A frank discussion on the best place to build your startup as a young entrepreneur…

We all have goals in life. Those of us in the startup community are particularly aspirational. We dream of building great products with millions of users. We dream of leading great companies filled with awesome people.  We dream of TechCrunch articles, keynote speeches, magazine covers, and the opportunity to create great wealth. We dream of beating the ridiculous odds that say we’re idiots for even trying, especially those of us still so young.

On Friday evening at #WhiskeyFriday, which was sadly under-represented this week (really? Boston can only find 5-10 people to grab drinks after work in Central Square?), I was involved in a discussion about whether, as a young entrepreneur, it made more sense to move to the Valley or try to build a company in Boston.

This wasn’t another b*tch session; this was two friends honestly and frankly talking about the facts at hand. We’ve both been around the block here, had our own and seen our friends’ experiences in this community and so we’re well aware of the situation here and we also have enough contact with the Valley to feel qualified to understand what’s there as well.

I’m not here to make this some magnificent, articulate post, so here’s just in simple bullet form, the Pros & Cons of our two ecosystems and how two young entrepreneurs think about it as we sit in the midst of a new tech bubble (which is what sparked this discussion in the first place):

{Disclaimer: If you’re “tired” of the Boston vs. SV discussion, this post is not for you. Please close your browser window and go back to putting your head in the sand. Don’t worry,the bubble will be over in a few years and you’ll barely have noticed…}

The Valley:

Advantage:

  • Massive access to money
  • Stronger culture of helping each other
  • Companies that can acquire you
  • More industry experienced people around
  • Early adopter culture
  • Great tech press

Disadvantages:

  • Finding & keeping engineering talent is VERY hard
    • Try competing with Godfather offers from Facebook, Zynga, Google, etc
  • Very small fish in a HUGE pond
  • If you move there, you’re basically starting over

Boston:

Advantages:

  • HUGE talent pool to recruit from
    • Universities and less competitive environment overall
  • Established network here

Disadvantages:

  • Underdeveloped mentoring
  • Very Weak acquisition market
    • How do Boston co’s exit? Seems “rarely” is the right term…
  • Weak funding climate
  • No press that gets users or national attention

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So with all of that…the question basically boiled down to:

Is it better to build a company in the Valley and try to return to Boston to recruit

OR

Build a company in Boston and travel a ton (literally and virtually) to NYC and the Valley to try to leverage the advantages there.

I don’t have the answer to that, but I think you can guess what side I’m betting on for now…

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Got comments? Let’s keep this discussion productive and please review the disclaimer at the top in case you missed it and are irritated by the comparison.

This is two individuals talking about what’s best for their careers not an ecosystem taken at a macro level…although in many ways it’s one in the same.

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Interested in more like this? You can follow me on Twitter by clicking here or find more of my blog posts at my site GreenhornConnect.com

Book Review: Mastering the VC Game by Jeff Bussgang

As a young entrepreneur, it’s not easy to understand how venture capital really works. There are tons of horror stories that spread through the community like urban legends and phrases like “Term sheets” and “Down Rounds” can sound foreign.  Amidst all of these questions is an aura of uncertainty about how the whole system really works. Fortunately, there’s Jeff Bussgang’s book, Mastering the VC Game to help.

This book should be a must read for any young entrepreneur who thinks they may ever want funding. It’s that good. Here’s a few reasons I love the book:

It Answers My Questions:

For a long time, I’ve had a million different questions about how it all works from start to finish and why certain aspects of the investment process are they way they are.  In Mastering the VC Game, Jeff breaks it all down in simple terms that have immeasurably raised my understanding how it all works. He’s also fair to both entrepreneurs and VCs alike, in explaining on how varying motivations can lead to all those conflicts and horror stores we hear about.

Thanks to this book, I now have a basic framework and understanding to build off of should I ever pursue funding.  I thought I was going to have to go to a ton of events about funding to understand venture financing, but this book is much clearer than putting together piecemeal information from events.

Read the other reasons at Greenhorn Connect…

The Young Entrepreneur’s Guide, Part V: Making it Official

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, Part II: Getting Out There, Part III: Building a Reputation, Network and a Following & Part IV: Working on Your Idea

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Part V: Making it official

You’ve vetted the idea and have a small team, here’s what you do to get serious and launch your business.

1) Get a Name and Social Media set up:

It’s important to have a name for your business. It needs to be simple, memorable and relevant to your area of work.  If it’s hard to spell, people won’t remember it. If they don’t see the connection to your business, it can also be forgettable. There are more tips for naming your business here.   Make sure the URL for your name is available as a “dot com.” If it’s not, either negotiate to buy it (if it’s not in use) or  for another name.

Once you have chosen your name, you need to secure it in social media.  Go grab the name on Twitter, create a fan page on Facebook (you don’t have to publish it yet), and secure other social media usernames you think you might use (Youtube, Flickr, etc).  If you’re finding that many of them aren’t available, you may want to consider looking for a different name.  Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan’s book, Inbound Marketing has a great checklist for startups for this area.  Start using them to build a buzz for your company before you launch. Get involved in the conversation and gather a following.

2) Choose Your Service Providers

When you get started, the first service provider you’re going to need is a lawyer. Ben Hron of VCReady Law wrote a great post about when it’s time to formalize your business.  You definitely do not want to wait too long to do this. Incorporating or forming an LLC not only protects you from personal liability, but it forces you to put in writing your agreements with any partner you have.  You can do online forms to get this done yourself , but as the saying goes, “you wouldn’t do your own surgery, so why would you do your own legal work?”  Facebook started as a Florida LLC and had to have that undone when they moved to Silicon Valley. Do it right the first time and you’ll save yourself a lot of time and money later.

Once you’ve created your business as a legal entity, you’ll need to get a bank account opened and start keeping good financial records for your business.  You can do these yourself, or there are always good bookkeepers and accountants out there to help as your business grows in complexity.

When you’re selecting your service providers, remember that they’re an extension of your business team; choose people you feel comfortable with and who share your vision.  You should feel like they’re on your side and can help your business grow and develop.  If you feel like your service provider doesn’t understand you or that you have to be on the defensive against them, you should keep looking. It’s worth a week or two delay to find the right one.

3) Get an Alpha Out There (aka – Find Customers)

The best way to prove your idea is to get out there and find customers. This can be a splash page for your website simply asking people to give you their email address if they’re interested in your product (have a few fake screenshots or other information explaining what you are).  There’s a lot of great content out there about releasing your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) by Eric Ries and in Steve Blank’s Four Steps to the Epiphany. It’s a lot better to develop your product with your customers giving feedback than trying to prognosticate amongst your team in a bubble.  You’ll also build buzz for your product this way.

In the end, any business is about finding people to pay for what you are providing. The incubator program, Y Combinator, emphasizes this best with their shirts they give to new entrants to their program: “Build Something People Want.” Once you find your first customers, you can adapt your product, remove the warts and account for their feedback.  Be careful! Though you want to listen to your customers, you do not want to use them to create an infinite feature list. “Feature creep” can easily derail a product. Focus on being very good at a few things and deliver that to customers that are looking for those solutions.  This is not easy…we struggle with this at Greenhorn Connect all of the time.

Coming Soon: Part VI: Other Tips for Along the Way

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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!

Lessons Learned: Under Promise, Over Deliver

As the clock struck midnight tonight, a vision was officially only that; GreenhornConnect failed to relaunch as planned on Monday.  A series of technical difficulties left us unable to put the site up for you to see in all its glory.  We’d been planning this launch, in honor of Global Entrepreneurship Week, for a few weeks and had worked tirelessly to get all of the resources and content in order and start lining up our guest bloggers.  After many Monster energy drinks and little sleep, it was a thrilling, but ultimately draining experience.  We’re now inching close to the actual launch, but I wanted to hit on a few lessons I learned over the last 48 hours:

1) Nothing…I repeat…Nothing ever goes as Planned

If there’s any complexity to a problem, there will be hiccups. And usually, those hiccups will come where you assumed a task would be quick and easy.  We’re all very good at recognizing the big, time consuming tasks we face. Most of us can even budget relatively well how to get them done and project when that will be.  BUT, the problem is, those other things, the stuff we assume will be easy are not budgeted for and not planned for and so it is these problems that derail us.

Why is that, you ask? Well, it’s really simple, actually.  The more experienced and knowledgeable you are about something, the better you understand it. Those big, time consuming tasks, chances are you’ve done them before, so that’s why you can budget them so well.  But those other things…they’re probably something you haven’t done very much of; maybe it’s something you’ve done once in a different way, or it’s a new technique that should make your life easier. Regardless of the reason, it’s the stuff you don’t know that will hurt you.

So what’s the takeaway here?

Leave yourself a cushion for those hiccups to take time to be resolved and try to ask yourself what steps you’re taking for granted.

2) Over Promise, Under Deliver…err….Under Promise, Over Deliver

When you’re a young entrepreneur, you have to build your reputation from scratch. Everything you do is a small token that adds up to credibility and people believing in you.  Every time you do something good…whether it’s ask a good question at an event, impress someone with your knowledge in a conversation, follow through on a request by someone, etc, you’re adding another chip to the reputation pot. Unfortunately, when you do something bad…like don’t follow through on a promise, or offend someone or otherwise make yourself look bad, you lose many chips from the reputation pot.  Run out of chips and you’re in trouble.

So what am I getting at? If you do good things for awhile, you can get away with a mess up or two, but you still always need to be doing everything in your power to demonstrate your capabilities and why you’re not just another person who muses about being an entrepreneur versus someone who GTD (Gets Things Done).

In the case of the site relaunch, I feel like I really messed up. I promised to a lot of people we’d be relaunching Monday morning and that obviously didn’t happen. My problem was I got hung up on how awesome it would be if we did versus the reality of the fact that we had little margin for error to meet that date.  So, to anyone who went to GreenhornConnect.com on Monday and were disappointed to see the same old landing page and resource list, I apologize.  I hope you’ll check back today and see how far it’s come and join us on a journey to continue to develop and grow Greenhorn Connect.  I hope my enthusiasm and passion for this when we’ve met at events shows through in this and hopefully I have a few chips left in that pot.

So what’s the takeaway?

If you promise less than you know you can deliver, then you’ll wow people when you do more than that. (as opposed to disappoint them…)

3) Do Something You Truly Love

The last thing I want to hit on is the passion of entrepreneurship.  Regardless of what your venture is, you have to absolutely love it. It’s gotta be your passion.  Even as I saw one of my roommates going out with his girlfriend for the night as I stayed in to work on the site or as the other slept in while I got up to go to a conference, I never second guessed my choices. I love going to entrepreneurship events and solving this problem for new entrepreneurs.  If I didn’t love this, there’s no way I’d want to do all the behind the scenes labors that go into making a site like Greenhorn a reality. Motivations of profit are always good and a necessary part of business, but cannot trump passion when you’re starting a business.

When you’re searching for ideas for a startup, remember to look for things you love and problems that relate to them. Solve those problems.  Kabir loves music, which led to RiotVineFan Bi loves fashion, so he started Blank Label.  Matt Webster loves craft beer, so he’s running Drink A Better Brew.

GreenhornConnect is my passion and I’m going to try to exceed all expectations and promises from now on. What’s yours?

GreenhornTV Episode 2: Global Entrepreneurship Week

GreenhornTV: Episode 2
Week of Nov. 16th - Nov.22: Global Entrepreneurship

This week we have Global Entrepreneurship Week, which is a celebration of all things entrepreneruship. If you’ve been putting off getting out there and into the community, this is the week to finally make it out there. There are multiple events every day and night that are going to be great for you regardless of the industry you’re interested in.

Specifically in Boston, Northeastern University is leading the charge with a week pack full of events. Most are free and all of them are open to the public, so check it out. If that’s not enough, Northeastern’s new venture accelerator program, IDEA, is kicking off Monday.

Check out the notes below to see all that’s going on and follow the links for registration information and more.

MONDAY: November 16th

Northeastern University E-Week:
Entrepreneurship Networking Lunch
Description: “A networking lunch for students who want to learn more about Northeastern’s active and extensive entrepreneurship community. Student entrepreneurship organizations, faculty who teach entrepreneurship programs, and students who study across campus and share a passion for learning about and starting new ventures are welcome to join in and participate.”
Location: Raytheon Amphitheatre, Egan Center
When: 11:30am to 1:00pm

Entry Level Entrepreneurs: Making the Leap
Description: “What are the questions commonly faced by budding entrepreneurs as they near the pinnacles of their academic careers? Should they dive into Entrepreneurship headfirst or focus on building a career? Panelists: Dominic Coryell (Founder, Garment Valet), Simon Dao (STE Lecturer, MIT alum and serial entrepreneur), and Adam Walder (Founder, UndergroundHipHop.com)
Location: 108 Snell Engineering
When: 6:00pm to 8:00pm

“The Tough Get Growing: How to Succeed in a Down Economy” presented by the MIT Enterprise Forum
Description: The current economic climate doesn’t mean companies can’t succeed. It just means the WAY a company succeeds has its own unique challenges. Hear the real-world experiences of entrepreneurs, the lessons they learned going from start-up to success story, and the research and best practices that will help you to get growing.
Location: MIT’s Kresge Auditorium
When: 6:00pm to 9:30pm (Panel 6:00-7:30pm, Networking after)
Price: FREE for Students, $25 – Forum Members, $25 – Non-members..

Where you’ll see Greenhorn: Spending the day at NU then over to MIT for the big panel.

TUESDAY: November 17th

MassChallenge’s MassAccess: Speed Networking, Cambridge
Description: 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.
Location: Microsoft – NERD Center – 1 Memorial Drive – Cambridge, MA
When: 3:30pm to 7:00pm
Price: FREE

Free and Cheap Content Marketing
Description: Writing and publishing content is an incredibly important part of marketing today. Whether you’re building Thought Leadership or just hoping for some SEO awesomeness, the written word is more powerful than ever. This presentation will take you through those initial questions of how to get started and make great content.
Location: Workbar Boston, 129 South St, Boston, MA 02111
When: 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Price: FREE

Entretech Forum: Making Your Name in a Changing Game Industry
Description: “How young entrepreneurs and their start-ups canbe successful in today’s changing gaming industry. The panelists bring a wide range of experiences as developers, entrepreneurs, and executives from the industry’s premier companies. They will discuss international competition, getting funded, publishing your games, changing gaming platforms, and the strategies that will help you make your name in this dynamic industry.”
Location: 101 Churchill, Northeastern University
When: 6:00pm to 9:00pm
Price: Free for students, $10 for faculty/staff, $25 for the community

Where You’ll See Greenhorn: Taking part in the Speed Networking in the late afternoon with MassChallenge and then heading to the MITX Interactive Awards. (Thanks Dart Boston!)

WEDNESDAY: November 18th

Invention to Venture: Basics of Technology Entrepreneurship
Description: All day workshop showing you how to turn your technology idea into a commercial opportunity. Presentations will focus on venture capital, marketing, intellectual property, business plans, and related topics. The guest speakers are experts drawn from the region including Bob Davis of Highland Capital Partners.
Location: Pavilion at the Northeastern University Alumni Center
When: 8:00am to 5:00pm
Price: $10 Students, $25 Faculty Members & NEU Staff and $50 Community

Contrasting Entrepreneurship in Japan and the Untied States
Description: In this panel discussion, entrepreneurship in Japan and the United States will be contrasted. This panel event is being produced through Northeastern’s collaboration with Waseda University in Japan. The event will also include a discussion of a joint entrepreneurship project between the schools.
Location: 108 Snell
When: 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Price: FREE

Fireside Chat and Panel with Noam Wasserman
Description: Fireside Chat & Panel Discussion with moderator Noam Wasserman, Associate Professor, Harvard Business School and panelists: Brian Halligan, Founder and CEO of Hubspot, Pito Salas, Co-Founder and CTO of eRoom, and Leah Busque, Founder and CEO of RunMyErrand. Topics: Founders, entrepreneurship, startup company culture, challenges, etc.
Location: The Vilna Shul, 18 Philips St, Boston, MA
When: 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Price: FREE

Where You’ll See Greenhorn: Learning more about Japanese and American schools.

THURSDAY: November 19th

Social Media – The New Frontier for Recruitment (MITX Special Event)
Description: Come hear from a panel of experts as they address the opportunities and challenges of social media recruitment.
Location: Digitas, 33 Arch St, Boston MA
When: 8:00am to 10:00am
Price: FREE

Eric Ries’s LEAN Startups Talk
Description: Eric Ries from http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/ will be speaking in a special engagement.
Location: MIT
When: 6:30pm to 9:00pm
Price: FREE (registration is full…watch the video to find out how you might be able to still get a ticket)

The Health Sciences Entrepreneurs present: Great idea? What’s next?
Description: Join us at roundtables with seasoned entrepreneurs on the tools of entrepreneurship. Choose from: Funding: from credit card to venture capital, YOUR business plan, ABC’s of starting a business, and more…
Location: Curry Student Center Ballroom, Northeastern University
When: 6:15pm to 9:00pm
Price: Free to NU alumni; $15 to non-alumni and friends of NU

ACCION and BYE Panel on Alternative Financing:
Description: We’ll be exploring traditional and non-traditional financing options for young entrepreneurs. Panel discussion led by Morgan First and featuring ACCION USA’s Elizabeth Garlow, GeekHouse Bikes founder Marty Walsh and Urban Adventours Chief Wheel officer, Andrew Prescott.
Location: 110 Chauncy Street, Boston, MA (Home of Pinyadda)
When: 6:00pm to 8:00pm
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:
Location: Bentley University in Waltham, MA
When: 6:45pm to 11:00pm
Price: FREE

Where You’ll See Greenhorn: MITX Social Media event in the morning, then Eric Ries’s talk and DartBoston (time permitting) in the evening.

Events you should register for now:

2009 @BostonTweetup Awards Mega Tweetup
* Save the date! More info to come. Think Award Show / Tweetup / Networking event / Red Carpet
* Dec. 3rd, 2009, 6pm to 10pm at Microsoft NERD

Boston Startup Weekend
* Startup Weekend recruits a highly motivated group of developers, business managers, startup enthusiasts, marketing gurus, graphic artists and more to a 54 hour event that builds communities, companies and projects.
* Dec. 4th, 2009, 6pm to Dec. 6th, 2009 @ 10pm

DartBoston’s 2nd Episode of Capitalize
* The Dart community invades the boardroom of Flybridge capital to show another Dart member pitching their product to a VC.
* Dec. 15th, 2009

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GreenhornConnect.com Beta 2.0 Launches
* We’re relaunching the site, so check out the new site this Monday night to see a bigger, better site. We’re excited and you should be too.

If you have an event you’d like promoted or would like to sponsor GreenhornTV, please contact us at: Jason [at] GreenhornConnect [dot] com

The Young Entrepreneur’s Guide, Part IV: Working on Your Idea

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, Part II: Getting Out There & Part III: Building a Reputation, Network and a Following

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PART IV: Working on Your Idea

You’re takin part in the conversation and have built a network. You finally have that great idea you want to pursue. Now what?

1) Vet Your Idea

Just like you did your homework before going out to networking events, you need to again dig in and do some work.  With all of the technology at our fingertips, it has never been easier to research a business.  To get started, you need to consider trying the following:

A) Search using Google and Twitter for key terms related to the problem you’re solving.  This will give you an idea of how many people have the problem you’re solving as well as show you who your competition may be.
B) Search the companies you found that are competition. Are their customers satisfied? Is your idea superior in some way? Industry forums and message boards are great, free focus groups.
C) Consider how your idea creates value both for the user and your business. You need to be able to make more money than it costs to produce.
D) Talk to your target customers! Understand their problems…confirm or disprove your assumptions.
E) Search out additional resources for suggestions for vetting your idea.

The key is to have answered the basic questions of your business: What is the problem you are solving? How are you solving it? Do you have a basic business model that could be profitable? How are you different than the competition?  These are the first questions any fellow entrepreneur you meet will ask you.

2) Build a Team

Everyone remembers having those terrible project groups in school. At times you probably said, “I could do this all myself and it would be done better and faster.”  Well, in the real world, you’d often be wrong.

There is great debate over whether solo entrepreneurs are as likely to succeed as teams, and really the answer is that this is a gray area.  The type of business idea you have will greatly affect the number of people needed to execute your plan.  If it’s a smaller business, it is very likely that you can use consultants and contract work to cover the skills you lack.  It has never been easier to do this thanks to sites like 99designsMFG and Outright.

The best reason for having a team is diversity. You need a variety of skills to run a business as well as the ability to handle many different situations.  It is unlikely that you are great at engineering, sales, finance and management.  By building a team, you bring multiple perspectives to your business and can focus on what you’re best at.  In my experience, just having someone to bounce ideas off of and talk through problems is priceless.

All this being said, if you choose to build a team you have to be very careful in who you choose to be on your team. Choosing a co-founder is like a marriage, only you’ll spend more time with your co-founder than your significant other.  You want this person to be a good business compliment as well as someone you get along with, so they may not be your roommate or best friend.

3) Organize Your Thoughts

There is an ongoing debate over the necessity for writing a business plan, but there is agreement on one concept: you need to think about all the parts that would go into a plan.  When you’re getting started, you don’t need to have all the answers to the questions posed in a business plan, but you do need to start thinking about them.  When you go out and start talking to people about your idea, those are the questions you will most likely be asked.  There are a number of great resources out there to help you with this.

4) Get Out There

The best thing you can do to help your business develop is to get out there. Watch how people react to your pitch and try to refine it. Take note of what questions they have and any issues they raise (try to find some answers).  If you have an issue, don’t be afraid to ask others for assistance; often, even if they can’t help you, they’ll refer you to someone who can. Through this process you may even find a key member of your team.

You’ve got an idea, you’re refining it and building your team…

Coming Soon: Part V: Making it Official

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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!

The Young Entrepreneur’s Guide, Part III: Building a Network, Reputation and Following

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, Part II: Getting Out There

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Part III: Building a Reputation, Network and a Following

You’re out in the community meeting people, reading and learning…now it’s time to establish a reputation and build a following. Here’s how.

1) Understand Ideas are Free

It’s easy to get in the mindset that someone will steal your idea and that you’re giving away something of value by talking to others about their ideas.  This is completely the wrong mindset. Sharing ideas is exactly what you want to do.  It has an incredible amount of benefits:

A) It gets your ideas out of your head and refined by others.  As the CEO of Zipcar said, “every person you meet is a free consultant.”

B) Everyone in the community wants to help each other. If they can’t directly help you, they are more than happy to connect you with someone they know that can help. They can’t help you if they don’t know what your ideas are.

C) It builds credibility.  People recognize and remember those that share good ideas and ask good questions.

In the end, ideas are like a boomerang; the more you share your thoughts with others, they more they’ll share theirs with you. No one will steal your idea, because they’re already working on what they’re passionate about and your passion will always trump someone who is just copying you.

2) Actions Speak Louder…

As a young entrepreneur, you have to build your reputation from scratch. This means that everything you do makes a small contribution to how people judge you.  The best way to build this reputation is through consistently displaying the qualities people look for.  Are you eager to learn? Do you ask questions and share ideas? Do you follow through on everything you say you’ll do?  Do you help others?  Are you honest? If you under-promise and over-deliver, you will always impress people.  Pay it forward and you’ll be amazed at what others will do for you.

3) Use Twitter

It’s great to be up to date on your industries of interest and the trends and topics of the day for entrepreneurs, but to really make a contribution and get involved, you need to be an active part of the conversation.  The easiest way to do this is with Twitter.

You should already be on twitter, seeing what events are being shared as well as articles and ideas. You can do the same thing. If you like something someone already shared, give it a retweet. If you read something really interesting, make a comment about it and link to it in a tweet.  If you have a question for the community, ask it. You never know who might see it.

Also, in addition to connecting with people on linkedin, follow those people and others you see in the community on twitter. They’ll usually follow you back, which leads to an audience that will notice what you have to say.

4) Start a Blog

If you have more to say than 140 characters allows, you should consider starting a blog.  It’s a great way to share your thoughts, questions and ideas on an issue or just share an experience you had.  It also works great with Twitter as you can tweet your entry and if people like it, it will get re-tweeted and more people will read it (and likely start following you).

If you have the passion for writing out your ideas in blog form, then go for it.  To truly be effective, you need to blog a few times a week or once a week at absolute minimum. At first that my seem daunting, but in my experience, that’s not as hard as it seems. There are many great ideas out there for what to blog about; just decide what your blog’s focus will be and give it a shot. If you’re passionate about the subject, you’ll find that writing about it will come much more naturally than your last report for school or work.

There are a lot of great tips for getting started: Here, Here and Here.

5) Tie it All Together

By now you should be on Twitter, LinkedIn and maybe even have a blog. You’re also out there at events.  This means you’re now part of both the real and virtual conversation. To best utilize them, tie them all together.

LinkedIn gives you the ability to directly feed your blog into your LinkedIn page and to provide up to 3 links to other sites from your profile.  These links should be your Twitter profile, your blog and your startup, when you have one.   Meanwhile, Twitter allows you to link directly to one site, so you should then tie it to your blog or LinkedIn.  Finally, most blogs allow for links, so you should link to your Twitter account, LinkedIn and your company.

By doing this, you create a net. No matter how people find you, they can find out everything about you with just a few clicks. This can be really valuable, as anyone can see what you write about (your blog), what your thoughts are (Twitter) and your background/experience (LinkedIn).  This really works. I actually got a job because of my blog; they were able to see my background and interests and out of the blue asked to meet with me.

If you say things that resonate with people, you never know what can happen.

Are you a part of the conversation?

Coming Next Week: Part IV: Working on Your Idea

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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!

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!

The Young Entrepreneur’s Guide, Part I: Starting from Scratch

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.

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PART I: Starting from Scratch
You recently had the epiphany you want to be an entrepreneur, but really haven’t gotten started yet.  Here’s what to do…

1) Is this for You?

When you first decide you are really interested in entrepreneurship, the key is to get informed.  It’s easy to say you love startups, but it’s another thing to truly understand what you’re saying.  The best way to determine if it is for you is to start reading.  Read inspirational articles written by entrepreneurs like Ken Morse, Paul Graham and Mark Cuban.  Still interested? Talk to family and friends and try to find people who are entrepreneurs that you can talk to about what it’s like.  After hearing about all the challenges, long hours and risk of failure, if you still want to be an entrepreneur, read on…

2) Try EVERYTHING…Be Curious

A key trait of being an entrepreneur is a desire to learn. When you’re getting started, you should try to take in everything you can to learn about different types of startups and roles you can fill in a startup.  Fill your Google Reader with industries you’re interested in and blogs in areas you want to learn more about.  You don’t have to read every article, just the ones that interest you; simply reading the headlines of the other articles can help you to grasp where different industries are technologically.  There are also great websites, magazines, books, and presentations you can check out.  Ask other entrepreneurs what they read.  Add what you like to your list and leave the rest.

3) Overwhelmed? Don’t know where to start?

If you really need a few starting points, here’s a few sites, blogs and items I personally like best (note: This is somewhat Boston biased, because that’s where I live. Find things in your area to get a view of your local entrepreneurship scene):

Websites:  TechCrunch, Venture Beat, Silicon Alley, Gizmodo, Xconomy
Blogs: OnStartups, Innovation Economy, Startup Lessons Learned
Magazines: Inc Magazine, Popular Science, Technology Review

The takeaway from this is not to copy me; instead, notice the diversity. There are newspapers, tech focused media, business sources and established entrepreneur blogs.  The idea is to get as many perspectives as you can. Try to build a similar list based on your passions and location.

4) Study those you Admire

As you immerse yourself in all of this entrepreneurial content, you’ll start to find certain personalities and businesses keep coming up.  Find the ones that resonate most with you and follow them more closely. If the founder of the company has a blog, read it. If they have a book, buy it. If they’re going to be speaking and you have a chance to see them live or on video, watch it. And if you are fortunate enough to have the chance to sit down with them, make the most of it.  Focus on how they got where they are. Learn from their mistakes and try to understand what made them successful and emulate that.

Still in love with entrepreneurship after starting the learning process?

Now Available: Part II: Getting Out There
See Also: Part III: Building a Reputation, Network and Following & Part IV: Working on Your Idea


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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!

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.