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Repeat This Mantra: 'I Am in Control'

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 8:30am

As an angel investor, Brian Cohen believes it's essential for entrepreneurs to demonstrate their control over the process and their business.

Categories: Small Business News

How to Raise Entrepreneurial Kids

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 8:30am

Brian Cohen talks about why he told his children that he wouldn't give them money. Instead, he offered to invest in them.

Categories: Small Business News

How to Build an Investment-Worthy Family Business

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 8:30am

Brian Cohen explains how he and his wife were able to build both a marriage and business.

Categories: Small Business News

9 Things People Just Don't Get About Entrepreneurs

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 8:28am

Entrepreneurs do what they do for reasons most people will never understand--unless they're also entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurship is hard, both physically and emotionally. Doubt, anxiety, despair--along the way, every entrepreneur struggles with those feelings.

So why are entrepreneurs willing to face the vulnerability, the emotional ups and downs, and the risk of public and private failure?

Easy. They have no choice. For entrepreneurs:

1. The voice in their heads is louder than every other voice they hear. Others may doubt. Others may criticize. Others may judge and disparage and disapprove.

You don't care. You see all those opinions for what they are: not right, not wrong, just data. So you sift through that data for the actual nuggets you can use. The rest you ignore.

Why? You may respect the opinions of others but you believe in your ideas, your abilities, your will and perseverance and dedication. You believe in yourself. And that makes you want to live your life your way and not anyone else's way.

2. They believe that how they play the game truly is more important than whether they win or lose. If you're an entrepreneur, you'd rather fail on your own terms than succeed on someone else's. You'd rather reach for your own future than have your future lie in someone else's hands. You feel it's better to burn out than to fade away.

Sure, you want to win. You're driven to win. But you want to change the rules, create your own playing field, and win the game you want to play--because winning a game in a way you're forced to play would still feel like losing.

3. They don't make choices--they create choices. Most people simply choose from Column A or Column B. Entrepreneurs glance at A and B and then often create their own Column C.

As Jon Burgstone says:

Every time you want to make any important decision, there are two possible courses of action. You can look at the array of choices that present themselves, pick the best available option, and try to make it fit.

Or, you can do what the true entrepreneur does: Figure out the best conceivable option and then make it available.

And that's why they often accomplish the inconceivable--because to entrepreneurs, that word truly doesn't mean what everyone else thinks it means.

4. They enjoy succeeding through others. Talent is obviously important, but the ability to work together, check egos at the door, and make individual sacrifices when necessary is the only way any team succeeds.

That spirit can only exist when it comes from the top.

And that's why entrepreneurs focus on the individual rather than the position, the team rather than the hierarchy, and most important, from gaining happiness and success from the happiness and success of others.

5. They don't need to be disciplined, because they can't wait to do all the things that bring them closer to achieving their goals. Discipline often boils down to finding a way to do the things you need to do. Entrepreneurs can't wait to do the things they need to do. They have goals and dreams, and they know every task they complete takes them one step closer to achieving those goals and dreams.

That's why entrepreneurs can have fun performing even the most mundane tasks. When there's a clear line of sight between what you do and where you want to go, work is no longer just work.

Work is exciting. Work is fulfilling. Work, when it's meaningful and fulfilling, is living. And that's why.

6. They don't want to simply gain a skill and then live a routine. Some people work to gain a skill or achieve a position so they can relax, comfortable in their abilities and knowledge. They've worked hard and are content. (That's not a bad thing; everyone's definition of success should be different.)

Entrepreneurs hate the contentment an acquired skill brings. Entrepreneurs hate the comfort an achievement affords. Entrepreneurs see acquired skills as a foundation for acquiring more skills. Entrepreneurs see achievements as platforms for further achievement.

Entrepreneurs pay their dues, and they want to keep paying more dues. They look at themselves in the mirror and think, "OK...but what have you done for me lately?"

And then they go out and do more.

7. They're fans of other entrepreneurs. Working for a corporation is often a zero-sum game, because personal success usually comes at the expense of others. If you get promoted, someone else does not. If you get an opportunity, someone else does not.

That's why, in a corporate setting, it's really hard not to begrudge the success of others--it's hard to be genuinely happy for a co-worker when you're really disappointed.

Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, love when others succeed. They know the pie is big enough for everyone. (Forget the current pie; they're out there trying to make new pies.)

Entrepreneurs see the success of other entrepreneurs as exciting and inspirational and as validation that creativity and hard work do pay off.

8. They're willing to start a movement of one. We all like to belong, to feel we're kindred spirits, and that's why some ideas quickly gain a following and why great ideas can become movements.

Joining a crowd is awesome. But every movement starts with one person who dares to stand up, alone, unprotected, and vulnerable, and be different: to say what others aren't saying, to do what others aren't doing--to take a chance and accept the consequences.

What makes entrepreneurs willing to take that risk?

9. They think, Why not me? Regardless of the pursuit, success is difficult to achieve. That's why we all fail sometimes. And when we do, it's easy to decide events were outside our control. It's easy to feel depressed and wonder, Why don't I ever get the opportunities other people get? or Why aren't my friends more supportive? or Why can't I catch a break?

In short, it's easy to think: Why me?

Entrepreneurs ask a different question: Why not me?

That's why entrepreneurs will open a restaurant in the same location where other restaurants have failed: They didn't succeed, but why not me? Entrepreneurs will start a software company with nothing but an idea: They may have deeper pockets and a major market share, but why not me?

Entrepreneurs don't assume successful people possess special talents or a gift from the startup gods. They see successful people and think, That's awesome, and if she can do that, why not me?

Good question: Why not you?

If you think about it, there is no real answer, because when you're truly willing to not just dream big but also to try incredibly hard, there are no reasons you can't succeed--at least none that matter to you.

Categories: Small Business News

Want Success? Surround Yourself With People Who Challenge Your Thinking

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 8:00am

Are you feeling uninspired and stuck? Perhaps it's the people around you. Here are five ways to get people to challenge and inspire you to success.

It's nice to have people around who support you and are of like mind. Agreeable people boost your confidence and allow a certain level of relaxation. Most of us develop a stable of people with whom we like to work. We know their styles, and they know ours. It's comfortable and expedient. It is easy to find a rhythm, and it works. Unfortunately, that level of comfort can stall the very learning and innovation that can expand your company and your career.

It's nice to have people agree, but you need healthy conflict and differing perspectives to dig out the truth from a group-think and ideation. If everyone in the group has a similar point of view, your work will suffer from confirmation bias, rarely breaking boundaries and creating often unnecessary failure.

Take a look at your own network. Are your contacts the same ones you've had for years? Are they all in the same industry? Do they share your point of view on most subjects? It's time to shake things up and get uncomfortable. As a leader, it can be challenging to create an environment in which people will freely dissent and argue, but as my good friend and colleague Amilya Antonetti says: "From confrontation comes brilliance."

Here are five tips for engaging people who will expand your perspective and increase your success.

1. Identify where you are stale. Actively seeking conflict is not an easy thing for most people. Many spend their lives trying to avoid arguments and heightened discourse. There's no need to go out and find people you hate, but you need to do some self-assessment to determine where you have become stale in your thinking and approach. You may need to start by encouraging your current network to help you identify your blind spots. Additionally, make a list of the five people who have made you most uncomfortable in your life and list the reasons why. Then use the list to create a picture of the ideal opponent for your way of thinking.

2. Go where the battles are. As people get more confident in their abilities, they often create habits that limit the way they source ideas and information. Fox News and MSNBC bank on this philosophy. Seek out social networks and groups that are outside your normal way of thinking. Use LinkedIn groups to find diverse perspectives. Pursue the writers of posts that make you react strongly. Find the people who make you uncomfortable and invite them into your conversation.

3. Engage in friendly debate. Passionate, energetic debate does not require anger and hard feelings to be effective. But it does require strength and assertion. Once you have worthy opponents, set some ground rules so everyone understands responsibilities and boundaries. Establish structure to your discourse so people can feel safe. If people are worried about negative repercussions, they will hold back or, worse, disengage completely, and then you'll be back to the same stale environment. Remember, the objective of this game of debate is not to win but to get to the truth that will allow you to move faster, farther, and better. When that happens, everyone wins.

4. Check in regularly. Fierce debating can get emotionally brutal, particularly when strong personalities are involved. It doesn't take insults and name calling to make people feel small and upset. Make sure you check in with your adversarial colleagues to make sure they are not carrying the emotion of the battles beyond the battlefield. Break the tension with smiles and humor to reinforce that this is friendly discourse and that all are working toward communal success. A good way to reinforce the objectivity is to actually switch sides in the debate. It's hard to take it personally when you can argue on behalf of your opponent.

5. Share rewards and gratitude. The purpose of all this hot and stressful discourse is to achieve success for everyone. Make sure that all that are involved in the debate are amply rewarded when the goals are reached. Let your sparring partners know how much you appreciate them for being fierce and vulnerable. The more appreciated you make them feel, the more they'll be willing to get into the ring next time.

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Categories: Small Business News

10 Ways Great Leaders Build Amazing Communities

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 8:00am

If you can't find a smart, interesting, supportive community of entrepreneurs, the solution is to build one yourself. Here's how.

There can be a heavy psychological cost to starting and building a business. One the best ways to combat that is to engage with a supportive community.

Great, you might say, but what do you do if you can't find that kind of entrepreneurial or startup community? If you're a true entrepreneur, you build it yourself.

Here's an example. Aaron Price is one of the co-founders of Livecube, an event app that amplifies idea-sharing and networking by using game mechanics. I first met him while he was wearing another hat, however--as the founder of NJ Tech Meetup, a group for entrepreneurs that's grown into the Garden State's largest technology community.

A serial entrepreneur who lived in Washington, D.C., and in China before returning to his home state, Price found that though there were fantastic resources for entrepreneurs across the Hudson River in Manhattan, he had a hard time finding that kind of community in New Jersey. So, he started one, four years ago this week.

Here are 10 key things he and other leaders do to develop thriving communities.

1. Remember: Members come first.

This is the weird, paradoxical part of starting a community. You're doing it to solve a problem in your own career or life, but to get members, you need to be concerned first with their needs, not yours. A great leader focuses on helping other people solve their problems and achieve their goals. Otherwise, why will people follow you?

"If a leader comes across as only looking out for him- or herself, that's not sustainable," Price said. "However, if you genuinely make good connections and create great content, you'll naturally emerge as a leader. You'll also have people come to you with opportunities. By not being opportunistic, you will actually get more opportunities."

2. Choose the goal.

Starting and building a community can be very time-intensive. So, think hard about what kind of community you want to create and how robust you want it to be. Do you want a private, invitation-only forum that meets once a week for breakfast? Or should it be a huge, freewheeling group? Do you want to focus your efforts on in-person meetings or online interactions?

Also, do you want to focus on only a certain industry or people with certain skills, or simply reach out to anyone with an interest in meeting new people facing similar challenges? What compelling member need are you capable of addressing, consistent with your realistic ability to contribute time, focus, and leadership?

3. Choose a technology platform.

Let's assume you want to build a community that meets formally, like Price's meetup group. You need tech support. Fortunately, this isn't complicated, as there are many free and low-cost tools you can use. It might start simply with a group on LinkedIn or Facebook. (Price said his advice is to use something like Eventbrite or SplashThat for one-off events, and Meetup if your goal is to build a regular, ongoing community.)

Similarly, Price suggests meeting at bars, restaurants, libraries, or universities, any of which will often work with you for free or very little money. As an alternative, look for a local law firm or accounting firm that might be willing to let you use its meeting space.

4. Stop thinking and start doing.

Once you've found the answers to those last two questions, get going. Nothing stalls a great idea like time.

"The idea is always the easy part," Price said. "If they don't actually go do it, it doesn't matter. This is just like any other startup."

5. Invite industry leaders.

Entice people to attend by getting interesting speakers with great stories to tell. You should aim high; you'll be surprised at the caliber of people you can attract. Among those who have spoken at NJ Tech are investor and entrepreneur (and Inc. contributor) Brad Feld, along with Jeff Hoffman of the original founding team of Priceline, and two of the co-founders of Meetup itself, Scott Heiferman and Matt Meeker.

"This is another startup lesson here," Price said. "It turns out it's not that hard to get to the right people. Yet, it doesn't have to be the guys on the cover of Inc. magazine. It can be the guy who built a franchise of 10 restaurants. He has something to share. He's learned a lot."

6. Make it regular and predictable.

Though things can change--the format of NJ Tech has changed, for example--it's important to demonstrate that your community will hold regular, reliable events. Show that you believe the community will thrive over the long term, and you'll increase the odds it actually will. Price schedules NJ Tech events at least six months ahead of time.

7. Offer structure and organization.

Your job doesn't stop after you've assembled everyone. You need to be in charge of the events themselves. This means sticking with specific start and end times, and being willing to wind up long-winded speakers.

"We have time slots; otherwise it will go on very long," Price said. "You want to leave people wanting more. They all have day jobs and family lives."

8. Encourage networking.

Not everyone is naturally outgoing, so include features to encourage people to introduce themselves to one another. This can range from breaking up sessions for two minutes and asking everyone to introduce themselves to one person they don't know, to formal 30-minute "speed-dating" sessions.

You might also try to make a game of it, for example asking people to vote online for the most interesting person they met during the networking session and posting a leaderboard. (Price does something similar using his company's technology--more on that below.)

9. Charge money.

You've invited a great speaker, had lots of people RSVP--and then you wind up with half the people not showing up. What do you do now? Well, you're not alone; most free events have no-show rates from 20 percent to 50 percent. Price combats this with two strategies. First, if you RSVP to attend his events but then don't show, he emails your name to the entire list on the "No-Show Hall of Shame" afterward. Second, after running the meetings for free for the first year, he started charging $8 admission.

"There are so many lessons here, but if you don't have something people are willing to pay for, maybe it's not worth doing," Price said. These tactics can have impressive results. "I'm proud that our group respects the policies," he said, "and that our no-show rate is always under 5 percent."

10. Listen for the right opportunities.

Yes, put others first, but rest assured, when you emerge as a leader, opportunities will come your way.

Price was running an e-commerce business focusing on arts and crafts when he started NJ Tech. But he wound up developing a business relationship with one of the speakers he had invited: Gabe Zichermann, an author and entrepreneur who runs the GSummit series of events on gamification. The two men, along with a third co-founder, Justin Schier, teamed up last summer to launch Livecube.

So far, Livecube clients include W2O Group at South by Southwest, Verizon Wireless, Random House, and even Inc., which will use Livecube at GrowCo next month. Had it not been for the Meetup, Price said, their paths never would have crossed.

Want to read more, make suggestions, or even be featured in a future column? Contact me and sign up for my weekly email.

Categories: Small Business News

Seven Ways to Harness Disruption for Growth

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 7:51am

Aaron Levie launched Boxfrom his dorm room in 2005 and changed the way people work and communicate. The Box product shifts local data storage to the cloud, making it far easier to access and share information from anywhere in the world. Box, along with companies like Salesforce.com and Workday, disrupted the traditional client/server software market. But now, emerging mobile and social companies are threatening to disrupt these early purveyors of cloud-based software. I spoke with Levie about the patterns of disruption and innovation that can both foster new businesses and destroy them.

Here are his seven suggestions.

[Insert Box Graphic]

1. View integration as an opportunity

The previous era of enterprise technology and software dealt with how to put together and manage onsite systems, something that is now provided by cloud vendors. "If the last decade was defined by mass collaboration, then the next decade will be defined by mass integration," says Levie. Companies will need to deliver a new layer of value geared toward integrating services and extracting the most value out of enterprise information. It is about taking the best-of-breed technologies, moving them to the cloud, and orchestrating them across the business in a way that was not possible with on-premises software.

2. If you’re not the simplest solution, you’re the target of one that is

Make your technology and processes simpler. Complex software solutions are disappearing because it has become much easier to write software and distribute it to mobile devices. You have to provide a smooth and simple end-user experience. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, has said “My competitor’s margin is my opportunity.” Levie suggests this should now be, “My competitor’s complexity is my opportunity.”

3. Move to where the puck is going

As Wayne Gretzky says, it matters less where the puck has been or even where it is now. For Box this has meant looking beyond the disruption that they caused and forecasting what will happen next to their own business. They spend time with their customers, industry partners, CIOs, and IT buyers to learn which vendors are becoming more and less relevant.

4. Take on the role of service and information enabler

Instead of managing servers, systems, and storage back ends, which are all going away, look at services, integrating services, and adding value around services. The workforce is now technology-literate and accustomed to consuming technology on demand over the Internet. The role of IT is to make sure that all individuals can get the most out of the available information and services. IT needs to orchestrate the integration of the services to insure that everyone has access to information and that the business is as effective and productive as possible.

5. Act at the right time

Levie believes the biggest challenge in software and technology is that you often have to act before all of the data is available. If you wait to respond until all the data is revealed, it will be too late; but if you respond too early you also won’t be successful. The third book in Clayton Christensen‘s Innovator’s Dilemma trilogy, Seeing What’s Next, provides insight on this issue.

6. Be open, default to “yes”

Resist the urge to block access and collaboration to protect security. IT leaders must be willing to provide openness to encourage users to take full advantage of the software tools. Openness leads to more analytics and more visibility, which can actually enable better control and security.

The old myth was that if you lock down all your information, the business will be more secure. But Levie points out how tighter lock-down actually leads to worse security as people go around the system, bringing their own thumb drives, using ftp and putting data on their own cloud storage services. The choice is either be more open and provide sanctioned tools to keep data secure, or be closed and face the use of unsanctioned tools that you can’t keep track of.

7. Instill a collaborative relationship between IT and the lines of business

Create a bi-directional relationship between the IT organization and executive teams. In deciding what types of tools to adopt, communicate with business executives and Line of Business (LOB) leaders to understand their business problems, determine which products in the market can solve them, and then collaborate on implementation.

Watch the full interview with Aaron Levie.

Categories: Small Business News

Got Sleep? 20 More Minutes Boosts Your Brain Power

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 7:24am

Everywhere I go, people tell me they’re not getting enough sleep. As an executive coach it’s crucial that I help my clients perform at their peak, sleep deprived or not. Recently I met with Dr. Jessica Payne, cognitive neuroscientist and assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame. Payne specializes in sleep and how it affects stamina and our ability to perform.

The worldwide state of sleep

The amount of sleep you need is highly personal and ranges between 4 and 12 hours per night, although the average is 8. Most of us fall asleep within about 20 minutes. During the first part of the nightly sleep cycle is where we get slow wave sleep, or SWS. This is deep, physically rejuvenating, and hard to wake up from and is where you consolidate your most important memories.

Next we enter rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep, which is where we make mental connections, are most creative, and process and regulate emotions. REM sleep is the time of night when your dorsolateral prefrontal cortex--your executive command center--is deactivated, meaning you are now wildly creative and open to all possibilities.

We need both SWS and REM for the proverbial good night’s sleep. But our REM state gets short-changed when we have to wake up too soon; this is when what I call REM rip-off occurs. And this, my friends, is where the trouble begins.

REM rip-off

Signs of REM rip-off are irritability, excessive focus on the negative/inability to see the positive/glass half empty/general crabbiness, and less ability to enjoy life.

Why? Because your hippocampus and anterior cingulate cortex (part of the prefrontal cortex where creativity, planning, problem solving, and innovation reside) are more active during REM. These essential parts of your brain put the brakes on, and regulate, emotions. So in REM rip-off, these parts of the brain can’t do their job very well. The result is your amygdala becomes overactive (because the emotional brakes aren’t on) and you’re more grumpy, unhappy, and prone to only remembering the negative.

A full-night’s sleep improves your ability to regulate emotions. Period.

The solution? Stamina boosters

Here are three strategies:

1. Get 20 more minutes of sleep. Payne suggests that 20 minutes more sleep per night can boost performance at work two to three times. Wow! How can you get 20 more minutes? Go to bed earlier, sleep later, take a 20-minute power nap, or perhaps even use what she calls a “sleep proxy” (meditation, reflective walking). A 10- to 20-minute nap is tremendously effective, too; just be sure to stop at 20 minutes to avoid sliding into SMS, as you’ll wake up feeling groggy.

2. Moderate stress. Chronic stress results in your body cranking out cortisol, which is toxic to brain cells. Excessive stress may also shrink your hippocampus and make your amygdala hyperactive. In escalated stress, we focus on negative memories, too. One solution is to activate your parasympathetic system with a five-minute visualization or relaxation exercise, short walk, burst of exercise, or breathing exercises. All are likely to build neural tissue.

3. Boost positive emotions. More positive emotions will boost your stamina, too. Watching funny movies, frequent laughter, doing nice things for others, all help. Here’s a quick way to forge a positive neural pathway around gratitude: Close your eyes. Focus on a blessing in your life, something you are thankful for. See an image of this blessing in your mind’s eye. Offer a silent "thank you” to the person or object of your blessing. Relax into the feeling of gratitude. Take a deep breath. Feel more gratitude.

Brain research from UCLA reveals that six doses of feeling 30 seconds of gratitude daily (a whopping three minutes) will enable your neurons to fire together and wire together around gratitude within a mere two weeks. This means you’ll more easily and frequently access the feeling of gratitude.

So if you must be sleep deprived, use one of Payne’s strategies above and bask in the benefits.

Categories: Small Business News

One Habit That Will Make You a Better Business Writer in No Time

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 7:10am

Good writing has become an indispensable skill for success. Develop this habit to help your own writing turn the corner.

Despite the many dire warnings that the written word is dead, people are in fact reading more than ever before. As with so many changes in our 21st-century world, the main reason is the Internet. Though fewer people are consuming information via dead trees, many more are devouring blogs, news sites, e-books, and the like. And when it comes to determining which websites come up at the top of the page when a person looks something up online, search engines like Google still rely on good old-fashioned text.

As a result, being a compelling writer is no longer a nice-to-have. Prospects are simply not finding entrepreneurs, business owners, and executives who treat writing as an afterthought. Fortunately, there’s a habit you can build that will allow you to quickly generate the kind of material that will get your business noticed.

Always Be On the Lookout for What You Can Steal

If you want to develop the ability to pump out interesting and entertaining material every time you put your fingers to a keyboard, you must learn to be a thief.

Now what I’m talking about is different than plagiarism, which is taking someone else’s work and trying to pass it off as your own. This kind of stealing is based on recognizing that as human beings we’re more alike than we are different. As such, we’re wired to respond to the same kinds of communication and storytelling structures in the same ways. Many fantastic writers before you have developed and honed these structures to great effect. All you have to do is uncover them and use them in your own work.

For example, next time you’re standing in a supermarket checkout line, glance at the magazine rack. You’ll find headline after headline engineered to grab eyeballs and drive impulse purchases. Buy a few of these magazines and study how the headlines are constructed. You’ll be amazed by how easy they are to adapt to any subject in any niche or industry.

Take the time to read some commercial bestselling novels as well. Look at the end of each chapter. You’ll find that many use similarly built cliffhangers to keep you turning the pages. Even if you’re not aiming to be then next James Patterson, you will find ways to apply these techniques to produce writing that keeps your readers--or customers--hooked.

There’s great storytelling and great communication everywhere, so learn to notice how it’s engineered. If you get in the habit of relying on structures pioneered by masters of the craft, all you’ll have to do is fill in the details.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Categories: Small Business News

Invest in Employees to Be More Competitive

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 7:10am

Stew Leonard Jr. explains why you need to invest more in your employees.

Categories: Small Business News

8 Ways Neuroscience Can Improve Your Presentations

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 6:00am

Giving memorable and persuasive presentations is more than an art. It's brain science.

Over the past few decades, enormous amounts of effort (and dollars) have gone into understanding how the mind works. This is good news for you, especially when it comes to public speaking, which requires getting into the minds (and hearts) of an audience. Neuroscience research offers loads of insights that every business person ought to apply to presentations.

Here are eight rules, based upon conversations with Stephen M. Kosslyn, former chair of the psychology department at Harvard University, and what he knows about the brain:

1. Always customize your slides.

Human beings share common desires and dreams, but beneath the commonalities are differences specific to individual situations. Therefore your presentation must address what's important to that unique audience. For example, always include:

  • Terminology that's meaningful to that audience
  • Proof points make sense within the audience's experience
  • Detail that's appropriate and interesting to the bulk of the audience
2. Don't just tell, show and tell.

The latest neuroscience research has revealed that human beings process words and pictures in different physical areas of the brain. If your presentation includes pictures alongside text, people are twice as likely to remember your message.

Combine text and graphics in your slides whenever you need to make an important point. A video clip can create a burst of movement that accesses additional areas of the human brain, making your presentation (literally) more memorable.

3. Plan how you'll direct your audience's attention.

To make sure that the members of the audience are following your argument, make important elements larger and brighter (or louder). Provide an outline structure to help them understand where they are in the overall message.

If you need your clients to understand something complex--like a multitiered supply-chain diagram--build the slide one part at a time, showing only the part that you're discussing at each point in the presentation.

4. Hone it down to your basic message.

Rather than dumping information on the audience, only provide as much information as is needed to support that message. Cut out all irrelevant details and only include crucial aspects of what you must say to get your message across. Cut to the bone but not into it.

Because human beings are naturally drawn to stories that make sense of a chaotic world, make certain your presentation is a story, with a beginning, middle, and ending. That way, the audience can more easily follow along.

5. Talk to the audience, not at them.

A presentation should be like a conversation between friends or colleagues, not like a soapbox speech, a lecture, or (worst of all) a sermon. Relax and breathe. Use the same tone of voice that you would use in a one-on-one conversation.

Let your eyes meet the eyes of the various members of the group. Tell your story the way you would if you were telling it at a dinner party. Don't fumble with or look down at your notes. Rehearse enough times so that you don't need them.

6. Use a full range of communications options.

Think of your slides not as the presentation but as a visual aid to the presentation, which consists of you communicating with the audience. At the end of the presentation, you want the members of the audience to feel that they understand you, not the presentation.

With this in mind, a personal anecdote or telling example is often much more effective for making an important point than anything that you can display on a screen.

7. Build in breaks so the audience can come up for air.

If a presentation is longer than a few minutes, you should build in breaks that give the audience time to digest what you've already said. A break might consist of a cartoon, a video clip, a raise-your-hand poll. Breaking up the rhythm helps aid retention.

Again, getting the audience to do something active (rather than just listening passively) accesses different parts of the human brain and increases retention. More important, getting the audience to take an action (any action!) builds momentum for next steps.

8. Prep the audience for questions.

The last thing you want, when you say "Are there any questions?" is dead silence. To make sure that you have a productive Q&A, anticipate questions that might come up--and leave those bits out of your presentation.

What if the audience doesn't oblige and just sits there? Don't panic. If you stand quietly for 20 seconds with an expectant expression, social pressure will inevitably produce the first question, and others will follow.

Preorder my new book, Business Without the Bullsh*t, and get an exclusive bonus chapter (for you and a friend) as well as a signed bookplate. Details HERE.

Categories: Small Business News

3 Things You Need to Know Today

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 5:38am

A roundup of the day's news curated by the Inc. editorial team to help you and your business succeed.

1. A Tale of Two Exits

In a wide-ranging interview, Union Square Ventures VC Fred Wilson mused on why the startup world reacted more enthusiastically to Instagram's billion-dollar sale to Facebook than it did to Tumblr's billion-dollar sale to Yahoo. His take: Instagram soared to popularity and then sold in the span of 24 months, while Tumblr (backed by Union Square Ventures) spent six years struggling to become an independent business. "It was maybe a little bit like what could've been," said Wilson. "Maybe it could’ve ended up going public and being worth five or 10 times what it sold for."--Business Insider

2. New Front in the Minimum-Wage Battle

An upcoming referendum in Switzerland should add a bit of perspective to the ongoing debate over increasing the minimum wage in the U.S. On May 18, Swiss voters will decide whether to set the national rate at 22 francs per hour, the equivalent of about $25.--Bloomberg

3. Phone-Interview Help

If you're interviewing job candidates over the phone, take a look at some of these simple tips. Though they're meant to pump up job candidates, the advice could also help make hiring managers less nervous and more approachable.--Mashable

Categories: Small Business News

5 Ways to Lose an Investor in 5 Minutes Flat

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 5:00am

The first five minutes of a meeting are crucial. Don't screw up.

Persuading someone to part with his or her money in exchange for a stake in your startup is one of the most important things you can do to protect its future. Yet countless entrepreneurs sabotage themselves in the first five minutes of meeting a venture capitalist. Here's what not to do.

1. Fumble your elevator pitch.

The first question a VC wants you to answer is why your venture is going to make him a bundle of money. If you can't provide an irresistibly compelling answer in less than 90 seconds, don't even take the meeting. Doing this well means you must have practiced answering the following questions: What is the human pain that your startup seeks to relieve? Why will people pay for you to relieve that pain? How do you know your solution will work?

2. Be shy about past accomplishments.

The world of startups is like just about any other endeavor on the planet--it's hugely competitive. That means most people will lose and only a fraction will win big. If you want the VC to invest in your startup, you must convince her that you thrive in the race for success. If you can't demonstrate a track record of winning--whether in academics, sports, or other competitive endeavors--then the VC is not going to give you a shot.

3. Hire mediocre people.

If your venture has a mediocre startup team, the VC will quickly lose confidence in your judgment. He'll wish he could kick you out of his office and use the next 55 minutes for something more productive. If you are not comfortable hiring a great team and motivating it to perform, replace yourself with someone who is--before you meet with an investor.

4. Have a vague understanding of your financial needs.

If you're lucky, a potential VC will ask you how much capital you need. If you can't give him the right number, you will immediately lose his attention. The right answer is different for every startup. But if your startup needs, say, $10 million, you should be able to demonstrate the market is big enough to generate a return on such a big initial investment.

5. Skip the customer research.

If you haven't figured out who the buyers and influencers are for your product, you will leave the VC empty-handed. And you have to do more than just know who they are--you should have long conversations with at least 100 of them. Don't meet with investors if you don’t know the answers to questions like: Why does the problem your company is solving matter to the buyer? Who are your competitors? What criteria will the customers use to sort through these competitors? Why is your product going to come out on top? How long will it take to close a sale? What evidence will you need to give all the participants in the decision-making process to win them over?

Before you get into the room with a VC, make sure your pitch for capital is free of these fatal flaws. Otherwise, cancel the meeting.

Categories: Small Business News

Why You May Need to Brace for a Market Correction

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 4:34am

Earnings season has just begun, and results could drive markets lower.

Is the selling over or has it just begun?

That's the question investors are asking after the biggest weekly drop in the Standard and Poor's 500 Index since January. The stock market hasn't had a correction, or fall of 10 percent from recent highs, since 2011.

It is inching close to one, at least in technology stocks.

Investors drove the stock market lower for two straight days at the end of the week. Big drops in once-soaring tech stocks sent the Nasdaq below 4,000, and the index has fallen for three weeks in a row.

"The market has been trying to come back, but each time the selling just picks up," said Quincy Krosby, a market strategist at Prudential. "The buyers are just not stepping in."

The first-quarter earnings season has just started, but investors seem in little mood to wait for results. Financial analysts expect earnings for companies in the S&P 500 to drop 1.6 percent from a year earlier, according to FactSet, a financial data provider. At the start of the year, they expected a jump of 4.3 percent.

If profits do fall, it would be only the second quarterly drop in three years.

"Earnings are going to come in on the sloppy side," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital. "The market needs to correct."

Krosby said the market will be focused on the swath of corporate earnings due out next week, such as those for General Electric, Intel, and several financial companies. Investors will also closely follow a speech by Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen.

Investors understand bad weather played a role in the performance of many companies during the first three months of the year, but they still want to hear whether demand for products and services is improving, Krosby said.

"The market is going to try to assess: Is the economy still losing momentum or gaining the traction we need to support valuations?" she said.

On Friday, the Nasdaq dropped 54.37 points, or 1.3 percent, to 3,999.73. It was down 3.1 percent for the week.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 143.47 points, or 0.89 percent, to 16,026.75 on Friday. The S&P 500 fell 17.39 points, or 0.95 percent, to 1,815.69.

Some analysts say a correction in indexes would be healthy for the market, giving it a sturdier base on which to rally.

The Nasdaq is already well on its way. It is now 8 percent below its recent high in March. The S&P 500 is 4 percent off its recent high on April 2.

Among tech stocks making big moves Friday, Netflix fell 2.4 percent; Amazon, 1.7 percent; and Google's new Class C shares, 1.9 percent.

JPMorgan Chase fell $2.10, or 3.7 percent, to $55.30 on Friday. The nation's biggest bank by assets said its earnings slid 20 percent in the first quarter as revenue from bond trading and mortgage lending declined.

"They're just struggling to grow, and then they didn't have the strength out of the investment bank to help offset that," said Shannon Stemm, financial services analyst for Edward Jones. "All around, it's just a lackluster quarter for them."

--Associated Press

Categories: Small Business News

Boston Marathon Bombing: One Year Later, a New Normal

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 3:00am

Like the city of Boston and the Boston Marathon, Forum Bar & Restaurant was forever changed on April 15, 2013. Its recovery shows how a company becomes a part of a community in the face of tragedy.

By and large, Chris Loper says, it didn't take long for work to become work again.

Forum Bar & Restaurant, the 300-person-capacity eatery where he works as general manager, had been shut down for four months after the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, 2013. It reopened to the public to much fanfare on a Friday night in August. It was the last business shut down by the bombings to reopen.

National and local media surrounded the comeback, which many took to symbolize as a turning of the page on Boston's biggest tragedy in generations. Then-Boston Mayor Thomas Menino was on hand for a ribbon cutting, and New Orleans brass band Rebirth fittingly played on the streets. The restaurant itself had undergone a major renovation, featuring a redesigned first floor, a new bar, and much more. But for all the hype, when the doors opened, healing a city quickly transformed back to restaurant work, says Loper.

That meant running food, clearing tables, joking around in the back. How long did it take for the rust to shake off?"Maybe 15 minutes," Loper says with a laugh.

The New Normal

While the work itself came back quickly at Forum, which is one of four establishments owned by the Boston Nightlife Ventures group, that's not to say things are back to normal since the bombings.

In fact, one year later, there's a new normal.

Loper and the restaurant's director of events and marketing, Erinn Fleming, are hesitant to put it that way. The attack, which killed three and injured more than 260, has unquestionably changed both the city of Boston and the restaurant's place within it.

There are still the pangs. For Loper, when he hear sirens heading down Boylston Street, it sends him back to that once-sanguine April day.Employees who were there during the marathon and returned to work after the reopening--about a third of the 40-person staff--have expressed similar feelings, Loper says.

Fleming says she and other employees were unable to work the day of the Boston Red Sox World Series victory parade in November, for example, due to anxieties born of a high-density crowd that was all too familiar.

There's also the surreal experience, Loper says, brought on when bombing victims return to the restaurant. Emotions run high. Once, Loper says, a couple of months after reopening, a victim returned to the restaurant. She saw the employee who held her while she lay on the ground. They embraced. They cried.

No, these are not the signs of normalcy, at least not as it used to be.

Getting Back to Business

But neither is the place Forum has taken in the community. A year ago, that wouldn't have been normal, either.

The restaurant has sold out its Marathon watching party this year, something it hasn't done in years past. It saw a city celebrate its return in August and continue to support it, showing up night after night for dinner. Forum had already been popular since opening in 2011, in prime real estate in a popular dining area, but now it's part of the fabric of the community.

"It's a stronger connection," Loper says. "It's a combination of things. People want to be supportive. There's also some (visitors) who come out of curiosity."

Loper and Fleming are quick to point out--and it goes without saying, this can't really be considered a positive. Of course, they would have preferred to avoid this new normal. Still, the support is appreciated.

The mindset is consistent with the general feeling of Bostonians. A new poll out of Western New England Universityshowed that 73 percent of Massachusetts residents believe the bombings changed Boston forever. Of that set, 62 percent say the change was for the better--reflecting a surge in civic pride.

Other Boston businesses affected by the bombings have said they've felt similar support. As The Boston Globe reports, down the street at sports apparel store Marathon Sports, the site of the finish line and the first bomb:

Customer traffic nearly doubled in the month after the attack, and now the crowds on an ordinary Tuesday afternoon swell to the size of a Saturday rush from before the bombing.

Not everyone is a Boston runner. Travelers from all over the world stop by to thank the staff, to buy a Boston Strong T-shirt, or to say a prayer.

Meg Mainzer-Coen, the president and executive director of neighborhood business advocacy group Back Bay Association, says this customer-based support has been consistent since the bombings.

The neighborhood was more or less shut down for a couple of weeks after the tragedy. But as soon as businesses began reopening, "Thesidewalks of Boylston were so full--there was such an influx of people coming to shop and dine to make sure those businesses received the support from their community," Mainzer-Coen says. "From then until now, there's been a lot of consideration for those businesses."

In the case of Forum, which didn't open again to customers for months, its immediate support came from fellow businesses. Fleming says she was touched by the number of restaurants that worked with Forum to help host events previously booked at the restaurant, or that helped to hire displaced Forum workers.

The 2014 Marathon

Loper says there is a mix of anxiety and excitement on the Forum staff as this year's Marathon approaches.

The reasons for anxiety are obvious.The reasons for excitement, though, are many.

For one, the restaurant's Marathon party on April 21 will be jam packed, having sold out weeks in advance. The party is hosted in conjunction with former New England Patriot Joe Andruzzi, as a team of racers run on behalf of his charity foundation. (Andruzzi hosted the annual party at Forum restaurant last year as well, and a photo of him carrying a woman to safety following the attack became an enduring imagein its aftermath.)

Loper says a number of employees who left Forum after the attack have also resolved to be at the restaurant the day of the race, with one employee traveling across the country after moving to Colorado in the past year.

Perhaps most exciting: Fleming is running the race as a member of Andruzzi's team. She's never run one before and she had never planned to. But this year, she says, she was "compelled."

And though she'll run for the Andruzzi Foundation, she knows she'll also represent Forum.The business that never asked for the spotlight to shine, at least not like this, but finds itself standing in it all the same.

It might as well run.

Categories: Small Business News

3 Ways to Work Meditation Into Your Busy Day

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 2:40am

Has all the interest in mindfulness got you intrigued? Here are a few ways to dip a toe in the water and see if meditation is for you.

No doubt you’ve noticed that mindfulness and meditation have moved out of the monastery and into corporate America.

The topic is so hot that Wisdom 2.0, a conference, started in 2009, dedicated to exploring how to be more mindful about our technology use, now has a waiting list that runs into the hundreds. There are meditation apps galore, and organizations from Google to the Marine Corps have embraced the idea of promoting mindfulness. Some longtime meditators and Buddhists are even complaining that this new frenzy is corrupting the real meaning of mindfulness.

With all the interest, maybe you’ve considered seeing what all the fuss is about, but embracing a wisdom tradition thousands of years old is pretty intimidating.

How can the average entrepreneur with a jam-packed schedule get started? PsyBlog recently rounded up quick and easy ways to fit a little meditation into your day. Some are less appropriate for business owners (the candle meditation, for example, isn’t recommended for those sitting at a desk stacked with invoices), but here are a few that might work for you:

Walking Meditation

If you already go for a walk now and again to clear your head, then you have all the time and opportunity you need to give meditation a whirl. A 10- to 15-minute solitary spin in the park is the perfect opportunity to try walking meditation. PsyBlog explains: "As when cultivating all forms of mindfulness, it’s about focusing the attention. At first, people often concentrate on the sensation of their feet touching the ground. Then you could just as easily focus on your breath or move the attention around your body, part by part. The key, though, is to develop a sort of relaxed attention. When your mind wanders away, bring it back gently, without judging yourself."

Eating Meditation

No excuses available for this one. Everyone eats, so everyone has the opportunity to inject a little mindfulness into mealtime. "When you take the first bite of any meal, just take a moment to really pay attention to the taste. Look at the food carefully, feel the textures in your mouth, smell it and notice how your body reacts to it. You don’t need to keep this up all the way through the meal, but use it every now and then to focus your attention," PsyBlog instructs.

The Email Swap-out

For many of us, our first impulse when we need to take a break is to open up email or social media. Next time you’re feeling the need to refresh your concentration, why not try a few minutes of mindfulness instead? It’s supersimple, according to the post: "Turn away from the computer/tablet/smartphone and sit for a moment noticing the sensations in your mind and body. How do you feel? What can you hear? Try to be as present in that moment. If your mind wanders off to tasks that you have to complete or starts working over things that happened yesterday, let these go. Gently bring your mind’s focus back to the present."

Are you interested in finding out what all the fuss around mindfulness is about?

Categories: Small Business News

Private Equity: A CEO's Best Friend

Sat, 04/12/2014 - 6:43am

Do private equity firms deserve your distrust?

By John Grafer

Do private equity firms deserve your distrust? Some do. They invest in your company, strip out costs, pursue short-term results, and flip your company to the next owner as soon as possible to maximize returns for their investors regardless of the consequences for the other stakeholders-;the employees, the customers, the suppliers, the community, and you. Employees may be undercompensated, customers may feel like they didn’t receive what they paid for, suppliers may believe they were taken advantage of, the community may be unhappy with your practices, and you may end up feeling like you work for the man.

Why does this happen? Incentives. Typically, private equity firms raise capital from investors and are required by a written agreement to return remaining capital and any profits in less than 10 years. So if the private equity firm invests in your company in the sixth year of its fund, it usually has to begin the sale process no more than three years later. This artificial time horizon creates pressure for the private equity firm to deliver favorable financial results in the short run. After all, investors likely won’t invest in the private equity firm’s next fund without them.

Would changing the incentives also change the outcome for all stakeholders? We believe the answer is “yes.” By connecting investors’ time horizons with yours, the incentives are aligned and so are the behaviors. So eliminate the artificial 10-year horizon and find a patient source of capital. The first part is easy-;just change the term in the written document.

But what kind of investor is willing to execute that document and potentially wait more than 10 years for a return of capital? A business founder, owner, or operator like you who understands what you understand-;that the evolution of a business and its culture takes years or decades, not months. These investors are often entrepreneurs who’ve also experienced significant liquidity events and want to re-invest in the next generation of entrepreneurs. They think in terms of generations, not Wall Street quarters, and they’re an ideal source of patient capital.

An evergreen fund with an investor base comprised of individuals and family offices seeking long-term value aligns incentives. It allows the private equity firm to think like a partner, not act like your owner. That could mean paying better employees a little more; sharing proprietary customer order information with your suppliers so they can be active and efficient members of your supply chain; educating your customer regarding when NOT to buy your product; and working with a local government to invest in a training facility that provides your business with skilled team members and enables the community to flourish.

These are all seemingly poor decisions if short-term cash flow is the most important metric. But, when the objective is long-term value creation for all stakeholders, decisions like these are the foundation of success.

And the virtuous cycle that ensues is self-fulfilling. For example, when employees believe they are fairly treated, they work smarter to make better products and provide better services. As a result, the customer has a better experience, knows you care about him/her, and becomes unshakably loyal to your business for the long run. Your business becomes a defensible leader that is the envy of the industry. It then attracts better talent, experiences reduced hiring and training costs, provides even better products and services, and so on. Paradoxically, profit turns out to be a reflection of what you give, not a measure of what you get.

But this stakeholder-centric approach isn’t for every founder or CEO. Psychologically, it takes someone capable of recognizing that he or she can’t do it alone. That the leap from scrambling to scaling may require a tedious reconstruction of business processes. That extracting one’s self from the details and daily fire drills to shift from working IN the business to working ON the business may require relinquishing control of decisions that have always been within the leader’s domain. And that the best ideas for transforming an industry may come from a well-orchestrated employee survey or an experienced board member with no experience in that industry.

Practically speaking, it takes defining, articulating, and executing success measures, key performance indicators, a disciplined and strategic hiring practice, strategically aligned compensation plans, dashboards that shed light on paradigm-shifting decisions, and many other seemingly mundane undertakings that professionalize the business.

It’s hard work, and it requires humility and teamwork. But we love helping businesses grow so, for us, it’s good business.

John Grafer is a principal at Satori Capital.

About Satori Capital
Satori Capital is the preferred capital partner for companies building significant long-term value through a sustainable approach. Based in Dallas, Texas, Satori’s team has a long and successful track record as private equity investors and founders and CEOs of privately owned and publicly traded companies. Satori partners with talented management teams to accelerate the growth of companies with at least $3 million of EBITDA that are "built to last" and meet a set of criteria described as “sustainability.” These businesses deliver strong returns by operating with a long-term perspective, committing to their mission or purpose, and focusing on creating value for all stakeholders.

Categories: Small Business News

How to Hire Employees You'll Never Meet in Person

Fri, 04/11/2014 - 3:12pm

iCracked, an iPhone repair service that has hired hundreds of remote workers, has developed an elaborate interview process to make sure it gets the right people.

Redwood City, California's iCracked employs an army of technicians dedicated to fixing customers' broken iPhones. The company, started in 2010 by A.J. Forsythe and Anthony Martin, had 40 employees before the founders' college graduation.

Since then, iCracked has received funding from Y Combinator and SV Angel, and the founders predict $25 to $30 million in revenue this year. But every one of the more than 500 technicians, or "iTechs," it now has work remotely, in cities throughout the U.S. and 10 other countries.

So how do you manage to keep a solid culture with so many far-flung affiliates? Forsythe says it boils down to having a killer hiring process that accurately hires passionate, self-motivated people with a knack for fixing things.

"We screen out 99 to 99-and-a-half percent of all applicants before we hire someone," he says. "For three years we have refined our process by asking: 'Who do we want carrying our brand and interacting with people who want to use and trust our service?' Doing our due diligence up front and making sure we hire the best people in the country is key, and now we have an entire network of top iTechs around the world."

Below, check out the major elements of iCracked's extensive hiring process (which it conducts online or via a mobile app), along with Forsythe's rules for ensuring you hire remote employees that will represent your company exactly how you want them to.

The Perfect Employee

Forsythe says it starts with defining your ideal candidate, someone who will be the perfect example of what your company is. "What we are looking for in our iTechs is genuine curiosity. We are targeting the tinkerers, people who enjoy taking apart things and fixing them," he says. "But we also want them to have high moral standards and ethics to uphold relationships with customers. iTechs are driven by themselves and create their own success. We supply the tools and the network of customers, but it comes down to how driven they are by a passion to help people."

Personality Test

Since the iTechs are licensed affiliates, they need to be independent and entrepreneurial. Forsythe says that after candidates fill out a brief application, they undergo a personality test that screens for the three main characteristics all iTechs need. "We are looking for curiosity, drive, and strong ethics," he says. "This set of characteristics is modeled around Robert Stephens, founder of Geek Squad, who said it's impossible to teach people be curious, driven, and ethical--it's all about how they have been molded throughout life."

During the personality test, candidates are asked to agree or disagree with statements about themselves, such as "You are usually the first to react to a sudden event, such as the telephone ringing or an unexpected question;" "You tend to be unbiased even if this might endanger your good relations with people;" and "You trust reason rather than feelings."

One-way Interview

After the personality test, candidates have to do a one-way interview. The automated system poses questions and candidates record their answers via a computer or smartphone camera.

Candidates can re-record their answers, but need to answer them in one minute or less for the final version. The questions range from "What are 10 things you can do with a roll of duct tape?" to "If you could work on a project for any company in the world, who would it be, and why?" Again though, the main attribute iCracked is looking for is a self-starting attitude: "Above all else, finding driven individuals is our priority. You don't want your employees to ask, 'What do you want me to do?' You want them to say, 'Can I do this?'" Forsythe says. "Finding driven people makes it easier to scale the business because everyone is on the same wavelength and pulling in the same direction."

Categories: Small Business News

Why You Should Pay No Attention to the Tech Sell-Off

Fri, 04/11/2014 - 1:18pm

Tech companies may have fallen out favor with investors temporarily, but that's no reason to panic. Here's what it really means to your company.

The sell-off in technology shares this week may have you wondering whether other investors have lost their appetite for technology startups.

The short answer: Not by a long shot.

Great companies are immune to the vicissitudes of the stock market, and the sell-off should further support the idea that your time is best spent on business fundamentals, no matter what.

"The best businesses are largely indifferent to these normal variant ups and downs in stock price," says Ross Fubini, a partner specializing in tech startups at Canaan Partners, of Menlo Park, California.

On Thursday, the NASDAQ fell 129 points to 4,054, a 3 percent decrease, and the biggest decline the tech-heavy index has had in three years. Similarly, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 266 points to 16,170, a 1.6 percent decrease.

The sell-off continued on Friday, with the Dow shedding an additional 144 points to 16,026, and the NASDAQ losing 55 points to 3,998 in late afternoon trading.

The rocky week follows what has so far been a white-hot year for technology initial public offerings, whose dollar volumes have risen to levels not seen since before the Dotcom bubble burst in 2000. Although many of the companies going public lack profits--Twitter and Box, as just two recent examples, reported hundreds of millions of dollars worth of losses in their Securities and Exchange Commission filings--they are a far cry from many of the hollow IPOs of the 1990s, experts say.

"Today the tech sector is stocked with good companies," says John Backus, founder and managing partner of New Atlantic Ventures. "Even most recent IPOs have solid revenue and business models. What some still lack is earnings."

Backus and Fubini note that there's definitely room for further downward momentum, particularly as investors abandon unprofitable startups in a flight to safety with more established, profitable names.

But they're banking on--and here's where you should pay attention--companies with solid business plans and focus.

"[We] are more focused on the next set of founders who are coming up in the sector," Fubini says. "These entrepreneurs and leaders don't think about the waves in the public markets. They think about the work that needs to get done today to be the next great IPO."

Categories: Small Business News

How the Facebook-Oculus Deal Really Went Down

Fri, 04/11/2014 - 12:29pm

Hint: If Mark Zuckerberg invites your founding team over for dinner, it's on like Donkey Kong.

Brendan Iribe is beaming.

As he takes the stage at the f.ounders conference, a private gathering of tech-company leaders in New York City, on Thursday, his smile is so broad his interviewer, CNN's Laurie Siegal, repeatedly ribs him about it.

There's good reason: The startup that Iribe, along with three co-founders, has been working on for the past two years, just became Facebook's second-largest acquisition, to the tune of $2 billion.

That's no small feat for a company that began as the vision of a teenager living in a trailer in his parents' driveway in Long Beach, California. That teenager was Iribe's co-founder Palmer Luckey, who is now 21. Iribe says when he began working with Luckey, the Oculus Rift, the augmented-reality headset whose beta version they are selling and developing for consumers, was an idea that "we just thought would be a fun project."

Prior to working on Oculus VR, and becoming the company's genial CEO, Iribe was the chief product officer at Gaikai, a cloud-streaming company acquired by Sony in 2012. Oculus VR's two other co-founders are gaming-industry veterans with decades of experience: Laird Malamed, former senior vice president at Activision Blizzard, and John Carmack, best known for his roles in creating the computer games Doom and Quake.

The "fun project" raised $2.4 million in 2012 on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter to build its first augmented-reality goggles and release a developer kit to allow individuals to build software for the hardware, which was cobbled together from readily-available parts, largely from cell phones. It also raised venture-capital funding in 2013, for a total of $93.4 million in funding.

The acquisition by Facebook means a significant payout to venture-capital investors, as well as the team working on the Oculus Rift. (Sources report that Marc Andreessen, whose firm invested in Oculus and who sits on Facebook's board, recused himself from the negotiations.) On Thursday, Iribe explained how the deal with Facebook came about.

Turns out, it all started with a phone call.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg last year got Iribe on the phone, and they had a 10-minute conversation, as Iribe recalls. They talked a bit about the business--but when it came to the hardware and virtual reality, Iribe says, he told Zuckerberg, "You have to see it to believe it."

At the end of 2013, Iribe says he was becoming friends with Zuckerberg, and his team made the trip from Irvine, where Oculus is based, to Menlo Park, California, where Facebook is. Around this time, they hooked Zuckerberg up to an Oculus headset, a beta headset for developers. Within a month, they hooked him up to a consumer-model prototype, which has no visual pixelization, and nearly no lag time in viewing. As Iribe recalls, Zuckerberg's response was: "So that was kind of one of the coolest things I've ever seen in my life. How can I help?"

Iribe says at the time he wasn't thinking that phrase meant money, but he came to the realization that funding would be increasingly important to his company, which relies on creating, making, and selling costly hardware. He knew Oculus would have to decide whether to attempt to raise additional VC funding in the coming year, or start looking for an acquisition.

While the Oculus team and board mulled its fate, Facebook acquired messaging startup WhatsApp for a staggering $19 billion in February.

Even during that lull in communications with Facebook, Oculus didn't "talk to other companies or shop it around at all," Iribe says.

Iribe and the founding team took another trip to Silicon Valley after the WhatsApp deal was solidified. They met with Zuckerberg and a core team at noon, and again over dinner at the Zuckerberg residence. Iribe says that's when it became clear everyone wanted to make a deal work out for Facebook and Oculus: "I don't know if he put anything in the dinner but...it felt like the right thing to do."

As for actually hammering out the terms of the deal, Iribe says that, as with any acquisition process with Facebook, the pace was breakneck and involved, essentially, locking the teams and their lawyers in an office at Facebook headquarters until negotiations were done. The $2 billion deal took three-and-a-half days to hammer out and was announced publicly March 26.

From Zuckerberg's statement:

After games, we're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face--just by putting on goggles in your home.

This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.

After closing the deal, Iribe and his team went back to the Los Angeles area. He says he went to sleep: "I was hallucinating a bit." Only it wasn't virtual reality this time.

Categories: Small Business News