Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Southern California innovation at USC Stevens

October was a busy month for USC innovators.

The eleven teams selected for the Ideas Empowered Class of 2012 have been immersed in a 12-week innovation boot camp in preparation to pitch their proposals to a granting committee in December for part of $500K in proof-of-concept funding to attract commercial interest in their work. Please read more about their innovations here. We are very thankful to everyone who makes this program possible, including our researchers for their commitment to making impact with their innovations, our donors for their generous financial support, and our reviewers and mentors for their time and expertise.

The USC Coulter Translational Research Partnership Program kicked off its second year by opening up the grant submission window. The program supports and funds translational research centered on the practical clinical application of research results. Project pre-proposals are due December 15, 2012. Please click here to access the Coulter Program Pre-Proposal Funding Application Form and directions for submission.

Applied Integrin Sciences (AIS), a startup company formed to develop technologies developed by Drs. Frank Markland, Steven Swenson and Radu Minea in the Keck School of Medicine of USC, signed an exclusive license to commercialize a synthetic molecule called Vicrostatin based on a key component of copperhead snake venom. In preclinical testing, Vicrostatin has shown promise in combating metastatic cancer and may have uses in drug delivery and imaging and as a bioadhesive. You can read more about the technology by clicking here. AIS is led by USC alumnus Doug Lane, an experienced pharmaceutical industry executive and two-time NCAA All American shot putter while at USC.

Inmobly, Inc., a startup, has signed an exclusive license to commercialize predictive network technology jointly developed by Ohio State faculty and USC researchers Guiseppe Caire and Fei Sha of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and Margaret McLaughlin of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. The technology is able to anticipate wireless and cellular data users' demands in advance and utilize this predictive ability to reduce and optimize the usage of network resources and scarce cellular bandwidth.

TED released the TEDxUSC talk by USC Architecture faculty member Doris Kim Sung on the home page. In its first week, over 100,000 people viewed Dr. Sung's talk on the use of thermo-bimetals - smart materials that respond dynamically to temperature change - for building applications. You can see her talk here. She joins these other USC innovators in having their TEDxUSC talks from Bovard selected to go global on the site:  
USC Stevens in partnership with the Diem Shotwell Metcalfe Family Fund at the USC Marshall School of Business hosted the USC Student Innovator Showcase as part of Trojan Family Weekend and awarded $9,000 in prizes. USC Marshall School innovators Reid Pearson ('11) and Ken Chen won the Most Promising Business Concept Award and the Family Choice Award for Cleatskins. Keck School of Medicine of USC students Vamsi Aribindi, Phil Wu, Jonathan Liu, Daniel Naftalovich, and Amitha Ganti won this year's Most Innovative Award for The Automatic Hand-Hygiene Verification device. Dinesh Seemakurty of Lucidity won the Student's Choice Award for Lucidity. You can read more about the Showcase here

These programs and successes would not be possible without the commitment of the USC innovators and the generosity of the community members who volunteer their time and expertise and provide financial support. If you'd like to get involved in helping USC innovators make impact, please let us know. 


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Raising Venture Capital: 7 Tips

1. Understanding your business is key.

Venture capitalists will pick apart your projections, operations and vision. You probably already have a great instinctive feel for your business, but the challenge when dealing with VCs is being able to succinctly articulate this. Keep in mind that VCs are financiers, so the ability to talk about your operations, growth and other aspects of your business using numbers is critical to impressing venture professionals.

2. Know when to raise capital.

It seemed to me that VCs became most interested once my business has started to “prove” that there was a market for our service. The venture capitalists I spoke with talked about looking for companies where the injection of capital would change the trajectory of the business.

3. Prepare for a long slog.

Raising venture financing is like taking an additional job. The amount of effort and time required was amazing. I recommend treating the process in the same way you approach making sales. We kept very careful records of who we were speaking with, when and the right follow-up items. Since so many of the meetings are similar, with a similar set of questions, having one place where you keep all information is important!

4. Approach VCs the right way.

Venture investors are looking for great teams. One way to prove to the VC that you are a top-notch entrepreneur is to get introduced to them by people the VCs trust. Venture capitalists will be much more interested in your business if they are introduced to you by someone they know. The best “warm introductions” are from successful entrepreneurs/executives.

5. Practice your pitch.

We had a 15-page PowerPoint presentation that we used to pitch VCs. By the end of the process I had cut it down to 12 pages and could deliver it in about 15 minutes. Since most investors give you between 30 minutes and an hour for your first meeting, you need to be very concise in delivering your message.

6. Have due diligence materials ready.

We put together projections, operational stats and related legal files (as recommended by our lawyer) in one place online so that we could share the information with interested investors right away. We worked hard to keep momentum going when investors showed interest.

7. Hire a good lawyer.

The Challenge of Social Entrepreneurship: Doing Good AND Doing Well

Social entrepreneurs are on a mission to solve problems plaguing society, but such altruistic efforts do not force these ventures into becoming profitless charities by default.

New investment regulations put in place by the recently passed Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) act coupled with a shake-up in the traditional venture capitalist model could make it easier for social entrepreneurs to attract initial funding.

Two years ago, the 2010 winner of New York University’s Social Venture Competition, Chirag Sadana, struggled to attract funding for his for-profit social startup America Smiles, which aimed to bring affordable dental care to low-income children. He’ll tell you that making money as a social entrepreneur can be done, but it’s not easy.

“We were sort of in this middle ground of social entrepreneurship where we can’t really go to the nonprofits because they’re like, ‘well, you’re not a nonprofit, we’re not going to give you any money,’ and investors were like ‘well, you’re practically a nonprofit.’ So it’s a really odd position,” Sadana said.

But his new venture called SmartMoney Entrepreneurs, an equity-based crowdfunding platform, aims to solve that problem for other social entrepreneurs who want to change society for the better, but turn a profit at the same time. It will allow entrepreneurs to bypass accredited investors and charities and find funding from other sources, like people willing to invest $100 or $200 for equity.

Social Entrepreneurship Matrix

Social entrepreneurship is not a new concept and many have found success operating as a for-profit businesses. In August, Inc. Magazine profiled five companies that make money while doing good including Jack’s Soap which donates one bar to a child in need for every two purchased. Indosole is a for-profit shoe company that creates sandals from re-purposed Indonesian motorcycle tires, decreasing the number of tires hitting the landfills.

3 Things You Must Know Before Pitching Investors

First impressions are always important in business, especially when you're approaching investors to secure funding for your startup.

Angel investors and venture capitalists have specific expectations surrounding "the pitch," that charged moment when you try to sell an investor on you and your company. If you're heading into this culture for the first time, you'll need to do more to prepare than just catch a few episodes of "Shark Tank."

As part of women's entrepreneurial network Ladies Who Launch, business owners learned "Investor Math 101" at law firm Chadbourne & Parke in New York on Thursday. The presentation focused on the essentials of pitching investors, including these three tips for startups to consider before making their case.

1. Don't offer too much equity, too soon. Beware of parting with more than one third of your company in the first funding round (called Series A), warns Lori Hoberman, the head of Chadbourne & Parke's emerging companies and venture-capital practice. While you may be tempted to give investors a higher percentage of your company in exchange for more cash, she says don't do it. As your company grows, you may need to raise additional rounds and give away more of your company down the road, so remember to think ahead.

2. Know your numbers. You are going to have to impress the investors with your backwards-and-forwards knowledge of your financial projections. If you are intimidated by the math, bring an expert in to help you prepare. But when it's time to present to investors, you -- the entrepreneur -- are going to have to talk with confidence about how your company is going to make money, when you will break even, and what your market looks like.

Determining exactly what your company is worth and what your revenues will be in coming years is as imprecise a science as throwing darts, says Hoberman. "All it has to do is pass the straight-face test," she says, referring to the need for thought-out projections, well-cited research, and reasonable expectations. And at that point, it's about making the sale: "You've got to own those numbers," she says.

3. Pay yourself. When you are calculating expenses, be sure to include a salary for yourself, says Hoberman.

7 Facts of Business Life for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Most entrepreneurs are not born with the knowledge to run a successful business, so the right place to start is some business training in school, or some practical work experience in a business of your interest, prior to starting your own company. Jumping into a business area you don't know, because you see a chance for big money, is a surefire path to disaster.

I also found a wealth of books are available to address the basic facts of business life, like one I just finished by Bill McBean, aptly named The Facts of Business Life, based on his 40 years running large and small businesses. Bill does a great job of outlining the key facts as follows:

  •     If you don't lead, no one will follow. Good business leadership begins with defining both the direction and the destination of your company. That's where you start. From there you need to hone a whole set of skills to survive and prosper, including effective communication, leadership under pressure, and constant adaptation to change. =- 
  •     If you don't control it, you don't own it. Control in business requires teamwork, which occurs in successful companies when team members, products, and processes work in unison. You have to define the key tasks that must be handled every day, and institute the proper controls to make sure they happen effectively and consistently.
  •     Protecting your company's assets should be your first priority. Assets include the obvious equipment, accounts receivable, and cash. Maybe more importantly, your long-term survivability is tied to intellectual property, like trade secrets and patents, as well as other less tangible items like your customer base, your experience, and your skills.
  •     Planning is about preparing for the future, not predicting it. Planning is not just an early-stage activity, but must be an ongoing activity, based on current accurate information as well as educated guesses on future changes. Planning should keep you focused on what's important, and prepare you for what lies ahead.
  •     If you don't market your business, you won't have one. Marketing and advertising are business realties. Word-of-mouth and viral are not long-term solutions. It doesn't matter how good your product or service is if most of your potential customers don't know about it. With 150,000 new websites per day, customers won't find you by accident.
  •     The marketplace is a war zone. Every company has competitors, or there is no market for what you offer. Successful entrepreneurs know they have to fight not only to win market share, but to retain it as well. Past success is no guarantee of future success, and the only way to remain successful is to maintain a fighting mentality.
  •     You don't just have to know the business you're in, you have to know business.

6 Startup Strategies For Building A Niche Community

Targeted products appeal to niche audience.

And unfortunately, not all tech companies can have the reach that Facebook and Google enjoy. Software companies that solve problems for smaller groups of users, then, must work diligently to reach these smaller pools of individuals. Easier said than done, though, right?

I spoke with entrepreneurs from a number of startups working within niche communities to understand some of the secrets behind their outreach strategies. A number of ideas arose from these conversations, but six of the most cited strategies are described below.

Is your startup focused on a niche community? If so, let us know how you’re reaching and engaging with your target audience in the comments below!

1. Be Embedded Within Your Community

Lauren Katzberg, Chicago Booth MBA student and co-founder of early-stage startup TheStylisted, says that she and co-founder Julia Carmona have found their ties to the beauty industry to be immeasurably helpful in getting their fledgling venture off the ground. Their startup aims to connect professional stylists with clients through an online booking interface.

Meeting with stylists, the duo found that citing their current business school endeavors wasn’t making a favorable impression on potential users. So, they shifted the messaging to focus on their backgrounds in beauty. Carmona had previously worked in public relations at NARS Cosmetics, a respected makeup company, and Katzberg had previously consulted for two years with one of the top five cosmetics company in the world. Katzberg explained that while she has never been a stylist and didn’t work directly with stylists during her consulting project, just having that professional connection enabled her to relate to stylists and gain credibility in the meantime.

Likewise, having been embedded in the styling community prior to starting work on TheStylisted, the duo was able to recruit top stylists from NARS through Carmona’s connections to use the platform, style early adopter clients, and recruit their other stylist friends to use the service.

Entrepreneur Anthony Goldbloom has also taken a community-focused approach in founding Kaggle, a predictive modeling competition platform for solving large data problems presented by companies, governments, and researchers.


Are Women Less Entrepreneurial?

There is no doubt that women are incredibly important in business. My mother was and still is exceptionally entrepreneurial and she was largely my inspiration to start my first business as a teenager. However all the stats show that there are significantly fewer female entrepreneurs than male entrepreneurs, with global studies affirming that in some countries the ratio is as unbalanced as 5:1. The question is why? I spent several weeks trying to discover exactly why this is the case, talking to female entrepreneurs, male entrepreneurs and psychologists. Unemployment has reached unprecedented levels; as entrepreneurs are important sources of job creation, we should be concerned for economic reasons, when any group of society is seemingly excluded, even in part, from taking part in such an economically valuable pursuit.

The Facts

    The odds of a man starting a business at any point in time are double that of a woman. (Panel Study of Entrepreneurial Dynamics 2010)

    Women only make up 10 percent of the founders at high-growth tech companies. (Lesa Mitchell, a department vice president at Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, as reported in the New York Times in June, 2012.)

    There are more male early-stage entrepreneurs in all but 2 of the 54 economies, than early stage female entrepreneurs. (The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2011 Global Report)


I asked a diverse group of people for their opinion on this issue and I analysed several recent studies; below are some of the possible factors I found to be important:


We live in a patriarchal society, even though things are improving, women are still socialised to be less risk taking. Additionally, women tend to be the primary care givers and are not in the easiest position to take risks if they have children. Consequently, it is not only more difficult for women to practically take the steps needed, but there are also fewer female role models in powerful economic positions for women to aspire to.


One thing that is critical is women's belief in their own capabilities. A 2009 study showed that less than half (47.7%) of women believe they are capable of starting a business, while well over half, (62.1%) of men believe they are capable. That lack of confidence persists through all economies and cultures studied - (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Report 2009). However, it's hard to determine causality here and this lack of confidence may be the result of societal influences or other factors.

Fear of failure & risk aversion

Results from a three-year study carried out by psychological consultancy limited (viewable on the British Psychological Societies website) on over 20 occupational sectors across four continents, involving almost 2000 individual assessments with people from a wide range of professions concluded that women are less likely to take risks.

Read More..

Practical Advice for Raising Early Stage Venture Capital

Most great businesspeople I've met would correctly advise an entrepreneur to avoid raising money if possible. Easy for them to say, right? But there are good reasons to bootstrap. First, you maintain control of the company. Second, maintaining control allows you to experiment and learn where the business is "naturally" going. Third, if you own the company, you can have a great exit at a low price. Fourth, if you're able to build the company without significant outside capital that may mean your business has even more "real" legs.

But raising venture capital is sometimes a great idea. If your business has high velocity, high margins, and a huge market, venture may be a good road for you. There are some helpful resources out there on venture terms, good venture funds vs. bad ones, and questions you may want to ask a venture capitalist if you meet one.

The notes below are practical working tips on how to go about navigating venture capitalist conversations. Some of these might be surprising or seem hard to follow. But, in my experience, they're good medicine.

  • Never start your fundraising process by meeting the top funds first. When you are ready to raise money, scratch Sequoia, Kleiner, and maybe one or two other top dogs off your preview list. It's hard to overstate the herd mentality of the venture community. If the top guys pass, everyone below them will be too afraid to do otherwise. Get your practice reps in with easier audiences.
  • Don't respond to inbound inquiries from anyone but a partner. Many entrepreneurs are excited or flattered when they hear from associates or analysts at venture funds. Don't be. An "associate" at a venture fund is not a venture capitalist; she is an outbound prospector. Junior members of VC teams are paid to source information about companies. Their job is to make contact, extract information from you, get a PowerPoint deck, and build a profile of your business and industry. They are not qualified or authorized to do deals. If a junior member of a venture firm recommends your company to her superiors, it may actually be a negative signal inside the fund rather than a positive. Wait to connect with partners. (Depending on the firm, exceptions can be made for individuals carrying the title Vice President or Principal.)

5 Sure Signs A Startup Firm Will Succeed

1. Has Validated Customers. This is one of the core rules of consummate entrepreneur and fellow Forbes Contributor Alan Hall. Do you know in advance that you have customers who are willing to pay the price you are asking for the product or service you have? Too many good startups fail to sufficiently validate their customer assumptions—or, in the case of internet firms, scale too quickly before validating the initial marketplace and streamlining their costs. A successful startup scales its growth on the basis of proven, steady and paying customers (especially where residual/subscription income is involved). Steady acquisition is also a very good sign, as opposed to high and low fits and starts.
Is Your Idea Patentable? Are Patents a Waste of Money and Time? Alan Hall Alan Hall Contributor
The 7 C's: How to Find and Hire Great Employees Alan Hall Alan Hall Contributor
Who's Your Boss? The Most Important Predictor for Increasing Sales Jack Zenger Jack Zenger Contributor
The End of Middle Managers (And Why They'll Never Be Missed) David K. Williams David K. Williams Contributor

2. Shows a Strategic Perspective. This is the direct opposite of a company that is operating in panic mode, or exhibiting survival thinking. A startup actively planning and moving towards national and global expansion; that has a solid one- and five-year agenda and is making steady and measurable strides to meet the critical milestones is poised to succeed.

3. Is Cash Conservative. There’s never been a better time to start a business in many respects, but there’s perhaps never been a more challenging time to obtain early stage credit or funding. Today’s successful startups are a stark contrast to the high-flying internet firms who bragged about their rabid “burn rates” in 2000-2002. Lean operations are the name of the game, and the ability to stretch and conserve early stage funds, even if greater funds are available, is a significant sign that points to future success. One of my favorite agency clients, Dan Dyer (CEO of NASCAR Car Wash) notes that none of his high-flying executive contemporaries have ever proven to him yet the genuine economic need for a private jet. “Do you know what I call a company jet?” he said recently. “Transportation to bankruptcy.”  Good one, Dan. A funny statement, but he’s pretty much right.

4. Operates with Transparency.

Friday, October 12, 2012

What Are the Benefits of a Business Plan?

Creating a business plan allows you to identify potential problems and opportunities your business might face, avoid penalties, fines or other legal problems, adapt to changes in the marketplace and let you expand or contract from a position of objectivity. You can share a business plan with potential partners, advisers and sources of funding. The Small Business Administration suggests that a business plan be a work in progress you should keep current.

Aids in Obtaining Funding

Potential investors will have a variety of questions about your potential or existing business. A complete business plan not only provides them with answers, but shows that you are organized and have considered all of the marketing, legal, financial, human resources and other aspects of running a business. A thorough business plan will increase your chance of obtain venture capital and bank loans.

Helps Get Advice

Business professionals may be more likely to give you free advice about your business if they can comment objectively on numbers, rather than having to give you their personal opinion of your "great idea." Organizations such as the Service Core of Retired Executives will not only give you free advice on launching a business, but will assign an executive to read your business plan and offer suggestions for improving it.

Identifies Problems

A thorough business plan addresses all areas of starting and running your business plan. As you research the information you wish to include in your business plans, you may learn that suppositions you made about your marketing budgets, cost of materials, licensing and permitting, labor costs, real estate or leases and other critical aspects of your business are incorrect. Learning this before you launch your business gives you time to make adjustments before you have signed contracts and committed funds. Business plans include budgets that help you manage cashflow -- critical to keeping your business running.

Provides Exit Strategy

In addition to providing benchmarks for success, a good business plan sets realistic criteria for shutting down the business to prevent your throwing good money after bad. A business failure can be very emotional and business owners are often not objective in the face of that reality. Solid numbers that tell you the business is untenable will help you make the decision to shut down a failing business easier and will prevent you from losing more of your or your investors' money than necessary.

Minimizes Legal Problems

Hiring Hustle: 5 Tips for Building a Killer Startup Team

1. Have a Structured Recruitment Process

It’s good practice to come up with a structured recruitment process, which you can evolve over time and bypass only for exceptional candidates. Having every candidate go through the same process means that you will have a level playing field on which to evaluate them; we’ve often found that when we’ve skipped our interview process for a candidate, there are glaring issues down the line that we hadn’t picked up on. Here’s a good step-by-step outline.

    Review the profile of candidates coming through and arrange a short call with the ones of interest.
    Keep the initial call to 15 minutes and mainly focus on assessing cultural fit to figure out if you’d get on working with this person. This is also an opportunity to “sell” your startup to the candidate and get them excited about what you’re working on. If the candidate is a cultural fit, then reach out to arrange a follow-up call for him to speak to one of your engineers.
    The follow-up call with an engineer will last roughly 15 to 30 minutes and center on getting a high level assessment of the candidate’s technical knowledge. During the call, they will agree on a time when the candidate would be free to spend roughly 30 minutes completing a technical interview question.
    Using tools such as Boomerang for Gmail or RightInbox, you can schedule to send a technical engineering question exactly at the time agreed upon with the candidate. At that point, you’ll be able to assess how fast he can problem-solve and how complete an answer they send back. For consistency, send all candidates the same technical question. A good place to look for inspiration for these engineering questions is university courses. If the candidate does well in the engineering interview, then invite them to your office for an onsite interview.
    When the candidate comes onsite, introduce him to the whole team, then have him work with different engineers through a series of engineering questions. Then give the candidate an opportunity to hang out with the rest of the team, perhaps over lunch. Review candidates based on this onsite interview.

2. Keep on Top of Your Hiring Pipeline

It’s no use having a structured interview process if you can’t keep track of what stage of the process each of your candidates is at. PipeDrive is a great way to manage various candidates and keep track of their recruitment process, but you could just as easily use Excel or Google Docs.

3. Utilize Different Tools To Get the Right Amount of Candidates

What Steve Jobs Taught Us As Entrepreneurs

I realize that almost anything and everything to say and write about Steve Jobs has been said and written – starting when he first stepped down as CEO of Apple in August and of course since his sad death.  But I can’t write about entrepreneurship right now and not focus on lessons from Steve, one of the greatest visionaries and entrepreneurs of all time.  So here are some of my favorite of his lessons for entrepreneurs.  He was so much more than the CEO of one of the largest global companies, he was also an entrepreneur, like me and like you.

“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
– Steve Jobs in BusinessWeek Interview, May 1998

Lesson: You are the visionary, you see the invisible.  Don’t be discouraged by what others think is or isn’t a good idea.  When I first had the idea for Liz Lange Maternity, I asked my pregnant friends (the ones who were complaining about the lack of cute maternity clothing) what they thought.  None of them liked the idea.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.  So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma whatever…”
– Steve Jobs, Stanford University, June 2005

Lesson: You will never know unless you try!  None of us has a crystal ball, you won’t know if your new idea will work until you try it.  I know that when I started Liz Lange Maternity one of the things that motivated me was the simple notion that if I didn’t do this, and some one else did, I would never forgive myself.
“It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy.”
– Steve Jobs, at a retreat in 1982

Lesson: Wow, I love this quote.  There is no greater rush than being in the small boat, you feel every wave and every bump but you can change course on a dime.  Once Liz Lange Maternity really took off and we had deals with Nike and Target, and 50+ employees, I yearned for the first couple of years when it was just me and two or three employees – we did feel like pirates!

More Lessons:

Startup Stories: FedEx, Amazon and Martha Stewart Living

Startup Stories: FedEx, Amazon and Martha Stewart Living
Legendary entrepreneurs suffer challenges like the rest of us. Here’s how Fred Smith, Jeff Bezos and Martha Stewart got around them.


Successful entrepreneurs stand a breed apart.

Whether pursuing a singular passion or a burning desire to create, the best entrepreneurs are always probing for improvement, embracing change and learning from failure as much as from success. The lions of entrepreneurship misstep like the rest of us, but they also wield a stubborn confidence and an amazing ability to adapt, survive and thrive in the face of common fears. Consider these less than auspicious beginnings:

• A Yale economics professor told a young Fred Smith his term paper, based on an idea for a company that would guarantee overnight delivery to major U.S. cities, was foolish, and gave Smith a subpar grade for his work.

• Critics and advisers told Jeff Bezos the range of products his cutting-edge startup website offered was too broad and not economically viable.

• Naysayers crowed that no one would sit in front of the television to watch Martha Stewart, a fussy perfectionist, on the ABCs of style. One thing Smith, Bezos and Stewart shared was that they looked beyond potentially paralyzing fears to focus on driving their businesses forward.

* * *

Fred Smith knows how to deliver—and evolve. While many textbook entrepreneurs possess management skills best suited only for the startup stage of a business, Smith’s ability to adapt and integrate his company mission through more than 35 fast-paced, competitive and turbulent years provides valuable insight for today’s entrepreneurs.

An amateur pilot, Smith enlisted in the Marine Corps upon graduation from Yale and served two tours in Vietnam, earning two Purple Hearts. He often cites the leadership and teamwork training he received from the Marines as integral to his success.

Continue Reading

Why Your Startup’s Name Matters

Naming can be one of the most difficult challenges in the early stages of a startup. But while many people have written about the topic, few have actually codified the process to help entrepreneurs succeed in the endeavor. This guide breaks down naming into individual steps with detailed, practical suggestions that can be applied to almost any industry. It’s based largely on my personal experience naming several tech products as well as the themes I’ve noticed in great startup names. You’ll find numerous examples to bring each concept to life and inspire your creative side — something you’ll need to get to the finish line.

In this first article, I provide a general overview of naming. Specifically, I examine the challenge of naming companies, the importance of creating a good name and pre-naming preparations.

The Challenge of Naming

Naming on the web is difficult because it’s a multiple-step process that’s a mix of art, science and pure perseverance.

First, you must create a name that is short (ideally, two syllables and <10 letters), memorable and relevant to your idea. It should be easy to find and spell, project positive connotations to your target audience and cannot conflict with existing trademarks. Unless you’re a linguist, this is not an easy task. Large companies often defer to experts at naming agencies who do this for a living, but you must rely solely on your creativity.

Then, you must find a domain that’s available. This is where things get really tricky. Given that most good .com names for $10 are already taken, it’s likely that you’ll spend at least a few hundred dollars on a good name, or risk forgoing some of the best options. You may also be subject to the availability and interest of a third party who may not be interested in selling the real estate.

If that’s not enough, then you’ll probably be naming your company as you juggle dozens of other responsibilities, such as building and testing your product, recruiting new team members or developing your go-to-market strategy. If you constantly put the process on the back burner, you’ll find that it takes time to get back in the groove and that naming can ultimately become a huge roadblock to other parts of the business.

That doesn’t sound like too much fun, does it?

Women Entrepreneurs Increasingly Part Of Jobs Crisis Solutions

At the age of 5, Melinda Wittstock made $100 charging her neighbors a dollar each to watch her do cartwheels through a sprinkler. At age 9, she started a neighborhood newspaper because she wanted to report the news in her neighborhood, and she liked asking people questions.

Now, Wittstock is following up a long career in the media industry by creating an innovative crowd-sourcing news platform while leading her second start-up company, NewsiT.

Wittstock founded her first start-up, Capitol News Connection, in 2002 after working as an anchor and producer at MSNBC, CNBC and BBC World. "I started getting that itch," Wittstock said. "As an anchor I always had more producer in me than my bosses probably would have liked. I had always created a lot of programs, so for me it wasn't a stretch at all [to start her own company]."

Now in her mid-40s, she is among a growing number of women entrepreneurs who are having an increasingly greater role in America's recovery. Women like Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake, Buzzcar founder Robin Chase (who is also co-founder and former CEO of Zipcar), and iRobot co-founder Helen Greiner are changing the public perception of what a successful entrepreneur looks like.

Though Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates may still be making headlines, increasingly women are in leadership roles and in start-up businesses, studies show. Women like Yahoo! CEO and President Marissa Mayer are helping to highlight this fact.

A 2010 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce showed that between 1997 and 2007, the number of women-owned businesses grew by 44 percent, twice as fast as firms owned by men -- and they added roughly 500,000 jobs.

A report by the Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute in 2009 argued that women will create between 5 and 5.5 million new small business jobs by 2018, more than half of the new small business jobs anticipated and roughly one-third of the 15.3 million total new jobs anticipated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics by 2018.

Read More

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

4 Hiring Tips for Your Lean Startup

There’s a ton do when you’re first starting a company. Each co-founder or employee executes several job descriptions jumbled together, and it seems a simple solution to just hire a new person and delegate away responsibilities, never to be worried about again. This becomes especially relevant post-funding, because it suddenly becomes plausible to hire with the intended result of getting more done faster.

But this isn’t necessarily true, according to Eric Ries, creator of the Lean Startup methodology. “As you add people to a team or project, there is an increase in communications overhead that makes everyone slightly less productive,” he explains.
It may seem counterintuitive to do anything slow when following lean startup methods, but Ries’ point stands: To continue executing effectively, you must not introduce a point of friction to your team. Finding the right person is paramount, and worth the wait.

1. Don’t Hire Too Soon
When you first think you need to hire someone, write a detailed job description. It’s not enough to have a problem that you don’t think someone on your team can solve. That often leads to imagining that your new recruit will bring magical powers with them. At this point, if you don’t really understand the problem, how will you choose the right person to take it on? A killer job description will help you understand what tasks you need done and whether it really justifies another full-time employee.

When Artsicle was just starting out and still bootstrapping, founder Alexis Tryon says the company approached a good friend to join. Within a few months, it became clear that it was too early — they didn’t have a job for anyone yet, and had put the cart in front of the horse, Tryon says.

Ries recommends that someone in the company take on a job before hiring an outside person to do it. This helps you understand if the new job is truly critical, and if so, will make integrating a new person into the team faster, because an existing employee will understand the problem and have credibility around it.

 2. Use Your Personal Connections

The myth of the entrepreneurial personality

(MoneyWatch) I'm incredulous when I read or hear people talking about some kind of prototypical entrepreneurial profile. Many well-meaning experts, and even empirical research, would have you believe that most successful entrepreneurs fit an identifiable personal mold. But based on my own experience, and my associations with many entrepreneurs -- both successful and not so much -- over two decades, this is simply not true.

Some common myths and misconceptions about the personality of entrepreneurs: 

The risk-taker myth: This is the classic notion that entrepreneurs are big risk-takers. Certainly some are -- starting a business is inherently, and statistically, risky in and of itself. But the majority I've known are, in fact, quite risk-averse. Or more accurately, they're willing to take necessary risks that they can stomach. Many have no choice but to personally guarantee loans, putting their savings and even their homes on the line. Aside from the risk of outright failure, such extreme personal leverage is often the biggest gamble a small business founder will want or need to take. For sure, there are "skydivers" and all-in gamblers out there who will wager not only their own money, but that of others as well, sometimes on long-shot ideas. But in the great landscape of small business, they are the exception and not the rule.

The eternal-optimist myth: I've known plenty of very successful, very wealthy founders and business owners who were not of the "everything will work out fine" mentality. I'm not promoting curmudgeonry, or suggesting that a strong sense of optimism can't help someone get through the stressful challenges of entrepreneurship. But too much of it can lead down the primrose path.
More than a few startups have flamed out, or running businesses sustained ongoing damage, while their founders refused to let go of some version of an "everything's gonna work out" mantra. A little cynicism, even (gasp!) pessimism doesn't make you a self-defeating business person. It's a healthy, mature hedge against the inevitable things that no amount of optimism can overcome.