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.

MassTLC unConference Session Summary: TurboCharging the Entrepreneurial Culture in MA “Active – In Process – To Do List”

Yesterday at the MassTLC unConference, Tim Rowe and Scott Kirsner led an event  entitled, “Turbo-Charging the Entrepreneurial Culture in MA.”  Those in attendance were charged with creating a list of every organization and event they knew of in the community.  It was truly an impressive group effort that created a list I don’t think anyone would have been able to build on their own that morning.

If you were at the meeting, you’ll recall a young member of the audience chimed in about how he had built a wiki on his own to try to make sense of all the events that he was able to slowly discover. For the past year, I’ve been building that wiki to include not only events, but organizations, resources, some angel and VC groups, the many summer programs and more.  It started out as something for myself out of frustration in trying to grasp the overall picture of the Boston entrepreneurial community, but soon turned into a group effort amongst myself and a few colleagues to try to create something of value for others (i.e.- a full, organized, detailed website built around the information we stored on the wiki and a crowdsourced community to keep it up to date and interact).   So, for now, below you’ll find the list created on the white board from the session yesterday.

{Update: The site is live! Please go to www.GreenhornConnect.com to see the resources all listed. Feel free to use the “Contact Us” option at the site to share any ideas, questions, comments or feedback. Thanks!}

Here’s the list (Active=occurring, In Process=In Development, To Do = Items suggested to start doing to improve the community):

Active Events/Organizations:

TechStars
WebInno
StayInMA
unConference
“Bettina’s Women CEO event”
Mobile Mondays
Open Coffee
Tech Tuesdays
Mass TLC
Social Media Awards
Microsoft NERD
MIT 100K competition
MIT Enterprise Forum
MIT E Center
Swiss Nex
Boston World Partners
Boston Post Mortem
DARTBoston
Mark’s Guide
TCN: The Capital Network
Business Innovation Factory
The Quest for Innovation
Innovate MATech
Mass Innovation Nights
Awesome Foundation
Beta Spring
TIE Boston
TIE Boston Leadership Group
BetaSpring
BetaHouse
Vilna Shul
NECINA
BYTE
Boston Young Entrepreneurs
OneIn3
Common Angels
Launch Pad
Mass High Tech
TedX
Summer @ Highland
Mass, It’s All Here
Genotrope
Green Tech Media
InnoEcoBlog (Scott Kirsner)
Xconomy
UNH Mentoring program
WPI Venture Forum
The Funded Founder Institutes
TYE (Helps w/ HS Business Plans)
CCC: Cambridge Coworking Center
UMass UDC

In Process/Development:

MassChallenge
VentureCafe
VentureFizz
Venture Well
Gary’s Guide
TCN Student Fair
Propel Careers
Northeastern University IDEA
Dog Patch Labs

Items to Add/To Do:

– Break down school silos
– Virtual unConference
– Open employer (non compete) Badges
– Court acquisition heavy businesses to the region
– Micro-investment matching mechanisms
– Organize more practical meetings (i.e.- not networking…mission based)
– Let more green horns in (i.e.- Give young entrepreneurs a shot to work in startups)
– Coordinate VC “reprogramming” of mentalities
– Build a wiki of information
– MassTLC: Coordinate challenges
– Have heads of various groups/events meet
– TC50 Event in Boston
– Connect students w/ companies more
– Have more thought leadership in the region

{Update: The site is live! Please go to www.GreenhornConnect.com to see the resources all listed. Feel free to use the “Contact Us” option at the site to share any ideas, questions, comments or feedback. Thanks!}

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I believe the website we’re building will significantly better serve the community than a simple wiki list, so I’m not sure where that leaves the content I have on the wiki I made until we launch. I’ll try to update what’s happening with the wiki/website my team is working as we progress.

I’d love to speak with any of you with continued interest in this issue. Please feel free to leave a comment/suggestion or send me a message on Twitter (@Evanish). Thanks!

Field Report: WebInno23 Session: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Bootstrapping PR

Last night, a near-capacity crowd of people passionate about the web congregated at the WebInno23 event at the Royal Sonesta in Cambridge.  There were a number of interesting companies making their pitches, including The Idea Startup, Happn.in, and Book of Odds. It was a great event all around, but my favorite part was the journalist panel on “An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Bootstrapping PR.” The real title could have been more bluntly named, “How to effectively reach journalists and get them to write about you without wasting money on PR people.”

The panel was a who’s who of distinguished innovation economy regional journalists: Peter Kafka (AllThingsD), Scott Kirsner (Boston Globe), Wade Roush (Xconomy),  and Bob Brown (Network World). Despite the varied backgrounds, they all seemed to be in agreement on most issues:

The Best Way to Reach Journalists

It turns out, journalists are just like regular people; if you want someone to help you out, they’re more likely to do so if they personally know you.  Peter Kafka recommended getting a referral from someone he trusts; if they’re excited about it, then he will be as well.  However, en lieu of such a connection, they all agreed that speaking to them face to face at an event or a conference is the best way to make them interested in your company.  The also emphasized that the meeting needs to be natural; they don’t like it when PR people or others grab someone and try to force an interaction.  Just thinking logically about reaching them this way, it makes a lot of sense.  Are you more likely to help someone if you were randomly messaged by them on LinkedIn or if you met them in person before?

Tips for Blogging

If you’re going to blog, you need to be passionate about what you’re blogging about and blogging itself.  A number of the panelists mentioned checking company and founder blogs to start a story.  If it isn’t current, they’re less likely to be interested and as Scott Kirsner said he’d hate to be at a company and have to ask, “‘What’s happened since your last post on July 23rd?'”  Bottom line: Write regularly and with passion or don’t blog at all.

Best Hooks for Journalists

If you want a journalist to write about you, you need to give them something they find interesting to write about. These are what they said were the most likely items to be written about:
1) If your company gets  a new leader (Someone was likely removed)
2) If you just completed a big round of financing
3) If you’re an established company making a significant change in direction for the company
4) If you have a major product being released (NOT version 7.2.1.1)
5) If you tie to a hot topic or are taking on an industry giant (David vs. Goliath is always a good story)
No surprises here.  What else does a company do that others might really want to read about?

Thoughts on Embargoes and Exclusives

The general feeling was that embargoes are a dying concept.  With sites like TechCrunch breaking news as soon as they can find it and others “accidentally” breaking stories early, there’s not a lot of incentive to wait.  The panelists were mainly concerned with spending a great deal of time on an article only to be beaten to the story by another site.  They also posed the question, “Why do you need everything to break at the exact same time?”

A similar feeling was echoed for exclusives.  Unless it’s a really unique and deep story, being exclusive isn’t a big deal to the journalists; they said they understand an entrepreneur has to try to get their story out. Their main thoughts seemed to focus on the fact that you really just need to understand your desired audience for a story.  Sites like Gizmodo will get you a mention and a quick paragaph, but to have a full story told, you’ll want to target a journalist.

Final Thoughts

The main message of the event seemed to focus on three concepts: personal relationships, passion and personality.  They all get spammed by PR firms trying to convince them to write a story and press releases filled with gobbledegook.  Neither is likely to get a story actually written.  Instead, they want to get to know you and your company personally.  As Bob Brown said, “Put away your powerpoints and put you and your company’s personality in front of us.” They also want to see your passion and personality come through in the content on your site, your blog and your tweets.  These places are where you can control your message and may even attract interest from journalists (David Meerman Scott and Hubspot would be so proud).

In the end, journalists are just like everyone else; they want to be treated like a colleague, hear interesting stories and get to know you and what you’re passionate about.  PR people are still very important for companies for a lot of other duties, but for a new startup trying to get press, the panelists don’t believe they can help much.


The Best Kept Secret for Young Entrepreneurs: DartBoston’s Pokin’ Holes

Every Thursday night a group of energized, passionate, young entrepreneurs gather at a local bar for an event called Pokin’ Holes. The set-up is simple: a young entrepreneur gives a pitch of their company and describes what stage they’re in and problems they’re facing right now.  Cort Johnson, the host of Pokin’ Holes, then leads a 3 person panel (also filled with young entrepreneurs) to discuss what they see as both key problems and solutions for the start-up.  When the panel discussion is finished, the audience is asked for their feedback as well.

Before attending an event, I was skeptical. I thought, “How much could a few young entrepreneurs do to help and why would I want to attend this?” One word can explain it all: community.

Yes, a key part of the weekly events are the panelists discussing a fellow young entrepreneur’s start-up, but Pokin’ Holes doesn’t end when the camera stops recording (as I mistakenly thought).  Everyone is involved in the discussion, asking both tough questions and helping come up with possible solutions.  The diversity of backgrounds in the audience provides incredible insight as everyone looks at the companies through a different lense.

A great example of this was the week Schedr was the featured start-up (see video here).  Schedr is an online course registration application designed by UMass Amherst student Tom Petr.  The panel was made up of people with backgrounds in front end programming, back end programming and marketing, which were exactly the areas he needed advice on.  It became an even bigger help for Tom when Cort opened the discussion to the audience as others weighed in with perspectives as fellow students (his customers), RAs (a potential sales channel), and working with school administration (he needs access to the registrar).  By the end of the night, Tom had a laundry list of ideas and people to speak to that will make a huge impact on the development of his business.

The Schedr panel and audience was not the exception; there was no magical coincidence that the room was filled with the right people.  The following week, LaunchIntoBoston was the featured company, and similar results occurred (see video here).  Launch Into Boston is a company serving those transitioning from college to the working world in Boston.  They help you find an apartment, a job and discover socializing opportunities in the city.  Obviously, it couldn’t be more different from an online scheduling tool and yet, the panel again provided essential feedback and the audience reinforced and added many more ideas.  By the end of the night, founder Stephanie Smith had a new perspective on where to focus her business and make the most effective, immediate improvements.

Helping these companies is great, but when the camera shuts off and the audience feedback wraps up, the real power of DartBoston begins. Everyone sticks together after the event to talk about their passions, ideas and new ventures.  This is invigorating and exciting; everyone seems to feed off of one another, energizing us to all keep pursuing our goals.  The beauty is that the room is truly flat; none of the panelists or audience members are untouchable CEOs of major companies that are anxious to get back to their Blackberry or afraid to hear another pitch.  It is this openness and welcoming nature that keeps people coming back and leads to the community that is so powerful in helping the companies featured each week and also leads to help occurring off camera too.

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The community is what makes DartBoston great and so unique.  If you know of another collection of such energized, ambitious, young entrepreneurs, I think we’d all like to know about it.

I’ll close this with a quote from an episode of Hubspot.tv a few weeks ago that I believe embodies what DartBoston means to the young entrepreneur community:

“If you have a great idea and are passionate about it, just go for it and surround yourself with people that believe in you and will offer guidance and help”  – Leah Busque, Founder of RunMyErrand.com

Russ Wilcox, Mass High Tech All Star

As I was following my twitter stream today on TweetDeck, I noticed an announcement about “Mass High Tech All Stars”. What really caught my attention was the mention of Russ Wilcox receiving one of the awards.  Russ is very deserving of this and the other awards he and E Ink have been amassing recently.  I’ve had a number of great experiences with Russ, so I’d like to share a few here.

As you may recall from my first entry, there was a seminar my freshman year at Northeastern that included local entrepreneurs coming in to discuss their start-up experiences.  Russ was one of those entrepreneurs, and to this day, I remember his presentation.  He showed us his VC pitch and talked about his passion for changing the way we interact with books. The innovative nature of the technology and the passion he showed really stood out and definitely contributed to my growing interest in entrepreneurship at the time. From that day forward, I followed E Ink in the news to see how they were doing.

When I graduated 4 years later, it only seemed natural to apply for a position at E Ink; by working there I could learn more about a great local start-up firsthand.  Fortunately, they hired me for a summer job that got my foot in the door. During that time, Russ was constantly being taped in interviews, interacting with employees and talking about making E Ink a success. His passion seemed to spread to others and his demeanor made everyone feel confident and comfortable. After overhearing he got to talk to one of my all-time favorite entrepreneurs, Mark Cuban, on the phone as part of something Mark’s HDNet was reporting on, I decided I had to get a chance to talk to him too.

I won’t lie…I was scared. I thought to myself, “this is a man running a 100+ employee company that is just starting to gain traction…he has no time to talk to me.”  Luckily, I didn’t let those thoughts get the best of me,  so I emailed him explaining my passion for entrepreneurship and asked if I could talk to him about his experiences.  To my delight, he was more than happy to and we scheduled a meeting.

The meeting was everything I hoped it would be and more.  He started out by telling me the story of E Ink; how they almost went bankrupt and the extreme situation he was handed the day he was named CEO (6 weeks of cash left, no established product) and how they made it to 2008.  We then talked about his personal background and how he ended up at E Ink.  The discussion then turned towards me and I explained to him what I hoped to do and he gave me a lot of great advice.  He suggested a ton of reading and explained his philosophy for all that reading (essentially…there’s something to learn from all of them…the key is recognizing those key nuggets and combining it with the others).  The meeting was scheduled to be 45 minutes, but we ended up talking for an hour and a half. During that time, he never looked at his watch or hinted at all that he had anything to do but talk to me.

It’s experiences like these that inspire future generations of entrepreneurs.  I hope one day I can be the type of leader Russ is and hope he can continue to guide E Ink to a successful future.

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I’ll leave you with a quote from Russ that speaks deeply to his beliefs and what I think entrepreneurship is really all about:

“You live to your fullest potential when you pursue a challenging dream that builds lasting value for others. ” -Russ Wilcox, CEO E Ink


Why I’m Blogging

People start blogging for many reasons.  Some just want to share their hobbies like photography, food or film.  Others are doing it to stand out from the 430,000 other Jonathan Smiths.  For me, I’m starting this blog for a number of reasons:

1) To build my personal brand.

There’s only one “Jason Evanish” on the web, so I’m not fighting other people for relevancy on Google search.  Of course, this also means that anything you find in searching my name is definitely associated with me.  This fact provides me the great ability to control what anyone searching me finds first.  Right now, Google search lists (in order):

My LinkedIn Profile

My Twitter account

My profile for Revolve Nation’s Boston Entrepreneur Meetup

My Brazen Careerist account

A podcast I did for the Northeastern School of Technological Entrepreneurship

Design slides from a presentation I did for my Master’s program in collaboration with MassArt students

This isn’t a bad start; you can figure out a lot about me from this, but there’s nothing that reflects my voice. The exception to this may be Twitter, but how much do you really say in 140 characters?   With a blog I can get into my passions and interests, showing what’s important to me and make a contribution to the world wide conversation.  And, of course, I also have the opportunity for future employers/partners to see an unfiltered view of me.

2) To discuss my passions and interests

I love entrepreneurship.

It all clicked my freshman year of college when I took a seminar class from the School of Technological Entrepreneurship at Northeastern which featured a different entrepreneur sharing their experiences and insight each week.  Every entrepreneur was in a different stage in their startup and had different viewpoints; some showed their VC presentations, others just showed off their technologies or told war stories.  I loved it all. I was hooked.  It seemed exciting, challenging and a break from the Office Space world I feared may be waiting for me after graduation. (Scott Kirsner, among others, is actually working to put together a program like this for all Boston students to have the opportunity to visit CEOs, which is awesome.)

I love technology and innovation.

Having been born in the mid ‘80s, I have very little concept of a world without computers and the internet. Can you imagine having to use the postal service to stay in touch instead of email? Or even more important, using manual tables and a typewriter to keep your business together?  Every minute the world is becoming more interconnected. More information is at our disposal thanks to search than ever was remotely possible before. I love reading about all the new technology and considering how the next innovation may change the way we work, play and interact.

3) To share what I find interesting

I read. A lot. Currently, I check 18 blogs per day. Not all of them update daily, and the blogs have changed a few times based on my interests, suggestions from others and eliminating some redundancies, but it’s still an undertaking each day to go through them. To me, it’s like an a la carte daily newspaper from around the world.  Currently the list is as follows:

http://onstartups.com/ <– Dharmesh Shah’s blog…always something interesting about startups showing up there and he’s the CTO of that cool company, HubSpot

http://blogmaverick.com/ <– Mark Cuban’s blog…my resident “man-crush” as my roommates call it. He writes about many different things, but it’s always insightful and brutally honest

http://www.collegemogul.com/ <– Blog for young entrepreneurs

http://lifehacker.com/

http://www.techcrunch.com/

http://www.xconomy.com/boston/ <– Online business/tech news site focused on Boston

http://www.engadget.com/

http://www.businessinsider.com/alleyinsider

http://sethgodin.typepad.com/ <– Seth Godin’s blog…always an interesting thought for the day

http://blog.hubspot.com/ <– I’m really interested in inbound marketing, and hoping to get a job at HubSpot, so you gotta keep up on what they’re saying!

http://venturebeat.com/

http://gizmodo.com/

http://entrepreneur.venturebeat.com/ <– Subset of the VentureBeat site with great articles specifically for challenges facing entrepreneurs

http://www.boston.com/business/technology/innoeco/ <– Scott Kirsner’s blog on innovation in Boston…he always finds something interesting to write about.

http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/ <– Eric Ries’s blog…when he writes it’s pretty lengthy, but packed with good content.

http://www.chrisbrogan.com/ <– In my research of Hubspot, I came across him and enjoy his daily social media entries.

http://www.emergingenterprisecenterblog.com/ <– the Lawyers over at Foley Hoag in Waltham provide insights to common legal issues for local startups.

So you can see that’s a pretty broad list. I augment that by also reading Popular Science, Inc Magazine and MIT’s Technology Review.  Add it all up, and I know at least a little bit about just about everything that’s going on in technology, entrepreneurship and the local start-up scene.  This has come in handy more than once when I’m at a networking event; I’m able to both comfortably enter conversations with others, while also giving me a good base from which I can generate questions.  I can tell you from experience the latter is really important; nothing gets attention faster than an insightful question or comment at an event, especially from a young person.

So what does all this reading mean for this blog? Well as my roommate quipped recently, “How can you read that much and not have something to say?”  So when I come across something I find particularly interesting, I’ll pass it along and add my thoughts and questions.

4) To help fellow Young Entrepreneurs

When I started trying to get involved in the local startup community, I actually found it pretty difficult.  There are a lot of subtle things you need to understand and a lot of resources are out there that aren’t necessarily easy to find if you aren’t “plugged in” to the community.  Through this blog and future efforts with some fellow young entrepreneurs, we’re going to try to make this process much easier. This will include reporting the efforts others are making in this area like our friends at DartBoston as well as writing about our experiences and lessons learned.

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Most artists have some type of trademark that makes them unique. For me, the unique feature of my blog will be a quote; at the end of every entry, I’ll leave you with a favorite quote of mine (I’ve collected hundreds over the years).  This time, it’s the quote that inspired the title of my blog and embodies my philosophy of life:

“The master of the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he is always doing both.”                                                                 –James A. Michener