakdown and recovery services your business uses), emergency funds, jump leads, a first aid kit and such like.

Running a business comes with many responsibilities, with health and safety being one of the top priorities for any employer. So, if you’re looking to make your company as secure as possible, try putting the above tips in action and make sure everyone stays safe.