Tag Archives: entrepreneurship

Talent, Wordplay, Entrepreneurship and Done

Talent: Stephen Dubner of the Freakonomics blog pointed to a poster that he found in his neighborhood in New York.  He looked at it as an interesting example of the Talent discussion that has been discussed by Colvin in Talent is Overrated and Gladwell in Outliers.  I look at it as an example of entrepreneurship starting early.

Wordplay: I love a pun more than the next guy, so I was tickled by this picture. On so many levels.

Entrepreneurship: Jason Calacanis, CEO of Mahalo.com, wrote a deeply personal and enlightening article in Business Week on What to do if Your Startup is Failing.  No sugar coating here, but required reading for any entrepreneur in this economy. If you are still looking for that perfect business idea, check into this post on fear.

Strategy: The chatter around the The Cult of Done Manifesto is increasing.  I agree with a lot of this, but what I really love are the posters.

The Young Entrepreneur – Tools

In my last column on The Young Entrepreneur, I urged those of you with great ideas to adopt some habits that will further your enterprise.  I have gotten some good feedback on that article.  A couple of people asked if only Young Entrepreneurs were targeted in that post.  Certainly not.  I have been advising both young (twenty-somethings) and more traveled (forty and fifty-somethings) for some time now and the habits that I talked about were beneficial for all of us, even, gasp, those folks who are happily ensconced in Corporate America.

Today, I want to talk about tools.  I review a lot of business plans and one thing that entrepreneurs tend to do is overspend on tools.  Specifically computer tools.  There can also be a tendency to not look at IT management things like computer security and backup strategies.  In some cases, legalities are involved.  Let’s take a look at some specific areas.

Understand Your Needs

The first thing that you should do is clarify exactly what your business does.  Of course, you know what that is.  But really what technology is critical to your success?  For example, a printing business probably needs to purchase licenses to Photoshop.  An accounting firm probably needs the most fully laden copy of Quickbooks. For these products, bite the bullet and buy the correct number of licenses.  You don’t need the Business Software Alliance on your case (although my take their methods of enforcement should make another post).  You will get support and know that you will be able to perform your role with your clients.

If these products are critical, look to potentially become a development partner with the software company.  You may be able to get some very nice perks for joining as a partner, although it might stifle some of your creativity.  Your mileage will vary.

If your company needs to utilize software to build your product or service, be sure to get qualified legal advice before choosing a platform to build upon.  There are a lot of open-source products out there and as many different licensing agreements.  If you choose products with the wrong open-source licenses, you may lose out on patent protection or have other intellectual property issues.  This is an area that you need to spend the money to ensure that you are protected.  When you go out for financing, intellectual property rights can be critical to the investment decision.


For all extraneous (non-critical) software, look for free alternatives.  Do you really need to use Microsoft Office?  At $250 a pop, this is a serious question.  Sure, you could buy the Student and Teacher Edition, but remember the BSA…  There are a lot of other alternatives.  If you decide that your documents and spreadsheets should be kept locally, Open Office is a fine substitute.  There is a no charge license, it will read and write Microsoft standard documents and it offers most of the functionality of the name brand.

I would think seriously about alternatives on the web.  In this case, you may lose some functionality (much of which few people utilize), but have the advantage of easily sharing documents and collaboratively editing them.  Two good free examples are Google Docs and Zoho Office. Google docs allows you to create (and import/export Microsoft formatted) documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Multiple people can edit the document concurrently.  The spreadsheet has functionality that allows you to present a form for data entry and distribute it to others to allow them to build a spreadsheet — good for things like party invites or benefits signups. Zoho Office has many modules, including standards such as spreadsheets, documents and databases and stretching to Customer Relationship Managment (CRM) and Human Resources Management.  The CRM solution is free for up to 3 users and rivals SalesForce.com for the functionality for the small business marketplace.

The benefit of web based alternatives go beyond the free price and collaboration.  You will have the confidence that the files are backed up and available securely, anywhere there is a browser.  If needed, you could update that contract from an Internet Cafe in Kauai.  If you need help with this, please call me, I would love to help.

For managing your finances, lots of times people will start out with Microsoft Excel or another spreadsheet based product.  I would recommend starting out with the smallest version of QuickBooks that you can.  I have had experience with a number of other products.  They all work fine, but QuickBooks is the standard and your accountant will be sure to be able to take downloads of your files and work on them.  I have tried the QuickBooks online version and was very impressed with it.  If you have less than 20 customers, the service is free.  More fully functional versions are available.  The one including time and expense tracking for services firms is priced at $34.95 per month and can be well worth it for a company with a significant billable work force.

For other tasks, there are open-source or free products that work as well as the boxed software you can get at Fry’s or TigerDirect.

  • Diagramming software: Instead of Visio (MSRP $269) check out Dia or online using LovelyCharts
  • Graphical software: Instead of Photoshop (MSRP $999) check out GIMP
  • Programming Language: Instead of Microsoft Visual Studio (MSRP $799) check out Ruby On Rails or Java
  • Operating systems: Instead of Microsoft Vista (MSRP $270) check out Linux

Do you have others that you use and can recommend?  Let me know in the comments.

Online Identity

For your online identity, you will need to buy a domain.  Look out for deals from GoDaddy and 1&1 and Dreamhost, all of whom also offer low cost hosting.  If your product or service will require lots of access or usage will grow significantly over time, look for the ability to buy additional space or bandwidth, as needed. Potentially, you might want to look into dedicated server and facilities for managing multiple servers.  Day one, try to find a vendor that you can grow with. And check out the service level agreements.  These documents explain what the hosting company will agree to provide to you in terms of uptime and security.  Comparing pricing and service level agreements will lead you to the right value proposition for you.

Google Apps for Business can be a great way to keep everyone in the company on a single platform that will allow for web access to authorized users from anywhere.  This service will encompass email, calendaring, intranet, search, documents and spreadsheets and other Google based services.  You will get to use your domain, such as www.yourbusiness.com, to allow you to utilize your corporate identity. Google updates their products regularly and will take care of backing up and managing your servers.

Another solution for web developers is Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service). Amazon provides as much storage for objects as you need and charges you for just what you utilize.

IT Management

IT Management is a key topic, even (or especially) in small companies.  You need to have a planned backup strategy.  It could be just copying your working files daily to a USB drive and keeping it at an alternative location.  It could be to use a service like Mozy or Carbonite.  Of course, the use of web based software could obviate the need for significant local backup capability.

In any case, make sure that you try out your data recovery.  If you needed to recover a file that was deleted, could you do it easily?  What would happen if your desktop computer broke on a Wednesday afternoon?  How would you recover so that you could still conduct business?  What if the problem was more widespread than just your desktop, say a natural disaster?  Could you still run your business?  All of these are key concerns and deserve a solid plan to support your business.

Security is also a concern.  Be sure to develop your applications and access to your systems with strong security.  If your business has to take broader precautions, for example if it takes credit cards or is obligated to follow the HIPAA laws, you will need to invest in stricter security systems.  Work with a security expert to protect your systems and data.  A lawsuit for a breach of security in any business is bad news.

Be sure to look at the costs of telecom systems.  The costs for VOIP (voice over internet protocol) service have decreased and the features of phone systems to integrate with your office systems have increased.  Get a free conference call number at The Basement Ventures. There is even an open source package for telephone management – Asterisk, where you can set up your own telephone system for your office, just like the big guys.

There are a lot of alternatives out there for reducing the costs and increasing the capabilities of your data tools.  If you have questions or other products that work well for you, please let me know in the comments.

Failure, Warren Buffet, Writing and Wages

Entreprenurship: One of the things that entrepreneurs don’t talk a lot about is failure.  But it happens.  I know.  Failure is the toughest thing in the world to go through, but probably the best learning experience.  I know that I learned more from failures than from success, although success was much sweeter.  Here is a story of failure in entrepreneurship.

Economy: Warren Buffett writes the best shareholder letter in the industry.  He has just released the 2008 version.  Besides his recollection of “We trust in God, all others pay cash”, he recounts the good and bad (unforced errors?) that made 2008 for Berkshire-Hathaway.

Writing: I pointed last week to Paul Graham‘s article on Startups in 13 Sentences.  The folks at EtherPad, a developer of tools for collaborative editing, posted a demo of a future feature of their program that allows one to see the writing process in real time.  The sample article that they used was the Paul Graham article.  I was mesmerized.

Business: Alex Krupp writes in the SixMonthMBA blog about why entrepreneurs should get paid more than engineers. What do you think?

Politics, Entrepreneurship and Business/Politics

Politics: John Bolton, our former UN Ambassador, suggested at a Conservative Political Action Conference that President Obama might need to learn a lesson in foreign relations.  Perhaps a nuclear bomb that would be detonated in Chicago.  That would show the President. Wow!  Those Conservatives sure have a sense of humor.  He was greeted with applause and laughter.  Are you kidding me? I think our diplomatic corps are better served without Mr. Bolton’s brand of humor.

Entrepreneurship: I highlighted Bruce Schneier‘s article last week about the amount of data that is being accumulated about each of us.  Seth Godin tells us why this might be a problem.  Remember that you can control what type of information is out there about you to a certain extent.  And people are checking…

Business (and Politics): Jeff Leitner has written a great post linking the strategies of politics applied to business.  It is the first of a 6 part post. I know that I am looking forward to parts 2 through 6.

HELP, Marketing, Security and Entrepreneurship

Marketing: A friend and I were talking marketing recently and the question came up… What is the minimum offer that a coupon has to offer to get your attention?  Has it changed recently due to the economy?  What will it take for you to try a new place versus a coupon from a regular vendor? Please reply through the comments and I will tally the answers for a summary post next week.  Thanks

Security: Bruce Schneier has written a thoughtful essay on the role of data in our lives.  Almost everything we do today, leaves a trail and these trails can be analyzed.  The toothpaste is already out of the tube.  We as a society need to determine how to manage our collective toothbrushes.

Entrepreneurship: Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame, asked an interesting question.  How does the rate of entrepreneurial activity change with the age of marriage?  One could expect that single people would be able to take more risks, a point I made in my young entrepreneurs column last week. Can you name three vibrant entrepreneurial countries where the average age at time of marriage is low?

Help: The Coleman Entrepreneurship Center at DePaul University is near and dear to my heart. The students at the Center are hard working, giving and smart. One of these former students is Jessica Cowin, a 25-year old recent DePaul alum who after battling health issues her whole life, is now being faced with a new challenge: a need for a new kidney.

Her sister is a match and will donate one of her kidneys, but there is a catch. Their health insurance will only cover up to $30K, and Northwestern Hospital will only perform the transplant if they are able to pay the full amount of over $100K. She will need to have the surgery within the next 3 months.

I’ve heard a lot of people this week talk about what they should give up for Lent. Catholic or not, here is an opportunity to be part of something that will have an immediate impact on this family, which could easily be any of our families, sisters, friends, etc.

So what can you do to help? Visit: www.giveforward.org/helpjess/. Make a donation. Forward this blog to your network, family and friends. Share the url on your Facebook status. Nearly $10,000 has already been raised in the past couple of days alone – clearly there’s power in numbers, and everything and anything will help.

Economy, Reputation, Entrepreneurship & Writing

Economy: Each of us is affected by the current economic situation. Bob is a sound engineer in LA.  He has been forced to declare bankruptcy and has started a blog to document his travel along the path.

Business: One of the key guiding principles that I use in my life (both business and personal) is that your reputation is crucial to your success.  You can’t afford to mess up on a project without figuring out how to fix it, possibly at a financial loss, for example.  I may be rethinking how often I publicly declare my feelings on reputation management. Freakonomics pointed me to an interesting interview with Bernie Madoff, several years ago.

Entrepreneurship: Sales has always been one of my weakest areas.  Today, Seth Godin talked about what are the prerequisites for sales at a first grade level, just perfect for me.

Writing: As part of this blog writing thing, I have had to find my voice as a writer. I know that some of you feel that I should probably find another one, but I believe that I need to use more of a strong active voice. Cindy has written a good post today on the ways that Eric Holder is using active voice and powerful verbs. I guess I could do worse than to try to emulate him.

Technology, Green and Entrepreneurship

Technology: Here is a picture of Moore’s Law in action.

Green: Ever wondered why you know that the recommended service interval for changing your oil in your car is 3000 miles and has been “forever”.  The skeptic is  looking into it.

Entrepreneurship: One of my favorite entrepreneurship writers is Joel Spolsky.  Joel started his career at Microsoft and currently he is president of a software development company in New York City. I love the fact that he has a clear voice as to how he wants to run his company.  I subscribe to his blog and try to read his articles in Inc. Magazine.  This month he talks about the reason (!-not plural) companies fail and relates a humorous Thanksgiving dream.

Social Action, Entrepreneurship, Marketing & a Big Idea

Social Action: Here is an intriguing idea.  If a complete stranger offered to donate money to charity if they could have dinner with you, would you accept?  I love the way that Franke James tells this story.  Why wouldn’t it work elsewhere?

Entrepreneurship: Paul Graham has another winner – Startups in 13 Sentences. Another look at ways to win with a new venture.

Fun: I have talked before about the TED conference. Check out what David Merrill from MIT can do with Siftables, a computerized tile, that he and his team have built.

Marketing: Over at the Startup Blog, there were some good ideas and resources about improving your results from using PR, by focusing your copy on terms that are search engine optimized.

Big Ideas: Yesterday I wrote about Matt Miller’s book, The Tyranny of Dead Ideas.  One of his other assertions in the book hit me pretty hard.  He talks about the Lower Upper class in America.  The Lower Uppers are those at the lower end of the Upper class.  Those professionals, doctors, architects, lawyers, senior corporate executives and the like have been told all their life that the world is a meritocracy – you will earn in accordance with your merit. The financial meltdown has dealt these folks a different reality.  When they see hedge fund managers making billions personally while losing their client’s funds, when they see corporate executives like Bob Nardelli take home hundreds of millions of dollars from Home Depot while not moving the stock price at all, when they see Stan O’Neal rewarded with a severance package worth over a hundred million while leaving Merrill Lynch in a position where it had to be sold — these Lower Uppers, to use a line from the movie Network, are” mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.”  Matt wrote a column in the Daily Beast where he talks about the positive things that might come out of this.

The Tyranny of Dead Ideas

I am currently reading The Tyranny of Dead Ideas: Letting Go of the Old Ways of Thinking to Unleash a New Prosperity. The author, Matt Miller is a former White House aide during the Clinton administration and a contributing editor at Fortune. The premise of the book is that there are a number of dead ideas that we as citizens and elected officials deal with every day. The six that he discusses in detail are:

  • Our kids will earn more than we do
  • Free trade is always good, no matter who gets hurt
  • Employers should be responsible for health coverage
  • Taxes hurt the economy
  • Schools are a local matter
  • Money follows merit

In a remarkably non-partisan way, Miller describes the historical basis of these ideas and how world events have overtaken them.  He then prescribes some ways to change our national discussion on each of these ideas.

Dealing with dead ideas is not only on the national agenda.  Imagine yourself in a room with colleagues and a moderator.  You are trying to solve a vexing business problem.  The moderator urges each attendee to “think outside the box”.  Even with all of the brainstorming techniques available, it is exceedingly difficult to break through our ingrained thought processes.

Essentially, humans use shortcuts in critical thinking.  These shortcuts are called experience.  If we have burned our fingers on a hot stove, we learn that we shouldn’t touch the stove.  But what happens when the environment changes?  If we use an induction cooker, since the range does not generate heat, you can safely touch the stove.

It’s the same in our businesses.  Think about how often we say “Oh, we can’t do a fixed bid” or “We have to offer this product in 30 different sizes”.  What old baggage is holding us up from even thinking about potential solutions?

What dead idea can you challenge today?

Entrepreneurship, Friday Fun and Video

Technology: One of the fun things that I get to do as an advisor is read through lots of business plans.  OK, not so much fun, but interesting.  While a business plan is a serious document, the best business plans have some life to them.  You want to be able to use color, text formatting and some graphical images to help make the best case and to keep your reader engaged.  Full pages of 10 point Times-Roman will put anyone to sleep.  A new feature in Office 2007, called SmartArt,  can help to give your business document a little life. Don’t overuse this or it will become like clip art, but a judicious use of these types of elements will go a long way to ensuring that your reader is still awake at the end of your document.

Entrepreneurship: New ideas for products and services are out there folks.  I pointed last week to Mark Cuban’s Open Source Funding idea. From the reader of this blog, I got a business summary for a new magazine that could be developed.  And lastly, with  a combination of technology and social action, Joshua Silver created a new product that literally allows people in poor areas of the world, to see.

Friday Fun: So, in these turbulent financial times, maybe you should go back to basics.  How about becoming a semi driver? It may not be as easy as it seems.

Weekend Video: Public television station WGBH in Boston produces Frontline.  If you are at all interested in finding out more about how the financial crisis developed, take an hour this weekend and watch this video.  And if you want Mark Cuban’s humorous look at the crisis, check this video out.