Archive for the ‘Start-ups’ Category

What are you starting and what will you leave behind?

Friday, February 19th, 2010

I am in a history book club, which I’ve talked about before on this blog. We met last night, and the topic was winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. Everyone read about a different winner, all amazing people. But the most interesting thing to come out of the meeting was the story about Alfred Nobel and why he may have started the Nobel Prizes.

Apparently, Nobel and his brothers were the most famous inventors of their time. Most notably, Alfred Nobel is credited with the invention of dynamite. In 1888, Alfred’s brother Ludvig died when visiting in France, and a French newspaper incorrectly published an obituary for Alfred reporting, “the merchant of death is dead” and claimed that “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.” (As an aside, there is an interesting list of other premature obituaries here.)

Alfred NobelMany speculate that it was this bizarre and premature report of his death that led Nobel to (unexpectedly) leave the majority of his money in a trust to fund the Nobel Prizes.

Fast forward to today. One of viagra online shop in uk the best things about being an entrepreneur is the ability to create new things. But the implications of inventing or building or creating something that didn’t exist before can be serious. I’m certain that the founder of Craigslist didn’t anticipate it being used for murder, that MySpace’s founder didn’t plan for it to lead to suicide and that the inventors of these top 10 inventions that went bad for mankind didn’t plan for them to be used the way that the ultimately were.

Nobel’s invention has been used in mining, quarrying and construction to great results. But it has also been used to kill, murder and maim. That was a legacy that he wasn’t comfortable in leaving – so he did something about it.

I am an entrepreneur, but more specifically, I like to build things that didn’t exist before. I get a lot of joy out of envisioning something new, and then bringing it to life. This story of Alfred Nobel, though, was a good reminder to consider the cost. I’m also thinking hard about what I can to leave a legacy of which I can be proud.

Quiz: What tech entrepreneur are you most like?

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

I’m a start-up founder just like many of you, and there are days when I wonder if I’m the only one who feels, acts and thinks the way I do. But there are others that have gone before, and you might be surprised to see which tech founder you are most like. Take our quiz and find out your answer to the question: What tech entrepreneur are you most like?

Click here to take the quiz

(UPDATE: I’m going to ask you for an email address at the end of the process. I wanted to warn you up front so that I don’t catch you off guard!)

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Quiz Sauce logoOne erectile dysfunction viagra of the things that we’re working on at Pure Incubation is launching a variety of software tools for publishers aimed at helping them solve their most crucial business issues. (If you want to know more about those publishing problem areas, read this post.) We’re doing this through our Sauce Technology business unit, and today I want to introduce you to a specific application – Quiz Sauce.

The quiz above was built using the application – give it a whirl and let me know what you think. Here’s the link to take the quiz in case you missed it above – What tech entrepreneur are you most like?

Something worth celebrating

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

I have been writing about the recession since March. Specifically, I’ve been writing about the benefits of starting a company during a recession. As this year has unfolded, and as I watch the loss of thousands of jobs taking a toll on people around the country, I can only feel more and more grateful for what I’m working on. I saw this Twitter post from Penelope Trunk today, and it made me want to clink glasses and toast to one year down.

Twitter about the recession

By the way, you can follow me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/mchang16.

Entrepreneurs in a downturn

Monday, October 13th, 2008

Fresno BeeThe Fresno Bee, a newspaper in Fresno, Calif., recently featured this article about entrepreneurs in an economic downturn. The entrepreneurs interviewed were generally optimistic – one of the most important qualities of anyone who starts a company. I’m also interviewed in the article, so check it out if you have a minute.

Entreprenuers see upside in downturn: Many Valley small-business founders see the economic slump as opportunity knocking.

Signs that your start-up could go bust

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

My latest article is up on The Industry Standard - Five warning signs a tech start-up is in trouble. In the article, I highlight five symptoms that are sometimes indicative of a start-up that’s about to fail.

Caution sign

Of course, there aren’t always warning signs that a company is in trouble. This is probably stating the obvious at a time when Wall St. is considering a $700 billion bailout of some household names – AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac. These are companies that were so big that they seemed infallible, but yet here we are, and those companies are struggling so badly that they might not recover.

It’s not very fun to focus on the negative. I would much prefer to tell the stories of start-ups that succeeded, made millions and helped save the world. But hopefully by looking out for some of these warning signs, you’ll be able to head them off before they happen to your company.

Photo by adselwood

Celebrating milestones

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

I am a firm believer that it’s important to celebrate milestones. Anniversaries, birthdays, project launches – in my opinion, they all need to be marked and noted, with proper gift giving, eating & drinking, and celebratory toasts.

Birthday cupcakeToday is the first birthday of Pure Incubation. To celebrate, I’ll have a glass of wine with dinner. But perhaps the most fitting tribute was that today was also my first full-time employee’s first day of work. Today I spent four hours out of the office in meetings, but even so, we got more done today together than I get done in most days of working alone, even when I put in 12+ hours.

The timing was coincidental, but it turns out that a new employee was probably the best gift that I could have given Pure Incubation on its first birthday. Here’s to many more (birthdays AND employees)!

Types of online advertising

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

My cousin Jay (hi Jay!) is in the process of building and launching his own online business, and he sent me a note this week (OK, he sent it two weeks ago, I’ve been busy!!) asking me about online advertising and how it works. I ended up writing him a fairly long-winded email in response, but I thought that there were enough nuggets in the message to make it worth re-posting.

Offline advertising

Here is a (somewhat edited) version of the email that I sent him. Please forgive me for the rough format.

The most basic type of Internet advertising (which is sometimes called “online media” or just “media”) is the standard banner ad. The banner ad has been around for years and was pretty much the first type of advertising that was sold online. When banners first went up, they got high click-through rates and companies could charge high fees for them, but the rates have dropped significantly over time. Banner advertising is usually sold based on a CPM (cost per thousand) basis calculated against page views. CPMs vary depending on the market that you’re in – consumer markets get a lower CPM than B2B markets – and they range usually anywhere from $10-$40 (approximately). The reasons that B2B audiences can charge a higher CPM is that there is the assumption that they are reaching a “higher qualified” more “high-value” audience. To sell this type of advertising, you’ll need quite a bit of traffic, and some information for potential advertisers about the type and quality of audience you reach. Demographics, reach, influence, etc. will all help. In the consumer market, advertisers are looking for a lot of reach – meaning high numbers of page views. Also, to run banner advertising on your site, you’ll need some kind of third-party ad server (a company that serves the ads and measures delivery and click-through for you), such as Doubleclick/DART. Also, it’s probably worth mentioning that “banner” advertising has evolved to include all kinds of ad sizes and types, such as skyscrapers & leaderboards (refers to ad sizes), interstitials (the type of ads that pop up as you go from page to page on a website), overlays, etc.
 
If you are interested in running banner ads on your site, but you don’t want to have to sell the ads yourself, there are a lot of third-party ad networks that will use your available inventory (pages on your site) to run their ads, and you get a percentage of any revenue generated. This is a good option for early in a business when you don’t have the sales staff and technology resources available to do serious selling. Blue Lithium, Tribal Fusion and Casale Media are some companies that do this.
 
If you don’t have the page views that you need to sell straight banner ads on a CPM basis, you might try to sell a site “sponsorship.” This is often harder to sell (especially these days) because with sponsorships you aren’t necessarily guaranteeing page views or any other measurable metric (although you could guarantee those things), but instead you are offering companies the chance to have exclusivity or sponsorship of a specific section of your site. Sponsorships can get complicated, but you can basically cook up any kind of arrangement that you can think of.
 
Google AdSense is a great way for publishers (and Websites) to get started with online advertising. It’s easy to sign up for an account, and by setting things up and “playing with” Google’s tools and going through the training, you’ll pick up a lot of the online advertising terminology and best practices. It’s also the kind of thing that you can set up and forget – so it will just run and serve on every page of your site without a lot of interference. I run Google AdSense on many of my sites, and it does produce revenue – again, the higher the value the keyword and the more page views you have on your site, the more money that you’ll make. On the flip side (from the advertiser’s perspective) most marketers who do online promotion use Google AdSense (although when you use it to advertise, it’s called AdWords), primarily because it’s a type of “performance-based media” that shows advertisers/marketers immediate “ROI.” These two terms you will see again and again with online advertising, as the trend with online marketing moves to media that has measurable results. The other great thing about Google AdSense is that it will help you quickly be able to track your monthly traffic and page views and what your traffic is “worth.” So if you’re doing financial modeling you can include that data for potential investors.
 
Another ROI-based type of online advertising is lead generation. Lead generation is when an advertiser/marketer pays you money to know more about specific members of your audience than just that they “viewed” an ad. With lead generation, advertisers usually get contact information (either email, phone, mailing address or all three), and other pieces of data that they consider to be valuable. With lead generation, companies are able to get anywhere from $10-$200 PER LEAD (as opposed to the $10 CPMs that I mentioned earlier), because the companies are willing to pay to know specifically who their potential customers are, and for the ability to market to them in the future. Lead generation works best on a site where users need to register to access data/services/etc. 

 

A variation on lead generation is co-registration, which is where a company that collects registration data can add a question or a check box on their registration form asking “would you like to receive information from X company?” If the user checks that box, they are “co-registered” for both your site and the other company’s site, as well.
 
ONE WORD OF CAUTION ABOUT ONLINE ADVERTISING AS A BUSINESS MODEL. (This was applicable to Jay, but might be relevant to you as well, so I’m leaving it here.) Since you are building a site that requires users to enter a lot of data, fill out forms and generally interact with the site a great deal in order for the site to be successful, you will need to think very carefully about on which pages it makes sense to have advertising. For example, running Google AdSense is fine on an information page (a page that someone gets to and might realize that they are in the wrong place), but putting Google AdSense on a registration page, where it might distract a potential registrant from completing a form, is not the best idea. In that instance, getting them to complete the reg form is probably worth far more than having them click that Google AdSense link.

 

I hope that this helps someone out there! If you have any questions, please feel free to post them below and I’ll try to answer.

When a start-up fails

Monday, July 21st, 2008

Usually when a start-up goes under, the story of the successes and failures along the way dies with the company. By that point, the founders are exhausted by the experience, mentally and physically burned out. Too beat up to write about everything that went wrong.

But this time, we got lucky.

Post mortemRoger Ehrenberg, co-founder of Monitor110, has written this excellent Post Mortem about everything that went wrong with the founding of the company. He boils it all down to “Seven deadly sins.” If you are an entrepreneur, read this article. It will help you avoid some mistakes that can be incredibly costly.

For me, I’m trying to take to heart point #5 – specifically, I need to launch my product as quickly as possible to get input and feedback from my potential customers. Otherwise, I’m developing in a vacuum.

I worked with two other companies in the past that used this post mortem approach regularly. At Let’s Go, where the staff turned over every year (only Harvard students are allowed to work at the company, and usually the managers are seniors), part of our salary was contingent on writing up a report at the end of the summer, after the books shipped to the printers, to tell the people who would have our jobs the following year what we did and why. These reports were my training manual for the job, and were incredibly valuable. At Network World, one editor would be responsible to review every issue of the magazine that came out – they would mark it up with comments and input, and would pass around the issue to every person on staff. Those reviews were always a bit painful (seeing the mistakes that we made – in print – wasn’t a whole lot of fun) but they made us better.

Good luck Roger! And thank you.

Photo by CristinaJucan

My greatest weakness

Monday, July 21st, 2008

WeaknessAnyone who tried to visit any page on this site since last Wednesday already knows what I am about to tell you – my blog has been down for five days. It’s back up now, working just fine, but it appears that the damage has been done. My good SEO ranking on some good terms has been lost, 1/4 of my readers have unsubscribed.

I just wanted to send a quick note out to all of you who have stuck with me through the downtime – thank you! And I’m sorry for the technical difficulties. The short explanation is that this blog is using a technology that one of my new businesses/applications is also using, and when the developers made a change to that application, they managed to take down my blog at the same time. It appears that everything is now fixed and working like it should, hopefully there won’t be any more issues.

This outage really brings to light what I think is my biggest weakness as an entrepreneur - I am not technical enough. I know a bit about technology, definitely enough to talk about it and to understand the concepts, a smattering of HTML. But I am not a “do-er” – and so, when things like this happen, I am at the mercy of others. This fact is hard to take.

I am honestly not sure what the solution to the problem is, either. As the president of my company, I shouldn’t be the one who is doing all the nitty gritty work – that would be a waste of time and resources. I also don’t have the time to go back to school and to take classes to learn all this stuff that I wish I already knew. I could regret my college major (maybe computer science would have been a better choice than English, no matter how much I loved reading those books), but then again, if I had majored in computer science, who knows where I would be now. Maybe the influences of Maya Angelou (On The Pulse of the Morning), Sylvia Plath and Ralph Ellison are part of what has inspired me to be the person I am today, to do what I am doing right now. And regrets aren’t helpful, anyway.

So I put my lack of technical expertise in the category of unavoidable things that suck. At least for now. And I try to use this weakness as a reminder that I can’t build this business on my own, that I need help and input from a wide variety of other people to be successful. And I breathe. Slowly.

Photo by solidstate

"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