Featured in Alltop StartUpRoar

Monday, December 23, 2013

Top 10 posts at the end of 2013

Over the last few years, I have added more than 220 posts on the Startup Blog.  I have also added more than 130 posts to the Examiner.  The following list the 10 top posts from Startup Blog.  Some actually are from prior years, but attracted attention to make the cutoff.  I hope you enjoy them!



Wednesday, December 4, 2013

5 Ways to avoid involvement with a technology in search of a use

No clear direction is like going fishing.  You never know what you will get!
Technology is exciting to many people, especially me.  It is easy to become involved and imagine great things arising from a novel technology.  Some scientific areas catch my fancy more than others do, but nearly all technology is interesting and potentially beneficial when converted to a product.  In the medical field, we sometimes refer to the conversion as “bench to bedside”, while in non-medical areas “lab to consumer” may be the catch phrase.  Taking something from an idea to a final product with financial value is what business is about.  Creating products from a technology is not a fishing trip where you cast your line and hope you find something.  Careful thought and planning are required if you want to end up with the best financially viable opportunity.  

Having worked in laboratories for many years, true science discoveries were not always something that needed to be of a commercial nature. Inventing things for pure scientific benefit was equally exciting and money was a minor consideration.  Scientists love their inventions and take great pride in discoveries.  Often, they do not consider the financial benefits of inventions because the advancement of science is their ultimate goal.  Sometimes the inventions do not have a clear path to a product making them of lesser commercial value.

Reviewing discoveries and converting them to tangible products is where the science and business cross paths.  I sometimes find certain discoveries are unfortunately “a technology in search of a use.”  This designation comes about when the technology is exciting but it is difficult to identify a tangible product direction.  There may be many, but nothing that seems to fit the criteria for a meaningful business opportunity.  The technology may have future value as the field develops and a product direction becomes more obvious.  Sometimes, the technology’s time has not come yet.  In that case, it may be years before the technology has a real and identifiable product opportunity.  Keep in mind this is different from having a few product directions and having to select the ones to develop.  The description is of technology where no real product opportunity is definable or acceptable for commercial use.  The following are a few ways you can decide whether you have a technology in search of an application or a tangible technology worthy of pursuit.

1.      Too many possible applications:  You may have heard of the old term “snake oil!”  Most any time a technology that appears to be good for everything may not have the value you desire.  Nothing is good for everything and trying to promote “snake oil” is very hard.  Try to identify a few applications where the technology is stellar and worthy of product development.  Make sure the markets are meaningful and the development path is simple and clean!

2.      No specific target market:   When you cannot identify a target market, your product may be heading toward failure.  Promoting the product becomes difficult, as does the development.  You will find it much easier to define a satisfactory target market and then develop the technology to suite that market.

3.      “It might be good for”:  I once had an employee that started every experimental discussion with “it may be good for” as the scientific rationale.  Unfortunately, over a 15 year period nothing useful ever came from the experimentation. Failure to define research targets can be as flawed as failure to define target markets for the product.  It is like taking a trip with no designated places to visit.  You never know where you will end up.

4.      Unable to identify a clear direction:  Identification of a clear direction is essential in any trip.  The same is true with product development.  The path to create the product and the intended markets are critical to success.  Make sure you are able to identify the direction and are fully on board with the product.  It is hard to defend the direction and product to investors when you are not confident!

5.      Failure to get excited:  This is essential to your personal success.  Failure to be excited about the technology, product opportunities, and fields of use will come across in any presentation and pitch you may make.  You will always second-guess the products and the team because you have not accepted the ideas.  You must buy into the whole program and strongly believe or get out!

  Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

7 MORE short business tips with Photos

Ideas can be like a bowl of cherries. You can have so many it is hard to pick just one. On the other hand, if you do not pick carefully feed and nourish the idea you may be left with just the pits.

Hint: A business plan can be helpful in... refining your business idea and ensuring you have selected the best idea and path to create a business. The document has the value of helping you bring the team together around the business idea.
Starting a business can leave you with the feeling of being all alone. You do not have to be alone.

Hint: Find a great group of mentors and a team to help you build the business. You will increase your chances of success and have more fun.
Everyone needs love and attention once in a while! Employees are included in that group. Treat them well and you can expect better performance!
Ever stand at the waters edge and wonder what you are going to be when you grow up? The answer is very simple!

WHAT EVER YOU WANT TO BE! All you have to do is work hard to get there.
Not sure I can even add to this one!
Today is a special day. It is the day you can finally get to all those things you have been delaying or putting off. Remember when you said you would get the job done when you "got around to it."

Your gift today is "a Round Tuit." Now go out and get to work!
Early morning walks & runs are a great way to clear your head and think about what you need to get done.

Don't forget to look around and enjoy what you see while figuring how to make money!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Entrepreneurship can live forever

I can't wave a magic wand, but I can provide advice and inspiration!

Entrepreneurs have learned to dream big and they often never stop.  They learn to live with adversity and failure.  One of the great things about interacting with a wide range of entrepreneurs is having the chance to meet those with repeat startup creations.  Over the years, I have met founders of significant and profitable businesses and a number were repeat founders.

You may have read much of the press on attempts to change immigration laws.  Some feel the laws should be stricter while others want them more lenient.  People sometimes forget that the only inhabitants in America were the Native Americans prior to Columbus.  Everyone other than Native Americans had family that immigrated to this country from somewhere.  I bet, if one could look far enough back in time, the Native Americans migrated to America.

Immigrants are entrepreneurs that built this country.  I had the great fortune to meet a 69-year-old immigrant that came to the USA on a 1-way ticket.  The immigrant’s father was a farmer and the family was very poor.  This individual could only afford the single way ticket and did not have enough to buy a ticket back.  Recognizing that failure was not an option, this person went to school and managed to obtain a Ph.D. followed by obtaining a job with a Fortune 500 company.

After a layoff, the budding entrepreneur realized that developing a product was something to consider.  Starting a small test lab a novel product was developed using the small amounts of money from friends and family (mostly friends).  The product caught the attention of a larger company that flew the CEO out to meet the entrepreneur and request to buy the company.  This was the first of 5 (yes FIVE) successful BIG exits this individual experienced from the next 5 companies created. 

Today, the 69 year old loves working in the lab of the new company that is profitable.  While there are no plans to sell the highly profitable company, one never knows.  There are more than 30 people drawing excellent salaries in this company.  Their work is high quality and the business has customers that are large and small companies.  The entrepreneur loves working and creating. 

It turns out that I know a friend of this entrepreneur.  Another immigrant entrepreneur (my friend) stated that of the 5 companies he invested in 2 and received a more than 10x in 2 years on just one!   I do not know about you, but that return is something I find exciting. 

This is not the only entrepreneur that has created multiple businesses and I have been fortunate enough to meet several.  I can only hope that you are one of those success stories in the future and that I can meet you after such great success!
  Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Relationships can make a difference in your startup

Great relationships can be a great neutralizer in getting deals done!
A few years ago, a corporate real-estate executive learned that a Fortune 50 company planned to create a new facility.  The billionaire executive had many friends one of which relayed the message about the need for a new location.  Repeated attempts to arrange a meeting with the Fortune 50 Company failed, so the executive flew up and requested to meet in person. Discussions eventually led to the topic of the Fortune 50 needs.  At this point, the upset CEO of the Fortune 50 Company indicated there were only a few people in the world that knew about the search for a new site. The CEO asked who informed the real-estate executive about the search and then escorted the billionaire out of the office.  Obviously, no deal came from the discussion.

Two things are apparent from this story; 1) the real-estate executive had a great relationship with someone affiliated with the Fortune 50 Company and received confidential information, and 2) the executive did not have a relationship with the Fortune 50 executive.  The approach was risky but may have yielded a positive result had confidential information not been passed along.  Anger about the breach of confidence cut discussions short resulting in insufficient time to develop a relationship that might result in a deal.

In a different example, an administrator joined a smaller university to help build the institution to greater prominence.  The administrator had made many friends over the years and was known as someone that was worthy of trust.  In the first year, the administrator engaged with a different Fortune 50 Company about establishing a significant research program.   The Fortune 50 Company was already investigating such an arrangement with top Universities.  The corporate executive responsible for developing the program knew the administrator on a personal basis. Great trust existed between the two.  The trust was so great that the corporate executive went to the CEO and pressed that the research programs occur with the smaller institution. When asked why, the executive simply stated because “I trust the administrator to deliver as promised.”   

In the second example, there was no reason for the two institutions to get together except for the high level of confidence created over years between the two individuals.  A program was created that complemented what each side wanted.  The two enjoyed working together and had done so in the past.  When the University President asked the Administrator how such a great deal was created with the institution, the Administrator simply answered, “the Company Executive trusts me to do what we agreed to do!”

The moral of these true stories is that you may be able to beat the Big Companies at their game by developing lasting great relationships.

  Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon 

Friday, August 30, 2013

7 short hints for startups and entrepreneurs

If you are not following our Facebook page, you may be missing the short topic advice segments along with photos.  The following are a few of the ones that attracted the most attention.  I hope you like them.

Business can be like being a dog in a dog sled race! If you are not the lead dog, the view never changes. Take charge of your business and ensure your view changes and the business grows.

It is OK to get help from friends and mentors. That is what mentorship is about. They assist you in building your business by providing advice and looking over your shoulder. And sometimes, they lend a helping HAND! Grow your business and engage your mentors to ensure you get it right the first time.

 Everyone has a dream of something better in life. It may be a place, a job, a family, or some other special thing. Some dreams come true while others remain dreams for a lifetime.  
 Some people dream of winning the lottery. Having the financial independence is important. The risks of buying a ticket turns lots of people away. So they never play and never win. 
 Entrepreneurs have dreams. They work hard to make the dreams reality. They do not always achieve their goals, but they try again and again. 
 The difference is that the entrepreneurs buy a ticket to play. They try hard. In the end, they may win or not. But they can never be confused as someone that never bought a ticket. In that respect, they always walk away winners ! 
 Maybe it is time for you to buy your ticket to win what you dream about. Trying is half the battle. If you do not try, you can never win !

Success in your business takes hard work and the correct attitude. If either is wrong, maybe you should determine how to adjust it. Especially the attitude!

Many times there is more than a single way to get a job done. It is your task to determine which works best for your company.
 Hint: Going against the traffic or walking in the wrong direction only works if you are willing to take the risks and expend the energy!

Successes and failures of businesses take place daily. You may be one of the successful or be down on your luck. It is important to keep your spirits up and remember all those that are not as lucky as you!

 Hint: What goes around comes round! Your next venture may not bring you good fortune. Hopefully, you will have made lots of friends and great contacts. Your next venture can benefit from what you do gain.

Planning any trip is important. The destination is one of the key parts of your plan as is the route. No destination or route may lead to wide variation in the trip and extended costs. It is also extremely important to know when you arrive at the destination.  

 Hint: Business has the same planning requirements. Being the leader means you were involved in the planning and understand the destination. Otherwise, you may end up taking your team on a trip that goes NO WHERE or worse!

  Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

5 Reasons entrepreneurs never get their big exit

Try to avoid going down the wrong roads!
I would ever suggest an entrepreneur not pursue a dream, but informing you of hazards, could help reduce future disasters.  Startups fail for many reasons.  There is no shame in failure, in fact, we learn from it; at least most of us!  Our ability to learn and adjust is critical to survival. 

Regardless of all the planning and preparation, we do not know what we do not know.  We cannot control all the external factors that influence our lives and businesses.  There are no road signs, but sometimes we can read the trends.  This is an essential part of growing the business successfully.

There are some entrepreneurs that may do better learning in another business first.  The ability to learn how a business is developed and products sold can be valuable.  I do see many inexperienced entrepreneurs that want to start a business and they were never exposed to any of the things they will encounter.  In fact, it is more common than one might think that a founder launches into an area with no prior knowledge or training.

Entering the wrong way on a one-way street is something you would be wise to avoid.  You may meet unexpected traffic and become involved in an accident.  Starting a business without learning everything you can about the area can be just as detrimental, especially if you are using your own money or expecting near term income.

The following are just a few areas you should consider before starting that new company.

1.      Funding:  Money usually takes time to obtain from investors.  Startups have no money and it may be a few years before any serious funds arrive.  This means NO SALARY in the near term.  Loans are sometimes possible, but it may end up being a personal loan.  If the business fails, any   debt guaranteed by personal assets leaves you responsible for repayment of the loan.  No founder ever believes their business will fail, yet many do.  So, do not plan on a near term salary and protect your personal assets the best you can!

2.      Business:  Founders must learn everything possible about their business.  They should be able to address all questions an investor may ask.  Investors see the CEO founders as the face of the company and they need to trust the CEO and believe the individual is skilled and knowledgeable.  Take your team on the road to help in presentations, but you must also demonstrate your skills.  If the team answers all questions and you answer none, investors may question your knowledge or consider whether they need you to be part of the company.  So, make sure you know your business and can address as much as possible.

3.      Investor trends: Investment trends change over time.  What was interesting a month ago might not be interesting in a few days.  IPO markets can open and close in the same month.  Investors may be enthusiastic while the markets are doing well and skittish when the markets turn bearish.  The trends are important and recognizing that they change rapidly suggests you must be willing to change with the trends.  So, watch reactions of the investors and evaluate their moods and interests; i.e., try to recognize when a strategy change is required.

4.      Skills: Some people have extensive skills while others require more training.  It is hard to pass yourself off as an expert when you have not spent time in training or learning.  Understanding where your skills are the strongest and hiring team members to supplement your weaker skills is a good strategy.  Your ability to demonstrate all key skills exist in the company will generate more confidence in tentative investors.  So, determine what you can do well and create a hiring plan to augment those skills.

5.      Attention to detail:  Some people will review everything you do and say with a keen eye.  Attention to detail by external people requires that you develop a high degree of attention to detail in house.  You and your products are being scrutinized to the highest levels.  Sometimes a single slip-up or error can cause investors, customers, or partners to stay away for long periods.  So, always be careful with everything you and your business do.
  Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Develop better filters and your sales efforts will improve

Go away! We do not care what you want, we are busy playing.
Cold calls can range from going well to horribly.  At my office, they tend to go horribly, especially when the call is to ME!  Take for example the auto dealership that called my cell phone 8 times over two weeks to see if I wanted to buy a car.  Politeness went out the window on the last call when I informed the caller I only do business over my cell phone.  The caller said “it is business.”  My response, “not for me it isn’t, all you are doing is driving me away!”

Some sales calls must be cold calls and there is little way to change that.  The ability to filter the call list to those most likely to be interested improves your success rate.  Developing a relationship with the potential customer further improves the chances.  Eventually, it is possible to go beyond the relationship development and become annoying.  That happened in the above case.

Sales drives earnings and earnings allow businesses grow.  It is important that you feel strongly about what you are selling.  This is especially true when building a startup business and raising capital.  Entrepreneurs are excited about their technology and often feel everyone will become excited if they just hear the story.  The real issue is that people see different things when reviewing your business.  Some will be excited about the technology, others may be interested because of family history (example, a relative died of cancer), while others may be attracted to earning prospects. 

Your ability to identify the factors that may influence the intended customer, investor, or prospective partner may help you tailor the pitch to that individual or group.  The mechanisms you use to filter and identify those willing to buy what you are selling can save you lots of time and trouble.  Seeking ways to obtain a personal introduction may help break the ice as well. 

Regardless of what you are promoting, there will be uninterested people!  The reasons for lack of interest are very diverse.  Rapidly filtering and elimination of the people that do not care saves time and effort.  There is little need in pursuing an investor or customer that has zero interest in you or what you sell.  Likewise, a partially interested party could turn away if you badger them; the number of times you connect before they become annoyed varies from person to person. 

Keep your positive attitude and be polite in your contacts.  Try to develop filters that help you focus on those most likely to buy what you sell.  Watch and listen for signals the party is becoming annoyed.  Your ability to develop the correct filtering mechanisms will help you achieve your goals more efficiently.
  Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon 

Friday, August 2, 2013

The beast can kill your startup if you are not persistent

Get back up and try again!
Large organizations have rules and regulations that can be infuriating at times.  Trying to find someone to help you when you have a problem only makes things seem worse.  It does not matter whether you are interacting with the organization, working for it, or accidently are affected by it, the anger and frustration that arises can make you want to just give up.

As an example, over the last few weeks I have been helping a young entrepreneur develop a startup business in the fashion area.  Part of the planned activity is a web based blog showcasing women’s fashion; see MadisonLeft.  Accounts created on Facebook, Pinerest, Twitter, and Instagram were to promote the business and alert viewers of the blog.  The starting activities were simple,” Right?: not so fast! A little known problem occurred with promotion on Facebook.  The issue arose after posting several images along with links to the blog site.  Apparently, one of the security measures in Facebook identifies repeat postings of the same link and considers that they may be SPAM sites. 

This seems like a simple misunderstanding that brief phone call or email should resolve.  Try finding an email address, contact person, phone number or other means of communicating with a company handling close to a billion accounts.  The help section does have a few ways to send recommendations, suggestions, and report a problem but they openly say not to expect a response.  The large database of help questions does not provide any means of resolving this problem.  A Google search turns up many users having faced a similar issue.  This is where the frustration grew worse. 

Frustration sets in for young entrepreneurs and the mentors when seemingly faced with unsolvable problems.  It is easy for someone with less experience to consider giving up and even the most educated and experienced people find such issues complex and troublesome.  The advantage in this case was that the mentor had extensive experience having worked for the US Government and recognized the Catch-22 of large organizations.  Solutions often arise by being persistent and continuing with polite contact via many channels and multiple forms.  Yes, it took lots of time and countless reports thought nearly every identifiable channel but it did result in resolution of the problem.  At least it seems the effort lead to the fix!  It is hard to be certain since no return communication from Facebook ever indicated they addressed the problem.  It was an accidental click on the link a few days later that demonstrated the problem was resolved.

The issue is a great example of how large organizations can generate problems for your small business.  The problems can be intentional or unintentional.  They tend to be frustrating and confusing to handle.  Persistence is your best and sometimes only avenue to a successful resolution.  Rules and regulations in large organizations are rampant and the individual you interact with can use them for good or bad.  Often, finding a person with a helpful attitude can enhance your chances especially when you approach them in a polite and kind manner.   The key is not giving up; where have you heard that before?  How about in the article:  The One Word Entrepreneurs Do Not Say.”  So remember that when the beast knocks you down, you must get back up and find a way to connect and solve the problem; i.e., do not give up.

Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon