GreenhornTV: Boston’s Weekly Networking/Events Guide for Entrepreneurs – Episode 1

As I’ve mentioned in my recent series, The Young Entrepreneur’s Guide, it can often be difficult for young entrepreneurs to get “plugged into” the community. Some of this challenge is simply getting comfortable and experiencing the community first hand, but there’s also an issue of knowing what’s out there.  To help resolve that, we’re launching GreenhornTV, which will be a weekly webcast covering all the upcoming events for the week as well as highlighting major events to keep your schedule open for in the future.  So, without further adieu, here’s episode one for the week of November 9th-16th:

Notes from the show:

MONDAY:

Boston INNOBEER #InnoBeer
Description: “Join Boston-area innovators for beer and fun conversation about innovation, social media, and whatever comes up! Cash bar.”
Location: the Asgard Pub in Cambridge
When: 6:30pm to 9:00pm
Price: FREE

MIT Enterprise Forum Innovation Series –  “Vaccines & Global Health: New Technologies Create Global Opportunities”
Description: “Join us for a stimulating discussion on the state of vaccines and global health today and into the future.”
Location: 600 Memorial Dr., W98-1st Floor, Cambridge, MA
When: 5:30pm to 9:00pm (Networking then program begins at 6:15pm)
Price: FREE for Students, $25 – Forum Members, $40 – Non-members..

Where you’ll see Greenhorn: I’ve never been to InnoBeer, but it sounds great, so I’ll be checking it out.

TUESDAY:

WPI Venture Forum’s Business Plan Competition Final
Description: “Inventors and innovators with a new product or process test their business ideas with seasoned professionals, and the judges seek new and fundable ideas.”
Location: WPI Campus Center – Odeum Room
When: 5:30pm to 8:30pm (Networking then program begins at 6:30)
Price: Free for $125 members, $15 for $50 members, $30 non-members

Tech Tuesday
Description: “Join your fellow geeks, tech savvy professionals, DIY-ers, press, and other industry luminaries for this informal gathering. Bring your laptops, robots, OLPC XO’s, Amazon Kindles, new cell phones, gadgets, and other new-fangled devices.”
Location: Microsoft NERD, 1 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA
When: 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Price: FREE
Why it’s special: Huge turnouts and great demos including things like Rock Band. Great View at NERD too.

DartBoston’s Capitalize: #Capitalize
Description: “Capitalize has been created to help break down the barriers between VC firms and young entrepreneurs in Boston.  The goal of the series is to provide young entrepreneurs and students with the experience of what it’s actually like to pitch a start-up to a VC or Angel.”
Location: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/capitalize
When: Live @ 7:30pm or watch it anytime after
Price: FREE (Seats were raffled off to watch in person, check out any DartBoston event to get a chance to attend the next episode in December)

Where You’ll See Greenhorn: Enjoying the big tech loving crowd at Tech Tuesday, then rushing home to watch Capitalize

WEDNESDAY:

Mass Innovation Nights: #MIN
Description: Big event featuring: startup presentations, networking, tables for companies to show off their products and “Expert’s Corner”, where service providers like banks, investors, lawyers and other consultants will talk with anyone in attendance in 15 minute blocks.
Location: Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation (Waltham, MA)
When: 6:00pm – 8:30pm
Price: FREE

Boston Young Entrepreneurs: Emergent Group Presentation: #BYE
Description: Emergent Group’s team was named by Business Week among America’s Best Young Entrepreneurs. They’ll be presenting their business plan to BYE. Join us as we learn what Emergent’s model of sustainability consulting is all about and help them solve a few problems.
Location: Workbar Boston, 129 South Street, Boston, MA
When: 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Price: FREE

Where You’ll See Greenhorn: Visiting our friends at BYE and Workbar to hear the great story of Emergent.

THURSDAY:

Ultra Light Startups: Leveraging Social Media: #ULS
Description: Hear from leaders in the social media field for best practices and great tips. Featuring: Rick Burnes – HubSpot, Paul Gillin – Social Media Marketer, B.L. Ochman – WhatsNextOnline.com, John Rogers – Local-Motors.com
Location: Workbar Boston, 129 South Street, Boston, MA
When: 6:30pm to 8:30pm
Price: FREE

DartBoston’s Pokin Holes #Pokinholes
Description: Podcast/live stream show for young people starting companies to get feedback from the most talented young professionals students and entrepreneurs in Boston. This week:  The Second Glass
Location: Hubspot
When: 6:45pm to 11:00pm
Price: FREE

Where You’ll See Greenhorn: Ultra Light Startups to learn more Social Media tricks then catching up with the after party with Dart.

SPECIAL WEEKEND:

Intersection 2.0 – “The Heart of a Leader”  (A White Rhino Event)
Description: Two day event ““Exploring the Art of Leadership Together “
Location: Microsoft NERD, 1 Memorial Dr, Cambridge, MA 02142
When: Saturday, 8:15am to 9:00pm, Sunday, 10:30am to 4pm
Price: $25 to $65
Why you should check it out: Hear Scotty Smiley - West Point Instructor blinded in an IED explosion in Iraq.  After sustaining his injuries, Scotty climbed Mt. Rainier, learned to surf and finished an MBA at Duke!

Events you should register for now:

Northeastern University Entreprenership Week
* Informative and interactive events promoting entrepreneurship at the collegiate level occur from Nov. 16th – Nov. 20th
*Invention to Venture: All day workshop showing you how to turn your technology idea into a commercial opportunity

MassChallenge’s MassAccess: Speed Networking
* The event provides an opportunity for students, entrepreneurs, industry leaders, service providers and investors to discuss innovative ideas and prime future collaboration through speed dating style meetings.
* Cambridge event, Nov. 17th
* Amherst event, Nov. 18th

Web Innovators 24
* Large event featuring informative presentations, companies with tables to present their products, and lots of networking. Bonus: companies that are actively looking to hire wear a sticker with their name tag, so you know who to approach.
* Dec. 7th, 2009

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This will be a weekly show, airing on Sunday nights, so stay tuned for future episodes and if you have any feedback or ideas for improving the show, please comment.

If you have an event you’d like featured on GreenhornTV, please send an email to jason [at] greenhornconnect.com and put “GreenhornTV” in the subject line.

The Young Entrepreneur’s Guide, Part II: Getting Out There

Many people have written tips, guides and questions for aspiring entrepreneurs.  Many of them are excellent, but I don’t think anyone has captured the essence of the stages a young entrepreneur goes through and specific advice for what they should do at each stage.  As part of our efforts at GreenhornConnect.com, we want to create a central location that provides the information that an aspiring entrepreneur needs to go from starting out (Is this for me? What should I do?) to evaluating an idea (What goes into a business plan? How do I build a team?)  to being a real business (Do I need investment? What tools should I use?).

In the coming weeks, I’ll be writing different sections of this guide in my blog, pulling from my experiences, what I’ve read and advice I’ve heard from others. If you read this and think something is missing or disagree with any of the advice, please comment; I want this to be the best guide possible and will gladly give you credit for your contribution. Thanks.

Thus far: See Part I: Starting from Scratch

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PART II: Getting Out There

You’ve read a lot about startups and love every minute. You’re starting to take interests in specific industries and startups and may have a few ideas of your own. How do you get “plugged in” to the community?

1) What’s Out There?

If you ask any established entrepreneur what events are out there, they’ll tell you that there are too many to count.  If you ask the average aspiring young entrepreneur the same question, they’ll give you a blank stare.  So how do you go from nothing to trying to be 3 places in the same night?

First, take a look at lists of the entrepreneurial organizations in your area.  Pay particular attention to those in industries of your interest. Check out their sites and you’ll find out about any events they hold.  Use your twitter account (if you don’t have one, get one now), start following those organizations as they’ll tweet any new events they or their partner organizations are holding. You can then also find a number of great calendars listing specific events.

2) Where to Start?

Similar to reading material mentioned in Part I, there’s an impressive number of events to consider attending.  It can be intimidating to get out there at first, so to build your confidence up, here’s a list of the best organizations in Boston for young entrepreneurs:

DartBoston
Boston Young Entrepreneurs
Innovation Open Houses
Onein3
Web Innovators Group
Tech Tuesdays

There’s also some great competitions that welcome young entrepreneurs (Mass Challenge & MIT 100K), an organization that will help cover event costs and a site dedicated to delivering all relevant events, organizations and resources for young entrepreneurs.

3) Look the Part

Most events take place in the evening so it’s a slightly relaxed environment, but it still means you need to be prepared:

Dress the part: No one wears a suit or tie to the majority of these events, so don’t worry too much. Just make sure you’re not wearing that wrinkly, smelly shirt from the corner of your room and that you’re generally put together.  A good rule of thumb for dress is that the higher the cost of the event, the better the dress required and if the event is during the day on a weekday, it will also be more formal (usually suits or sports coats with no tie).  If in doubt, ask the event organizers or look at pictures from previous occurrences of the event.

Have a Business Card: The reason you’re getting out there is to make connections with others in the community.  Business cards are the currency at these events, so make sure you have one.  It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, and you’re not expected to have a startup even; simply having a card with your name, email, twitter id, and phone number is very effective.  If you don’t have a company, don’t be afraid to list some of your entrepreneurial interests on there (i.e.- “Cleantech Enthusiast”).  For about $15 you can get at home business cards that you can make with Microsoft Word and your printer. Most people won’t notice the difference or care.

Have a LinkedIn profile: LinkedIn is your online resume and contacts manager. After events, go on LinkedIn and look up the people whose cards you got.  Request to connect with them and mention something about meeting them that night in the request message; people appreciate personalization and it shows you were listening.  Don’t feel like you have enough to list on LinkedIn? Add all your work experience you can, including internships and if substantial, volunteer work.  If you’ve done any interesting side projects, list them. And of course, go into detail regarding your education, so people see what your skills and interests are.

4) What to Expect

Many of these events are crowded and overflowing with energy. There will be clusters of people talking excitedly about their startup or a topic of interest to entrepreneurs.  It can be intimidating at first, but try your best to be confident and extroverted.  Remember, if you’ve been reading about the community, there’s a great chance you are familiar with the topic they’re discussing, so don’t be afraid to jump into the conversation.  Cort Johnson, the leader of the young entrepreneur organization, Dart Boston, wrote a great piece about what most of the community is like. Be prepared for it and you’ll be fine.  Asking a good question will always impress older members of the community as it demonstrates your understanding of a topic and a desire to learn more.  Try to think of a few questions that come up as you’re doing your daily reading/skimming and bring them with you to an event.

5) Be Patient

Not every person you meet is going to be the perfect connection and not every event will be of great value to you.  Try to take away at least one good contact from each event you attend and make note of what events you like best.  Try to return to those events and similar ones.  When you meet people you do make a good connection with, ask them what events they like going to and try them out if you haven’t already.  After a while of doing this, you’ll settle in and find that there are certain events you look forward to every week and some people that you always see at events.  The great thing about seeing the same people is that you can “warm up” by saying hello to them at an event before going out and talking with new people.

6) Keep it in Perspective

Networking is an important part of being an entrepreneur; it helps build the connections that will help you find what you need to make your business successful.  It also introduces you to other people with the same “genetic defect” you have, which can be reaffirming. Remember, going to events should be enjoyable and provide some great learning opportunities; if you aren’t having fun, you’re either going to the wrong events or doing something wrong. And if you’re actually missing spending your nights in front of the TV, entrepreneurship may not be for you.

In the end, networking is just a small part of the process of being an entrepreneur. It’s a tool along with many others. Any startup is dependent on customers, which are usually not your fellow entrepreneurs.  So, don’t get too caught up in networking and forget about them.

Are you getting your feet wet by networking and attending community events?

Coming Thursday: Part III: Building a Reputation, Network and Following

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This is ongoing series to try to build a comprehensive, lasting guide for aspiring entrepreneurs. I would greatly appreciate any input in the comments below to make this the best it can be.  Thanks!

MIT 100K Elevator Pitch Contest: A Lesson in Awesome

What has a roaring crowd complete with thunder sticks,  a set of hosts in costume, a dancing spaceman and people talking about everything from backless labels to prostate cancer?  No, it’s not the World Series and your average night of commercials. It’s the MIT 100k, where they set the gold standard for awesome.

When I arrived, the event was already in full swing.  As I walked into the auditorium I was hit with an incredible ball of energy; you could feel the excitement and enthusiasm of the crowd and participants. There was also a very entertaining host (dancing spaceman = good, microwave pitch = not so much) and tons of awesome elevator pitches. Where else can you go and hear someone talk about Indiana Jones, prostates and impotence and get multiple laughs, all in under a minute?

To me, the lesson in this is simple: be awesome.  MIT could have had a standard, bland event with limited sound production (sans the Star Trek sound effects), hosts in (regular, not space) suits and a reserved (thunderstick-less) audience.  That would have produced a solid event, with interesting pitches.  Instead, they dialed it  up to an “11″ and went all out to entertain and energize everyone in the room.  This is how you get people excited about entrepreneurship.  This is how you make people say “wow. I wish I had pitched” and realize that entrepreneurship can be as cool as sports.

Cheers, MIT100K team. Awesome event.  Looking forward to future events.

WorkBar Boston: Putting the “Community” in Community Workspace

WorkBar Boston is a great workspace on South Street in downtown Boston. With two available conference rooms, a mix of open workspace and cubicles, free coffee, free wifi and a number of other amenities, they provide everything a small company needs to step out of the home office.   There are quite a few workspaces in the area, but WorkBar goes a step above the rest with their community efforts.

From Yoga to Viral Marketing and Pokin’ Holes to Art Galleries, WorkBar is hosting a wide array of events.  As a young entrepreneur, it’s great to have such an easy to reach location with such diverse offerings.  All of the events I have attended have been free, and the crowds always vary.  These efforts are turning WorkBar into more than a workspace; they’re a key part of the small business community and certainly are recognized by those that enjoy the evening events.

Last night, I had the pleasure of speaking with one of the co-founders of WorkBar.  Despite all the amenities they provide and the events they host, he still wants to do more. He wants to try to build an even stronger community, especially during the workday.  This is no easy task, as people often like to get in their zone and tune out the world, but he still wants to try.   This is both admirable and sets WorkBar apart from other workspaces.

When looking for affordable workspace, there may be a number of options in Boston and Cambridge, but WorkBar is leading the way in making those spaces more than a place to hold a meeting and get work done.  WorkBar Boston puts the “community” in community workspace.

Mass Innovation Nights: Great, but Not for Young Entrepeneurs

Mass Innovation Nights has always been one of those events I intended to check out, but never did.  There were a lot of reasons, but the biggest was it’s out in Waltham.  Like many young people in the city, I do not have a car and so I depend on public transportation.  To make it to Waltham requires about a one hour trip each way, which is certainly not something I look forward to.   Last night, I finally decided to make the trip.

One of the reasons I finally decided to go was because a member of Mass Innovation Nights told me that they are, “steps from the commuter rail station.”  While that statement is technically correct, it is not obvious to find them.  I ended up walking up and down Moody Street multiple times in both directions, completely perplexed as I watched the street numbers jump from 138 to 200 (The event location, the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation is 154 Moody St). I finally noticed a sizable industrial-looking complex (it looked like a bunch of old factories) tucked away before the bridge over the Charles River.  It was there that I met Dan, a fellow young entrepreneur, who upon parking his car, could not figure out where to go either.  After more searching we finally stopped at the local movie theater and got directions.  As it turns out, you head down a dark pass between some buildings, walk around a corner along the river and then a modest entrance to the museum appears.

Entering the museum was an interesting experience as we were surrounded by giant, old machines and barely heard any talking.  As we wondered deeper into the museum, we finally found some people chatting in an open room.  It turns out, all the action is on the second floor, so we both went up there to check things out.

On the second floor of the museum is a large, open room.  Like many other events, it has tables set up along the walls for each presenting company.  The crowd is then free to move around and interact with the companies and other visitors.  While this set-up is the same as events like WebInno’s “side dishes” and TechCocktail, the crowd and company types is definitely different.  The vast majority of the crowd was much older than I and most of the presenting companies were in the B2B and enterprise space.  The crowd seemed much more serious than others I’ve found at events like these, as many of them quickly moved from table to table and had closed off conversations with specific people.  There is nothing wrong with this; I’m sure many were setting up meetings that could lead to important business deals. However, this is certainly not the kind of open discussion I’m used to seeing at many Boston based events.

After quickly moving through the company tables, I moved over to check out the “Experts Corner.” In this area, there were experts in venture capital, finance, banking, PR/marketing and more.  Visitors could reserve a 15 minute slot to talk to any one of them.  I had a great conversation with two members of Square 1 Bank, who specialize in the banking needs of startups.  I also noticed a few familiar faces from other Boston events on the experts side such as VC Ready Law Group and Launch Capital.   This “Experts Corner” is a great idea. It brings together groups of people that may otherwise have difficulty finding each other: new businesses and the services that can help them.

In the end, I think that Mass Innovation Nights is a great event; it’s just not for young entrepreneurs.  There is a laundry list of organizations in this area, and many of them go to great lengths to attract a younger crowd.   With so many choices, there is no need for every event to focus on the same types of businesses or groups of people.  Mass Innovation Nights represents a different look on new businesses in the area, focused on an older crowd starting small businesses.

6 Lists of 12 for MIT’s Startup Bootcamp

Yesterday, hundreds of aspiring entrepreneurs filled MIT’s Kresge Auditorium for “Startup Bootcamp.” 12 renowned entrepreneurs shared their insights and advice into the journey of starting a company and the entrepreneurial life.   There were many presentation styles and personalities on display, but they all shared common traits of passion and honesty;  you could feel that every entrepreneur was fully invested in the idea that they had 30 minutes to share the most valuable advice they could possibly give.  I wasn’t the only one who had pages of notes, so to honor one of my favorites sports bloggers and his “10 lists of 10″ theme, I’d like to present you a few lists of interesting items that came from the event:

List #1: The 12 Entrepreneurs, in order of appearance (names link to Twitter):

1. Adam Smith, Founder, Xobni
2. Alexis Ohanian, Co-Founder, Reddit
3. Ken Zolot, Founder, MIT Innovations Teams & Heartland Robotics
4. Dan Theobald, Founder, Vecna
5. Kyle, Vogt, Founder, Justin.TV
6. Angus Davis, Founder, Tellme
7. Hemant Taneja, Founder, Sunborne Energy, Managing Director, General Catalyst Partners
8. Dharmesh Shah, Founder, HubSpot, Author and Blogger
9. Robin Chase, Founder, Zipcar
10. Dan Bricklin, Creator, VisiCalc, Blogger
11. Aaron Swartz, Founder Infogami, Blogger
12. Drew Houston, Founder, Dropbox

List #2: My Favorite Quote from Each Speaker:

1. Adam Smith: “90% of execution is not giving up when others would.”
2. Alexis Ohanian: “Being Good is insurance for when you’re dumb.”
3. Ken Zolot: “Progress is about taking and managing risk.”
4. Dan Theobald: “Outside investment is like in the movie Alien, when they set the auto-destruct and gave themselves 1 hour to kill the alien or everything blew up.”
5. Kyle Vogt: “Take enough shots and eventually you’ll do the right thing.”
6. Angus Davis: “Think like a shareholder…remember what you own.”
7. Hemant Taneja: “The West Coast has a few VCs that are all about the young ones building companies…It’s evolving here now.”
8. Dharmesh Shah: “Stealth mode is for fighter jets, not startups.”
9. Robin Chase: “Everyone you come in contact with is your free consultant.”
10. Dan Bricklin: “Avoid lawsuits; they’re rotten things and you have no control.”
11. Aaron Swartz: “Have users from Day 0.”
12. Drew Houston: “Don’t worry about failure; you only have to be right once.”

List #3: 12 of the Most Tweeted Quotes:

1. Dharmesh Shah: “The more you postpone interacting with real people, the more time you’re wasting …”
2. Drew Houston: “As founder/CEO, your job description is rewritten every 12 months”.
3. Aaron Swartz: “Do not underestimate the degree to which your early users will help you define your product.”
4. “2.5 years of crazy hours, equal parts terror, panic & elation, & a savage obsession with making something people love.”
5. Drew Houston: “Our checking account has $60, can it actually hold $1.2MM?”
6. Drew Houston: “easier to pick up biz side, than for biz people to pick up engineering side”
7. Dharmesh Shah: “Thinking of a startup? You have a genetic defect that’s going to make you miserable for the rest of your life.”
8. Robin Chase: “Everyone you come in contact with is your free consultant”
9. Drew Houston: “Don’t worry about failure. you only have to do it right once”
10. Drew Houston: “I dont know if they thought it was drugs….or a startup”
11. Dan Bricklin: “Don’t celebrate with lawyers — you’re paying for it.”
12. Aaron Swartz: “Instead of the “Hollywood Launch”, go with the “GMail Launch”. Have users from Day 0.”

List #4: Favorite Concepts Introduced by each Speaker:

1) Adam Smith:
2) Alexis Ohanian:
3) Ken Zolot:
4) Dan Theobald:
5) Kyle Vogt:
6) Angus Davis:
7) Hemant Taneja:
8) Dharmesh Shah:
9) Robin Chase:
10) Dan Bricklin:
11) Aaron Swartz:
12) Drew Houston:

1. Adam Smith: Take Risk. 1/4th of your attempts should fail or you aren’t trying.
2. Alexis Ohanian: “No one wants to use your website.” Find out what your customers Do Want.
3. Ken Zolot: “Find your Strawberry Seeds.” (Fruit Roll-ups had a 10x increase in sales when they added Strawberry seeds)
4. Dan Theobald: “experimenting with OPM (Other People’s Money) is dumb.”
5. Kyle Vogt: “Listen to your users in the right way; just get them to tell you when something’s wrong.”
6. Angus Davis: RIFLE: Find your product-market fit. Segment your customer base.
7. Hemant Taneja: Raise VC money only if you Have To. (Bootstrapping works!)
8. Dharmesh Shah: “Build a barrier to entry with Marketing.”
9. Robin Chase: “As a start-up, be the peacock.” (Tiny bird, big appearance)
10. Dan Bricklin: You can build something great in a basement or bedroom.
11. Aaron Swartz: Is your startup an r (small and simple) or a K (large and complex)?
12. Drew Houston: “Drink from the Firehose.” (read as much as you can. learn.)

List #5: Speaker summary in a tweet or less:

1. Adam Smith: Hit the high notes; create a product that no one else can. It’s a huge barrier to entry and wows your users.
2. Alexis Ohanian: Startups are about embracing serendipity and being good; karma matters.
3. Ken Zolot: Ask your startup: Does it work? Is it special? Who cares? What do I have/know (Team!) Who can help? (Network!)
4. Dan Theobald: Hire the best people for all roles & take care of them; a great engineer does 10x the work of a good engineer & 100x of an average engineer.
5. Kyle Vogt: Startups are about being leaner, smarter, more efficient, and lasting long enough to find what works.
6. Angus Davis: Understand your customer base and maximize your return on them (i.e.- Yelp vs. Service Magic)
7. Hemant Taneja: Choose a VC who is 1) smart & a good listener 2) has a network relevant to your company 3) operates with transparency
8. Dharmesh Shah: Utilizing social media to share great content and interact with your customers is the best marketing for a startup.
9. Robin Chase: Create a company with a great product and exceptional customer service and you’ll have a lasting competitive edge.
10. Dan Bricklin: Competition is always around the corner.  Never grow complacent.
11. Aaron Swartz: Build a product with your users from day 0 and with a little cheap marketing, you’ll grow naturally and healthily.
12. Drew Houston: Running a startup means constantly learning and evolving your company and your role in it.

List #6: 12 Organizations Helpful for Young Entrepreneurs:

1. StayinMA
2. DartBoston
3. Boston Young Entrepreneurs
4. Innovation Open Houses
5. Onein3
6. MIT 100K
7. TiE Young Entrepreneurs
8. Mass Challenge
9. Tech Tuesdays
10. Mass Innovation Nights
11. Web Innovators Group
12. You can see all of these and more at: GreenhornConnect

…here’s hoping this last list becomes a baker’s dozen with the addition of an annual Startup Bootcamp.

MassTLC unConference Session Summary: Dodging Bullets that Kill Startups (LEAN Startups)

Occam’s razor states that the simplest solution is usually the correct one.  When you ask the question, “why do most startups fail,” the simple, and often correct answer is, “because of a lack of customers.” The main message of John Prendergast’s session on “Dodging Bullets that Kill Startups” was to focus on your customer as early and as much as possible, so that your business can avoid that common cause of death.  John is a disciple of the “LEAN Startups” principles created by Eric Ries, which acted as the basis for the tenants he covered during his session of the unConference.

Create an “MVP”

An MVP, or Minimum Viable Product, is the absolute minimum features that would satisfy your customer’s most basic needs.  As a LEAN startup, your goal is to quickly and effectively create your MVP, so that you can deliver it to your customers.  However, the reason for this is not to drive early revenue; rather, you’re releasing your product at this point in order to learn from your customers.

When you release the MVP, you’re accomplishing 2 key goals. First, you’re getting customers to not just talk to you about your product, as you would in market research, but also open their checkbook; you don’t really know anything about your customer until they make the decision that your product is worth paying for.  Second, because you and your customer know it is an MVP, they understand it will be improved based on their needs.  With this in mind, you will have an open channel to designing the full product they want and will continue to pay for.  It is often easy to develop your product in a bubble in your offices or labs. By creating the MVP, you avoid creating a feature intensive, expensive product that doesn’t actually satisfy your customer.

Facts Live Outside the Building

At the center of having a LEAN startup is bringing the customer into the development process. This means delivering them the MVP and then having in place the proper communication and metrics to properly assess their responses to the product.  You need to ask them, “what are your pain points?” and evaluate their behaviors in using your product.  Most customers are ineffective at describing the product they need, because they don’t always know what is at the heart of their problems.  By watching their actions and understanding their key obstacles, you can tailor your product to what they need most.

Scaling a Company is your Last Step

In the dotcom era, you often heard about companies growing as quickly as possible in the hopes of gaining immense market share. Given the success rate of those companies, LEAN Startups likely has a point in suggesting that staying small and agile initially is best.  When you are small and dealing with only your core customers, you can focus on learning from them and perfecting your product; your burn rate will be lower due to fewer employees, and the smaller customer base will be more manageable for maintaining communication.

This harks back to some of the concepts found in the book, Crossing the Chasm. Author Geoffrey Moore suggests using those early adopters, who are anxious to be a part of the development process, to better position your product before reaching the early majority of customers.  It is in reaching those early majority customers, which represent significant sales that requires scaling, that creates the “chasm” companies often fall into.

Test, Analyze, Iterate, Repeat

In the end, the principles of LEAN Startups is about bringing the scientific method to the business side of the equation.  You need to measure everything you’re doing related to your product and understand what works, what doesn’t and what is needed.  The only way to know this is to test.  If you’re product is a website, that means trying things like an A/B test.  If you’re creating a physical product, you need to have customers using it and observe  how they use it. Regardless of the product type, you should be giving them short surveys and calling them. As John said, “call God himself if you can get his number!”  When you perform these tests you can then evaluate the results and improve and reshape your product; you can add features that are needed, while avoiding mission creep.

LEAN Startups is all about your customer. Get them involved and you’re much more likely to create a product that will satisfy and maybe even delight them.  Through this process you will also build a personal relationship with them, which is quite likely to improve the chance of continued revenue from them;  your product will be exactly what they need and they may even feel some ownership and loyalty to you because of how the product evolved with their input.

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There is a lot more to learn about LEAN Startups.  John was kind enough to tweet additional resources, which you can find here:

Lean Startups Meetup GroupLean Startups Google Group, Steve Blank’s BookBlog, Eric Ries’s BlogMIT Event, and another blog

BYE Event: Upstarts: Gen Y Entrepreneurs Panel

Last night, Boston Young Entrepreneurs (BYE) hosted a panel at Emerson College to promote Inc. Magazine contributor, Donna Fenn’s new book: Upstarts: How GenY Entrepreneurs are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit from Their Success. The panel was comprised of a trio of impressive young entrepreneurs:  David Hauser from Grasshopper; Brendan Ciecko from Ten Minute Media; and Brad Weinberg from Shape Up the Nation. Despite their very different backgrounds and company types, they shared very similar thoughts on entrepreneurship.

There are many different key roles an entrepreneur can fill in a startup. David and Brad both emphasized the need for a partner to compliment their skills for theirs; these partners fill in for roles and responsibilities that they are neither proficient nor passionate about.  David described the difficulty he experienced in hiring leaders; he found that leading the company as a whole, person to person wasn’t in his interests and that they were hiring many “doers,” but no one was leading. It wasn’t until he left for his “first vacation in 3 years” and didn’t answer emails that a few people started stepping up.  When he returned, he recognized this and worked to cultivate those that emerged.  As David said, “If you [stink] at doing something, hire someone who’s good at it.”  Not every entrepreneur is necessarily the inventor, the salesman, or the visionary CEO.  Find someone to fill the role(s) you’re lacking and make sure they’re as passionate as you are about the company.

Another major topic of discussion was money.  They generally advised against pursuing significant outside funding (although Brad has received Angel investment).  Their greatest concern was in taking VC money, because those investors usually aren’t keen on letting young entrepreneurs learn (i.e.- they’ll reduce your role / replace you with more experienced people).  Also, getting money can lead to bad habits; if you have a lot of money in your corporate account, problems can be too often solved by throwing money at it (hire, try every option, etc) instead of digging down to the core.  While it can be stressful bootstrapping your company, they emphasized the rewards are much greater and you’re much more focused.

The greatest point of the night related to two concepts: Focus and Growth.  They all mentioned times when their companies took on more than they could handle or tried to scale too quickly.  When this happened, the company either had difficulty delivering on all the business they had taken on, or worse, ran into serious cash flow issues.  The best anecdote for these issues came from Brad Weinberg regarding a business opportunity called, “Fresh To You.”  A woman had an idea for a startup and asked him and his company for help.  What began as simple, quick assistance started taking away serious amounts of time from Brad and his employees.  They finally had to say no to the company and refocus all of their efforts on their then strained business.  To this day, when Brad’s company is concerned about whether an opportunity will affect focus, they ask, “is that another Fresh to You?”

Overall, this was a great event. The three young entrepreneurs brought unique, valuable experience that they shared with the audience.  Donna also sprinkled in some interesting statistics related to her research such as the fact that only 1 of the 64 Gen Y companies she profiled went out of business during the recession.  These are exactly the kind of events to motivate and inspire young entrepreneurs. I look forward to future events like these.

MassTLC unConference: Can We Build on the Momentum?

Across Twitter, the blogosphere and professional media, there is an obvious consensus: the MassTLC unConference was a resounding success.  Everyone has been talking and tweeting about the energy and enthusiasm that permeated the event.  I believe everyone left with a renewed feeling of optimism for entrepreneurship in New England and a new set of contacts that will be helpful in whatever ideas, ventures or initiatives they are pursuing.

I have no doubt that, on an individual basis, everyone will greatly benefit from the unConference.  However, the greater question is what larger goals may now be possible because of it. A list of action items were created during Scott Kirsner and Tim Rowe’s session called, “Turbocharging the Entrepreneurial Culture in MA.”  These items require a diverse group of people in the community to come together to address issues big and small.

Being a “greenhorn” in the community, I’m not sure how I can help in some cases, but I want to do my part.  I look forward to launching the site being built by myself and some colleagues to help young entrepreneurs  by providing a consolidated source and aggregate for events, resources and other pertinent information.  In addition, if anyone needs any young entrepreneurs to aide in any of the tasks through man power or just a different perspective, I am certainly willing and I believe I know quite a few others who would gladly get involved as well.

So, my question for you, reading this right now, is how, in any way big or small, are you able to help tackle these action items?

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I also wanted to use this entry to summarize and consolidate everything that happened at the unConference.  As I’ve been reading, listening and watching the reactions to the event, I’ve compiled those all into one place.  Below, you will find every piece of content I know of on the internet (sans individual tweets praising the event) that has been generated as a result of the awesome unConference.  If I missed anything, please comment with the link and I’ll update the list.

The Center of it:
Professional Media:
Bill Warner’s Blog/Photo essay of opening
Session Media:
Bill Warner’s discussion of “starting a company with no money”
Adam Zand’s Collection: http://www.utterli.com/AdamZand
PR Improv:
Music 2.0
SKirsner & TRowe:
My earlier entry w/ List
Picture of session: http://yfrog.com/2pzx9j
Lean Startups
Meetup Group organized by John Prendergast, who led the session: http://www.meetup.com/Lean-Startup-Circle-Boston/
Google Group: http://bit.ly/ewVJs
Steve Blank’s Blog: http://steveblank.com/
Build a Community, Not a Network
Quote of the day:
“Some of you are so smart that you take something that should be an instant failure & turn it into a 4-year failure.” -Bill Warner
“Why, @pistachio asks, are we going up against Silicon Valley as ‘Boston’ & ‘Providence,’ not New England?” -@ Pistachio

Links related to the event itself:
unConference website
MassTLC Website
The Pre-Event Session Wiki
The Sessions Listing Wall
MassTLC Blog

Pieces by the Professional Media:
Mass High Tech
Scott Kirsner’s Friday 5
NECN Coverage
NECN Reporter, Scott Montmimy

Blog Entries on the overall unConference:
Bill Warner’s Blog/Photo essay of opening of event
Bill Warner’s Video of the Event
Bill Warner’s collection of 83 Photos
Brough Turner’s Blog

Specific Session Contemt:

“Starting a Company with no Money”:
Session Audio

“PR Improv”:
Session SummarySession Audio Part 1 & Part 2

“Music 2.0″:
Session Audio

“TurboCharging the Entrepreneurial Culture”:
Session Summary,  “The List”, Photo 1, Photo 2

“Firing Founders is VC-101: How to Keep Your Founder Job”
Session Summary

“Build a Community, Not a Network”:
Session Summary, Photo

“Dodging Bullets that Kill Startups”
Session SummaryLean Startups Meetup Group, Lean Startups Google Group, Steve Blank’s Book & Blog, Eric Ries’s Blog & MIT Event, and another blog

Quote of the day:

Based on number of reTweets:
“Some of you are so smart that you take something that should be an instant failure & turn it into a 4-year failure.” -Bill Warner

Based on importance to improving our community:
“Why are we going up against Silicon Valley as ‘Boston’ & ‘Providence,’ not New England?” -@ Pistachio

MassTLC unConference Session Summary: Build a Community, not a Network

Everyone in the entrepreneurial community knows about Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and blogging and yet many aren’t using them to their full potential.  To help correct this, Cort Johnson and Joselin Mane teamed up to present ideas behind using social media and social networks to build a real, vibrant community.  They were a great team that drew on their personal experiences with social media to lead the session.  Cort is the leader of the DartBoston community that has recently emerged as a key organization for young entrepreneurs, while Joselin runs Boston Tweetups, which helps broadcast local events through Twitter.  There were quite a few skeptics in the audience that they seemed to have convinced by the end of their session.

The heart of their message was to “facilitate a connection.” That means being more than a Twitter name and a random photo.  You need to build a net of all your content across the web.  Link your Twitter account to your blog, your blog to your LinkedIn and Twitter accounts and so on.  By doing so, it allows anyone who finds you to immediately learn all about you, from what you write about (your blog), to what conversations you’re taking part in (Twitter) to what your background is (LinkedIn).

A few tips they suggested:

Use the same picture for every site.
This builds continuity and allows people looking for you from any site to immediately know they found you.

Follow the 90/10 Rule
90% of what you write and tweet about needs to be adding to the conversation and sharing ideas. To not offend people you can only be self-promoting at most 10% of the time.

Find ways to move the conversation offline
All the social media and networks are great, but nothing beats a face to face meeting to build a great relationship.

Use “Reverse Mentorship” (credit: DartBoston co-founder @Alexa)
If you’re not familiar with all the online social tools, consider asking a young person for help.  They can teach you the basics and set you up with the right accounts and tools and then you can help them with some career mentoring.

Have a Plan
It’s not just about being on Twitter. It’s about choosing all of the networks and sites you want to be on and how you’re going to use them together.  You can start out looking to just explore and better understand them, but you need to then formulate a plan for utilizing it for your business or brand.

Sites/Tools to Consider
Twitter help: Twitter’s help section is great for getting you started.
OneForty.com: Tools for better utilizing Twitter can be found here, including ratings and reviews for each by other users.  It’s started by local entrepreneur @pistachio.
Mashable.com: Provides news and information on all things social media/networks.

“Research, Listen, Contribute”
In the end, this is really the key. The conversation is happening online with or without you, so why not be a part of it? There are many opportunities to hear both what people are thinking about in your industry and about your brands.  Get educated, get involved and you can forge great relationships that can then be brought into the real world.

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In the end, it’s all about what you’re interested in doing.  As was mentioned at the “Bootstrapping PR” panel discussion at WebInno23 earlier this week, it’s important you’re passionate about doing this; like most things in life, you’ll get out what you put in.

If you know of any other key tools for getting started or have any thoughts on building your online presence, please add it to the comments.