Posts Tagged ‘entrepreneurship’

My blog confessions and non-resolution

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

If you read this blog with any frequency, you already know that I’m in a bit of a “blog slump.” It’s gotten so bad, that the recent series that I wrote took me nearly a month to complete. A month! I didn’t even realize it was that bad until I just went back and looked at the dates. I should have realized that things were dire when people started alerting me to the fact that I completely missed my promise of a second post being “up tomorrow.”

Writer's blockSo here’s the thing – I have a blogging problem. Actually, I have a few of them. First, I write long posts. Again, this is not news to anyone who reads this blog, past English teachers, or anyone who has ever received an email or a greeting card from me. I’m wordy. I don’t think that this is an inherent problem; the issue is that it takes me too long to write a blog post. When I was in the early days of blogging, I had time on my hands. Now, my business obligations are taking up a great deal of time and I need to cut back on the amount of time that I spend blogging without cutting back on blogging itself – this has been tricky. Actually, it’s been more than tricky. I’m totally bombing at it.

Second, I have heard from a lot of people that the posts that they enjoy the most are the ones that bring in my personal experiences with starting a business. So I’ve been working on trying to figure out a format that I could use that would incorporate more of that type of content. But I’ve been struggling with trying to figuring out the balance of how to write about what I’m doing without a) sounding like a total prima donna and b) actually including information that will be interesting and/or useful to people. If I start writing about my day-to-day experiences, I am more than a little concerned that it will bore all of you to tears.

Finally, I do enjoy the long-form, analysis and informational writing that I have been doing all along, and I don’t want to give it up.

Those are the confessions.

So starting today, I’m going to try something new. I’m going to start adding a different kind of post to my blog repertoire. I stole this idea from one of my favorite blogs, Dooce. In her blog, Heather Armstrong includes a post called Daily Style, which is a short, daily post that includes a photo and a description of some kind of product that she likes and uses. The idea is that she takes something from her everyday life and writes a bit of commentary about it and includes a picture. The end.

Let me first say that Heather Armstrong does this incredibly well. So well, that this year she won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Bloggies. She’s been copied many times before and will be many times again – and what I do will be a cheap rip-off imitation and probably slightly embarrassing, especially if it is compared to her site.

But here’s the thing. Starting a business is a risky thing. It involves a lot of borrowing nuggets of ideas from people who have gone before, mixing them up in a new way and throwing them out there for the world to see, comment on, reject or embrace. The start-up world isn’t pretty or neat. And nothing would ever get done if someone didn’t get an idea and just decide “What the hell. It’s worth a try.”

So here I go with my experiment in blogging more personally about my start-up journey. This is not a resolution – I am not promising a certain number of posts per day or per week, and I’m not sure that I’ll stick with this format forever. After all, an entrepreneur must be flexible and willing to make quick strategic changes. But based on my confessions, I need to try something new. And although I can’t be sure that this plan will work, I can at least remind myself that the experiment is part of the journey.

Photo by miss pupik

3 more ways to stay positive

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

The beginning of this blog series starts with the post titled 10 ways to stay positive when times are tough. Below are reasons 4, 5 and 6…

4) Take a break from work – and life. I have often written about the importance of taking vacations from work, but sometimes it’s also helpful to take a bit of a vacation from life. You can do this by spending BSOa day doing something totally out of the ordinary, away from your regular routine. Two Fridays ago, Chris took me to the Symphony for a matinee performance. This was the first time that I had been to the Boston Symphony, and it was great. By shaking up my normal life and seeing something new, my mind started exploring all kinds of things that I don’t think about on a daily basis. For example, the day opened my eyes to the world of senior citizens (the majority of the attendees were over 70). It also brought me back to high school, when I spent many hours playing in a multitude of bands (an experience that I completely dropped after leaving high school but really enjoyed). It was also the first time that I had seen (or heard of) Leonidas Kavakos, the featured violinist, and a man of amazing talent who played a Brahms Concerto by heart that lasted nearly an hour. It was astounding.

Any event that takes you out of your ordinary life will get you thinking about new and interesting things, a very positive experience.

5) Start a new venture. Your venture might come in the form of a company or an exercise routine. Your venture could be a book or cooking club, or even an online course. Whatever you decided to do, starting new things usually comes with optimism and hope – all things that help fight negativity.

6) Do something to help resolve one negative thing in your life. On any given day, most people have a number of things that are getting them down. For some people, the list is long. Pick one item on the list that you can do something about and tackle it. I handle the finances for my family, and I recently realized that it was taking so much time that I was getting frustrated. I decided to look for an online tool that would help me better manage our money. I found Quicken Online, which has simplified things immensely and helped change my entire outlook about money management. Doing that one thing didn’t solve all my negative issues, but it did help resolve one thing that was getting me down.

Up next – ideas 7 through 10.

Photo by Rich Moffitt

10 ways to stay positive when times are tough

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

When times are tough, one of the hardest things to do is stay positive. But being positive is important for every aspect of our lives. It improves our health. It improves our outlook on work and family. And it makes us more pleasant to be around.

Right now, the economic news is bad. Lots of companies are laying off employees. The housing market in the U.S. is continuing its slump. These definitely qualify as “tough times.”

I am an optimist, but I’ve been feeling this slump like everyone else. As an entrepreneur, I feel a little bit like I have a split personality, reminding myself of all the reasons that starting a company during a recession is a good idea, internalizing all the reasons that owning a business in a recession is a very difficult prospect. It’s emotionally draining.

But the optimist in me has been fighting to the top. So instead of dwelling on the bad, I came up with this list of 10 ways to stay positive, even when times are tough. Here are the first three tips; I’ll be posting the rest throughout the week.

1) Spend time doing something that makes you happy. What do you love to do? What is something that makes you happy just because you like doing it so much? Anything that has an ulterior motive attached doesn’t count. For example, I am happy when I go jogging because I know that it will help me get in shape, but I don’t really like jogging, and I wouldn’t do it if it didn’t have positive health benefits.

I usually would cite playing basketball as something that I love doing just for the sake of it. When I play, I get to hang out with friends, be competitive, exercise, and be social. It also takes my mind off everything else.

A couple of weeks ago, however, I got an even better example to use. My brother Matt and his wife Michele had their first daughter – my first niece – Willow. The only way that I can describe her birth is complete joy. Focusing my attention on her and my family is something that helps keep me optimistic and positive in a way that few other things ever have. Figure out what it is that you love, and spend some time doing it.

2) Vote! Living in the United States, the election is top of mind for me and most other Americans today. Being part of a larger movement of people who are all doing the same thing on the same day is empowering and gives you a sense of belonging. Today, a record number of voters are heading to the polls, and we will end the day with either a black President-elect or a woman Vice President-elect. History will be made either way.

voting in the United States

Get out to the polls and you’ll feel the energy and optimism there that is inherent in the voting process. Voting will give you a sense of optimism and hope for the future.

3) Volunteer. There are always opportunities to help people, especially in a time of economic uncertainty. There are volunteer opportunities for every personality type and skill level. My sister-in-law has donated her time to helping non-profits put together professional business plans. A co-worker is part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. A friend and his family have donated their time in helping to raise Great Danes that are used for rehabilitation. Not only does helping others help you feel better about yourself, but it also reminds you to look outside yourself to put the needs of others first.

Up tomorrow on 16thLetter – reasons 4-6 to stay positive when times are tough.

*UPDATE: I obviously missed the “tomorrow” deadline! I should have said “Up next week…*

Photo by mudpig

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

How to get over the fear and start your own business

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

Starting a business all begins with the first step – the statement, which then turns into a belief, that later turns into a mantra  – that I AM STARTING A BUSINESS. This step happens differently for everyone, but this is my story of how I got over the fear and started a business, supplemented with the stories of friends and acquaintances and the entrepreneurs featured in the book Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days. (All the quotes below are from that great book. If you are an entrepreneur, buy it today, it will inspire you.)

Start image

I’m convinced that in order to be able to get over the fear and start your own business, most people go through some combination of the following things:

You can’t keep doing what you have been doing. I am pretty sure that starting a business involves some level of desperation. For me, when I made the decision to start my own thing, it was early 2007, I was working for Ziff Davis Media, heading the product development team for the Web Buyer’s Guide. Things were going great with the division – we were one of the favorites in the company, making money hand over fist with a long list of the top clients in the industry. I was working with an amazing team of people, I truly liked and respected my bosses and the people who worked for me. But I was growing increasingly dissatisfied with my job. The problem was, with things going so well, I had little hope that they would ever change. The better things went with the group, the worse I felt about the job because I had to keep things going, to make sure that the clients stayed happy, to just do more and more and more and more of the same.

I love building new things. I like the creativity of it, the innovation of it, the challenge of trying to figure out how to solve problems. I enjoy gathering a team of people who can all collaborate to get something done. And I like the thrill of launching something new. I couldn’t possibly stand to stay still, the lack of creativity was sucking me dry. I had to do something else.

You realize that the only way to do what you want to do is to start your own thing.  Once I knew that I wanted to do something else, I knew that I wanted it to be related to using the Internet, and I knew that I wanted it to be creative. But the more that I thought about it, the more that I knew that going to just some other company wasn’t going to solve my problems. I already worked with really great, smart people. And another company would make me specialize, as well. I realized that what I really wanted to do was have the flexibility to do lots of different things, all the time, just the way that I wanted them done. There is no job description that reads that way.

“I think the hallmark of a really good entrepreneur is that you’re not really going to build one specific company. The goal – at least the way I think about entrepreneurship – is you realize one day that you can’t really work for anyone else. You have to start your own thing. It almost doesn’t matter what that thing is.” – Max Levchin, Cofounder PayPal

You understand the odds are against you, but you believe that you will beat the odds. The statistics for businesses to fail are staggering. It’s something like 8 out of 10 businesses don’t make it past the first year, and 8 out of 10 of those don’t make it past the second year. Something horrible like that. But, I believe I will be one of the successful ones. Why? Because I know I can do it, which is not a good reason, I’m sure. But if I didn’t believe that I would succeed, I would never have started in the first place. There has to be some level of (sometimes irrational) optimism in every business founder.

You figure out your biggest points of fear and try to work around them. For me, the prospect of starting a company led to three major fears. One, I didn’t know how to do the stuff related to starting a business because I hadn’t done it before. So I found some mentors and a business partner who have vast experience in this area and who can help me when I have questions. Two, I was concerned about putting Chris (my husband) and I in debt because of the business. I overcame that fear by taking a very small salary out of the initial seed money. I took a fairly substantial pay cut, but having just a small monthly income gives me the peace of mind that I am at least not going backward in my financial situation. Three, I was concerned that everyone I knew would think I was crazy. That issue was not something I could fix, but it was a personality flaw anyway, so I decided that being faced with that type of opposition would help me to grow as a person so it was worth facing the fear. The fears will be different for everyone, but all business owners will have to figure out how to face them.

“About the next day after I said no to starting Apple…my friend Allen Baum called me in the afternoon and he said, ‘Look, you can start Apple and go into management and get rich, or you can start Apple and stay an engineer and get rich.’ As soon as he said it was OK to do engineering, that really freed me up. My psychological block was really that I didn’t want to start a company. Because I was just afraid. In business and politics, I wasn’t going to be a real strong participant. I wasn’t going to tell other people how to do things. I wasn’t going to run things ever in my life…I just couldn’t run a company. But then one person said I could be an engineer. That was all I needed to know, that ‘OK, I’ll start this company and I’ll just be an engineer.’ To this day, I’m still on the org chart, on the bottom of the org chart – never once been anything but an engineer who works.” -Steve Wozniak, Cofounder, Apple Computer

You realize that other people do this all the time. The other thing that really helped me was to realize that other people start companies all the time, which led to the feeling that if they could do it, I could do it too. Chris started a business in 2006, and it was doing well, so that was encouraging. I was part of a company that was a start-up that was acquired by Ziff Davis, so I had seen how it was done firsthand. Although starting a company was daunting, just knowing that other people had started companies in the past was helpful.

“We both had parents who were entrepreneurs, so the idea of running your own business was a normal thing. There are people who come from backgrounds where they’re used to working for a company, and they couldn’t dream of doing it themselves and not having that safety net. When your parents and family are entrepreneurs, you know it’s nothing special. I worked at big businesses and I worked at small businesses beforehand, so the idea of starting your own business was just a normal thing.” – Dan Bricklin, cofounder, Software Arts

You weigh the benefits vs. the risks and responsibilities. For me, the timing was right to start a business. I was married, with an income-producing husband (who is also an entrepreneur, but his company, which builds medical devices for spine surgeries, had four submissions into the FDA for approval and it looked good that they were going to make it). I didn’t have any kids, no mortgage, no debt. My risk was very low because my responsibility was light. This is one of the reasons that so many young people are starting companies, because it doesn’t hurt them too much to do it. If things fail, they can always put on their resumes that they were the founder of a company. People who have a lot of responsibility have a harder time making this jump, and it is really important that they carefully weigh the risks before starting anything.

You jump in, even if it’s stupid. At some point, after you consider all these things, you just take the plunge. For me, that involved going to my bosses, thanking them for everything they had done for me, and resigning from my job. I was lucky because I was able to make a slow transition, I gave them a lot of notice, and I took some time off between Ziff Davis and my new business. Not everyone will have the luxury, but at some point, that statement has to be made: “I’m going to start a company.”

“There are a lot of programmers that are very tentative about starting their own companies. There are a lot of working programmers doing something they hate, with some company that they hate, but they need money to pay the mortgage. So they figure, ‘I’ll develop something in my spare time. I’ll put in 1 hour every night and 2 hours on the weekends and I’ll start selling it by downloads.’…But because they never really take the leap and quit their job, they can give up their dream at any time. And 99.9% of them will actually give up their dream. If they take the leap, quit their job, go do it full-time – no matter how much it sucks – and convince one other person to do the same thing with them, they are going to have a much, much higher chance of actually getting somewhere. Because they either have to succeed or get a job. Sometimes ‘succeed’ seems like the easier path than actually getting a job, which is depressing. So quit your day job.” – Joel Spolsky, cofounder, Fog Creek Software

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about what happens after you make the leap.

China to pass U.S. in number of Internet users

Friday, January 18th, 2008

I just saw this article in TechCrunch, and I thought that the information bore repeating here. China is going to pass the U.S. in number of Internet users in the next couple of months, according to this research. The next biggest countries (in terms of number of users) are Japan and Germany.

My question is this – is anyone monitoring all the business models that are emerging and succeeding in China and bringing them to the U.S.? If not, that is a huge opportunity for an entrepreneur who understands both cultures.

Encouragement from books

Friday, November 9th, 2007

As part of the process of founding a start-up, I’m learning how to be more independent than ever before in my professional career. I have always favored working independently, but this experience has taken solo to a whole new level. In the past, even if I was working on a project alone, there would be other people who knew about my project and were in on the endeavor. Now, my only allies are a few contractors and a couple of friends who let me bounce ideas off of them. Primarily, though, I’m on my own.

As part of this process of becoming more solitary, I have had to figure out ways to combat the bad parts of spending so much time alone, in my house, staring at the walls, for hours on end. One thing that I have started doing is working from home office in the morning, and then going somewhere that has free wi-fi for the afternoon. My current favorite places are Panera Bread and the Beverly Public Library. Both are comfortable, friendly places to work and they are packed with people. There is something about having background noise that really helps me concentrate.

Entrepreneur's NotebookAlso, I also have started reading books written about, by and for people who have started companies. I’m not reading these books so much for the information that they are giving me about how to start a company (although I’ll use any tips that I get), but more for the camaraderie that I feel with the authors. There is something very helpful about knowing that other people have gone through this before me, that they understand, that I am not insane or losing my mind or crazy for doing this. (OK, well may be a little, but I’m not totally over the edge – yet.)

Currently, I’m reading a book called Entrepreneur’s Notebook: Practical Advice for Starting a New Business Venture, written by Steven K. Gold. This bit in Chapter 1 is something that I can totally relate to, something that I feel whenever I tell someone that I’m starting a company. And it’s for this encouragement, this feeling that someone else gets it, that I am reading this book and every one like it that I can get my hands on.

“…no matter what your age or experience, entrepreneurship involves such things as obsession, compulsion, creative surges, and a roller coster of emotional highs and lows. All of this can make you appear mad, whether or not it’s true.

The life of an entrepreneur does not resemble normal behavior by most people’s standards. This may explain why many of your friends give you a blank stare when you tell them you’re starting a company, or why you get the sense that family members are talking about you behind your back. Go easy on them. Few of us are fated to be entrepreneurs, or even to understand why anyone else would want to subject himself to all of the risks and hard work. It’s difficult for many people to appreciate the appeal of entrepreneurship versus the perception of stability and a regular paycheck that comes with a “real job.” The best suggestion is to swallow your pride and concentrate on building your new venture. Ultimately, there is nothing more convincing than success.”