Archive for the ‘Pure Incubation’ Category

"You should write about this on your blog"

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

One of the best ways that I get new ideas for businesses is to listen to what people suggest I should write about on my blog.

The following scene happens all the time. 

wine glassI’m out with friends, having dinner, a couple of glasses of wine. We start talking about something, which leads to something else, which leads to a topic of interest that everyone at the table knows a little bit about – but not enough to be a real authority on the topic. Once that happens, someone usually pulls out an iPhone to look some stuff up. We either find out the answer to the question and it’s incredibly interesting, or we don’t. Either way, someone turns to me and says: “You should write about this on your blog.”

Sometimes I manage to figure out a way to work the topic into my blog – such as when I wrote about avatars, Web 2.0 and Twitter. But most of the time I don’t because the topics are so random that I can’t immediately figure out a good way to incorporate them – or I don’t have the time to do the research to write an adequate blog post.

And sometimes, when everything comes together perfectly, the topics get turned into ideas for businesses.

Think about it – the ideas that are coming from your friends and family and acquaintances are ideas that are coming straight from your future target audience. And one of the best ways to come up with an idea for a new business is to discover a need and work to fill it. Or to determine an area of widespread interest, and attempt to provide information or a tool or a service to fill in the gap.

Of course, the kernel of the idea isn’t enough substance around which to start a business. And I am certainly not suggesting that anyone should quit their job and start a company after a night out on the town with friends, based on a harebrained scheme cooked up over cocktails. My only point is that if you listen, and filter, you might be able to glean some really good ideas – not only for your blog, but also for your business.

<<As a side note, here is one random thing that someone suggested I write about on my blog, which came up recently during a discussion about the outrageous price of gas. If you look at your dashboard, where the gas gauge is located, there is a small arrow that points to the side of the car that the gas tank is on. No more straining to look in your side mirrors as you pull up to the gas station. Anyone see a business idea here? I didn’t, which is why I picked this one to share. >>

Gas gauge

 Gas gauge 2

Wine glass photo by emdot

Consulting sucks, but thanks for the work

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

Starting a company is tricky because there is never enough money. There are ways to raise money, and ways to save money, but usually you are thinking about both of those things because money is tight.

At the moment, I’m doing quite a bit of consulting work to give my company a cash infusion. And this is working quite well. Luckily, the projects are interesting and the clients are delightful to work with. (They also read my blog!) Most importantly, the money is coming in.

Love HateBut although I love my consulting jobs half the time, the other half of the time I despise them. Because every day, every hour, every minute that I spend doing my best work for my clients is time that I take away from working on my start-up.

I consider this to be a necessary evil at the moment. But the process of getting these consulting jobs and using this capital-raising strategy has given me some insight into how to make the process more painless than painful.

My most recent article on The Industry Standard has the full scoop, so go read it now to find out more – Consulting for capital – 5 ways to make it work for your start-up.

These are the five points that the article covers:

1. Charge by the hour
2. Watch the contract terms
3. Learn from the work
4. Network
5. Schedule around your busy times

What strategies do you use to make consulting a positive capital-generating tactic for your start-up?

Photo by *_Abhi_*

Don't sacrifice your blog in the name of productivity

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

I have been working more than ever lately, but my blog posts have been scarce. This is no accident. But it is a mistake.

A couple of weeks back I wrote this post about productivity on Tuesdays. That realy got me thinking about my own productivity and what days of the week I am able to get work done. The initial inspiration for the post was this one by Penelope Trunk, which suggested, among other things, that if Tuesdays are the most productive day of the week, we should focus more on Wednesdays and Thursdays to try to make those days equally productive.

So I’ve been trying to consciously think about my productivity. And I have hit upon a great way to make myself productive. The past two weeks I have been picking one major (or difficult) item on my to-do list, and working on it the entire day until it’s done. That way, at the end of the week I will be able to cross five major items off my list. Any time that I have left in a given day, I work on the odds-and-ends that are left. Including my blog.

This strategy has worked great for getting those major projects done. (I finished four last week, one was so big that it took two days.) But the problem is, the other stuff – the everyday work – isn’t getting done. As evidenced by the sparse posts to this blog.

GrowingSo this week I am going to try a new tactic. I’m going to schedule only 3 major things to get done this week and see if I can get caught up on the rest of my stuff. Because sacrificing my blog in the name of productivity is a bad idea.

This blog may be fairly insignificant in the scheme of things, but as far as my business goes, it has been essential in ways that I couldn’t imagine.

1. I have gotten consulting jobs because of my blog. Multiple jobs. When I hand out my business card, it has my company Website and my blog URL. People usually go to both. When they read the Pure Incubation site, the first question is usually “What do you do?” Followed by the statement “I don’t get it.” This is understandable because what I’m trying to do is uncommon and unusual, and I am trying to be vague on my site until I launch some products. But people get my blog. And my blog gets me jobs.

2. I am more engaged with the business community because of my blog. I don’t live in Silicon Valley, arguably the heart of the Internet Web 2.0 world that I’m trying to play in. But by blogging, and commenting on other people’s blogs (and have them commenting on mine), I am able to get involved in the conversation in a way that I wouldn’t be able to be involved if I wasn’t saying something. This recent post about women technology start-up founders sparked conversation from lots of interesting folks, including two who I really admire: Sarah Lacy, who released her first book last week: Once You’re Lucky, Twice You’re Good: The Rebirth of Silicon Valley and the Rise of Web 2.0; and Penelope Trunk, who I mention all the time in this blog and who is really my blogging idol, if there is such a thing.

3. My family and friends read my blog. Not everyone I know reads my blog, but the people who do have a better understanding of what I’m doing. I talked to my dad last night, and he told me that he follows what I’m up to with my business through the blog. And my Aunt Mary told me that she feels like she is more connected to me because she reads what I’m up to and thinking about at work. I’m glad that my dad and aunt are reading. When I go home to visit this weekend, they won’t look at me with blank stares when I talk about my business and how things are going. I like that.

4. Blogging helps me be more creative. I love writing, I always have, so the process of coming up with a topic and writing about it helps to get all of my creativity churning. I find that the process of writing a blog post often helps me think of new things to work on for my business, and often helps me discover new business models and stuff that’s out there that I wouldn’t otherwise have found – like Gary Vaynerchuk and Wine Library TV. If you’re not watching, you should be.

5. When I write a blog post, things happen. I’ve noticed this past week that my email from random people has slowed down, my traffic stats are a bit stagnant and I feel generally down about my business. This is a normal feeling for entrepreneurs to have on occassion, but I realize now that posting to my blog helps to lessen this. Because when I blog, I reconnect with my community, get support from the other entrepreneurs out there, and things happen. And it’s that thrill of activity that keeps me going when things get hard with the business, which happens all the time.

It turns out that I learned a bigger lesson this week than just the one on productivity – I realized just how important my blog is to my business. So if you have a blog, keep writing! If you don’t have a blog, go get one today. And then check back in three months to let me know how it changed your business (or life). I know it will.

Photo by Editor B

Becoming an entrepreneur & the things that inspire us

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

This week’s article for The Industry Standard is more personal than other articles that I’ve written for them in the past. It’s here: How to Make the Leap from Corporate Hack to Entrepreneur. I give some tips, but mostly the article is a first-person account of my transition from working at a big company to founding my start-up.

In the article I mention a vacation that I took to Arizona. That trip happened in May 2007 – Chris and I went to Phoenix, Sedona & The Grand Canyon to celebrate our first anniversary. At the time we went, I wasn’t thrilled with my job any longer. I was getting the itch to leave, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. I loved the people I worked with, I had a good position, relatively good money…but I wasn’t really happy anymore and I couldn’t figure out why.

Then I went to Taliesin West.

I am not a huge architecture fan. I mean, I like architecture, but I don’t know much about it. Chris studied architecture for a year or two in school before switching to industrial design, but even so, going to visit an architecture-related exhibit isn’t what we would normally choose to do. But we were on a road trip and wanted to stop wherever the wind blew us, and however it worked out, we ended up at Taliesin West.

We took the tour. It was an hour-long, guided. In the tour, we went through various buildings on the school campus – Wright’s office, the studio and gardens, the private gathering room and even the family’s bedrooms. All along the way the guide kept telling us all these cool facts and interesting things, totally creative stuff that had my mind racing. Here are a few things that I saw and learned:

– There was an observation point on the grounds where Frank Lloyd Wright and one of his wives (he had three during his lifetime) used to bring chairs to every single night in the spring and summer, to look at the valley around them. There was nothing as far as the eye could see. Standing at that point today, the entire sprawl of Phoenix/Scottsdale was visible.

– The students who attended the school actually built the school before they could attend. They used only the materials that were available on the land. All of Wright’s designs were built to make sure that the buildings blended into the surroundings, and brought the outside inside, as well. This is called organic architecture, and he was way ahead of his time with it.

– Even after the grounds were built, new students didn’t get to live in the buildings. Their first year, they had to go out into the surrounding wilderness area and build their own dwelling on a slab that was there for that purpose. This was like a crash course in architecture – if your dwelling wasn’t good, you would be living with the insects and other animals. Married students often brought their families to experience this with them.

– Frank Lloyd Wright was a major movie buff, so there is a movie theater on the grounds. It’s pretty dark inside the theater, however, so he had the builders dig small cut-outs into the rock along the floor, and installed lights – the first track lighting ever.

– When Wright was a boy, there was a certain set of blocks that he always played with – Froebel blocks. He often credited these blocks as laying the foundation for the basic principles of architecture that he used throughout his career.

Ok, so those are some random things, and you might read them and think “so what?” Or you might think that some are cool and others are mundane. But I left Taliesin West with my mind racing about all the ideas that I had heard, and with the need to be creative burning up in my chest.

It took me a bit of time before I eventually left my job to start Pure Incubation. But this visit to Taliesin West started the avalanche. After this visit, I knew in my heart that I had to leave my corporate gig.

And this visit also reminded me just how important it is to find things that inspire us. To visit new places, see new things, meet new people, take a chance on something unexpected. You never know where inspiration might strike.

These pictures are all from various people on Flickr – all better than any of the pictures I took that day. They are all from Taliesin West.

Taliesin West
Photo by andy54321

Taliesin Sculpture
Photo by bluecanary_dreams

Japenese taliesin
Photo by bluecanary_dreams

Furniture taliesin
Photo by andy54321

Outsourcing rocks!

Friday, April 25th, 2008

That was my alternate title for the story I just wrote for The Industry Standard – up now on the site: 10 reasons that start-ups absolutely should outsource (almost) everything.

From the titles I’ve chosen, it’s pretty clear that I am a huge fan of outsourcing. Since I am the only full-time employee of my company, I am a big outsourcer. Outsourcing has been a great way for me to scale quickly without breaking the bank. I’ve written about this before, so I won’t rehash everything here, but if you want to read about my experiences with outsourcing, here are some choice selections:

Globalization, outsourcing and Pure Incubation
How to hire a Web designer using eLance
How to prepare for the globalization of your Internet business

And I found out today that all this outsourcing has had a positive impact on my business – for the first time (March 2008), I was in the black.

Celebration

I am a fan of celebrating the small victories (and believe me, it was small), so I’ll be celebrating this weekend. Have a good one.

Photo by bfick

10 reasons entrepreneurs should take more vacations

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

As I write this post, I’m getting ready to go away for a long weekend with Chris (my husband) to visit friends and family in Philadelphia. Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that both of us are entrepreneurs – Chris helped start Spine Frontier a couple of years ago and I started Pure Incubation back in September. It may be obvious from that statement alone, but let me just come right out and say it – we are both insanely busy with our jobs. It is hard to get away for a vacation – even for a weekend – and to take a day off (gasp!) is practically impossible. But we are doing it this weekend.

Philly loveAs I was thinking about leaving, though, all the reasons why we shouldn’t go away kept swirling through my head. And they almost kept us from going (we didn’t book our flights until 5 days ago, for example). So I thought it might be useful to give my fellow entrepreneurs a list of 10 reasons that they should take more vacations. Refer back to this post anytime you are considering going away, but almost back out. Be strong! Take that vacation!

1) You work too much. I have no problem with working hard – or long – but if you are an entrepreneur, it’s likely that you work too much. Like to the point where you aren’t getting enough sleep, exercising regularly or eating well. Working a lot isn’t necessarily the best way to be productive and it’s hard to stop once you’re in the habit. So stop everything for a couple of days, get some sanity back, and you’ll be able to return to the job with a more realistic outlook on work duration – and you’ll likely be more productive during the hours that you are working.

2) New environments spark creativity. Right before I quit my last job, I took a vacation to Arizona. On the trip, we went to visit Taliesin West, the Frank Lloyd Wright school of architecture. I know very little about architecture, but seeing the amazing creative environment that was built at that school was so inspiring to me that I know that I had to leave my job. It opened my heart up again to the creativity that was just dying to come out – and that I could bury in the sameness of my everyday life.

Dance Philadelphia3) You are getting boring to be around. This is happening to me. I meet with friends for a drink or dinner, and they ask me what’s going on, and pretty much the only thing that I have to tell them about is my business. And to me, it’s really exciting and fun and interesting to talk about my work. But I can tell that their eyes are starting to glaze over at times. Going on a vacation will give me something else to talk about – outside of my work.

4) It’s been a long time since you’ve been on a vacation. Admit it – when’s the last time that you took a vacation? A real one. A work trip doesn’t count. If it’s been longer than 6 months, it’s time.

5) You need to reconnect. For me, the trip will be great because I’ll be able to reconnect with Chris. We see each other during the worst part of our days – in the mornings (when I can barely function) and after work (when all Chris wants to do is veg out and recover from the insanity of his day). A vacation is going to give us the opportunity to spend the good parts of our days together – and this is important. Maybe you need to reconnect with your spouse, or your friend, or your kids or your parents – or maybe you just need to reconnect with yourself (solo vacations are highly underrated in my opinion). Invite whoever it is that you’re missing to go away with you and spend the time reconnecting.

6) You need to get out of the house. OK, this one might just be for me. But my office is IN my house, and I can never escape work (or the house). I love where I live, I look at the ocean from my office window, but I need to get outside of these walls. If you work from home, which many entrepreneurs do for a season, you know what I mean.

7) It’s helpful to remind yourself why you’re working so hard. Most of us aren’t working our butts off for nothing. There is usually a dream, a goal, a vision to come at the end of it. For me, I want to be able to travel. So taking periodic vacations reminds me why I’m doing all of this.

Joan of arc of philly8) You need some fresh air. You’re probably working so hard and so much that you spend most of the daylight hours in your office, wherever it may be. You need to get outside, to breathe the air, to have the sun shine on your face. Typically people spend time outside on their vacations, whether it’s strolling through a neighborhood or doing something active.

9) Talking to people in other places will help your business. No matter what your company is doing or building, you have customers that you need to serve. And getting out of your familiar bubble will allow you to talk to people about what you’re doing – and will help you refine your ideas to make sure that you’re serving them better.

10) Vacations are fun. At least, they should be. And if a vacation isn’t fun to you, do something that is. The point is, you need to lighten up sometimes, have a little fun, laugh, joke around, remember that everything isn’t serious and at the point of imminent collapse (which is how entrepreneurs usually feel).

Bonus #11) Your employees want you to go away. (This is for those of you who have employees.) If you ever worked for someone else, you know how it is when the boss is away – there’s a feeling of freedom, of lightness, of relief. As the boss, you may not want your employees to feel this freedom. But it’s important not only for you to get a break, but for your employees to get a break from you. When you get back from vacation, you’ll find that they are refreshed, as well.

Happy travels!

(the pictures here are all from Philly – “Love” by vic15, Dance Philadelphia by my aim is true, Joan of Arc by pwbaker)

I'm launching a record label

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that my company Pure Incubation is working on starting lots of companies. You probably also know that when I get to announce the launch of one of them, I am really excited (and usually a bit relieved!)

Fat J Records logoToday I get to announce that my latest project is launching: Fat J Records.

I’ve been working on getting this independent record label off the ground for awhile, but I feel like it’s finally official because I’ve signed my first artist: Cara Austin.

Check out her site here: www.caraaustin.com.

I’ve mentioned Cara Austin here before – because I really like her music – but now I am more than just a fan, I’m her label.

To be honest, I’m still figuring out all the kinks with what’s involved with owning and running a record label. The idea to even start this type of business came from a post that I wrote earlier this year about the music industry and the things that are changing with the way that music is sold and promoted because of the Internet. That post is here if you want to give it a read.

The bottom line about the online music business is that no one has it just right yet, so I figured that I might as well jump in now when all the fun stuff is happening.

One thing that I know for sure is that the Internet is changing the fan/artist relationship, and with that in mind, Cara Austin’s blog has launched on Tumblr. I think that the Tumblr microblogging platform might be just perfect for an artist blog that will likely include a lot of pictures, quotes, and short bits and links, as well as video and audio clips. I’m going to be the primary writer of the blog, and I won’t only be posting about Cara Austin and her musical career, but also about our adventures in exploring the online music industry – so feel free to give a read or follow us there.

Second, I don’t think that the online music business models are going to be figured out by one small independent label working alone. So with this post, I invite all of you to get involved. Do you have ideas about what needs to happen to change the music industry? Why don’t you post them here. Are you an independent record label yourself, or an Internet business that is making the best use of the new music models that are emerging? Let’s work together. Send me an email and let’s see if and how we can collaborate.

The launch of a business is always exciting. But today is particularly thrilling for me as the music industry is all new for me. It’s seems sure to be a wild ride.

Extend your personal network today – especially if you're an entrepreneur

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

I’m not one for networking. In fact, I’m a little bit shy. You probably wouldn’t think that if you met me, but it’s true. On my way to an event when I know that I have to meet a lot of new people, I am getting myself psyched up for it. Afterwards; I relax. Or sometimes collapse.

So this advice is not given lightly.

Go network. Do it now. Especially if you’re an entrepreneur.

HandshakeI have to admit, I was a networking doubter. Reconnecting with people who I haven’t seen in years, reaching out to people who are nearly strangers…these things are daunting. But since I started Pure Incubation, every single time that I’ve talked to someone or met with someone in an effort to extend my personal network, it’s helped my business.

Today I met with a finance guy who I worked with about four years ago. He helped package up the financials for Connexus Media back in 2004 when it was sold to Ziff Davis. I got in touch with him because it seemed like it would be a good idea to get him involved now so that he will have an understanding of my businesses for when I might be ready to sell or raise some capital for one of them.

This meeting was fantastic. Not only was he enthusiastic about what I was doing (which was very encouraging) but he offered to help out with advice and direction until I need to bring him on board. Along with that, he has his own ecommerce business that is totally interesting and he inspired me with some stories about how he is making money selling marshmellow roasting sticks (his biggest money-maker) and furniture made from old skis.

Networking might be difficult for you, it might not come naturally, but extend your personal network today. Send an email or give a call to someone who you either know or admire, and see where it leads.

Photo by Mykl Roventine

Happy Pi Day!

Friday, March 14th, 2008

Pi DayMarch 14 is Pi Day, celebrated by math lovers, math teachers, and mathletes of all kind around the U.S. I am celebrating because this blog is named after pi  – the 16th letter of the Greek Alphabet.

I have never “celebrated” pi day before, but trust me – some people are avid fans. At piday.org, you can read up on all the fun activities that people have planned, watch pi raps, and send happy pi day post cards. Here are some other ways that people are celebrating the holiday:

“At my school we are making pi shirts with fun expressions like “Cutie Pi” or “Easy as Pi”. It will be very fun because we get to bring in pies too!” – Kyra

“I will recite all of the digits of pi that I have memorized (I know 113!), watch the excellent indepenedent film “Pi” (from 1998)! And eat lemon pie, Yum!” – Jared

“pi day has been celebrated by my family for years since we came from sweden. we turn off all the lights and pray in a circle. sometimes we eat pie or have fun pie fights with my little cousins. Pi day really does make the world go ROUND!! ” – Chris

“saying PI to everyone I greet.” – Kisa

Happy Pi Day! And if you plan to celebrate, please leave a comment to tell us all how.

Ziff Davis MEDIA files Chapter 11

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

Ziff Davis Media logoI just read the news that Ziff Davis Media is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. I worked at Ziff Davis until July 2007, but on the Ziff Davis Enterprise side of the company, as opposed to the Ziff Davis Media side of the business, a distinction that I’m sure the enterprise folks will be working hard to make in the next few weeks.

Ziff Davis Enterprise – which was spun off from Ziff Davis proper at the end of July 07 when it was sold to Insight Venture Partners – is made up of the Web Buyer’ s Guide, eWeek and the eSeminars groups. Ziff Davis Media is comprised of the Consumer (PCMag.com, ExtremeTech) and Gaming (1Up) sides of the business.

It’s too bad that this day came, but I doubt that many people at the company (or in the industry) are surprised. Ziff Davis Media has had trouble with its debt for a few years now, and the selling of the Enterprise group was seen by many as the last chance for Willis Stein to salvage some money it invested when it bought the company for about $780 million in 1999. As the consumer and enterprise groups were splitting, those of us on the enterprise side of the company almost had the feeling of abandoning a sinking ship, that the Enterprise Group was taking the one opportunity it had to get off the boat before it went down for good.