Small Business News
Here's some steps to determine if a meeting will be a waste of everyone's time.
"Sometimes deciding not to hold a meeting may be the best use of everyone's valuable time."
Few managers would disagree with that statement, which we found on the website of PPD Consultants. The engineering-services organization asks four questions to address the perpetual "to meet or not to meet" dilemma:1. Is there a clear purpose for the meeting?
Strong examples: (a) to reach a decision; (b) to brainstorm for solutions to a problem; and (c) to promote a sense of accountability (by creating a public forum where one's work is on display for all to see, so people push harder to deliver).
Weak example: to gather status-only reports for areas of little activity.
It may be logical to postpone the meeting if required information is missing or a critical team member is unavailable. Don't be too quick on this trigger, however; you don't want to cancel necessary meetings.3. Is there a better alternative?
Information-only debriefs, such as status updates, can be done through e-mail or other means. If the topics only involve two or three members, then an informal subgroup session may be wiser than an all-hands-on-deck meeting.4. What if the meeting is not held?
Before postponing a meeting, consider: What would not be accomplished? How would team members react? How would senior managers react? If people are telling you that nothing would be missed (or implying as much by their absence or lack of interest), then you have your answer, which should lead you to either cancel the meeting or find ways to improve it.
Entering an emerging market can be a big growth driver--but you need to minimize the risks. Try this three-step approach for capturing new opportunities.
Emerging marketplaces are tempting opportunities for growth businesses, but they are also risky propositions. New, unproven customer segments, enabled by technology innovation or other disruptive trends, can be a volatile mix of opportunity and uncertainty.
How can you capture the benefits presented by emerging marketplaces while minimizing the risk? We worked with a client in the rapidly changing digital media sector to form a three-step attack plan.1. Prioritize
Just like any other investment, it's important to rank the opportunities you're considering. For emerging markets, we suggest using the following criteria:
- Market size: How big is the existing space and what are the prospects for future growth?
- Cost structure: What's the revenue potential of this space?
- Adjacency: How much unique value will you be able to transfer from your existing markets?
- Competitive intensity: Is the market already saturated or is it wide open? Focus on the wide-open spaces--as long as they meet your other criteria.
For each prioritized market, map out a plan to gain a foothold in the new market by landing one or two "keystone" customers that provide credibility to your offering. You may have to offer a cut-rate price to attract them, but successful "colonization" will attract other customers that don't want to miss out.3. Saturate
After securing one or two key customers, work quickly to expand your relationships, with a goal of securing 60 to 80 percent share of wallet in that market. It's better to go deep in a few markets than to spread yourself too thinly across a broad range of markets. Be aggressive in targeting the most attractive customers with a unique value position.
By following these three steps, you may be able to achieve early-mover advantage in an untapped and potentially lucrative market. Gaining a foothold with a few key customers in a high-potential segment is a proven way to manage your growth smartly while remaining aggressive with your growth strategy.
How have you approached emerging customer segments? Please let us know your thoughts at email@example.com.
Don't stop at 140 characters and thumb-ups. Your online relationships should impact your real-world business--for the better.
I've had a digital business for 15 years--a long time in online history. During that time, I've seen the Internet change our lives in so many ways, particularly how we communicate with one another. While I'm a huge proponent of virtual relationships, I believe there's a benefit in taking these relationships off-line...or as we say in Twitterese, "IRL" (in real life).
This might feel like contrary advice coming from someone who writes a lot about and participates often in social media, but it's a natural sequence of events. We cannot survive on the Internet alone. Humans, by nature, are tribal. We not only tend to band together, most of us seek out the physical presence of others. This survivalist behavior dates back to caveman days; it's in our DNA.
When it comes to conducting business, the evolution of an online to offline relationship happens through a number of stages.
The Intimidated Avoider - For those born before the Millennials, immersing oneself digitally was probably a daunting proposition at first. Old-timers might even have had other people print out and respond to their emails at first, so the notion of participating in social media was beyond daunting. The Intimidated Avoider still expects you to conduct business "the old-fashioned way," through sales appointments, lunch meetings and printed catalogs or proposals.
The Hatchling -The Hatchling, spurred on by curiosity or corporate requirements, becomes more open to online relationships. Early on, this may just take the form of email, but at some point The Hatchling decides to register her first social media account or two. This doesn't mean that she completes her social media profile or conducts any kind of activity on the social media platform.
The Lurker--The Lurker still suffers from a bit of intimidation and may have issues about doing something wrong, so instead he logs on and just watches and listens to the activity going on around him. He's trying to get his social media "sea legs."
The Joiner--Some Hatchlings leap quickly into Joiners, while other Joiners evolve from confident Lurkers. The Joiner is someone finally ready to contribute to the conversation, albeit some Joiners don't yet get that the conversation shouldn't be all about them.
The Engager--An Engager fully embraces all forms of digital communications, especially social media and its two-way conversations. An Engager might actually prefer digital over other forms of communication, but certainly an Engager takes full advantage of the online relationship-building opportunities that digital and social media channels offer.
The Connector--The Connector sees beyond the sphere of merely building her own online relationships. By getting to know nuances, attributes or needs of the people in her online network, The Connector starts to introduce members of her network to each other, bridging and building even deeper relationships.
The Graham Beller--An odd thing happens to Engagers and Connectors: They want to actually talk to each other, as in by phone, Skype or at least by one-on-one chat or text. The voice exchange is the highest form of the relationship, validating to one that the other is "real," and truly taking the notion of "real time communications" to another whole level.
The Extra Terrestrial--Talk about other-worldly: The Extra Terrestrial feels compelled to take a relationship the "extra mile" and actually meet his online friend, follower or connection "IRL."
Is it ironic that so many people--I among them--get past the Joiner stage and thrive in social media but ultimately enjoy taking their online relationships off-line? Not really. That's part of what makes social media so valuable, as a conduit to flesh-and-blood interaction. Because, as we all know, in the business world relationships matter. And they're built on things like trust, emotional instinct and common values, which manifest faster and more easily through face-to-face interaction.
While it's not possible for social media juggernauts with thousands of "friends" to personally meet all of their connections, if that face-to-face interaction happens, it tends to solidify that relationship in different, more meaningful ways. Perhaps it's because in this time constrained, fast-paced world we live in, when someone takes time out to meet in-person, they demonstrate a greater degree of interest in you and what you do. This, in turn, deserves and earns your respect, trust and likely a sense of reciprocity to act likewise. And to me, this is the highest form of a relationship, digital or otherwise.
Behind the scenes of Instagram's wild ride, the coming age of Google Glass, and how IBM is turning Watson into an executive chef.
A round-up of stories to read this week:
Seeing the story of how a hit came to be is always interesting, and few were bigger or faster than the birth of Instagram and its acquisition by Facebook. Now you can read an expanded version by Kara Swisher, including how VC firm Andreessen Horowitz initially invested and then backed away, with Instagram's founders only learning of it through a New York Times story. (And how Andreessen Horowitz still made a 31,000 percent return on its early investment.) Then click over to see three things the Vanity Fair story missed.
Google has released the first units of Google Glass, the glasses that provide augmented reality functions and record what you're seeing or hearing. Some people are absolutely wowed such as Robert Scoble, professional technophile, who has proclaimed that, after wearing Google Glass for two weeks, he would "never live a day of my life from now on without it (or a competitor)." From informal polls of audiences at talks he was giving, lots of the attendees would buy a pair at $200.
Market analyst firm IHS has already estimated that 10 million pairs of so-called smart glasses, whether from Google or someone else (Apple, perhaps?), will ship by 2016. According to IHS, 50,000 pairs made by somebody actually shipped last year. (Then again, remember that tablets were selling for industrial applications for many years before the iPad.) Already people are compiling etiquette tips and some businesses--like casinos in Las Vegas, movie theaters, and possibly many others concerned with regulatory mandates for customer privacy--already banning them. Why count cards if you can get a computer looking at a video stream to do it for you? Especially when the current version is a little sneaky to start.
So, there is likely to be a market, but plenty of complications for entrepreneurs to consider. At least there's a new "It" product, as smartphones now outsell feature phones.
Hot Industry: Hummus?
The Middle Eastern dip made of ground chickpeas, garlic, and sesame paste has gained a following in the U.S. The market has heated so much that some major producers want to find new sources of chickpeas outside of the Pacific Northwest. Demand has also caused an increase in the amount of chickpeas being grown and the price they get. One brand, Sabra, has grown sales to a conservatively estimated $315 million last year, not including what moves through some big retailers like Costco. Of course, hummus has been available for decades in the U.S. Sometimes success takes a little while. Even kiwi fruit was considered exotic not so long ago.
Of course, there are some food trends that aren't so pleasant. Like packages of ground turkey containing traces of fecal matter. Between that and horse meat showing up in ground beef in Europe, food operations might have to hire their own DNA and analytical labs to be sure they're not serving something that could get them served with a subpoena for a customer lawsuit.
In other food news... artificial intelligence has come to the kitchen. Can algorithms top humans with even the most refined of palates? IBM's Watson supercomputer is taking a break from chess to find out. Watson is now being programmed to create new recipes. (Its first is Indian Tumeric Paella.)
The big deal? Instead of sorting through bajillions of combinations of chess moves or Jeopardy answers, the computer will weigh basic recipe forms and flavor compatibilities on the molecular level and then find recipes high in novelty that might still appeal to the human palette. Just spare us the bacon milkshake. Oh, wait, that already exists.
Creativity won't be limited to the dining table, however, as 3-D printing becomes a common reality. How common? The office supply chain Staples is starting to sell 3-D printers. The Cube 3-D Printer will run just under $1,300.
Les McKeown, CEO of Predictable Success, a growth-strategy consultancy, says ultimately you're the biggest obstacle to your company's growth.
Scott Case, CEO of the Start-up America Partnership, says the most successful entrepreneurs have strong networks of other entrepreneurs around them.
Mayra Jimenez, co-founder of the Orchid Boutique, a swimwear maker, describes three ways she overcomes setbacks.
Robbie Vitrano, co-founder of Trumpet, a New Orleans branding agency, says the best marketing starts with the purpose of your product.
Naomi Whittel, the founder and CEO of Reserveage Organics, tells you what you really need to know to land Whole Foods' buy-in.
Ami Kassar, CEO of MultiFunding, describes several loan types you might consider, as well as why you would. (Hint: It has to do with equity.)
Chris Kelly, the co-founder of Convene, a meeting company, explains why you'll probably give away more equity, and get less money, when you bring on investors.
Elle Kaplan, founder of investment firm Lexion Capital Partners, has wealth management advice for those in risky careers (ie. you).
Venture capitalist and serial entrepreneur Howard Tullman explains the characteristic that is most persuasive when you pitch your business.
Johnny Earle describes how he makes sure people are always talking about his t-shirt company, Johnny Cupcakes.
Here's how Dave Kerpen, the CEO of Likeable Local, you get started with the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Alexa von Tobel, founder and CEO of LearnVest, explains how to go about choosing the right investors.
For a start-up oasis to rise up in the middle of the desert, Las Vegas is going to need talent--and lots of it.
Robert Nielsen likes to say that the University of Nevada Las Vegas campus is situated at the center of the city's tech start-up scene.
Geographically speaking, Nielsen, who's the director of the school's Business Startup Center, has a point: Ten minutes to the north of campus is the much-buzzed about Downtown Project, an effort into which Zappos founder Tony Hsieh has poured $350 million of his own money to turn Vegas into a start-up oasis.
About 20 minutes to the south of the UNLV campus is the Switch InNEVation Center, a 40,000 square-foot tech coworking facility that opened in April 2013. Several start-ups have leased space already, including Tracky, Zoomfile, Tabeso, Ticketcake, Originate, AlertID, and ANI.
Still, UNLV is not exactly the Stanford of the desert--not yet, anyway.
But if all goes according to plan, UNLV will become a major part of the plans to reinvent the city as a start-up destination. Las Vegas, like many U.S. cities--including Detroit, Kansas City, and Omaha--is eager to fashion itself into a place where government is friendly to entrepreneurs, real estate is cheap, capital is waiting to be deployed, and talent is plentiful. The university is doing its best to help with that last item.
"Startups are now mainstream--they're the new Hollywood," says Steve Blank, the Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur, author, and Stanford lecturer. "People now understand high-growth start-ups are a really important part of the economy. They want to emulate what we're doing here."
But as is seen in Las Vegas, making all of the right forces align to build a thriving start-up culture is more difficult than it at first seems.
The Makings of a Start-up Cluster
Start-up ecosystems--or "clusters," a term Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter introduced into the vernacular in the early 1990s--don't tend to materialize spontaneously. They require certain ingredients to take shape.
Brad Feld, a Boulder-based investor and author of Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, says clusters need "feeders" and "leaders." Feeders include universities, investors, corporations, and mentors, while leaders are the entrepreneurs themselves.
For a start-up cluster to exist, Feld says the entrepreneurs need to lead the way. "It's important to realize that being a feeder is not a bad thing," he says. "However, the absence of entrepreneurs as leaders, or the overwhelming leadership by feeders, will doom a start-up community."
Nielsen, for one, is bullish on the idea that those entrepreneurial leaders will come straight from UNLV. "This past January I had a chance to talk with incoming graduate students," he says. "I asked the audience, 'How many of you have thought about starting a business?' Probably 70 to 80 percent raised their hands."
Perhaps Tony Hsieh is Las Vegas' leader. He certainly has the will and the means to nurture a start-up community. The question becomes: Is one man's work enough?
Duncan Logan is one person who's watching what's happening in Vegas very closely. He's the founder and CEO of RocketSpace, one of San Francisco's elite accelerators (he calls it an "innovation campus") for high-growth, seed-funded tech start-ups.
Since its founding in January 2011, RocketSpace has become remarkably successful at attracting top-tier tech firms. It currently attracts 30-35 applications every week, and has been home to a few high-profile alums including Uber, Zaarly, and Leap Motion.
Now Logan is looking to take the RocketSpace model elsewhere--specifically to cities with a high concentration of tech talent, plenty of venture capital, and a strong political will. New York and London are in the works for later this year, but Logan has his eye on Las Vegas.
"Las Vegas is super interesting to us," he says. "Tony [Hsieh] set up a fund, and they've definitely got the political will. But it's really one man's effort. It'll be interesting to see if it really happens."
While Duncan is optimistic about the city's long-term prospects of growing local entrepreneurship, some concerns remain. Chief among those is the lack of a top-tier university. Compared to cities like San Francisco, New York, and London--where each has several universities within a 60-mile radius--Las Vegas has a relatively small number of college students. UNLV, which currently has about 25,000 enrolled students, is by far the largest four-year college in the area.
"Where is the talent going to come from?" Duncan says.
Feeding the Feeder
To his credit, Nielsen is doing his best to grow the Startup Center at UNLV to give the program more visibility. Last year, Nielsen applied for--and received--a $200,000 SBA grant to do just that. Now, it has a three full-time employees who provide assistance to student entrepreneurs and help grow the roster of Las Vegas-based entrepreneurs who serve as mentors to the students. They're increasingly inserting themselves into familiar start-up nodes: In March, Nielsen and a colleague traveled to South By Southwest, the first-ever official delegates from UNLV.
Besides the Startup Center, the school has a Center for Entrepreneurship, which is an MBA program with courses that guide students from the "idea stage" to creating a business plan, and, in some cases, an actual business. At the end of each semester, students compete in design competitions to win $15,000 grants to develop their projects. The school also has an operating VC firm, Rebel Venture Fund, that makes small investments (typically between $10,000 and $25,000) in Nevada companies.
Nielsen recognizes that the university feeder system is just one element of many that will ultimately contribute to the viability of Vegas as a start-up cluster--a process that may take decades to achieve. But, in true Vegas fashion, he believes the city holds a wild-card.
"You have risk takers in this town that just start doing something," he says.
LearnVest's Alexa von Tobel on how investors are similar to spouses, Likeable's Dave Kerpen on social media, and MultiFunding's Ami Kassar on borrowing options. Plus, Scott Case on the power of networks, and more.
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the Great Recession commenced in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. This research examines whether observable differences in patent behavior between small and large firms occur during this 2007-2009 period.
Instagram's journey from launch to acquisition to continued growth is a Silicon Valley dream--and a well documented one, at that. Here's a few things you might not have realized.
On the night of Instagram's launch, in December 2010, founder Kevin Systrom sat by his computer, watching the users sign up. "Are we counting wrong?" he asked himself. They weren't. By the end of its first week on the app store, Instagram had been downloaded 100,000 times.
Less than two years later, without generating a cent of revenue (but attracting some 27 million users), Instagram was acquired by Facebook for a staggering $736.5 million--now the subject of a recent Vanity Fair feature by long-time tech writer Kara Swisher.
Couched in a 4,500-word feature story, the 18 months in the life of this small company might seem like a roller-coaster ride. But the reality, perhaps, is a bit more mundane.
Reflecting on his meeting with Mark Zuckerberg--a meeting that would lead to Facebook's eventual acquisition of his company--Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom muses that "some of the biggest decisions get made relatively quickly, without much fanfare." The Social Network, this wasn't.
But there were, of course, other story lines at play--some of which the casual observer may not have realized. For the curious, close followers of Instagram's rise, here's a few nuggets Vanity Fair leaves out.
1. Instagram won a battle for check-ins. That's ironic.
Early on, before Instagram was called Instagram, it was Burbn, a location-and-photo-sharing app based on the concept of "checking in." But the feature was clunky, and Systrom and Krieger decided to streamline the service. When they eventually pivoted to Instagram, they scrapped the check-in.
"Instead of doing a check-in that had an optional photo, we thought, Why don't we do a photo that has an optional check-in?" Systrom tell Vanity Fair.
Two other start-ups were fiercely competing for user's check-ins: Foursquare and Gowalla. This battle has been heavily documented (Gowalla was eventually acquired by Facebook) but Instagram's name rarely pops up. Perhaps it should. Josh Williams, Gowalla's co-founder and former CEO, writes on Medium:
It turns out there was another app that shared a similar vision called Burbn. They were building yet another check-in type service loaded with every feature but the kitchen sink. But early user feedback, coupled with a desire to avoid the check-in battle shitshow already in progress, led them to drop everything to focus on one simple feature: photos.
They made the act of taking and sharing photos (many of which just happened to be location-tagged) fast, simple, and fun.
They made their own rules. They called it Instagram. That whole see the world through the eyes of their friends thing?
Turns out Instagram did a pretty good job of this.
While we were busy playing tug-of-war over check-ins, someone else found a path to the goal with less friction.
About a year after the launch of Instagram, Gowalla's service would shut down and several of us would join Facebook. Others would move on to new endeavors of their own. Ironically a couple from the team would join Instagram.
2. Instagram's well-funded competitor shut down three months after Instagram's acquisition. That's a more typical Silicon Valley tale.
Here's a sobering reminder of the even more quintessential Silicon Valley story: that of the well-funded start-up, ripe with all the right connections and investors, all the right ideas--without the serendipity.
PicPlz, a mobile photo-sharing app that was perhaps Instagram's biggest competitor, raised $5 million from Andreessen Horowitz--a move that essentially said Andreessen had "chosen" PicPlz over Instagram. ("Andreessen Horowitz was a big name … and it was like, It sucks to get turned away," Systrom recalls.)
After the acquisition, in April 2012, PicPlz's founder, Dalton Caldwell, went on to say that though "PicPlz didn't win," he has "ZERO shame or regret for doing my best...The fact is, I saw the writing on the wall that we wouldn't win early and pivoted out of photo sharing which I had ~90% of my series A cash still in the bank."
In July 2012, PicPlz shut down.
3. Forget about the $57 million. Instagram didn't even need the $500,000 it raised in March of 2010.
Vanity Fair does a nice job explaining the investment process--from the $500,000 initial seed round, to the $7 million Series A round led by Benchmark, to the $50 million investment just days before the acquisition. But it leaves out one crucial detail: The scrappy Instagram team might not have needed the money, at least initially.
"You can go off and raise $40 million in a Series A, but it turns out you don't need a lot of money to get off the ground these days," Systrom says in a 2011 Stanford talk. "We spent like $60,000 to launch our first version of Instagram. Sixty-K. We had raised 500 [thousand dollars] and we were kicking ourselves the second day after... not after we raised, but after things started taking off. We were like, 'We have all this money left over and we got this far.' It turns out you can bootstrap yourself with Amazon Web services. You need two engineers these days to do things well. And it turns out that you can get a lot done on a shoestring budget."